by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“One of the earliest instances of the use of a magical figure is related in the Westcar Papyrus, (Ed. Erman, pp. 7 and 8) where we read that Prince Khâf-Râ told Khufu (Cheops) a story of an event which had happened in the time of Neb-ka or Neb-kau-Ed, a king of the IIIrd dynasty, who reigned about B.C. 3830.
It seems that this king once paid a visit to one of his high officials called Âba-aner, whose wife fell violently in love with one of the soldiers in the royal train.
This lady sent her tirewoman to him with the gift of a chest of clothes, and apparently she made known to him her mistress’s desire, for he returned with her to Âba-aner’s house. There he saw the wife and made an appointment to meet her in a little house which was situated on her husband’s estate, and she gave instructions to one of the stewards of Âba-aner to prepare it for the arrival of herself and her lover.
When all had been made ready she went to the house and stayed there the whole day drinking and making love with the man until sunset; and when the evening had come he rose up and went down to the river and the tirewoman bathed him in the water thereof.
But the steward, who had made ready the house, declared that he must make the matter known unto his master, and on the following morning as soon as it was light, he went to Âba-aner and related to him everything which had happened. The official made no answer to his servant’s report, but ordered him to bring him certain materials and his box made of ebony and precious metal.
Out of the box he took a quantity of wax, which was, no doubt, kept there for purposes similar to that to which a portion of it was now to be put, and made a model of a crocodile seven spans long, and then reciting certain magical words over it, he said, “When the man cometh down to bathe in my waters seize thou him.”
Then, turning to the steward, he gave the wax crocodile to him and said, “When the man, according to his daily wont, cometh down to wash in the water thou shalt cast the crocodile in after him”; and the steward having taken the wax crocodile from his master went his way.
And again the wife of Âba-aner ordered the steward who had charge of the estate to make ready the house which was in the garden, “for,” she said, “behold, I am coming to pass some time therein.”
So the house was made ready and provided with all good things, and she came with the man and passed some time with him there. Now when the evening was come the man went down to the water to wash according to his daily wont, and the steward went down after him and threw into the water the wax crocodile, which straightway turned into a living crocodile seven cubits (i.e., about twelve feet) in length, and seized upon the man and dragged him down in the water.
Meanwhile Âba-aner tarried with his king Neb-kau-Râ for seven days, and the man remained in the depths of the water and had no air to breathe. And on the seventh day Âba-aner the kher heb (i.e., the priestly official who performed the most important of the funeral ceremonies; he was always a man of great learning, and generally of high rank) went out with the king for a walk, and invited His Majesty to come and see for himself a wonderful thing which had happened to a man in his own days; so the king went with him.
When they had come to the water Âba-aner adjured the crocodile, saying, “Bring hither the man,” and the crocodile came out of the water bringing the man with him. And when the king remarked that the crocodile was a horrid looking monster, Âba-aner stooped down and took it up into his hand, when it straightway became a waxen crocodile as it was before.
After these things Âba-aner related to the king what had happened between his wife and the man whom the crocodile had brought up out of the water, whereupon the king said to the crocodile, “Take that which is thine and begone”; and immediately the crocodile seized the man and sprang into the water with him, and disappeared in its depths.
And by the royal command Âba-aner’s wife was seized, and having been led to the north side of the palace was burnt, and her ashes were cast into the stream. Here then we have already in the IIIrd dynasty the existence of a belief that a wax crocodile, over which certain words had been said, could change itself into a living reptile at pleasure, and that a man could be made by the same means to live at the bottom of a stream for seven days without air.
We may also notice that the great priestly official, the kher heb, was so much in the habit of performing such acts of magic that he kept in a room a box of materials and instruments always ready for the purpose; and, apparently, neither himself, nor his king, nor his servant, thought the working of magic inconsistent with his high religious office.
But at the time when Âba-aner was working magic by means of wax figures, probably to the harm and injury of his enemies, the priests were making provision for the happiness and well-being of the dead also by means of figures made of various substances.”
E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 67-71.