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Category: Magicians

Kvanvig: On the Destiny of Adapa

“The problem in the fragments to the Adapa Myth is that there is one crucial place where Amarna fragment B and the Nineveh fragment D overlap and they are significantly different. The last visible part of fragment B reads as follows, according to Izre’el’s translation:

“Come Adapa, why did you not eat and drink? Hence

you shall not live! Alas for inferior humanity!” “Ea my lord

told me: “Do not eat, do not dr[i]nk!”

“Take him (?) and [retu]rn him to (his) earth.”

(Amarna fragment B, rev. 67-70. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 21).

In the crucial last sentence here, we must admit that the only clearly visible signs are ana qaqqarišu, “to the,” or “his, earth.” Together with the traces left of verbs they nevertheless show the destination: Adapa is returning to the earth. As we shall see below, the outcome in exactly the same scene in fragment D is the opposite: Adapa will remain in heaven as the chosen of Anu.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.  The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.  The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e'ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e'ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.  The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.  The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.  Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner's article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.
The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.
The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e’ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e’ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.
The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.
The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.
Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner’s article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

If we do not read the myths according to their deepest structures, synchronically, but according to their plots on a narrative level, the difference between the older preserved variant of the story, fragment B, and the younger preserved variant, fragment D, cannot be overlooked.

To safeguard the argument, if the version of the scene in fragment D in the future should be found in an older tablet, the version would still be different from fragment B. In reading plots in narratives the beginning and end of the narrative are crucial.

Here we approach a problem in the Adapa myth; we do not have the exact beginning and the end of the story in any of the fragments, and we do not know exactly how they relate to one another, so we must make assumptions.

If we presume that the order of the fragments is rightly put together, there seems to be a scholarly agreement at this point; we are close to a beginning in fragment A, starting in line 2:

“Let (?) his [s]peech be (?) … […] like the speech of [Anu.]

He perfected him with great intelligence, to give instruction about the ordinance of the earth.

To him he gave wisdom, he did not give him eternal life.

In those days, in those years, the sage, a native of Eridu,

Ea made him (his) follower among people.”

(Nineveh fragment A obv. i, 2-6. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 10).

Here the basic themes that continue in the other fragments are introduced: the power of speech that made Adapa capable of breaking the South Wind’s wing, and changing the order of nature; the question about what kind of wisdom Adapa got from Ea, since only “the earth” and not the all-encompassing “heaven and earth” is mentioned; and the relationship between wisdom and eternal life. The rest of the fragments, including D, follow the story line fairly smoothly in relation to this beginning.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah," Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, "Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to locate a copy to verify the reference. <br /> This illustration allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”<br />  I am not certain that the deity is standing on a bull at all. It could be Mushshushu, a dog-shaped dragon from Mesopotamian legend. <br />  To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. <br />  The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.<br />  The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a sacred tree. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah,” Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, “Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to locate a copy to verify the reference.
This illustration allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”
I am not certain that the deity is standing on a bull at all. It could be Mushshushu, a dog-shaped dragon from Mesopotamian legend.
To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head.
The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.
The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a sacred tree. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

We do not come so close to an end in either fragments B or D, because they are broken. In both places, however, we have a statement of the destiny of Adapa. In B this was to return to the earth, as we have seen; the last sentences in D concerning Adapa’s fate read as follows:

[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:

[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,

[ … ] he who broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly

(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!

(Nineveh fragment D rev. 11-14. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 38).

The end of a story matters. What takes place in a story moves between its beginning and end. If you change the end, you change the plot, even though the beginning and the events after the beginning are the same in a similar story.

Both the beginning and the succeeding events get another meaning when the end is totally different. In the fragment B the destiny was the return to the earth, which implies a dividing line between Adapa’s wisdom and eternal life, whatever structural level in the myth we place it in.

Adapa did not surpass the realm of the human getting eternal life, even with his extensive wisdom, and even though he became the patron of the magicians. Certainly, this has a meaning in relation to expelling demons, not only gods were able to do this; the power was given to humans, following the wisdom of Adapa.

The meaning of the destiny in D changes the plot. The focus is the elevation of Adapa as the one among humans who stayed in heaven with Anu forever.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 121-3.

Chaldean Astronomy and Magic

“For more than two thousand years the records of Babylonian and Assyrian astronomy lay buried and forgotten under the ruins of Assyrian palaces, and all that was known of the subject came from a few passages in the Bible and in the works of Greek and Roman writers.

To the Hebrews the sorceries of Babylon were an accursed thing, and the prophet Isaiah scoffs at them in these words:

“Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47:12).

Among Greek writers Strabo (died a.d. 24) asserted that the Chaldeans were skilled in astronomy and the casting of horoscopes, and Aelian (3rd century a.d.) mentions the fact that both the Babylonians and Chaldeans enjoyed a reputation for possessing a knowledge of astronomy.

Achilles Tatius  (6th century) reports the existence of a tradition to the effect that the Egyptians mapped the heavens, and that they inscribed their knowledge on their pillars; the same tradition declared that the Chaldeans claimed the glory of this science, the foundation of which they attributed to the god Bel.

For this last belief there seems to be some evidence in a statement of Berosus, to the effect that the god Bel created the stars and sun and moon, and the five planets. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Augustus, tells us that the Babylonian priests observed the position of certain stars in order to cast horoscopes, and that they interpreted dreams and derived omens from the movement of birds and from eclipses and earthquakes.

The general evidence of serious writers leads us to believe that astrology formed part of the religious system of the Babylonians, and it certainly exercised considerable influence over the minds of the dwellers between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In any case, the reputation of the Chaldeans, i.e., the Babylonians and Assyrians, for possessing magical powers was so widespread, that the very name Chaldean at a comparatively early date became synonymous with magician.”

Reginald Campbell Thompson, The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, Vol. II, London, 1900. pp. xiii-xiv.

The First Dream of Nebuchadnezzar II

“The King, hearing of this circumstance, sent for them and found them much better informed than all his magicians and astrologers.

Nebuchadrezzar dreamed dreams, and informed the Babylonian astrologers that if they were unable to interpret them they would be cut to pieces and their houses destroyed, whereas did they interpret the visions they would be held in high esteem.

They answered that if the King would tell them his dream they would show the interpretation thereof; but the King said that if they were wise men in truth they would know the dream without requiring to be told it, and upon some of the astrologers of the court replying that the request was unreasonable, he was greatly incensed and ordered all of them to be slain.

But in a vision of the night the secret was revealed to Daniel, who begged that the wise men of Babylon be not destroyed, and going to a court official he offered to interpret the dream.

He told the King that in his dream he had beheld a great image, whose brightness and form were terrible. The head of this image was of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, and the other parts of brass, excepting the legs which were of iron, and the feet which were partly of that metal and partly of clay.

But a stone was cast at it which smote the image upon its feet and it brake into pieces and the wind swept away the remnants. The stone that had smitten it became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Then Daniel proceeded to the interpretation. The King, he said, represented the golden head of the image; the silver an inferior kingdom which would rise after Nebuchadrezzar’s death; and a third of brass which should bear rule over all the earth.

The fourth dynasty from Nebuchadrezzar would be as strong as iron, but since the toes of the image’s feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so should that kingdom be partly strong and partly broken.

Nebuchadrezzar was so awed with the interpretation that he fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, telling him how greatly he honoured the God who could have revealed such secrets to him; and he set him as ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and made him chief of the governors over all the wise men of that kingdom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 37-8.

Magicians Were Poets, and Poets Were Magicians

” … The numerous incantations which were inscribed on clay tablets and treasured in libraries, do not throw much light on the progress of medical knowledge, for the genuine folk cures were regarded as of secondary importance, and were not as a rule recorded.

But these metrical compositions are of special interest, in so far as they indicate how poetry originated and achieved widespread popularity among ancient peoples. Like the religious dance, the earliest poems were used for magical purposes.

They were composed in the first place by men and women who were supposed to be inspired in the literal sense; that is, possessed by spirits. Primitive man associated “spirit” with “breath,” which was the “air of life,” and identical with wind.

The poetical magician drew in a “spirit,” and thus received inspiration, as he stood on some sacred spot on the mountain summit, amidst forest solitudes, beside a’ whispering stream, or on the sounding shore. …

Or, perhaps, the bard received inspiration by drinking magic water from the fountain called Hippocrene, or the skaldic mead which dripped from the moon.

The ancient poet did not sing for the mere love of singing: he knew nothing about “Art for Art’s sake.” His object in singing appears to have been intensely practical. The world was inhabited by countless hordes of spirits, which were believed to be ever exercising themselves to influence mankind.

The spirits caused suffering; they slew victims; they brought misfortune; they were also the source of good or “luck.” Man regarded spirits emotionally; he conjured them with emotion; he warded off their attacks with emotion; and his emotions were given rhythmical expression by means of metrical magical charms.

Poetic imagery had originally a magical significance; if the ocean was compared to a dragon, it was because it was supposed to be inhabited by a storm-causing dragon; the wind whispered because a spirit whispered in it.

Love lyrics were charms to compel the love god to wound or possess a maiden’s heart–to fill it, as an Indian charm sets forth, with “the yearning of the Apsaras (fairies);” satires conjured up evil spirits to injure a victim; and heroic narratives chanted at graves were statements made to the god of battle, so that he might award the mighty dead by transporting him to the Valhal of Odin or Swarga of Indra.

Similarly, music had magical origin as an imitation of the voices of spirits–of the piping birds who were “Fates,” of the wind high and low, of the thunder roll, of the bellowing sea. So the god Pan piped on his reed bird-like notes, Indra blew his thunder horn, Thor used his hammer like a drumstick, Neptune imitated on his “wreathed horn” the voice of the deep, the Celtic oak god Dagda twanged his windy wooden harp, and Angus, the Celtic god of spring and love, came through budding forest ways with a silvern harp which had strings of gold, echoing the tuneful birds, the purling streams, the whispering winds, and the rustling of scented fir and blossoming thorn.

Modern-day poets and singers, who voice their moods and cast the spell of their moods over readers and audiences, are the representatives of ancient magicians who believed that moods were caused by the spirits which possessed them–the rhythmical wind spirits, those harpers of the forest and songsters of ocean.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Magical Practices in Ancient Babylonia

” … magic flourished like tropical fungi. Indeed, the worker of spells was held in high repute, and his operations were in most cases allowed free play.

There are only two paragraphs in the Hammurabi Code which deal with magical practices. It is set forth that if one man cursed another and the curse could not be justified, the perpetrator of it must suffer the death penalty.

Provision was also made for discovering whether a spell had been legally imposed or not. The victim was expected to plunge himself in a holy river. If the river carried him away it was held as proved that he deserved his punishment, and “the layer of the spell” was given possession of the victim’s house.

A man who could swim was deemed to be innocent; he claimed the residence of “the layer of the spell,” who was promptly put to death.

With this interesting glimpse of ancient superstition the famous Code opens, and then strikes a modern note by detailing the punishments for perjury and the unjust administration of law in the courts.

[ … ]

When a patient was wasted with disease, growing thinner and weaker and more bloodless day by day, it was believed that a merciless vampire was sucking his veins and devouring his flesh. It had therefore to be expelled by performing a magical ceremony and repeating a magical formula. The demon was either driven or enticed away.

A magician had to decide in the first place what particular demon was working evil. He then compelled its attention and obedience by detailing its attributes and methods of attack, and perhaps by naming it.

Thereafter he suggested how it should next act by releasing a raven, so that it might soar towards the clouds like that bird, or by offering up a sacrifice which it received for nourishment and as compensation.

Another popular method was to fashion a waxen figure of the patient and prevail upon the disease demon to enter it. The figure was then carried away to be thrown in the river or burned in a fire.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Name Magic

” … In Egypt attempts like that of Isis to appropriate the power of a high god by possessing herself of his name were not mere legends told of the mythical beings of a remote past; every Egyptian magician aspired to wield like powers by similar means.

For it was believed that he who possessed the true name possessed the very being of god or man, and could force even a deity to obey him as a slave obeys his master. Thus the art of the magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their sacred names, and he left no stone unturned to accomplish his end. When once a god in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness had imparted to the wizard the wondrous lore, the deity had no choice but to submit humbly to the man or pay the penalty of his contumacy.

The belief in the magic virtue of divine names was shared by the Romans. When they sat down before a city, the priests addressed the guardian deity of the place in a set form of prayer or incantation, inviting him to abandon the beleaguered city and come over to the Romans, who would treat him as well as or better than he had ever been treated in his old home.

Hence the name of the guardian deity of Rome was kept a profound secret, lest the enemies of the republic might lure him away, even as the Romans themselves had induced many gods to desert, like rats, the falling fortunes of cities that had sheltered them in happier days.

Nay, the real name, not merely of its guardian deity, but of the city itself, was wrapt in mystery and might never be uttered, not even in the sacred rites. A certain Valerius Soranus, who dared to divulge the priceless secret, was put to death or came to a bad end.

In like manner, it seems, the ancient Assyrians were forbidden to mention the mystic names of their cities; and down to modern times the Cheremiss of the Caucasus keep the names of their communal villages secret from motives of superstition.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1922, Tabooed Words, np.

Jesus and the Disciples Were Great Magicians and Kabbalists

“That the kabbalists were not unaware of a possible connection between these ideas and the Christian Trinity is proved by the testimony of the Spanish scholar Profiat Duran. In his anti-Christian work “Ignominy of the Christians,” composed in 1397, he relates having heard in his youth many adepts of the Kabbalah voicing the opinion that the Christian dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation grew out of an erroneous interpretation of kabbalistic theses that were true in themselves.

Jesus and his disciples were not only great magicians—an opinion that was widespread in medieval Judaism—but real kabbalists, ”only their Kabbalah was full of mistakes.” The doctrine of the trinity, which they erroneously attributed to the deity, arose among them as a result of their missteps in this science [the Kabbalah] which established the primordial light, the radiant light and the transparent light.”

There was as well, already in the second half of the thirteenth century, no lack of philosophical opponents of the Kabbalah who, knowing nothing of this thesis of the three lights, nonetheless affirmed that the doctrine of the ten sefiroth was of Christian origin.

This thesis is, as our account of the true history of the idea of the sefiroth has shown, just as false as the historically unfounded suppositions of the kabbalists concerning the origins of the Christian dogmas. It is, incidentally, striking that the doctrine of Pseudo-Hai remained initially unknown to the first so-called “Christian kabbalists,” who only took it up after the middle of the sixteenth century and reinterpreted it in Christian terms for their own purposes.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 354.

Lucky and Unlucky Days

“In magical papyri we are often told not to perform certain magical ceremonies on such and such days, the idea being that on these days hostile powers will make them to be powerless, and that gods mightier than those to which the petitioner would appeal will be in the ascendant.

There have come down to us, fortunately, papyri containing copies of the Egyptian calendar, in which each third of every day for three hundred and sixty days of the year is marked lucky or unlucky, and we know from other papyri why certain days were lucky or unlucky, and why others were only partly so (see Brit. Mus. Papyrus, No. 10,474).

Taking the month Thoth, which was the first month of the Egyptian year, and began, according to the Gregorian Calendar, on August 29th, we find that the days are marked as follows:—

The Egyptian Month of Thoth.

The Egyptian Month of Thoth.

Now the sign Egyptian Sign for Lucky means “lucky,” and Egyptian Sign for Unlucky means “unlucky”; thus at a glance it could be seen which third of the day is lucky or unlucky, and the man who consulted the calendar would, of course, act accordingly.

It must be noted that the priests or magicians who drew up the calendar had good reasons for their classification of the days, as we may see from the following example. The 19th day of Thoth is, in the above list, marked wholly lucky, i.e., each third of it is lucky, and the papyrus Sallier IV (see Chabas, Le Calendrier, p. 24) also marks it wholly lucky, and adds the reason:—

“It is a day of festival in heaven and upon earth in the presence of Râ. It is the day when flame was hurled upon those who followed the boat containing the shrine of the gods; and on this day the gods gave praises being content,” etc.

But in both lists the 26th day is marked wholly unlucky, the reason being, “This was the day of the fight between Horus and Set.” They first fought in the form of men, then they took the form of bears, and in this state did battle with each other for three days and three nights.

Isis aided Set when he was getting the worst in the fight, and Horus thereupon cut off his mother’s head, which Thoth transformed by his words of power into that of a cow and put on her body. On this day offerings are to be made to Osiris and Thoth, but work of any kind is absolutely forbidden.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 224-6.

Abrasax, the Invincible Name of Power

“The last class of documents undoubtedly contains a very large proportion of the magical ideas, beliefs, formulæ, etc., which were current in Egypt from the time of the Ptolemies to the end of the Roman Period, but from about B.C. 150 to A.D. 200 the papyri exhibit traces of the influence of Greek, Hebrew, and Syrian philosophers and magicians, and from a passage like the following (see Goodwin, Fragment of a Græco-Egyptian Work upon Magic, p. 7) we may get a proof of this:—

“I call thee, the headless one, that didst create earth and heaven, that didst create night and day, thee the creator of light and darkness. Thou art Osoronnophris, whom no man hath seen at any time; thou art Iabas, thou art Iapôs, thou hast distinguished the just and the unjust, thou didst make female and male, thou didst produce seeds and fruits, thou didst make men to love one another and to hate one another.”

“I am Moses thy prophet, to whom thou didst commit thy mysteries, the ceremonies of Israel; thou didst produce the moist and the dry and all manner of food.”

“Listen to me: I am an angel of Phapro Osoronnophris; this is thy true name, handed down to the prophets of Israel. Listen to me. (Here follow a number of names of which Reibet, Athelebersthe, Blatha, Abeu, Ebenphi, are examples) . . .”

In this passage the name Osoronnophris is clearly a corruption of the old Egyptian names of the great god of the dead “Ausar Unnefer,” and Phapro seems to represent the Egyptian Per-âa (literally, “great house”) or “Pharaoh,” with the article pa “the” prefixed.

It is interesting to note that Moses is mentioned, a fact which seems to indicate Jewish influence.

In another magical formula we read, (Goodwin, op. cit., p. 21) “I call upon thee that didst create the earth and bones, and all flesh and all spirit, that didst establish the sea and that shakest the heavens, that didst divide the light from the darkness, the great regulative mind, that disposest everything, eye of the world, spirit of spirits, god of gods, the lord of spirits, the immoveable Aeon, IAOOUÊI, hear my voice.”

“I call upon thee, the ruler of the gods, high-thundering Zeus, Zeus, king, Adonai, lord, Iaoouêe. I am he that invokes thee in the Syrian tongue, the great god, Zaalaêr, Iphphou, do thou not disregard the Hebrew appellation Ablanathanalb, Abrasilôa.”

“For I am Silthakhôoukh, Lailam, Blasalôth, Iaô, Ieô, Nebouth, Sabiothar, Bôth, Arbathiaô, Iaoth, Sabaôth, Patoure, Zagourê, Baroukh Adonai, Elôai, Iabraam, Barbarauô, Nau, Siph,” etc.

The spell ends with the statement that it “loosens chains, blinds, brings dreams, creates favour; it may be used in common for whatever purpose you will.”

In the above we notice at once the use of the seven vowels which form “a name wherein be contained all Names, and all Lights, and all Powers” (see Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, London, 1893, p. 63). The seven vowels have, of course, reference to the three vowels “Iaô” (for Iaoouêi we should probably read Iaô ouêi) which were intended to represent one of the Hebrew names for Almighty God, “Jâh.”

The names “Adonai, Elôai,” are also derived through the Hebrew from the Bible, and Sabaôth is another well-known Hebrew word meaning “hosts”; some of the remaining names could be explained, if space permitted, by Hebrew and Syriac words.

On papyri and amulets the vowels are written in magical combinations in such a manner as to form triangles and other shapes; with them are often found the names of the seven archangels of God; the following are examples:–

 (British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33). (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123). (Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel).


(British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33).
(Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).
(Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel)

In combination with a number of signs which owe their origin to the Gnostics the seven vowels were sometimes engraved upon plaques, or written upon papyri, with the view of giving the possessor power over gods or demons or his fellow creatures.

The example printed below is found on a papyrus in the British Museum and accompanies a spell written for the purpose of overcoming the malice of enemies, and for giving security against alarms and nocturnal visions. (Kenyon, op. cit., P. 121).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.--4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.–4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

But of all the names found upon Gnostic gems two, i.e., Khnoubis (or Khnoumis), and Abrasax (or Abraxas), are of the most frequent occurrence. The first is usually represented as a huge serpent having the head of a lion surrounded by seven or twelve rays.

Over the seven rays, one on the point of each, are the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet, which some suppose to refer to the seven heavens; and on the back of the amulet, on which the figure of Khnoumis occurs, is usually found the sign of the triple S and bar.

Khnoumis is, of course, a form of the ancient Egyptian god Khnemu, or “Fashioner” of man and beast, the god to whom many of the attributes of the Creator of the universe were ascribed.

Khnemu is, however, often depicted with the head of a ram, and in the later times, as the “beautiful ram of Râ,” he has four heads; in the Egyptian monuments he has at times the head of a hawk, but never that of a lion.

The god Abrasax is represented in a form which has a human body, the bead of a hawk or cock, and legs terminating in serpents; in one hand he holds a knife or dagger, and in the other a shield upon which is inscribed the great name ΙΑΩ {Greek IAW}, or JÂH.

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the meaning and derivation of the name Abrasax, but there is no doubt that the god who bore it was a form of the Sun-god, and that he was intended to represent some aspect of the Creator of the world.

The name was believed to possess magical powers of the highest class, and Basileides, (he of Alexandria, who lived about A.D. 120. He was a disciple of Menander, and declared that he had received the esoteric doctrine of Saint Peter from Glaucias, a disciple of the Apostle) who gave it currency in the second century, seems to have regarded it as an invincible name.

It is probable, however, that its exact meaning was lost at an early date, and that it soon degenerated into a mere magical symbol, for it is often found inscribed on amulets side by side with scenes and figures with which, seemingly, it cannot have any connexion whatever.

Judging from certain Gnostic gems in the British Museum, Abrasax is to be identified with the polytheistic figure that stands in the upper part of the Metternich stele depicted on p. 153 and below.

Metternich Stele.

Metternich Stele.

This figure has two bodies, one being that of a man, and the other that of a bird; from these extend four wings, and from each of his knees projects a serpent.

He has two pairs of hands and arms; one pair is extended along the wings, each hand holding the symbols of “life,” “stability,” and “power,” and two knives and two serpents; the other pair is pendent, the right hand grasping the sign of life, and the other a sceptre.

His face is grotesque, and probably represents that of Bes, or the sun as an old man; on his head is a pylon-shaped object with figures of various animals, and above it a pair of horns which support eight knives and the figure of a god with raised hands and arms, which typifies “millions of years.”

The god stands upon an oval wherein are depicted figures of various “typhonic” animals, and from each side of his crown proceed several symbols of fire.

Whether in the Gnostic system Abraxas absorbed all the names and attributes of this god of many forms cannot be said with certainty.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 177-80.

Magicians and Snake-Charmers

When Ra had made a heaven for himself, and had arranged for a continuance of life on the earth, and the welfare of human beings, he remembered that at one time when reigning on earth he had been bitten by a serpent, and had nearly lost his life through the bite. Fearing that the same calamity might befall his successor, he determined to take steps to destroy the power of all noxious reptiles that dwelt on the earth.

With this object in view he told Thoth to summon Keb, the Earth-god, to his presence, and this god having arrived, Ra told him that war must be made against the serpents that dwelt in his dominions. He further commanded him to go to the god Nu, and to tell him to set a watch over all the reptiles that were in the earth and in water, and to draw up a writing for every place in which serpents are known to be, containing strict orders that they are to bite no one.

Though these serpents knew that Ra was retiring from the earth, they were never to forget that his rays would fall upon them. In his place their father Keb was to keep watch over them, and he was their father for ever.

As a further protection against them Ra promised to impart to magicians and snake-charmers the particular word of power, hekau, with which he guarded himself against the attacks of serpents, and also to transmit it to his son Osiris.

Thus those who are ready to listen to the formulae of the snake-charmers shall always be immune from the bites of serpents, and their children also. From this we may gather that the profession of the snake-charmer is very ancient, and that this class of magicians were supposed to owe the foundation of their craft to a decree of Ra himself.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations, London, 1912. (No page numbers are given in my edition).

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