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Category: Sudan

Dreaming at the Base of the Sphinx

In early Christian literatures we find a number of examples of demoniacal possession in which the demon who has entered the body yields it up before a demon of greater power than himself, but the demon who is expelled is invariably hostile to him that expels him, and he departs from before him with every sign of wrath and shame.

The fact that it was believed possible for the demon of Bekhten and the god Khonsu to fraternize, and to be present together at a festival made by the Prince of the country, shews that the people of Bekhten ascribed the same attributes to spirits or demons as they did to men.

The demon who possessed the princess recognized in Khonsu a being who was mightier than himself, and, like a vanquished king, he wished to make the best terms he could with his conqueror, and to be on good terms with him.

The Egyptians believed that the divine powers frequently made known their will to them by means of dreams, and they attached considerable importance to them; the figures of the gods and the scenes which they saw when dreaming seemed to them to prove the existence of another world which was not greatly unlike that already known to them.

The knowledge of the art of procuring dreams and the skill to interpret them were greatly prized in Egypt as elsewhere in the East, and the priest or official who possessed such gifts sometimes rose to places of high honour in the
state, as we may see from the example of Joseph, (see Genesis, Chapters xi., xii) for it was universally believed that glimpses of the future were revealed to man in dreams.

As instances of dreams recorded in the Egyptian texts may be quoted those of Thothmes IV., king of Egypt about B.C. 1450, and Nut-Amen, king of the Eastern Sûdân and Egypt, about B.C. 670.

A prince, according to the stele which he set up before the breast of the Sphinx at Gizeh, was one day hunting near this emblem of Râ-Harmachis, and he sat down to rest under its shadow and fell asleep and dreamed a dream.

In it the god appeared to him, and, having declared that he was the god Harmachis-Khepera-Râ-Temu, promised him that if he would clear away from the Sphinx, his own image, the drift sand in which it was becoming buried, he would give to him the sovereignty of the lands of the South and of the North, i.e., of all Egypt.

In due course the prince became king of Egypt under the title of Thothmes IV, and the stele which is dated on the 19th day of the month Hathor of the first year of Thothmes IV proves that the royal dreamer carried out the wishes of the god. (See Vyse, Appendix, London, 1842, vol. iii., p. 114 ff).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 213-5.

The Sun Stood Still

“Isis then continues her narrative thus:—

“I Isis conceived a child, and was great with child of Horus. I, a goddess, gave birth to Horus, the son of Isis, upon an island (or nest) in Athu the region of swamps; and I rejoiced greatly because of this, for I regarded Horus as a gift which would repay me for the loss of his father.”

“I hid him most carefully and concealed him in my anxiety, and indeed he was well hidden, and then I went away to the city of Am. When I had saluted the inhabitants thereof I turned back to seek the child, so that I might give him suck and take him in my arms again.”

“But I found my sucking-child Horus the fair golden one, well nigh dead! He had bedewed the ground with the water from his eye and with the foam from his lips, his body was stiff, his heart was still, and no muscle in any of his limbs moved.”

(This is an exact description of the state of an animal which has been stung by the small black scorpion in Egypt and the Sûdân. I saw Colonel W. H. Drage’s dog “Shûbra” bitten at Merâwî in September, 1897, by a black scorpion, and in about an hour she was in the state of Horus as described above, and the whole camp was distressed, for both master and dog were great favourites. When it was no longer possible to administer spirit to her, Major G. R. Griffith and others immersed her body in pails of very hot water for several hours, and at sundown she was breathing comfortably, and she soon afterwards recovered).

“Then I uttered a bitter cry of grief, and the dwellers in the papyrus swamps ran to me straightway from out of their houses, and they bewailed the greatness of my calamity; but none of them opened his mouth to speak, for every one was in deep sorrow for me, and no man knew how to bring back life into Horus.”

“Then there came to me a certain woman who was well known in her city, for she belonged to a noble family, and she tried to rekindle the life in Horus, but although her heart was full of her knowledge my son remained motionless.”

Meanwhile the folk remarked that the son of the divine mother Isis had been protected against his brother Set, that the plants among which he had been hidden could not be penetrated by any hostile being, that the words of power of Temu, the father of the gods, “who is in heaven,” should have preserved the life of Horus, that Set his brother could not possibly have had access to where the child was, who, in any case, had been protected against his wickedness; and at length it was discovered that Horus had been stung by a scorpion, and that the reptile “which destroyeth the heart” had wounded him, and had probably killed him.

At this juncture Nephthys arrived, and went round about among the papyrus swamps weeping bitterly because of the affliction of her sister Isis; with her also was Serqet, the goddess of scorpions, who asked continually, “What hath happened to the child Horus?”

Then Nephthys said to Isis, “Cry out in prayer unto heaven, and let the mariners in the boat of Râ cease to row, and let not the boat of Râ move further on its course for the sake of the child Horus”; and forthwith Isis sent forth her cry up to heaven, and made her request come unto the “Boat of millions of years,” and the Sun stood still and his boat moved not from its place by reason of the goddess’s petition.

Out from the boat came the god Thoth provided with magical powers, and bearing with him the great power to command in such wise that the words of his mouth must be fulfilled straightway; and he spake to Isis, saying “O thou goddess Isis, whose mouth knoweth how to utter charms (or talismans), no suffering shall come upon thy child Horus, for his health and safety depend upon the boat of Râ.”

“I have come this day in the divine boat of the Disk (Aten) to the place where it was yesterday. When darkness (or night) ruleth, the light shall vanquish it for the health (or safety) of Horus for the sake of his mother Isis and similarly shall it happen unto every one who possesseth what is [here] written(?).”

What took place next is, of course, evident. The child Horus was restored to life, to the great joy of his mother Isis, who was more indebted than ever to the god Thoth for coming to deliver her out of her trouble on the death of her son, just as he had done on the death of her husband.

Now because Isis had revivified both her husband and her son by the words of power and talismans which she possessed, mortal man thought it was absolutely necessary for him to secure her favour and protection at any cost, for eternal life and death were in her hands.

As time went on the Egyptians revered her more and more, and as she was the lady of the gods and of heaven, power equal to that possessed by Râ himself was ascribed to her.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 133-7.

Budge’s Version of the Legend of Ra and Isis

At this time Isis lived in the form of a woman who possessed the knowledge of spells and incantations, that is to say, she was regarded much in the same way as modern African peoples regard their “medicine-women,” or “witch-women.”

She had used her spells on men, and was tired of exercising her powers on them, and she craved the opportunity of making herself mistress of gods and spirits as well as of men. She meditated how she could make herself mistress both of heaven and earth, and finally she decided that she could only obtain the power she wanted if she possessed the knowledge of the secret name of Ra, in which his very existence was bound up.

Ra guarded this name most jealously, for he knew that if he revealed it to any being he would henceforth be at that being’s mercy. Isis saw that it was impossible to make Ra declare his name to her by ordinary methods, and she therefore thought out the following plan.

It was well known in Egypt and the Sudan at a very early period that if a magician obtained some portion of a person’s body, e.g., a hair, a paring of a nail, a fragment of skin, or a portion of some efflux from the body, spells could be used upon them which would have the effect of causing grievous harm to that person.

Isis noted that Ra had become old and feeble, and that as he went about he dribbled at the mouth, and that his saliva fell upon the ground. Watching her opportunity she caught some of the saliva and mixing it with dust, she moulded it into the form of a large serpent, with poison-fangs, and having uttered her spells over it, she left the serpent lying on the path, by which Ra travelled day by day as he went about inspecting Egypt, so that it might strike at him as he passed along.

[ … ]

Soon after Isis had placed the serpent on the Path, Ra passed by, and the reptile bit him, thus injecting poison into his body. Its effect was terrible, and Ra cried out in agony. His jaws chattered, his lips trembled, and he became speechless for a time; never before had he suffered such pain. The gods hearing his cry rushed to him, and when he could speak he told them that he had been bitten by a deadly serpent. In spite of all the words of power which were known to him, and his secret name which had been hidden in his body at his birth, a serpent had bitten him, and he was being consumed with a fiery pain.

He then commanded that all the gods who had any knowledge of magical spells should come to him, and when they came, Isis, the great lady of spells, the destroyer of diseases, and the revivifier of the dead, came with them. Turning to Ra she said, “What hath happened, O divine Father?” and in answer the god told her that a serpent had bitten him, that he was hotter than fire and colder than water, that his limbs quaked, and that he was losing the power of sight.

Then Isis said to him with guile, “Divine Father, tell me thy name, for he who uttereth his own name shall live.” Thereupon Ra proceeded to enumerate the various things that he had done, and to describe his creative acts, and ended his speech to Isis by saying, that he was Khepera in the morning, Ra at noon, and Temu in the evening.

Apparently he thought that the naming of these three great names would satisfy Isis, and that she would immediately pronounce a word of power and stop the pain in his body, which, during his speech, had become more acute.

Isis, however, was not deceived, and she knew well that Ra had not declared to her his hidden name; this she told him, and she begged him once again to tell her his name. For a time the god refused to utter the name, but as the pain in his body became more violent, and the poison passed through his veins like fire, he said, “Isis shall search in me, and my name shall pass from my body into hers.”

At that moment Ra removed himself from the sight of the gods in his Boat, and the Throne in the Boat of Millions of Years had no occupant. The great name of Ra was, it seems, hidden in his heart, and Isis, having some doubt as to whether Ra would keep his word or not, agreed with Horus that Ra must be made to take an oath to part with his two Eyes, that is, the Sun and the Moon.

At length Ra allowed his heart to be taken from his body, and his great and secret name, whereby he lived, passed into the possession of Isis. Ra thus became to all intents and purposes a dead god.

Then Isis, strong in the power of her spells, said: “Flow, poison, come out of Ra. Eye of Horus, come out of Ra, and shine outside his mouth. It is I, Isis, who work, and I have made the poison to fall on the ground. Verily the name of the great god is taken from him, Ra shall live and the poison shall die; if the poison live Ra shall die.”

This was the infallible spell which was to be used in cases of poisoning, for it rendered the bite or sting of every venomous reptile harmless. It drove the poison out of Ra, and since it was composed by Isis after she obtained the knowledge of his secret name it was irresistible.

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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