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Tag: Isis

Eco: The Perfect Language of Images


Iamblicus (250-325 CE), De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum, Chaldoaerum, AssyriorumOn the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians, Lyon: Joannis Tornaesium, 1577. In 2000, Joseph Peterson published a translation from the Greek by Alexander Wilder dated 1911 on the Esoteric Archives. A Latin edition published by Marsilio Ficino in Venice in 1497 is on, with several exemplars on Google Books. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Already in Plato, as in Pythagoras before him, there appeared a veneration for the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. Aristotle was more skeptical, and when he came to recount the history of philosophy in the first book of the Metaphysics, he started directly with the Greeks.

Influenced by Aristotle, the Christian authors of the Middle Ages showed relatively little curiosity about ancient Egypt. References to this tradition can be found only in marginal alchemical texts like Picatrix.

Isidore of Seville shortly mentioned the Egyptians as the inventors of geometry and astronomy, and said that the original Hebrew letters became the basis for the Greek alphabet when Isis, queen of the Egyptians, found them and brought them back to her own country (Etymologiarum, I, iii, 5).

By contrast, one could put the Renaissance under the standard of what Baltrušaitis (1967) has called the “search for Isis.” Isis became thus the symbol for an Egypt regarded as the wellspring of original knowledge, and the inventor of a sacred scripture, capable of expressing the unfathomable reality of the divine.

The Neoplatonic revival, in which Ficino played the role of high priest, restored to Egypt its ancient primacy.

In the Enneads (V, 8, 5-6) Plotinus wrote:

“The wise sages of Egypt [ . . . ] in order to designate things with wisdom do not use designs of letters, which develop into discourses and propositions, and which represent sounds and words; instead they use designs of images, each of which stands for a distinct thing; and it is these that they sculpt onto their temples. [ . . . ] Every incised sign is thus, at once, knowledge, wisdom, a real entity captured in one stroke.”

Iamblicus, in his De mysteriis aegyptiorum, said that the Egyptians, when they invented their symbols, imitating the nature of the universe and the creation of the gods, revealed occult intuitions by symbols.

The translation of the Corpus Hermeticum (which Ficino published alongside his translations of Iamblicus and other Neoplatonic texts) was under the sign of Egypt, because, for Ficino, the ancient Egyptian wisdom came from Hermes Trismegistus.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 144-5.

Eco: Cosmic Permutability and the Kabbala of Names, 2

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), The Bembine Table of Isis, Oedipus Aegypticiacus

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), The Bembine Table of Isis, Oedipus Aegypticiacus, or Mensa Isiaca, N. Inv. C. 7155, Museo Egizio, photo by Fuzzypeg from Manly Palmer Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928), all rights released. The Bembine Table was acquired by Cardinal Bembo after the sack of Rome in 1527, then purchased by the Savoy King Carlo Emanuele I in 1630 in Turin. A Roman interpretation of a bronze and silver altar table in an Egyptian style, early scholars surmised that the table pertained to an Isis cult. Kircher relied upon it for the third volume of his masterwork. It was ultimately determined to be an antique forgery, and not a work of ancient Egypt. This image is in the public domain. The author died over 70 years ago.   


“What justified  this process of textual dissolution was that, for Abulafia, each letter, each atomic element, already had a meaning of its own, independent of the meaning of the syntagms in which it occurred.

Each letter was already a divine name: “Since, in the letters of the Name, each letter is already a Name itself, know that Yod is a name, and YH is a name” (Perush Havdalah de-Rabbi ‘Akivà).

This practice of reading by permutation tended to produce ecstatic effects:

“And begin by combining this name, namely, YHWH, at the beginning alone, and examining all its combinations and move it, turn it about like a wheel, returning around, front and back, like a scroll, and do not let it rest, but when you see its matter strengthened because of the great motion, because of the fear of confusion of your imagination, and rolling about of your thoughts, and when you let it rest, return to it and ask [it] until there shall come to your hand a word of wisdom from it, do not abandon it.

Afterwards go on to the second one from it, Adonay, and ask of it its foundation [yesodo] and it will reveal to you its secret [sodo]. And then you will apprehend its matter in the truth of its language. Then join and combine the two of them [YHWH and Adonay] and study them and ask them, and they will reveal to you the secrets of wisdom . . .

Afterwards combine Elohim, and it will also grant you wisdom, and then combine the four of them, and find the miracles of the Perfect One [i.e. God], which are miracles of wisdom.” (Hayyê ha-Nefes, in Idel 1988c:21).

If we add that the recitation of the names was accompanied by special techniques of breathing, we begin to see how from recitation the adept might pass into ecstasy, and from ecstasy to the acquisition of magic powers; for the letters that the mystic combined were the same sounds with which God created the world.

This latter aspect came especially into prominence during the fifteenth century. For Yohanan Alemanno, friend and inspirer of Pico della Mirandola, “the symbolic cargo of language was transformed into a kind of quasi-mathematical command. Kabbalistic symbolism thus turned into–or perhaps returned to–a magical language of incantation” (Idel 1988b: 204-5).

For the ecstatic kabbala, language was a self-contained universe in which the structure of language represented the structure of reality itself. Already in the writings of Philo of Alexandria there had been an attempt to compare the intimate essence of the Torah with the Logos as the world of ideas.

Such Platonic conceptions had even penetrated into the Haggidic and Midrashic literature in which the Torah was conceived as providing the scheme according to which God created the world.

The eternal Torah was identified with wisdom and, in many passages, with the world of forms or universe of archetypes. In the thirteenth century, taking up a decidedly Averroist line, Abulafia equated the Torah with the active intellect, “the form of all the forms of separate intellects” (Sefer Mafteakh ha-Tokhahot).

In contrast, therefore, with the main philosophical tradition (from Aristotle to the Stoics and to the Middle Ages, as well as to Arab and Judaic philosophers), language, in the kabbala, did not represent the world merely by referring to it.

It did not, that is, stand to the world in the relation of signifier to signified or sign to its referent. If God created the world by uttering sounds or by combining written letters, it must follow that these semiotic elements were not representations of pre-existing things, but the very forms by which the elements of the universe are moulded.

The significance of this argument in our own story must be plain: the language of creation was perfect not because it merely happened to reflect the structure of the universe in some exemplary fashion; it created the universe.

Consequently it stands to the universe as the cast stands to the object cast from it.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 30-2.

Conflation of Resurrection Gods Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris

“In later times, after the revolt of Egypt from the Assyrian king and the rise of the 26th Dynasty, the cult of Adonis at Gebal entered upon a new phase.

Egyptian beliefs and customs made their way into Phoenicia along with Egyptian political influence, and the story of Adonis was identified with that of the Egyptian Osiris. As the Sun-god Osiris had been slain and had risen again from the dead, so, too, had the Phoenician Adonis descended into Hades and been rescued again from its grasp.

Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right (22nd dynasty, Louvre, Paris). Public Domain Uploaded by Borislav Created: between 874 and 850 BC (Twenty-second dynasty) Guillaume Blanchard, Own work, July 2004,  Osiris, Isis and Horus: pendant bearing the name of King Osorkon II

Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right (22nd dynasty, Louvre, Paris).
Public Domain
Uploaded by Borislav
Created: between 874 and 850 BC (Twenty-second dynasty)
Guillaume Blanchard, Own work, July 2004,
Osiris, Isis and Horus: pendant bearing the name of King Osorkon II

 How long, indeed, he had remained in the world below was a matter of doubt. There were some who said that he shared half the year with the goddess of death, and the other half only with the goddess of love; there were others who declared that his year was divided into three–four months was he condemned to dwell in Hades, four months he was free to live where he might choose, while the other four were passed in the companionship of Ashtoreth, and that it was to Ashtoreth that he devoted his months of freedom.

But all agreed that the Sun-god of spring was not compelled to live for ever in the gloomy under-world; a time came when he and nature would alike revive. It was inevitable, therefore, that in the days of Egyptianising fashion, Adonis and Osiris should be looked upon as the same god, and that the festival of Adonis at Gebal should be assimilated to that of Osiris in Egypt.

And so it came about that a new feature was added to the festival of Adonis; the days of mourning were succeeded by days of rejoicing; the death of Adonis was followed by the announcement of his resurrection.

A head of papyrus came from Egypt over the waves; while, on the other hand, an Alexandrian legend told how the mourning Isis had found again at Gebal the chest in which the dismembered limbs of Osiris were laid.

It is clear that the Babylonian poet who sang of the descent of Istar into Hades had no conception of a festival of joy that followed immediately upon a festival of mourning. Nevertheless, the whole burden of his poem is the successful journey of the goddess into the under-world for the sake of the precious waters which should restore her beloved one to life.

Even in Babylonia, therefore, there must have been a season when the name of Tammuz was commemorated, not with words of woe, but with joy and rejoicing. But it could have been only when the fierce heats of the summer were past; when the northern wind, which the Accadians called “the prospering one,” began again to blow; and when the Sun-god regained once more the vigour of his spring-tide youth.

That there had once been a festival of this kind is indicated by the fact that the lamentations for his death did not take place in all parts of Syria at the same time. We learn from Ammianus that when Julian arrived at Antioch in the late autumn, he found the festival of Adonis being celebrated “according to ancient usage,” after the in-gathering of the harvest and before the beginning of the new year, in Tisri or October.

It must have been in the autumn, too, that the feast of Hadad-Rimmon was observed, to which Zechariah alludes; and Ezekiel saw the women weeping for Tammuz in “the sixth month.” Nay, Macrobius even tells us that the Syrian worshippers of Adonis in his time explained the boar’s tusk which had slain the god as the cold and darkness of winter, his return to the upper world being his “victory over the first six zodiacal signs, along with the lengthening day-light.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 229-31.

Ishtar and Tammuz are Composite Deities

“If it be granted, then, that Ishtar and Tammuz are deities of vegetation, it is possible still further to narrow their sphere by associating them particularly with the corn. Adonis and Aphrodite are connected with the growth of the crops. Ceres, who forbids the corn to spring while her daughter is in the realm of Pluto, is undoubtedly a corn-mother, and Proserpine evidently partakes of the same nature.

Osiris was the culture-deity who introduced corn into Egypt. A representation of him in the temple of Isis at Philas depicts corn-stalks growing out of his dead body—the body of Osiris (the grain) is torn to pieces, scattered through the land, and the pieces buried (or planted) in the earth, when the corn sprouts from it.

Moreover, Tammuz himself was cruelly disposed of by his lord, who “ground his bones in a mill, and then scattered them to the wind”—plainly a type of the treatment meted out to the corn. An Arabic writer relates that Tammuz was cruelly killed several times, but that he always came to life again, a story which recalls Robert Burns’ John Barleycorn, itself perhaps based on mythical matter.

May not these examples suggest an elucidation on animistic lines? Deities of the Tammuz type appear to symbolize the corn-grain and nothing more— cut down, bruised and beaten, buried in the earth, and finally springing to renewed life.

Who, then, are the goddesses, likewise identified with the corn, who seek in the underworld for lover or child, endeavouring with tears to ransom the corn from the dark earth? Are they not the primitive corn-spirits, the indwelling animistic spirits of the standing grain, doomed at the harvest to wander disconsolately through the earth till the sprouting of the corn once more gives them an opportunity to materialize?

The stories of the mutilation and dispersion of the bodies of Tammuz and Osiris, and of the many deaths of the former god, furnish a basis for yet another explanation of the Tammuz myth. Sir James Frazer brings forward the theory that the ‘Lamentations’ of the ancient Babylonians were intended not for mourning for the decay of vegetation, but to bewail the cruel treatment of the grain at harvest-time, and cites in this connexion the ballad of John Barleycorn, which, we are told, was based on an early English poem, probably itself of mythological origin.

It is, however, most likely that the myth of Tammuz and Ishtar is of a composite nature, as has already been indicated. Possibly a myth of the sun-god and earth-goddess has been superimposed on the early groundwork of the corn-spirit seeking the corn.

It would certainly seem that Ishtar in her descent into Aralu typified the earth, shorn of her covering of vegetation. Then in time she might come to symbolize the vegetation itself, or the fertility which produced it, and so would gain new attributes, and new elements would enter into the myths concerning her. Only by regarding her as a composite deity is it possible to reach an understanding of the principles underlying these myths.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 138-40.

Tammuz and Ishtar, Adonis and Aphrodite, Attis and Cybele, Isis and Osiris

As has been indicated already, the myth of Tammuz and Ishtar furnished the groundwork for certain myths of classic Greece and Rome.

The Phoenician Astarte (Ashtoreth), a development of Ishtar, became in time the Aphrodite of the Greeks, a deity who plays a part in the Adonis legend analogous to that of Ishtar in the Tammuz story. The name Adonis itself is derived from Adoni (‘my lord’), the word with which the Phoenician worshippers of Tammuz hailed the setting sun.

The myth of Adonis is perhaps the most nearly related of any to that of Tammuz, since its chief characters are acknowledged counterparts of those in the Babylonian legend, while the tale of Ishtar’s descent into Hades may be regarded as a sequel to the Greek story, or rather to an early Babylonian variant thereof.

Briefly outlined, the story runs as follows: Adonis was the fruit of an unnatural union between the Syrian king Theias and his daughter Smyrna (Myrrha). Theias pursued the princess, intending to take her life for the crime, but the pity of the gods turned her into a tree from which, at the end of ten months, Adonis was born. It is said that a boar rent open the tree-trunk with its tusk, and thus enabled the divine infant to see the light.

Aphrodite, charmed with the beauty of the child, gave him into the care of Persephone, who was so enamoured of her charge that she afterwards refused to give him up. The goddesses appealed to Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should spend six months of each year with Aphrodite and six with Persephone in the underworld; or, according to another version, four months were to be passed with Aphrodite and four with Persephone, while the remaining four were to be at his own disposal.

He was afterwards slain by a boar sent against him by Artemis (herself, by the way, a development of Ishtar). It may be remarked that Aphrodite, who figures, like Ishtar, as the goddess of love and beauty, is also closely associated with the nether regions, perhaps because she was identified with the Babylonian goddess in her journey to Hades in search of her spouse.

Akin to Adonis is the god Attis, who likewise, according to one version of his myth, is slain by a boar. After his death he becomes a pine-tree, and from his blood violets spring. He is beloved of Cybele, the mother-goddess, who laments his untimely end.

In the Adonis legend there is evidence of some overlapping. Persephone, or Proserpine, who here corresponds to the Allatu of the Babylonian variant, figures in another well-known myth as the prototype of Tammuz. When she is carried off to the nether-world by Pluto, her mother, Ceres, will not suffer the corn to grow while her daughter remains a prisoner. Like Ishtar in search of her spouse, the mother-goddess seeks her child with weeping and lamentation. Through the eating of a pomegranate seed, Proserpine is finally obliged to pass four (or six) months of every year with her dark captor, as his consort.

Another myth which has affinities with the tale of Tammuz and Ishtar is the Egyptian one which deals with the quest of Isis. The god Osiris is slain through the machinations of his brother Set (who, being identified elsewhere with a black hog, recalls the boar which slew Adonis and Attis), and his body, enclosed in a chest, is cast into the Nile.

Afterwards the chest is thrown up by the waves, and round it springs miraculously a tamarisk tree. Meanwhile Isis, wife and sister to Osiris, travels hither and thither in search of his remains, which in due time she finds. However, the chest is stolen from her by Set, who, taking therefrom the body of Osiris, tears the corpse into fourteen pieces, which he scatters through the land. Isis still pursues her quest, till she has found all the portions and buried them.

These tales were the mythical correlates of certain ritualistic practices designed to bring about the change of seasons, and other natural phenomena, by means of sympathetic magic. The burden of a great duty falls upon the shoulders of primitive man; with his rites and spells and magic arts he must assist the universe in its course.

His esoteric plays, typifying the mysterious fact of growth, are necessary to ensure the sprouting of the corn; his charms and incantations are essential even for the rising of the sun; lacking the guarantee of science that one season shall follow another in its proper order, he goes through an elaborate performance symbolizing the decay and revival of vegetation, believing that only thus can the natural order be maintained. Through the force of sympathetic magic he sees his puny efforts related to the mighty results which follow them.

This, then, is the origin of the ritual of the Tammuz festival, which may conceivably have had an existence prior to that of the myth itself. The representation of the death and resurrection of the god, whether in myth or ritual, had undoubtedly a seasonal significance, wherefore the date of his festival varied in the different localities.

In Babylonia it was celebrated in June, thus showing that the deity was slain by the fierce heat of the sun, burning up all the springtide vegetation. Ishtar’s sojourn in Hades would thus occupy the arid months of summer.

In other and more temperate climes winter would be regarded as the enemy of Tammuz. An interesting account of the Tammuz festival is that given by an Arabic author writing in the tenth century, and quoted by Sir James Frazer in his Golden Bough.

Tammuz (July). In the middle of this month is the festival of el-Būgāt, that is, of the weeping women, and this is the Ta-uz festival, which is celebrated in honour of the god Ta-uz. The women bewail him, because his lord slew him so cruelly, ground his bones in a mill, and then scattered them to the wind. The women (during this festival) eat nothing which has been ground in a mill, but limit their diet to steeped wheat, sweet vetches, dates, raisins, and the like.”

The material for this description was furnished by the Syrians of Harran. Of the curious legend attaching to the mourning rites more will be said later.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 131-5.

Lady Ishtar, Goddess

Ishtar was undoubtedly a goddess of Semitic origin and symbolized the fertility of the earth. She was the great mother’ who fostered all vegetation and agriculture.

It is probable that her cult originated at Erech, and in the course of centuries and under many nominal changes dispersed itself throughout the length and breadth of western Asia and even into Greece and Egypt. It is probable that a number of lesser goddesses, such as Nana and Anunit, may have become merged in the conception of this divinity, and that lesser local deities of the same character as herself may have taken her name and assisted to swell her reputation.

She is frequently addressed as ‘mother of the gods,’ and indeed the name ‘Ishtar’ became a generic designation for ‘goddess.’ But these were later honours. When her cult centred at Erech, it appears to have speedily blossomed out in many directions, and, as has been said, lesser cults probably eagerly identified themselves with that of the great earth-mother, so that in time her worship became more than a Babylonian cult.

Indeed, wherever people of Semitic speech were to be found, there was the worship of Ishtar. As Ashteroth, or Astarte, she was known to Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Greeks, and there is some likelihood that the cult of Aphrodite had also its beginnings in that of Ishtar. We shall enquire later whether she can be the Esther of the Scriptures.

Astrologically she was identified with the planet Venus, but so numerous were the attributes surrounding her taken from other goddesses with which she had become identified that they threatened to overshadow her real character, which was that of the great and fertile mother. More especially did her identification with Nin-lil, the consort of En-lil, the storm-god, threaten to alter her real nature, as in this guise she was regarded as a goddess of war.

It is seldom that a goddess of fertility or love achieves such a distinction. Gods possessing an agricultural significance are nearly always war-gods, but that is because they bring the fertilizing thunder-clouds and therefore possess the lightning arrow or spear. But Ishtar is specifically a goddess of the class of Persephone or Isis, and her identification with battle must be regarded as purely accidental.

In later times in Assyria she was conceived as the consort of Asshur, head of the Assyrian pantheon, in days when a god or goddess who did not breathe war was of little use to a people like the Assyrians, who were constantly employed in hostilities, and this circumstance naturally heightened her reputation as a warlike divinity.

But it is at present her original character with which we are occupied, indeed in some texts we find that, so far from being able to protect herself, Ishtar and her property are made the prey of the savage En-lil, the storm-god.

“His word sent me forth,” she complains; “as often as it comes to me it casts me prostrate upon my face. The unconsecrated foe entered my courts, placed his unwashed hands upon me, and caused me to tremble. Putting forth his hand he smote me with fear. He tore away my robe and clothed his wife therein : he stripped off my jewels and placed them upon his daughter. Like a quivering dove upon a beam I sat. Like a fleeing bird from my cranny swiftly I passed. From my temple like a bird they caused me to fly.”

Such is the plaint of Ishtar, who in this case appears to be quite helpless before the enemy.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 123-5.

The Enduring, Syncretic Cult of the Great Mother

” … Tashmit, whose name signifies “Obedience,” according to Jastrow, or “Hearing,” according to Sayce, carried the prayers of worshippers to Nebo, her spouse.

As Isis interceded with Osiris, she interceded with Nebo, on behalf of mankind. But this did not signify that she was the least influential of the divine pair. A goddess played many parts: she was at once mother, daughter, and wife of the god; the servant of one god or the “mighty queen of all the gods.”

The Great Mother was, as has been indicated, regarded as the eternal and un-decaying one; the gods passed away, son succeeding father; she alone remained. Thus, too, did Semiramis survive in the popular memory, as the queen-goddess of widespread legends, after kings and gods had been forgotten.

To her was ascribed all the mighty works of other days in the lands where the indigenous peoples first worshipped the Great Mother as Damkina, Nina, Bau, Ishtar, or Tashmit, because the goddess was anciently believed to be the First Cause, the creatrix, the mighty one who invested the ruling god with the powers he possessed–the god who held sway because he was her husband, as did Nergal as the husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades.

The multiplication of well-defined goddesses was partly due to the tendency to symbolize the attributes of the Great Mother, and partly due to the development of the great “Lady” in a particular district where she reflected local phenomena and where the political influence achieved by her worshippers emphasized her greatness.

Legends regarding a famous goddess were in time attached to other goddesses, and in Aphrodite and Derceto we appear to have mother deities who absorbed the traditions of more than one local “lady” of river and plain, forest and mountain.

Semiramis, on the other hand, survived as a link between the old world and the new, between the country from which emanated the stream of ancient culture and the regions which received it. As the high priestess of the cult, she became identified with the goddess whose bird name she bore, as Gilgamesh and Etana became identified with the primitive culture-hero or patriarch of the ancient Sumerians, and Sargon became identified with Tammuz.

No doubt the fame of Semiramis was specially emphasized because of her close association, as Queen Sammu-rammat, with the religious innovations which disturbed the land of the god Ashur during the Middle Empire period.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 436-8.

Origins of the Sacred Marriage

” … The Great Mother goddess was worshipped from the earliest times, and she bore various local names. At Comana in Pontus she was known to the Greeks as Ma, a name which may have been as old as that of the Sumerian Mama (the creatrix), or Mamitum (goddess of destiny); in Armenia she was Anaitis; in Cilicia she was Ate (‘Atheh of Tarsus); while in Phrygia she was best known as Cybele, mother of Attis, who links with Ishtar as mother and wife of Tammuz, Aphrodite as mother and wife of Adonis, and Isis as mother and wife of Osiris.

The Great Mother was in Phoenicia called Astarte; she was a form of Ishtar, and identical with the Biblical Ashtoreth. In the Syrian city of Hierapolis she bore the name of Atargatis, which Meyer, with whom Frazer agrees, considers to be the Greek rendering of the Aramaic ‘Athar-‘Atheh–the god ‘Athar and the goddess ‘Atheh. Like the “bearded Aphrodite,” Atargatis may have been regarded as a bisexual deity.

Some of the specialized mother goddesses, whose outstanding attributes reflected the history and politics of the states they represented, were imported into Egypt–the land of ancient mother deities–during the Empire period, by the half-foreign Rameses kings; these included the voluptuous Kadesh and the warlike Anthat.

In every district colonized by the early representatives of the Mediterranean race, the goddess cult came into prominence, and the gods and the people were reputed to be descendants of the great Creatrix. This rule obtained as far distant as Ireland, where the Danann folk and the Danann gods were the children of the goddess Danu.

Among the Hatti proper–that is, the broad-headed military aristocracy–the chief deity of the pantheon was the Great Father, the creator, “the lord of Heaven,” the Baal. As Sutekh, Tarku, Adad, or Ramman, he was the god of thunder, rain, fertility, and war, and he ultimately acquired solar attributes.

A famous rock sculpture at Boghaz-Köi depicts a mythological scene which is believed to represent the Spring marriage of the Great Father and the Great Mother, suggesting a local fusion of beliefs which resulted from the union of tribes of the god cult with tribes of the goddess cult.

So long as the Hatti tribe remained the predominant partner in the Hittite confederacy, the supremacy was assured of the Great Father who symbolized their sway. But when, in the process of time, the power of the Hatti declined, their chief god “fell… from his predominant place in the religion of the interior,” writes Dr. Garstang. “But the Great Mother lived on, being the goddess of the land.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 267-8.

Revolting Unmoral Rites

“There is another phase, however, to the character of the mother goddess which explains the references to the desertion and slaying of Tammuz by Ishtar. “She is,” says Jastrow, “the goddess of the human instinct, or passion which accompanies human love. Gilgamesh … reproaches her with abandoning the objects of her passion after a brief period of union.” At Ishtar’s temple “public maidens accepted temporary partners, assigned to them by Ishtar.”

The worship of all mother goddesses in ancient times was accompanied by revolting unmoral rites which are referred to in condemnatory terms in various passages in the Old Testament, especially in connection with the worship of Ashtoreth, who was identical with Ishtar and the Egyptian Hathor.

Ishtar in the process of time overshadowed all the other female deities of Babylonia, as did Isis in Egypt. Her name, indeed, which is Semitic, became in the plural, Ishtar·te, a designation for goddesses in general. But although she was referred to as the daughter of the sky, Anu, or the daughter of the moon, Sin or Nannar, she still retained traces of her ancient character.

Originally she was a great mother goddess, who was worshipped by those who believed that life and the universe had a female origin in contrast to those who believed in the theory of male origin. Ishtar is identical with Nina, the fish goddess, a creature who gave her name to the Sumerian city of Nina and the Assyrian city of Nineveh.

Other forms of the Creatrix included Mama, or Mami, or Ama, “mother,” Aruru, Bau, Gula, and Zerpanitum. These were all “Preservers” and healers. At the same time they were “Destroyers,” like Nin-sun and the Queen of Hades, Eresh-ki-gal or Allatu.

They were accompanied by shadowy male forms ere they became wives of strongly individualized gods, or by child gods, their sons, who might be regarded as “brothers” or “husbands of their mothers,” to use the paradoxical Egyptian term.

Similarly Great Father deities had vaguely defined wives. The “Semitic” Baal, “the lord,” was accompanied by a female reflection of himself–Beltu, “the lady.” Shamash, the sun god, had for wife the shadowy Aa.

As has been shown, Ishtar is referred to in a Tammuz hymn as the mother of the child god of fertility. In an Egyptian hymn the sky goddess Nut, “the mother” of Osiris, is stated to have “built up life from her own body.” Sri or Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, who became the wife of Vishnu, as the mother goddess Saraswati, a tribal deity, became the wife of Brahma, was, according to a Purana commentator, “the mother of the world … eternal and undecaying.”

The gods, on the other hand, might die annually: the goddesses alone were immortal. Indra was supposed to perish of old age, but his wife, Indrani, remained ever young. There were fourteen Indras in every “day of Brahma”, a reference apparently to the ancient conception of Indra among the Great Mother-worshipping sections of the Aryo-Indians.

In the Mahabharata the god Shiva, as Mahadeva, commands Indra on “one of the peaks of Himavat,” where they met, to lift up a stone and join the Indras who had been before him. “And Indra on removing that stone beheld a cave on the breast of that king of mountains in which were four others resembling himself.”

Indra exclaimed in his grief, “Shall I be even like these?” These five Indras, like the “Seven Sleepers,” awaited the time when they would be called forth. They were ultimately reborn as the five Pandava warriors.”

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

The Attis Cult and the Baptism of Blood

“Tammuz died with the dying vegetation, and Diarmid expired when the hills apparently were assuming their purple tints. The month of Tammuz wailings was from 20th June till 20th July, when the heat and dryness brought forth the demons of pestilence. The mourners chanted:

He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,

And the dead are numerous in the land….

Men are filled with sorrow: they stagger by day in gloom …

In the month of thy year which brings not peace hast thou gone.

Thou hast gone on a journey that makes an end of thy people.

The following extract contains a reference to the slaying of the god:

The holy one of Ishtar, in the middle of the year the fields languish…

The shepherd, the wise one, the man of sorrows, why have they slain?…

In his temple, in his inhabited domain,

The child, lord of knowledge, abides no more…

In the meadows, verily, verily, the soul of life perishes.

There is wailing for Tammuz “at the sacred cedar, where the mother bore thee,” a reference which connects the god, like Adonis and Osiris, with tree worship:

The wailing is for the herbs: the first lament is, “they are not produced.”

The wailing is for the grain, ears are not produced.

The wailing is for the habitations, for the flocks which bring forth no more.

The wailing is for the perishing wedded ones; for the perishing children; the dark-headed people create no more.

The wailing is also for the shrunken river, the parched meadows, the fish pools, the cane brakes, the forests, the plains, the gardens, and the palace, which all suffer because the god of fertility has departed. The mourner cries:

How long shall the springing of verdure be restrained?

How long shall the putting forth of leaves be held back?

Whither went Tammuz? His destination has already been referred to as “the bosom of the earth,” and in the Assyrian version of the “Descent of Ishtar” he dwells in “the house of darkness” among the dead, “where dust is their nourishment and their food mud,” and “the light is never seen”–the gloomy Babylonian Hades.

In one of the Sumerian hymns, however, it is stated that Tammuz “upon the flood was cast out.” The reference may be to the submarine “house of Ea,” or the Blessed Island to which the Babylonian Noah was carried. In this Hades bloomed the nether “garden of Adonis.”

The following extract refers to the garden of Damu (Tammuz):–

Damu his youth therein slumbers …

Among the garden flowers he slumbers; among the garden flowers he is cast away …

Among the tamarisks he slumbers, with woe he causes us to be satiated.

Although Tammuz of the hymns was slain, he returned again from Hades. Apparently he came back as a child. He is wailed for as “child, Lord Gishzida,” as well as “my hero Damu.”

In his lunar character the Egyptian Osiris appeared each month as “the child surpassingly beautiful;” the Osiris bull was also a child of the moon; “it was begotten”, says Plutarch, “by a ray of generative light falling from the moon.”

When the bull of Attis was sacrificed his worshippers were drenched with its blood, and were afterwards ceremonially fed with milk, as they were supposed to have “renewed their youth” and become children.

The ancient Greek god Eros (Cupid) was represented as a wanton boy or handsome youth. Another god of fertility, the Irish Angus, who resembles Eros, is called “the ever young;” he slumbers like Tammuz and awakes in the Spring.

Apparently it was believed that the child god, Tammuz, returned from the earlier Sumerian Paradise of the Deep, and grew into full manhood in a comparatively brief period, like Vyasa and other super-men of Indian mythology. A couplet from a Tammuz hymn says tersely:

In his infancy in a sunken boat he lay.

In his manhood in the submerged grain he lay.

The “boat” may be the “chest” in which Adonis was concealed by Aphrodite when she confided him to the care of Persephone, queen of Hades, who desired to retain the young god, but was compelled by Zeus to send him back to the goddess of love and vegetation.

The fact that Ishtar descended to Hades in quest of Tammuz may perhaps explain the symbolic references in hymns to mother goddesses being in sunken boats also when their powers were in abeyance, as were those of the god for part of each year.

It is possible, too, that the boat had a lunar and a solar significance. Khonsu, the Egyptian moon god, for instance, was associated with the Spring sun, being a deity of fertility and therefore a corn spirit; he was a form of Osiris, the Patriarch, who sojourned on earth to teach mankind how to grow corn and cultivate fruit trees.

In the Egyptian legend Osiris received the corn seeds from Isis, which suggests that among Great-Mother-worshipping peoples, it was believed that agricultural civilization had a female origin.

The same myths may have been attached to corn gods and corn goddesses, associated with water, sun, moon, and stars.”

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

Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, Adonis, Diarmid Derive from a More Ancient God of Fertility

“The Babylonian myth of Tammuz, the dying god, bears a close resemblance to the Greek myth of Adonis. It also links with the myth of Osiris. According to Professor Sayce, Tammuz is identical with “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” referred to by Berosus as the ruler of one of the mythical ages of Babylonia. We have therefore to deal with Tammuz in his twofold character as a patriarch and a god of fertility.

The Adonis version of the myth may be summarized briefly. Ere the god was born, his mother, who was pursued by her angry sire, as the river goddesses of the folk tales are pursued by the well demons, transformed herself into a tree.

Adonis sprang from the trunk of this tree, and Aphrodite, having placed the child in a chest, committed him to the care of Persephone, queen of Hades, who resembles the Babylonian Eresh-ki-gal. Persephone desired to retain the young god, and Aphrodite (Ishtar) appealed to Zeus (Anu), who decreed that Adonis should spend part of the year with one goddess and part of the year with the other.

It is suggested that the myth of Adonis was derived in post-Homeric times by the Greeks indirectly from Babylonia through the Western Semites, the Semitic title “Adon,” meaning “lord,” having been mistaken for a proper name. This theory, however, cannot be accepted without qualifications.

It does not explain the existence of either the Phrygian myth of Attis, which was developed differently from the Tammuz myth, or the Celtic story of “Diarmid and the boar,” which belongs to the archaeological “Hunting Period.”

There are traces in Greek mythology of pre-Hellenic myths about dying harvest deities, like Hyakinthos and Erigone, for instance, who appear to have been mourned for. There is every possibility, therefore, that the Tammuz ritual may have been attached to a harvest god of the pre-Hellenic Greeks, who received at the same time the new name of Adonis.

Osiris of Egypt resembles Tammuz, but his Mesopotamian origin has not been proved. It would appear probable that Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, and the deities represented by Adonis and Diarmid were all developed from an archaic god of fertility and vegetation, the central figure of a myth which was not only as ancient as the knowledge and practice of agriculture, but had existence even in the “Hunting Period.”

Traces of the Tammuz-Osiris story in various forms are found all over the area occupied by the Mediterranean or Brown race from Sumeria to the British Isles. Apparently the original myth was connected with tree and water worship and the worship of animals.

Adonis sprang from a tree; the body of Osiris was concealed in a tree which grew round the sea-drifted chest in which he was concealed. Diarmid concealed himself in a tree when pursued by Finn.

The blood of Tammuz, Osiris, and Adonis reddened the swollen rivers which fertilized the soil. Various animals were associated with the harvest god, who appears to have been manifested from time to time in different forms, for his spirit pervaded all nature. In Egypt the soul of Osiris entered the Apis bull or the ram of Mendes.

Tammuz in the hymns is called “the pre-eminent steer of heaven,” and a popular sacrifice was “a white kid of the god Tammuz,” which, however, might be substituted by a sucking pig. Osiris had also associations with swine, and the Egyptians, according to Herodotus, sacrificed a pig to him annually.

When Set at full moon hunted the boar in the Delta marshes, he probably hunted the boar form of Osiris, whose human body had been recovered from the sacred tree by Isis.

As the soul of Bata, the hero of the Egyptian folk tale, migrated from the blossom to the bull, and the bull to the tree, so apparently did the soul of Osiris pass from incarnation to incarnation. Set, the demon slayer of the harvest god, had also a boar form; he was the black pig who devoured the waning moon and blinded the Eye of Ra.

In his character as a long-lived patriarch, Tammuz, the King Daonus or Daos of Berosus, reigned in Babylonia for 36,000 years. When he died, he departed to Hades or the Abyss. Osiris, after reigning over the Egyptians, became Judge of the Dead.”

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


“Among the gods of Babylonia none achieved wider and more enduring fame than Tammuz, who was loved by Ishtar, the amorous Queen of Heaven–the beautiful youth who died and was mourned for and came to life again. He does not figure by his popular name in any of the city pantheons, but from the earliest times of which we have knowledge until the passing of Babylonian civilization, he played a prominent part in the religious life of the people.

Tammuz, like Osiris of Egypt, was an agricultural deity, and as the Babylonian harvest was the gift of the rivers, it is probable that one of his several forms was Dumu-zi-abzu, “Tammuz of the Abyss.” He was also “the child,” “the heroic lord,” “the sentinel,” “the healer,” and the patriarch who reigned over the early Babylonians for a considerable period.

“Tammuz of the Abyss” was one of the members of the family of Ea, god of the Deep, whose other sons, in addition to Merodach, were Nira, an obscure deity; Ki-gulla, “world destroyer,” Burnunta-sa, “broad ear,” and Bara and Baragulla, probably “revealers” or “oracles.” In addition there was a daughter, Khi-dimme-azaga, “child of the renowned spirit”. She may have been identical with Belit-sheri, who is referred to in the Sumerian hymns as the sister of Tammuz.

This family group was probably formed by symbolizing the attributes of Ea and his spouse Damkina. Tammuz, in his character as a patriarch, may have been regarded as a hostage from the gods: the human form of Ea, who instructed mankind, like King Osiris, how to grow corn and cultivate fruit trees. As the youth who perished annually, he was the corn spirit. He is referred to in the Bible by his Babylonian name.

When Ezekiel detailed the various idolatrous practices of the Israelites, which included the worship of the sun and “every form of creeping things and abominable beasts”–a suggestion of the composite monsters of Babylonia–he was brought “to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house, which was towards the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”

The weeping ceremony was connected with agricultural rites. Corn deities were weeping deities, they shed fertilizing tears; and the sowers simulated the sorrow of divine mourners when they cast seed in the soil “to die,” so that it might spring up as corn. This ancient custom, like many others, contributed to the poetic imagery of the Bible. “They that sow in tears,” David sang, “shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

In Egypt the priestesses who acted the parts of Isis and Nepthys, mourned for the slain corn god Osiris.

Gods and men before the face of the gods are weeping for

thee at the same time, when they behold me!…

All thy sister goddesses are at thy side and behind thy couch,

Calling upon thee with weeping–yet thou are prostrate upon thy bed!…

Live before us, desiring to behold thee.

It was believed to be essential that human beings should share the universal sorrow caused by the death of a god. If they remained unsympathetic, the deities would punish them as enemies. Worshippers of nature gods, therefore, based their ceremonial practices on natural phenomena.

“The dread of the worshippers that the neglect of the usual ritual would be followed by disaster, is particularly intelligible,” writes Professor Robertson Smith, “if they regarded the necessary operations of agriculture as involving the violent extinction of a particle of divine life.”

By observing their ritual, the worshippers won the sympathy and co-operation of deities, or exercised a magical control over nature.”

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.

The Five Epagomenal Days

“But to the three hundred and sixty days given in the calendars of lucky and unlucky days must be added the five epagomenal days which were considered to be of great importance and had each its peculiar name.

On the first Osiris was born, on the second Heru-ur (Aroueris), on the third Set, on the fourth Isis, and on the fifth Nephthys; the first, third, and fifth of these days were unlucky, and no work of any kind was to be undertaken on them.

The rubric which refers to these days (See Chabas, op. cit., p. 104) states that whosoever knoweth their names shall never suffer from thirst, that he shall never be smitten down by disease, and that the goddess Sekhet (the Eye of Sekhet seems to have taken the form of noxious vapours in the fields at sunrise; see Chabas, op. cit., p. 78) shall never take possession of him; it also directs that figures of the five gods mentioned above shall be drawn with unguent and ânti scent upon a piece of fine linen, evidently to serve as an amulet.

From the life of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (I. 4) we learn that the Egyptians were skilled in the art of casting nativities, and that knowing the exact moment of the birth of a man they proceeded to construct his horoscope.

Nectanebus employed for the purpose a tablet made of gold and silver and acacia wood, to which were fitted three belts. Upon the outer belt was Zeus with the thirty-six decani surrounding him; upon the second the twelve signs of the Zodiac were represented; and upon the third the sun and moon (quote from my History of Alexander the Great, Cambridge, 1889, p. 5).

He set the tablet upon a tripod, and then emptied out of a small box upon it models of the seven stars (i.e., Sun, Moon, Zeus, Kronos, Aphrodite, and Hermes; we must add Mars according to Meusel’s Greek text) that were in the belts, and put into the middle belt eight precious stones; these he arranged in the places wherein he supposed the planets which they represented would be at the time of the birth of Olympias, and then told her fortune from them.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 228-9.

Those Born on the 5th Day of Paophi Die of Excessive Venery

“The calendars of lucky and unlucky days do not, however, always agree as to a given day. Thus in the list given above the 20th day of Thoth is marked wholly unlucky, but in the papyrus Sallier IV it is wholly lucky, but the reader is told not to do any work in it, nor to slay oxen, nor to receive a stranger; on this day the gods who are in the following of Râ slew the rebels.

Concerning the fourth day of the next month, Paophi, the papyrus Sallier IV says, “Go not forth from thy house from any side of it; whosoever is born on this day shall die of the disease aat.”

Concerning the fifth day it says, “Go not forth from thy house from any side of it, and hold no intercourse with women. This is the day wherein all things were performed in the divine presence, and the majesty of the god Menthu was satisfied therein. Whosoever is born on this day shall die of excessive venery.”

Front of Papyrus Sallier IV, A Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days in Hieratic.

Front of Papyrus Sallier IV, A Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days in Hieratic.

Concerning the ninth day it says, “Whosoever is born on this day shall die of old age,” and concerning the fifteenth, “Go not forth from thy dwelling at eventide, for the serpent Uatch, the son of the god, goeth forth at this time, and misfortunes follow him; whosoever shall see him shall lose his eye straightway.”

Again, the twenty-sixth day of Paophi was a lucky day for making the plan of a house; on the fifth day of Hathor no fire was to be kindled in the house; on the sixteenth day it was forbidden to listen to songs of joy because on this day Isis and Nephthys wept for Osiris at Abydos; a man born on the twenty-third day would die by drowning; and so on.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 226-8.

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.


“The Egyptians believed that a man’s fate or destiny was decided before he was born, and that he had no power whatever to alter it.

Their sages, however, professed to be able to declare what the fate might be, provided that they were given certain data, that is to say, if they were told the date of his birth, and if they were able to ascertain the position of the planets and stars at that time.

The goddess of fate or destiny was called “Shai,” and she is usually accompanied by another goddess called “Renenet,” who is commonly regarded as the lady of fortune; they both appear in the Judgment Scene, where they seem to watch the weighing of the heart on behalf of the deceased.

But another goddess, Meskhenet, is sometimes present, and she also seems to have had influence over a man’s future; in any case she was able to predict what that future was to be.

Thus we read that she and Isis, and Nephthys, and Heqet, disguised as women, went to the house of Râ-user, whose wife Râ-Tettet was in travail; when they had been taken into her room they assisted her in giving birth to triplets, and as each child was born Meskhenet declared, “He shall be a king who shall have dominion over the whole land.”

And this prophecy was fulfilled, for the three boys became three of the kings of the Vth dynasty. (See Erman, Westcar Papyrus, Berlin, 1890, hieroglyphic transcript, pll. 9 and 10).”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 222-3.

Procuring Dreams and Visions

Since dreams and visions in which the future might be revealed to the sleeper were greatly desired, the Egyptian magician set himself to procure such for his clients by various devices, such as drawing magical pictures and reciting magical words.

The following are examples of spells for procuring a vision and dreams, taken from British Museum Papyrus, No. 122, lines 64 ff. and 359 ff, (see Catalogue of Greek Papyri, vol. i. p. 118).

“To obtain a vision from [the god] Bes. Make a drawing of Besa, as shewn below, on your left hand, and envelope your hand in a strip of black cloth that has been consecrated to Isis (?) and lie down to sleep without speaking a word, even in answer to a question.”

“Wind the remainder of the cloth round your neck. The ink with which you write must be composed of the blood of a cow, the blood of a white dove, fresh (?) frankincense, myrrh, black writing-ink, cinnabar, mulberry juice, rain-water, and the juice of wormwood and vetch.”

“With this write your petition before the setting sun, [saying], “Send the truthful seer out of the holy shrine, I beseech thee, Lampsuer, Sumarta, Baribas, Dardalam, Iorlex: O Lord send the sacred deity Anuth, Anuth, Salbana, Chambré, Breïth, now, now, quickly, quickly. Come in this very night.'” (A sketch of the god Besa is given at the end of the papyrus. See the description of the “Metternichstele” above, p. 147 ff).

“To procure dreams: Take a clean linen bag and write upon it the names given below. Fold it up and make it into a lamp-wick, and set it alight, pouring pure oil over it.”

“The word to be written is this: ‘Armiuth, Lailamchoüch, Arsenophrephren, Phtha, Archentechtha.’”

“Then in the evening, when you are going to bed, which you must do without touching food [or, pure from all defilement], do thus.”

“Approach the lamp and repeat seven times the formula given below: then extinguish it and lie down to sleep. The formula is this: ‘Sachmu . . . epaëma Ligotereënch: the Aeon, the Thunderer, Thou that hast swallowed the snake and dost exhaust the moon, and dost raise up the orb of the sun in his season, Chthetho is thy name; I require, O lords of the gods, Seth, Chreps, give me the information that I desire.’”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 215-7.

Opening of the Mouth

“The sprinkling of water was followed by a purification by means of incense, also contained in four vases, one for each of the four quarters of the earth.

The burning of this sweet-smelling substance assisted in opening the mouth of the deceased and in strengthening his heart.

At this stage the Sem priest dressed himself in the skin of a cow, and lying down upon a kind of couch pretended to be asleep; but he was roused up by the Am-asi priest in the presence of the Kher-heb and the Am-khent priest, and when the Sem priest had seated himself upon a seat, the four men together represented the four children of Horus, (i.e., Mestha, Hâpi, Tuamutef and Qebhsennuf) or the gods with the heads of a hawk, an ape, a jackal, and a man respectively.

The Sem priest then said, “I have seen my father in all his forms,” which the other men in turn repeat.

The meaning of this portion of the ceremony is hard to explain, but M. Maspero (op. cit., p. 168) thinks that it was intended to bring back to the body of the deceased its shadow (khaibit), which had departed from it when it died.

The preliminary purifications being ended, and the shadow having been joined to the body once more, the statue or mummy is approached by the men who represent the armed guard of Horus; and one of their number, having taken upon himself the character of Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, touches its mouth with his finger.

The Kher-heb next made ready to perform the sacrifice which was intended to commemorate the slaughter, at some very early period, of the fiends who were the friends of Set.

It seems that, the soul of Horus dwelt in an eye, and that Set nearly succeeded in devouring it; but Horus vanquished Set and saved his eye.

Set’s associates then changed themselves into the forms of animals, and birds, and fish, but they were caught, and their heads were cut off; Set, however, who was concealed in the form of a pig, contrived to escape.

The sacrifice consisted of a bull (or cow) or two, two gazelles or antelopes, and ducks.

When the bull had been slain, one of the forelegs was cut off, and the heart taken out, and offered to the statue or mummy; the Sem priest then took the bleeding leg and touched, or pretended to touch, the mouth and eyes with it four times.

The slaughtered gazelles or antelopes and ducks were simply offered before the statue. The Sem priest next said to the statue, “I have come to embrace thee, I am thy son Horus, I have pressed thy mouth; I am thy son, I love thee. . . . Thy mouth was closed, but I have set in order for thee thy mouth and thy teeth.”

The "Seb-ur" and "Tuntet" Instruments for Opening the Mouth.

The “Seb-ur” and “Tuntet” Instruments for Opening the Mouth.

He then brought two instruments, called “Seb-ur” and “Tuntet” respectively, and touched the mouth of the statue or mummy with them, whilst the Kher-heb said, “Thy mouth was closed, but I have set in order for thee thy mouth and thy teeth. I open for thee thy mouth, I open for thee thy two eyes. I have opened for thee thy mouth with the instrument of Anubis. I have opened thy mouth with the instrument of Anubis, with the iron implement with which the mouths of the gods were opened.”

“Horus, open the mouth! Horus, open the mouth! Horus hath opened the mouth of the dead, as he in times of old opened the mouth of Osiris, with the iron which came forth from Set, with the iron instrument with which he opened the mouths of the gods.”

“He hath opened thy mouth with it. The deceased shall walk and shall speak, and his body shall be with the great company of the gods in the Great House of the Aged One in Annu, and he shall receive there the ureret crown from Horus, the lord of mankind.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 193-6.

Rites of Mummification Concluded

“On the conclusion of the ceremonies which concern the head the deceased has the power to go in among the holy and perfect spirits, his name is exalted among men, the denizens of heaven receive his soul, the beings of the underworld bow down before his body, the dwellers upon earth adore him, and the inhabitants of the funeral mountain renew for him his youth.

Besides these things, Anubis and Horus make perfect his bandages, and the god Thoth protects his members by his words of magical power; and he himself has learned the magical formulæ which are necessary to make his path straight in the underworld, and also the proper way in which to utter them.

All these benefits were secured for him by the use of bandages and unguents which possess both magical names and properties, and by the words of power uttered by the priests who recited the Ritual of Embalmment, and by the ceremonies which the priest who personated Anubis performed beside the body of the deceased in imitation of those which the god Anubis performed for the dead god Osiris in remote days.

Next the left hand of the deceased was mummified and bandaged according to the instructions given in the Ritual of Embalmment. The hand was stretched out on a piece of linen, and a ring was passed over the fingers; it was then filled with thirty-six of the substances which were used in embalming, according to the number of the forms of the god Osiris.

This done, the hand was bandaged with a strip of linen in six folds, upon which were drawn figures of Isis and Hâpi. The right hand was treated in a similar way, only the figures drawn upon the bandages were those of Râ and Amsu; and when the appropriate words had been recited over both hands divine protection was assured them.

After these things the ceremonies concerning the right and left arms were performed, and these were followed by rubbing the soles of the feet and the legs and the thighs, first with black-stone oil, and secondly with holy oil.

The toes were wrapped in linen, and a piece of linen was laid on each leg; on each piece was drawn the figure of a jackal, that on the right leg representing Anubis, and that on the left Horus.

When flowers of the ânkham plant and other substances had been laid beside and on the legs, and they had been treated with ebony-gum water and holy oil, and appropriate addresses had been said, the ceremony of bandaging the body was ended.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 189-91.

The Rites


“The unguent cometh unto thee to fashion thy members and to gladden thy heart, and thou shalt appear in the form of Râ; it shall make thee to be sound when thou settest in the sky at eventide, and it shall spread abroad the smell of thee in the nomes of Aqert. . . .”

“Thou receivest the oil of the cedar in Amentet, and the cedar which came forth from Osiris cometh unto thee; it delivereth thee from thy enemies, and it protecteth thee in the nomes.”

“Thy soul alighteth upon the venerable sycamores. Thou criest to Isis, and Osiris heareth thy voice, and Anubis cometh unto thee to invoke thee.”

“Thou receivest the oil of the country of Manu which hath come from the East, and Râ riseth upon thee at the gates of the horizon, at the holy doors of Neith.”

“Thou goest therein, thy soul is in the upper heaven, and thy body is in the lower heaven . . . O Osiris, may the Eye of Horus cause that which floweth forth from it to come to thee, and to thy heart for ever!”

These words having been said, the whole ceremony was repeated, and then the internal organs which had been removed from the body were placed in the “liquid of the children of Horus,” so that the liquid of this god might enter into them, and whilst they were being thus treated a chapter was read over them and they were put in the funeral chest.

When this was done the internal organs were placed on the body, and the body having been made to lie straight the backbone was immersed in holy oil, and the face of the deceased was turned towards the sky; the bandage of Sebek and Sedi was then laid upon the backbone.

In a long speech the deceased is addressed and told that the liquid is “secret,” and that it is an emanation of the gods Shu and Seb, and that the resin of Phoenicia and the bitumen of Byblos will make his burial perfect in the underworld, and give him his legs, and facilitate his movements, and sanctify his steps in the Hall of Seb.

Next gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, and turquoise are brought to the deceased, and crystal to lighten his face, and carnelian to strengthen his steps; these form amulets which will secure for him a free passage in the underworld.

Meanwhile the backbone is kept in oil, and the face of the deceased is turned towards the heavens; and next the gilding of the nails of the fingers and toes begins.

When this has been done, and portions of the fingers have been wrapped in linen made at Saïs, the following address is made to the deceased:—

“O Osiris, thou receivest thy nails of gold, thy fingers of gold, and thy thumb of smu (or uasm) metal; the liquid of Râ entereth into thee as well as into the divine members of Osiris, and thou journeyest on thy legs to the immortal abode.”

“Thou hast carried thy hands to the house of eternity, thou art made perfect in gold, thou dost shine brightly in smu metal, and thy fingers shine in the dwelling of Osiris, in the sanctuary of Horus himself.”

“O Osiris, the gold of the mountains cometh to thee; it is a holy talisman of the gods in their abodes, and it lighteneth thy face in the lower heaven.”

“Thou breathest in gold, thou appearest in smu metal, and the dwellers in Re-stau receive thee; those who are in the funeral chest rejoice because thou hast transformed thyself into a hawk of gold by means of thy amulets (or talismans) of the City of Gold,” etc.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 186-8.

The Gods of Ancient Egypt are Personifications of the Names of Ra

“Again, in the story of Râ and Isis, given in the preceding chapter, we have seen that although Isis was able to make a serpent and to cause it to bite Râ, and to make him very ill, she was powerless to do as she wished in heaven and upon earth until she had persuaded the god to reveal to her his name by which he ruled the universe.

In yielding up his name to the goddess he placed himself in her power, and in this example we have a striking instance of the belief that the knowledge of the name of god, or devil, or human being, implied dominion over that being.

We have seen elsewhere that Râ, the type and symbol of God, is described as the god of “many names,” and in that wonderful composition the XVIIth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, (see Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 49) we have the following statement:—

“I am the great god Nu, who gave birth unto himself, and who made his name to become the company of the gods.”

Then the question, “What does this mean?” or “Who is this?” is asked. And this is the answer:

“It is Râ, the creator of the name[s] of his limbs, which came into being in the form of the gods who are in the following of Râ.”

From this we see that all the “gods” of Egypt were merely personifications of the NAMES Of Râ, and that each god was one of his members, and that a name of a god was the god himself.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 162.

Snake Bite Charm

“Now from a few words of text which follow the above narrative we learn that the object of writing it was not so much to instruct the reader as to make a magic formula, for we are told that it was to be recited over figures of Temu and Horus, and Isis and Horus, that is to say, over figures of Temu the evening sun, Horus the Elder, Horus the son of Isis, and Isis herself.

Temu apparently takes the place of Râ, for he represents the sun as an old man, i.e., Râ, at the close of his daily life when he has lost his strength and power.

The text is a charm or magical formula against snake bites, and it was thought that the written letters, which represented the words of Isis, would save the life of any one who was snake-bitten, just as they saved the life of Râ.

If the full directions as to the use of the figures of Temu, Isis, and the two Horus gods, were known unto us we should probably find that they were to be made to act in dumb show the scenes which took place between Râ, and Isis when the goddess succeeded in taking from him his name.

Thus we have ample evidence that Isis possessed marvellous magical powers, and this being so, the issues of life and death, as far as the deceased was concerned, we know from the texts to have been in her hands.

Her words of power, too, were a priceless possession, for she obtained them from Thoth, who was the personification of the mind and intelligence of the Creator, and thus their origin was divine, and from this point of view were inspired.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142.

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.

A Tale of Isis from the Metternich Stele

“But apart from being the protector and friend of Osiris, Thoth was the refuge to which Isis fled in her trouble. The words of a hymn declare that she knew “how to turn aside evil hap,” and that she was “strong of tongue, and uttered the words of power which she knew with correct pronunciation, and halted not in her speech, and was perfect both in giving the command and in saying the word,” (Chabas, Revue Archéologique, 1857, p. 65 ff.; Ledrain, Monuments Égyptiens, pl. xxii. ff.; and for a recent translation see my First Steps in Egyptian, pp. 179-188) but this description only proves that she had been instructed by Thoth in the art of uttering words of power with effect, and to him, indeed, she owed more than this.

Metterniche Stele

Metternich Stele

When she found the dead body of her husband Osiris, she hovered about over it in the form of a bird, making air by the beating of her wings, and sending forth light from the sheen of her feathers, and at length she roused the dead to life by her words of power; as the result of the embrace which followed this meeting Horus was born, and his mother suckled him and tended him in her hiding-place in the papyrus swamps.

After a time she was persecuted by Set, her husband’s murderer, who, it seems, shut her and her son Horus up in a house as prisoners. Owing, however, to the help which Thoth gave her, she came forth by night and was accompanied on her journey by seven scorpions, (the story is told on the famous Metternichstele, ed. Golénischeff, Leipzig, 1877) called respectively Tefen, Befen, Mestet, Mestetef, Petet, Thetet, and Matet, the last three of which pointed out the way.

The guide of the way brought her to the swamps of Per-sui, (i.e., Crocodilopolis) and to the town of the two goddesses of the sandals where the swampy country of Athu begins.

Journeying on they came to Teb, (the city of the two sandals. The two sandals were made of leather from the skin of the god Nehes or Set, the opponent of Horus) where the chief of the district had a house for his ladies; now the mistress of the house would not admit Isis on account of the scorpions that were with her, for she had looked out of her door and watched Isis coming.

On this the scorpions took counsel together and wished to sting her by means of the scorpion Tefen, but at this moment a poor woman who lived in the marshes opened the door of her cottage to Isis, and the goddess took shelter therein.

Meanwhile the scorpion had crept under the door into the house of the governor, and stung the son of the lady of the house, and also set the place on fire; no water could quench the fire, and there was no rain to do it, for it was not then the rainy season.

Now these things happened to the woman who had done no active harm to Isis, and the poor creature wandered about the streets of the city uttering loud cries of grief and distress because she knew not whether her boy would live or die.

When Isis saw this she was sorry for the child who had been stung, and as he was blameless in the matter of the door of his mother’s house being shut in the face of the goddess, she determined to save him.

Thereupon she cried out to the distraught mother, saying, “Come to me, come to me! For my word is a talisman which beareth life. I am a daughter well known in thy city also, and I will do away the evil by means of the word of my mouth which my father hath taught me, for I am the daughter of his own body.”

Then Isis laid her hands upon the body of the boy, and in order to bring back the spirit into his body said—

“Come Tefen, appear upon the ground, depart hence, come not nigh!

“Come poison of Befen, appear upon the ground. I am Isis, the goddess, the lady of words of power, who doeth deeds of magic, the words of whose voice are charms.

“Obey me, O every reptile that stingeth, and fall down headlong!

“O poison of [Mestet and] Mestetef, mount not upwards!

“O poison of Petet and Thetet, draw not nigh! O Matet, fall down headlong!”

The goddess Isis then uttered certain words of the charm which had been given to her by the god Seb in order to keep poison away from her, and said, “Turn away, get away, retreat, O poison,” adding the words “Mer-Râ” in the morning and “The Egg of the Goose appeareth from out of the sycamore” in the evening, as she turned to the scorpions.

Both these sentences were talismans. After this Isis lamented that she was more lonely and wretched than all the people of Egypt, and that she had become like an old man who hath ceased to look upon and to visit fair women in their houses; and she ordered the scorpions to turn away their looks from her and to show her the way to the marshes and to the secret place which is in the city of Khebt.

Then the words of the cry, “The boy liveth, the poison dieth! As the sun liveth, so the poison dieth,” were uttered, and the fire in the house of the woman was extinguished, and heaven rejoiced at the words of Isis.

When Isis had said that the “son of the woman had been stung because his mother had shut the door of her house in her face, and had done nothing for her,” the words of the cry, “The boy liveth and the poison dieth,” were again uttered, and the son of the woman recovered.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 129-33.

Thoth and Words of Power at the Creation

“On the amulet of the Buckle we have inscribed the words, “May the blood of Isis, and the powers of Isis, and the words of power of Isis be mighty to protect this mighty one,” etc., and in the address which Thoth makes to Osiris he says, “I am Thoth, the favoured one of Râ, the lord of might, who bringeth to a prosperous end that which he doeth, the mighty one of words of power, who is in the boat of millions of years, the lord of laws, the subduer of the two lands,” etc. (See Chapters of Coming forth by Day, p. 340 f).

From the above passages we not only learn how great was the confidence which the deceased placed in his words of power, but also that the sources from which they sprang were the gods Thoth and Isis.

It will be remembered that Thoth is called the “scribe of the gods,” the “lord of writing,” the “master of papyrus,” the “maker of the palette and the ink-jar,” the “lord of divine words,” i.e., the holy writings or scriptures, and as he was the lord of books and master of the power of speech, he was considered to be the possessor of all knowledge both human and divine.

At the creation of the world it was he who reduced to words the will of the unseen and unknown creative Power, and who uttered them in such wise that the universe came into being, and it was he who proved himself by the exercise of his knowledge to be the protector and friend of Osiris, and of Isis, and of their son Horus.

From the evidence of the texts we know that it was not by physical might that Thoth helped these three gods, but by giving them words of power and instructing them how to use them.

We know that Osiris vanquished his foes, and that he reconstituted his body, and became the king of the underworld and god of the dead, but he was only able to do these things by means of the words of power which Thoth had given to him, and which he had taught him to pronounce properly and in a proper tone of voice.

It is this belief which makes the deceased cry out, “Hail, Thoth, who madest Osiris victorious over his enemies, make thou Ani to be victorious over his enemies in the presence of the great and sovereign princes who are in Tattu,” or in any other place.

Without the words of power given to him by Thoth, Osiris would have been powerless under the attacks of his foes, and similarly the dead man, who was always identified with Osiris, would have passed out of existence at his death but for the words of power provided by the writings that were buried with him.

In the Judgment Scene it is Thoth who reports to the gods the result of the weighing of the heart in the balance, and who has supplied its owner with the words which he has uttered in his supplications, and whatever can be said in favour of the deceased he says to the gods, and whatever can be done for him he does.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 127-9.

Shining from the Sektet Boat

“We may see this view which was held concerning words of power from the following passages:—

“May Thoth, who is filled and furnished with words of power, come and loose the bandages, even the bandages of Set which fetter my mouth. . . . Now as concerning the words of power and all the words which may be spoken against me, may the gods resist them, and may each and every one of the company of the gods withstand them.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 81).

“Behold, I gather together the word of power from wherever it is, and from any person with whom it is, swifter than greyhounds and quicker than light.” (Ibid., p. 81).

To the crocodile which cometh to carry off from the deceased his words of power he says, “Get thee back, return, get thee back, thou crocodile fiend Sui! Thou shalt not advance to me, for I live by reason of the words of power which I have with me. . . . Heaven hath power over its seasons, and the words of power have dominion over that which they possess; my mouth therefore shall have power over the words of power which are therein.” (See Chapters of Coming forth by Day, p. 340 f).

“I am clothed (?) and am wholly provided with thy magical words, O Râ, the which are in the heaven above me, and in the earth beneath Me.” (Ibid., p. 81).

To the two Sister-Mert goddesses the deceased says, “My message to you is my words of power. I shine from the Sektet boat, I am Horus the son of Isis, and I have come to see my father Osiris.” (Ibid., p. 87).

“I have become a spirit in my forms, I have gained the mastery over my words of power, and it is decreed for me to be a spirit.” (Ibid., p. 129).

“Hail, thou that cuttest off heads, and slittest brows, thou who puttest away the memory of evil things from the mouth of the spirits by means of the words of power which they have within them, . . . let not my mouth be shut fast by reason of the words of power which thou hast within thee. . . . Get thee back, and depart before the words which the goddess Isis uttered when thou didst come to cast the recollection of evil things into the mouth of Osiris.” (Ibid., p. 150).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 126-7.


Now the cow is, of course, Isis-Hathor, and both the words and the picture refer to some event in the life of Râ, or Horus. It is quite evident that the words of power, or charm, uttered by Isis-Hathor delivered the god out of some trouble, and the idea is that as it delivered the god, and was of benefit to him, even so will it deliver the deceased and be of benefit to him. The words of power read:—

“O Amen, O Amen, who art in heaven, turn thy face upon the dead body of thy son, and make him sound and strong in the underworld.”

And again we are warned that the words are “a great mystery” and that “the eye of no man whatsoever must see it, for it is a thing of abomination for [every man] to know it. Hide it, therefore; the Book of the lady of the hidden temple is its name.”

An examination of mummies of the late period shews that the Egyptians did actually draw a figure of the cow upon papyrus and lay it under the head of the deceased, and that the cow is only one figure among a number of others which were drawn on the same papyrus.

With the figures magical texts were inscribed and in course of time, when the papyrus had been mounted upon linen, it superseded the gold figure of the cow which was fastened to the neck of the deceased, and became, strictly speaking an amulet, though its usual name among archaeologists is “hypocephalus.” The figure on the opposite page well illustrates the object. It will be noticed that the hypocephalus is round; this is due to the fact that it represents the pupil of the Eye of Horus, which from time immemorial in Egypt was regarded as the source of all generative power, and of reproduction and life.

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Hypocephalus

Hypocephalus or object placed under the head.

 Hypocephalus or object placed under the head 
of the deceased Shai-enen to keep warmth in the body.

The first group of gods are:—

Nehebka offering to Horus his Eye, a goddess with the Eye of Horus for a head, the cow of Isis-Hathor described above, the four children of Horus, two lions, a member of the human body, the pylon of heads of Khnemu the god of reproduction, and Horus-Râ.

In the second are the boat of the Sun being poled along by Horus, and the boat of the Moon, with Harpocrates in the bow. In the other scenes we have the god Khepera in his boat, Horus in his boat, and Horus-Sept in his boat.

The god with two faces represents the double aspect of the sun in setting and rising, and the god with the rams’ heads, who is being adored by apes, is a mystical form of Khnemu, one of the great gods of reproduction, who in still later times became the being whose name under the form of Khnumis or Khnoubis occupied such an important position among the magical names which were in use among the Gnostics.

The two following prayers from the hypocephalus will illustrate the words of power addressed to Amen, i.e., the Hidden One, quoted above:—

1. “I am the Hidden One in the hidden place. I am a perfect spirit among the companions of Râ, and I have gone in and come forth among the perfect souls. I am the mighty Soul of saffron-coloured form.

“I have come forth from the underworld at pleasure. I have come. I have come forth from the Eye of Horus. I have come forth from the underworld with Râ from the House of the Great Aged One in Heliopolis.

“I am one of the spirits who come forth from the underworld: grant thou unto me the things which my body needeth, and heaven for my soul, and a hidden place for my mummy.”

2. “May the god, who himself is hidden, and whose face is concealed, who shineth upon the world in his forms of existence, and in the underworld, grant that my soul may live for ever!

“May the great god in his disk give his rays in the underworld of Heliopolis! Grant thou unto me an entrance and an exit in the underworld without let or hindrance.”

Chapter CLXIII. of the Book of the Dead was written to prevent the body of a man mouldering away in the underworld, and to deliver him from the souls which were so unfortunate as to be shut in the various places thereof, but in order to make it thoroughly efficacious it was ordered to be recited over three pictures:

(1) a serpent with legs, having a disk and two horns upon its head;

(2) an utchat, (see above, p. 55) or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of a divine soul, and having plumes and a back like a hawk”;

(3) an utchat, or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which there shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of the goddess Neith, and having plumes and a back like a hawk.”

If these things be done for the deceased “he shall not be turned back at any gate of the underworld, he shall eat, and drink, and perform the natural functions of his body as he did when he was upon earth; and none shall rise up to cry out against him; and he shall be protected from the hands of the enemy for ever and ever.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 292).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 115-21.

Secrets of the Winds in the Tuat, Sailing in the Boat of Millions of Years

“But yet another “exceeding great mystery” had to be performed if the deceased was to be enabled to enter into heaven by its four doors at will, and to enjoy the air which came through each.

The north wind belonged to Osiris, the south wind to Râ, the west wind to Isis, and the east wind to Nephthys; and for the deceased to obtain power over each and all of these it was necessary for him to be master of the doors through which they blew.

This power could only be obtained by causing pictures of the four doors to be painted on the coffin with a figure of Thoth opening each. Some special importance was attached to these, for the rubric says, “Let none who is outside know this chapter, for it is a great mystery, and those who dwell in the swamps (i.e., the ignorant) know it not.”

“Thou shalt not do this in the presence of any person except thy father, or thy son, or thyself alone; for it is indeed an exceedingly great mystery which no man whatever knoweth.” (Ibid., p. 212).

One of the delights coveted by the deceased was to sail over heaven in the boat of Râ, in company with the gods of the funeral cycle of Osiris; this happiness could be secured for him by painting certain pictures, and by saying over them certain words of power.

On a piece of clean papyrus a boat is to be drawn with ink made of green âbut mixed with ânti water, and in it are to be figures of Isis, Thoth, Shu, and Khepera, and the deceased; when this has been done the papyrus must be fastened to the breast of the deceased, care being taken that it does not actually touch his body.

Then shall his spirit enter into the boat of Râ each day, and the god Thoth shall take heed to him, and he shall sail about with Râ into any place that he wisheth. (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 162).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 110-1.

Thoth, Isis, and Words of Power

“On the amulet of the Buckle we have inscribed the words, “May the blood of Isis, and the powers of Isis, and the words of power of Isis be mighty to protect this mighty one,” etc., and in the address which Thoth makes to Osiris he says, “I am Thoth, the favoured one of Râ, the lord of might, who bringeth to a prosperous end that which he doeth, the mighty one of words of power, who is in the boat of millions of years, the lord of laws, the subduer of the two lands,” etc. (See Chapters of Coming forth by Day, p. 340 f).

From the above passages we not only learn how great was the confidence which the deceased placed in his words of power, but also that the sources from which they sprang were the gods Thoth and Isis.

It will be remembered that Thoth is called the “scribe of the gods,” the “lord of writing,” the “master of papyrus,” the maker of the palette and the ink-jar,” the “lord of divine words,” i.e., the holy writings or scriptures, and as he was the lord of books and master of the power of speech, he was considered to be the possessor of all knowledge both human and divine.

At the creation of the world it was he who reduced to words the will of the unseen and unknown creative Power, and who uttered them in such wise that the universe came into being, and it was he who proved himself by the exercise of his knowledge to be the protector and friend of Osiris, and of Isis, and of their son Horus.

From the evidence of the texts we know that it was not by physical might that Thoth helped these three gods, but by giving them words of power and instructing them how to use them.

We know that Osiris vanquished his foes, and that he reconstituted his body, and became the king of the underworld and god of the dead, but he was only able to do these things by means of the words of power which Thoth had given to him, and which he had taught him to pronounce properly and in a proper tone of voice.

It is this belief which makes the deceased cry out, “Hail, Thoth, who madest Osiris victorious over his enemies, make thou Ani to be victorious over his enemies in the presence of the great and sovereign princes who are in Tattu,” or in any other place.

Without the words of power given to him by Thoth, Osiris would have been powerless under the attacks of his foes, and similarly the dead man, who was always identified with Osiris, would have passed out of existence at his death but for the words of power provided by the writings that were buried with him.

In the Judgment Scene it is Thoth who reports to the gods the result of the weighing of the heart in the balance, and who has supplied its owner with the words which he has uttered in his supplications, and whatever can be said in favour of the deceased he says to the gods, and whatever can be done for him he does.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 127-9.

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).

Tears of the God in Egyptian Creation Myths

The embraces of Keb caused Nut to bring forth five gods at a birth, namely, Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys. Osiris and Isis married before their birth, and Isis brought forth a son called Horus; Set and Nephthys also married before their birth, and Nephthys brought forth a son named Anpu (Anubis), though he is not mentioned in the legend.

Of these gods Osiris is singled out for special mention in the legend, in which Khepera, speaking as Neb-er-tcher, says that his name is Ausares, who is the essence of the primeval matter of which he himself is formed. Thus Osiris was of the same substance as the Great God who created the world according to the Egyptians, and was a reincarnation of his great-grandfather. This portion of the legend helps to explain the views held about Osiris as the great ancestral spirit, who when on earth was a benefactor of mankind, and who when in heaven was the saviour of souls.

The legend speaks of the sun as the Eye of Khepera, or Neb-er-tcher, and refers to some calamity which befell it and extinguished its light. This calamity may have been simply the coming of night, or eclipses, or storms; but in any case the god made a second Eye, i.e., the Moon, to which he gave some of the splendour of the other Eye, i.e., the Sun, and he gave it a place in his Face, and henceforth it ruled throughout the earth, and had special powers in respect of the production of trees, plants, vegetables, herbs, etc.

Thus from the earliest times the moon was associated with the fertility of the earth, especially in connection with the production of abundant crops and successful harvests.

According to the legend, men and women sprang not from the earth, but directly from the body of the god Khepera, or Neb-er-tcher, who placed his members together and then wept tears upon them, and men and women, came into being from the tears which had fallen from his eyes.

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

Words of Power in the Egyptian Tuat

The ultimate fate of the souls of human beings who had departed to the Tuat must always have been a matter of speculation to the Egyptians, and at the best they could only hope that they had traversed the long, dark, and dangerous valley in safety.

The same may be said of numbers of the gods, who in very early times were believed to possess a nature which closely resembled that of men and women, and to be in danger of extermination in the Tuat. Of the gods the only one about whose successful passage of the Tuat there was no doubt was Ra, or according to the priests of Amen, Amen-Ra, for he rose each morning in the East, and it was manifest to all that he had overcome whatsoever dangers had threatened him in the Tuat during the past night.

This being so, it became the object of every man to obtain permission to travel in the boat of Ra through the Tuat, for those who were followers of Osiris could disembark when it arrived at his kingdom, and those who wished to remain with Ra for ever could remain in it with him. To each class of believer a guide to the Tuat was necessary, for up to a certain place in that region both the followers of Osiris and the followers of Ra required information about the divisions of the Tuat, and knowledge of the names of the Halls and Gates, and of the beings who guarded them and who were all-powerful in the land of darkness.

For the worshippers of Amen, or Amen-Ra, the BOOK AM-TUAT was prepared, whilst the followers of Osiris pinned their faith to the BOOK OF GATES. From each of these Books we find that the Sun-god was not able to pass through the Tuat by virtue of the powers which he possessed as the great god of the world, but only through his knowledge of the proper words of power, and of magical names and formulae, before the utterance of which every denizen of the Tuat was powerless.

Osiris had, of course, passed through the Tuat, and seated himself on his throne in the “House of Osiris,” but even he would have been unable to perform his journey in safety through the Tuat without the help of the words of power which Horus, the son of Isis, the son of Osiris, had uttered, and the magical ceremonies which he had performed.

Words and ceremonies alike he learned from Isis, who, according to a later tradition, obtained the knowledge of them from Thoth, the Divine Intelligence. Now if Osiris and Ra had need of such magical assistance in their passage through the Tuat, how much greater must have been the need of man!

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell, 1905, pp. 91-3.

Weighing the Heart in the Balance

“From the extract from the Chapter of Sekhet-Aaru and Sekhet-hetepet given above, it is quite clear that the followers of Osiris hoped and expected to do in the next world exactly what they had done in this, and that they believed they would obtain and continue to live their life in the world to come by means of a word of power; and that they prayed to the god Hetep for dominion over it, so that they might keep it firmly in their memories, and not forget it.

This is another proof that in the earliest times men relied in their hope of a future life more on the learning and remembering of a potent name or formula than on the merits of their moral and religious excellences. From first to last throughout the chapter there is no mention of the god Osiris, unless he be the “Great God” whose birthplace is said to be in the region Unen-em-hetep, and nowhere in it is there any suggestion that the permission or favour of Osiris is necessary for those who would enter either Sekhet-Aaru or Sekhet-hetep.

This seems to indicate that the conceptions about the Other World, at least so far as the “realms of the blest” were concerned, were evolved in the minds of Egyptian theologians before Osiris attained to the high position which he occupied in the Dynastic Period. On the other hand, the evidence on this point which is to be deduced from the Papyrus of Ani must be taken into account.

At the beginning of this Papyrus we have first of all Hymns to Ra and Osiris, and the famous Judgment Scene which is familiar to all. We see the heart of Ani being weighed in the Balance against the symbol of righteousness in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods, and the weighing takes place at one end of the house of Osiris, whilst Osiris sits in his shrine at the other.

The “guardian of the Balance” is Anubis, and the registrar is Thoth, the scribe of the gods, who is seen noting the result of the weighing. In the picture the beam of the Balance is quite level, which shows that the heart of Ani exactly counterbalances the symbol of righteousness.

This result Thoth announces to the gods in the following words, “In very truth the heart of Osiris hath been weighed, and his soul hath stood as a witness for him; its case is right (i.e., it hath been found true by trial) in the Great Balance. No wickedness hath been found in him, he hath not purloined the offerings in the temples, (Ani was the receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues of the gods of Thebes and Abydos, and the meaning here is that he did not divert, to his own use any portion of the goods he received) and he hath done no evil by deed or word whilst he was upon earth.”

The gods in their reply accept Thoth’s report, and declare that, so far as they are concerned, Ani has committed neither sin nor evil. Further, they go on to say that he shall not be delivered over to the monster Amemet, and they order that he shall have offerings, that he shall have the power to go into the presence of Osiris, and that he shall have a homestead, or allotment, in Sekhet-hetepet for ever.

We next see Ani being led into the presence of Osiris by Horus, the son of Isis, who reports that the heart of Ani hath sinned against no god or goddess; as it hath also been found just and righteous according to the written laws of the gods, he asks that Ani may have cakes and ale given to him, and the power to appear before Osiris, and that he may take his place among the “Followers of Horus,” and be like them for ever.

Now from this evidence it is clear that Ani was considered to have merited his reward in Sekhet-hetepet by the righteousness and integrity of his life upon earth as regards his fellow-man, and by the reverence and worship which he paid to every god and every goddess; in other words, it is made to appear that he had earned his reward, or had justified himself by his works. Because his heart had emerged triumphantly from its trial the gods decreed for him the right to appear in the presence of the god Osiris, and ordered him to be provided with a homestead in Sekhet-hetep.

There is no mention of any repentance on Ani’s part for wrong done; indeed, he says definitely, “There is no sin in my body. I have not uttered wittingly that which is untrue, and I have committed no act having a double motive [in my mind].” As he was troubled by no remembrance of sin, his conscience was clear, and he expected to receive his reward, not as an act of mercy on the part of the gods, but as an act of justice.

Thus it would seem that repentance played no part in the religion of the primitive inhabitants of Egypt, and that a man atoned for his misdeeds by the giving of offerings, by sacrifice, and by worship. On the other hand, Nebseni is made to say to the god of Sekhet-hetep, “Let me be rewarded with thy fields, O Hetep; but do thou according to thy will, O lord of the winds.”

This petition reveals a frame of mind which recognizes submissively the omnipotence of the god’s will, and the words “do thou according to thy will” are no doubt the equivalent of those which men of all nations and in every age have prayed–“Thy will be done.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell, 1905, pp. 49-52.

The Hidden Gate of Isis and Nephthys

Chapter XIV.

The Gate of Sebi and Reri.

The Twelfth Division of the Tuat.

HAVING passed through the Eleventh Division of the Tuat, the boat of the sun arrives at the gateway TESERT-BAIU, which is the last that he will have to pass through before emerging in heaven in the light of a new day.

“This great god cometh forth to this gate, this great god entereth through it, and the gods who are therein acclaim the great god.”

The gateway is like that through which the god passed into the previous Division; at the entrance to the gate proper stands a bearded mummied form called PAI, and at its exit stands a similar form called AKHEKHI.

The corridor is swept by flames of fire, which proceed from the mouths of uraei, as before. In the space which is usually guarded by a number of gods stand two staves, each of which is surmounted by a bearded head; on one head is the disk of TEM, and on the other a beetle, the symbol of Khepera.

The text which refers to these reads:

“They stand up on their heads, and they come into being on their staves by the gate; the heads stand up by the gate.”

The monster serpent which stands on its tail and guards the one door is called SEBI, and the two lines of text which refer to his admission of Ra read, “He who is over this door openeth to Ra. SA saith unto Sebi, ‘Open thy gate to Ra, unfold thy portal to Khuti, so that he may come forth from the hidden place, and may take up his position in the body of NUT.’

Behold, there is wailing among the souls who dwell in Ament after this door hath closed,” &c.

The monster serpent which stands on its tail and guards the other door is called RERI, and the two lines of text which refer to his admission of Ra read,

“He who is over this door openeth to Ra. SA saith unto RERI, ‘Open thy gate to Ra, unfold thy portal to KHUTI, so that he may come forth from the hidden place, and may take up his position in the body of Nut.’

Behold, there is wailing among the souls who dwell in Ament after this door hath closed.”

The text, being similar to that which refers to SEBI, is not repeated here.

On each side of the door is a uraeus, the one representing Isis and the other NEPHTHYS, and of them it is said, “They it is who guard this hidden gate of Ament, and they pass onwards in the following of this god.”

Here we see that the end of the Tuat is reached, and the boat of the sun has reached that portion of it through which he is about to emerge in the waters of Nu, and thence in the form of a disk in the sky of this world.

Having passed on to the water the boat is supported by the two arms of Nu himself, or, as the text says, “These two arms come forth from the waters, and they bear up this god.”

The god appears in the boat in the form of a beetle, which is rolling along a disk; on the left of the beetle is Isis, and on the right Nephthys. The three beings in the front of the boat are probably the personifications of doors, and the gods to the left are SEB, SHU, HEK, HU, and SA, In the hieroglyphics at the top of the open space above the boat is written, “This god taketh up his place in the MATETET Boat [with] the gods who are in it.”

Away in the waters above, or beyond the boat, is a kind of island, formed by the body of a god, which is bent round in such a way that the tips of his toes touch the back of his head. On his head stands the goddess Nut, with her arms and hands raised and stretched out to receive the disk of the sun, which the Beetle is rolling towards her; the text says, “Nut receiveth Ra.”

The island formed by the body of the god is said to be Osiris, whose circuit is the Tuat.”


—E.A. Wallis Budge, The Short Form of the Book of Am-Tuat, The Summary of the Book of What Is In the Underworld, from The Book of Gates, 1905, pp. 302-306.

The Seventh Hour, in Which “Stinking-Face” Makes His Appearance

“The Seventh Hour:

The majesty of this great god taketh up his position in the secret place of Osiris, and the majesty of this great god sendeth forth words into this to the gods who dwell therein. This god maketh to himself other forms for this hidden place in order to drive out of his path the serpent fiend APEP by means of the words of power of Isis, and the words of power of SEMSU (?).

RUTI-ASAR is the name of the gate of this City through which this god passeth.

TEPHET-SHETA is the name of this City.

This great god maketh his way over the road of Amentet in the holy boat, and he passeth in it over this road which is without water, without being towed along. He maketh his way by means of the words of power of Isis, and by means of the words of power of SEMSU (?), and the utterances of this great god himself [act as] magical protectors, and perform the slaughters of Apep in the Tuat, in this Circle, in his windings in the sky.

Whosoever shall make [a copy of] these [pictures] according to the similitudes which are in writing at the northern side of the Hidden Palace in the Tuat, they shall act as magical protectors for him that maketh them in heaven and in earth.

And whosoever knoweth them shall be a soul of souls with Ra.

And whosoever shall make (i.e., recite) the words of power of Isis and the words of power of SEMSU, shall make to be driven back the Apep of Ra in Amentet.

Whosoever shall do [this] in the Hidden Palace of the Tuat, and whosoever shall do [this] upon earth, [the result is] the same.

Whosoever knoweth this shall be in the Boat of Ra, both in heaven and upon earth; but he that hath no knowledge of this representation shall not know how to drive back NEHA-HRA (i.e., Stinking-Face).

Now the ridge of earth of NEHA-HRA in the Tuat is four hundred and fifty cubits in length, and he filleth it with the undulations of his body.

The regions which belong to him are made (i.e., kept) for him, and the great god doth not make his way over him when he maketh him to turn aside out of the way for him, from the secret place of Osiris, when this god maketh his way through this city in the form of the serpent MEHEN.

Whosoever shall know this upon earth, the serpent NEHA-HRA shall not drink his water, and the soul of him that knoweth it shall not be evilly entreated by the gods who are in this Circle; and whosoever knoweth it the crocodile AB-SHAU shall not devour his soul.

KHESEF-HAI-HESEQ-NEHA-HRA is the name of the hour of the night which guideth this great god through this Circle.”

—E.A. Wallis Budge, The Short Form of the Book of Am-Tuat, The Summary of the Book of What Is In the Underworld, from The Book of Gates, 1905, pp. 25-7.


“The god Osiris, as we have seen in the chapter on the Egyptian Religion in the accompanying volume, lived and reigned at one time upon earth in the form of a man. His twin-brother Set was jealous of his popularity, and hated him to such a degree that he contrived a plan whereby he succeeded in putting Osiris to death.

Set then tried to usurp his brother’s kingdom and to make himself sole lord of Egypt, and, although no text states it distinctly, it is clear that he seized his brother’s wife, Isis, and shut her up in his house.

Isis was, however, under the protection of the god Thoth, and she escaped with her unborn child, and the following Legend describes the incidents that befell her, and the death and revivification of Horus.

It is cut in hieroglyphs upon a large stone stele which was made for Ankh-Psemthek, a prophet of Nebun in the reign of Nectanebus I, who reigned from 373 B.C. to 360 B.C. The stele was dug up in 1828 at Alexandria, and was given to Prince Metternich by Muhammad Ali Pasha; it is now commonly known as the “Metternich Stele.”

The Legend is narrated by the goddess herself, who says:

“I am Isis. I escaped from the dwelling wherein my brother Set placed me. Thoth, the great god, the Prince of Truth in heaven and on earth, said unto me:

“Come, O goddess Isis [hearken thou], it is a good thing to hearken, for he who is guided by another liveth. Hide thyself with thy child, and these things shall happen unto him. His body shall grow and flourish, and strength of every kind shall be in him. He shall sit upon his father’s throne, he shall avenge him, and he shall hold the exalted position of ‘Governor of the Two Lands.’”

I left the house of Set in the evening, and there accompanied me Seven Scorpions, that were to travel with me, and sting with their stings on my behalf. Two of them, Tefen and Befen, followed behind me, two of them, Mestet and Mestetef, went one on each side of me, and three, Petet, Thetet, and Maatet, prepared the way for me.

I charged them very carefully and adjured them to make no acquaintance with any one, to speak to none of the Red Fiends, to pay no heed to a servant (?), and to keep their gaze towards the ground so that they might show me the way.

And their leader brought me to Pa-Sui, the town of the Sacred Sandals, [These places were in the seventh nome of Lower Egypt (Metelites)] at the head of the district of the Papyrus Swamps. When I arrived at Teb I came to a quarter of the town where women dwelt.

And a certain woman of quality spied me as I was journeying along the road, and she shut her door in my face, for she was afraid because of the Seven Scorpions that were with me. Then they took counsel concerning her, and they shot out their poison on the tail of Tefen. As for me, a peasant woman called Taha opened her door, and I went into the house of this humble woman.

Then the scorpion Tefen crawled in under the door of the woman Usert [who had shut it in my face], and stung her son, and a fire broke out in it; there was no water to put it out, but the sky sent down rain, though it was not the time of rain. And the heart of Usert was sore within her, and she was very sad, for she knew not whether her son would live or die; and she went through the town shrieking for help, but none came out at the sound of her voice.

And I was sad for the child’s sake, and I wished the innocent one to live again. So I cried out to her, saying, Come to me! Come to me! There is life in my mouth. I am a woman well known in her town. I can destroy the devil of death by a spell which my father taught me. I am his daughter, his beloved one.

Then Isis laid her hands on the child and recited this spell:

“O poison of Tefent (sic), come forth, fall on the ground; go no further. O poison of Befent (sic), come forth, fall on the ground. I am Isis, the goddess, the mistress of words of power. I am a weaver of spells, I know how to utter words so that they take effect. Hearken to me, O every reptile that biteth (or stingeth), and fall on the ground. O poison of Mestet, go no further. O poison of Mestetef, rise not up in his body. O poison of Petet and Thetet, enter not his body. O poison of Maatet, fall on the ground.

Ascend not into heaven, I command you by the beloved of Ra, the egg of the goose which appeareth from the sycamore. My words indeed rule to the uttermost limit of the night. I speak to you, O scorpions. I am alone and in sorrow, and our names will stink throughout the nomes….

The child shall live! The poison shall die! For Ra liveth and the poison dieth. Horus shall be saved through his mother Isis, and he who is stricken shall likewise be saved.”

Meanwhile the fire in the house of Usert was extinguished, and heaven was content with the utterance of Isis. Then the lady Usert was filled with sorrow because she had shut her door in the face of Isis, and she brought to the house of the peasant woman gifts for the goddess, whom she had apparently not recognized.

The spells of the goddess produced, of course, the desired effect on the poison, and we may assume that the life of the child was restored to him. The second lot of gifts made to Isis represented his mother’s gratitude.

Exactly when and how Isis made her way to a hiding place cannot be said, but she reached it in safety, and her son Horus was born there.

The story of the death of Horus she tells in the following words:

“I am Isis. I conceived a child, Horus, and I brought him forth in a cluster of papyrus plants (or, bulrushes). I rejoiced exceedingly, for in him I saw one who would make answer for his father. I hid him, and I covered him up carefully, being afraid of that foul one [Set], and then I went to the town of Am, where the people gave thanks for me because they knew I could cause them trouble.

I passed the day in collecting food for the child, and when I returned and took Horus into my arms, I found him, Horus, the beautiful one of gold, the boy, the child, lifeless! He had bedewed the ground with the water of his eye and with the foam of his lips. His body was motionless, his heart did not beat, and his muscles were relaxed.”

Then Isis sent forth a bitter cry, and lamented loudly her misfortune, for now that Horus was dead she had none to protect her, or to take vengeance on Set. When the people heard her voice they went out to her, and they bewailed with her the greatness of her affliction. But though all lamented on her behalf there was none who could bring back Horus to life.

Then a “woman who was well known in her town, a lady who was the mistress of property in her own right,” went out to Isis, and consoled her, and assured her that the child should live through his mother.

And she said, “A scorpion hath stung him, the reptile Aunab hath wounded him.” Then Isis bent her face over the child to find out if he breathed, and she examined the wound, and found that there was poison in it, and then taking him in her arms, “she leaped about with him like a fish that is put upon hot coals,” uttering loud cries of lamentation.

During this outburst of grief the goddess Nephthys, her sister, arrived, and she too lamented and cried bitterly over her sister’s loss; with her came the Scorpion-goddess Serqet.

Nephthys at once advised Isis to cry out for help to Ra, for, said she, it is wholly impossible for the Boat of Ra to travel across the sky whilst Horus is lying dead.

Then Isis cried out, and made supplication to the Boat of Millions of Years, and the Sun-god stopped the Boat. Out of it came down Thoth, who was provided with powerful spells, and, going to Isis, he inquired concerning her trouble.

“What is it, what is it, O Isis, thou goddess of spells, whose mouth hath skill to utter them with supreme effect? Surely no evil thing hath befallen Horus, for the Boat of Ra hath him under its protection. I have come from the Boat of the Disk to heal Horus.”

Then Thoth told Isis not to fear, but to put away all anxiety from her heart, for he had come to heal her child, and he told her that Horus was fully protected because he was the Dweller in his disk, and the firstborn son of heaven, and the Great Dwarf, and the Mighty Ram, and the Great Hawk, and the Holy Beetle, and the Hidden Body, and the Governor of the Other World, and the Holy Benu Bird, and by the spells of Isis and the names of Osiris and the weeping of his mother and brethren, and by his own name and heart.

Turning towards the child Thoth began to recite his spells and said, “Wake up, Horus! Thy protection is established. Make thou happy the heart of thy mother Isis. The words of Horus bind up hearts and he comforteth him that is in affliction. Let your hearts rejoice, O ye dwellers in the heavens. Horus who avenged his father shall make the poison to retreat.

That which is in the mouth of Ra shall circulate, and the tongue of the Great God shall overcome [opposition]. The Boat of Ra standeth still and moveth not, and the Disk (i.e. the Sun-god) is in the place where it was yesterday to heal Horus for his mother Isis.

Come to earth, draw nigh, O Boat of Ra, O ye mariners of Ra; make the boat to move and convey food of the town of Sekhem (i.e. Letopolis) hither, to heal Horus for his mother Isis….

Come to earth, O poison! I am Thoth, the firstborn son, the son of Ra. Tem and the company of the gods have commanded me to heal Horus for his mother Isis.

O Horus, O Horus, thy Ka protecteth thee, and thy Image worketh protection for thee. The poison is as the daughter of its own flame; it is destroyed because it smote the strong son. Your temples are safe, for Horus liveth for his mother.”

Then the child Horus returned to life, to the great joy of his mother, and Thoth went back to the Boat of Millions of Years, which at once proceeded on its majestic course, and all the gods from one end of heaven to the other rejoiced.

Isis entreated either Ra or Thoth that Horus might be nursed and brought up by the goddesses of the town of Pe-Tep, or Buto, in the Delta, and at once Thoth committed the child to their care, and instructed them about his future.

Horus grew up in Buto under their protection, and in due course fought a duel with Set, and vanquished him, and so avenged the wrong done to his father by Set.”

–E. A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 43-5.

Another Version of The Legend of Ra and Isis


“This Legend is found written in the hieratic character upon a papyrus preserved in Turin, and it illustrates a portion of the preceding Legend.

We have seen that Ra instructed Thoth to draw up a series of spells to be used against venomous reptiles of all kinds, and the reader will perceive from the following summary that Ra had good reason for doing this.

The Legend opens with a list of the titles of Ra, the “self-created god,” creator of heaven, earth, breath of life, fire, gods, men, beasts, cattle, reptiles, feathered fowl, and fish, the King of gods and men, to whom cycles of 120 years are as years, whose manifold names are unknown even by the gods.

The text continues: “Isis had the form of a woman, and knew words of power, but she was disgusted with men, and she yearned for the companionship of the gods and the spirits, and she meditated and asked herself whether, supposing she had the knowledge of the Name of Ra, it was not possible to make herself as great as Ra was in heaven and on the earth?

Meanwhile Ra appeared in heaven each day upon his throne, but he had become old, and he dribbled at the mouth, and his spittle fell on the ground. One day Isis took some of the spittle and kneaded up dust in it, and made this paste into the form of a serpent with a forked tongue, so that if it struck anyone the person struck would find it impossible to escape death. This figure she placed on the path on which Ra walked as he came into heaven after his daily survey of the Two Lands (i.e. Egypt).

Soon after this Ra rose up, and attended by his gods he came into heaven, but as he went along the serpent drove its fangs into him. As soon as he was bitten Ra felt the living fire leaving his body, and he cried out so loudly that his voice reached the uttermost parts of heaven. The gods rushed to him in great alarm, saying, “What is the matter?” At first Ra was speechless, and found himself unable to answer, for his jaws shook, his lips trembled, and the poison continued to run through every part of his body. When he was able to regain a little strength, he told the gods that some deadly creature had bitten him, something the like of which he had never seen, something which his hand had never made.

He said, “Never before have I felt such pain; there is no pain worse than this.” Ra then went on to describe his greatness and power, and told the listening gods that his father and mother had hidden his name in his body so that no one might be able to master him by means of any spell or word of power. In spite of this something had struck him, and he knew not what it was.

“Is it fire?” he asked. “Is it water? My heart is full of burning fire, my limbs are shivering, shooting pains are in all my members.” All the gods round about him uttered cries of lamentation, and at this moment Isis appeared.

Going to Ra she said, “What is this, O divine father? What is this? Hath a serpent bitten thee? Hath something made by thee lifted up its head against thee? Verily my words of power shall overthrow it; I will make it depart in the sight of thy light.”

Ra then repeated to Isis the story of the incident, adding, “I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire. All my members sweat. My body quaketh. Mine eye is unsteady. I cannot look on the sky, and my face is bedewed with water as in the time of the Inundation.” [i.e. in the period of Summer. The season Shemmu began in April and ended about July 15.]

Then Isis said, “Father, tell me thy name, for he who can utter his own name liveth.”

Ra replied, “I am the maker of heaven and earth. I knit together the mountains and whatsoever liveth on them. I made the waters. I made Mehturit [An ancient Cow-goddess of heaven] to come into being. I made Kamutef [A form of Amen-Ra]. I made heaven, and the two hidden gods of the horizon, and put souls into the gods. I open my eyes, and there is light; I shut my eyes, and there is darkness. I speak the word[s], and the waters of the Nile appear. I am he whom the gods know not. I make the hours. I create the days. I open the year. I make the river [Nile]. I create the living fire whereby works in the foundries and workshops are carried out. I am Khepera in the morning, Ra at noon, and Temu in the evening.”

Meanwhile the poison of the serpent was coursing through the veins of Ra, and the enumeration of his works afforded the god no relief from it. Then Isis said to Ra, “Among all the things which thou hast named to me thou hast not named thy name. Tell me thy name, and the poison shall come forth from thee.”

Ra still hesitated, but the poison was burning in his blood, and the heat thereof was stronger than that of a fierce fire. At length he said, “Isis shall search me through, and my name shall come forth from my body and pass into hers.”

Then Ra hid himself from the gods, and for a season his throne in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. When the time came for the heart of the god to pass into Isis, the goddess said to Horus, her son, “The great god shall bind himself by an oath to give us his two eyes (i.e. the sun and the moon).”

When the great god had yielded up his name Isis pronounced the following spell: “Flow poison, come out of Ra. Eye of Horus, come out of the god, and sparkle as thou comest through his mouth. I am the worker. I make the poison to fall on the ground. The poison is conquered. Truly the name of the great god hath been taken from him. Ra liveth! The poison dieth! If the poison live Ra shall die.” These were the words which Isis spoke, Isis the great lady, the Queen of the gods, who knew Ra by his own name.

In late times magicians used to write the above Legend on papyrus above figures of Temu and Heru-Hekenu, who gave Ra his secret name, and over figures of Isis and Horus, and sell the rolls as charms against snake bites.”

–E. A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 37-8.

The Legend of Ra and Isis

This version of the Legend of Ra and Isis is from the classic by E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani, 1895. pg. xc-xci.

I have edited the version with paragraph breaks to ease readability, and inserted sparing editorial notes. Care has been taken to preserve Budge’s precise translation, using capital G’s for the word “God” and lowercase g’s for the words “gods” and “goddesses.”

Source text can be found at the following URL:

“Now Isis was a woman who possessed words of power; her heart was wearied with the millions of men, and she chose the millions of the gods, but she esteemed more highly the millions of the khu’s. And she meditated in her heart, saying “Cannot I by means of the sacred name of God make myself mistress of the earth and become a goddess like unto “Ra in heaven and upon earth?”

The Legend continues,

“Now, behold, each day Ra entered at the head of his holy mariners and established himself upon the throne of the two horizons. The holy one had grown old, he dribbled at the mouth, his spittle fell upon the dirt, and his slobbering dropped upon the ground.”

“And Isis kneaded it with earth in her hand, and formed thereof a sacred serpent in the form of a spear; she set it not upright before her face, but let it lie upon the ground in the path whereby the great god went forth, according to his heart’s desire, into his double kingdom.

(So Isis set him up to be ambushed by her serpent, which included the spittle of Ra.)

“Now the holy god arose, and the gods who followed him as though he were Pharaoh went with him; and he came forth according to his daily wont; and the sacred serpent bit him.”

After Ra was bit:

“The flame of life departed from him, and he who dwelt among the cedars (Budge inserts a ? here) was overcome.

Budge continues:

“The holy god opened his mouth, and the cry of his majesty reached unto heaven. His company of gods said, “What hath happened?” and his gods exclaimed, “What is it?”

But Ra could not answer, for his jaws trembled and all his members quaked; the poison spread quickly through his flesh just as the Nile invadeth all his land.”

“When the great god had stablished his heart, he cried unto those who were in his train, saying, “Come unto me, O ye who have come into being from my body, ye gods who have come forth from me, make ye known unto Khepera that a dire calamity had fallen upon me.”

Ra continues,

“My heart perceiveth it, but my eyes see it not; my hand hath not caused it, nor do I know who had done this unto me. Never have I felt such pain, neither can sickness cause more woe than this.”

“I am a prince, the son of a prince, a sacred essence which hath proceeded from God. (Note: Budge has a capital G God, not god).

“I am a great one, the son of a great one, and my father planned my name; I have multitudes of names and multitudes of forms, and my existence is in every god.”

“I have been proclaimed by the heralds Tmu (Atum) and Horus, and my father and my mother uttered my name; but it hath been hidden within me by him that begat me, who would not that the words of power of any seer should have dominion over me.”

“I came forth to look upon that which I had made, I was passing through the world that I created, when lo! something stung me, but what I know not.”

“Is it fire? Is it water? My heart is on fire, my flesh quaketh, and trembling hath seized all my limbs.”

“Let there be brought unto me the children of the gods with healing words and with lips that know, and with power which reacheth unto heaven.”

“The children of every god came unto him in tears, Isis came with her healing words and with her mouth full of the breath of life, with her enchantments which destroy sickness, and with her words of power which make the dead to live.”

“And she spake, saying, “What hath come to pass, O holy father? What hath happened? A serpent hath bitten thee, and a thing which though hast created hath lifted up his head against thee.”

“Verily it shall be cast forth by my healing words of power, and I will drive it away from before the sight of thy sunbeams.”

Ra replied,

“The holy god opened his mouth and said, “I was passing along my path, and I was going through the two regions of my lands according to my heart’s desire, to see that which I had created, when lo! I was bitten by a serpent which I saw not. Is it fire? Is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire. All my flesh sweateth, I quake, my eye hath no strength, I cannot see the sky, and the sweat rusheth to my face even as in the time of summer.”

“Then said Isis unto Ra, “O tell me thy name, holy father, for whosoever shall be delivered by thy name shall live.”

[And Ra said], “I have made the heavens and the earth, I have ordered the mountains, I have created all that is above them, I have made the water, I have made to come into being the great and wide sea, I have made the “Bull of his mother,” from who spring the delights of love.”

Ra continues:

“I have made the heavens, I have stretched out the two horizons like a curtain, and I have placed the soul of the gods within them.”

“I am he who, if he openeth his eyes, doth make the light, and, if he closeth them, darkness cometh into being. At his command the Nile riseth, and the gods know not his name.”

“I have made the hours, I have created the days, I bring forward the festivals of the year, I create the Nile-flood. I make the fire of life, and I provide food in the houses. I am Khepera in the morning. I am Ra at noon, and I am Tmu (Atum) at evening.”

“Meanwhile the poison was not taken away from his body, but it pierced deeper, and the great god could no longer walk.

“Then said Isis unto Ra, “What thou has said is not thy name. O tell it unto me, and the poison shall depart; for he shall live whose name shall be revealed.”

Now the poison burned like fire, and it was fiercer than the flame and the furnace, and the majesty of god said, “I consent that Isis shall search into me, and that my name shall pass from me into her.”

“Then the god hid himself from the gods, and his place in the boat of millions of years was empty.

“And when the time arrived for the heart of Ra to come forth, Isis spake unto her son Horus, saying, “The god hath bound himself by an oath to deliver up his two eyes” (i.e., the sun and the moon).

“Thus was the name of the great god taken from him, and Isis, the lady of enchantments, said, “Depart, poison, go forth from Ra. O eye of Horus, go forth from the god, and shine outside his mouth. It is I who work, it is I who make to fall down upon the earth the vanquished poison; for the name of the great god hath been taken away from him.”

“May Ra live!”

“These are the words of Isis, the great goddess, the queen of the gods, who knew Ra by his own name.”

Budge concludes: “Thus we see that even to the great god Ra were attributed all the weakness and frailty of mortal man; and that “gods” and “goddesses” were classed with beasts and reptiles, which could die and perish.”

“As a result, it seems that the word “God” should be reserved to express the name of the Creator of the Universe, and that neteru, usually rendered “gods,” should be translated by some other word, but what that word should be is almost impossible to say.”

Legend of Ra and Isis from E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani, 1895. pg. xc-xci.

“The Praises of Isis, Mistress of the Universe and Creator of Civilization.”

Demetrios, the son of Artemidoros, who is also called Thraseas, a Magnesian from Magnesia on the Meander, an offering in fulfillment of a vow to Isis. He transcribed the following from the stele in Memphis which stands by the temple of Hephaistos:

“I am Isis, the tyrant of every land; and I was educated by Hermes, and together with Hermes I invented letters, both the hieroglyphic and the demotic, in order that the same script should not be used to write everything.

I imposed laws on men, and the laws which I laid down no one may change. I am the eldest daughter of Kronos. I am the wife and sister of King Osiris. I am she who discovered the cultivation of grain for men. I am the mother of King Horos (Horus).

I am she who rises in the Dog Star. I am she who is called goddess by women. By me the city of Bubastis was built. I separated earth from sky. I designated the paths of the stars. The sun and the moon’s course I laid out. I invented navigation. I caused the just to be strong.

Woman and man I brought together. For woman I determined that in the tenth month she shall deliver a baby into the light. I ordained that parents be cherished by their children. For parents who are cruelly treated I imposed retribution.

Together with my brother Osiris I stopped cannibalism. I revealed initiations to men. I taught men to honor the images of the gods. I established precincts for the gods. The governments of tyrants I suppressed.

I stopped murders. I compelled women to be loved by men. I caused the just to be stronger than gold and silver. I ordained that the true be considered beautiful. I invented marriage contracts. Languages I assigned to Greeks and barbarians.

I caused the honorable and the shameful to be distinguished by Nature. I caused nothing to be more fearful than an oath. He who unjustly plotted against others I gave into the hands of his victim. On those who commit unjust acts I imposed retribution.

I ordained that suppliants be pitied. I honor those who justly defend themselves. With me the just prevails. Of rivers and winds and the sea I am mistress. No one becomes famous without my knowledge. I am the mistress of war. Of the thunderbolt am I mistress. I calm and stir up the sea. I am the rays of the sun. I sit beside the course of the sun. Whatever I decide, this also is accomplished. For me everything is right.

I free those who are in bonds. I am the mistress of sailing. The navigable I make unnavigable when I choose. I established the boundaries of cities. I am she who is called Lawgiver. The island from the depths I brought up into the light. I conquer Fate. Fate heeds me. Hail Egypt who reared me.”

—From Stanley M. Burstein, The Reign of Cleopatra (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 154.

–From Stanley M. Burnstein, The Hellenistic Age from the Battle of Ipsos to the Death of Kleopatra VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pg. 147.


Apuleius on Queen Isis.

“I am she that is the naturall mother of all things, mistresse and governesse of all the Elements, the initiall progeny of worlds, chiefe of powers divine, Queene of heaven! the principall of the Gods celestiall, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the ayre, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be diposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customes and in many names, for the Phrygians call me the mother of the Gods: the Athenians, Minerva: the Cyprians, Venus: the Candians, Diana: the Sicilians Proserpina: the Eleusians, Ceres: some Juno, other Bellona, other Hecate: and principally the Aethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Aegyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustome to worship mee, doe call mee Queene Isis.”

–Lucius Apuleius (“Africanus”), The Golden Asse, or The Metamorphoses, William Adlington, trans., 1566 & 1639), pg. 86. Excerpt from the 1639 edition.

A somewhat different version is excerpted in Robert Graves, The White Goddess, 1971, pp. 72-3.