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Tag: Mummification

Mortality of the Gods

“The grave of Zeus, the great god of Greece, was shown to visitors in Crete as late as about the beginning of our era. The body of Dionysus was buried at Delphi beside the golden statue of Apollo, and his tomb bore the inscription, “Here lies Dionysus dead, the son of Semele.”

According to one account, Apollo himself was buried at Delphi; for Pythagoras is said to have carved an inscription on his tomb, setting forth how the god had been killed by the python and buried under the tripod.

The great gods of Egypt themselves were not exempt from the common lot. They too grew old and died. But when at a later time the discovery of the art of embalming gave a new lease of life to the souls of the dead by preserving their bodies for an indefinite time from corruption, the deities were permitted to share the benefit of an invention which held out to gods as well as to men a reasonable hope of immortality.

Every province then had the tomb and mummy of its dead god. The mummy of Osiris was to be seen at Mendes; Thinis boasted of the mummy of Anhouri; and Heliopolis rejoiced in the possession of that of Toumou.

The high gods of Babylon also, though they appeared to their worshippers only in dreams and visions, were conceived to be human in their bodily shape, human in their passions, and human in their fate; for like men they were born into the world, and like men they loved and fought and died.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1922, The Mortality of the Gods, np.

The Most Religious Nation of Antiquity

“Now the Egyptians believed that as the souls of the departed could assume the form of any living thing or plant, so the “gods,” who in many respects closely resembled them, could and did take upon themselves the forms of birds and beasts; this was the fundamental idea of the so-called “Egyptian animal worship,” which provoked the merriment of the cultured Greek, and drew down upon the Egyptians the ridicule and abuse of the early Christian writers.

But if the matter be examined closely its apparent stupidity disappears. The Egyptians paid honour to certain birds, and animals, and reptiles, because they considered that they possessed certain of the characteristics of the gods to whom they made them sacred.

The bull was a type of the strength and procreative power of the god of reproduction in nature, and the cow was the type of his female counterpart; every sacred animal and living thing possessed some quality or attribute which was ascribed to some god, and as each god was only a form of Râ, the quality or attribute ascribed to him was that of the Sun-god himself.

The educated Egyptian never worshipped an animal as an animal, but only as an incarnation of a god, and the reverence paid to animals in Egypt was in no way different from that paid to the king, who was regarded as “divine” and as an incarnation of Râ the Sun-god, who was the visible symbol of the Creator.

The relation of the king to Râ was identical with that of Râ to God. The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans never understood the logical conception which underlay the reverence with which the Egyptians regarded certain animals, and as a result they grossly misrepresented their religion.

The ignorant people, no doubt, often mistook the symbol for what it symbolized, but it is wrong to say that the Egyptians worshipped animals in the ordinary sense of the word, and this fact cannot be too strongly insisted on.

Holding the views he did about transformations there was nothing absurd in the reverence which the Egyptian paid to animals. When a sacred animal died the god whom it represented sought out another animal of the same species in which to renew his incarnation, and the dead body of the animal, inasmuch as it had once been the dwelling-place of a god, was mummified and treated in much the same way as a human body after death, in order that it might enjoy immortality.

These views seem strange, no doubt, to us when judged by modern ideas, but they formed an integral part of the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, from the earliest to the latest times.

What is remarkable, however, is the fact that, in spite of invasions, and foreign wars, and internal dissensions, and external influences of all kinds, the Egyptians clung to their gods and the sometimes childish and illogical methods which they adopted in serving them with a conservatism and zeal which have earned for them the reputation of being at once the most religious and most superstitious nation of antiquity.

Whatever literary treasures may be brought to light in the future as the result of excavations in Egypt, it is most improbable that we shall ever receive from that country any ancient Egyptian work which can properly be classed among the literature of atheism or freethought; the Egyptian might be more or less religious according to his nature and temperament, but, judging, from the writings of his priests and teachers which are now in our hands, the man who was without religion and God in some form or other was most rare, if not unknown.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 232-4.

Opening of the Mouth Concluded

“Thus the mouth and the eyes of the deceased are opened. The Sem priest then took in his hand the instrument called ur hekau, i.e., the “mighty one of enchantments,” a curious, sinuous piece of wood, one end of which is in the form of a ram’s head surmounted by a uraeus, and touched the mouth and the eyes of the statue or mummy four times, whilst the Kher-heb recited a long address in which he declared that this portion of the ceremony had secured for the deceased all the benefits which accrued to the god Osiris from the actions of Nut, Horus, and Set, when he was in a similar state.

It has been said above that every dead man hoped to be provided with the hekau, or words of power, which were necessary for him in the next world, but without a mouth it was impossible for him to utter them.

Now that the mouth, or rather the use of it, was restored to the deceased, it was all important to give him not only the words of power, but also the ability to utter them correctly and in such wise that the gods and other beings would hearken to them and obey them; four touches of the ur hekau instrument on the lips endowed the deceased with the faculty of uttering the proper words in the proper manner in each of the four quarters of the world.

When this had been done, several other ceremonies were performed with the object of allowing the “son who loveth him” or his representative to take part in the opening of the mouth of his father.

In order to do this he took in his hand a metal chisel and touched the openings of the mouth and of the eyes, and then the Sem priest touched them first with his little finger, and afterwards with a little bag filled with pieces of red stone or carnelian, with the idea, M. Maspero thinks, of restoring to the lips and eyelids the colour which they had lost during the process of mummification.

The “son who loves him” then took four objects called “iron of the South, and iron of the North,” and laid each of them four times upon the mouth and the eyes while the Kher-heb recited the proper address in which the mummy or statue is said to have had his mouth and lips established firmly.

Pesh-en-kef Instrument This done, the Sem priest brings an instrument called the “Pesh-en-kef,” and touches the mouth of the mummy or statue therewith, and says, “O Osiris, I have stablished for thee the two jaw-bones in thy face, and they are now separated”; that is to say, the bandages with which they have been tied up can no longer prevent their movement when the deceased wishes to eat.

After the Pesh-en-kef had been used the Sem priest brought forward a basket or vessel of some kind of food in the shape of balls, and by the order of the Kher-heb offered them to the mouth of the mummy, and when this portion of the ceremony was ended, the Sem priest took an ostrich feather, and waved it before its face four times, but with what object is not clear.

Such are the ceremonies which it was thought necessary to perform in order to restore to the deceased the functions which his body possessed upon earth.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 196-8.

Le Rituel de l’Embaumement

“He believed that he would feed upon the celestial and imperishable food whereon the gods lived, but at the same time he spared no effort or expense to provide for his tomb being supplied at stated intervals throughout the year with perishable food in the shape of offerings of oxen, feathered fowl, cakes, bread, and the like.

He mummified his dead and swathed them in linen bandages, and then by the performance of magical ceremonies and by the recital of words of power sought to give back to their members the strength to eat, and drink, and talk, and think, and move at will.

Indeed, all the evidence now forthcoming seems to prove that he never succeeded in bringing himself to think that the gods could do without his help, or that the pictures or representations of the scenes which took place in the life, and death, and burial, and resurrection of Osiris, upon which he relied so implicitly, could possibly fail to be as efficacious as the actual power of the god himself.

The examination of mummies has shown us with tolerable clearness what methods were adopted in preparing bodies for bandaging and final ornamentation, and the means adopted for disposing of the more corruptible portions of the body are well known from classical and other writers.

But for an account of the manner in which the body was bandaged, and a list of the unguents and other materials employed in the process, and the words of power which were spoken as each bandage was laid in its place, we must have, recourse to a very interesting papyrus which has been edited and translated by M. Maspero under the title of Le Rituel de l’Embaumement. (In Mémoire sur quelques Papyrus du Louvre, Paris, 1875).

The first part of the papyrus, which probably gave instructions for the evisceration of the body, is wanting, and only the section which refers to the bandaging is at all perfect.

The text opens with an address to the deceased in which it is said, “The perfume of Arabia hath been brought to thee to make perfect thy smell through the scent of the god.”

“Here are brought to thee liquids which have come forth from Râ, to make perfect . . . thy smell in the Hall [of Judgment].

O sweet-smelling soul of the great god, thou dost contain such a sweet odour that thy face shall neither change nor perish. . . .

Thy members shall become young in Arabia, and thy soul shall appear over thy body in Ta-neter (i.e., the ‘divine land’).”

 After this the priest or mummifier was to take a vase of liquid which contained ten perfumes, and to smear therewith the body from head to foot twice, taking especial care to anoint the head thoroughly. He was then to say, “Osiris (i.e., the deceased), thou hast received the perfume which shall make thy members perfect.”

“Thou receivest the source [of life] and thou takest the form of the great Disk (i.e., Aten), which uniteth itself unto thee to give enduring form to thy members; thou shalt unite with Osiris in the great Hall.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 184-6.

On Mummification

“IN the preceding pages we have seen how the Egyptians employed magical stones or amulets, and magical words, and magical pictures, and magical names, in the performance of deeds both good and evil; it remains to consider these magical ceremonies in which the skill of the magician-priest was exerted to its fullest extent, and with the highest objects, that is to say, to preserve the human body in a mummified condition, and to perform the symbolic acts which would restore its natural functions.

When we think of the sublime character of the life which the souls of the blessed dead were believed to lead in heaven with the gods, it is hard to understand why the Egyptians took such pains to preserve the physical body from decay.

No Egyptian who believed his Scriptures ever expected that his corruptible body would ascend into heaven and live with the gods, for they declare in no uncertain manner that it remains upon the earth whilst the soul dwells in heaven.

But that the preservation of the body was in some way or for some reason absolutely necessary is certain, for the art of mummification flourished for several thousands of years, and unless there was some good reason, besides the observance of conservative custom and traditional use, why it should do so, king and priest, gentle and simple, and rich and poor, would never have burdened their relatives and heirs with the expense of costly funeral ceremonies, and with the performance of rites which were of no avail.

At first sight, too, it seems strange to find the Egyptians studying carefully how best to provide the dead with a regular supply of sepulchral offerings, for when we come to think about it we notice that in arranging for the well-being of the dead nothing whatever was left to chance.

For example, a papyrus will contain several prayers and pictures with appropriate formulæ, the object of each of which is to give the deceased meat and drink; any one of these would have been enough for the purpose, but it was thought best in such an important matter to make assurance doubly sure, and if there was the least doubt about the efficacy of one Chapter one or more of the same class were added.

Similarly, the tendency of the natural body after death being to decay, the greatest care was taken in mummifying its various members, lest perchance any one of them should be neglected accidentally, and should, either by the omission of the words of power that ought to have been said over it, or through the lax performance of some ceremony, decay and perish.

The Egyptian declared that he was immortal, and believed that he would enjoy eternal life in a spiritual body; yet he attempted by the performance of magical ceremonies and the recital of words of power to make his corruptible body to endure for ever.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 182-4.

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