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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).

THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERINGS OF ISIS

“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

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:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/

“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.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/

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