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Tag: Thoth

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet

Rosetta_Stone

The Rosetta Stone, inscribed with a decree by Pharaoh Ptolemy V at Memphis, is dated to 196 BCE. Featuring three scripts, ancient Egyptian, Demotic and ancient Greek, the stele was discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Françoise Bouchard of the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt. Transferred to British control after the Capitulation of Alexandria in 1801, the stele has been on continual exhibition at the British Museum since 1802. The script was finally transliterated by Jean-Françoise Champollion in 1822, decrypting the mysteries of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. This photo © Hans Hillewaert in 2007, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 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.  

“The hieroglyphic script is undoubtedly composed, in part, of iconic signs: some are easily recognizable–vulture, owl, bull, snake, eye, foot, man seated with a cup in hand; others are stylized–the hoisted sail, the almond-like shape for a mouth, the serrated line for water.

Some other signs, at least to the untrained eye, seem to bear only the remotest resemblance to the things that they are supposed to represent–the little square that stands for a seat, the sign of folded cloth, or the semicircle that represents bread.

All these signs are not icons (representing a thing by direct similarity) but rather ideograms, which work by a sort of rhetorical substitution. Thus an inflated sail serves to represent the wind; a man seated with a cup means to drink; a cow’s ear means to understand; the head of a cynocephalus stands for the god Thoth and for all his various attributes, such as writing and counting.

Not everything, however, can be represented ideographically. One way that the ancient Egyptians had found to circumvent this difficult was to turn their ideograms into simple phonograms.

In order to represent a certain sound they put the image of a thing whose name sounded similar. To take an example from Jean-Françoise Champollion‘s first decipherment (Lettre à Dacier, 17 September 1822, 11-12), the mouth, in Egyptian ro, was chosen to represent the Greek consonant P (rho).

It is ironic to think that while, for Renaissance Hermeticists, sounds had to represent the nature of things, for the Egyptians, things (or their corresponding images) were representing sounds (see, for a similar procedure, my remarks in chapter 6 on Bruno’s mnemonics).

By the time interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics had revived in Europe, however, knowledge of the hieroglyphic alphabet had been lost for over a thousand years. The necessary premise for the decipherment of hieroglyphs was a stroke of pure fortune, like the discovery of a bilingual dictionary.

In  fact, as is well known, decipherment was made possible by the discovery not of a dictionary, but of a trilingual text, the famous Rosetta Stone, named after the city of Rashid where it was found by a French soldier in 1799, and, as a result of Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of Nelson, soon transferred to London.

The stone bore an inscription in hieroglyphic, in demotic (a cursive, administrative script elaborated about 1,000 BCE), and in Greek.

Working from reproductions, Champollion, in his Lettre à Dacier, laid the foundation for the decipherment of hieroglyphs. He compared two cartouches which, from their position in the text, he guessed must refer to the names of Ptolemy (ΠΤΟΛΟΜΑΙΟΣ) and Cleopatra (ΚΛΟΠΑΤΡΑ).

He identified the five letters that both names have in common (Π, Τ, Ο, Λ, Α), and found that the two cartouches had five hieroglyphs in common as well. By supposing that each other instance of the same sign represented the same sound, Champollion could easily infer the phonetic value of the remaining text.

Champollion’s decipherment does not, however, explain a series of phenomena which can justify the interpretation of Horapollo. Greek and Roman colonizers had imposed on Egypt their commerce, their technology and their gods.

By the time of the spread of Christianity, Egypt had already abandoned many of its ancient traditions. Knowledge of sacred writing was still preserved and practiced only by priests living within the sacred enclosures of the ancient temples.

These were a dwindling breed: in those last repositories of a lost knowledge, cut off from the rest of the world, they cultivated the monuments of their ancient culture.

Since the sacred writing no longer served any practical use, but only initiatory purposes, these last priests began to introduce complexities into it, playing with the ambiguities inherent in a form of writing that could be differently read either phonetically or ideographically.

To write the name of the god Ptah, for example, the P was expressed phonetically and placed at the top of the name with the ideogram for sky (p[t]), the H was placed in the middle and represented by the image of the god Heh with his arms raised, and the T was expressed by the ideogram for the earth (ta).

It was an image that not only expressed Ptah phonetically, but also carried the visual suggestion that the god Ptah had originally separated the earth from the sky.

The discovery that, by combining different hieroglyphs, evocative visual emblems might be created inspired these last scribes to experiment with increasingly complicated and abstruse combinations.

In short, these scribes began to formulate a sort of kabbalistic play, based, however, on images rather than on letters.

Around the term represented by a sign (which was given an initial phonetic reading) there formed a halo of visual connotations and secondary senses, a sort of chord of associated meanings which served to amplify the original semantic range of the term.

The more the sacred text was enhanced by its exegetes, the more the conviction grew that they expressed buried truths and lost secrets (Sauneron 1957: 123-7).

Thus, to the last priests of a civilization sinking into oblivion, hieroglyphs appeared as a perfect language. Yet their perfection could only be understood by visually reading them; if by chance still pronounced, they would have lost any magic (Sauneron 1982: 55-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 146-9.

Eco: Before and After Europe, 2

babel

MC Escher, Tower of Babel, 1928. This image of a drawing is copyrighted by the artist, who died in 1972. Low-resolution images of works of art for purposes of critical commentary qualify for fair use under United States copyright law.

“Despite this, by the second century AD, there had begun to form the suspicion that Latin and Greek might not be the only languages which expressed harmoniously the totality of experience.

Slowly spreading across the Greco-Roman world, obscure revelations appeared; some were attributed to Persian magi, others to an Egyptian divinity called Thoth-Hermes, to Chaldean oracles, and even to the very Pythagorean and Orphic traditions which, though born on Greek soil, had long been smothered under the weight of the great rationalist philosophy.

By now, the classical rationalism, elaborated and re-elaborated over centuries, had begun to show signs of age. With this, traditional religion entered a period of crisis as well. The imperial pagan religion had become a purely formal affair, no more than a simple expression of loyalty.

Each people had been allowed to keep its own gods. These were accommodated to the Latin pantheon, no one bothering over contradictions, synonyms or homonyms. The term characterizing this leveling toleration for any type of religion (and for any type of philosophy or knowledge as well) is syncretism.

An unintended result of this syncretism, however, was that a diffused sort of religiosity began to grow in the souls of the most sensitive. It was manifested by a belief in the universal World Soul; a soul which subsisted in stars and in earthly objects alike.

Our own, individual, souls were but small particles of the great World Soul. Since the reason of philosophers proved unable to supply truths about important matters such as these, men and women sought revelations beyond reason, through visions, and through communications with the godhead itself.

It was in this climate that Pythagoreanism was reborn. From its beginnings, Pythagoreans had regarded themselves as the keepers of a mystic form of knowledge, and practiced initiatory rites.

Their understanding of the laws of music and mathematics was presented as the fruit of revelation obtained from the Egyptians. By the time of Pythagoreanism’s second appearance, however, Egyptian civilization had been eradicated by the Greek and Latin conquerors.

Egypt itself had now become an enigma, no more than an incomprehensible hieroglyph. Yet there is nothing more fascinating than secret wisdom: one is sure that it exists, but one does not know what it is. In the imagination, therefore, it shines as something unutterably profound.

That such wisdom could exist while still remaining unknown, however, could only be accounted for by the fact that the language in which this wisdom was expressed had remained unknown as well.

This was the reasoning of Diogenes Laertius, who wrote in his Lives of the Philosophers in the third century AD:

“There are those who assert that philosophy started among the Barbarians: there were, they claim, Magi among the Persians, the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Gymnosophists of India, the Druids among the Celts and Galatians” (I).

The classical Greeks had identified barbarians as those who could not even articulate their speech. It now seemed that these very mumblings were of a sacred language, filled with the promise of tacit revelations (Festugière 1944-54:I).

I have given a summary of the cultural atmosphere at this time because, albeit in a delayed fashion, it was destined to have a deep influence on our story. Although no one at the time proposed the reconstruction of the perfect language, the need for one was, by now, vaguely felt.

We shall see that the suggestions, first planted during these years, flowered more than twelve centuries later in humanistic and Renaissance culture (and beyond); this will constitute a central thread in the story I am about to tell.

In the meantime, Christianity had become a state religion, expressed in the Greek of the patristic East and in the Latin still spoken in the West. After St. Jerome translated the Old Testament in the fourth century, the need to know Hebrew as a sacred language grew weaker. This happened to Greek as well.

A typical example of this cultural lack is given by St. Augustine, a man of vast culture, and the most important exponent of Christian thought at the end of the empire.

The Christian revelation is founded on an Old Testament written in Hebrew and a New Testament written, for the most part, in Greek. St. Augustine, however, knew no Hebrew; and his knowledge of Greek was, to say the least, patchy (cf. Marrou 1958).

This amounts to a somewhat paradoxical situation: the man who set himself the task of interpreting scripture in order to discover the true meaning of the divine word could read it only in a Latin translation.

The notion that he ought to consult the Hebrew original never really seems to have entered Augustine’s mind. He did not entirely trust the Jews, nurturing a suspicion that, in their versions, they might have erased all references to the coming of Christ.

The only critical procedure he would allow was that of comparing translations in order to find the most likely version. In this way, St. Augustine, though the father of hermeneutics, was certainly not destined to become the father of philology.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 12-4.

 

Curnow: Atrahasis is More Historical than Noah

Atrahasis is an interesting figure. By surviving the flood he and his wife became the living links between the antediluvian and postdiluvian ages. They also seem to have been the only human beings to have been made immortal (Leick 2001, p. 83).

More than once the narrative presents Atrahasis talking to Ea, the god of wisdom, and this is perhaps the basis for his own reputation for wisdom. On one occasion he is clearly asking the god to explain a dream to him. However it is also said that his father was called Shuruppak, who was the last king of the city-state of Shuruppak before the great flood.

(Excavations at Shuruppak have uncovered evidence of very substantial flooding there in around 2750 BCE).

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, ca. 2600 BC.  Context: For the Old Babylonian recension of the text, see MSS 2817 (lines 1-22), 3352 (lines 1-38), 2788 (lines 1-45), 2291 (lines 88-94), 2040 (lines 207-216), 3400 (lines 342-345), MS 3176/1, text 3, and 3366. Commentary: This Early Dynastic tablet represents the earliest literature in the world. Only three texts are known from the dawn of literature: The Shuruppak instructions, The Kesh temple hymn, and various incantations (see MS 4549).  The instructions are addressed by the antediluvian ruler Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra, who was the Sumerian Noah, cf. MS 3026, the Sumerian Flood Story, and MS 2950, Atra-Hasis, the Old Babylonian Flood Story.  The Shuruppak instructions can be considered the Sumerian antecedents of the Biblical Ten Commandments and proverbs of the Bible:  Line 50: Do not curse with powerful means (3rd Commandment); lines 28: Do not kill (6th Commandment); line 33-34: Do not laugh with or sit alone in a chamber with a girl that is married (7th Commandment); lines 28-31: Do not steal or commit robbery (8th Commandment); and line 36: Do not spit out lies (9th Commandment).

 http://www.uned.es/geo-1-historia-antigua-universal/new%20website/IRAK/CIUDADES/instrucciones_de_shurupak.htm

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, ca. 2600 BC.
Context: For the Old Babylonian recension of the text, see MSS 2817 (lines 1-22), 3352 (lines 1-38), 2788 (lines 1-45), 2291 (lines 88-94), 2040 (lines 207-216), 3400 (lines 342-345), MS 3176/1, text 3, and 3366.
Commentary: This Early Dynastic tablet represents the earliest literature in the world. Only three texts are known from the dawn of literature: The Shuruppak instructions, The Kesh temple hymn, and various incantations (see MS 4549).
The instructions are addressed by the antediluvian ruler Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra, who was the Sumerian Noah, cf. MS 3026, the Sumerian Flood Story, and MS 2950, Atra-Hasis, the Old Babylonian Flood Story.
The Shuruppak instructions can be considered the Sumerian antecedents of the Biblical Ten Commandments and proverbs of the Bible:
Line 50: Do not curse with powerful means (3rd Commandment); lines 28: Do not kill (6th Commandment); line 33-34: Do not laugh with or sit alone in a chamber with a girl that is married (7th Commandment); lines 28-31: Do not steal or commit robbery (8th Commandment); and line 36: Do not spit out lies (9th Commandment).


http://www.uned.es/geo-1-historia-antigua-universal/new%20website/IRAK/CIUDADES/instrucciones_de_shurupak.htm

The names of both Shuruppak (the king) and Atrahasis (as Ziusudra) appear in a Sumerian work known as The Instructions of Shuruppak to His Son Ziusudra. The earliest surviving fragments of this have been dated to around 2500 BCE. The work includes a variety of proverbs, aphorisms and observations within a framework indicating that this is Shuruppak’s advice to his son.

Just before the final flourish in which Shuruppak pays his valedictory respects to Nisaba comes line 278, which could either be regarded as a final aphorism, or as a summation of the entire text: “The gift of wisdom [is like] the stars (of heaven).” (Alster 1974, p. 51).

Atrahasis is therefore the beneficiary of both the divine wisdom of Ea and the human wisdom of Shuruppak, and most fittingly called “extra-wise.”

Israel

While there are few believers in Thoth or Marduk in the world today, the idea that anything that appears in the Bible should be treated as mythology will doubtless seem objectionable to some, but there is no obvious reason why Atrahasis should be treated as mythological while Noah is treated as historical.

Indeed Dalley (2000, p. 2) sees in “Noah” a possible derivation from “Utnapishtim,” the Akkadian name of the survivor of the Mesopotamian flood. For present purposes the most important antediluvian figure in the Bible is without doubt Enoch, although in fact the Bible says very little about him and what it does say is vague and confused.

Genesis (4, 5) seems to draw on two different and conflicting genealogies, one of which makes Enoch the son of Cain, the other makes him the son of Jared, a seventh-generation descendant of Adam through the line of Seth.

In an enigmatic phrase it is said that “God took him” (Genesis 5:24), and this came to be understood to mean that he ascended into heaven. Towards the end of the first millennium BCE a literature began to grow around Enoch and there survive three books concerning him, sometimes known as the Ethiopic (1), Slavonic (2) and Hebrew (3) Enochs after the languages in which they have been preserved.

Debates concerning the dating of these texts have been as long as they have been inconclusive, and some have argued for 2 Enoch and 3 Enoch to be from the late first millennium AD, and so outside the scope of this work.

Fortunately, it is 1 Enoch that is of most interest here, and for that an earlier date is agreed.”

Trevor Curnow, Wisdom in the Ancient World, Bloomsbury, 2010, pp. 41-2.

Cult of Nabu at Calah

“As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective ‘old’ to the god’s name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach.

Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to Bel, to whom he alludes as the ‘Great Mountain,’ the name of the god following immediately after that of Asshur. Bel is also invoked in connexion with Anu as a granter of victory.

His consort Belit, although occasionally she is coupled with him, more usually figures as the wife of Asshur, and almost as commonly as a variant of Ishtar. In a temple in the city of Asshur, Tiglath-pileser I made presents to Belit consisting of the images of the gods vanquished by him in his various campaigns.

Assur-bani-pal, too, regarded Belit as the wife of Asshur, and himself as their son, alluding to Belit as ‘Mother of the Great Gods,’ a circumstance which would go to show that, like most of the Assyrian kings, his egoism rather overshadowed his sense of humour.

In Assur-bani-pal’s pantheon Belit is placed close by her consort Asshur. But there seems to have been a good deal of confusion between Belit and Ishtar because of the general meaning of the word Belit.

 [ … ]

Stephen Thompson - Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872 The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30. In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.  Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored,) and standard inscriptions. https://www.flickr.com/photos/photohistorytimeline/10171487505/

Stephen Thompson – Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872
The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30.
In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.
Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored) and standard inscriptions.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/photohistorytimeline/10171487505/

As in Babylonia so in Assyria, Nabu and Merodach were paired together, often as Bel and Nabu. Especially were they invoked when the affairs of Babylonia were being dealt with. In the seventh century b.c. we find the cult of Nabu in high popularity in Assyria, and indeed Ramman-Nirari III appears to have made an attempt to advance Nabu considerably.

George Rawlinson - Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875) The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.  http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

George Rawlinson – Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875)
The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.
http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

He erected a temple to the god at Calah, and granted him many resounding titles. But even so, it does not seem that Ramman-Nirari intended to exalt Nabu at the expense of Asshur. Indeed it would have been impossible for him to have done so if he had desired to.

Asshur was as much the national god of the Assyrian people as Osiris was of the Egyptians. Nabu was the patron of wisdom, and protector of the arts; he guided the stylus of the scribe; and in these attributes he is very close to the Egyptian Thoth, and almost identical with another Babylonian god, Nusku ...

Sargon calls Nabu ‘the Seer who guides the gods,’ and it would seem from some notices of him that he was also regarded as a leader of heavenly or spiritual forces.

Those kings who were fond of erudition paid great devotion to Nabu, and many of the tablets in their literary collections close with thanksgiving to him for having opened their ears to receive wisdom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 227-9.

Shamash, Sun God, God of Justice

“The cult of Shamash in Assyria dates from at least 1340 B.C., when Pudilu built a temple to this god in the city of Asshur.

He entitled Shamash ‘The Protecting Deity,’ which name is to be understood as that of the god of justice, whose fiat is unchangeable, and in this manner Shamash differed somewhat from the Babylonian idea concerning him.

In the southern kingdom he was certainly regarded as a just god, but not as the god of justice—a very different thing.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

It is interesting as well as edifying to watch the process of evolution of a god of justice. Thus in Ancient Mexico Tezcatlipoca evolved from a tribal deity into a god who was beginning to bear all the marks and signs of a god of justice when the conquering Spaniards put an end to his career.

We observe, too, that although the Greeks had a special deity whose department was justice, other divinities, such as Pallas Athene, displayed signs that they in time might possibly become wielders of the balances between man and man.

In the Egyptian heavenly hierarchy Maat and Thoth both partook of the attributes of a god of justice, but perhaps Maat was the more directly symbolical of the two.

Now in the case of Shamash no favours can be obtained from him by prayer or sacrifice unless those who supplicate him, monarchs though they be, can lay claim to righteousness. Even Tiglath-pileser I, mighty conqueror as he was, recognized Shamash as his judge, and, naturally, as the judge of his enemies, whom he destroys, not because they are fighting against Tiglath, but because of their wickedness.

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows. Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth, is elevated, with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders. The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.  The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder. The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.  At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced.  All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns. At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, "Scribe." Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.  http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows. Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth, is elevated, with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders. The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.
The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder. The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.
At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced.
All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns. At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, “Scribe.” Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.
http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

When he set captives free Tiglath took care to perform the gracious act before the face of Shamash, that the god might behold that justice dwelt in the breast of his royal servant. Tiglath, in fact, is the viceroy of Shamash upon earth, and it would seem as if he referred many cases regarding whose procedure he was in doubt to the god before he finally pronounced upon them.

Both Assur-nazir-pal and Shalmaneser II exalted the sun-cult of Shamash, and it has been suggested that the popularity of the worship of Ra in Egypt had reflected upon that of Shamash in Assyria.

It must always be extremely difficult to trace such resemblances at an epoch so distant as that of the ninth century B.C. But certainly it looks as if the Ra cult had in some manner influenced that of the old Babylonian sun-god.

Sargon pushed the worship of Shamash far to the northern boundaries of Assyria, for he built a sanctuary to the deity beyond the limits of the Assyrian Empire—where, precisely, we do not know.

Amongst a nation of warriors a god such as Shamash must have been valued highly, for without his sanction they would hardly be justified in commencing hostilities against any other race.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 222-3.

Nebo, God of Wisdom, Scribe of the Gods, Patron of Writing

“The popularity of Nebo was brought about through his association with Merodach. His chief seat of worship was at Borsippa, opposite to Babylon, and when the latter city became the seat of the imperial power the proximity of Borsippa greatly assisted the cult of Nebo.

So close did the association between the deities of the two cities become that at length Nebo was regarded as the son of Merodach—a relationship that often implies that the so-called descendant of the elder god is a serious rival, or that his cult is nearly allied to the elder worship.

Nebo had acquired something of a reputation as a god of wisdom, and probably this it was which permitted him to stand separately from Merodach without becoming absorbed in the cult of the great deity of Babylon.

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

He was credited, like Ea, with the invention of writing, the province of all ‘wise’ gods, and he presided over that department of knowledge which interpreted the movements of the heavenly bodies. The priests of Nebo were famous as astrologers, and with the bookish king Assur-bani-pal, Nebo and his consort Tashmit were especial favourites as the patrons of writing.

By the time that the worship of Merodach had become recognised at Babylon, the cult of Nebo at Borsippa was so securely rooted that even the proximity of the greatest god in the land failed to shake it.

Even after the Persian conquest the temple-school at Borsippa continued to flourish.

But although Nebo thus ‘outlived’ many of the greater gods it is now almost impossible to trace his original significance as a deity. Whether solar or aqueous in his nature—and the latter appears more likely— he was during the period of Merodach’s ascendancy regarded as scribe of the gods, much as Thoth was the amanuensis of the Egyptian otherworld—that is to say, he wrote at the dictation of the higher deities.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

When the gods were assembled in the Chamber of Fates in Merodach’s temple at Babylon, he chronicled their speeches and deliberations and put them on record. Indeed he himself had a shrine in this temple of E-Sagila, or ‘the lofty house,’ which was known as E-Zila, or ‘the firm house.’

Once during the New Year festival Nebo was carried from Borsippa to Babylon to his father’s temple, and in compliment was escorted by Merodach part of the way back to his own shrine in the lesser city. It is strange to see how closely the cults of the two gods were interwoven.

The Kings of Babylonia constantly invoke them together, their names and those of their temples are found in close proximity at every turn, and the symbols of the bow and the stylus or pen, respectively typical of the father and the son, are usually discovered in one and the same inscription.

Even Merodach’s dragon, the symbol of his victory over the dark forces of chaos, is assigned to Nebo.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 184-6.

I.P. Cory on Egypt, the Basest of Kingdoms

” … The Laterculus or Canon of the Kings of Thebes, was compiled from the archives of that city, by Eratosthenes, the librarian of Ptolemæus Philadelphus. It is followed by the Old Egyptian Chronicle, with a Latin version of the same, from the Excerpta Barbara, and another from the Armenian Chronicle of Eusebius: they contain a summary of the dynasties of Egypt.

To these succeed the Egyptian dynasties of Manetho, whose introductory letter to king Ptolemæus, given in a subsequent page, explains the nature of his work, and the materials from whence it was compiled. I have placed the six different versions of the Dynasties of Manetho that are extant confronting each other.

The Canon of the kings of Egypt from Josephus, I have compiled from the historical fragments of Manetho: and I have thrown it into the form of a Canon to facilitate comparison. I have next given a very important Canon, the first part of which, from Mestraim to the end of the seventeenth dynasty, is preserved by Syncellus only: from the beginning of the eighteenth it is continued also in the fragments of Eusebius: and from hence to the conclusion, four different versions of it will be found.

To these are added the Canons of all the kings of Egypt, mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Herodotus. They were originally compiled by Scaliger, but I have corrected them and given them with several very important additions in the original words of the authors, instead of in the words of Scaliger himself.

They are followed by the Canon of Theophilus Antiochenus. And after several very important chronological extracts upon the antiquities of Egypt, I have completed the Dynasties, with a Canon of the early Egyptian, Chaldæan, and Assyrian Kings, from the Syriac Chronicle of Bar-hebræus: which I have placed beside each other as they are synchonized by that author, and given them in the English letters corresponding to the Syriac, instead of adopting the Latinized names of the translators.

I have, therefore, comprised in this part of the work, no less than nineteen catalogues of the Egyptian kings, with all the various readings that occur in the different versions of the same. They have been compiled with the greatest care, and I have purposely abstained from all reference to the Hieroglyphics, that I might not be misled by any preconceived opinion.

At a time, when indefatigable research is every day bringing to light new and interesting circumstances, it would be absurd to attempt to give anything but the roughest outline of Egyptian history. I shall merely observe, then, that after the dispersion from Babel, the children of Mizraim went off to Egypt, of which they appear to have continued some time in undisturbed possession.

Menes Misor or Mestraim, the Mizraim of the Scriptures, and planter of the nation, is naturally placed as the first sovereign of the united realm, at the head of all the catalogues. And perhaps the dominion of Athothis was equally extensive; for his name occurs in the Laterculus of Eratosthenes, and as the Thoth or Taautus of Sanchoniatho.

After him the country seems to have been divided into several independent monarchies, some of whose princes may perhaps be found among the fourteen first dynasties. That the country was so divided, and that the first dynasties were not considered successive by the ancients, we have the authority of Artapanus and Eusebius.

The first historical fragment of Manetho, from Josephus, gives an account of the invasion and expulsion of a race of foreigners, who were styled Hycsos or Shepherd kings; whose princes are identified with the seventeenth dynasty of all the Canons except that given by Syncellus as the canon of Africanus, in which they are placed as the fifteenth.

Of what family they were, whence they came, and to what country they retired, have heen the subjects of almost as many hypotheses as writers; I shall not venture a remark upon a problem, of which there is every reason shortly to expect a satisfactory solution.

Josephus and the Fathers confound them with the Israelites, who appear rather to be referred to by the second fragment as the lepers, who were so cruelly ill-treated by the Egyptians, and afterwards laid waste the country, assisted by a second invasion of the Shepherds.

To these fragments I have subjoined six other very curious notices of the exodus of the Israelites and the final expulsion of the Shepherds; which events appear to have been connected with one another, as well as with the emigration of the Danaan colonies to Greece, not only in time, but by circumstances of a political nature, and to have occurred during the sovereignty of the eighteenth dynasty.

Tacitus has also noticed the exodus, but in terms evidently copied from some of those which I have given: we have but few and scanty notices of the kings of Egypt, even in Diodorus and Herodotus.

Its conquest by Nebucchadnezzar is related by Berossus, and after two or three temporary gleams of independence, it sunk at length into a province of the Persian empire, and from that day to the present, according to the denunciation of the prophet, Egypt has been the basest of kingdoms, and under the yoke of strangers.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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.

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 Divine Book of Ptah

From a papyrus of the Ptolemaic period we obtain some interesting facts about the great skill in working magic and about the knowledge of magical formulæ which were possessed by a prince called Setnau Khâ-em-Uast.

He knew how to use the powers of amulets and talismans, and how to compose magical formulæ, and he was master both of religious literature and of that of the “double house of life,” or library of magical books.

One day as he was talking of such things one of the king’s wise men laughed at his remarks, and in answer Setnau said, “If thou wouldst read a book possessed of magical powers come with me. and I will show it to thee, the book was written by Thoth himself, and in it there are two formulæ. The recital of the first will enchant (or bewitch) heaven, earth, hell, sea, and mountains, and by it thou shalt see all the birds, reptiles, and fish, for its power will bring the fish to the top of the water. The recital of the second will enable a man if he be in the tomb to take the form which he had upon earth,” etc.

When questioned as to where the book was, Setnau said that it was in the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis. A little later Setnau went there with his brother and passed three days and three nights in seeking for the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka, and on the third day they found it; Setnau recited some words over it, and the earth opened and they went down to the place where the book was.

When the two brothers came into the tomb they found it to be brilliantly lit up by the light which came forth from the book; and when they looked they saw not only Ptah-nefer-ka, but his wife Ahura, and Merhu their son.

Now Ahura and Merhu were buried at Coptos but their doubles had come to live with Ptah- nefer-ka by means of the magical power of Thoth.

Setnau told them that he had come to take away the book, but Ahura begged him not to do so, and related to him the misfortunes which had already followed the possession of it.

She was, it seems, the sister of Ptah-nefer-ka whom she married, and after the birth of her son Merhu, her husband seemed to devote himself exclusively to the study of magical books, and one day a priest of Ptah promised to tell him where the magical book described above might be found if he would give him a hundred pieces of silver, and provide him with two handsome coffins.

When the money and the coffins had been given to him, the priest of Ptah told Ptah-nefer-ka that the book was in an iron box in the middle of the river at Coptos.

“The iron box is in a bronze box, the bronze box is in a box of palm-tree wood, the palm tree wood box is in a box of ebony and ivory, the ebony and ivory box is in a silver box, the silver box is in a gold box, and in the gold (sic) box lies the book.

The box wherein is the book is surrounded by swarms of serpents and scorpions and reptiles of all kinds, and round it is coiled a serpent which cannot die.”

Ptah-nefer-ka told his wife and the king what he had heard, and at length set out for Coptos with Ahura and Merhu in the royal barge; having arrived at Coptos he went to the temple of Isis and Harpocrates and offered up a sacrifice and poured out a libation to these gods.

Five days later the high priest of Coptos made for him the model of a floating stage and figures of workmen provided with tools; he then recited words of power over them and they became living, breathing men, and the search for the box began.

Having worked for three days and three nights they came to the place where the box was. Ptah-nefer-ka dispersed the serpents and scorpions which were round about the nest of boxes by his words of power, and twice succeeded in killing the serpent coiled round the box, but it came to life again; the third time he cut it into two pieces, and laid sand between them, and this time it did not take its old form again.

He then opened the boxes one after the other, and taking out the gold box with the book inside it carried it to the royal barge. He next read one of the two formula in it and so enchanted or bewitched the heavens and the earth that he learned all their secrets; he read the second and he saw the sun rising in the heavens with his company of the gods, etc.

His wife Ahura then read the book and saw all that her husband had seen. Ptah-nefer-ka then copied the writings on a piece of new papyrus, and having covered the papyrus with incense dissolved it in water and drank it; thus he acquired the knowledge which was in the magical book.

Meanwhile these acts had stirred the god Thoth to wrath, and he told Râ what Ptah-nefer-ka had done. As a result the decree went forth that Ptah-nefer-ka and his wife and child should never return to Memphis, and on the way back to Coptos Ahura and Merhu fell into the river and were drowned; and while returning to Memphis with the book Ptah-nefer-ka himself was drowned also.

Setnau, however, refused to be diverted from his purpose, and he insisted on having the book which he saw in the possession of Ptah-nefer-ka; the latter then proposed to play a game of draughts and to let the winner have the book.

The game was for fifty-two points, and although Ptah-nefer-ka tried to cheat Setnau, he lost the game. At this juncture Setnau sent his brother Anhaherurau up to the earth to bring him his talismans of Ptah and his other magical writings, and when he returned he laid them upon Setnau, who straightway flew up to heaven grasping the wonderful book in his hand.

As he went up from the tomb light went before him, and the darkness closed in behind him; but Ptah-nefer-ka said to his wife, “I will make him bring back this book soon, with a knife and a rod in his hand and a vessel of fire upon his head.”

Of the bewitchment of Setnau by a beautiful woman called Tabubu and of his troubles in consequence thereof we need make no mention here: it is sufficient to say that the king ordered him to take the book back to its place, and that the prophecy of Ptah-nefer-ka was fulfilled. (For translations see Brugsch, Le Roman de Setnau (in Revue Archéologique, 2nd series, Vol. xvi., 1867, p. 161 ff.); Maspero, Contes Égyptiens, Paris, 1882, pp. 45-82; Records of the Past, vol. iv., pp. 129-148; and for the original Demotic text see Mariette, Les Papyrus du Musée de Boulaq, tom. i., 1871, pll. 29-32; Revillout, Le Roman de Setna, Paris, 1877; Hess, Roman von Sfne Ha-m-us. Leipzig, 1888).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142-6.

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.

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.

Egyptian Magic

A STUDY of the remains of the native religious literature of ancient Egypt which have come down to us has revealed the fact that the belief in magic, that is to say, in the power of magical names, and spells, and enchantments, and formulæ, and pictures, and figures, and amulets, and in the performance of ceremonies accompanied by the utterance of words of power, to produce supernatural results, formed a large and important part of the Egyptian religion.

[ … ]

The belief in magic, the word being used in its best sense, is older in Egypt than the belief in God, and it is certain that a very large number of the Egyptian religious ceremonies, which were performed in later times as an integral part of a highly spiritual worship, had their origin in superstitious customs which date from a period when God, under any name or in any form, was unconceived in the minds of the Egyptians.

[ … ]

From the religious books of ancient Egypt we learn that the power possessed by a priest or man who was skilled in the knowledge and working of magic was believed to be almost boundless. By pronouncing certain words or names of power in the proper manner and in the proper tone of voice he could heal the sick, and cast out the evil spirits which caused pain and suffering in those who were diseased, and restore the dead to life, and bestow upon the dead man the power to transform the corruptible into an incorruptible body, wherein the soul might live to all eternity.

His words enabled human beings to assume divers forms at will, and to project their souls into animals and other creatures; and in obedience to his commands, inanimate figures and pictures became living beings and things which hastened to perform his behests. The powers of nature acknowledged his might, and wind and rain, storm and tempest, river and sea, and disease and death worked evil and ruin upon his foes, and upon the enemies of those who were provided with the knowledge of the words which he had wrested from the gods of heaven, and earth, and the underworld.

Inanimate nature likewise obeyed such words of power, and even the world itself came into existence through the utterance of a word by Thoth; by their means the earth could be rent asunder, and the waters forsaking their nature could be piled up in a heap, and even the sun’s course in the heavens could be stayed by a word.

No god, or spirit, or devil, or fiend, could resist words of power, and the Egyptians invoked their aid in the smallest as well as in the greatest events of their lives. To him that was versed in the lore contained in the books of the “double house of life” the future was as well known as the past, and neither time nor distance could limit the operations of his power; the mysteries of life and death were laid bare before him, and he could draw aside the veil which hid the secrets of fate and destiny from the knowledge of ordinary mortals.

[ … ]

In the “white” and “black” magic of the Egyptians most of the magic known in the other countries of the world may be found; it is impossible yet to say exactly how much the beliefs and religious systems of other nations were influenced by them, but there is no doubt that certain views and religious ideas of many heathen and Christian sects may be traced directly to them.

[ … ]

But the fact remains that they did believe in One God Who was almighty, and eternal, and invisible, Who created the heavens, and the earth, and all beings and things therein; and in the resurrection of the body in a changed and glorified form, which would live to all eternity in the company of the spirits and souls of the righteous in a kingdom ruled by a being who was of divine origin, but who had lived upon the earth, and had suffered a cruel death at the hands of his enemies, and had risen from the dead, and had become the God and king of the world which is beyond the grave; and that, although they believed all these things and proclaimed their belief with almost passionate earnestness, they seem never to have freed themselves from a hankering after amulets and talismans, and magical names, and words of power, and seem to have trusted in these to save their souls and bodies, both living and dead, with something of the same confidence which they placed in the death and resurrection of Osiris.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. vii. – xiv.

Thoth, Scribe of Truth

Ra next sent for the god Thoth, and when he came into the presence of Ra, he invited him to go with him to a distance, to a place called “Tuat,” i.e., hell, or the Other World, in which region he had determined to make his light to shine.

When they arrived there he told Thoth, the Scribe of Truth, to write down on his tablets the names of all who were therein, and to punish those among them who had sinned against him, and he deputed to Thoth the power to deal absolutely as he pleased with all the beings in the Tuat.

Ra loathed the wicked, and wished them to be kept at a distance from him. Thoth was to be his vicar, to fill his place, and “Place of Ra,” was to be his name. He gave him power to send out a messenger (hab), so the Ibis (habi) came into being.

All that Thoth would do would be good (khen), therefore the Tekni bird of Thoth came into being. He gave Thoth power to embrace (anh) the heavens, therefore the Moon-god (Aah) came into being.

He gave Thoth power to turn back (anan) the Northern peoples, therefore the dog-headed ape of Thoth came into being. Finally Ra told Thoth that he would take his place in the sight of all those who were wont to worship Ra, and that all should praise him as God. Thus the abdication of Ra was complete.

In the fragmentary texts which follow we are told how a man may benefit by the recital of this legend. He must proclaim that the soul which animated Ra was the soul of the Aged One, and that of Shu, Khnemu (?), Heh, &c., and then he must proclaim that he is Ra himself, and his word of power Heka.

If he recites the Chapter correctly he shall have life in the Other World, and he will be held in greater fear there than here. A rubric adds that he must be dressed in new linen garments, and be well washed with Nile water; he must wear white sandals, and his body must be anointed with holy oil.

He must burn incense in a censer, and a figure of Maat (Truth) must be painted on his tongue with green paint. These regulations applied to the laity as well as to the clergy.

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

Magicians and Snake-Charmers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Klippoth

“Indeed, in recent publications by the Head of that Order (The Typhonian Order), Kenneth Grant, the Klippoth are associated with the “shades of the dead whose names appear in the books of Dyzan, or Thoth, of the Necronomicon…” and other such fictional works.

The organisation of these entities into hierarchies is post-Zoharic, and found popularity with the publication of Francis Barrett’s The Magus, in 1801, which was composed of many tables indicating the structure of the Universe.”

–Frater FP, The Magician’s Kabbalah, pg. 76.

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 DESTRUCTION OF MANKIND

“This Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on the walls of a small chamber in the tomb of Seti I about 1350 B.C.

When Ra, the self-begotten and self-formed god, had been ruling gods and men for some time, men began to complain about him, saying, “His Majesty hath become old. His bones have turned into silver, his flesh into gold, and his hair into real lapis-lazuli.”

His Majesty heard these murmurings and commanded his followers to summon to his presence his Eye (i.e. the goddess Hathor), Shu, Tefnut, Keb, Nut, and the father and mother gods and goddesses who were with him in the watery abyss of NU, and also the god of this water, NU. They were to come to him with all their followers secretly, so that men should not suspect the reason for their coming, and take flight, and they were to assemble in the Great House in Heliopolis, where Ra would take counsel with them.

In due course all the gods assembled in the Great House, and they ranged themselves down the sides of the House, and they bowed down in homage before Ra until their heads touched the ground, and said, “Speak, for we are listening.”

Then Ra addressing Nu, the father of the first-born gods, told him to give heed to what men were doing, for they whom he had created were murmuring against him. And he said, “Tell me what ye would do. Consider the matter, invent a plan for me, and I will not slay them until I have heard what ye shall say concerning this thing.”

Nu replied, “Thou, O my son Ra, art greater than the god who made thee (i.e. Nu himself), thou art the king of those who were created with thee, thy throne is established, and the fear of thee is great. Let thine Eye (Hathor) attack those who blaspheme thee.”

And Ra said, “Lo, they have fled to the mountains, for their hearts are afraid because of what they have said.” The gods replied, “Let thine Eye go forth and destroy those who blasphemed thee, for no eye can resist thine when it goeth forth in the form of Hathor.”

Thereupon the Eye of Ra, or Hathor, went in pursuit of the blasphemers in the mountains, and slew them all. On her return Ra welcomed her, and the goddess said that the work of vanquishing men was dear to her heart. Ra then said that he would be the master of men as their king, and that he would destroy them. For three nights the goddess Hathor-Sekhmet waded about in the blood of men, the slaughter beginning at Hensu (Herakleopolis Magna).

Then the Majesty of Ra ordered that messengers should be sent to Abu, a town at the foot of the First Cataract, to fetch mandrakes (?), and when they were brought he gave them to the god Sekti to crush. When the women slaves were bruising grain for making beer, the crushed mandrakes (?) were placed in the vessels that were to hold the beer, together with some of the blood of those who had been slain by Hathor. The beer was then made, and seven thousand vessels were filled with it.

When Ra saw the beer he ordered it to be taken to the scene of slaughter, and poured out on the meadows of the four quarters of heaven. The object of putting mandrakes (?) in the beer was to make those who drank fall asleep quickly, and when the goddess Hathor came and drank the beer mixed with blood and mandrakes (?) she became very merry, and, the sleepy stage of drunkenness coming on her, she forgot all about men, and slew no more. At every festival of Hathor ever after “sleepy beer” was made, and it was drunk by those who celebrated the feast.

Now, although the blasphemers of Ra had been put to death, the heart of the god was not satisfied, and he complained to the gods that he was smitten with the “pain of the fire of sickness.” He said, “My heart is weary because I have to live with men; I have slain some of them, but worthless men still live, and I did not slay as many as I ought to have done considering my power.”

To this the gods replied, “Trouble not about thy lack of action, for thy power is in proportion to thy will.” Here the text becomes fragmentary, but it seems that the goddess Nut took the form of a cow, and that the other gods lifted Ra on to her back. When men saw that Ra was leaving the earth, they repented of their murmurings, and the next morning they went out with bows and arrows to fight the enemies of the Sun-god.

As a reward for this Ra forgave those men their former blasphemies, but persisted in his intention of retiring from the earth. He ascended into the heights of heaven, being still on the back of the Cow-goddess Nut, and he created there Sekhet-hetep and Sekhet-Aaru as abodes for the blessed, and the flowers that blossomed therein he turned into stars.

He also created the millions of beings who lived there in order that they might praise him. The height to which Ra had ascended was now so great that the legs of the Cow-goddess on which he was enthroned trembled, and to give her strength he ordained that Nut should be held up in her position by the godhead and upraised arms of the god Shu.

This is why we see pictures of the body of Nut being supported by Shu. The legs of the Cow-goddess were supported by the various gods, and thus the seat of the throne of Ra became stable. When this was done Ra caused the Earth-god Keb to be summoned to his presence, and when he came he spake to him about the venomous reptiles that lived in the earth and were hostile to him.

Then turning to Thoth, he bade him to prepare a series of spells and words of power, which would enable those who knew them to overcome snakes and serpents and deadly reptiles of all kinds. Thoth did so, and the spells which he wrote under the direction of Ra served as a protection of the servants of Ra ever after, and secured for them the help of Keb, who became sole lord of all the beings that lived and moved on and in his body, the earth.

Before finally relinquishing his active rule on earth, Ra summoned Thoth and told him of his desire to create a Light-soul in the Tuat and in the Land of the Caves. Over this region he appointed Thoth to rule, and he ordered him to keep a register of those who were there, and to mete out just punishments to them.

In fact, Thoth was to be ever after the representative of Ra in the Other World.”

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 36-7.

The Oldest Prayer in the World?

“Another prayer of special interest is that which forms Chapter XXXB.

This is put into the mouth of the deceased when he is standing in the Hall of Judgment watching the weighing of his heart in the Great Scales by Anubis and Thoth, in the presence of the Great Company of the gods and Osiris.

He says: “My heart, my mother. My heart, my mother. My heart whereby I came into being. Let none stand up to oppose me at my judgment. May there be no opposition to me in the presence of the Tchatchau [The chief officers of Osiris, the divine Taskmasters]. Mayest thou not be separated from me in the presence of the Keeper of the Balance. Thou art my Ka (i.e. Double, or vital power), that dwelleth in my body; the god Khnemu who knitteth together and strengthened my limbs.

Mayest thou come forth into the place of happiness whither we go. May the Shenit officers who decide the destinies of the lives of men not cause my name to stink [before Osiris]. Let it (i.e. the weighing) be satisfactory unto us, and let there be joy of heart to us at the weighing of words (i.e.  the Great Judgment). Let not that which is false be uttered against me before the Great God, the Lord of Amentet (i.e. Osiris). Verily thou shalt be great when thou risest up [having been declared] a speaker of the truth.”

In many papyri this prayer is followed by a Rubric, which orders that it is to be said over a green stone scarab set in a band of tchamu metal (i.e. silver-gold), which is to be hung by a ring from the neck of the deceased. Some Rubrics order it to be placed in the breast of a mummy, where it is to take the place of the heart, and say that it will “open the mouth” of the deceased.

A tradition which is as old as the twelfth dynasty says that the Chapter was discovered in the town of Khemenu (Hermopolis Magna) by Herutataf, the son of Khufu, in the reign of Menkaura, a king of the fourth dynasty. It was cut in hieroglyphs, inlaid with lapis-lazuli on a block of alabaster, which was set under the feet of Thoth, and was therefore believed to be a most powerful prayer.

We know that this prayer was recited by the Egyptians in the Ptolemaic Period, and thus it is clear that it was in common use for a period of nearly four thousand years. It may well be the oldest prayer in the world.

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 26-7.