Titles and Epithets for the Gods in Magical Papyri

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past week with some translations of magical papyri. It occurred to me that some of the titles and epithets which the Magician uses to address the Gods (or even to identify with them) are quite interesting. So I’ve compiled a list, in the order in which I’ve come across them. They appear in petition-type formulas, short prayers to be said during ritual and in authoritative utterances in which the Magician identifies with the Gods.

Osiris, the divine Drowned (col. VI)

Nut, mother of water (col. VI)

Khonsu-in-Thebes-Nefer-Hotep, the noble child that came forth from the lotus (col. IX)

Horus, lord of time (col. IX)

Isis, mistress of magic (col. IX)

Anubis with thy fair face (col. X)

Geb, heir of the Gods (col. X)

Heknet, lady of the protective bandage (col. X)

Taweret, the great of sorcery (col. XII)

Sekhmet the great, lady of Ast, who has seized every impious person (col. XII)

Anubis, the good ox-herd (col. XIV)

Anubis, Pharaoh of the Underworld (col. XVIII)

Isis the sorceress (col. XIX)

Osiris, King of the Underworld, lord of burial, whose head is in This, and his feet in Thebes, he who giveth answer in Abydos (col XXI)

Something which I found particularly interesting is the following authoritative utterance for a spell spoken to a sting:

I am the King’s son, eldest and first, Anubis. My mother Sekhmet-Isis, she came after me forth from the land of Syria, to the hill of the land of Heh [...]

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Osiris, the king of the Underworld, the lord of embalming, he who is in the south of Thinis, who gives answer at Abydos, he who is under the noubs tree in Meroue, whose glory is in Pashalom. (PGM IV 1-25)

Anubis, of the nome of Hansiese, upon his mountain (PGM IV 1-25)

Thoth, the great, the great, the wise (PGM IV 1-25)

Isis, the dusty maiden (PGM IV 94-153)

Thoth the Great (PGM IV 1-25) – here is is also referred to as Her Father, i.e. Isis’ father.

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Some of these titles and epithets I have come across before. However, there’s a handful I don’t think I have, such as Thoth being referred to as Isis’ father – this really doesn’t ring a bell at the moment.

And I find the merging of Sekhmet and Isis particularly interesting. I guess in a way it makes sense to refer to both goddesses when working heka, considering they are very well known for being ‘weret-hekau‘ (‘great of magic’) on their own. I wonder if the Magician was looking to double up on the heka so to speak :) Or it’s very possible that he is invoking the healing/great of magic powers of Sekhmet and the reference to Isis is linked to the fact that she cured Ra from a venomous sting (which herself caused, to gain knowledge of his secret name and therefore his power). In any case, I think it deserves some attention.

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* First set is from the London and Leyden Papyrus

Second set is from the Greek Magical Papyri

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A Personal Prayer Book and Some Light Reading

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time praying. Or rather said, more than usual. I can’t explain why, it’s just something I felt I needed to do. There is something distinctly soothing for the soul in prayer. For lack of better words, I feel  it’s food for the soul.

I don’t have a specific prayer book I use. However I have gathered some of my favourite ones in this:

prayer book

It’s a plain white paper notebook I bought on a visit to the British Museum. I had spotted these notebooks during a previous visit there with a fellow Kemetic who was visiting the UK a while ago (by the way, if you’re reading this, I really hope to see you again soon, you’re an amazing lady and I consider myself honoured to be counted as a friend). It’s small, pocket sized, a little bigger than the palm of my hand. However, from the first time I’ve seen these, I knew I had to buy one and make it into a travel prayer book.

It’s really nothing fancy and the protective cover I made myself out of a spare document protector sheet. You know, the ones you slip your A4 papers in.

I’ve collected a few of my favourite prayers in it. Some to Ptah the Creator, some to Sekhmet, some to Anubis, Thoth and Ma’at. I still have room for a few more. I was actually surprised of how many I can squeeze in there, but hey, I can write very small if I have to. I wrote the first few ones in biro but then switched to fountain pen. I prefer fountain pens really and I usually try the paper to see if it can take it (sometimes there’s just too much feathering or show-through and I can’t use a fountain pen) but I didn’t want to sacrifice a page just to try pens on.

I’m pleased with how it’s coming along. And it has found permanent residence in my handbag, in a special pocket, so I can pull it out and read and pray whenever I feel like it. What can I say? It’s been really helpful having this with me, especially after all the tough times we’ve had this year. It’s nice to be able to pull this out when needed and just read a few prayers and focus on the good things and just feel the love the Gods have for us. (This is not to say I only feel the love when praying. I feel it all the time. I just feel it a little bit stronger when I pray.)

Eventually, it will be part of a small travel pouch which I’ll keep with me at all times. I already have found the perfect, pouch and a few other bits which I want to get, including a small Anubis figurine. The thing is, I used to have such a pouch. Call it a travel altar, travel shrine, travel pouch with magical/sacred/important bits I want to have on me. Call it what you like, really. It had a few bits sacred and important to me. Including a smoky quartz which I always found soothing and grounding. I can’t even begin to tell you when I stopped carrying it around or what happened to it because I honestly don’t know. I still have my smoky quartz but I’ve been carrying around my fluorite wand more.

And as for the light reading? Oh, I just printed out some bits off my computer. I have a hard time reading off the screen so I just print stuff out and make notes.

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How about you? Do you keep a personal prayer book? Do you plan on making one? Or do you prefer a certain prayer book to use? I know a few have been published. Any recommendations? :)

 

 

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The Afterlife

This is a Kemetic Round Table response. If you wish to see all the responses for this month, go here.

 

The ancient Egyptians are famous for their elaborate preparations for death. Death was both feared as a horror and seen as a necessary stage in the human cycle. Most Egyptians seem to have believed in a life after death, but their ideas about the form that it might take were highly complex. (1)

There are many sources for the ancient Egyptians’ many views on the afterlife, mostly the so-called funerary texts, such as the Coffin Texts, Pyramid Texts, The Book of Coming Forth by Day and Book of Amduat to name but a few. These generally have descriptions of various places of The Other Side (or rather said Other Sides, because it wasn’t just the Underworld that was a place for the dead, but also the sky – glimpses of this are found in the Coffin Texts and the Book of Two Ways), spells and incantations for various funerary rite and for the well-being of the deceased, and even maps (albeit incomplete) of different parts of the realm of the dead (such as the Book of Hours).

The general consensus seems to have been that the realm of the dead was dangerous and so the recently deceased needed protection and guiding, not only from the Gods (especially Anubis) but also from those performing the rites. The danger come not only from what G. Pinch calls geographical hazards such as mounds, rivers or lakes of fire (2), but also from many demons, malevolent spirits or deities who would pose harm to the souls of the deceased or prevent them reaching the Hall of the Double Ma’at (or Hall of Judgement) in the presence of Osiris and his company. One of the most potent weapons the deceased had against these was knowing their true names and thus gaining power over them. Of course, it wasn’t over with the Hall of Judgement:

This court was originally just one of many ordeals faced by the deceased, but it gradually assumed an important role in the theology of the afterlife. (3)

Here, the deceased would have her/his heart weighed by Anubis against the feather of Ma’at and depending on the result they would continue on their way in the afterlife or be devoured by Ammut and seemingly ‘die a second death’ (basically being condemned to non-existence). *

Other views on what happened after someone’s death include: the deceased being eternal sleepers  - They are briefly woken from their sleep when the nocturnal sun passes through their dark cavern for a temporary union with Osiris (4),and the deceased moving to a Paradise-type place called the Field of Reeds or the Field of Turquoise which was very similar to life on earth – one where the deceased were expected to work the fields and perform a number of tasks. Of course, they could have magical servants (the shabtis) do these tasks for them. **

There was also the possibility of certain souls coming back to haunt or pester the living, even causing illness, for which there were various magical remedies or rites to repel these troublesome spirits. The dead could also be exploited in private magical acts.

 

This of course, is a very simplified overview. The subject is incredibly complex and there is no One Single Exact Source that describes in full how the Afterlife looked like or what happened to the soul once there. The sources are many, with heavy symbolism and in some cases open for interpretation.

There are however many sources which agree on a number of things:

- the importance of preserving the body ***

- the importance of having a tomb, a secure final resting place

- the importance of knowing the names of the multitudes of spirits, deities, demons, etc. that one might encounter

- obstacles could be overcome through magic – spells, incantations, amulets, various rites

- there is some sort of ‘merging’ of the deceased’s soul with a deity – usually Osiris, though some texts will identify him/her with Ra during his nocturnal passing through the Underworld

- offerings were key for the well-being of the deceased in the afterlife, contracts with priests for presenting offerings in their name were not unusual (of course these were agreed upon during the person’s life, including the rites, preparation of the body, etc.)

 

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Footnotes:

(1) G. Pinch Magic in Ancient Egypt, chapter Magic and the Dead, pg. 147

(2) G. Pinch Magic in Ancient Egypt, chapter Magic and the Dead, pg. 154

(3) G. Pinch Magic in Ancient Egypt, chapter Magic and the Dead, pg. 154

* Here‘s a page from the Papyrus of Hunefer (Book of the Dead of Hunefer) which features the judgement scene. (you can click Larger Picture to get a better view as well)

(4) G. Pinch Magic in Ancient Egypt, chapter Magic and the Dead, pg. 156

** On shabtis (ushabtis)

*** On mummification

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Recommended further reading:

The Egyptians and their dead

Various resources on funerary texts, etc.

Pyramid Texts Online

 

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The Monday Quote

Ah, we haven’t had one of these in a while :)

Fortunately, I’ve gathered up a few interesting bits while doing some research so I’ll be sharing them with you for the next few Mondays!

Here’s one on the link between magic and medicine and how magic permeated through all levels of life:

Magic was at all levels of society, a real and potent power that could be used to protect the innocent and ward off harm. It could not be separated in any meaningful way from formal religion, nor could it be separated from science. Physicians healed with medical prescriptions supplemented by tried and tested incantations, kings eliminated remote enemies by burning or smashing their names in temple rituals, and assassins attempted to kill kings using was figures and magic spells.

- from Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley, pg. 18

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Heka: Magical Drawings – Part Three

Illustrations and drawings:

A. Explanatory drawings/instructions in magical papyri:

This category is pretty self-explanatory. There are hardly any magical  texts without any kind of drawings – some which show exactly the image(s) to be used to ritual. Some even have drawings related to a myth which has to do in some way with the magical work prescribed. For example the story of Isis and the name of Ra, which usually relates to spells and rituals aimed at healing venomous snake bites.

Other times, there would be instructions on what image is to be used (and on what):

Invocation of Anubis and other Gods for revelation:

[...] Formula: You take a bowl of bronze, you engrave a figure of Anubis in it. [...] (1)

B. Drawings on various objects to be used in ritual:

Included here are the following:

- Apotropaic wands/’knives’ (made of ivory or hippopotamus tusks) with depictions of various deities and spirits, animals and hieroglyphs. (Pictures: 1 & 2)

- magic rods made of various materials (with magical figurines attached to them) decorated with symbols and images such as wedjat eyes and animal motifs.*

- Horus cippi (of which larger ones can have entire spells written down) which had the purpose of repelling dangerous animals and reptiles and to cure those afflicted by venomous bites.

-Soles of sandals: for execrations known as ‘the trampling underfoot‘ the images of enemies (and perhaps their names) would be drawn on the soles of sandals so the enemies of the Magician would literally be trampled on. This type of execration is very commonly seen in the case of royalty – there are numerous examples of images of the king smiting Egypt’s enemies.

The trampling underfoot of an enemy, depicted unambiguously here, becomes a permanent feature of Egyptian royal seated (and striding statues) – with a slight modification. Replacing the literal images of the vanquished enemies is a series of Nine Bows, the symbols of the traditional foes of Egypt, carved as protruding from beneath the feet of the ruler. (2)

It’s also worth mentioning that this particular type of execration survived until the Roman Period.

- a variety of objects such as papyrus, metal plates, ostraca, stones and linen, each object having a specific ritual purpose.

C. Images drawn on the body or to be consumed (absorbed by the body):

To heal ophthalmia (?) in a man:

[...] You also write this on a new papyrus; you make it into a written amulet on his body: – ‘Thou art this eye of heaven’ in the writings. (followed by an eye with rays, as drawn in the papyrus) (3)

Magical texts also have a variety of medicinal spells (medicine and magic in Ancient Egypt were not separated) which prescribe writing the words of power or drawing the images on strips of papyrus which was to be dissolved in beer and drank so the full power of the spell would be absorbed by the body.

An even more well known example of drawing on the body is the Magician having a figure of the goddess Ma’at painted on his tongue (which, in some cases, is even a ritual purity requirement)

The purpose of this uncomfortable requirement was to ensure that the magician’s words were true and would therefore bring what they described into being. (4)

Of course, this particular magical technique was not limited to the tongue. There are plenty of examples where the magical figures or symbols would be drawn on the skin in various locations on the body of the Magician (or the client), usually to provide magical protection during the rite.

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There is one other thing I’d like to add: more often than not, the ink with which the drawings were to be made is very important. However, this is the subject of a whole discussion which I will leave for a future post.

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Footnotes:

1) Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, edited by F.L Griffith & H. Thompson, 904, PDF edition 2007, Col. XIV

* Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch has a very good example of a magical rod on pg. 79

2) The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, R.K. Ritner, pg. 119

3) Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, edited by F.L Griffith & H. Thompson, 904, PDF edition 2007, Col. XX

4) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 77-78

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Heka: Magical Drawings – Part Two

Seals and Sigils

As I’ve stated in the previous post, seals and sigils have been used since predynastic time. They have evolved from simple patterns, such as ‘maze’ patterns and simple geometric designs (interlocking spirals and concentric circles, even combinations of the two), to more complex and elaborate patterns in later times, which could combine several motifs, including animal and human motifs, as well as hieroglyphs (single signs or full inscriptions, such as a royal cartouche).

They were mostly inscribed or carved upon clay, faience or stone scarabs (such as these), and on cylindrical and signet rings (example). These could have a variety of uses other than, let’s say, sealing documents.

The symbolic signs which occur on many levels emphasize their role as helpful amulets apart from their practical use.*

So they could have amuletic value, talismanic value, and could even be created and used for a specific ritual.

Sigils could also be etched onto lamellae (thin strips of metal) which could then be used for a variety of ritual purposes. The type of metal can vary, depending on the work they were made for.

A very particular type is the phylactery – which was usually a lamella (however it’s not unusual to find examples etched on stones or painted on papyrus sheets) engraved with a sigil or even a full spell, which was to be worn on your person for protection.

The PGM offer many instructions for creating phylacteries, such as PGM IV. 930-1114 which provides instructions for making a cloth phylactery which you must wear wrapped around you for the protection of your whole body.

Photographed on the 18th of September 2014. Located at the Petrie Museum, London

Photographed on the 18th of September 2014.
Located at the Petrie Museum, London

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*Quoted from Eva Wilson’s Ancient Egyptian Designs, British Museum Press, pg. 100

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Heka: Magical Drawings – Part One

Egyptian spells survive in a great variety of contexts. They can be inscribed in tomb walls, coffins, and various types of funerary objects; on statues of deities, kings, and men; on furniture, vessels and amulets; on scraps of papyrus, potsherds and flakes of stones, and on long rolls of leather or papyrus. (1)

Photographed on the 23rd of September 1014. Located at the British Museum

Photographed on the 23rd of September 1014.
Located at the British Museum

Magical drawings can play an important part when working heka. They are very versatile and can be employed in a variety of rituals (from execrations to healing and everything in between).

They can be categorized thusly:

1. Hieroglyphs – which can be used for their symbolic value, not just as writing.

2. Seals and sigils – which have been used since pre-dynastic times and which have evolved from simple designs to very intricate patterns

3. Illustrations and drawings – a) Explanatory drawings/instructions in magical papyri

b) On various objects to be used in ritual

c) Images drawn directly on the body or to be consumed – usually ingested- and so absorbed by the body

[Please note I am not including tattoos in the last category, either temporary or permanent, only drawings done for ritual purposes. If you’re interested in reading on tattoos, this piece provides a lot of interesting information.]

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Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphic writing was intimately connected with Thoth and Seshat.

It was considered to be sacred and it was even referred to as medu netjer(u) – words of the god(s).

Although so much emphasis is placed on the spoken word, written magic had powers and virtues of its own. The Egyptians referred to the symbols of the hieroglyphic script by the same word that they used for images of the gods. (2)

The hieroglyphic script is symbolic in nature and the actual signs themselves would be used for that symbolic value, especially the signs which represent the object they depict. The signs can be used on their own; the act of drawing, painting or carving the hieroglyph being the focal point of the ritual. This is the simplest and easiest form in which they can be used. They can also be inscribed on ritual equipment, such as candles or paper/papyrus. They won’t be the focal point of the ritual itself, but they can empower it nonetheless.

For more complex rituals, a further action would be required to be performed upon the sign after drawing it, such as:

- defacing the hieroglyph (which is quite common in execrations)*

- destroying the medium upon which it is inscribed (again, common in execrations)

- if the hieroglyphs is written on papyrus it can be dissolved in beer and drank (usually done for healing or empowering work)

*The magical potency associated with the signs may certainly be seen in the way in which hieroglyphs representing hostile or dangerous creatures were often incompletely drawn or purposely mutilated in order to render them harmless. (3)

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Footnotes:

(1) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 61

(2) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 68-69

(3) Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, pg. 150 (chapter Words as Magic, Words as Art)

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