Ritual purity – a compendium of instructions

This is a post subject to revising, editing and adding in the future, as I will be combing through all my books, notes and other resources, in order to compile as much information as possible on ritual purity instructions and various references on the subject. If anyone can add to this, please leave a comment or e-mail me – I’ll include your suggestions and pointers with credits, of course.

1) ‘ The correct procedure in this Hall of Justice. One shall utter this spell pure and clean and clad in white garments and sandals, painted with black eye-paint and anointed with myrrh. There shall be offered to him meat and poultry, incense, bread and beer and herbs when you have put this written procedure on a clean floor of ochre overlaid with earth upon which no swine or small cattle have trodden. As for him who makes this writing, he shall flourish […] and there shall be given to him a shens-cake, a jug of beer, a persen-cake and a portion of meat from upon the altar of the Great God; he shall not be turned back from any gateway of the West […]’

Book of the Dead

2) ‘After the preliminary purification, / [abstain from animal food] and from all uncleanliness and, on whatever [night] you want to, go [up] onto a lofty roof after you have clothed yourself in a pure garment […] recite this sacred spell as you burn [uncut] frankincense and pure rose oil’

 – Greek Magical Papyri, PGM I 42-195

3) ‘ Keep yourself pure for 7 days before the moon becomes full by abstaining from meat and uncooked food, by leaving behind during the prescribed days exactly half / of your food in a turquoise vessel, over which you are also to eat, and by abstaining from wine’

– Greek Magical Papyri PGM IV 52-85

4) ‘Remain pure  41 days, having calculated in advance so that your completion of them will coincide with the dark of the moon which occurs in Aries […] Accordingly, as I said before, when you have purified yourself in advance [through the last 7 days] while the moon is waning, at the dark of the moon begin sleeping on a pallet of rushes. Rising at dawn, greet Helios’ [a.n. Ra – this dates from the Hellenic period and obviously the original pertains to the Egyptian Sun God, not the Greek one]

– Greek Magical Papyri PGM XIII 1-345

5) ‘ Whosoever shall recite these words of composition over himself with olive oil and with thick unguent, and he shall have propitiatory offerings on both his hands of incense, and behind his two ears shall be pure natron, and sweet-smelling salve shall be on his lips. He shall be arrayed in a new double tunic, and his body shall be purified with the water of the Nile flood, and he shall have upon his feet a pair of sandals made of white [leather], and a figure of the goddess Ma’at shall be drawn upon his tongue with green-coloured ochre.’

– Legend of the Destruction of Mankind

6) ‘ 27.a Thou purifiest (thyself); Horus purifies (himself). One pellet of natron. Thou purifiest (thyself); Set purifies (himself). One pellet of natron.


27.d Thy mouth is the mouth of a sucking calf on the day of his birth

27.e Five pellets of natron of the North, Wadi Natrun.’

 -Pyramid Texts, Utterance 35

7) [on ablutions] ‘There was symbolism attached to this ritual. In religious thought, water was in fact the original element from which all life emerged, and it was from water that, at dusk, the dead sun drew from the fresh energy that would confer on it another day of rejuvenation. Certain bas-reliefs depicting a purification scene replace the water flowing from the vases with a cascade of little hieroglyphs designating ‘life’: the morning ablution thus suffused the officiants with new life, ensuring their flawless performance of the daily service. [….]

Another form of physical purification to which priests had to submit before entering the sacred place consisted of washing their mouths with a little natron dissolved in water.’

Priests of Ancient Egypt, S. Sauneron

8) ‘Applying eye paint was part of the daily cult ritual, either as a virtual make-up or in the form of a symbolic offering. It is less well known that offerings in the form of live cows would also wear eye make-up. A relief in the Fifth Dynasty temple of king Sahure shows a group of cows being subject to the ministrations of female temple personnel while they wait to end their days in the noblest fashions: ritual slaughter. If the deity itself is in the shape of a cow, such as Hathor in one of her manifestation, her eye, too, will be shown as a fully made-up eye.’

Sacred Luxuries, Fragrance, Aromatherapy and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt – Lise Manniche

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8 Responses to Ritual purity – a compendium of instructions

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