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ANCIENT EGYPT

Egyptian deities of magic and healing

The world of the Egyptian deities reflects the natural features of sun, water, the fertile and desert lands, the stars and the moon. These were so important to the Egyptians in a world that remained relatively unchanged over three thousand years and, in spite of modern technology, still runs as a deep current beneath modern Egypt.

Different deities and creation myths gained and lost supremacy according to the dynasty of kings who were the rulers and therefore elevated their personal or local deities. However, though the changes in the popularity of particular myths was not a progression, gradually a core of deities, Thoth, Horus, Isis and Osiris, Set and Nephthys, were incorporated into the mythical cycles and became widely and personally worshipped by the people irrespective of the ruler.

Neter - Egyptian symbol or determinative to indicate a deity was Netername, since he was the appointed representative of the deities, Horus on earth. The Egyptian symbol or determinative to indicate a deity was Neter, which is illustrated by the hieroglyph of an axe, coming from the first deities in prehistoric times were predominantly warrior gods, reflecting the early struggles of different tribal peoples for supremacy of Egypt.

Though there were supreme creator deities nevertheless the varied deity forms allowed people to relate to different gods and goddesses for specific needs and times of their life. This is not difficult in magic or healing terms, any more than it is problematic to work with different archangels or saints.

The Ancient Egyptian priesthood would make prayers or offerings in the King’s There was a belief from the Middle Kingdom, initiated by Queen Hatshepsut that the supreme god had impregnated the King or in this case Queen’s mother, hence her high status and lavish burial.

The King was also supposed to reap the first crops and dedicate them to the deities in thanks. But of course he could not be everywhere so priests and priestesses spoke with the King’s voice. Put another way, in Egyptian ritual we are speaking with our own inner high king or queen voice and that is why it is so important even if we are asking for powers or protection for ourselves, always to act with true intent and to pass on any blessings to others, even in small ways such as feeding wild birds or helping a colleague you do not like who is struggling.

Good and evil

The battle between good and evil was a development from the order and chaos polarity, expressed in later myths as the battle between the young god Horus and his uncle. In an early creation myth, the Earth God divided Egypt into two parts. Lower or Northern Egypt belonged to Set and the Upper or Southern Egypt to the God called Horus the Elder, a distinct solar deity of the sun at noon associated with the falcon. He later merged with Horus the younger, son of Isis and Osiris and became Horus when he had grown up and was fighting his uncle.

Set

It may be that Set became demonised because he was the god of the losing side in the unification of Egypt around 3100BC. The mythological battle between good and evil, and specifically Horus and Set, may represent an actual struggle between the peoples who worshipped the two gods during the predynastic ages. Horus was victorious and the early dynastic kings were called Horus Kings. During the second dynasty, King Sekhemib, who worshipped Set, triumphed, restoring Set to his former glory for a while. By the Third Dynasty, the Horus kings were again supreme and the vilification of Set became more intense until he became god of storms and whirlwinds and the red barren desert, murderer of Osiris and persecutor of the infant Horus, the original archetypal wicked uncle role. However, he did retain something of his original protective role and was called upon in life and after death to protect against demons

Horus is most famous for his battles against his uncle Set. But most significantly, though he overcomes Set, he does not destroy him, so preserving the dynamics of the cosmos, the friction that is necessary to keep the life force flowing. Indeed, though the Horus kings were triumphant, the fact that kings from the beginning of the third millennium wore the joint crown of upper and Lower Egypt, signified they embodied the characters of both Horus and Set within him. Within the King then was the balance of order and chaos maintained.

Creation myths

I will briefly describe the main creation myths. You might like to choose one whose imagery you can use in rituals where you need to generate energy for a major undertaking or for a new beginning. They have core characteristics that a mound came out from the primal waters Nu and that in early times the deities lived on earth during what was a Golden Age of peace and plenty when Osiris taught the people the laws of civilisation and methods of agriculture. During this Golden Age too wise Thoth endowed humanity (or at least Egypt) with the gift of writing, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. In all the myths, too, Heka or magical power was instrumental in bringing about the various aspects of creation and this original generative act is repeated on a small scale in every act of magic or empowerment. The only question is: who was the creator god who called forth the first sunrise?

Atum as Creator God

The earliest creation myth, dating from the time of the unification of Egypt around 3100BC, relates that the God Atum rose out of the swirling waters of chaos. Because there was nowhere to stand he created the first mound. Since he was also sun god, (later associated with the setting sun once his period of glory was eclipsed by Ra) there appeared the first sunrise at Heliopolis, city of the sun, now part of Cairo. This image of the sun rising glorious over the mound is contained in the symbol of the phoenix or benu bird (see p00).

Atum then created twin deities Shu and Tefnut out of his bodily fluids, a way of saying that they and the deities Shu and Tefnut in turn produced were all aspects of Atum because they were created from his essence. Shu was god of the air and Tefnut goddess of moisture. But Shu and Tefnut became lost in the waters (in other versions of the myth, the primal waters reared them). Atum sent his only eye, symbol of the Sun to seek them out. He replaced it with a second Moon eye.

On their safe return, Tefnut gave birth to Geb, the god of the earth emerging fertile from the flood, and Nut, the sky and sky goddess. Shu or the atmosphere separated Earth and Sky.  Shu was pictured upright, supporting Nut with his hands with Geb prone at his feet, forming the hills and valleys. Shu and Tefnut are sometimes represented as lion-headed.

Along the underside of the extended body, of Nut, the sun god, from about the Fifth Dynasty identified as Ra, would sail in his boat in the day, to be swallowed by her at night creating darkness. He was then reborn through her thighs each morning. Ra is identified as the shining sun god in his disk.

Nut gave birth to four children at the same time, Osiris and Isis who loved each other in the womb and the shadow pair brother and sister Seth and Nephthys, the fertile and the barren pair. However Nephthys did have a son by Osiris.

Osiris and Isis in turn produced Horus, giving the Ennead or nine major deities who are central to this cosmology and who lived on earth to teach humanity. Some modern theories have suggested that the last five (and sometimes Thoth as the elder god) came either from Atlantis, explaining how Egyptian apparently evolved so quickly to its state of perfection in the Old Kingdom. Another theory suggests they were extra terrestrial beings who came perhaps from Sirius B, the then unknown dwarf star of Sirius A that heralded in the Flood.

Ptah as creator

Ptah was from the Old Kingdom acknowledged as divine artisan or fashioner of gods and vegetation. Today the ancient capital of Memphis, Ptah’s cult centre, south of Cairo, that retained its importance throughout the three thousand years, is almost buried beneath the ever-encroaching Sahara desert. On the surface there is little to see at this site about fifteen miles south of Cairo: a few statues, set in a green garden shaded by palm trees, a profusion of flowers with the desert beyond and remarkably few tourists.

The millennia melt away with the fumes of Cairo city, giving way to shimmering canals with green banks and crops ripe for harvest, with the sand stretching across the white haze horizon. The village outside the open-air museum at Memphis is largely unchanged also with donkey carts laden with fruit, the old women sunning themselves in front of the houses watching the children gambolling and chasing the goats.

For at Memphis, it is said the deities walked in that still quiet green sanctuary in the desert and do so still. Here Isis and Nephthys took the body of the murdered Osiris. In this place too Osiris entered the Underworld and became the Supreme Judge At Memphis the same court gave Egypt to Osiris’ son Horus after his struggles with Set, though some myths set the court close to Philae in the South of the country

The Memphis creation myth with Ptah as hero displaced the earlier myths, though all of the myths remained important in their region of origin, gradually merging together. If details seem confused or contradictory in other versions of the myths you may read, it is because the mythology has, like all good myths, evolved to meet the needs of the people and has changed in the telling and retelling.

The Memphis myth

Ptah created himself and is often associated with the sun God Ra.

Though Ptah was the great creator-god, he created eight other lesser gods and the world with his heart, the seat of thought and his will and the lips with which he pronounced the magical words of power.

These eight gods combined characters from the earlier myths with local deities. They helped shape creation and humanity. They were Atum as sun God, Nun and Naunet the primal waters, Tatjenen, a local god of Memphis who represented the earth created out of chaos, Horus, Thoth, Nefertum, the lotus god, son of Ptah and Sekhmet and a serpent deity whose name is uncertain.

Most intriguing of the eight was Amun, in later myth regarded as the creator god himself who rose

The creative processes were more sophisticated than those at Heliopolis. Ptah thought creation and then magically by his words, brought it into being. Sometimes these words were thought and spoken by Thoth making him the elder god. This is magic par excellence

The Hermopolitan Creation myth

Claimed by some to be the oldest creation myth, this version comes from the region of the city of Hermopolis in Middle Egypt.

Before the world began, it records, was chaos but within the chaos were four principles that emerged to bring about creation, They were pictured as eight deities in four pairs, before creation the gods taking the form of frogs and the corresponding goddesses as snakes. It was their coming together in a fusion of power (like the modern Big Bang theory) that the isle of flame was created and Atum was born. They were called the Ogdoad. Nun and Naunet were  the male and female deities of the primal waters, Huh and Hauhet, the male and female deities of space and eternity, Kuk and Kauket, the male and female deities representing darkness and Amon or Amun and Amaunet, the deities of air. But they were not immortal and after their death, the descended to the Underworld and from here were responsible for regulating the daily journey of the sun and the flowing of the Nile.

With the fusion of energy, the mound, the first earth emerged at Hermopolis and on the mound appeared an egg from which emerged came Atum or Ra, according to the version. In later versions, Nun was Ra’s father.

Geb or Seb the earth god was said to lay the primordial egg and this is why Geb has the goose as his symbol. Thoth was also implicated in incubating the primal egg.

Amun as creator

This was the last and relatively most recent of the creation myths. This legend grew up around Thebes, near modern Luxor where Amun was worshipped during the period of the New Kingdom, between 1546-1085.

It was necessary to incorporate the other myths into this super myth in order that all the people of Egypt would accept Amun. This made a rich but somewhat confusing story

Amun or Amen is first mentioned during the Fifth Dynasty, but the first known Temple to him is found much later during the 11thDynasty. Amun-Ra as he was known increased in power and combined with the figure of Ra became a supreme deity and all the other deities were manifestations of his power.

His rise to supremacy was in part political and during the middle of the 16th Dynasty, when the alien Eastern invaders the Hyksos ruled from Memphis, Amun Ra became the symbol of the liberated Egypt, free from the invaders Egypt herself. The most famous of his temples were at Luxor and Karnak and Thebes became the centre of religion and the state.

Amun was married to Mut, the vulture goddess, shown as a woman wearing a vulture cap and the double crown, or with a lioness’s head. They had a son Khonsu, the Moon God, forming what is known as the Theban Triad (c.f.  Osiris, Isis and Horus of the Heliopian myths). From the New Kingdom onwards, this marriage was celebrated ritually at Thebes at the annual Opet festival.

Gradually, Amun-Ra became the unknowable, secret god, and no god knew his name because he represented ultimate total divinity. In this evolved form, he was invisible, like the air, the creator yet remote from his creation.

Yet though he was unknowable he did have a statue form, dating back to his earlier phases of evolution. He was shown holding the ankh in one hand and the scimitar, symbol of power and defeat of over foreign enemies, in the other.

His statue at Karnak was annually carried to Medinet habu on the west bank at Thebes, where he met his ancestor the primal snake Khem-atef. The snake represented the renewal of Amun, constantly restoring his vitality as a snake sheds its skin. In procession his statue was carried inside a curtained shrine or wooden boat so that people could not see his form.

In later times Amun formed a trinity, as Ra or Re, the sun god who represented the ever-shining face through which each day he made himself known to humanity. Ptah was his body, the earthly manifestation and Amun the hidden divine invisible aspect. Amun also absorbed other god forms directly through which he made himself known to humanity, for example Amun-Re-Atum, Min Amun and Amun-Re-Horakhty, joining his power to that of Horus and Ra in the rising at the noonday sun.

Amun Ra was regarded from the Middle Kingdom as the father of each king, coming to the mother in a dream or superimposing himself on the body of her husband to conceive the child.

One fascinating image of Amun is the great goose calling creation into being by his cry and laying the egg of the sun, a direct assimilation of the Hermopolis Great Cackler.

Working with the Creation Myths

It does not matter whom you see as creator or indeed if you regard the process in more symbolic terms as an actual sunrise over the mound that emerged from the waters when the Nile floods receded. Nevertheless, the creation story provides a powerful framework for creative rituals of all kinds, from conceiving a child or initiating a creative venture to starting all over again.

A Creation Ritual

You will need a deep bowl of water, a smaller empty bowl, a quantity of sand or dark earth enough to pile in the smaller bowl, a small trowel and a pure white candle.

  • Decide on your creator deity or if you prefer you can follow another tradition and work with Isis as the ancestress of the gods, as Sir E.A.Wallis Budge maintained.

  • Work at sunset. Take the large bowl of water and set it on dark linen on the floor or a low table so that you can kneel before it.

  • Focus on the purpose of the ritual and define this aloud, for example: ‘I wish to start my own design business from home. I ask that the right circumstances may be created and the venture come forth, as the first mountain did from the waters.’

  • Start to tell the story that you can adapt or expand. For example, you might say: ‘In the beginning was the water and the water flowed, containing the possibility of life. ’

  • Take the second empty bowl and float it in the water .of the first  ‘Then came the thoughts of the creator and wise Thoth spoke the magic words that brought the world into being. Let the thoughts of the great Ptah be given form by these my words.’ (I heard an Egyptologist pronounce Ptah’s name this Pitta but I have also heard Tah and Pitach with the ch pronounced like a very soft version of the sound at the end of a Scottish loch.)

  • Start to heap sand or soil into the floating empty bowl very carefully so that it does not tip over. If sand or soil spills into the waters it does not matter. Say: ‘Then the first mound appeared.’

  • Keep heaping your mound as you speak. ‘And so the creator could stand upon the dry land. Then he called forth the light.’

  • Carefully steadying the bowl, bury your candle in the sand and light it as you say: ‘And so came the first sunrise of the first day. May light likewise bring into being my endeavour. I am in the light of the first morning. I am the light. ’

  • If you wish you can add the creation of other deities to give strength to specific aspects of your project. For example, if you were using the Heliopian myth or for that matter adapting the Memphite one, you might say: ‘And the children of the creator brought forth Geb the fertile earth and Nut, the lady of stars. May my endeavour likewise be firmly rooted in reality and progress step by step to ever greater heights. I am the dark earth and I am the stars, Geb, Nut be in me, be me'.

  • Add as many deities as you wish improvising and combining myths to weave your purpose.

  • When you are ready blow out the candle and say: ‘And the sun entered the womb of the sky mother and darkness fell. So will my dreams lie fallow and in the morning my venture will be born with the light. ’

  • Working with the deity forms

    There are so many deity forms from the Ancient Egyptian world that if you refer to detailed books on the deities or use your web browser, you can find a deity for every occasion. In this chapter I have written briefly about some of the most popular deities who spanned a number of dynasties and form a powerful focus for magical work. I have listed their main positive qualities you can work with. At the end of the book on pages 00-00 I have summarised the deities I describe in this book and suggested their special qualities. I have not listed the deities in alphabetical order, but in what I consider order of their magical importance. You may disagree and you will find the alphabetical list on pages 00-00. 

    Isis

    If there were only one deity you could invoke in magic and for inspiration, it would have to be Isis. Her importance as Mistress of Enchantment has survived to the present time in Western magic and goddess spirituality. She was so popular throughout the Roman Empire that at one time it was thought her worship would replace that of the Christian Virgin Mary with whom she is closely identified.

    She is idealised as the perfect wife and mother and one to whom ordinary Egyptians could relate, tell their sorrows and make offerings at her shrines.

    Isis, who was once an earth dwelling deity, promised that they, and not just kings and nobles, would have immortality. Her buckle amulet the tjet and images of her in her form of protective mother vulture were placed in the poorest of graves. She is probably the inspiration of the Black Madonna statues of mother and child that have been found all over Europe and the east from mediaeval times.

    The Myth of Isis and Osiris

    Throughout this book are myths concerning Isis. On page 00 I have already described how she discovered Ra’s secret names and so learned the secret of his magic. But the most famous tells of the time after Set killed his brother Osiris to win the throne of Egypt. This was probably based in another early tribal clash for we know that Osiris is a very ancient god, called by Wallis Budge, the Egyptologist and author, the ancestor of the gods.

    Isis rescued Osiris’ body from the Nile at Byblos, into which Set had thrown it in a wooden trunk and she took it to Memphis with her sister Nephthys. On p00 I described another version where the trunk became part of a tree and Isis had to split it with thunder and lightning.

    But Set pursed them, cutting Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and scattering them throughout Egypt so that he might not be resurrected since his spirit would have no place to return. Isis assisted by her sister and Heket the frog goddess, searched to find the pieces and each place where one was found became a sacred place to Osiris. Once they had reassembled the body, Nephthys son the jackal-headed god Anubis, bound it together, creating the first mummy. This procedure was thereafter carried out on the corpses of elevated humans so that their body might not be attacked and scattered by demons. Only Osiris’s phallus could not be found and so Isis created one for him.

    Isis became a sparrow hawk and with her swooping wings and magical incantations, breathed life into the mummy so that Osiris might awake and impregnate her- once again the powerful life force of heka or magical words

    Afraid that Set might kill her son in the womb or in infancy, Isis hid in the papyrus marshes of the Nile Delta. Osiris descended into the Underworld to become king and Isis gave birth to her son alone and hid him from Set. So she became an icon for every birthing mother or woman alone or in difficulty.

    Once he came of age, Horus was able to fight his uncle and so Isis became the protectress of the Kings, the incarnations of her son

    Unusually, Isis is portrayed in a number of ways, as the young mother with cow horns and a solar disk between them, often black and suckling her infant.

    In earlier times, she was shown with a throne or plumes on her head and also she was portrayed in statuary, as a more mature woman carrying a sistrum and with a knotted shawl (this image was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire where her cult was popular among women). As mistress of enchantment she is sometimes shown with the lunar crescent on her head beneath the sun disk or with the full moon disk alone. Astrologically she was the star Sirius and Osiris the nearby constellation Orion (see p00).

    Invoke Isis for magical energies, for all women’s issues, for fertility, marriage and fidelity, mothering and protection, for moon magic on crescent and on the full moon and for healing

    Her colour is red.