An Introduction to Egyptian Magic

When humanity finally grasped the idea that influences effecting ones life could work both ways, that through exercising ones will, one could influence the world right back, the art and practice of magic began. By our modern eye and sensitivity, the methods employed by the ancient Egyptians may seem odd or even extreme, but even then, they were working with the most powerful energies of the universe.

In the early Dynastic periods, the ancient priests taught that this strict interdependence not only existed, but that a continual appeasement by offering was necessary. The Gods and Goddesses were numerable and each temple as well as each home took on the obligations of giving offerings toward their local and state God forms. Throughout Egypt’s time, the Pharaohs belief or cosmogony of favoring one God or Goddess of creation above the others differed. The local deities often became secondary and formed a sort of lesser court, while the Pharaoh’s God became primary.

Conceptions of Heaven

To the ancient Egyptian the concept of Heaven, also called the Duat or Tuat, changed throughout its history. They saw the earth as a reflection of what was in the heavens. The celestial Nile existed above the flowing Nile below. It was the zone of twilight or the nocturnal sky, Nu, Nut or Nuit. At first, heaven rested on two mountains, one of sunrise and one of sunset, and the sky was divided up into the morning sky and the afternoon sky. Up to the IV Dynasty, the sky was divided into four parts, which related to the four sons of Horus. They each had four scepters, which held up the sky. These four parts together comprised the astral planes where one must be balanced in their physical, psychological, mental and emotional states in order to enter. It was also the land of light. Later, the Duat had more divisions, each with a head God. To enjoy the power to enter into certain cities in heaven, one had to know the various souls worshiped in each of them.

In the Papyrus of Nu, it speaks about the seven arrat circles or divisions, each of which has a door that one must pass through. Each was guarded by three entities; a doorkeeper, a watcher and a herald. One must know the names of all three, in each of the seven arrats, before being able to pass through.

The Cosmogonies or Creation Myths

There were four principle cosmogonies: Heliopoliton, Memphite, Hermapolitan and Theben. In the city of Heliopolis, the Great God Atum rose from the cosmic waters of Nun and created a place to stand. This “completed one” was identified in the Pyramid texts as ‘One with Ra.’  The God Ra-Atum was symbolized by the Bennu bird or the Phoenix. He was also symbolized by the scarab beetle, pushing his egg out in front of him, starting a new cycle of creation. He united with his shadow and through masturbation gave birth to his children Shu and Tefnut. Shu is the God of air and Tefnut the principle of divine order and of moisture. They begat Geb the earth, and Nut the sky. Geb and Nut begat Osiris, Isis, Nepthys and Set. Osiris and Isis begat Horus. The priests and priestesses considered themselves to be the representatives on earth of Geb and Nut. In Heliopolis, the High Priest was called ‘the Great One with Visions of Ra.’

In the city of Memphis, the Great God Ptah was the ‘Creator of the World’ and ‘Master of Destiny.’  The Shabaka Stone text declares that Ptah was the heart and tongue, mind and intelligence of the Ennead, or the group of Gods, of Heliopolis. Thus, Atum acted as the agent of Ptah’s will. Later, Horus the son of Isis and Osiris became the heart, and Thoth because he was the god of wisdom, the tongue. Ptah created an ethical order by creating the Ka or soul of each being. He established throughout Egypt provinces called nomes and a political order for the founded cities. In Memphis the High Priest was called the ‘Great Chief of the Artisans.’

In Hermapolis there was an Ogdoad, or group of eight gods: Nun and Naunet, Huh and Hauhet, Kuk and Kauket, Amon and Amaunet. These four groups represented the four elements. They were hatched out of the mud that formed around the sacred lake or waters called, the Sea of the Two Knives, from which emerged the “Isle of Flames.” There were four myths, which arose concerning the gods in this creation. One was that the world was a cosmic egg laid by a celestial goose. This egg, laid on this isle, contained Ra the creator of the word. Two, that, the egg was laid by an ibis, the bird representing the God of wisdom Thoth. Third, that on the lake a lotus opened to reveal a divine child, who was Ra. Four, that the lotus opened to reveal a scarab beetle that transformed into a child that cried and each drop contained the essence of life for the human form. So, while Gods emerged from Ra’s mouth, men and women came from his eyes.

In Thebes, the supreme and invisible creator God was Amon. The Theban doctrine incorporated in Amon aspects of all the other creator Gods. Thebes claimed to be the city of the primeval mound. Amon embraced whole cosmogonies as aspects or phases of his creative activity. He was the vital force, which roused Nun, the primeval waters into the creative cycle. In Thebes, the high priest was called the ‘Prophet of Amon.’

There was also a fifth, but smaller cosmology. At Aswan there is an island called, Elephantine. It was the birth site of Khnum, who created men and women from clay and straw and fashioned them on a potter’s wheel along with their Ba, soul. It is said that the figure needed Hathor, the goddess of joy, love and beauty, to animate it by touching it with an ankh.

The Five Laws of Truth

There were approximately five laws of known truths that were extent. One of these beliefs was that the universe contained an immaterial and impersonal force. The priesthood worked with collecting it, holding it, directing it and appeasing it. There was also the law of mystical participation. That which is influenced in one part of the universe is also affected in another. They believed in the law of similarity, and that “like evokes like.” Examples from relief and papyri speak of “the name chosen at birth influencing the individuals destiny; of a plant to an organ of the body, that it could heal that organ; that the mathematical properties of numbers conferred on them had corresponding attributes; that pouring water evoked rain; that knotting a thread stops bleeding, disease, or the sexual act; that one can, by punning, affect a person through his homonym; also that the anniversary of a mishap or lucky event that once occurred will have influence on that day again. There was also the law of solidarity, which holds that “a body remains forever linked to any fragment detached from it, … even to its shadow.” The fifth law was that death was thought of as a “protracted sleep.” The dead could return at any time and that offerings should always be ready for them.

The Temples

The Double House of Life was staffed with at least ten to twenty-five people; consisting of the high clergy, the low clergy, auxiliaries and upon special occasions, floaters or extra people. The Temple staff consisted of a man of the roll, or chief reciter; the chief priest; the priest of divine writing who was also in charge of the House of Life, and the Korpuu priests. These were the main healers, oracles, and herbalists. Within the temple, the temple staff always had duties to perform; initiations to coordinate and magical rituals to be done at every holiday. And the Ancient Egyptians celebrated approximately 172 rituals a year, depending on whether one goes by a calendar in the late period or it was leap year.

Every day there were services that had to be carried out. It started with building the fire and lighting the incense. Then of, opening the shrine by breaking the seal on the door to the Holy of Holies. Praises and hymns were sung to the god. Food and more incense and offerings were given with prayer. Then there was a purifying and cleansing of the statue and the shrine with natron and Nile waters. The God was finally dressed with ointments, eye paint and clothing. The offering incense was burned continually throughout the day until the temple was once more sealed at the close of the day.

The temples readjusted throughout the dynasties to suit the pharaoh and the peoples needs. From the 1st through the 3rd Dynasty the temple was nothing more than an elongated wicker hut; open in front and in back with an open front courtyard. It wasn’t until the 12th dynasty that the temples were constructed fully of stone. The middle dynasties are still somewhat of a mystery, but in the later periods, specifically during the Roman-Greco Period, the temples were large and elaborate, and there was the addition of a room known as the Holy of Holies.

During this time the temple was connected to a house of learning by a set of columns where the uninitiated students were taught. The separate building was called the Double House of Life. Here the initiated, the ‘beautiful students,’ called neferstashi, received the inner temple teachings within the hypostyle of the House of Life. They were instructed by divine priests in herbs, geography,  history, divination, weather, and were overseen by a Korpuu or leader. They were also taught the ways of the gods, but they did not practice the religion or its greater mysteries until they received their Priesthood and worked in the temple. The House of Life and the area around the hypostyle was also a gathering place for the priests, a place where scribes worked, councils met, women came to give birth and the sick were brought for healing.

The Twelve Schools of Magic

There developed twelve different paths that an initiate could follow, each having developed from a temples center of learning. There were different Gods or Goddesses heading these paths with specific teachings and exercises.

  1. The path of Ra or the Path of the Sun comes from the city of Hermopolis. It was most popular from the XVIII to the XXII dynasty. It is of Kabbalistic structure, with a tree of life, a ten-part pantheon, a twenty-one-step path and a complete route through the astral plane.
  2. The Path of the Tarot or The Royal Road was centered in Memphis and in Alexandria. There exists in Egypt a temple whose walls, no one could dispute, what can only be of an ancient tarot design. It is written on ostreca and they correspond with several of the major arcana. Originally, it was a meditation/nature/animal husbandry path and evolved into a meditation and alchemical path.
  3. The Path of Creation or of Ptah originated in Memphis. Exoterically it was a path and discipline of artists and craftsmen. Esoterically, it was the center of pre-Pythagorean mysticism using form in art, architecture, and geomantria in the hieroglyphic language to express the teachings.
  4. The Path of Osiris or the Path of Resurrection is a path that consists of a triad of Osiris the father, Isis the mother and Horus the son. The book of study is what today is called the Book of the Dead, or the Papyrus of Anni.
  5. The Path of Amon or the Hidden Path was primarily a mystical path using meditations and mantras up through the XVIII dynasty. After that, Amon was combined with Ra, and the exoteric side of Ra was attached to Amon, thereby creating a large ceremonial magical priesthood.
  6. The Path of Horus or the Path of Martial Arts is where many of the guards and priests were the Shemsu Heru, or warrior priests of Horus. Fighting techniques included stick fighting, hand-to-hand combat, bow and arrow and the spear.
  7. The Path of Tehuti or the Path of Wisdom and Philosophy was from Hermopolis. The God Thoth, was the God of Intelligence and wisdom, and he headed the pantheon with Seshat and Ma’at. Many judges and most viziers were priests of Ma’at. The Wisdom texts are philosophical approaches to an individual’s relationship with the outside world as well as the world within. It contains codes of ethics and conduct between all strata’s of the culture.
  8. The Path of Ceremonial magic or the Path of Thoth is actually from the same city of Hermopolis. Although the last path is also a path of Thoth, the path of wisdom and path of magic were separate systems that were taught in the same temple. This path was the Setep-Sa, or for the magicians that also included psychometry, divination, forms of astrology and of healing.
  9. The Path of Astrology or the Heavenly Path was a path of Hathor, Nut and Horus. These temples are at Edfu and Denderah. Magic was based entirely on the movements of the heavenly bodies. Charts were cast and an accurate calendar system was drawn approximately 4,500 years ago. There were astronomy texts and astrology signs on temples and tombs.
  10. This is the Golden Path or the Path of Alchemy. Zoismos was the Father of modern alchemy. There was also Bolos of Mendes, Maria the Egyptian and Hermes Trismagistis and his great Emerald tablet, which were all late Egyptian alchemists before Paraselseus. It started with the goldsmiths or priests of Ptah.
  11. The path of the Aahti-Ahesheta or the Path of the wise woman is very Wiccan in style and content. It is therefore a Goddess and nature-worshipping path. The most common Goddesses worshiped were Isis, Hathor, Neith, Bast and Bes.
  12. The Tantric Path was of short duration from the IV to the XIII dynasties. Special movements and practicing of the Kundalini with an invocation to the couple?s respective deity was enacted in the temple of mystery called sahadu.

The predominate traits shared by all students of magic consisted of an eleven fold path, having: strength of character, self-control, self-training, self-respect, readiness and boldness, activity, straight forwardness, discretion, quietness, extreme reserve, and right conduct.

The Ritual Aspects

The strongest magical act was what the heart desired and the tongue commanded. Once a word was spoken, it took an inevitable course, for the power was in the spoken word, the mind being the creative force, which gave the idea reality. Proper names when spoken or written were even more powerful. Maspero writes his comment on naming. “Nothing existed that had not received a name, and whoever lost his name lost his personality and his independence,” and could be prevented from re-incarnating his soul. To sing a name was “to make it appear,” and to know a hidden name had the greatest power. The value of pronouncing the magical phrases, the litanies and formulas faithfully were imperative. The Egyptians often regulated the administration of remedies and recitation of spells by the laws of magic numbers; 3, 4, and 7 being predominate.

As far as the ritual itself a combination of adjuncts were utilized. The gestures produced the greatest results; for often simulated actions and real drama were performed in order to bring about the desired results. Holy Nile water, special oils, wine, strong perfumes, and a great amount of incense were used. Amulets and talismans were worn, carried and utilized during the rituals for a variety of reasons. They gained their potency from their fashioning, inscribing of sacred names on them and numbers.

An assortment of ritual tools, were used depending upon the nature of the rite. If it was a burial rite, the Osirian emblems of the crook and flail were used by the High Priest. The crook served as the tool that cut open the slit at the mouth so that the spirit of the man could depart. The ankh, symbol of new life, is also seen over the body and at the mouth. The ankh is depicted as being carried by many Gods and Goddesses and was used in ritual for blessing, healing, consecrating and as a grounding tool. Incense was used almost continuously throughout any rite, especially cleansing rites. The offering table was always laden with its offerings of oil, honey, flower, fruit and fowl. There were musical instruments of various pipes and drums, and strings. Sistra were played to accompany chants and hymns to appease the Gods or they were shaken loudly to wake up the Gods.

Manifestations of Power

There are four different manifestations of power that the Egyptians recognized and worked with. There is Divine Power. The Gods and Goddesses, are an expression of the principles and functions of divine power manifesting in nature. Mer is magnetic power. The Egyptians called the pyramid a structure with mer power. Sa is an invisible mysterious fluid that flows throughout statues of Gods and Goddesses. A man, who wishes to acquire this Sa, kneels with his back to the statue and the statues hand must touch the upper spine to transfer this energy. It is only temporary and frequent renewal is needed. Sa power is pulled from the pond of Sa, which is located in the northern heavens. It preserves vigor and age. It is said that if enough were held long enough the flesh would turn to gold, the bones to silver and the hair to lapis lazuli. This is the highest power attainable. Sekem is the forth power. It is the “vital force,” the “ruling power,” the “essential power for creation.” It is the power that animates the sahu, or spiritual body. It is the power for forms and names, and lives in the astral heaven. It is the easiest to work with and is often called mana.

Translations from the XII & XIII dynasties concerning celestial God powers and their dominions, brings us a very diversified description. The souls of the west came to be ruled by Temu. The lord of the Mount of sunrise was Sobek. The Lady of the evening was Hathor. The souls of the East were ruled by Heru Khuti. The calf of the Goddess or morning star was Khera. The souls of the city of Pe were ruled by Horus, Mestha and Hapi. The souls of the Nekhen district were ruled by Horus, Tuamutef, and Qebh-sennuf. The souls of Heliopolis were ruled by Ra, Shu, Tefnut, and the souls of Hermopolis came to be ruled by Thoth, Sa, and Tem.

The celestial Gods and Goddesses have their duties too. They must organize and separate the “One who makes Himself into millions.” Some are assigned to direct the affairs of the world. Others must operate the heavens and direct all things astronomical. In the Land of the Light, when an initiate arrives, he is formed into light and he eats on light. His food is supplied by the eye of Horus. The initiates existence is supported by the rays that fall from the ultimate God, and anyone who enters becomes a part of the light. They all arrive from the celestial lake of Sekhet-hetep. The celestial foods eaten are all made up of light. They form the light of wheat, red barley, heavenly figs, wine, and of the bread of eternity, which is shed from an olive tree. With these he is sustained until he is called again to the earth plane.

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