Egyptian talismans


In Ancient Egypt, magic was closely assimilated with religion, and so with death. Magic was related to these events. First an idea, then a deity, Heka, who represented Power of Creation being previous to the most important gods. Its abstraction was identified with magical words, words for power. But Heka was not enough to represent magic in Egypt also vital force and human wishes were that magic. It was "something" that was moving in every detail of life. Only the highest religious bosses inside the funerary cults knew the secrets. There are always magical ways, not so sacred, which are close to popular belief -although in late age ended being a minor art closer to pragmatic witchcraft.

Magic had not bad reputation, since gods had given the knowledge to mankind.

«For them I have created magic, as a weapon to avoid the impact of the events, taking care of them day and night. »Instructions for Merikare Xth Dinasty

During their making, amulets and talismans should be made with specific materials considered as suitable according to their origin and the power able to develop the magic. But while the passive amulets did not require a plastic or symbolical making since they were items with special worth such as claws or fangs, herbs or hairs, etc., active talismans needed certain requirements in order to perform their magical action as expected. Because of that, malleable materials such as wax or clay, or other materials which could be carved upon such as stone, bone, wood... were used more frequently. To include magical texts in a small papyrus, store it in a small cylindrical box and hang it around the neck, was also adequate.

Its Neolithic origin starts, as shown, from the natural elements and follows towards the most defined ones. Flinders Petrie (1912) compiles in one of his works a list of Egyptian amulets and talismans from his excavations and papyrus. Only the MacGregor papyrus shows a collection of up to seventy-five different amulets, each one with its function. It's also shown that the best material for crafting them was gold, maybe because it cannot get rusty, so its sight and powers could be preserved for longer. Amulets and talismans fulfilled their function in both the living and the dead, in the latter case protecting the bodies and also helping them in their path to the Afterlife, the Amduat.

«Nebt, the demon, wouldn't come close to me; and the keepers of the Arrits won't reject me, for my body is protected by amulets» Spell CLXIV, Entering the Arrits. Egyptian book of the dead.

A previous ritual was often required, executed by a priest who would pronounce the magic words. To carve these or other words in the talisman or amulet bestowed the same effect.

«(Note) To recite this incantation on an UADJ emerald amulet, previously placed on a dead person's neck, and with the words of the incantation carved below it. » Spell CLXI In order to define a talisman. Egyptian Book of the Dead.

It is generally considered that at the present date these amulets, traditionally handcrafted, can satisfy the same magical needs as the ones from those people who used them in their age. Knowing the Egyptian magic and infatuated by it, not few esoteric people and occultists use them not only as personal amulets but also as an element of capital importance in their rituals, sometimes presiding over them, specially in the cases of funerary or necromantic rites, for it's well known that a huge part of the Egyptian culture and religion revolves around death. However, from a more sophisticated point of view, it's considered that pretending that they will fullfil a function by themselves makes no sense, and it's appropriate to use Egyptian magic or sacred texts in order to resolve the prayers correctly. Among them, texts from the Book of the Dead and others with a magical context, are included. It's also warned that not all of them should be at the reach of the magic that's exposed in the sacred texts.

«Oh, Isis! Let your blood act! Let your radiation act! Let the strength of your magic act effectively! Guard under your protection, oh goddess, this powerful Spirit, do not let it to approach the demons that inspire it horror and disgust!

(NOTE) Recite these words upon a carnelian buckle that has been submerged in water of ANKHAM flowers, socketed in a slat made of wood from a sycamore. This slat will be placed on the deceased person's neck, the day of the funerals. After having this made the powers of Isis will protect the limbs of the deceased person; Horus, son of Isis, will get happy from seeing him in the middle of the Misteries of the Path; and at that time an arm will be raised towards Heaven, the other will be directed towards Earth, truly, continuously... Don't allow anybody to read this text, ever». Spell CLVI In order to define a carnelian talisman. Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Petrie sorted the amulets in five groups: The homeopathic ones, based in the principle of similia similibus, like acts over like; the dynamic ones, givers of powers and new skills; the proprietary ones, related to the belongings, specially with the burials and their goods; the prophylactic ones, defensive, guarding; and the theophoric ones, associated by their shape to the god, and so summoners of its might.

Other authors such as Sir Wallis Budge (1899) divided this magical practice according to the need of having or not something written, focused to the article opening's approach, making a distinction from the amulet and the talisman. But in the present day the functions of both get fused, specially when used both in the living and the dead, and there seems to be a preference in sorting them by their functions. In this article, however, and in spite of not showing all those that exist, in order to ease the understanding of the talismans they will be sorted by the shape they take.

Animal-shaped talismans

There were those which represented danger and gave protection on the element that represented. Crocodile, turtles, snakes, scorpions or hippos figures were usually used to protect from those animals themselves by sailing on the Nile or by walking. An example: the talisman Menkebyt/Menkeryt, a serpent's head carved on red rock, it prevented bites along the figure of Mafdet the mongoose. Many of them represented a deity, usually in a feminine shape as scorpion-goddes Selkis or Neith, represented as a fish on the talisman called Nejau. This amulet had to be wear on children's neck to avoid them to drown in the river. There are versions mixed together as a multifunction talisman.

Some animals had their own symbolism as in the case of the frog, that represents fertility and sometimes is identified with Hekert. The cobra called Iaret,who destroyed enemies, related to royal power, or the two lions, each one looking at one different direction. The talisman called Ruty related to rising sun and dawn so with restart and rebirth.

Other animal representations were more related to deity's function as goddess Thoueris, the hippo, who protected pregnancy and birth, or Anubis, the jackal, destined to preserve the corpse but not for avoiding this jackal. The falcon for Horus. It is also Hathor's case, in her cow's shape.

«These formula are to be said out loud over a figure of a Sacred Cow of golden, and it has to be placed in the neck of the dead In addition, an inscription must be written on a new papyrus and place over the head This way the dead one will feel great warm the same way he felt on his life on Earth This talisman has a great power to protect since was created by the Celestial Cow for his son, Re, in order to be used when his vital force was weakened and his home was near the Fire Spirits This way the deceased will become a deity in the underworld and his Glorious Body won't be rejected by the Doors of Duat .» Signature of the Spell CLXII to produce a warm sensation in the deceased head. Egyptian book of the dead.

The vulture, more amulet than talisman, was identified with Isis goddess and it was under the neck of the deceased. This amulet was made on precious metal on the shape of the bird with the wings opened, it reminded of the Ankh, symbol of life, although this is a modern interpretation.

Although is not a divinity itself, the talisman of the Ba, men vital strenght, is represented with a falcon with human head similar to Horus. For the deceased, it allowed to go out ot the tomb with that shape.

The most known, however, was the scarab that gathers all the talismans functions. It represents the dung beetle, associated with Re god, as the sun, this animal reborn and according to the texts of the Amduat with the shape of Khepri, this beetle pushes the sun. It represented the god of creation, regeneration and resurrection so its magical power was excellent. Often these scarabs were used by replacing the place of the heart in the body. In its level part, there were written other amulet symbols, magical texts, blessings or good intentions, commemorative elements, which made a perfect talisman for fortune.

«The one who says this spell must be pure (...) You must make a scarab made of stone and gold and place it inside the deceased; this amulet will perform the opening of the mouth ritual. » Note from the Spell LXIV The soul goes out to the lightday. Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Anthropomorphic talismans


The animal image associated to the deity would be inside both, but we will focus on those with human shape or clearly referred to deity. Carrying the image of the deity is always positive for the action which can make: Carrying Isis would give magic protection, carrying Thoth would give wisdom, etc. Also it could give magic powers to the person since it can drive the deity authority to strengthen it. The image of the short god Bes was also protective for pregnancies and birth, as well to avoid nightmares. The talisman which Herodotus calls Pateco, a naked man, helped on craftwork but it seems similar to an image of Ptah in Memphis where he was the guardian of that activity and a protector against bad spirits.

Ushabtis are not amulets but figures that would become alive in order to serve the deceased. However, since there are multiple dangers in the other side, is common to find amulets as Ankh or Djed, and they often go with a spell to wake them up.

-Parts of the body

Some talismans are only a part of the body which sometimes is representing a certain deity. This is the case of Atum's Hand, god of creation, which also relates to the primitive masturbation from which the Universe was origined. Its magical help was focused on the idea of defeating darkness and achieving purposes, on a spiritual or material level. The female version of this talisman was Isis' Hand, it was protective against magic and it had a maternal aspect that made it very common to use in childhood.

Dyebaiu the talisman of two fingers, index and thumb, that represented Horus' fingers helping his father Osiris in the last phase of his resurrection as a cosmic/solar being. So this is a help talisman at a beginner or religious level.

The Udjat, called Horus' Eye, was the most used. It provided mental and physical strenght, good luck and it kept away danger. If two eyes were combined, left and right, they become Re's and Iah's eyes, from the Sun and the Moon. But their power still was protection and attention, the ability to foresee and predict happenings and attract good. It is possible that their powers were stronger in specific celestial happenings of one of both.

« This spell must be cast over an Udjat amulet (made with true lapis lazuli or "Mac" stone decorated with gold), offers will be made, pure and beautiful during the last day of the second month of the season Pert », just in the moment that Re appears. Making another Udjat with jasper and place it on any part of the deceased body When this spell is cast in front of a "Re's boat", the dead will be able to move along the gods, he will become one of them and resurrect in the underworld. In the very moment this spell is cast, when the offers are place in front of Udjat while this is at its peak, four fires will be lit in Re-tum altars the same way other four fires will be lit for Udjat, and then four more lights will be lit in the honor of the previous mentioned gods. It is necessary to give five breads, incense and roasted meat in each one of the altars... » Note from the CXL Spell to be said when the Divine Eye it's at its peak.

Ib, the heart, was not related with no deity, however, it was important. According to Egyptian culture, the conscience and personality remained in the heart. So it kept the memories and good or bad actions. It was needed to measure its weight in the soul's weighing in the afterlife where it should weigh same or less than Maat's feather, goddess of justice. The Ib amulets did not replace the heart of the dead, but they preserved his loss and so the chance to live to great beyond along his own memory.

The Sam or Sema, identified with male sexual organs, would be for fertility and creation and also erotism. It had been bound among the mummy's bandage and it has an union message not well specified. It is also related to breathing. Menat, male and female organ joined together, had the same meaning of happiness, fertility and pleasure, seemingly related with Hathor, goddess of these issues.

Talismans of objects

As we saw in the first part, any object can become an amulet if the belief of its hidden ability is applied or related to it.

The talisman of the name or the cartouche offers protection on the person's name, making her existence longer, healthier, with more energy and luck. The cartouche was often combined with the circle sign Shen, a rolled papyrus that symbolized solar way and this way, the person obtained knowledge and power over reality, death and rebirth. In general it obtained protection and maximum luck. People said the cartouche amulet was a longer version of Shen.

The Uadye or papyrus column was made on green colors, it was protective and very common as a pendant. The Nefer, similar to a lute, was made with cornelian and it was also common to wear it with one, since it attracted happiness, beauty and prosper.

The Ures or headrest was made of hematite and it protected the dead from losing his head in the afterlife. The golden pendant called Usej gave the person magic powers and protection. The celestial stairs Rud/Jet allowed to arrive to the Osiris throne. The Sun in the horizon or Ajty, and the celestial boat gave vitality and at the same way they remind resurrection. The builder's tools as Seba were reminders of universal balance.

The chest in pillar's shape replaced the mummy guts. The table for offerings gave the deceased all he needed in the Afterlife, as well as food for the gods. Along them, there were glasses and plates with inscriptions seemed to be used for the same issue.

There are some amulets related to divine or royal condition. Among them, there is Shuti, the two feathers, Re and Osiris,making similar the person to those gods, and the crowns Desheret and Hedjet/Ueretred and white, which they fuse in the Sejemty.

Other symbol of power was the Uas or sceptre that had the head of god Seth and by his divine power was to possess wizards often. This was along the ritual knife Peshes-Kef that was used on the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony where the deceased had his physical properties back, imitating the Osiris resurrection.

The Tyet or Isis knot represents the genitals of the goddess for some people, while for others is only a knot. The red color represented blood of the goddess and gives a great protection.

The Ankh talisman was also a symbol of life, often seen with the gods. Some author believed it was a phallic symbol, but it is a popular talisman nowadays. The sceptre Uas was the Egyptian wizards symbol, as well as a divine sceptre power. This cane shows a Seth's head. Dyed, the pillar, was an amulet for deceased that appears in the Book of the Dead, it symbolizes the sword, the backbone, and so, the ability of the deceased to remain stand up, it means, stand up and live.

«I gather around me the hearts, thanks to my great wisdom, in the half of the gods Saa and Amenti-Re, my talisman Djed gives me its protection » CLXXIV Spell to make the spirit able to go through the great door.

The combination of this three amulets became a talisman that symbolized life, power and dominium in a perfect balance. 

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -

Rachel Black - Translator -

Budge, W. El libro Egipcio de los muertos (Laurent, A. Trad.) Londres 1895 /New York, 1967
Budge, W. Magia Egipcia. Realidad, intención y esencia del pensamiento egipcio. Editorial Humanitas, Barcelona, 1996
Jacq, C. El saber mágico en el Antiguo Egipto, 1997

Martín Valentín, F. J. Los magos del Antiguo Egipto. Oberón (Anaya) Madrid 2002

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