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Thoughts on “Egyptian Magic” by E.A. Wallis Budge

This is another of those books that have been on my shelf for a long time. I picked it up at a used book store, mainly because I was familiar with the author. Budge was a curator of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, and he published one of the most well-known translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I figured if anyone had insight into Egyptian magical practices, it would be Budge.

Budge begins his analysis by asserting that there are basically two types of magic used by the ancient Egyptians.

The “magic” of the Egyptians was of two kinds: (1) that which was employed for legitimate purposes and with the idea of benefiting either the living or the dead, and (2) that which was made use of in the furtherance of nefarious plots and schemes and was intended to bring calamities upon those against whom it was directed.

(p. 3)

Often, specific magical practices could be used for either of the two kinds of magic. An example of this would be the use of magical names.

The Egyptians, like most Oriental nations, attached very great importance to the knowledge of names, and the knowledge of how to use and to make mention of names which possessed magical powers was a necessity both for the living and the dead. It was believed that if a man knew the name of a god or a devil, and addressed him by it, he was bound to answer him and to do whatever he wished; and the possession of the knowledge of the name of a man enabled his neighbour to do him good or evil.

(p. 157)

Most of us are familiar with ancient Egypt’s use of animals in art and hieroglyphs. Budge point out that this was an advanced use of symbolism employed by the Egyptians, which was often misinterpreted as worship of animals.

The Egyptians paid honour to certain birds, and animals, and reptiles, because they considered that they possessed certain of the characteristics of the gods to whom they made them sacred. . . The educated Egyptian never worshipped an animal as an animal, but only as an incarnation of a god, and the reverence paid to animals in Egypt was in no way different from that paid to the king who was regarded as “divine” and an incarnation of Ra the Sun-god, who was the visible symbol of the Creator. The relation of the king to Ra was identical with that of Ra to God. The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans never understood the logical conception which underlay the reverence with which the Egyptians regarded certain animals, and as a result they grossly misrepresented their religion. The ignorant people, no doubt, often mistook the symbol for what it symbolized, but it is wrong to say that the Egyptians worshipped animals in the ordinary sense of the word, and this fact cannot be too strongly insisted on.

(pp. 232 – 233)

While this book may be dated, and much of the terminology employed would not be considered politically correct in our present day, there is value in reading this from a strictly historical perspective. Budge clearly spent much time exploring ancient Egyptian texts and his knowledge is evident in this book.

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