An Introduction to Egyptian Magic

Updated: August 20, 2019

When humanity finally grasped the idea that influences effecting one’s life could be altered through exercising one’s own will, the art and practice of magic began. It may even seem to us in our modern world that the methods employed by the ancient Egyptians were odd or extreme, but they were still believed to be effective in guiding their lives.

In the early dynastic periods, the ancient Egyptian priests taught that this strict inter-dependence not only existed, but that a continual appeasement with offerings 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 another 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, of Nu or Nun. 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, and each had four scepters, which held up the sky. These four parts comprised the astral planes which had to find balance in their physical, psychological, mental, and emotional states, in order to enter their heaven, which was also called, “the land of light.” Later, the duat had more divisions, each with a head God. To enjoy the power to enter into certain places 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 had a door that one must pass through. Each was guarded by three entities; a doorkeeper, a watcher, and a herald. One had to know the names of all three in each of the seven arrats, before being able to pass through and enter.

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 with its forelegs its egg to be birthed for starting a new cycle of creation. Ra-Atum 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, and 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, became the tongue. Ptah created an ethical order by creating the ka or soul of each being. He established throughout Egypt’s provinces called nomes, with 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 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 was 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 the law of mystical participation, meaning that which was influenced in one part of the universe was also affected in another.

The Egyptians 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 and 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 stopped bleeding, disease, or the sexual act; that one could by using puns in their language, 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 ten to twenty-five people, consisting of the high clergy, the low clergy, auxiliaries, and upon a special occasion 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. The Ancient Egyptians celebrated approximately 172 rituals every year, depending on whether it was a leap year or not.

Every day there were services that had to be carried out. It began with building a 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. Offerings of food and incense were given with prayer. There was the purifying and cleansing of the statue and the shrine with natron, a mineral salt, 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 sealed at days end.

The temples readjusted this process throughout each dynasty to suit the pharaoh and the people’s needs. From the I dynasty through the III 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 XII 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 became large and elaborate with 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 called a hypostyle, where the uninitiated students were taught. The separate building was called the Double House of Life. Here, the initiate or the “beautiful students,” called neferstashi, received further instruction within the inner hypostyle of the House of Life. They were instructed by divine priests in herbs, geography, history, divination, and weather, and were overseen by a Korpuu 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 within the temple proper. 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 dynasties. It had a 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 can dispute, what can only be, an ancient tarot card design. They were also written on ostraca and corresponded with several of the major arcana of the later tarot cards. Originally, they were used as a meditation for a nature and animal husbandry path, but 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 combative priests were taught, and they became the Shemsu Heru, or warrior priests of Horus. Fighting techniques included stick fighting, hand-to-hand combat, the 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 viziers were priests of Ma’at. The Wisdom texts on the Path of Wisdom were philosophical approaches to an individual’s relationship with the outside world, as well as the world within. It contained codes of ethics and conduct between all strata 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, and for the magicians included psychometry, divination, forms of astrology, and ways of healing.
  9. The Path of Astrology or the Heavenly Path was a path of Hathor, Nut, and Horus. These temples were at Edfu and Denderah. Their 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 also astronomy texts, and the astrological alignments that they followed can still be seen on temples and tombs.
  10. There 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. All were late Egyptian alchemists before Paraselseus. This path began with the goldsmiths or priests of Ptah.
  11. The Path of the Aahti-Ahesheta or the Path of the Wise Woman was very Wiccan in style and content. It was 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 practices of the Kundalini with an invocation to the couples respective deity, were enacted in the temple of mystery called the 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, and 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 this 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 the formulas faithfully, was imperative. The Egyptians often regulated the administration of remedies and recitation of spells by the laws of magical numbers; three, four, and seven being predominate.

As far as ritual itself, a combination of adjuncts were utilized. Gestures produced the greatest results, and simulated actions and real drama were performed in order to bring about the desired results. Nile water, pure 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 and inscribing sacred names and numbers upon them.

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, was also used over the body and at the mouth. The ankh has been 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, fish, and fowl. There were musical instruments of various pipes, drums, and strings that were played. Sistra were gently played to accompany chants and hymns to appease the Gods, or they were shaken loudly to wake up the Gods.

Manifestations of Power

There were four different manifestations of power that the Egyptians recognized and worked with. First, was Divine Power. The Gods and Goddesses were an expression of the principles and functions of divine power manifesting in nature.

Mer was magnetic power. The Egyptians called the pyramid a structure with mer power.

Sa was an invisible mysterious fluid that flowed throughout statues of Gods and Goddesses. A man who wished to acquire this sa, knelt with his back to the statue, so that the statue’s hand touched the upper spine to transfer this energy. It was only temporary, so frequent renewal was needed. Sa power was pulled from the Pond of Sa, which was located in the northern heavens. It preserved 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 was the highest power attainable.

Sekem was the fourth power. It was the “vital force,” the “ruling power,” the “essential power for creation.” It was the power that animated the sahu, or spiritual body. It was the power for forms and names, and lived in the astral heaven. It was the easiest to work with and was often referred to later, as “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, and Tefnut, and the souls of Hermopolis were ruled by Thoth, Sa, and Tem.

The celestial Gods and Goddesses had their duties, as well. They had to organize and separate the “One who makes Himself into millions.” Some were assigned to direct the affairs of the world. Others had to operate the heavens and direct all things astronomical. In the Land of the Light, when an initiate arrived, he was formed into light and he was fed light. This celestial food was supplied by the eye of Horus.

The initiate’s existence was supported by the rays that fell from the ultimate God, and anyone who entered became a part of the light. They all arrived from the celestial lake of Sekhet-hetep. This “food” took the form of wheat, red barley, figs, wine, and of the bread of eternity, which was shed from a sacred olive tree. With these he was sustained until he was called again to the earth plane.

Magic was not a thing apart from the lives of the ancient Egyptian priests, but was embodied as a daily relationship that both brought the Gods to be a part of their lives, and brought them closer to the embodiment of the Gods, themselves.


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