THE LEGEND OF THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF HORUS, AND OTHER MAGICAL TEXTS.
THE magical and religious texts of the Egyptians of all periods contain spells intended to be used against serpents, scorpions, and noxious reptiles of all kinds, and their number, and the importance which was attached to them, suggest that Egypt must always have produced these pests in abundance, and that the Egyptians were always horribly afraid of them. The text of Unas, which was written towards the close of the Vth Dynasty, contains many such spells, and in the Theban and Saïte Books of the Dead several Chapters consist of nothing but spells and incantations. many of which are based on archaic texts, against crocodiles, serpents, and other deadly reptiles, and insects of all kinds. All such creatures were regarded
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The Metternich Stele--Obverse.
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The Metternich Stele--Reverse.
as incarnations of evil spirits, which attack the dead as well as the living, and therefore it was necessary for the well-being of the former that copies of spells against them should be written upon the walls of tombs, coffins, funerary amulets, etc. The gods were just as open to the attacks of venomous reptiles as man, and Ra, himself, the king of the gods, nearly died from the poison of a snake-bite. Now the gods were, as a rule, able to defend themselves against the attacks of Set and his fiends, and the poisonous snakes and insects which were their emissaries, by virtue of the "fluid of life,"
, which was the peculiar attribute of divinity, and the efforts of Egyptians were directed to the acquisition of a portion of this magical power, which would protect their souls and bodies and their houses and cattle, and other property, each day and each night throughout the year. When a man cared for the protection of himself only he wore an amulet of some kind, in which the
was localized. When he wished to protect his house against invasion by venomous reptiles he placed statues containing the
in niches in the walls of various chambers, or in some place outside but near the house, or buried them in the earth with their faces turned in the direction from which he expected the attack to come.
Towards the close of the XXVIth Dynasty, when superstition in its most exaggerated form was general
in Egypt, it became the custom to make house talismans in the form of small stone stelae, with rounded tops, which rested on bases having convex fronts. On the front of such a talisman was sculptured in relief a figure of Horus the Child (Harpokrates), standing on two crocodiles, holding in his hands figures of serpents, scorpions, a lion, and a horned animal, each of these being a symbol of an emissary or ally of Set, the god of Evil. Above his head was the head of Bes, and on each side of him were: solar symbols, i.e., the lily of Nefer-Tem, figures of Ra and Harmakhis, the Eyes of Ra (the Sun and Moon), etc. The reverse of the stele and the whole of the base were covered with magical texts and spells, and when a talisman of this kind was placed in a house, it was supposed to be directly under the protection of Horus and his companion gods, who had vanquished all the hosts of darkness and all the powers of physical and moral evil. Many examples of this talisman are to be seen in the great Museums of Europe, and there are several fine specimens in the Third Egyptian Room in the British Museum. They are usually called "Cippi of Horus." The largest and most important of all these "cippi" is that which is commonly known as the "Metternich Stele," because it was given to Prince Metternich by Muhammad 'Ali Pasha; it was dug up in 1828 during the building of a cistern in a Franciscan Monastery in Alexandria, and was first published, with a translation of a large part of the text, by Professor
[paragraph continues] Golénischeff. 1 The importance of the stele is enhanced by the fact that it mentions the name of the king in whose reign it was made, viz., Nectanebus I., who reigned from B.C. 378 to B.C. 360.
The obverse, reverse, and two sides of the Metternich Stele have cut upon them nearly three hundred figures of gods and celestial beings. These include figures of the great gods of heaven, earth, and the Other World, figures of the gods of the planets and the Dekans, figures of the gods of the days of the week, of the weeks, and months, and seasons of the year, and of the year. Besides these there are a number of figures of local forms of the gods which it is difficult to identify. On the rounded portion of the obverse the place of honour is held by the solar disk, in which is seen a figure of Khnemu with four ram's heads, which rests between a pair of arms, and is supported on a lake of celestial water; on each side of it are four of the spirits of the dawn, and on the right stands the symbol of the rising sun, Nefer-Temu, and on the left stands Thoth. Below this are five rows of small figures of gods. Below these is Harpokrates in relief, in the attitude already described. He stands on two crocodiles under a kind of canopy, the sides of which are supported by Thoth and Isis, and holds Typhonic animals and reptiles. Above the canopy are the two Eyes of Ra,
each having a pair of human arms and hands. On the right of Harpokrates are Seker and Horus, and on his left the symbol of Nefer-Temu. On the left and right are the goddesses Nekhebet and Uatchet, who guard the South of Egypt and the North respectively. On the reverse and sides are numerous small figures of gods. This stele represented the power to protect man possessed by all the divine beings in the universe, and, however it was placed, it formed an impassable barrier to every spirit of evil and to every venomous reptile. The spells, which are cut in hieroglyphics on all the parts of the stele not occupied by figures of gods, were of the most potent character, for they contained the actual words by which the gods vanquished the powers of darkness and evil. These spells form the texts which are printed on p. 142 ff., and may be thus summarized:--
The first spell is an incantation directed against reptiles and noxious creatures in general. The chief of these was Apep, the great enemy of Ra, who took the form of a huge serpent that "resembled the intestines," and the spell doomed him to decapitation, and burning and backing in pieces. These things would be effected by Serqet, the Scorpion-goddess. The second part of the spell was directed against the poison of Apep, and was to be recited over anyone who was bitten by a snake. When uttered by Horus it made Apep to vomit, and when used by a magician properly qualified would make the bitten person to vomit, and so free his body from the poison.
The next spell is directed to be said to the Cat, i.e., a symbol of the daughter of Ra, or Isis, who had the head of Ra, the eyes of the uraeus, the nose of Thoth, the ears of Neb-er-tcher, the mouth of Tem, the neck of Neheb-ka, the breast of Thoth, the heart of Ra, the hands of the gods, the belly of Osiris, the thighs of Menthu, the legs of Khensu, the feet of Amen-Horus, the haunches of Horus, the soles of the feet of Ra, and the bowels of Meh-urit. Every member of the Cat contained a god or goddess, and she was able to destroy the poison of any serpent, or scorpion, or reptile, which might be injected into her body. The spell opens with an address to Ra, who is entreated to come to his daughter, who has been stung by a scorpion on a lonely road, and to cause the poison to leave her body. Thus it seems as if Isis, the great magician, was at some time stung by a scorpion.
The next section is very difficult to understand. Ra-Harmakhis is called upon to come to his daughter, and Shu. to his wife, and Isis to her sister, who has been poisoned. Then the Aged One, i.e., Ra, is asked to let Thoth turn back Neha-her, or Set. "Osiris is in the water, but Horus is with him, and the Great Beetle overshadows him," and every evil spirit which dwells in the water is adjured to allow Horus to proceed to Osiris. Ra, Sekhet, Thoth, and Heka, this last-named being the spell personified, are the four great gods who protect Osiris, and who will blind and choke his enemies, and cut out their tongues. The cry
of the Cat is again referred to, and Ra is asked if he does not remember the cry which came from the bank of Netit. The allusion here is to the cries which Isis uttered when she arrived at Netit near Abydos, and found lying there the dead body of her husband.
At this point on the Stele the spells are interrupted by a long narrative put into the mouth of Isis, which supplies us with some account of the troubles that she suffered, and describes the death of Horus through the sting of a scorpion. Isis, it seems, was shut up in some dwelling by Set after he murdered Osiris, probably with the intention of forcing her to marry him, and so assist him to legalize his seizure of the kingdom. Isis, as we have already seen, had been made pregnant by her husband after his death, and Thoth now appeared to her, and advised her to hide herself with her unborn child, and to bring him forth in secret, and he promised her that her son should succeed in due course to his father's throne. With the help of Thoth she escaped from her captivity, and went forth accompanied by the Seven Scorpion-goddesses, who brought her to the town of Per-Sui, on the edge of the Reed Swamps. She applied to a woman for a night's shelter, but the woman shut her door in her face. To punish her one of the Scorpion-goddesses forced her way into the woman's house, and stung her child to death. The grief of the woman was so bitter and sympathy-compelling that Isis laid her hands on the child, and, having uttered one of her most potent
spells over him, the poison of the scorpion ran out of his body, and the child came to life again. The words of the spell are cut on the Stele, and they were treasured by the Egyptians as an infallible remedy for scorpion stings. When the woman saw that her son had been brought back to life by Isis, she was filled with joy and gratitude, and, as a mark of her repentance, she brought large quantities of things from her house as gifts for Isis, and they were so many that they filled the house of the kind, but poor, woman who had given Isis shelter.
Now soon after Isis had restored to life the son of the woman who had shown churlishness to her, a terrible calamity fell upon her, for her beloved son Horus was stung by a scorpion and died. The news of this event was conveyed to her by the gods, who cried out to her to come to see her son Horus, whom the terrible scorpion Uhat had killed. Isis, stabbed with pain at the news, as if a knife had been driven into her body, ran out distraught with grief. It seems that she had gone to perform a religious ceremony in honour of Osiris in a temple near Hetep-hemt, leaving her child carefully concealed in Sekhet-An. During her absence the scorpion Uhat, which had been sent by Set, forced its way into the biding-place of Horus, and there stung him to death. When Isis came and found the dead body, she burst forth in lamentations, the sound of which brought all the people from the neighbouring districts to her side. As she related to
them the history of her sufferings they endeavoured to console her, and when they found this to be impossible they lifted up their voices and wept with her. Then Isis placed her nose in the mouth of Horus so that she might discover if he still breathed, but there was no breath in his throat; and when she examined the wound in his body made by the fiend Aun-Ab she saw in it traces of poison. No doubt about his death then remained in her mind, and clasping him in her arms she lifted him up, and in her transports of grief leaped about like fish when they are laid on red-hot coals. Then she uttered a series of heartbreaking laments, each of which begins with the words "Horus is bitten." The heir of heaven, the son of Un-Nefer, the child of the gods, he who was wholly fair, is bitten! He for whose wants I provided, he who was to avenge his father, is bitten! He for whom I cared and suffered when he was being fashioned in my womb, is bitten! He whom I tended so that I might gaze upon him, is bitten! He whose life I prayed for is bitten! Calamity hath overtaken the child, and he hath perished.
Whilst Isis was saying these and many similar words, her sister Nephthys, who had been weeping bitterly for her nephew Horus as she wandered about among the swamps, came, in company with the Scorpion-goddess Serqet, and advised Isis to pray to heaven for help. Pray that the sailors in the Boat of Ra may cease from rowing, for the Boat cannot travel
onwards whilst Horus lies dead. Then Isis cried out to heaven, and her voice reached the Boat of Millions of Years, and the Disk ceased to move onward, and came to a standstill. From the Boat Thoth descended, being equipped with words of power and spells of all kinds, and bearing with him the "great command of maa-kheru," i.e., the WORD, whose commands were performed, instantly and completely, by every god, spirit, fiend, human being and by every thing, animate and inanimate, in heaven, earth, and the Other World. Then he came to Isis and told her that no harm could possibly have happened to Horus, for he was under the protection of the Boat of Ra; but his words failed to comfort Isis, and though she acknowledged the greatness of his designs, she complained that they savoured of delay. "What is the good," she asks, "of all thy spells, and incantations, and magical formulae, and the great command of maa-kheru, if Horus is to perish by the poison of a scorpion, and to lie here in the arms of Death? Evil, evil is his destiny, for it hath entailed the deepest misery for him and death."
In answer to these words Thoth, turning to Isis and Nephthys, bade them to fear not, and to have no anxiety about Horus, "For," said he, "I have come from heaven to heal the child for his mother." He then pointed out that Horus was under protection as the Dweller in his Disk (Aten), the Great Dwarf, the Mighty Ram, the Great Hawk, the Holy Beetle, the Hidden Body, the Divine Bennu, etc., and proceeded
to utter the great spell which restored Horus to life. By his words of power Thoth transferred the "fluid of life" of Ra, and as soon as this came upon the child's body the poison of the scorpion flowed out of him, and he once more breathed and lived. When this was done Thoth returned to the Boat of Ra, the gods who formed its crew resumed their rowing, and the Disk passed on its way to make its daily journey across the sky. The gods in heaven, who were amazed and uttered cries of terror when they heard of the death of Horus, were made happy once more, and sang songs of joy over his recovery. The happiness of Isis in her child's restoration to life was very great, for she could again hope that he would avenge his father's murder, and occupy his throne. The final words of Thoth comforted her greatly, for he told her that he would take charge of the case of Horus in the Judgment Hall of Anu, wherein Osiris had been judged, and that as his advocate he would make any accusations which might be brought against Horus to recoil on him that brought them. Furthermore, he would give Horus power to repulse any attacks which might be made upon him by beings in the heights above, or fiends in the depths below, and would ensure his succession to the Throne of the Two Lands, i.e., Egypt. Thoth also promised Isis that Ra himself should act as the advocate of Horus, even as he had done for his father Osiris. He was also careful to allude to the share which Isis had taken in the restoration of Horus to life, saying, "It is the words
of power of his mother which have lifted up his face, and they shall enable him to journey wheresoever he pleaseth, and to put fear into the powers above. I myself hasten [to obey them]." Thus everything turned on the power of the spells of Isis, who made the sun to stand still, and caused the dead to be raised.
Such are the contents of the texts on the famous Metternich Stele. There appears to be some confusion in their arrangement, and some of them clearly are misplaced, and, in places, the text is manifestly corrupt. It is impossible to explain several passages, for we do not understand all the details of the system of magic which they represent. Still, the general meaning of the texts on the Stele is quite clear, and they record a legend of Isis and Horus which is not found so fully described on any other monument.
lxxi:1 See Metternichstele, Leipzig, 1877. The Stele was made for Ankh-Psemthek, son of the lady Tent-Het-nub, prophet of Nebun, overseer of Temt and scribe of Het (see line 87).