To people throughout history, Egypt has seemed the very
birthplace of magic. In Egypt the peoples of the ancient world
Egregore Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
found a magical system more sophisticated than any other that
was known. The emphasis on death and the care of the human
corpse, central to Egyptian religion, seemed to other cultures
to be suggestive of magic practice. As with all other systems, the
Egyptians’ magic consisted of two different kinds that which
was supposed to benefit either the living or the dead; and, that
which has been known throughout the ages as black magic or
The contents of the Westcar Papyrus show that as early as
the fourth dynasty the working of magic was a recognized art
in Egypt, while evidence suggests Egyptian magic practice
began in neolithic times. Egyptians used magic for numerous
purposes, including exorcizing storms and protecting themselves
and their loved ones against wild beasts, poison, disease,
wounds, and the ghosts of the dead. Throughout the centuries,
the practice varied considerably evan as the principal means of
operation remained the same amulets; spells; magic books,
pictures, and formulas; magical names and ceremonies; and
the general apparatus of the occult sciences. The use of amulets
was one of the most potent methods of guarding against any
Not all ornaments or objects discovered on the mummy related
to magical potency. These were frequently the possession
of the ka or double, necessary to its comfort in a future existence.
The small crowns, scepters, and emblems of Osiris, usually
done in glazed earthenware or pottery, were placed beside
the dead person. This ensured that he could wear them when
he became one with the god Osiris, and consequently a king.
The scarab, made in the likeness of a scarabaeus beetle, symbolized
resurrection. The dad symbolized the human skeleton,
and, possibly, the dead and dismembered Osiris. This was
thought to have an influence on the restoration of the deceased.
The uza, or eye, signified the health necessary to the
dead person’s soul.
The so-called palettes, originally thought to be used for the
mixing of paint, are now known to have been amulets inscribed
with words of power and placed on the breasts of the dead in
neolithic times. The menat was worn, or held, with the sistrum
(a musical instrument) by gods, kings, and priests and was supposed
to bring joy and health to the wearer. It represented the
vigor of the two sexes.
The simplest type of magic spell used in Egypt was that in
which the exorcist threatened the evil principle, or assured it
that he could injure it. In general, the magician requested the
assistance of the gods, or pretended that he was a god. Invocations,
when written, were usually accompanied by a note to the
effect that the formula had once been employed successfully by
a god—perhaps by a deified priest.
An incomprehensible and mysterious jargon was employed
that was supposed to conceal the name of a certain deity. This
deity was thus compelled to do the will of the sorcerer. These
gods were usually the gods of foreign nations. The invocations
themselves appear to be attempts at various foreign idioms,
likely employed because they sounded more mysterious than
the native speech. Great stress was laid upon the proper pronunciation
of these names. Misprounciation was accountable
for failure in all cases. The Book of the Dead contains many such
‘‘words of power.’’ These were intended to assist the dead in
their journey in the underworld of Amenti.
People believed that all supernatural beings, good and evil,
possessed a hidden name. If a person knew the name he could
compel that being to do his will. The name was as much a part
of the man as his body or soul. The traveler through Amenti
not only had to tell the divine gods their names. They also had
to prove that he knew the names of a number of the supposedly
inanimate objects in the dreary underworld.
Many books of magic in Egypt contained spells and other
formulas for exorcism and necromantic practice. The priestly
caste who compiled those necromantic works was known as
Kerheb, or ‘‘scribes of the divine writings’’ Even the sons of
pharaohs did not disdain to enter their ranks.
The Ritual of Egyptian Magic
The ritual of Egyptian magic possessed many strong similarities
to the ceremonial practices of other systems and countries.
Wax figures were used to represent the bodies of persons to be
bewitched or harmed. Models of all kinds indicated the belief
that the physical force directed against them might injure the
person or animal they represented.
But the principal rite in which ceremonial magic was employed
was the very elaborate one of mummification. As each
bandage was laid in its exact position, certain words of power
were uttered that were supposed to help preserve the part
swathed. After evisceration, the priest uttered an invocation to
the deceased and then took a vase of liquid containing ten perfumes.
He smeared the perfumed liquid twice over the body,
head to foot, taking special care to anoint the head thoroughly.
The internal organs were then placed on the body, and the
backbone immersed in holy oil, supposed to be an emanation
from the gods Shu and Seb. Certain precious stones were then
laid on the mummy, each of which with magical significance.
Crystal, for instance, lightened his face; and cornelian
strengthened his steps.
A priest who personified the jackal-headed god Anubis then
advanced, performed certain symbolic ceremonies on the head
of the mummy, and laid certain bandages upon it. After a further
anointing with oil the deceased was declared to have ‘‘received
his head.’’ The mummy’s left hand was filled with 36
substances used in embalming, symbolic of the 36 forms of the
god Osiris. The body was then rubbed with holy oil, the toes
wrapped in linen, and after an appropriate address the ceremony
was completed.
The art of procuring dreams and their interpretation was
widely practiced in Egypt. The Egyptian magician procured
dreams for his clients by drawing magic pictures and reciting
magic words. The following formulas for producing a dream
are taken from British Museum Papyrus, no. 122, lines 64ff and
‘‘To obtain a vision from the god Bes Make a drawing of
Bes, as shewn below, on your left hand, and envelope your
hand in a strip of black cloth that has been consecrated to Isis
and lie down to sleep without speaking a word, even in answer
to a question. Wind the remainder of the cloth round your
neck. The ink with which you write must be composed of the
blood of a cow, the blood of a white dove, fresh frankincense,
myrrh, black writing ink, cinnabar, mulberry juice, rain-water,
and the juice of wormwood and vetch. With this write your petition
before the setting sun, saying, ‘Send the truthful seer out
of the holy shrine, I beseech thee Lampsuer, Sumarta, Baribas,
Dardalam, Iorlex O Lord send the sacred deity Anuth, Anuth,
Salbana, Chambré, Breith, now, now, quickly, quickly. Come in
this very night.’
‘‘To procure dreams Take a clean linen bag and write upon
it the names given below. Fold it up and make it into a lampwick,
and set it alight, pouring pure oil over it. The word to be
written is this ‘‘Armiuth, Lailamchouch, Arsenophrephren,
Phtha, Archentechtha.’’ Then in the evening, when you are
going to bed, which you must do without touching food (or,
pure from all defilement), do thus Approach the lamp and repeat
seven times the formula given below then extinguish it
and lie down to sleep. The formula is this
‘‘Sachmu. . .epaema Ligotereench the Aeon, the Thunderer,
Thou that hast swallowed the snake and dost exhaust the moon,
and dost raise up the orb of the sun in his season, Chthetho is
the name; I require, O lords of the gods, Seth, Chreps, give me
the information that I desire.’’
Medical Magic
Magic played a big part in Egyptian medicine. On this
point, A. Wiedemann stated
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. EGYPT
‘‘The Egyptians were not great physicians their methods
were purely empirical and their remedies of very doubtful
value, but the riskiness of their practice arose chiefly from their
utter inability to diagnose because of their ignorance of anatomy.
That the popular respect for the human body was great we
may gather from the fact that the Paraskhistai who opened the
body for embalmment were persecuted and stoned as having
committed a sinful although necessary deed. The prescribed
operations in preparing a body for embalmment were never
departed from, and taught but little anatomy, so that until
Greek times the Egyptians had only the most imperfect and inaccurate
ideas of the human organism. They understood nothing
about most internal diseases, and especially nothing about
diseases of the brain, never suspecting them to be the result of
organic changes, but assuming them to be caused by demons
who had entered into the sick. Under these circumstances medicines
might be used to cause the disappearance of the symptoms,
but the cure was the expulsion of the demon. Hence the
Egyptian physician must also practise magic.
‘‘According to late accounts, his functions were comparatively
simple, for the human body had been divided into thirty-six
parts, each presided over by a certain demon, and it sufficed
to invoke the demon of the part affected in order to bring
about its cure—a view of matters fundamentally Egyptian. In
the Book of the Dead we find that different divinities were responsible
for the well-being of the bodies of the blessed; thus
Nu had charge of the hair, Râ of the face, Hathor of the eyes,
Apuat of the ears, Anubis of the lips, while Thoth was guardian
of all parts of the body together. This doctrine was subsequently
applied to the living body, with the difference that for the
great gods named in the Book of the Dead there were substituted
as gods of healing the presiding deities of the thirty-six decani,
the thirty-six divisions of the Egyptian zodiac, as we learn from
the names given to them by Celsus and preserved by Origen.
In earlier times it was not so easy to be determined which god
was to be invoked, for the selection depended not only on the
part affected but also on the illness and symptoms and remedies
to be used, etc.
‘‘Several Egyptian medical papyri which have come down to
us contain formulas to be spoken against the demons of disease
as well as prescriptions for the remedies to be used in specified
cases of illness. In papyri of older date these conjurations are
comparatively rare, but the further the art of medicine advanced,
or rather, receded, the more numerous they became.
‘‘It was not always enough to speak the formulas once; even
their repeated recitation might not be successful, and in that
case recourse must be had to other expedients secret passes
were made, various rites were performed, the formulas were
written upon papyrus, which the sick person had to swallow,
etc. . . . But amulets were in general found to be most efficacious,
and the personal intervention of a god called up, if necessary,
by prayers or sorcery.’’
Magic Figures
As already confirmed, the Egyptians believed that it was possible
to transmit to the image of any person or animal the soul
of the being that it represented. The Westcar Papyrus related
how a soldier who had fallen in love with a governor’s wife was
swallowed by a crocodile when bathing, the saurian being a
magical replica of a waxen one made by the lady’s husband. In
the official account of a conspiracy against Rameses III (1200
B.C.E.) the conspirators obtained access to a magical papyrus in
the royal library and employed its instructions against the king
with disastrous effects to themselves. Others made waxen figures
of gods and of the king for the purpose of slaying the latter.
The Egyptians were fatalists and believed that a man’s destiny
was decided before birth. The people therefore had recourse
to astrologers. The well-known Egyptologist Sir E. A.
Wallis Budge stated
‘‘In magical papyri we are often told not to perform certain
magical ceremonies on such and such days, the idea being that
on these days hostile powers will make them to be powerless,
and that gods mightier than those to which the petitioner
would appeal will be in the ascendant. There have come down
to us fortunately, papyri containing copies of the Egyptian calendar,
in which each third of every day for three hundred and
sixty days of the year is marked lucky or unlucky, and we know
from other papyri why certain days were lucky or unlucky, and
why others were only partly so.’’
In the life of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes it
is noted that the Egyptians were skilled in the art of casting
horoscopes. Nectanebus had a tablet made of gold and silver
and acacia wood, with three belts attached to it, just for that.
Zeus was on the outer belt with the 36 decani surrounding him;
representations of the 12 signs of the zodiac were on the second;
and the third the sun and moon were on the third. He set
the tablet on a tripod, and emptied out of a small box with
models of the seven stars that were in the belts, and put eight
precious stones into the middle belt. He arranged these in the
places where he figured the depicted planets would be at the
time of the birth of Olympias. He then told her fortune from
It should be noted that the use of the horoscope is much
older than the time of Alexander the Great. A Greek horoscope
in the British Museum is attached to ‘‘an introductory letter
from some master of the art of astrology to his pupil, named
Hermon, urging him to be very exact and careful in his application
of the laws which the ancient Egyptians, with their laborious
devotion to the art, had discovered and handed down to
The notion that the ka or double of man wandered about
after death added to the Egyptian belief in ghosts. E. A. Wallis
Budge observed as follows
‘‘According to them a man consisted of a physical body, a
shadow, a double, a soul, a heart, a spirit called the khu, a
power, a name, and a spiritual body. When the body died the
shadow departed from it, and could only be brought back to it
by the performance of a mystical ceremony; the double lived
in the tomb with the body, and was there visited by the soul
whose habitation was in heaven. The soul was, from one aspect,
a material thing, and like the ka, or double, was believed to partake
of the funeral offerings which were brought to the tomb;
one of the chief objects of sepulchral offerings of meat and
drink was to keep the double in the tomb and to do away with
the necessity of its wandering about outside the tomb in search
of food. It is clear from many texts that, unless the double was
supplied with sufficient food, it would wander from the tomb
and eat any kind of offal and drink any kind of dirty water
which it might find in its path. But besides the shadow, and the
double, and the soul, the spirit of the deceased, which usually
had its abode in heaven, was sometimes to be found in the
tomb. There is, however, good reason for stating that the immortal
part of man which lived in the tomb and had its special
abode in the statue of the deceased was the ‘double.’ This is
proved by the fact that a special part of the tomb was reserved
for the ka, or double, which was called the ‘house of the ka,’ and
that a priest, called the ‘priest of the ka,’ was specially appointed
to minister the therein.’’
Esoteric Knowledge of the Priesthood
The esoteric knowledge of the Egyptian priesthood is believed
to have been similar to the one for which the Indian
medicine man is credited, with the addition of a philosophy
close to that of ancient India. W. H. Davenport Adams observed
as follows
EGYPT Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
‘‘To impose upon the common people, the priesthood professed
to lead lives of peculiar sanctity. They despised the outer
senses, as sources of evil and temptation. They kept themselves
apart from the profanium vulgus, and, says Iamblicus, ‘occupied
themselves only with the knowledge of God, of themselves, and
of wisdom; they desired no vain honours in their sacred practice,
and never yielded to the influence of the imagination.’
Therefore they formed a world within a world, fenced round
by a singular awe and wonder, apparently abstracted from the
things of earth, and devoted to the constant contemplation of
divine mysteries. They admitted few strangers into their order,
and wrapt up their doctrines in a hieroglyphical language,
which was only intelligible to the initiated. To these various
precautions was added the solemnity of a terrible oath, whose
breach was invariably punished with death.
‘‘The Egyptian priests preserved the remaining relics of the
former wisdom of nature. These were not imparted as the sciences
are, in our age, but to all appearances they were neither
learned nor taught; but as a reflection of the old revelations of
nature, the perception must arise like an inspiration in the
scholar’s mind. From this cause appear to have arisen those numerous
preparations and purifications the severity of which deterred
many from initiation into the Egyptian priesthood; in
fact, not infrequently resulted in the scholar’s death. Long fasting,
and the greatest abstinence, appear to have been particularly
necessary besides this, the body was rendered insensible
through great exertions, and even through voluntary inflicted
pain, and therefore open to the influence of the mind. The
imagination was excited by representations of the mysteries;
and the inner sense was more impressed by the whole than—as
is the case with us—instructed by an explanation of simple
facts. In this manner the dead body of science was not given
over to the initiated, and left to chance whether it would become
animated or not, but the living soul of wisdom was
breathed into them.
‘‘From this fact, that the contents of the mysteries were rather
revealed than taught—were received more from inward inspiration
and mental intoxication, than outwardly through
endless teaching, it was necessary to conceal them from the
mass of the people.’’
Commenting on the same subject the egyptologist W. Schubart
‘‘The way to every innovation was closed, and outward
knowledge and science could certainly not rise to a high degree
of external perfection. . .They imparted their secret and divine
sciences to no one who did not belong to their caste, and it was
long impossible for foreigners to learn anything; it was only in
later times that a few strangers were permitted to enter the initiation
after many severe preparations and trials. Besides this,
their functions were hereditary, and the son followed the footsteps
of his father. . .for to the uninitiated the entrance was forbidden,
and the initiated kept their vows.’’
Modern Views of Egyptian Magic
Beginning in the nineteenth century, scholarship removed
much of the mystery surrounding ancient Egyptian magic. It
also made magic an object of increasing occult and magic exploration.
Modern work on Egypt really began in 1822, after
J. F. Champollion (1790–1832) successfully deciphered the hieroglyphics
through his work on the Rosetta Stone, opening
the way to understanding ancient Egyptian inscriptions on
monuments and papyrus. Champollion’s basic work was supplemented
by other philologists including, Richard Lepsius
(1810–1884), Heinrich Brugsch (1827–1894), and Adolf
Erman (1854–1916). Other renowned egyptologists included
Sir Gaston Maspero (1846–1916), Sir E. A. Wallis Budge
(1857–1934), J. H. Breasted (1865–1935), and Sir William
Flinder Petrie (1853–1942). Popular interest in ancient Egypt
rose with the discovery and excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun
(d. ca. 1352 B.C.E.) by Lord Carnarvon and Howard
Carter. (See also Tutankhamun Curse)
Modern Egyptian magical practice was largely initiated by
Aleister Crowley who in 1904 in Cairo received a supposedly
channeled book, The Book of the Law. He later proclaimed its reception
as the beginning of a new era, the Aeon of Horus, the
Crowned and Conquering Child. Since that time, ritual magicians
have been poring over the Western translations of Egyptian
texts to ferret out their modern implications. The Church
of Eternal Source, headquartered in Burbank, California, is
one prominent revivalist Egyptian magic religion, founded in
the 1960s. The Rosicrucian Society has constructed an elaborate
museum, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, in San Jose,
California, also building on the ongiong fascination with the
aura and magic of ancient Egypt. The elaborate museum and
gardens also embodies sections that display ancient writing tablets
from Babylonia and Assyria.
Much speculation has also revolved around the Great Pyramid
of Giza (built in the reign of Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty).
Ever since Col. Howard Vyse forced an entry into the pyramid
and took measurements, an eccentric school of
pyramidology focused upon speculation concerning pyramids
in general, and Egyptian pyramids in particular has grown up.
It drew the most interest in its association of various pyramid
measurements with biblical prophecies (see pyramids and
pyramidology). Other writers, most recently the devotees of
the ancient astronauts hypothesis, have attempted to perpetuate
the myth that the remarkable engineering achievements of
pyramid building were the product of a long-lost occult secret
(or ancient science) by which great blocks of stone could be levitated
into position by the magical power of sound vibration.
Such romantic speculations can be made only by ignoring archaeological
and hieroglyphical evidence. The restoration
work being completed on the Great Pyramids at the end of the
1990s continued to spark the interest of people all over the
world. Tourism was hampered somewhat with threats of terrorism
on foreign, particularly American, visitors.
Modern day Egypt continues to reveal an interest in the
mystical. On April 2, 1968, two Moslem workers thought they
saw a nun in white standing near the dome of St. Mary’s Church
of Zeitoun, one of Cairo’s poorer districts. The church was a
Coptic rite (a Middle Eastern rite of Roman Catholicism) testimony
to the Christian converts in the midst of the Moslem
country. The apparitions continued throughout April and May
of that year, the brilliant figure radiating out of light over the
dome of the church, as well as being visible in front of the
church, walking on the roof and saluting the workers—often offering
the sign of blessings on them. The apparitions declined
to only a dozen in 1969, a few less in 1970, and disappearing
altogether by 1971. These appearances were witnessed by thousands
of people, both Christian and Moslem. The phenomenon
was even photographed. According to Arthur and Joyce
Berger in their 1991 Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical
Research, ‘‘The spectacular event is of enormous interest to
parapsychology as an evidential case. There is ample reason to
think that the apparition was seen by people numbering in the
hundreds of thousands. The impressive photographs taken of
the figure suggest an authentic phenomenon.’’ The story of St.
Mary’s Church indicated that was built in 1925 due to a dream
in which Mary appeared and requested it. In another dream
she reportedly had promised to return to the church. While
Catholics believe it to be ‘‘simply’’ a miracle, some noted parapsychologists
offered another explanation. They thought that
perhaps the appearances were thought-forms physically objectified
by crowds who knew her promise. That it happened, too,
in light of Joseph and Mary fleeing with the infant Jesus away
from the slaughter ordered by King Herod, right to the same
place, adds further to the idea that the energy of the people actually
created the phenomenon. The theory continues to be investigated.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. EGYPT
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Breasted, James. A History of Egypt From the Earliest Times to
the Persian Conquest. New York Charles S. Scribner’s Sons,
Brunton, Paul. A Search in Secret Egypt. London, 1935. Reprint,
New York Samuel Weiser, 1970.
Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Book of the Dead. London, 1898. Reprint,
New York Dover, 1967. Reprint, New York Causeway,
———. Egyptian Magic. London, 1899.
———. The Gods of the Egyptians. 2 vols. London, 1898.
———. A History of Egypt. 8 vols. London, 1902. 4 vols. Reprint,
The Netherlands Anthropological Publications.
———. The Mummy. London, 1925.
de Camp, Sprague. The Ancient Engineers. Garden City, N.Y.
Doubleday, 1960. Reprint, New York Ballantine, 1974.
Erman, Adolf. Life in Ancient Egypt. London, 1894. Reprint,
New York Dover, 1971.
Ghalioungui, Paul. The House of Life Magic and Medical Sciences
in Ancient Egypt. Rev. ed., New York Wittenborn, 1975.
Hornung, Erik. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt The One
and the Many. Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1982.
Knight, Alfred E. Amentet An Account of the Gods, Amulets and
Scarabs of the Ancient Egyptians. London Longmans, Green,
Massey, Gerald. Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World. 2 vols.
London, 1907. Reprint, New York Samuel Weiser, 1974.
Rosicrucian Society. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, 2000. June 26, 2000.
Seiss, Joseph. The Great Pyramid A Miracle in Stone. Blauvelt,
N.Y. Multimedia (Steiner Books), 1972.
Spence, Lewis. Mysteries of Egypt. London, 1929. Reprint,
Baluvelt, N.Y. Multimedia (Steiner Books), 1972.
Tompkins, Peter. Secrets of the Great Pyramid. New York Harper
& Row, 1971.

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