The Third Intermediate Period of Egyptian history (ca. 1070 – 720 BC) was characterized by a breakdown of central authority and resulting multiple kings – and these dislocations were accompanied by changes in religious and magical practices, as well as changes in architecture and tomb construction.
During the Libyan Dynasties of this period (dynasties. 21 – 24) as part of transformations in religion and magic, a new type of magical protection appeared. Called Oracular Amuletic Decrees (OAD), these amulets were primarily worn as a charm by the young of the non-royal / religious strata. This is no surprise. Given uncertainties associated with changes and dislocations of the time, it makes sense that protection against various misfortunes should be sought – especially for children and the young – who might not have been able to protect themselves.
The charms, written in hieratic on papyrus strips, are approximately 5 to 6cm wide and 65cm long (picture below) and were tightly rolled up and placed in a case – such as the following:
Here is a description of the production of the amulets by Dr. Lucarelli, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn:The demons of the [oracular amuletic decrees] were considered a cause of evil in daily life, which needed to be repulsed by divine intercession. The priests and the temple authorities, by producing and distributing the amuletic papyri, were the intermediaries with the gods who pronounced the oracular decrees… …The attempt of the Theban priests of the Libyan period to link the popular beliefs in demons to the local temples did not cease with the [amuletic decrees] but continued in the Ptolemaic period with the increasing use of protective amulets, which spread through the whole late antique Mediterranean world. Source: Lucarelli-“Popular Beliefs in Demons in the Libyan Period: the Evidence of the Oracular Amuletic Decrees“ Dr. Ritner of the Oriental Institute (University of Chicago) has produced a lovely translation of an oracle manuscript in the Oriental Institute, as follows:
For Lady Taibakhori, spoken by the Goddess Nekhbet:
…I shall keep her healthy in her flesh and her bones.Source: A “Lost” Oracular Amuletic Papyrus (OIM 25622) for Lady Taibakhori, spoken by the Goddess Nekhbet: Practical Egyptian Magical Spells – Presented at the 1998 Oriental Institute Annual Dinner, by Robert K. Ritner
I shall protect her and I shall look after her.
I shall be between her and any sickness.
I shall grant her life, health, and a great and goodly old age.
I shall cause her eyes to see;
I shall cause her ears to hear;
I shall cause her strength to flourish.I shall open her mouth to eat and I shall open her mouth to drink. I shall cause her to eat in order to live and I shall cause her to drink in order to be healthy. I shall cause her to be completely satisfied with a happy life on earth.
Retranslated from: I. E. S. Edwards, Oracular Amuletic Decrees of the Late New Kingdom, Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, vol. IV, London: 1960.
Oracular decrees were long, and generally written to encompass everything that could go wrong – or befall – the addressee. Dr Ritner’s translation (above) selects just a few of the lines of the original text, which in its length and totality of protections is indeed rather amazing.
Here is the full text from which the above was extracted :P. OI 25622, recto: [papyrus Oriental Institute, front]
(1) … Taybekhori, the daughter of Tetisheri, who is (also) called Sherenihi, my servant and my offspring (?).
(5) I shall keep her healthy [in] her flesh and her bone(s). I shall protect (her) and I shall look after her. I shall be between her and any sickness. I shall grant her life, health, and a great and good old age. I shall cause her eye(s) to see; (10) I shall cause her ears to hear; [I shall cause] her vigor to flourish. I shall open her [mouth] to eat and I shall open [her] mouth to drink; I shall cause her to eat [in order to] live and I shall cause [her] to drink [in order to be healthy]. I shall (15) cause her to be completely satisfied with a happy life on earth. I shall keep healthy her whole body, every limb [of hers] and her entire frame from her head to the soles of her feet.
I shall keep [her] safe from every evil design of every god and every goddess (20) residing in heaven, earth, and the underworld; I shall keep her safe from [their] manifestations; I shall propitiate [them] for her in all their names. I shall keep her safe from every action of a khawt-demon, from every action of a shemawt-demon and from every action of every god who does wrong. I shall keep her safe (25) from every action of every god and every goddess and from every evil thing. I shall keep her safe from the gods of (the book) “That-which-is-in-the-Year;” I shall cause [it] to be nullified for her at all times.
I shall keep her safe from every action of a demon and every interference of a demon; (30) I shall keep her safe [from] every demon of every kind that is in (?) heaven, earth, and the underworld; I shall not let them come anywhere near her. I shall keep her safe from every evil eye. I shall keep her safe from every Syrian magic; I shall keep her safe (35) from every magic of every foreign land of every kind in the entire earth; I shall never let them prevail over her.
I shall keep her safe from all the wrath (?) of all (male) spirits and all (female) spirits; I shall not let them come anywhere near her. (40) I shall keep her safe [from] every cry of every fear.
I shall keep her safe from every dread, every sickness, every disorder, every fever, every inflammation, [every] malady … every … and every mishap (45) which makes every … in the land; I shall never let them happen to her throughout her whole lifetime. I shall keep her safe [from] the bite of a serpent; I shall keep her safe [from] the bite of scorpions, from every bite of (50) every snake, all reptiles, and every mouth which bites; I shall not let them come anywhere near her.
I shall keep her safe from any harmful action (?) of a horse; I shall keep her safe from any harmful action (?) of a chariot and any harmful action of a ship. I shall keep her safe (55) from anything unpleasant (?) and any abomination on every kind of journey which she will make (by) ship, chariot, or (on) foot, while her breath is alive and well with her. I shall keep her from harm at midday, I shall watch (60) [over her].
… I shall provide for her safe-conduct (?), protection, life, and health in every place in which she may be and [every] sanctuary [which] she may enter. (65) I shall cause my great, mighty … oracle to take possession of her for life, health, and … I shall give her everything (?) which … (?) I shall cause to be good every vision (70) which [she] has seen; I shall cause to be good [every] vision which I shall cause another (male) or another (female) to see for her; I shall cause to be good every vision which every man and (75) every woman and all people of every kind in the whole land have seen for her. I shall do for her every good …
I shall keep her safe from Syrian lentigo; I shall keep her safe from Ethiopian lentigo. I shall keep (80) her safe from Sekhmet and her son. I shall keep her safe from the ape of the place of the mound (?) and the baboon of the place of the Wadjet. I shall keep healthy [her] head; I shall cause her ears to hear; I shall cause (85) her eye(s) to see; [I shall] keep healthy her mouth; I shall keep healthy … I shall keep healthy her hands; [I shall keep healthy] the ten fingers of her hands; [I shall keep healthy] her intestines; I shall keep healthy her feet; (90) I shall keep healthy her ten toes; I shall keep healthy her entire frame from her head to the soles of her feet.
Nekhbet, the [great] goddess, the eldest who was the first to come-into-existence, [said]: As regards everything (95) which has been included in this oracle and those (things) the inclusion of which has been forgotten in it, I shall make them beneficial to Taybekhori, the daughter of Tetisheri, who is (also) called Sherenihi, whose mother is (100) … every single day.
Bits and pieces of oracular amuletic decrees, as well as other other papyri i fragments, are housed in many museums. Here is an example for the University of Pennsylvania Museum and related description, following, which details issues of looting, sales, and ongoing separation of papyrus scrolls such that fragments could be sold to different museum agents –
49-011-0001 papyrus, HIERATIC [on display] Thebes, c 1100 bce; 0.61 m wide … see black and white picture on p.55 of The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science, by MASCA and the Egyptian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum (1980). “This fragment is probably part of the British Museum papyrus 10383” [published by T.Eric Peet in The Great Tomb-Robberies of the Tewentieth Egyptian Dynasty (Oxford: Clarendon (date?)) 122-127]. Deals with recovered contents of looted temple. Archive two partial prints of larger image, box 242 (neg 46673)
Other bits and pieces of the decrees and their cases continue to be identified in various museums, as noted in the following snippet. An identical case described below is that pictured after the text, which is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Both were owned ba a certain ‘Sh3k:Here is the case of Sh3k, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, mentioned in the above quote: Hieroglyphic Inscription: Dd mdw in xnsw m wAst nft-Htp ir.n.f sA nfr [n] SAq, mAa-xrw Translation: ‘Words recited by Khonsu in Thebes Neferhotep; he made a goodly protection [for] Shak, the justified’ The amuletic decrees of the Libyan Period and later are the product of priestly intermediaries (between god or goddess and the person receiving the amulet); those found in recent times in the Middle East, the Sahel and North Africa are composed generally by Imams (Islamic clerics) or, minimally, by Arabic scribes., to be discussed in an upcoming blog
The great Egyptologist I.E.S. Edwards, formerly of the British Museum, produced a classic work that included oracular amuletic decrees contained in the British Museum. In the study he included photos of the original, hieroglyphic texts, translations, and analyses – a study that is still of great value –
Articles of possible interest:
- Opening up an ancient Egyptian library (britishmuseum.org)
- Fragments of Book of the Dead found in Brisbane (abc.net.au)
- The Ancient Egyptian Negative Confessions and Cuisine (dianabuja.wordpress.com)