The Book of Talismans Amulets and Zodiacal Gems
Egyptian Beliefs - Crux Ansata - The Menat - The Two Plumes - The Single Plume - The Nefer - The Cartouche - The Angles and Plummet - The God Bes - Aper - The Tat - The Heart.
Of all civilisations known to us through history, that of ancient Egypt is the most marvellous, most fascinating, and most rich in occult significance; yet we have still much to discover, and although we have the assurance of Herodotus that the Egyptians were “beyond measure scrupulous in all matters appertaining to religion,” the ancient religions - or such fragments as survive - appear at first glance confusing and even grotesque. It is necessary to remember that there was an inner as well as an outer theology, and that the occult mysteries were accessible only to those valiant and strenuous initiates who had successfully passed through a prolonged purification and course of preparation austere and difficult enough to discourage all save the most persistent and exalted spirits.
It is only available to us to wander on the outskirts of Egyptian mythology. The most familiar symbolic figures are those of Isis the Moon goddess, traditional Queen of Egypt, and Osiris her
husband; and when we read that Isis was the sister, wife, and mother of Osiris we must seek the inner meaning of the strange and impossible relationship. It has been lucidly explained by Princess Karadja (in her King Solomon: a Mystic Drama, 1912, pp. 130-131): “Originally the dual souls are part of the same Divine Ego. They are golden fruits upon the great Tree of Life: ‘male and female He created them.’ Isis is the Sister of Osiris because she is of Divine origin like
himself, and is a spirit of equal rank. She is his Wife, because she alone can fill his highest cravings. She is his Mother because it is the mission of Woman to restore Man unto spiritual life.” How Osiris was slain by his brother Typhon (or Set), the Spirit of Evil, and dismembered into fourteen fragments which were scattered and hidden by the destroyer; how Isis, widowed and broken-hearted, sought patiently until she found each fragment, and how Horus her son when he grew to manhood challenged and conquered Typhon, all this is the figurative rendering of the eternal battle between light and darkness.
Typhon or Set symbolises autumn, decay, and destruction; Osiris springtime, light, and the fertilising and growing powers of nature. Isis is typified in many forms, but was especially revered as the goddess of procreation, Universal Mother of the living, and protectress of the spirits of the dead. Her symbol was the cow, and she is usually depicted wearing cow’s horns, and between them the orb of the moon.
But more ancient and more exalted than Osiris was Ra, the Sun god, whose worship was blended with that of Isis and her husband and son. The priests of Ra established a famous temple at Heliopolis, and founded a special system of solar worship. Just as the Emperor Constantine subsequently fixed as saints’ days in the Christian Church the days which had been dedicated to the ancient pagan gods, so the priests of Ra adapted their cult to the tastes and notions of the people, and a whole company of subordinate gods figured in the religions of Lower Egypt for many centuries. Sometimes divine virtues were portrayed in very material forms.
Between 4000 and 2000 B.C. the worship of Amen, or Amen Ra, as the greatest god of the Egyptians, was established at Thebes, which became the centre of religious teaching. The priests grew more and more powerful until finally the High Priest of Amen - whose name means the “hidden one” - became the King of Upper Egypt. Amen was regarded as the Creator, with all the power and attributes of Ra the Sun god, and as ruler of the lesser gods.
It has been asked why the Egyptians, who had no belief in a material resurrection, took such infinite trouble to preserve the bodies of their dead. They looked forward to a paradise in which eternal life would be the reward of the righteous, and their creed inculcated faith in the existence of a spiritual body to be inhabited by the soul which had ended its earthly pilgrimage; but such beliefs do not explain the care and attention bestowed upon the lifeless corpse. The explanation must be sought in the famous Book of the Dead, representing the convictions which prevailed throughout the whole of the Egyptian civilisation from pre-dynastic times. Briefly, the answer to our question is this: there was a Ka or double, in which the Heart-Soul was located; this Ka, equivalent to the astral body of modern occultists, was believed to be able to come into touch with material things through the preserved or mummified body. This theory accords with the axiom that each atom of physical substance has its relative equivalent on the astral plane. It will therefore be understood how, in the ancient religions, the image of a god was regarded as a medium through which his powers could be manifested. “As above, so below”; every living thing possessed some divine attribute.
Faith in prayer was an essential article of the Egyptian religion, and the spoken word of a priest was believed to have strong potency, because it had been the words of Ra uttered by Thoth which brought the universe into being. Amulets inscribed with words were consequently thought to ensure the fulfilment of the blessing expressed, or the granting of the bliss desired.
The Book of the Dead was not only a guide to the life hereafter, wherein they would join their friends in the realms of eternal bliss, but gave detailed particulars of the necessary knowledge,
actions, and conduct during the earthly life to ensure a future existence in the spirit world, where everlasting life was the reward of the good and annihilation the fate of the wicked, thus showing that the belief in the existence of a future life was ever before them. Various qualities, though primarily considered a manifestation of the Almighty, were attributed each to a special god who controlled and typified one particular virtue. This partly accounts for the multiplied numbers of the Egyptian gods, and with the further complications that resulted from invasions and the adoption of alien beliefs, the religious philosophy of Egypt is not easy to follow, and is often seemingly contradictory; but when we take into consideration the vast period during which this Empire flourished it is natural that the external manifestations of faith should have varied as time went on. A knowledge of the life, death, and resurrection of Osiris is assumed, and his worship in association with Isis and Horus, although not necessarily under these names, is continuous. Horus is frequently alluded to as the god of the ladder, and the mystic ladder seen by Jacob in his vision, and the ladder of seven steps known to the initiates of Egypt, Greece, Mexico, India, and Persia will be familiar to all students of occultism.
Throughout the whole of the Egyptian civilisation, which lasted for at least 6000 years, the influence and potency of Amulets, and Talismans, was recognised in the religious services, each Talisman and Amulet having a specified virtue.
Certain Amulets not only were worn during life, but were even attached to the dead body. They are described in the following notes: The Crux Ansata, or Ankh (see Illustrations Nos. 47, 48, 49, Plate IV), was known as the symbol of life, the loop at the top of the Cross consisting of the hieroglyphic Ru (O) set in an so upright form, meaning the gateway, or mouth, the creative power being signified by the loop which represents a fish’s mouth giving birth to water as the life of the country, bringing the inundations and renewal of the fruitfulness of the earth to those who depended upon its increase to maintain life. It was regarded as the key of the Nile which overflowed periodically and so fertilized the land.
It was also shown in the hands of the Egyptian kings, at whose coronations it played an important part, and the gods are invariably depicted holding this symbol of creative power; it was also worn to bring knowledge, power, and abundance. Again, it had reference to the spiritual life, for it was from the Crux Ansata, or Ankh, that the symbol of Venus originated, the Circle over the Cross being the triumph of Spirit, represented by the Circle, over matter, shown by the Cross.
The Menat (Illustrations Nos. 50, 53, Plate IV) were specially dedicated to Hathor, who was a type of Isis, and was worn for conjugal happiness, as it gave power and strength to the organs of reproduction, promoting health and fruitfulness. It frequently formed a part of a necklace, and was elaborately ornamented; No. 50, from the British Museum, is a good specimen, the Cow being an emblem of the maternal qualities which were the attributes of the goddess, who stood for all that is good and true in Wife, Mother, and Daughter.
The two Plumes (Illustration No. 51, Plate IV) are Sun Amulets and the symbols of Ra and Thoth, the two feathers being typical of the two lives, spiritual and material. This was worn to promote Uprightness in dealing, Enlightenment, and Morality, being symbolical of the great gods of Light and Air.
The single Plume (Illustration No. 52, Plate IV) was an emblem of Maat, the female counterpart of Thoth, who wears on her head the feather characteristic of the phonetic value of her name; she was the personification of Integrity, Righteousness, and Truth. Illustrations Nos. 54, 55, 56, Plate IV, show three forms of The Nefer, a symbol of Good Luck, worn to attract Success, Happiness, Vitality, and Friends.
The Cartouche, or Name Amulet (Illustration No. 61, Plate IV), was worn to secure Favour, Recognition, and Remembrance, and to prevent the name of its wearer being blotted out in the next world. This is a very important Amulet, as the name was believed to be an integral part of the man, without which his soul could not come before God, so that it was most essential that the
name should be preserved, in order, as described in the Book of the Dead, “thou shalt never perish, thou shalt never, never come to an end,” the loss of the name meaning the total annihilation of the individual.
The Amulets of the Angles (see Illustrations Nos. 58, 59, Plate IV) and the Plummet (No. 60 on the same Plate) were symbols of the god Thoth, and were worn for Moral Integrity, Wisdom, Knowledge, Order, and Truth. Thoth was the personification of Law and Order, being the god who worked out the Creation as decreed by the god Ra. He knew all the words of power and the secrets of all hearts, and may be regarded as the chief recording angel; he was also the inventor of all arts and sciences.
Bes, shown in Illustration No. 57, Plate IV, was a very popular Talisman, being the god of Laughter, Merry-making, and Good Luck; by some authorities he is considered to be a foreign importation from pre-dynastic times, and he has been identified with Horus and regarded as the god who renewed youth. He was also the patron of beauty, the protector of children, and was undoubtedly the progenitor of the modern Billiken.
Illustrations Nos. 62, 66, Plate V, are examples of the Aper, which symbolised Providence and was worn for Steadfastness, Stability, and Alertness.
The Tat (Illustrations Nos. 63, 64, 65, Plate V) held a very important place in the religious services of the Egyptians, and formed the centre of the annual ceremony of the setting-up of the Tat, a service held to commemorate the death and resurrection of Osiris, this symbol representing the building-up of the backbone and reconstruction of the body of Osiris. In their services the Egyptians associated themselves with Osiris, through whose sufferings and death they hoped to rise glorified and immortal, and secure Everlasting Happiness. The four cross-bars symbolize the four cardinal points, and the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and were often very elaborately ornamented (see Illustration No. 64, Plate V, taken from an example at the British Museum). It was worn as a Talisman for Stability and Strength, and for Protection from enemies; also that all doors, (or opportunities,) might be open both in this life and the next. Moreover, a Tat of gold set in sycamore wood, which had been steeped in the water of Ankham flowers, was
placed at the neck of the deceased on the day of interment, to protect him on his journey through the underworld and assist him in triumphing over his foes, that he might become perfect for ever and ever.
The heart was believed to be the seat of the Soul, and Illustrations Nos. 67, 68, 69, Plate V, are examples of these Talismans worn to prevent black magicians from bewitching the Soul out of the body. The importance of these charms will be realised from the belief that if the Soul left the Heart, the Body would quickly fade away and die. According to Egyptian lore at the judgment of the dead the Heart is weighed, when if found perfect, it is returned to its owner, who
immediately recovers his powers of locomotion and becomes his own master, with strength in his limbs and everlasting felicity in his soul.