Legends Of The Gods The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations

Page: 11

In the fragmentary texts which follow we are told how a man may benefit by the recital of this legend. He must proclaim that the soul which animated Ra was the soul of the Aged One, and that of Shu, Khnemu (?), Heh, &c., and then he must proclaim that he is Ra himself, and his word of power Heka. If he recites the Chapter correctly he shall have life in the Other World, and he will be held in greater fear there than here. A rubric adds that he must be dressed in new linen garments, and be well washed with Nile water; he must wear white sandals, and his body must be anointed with holy oil. He must burn incense in a censer, and a figure of Maat (Truth) must be painted on his tongue with green paint. These regulations applied to the laity as well as to the clergy.



The original text of this very interesting legend is written in the hieratic character on a papyrus preserved at Turin, and was published by Pleyte and Rossi in their Corpus of Turin Papyri.[FN#16] French and German translations of it were published by Lefebure,[FN#17] and Wiedemann[FN#18] respectively, and summaries of its contents were given by Erman[FN#19] and Maspero.[FN#20] A transcript of the hieratic text into hieroglyphics, with transliteration and translation, was published by me in 1895.[FN#21]

[FN#16] Papyrus de Turin, pll. 31, 77, 131-138.

[FN#17] A. Z., 1883, p. 27 ff.

[FN#18] Die Religion, p. 29.

[FN#19] Aegypten, p. 359 ff.

[FN#20] Les Origines, V. 162-4.

[FN#21] First Steps in Egyptian, p. 241 ff.

It has already been seen that the god Ra, when retiring from the government of this world, took steps through Thoth to supply mankind with words of power and spells with which to protect themselves against the bites of serpents and other noxious reptiles. The legend of the Destruction of Mankind affords no explanation of this remarkable fact, but when we read the following legend of Ra and Isis we understand why Ra, though king of the gods, was afraid of the reptiles which lived in the kingdom of Keb. The legend, or "Chapter of the Divine God," begins by enumerating the mighty attributes of Ra as the creator of the universe, and describes the god of "many names" as unknowable, even by the gods. At this time Isis lived in the form of a woman who possessed the knowledge of spells and incantations, that is to say, she was regarded much in the same way as modern African peoples regard their "medicine-women," or "witch-women." She had used her spells on men, and was tired of exercising her powers on them, and she craved the opportunity of making herself mistress of gods and spirits as well as of men. She meditated how she could make herself mistress both of heaven and earth, and finally she decided that she could only obtain the power she wanted if she possessed the knowledge of the secret name of Ra, in which his very existence was bound up. Ra guarded this name most jealously, for he knew that if he revealed it to any being he would henceforth be at that being's mercy. Isis saw that it was impossible to make Ra declare his name to her by ordinary methods, and she therefore thought out the following plan. It was well known in Egypt and the Sudan at a very early period that if a magician obtained some portion of a person's body, e.g., a hair, a paring of a nail, a fragment of skin, or a portion of some efflux from the body, spells could be used upon them which would have the effect of causing grievous harm to that person. Isis noted that Ra had become old and feeble, and that as he went about he dribbled at the mouth, and that his saliva fell upon the ground. Watching her opportunity she caught some of the saliva of the and mixing it with dust, she moulded it into the form of a large serpent, with poison-fangs, and having uttered her spells over it, she left the serpent lying on the path, by which Ra travelled day by day as he went about inspecting Egypt, so that it might strike at him as he passed along. We may note in passing that the Banyoro in the Sudan employ serpents in killing buffaloes at the present day. They catch a puff-adder in a noose, and then nail it alive by the tip of its tail to the round in the middle of a buffalo track, so that when an animal passes the reptile may strike at it. Presently a buffalo comes along, does what it is expected to do, and then the puff-adder strikes at it, injects its poison, and the animal dies soon after. As many as ten buffaloes have been killed in a day by one puff-adder. The body of the first buffalo is not eaten, for it is regarded as poisoned meat, but all the others are used as food.[FN#22]