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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 5

We see from these parallel examples, then, that the ancient Egyptians were not singular in figuring the soul in bird-shape. This idea partakes of the nature of animistic belief. But other and more concrete examples of this phase of religious activity occur to us. For instance, the objects found in early graves in Egypt, as elsewhere, are sometimes broken with the manifest intention of setting free their 'spirits,' doubtless to join that of their owner. Again, in the myth of Osiris we find that his coffin when at rest in Byblos became entangled in the growth of a tree—an obvious piece of folk-memory crystallizing the race reminiscence of an early form of tree-worship—a branch of animistic belief. In the texts, too, statements frequently occur which can be referred only to an early condition of animism. Thus each door in the otherworld was sentient, and would open if correctly adjured. We find in chapter lxxxvi of the Papyrus of Ani the Flame of the Sun addressed as an individual, as is the ferry-boat of Ra in chapter xlii.

The Egyptian Symbol for the Soul In the British Museum


Fetishism and Totemism

Fetishism, too, bulks largely in Egyptian religious conceptions. Many of the gods are represented as carrying the fetishes from which they may have originally been derived. Thus the arrow of Neith is fetishistic (a statement which will afterwards be justified), as are the symbols of Min and other deities.

Fetishism, regarding which I have given a prolonged explanation elsewhere,[3] is a term applied to the use of objects large or small, natural or artificial, regarded as possessing consciousness, volition, and supernatural qualities—in short, a fetish object is the home of a wandering spirit which has taken up residence there. The remnants of fetishism are also to be discerned in the amulets which were worn by every Egyptian, living and dead. All amulets partake of the nature of fetishes, and the remark is often heard that good luck resides in them. That is, just as the savage believes that a powerful agency working for his good dwells in the portable fetish, so the civilized man cannot altogether discredit the idea that the object attached to his watch-chain does not possess some inherent quality of good fortune. Many of these amulets typify divinities, such as the 'buckle' sign which symbolizes the protection of Isis; the sacred eye representative of Horus; and the symbol[Pg 8] of the parallel fingers might perhaps recall the fetishistic necklaces of fingers found among many savage peoples.

Many Egyptologists deny that totemism entered as a force into the religion of ancient Egypt. Totemism may be defined as the recognition, exploitation, and adjustment of the imaginary mystic relationship of the individual or the tribe to the supernatural powers or spirits which surround them. Whereas the fetish is to some extent the servant of its owner, a spirit lured to dwell in a material object to do the behest of an individual or a community, the totem, whether personal or tribal, is a patron and protector and is often represented in animal or vegetable shape. The basic difference between the individual and tribal totem is still obscure, but for our present purpose it will be sufficient to deal with the latter. The most notable antagonist of the theory that some of the divinities of ancient Egypt are of totemic origin is Dr. E.A. Wallis Budge, the well-known Egyptologist. In his Gods of the Egyptians he says: "It now seems to be generally admitted by ethnologists that there are three main causes which have induced men to worship animals,


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