The lives of ancient Egyptians were inextricably intertwined with magic. It was present in everything from religion to politics, and from birth to death. Magic was such a prevalent force that in the early third century AD, the Christian theologian and philosopher Titus Flavius Clemens, better known as Clement of Alexandria, declared that: “Egypt was the mother of magicians.”
Up until the Roman period, Heka was the ancient Egyptian word for magic, but that word was not so clearly defined for the ancient Egyptians, and it could be seen as a force of nature which could also assimilate the attributes of a divine being in human form. As a being, Heka was believed to have been created by Atum at the beginning of time, he was also said to be the son of Khnum, who also created individuals’ souls. Legends say that Heka battled and conquered two serpents, and he was usually depicted as a man choking two giant entwined serpents.
While the practice of magic was hailed for its life-giving and enhancing properties by some – for example it was linked with remedies in medicine, it was also vilified by others as a dark art. This concept is examined further in the following presentation ‘Magic and Demonology in Ancient Egypt’ with Rita Lucarelli, Associate Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Studies; Faculty Curator of Egyptology, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley. In the video, Lucarelli reveals how the concepts of ‘magic’ and ‘demons’ were defined and used in ancient Egypt, with a special focus on the roles that demons played in magical practices and spells.
In the November-December Ancient Origins magazine article, ‘Think Egypt Think Magic: The Power of Heka in the Life of King and Commoner’ you’ll read that people “spent a surprisingly high proportion of their meagre incomes on spells, amulets, and rituals.” The use of amulets as an apotropaic device was very common, as everyone from the king to commoners wanted to avoid bad luck. The following video provides several examples of ancient Egyptian amulets used for protection.
Discover more about ancient Egyptian magic in the article ‘Think Egypt Think Magic: The Power of Heka in the Life of King and Commoner’ available in the November-December 2022 issue of Ancient Origins Magazine. Get it here!
By Alicia McDermott