Egyptian Magic part 7

Glimpses of Egyptian Magic – Divination Part 7

We have just finished looking at cultural magic – magic which is dependent on a cultural tradition. The last type of magic we will look at will be soul magic which claims that it functions through the ability of the soul to know and do things supernaturally. The focus of our attention now will be the magic of Divination.

Divination is a method of finding out information that combines psychism with cultural magic. Psychism is simply the claimed ability of the soul to know things supernaturally. An excellent example of divination is provided by the mouse oracle of the Baule people of the Ivory Coast. The oracle consists of an urn with a small human figure attached. The diviner carefully places sticks in the urn to form a special arrangement. The mice are placed in the urn. They scurry around and make new stick arrangements. The diviner reads these to determine one’s fortune, the settlement of disputes, the identity of thieves and witches, the location of lost articles, and questions concerning personal and business matters. (71) If the diviner already has in his mind what various stick arrangements mean, then the psychic part is knowing when to remove the mice. If this is not the case the attached psychism would not be clear. The cultural magic part is everything associated with the mouse oracle tradition.

I have three example of Egyptian divination. The first is the oracle of the ship. The setting for this example of divination is the procession of the god in his ship on one of his excursions during a festival or during a visit to see another god. The ship is born by temple personnel. Crowds gather as the procession proceeds and those who have pressing questions in the crowd call out their questions to the god. After the questioning individual gets the attention of all, the god answers by shifting his weight in the boat which is visible in the forward, backward, leaning, or bowing movements of the boat bearers. Each motion corresponds to a different answer. Here the psychic part of the process could be the sensitivity of the ship bearers to the subtle motions of the supernatural being. (72)

Sauneron only hints at the next example, in which the motions of the bull, Apis are read each day when he is let out of his stable. Sauneron assures us that there are many texts on this and that the bull answered the questions of all. There is not enough information here to speculate about the supposed psychic phenomena involved. (73)

The third example involves a child medium and a priest/magician. The child kneels before a vase filed with water. A thin layer of oil floats on top of the water. The priest tells the child to open his eyes. If the child sees light in the oil, he is in touch with the god and his questions can be answered. This is a description of skrying, which in more modern times is also associated with magic mirrors and crystal balls. (74)

In these instances there is a heavy emphasis placed on the influence of the god involved as the dynamic behind the divination process. Emphasis is also placed on the cultural paraphernalia, that is, things and concepts involved. The question of psychic involvement is not heavily stressed but it seems reasonable to speculate that the interpreters involved are sensitive to the god’s actions that they are reading.

Before moving on to soul magic, another instance of the combination of magic tradition and claimed psychism needs mentioning. We need to look at dreams and their interpretation. Budge, Sauneron, and Spence tell us that the Egyptians believed in the ability of dreams to convey information. Sauneron cites the existence of special priests trained in the interpretation of dreams that were available to the public. (75) Spence tells us that the Egyptian wanting illumination would sleep in a temple hoping for a dream that would be interpreted by the priests. Here the individual is stimulating his soul to have a dream by sleeping in the temple. So we see soul magic and the magic culture of the temple and priests combined. (76) Budge gives us spells to procure illuminating dreams and visions. One starts something like this. “For a vision from the god, Bes, draw the god in your left hand, and wrap that hand in black cloth consecrated to Isis. Lie down without saying a word and wrap the remainder of the cloth around your neck.” Earlier a petition written with special ink before the setting sun requests a vision in a carefully worded spell. (77)