Sunday, 5 December 2010

Egyptian Magic...in snowy Holland

It is just a few weeks ago, but today I decide to relive some of my Egyptian experiences and went to the exhibition 'Egyptian Magic' which is hosted by the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in my birthplace, Leiden. I had heard a lot of good things about this special exhibition and as a student of the Western Mystery Tradition -which has considerable roots in the ancient Egyptian civilization- I felt this to be an almost obligatory 'field trip'. Well, I was not disappointed at all!

What first struck me was the quality of the presentation and the accompanying texts. It is all too easy nowadays to take the moral high ground and even ridicule the belief in a magical universe, but that was not what I saw here. Instead, the Egyptian worldview was carefully laid out from which the beliefs as well as the practice of magic ultimately stem. The message conveyed here was that magic in those days was not something for the selected few or for some 'weirdos' :-) , but was a fully integrated part of the Egyptians' everyday life.

That immediately led to my first  discovery here. Though it is obvious there should  have been a more or less extensive 'folk magic' in those days, that is usually not something you come across when studying the ancient mysteries. Those are 'high magics', dealing with what happened in the temples and surrounding the great myths and mysteries of the Gods. But this exhibition also showed how everyday Egyptions experienced the magical universe that they lived in. A world dominated by protective deities such as Bes, who almost literally was asked to protect a bewildering arrray of furniture and items. A world also of prayers, charms, spells, curses, amulets and papyrus letters to the deceased.

The exhibition is full of highlights and intriguing imagery, and it raises a lot of questions. Why is the god Horus sometimes depicted as a crocodile with a falcon's head? Having stood at the double temple to Horus and crocodile god Sobek in Kom Ombo, how exactly did these two separate deities merge to such an extent? Why is on one papyrus the snake demon Apophis depicted as standing on legs? Why is the protector god Tutu shown as standing in the Nut position? What is the meaning -if any- of a very long 'secret god name' which seems like it's made up of Greek, Hebrew and Babylonian elements? What was the use of a socalled 'Nun bowl' (which was one of my favorite items there, as Nun (i.e. the First Waters) is such a primordial deity)? And there's a lot more....

I also particularly liked the link that was made with the present day world. Egyptian magic is not dead, it is still an object of study and devotion for many esoteric groups worldwide (including my own). This is also highlighted by this exhibition, with material on loan from the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and an interesting movie which showed the relationship between Sufism, Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism and ancient Egyptian magic, as well as some very intriguing influences into Judaism and Christianity. Even the Mormons seem to claim an ancestry going back to ancient Egypt!

I'd highly recommend this exhibition, which is open till March 13th. Prepare to be amazed and inspired! An don't forget to see the standard exhibition on ancient Egypt!


Left: a Nun Bowl (not the one on display in Leiden!) and Right: an amulet shaped as a papyrus column.

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