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ANCIENT EGYPT

A History From Beginning to End

Copyright © 2017 by Hourly History.

All rights reserved.


Table of Contents
Introduction
The Nile
The Gods and Goddesses
The Book of the Dead
The Pyramids
Magic, Plagues and Curses
Famous Pharaohs
Immortality
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Introduction
In 1817, archaeologist Giovanni Battista Caviglia began excavations around
the base of a monolithic stone head that seemed to be peering over the desert
sand on the edge of the Giza Plateau, west and south of Cairo, Egypt, the
barren desert the ancient Egyptians had called “the land of the dead.” He was
able to unearth a neck and shoulders descending underground before he was
forced to suspend excavation in 1819; it would take another one hundred and
nineteen years before further digs by Emile Baraize finally uncovered the
body of the Great Sphinx of Egypt. The sixty-six-foot-high, two-hundred-
thirty-foot-long colossal monument had been swallowed whole by the desert
and lost for untold centuries.
This was also the first time in the sphinx’s long life that this process had
taken place. Thanks in part to the “dream stele” discovered between the
Sphinx’s front paws, we have evidence of two previous excavations in the
ancient past, both of which “rediscovered” the long-forgotten behemoth.
With Egypt’s delicate balance between the great fertile river the Nile and the
surrounding vast desert, the idea that even more amazing discoveries may lie
lost and hidden by the shifting sands only adds to the aura of ancient mystery
that surrounds the monuments and remnants of Egypt’s ancient culture and
civilization.
The dream stele purports to date from the time of Thutmosis IV in the
eighteenth dynasty. The inscription tells the story of a hunting trip in the
desert taken by the young prince. He took shelter from the sun in the shadow
of the colossal head and fell asleep. He dreamed the sphinx spoke to him in
his dream, promising Thutmosis that if he uncovered its body, he would
become pharaoh of Egypt. He complied with the dream and excavated the
statue. Events unfolded so that his father and older brothers died, and he
became pharaoh. Scholars suspect that the stele may not actually be from the
eighteenth dynasty and the reign of Thutmosis but actually a later piece of
propaganda for the prestige and power of the ancient monument. This tells us
that the sphinx had been ignored, buried, and re-excavated as far back as
fourteen centuries before Caviglia began his work on the Giza plateau. What
occurrences in society or climate have allowed this to happen repeatedly?
The Sphinx is in many ways as mysterious today as it was when it was
buried in the Egyptian sands. New theories about the weathering and erosion
evident on the Sphinx may hold the key to new dates for the history of
Egyptian monuments and civilization. The same balance holds true for our
knowledge of the history of Egypt. In spite of the evidence we have, so much
remains hidden and yet to be fully understood. New methods of scientific
investigation reveal new ways of interpreting the ancient evidence. The
overwhelming influence of the Nile, its movements and flood patterns, the
strangeness of ancient Egyptian gods, the interactions between the many
deities and their shifting, chimera-like forms, the strange written symbols that
have arguably yet to be fully deciphered, the fascinating and astonishing
architecture, and the elements of the supernatural that were a part of everyday
life have combined to leave modern archaeology with an ever-changing
puzzle that continues to fascinate and surprise. As the shifting desert sands
overflowed and then disclosed the Great Sphinx, after thousands of years of
study ancient Egypt still holds much that has yet to be revealed.
Chapter One

The Nile
“The Nile, forever new and old, among the living and the dead, its mighty,
mystic stream has rolled.”

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Greek writer Herodotus, known as the father of modern history,


described Egypt as “a gift of the Nile,” referencing the build-up of the land
via river deposits, but also the climate and fertility the river provided that
made Egypt such a paradise. The Nile River is the longest river on Earth. The
whole 4,258-mile length is comprised of the White Nile and the Blue Nile
and flows through eleven nations, including Egypt. Viewed from above, the
river is a wide ribbon of blue and green parting vast expanses of arid brown.
Every year, tropical rains beginning in July cause the Nile to flood and in
ancient times overflow into the surrounding land. When the water receded
again, it left behind thick, black, fertile soil it had gathered throughout its
length. This allowed Egyptians to farm and raise livestock very successfully,
whereas beyond the Nile’s flood plain, lack of rainfall made this very
difficult. The difference in soil was so apparent that the ancient name of the
land around the Nile was Khemet, meaning “black land.”
Even in ancient times, Egyptians took steps to manage the flood waters of
the life-giving river. They built canals and earthen dams to contain and direct
the water as needed. In recent years, the construction of the Aswan Dam, an
engineering marvel in its own right, has brought the river under control. In
order for the dam to be constructed, engineers relocated the ancient temple of
Abu Simbel. The temple was recorded and deconstructed carefully and then
reassembled, piece by piece, on higher ground. The relocation project took
four years to complete and gave archaeologists and engineers a unique
perspective on the construction techniques used by the ancient builders.
In order to have successful farming seasons, ancient Egyptians needed to
keep track of when the Nile was expected to flood and recede. Crops were
planted as soon as the waters receded, and had to be harvested before the next
flood. To do this, they developed a calendar that was based on a 365-day
year, broken into twelve months. This calendar led to organization and
documentation similar to that we still use today. The Egyptian calendar was
based on relationships between the sun and the moon and the flooding of the
Nile. There were three seasons in an ancient Egyptian year; Inundation,
Growth, and Harvest, so here, too, we see the strong influence of the river on
Egyptian daily life. The Nile winds through the recurring cycles of nature and
the people’s abstract concept of time.
Another gift the Nile provided were the papyrus reeds that grew along its
banks. Egyptians used these reeds to create a durable, beautiful writing
surface with which to record details of their calendar, their grain supply, their
sacrifices to the gods, and the tribute collected from the people and from
other nations. Fibres from the papyrus plants were soaked and woven
together into sheets, which were dried, pressed, and polished. The sheets
could be combined into longer documents in the form of scrolls. In the dry
Egyptian climate, these scrolls preserved well. Archaeologists have
discovered papyrus scrolls that date to 2550 BCE that are still legible. The
comparative abundance of written material that has survived the millennia via
these papyrus scrolls is a gift to modern historians as well.
The great river also provided transport between the flourishing cities and
sites along its banks. Thebes, Luxor, Karnak, Amarna, Memphis, and Cairo;
these are legendary names from ancient times and namesakes of flourishing
modern cities today. Produce, livestock, workers, building materials; all
could be carried on the current or with the wind for the length of the river.
This easy means of travel allowed for trade to flow between cities, integrating
the culture.
The Nile Delta is the land at the mouth of the river, where it drains into
the Mediterranean Sea. Because the silt of the river is continuously deposited,
the land here is constantly changing, shifting in its own way as inexorably as
the surrounding desert sands. Based on records that exist from ancient times,
we know the delta at one time had seven distributaries where it now has two.
It is possible using satellite images to reconstruct some of the routes of the
five vanished rivers and visualize how changed this land has been since
ancient times. There are many archaeological sites in and around the delta
area, including the city of Tanis, which was recently discovered to have been
lost and buried by the drift in the river location. The city of Heracleion was
once the flourishing port on the Mediterranean, at the mouth of the Nile.
Goods from Phoenicia, Greece, and then Rome passed through the city
during its day. The ruins of the city were recently discovered on the sea floor,
miles off the Egyptian coast. It is now believed that the city was drowned in
an earthquake event that undermined the city foundations; the state of
preservation and the abundance of artifacts in this submerged city have
provided a greater understanding of life at the time it sank. Most notably, the
harbor contains the remains of the ships that were in port and is the largest
collection of ancient ships that has ever been discovered. The ships were so
recently uncovered that it will be years before they are excavated, examined,
and interpreted, but the find is expected to rewrite our ideas about naval
history and capability.
The obviously unstable quality of this area is only exacerbated by the
slow migration of the Nile from East to West. This restructuring of the terrain
has been pointed to as a means of dating the structures on the Giza plateau
using geologic evidence. If it is assumed that the river ran directly past the
causeways of the pyramids when they were originally built, the time it took
the river to arrive at its current location suggests the pyramids were built
thousands of years ago, and arguably thousands of years earlier than the
accepted chronology - one more instance in which the history of Egypt is
slowly being uncovered.
Chapter Two

The Gods and Goddesses


“The body is the house of god.

Man, know thyself and thou shalt know the gods.”

—Ancient Egyptian Proverb

Egyptian culture envisioned the beginning of existence as “Chaos and


Darkness.” The force of Chaos was embodied by the god Apophis and is the
natural enemy of Maat, the goddess of order. Husband and wife as well as
brother and sister, Isis and Osiris were primary gods in the Egyptian
pantheon, along with their dark and brooding brother, Set. It was Set’s
betrayal and murder of Osiris that lead to Isis’s quest to revive the dead god.
When the god Anubis helped Isis ritually prepare the corpse of Osiris, it is
thought the art of mummification was inspired. Osiris was brought back to
life for long enough that Isis was able to conceive their son, Horus. This
resurrection also cast Osiris as the Lord of the Dead and Isis as the mother
goddess in Egyptian spiritual beliefs.
It is interesting that the Egyptians portrayed their gods in multiple forms,
many of which involved animal characteristics, or manifestation in purely
animal form. Thoth is the ibis-headed god of Wisdom, who also manifested
in the form of a baboon. Anubis is the jackal-headed guardian of the Dead,
who sometimes appears as a crouching dog. Hathor is sometimes depicted as
a cow and sometimes as a beautiful woman, the goddess of Love.
Bastet is the cat goddess of home, fertility, and childbirth. Cats were
worshiped in ancient Egypt as Bastet’s servants, or as manifestations of the
goddess herself. Perhaps most bizarre and frightening was Amit, the soul
eater. She had the jaws of the crocodile, and a body part lion and part
hippopotamus. The king of the gods was Amen-Ra, represented as the sun.
He was the special protector of the city of Thebes. The temple of Karnak,
dedicated to Amun-Ra, is a vast complex of temple buildings that were
erected beginning in the Middle Kingdom era. Monuments continued to be
erected through the end of the Ptolemaic period, giving a wide span of
architectural styles and patterns in religious belief. Throughout the long
period of their worship, the Egyptian gods did face a few challenges to their
power.
In the years 1344 through1328 BCE, Egypt was ruled by Pharaoh
Akhenaton. Before the fifth year of his reign, the pharaoh was known as
Amenhotep IV. He changed his name at the same time he changed Egyptian
religion and society. Instead of honoring the pantheon of Egyptian gods
whose worship had long been a foundation of Egyptian life and the pharaoh’s
duty, Akhenaton declared that there was only one god. His new chosen name
meant “effective for Aton.” The sun disk Aton was now the official god of
Egypt. Akhenaton created a new capital city at Amarna, where the worship of
Aton would be central, with massive temples that rivaled those of any deity
in Egypt. In fact, Akhenaton officially disbanded the priesthood of all other
gods, and the income of their cults was used to glorify Aton and the Aton
cult. Of course, the pharaoh and his wife, Nefertiti, were high priest and
priestess of this new religion, and soon took on a divine position themselves.
Inscriptions all over Egypt that praised other gods were removed, and
monuments defaced. Along with the change to Aton worship, depictions of
the royal family during this period are a striking departure from previous
Egyptian style. Family scenes are more intimate than was seen previously.
The portrayal of Akhenaton and Nefertiti are thought to be more naturalistic,
but also exaggerated. Statues and paintings of Akhenaton are instantly
recognizable with his distinct androgynous features. The queen also is widely
recognized as an ideal of feminine beauty. Copies of a bust discovered in
Amarna can be seen all around the world in art and women’s jewelry.
The fact that Akhenaton and Nefertiti remain such recognizable icons of
Egyptian history is all the more striking because of the efforts made by later
rulers to erase them and their new faith from existence. The priests of the
powerful sun god, Ra, who had been the foremost god for most of history,
had been displaced and demoted by Akhenaton’s radical religious reforms.
They were eager to put their divine patron back in power. Carvings depicting
Akhenaton and his queen Nefertiti have been discovered with the faces
chiseled away. Inscriptions referencing them have been obliterated. Even the
mummified remains scholars have identified as that of Akhenaton was
discovered in a sarcophagus with the lower part of the face purposefully
destroyed in antiquity. When Akhenaton, or the time of his reign, are
mentioned in later inscriptions, he is only referred to as “the heretic.”
Scholars believe that Akhenaton died in the seventeenth year of his reign,
but the circumstances surrounding his death are unknown. It is also very
unclear how the succession was handled after his death. Various figures come
into play, including an unknown female pharaoh, and the possibility that
Nefertiti may have reigned disguised as a man. In any case, Akhenaton’s
young son Tutankhaten came to power and ruled with his regent, Ay.
The boy king changed his name to Tutankhamen to distance himself from
his father’s unpopular cult of the Aton and reaffirm his loyalty to the god
Amen. He ruled for only ten years before he died suddenly. After his death,
Tutankhamen’s name was erased from official history by later rulers along
with those of his mother and father; however, the discovery of his tomb and
the exquisite golden sarcophagus have made King Tut the most well-known
of all the pharaohs of Egypt.
The next challenge to the supremacy of the ancient Egyptian gods came
with the beliefs of a nomadic group who came to Egypt during a famine. The
Hebrew refugees were welcomed, and their strange single god was respected
insofar as his Hebrew servant Joseph had been able to interpret the pharaoh’s
troubling dreams. When Joseph was also able to predict a drought and save
Egypt from famine accurately, he was rewarded and became a respected
member of the court. It was not long, however, before the two faiths came in
conflict.
Arguably one of the most famous passages in the Bible is the story of
Moses and the pharaoh of Egypt. When the pharaoh claims the Israelites as
slaves and refuses to allow them to leave Egypt, the Hebrew God performs a
number of miracles to force pharaoh to let them go. The contrast and contest
between the monotheistic Hebrew faith and the polytheism of the Egyptians
could not be more explicitly described. At first, Moses is dared to conquer
challenges that the Egyptian magicians are also able to accomplish. This
escalates into a series of plagues on the Egyptians until the Hebrew cause is
victorious after the death of the Egyptian firstborn. This story is the
inspiration for the holiday of Passover, celebrating God’s sparing the
Israelites the fate destined for the Egyptians.
This section of the Bible is much debated by modern scholars. The
pharaoh of the story has long been thought to have been Ramses the Great.
Archaeological evidence supporting the occurrences described in the Bible
has been scarce. Some theorists suggest a shift in dating provides a new
wealth of evidence that has yet to be interpreted. It is hoped this new
evidence may provide information about the story of the Exodus of the
Hebrew people from Egypt.
Egypt today is predominantly Muslim with approximately twenty percent
of the population identifying as Coptic Christian. The old gods of ancient
Egypt are considered mere myth and legend in spite of the representations
that can be seen in forms both large and small throughout the country.
Regardless of the passage of time and the shifts in belief, religion has long
played a vital role in Egypt’s history and culture.
Chapter Three

The Book of the Dead


“O great one, go in and say to the writer of the scripts, the guardian of the
door of Osiris that I am come, blessed and as a divine being to save my own
soul.”

—Egyptian Book of the Dead

The written pictograph language of ancient Egypt is known as hieroglyphics.


The word is from the Greek description, meaning “sacred engravings.” For
much of modern history, it was assumed that these strange symbols were
writing, but the meanings could only be guessed at by viewers. It was not
until after the discovery of the Rosetta stone and years of study that the
modern world was able to decipher the messages left by the ancient
Egyptians. The stone was discovered in 1799 by Napoleon’s troops as they
made their way through Egypt. The stone is inscribed with a pharaonic decree
that is written in Greek, the demotic Egyptian script, and hieroglyphs.
Because the Greek language and the demotic were already understood,
scholars now had a reference to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols. After
years of dedicated study and comparison to many examples of Egyptian text,
Jean-François Champollion was able to decipher the hieroglyphic alphabet in
1822. Nearly two hundred years later, new research has suggested that the
hieroglyphs have a deeper meaning than a mere alphabet can encompass; that
each symbol is a sentence unto itself, as well as an indicator of sound. This
idea suggests interpreting hieroglyphs is similar to reading a modern
acronym. For example, to an English speaker, the individual letters in an
acronym like “FYI” also convey the extended phrase, “for your information.”
What deeper meaning might be revealed by a more thorough understanding
of hieroglyphic writing? As with many things in Egypt, layers of meaning lie
beneath the surface, and secrets still remain buried after thousands of years.
Even in ancient Egypt, there were comparatively few people who could
read and write these hieroglyphic texts. Those who could were known as
scribes. Scribes recorded everything in ancient Egypt. We have found
proclamations, edicts, laws, letters, treaties, spells, histories, and medical and
religious texts that were all created by scribes. It is probable, given some
clues in the language of written correspondence, that the scribes were also the
ones who read aloud what had been written. It took a great deal of study and
training to become a scribe, so they were a small portion of society. A
scribe’s education would have taken four to five years. At a time when
average life expectancy was forty years, this was an even greater dedication.
It is believed that those trained as healers and midwives were also often
taught to read and write so they could read medical documents and record
information about a patient’s health. Most scribes inherited their positions, so
there were families who trained for this profession for generations. The
majority of those who could read and write were men, but women did also
occasionally learn as well. The skills of the scribe were so highly valued by
Egyptian society that they were considered a part of the aristocracy. They
also were not required to perform manual labor for community projects as
most citizens were.
Although we have thousands of examples of hieroglyphic writing, the
collection of the most famous texts from ancient Egypt is known to us in
modern times as “The Book of the Dead.” Ancient Egyptians would have
known these texts as “Spells for Going Forth by Day.” It has been said that
the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death. This impression is
strengthened because the spells do contain instructions of a sort that are
meant to assist a soul in traveling to the afterlife in safety. The spells provide
directions, passwords, and advice for passing the tests that would need to be
faced in order to reach their goal of eternal life. As the final test, the soul was
thought to be called before the gods Osiris, Thoth, and Anubis to be judged.
The person’s heart would be weighed and balanced against the weight of a
feather. If the heart was heavier than the feather, thanks to the weight of evil
thoughts and deeds, then the soul would be devoured by the goddess Amit,
who had the jaws of a crocodile. If the heart was lighter than the feather, it
would be free to continue to paradise and everlasting life. Later
representations of this ceremony represent the god Horus holding the scale to
favor the soul being judged, implying the judgment could be influenced.
Possibly this was arranged by the purchase of religious effigies, or Shabti
dolls, that were buried with the dead. These magic books were only used by
royalty in the Old Kingdom, but soon anyone who could afford to have one
would have it buried with them, often in the form of artwork covering tomb
walls. This practice has resulted in a fascinating variety of “Books of the
Dead” surviving to the modern era.
An even more notable part of the Egyptian funeral process was the
tradition of mummification. Priests practiced in the art took charge of a body
after death. They first removed the internal organs. The brain was removed
through the nostril. The body cavity was then filled with salt, sand, and
sacred herbs to dry out the skin. The heart was left intact and in place, as
ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the seat of the soul, or “Ka.” The
other organs were preserved and stored in special canopic jars that would be
buried alongside the sarcophagus. After a month or more of drying, the body
would be treated with holy oils and wrapped in layers of linen bandages.
Often sacred talismans of precious metals and jewels were woven into the
wrappings. Scarabs carved of gold and jewels were often wound throughout
the bandages. Finally, the mummy was coated with oils and resins to seal and
protect it. This treatment of the bodies of the dead preserved them to the
extent that we can still see the faces of the ancient pharaohs thousands of
years after their deaths. In recent years, scientists have even been able to
reconstruct the DNA of Egyptian mummies from tissue that was mummified
three thousand years ago. Genetic testing has been used to confirm familial
relationships between royal mummies, giving us more reliable identification
of the remains and confirming parentage.
Mummification was such an important part of Egyptian culture that even
animals were mummified. It seems this was done to honor the animal or the
god associated with it. Mummified animals were given as offerings to the
gods, and also included with personal grave goods, perhaps as servants or
companions for the afterlife. It was believed that the mummified animal
would act as a messenger between the supplicant and the god. With such a
useful purpose, animals were mummified and given as gifts to the gods on a
grand scale. The catacombs of Anubis at Saqqara alone contained the
mummified remains of millions of dogs, foxes, and jackals, and there were
many similar chambers housing mummified animals of all types around
ancient Egypt. Although sanctuaries dedicated to the mummies of cats were
popular, mummies of monkeys, mongoose, fish, and even crocodiles have
also been found. The apparent demand for mummified animals was such that
Egyptologists theorize animals were specifically bred for this purpose,
creating a thriving industry.
Animal mummies have also been discovered, upon x-ray examination, to
hold only a few bone fragments rather than an entire animal. The stuffing
material was wrapped and sculpted in the shape of the animal represented.
One interpretation of these finds is that the sellers of animal mummies
cheated their clients to save on material costs. Another way of viewing this is
that the representation and the identification of the animal were sufficient to
the goal of mummification in ancient Egyptian beliefs. Symbolism and
symbolic magic such as this were common in Egyptian writing and religion.
Pharaohs and other members of the elite class were laid to rest after
mummification in an ornate coffin called a sarcophagus. The sarcophagus
often featured an exterior carved, painted, or inlaid to look like a portrait of
the deceased person. They were also often adorned with gold and jewels. The
portraits in these death masks were thought to help the soul of the deceased
recognize the physical body. It was believed the soul would reunite in some
way with the body, which was of great importance to the journey in the
afterlife. Destroying the face on the sarcophagus or the mummy was thought
to cause the soul to be lost for all eternity. This was often done to punish the
dead person by their enemies in life. The sarcophagus of Tutankhamen is an
icon of Egyptian history and is perhaps the greatest treasure found in his
tomb, the face of the long-dead boy king brought to life in shining gold.
The entire burial ritual was meant to ensure the soul’s immortality.
Unfortunately, the tradition of burying a deceased person’s earthly goods in
their tomb, along with the precious, sacred ornaments that were part of the
mummy itself, was also an irresistible temptation to grave robbers. The vast
majority of tombs that have been discovered in Egypt had been robbed and
even purposefully desecrated at some point in the ages past. Many, it is
believed, were emptied of grave goods in ancient times by the very workers
who built and sealed the tomb.
Chapter Four

The Pyramids
“The tap’ring pyramid, the Egyptian’s pride and wonder of the world, whose
spiky top has wounded the thick cloud.”

—Robert Blair

The Great Pyramid of Giza was one of the heralded Seven Wonders of the
Ancient World, in company with; the Colossus at Rhodes, the Hanging
Gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus at Olympus, the temple of Artemis at
Ephesus, the Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, and the Mausoleum at
Halicarnassus. All of the wonders were amazing feats of early engineering,
the like of which will not be seen again, and all but one is gone; the Great
Pyramid is the only one of the ancient wonders that have survived to modern
times, and even it has not passed the centuries unscathed. The limestone
casing that used to shine bright white has long since fallen away or been
robbed away for use in other construction. Although the Great Pyramid, also
known as the Pyramid of Khufu, is the largest and most famous, two other
pyramids stand nearby on the Giza plateau. The Great Sphinx also stands
guard close by. There are somewhere around one hundred and twenty
identified pyramids known in Egypt, but there are certainly more that have
yet to be uncovered.
With the availability of satellite images, many pyramids have been
discovered recently based on the visible impact on the landscape. These
remain mysterious shapes in the sand until excavations can take place. Of the
known pyramids, there are many different construction styles believed to
have evolved through the thousands of years during which pyramids were
built. They are also preserved in very different states. Some structures
identified as having been ancient pyramids are now nothing more than stone
rubble foundations.
It is believed the first pyramid in Egypt was built around 2630 BCE near
Saqqara. Since 2950 BCE, it had been a custom for prestigious burials to
have a mastaba tomb, a flat, rectangular structure built to contain the burial.
When the mastaba was being built for the Pharaoh Djoser, a priest and healer
in his court was the architect of the sacred space. The architect’s name was
Imhotep.
Imhotep designed a structure in which the traditional rectangular shape of
the mastaba was changed to a square. After the first square had been built,
another smaller square level was added on top. This strategy was continued
until the structure had risen six levels, sequentially smaller and angled
slightly inward to control the distribution of the massive amount of weight.
The end result appears as a four-sided staircase culminating in a flat top.
Because of its appearance and perhaps the step by step manner of
construction, Imhotep’s revolutionary building is known as the Step Pyramid,
and gives its name to all pyramids built in this design. When the Step
Pyramid was completed, it was the highest construction on Earth at two
hundred and three feet high. The base of the structure was three hundred and
fifty-eight by four hundred and ten feet. The entire pyramid was cased with
polished white limestone to finish the exterior. Erosion and stone robbing
have taken their toll on the pyramid, and the casing stones are no longer
there, but the pyramid is still an impressive structure, even in its aged state.
Imhotep quickly became a favorite of Pharaoh Djoser. His name and titles
are inscribed on a monument near the Step Pyramid along with that of the
Pharaoh himself, an honor rarely given to Egyptians who were not royalty.
Imhotep was not only a brilliant architect; it appears he was also a healer
of great renown during his life. Archaeological evidence, including surgical
tools, medical texts, herbal recipes and, most importantly, human remains,
prove that the ancient healers were working with surprising skill, knowledge,
and success. Skeletal remains have been excavated that show broken bones
that had been splinted and healed. Skulls have even been found that show
indications of successful early brain surgery. Imhotep was credited, even in
ancient times, for many advancements in medical treatments. Centuries after
his death, Egyptians elevated him to the role of a god of wisdom and
medicine. He was often identified in later years with the Greek god of
healing, Asclepius. Imhotep is also a foundational figure in the tradition of
the Masonic societies. Freemasons utilize many fundamentals of Egyptian
mysticism in their rites and ceremonies. The symbolism of Egypt is a strong
presence in the iconography of the Freemasons; the influence of Freemasonry
and Egyptian mysticism on Reformation thinkers can be seen in the
unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States of America.
In an interesting modern resurrection, the name Imhotep is the one given
to the titular hero in a series of movies first filmed in 1932. In “The
Mummy,” the main character is an ancient Egyptian priest, magician, and
healer who finds a way to come back to life thousands of years after his death
and mummification. The real Imhotep’s titles and reputation made him a
good inspiration for this powerful movie wizard. The most recent movie in
the series, “The Mummy Returns,” was released in 2001. It would seem that
Imhotep’s fame continues to grow, even after four thousand years.
There are several examples in Egypt of later step pyramids, built in the
same stair-step fashion as Imhotep’s first creation. The step pyramids are the
forerunners of the smooth-sided structures like the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
The identifying characteristic is the step-like layers, usually culminating in a
flat top.
The Bent Pyramid at the necropolis Dahshur near Cairo is thought to be
one of the earliest encased pyramidal structures in Egypt. This is the second
pyramid built by the pharaoh Sneferu. It has a unique appearance due to an
abrupt change in the angle of the sides. Archaeologists believe the builders
realized in the midst of construction that the angle was too extreme to be
structurally sound, and completed the pyramid with the lesser grade. A
different theory has recently been proposed that the strange shape of the Bent
Pyramid was intentionally done to change the acoustic properties of the inner
chambers for some unknown purpose, possibly for use as a healing technique.
Sneferu’s third pyramid project is known as the Red Pyramid. It has also
been called the first “true pyramid.” It has four smooth sides rising in a forty-
three-degree angle to the point. This angle gives it a slightly squat appearance
as compared to the pyramids at Giza. It was constructed of red granite and
encased in white limestone. Since antiquity, the white casing stones have
fallen away, and the red granite underneath inspired the pyramid’s colorful
name. Egyptologist J.P. Lepre claims: "the Red pyramid remains one of the
chief pyramids that may possibly contain secret chambers, not the least of
which may be the true burial chamber of King Sneferu himself." Like the
other Egyptian pyramids, the Red Pyramid may have more to teach us still
today.
There is certainly much we want to learn. There are many theories, and
many questions, about who built the pyramids, how the staggering
engineering feats were accomplished, and what exactly the original purpose
of the giant buildings actually was.
The Great Pyramid was four hundred and eighty feet all when it was
completed. Each of the four sides was seven hundred and fifty-five feet long.
Thousands of years of erosion have caused most of the casing stones to
crumble away, chipping away at the pyramid’s massive size. The widely
accepted timeline of the building projects on the Giza plateau necessitates
that the pyramid was built over a twenty year period in 2500 BCE. This
timeframe requires that twelve of the enormous blocks would have had to
have been placed every hour of every day of that twenty year period. Beyond
the sheer quantity of material, the blocks are aligned with extreme precision,
and the entire structure is aligned to the cardinal compass points. A recent
theory even suggests a complicated vast cosmic alignment between the three
pyramids and the belt stars of the constellation Orion, the Sphinx with the
constellation of Leo, and the river Nile with the Milky Way itself. The feat of
engineering accomplished in the Great Pyramid truly merits its status as a
“Wonder of the World.”
Several theories have been put forward as to how and why the pyramids
were built, but none have been proven definitively. The most widely accepted
theory is that the pyramids were tombs for the pharaohs, the rulers of Egypt;
an epic, eternal demonstration of ego and a monument to the quest for
immortality. Though ancient Egyptian ceremonial burials of kings have been
discovered by archaeologists, none of them have been found in the pyramids
built so painstakingly for this very purpose. This question is made more
difficult by the fact that many tombs have been robbed either soon after the
burial in ancient times, or in the thousands of intervening years, their
treasures - and the still more priceless knowledge they could have brought -
stolen away. An intact Egyptian tomb, like that of the famous King Tut, is a
rare find indeed.
Likely because of this inconsistency, alternative theories as to the purpose
of the pyramids abound. One intriguing theory details the process by which
the Great Pyramid could have been used as a hydro-electric power generator.
The power source in this theory involves the raising and lowering of the
water table under the pyramid that coincided with the Nile’s flood cycle.
Power would have been distributed wirelessly via the pyramid’s ventilation
shafts, possibly using obelisks as relays. Proponents of this theory argue that
the ability to use electric power would answer many puzzling questions about
Egyptian history and the staggering engineering accomplishments. In light of
this theory, it is interesting to consider that the Greek origin of our word
“pyramid” translates rather inexplicably as “fire within.”
Another theory is that the pyramids were simply used as water pumps in
order to direct and control the floodwaters of the Nile. Archaeological
evidence for earthen dams and irrigation canals in Egypt has been discovered
dating back to ancient times. It is proven that other ancient cultures had
advanced methods of managing water supply such as the Archimedes screw
and the Roman aqueducts. Were the pyramids another more advanced means
of accomplishing this purpose?
Egypt was famous in the ancient world for its wealth of grain and
produce. It has been suggested that the pyramids were constructed as vast
granaries to store surplus produce under control of the pharaoh or temple.
Some experiments have been conducted that seem to indicate food stored in a
pyramid shaped container can last two to three times as long as with
conventional storage methods. There is also an argument that the chambers of
the Great Pyramid were built so as to be individually sealed store rooms.
Another suggestion that dates back to Arabia in the first century AD
revolves around the Great Pyramid as a storehouse of another kind, a library
of ancient knowledge to be preserved against a world-wide flood. A
catastrophic flood story is a common element across many cultures in the
ancient world. The most notable examples are the biblical flood of Noah and
the legend of the lost city of Atlantis but can also be found in early
civilizations of North and South America. More recent theories on this theme
propose the complex mathematics conveyed in the structure of the pyramid
itself are meant as a visual representation of this ancient esoteric wisdom; the
key or “Rosetta Stone” to unlock new knowledge about our history.
Likewise, multiple solutions to the mystery of the construction of the
Great Pyramid vie for popular approval. The most widely accepted ideas
involve massive numbers of workmen, possibly slave labor, but undeniably
skilled craftsmen must have participated. Stone blocks were transported from
quarries located miles away and then placed exactly in the construction.
Theories involving ropes, pulleys, and log rollers attempt to explain the
transport of blocks averaging a weight of two point five tons, including some
individual stones weighing as much as ten tons.
Three different theories of construction using ramps of various types have
been proposed, each with their own arguments for and against. The first
theory envisions a long ramp, built of stone that rose to the top of the
pyramid as it was being constructed. Workers used ropes to drag the heavy
stones up the ramp in order to put them in place. The problem here is that the
dimensions of this ramp in order to keep it at a reasonable angle for
transporting heavy weights would have required as much material and nearly
as much engineering expertise as the pyramid itself. The second idea suggests
a “girdle” ramp built in a spiral pattern around the exterior of the pyramid,
rising as the pyramid rose, so that workers again could pull blocks up the
ramp, make ninety-degree turns, and slide the stones into place. The
difficulty with this proposition is the prospect of anchoring the ramp against
the smooth granite sides of the pyramid, or construction of a colossal free-
standing ramp with no lateral support. The newest idea is the combination of
a small exterior ramp to build up to the height of the flat granite ceiling of the
King’s Chamber, and then the use of an interior spiral ramp to complete the
pyramid. The exterior ramp would have been broken down and the stones
dragged up the interior spiral ramp. Notches would have been left in the
corners in order for the workers to turn the stone to proceed upwards. The
pyramid would have thus been built from the inside out. This theory does
allow us to overcome some of the objections made to other theories. There
has also been a study of the dimensions of the pyramid that indicates there
may be empty space in the walls that supports the possibility of the interior
ramp. As with other theories, nothing has been confirmed.
Alternative theories of construction also abound. It has been suggested
that the ancient Egyptians used a type of high-quality limestone concrete and
cast the stones directly in place. Another theory suggests a system of levers
was used to raise blocks tier to tier. Still another theorist advocates the use of
sound waves as the means to transport and raise the stone blocks into
position. It has even been proposed that extra-terrestrial entities or survivors
from the lost civilization of Atlantis were responsible for the building of the
monuments of Giza. Until some irrefutable evidence is discovered to resolve
these questions, archaeologists, scholars, and enthusiasts will continue to be
fascinated by this mystery.
Chapter Five

Magic, Plagues and Curses


“I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your
officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all
the earth.”

—Exodus 9:14

Throughout its history, Egypt has been known as a place of magical


happenings. Egyptians believed it was the powerful magic of the goddess
queen, Isis, along with the ritual created by Anubis, that were able to bring
Osiris back from the dead at the beginning of time. Egyptian culture has been
seen as a realm and a source of ancient magic ever since. It was especially
famous for plagues and curses. It is possible that our word alchemy, and the
connotations of “black magic,” is derived from the ancient name for Egypt,
“khemet,” meaning “black land.”
The story of the Plagues of Egypt found in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible,
is well known. When the Pharaoh of Egypt refused to free the Israelite slaves,
the Hebrew God sent ten plagues in order to force the pharaoh’s hand. Moses,
the leader of the Israelite people, challenged the magicians of the court to
several tests of power, and they were able to match his feats. The plagues
began when the Nile turned to blood. There were then inundations of frogs,
lice, and flies. This was followed by outbreaks of pestilence and boils.
Bizarre hail fell from the sky. Locusts invaded and decimated the crops in the
fields. An inscrutable darkness fell across the land. Finally, the death of all of
the Egyptian firstborn children was the last plague. Pharaoh relented and
freed the Israelites.
The fact that we have here a reference to Pharaoh’s wizards and the
contest with Moses is evidence of their familiar presence. Wizards were
consulted in all aspects of life. It is even documented that wizards were a part
of a queen’s plot to murder the pharaoh Ramses III. Court wizards cast spells
to ensure the success of the plot. The king certainly died, but ancient records
also show that some thirty-eight of the conspirators were executed for the
crime. It was long thought that the wizard’s magic was the planned method of
assassination, assisted by poison. In 2011, a CT scan uncovered a deep cut
across the throat of the mummy that had previously gone unnoticed under a
thicker than average bandage layer. Evidence of several other injuries led
scholars to theorize that he was attacked by multiple assailants wielding
edged weapons. There is clear evidence that his foot was also cut at the time
of his death, but the wound at his throat is the proposed cause of death.
During the Renaissance, the emphasis on ancient knowledge brought to
light much that had long been lost to the Dark Ages. The publication in 1471
of a translation of the ancient “Corpus Hermetica” brought about a renewed
interest in Egyptian magical practices. The original text was ascribed to the
teachings of the god-like being Hermes Trismegistus. Scholars believe
Hermes Trismegistus, or “Hermes, Thrice-great,” was an amalgamation of
the Greek and Egyptian gods of wisdom, Hermes and Thoth. The esoteric
tradition based on these writings was called Hermeticism. It included aspects
of alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. Hermeticism influenced great thinkers
like Isaac Newton and John Dee and helped create the scientific method in
the era of Enlightenment.
The modern vision of Egyptian magical power was epitomized by the
phenomenon of “the mummy’s curse.” In 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter
discovered the unopened tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the
Kings. Outside the sealed door, he supposedly found an inscribed clay tablet
that read “Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the
pharaoh.” Eight people who were present at the tomb opening, including the
financial backer Lord Carnarvon, died soon after. Carnarvon was bitten by a
mosquito which led to his death by blood poisoning. Deaths by sudden
illness, murder, assassination, arsenic poisoning and suicide in the following
decade were attributed to the curse. Howard Carter himself, who died of
lymphoma ten years after he discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb, was
supposedly the last victim of King Tut’s curse. Coupled with the fabulous
trove of treasure discovered in the tomb, the world was fascinated with all
things Egyptian and the sensational legend of the curse spread. The
mummy’s curse has since become a part of popular conceptions about Egypt.
The fascination with ancient Egyptian culture as a source of magical
power was only magnified by the seeming evidence of a powerful curse. The
infamous occultist Aleister Crowley was a famous writer at the time of the
discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The wave of interest in all things Egypt that
accompanied that event inspired Crowley. He studied ancient Egyptian
wisdom. The spiritual movement he fostered was known as Thelema, and the
concepts were created while he was in Cairo, Egypt. His “Book of Thoth”
purports to be a distillation of sorts of the ancient Egyptian “Book of Thoth,”
which was a mythic compendium of all knowledge created by Thoth, the god
of wisdom. The Thoth Tarot Crowley created is one of the most popular tarot
decks in the world.
In 1932, famed “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce made a prediction
regarding the wisdom of ancient Egypt. He stated that a great “Hall of
Records” would be found in a secret chamber located under one of the paws
of the Great Sphinx. Some examination was done around the base of the
sphinx using ground penetrating radar to search for underground space, but
nothing conclusive was found before the expedition was forced to shut down.
Could the Great Sphinx be guarding more than the necropolis at its post in
Giza? The search for its ancient secrets will continue.
Our modern view of magic is inspired by magical practices in Egypt and
its traditions, ritual methods and tools, spells, and associations passed down
through the ages, through the stories of cultures around the world. Egyptian
magicians and priests used magic wands, powerful staffs, mystic
incantations, arcane scrolls, and amulets of protection just as we might see
used in books, television, and movies with supernatural themes. From the
legends of King Arthur to the adventures of Harry Potter, the magic of Egypt
endures.
Chapter Six

Famous Pharaohs
“And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

—Percy Shelley

The rulers of ancient Egypt were known as Pharaohs. Power was often passed
within a ruling family, usually from father to son; however, dynasties rose
and fell throughout Egypt’s long history, and ultimately power was held by
those who could take it.
The pharaoh was believed to be divine or semi-divine himself; the living
incarnation of the god Osiris on Earth. We can see many inscriptions where
the pharaoh is referred to as “the son of god” throughout the time of the
pharaohs. The monuments left behind in honor of these powerful monarchs
are certainly in keeping with the grandeur of the title. Portraits of individual
pharaohs in sculpture, inscription, and painting typically show the ruler as
oversized and idealized beings.
Ramses II, commonly known as “Ramses the Great,” was extremely
prolific in his grand self-portraiture. The temple of Abu Simbel is a perfect
example of this tendency. The façade of this iconic temple boasts four giant
statues of Ramses seated on the throne of Egypt that were cut directly into the
rock face. Other statues abound throughout Egypt, including the thirty-six-
foot tall colossal statue found in Memphis. Ramses is commonly believed to
be the pharaoh of the biblical story of Exodus who stood against Moses and
the freedom of the Israelite people. This identification has spread his fame
even further and into modern times. Ramses had more than one hundred
children during his long life, which certainly also heightened his reputation.
The mummy of Ramses II has been identified and now lies on display at the
Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The pharaoh Khufu who ruled in the Old Kingdom is believed to be the
builder of the Great Pyramid, the greatest monument in Egypt and arguably
the world. This claim to fame is based on an inscription found within the
pyramid identifying both the workers and the pharaoh. Scholars believe the
pyramid was built as Khufu’s tomb. The lack of ornamentation in the
remainder of the pyramid is puzzling, considering the ostentation of most
representations of the pharaohs, and the brilliant painting we associate with
Egyptian tombs. It has also been suggested that Khufu is represented in the
face of the Sphinx. This identification is tentative, given that the only verified
portrait known of Khufu is a tiny statuette that is difficult to compare with the
colossal head of the Sphinx. It is also uncertain whether the face we
recognize as the Sphinx is the original carving. Theories suggest that the
statue may originally have had the head of a lion or of the god Anubis and
that it was carved down to the human head at a later date.
Arguably the most famous of Egypt’s pharaohs is Tutankhamen, even
though his short reign was meant to be erased from history. King Tut is
famous today because of the strange chance that preserved his tomb intact
after most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been long plundered.
The contents of the tomb were unlike anything seen in modern times. The
wealth of material in literal treasure, but also in information about ancient
Egyptian culture, was astounding. With the research that has been done since
the discovery of the tomb, it is clear that Tutankhamen was buried hurriedly,
as he died suddenly. The tomb is actually surprisingly small and unadorned
for that of a pharaoh. Some of the grave goods, possibly even the famous
golden sarcophagus, were taken from other burials or were the remnants of
artifacts from Amarna. With his sudden death at the age of fewer than twenty
years, his cause of death remains an ongoing mystery. Damage to the skull
was originally thought to be evidence of murder, possibly for a political
agenda. More recently, CT scans of the body have revealed a great deal of
damage to the chest and one side of the body. This has led to a theory that he
was killed in battle. DNA testing has also uncovered the fact that many
members of Tutankhamen’s family suffered from malaria, and that this may
have been the underlying cause of death. The mummy of King Tutankhamen
is now preserved within his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The romance of
Tutankhamen’s story as the boy king, the intriguing mixture of treasure
buried in his tomb, and the mysteries surrounding his death have made him
an enduring figure in modern culture.
When compared to other ancient cultures, Egyptian women held a very
high status. This also held true to some extent in the history of the rulers of
the land. Pharaoh Hatshepsut is noteworthy in any discussion of Egyptian
leaders. She was not the first female ruler of Egypt, but she may have been
the first to take on all the honorary regalia of the male pharaohs. Hatshepsut
began her reign in the position of regent for her infant stepson, Thutmose III.
It was not long, however, before she took on the title and the power of the
pharaoh herself. Hatshepsut is often portrayed in the male stance, wearing the
regalia of the pharaoh, including the ceremonial beard. This stylistic choice
with her monuments to some confusion when archaeologists first tried to
identify her as the female pharaoh in written records. This task had been
made even more difficult by the fact that her step-son took power after her
and eradicated images and mentions of her on the many monuments and
building projects she had erected. It is thought Thutmose attempted to erase
the memory of Hatshepsut’s reign in order to suggest that the male line of
succession had not been broken by a female pharaoh.
Fourteen hundred years after Hatshepsut’s reign, another woman would
rise to rule, and her name is still famous throughout the world. Cleopatra VII
Philopator was the last pharaoh of Egypt. As she ruled during Roman times,
more documentary evidence exists for her reign. Cleopatra was described as
beautiful, ambitious, and intelligent, as well as highly educated. She was a
member of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs, and she was the first
Ptolemaic ruler to actually learn the Egyptian language as well as her native
Greek. Her role in Egyptian and Roman politics is well documented in
ancient sources. Her legend has been brought down to us today in William
Shakespeare’s masterpiece Antony and Cleopatra, the tragic love story
written in the early seventeenth century, and in multiple Hollywood films
about her life. She was most famously portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the
Oscar-winning 1963 movie, Cleopatra.
The pharaohs of Egypt were among the most powerful rulers in the world.
Their desire to achieve immortality based on their achievements and
monuments built for this cause shaped the culture, focus, and landscape of
Egypt for much of recorded history.
Chapter Seven

Immortality
“May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes,
sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness”

—Wishing Cup of Tutankhamen

Our best understanding of Egyptian culture portrays the ancient Egyptians as


engaged in the process of gaining immortality, specifically in the cases of the
ruling class. The gods and goddesses of Egypt are viewed as immortal beings
who play a role in humanity’s voyage to the eternal afterlife. The “Book of
the Dead,” so revered in ancient Egypt, was a guide book to the tests and
trials that the soul would have to travel in order to attain eternal life. The
pyramids, the masterwork of antiquity, are thought to have been built to
ensure the immortality of one man, the pharaoh who ordered the construction.
It was considered a terrible punishment to remove public reference to a
person, erasing them from history, and leaving them unknown. The faces of
mummies have been discovered to have been defiled in antiquity. It is
thought that this practice caused the defaced person to suffer a “second
death” in the afterlife. This mystic journey and the accompanying spells and
rituals, including curses intended for potential tomb robbers, has given us a
picture of the spiritual and ideological world view of ancient Egypt that
enchants us still today. When we today can look upon the face of Ramses the
Great where his mummy lies in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, read the words of
Thutmose IV in the Dream Stele, marvel at the engineering accomplishments
of temples, statues, and pyramids, and puzzle over the riddle of the Sphinx
after thousands of years, perhaps a type of immortality has indeed been
achieved. The soul and magic of Egypt remain eternal.
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