Amulets were very popular in ancient Egypt and were worn by the living or buried with the dead. The word “amulet” has its roots in the Arabic language and it means “to bear” or “to carry”, however, the common word for “amulet” in the dynastic period was mk-t, which means protector.
In simple words, an amulet is an object that is created for a specific purpose and can be carried on the body or worn in special places on the body like the neck or the arms. All amulets carried a specific type of magical power and were used for anything from love and protection to being implemented in the mummy’s wrappings to prepare and protect the deceased for traveling through the underworld and for protection in the afterlife.
The amulets came in hundreds of different shapes and materials and were believed to have many different powers. They were worn to protect their body and mind not only from the evil effects extorted by invisible forces, but also to gain special magical powers.
Egyptian Amulets and Their Meanings and Definition
It is still unclear why Egyptians used such an ornament over their bodies, though it seems people designed them to protect the owner from savage animals and dangerous serpents. With the passage of time, people invented and designed different types of amulets for different purposes; some of the amulets were purely for protecting the owners, while the others to preserve and protect the dead.
Under the far-reaching influence of amulets and talisman, a dead body wore a number of amulets designed specifically to perform several duties. These amulets also protected the deceased body from fungus, mildew, serpents, bacteria, decay and putrefaction. In all, the exact purpose and the use are still under doubt, as amulets existed since 4000 BC; an amulet’s origin is still a deep mystery.
There are two basic types of amulets:
- Those that carry a series of magical formulae and verses,
- Those do not carry any magical formulae or verses.
The History of Egyptian Amulets
In the ancient times, priests recited prayers and verses to strengthen the amulets with super natural powers. The earliest name found on the amulets is hekau or words of power; it was necessary to provide these words of power to the deceased or dead souls. A special section on these amulets tells us about how they made the supernatural powers to come to the diseased souls whichever the place they lived in.
Egyptian amulets have a varied and colorful history; the most ancient amulets are small pieces of green hued schist and they came with a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including animals. These amulets came for use during funeral procedures, when the priests placed selected amulets over the chest of the dead bodies. Such amulets are very common in the pre historic graves of Egypt. This establishes the undeniable fact that there was indeed a pronounced religious cult existing during that time. It is unlikely that Egyptians of the later periods, especially post 1000BC, used these amulets for religious purposes. However, from the prehistoric periods to the late Fifth Dynasty, the usage of amulets was very common.
In the later part of the 3rd millennium BC, people discarded animal shaped amulets and replaced them with those that were regular shaped, more often rectangular in shape, with figures of animals etched over the upper surface. There are recorded evidences to suggest that Egyptians used a green colored schist amulet on the breast of the dead bodies and this provides a vital clue that such a kind of amulet is possibly a remnant of the prehistoric period.
Egyptians also used papyrus sheets to record and write down hekaku, or supernatural words of power and magic, which is probably much older than inscribing them over the amulets. Inscriptions on the walls of the old pyramid of Unas, one of the earliest kings of Egypt (3300BC), mentions that a book with magical verses was laid along with the body of the deceased king.
The ancient history of Egypt mentions the extensive use of many types of amulets and their usage spread well over four or five millennia before the advent of Christ. Here are some of the most interesting amulets used throughout the known history of Egypt.