The conception of spells appears to have arisen in the idea that there is some natural and intimate connection between words and the things signified by them. Thus if one repeats the name of a supernatural being the effect will be analogous to that produced by the being itself. It is assumed that all things are in sympathy, and act and react upon one another, things that have once been in contact continue to act on each other even after the contact has been removed. That certain names unknown to man, of gods, demi-gods, and demons, if discovered can be used against them by the discoverer, was believed in Ancient Egypt. Spells or enchantments can be divided into several classes as follows: (i) Protective spells; (2) the curse or taboo; (3) Spells by which a person, animal or object is to be injured or transformed ; (4) Spells to procure some minor end, or love-spells, the curing of persons and cattle, etc.
The power of the spoken word is implicitly believed in by all primitive peoples, especially if it emanates from a known professor of the art of magic, and if it be in a language or dialect unknown. Thus the magicians of Ancient' Egypt employed foreign words for their incantations, such, as Tharthar, thamara, thatha, mommon, thanabotha, opranu, brokhrex, abranazukhel," which occurs at the end of a spell the purpose of which is to bring dreams. The magicians and sorcerers of the middle ages likewise employed gibberish of a similar kind, as do the medicine men of the North American Indians at the present day. The reason for the spell being usually couched in a well-known formula, is probably because experience found that that and no other formula was efficacious. Thus in Ancient Egypt not only were the formulae of spells well fixed, but the exact tone of voice in which they were to be pronounced was specially taught. The power of a spell remains until such time as it is broken by an antidote or exorcism. Therefore it is not a passing thing.
(i) The protective spell.—The commonest form of this is an incantation, usually rhymed, imploring the protection of certain gods, saints, or beneficent beings, who in waking or sleeping hours will guard the speaker from maleficent powers, such as:
- "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
- Bless the bed that I lie on."
Of a deeper significance are these supposed to be spoken, by the dead Egyptian on his journey through Amenti by which he wards off the evil beings who would hinder his way, and so the serpent who would bite the dead is addressed thus : 0 serpent come not! Geb and Shu stand against thee. Thou hast eaten mice. That is loathsome to the Gods. Thou hast gnawed the bones of a putrid cat." The Book of the Dead says, "Whoever readeth the spells daily over himself, he is whole upon earth, he escapes from death, and never doth anything evil meet him," says Budge in Egyptian Magic, p. 128. "We learn how great was the confidence which the deceased placed in his words of power, and also that the sources from which they sprang were the gods of Thoth and Isis. It will be remembered the Thoth is called the "scribe of the gods," the "lord of writing," the "master of papyrus," the "maker of the palette and the ink-jar," the "lord of divine words," i.e., the holy writings or scriptures, and as he was the lord of books and master of the power of speech, he was considered to be the possessor of all knowledge both human and divine. At the creation of the world it was he who reduced to words the will of the unseen and unknown creative Power, and who uttered them in such wise that the universe came into being and it was he who proved himself by the exercise of his knowledge to be the protector and the friend of Osiris, and of Isis, and of their son Horus. From the evidence of the texts we know that it was not by physical might that Thoth helped these three gods, but by giving them words of power and instructing them how to use them. We know that Osiris vanquished his foes, and that he re-constituted his body and became the king of the under* world and god of the dead, but he was only able to do these; things by means of the words of power which Thoth had given to him, and which he had taught him to pronounce properly and in a proper tone of voice. It is this belief which makes the deceased cry out, " Hail, Thoth, who madest Osiris victorious over his enemies, make thou Ani to be victorious over his enemies in the presence of the great and sovereign-princes who are in Tattu, or in any other place." Without the words of power given to him by Thoth, Osiris would have been powerless under the attacks of his foes, and similarly the dead man, who was always identified with Osiris, would have passed out of existence at his death but for the words of power provided by the writings that were buried with him. In the Judgment Scene it is Thoth who reports to the gods the result of the weighing of the heart in the balance, and who has supplied its owner with the words which he has uttered in his supplications, and whatever can be said in favor of the deceased he says to the gods, and whatever can be done for him he does. But apart from being the protector and friend of Osiris, Thoth was the refuge to which Isis fled in her trouble. The words of a hymn declare that she knew " how to turn aside evil hap," and that she was " strong of tongue and uttered the words of power which she knew with correct pronunciation, and halted not in her speech, and was perfect both in giving the command, and in saying the word," but this description only proves that she had been instructed by Thoth in the art of uttering words of power with effect, and to him, indeed, she owed more than this. Spells to keep away disease are of this class.
The amulets found upon Egyptian mummies, and the inscriptions on Gnostic gems are for the most part of a protective nature. (See Egypt and Gnostics.) The protective spell may be said to be an amulet in words, and is often found in connection with the amulet, on which it is inscribed.
(2) The curse or taboo.—(a) The word of blighting, the damaging word, (b) The word of prohibition or restriction.
(a) The curse is of the nature of a spell, even if it be not in the shape of a definite formula. Thus we have the Highland curses : " A bad meeting to you." " Bad understanding to you." " A down mouth be yours " which are certainly popular as formulae.
Those who had seen old women, of the Madge Wildfire School, cursing and banning, say their manner is well-calculated to inspire terror. Some fifteen or twenty years ago, a party of tinkers quarreled and fought, first among themselves, and then with some Tiree villagers. In the excitement a tinker wife threw off her cap and allowed her hair to fall over her shoulders in wild disorder. She then bared her knees, and falling on them to the ground, in a praying attitude, poured forth a torrent of wishes that struck awe into all who heard her. She imprecated 41 Drowning by sea and conflagration by land; may you never see a son to follow your body to the graveyard, or a daughter to mourn your death. I have made my wish before this, and I will make it now, and there was not yet a day I did not see my wish fulfilled." Curses employed by witches usually inferred a blight upon the person cursed, their flocks, their herds and crops. Barrenness, too, was frequently called down upon women. A person under a curse or spell is believed in the Scottish Highlands " to become powerless over his own volition, is alive and awake but moves and acts as if asleep." Curses or spells which inferred death were frequently mentioned in works which deal with Mediaeval Magic. (See Summons by accused.)
(b) The Taboo, the word of prohibition or restriction. This is found in the mystic expression thou shalt not." Thus a number of the commandments are taboos, and the Book of Leviticus teems with them. The taboo is the " don't" applied to children—a curb on primitive desire. To break a taboo was to bring dire misfortune upon oneself, and often upon one's family.
Of injuring or transformation of a' person, animal or object there are copious examples. These were nearly affected by a spell of a given formula. Thus no less than twelve chapters of the Book of the Dead (chapters LXXVII. to LXXXVIII) are devoted to providing the deceased with words of power, the recital of which was necessary to enable him to transform himself into various animal and human forms. The Rev. S. Baring Gould in his Book of Folklore, PaSe 57> says, that in such cases the consequence of a spell being cast on an individual requiring him or her to become a beast or a monster with no escape except under conditions difficult of execution or of obtaining. To this category belong a number of so-called fairy tales, that actually are folk-tales. And these do not all pertain to Aryan peoples for wherever magical arts are believed to be all-powerful, there one of its greatest achievements is the casting of a spell so as to alter completely the appearance of the person on whom it is cast, so that this individual becomes an animal. One need only recall the story in the Arabian Nights of the Calenders and the three noble ladies of Bagdad, in which the wicked sisters are transformed into bitches that have to be thrashed every day. Of this class are the stories of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince."
(4) Spells to procure some minor end, love-spells, etc.. Love-spells were engraved on metal tables by the Gnostics, and the magicians of the middle ages. Instances of these are to be found in The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abraham the Jew. Spells were often employed to imprison evil spirits.
The later Jews have many extravagant opinions and legends relating to this subject, which they appear to have derived in a great measure from the Babylonians. Josephus affirms that it was generally believed by his countrymen that Solomon left behind him many spells, which had the power of terrifying and expelling evil spirits. The Rabbins also almost uniformly describe Solomon as an accomplished magician. It is probable that the belief in the power of spells and incantations became general among the Jews during the captivity, and that the invention erf them is attributed to Solomon, as a more creditable personage than the deities of the Assyrians. Those fictions acquired currency, not only among the Arabs, Persians, and other Mohammedan nations, but, in process of time, also in many Christian communities. They were first adopted by the Gnostics and similar sects, in whose creed heathenism preponderated over Christianity; and, in the dark ages, they found their way among the Catholics; principally by means of the Pseudo-gospels and fabulous legends of saints. An incident in the life of St. Margaret will suffice as a specimen. This holy virgin, having vanquished an evil spirit who assaulted her, demanded his name. " My name," replied the demon, "is Veltis, and I am one of those whom Solomon, by virtue of his spells, confined in a copper caldron at Babylon; but when the Babylonians, in the hope of finding treasures, dug up the caldron and opened it, we all made our escape. Since that time, our efforts have been directed to the destruction of righteous persons; and I have long been striving to turn thee from the course which thou hast embraced."
The reader of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments" will be immediately reminded of the story of the " Fisherman." The Oriental origin of many similar legends, e.g., of St. George of Cappadocia, is equally obvious.
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