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Lesson 2) This Seems Familiar...

Professor Wessex leafs through a fragile-looking book at the front of the windowless classroom, lit by only witch light lanterns and a few hazy globes of light floating lazily overhead. As the last few students filter in, the professor looks up from the book to scan the room before gently closing the book and putting it aside. As she draws her wand to bar the door to any latecomers, she greets the class.

Good morning, Fifth Years. Today we will be discussing the similarities between the scripts you have studied in Years Two and Three and hieroglyphics. This will serve not only as a brief refresher on runic scripts, but will also serve as a bridge to aid you in making connections between what you already know about magical scripts and applying it to others.

General Similarities
While you have undoubtedly noticed that there are many differences between the two scripts, we will not be going over these today. They are important, to be sure, but it can be equally useful to pay attention to familiar characteristics in order to better understand a new concept.

We will start with the basics. As you are studying both scripts here in Hogwarts, both of these scripts have been used for magical purposes. Both runes and hieroglyphs can be enchanted to create curses, spells and anything in between. However, hieroglyphs and runes were not solely reserved for spells. Instead, they were used by an entire culture -- this means both Muggles and magical folk-- and for a wide variety of uses. Runes were used both to inscribe spells onto objects and to convey messages. This is similar to hieroglyphics which, in addition to being used in spells, were also used for record-keeping purposes by scribes and for decoration.

Similarly, the two scripts can be used both as ideograms and as phonetic symbols (remember that ideographic symbols are inherently well-suited to magical purposes). For those of you with a memory like Gilderoy Lockhart, I will review. An ideogram refers to a character that represents an idea, or concept. For example, in an ideographic sense, a book may stand in for the idea of knowledge. More, the common “circle with slash through it” (something one might see on a “No Kneazles Allowed” sign in a pet-free zone) would represent the concept of “forbidden” or “not allowed”. Phonetic meanings, on the other hand, are when a symbol represents one sound of a language, just as the letter “c” or the rune “X” stand for sounds.

Getting Into Grammar  
Continuing along the topic of grammar, both share some similarities. In such early scripts, often times words are missing from sentences. Take for example this very simple sentence represented by the two runes in Figure 1, Thurisaz and Kenaz. When transcribed, this can mean “Thor” and “illness”  or “giant” and illness”. Either way, it is clear that there are words missing in this sentence. Is Thor causing the illness? Are the giants overcoming an illness? Inflicting an illness? It’s difficult to know without more context. Hieroglyphics are much the same. Missing words are common in hieroglyphic texts and spaces are left for the reader to fill in. Fortunately, there are guidelines present that list frequently omitted words in hieroglyphic scripts. These words include:

  1. Articles
  2. Copular verbs
  3. Verb tenses
  4. Misc. (when, if, through, for, and, etc.)

I will explain each one of these categories separately. Firstly, we have articles. I will not spend much time on this, as it was only last week I gave you the definition of an article. I will, however, give you an example. In hieroglyphics, it is up to the reader to supply the article and thus “hand” could be “a hand” or “the hand”.

Secondly, we have “copular verbs”. We have already outlined what verbs are, but copular verbs are a specific sort. We know them in English as forms of the verb “to be”. This includes such words as “is, am, are, was, were, will be", etc. There are some other, lesser forms, but these are the main ones with which you should concern yourselves.

Similarly, we have words that show tense. Above, in our brief discussion of copula, we have some examples of tense. The words “are”, “was”, and “will be” are all different tenses of the verb “to be”, though there are other, more elaborate examples along the lines of “may be” or “would be”. In any case, tenses in hieroglyphic writing are simply not present, for any verb. Thus, most beginners simply assume everything is in present tense for sanity and ease of transcription.

Lastly, the short list of words under the fourth heading are often, but not always, omitted. The words in this small group serve many literary functions, but the majority of them can be used as conjunctions. However, it may be easier simply to remember these words may be missing than try to remember their parts of speech. Unfortunately, this is not a full list. As hieroglyphs were used for such a long time, many stylistic differences exist. Therefore, certain words may be omitted based on the era and preferences of the writer. Awareness of the sorts of words that are commonly missing help you with situations like this, but time, experience and practice have no substitute.

To illustrate these missing words listed in the examples above, we have the example of one sentence in hieroglyphics. In Figure Two, the words expressed in the hieroglyphs include “sun”, “rise”, and “sky”. While this provides a fairly good picture of what is meant, there is still plenty of room for uncertainty and interpretation. Just a few possible interpretations include:

  1. The sun rises in the sky.
  2. The sun rose in the sky.
  3. The sun will rise in the sky.
  4. If the sun rises in the sky.
  5. Let the sun rise in the sky.
  6. When the sun rises in the sky.
  7. That the sun (might) rise in the sky.

Lastly, in terms of grammatical similarities, we are going to explore the world of multiple-sound signs. In the various Futhark scripts, runes such as Thurisaz, Stan and Ing represent multiple sounds with just one rune (‘th’, ‘st’, and ‘ng’, respectively). Hieroglyphics have this trait as well. These particular glyphs are called biliteral and triliteral signs. This simply means that the sign stands for two or three sounds each. Hieroglyphics have more of these than the handful runes possess, but this is to be expected, due to the much larger number of hieroglyphics that exist when compared to runes. These glyphs can indeed be useful to know, particularly if you plan to focus on ancient scripts or work primarily in Egypt. While we don’t have time to go into depth here about these signs. It is important that you at least know they exist. Additionally, should you have any interest in learning more about these two and three-sound signs, there will be an extra credit assignment on them, complete with more information.

Cultural Commonalities
That is all the time we have for grammar today. For now, we move on to a brief discussion of the cultural practices that influenced these scripts. One striking similarity between both runes and hieroglyphs is their presence in traditions surrounding burial and honoring the deceased. As we have already covered Frank’s Casket and Viking rune stones, I will not be going into an in-depth explanation of them, except to mention them so they can be compared to the Egyptian’s use of their script alongside their funerary traditions. Even if you have not taken either Ancient Studies in your Third Year or Mythology in your Fourth, you are undoubtedly aware that Egyptians were very particular about rituals surrounding burial, the dead, and the Afterlife. Hieroglyphics played a large part in many of these rituals. Hieroglyphic curses were placed on tombs to keep undesirables out, used as guides for the deceased, used in most magical texts, and in just about any other way you could think of. This is, of course, not the only cultural similarity the people of both of these scripts shared, but it is a very influential one.

Another similarity between runic and hieroglyphic scripts deals with the natural passage of time. As you are aware, if one refers to “runes”, there are a number of different scripts to which you could be referring, including Elder Futhark, Younger Futhark, and Anglo-Saxon Futhork. Both the Anglo-Saxon Futhork and Younger Futhark evolved from their predecessor, Elder Futhark. These evolutions happened over time and in response to exposure to other languages and cultures. This occurred in ancient Egypt as well, though perhaps to a more extreme degree, as the civilization and script were around for longer and exposed to arguably a greater number of cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Persians, and more. Because of this, there are many different varieties of hieroglyphics including Old, Middle and Late Egyptian. As far as this course goes, you will most often be encountering Middle Egyptian. This is due to the fact that Old and Middle Egyptian share numerous similarities and the fact that Middle Egyptian was popular in tomb engravings and literature far past the time it was used in Egyptian citizens’ day-to-day lives. Therefore, it was used in ceremonial rites and in record-keeping many centuries after it was no longer part of the common vernacular.

Evolution of Magic
The last section of class today focuses on the most important similarity: the fact that both of these script groups were around long enough ago to be considered “ancient.” This is not just a fancy title; the distinction means something. Strictly speaking, a civilization is ancient if it existed during “ancient history”. This time period begins around roughly 3,600 B.C.E. The end date is slightly contested, but most historians put it somewhere between 1 C.E. and 500 C.E., the latter date chosen due to the fall of Roman civilization as well as other major empires in Asia. Whichever date you choose to adhere to, both hieroglyphics and the original Elder Futhark fall within these limits (though Elder Futhark and its descendents are on the "newer" end of the spectrum).

This ancient distinction is important, as we have found many similarities in magical development. It is a common theme for ancient spells to be longer, whereas modern spells favor using one or two words to accomplish similar tasks. The reasons behind this change are complex, however one standard reason is that with greater specificity comes more purposeful spells.

That is to say, ancient Egyptians included so many parts in their enchantments because each part served a purpose. One word might indicate who the spell was meant to affect, another might include a part of the body or a possession of that person. The verb would, of course, indicate what the caster wanted done to that person specifically and depending on many things, more details such as when, why, or descriptions of how could also be included in the spell.

Present day spells have moved away from this practice and most of these parts of spell-casting --the who, the where, the how, the why-- are now included either in the spell itself or in the concentration or willpower components. However, these developments have come from millennia studying magic and refinement of our knowledge of how magic works. So it was that people involved in the first few thousand years of magic used systems that appear drastically different from our own. That is not, in any way, to say that magic has become “better” over our years of study. As many curse-breakers and magiarchaeologists will tell you, ancient magical artifacts with such complicated spells found in tombs, mastabas and other ancient burial places are still magically potent, more often than not, which is a great feat in and of itself.

With that in mind, I hand you over to your Professor Morgan, your guide through the world of Ancient Studies.

Guest Lecture on Ancient Magic
Hello, students! Thank you, Professor Wessex, for inviting me to speak to you today about magic in ancient civilizations. For those of you who have been taking Ancient Studies with me, some of this may be a review. That said, I hope all of you find this interesting!

The first thing to keep in mind about ancient civilizations and their magic is the commonalities between these civilizations. Most pertinent to our discussion is the way religion and magic were very much intertwined. It was almost impossible to separate the two - magic was performed for religious purposes, and religion explained the results of the magic.

This connection is yet another reason that explains why older civilizations have such long incantations for spells. That is, they began as prayers, not incantations. For example, a farmer with magical ability living in ancient Mesopotamia needs his crops to flourish this season. He prays, long and hard, invoking the names of the gods and goddesses that he believes can help him. Within that prayer, a piece of magic works, and the crops flourish. The farmer does not know which part of the prayer really worked, and may not even know of his own magical ability, so he continues to pray in exactly the same way every time he encourages his crops to grow.

Over time, this prayer is passed down through his children. It may change a bit, but the magical piece still remains, as any “unsatisfactory” prayers go unanswered. As his descendants realize their magical abilities, they realize that the “prayer” they are saying is actually a spell. However, they still don’t know that it is only part of the prayer that is causing the magical result. It will take many, many (and many, many more) generations before the magical knowledge in that ancient society has progressed enough to “cut out” the prayer part and distill the spell into the base magical incantation that is the “working” part of the spell.

Interestingly enough, when written, ancient magic also had a predilection towards ideograms. This might seem counter-intuitive, based on the fact the ideograms use one character or symbol to represent whole words or ideas -- and therefore seems to contradict the tendency to be lengthy. However, if you were writing an already page-long spell, would you rather use one symbol to indicate a god, or use all 17 characters required to spell his name out? Additionally, as ancient magical practitioners often simply reproduced what was proven to work, as soon as an ideogram was shown to have power, it was reused frequently. After a time, and being a proven magical technique, the trend caught on. Of course, today we know the “why”, or the reason, that ideograms work so well, but you could say that ancient witches and wizards were trendsetters! One example of the phenomenon -- using ideograms in spells -- include the naming of gods with a single character, which was quite commonly done in both Norse and Egyptian cultures as well as others.

Another common characteristic of magic use in these ancient civilizations was their views on medicine. Once again, the concept of treating an illness with either magical or non-magical means was a foreign concept. These two types of treatment were used interchangeably - so much so that the healers could not envision that they were two different types - it was simply medical treatment.

In Eastern civilization, this view of magical treatment stayed pretty much the same throughout the ages. In Western civilization, however, one major shift in beliefs resulted in the separation of the two methods: all of a sudden, some Western religions believed that magic was inherently evil. Healers now found themselves in quite a bind. Some of the treatments they were using were more likely to heal the patient, but also more likely to get them tried as a witch.

As such, those who used magical aspects in their healing pulled away from the Muggle population, or simply stopped using those types of remedies to treat their patients. It is only now that some Muggles in Western societies are seeking out alternative treatments to “scientific” ones, perhaps sensing that something may be missing from their current medical practices. It is fascinating how these things come full circle!

Well, my dears, I hope you have learned a bit about how magic has both begun in similar ways, as well as changed over time. Thank you again, Professor Wessex, for inviting me to speak to your class, and I hope to see many of your faces in Ancient Studies as well!

Be sure to thank Professor Morgan for those enlightening insights, class. But for now, we will end the lesson here. Your assignments this week are posted. The two required are a quiz about the general information found in the lesson and an exercise that contains mixed transcriptions, with both phonetic and ideographic symbols for you to decode. For extra credit, one assignment gives you a closer look at biliteral and triliteral signs while the other reviews the overall information contained in Year Two. Again, should you encounter any difficulties, I point you in the direction of myself or my Head Girl, Isabel Rhodesse.

Ancient history
: the period of time between 3,600 B.C.E. and either 1 C.E. or 500 C.E.
Ancient magic: magic used during ancient history. Often characterized by long, ritualized or religious spells. Additionally, spells were often ideographic, as the written word was seen as very prestigious and ideographic meanings lend themselves to magic easily.

Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex
Guest lecture by Professor Liria Morgan
Image credits here or to Venita Wessex

Delve deeper into the world of Egyptian hieroglyphs! This year, we will unravel the complex layers of meaning in hieroglyphic inscriptions as well as study their use in powerful magical enchantments.
Course Prerequisites:
  • ANCR-401

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