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Lesson 5) Magic of the Scribes and Midterm

In the minutes before class begins, the only sounds are the scribbling of Professor Wessex’s quill, the ticking of the large clock, and the occasional page flip of a studying student. The air is slightly charged with nervous energy, as many students will be sitting for both the midterm and the practice O.W.L. after this class. On the plus side, most appear confident, albeit very focused.

As expected, Professor Wessex enters the class with a minute to spare. In what appears to be the tail end of a brief meeting, the class’ Prefect team nods brightly in understanding and takes their seats as the professor jumps into the lecture.

Introduction and Agenda
Good morning, class. Today will mainly consist of topics surrounding scribes and scribal practices in ancient Egypt. We will only briefly review the role and purpose of scribes-- as it is something that was discussed last year in your second lesson.  Additionally, we will be covering an alternative kind of text that was used alongside hieroglyphics in ancient Egyptian civilization as well as common scribal spells. We will then finish off the class with a look at the activation spell for hieroglyphics, common problems when activating the symbols, as well as the spell’s difficult birth.

Ascribing Power
Literacy in ancient Egyptian civilization was enjoyed by only a small fraction of the population. Many of these people were scribes. This position was one of the few that allowed for social mobility, though not overly much. Becoming a scribe was often hereditary, and always very challenging. Studying and perfecting the art of hieroglyphics took years-- while it is difficult to know, most frequent estimates fall between five and ten years of study -- and was not available to everyone. Perhaps now you understand the immensity of attempting to learn even the basics of the script and its magical uses in only two years. In any case, as you will remember from the previous year and perhaps from Ancient Studies, words in ancient Egypt were considered quite powerful. In this way, scribes held much of that power. However, this is not the only power scribes controlled.

The ranks of scribes contained very large numbers of magi, or what we would presently call witches and wizards. Because of this, an interesting sub-group of Egyptian magic sprang up. For many of you, simply the words “ancient Egypt” may conjure up fanciful images of tombs, sarcophagi, and terrifying curses. While these are obviously present, it does not do to forget that there was much more to ancient Egyptian civilization than their funerary practices and troublesome curses.

In this interesting sub-group of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic magic is a fair amount of non-offensive spells. These spells range from enchanting papyrus to absorb excess ink, to moving hieroglyphics, to more unique things like a Locust-Repelling Charm. It remains to be seen if the scribe in question was warding his document from being eaten or if he simply wished not to be bothered while working.

As you know, hieroglyphic spells are made of a number of hieroglyphic ideograms and their effects often vary widely depending on the combinations of glyphs used. We will look at some of the most common examples or variants of three spells below.1

The Ink-Absorbing Charm                              


The charm listed here combines the glyph for papyrus and drink to create a writing surface that absorbs excess liquids. If combined with Y4, the scribal kit, the spell has been created to cause papyrus to absorb ink, but magiarchaeolgists have also seen this grouping paired with N35a to cause the target to absorb water.

The Text-Animation Charm


Similar to a charm you will study in Magical Art, the Text-Animation Charm brings movement to the glyphs of all or a portion of a text, depending on the writer’s preference. The last glyph in the group of three above is one of the many that indicate the direction or pattern in which the glyphs have been instructed to move, and can be switched out with others to indicate different directions. In this example, the glyphs indicated would likely scroll towards the right, though it could be combined to cause specific animations in the glyphs.

The Staining Charm     


Starting in the time of the New Kingdom, an interesting trend in written hieroglyphic spells appeared. Amongst the magical members of the community, a rise in the demand for indigo inks exploded. The color had ties to royalty, and therefore it was thought to lend prestige to the spell and either increase the chances of being looked on favorably by the gods (and therefore the chances of it working) or the potency and power of the spell. The Egyptians were, in fact, rather good at alchemy and therefore whipping up a simple purple dye was nothing to them. There were multiple different recipes for creating purple, but even with all of these options, demand was high. A fair few scribes and priests opted to just enchant the ink straight on the papyrus rather than mix up the dyes or buy them.

While we don’t have time today to go into detail about all of the glyphs used in these spells, you may see the Magical Addendum text for some additional reading. The book does not only cover curses, or spells found in tombs, as one of the authors, a magianthropologist, preferred to focus more on culture than curses and contributed what knowledge he could on the subject.

Other Scripts
Interestingly enough, hieroglyphics were not the only form of writing used in ancient Egyptian civilization. Many other forms such as demotic, hieratic and, most recently, Coptic were used. However, the most prevalent around the same time that hieroglyphics were being used was hieratic. Scribes used hieratic writing to be able to record information quickly, as hieroglyphic writing was very time-consuming. Because of its original use as a script for shorthand and note-taking, hieratic scripts are not inherently magical. That is to say, the hieratic symbols do not have magical attributes like runes or hieroglyphics. They were simply used as a method of recording information, similar to how Anglo-Saxon Futhark texts were non-magical, and instead used to record information to be kept from the Normans. As you have likely guessed this means there is still a fair amount of information useful and pertinent to your education contained in these glyphs.

Hieratic texts were used for a variety of purposes, among these being to record verbal spells (this is one of the ways through which verbal ancient Egyptian spells are known to present-day scholars) as well as recording tax information, documents dealing with the administration of the kingdom or its laws, for medical texts and even for math. Most interestingly, these hieratic texts recorded some magical practices as well.

One of the most recently discussed magical hieratic texts is the Harris Magical Papyrus. This magical text is widely known at the moment not solely for the magical information it contains, but also largely because it currently resides in Muggle hands. Its known history begins in 1831, where it was discovered by Anthony Charles Harris in a back room of an Alexandrian storehouse. Harris immediately found the proprietor of the establishment and purchased it, having been able to decipher enough of the text due to his education at the Egyptian Centre for Alchemical Studies, and further self-education in ancient Egyptian scripts. The half-blood amateur Egyptologist was a known collector of papyri, both magical and mundane and had grown a sizable collection by his death in 1869. At this time, his daughter by an unknown woman -- a Muggle -- came into possession of the papyri. Seeing no use for them, and unaware of any magical institutions, she sold his entire collection to the British Museum in London, where it still resides today.

The text includes a substantial number of spells and references to magic including spells to repel crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and weevils. While the museum staff are aware of these spells, they are under the impression that they are simply the fanciful delusions of an ancient civilization, but magical folk suspect that, were these spells tested, they would still be viable even today. Unfortunately, as they are firmly in Muggle hands and unable to be more closely examined, this is very difficult to prove.

For the last few decades, a familiar argument has sprung up surrounding the Harris Magical Papyrus. It is the same argument that crops up at least once, if not twice a century since the discovery and or purchase of magical papyri by various Muggle museums, including the British Museum: should the papyrus be removed from Muggle hands? Recently, magical historians and magical patriots alike have clamored to be allowed the chance to retrieve the document in order for it to be housed in a proper, magical museum or institution for further study. Proponents of this opinion cite Muggles’ inability to protect the rare, magical artefact should any adequately magical individual desire to claim it for their own. However, due to the Ministry of Magic’s hesitance to interfere and potentially expose the magical world and the high amount of continued collaboration between magical folk and Muggles in the anthropological world, the piece is likely to stay where it is.

This is not the only text, hieratic or otherwise, that has been relegated to this fate. Just a handful of others include the Papyrus Salt 825, which contains instructions for gathering potions ingredients, and the Papyrus Harris 500, which contains magical folk tales that provide a glimpse of ancient Egyptian magical culture.

Despite the wealth of magical information that has been preserved through these texts, it is still important to remember that neither the texts, nor the script used to write them are magical. That is, there are no hieratic-based script spells like there are for the Elder Futhark and hieroglyphics. Though, truth be told, that is potentially a controversial statement. Instead, I should say, at this moment there is no evidence of magical uses of hieratic scripts. With ancient civilizations, oftentimes our knowledge of their magic is based on our best guess. It is currently a commonly-held belief that there are no script-based hieratic spells, but the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. As this particular civilization lasted for over three thousand years, there could easily be a wealth of information on this topic that has not yet been discovered.

Hieroglyphic Activation
As we have covered, not all hieroglyphics nor all scripts during ancient Egyptian times were magical. However, it is incredibly obvious that many were. Moreover, as we know, spells in ancient Egypt have two levels: the phonetic level and the ideographic, or magical, level. This means, as I have mentioned, that to be magical, hieroglyphs had to be activated by a spell.

Of course, we assume it was a spell that initiated activation long ago during the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Very little has been recorded, at least to our knowledge. However, since no potion residues have been recorded and the symbols seem to function similarly to activated runes when tested, a spell was always believed to be the most likely course. What many researchers, historians and academics did not agree on for a much longer amount of time was the incantation to the spell itself.

Owing to the long, complicated nature of the hieroglyphic spells themselves, it was a long-held belief that the activation spell would be similar: long, complicated and ritualistic. For years, researchers and magianthropologists spent tireless hours creating different combinations, invoking first this god, using that honorific title, mentioning that season. It was all useless, unfortunately.

In the end, the closest thing to the original hieroglyphic activation spell was discovered by now-renowned Egyptologist, Ahmad Toghay in 1917. Hieroglyphic activation spells before this were equally likely to explode as activate the hieroglyphics correctly, and more often did nothing at all. In his lifetime’s research, Toghay discovered and discarded 4,035 incorrect incantations until he found the winning combination: one word, “essha”: a simple command meaning “awaken”. Since its discovery, the spell has been used to reactivate old, dormant hieroglyphic enchantments previously dispelled by curse-breakers and the effects have been studied thoroughly. To no one’s surprise, the spell does not seem to be a perfect imitation of the original, as the effects produced are noticeably weaker. However, it is unlikely we will ever be able to completely duplicate the original potency of ancient Egyptian magic without significantly more information and Toghay is internationally acclaimed for his achievement.

The spell’s details are as follows:

The Awakening Spell
Incantation: Essha (ESS-hah)
Wand Movement: One slow, sweeping movement in front of the surface you wish to enchant. Direction does not necessarily matter, but if the majority of the hieroglyphics read right to left, your wand should move this way also.
Concentration: High
Willpower: Low to moderate

The spell is able to be used on hieroglyphic symbols both new and old, but there are a few other barriers to overcome. Firstly, the concentration is staggeringly high. This is due to the fact that the caster must focus on the meaning of each of the glyphs at the time of casting. With each glyph added to the magical component of the written spell, the difficulty level rises. Additionally, the caster must also mentally maintain the links between each of the glyphs throughout the casting process. A hieroglyphic spell is much greater than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, the willpower is not usually problematic for people who have already learned how to enchant runes, as it is a familiar process with a similar amount of mental force. Interestingly, there does not seem to be any limit to the amount of willpower you can use, and the glyphs will absorb as much as you can offer. However, most are unable to summon up much after the mental exhaustion that accompanies the concentration component.

On the other hand, a functioning Dormancy Spell -- used to deactivate the hieroglyphics -- was discovered quite quickly in comparison. The version we currently use today was discovered by none other than Tertius Maceachern, one of the most famous curse-breakers to have worked for Gringotts, in 1642. The details for this spell are as follows:

The Dormancy Spell
Incantation: Elelway (EHL-ehl-way)
Wand Movement: A quick flick in any direction (though a flick in the direction of the inscription is best)
Concentration: Low
Willpower: Moderate to high

The concentration of this spell is not nearly as extreme as activating the glyphs. However, be sure that you target all necessary hieroglyphics and do not forget one! In some cases, though, it will only be necessary to deactivate one glyph to cause a sort of cascade failure. The willpower is the tricky component here, as you must match (and, in fact, exceed) the amount of willpower that was put in by the original enchanter, and this can be difficult to guess.

Test Arrangements
At this time, we will close the lesson. This is plenty to process for one day and, in truth, the day is not over yet. Your midterm will begin in just a few moments. Two different tests have been prepared for you.

First, we will all be taking the parts of the midterm for this course. Do bear in mind that the midterm, as it only contains information from this year, will be very detailed as well as contain information we just covered in this lecture. You will not be required to use the Awakening Spell just yet, as you’ve not had sufficient time to practice. However, the theory will be included.

Additionally, if you are among the students sitting for the practice O.W.L. offered, return to the Room of Runes no later than six o’clock this evening. Myself and my team of Prefects will be here waiting. Remember, while this practice exam is not required, should you skip the assignment and not receive the marks you were hoping for on the real thing, you have no one to blame but yourself.

As Professor Wessex finishes speaking, cream-colored scrolls of parchment bound with a ribbon float over to each individual student. When you receive your parchment, you may begin.

1. Note that it would not at all be uncommon for more glyphs to be involved in the charms and example spells that I present in class. However, as these are often stylistic differences specific to the period, scribe or specific desire of the caster, we will go over the baseline of the spell, rather than cover just one of the variants.


Original lesson written by Professor 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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