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Lesson 6) Magical Amulets

The atmosphere of the room is slightly more relaxed this week, and students chat quietly with each other, some swapping stories about the last weekend and various trips to Hogsmeade. Professor Wessex performs her customary strut to the front of the dim room at her usual time. As always, she pauses to check the parchment for any misbehaviour. As the clock tolls the hour, she signals it is time to begin the lesson by clearing her throat.

 Good morning, students. Today will feature information about a common cultural product of ancient Egyptian civilization as well as the hieroglyphic magic that is ascribed to it. In addition, we will be hearing from a familiar face about some of the intricacies that go along with this phenomena.

 Amulets and Their Use
Ancient Egypt is well-known for many things, one of these being amulets. However, there is a fair amount of incorrect preconceived notions to dispel. Firstly, an amulet does not necessarily have to take a certain form to work, though there were trends depending on the period in which they were created. A good general rule is that most are small and able to be either carried or worn by the person who wished to use them. Jewelry, then, was a natural choice for amulets, including, but not limited to: rings, bracelets, and necklaces. In addition to the wide variety of forms an amulet can take, the material and magic applied to the amulet (as well as how the magic was applied) can vary widely.

Common Trends in Amulets
Because of this wide variety, it is useful -- particularly for researchers -- to be able to identify trends in the cultural tradition of amulet use. The shapes amulets took are a very easy trend to identify. In the Old Kingdom, amulets that took the form of animals were most popular, giving way to a rise in symbols and images of gods and goddesses by the time of the Middle Kingdom. Finally, by the time the New, or Late, Kingdom came around, amulet styles and forms had increased and diversified significantly, and therefore did not fit neatly into one category.

 Application of magic to amulets is also an important trend to note. Some common ways of enchanting amulets included rubbing potions or certain ingredients directly onto the amulet, while other options included enchanting the amulet with spoken spells alone. But, most importantly to our course, there was a subgroup of hieroglyphic amulets which we will be examining today.

 Of course, not all amulets are magical-- not even hieroglyphic ones. Many people took advantage of Muggles or even gullible magi and sold them fakes that looked like the real thing, but contained not an ounce of magical power. If you’ve paid attention in Ancient Studies, you’ll know that this is a common occurrence worldwide in ancient civilizations.

 Lastly, an interesting trend in amulet usage in ancient Egypt is who used them. Amulets were a cultural trend that superseded the very stringent caste system that made up the structure of ancient Egyptian society. Both rich and poor wore and utilized amulets, and Muggles were just as likely to wear them as magi. Even pharaohs and the royal court partook in this practice. Of course, that’s not to say that the practice was exactly the same across all different kinds of people. For example, Muggles were more likely to be swindled and given fakes in comparison to their magical counterparts due partly to the elevated status of most magical practitioners and the fact that most could spot a fake.

Decoding An Example
Because amulets were often small in order to be more portable, hieroglyphic spells on amulets tend to be much shorter than their counterparts used on coffins and tomb walls. Add to this the fact that there are a fair amount of amulets that caused positive effects and you may begin to think that the study of ancient Egyptian amulets is completely safe. This is not true. If you stumble across a truly magical one, these amulets pack quite a punch, and some were enchanted with potent offensive spells. For now, though, we will be taking a look at a less harmless version.

 As you can see, this amulet has been crafted in the shape of a scarab, an animal that held great significance in the lives of ancient Egyptians. Scarab amulets were one of the most popular varieties of token, even after the trend of using animals in the Old Kingdom was long past. Therefore there are many different variations of scarab amulets. There are some that would simply be carved to look like their animal counterpart, and then enchanted with verbal spells or rubbed with magical tinctures, but this one has more to it than that.

If we turn the amulet over, we can see some hieroglyphics and decoration have been carved into its flat surface. Since we have our copies of Gardiner’s Sign List and the Baldric Brothers’ Magical Addendum with us, we should have no trouble sorting out the enchantment that has been placed upon this amulet.

 When faced with a hieroglyphics of an unknown meaning, oftentimes it is most useful to first decide which of Gardiner’s categories it falls under and then search that category for the specific shape. For example, since the scarab beetle featured prominently in the center is so recognizable, this is an easy starting point. If we look at the list of Gardiner’s categories, we can tell with some elimination that it likely falls under category L, “Invertebrates and Lesser Animals,” as beetles are in fact invertebrates. From there, we spot a scarab beetle with the title “L1.” We can refer to its Muggle meaning here (to become, being, to exist) and then cross reference this sign with its entry in the Magical Addendum that notes:

 “Can be woven into an Animation Spell to bring scarab beetles to life. Also can be paired with spells/charms that require a change in a person or location.”

 With this information, we have an idea of how this glyph could compliment others, but to be certain about what an amulet or general spell does, we must put together all the pieces. This is particularly true in cases where glyphs have more than one potential meaning or application -- which is quite frequently.

 Next we look at the glyph that has a long, narrow “handle” with intersecting lines and ends with a rounded area. As beginners, you will likely not automatically know the category in which this symbol falls, so you must use strategy. The strategy that is commonly used requires looking up signs via the unlettered categories in Gardiner’s List, named “Tall Narrow Signs”, “Low Broad Signs” and “Low Narrow Signs”. These categories are excellent for finding a sign you simply cannot categorize without more prior experience or knowledge. Rather than despair, all you would need to do is select that category that describes the sign, in this case, “Tall Narrow Signs” and peruse until you find the corresponding image. In this case, the glyph is easily spotted as F35, or “Heart and Windpipe” which bears the mundane meaning of “Good, Beautiful” and when cross referenced with the Magical Addendum, provides further information:

“Symbolizes vitality and beauty. Often used in beauty charms. Has been seen on tokens for the deceased to take to the afterlife including amulets, coins, or inscribed subtly on wide, collar necklaces.”

 Now, it is prudent to note that neither of the glyphs on the amulet exactly match with their counterparts we found in the list. This is very common. Because hieroglyphics were equally as much decoration as they were a method of communication, many scribes had their own stylistic touches they added. Moreover, they wanted their scripts to look as varied and visually appealing as possible, so multiple, slightly-altered versions of the same glyphs sprung up frequently.

 We will not be going over the meanings of the rest of the glyphs on the amulet in class today. One of your required homework assignments this week will be to finish up our decoding of the glyphs on the amulet and decide just what kind of spell might be on the piece.

For now, we will be moving on to our last topic of the day: cartouches. Cartouches were not always amulets, but they were used quite frequently as amulets in addition to their use generally marking names in tomb inscriptions, histories and spells.

 But, without further ado, I introduce you to the guest lecturer I mentioned earlier --although, she truly requires no introduction at all -- Hogwarts own, though retired, Professor Stevens.

Guest Lecture
Hello, class! You are a sight for sore eyes; it is lovely to see so many familiar faces. I see many of you have questions as to how I am able to return, but we don’t have the time to get into a lecture about my personal life, nor am at liberty to discuss the nature of my researchl! Suffice it to say that I found myself with a moment between expeditions and could not think of a better way to spend my time. But enough introductions, we have learning to do!

Before we conclude today’s lesson, I would like to discuss with you an important feature of hieroglyphic inscriptions – the cartouche. A cartouche is a kind of frame you will often find in Egyptian inscriptions, and it serves a very specific function. It is an oval or round-cornered rectangle surrounding hieroglyphs with a loop of rope. These loops of rope, which we now call “cartouches”, began to appear during the 3rd millennium BCE, and the ancient texts tell us that the loop represents the path of the sun around the world.

It can be interpreted as showing everything under the sun, which is to mean, the world. Inside the cartouche, we find hieroglyphs representing a name. However, this is not just any regular name, oh no! Inside the cartouche is where you will find the names of a pharaoh, and more specifically, his (or her) common names, which is why you may also find them called “name-rings”.

Now, perhaps I need to elaborate a bit further here on pharaonic names. The Egyptian rulers, known as pharaohs, were and are known by a variety of names, as well as epithets and ritual titles. Three of these are particularly common on monuments. These include the two common names, which are written inside cartouches, as well as the Horus name, which is always indicated by the symbol of Horus, the falcon hieroglyph. In the interest of being brief, the Horus name typically functioned as the most prestigious title for the ruler and, in a way, “borrowed” the prestige of the gods to further elevate the pharaoh. For right now, though, we are going to focus on the two common names.

The two common names of a pharaoh are always written inside cartouches. One of these, the first cartouche-name, follows two symbols which represent the pharaoh’s title as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”. This first cartouche-name is also known as the praenomen (literally: “first” or “before” name).

The second cartouche-name is the name by which we now mostly refer to the Egyptian pharaohs. This name is the king’s birth name, and may be common throughout his dynasty, so that when we use this name, we may have to add a Roman numeral to the name to indicate which individual is meant, though these numbers do not exist in the Egyptian inscriptions. In the inscriptions, the distinction is instead based on the praenomen and Horus name.

Thank you, Mathilda, for taking time out of your busy schedule and dropping by. It was certainly a treat to get to see you and the students benefitted immensely to be able to hear you lecture on the topic. As for the rest of you, you have quite a lot of work to do. Despite your midterms being out of the way, there is still much to prepare for and little time in which to do it. As I mentioned earlier, one of your assignments is to finish deciphering the amulet started in class. Additionally, there is a quiz on the general information in this lesson to ensure it all sunk in. Lastly, there is your normal extra credit review assignment and an extra credit opportunity to fashion a cartouche of your own.

Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex
Guest lecture by Professor Mathilda Stevens
Image credits here, here, here, and 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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