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Lesson 7) Magic of the Priests
In the Room of Runes, the clock ticks and the quill scribbles away, recording the comings and goings of students. Each student is dealing with the impending deadline of O.W.L.s differently. Some are buried so far in books it’s difficult to see their faces, while others are more social than usual, commiserating and joking with their friends in an attempt to lessen the stress. Still others have resorted to hijinks and pranks about the castle in order to blow off some steam. It seems like Ancient Runes class is no exception.
Casting knowing glances at each other, a trio of students approaches the professor’s desk, eyeing the magical quill. With a nod, the leader makes to grab the quill, clearly not expecting the slight shock that goes through them. The student snatches their hand away, bewildered, and in a show of solidarity the other two try, but are unsuccessful. Whipping out their wands, the group seems to have a plan, but it is at this moment that the distinctive click of Professor Wessex’s heels are heard.
Plan abandoned, the trio try to rush back to their seats but find their feet glued to the floor. Eyes wide with disbelief, they are still stuck to the spot when the professor enters the room. The professor appears nonplussed as she makes her way to the desk as usual, but for once, does not bother to check the parchment. Giving the quill an almost fond stroke, the corner of Professor Wessex’s mouth curls up so slightly you might miss it before pointedly ignoring the students and leaving them where they are as she starts the lesson.
What a pleasant morning, class. Today we will be delving into the next subgroup of ancient Egyptian magic. I am sure you have heard of ancient Egyptian priests and their ties to magic. We will be going into a fair bit of depth on the subject today, just as we did in the lesson specific to scribal magic.
Priests and Power
As you know, priests were some of the most revered citizens in ancient Egyptian culture. In fact, apart from the pharaoh, hardly anyone else compared. The priests were bestowed with their power directly from the pharaoh and were conduits for communication with the gods. Because of this, they cared for the gods in their physical form-- figurines and ceremonial statues located in temples across the empire. These ritual practices were, at that time, considered to be the most important part of their jobs. They did not try to minister to their population and make the ancient Egyptian population more spiritual in terms of believing in their gods. Their main task, at least in their minds, was to preserve the people's safety by appeasing the gods. If you require a refresher on the importance of ritual over general beliefs, refer to Mythology Year Four, Lesson One.
But the ancient Egyptian people's reverence for ritual is not the only reason that priests were the most important people -- aside from the pharaoh -- in the kingdom. As most of you have discussed in Ancient Studies, in most ancient societies with stratified social systems, the top classes were made up largely of magic users. We have already discussed how the ranks of scribes, a highly profitable and prestigious profession, were made up of large amounts of magic users, and the priest group was no different. Though that isn't to say that all priests were magical. The intertwining of ritual, religion, and magic allowed for Muggles to be able to coexist in these ranks without their obvious lack of true magic being revealed. In fact, most of these Muggles believed they were able to perform actual magic.
However, we will not waste our time discussing charlatans today, even if they truly thought they were blessed with magic. There is more than enough to discuss already. In the interest of attempting to provide insight into the general culture of ancient Egyptians as well as the specific world of the priestly magic users, we will be briefly discussing non-hieroglyphic magical practices before moving on to specific script spells they used.
Ritual, Religion and Magic
Ritual magic at the hands of priests took many forms. Some priests served as oracles, interpreting dreams of those that came to the temple and performing other forms of divination, while others practiced astronomy, using the heavens to determine dates for precise religious ceremonies, to keep a calendar, and determine when to pick potions ingredients or for how long to brew said potions. Others functioned as healers -- though one did not have to be a priest to be a healer. An interesting trend to note, though, was that exorcists -- a specific kind of healer you can read more about in Ancient Studies Year Three, were far more likely to be magical.
However, not every priest had magic duties that were this specific. Some were simply there to serve the needs of the general populace -- after the needs of the gods were seen to, that is. Priests that served in this capacity were in charge of the removal of infestations, the manipulation of weather and nature, animating wax figures for a number of purposes, or simply performing spells and creating potions on call, for whomever requested aid.
However, as far as hieroglyphic magic went, things were a little narrower. Priests often dealt with hieroglyphic magic specifically when performing tasks pertinent to funerary traditions (embalming, preparing coffins, or the walls of elaborate tombs years in advance). Other uses existed too, of course, though they were not nearly as prestigious. Many of the aforementioned spells that the priests prepared for the common folk were delivered in written form, and therefore used hieroglyphics. These hieroglyphic spells were meant to be carried around or worn about one’s person and were often preferred to oral spells; as the written word was considered so impressive by the mostly illiterate Muggles, and also had the benefit of more permanent connotations. Because written spells had permanent physical representation, some felt that this written magic was stronger or lasted longer.
Your textbook delves into more of the specifics of these sorts of spells, but these written spells varied widely in nature. Obviously, magiarchaeologists have found records of spells common to many ancient cultures, such as spells to change physical characteristics to make the wearer appear more beautiful (though, keep in mind that ancient civilizations’ thoughts on beauty often vary significantly when compared to today-- refer to Potions Year Four, Lesson One for more information), spells to increase strength, luck, health, or intelligence, or even spells to induce love.
But there are some spells that appear to be specific to ancient Egyptian culture, or, at the very least to the surrounding area during this time. These include flood-inducing spells, spells related to the specific kinds of agriculture practiced, pseudo-necromantic spells and, interestingly, enchantments related to dental hygiene, just to name a few. In class today, we will look at just a few examples.
This spell includes one glyph we have covered in past classes -- N35a -- which, if we check A Magical Addendum, has an additional use as being involved in flood-related spells. The two others, M5 and U28, have ties to seasonally-locked spells and to agricultural work, respectively (for more details, consult their entries in Baldrics’ guide). This charm could be found in a number of places. It would have been common enough to be written on a paper and then burned at an altar, though it could also be inscribed on rudimentary irrigation systems such as canals or even on farming implements.
(Overly) Generic Love Spell
Our examples would not be complete without a spell to induce love. Spells and potions that claim to accomplish this feat have been popular throughout the ages in all parts of the world. Of course, none of them produce real love, and this ancient Egyptian spell is no exception. The two glyphs included here are magical ideographs for “beautiful” and “soul”, as the Egyptians were strong believers in the importance of the soul. While I have already noted in previous lessons that these example spells often have variants, and I only provide the most basic so as not to be confusing, it bears repeating for this particular spell. Love spells were consistently much more complex than this, depending on the connotation of the love or desire the person wanted to evoke. Each priest or magi had their own “brand” and some citizens swore by different kinds. This here is simply the shell or starting point of all of these different variations.
These spells were sometimes used in conjunction with cartouches to indicate the target or the person with whom the target should fall in love. The issue with love charms from this area is that it is often tricky business to decide which end of the spell the person was on.
There were also spells that priests made for their own use, including spells to increase the perceived or actual potency of their wands or lend clarity to their divinatory interpretations. I imagine you are wondering how this use is possible, since I previously said glyphs were not used in divination. A common misunderstanding. Just because hieroglyphics were not a form of divination in and of themselves does not mean they were not used in divinatory settings. The ancient Egyptians, particularly priests, used hieroglyphics in nearly every situation imaginable, and divination is one of those areas. Divinatory spells usually tried to improve the mental clarity of the person divining, or perhaps was luck-based, or even something as simple as a charm to improve the eyesight of someone gazing to the stars for answers. The above example is one of the latter. This particular spell combines a divinatory symbol and makes it more specific and guides it towards astragalomancy, a common divinatory technique in ancient Egypt. Of course, in addition to making the spell more complicated and specific, other types of divination including scrying or lampadomancy could also be enhanced with this spell.
Applying Our Knowledge to Hieroglyphic Reading
As I have repeatedly reinforced, knowing the culture of a civilization can give tremendous insight into that same civilization’s magical practices. This is the reason we have discussed a few different common subgroups of magical practitioners over the course of this year. The ranks of healers (we did not discuss healers overmuch in this year, as Year Three, Lesson Two of Ancient Studies covered this in enough detail), priests and scribes are where most of the dynasty’s magical users were found, so to know their beliefs and traditions is to know their magic. Knowing this information can give us insight into the potential purpose of unknown or undiscovered spells that we encounter. It helps us decipher if the glyph in front of us is part of a harvest-related spell created by a priest, the recording of legend of a pharaoh, or a scribe recording information on a particular year’s taxes.
What we should take out of today’s lesson is perspective. When you are examining a spell or text, consider who may have crafted it. Their identity will give clues as to what their magical intentions were. At the end of this lesson, you will have another practice spell, and you will also be required to hypothesize as to which of the three subgroups the spell creator belonged; basing your opinion on hieroglyphic and cultural evidence from your textbook and the lessons.
The professor dismisses the class, and students filter out of the classroom. Though the chatter in the halls drowns out most of the sound coming from the classroom, you think you can pick out the distinct sounds of impending detention coming from the Room of Runes
Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here and to Venita Wessex