Small domestic statue of an ancestor or Akh, 8cm high, domestic context, from workers village at Deir el Medina. Egyptian New Kingdom 18th dyn
“Appease (sHtp) the Akh (AH), do what he likes and abstain from what he detests. May you be spared from his many evil deeds; his is (from him comes) all misfortune. Is there an animal taken away from the field? It is he who has done such a thing (lit: the like). Is there any damage on the threshing floor in the fields? It is the akh, they say again. Storm in the house? Hearts in discord? All this he has caused.”
This page of hieroglyphic text is from “Instructions of Any”, a New Kingdom Text circa 1300bce. It is often just omitted from published editions, for instance the well known series edited by Miriam Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature. It describes offerings made to one’s Akh, which in this instance can be compared to an Afrit (‘afarit) or Djinn of later times. In my book Supernatural Assault in Ancient Egypt I also discuss this aspect of the Akh as a demon or troublesome ghost. Gerald Posener, who solved the riddle of the text, included with it, two 20th century accounts of djinn in Upper Egypt, which attracted the Egyptologist because they were so similar to the New Kingdom accounts.
Gerald Posener’s startling translation of this obscure passage has since been widely quoted in for instance Demaree “the Ah iqr en Ra stele, ancestor worship in Ae”, PhD thesis) and many other works.
Like many who have looked at the material, myself included, Posener finds a close parallel between the concept of the Akhw and surviving beliefs of the ‘Afarit or Djinn. He gives two examples from Winifred Blackman’s groundbreaking “The Fellahin of Upper Egypt”. She was an anthropologist working among the Egyptian Fellahin (peasants) in the 1930s:
“Young man in Upper Egypt became very angry with his wife one night while she was sitting in front of the fire cooking the evening meal. In his anger he took a pottery water bottle (a kulleh), and struck her with it. In doing that he broke the bottle, and the water and some of the pieces of pottery fell into the fire, extinguishing it. The next moment he heard a voice saying to him ‘you have broken the head of one of my children, so I will come into you (ie possess you).’ This man thereupon became mad and began to tear his own face, and strike all those who came near him. Some of relatives tied him up but he continued to rave for several months.
They visited a sheikh (magician) who had many books of incantations and charms – he asked for a piece of his garment, wrote some words on it and diagnosed an ‘afarit. He read the incantation but the madman still raved saying “you have an unclean woman (ie menstruating) in the house” . The house was cleared of bystanders.
The exorcism continued until the ‘afarit asked via what part of the man’s body he should make his exit – if through the eyes the man would become blind because he would still need to be punished for killing the ‘afarit child. The magician told him to exit via the man’s big toe & that the he would know he had done so when the kulleh was knocked over. The sheikh eventually saw blood on the man’s big toe and the kulleh was smashed. The man recovered from his madness and reported that he had been “among the ‘afarit.”
And another of this accounts collected by Winifred Blackman:
In upper Egypt a Coptic Sheikh (B) was said to be married to an ‘afrarit because he disappeared every night but his spirit wife and children were never seen. He was called to help another Coptic couple who had problems conceiving. During the magician’s visit, which was late in the evening, the husband, a clerk, stayed in his room obsessively reciting the psalms & refusing to stop, even though the Sheikh said it was disrupting the healing session.
Sheikh B then told him to stop as it was hurting his spirit children, who had come up “from under the earth” to accompany their father. The clerk eventually desisted and went to bed. But then he sensed strangers in his bedroom and felt himself levitating. He opened his eyes and saw four ‘afarit dressed in quaint coats and trousers of many colours and wearing tall peaked caps. Two held him by his arms and feet and only flew off when he said a pater noster.
Whether the couple’s problem starting a family was solved is not recorded. But the confluence of ideas here, from ancient and modern Egypt is quite remarkable.
(currently researching a book on “Zar & Egyptian Ghost Dancing” due some time in the future )