Seth & the Seed Goddess

dayr al bahri-042

Extract from “Ritual Year In Ancient Egypt”

Although the goddess Hathor is known as the bestower of human fertility, there are traces that this quality extents to animals and indeed crops. The myth of “Seth & the Seed goddess” concerns seed in all its connotation including semen and the female equivalent. The following dedication is adapted from traditional spells of the time of King Rameses II.
Why this is so

(this part of the spell is to be read out)

Once upon a time
The Seed Goddess Hathor
Took a bath on the shore in order to purify herself in the oasis
Seth was out walking and he saw her
He saw her jewel encrusted girdle, he saw her bare ass,
And it turned him on
Then he mounted her as a ram mounts a ewe
He covered her as a bull covers a cow
But for the seed goddess it was all wrong
And she went straight to his head
To the region between his eyebrows where the full moon sits
And he lay down, exhausted on his bed
and was stricken with the seed become poison
Then his other wife Nephthys (Anath),
The victorious goddess
An androgynous woman who acts like a warrior
Who wears a man’s kilt
Tied with a woman’s sash
Distressed, went to her father the Sun god Ra
He said “what is the matter with you”
Nephthys, victorious goddess
Androgynous woman who acts like a warrior
Who wears a man’s kilt
Tied with a woman’s sash
I am near to my evening setting
I know you want me to cure Set of the effects of his overstrenous coupling with Hathor
The poison of the bad seed out of place
Let Set’s stupidity be a lesson for him
Hathor, the seed goddess was destined for the bed
of the sun god above
He will make love to her with his heavenly fire
His will be as hard as steel when he enters her.

Hearing this the divine Isis said:
I am the Nubian woman
I have come down from heaven
I have come to realise the seed in the body
of every mother’s son and every mother’s daughter
And cause them to return in good health
For as Horus lives
So shall all live:

Morgan, M (2011) The Ritual Year in Ancient Egypt, Mandrake of Oxford
Pinch, G (1993) Votive Offerings to Hathor, Oxford

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Illuminating the House of Life

A supplement to my essay “Ancient Egyptian Lights & Lighting

Below is a picture of the House of Life (Per Ankh), one of two scriptoria from the temple of Horus at Edfu. You can see the interior is very dark and dimly lit. It does not appear to benefit from any natural lighting.


Peak inside and there is a niche, where manuscripts were supposedly stored. (In this photograph I used flash) Given the importance of this temple, it seems a surprisingly meager provision. I suggest that this niche is actually intended to hold an oil lamp with floating wick, of the kind postulated in my essay mentioned above. If I’m right then the room would have had wooden shelves or tables and be capable of holding the many more papyri no doubt in use in a working temple.


In my essay I mentioned my intention to search this kind of facility in existing temples. Here is first such example




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St George – Egyptian Origins (Picture Essay)


  1. Coptic – St Tawdros (El Mohareb) Monastery, Malqata, Luxor . Martyred during Roman period, thus shown in as Roman horseman (Eques)


2. Horus spearing a crocodile from Coptic church window, c 4th century ad, Louvre


3. Seth subduing Apep – Temple of Hibis, Kharga Oasis, 6th Century bce

Hibis01 - Copy



4. Mythological Papyrus HerubenB, XXI dynasty, 3rd Intermediate period





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Kings of the Stone-Age?


By Teomancimit – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Review article of : Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits

Gordon White, Scarlet Imprint, 2016

Premium Hardback (no isbn)

& Trade Paperback 978-0-9931200-9-1



Big book with a big vision

The title appears to contain a fairly big hint as to where this book’s final destination could be; although in the end the author rejects UFO theories of human progress. In our troubled times many claim to have experienced things such as alien abduction, but is this really just another way of describing magical or supernatural experiences using the vocabulary of the de-enchanted?

This is a big book in every sense, very much in the tradition of alternative archaeology of Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Andy Collins, Robert Schoch et al. Of the many new things the author brings to the mix is a focus on magic, its source in the cultures of the Stone Age and a belief that returning to the source now is both an inevitable and revitalizing project.

Gordon White here presents much modern research on prehistory to the reader, taking account of the latest discoveries and offering them up to a magical community which he feels has been too dependent on an older, perhaps moribund strata of scholarly works. In this Gordon is part of the current geist, steadily chipping away at the magical paradigm, realigning it back to an older, more authentic version of its role and mission.

For me the early chapters of this book contain the biggest punch. Especially chapter 2: “The Cathedral predates the City” which recounts the recent discoveries at Gobekli Tepe, which by all accounts is the world’s oldest purpose built stone temple. It dates from a dizzying early time circa 10,000bce. (Perhaps a date that might also ring bells for readers of some of the other authors mentioned above, for it is also the date favoured by “alternative archaeologists” for the carving of Egypt’s famous Sphinx. Gordon White may well include himself in that company, although I must confess I’ve not so far seen anything to convince me and thus tend to stick to the boring scholarly consensus, but who knows.)

Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, really is 12,000 years old, which is so early that it predates the invention of ceramics. Its discovery is causing a slow earthquake in our view of our origins. Thus far there is no evidence of permanent human occupation at Gobekli Tepe, and it thus appears to be an elaborate structure built purely for religious purposes. This must have been the work of ancient nomads, who returned repeatedly to their temple, to refresh their memories of ancestors, with feasting, celebration and no doubt, some devotions at the altar of one of the world’s oldest religions, astronomy.

Gordon White’s chapter title is taken from the work of the site’s discoverer and chief excavator, the late Klaus Schmidt. If you don’t have Gordon’s book, it’s worth googling Gobekli Tepe and looking at the images to get some idea of the site’s significance, majesty & indeed magic. One of many wonderful things about this temple is the iconography. Gordon draws our attention to the serpent lore of a kind that is to become so important in many later cultures, ie it lies behind the late Hindu idea of Kundalini; serpents also play many roles in ancient Egyptian religion, and for instance appear on the diadem of the king as the protective Uraeus.

White also invites us to see the hammer headed pillar statues found there as possible “headless” entities, again a theme pregnant with meaning for later generations, including ours. Gobekli Tepe as a whole he rightly calls the “New Rosetta Stone.”

If Gordon had finished his monograph here I think he would already have done enough service to the magical community in offering such a cogent presentation of the important material from Gobekli Tepe.

I’ve recently been reading the work of Egyptologist Dirk Huyge, an expert on ancient rock art. Some of his research on the cultures of Egypt’s Neolithic and Palaeolithic past offer some points of contact here and perhaps some corroboration of Gordon’s theory.

For during the last glaciation, Huyge says, the level of the Mediterranean Sea was “about 100 meters lower than today, and therefore he does not rule out the possibility that people of the Palaeolithic established contact with Egypt and may even have exchanged artistic and symbolic concepts.”

Klaus Schmidt, also made a few tentative comparisons with Egypt, but only the art of much later times, during the era of its famous kings.

But, “The existence of ancient artistic remains on the African continent has long been known. Thus, in 1969, were discovered in a cave in Namibia, stone plates with painted animals that can be dated to 26,000 years ago! In Egypt, there are now scores of sites with Palaeolithic artwork, in caves and in the open air. Thus Gordon is on fairly firm ground if he compares Gobekli Tepe with the Rock Art of Upper Egypt, which does indeed show forms that may persist into historical, pharaonic times. The uncertainty is caused by the Egyptian’s ideological reworking of their own prehistory, motivated by politics, a process that has obscured the links between dynastic and predynastic imagery.

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The other great theme running through this book is from the controversial theories of E.J. Michael Witzel. The Origins of the World’s Mythologies. Witzel apparently also sees in myth evidence of two primary streams, (according to his critics “races”, one dark skinned, one light).   The ultimate division would be between the “Gondwana” and “Laurasian” myth. To get a grip of this, one has to cast one’s mind back 200 or 300 million years to when the first geological continent of Pangaie broke into two super-continents, a northern Laurasia and a South Godwana. Humans and their myth making come only within the last 2 million years. Question is, does later myth somehow reflect these primary divisions?

If one looks at the vast ocean of story one might well be able do a bit of textual archaeology, stratifying these from the more modern, right back to the oldest primal myths. Examples of the lowest strata of myth could be the story of the flood.

One might also consider astronomical myths, where stories are attached to the life and death of prominent constellations, planets, the Sun and Moon. This cluster of ideas encodes secrets, which seem to get pushed ever further back in the time-line. Gobekli Tepe is a structure with strong astronomical alignments, the investigation of which is just starting. Perhaps we should not be surprised that our ancestors made such a thing about nature’s greatest spectacle and exercise in virtual reality.

White also suggests the myth of the two Brothers, known from Biblical, Egyptian and no doubt many other sources, might also be one of those primal stories told by what he calls our “Laurasian” ancestors.

The myth of Atlantis is another candidate that springs to mind. Gordon White, basing himself on the work of Robert Schoch, accepts this idea of an Ur Culture, but would push it back a lot further than many might find comfortable. “Atlantis”, as in the myth of the primal homeland, is not to be found in the Mediterranean, or even the Egyptian desert, but if it is anywhere , is in Polynesia. If there were such peoples as “Atlanteans” they would have been the “survivors of the sinking of Sunda and Sahul [In the South Pacific who] brought technology and magical techniques with them to populations across central and western Asia that were already in situ and likely even had vaguely recognizable pantheons and practices.” P 108. Perhaps an example of having one’s cake and eating it, if they brought myths to people whom already had those myths, what are we talking about?

Another of the great themes in this book is that of Kingship and its origins.

“This notion of kingship descending from the stars, and the king going up to the stars to ensure immortality and the well-being of the tribe is highly likely to be the origin of the Hermetic and Classical ritual magick we find in the grimoires, having come down to us via the dual routes of the Nile and the Fertile Crescent. If this stellar technology reaches back to the first emergence of the Laurasian storyline, as I believe it does, then we may, with a straight face, say western ritual magick is at least 30,000 years old. We may also, with a smiling face, send back the Ancient Aliens crowd back to the library to check their numbers” p 146.

Star.Ships certainly got me thinking about Kingship again. Gordon, as the above citation makes clear, sees in the figure of the king a central character in the European grimoire tradition, but also something that he thinks of as one of those primal themes of our world, and that of their magicians, from the very beginning.

This is controversial, because the consensus of academic research would now place the origins of the state and its elite rulers to circa 4000BCE. A long time ago, of course, but nothing like the 30,000 years or even 12,000. If Gobekli Tepe is dated to some time 10,000 BCE, then the intervening millennia was a time when humanity studied the stars, but also lived in nomadic extended family groups, perhaps around a patriarch, matriarch, or both. In Egypt, the first traces of inequality & elite burials are there for all to see in the Naqada 1 predynastic strata, named so from the ancient settlement of Ombos, citadel of Seth in Upper Egypt.

My own research for Isis, Goddess of Egypt & India also touched on whether the whole Osiris narrative even counted as “true myth” . One would expect the origins of a true myth to be lost in the mists of time, to thus be archaic. It may come as a shock to see the myth being crafted by priestly spin-doctors. But this is precisely what does happen in the Egyptian record. Osiris probably isn’t a Neolithic deity, he bears all the ideological traces of the biggest of Egyptian confidence tricks, otherwise known as “the myth of divine kingship”. Whether these kings were ever really viewed by the Egyptian people, or even by the kings themselves as really “Divine” is a view that can only be sustained if one makes a literal reading of official inscriptions. These, like those of every era, are full of conventions, polite fictions and protocols. Was this really the lived reality, the Egyptologist George Posener suggests not.

Establishing the ideology of Egyptian Kings in the early dynasties required “massive amounts of labour appropriated from across the country.” The corollary of the increasing drama of elite (Egyptian) life however, was the long shadow that it cast over the majority of society. Again, the scale of this activity is one that Gordon feels is mysterious and unexplained by existing scholarly research. Thus, he would push the Egyptian time-line backward towards some Atlantean race, which had the secrets needed to construct these immense monuments.

Personally, I remain skeptical and suspect that any burials at Gobekli Tepe will be communal, the equivalent to Europe’s long barrows or perhaps they will turn out to be the treasured bones of the builders. Or, as transpired with some of the remains at nearby Çatal Huyuk, at first identified as images of an ancient goddess but after further discoveries were later revealed to be animal totems – the “bear” of Çatal Huyuk. So, I am mindful to treat these ideas more as predictions about Gobekli Tepe, rather than as established facts.

Apart from fragments of human bone found in the sites careful infill, no complete human burials or cemeteries have thus far been discovered. The late Klaus Schmidt fully expected that it was only a matter of time before they were. If such a cemetery does turn out to contain what’s known as an elite burial, with rich grave goods of “special” people, if there is clear evidence of inequality, then perhaps we might be looking at a proto king or even a queen. And that really would be a major sea change on our understanding of humanity’s ancient history.

All in all, this book is quite a ride, a good stimulating read & highly recommended.

Mogg Morgan

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Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India


A Temple of Isis in India
On India’s south-western or malabar coast is situated an ancient Hindu temple which is these days devoted to the famous Hindu god Shiva and his consort the fearsome goddess Kali. This is Kurumbha-Bhagavathy Devi outside of the modern city of Cochin or Kochi in Kerala state.

Travel back in time and the temple housed other gods. Once it was the home of the Buddhist/Jaina goddess Pattini whose mortal husband was tried and killed in a series of brutal events still commemorated in the temple’s ritual year. Before this and the story gets even stranger, as there are said to be remains of a secret, underground shrine, the home to a mystery cult dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis.

At the time of Christ, there was indeed a Greco-Roman merchant colony based in this part of India. Greek, Roman & Near Eastern merchants travelled to India after a regular, if epic, sea journey of two thousand miles across the Arabian Ocean, making their first landfall at a port known in the ancient world as Musiris. Clues to the religious practices of these ancient traders is evident not just in the surviving architecture but in very many, sometimes unique features of the later cults, continuing into the modern day.

Some of the best examples come from the rites of Pattini as once practiced at Kurumba-Bhagavathy Devi. Experts have often identified in the story of her husband’s death and resurrection, something of the Near Eastern cult of Attis. But a more recent and credible theory is that the temple once hosted the mysteries of the cult of Isis, whose husband Osiris was also cruelly cut down but then resurrected by her magical prowess.

So without more ado let me tell the whole story from its beginnings on the banks of the Nile. The story of Isis and Osiris is the basis of Egypt’s most popular religion. In what follows I trace the origins of this to the Egypt’s pyramid age in the middle of the second millennia BCE. Arguably it is even older. A great deal of this book is devoted to describing what is known about the cult of Isis and Osiris from Egyptian records. This, I shall argue, is the basis for what comes later in the time-line, when the world was dominated by the Greek and Roman Empires. Isis and Osiris became the focus of a global religion and the basis of the most popular of all classical mystery cults. This is precisely the time at which a small, Near Eastern shrine was built in South-West India to service the needs of the merchant trading post. Mysteries of Isis were popular among all social classes in the ancient world, but especially mariners.

In India we have a building which could itself be thought of as storing the memory of influences from each new wave of belief. We can follow the progress and transformation of its changing occupants, as each absorbs some of the archeological memory. Finally we arrive at its current incarnation and the celebration of the Bharani festival, which marks the beginning of the hot summer before the coming of the Monsoon rains. Many non-orthodox rites will enliven the tale. The mysterious society of Atikals that returns to their lost temple every year to conduct secret rites culminating in twelve hours of ‘Misrule’, during which hundred of thousands of devotees appear from all over Kerala.

There are other devotees who carry sticks, which they swirl in their dancing; others brandish the sickle sword. Most of these pilgrims are non-Brahmin ritual specialists such as the Veliccappadu. Their name means “a channel who sheds light” for they are spirit mediums, men and women, followers of Kali who utter oracles when in trance. They dress in red and wear heavy anklets and bells.

In the final part of my story I present a complete and ‘lost’ version of the most famous drama of all time, the celebrated myth or passion play of Isis and murdered husband Osiris, clearly recognizable even in its current idiom based as it is in South Asian ritual drama. The drama is reproduced in its entirety as it reveals many previously unknown aspects of one of the world’s oldest myths.

Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India (Extract)

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The Philosophy of the Future: Plotinus as Dynamic Set Theorist of the Virtual (Realy!!)


Plotinus as the philosopher of the future?! In the last few posts, I’ve worked to explain some of why this is. Strange historical accidents of various sorts have erased much of his name from the history of philosophy, even as his ideas have proliferated under the names of others (most importantly, his indirect influence on figures like Spinoza and Leibniz). I’ll explain below some of the difficulties with reading Plotinus today, and why it takes some work to see the insights in his texts.

But most importantly, I want to explain here why Plotinus is a philosopher for the present, and the future. So first an appetizer of where this is going before I lay some of the necessary groundwork. Plotinus is a ultimately a set-theorist, and at the core of his thought is an attempt to deal with the same issue as has dominated twentieth century mathematics, namely, how…

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Exploring ElKab & Pre-historic semiology


The discoveries at ElKab are concentrated at the mouth of Wadi Hilal. The ancient flood waters excavated this channel between the Nile and the Red sea at Quseer. These waters  must have been mighty and sustained. Only two small outcrops of very hard rock or bergs remain.

This is “Rock of the Vultures” which we must consider the original and source of the whole area’s association with Nekhbet, the ancient vulture goddess, who is titular goddess of upper Egypt, the Nile valley and this magical desert spur.

Over 600  small votive inscriptions are documented here – some prehistoric, some Islamic but a great many from very early Egyptian old kingdom, principally the sixth dynasty. They are short biographies of the priests of the goddess Nekhbet.


The modern discoverers of these texts wondered where were the resting places of these people might be. It was not long after this that the massive rock necropolis and other ancient cemeteries were located nearby in the cliffs that  flank the wadi.


The author Morgan taking a rest in the shade, “Rock of the Vultures”


There are hundreds of votive inscription on the rock, from prehistoric to pharaonic in cursive hieroglyphs even Arabic.

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The sun makes this hard rock berg a black surface which can be pecked away to leave these prehistoric designs, gazelles, cows, and canids. There are symbolic boats identical to those found in the ancient tombs nearby included the famous painted tomb at Hieronkonpolis.

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The Khonsu’s of Karnak: a priestly family of ancient Thebes

This is the well preserved/conserved pylon gate of the temple of Khonsu, who along with his father Amun & mother Mut comprise what’s known as the Theban triad of gods. This lovely temples sits within the greater precinct or temenos of Karnak, near to the southern gateway.


Like many Egyptian temples, there are official inscriptions, but also of interest is the unofficial graphiti left by ancient priests which are to be found concentrated on the roof area.

This diagram shows the location for some of the hundreds of graphito found there:


Source:  Jacquet-Gordon, HelenThe graffiti on the Khonsu Temple roof at Karnak : a manifestation of personal pietyChicago, Ill. : Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago 2003

One of these I particularly like because it belong to a priest of Khonsu, who by a process of modern hyper-reality, was the inspiration for Aleister Crowley (1975-1947) the famous neo-pagan practitioner. Crowley was inspired by seeing the Ankhef-n-Khonsu funeral stele in a Cairo museum. It belonged to a priest in Thebes during the 23rd dynasty who in turn left his mark on the temple roof:


The text of the above Graphiti 85, written over the image of his sandaled feet reads “Made by the wab priest of Khonsu, Ankhef-n-Khonsu.”

The evidence of these graphiti tells us that priests spent many hours on the roof between duties, perhaps sleeping there during the night, socializing but also when not called, witnessing the grand processions as they wound their way onto the ceremonial causeway that links this great temple complex with the temple of Amun a few miles south of here. Some of the graphiti show these procession where the ceremonial barques were paraded.

Not only was Ankhef-n-Khonsu a priest attached to this temple, several other members of his family also did service. His father and his son left similar graphiti. Hence:

His son: Shedsu-Khonsu

Father: Khonsu-Hat

Brother: Pamani-Khonsu-en-Shuief

Grand father: Pahenu-Khonsu

Graphiti 104 is a second inscription left by Ankhef-n-Khonsu.  There are several unusual features to this inscription. It apparently shows Ankhef together with another person. At first I thought this might be his son but the text above the image of the sandaled feet contains only Ankhef’s name: “made by the god’s father of Khonsu, Ankhef-n-Khonsu. ”


If you look carefully you can see that the sandals on the right are more realistic, apart from indicating six toes! The picture on the left is altogether less competent, childlike even. The outline is shaky, the heals squared off and the arrangement of the sandal strap also seems wrong. Assuming that they were drawn by the same person, what is the reason for the duplication?


Did Ankhef-n-Khonsu had some kind of brain storm that that caused him to create this additional set of footprints.  To me he does seem to be indicating a second, perhaps recessive personality. Could it be that this is some kind of spiritual double or alter-ego ? People who theorize about the dual nature of our consciousness say there is dominant conscious persona is combined with a passive inner voice. This would be in line with the way the ancient Egyptians also conceptualized their consciousness.  This passive recessive self is also said to be childlike & non verbal.

This unique graphiti may well be a record of Ankhef-n-Khonsu’s experiences of his other spiritual self, variously called his “Akh” or “Ba”. So all the more intriguing that of all the priests the late Aleister Crowley felt a connection with, Ankhef-n-Khonsu does record a mysterious, perhaps mystical experience.

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Ancient Egyptian Lamps & Lighting, magic and the Hebrew Menorah (draft)



There is a mysterious absence of lamps in ancient Egypt, ie very few artificial lights or lamps turn up in archaeological digs.  The lack of examples is explained by the use of floating wicks, an innovation of the Ancient Egyptians. The floating wick system does not require a special or distinctive pot to contain the olive or other flammable oil. An Egyptian lamp will therefore look like any other pot. Until the invention of glass, Egyptian lamps were made of stone such as alabaster or ceramic such as terracotta. It seems likely that ritual objects in shrines were lit from below by a bowl containing several floating wicks or possibly placed in a special niche. The wick, made from twisted vegetable fibres is a common hieroglyphic sign. There is an important connection between this sign and Egyptian magick. This is also emblematic of later magick where for example  in Islam the magician is described as the “blower of knots.” – a reverence to cord magick. This leads to the additional hypothesis concerning lighting technology used by the early Hebrews whose history is usually traced to the foundation narrative of the book of Exodus. The description of the menorah or sanctuary “candelabra” used by the Hebrews in the Sinai desert is supposedly a new design dictated to Moses on mount Sinai. The original narrative has generated a number of re-constructions. My hypothesis is that the original menorah ought really to be based on the technology of the Egyptians,  containing seven floating wicks. The description of the menorah in the  Bible is compatible with floating wick system and was used in at least one Egyptian synagogue at Leontopolis. Even so it is notable that this was not the lightning technology widely  used in Israel after the Babylonian captivity. This fact presents us with perhaps an additional problem for the historicity, the truth of the Biblical narrative.

Egyptian Lamps & Lighting

F Robbins remarks on the curious lack of examples of Egyptian lamps in the archaeological record. We know that lamps must have existed because the cult of Osiris requires them. There is a famous passage from Dendara, East Osiris Chapel which says that in the month of Khoiak (Oct-Nov), the god’s boat is one of thirty-four carrying three hundred and sixty-five lamps. (Cauville etc). I’m not talking about the so-called Dendara “light bulb” – an image from the crypt that has been interpreted anachronistically by some as an ancient light bulb. (It was the preponderance of webpages devoted to this image and absence of other more traditional theories, that prompted me to write about the topic of lamps and lighting in the first instance. That and a meditation in which a colleague recalled the image of the Hebrew menorah in connection with Osiris – the latter turned out to be a more fruitful line of inquiry). Recent discoveries in underwater archaeology off Egypt’s northern coastline have yielded many bronze lamps  with spout etc (see Goddio 2006) but nothing before the late period, ie 664bce onwards,


Image of supposed Egyptian “light bulb” from Dendara – very “Terry Pratchett”

Robins makes the rather brilliant deduction that the lack of examples is explained by the Egyptian use of the floating wick. He assumes floating wicks were an innovation of the Ancient Egyptians. The floating wick system does not require a special or distinctive pot to contain the olive or other flammable oil.

This lightning technology enables us to imagine how the otherwise dark interiors of temple would have looked. It is generally thought the holy of holies was heavy chiaroscuro, alleviated by bright shafts of light from overhead skylights. Artificial lamps in stone pots would work best if placed at the base of statues, giving them an uplighted look. Translucent alabaster lamps would give a gentler illumination, Lamps might also be  placed in niches near the object. My next step is to re-explore surviving Egyptian monuments to see if there is evidence of any of this systems in use.

These lamps could look somewhat similar to supposed incense burners represented generically by the following hieroglyph (R7), which could as easily also represent a lamp:


Examples of the small components used in the floating wick system have not so far turned up in excavations probably because they are too small, delicate or made of less robust materials. Other kinds of oil lamp have a distinctive spout to hold the wick. An Egyptian lamp could look like any other pot. Robins cites several other sources from Egypt that document the use of such lights with floating wicks, either in freestanding pots, stone or ceramic, or as in later church architecture in glass bowls suspended by chains from the ceiling. This later arrangement was also adopted by Egypt’s Jewish community, still in residence during the Persian period. This report comes from the Jewish- Roman historian Josephus who says a menorah suspended on chains from the ceiling once existed in the synagogue of Onias at Leontopolis. Unfortunately this synagogue was demolished in ancient times.

The wick is made from twisted vegetable fibers. The hieroglyphic sign (V28) used to represent the phoneme H. The object represented is a wick:


This is also the first syllable of the word “Heka” which means “magick”.  It is well known that cords and ropes perform an important function within ancient Egyptian magick. This could be in the sense of surrounding something with a protective barrier as in the rope like cartouche  that surrounds the name of the king.


It is also in the use of lamps, which play an important role in the mechanics of magick. Many spells in the magical papyri used lamps, There are also special lamps in the shape of protective deities such as the spitting cobra, deployed to protect the sleeping quarters of the vulnerable. In these lamps, the word used for fire is  Nsr.t (anglicized as Nesret) although it is still uncertain whether this refers to the flame or a more generic burning associated with the protective cobras. Jill Smethills, in her recent article “Playing with fire”, surveys the 30 or so known terms for fire in the Egyptian language, confirming again the curious gap in the archaeological record concerning artificial lighting,[1]

Lamps are also used in various contexts to repel unwanted spirits. We could almost refer to lamp magick as a specialty. Needless to say, all of the extant examples of such lamps come from the late period onwards , ie after 664bce, none have apparently survived from the earlier periods.

The practice of cord magic of various sorts never dies out. In the Koran magicians are referred to as “blowers on knots” (Koran CXIII & CXIV). This is interpreted as a reference to practitioners of knot magick, The magicians doing this by reciting incantations to do harm on others while they tie ‘knots’ in a string (see Ahmad Al Safi 2006: 122). The final two chapters of the Koran, collectively called Mu’awazatain are a refuge against such activities.

Hebrew Menorah

“Early cultic menorah, traditionally the tabernacle menorah were not seven armed, despite the conventional view inspired by the text of Exodus” Rachel Hachlili

Which brings me to the topic of the Hebrew menorah. The Menorah is the seven branched “candelabra” supposedly described in Biblical / Torah passages. Modern scholarship in Hebrew studies tells us that the usual English translation is misleading and in fact the earliest forms of this cultic lamp stand did not have seven branches! This was an innovation of the so-called second temple period in Israel when in 539bce the Jews, as they then called themselves, returned from exile in Babylon, rebuilt the ruined temple and reconstructed its equipment. So the Menorah was an oil lamp, which judging by the description of the talent of gold used in its construction would have weighed more than 100lbs.

“Candalabra” is written here in inverted commas because candles had not yet been invented. Of if they had then they were not widely used. According to Forbes[1]The earliest surviving candles originated in China around 200 BC, and were made from whale fat. European candles of antiquity were of natural fat, tallow, and wax. In Ancient Rome, candles were made of tallow. It is possible that they also existed in Greece,

Perhaps it is naive but one might expect the lighting systems of the early Hebrews to mirror those of the ancient Egyptians. I say this on the basis of the famous Biblical (Torah & Koran) narrative of the Exodus, ie the account of the Hebrews supposed residence in Egypt, eventually declining to a despised ethnic minority and eventually seeking to leave, etc. It is remarkable how many scholarly books make little out of this supposed connection. Hachlili’s[2] seminal study of the Menorah is fairly dismissive of any Egyptian antecedents. On the other hand, C L Meyers, whose work is discussed by Hachlili says “the Egyptian background to the image is striking”.[3]

Here’s the Biblical passage in English that describes the construction of the “candelabra ” used in the portable  shrine used during the suppose forty year sojourn of the Hebrews in the Sinai desert:

“Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. The buds and branches shall be all of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.

Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25 31-40).

Hachlili contends that a more faithful translation from the original Hebrew should read:

“and you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the menorah shall be made of hammered work, its cup, its capitals and its flowers shall be of one piece with it and there shall be six reeds (arms) going out at the sides” [4]

This rephrasing means that the menorah refers to the lamp stand. The six reeds (ganeh) are a decorative feature on the main shaft. C L Myers sees in this word “reed” a clear homage to the Egyptian reed plant. The whole forming perhaps an symbolic plant, perhaps even a “tree of life/light”. The reference to flowers could also be the well known lotus and papyrus motif of Egyptian decorative art. Alternatively, the three reeds attached to the central stem might resemble vertebrae, as in the famous Djed pillar of ancient Egypt,

Other passages of the Bible also fail to mention that the menorah has seven branches and lamps. For example II Chronicles 4, 21

“The flowers, the lamps and the tongs of purest gold”

Zechariah, the 6th century bce prophet provides the first mention of seven lamps “a menorah all of gold with a bowl on the top of it and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps. “ Zechariah 4, 2-3.


Suggested reconstruction of Zachariah’s lamp from Hachlili

From this we also learn something of how the lighting system worked, the lamp stand holds ceramic bowls full of lamp oil, placed on each of the flower-like structures.

My thesis is that the Biblical/Torah description is compatible with the floating wick system as invented by the ancient Egyptians.  It is even possible the business end of the lamp described as having “three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms ” might be an unrecognised attempt to describe this, the “ buds” of the flower like floating component which would be placed inside the main oil receptacle,  itself also flower like.  Almond blossoms have six petals, perhaps this could be related to the shape of the float.

Finally, does this theory have any relevance to the historicity or otherwise of the Biblical account of a mass Exodus from Egypt? If we accept the theory the Egyptians used the floating wick system then we might expect the Hebrew ethnic minority to takes some of this technology with them when they exited. It is usually thought that technology transfer is less loaded than other kinds of transmission of ideas. One can imagine an ancient people might reject aspects of the host’s theology but  still retain some of the practical skills they have learnt. Although the description of the archaic Hebrew menorah is compatible with the hypothesized Egyptian lighting system, this has not thus far evidenced in surviving examples of lamps in Israel.


Hathoresque Lamp, Second Temple Period

Israel’s foundation narrative and description of the menorah was only actually written, redacted, edited a thousand years or more after time these events could have happened. From the point of view of Egyptian historical records there is nothing that incontrovertibly even points to such an exodus. Attempts to match Egypt and Biblical history remain mainly speculative, thus far at least.

The Menorah should be based on an Egyptian design but all surviving examples are all post Babylonian exile, second temple reconstructions. The new equipment used in the second Jerusalem temple show more the influence of Mesopotamia and the archaic Greek world. This is to be expected. Hence a great deal of their later technology, lighting, calendrics etc has lost any Egyptian patterns it might once have had. It’s almost as if the ancient Hebrew sojourn in Egypt has never actually happened.



Ahman Al Safi, Traditional Sudanese Medicine, 2006

Grace M Crawfoot & D B Harden, “Byzantine glass lamps” JEA 17, 196ff

Forbes, R J (1955). Studies in Ancient technology. pp. 139–140.ISBN 9789004006263. Retrieved 7 November 2014.

Rachel Hachlili,  The menorah, the ancient seven-armed candelabrum : origin, form, and significance, Leiden Brill 2001

N De Garis Davies, “A peculiar form of New Kingdom Lamp” JEA 10 9ff

Josephus War 7 428-29, “Temple of Onias in Leontopolis, Egypt”

For the Dendera texts see Chassinat, Cauville 1997; cf. F. Daumas, LÄ s.v. “Choiakfeste”; Lloyd 2.276–79. For the navigation rite see, e.g., cols. 20–21, 113–14 (Cauville 1997: 1.16, 25).

Franck Goddio (2006) Egypt’s sunken treasures, Munich ; New York : Prestel

Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw (eds.) 2000,  Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, Cambridge

F W Robins, “The lamps of ancient Egypt” JEA 25 pt2 (1939) pp184-187

Jill Smethills, “Playing with fire” Ancient Egypt Magazine 15.1 Aug/Sep 2014 pp12-16.

C L Meyers (1976) The menorah etc

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“Bride of the Nile”- an orientalist myth about Egyptian culture? Author: Mogg Morgan

A young woman, scantily clad except for a long diaphanous wedding veil, stands on a stone platform. She is barefoot, and chained by her ankles to a heavy rock; her hands are tied at her sides. She is to be thrown into the river as a sacrifice.

This ubiquitous myth about Egyptian culture, ancient and Coptic, panders to the western taste for exoticism and the “barbaric” but fascinating east. In a nutshell, a beautiful maiden is  supposedly married to the river god, her wedding day attended by many thousands of “well wishers” concludes with her immolation by drowning. The practice was supposedly revived by Coptic Christians to indulge their Roman masters’ taste for sex and death. Then supposedly banned by the Muslim Omar within living memory but still celebrated in effigy in annual Nile regattas. It has inspired at least two modern Egyptomaniacal novels, one, which gives its name to this article, by the celebrated Georg Ebers, Egyptologist and novelist, whose main claim to fame is the discovering of the important medical papyri that bears his name.


The famous image above By W Gentz, taken from Eber’s
(Aegypten in Bild und Wort (Picturesque Egypt) (1878) vol 1226

Another retelling of the myth is Robert Hume, “Meroth: The Sacrifice to the Nile – a tradegy” , is a mercifully short, five act play, privately printed 1850.  “Meroth” is the name of the play’s principle character, an Egyptian high priest, symbolizing “perverted knowledge”. One purpose of this kind of novel is to demonstrate the clear superiority of Christianity over the supposed Pagan dark continent.

It even appears on early Pathe News film . . .

According to early Islamic sources, the practice was revived at the urging of the Coptic community, after a series of particularly poor inundations. Ebers writes that “As soon as the cutting of the dykes takes place, a coarsely moulded figure made of Nile mud is — even to this day — flung into the river with much rejoicing of the people, by whom it is called “the bride”; and it is considered as a substitute for a fair virgin who, it is said, used to be richly dressed as a bride and cast into the stream to purchase its favours. When, after the founding of Fostât, the Nile did not rise to its proper level, Ibn-Ayas relates that the Copts implored the governor Amroo to allow them to offer such a victim to the river. The general refused, but when the Nile remained at its low level and famine seemed to threaten the land, Amroo made the Kalif Omar acquainted with the state of affairs. His messenger came back with a letter and the order to cast it into the Nile. Amroo obeys, and the very next night the Nile reached the required level of sixteen ells; the letter of the Commander of the Faithful contained these words: “To the blessed Nile of Egypt. If up till this time thou hast flowed only by thine own will, then cease to flow; but if thy stream was obedient to the command of the most high God, we beseech that God that he will grant thee thy necessary increase.” This pretty legend is hardly credible, because the ancient Egyptian faith forbids human sacrifice as strictly as the Christian religion itself. However, in pre-Islamite times some kind of offering was no doubt cast into the stream, though not a maiden; and Makreezee tells us, so circumstantially as to exclude all doubt, that in the fourteenth century the Christians were wont to throw a reliquary with the finger of a saint into the Nile to secure a good inundation.”

This accusation against the Copts actually comes from the ninth-century writer Ibn cAbd el-Hakam in his historical work Futuh Misr ([The History of the] Conquests of Egypt). “He is a traditionalist rather than a pure historian. He was interested mainly in historical incidents which illustrated early Muslim Arab customs which he could use to teach Islamic law.”(1)

Thus the Muslim conquerors are cast as civilizing influences that stopped a barbaric custom. The issue is still relevant as apparently there have been modern political discussions circulating on the web, reviving the potentially dangerous slander against the Copts. So once again “history becomes sociology”.(2)

Origins of the Myth
So what is the origin of this myth, which most experts agree has no basis in Egyptian culture, Pharaonic or Coptic (The myth later reemerges as a “slander” against Coptic Christians, )? The finger of blame for this story is usually pointed at Roman author Plutarch. You can look in vain for this in his masterly study of Egyptian culture “Isis and Osiris”. In fact scholars agree the source is pseudo-epigraphy, ie later work ascribed to Plutarch but by no means displaying his genius. The second century AD work, whose abbreviated title is “De Fluviis” (About Rivers) full title “About Rivers and things found in them.”

The passage reads:

“Nile is a river of Egypt near the city of Alexandria. Formerly it was called Melas from Melas, a child of Poseidon. Later it was instead called Egyptus for a reason of this sort. Egyptus, a child of Hephaestus and Leucippe, was king of the regions, and, through a civil war, since the Nile did not rise and the natives were oppressed by famine, the Pythis delivered the solution: if the king sacrifice his daughter to the gods as an averter. Distressed by the evils, the tyrant conducted Aganippe to the altars. When she was sacrificed, Egyptus, through surfeit of grief, flung himself into the river Melas, which, from him, was renamed Egyptus.”(3)

Interesting though this text is for other reasons, it does not display any genuine first hand knowledge of Egyptian religion. Modern Arabists have several suggestions as to where this pseudo-Plutarch got this story. Dr Ahmad Al Safi has produced a primer for health care providers, researchers and students entitled “Tradition Sudanese Medicine”. It’s a mine of information on local folklore, the Nile Bride being one example of a common myth to be dispelled. This is relevant to health care because it has been reported (Tigani Al Mahi 1959) that mental breakdown occurs in some patients when the Nile inundation is immanent. “Sudanese people offer Nile sacrifices to pacify it. The sacrifices are of several kinds, but do not include the sacrifice of young women, as has been unjustifiably reported.” (p68). Ni’mat Ahman Fouad, an Egyptian folklorist, discredits the myth in her book Al-Nil fi Al-Adab Al Shabi. (The Nile in Folklore) She quotes the views of many historians and Egyptologists; all agree that the custom never existed. They do not find any evidence for it in Pharaonic times, nor could they consider that Christianity could have condoned such a brutal practice in the Christian era.” (4 : 68)

“She goes on the consider the Harris Papyrus (1198-1167bc) as the possible source. The Papyrus states that food was offered to Hapi, the Nile God, and that, Egyptian priests also made six idols out of wood for the Nile gods and an equal number for Repyt, the consort of Hapi. Other statues were also made of silver, gold and precious stones. These were all thrown into the Nile just before flooding to celebrate Hapi’s festivities. The priests then made another set for the next season.”

The Great Harris Papyrus certainly lives up to its name, one of the largest temple scrolls thus far found. It was excavated at Deir El Madina but its original home would be the “small” (main) temple of Amun situated in the sacred precinct of Medinet Habu, a complex and important site dominated by the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, for whose benefit this papyrus was compiled. It documents the offerings and provisions for for the annual feast of Opet, dedicated to Amun and the Theban triad. The manuscript is in five parts, the last section detailing a feast to mark the beginning of the inundation or to ensure it achieves its optimum level. It is here that one reads of the preparations of cult statues of Hapu, the personification of the Nile and also statues/effigies of his bride Rypet, both made of sycamore wood:

Sycamore wood for statues for the “book of Hapu”
Sycamore wood for effigies of his wife for the “Book of Hapu” (5)

If one compares the Ramesside mss with the Arab account, there is a very interesting example of “archaeological memory”. Al Hakam’s account of the supposed abolition of human sacrifice by Caliph Omar, says this is done via a “letter to the Nile”, which is offered to the Nile in lieu of the “bride”. Arabic “kitab” means any written document, a letter or a complete book.

The Arab Caliph exercises a sacerdotal authority over the spirits of the Nile through the power of his written word. The remarkable thing about this is that in the pharaonic example 2000years earlier, the ritual is referred to as the “Book of Hapu”.

The meaning of the above designation is not oblivious and requires a bit of complex theorizing by the Egyptologist. The “Book” must refer to the papyrus on which is written the entire rubric of the ritual. The vast papyrus also in some sense transfers merit to Ramses III, the feast’s patron, whose generosity is recorded in the Harris papyrus for eternity. In a real sense, every time someone reads to book, the rite is accomplished and his soul accumulates more merit.

More than this is that the unusual designation “Book of Hapu” has been interpreted by some to mean that the book itself, or that part of the rubric, was offered to the Nile, casting it into the waters, or perhaps burning on the sacrificial alter and casting the ashes in the Nile.

This ritual action is suggested by lines 6 & 10 in the popular “Hymn to the Nile”:

1 O Inundation of Nile, offerings are made to thee:
2 Oxen are slain to thee:
3 Great festivals are kept for thee;
4 Fowls are sacrificed to thee;
5 Beasts of the field are caught for thee
6 Pure flames are offered to thee;
7 Offerings are made to every god,
8 As they are made unto Nile.
9 Incense ascends unto heaven,
10 Oxen, bulls, fowls are burnt!
11 Nile makes for himself chasms in the Thebaid;
12 Unknown is his name in heaven,
13 He doth not manifest his form!
14 Vain are all representations! (6)

This offering of a letter also recalls another ancient magical technique. I’m thinking of the New Testament story of the centurion asking Jesus to cure his son, intuitively knowing that Jesus’ command of spirits works in same way as the soldier’s command of his slaves. The words used are similar to technical formulae seen everywhere in the magical papyri, “do it now, and do it quickly”.(7)

There are other examples of rituals in which the mere description acts, “pars pro toto” ie just a part representing the whole, in this case the writing representing the whole rite. For example in the Magical Papyri there is a rite to consecrate a magical ring, using a ritual with a very long pedigree called “Opening the Mouth” – however all the details of the rite can be omitted apart from the first word “Ouphor” which then stands as the name and potentiator of the whole rite.(8)

So the Arab version of the rite seems to be a mash-up of several sources, the erroneous Neo-platonic account of pseudo-Plutarch; but also a genuine understanding of the mechanics of magic, which uses a letter or book with similar understanding to the original Egyptian manuscript. There is also an acknowledgement of a tutelary spirit of the river Nile, to which offerings can be made. It is also a good example of “archaeological memory”; that Egyptian Muslims have a connection through time with ancient pharaonic culture and practice. This connection could be via works of earlier Islamic historians whose work is otherwise unknown to us or more probably via a living, oral tradition. Thus one may or another there is much we can learn from this story but one thing that is worth saying is that in the ancient Egyptian ritual there is no human sacrifice. This is a joyous feast uniting aristocrat, priest and commoner where effigies of the wife of the Nile god are offered, not as sacrifices but as a reenactment of the primary coupling of Hapu with his bride. This is all classic Egypt image magick.

Mogg Morgan
Oxford 2014



[1. Ibn ʿAbd al-Ḥakam, Kitāb futuḥ misr wa akbārahā, edited and with English preface by Charles Torrey (English title The History of the Conquests of Egypt, North Africa, and Spain), Yale University Press, 1922. preface]

[2. See Ahmes Labib Pahor discussion of the legend of the so-called “Nile Bride” in Mariam F. Ayad, Coptic Culture: Past, Present and Future. Stevenage: Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, 2011. Pp. xiii, 238. ISBN 9781935488279. $45.00. reviewed in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.02.08 ]

[3. section XVI Nile – Pseudo-Plutarch “About Rivers and Mountains and things found in Them” translated by Thomas M Banchich with Sarah Brill, Emilyn Haremza, Dustin Hummel and Ryan Post, Canusius College, Buffalo, NY 2010]

[4. Dr Ahmad Al Safi “Tradition Sudanese Medicine”]

[5. Pierre Grandet Le Papyrus Harris I (BM 9999) (not to be confused with Harris Magical Pap BM10042) – 3 vols Inst FranCais D’ArchEologie Oriental , Vol1 page 298 List D. See notes 593 for extended essay on significance of this passage, also fn616, fn706-707 . ]

[6. Circa 2100BCE, Translated by Rev. F. C. Cook (1901)]

[7. Robert Conner, Magic in the new Testament, Mandrake 2010 p175 ]

[8. See Mogg Morgan (2014) “Phi-Neter:Power of the Egyptian Gods”, Mandrake]

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