A Handbook of Egyptian Religion

By Adolf Erman; A. S. Griffith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI

MAGIC

MAGIC is a barbarous offshoot of religion, and is an attempt to influence the powers that preside over the destiny of mankind. It is not difficult to see how the belief in such a possibility could arise. On one occasion it appears that a prayer has been heard by the deity, on another it is apparently ignored; thus the idea naturally arises that the words in which the prayer was uttered on the first occasion must have been specially acceptable to the god. This construction is therefore accepted as the most effective, and becomes a formula which is regarded as certainly successful and able to control destiny. This erroneous conclusion leads further to the adoption of certain actions or prohibitions. To-day we have been lucky in some particulars in which we were unlucky yesterday: obviously we offended the deity yesterday in some way, whereas to-day we have pleased him. Could we only discover how this was, we might in future avoid the misfortune and secure the good luck. He who ponders over these matters, and understands the nature of the gods, may soon discover this point, and he who is most intimately acquainted with the gods must necessarily be the best magician. In the case of the Egyptians, it was the "chief kherheb" (p. 55), the priest who knew the sacred writings from beginning to end, who was considered to be the man best qualified.

When once the ideas of a nation have struck out in this direction--and it is precisely the youthful unsophisticated nations that are most readily attracted by it--there is no check on it, and by the side of the noble plant of religion there flourishes this fantastic weed of magic. With nations of limited

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