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Ancient Egyptian texts: The Legend of Re and Isis
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The Legend of Re and Isis

The chapter of the divine (or, mighty) god, who created himself, who made the heavens and the earth, and the breath of life, and fire, and the gods, and men, and beasts, and cattle, and reptiles, and the fowl of the air, and the fish, who is the king of men and gods, [who existeth] in one form, [to whom] periods of one hundred and twenty years are as single years, whose names by reason of their multitude are unknowable, for [even] the gods know them not. -   god, who created himself, who made the heavens and the earth: In Egypt there were a number of different creation myths: the Memphite tradition saw Ptah as creator, the Heliopolitan Atem.
  names by reason of their multitude are unknowable: knowing somebody's name gave one power over him (cf heka)
Behold, the goddess Isis lived in the form of a woman, who had the knowledge of words [of power]. Her heart turned away in disgust from the millions of men, and she chose for herself the millions of the gods, but esteemed more highly the millions of the spirits. Was it not possible to become even as was Ra in heaven and upon earth, and to make [herself] mistress of the earth, and a [mighty] goddess - thus she meditated in her heart - by the knowledge of the name of the holy god?   words [of power]: magical spells
  Ra: Atem became as the setting sun one of the aspects of Re, and during the New Kingdom Re fused with Amen.
Behold, Ra entered [heaven] each day at the head of his mariners, establishing himself upon the double throne of the two horizons. Now the divine one had become old, he dribbled at the mouth, and he let his emissions go forth from him upon the earth, and his spittle fell upon the. ground. This Isis kneaded in her hand, with [some] dust, and she fashioned it in the form of a sacred serpent, and made it to have the form of a dart, so that none might be able to escape alive from it, and she left it lying upon the road whereon the great god travelled, according to his desire, about the two lands.   emissions: bodily fluids were part of a persons essence
  sacred serpent: snakes have a dual role, both protective and destructive
  two lands: Upper and Lower Egypt
Then the holy god rose up in the tabernacle of the gods in the great double house (life, strength, health!) among those who were in his train, and [as] he journeyed on his way according to his daily wont, the holy serpent shot its fang into him, and the living fire was departing from the god's own body, and the reptile destroyed the dweller among the cedars.   the living fire was departing from the god's own body: Egyptian gods were not indestructible, e.g. Osiris was killed by his brother Seth and dismembered.
And the mighty god opened his mouth, and the cry of His Majesty (life, strength, health!) reached unto the heavens, and the company of the gods said, "What is it?" and his gods said, "What is the matter?" And the god found [no words] wherewith to answer concerning himself. His jaws shook, his lips trembled, and the poison took possession of all his flesh just as Hapi taketh possession of the land through which he floweth.   Hapi: the Nile
Then the great god made firm his heart (i.e., took courage) and he cried out to those who were in his following: "Come ye unto me, O ye who have come into being from my members, ye gods who have proceeded from me, for I would make you to know what hath happened. I have been smitten by some deadly thing, of which my heart hath no knowledge, and which I have neither seen with my eyes nor made with my hand; and I have no knowledge at all who hath done this to me. I have never before felt any pain like unto it, and no pain can be worse than this [is]. I am a Prince, the son of a Prince, and the divine emanation which was produced from a god. I am a Great One, the son of a Great One, and my father hath determined for me my name. I have multitudes of names, and I have multitudes of forms, and my being existeth in every god. I have been invoked (or, proclaimed?) by Temu and Heru-Hekennu.   the son of a Prince: he was self-created
  Temu: Atem
  Heru-Hekennu: One of the Lower Egyptian forms of Horus worshipped at Bubastis, son of Osiris and Bast
My father and my mother uttered my name, and [they] hid it in my body at my birth so that none of those who would use against me words of power might succeed in making their enchantments have dominion over me. I had come forth from my tabernacle to look upon that which I had made, and was making my way through the two lands which I had made, when a blow was aimed at me, but I know not of what kind.   my name, and [they] hid it in my body: the name was one of the most important parts of a person, embodying his essence and needing protection.
  their enchantments have dominion over me: as the centuries passed magic and irrational thinking played an ever larger part in Egyptian religious thought
Behold, is it fire? Behold, is it water? My heart is full of burning fire, my limbs axe shivering, and my members have darting pains in them. Let there be brought unto me my children the gods, who possess words of magic, whose mouths are cunning [in uttering them], and whose powers reach up to heaven."   who possess words of magic: Magic had always been a part of healing. When the cause of an illness or any remedy for it were unknown they resorted to magical spells (cf. Egyptian medicine.
Then his children came unto him, and every god was there with his cry of lamentation; and Isis came with her words of magic, and the place of her mouth [was filled with] the breath of life, for the words which she putteth together destroy diseases, and her words make to live those whose throats are choked (i.e., the dead). And she said, "What is this, O divine father? What is it ? Hath a serpent shot his venom into thee? Hath a thing which thou hast fashioned lifted up its head against thee ? Verily it shall be overthrown by beneficent words of power, and I will make it to retreat in the sight of thy rays."   And she said, "What is this ....: Cunning was part of all the ancient gods' arsenal. They were amoral, beyond Good and Evil.
The holy god opened his mouth, [saying]: "I was going along the road and passing through the two lands of my country, for my heart wished to look upon what I had made, when I was bitten by a serpent which I did not see; behold, is it fire? Behold, is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire, all my members sweat, I myself quake, mine eye is unsteady. I cannot look at the heavens, and water forceth itself on my face as in the time of the inundation."
And Isis said unto Ra, "O my divine father, tell me thy name, for he who is able to pronounce his name liveth."
[And Ra said], "I am the maker of the heavens and the earth, I have knit together the mountains, and I have created everything which existeth upon them. I am the maker of the Waters, and I have made Meht-ur to come into being; I have made the Bull of his Mother, and I have made the joys of love to exist. I am the maker of heaven, and I have made to be hidden the two gods of the horizon, and I have placed the souls of the gods within them. I am the Being who openeth his eyes and the light cometh; I am the Being who shutteth his eyes and there is darkness. I am the Being who giveth the command, and the waters of Hapi burst forth, I am the Being whose name the gods know not. I am the maker of the hours and the creator of the days. I am the opener of the festivals, and the maker of the floods of water. I am the creator of the fire of life whereby the works of the houses are caused to come into being. I am Kheperi in the morning, and Ra at the time of his culmination , and Temu in the evening."'
  Meht-ur: mH.t-wr.t, the ocean of the heavens
  creator of the days: Re is of course the sungod, when he begins his journey through the sky the day begins.
  opener: the inaugurator
  Kheperi: The rising sun, depicted as a scarab
  his culmination : at noon
Nevertheless the poison was not driven from its course, and the great god felt no better. Then Isis said unto Ra, "Among the things which thou hast said unto me thy name hath not been mentioned. O declare thou it unto me, and the poison shall come forth; for the person who hath declared his name shall live."
Meanwhile the poison burned with blazing fire and the heat thereof was stronger than that of a blazing flame. Then the Majesty of Ra, said, "I will allow myself to be searched through by Isis, and my name shall come forth from my body and go into hers."
  O declare thou it unto me, and the poison shall come forth: Re must have been overcome with pain to agree to this blackmail. To fight an ailment one needed the true name of the agent causing it, in order to invoke and expel the agent, rather than the name of the sufferer.
Then the divine one hid himself from the gods, and the throne in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. And it came to pass that when it was the time for the heart to come forth [from the god], she said unto her son Horus, "The great god shall bind himself by an oath to give his two eyes."
Thus was the great god made to yield up his name, and Isis, the great lady of enchantments, said, "Flow on, poison, and come forth from Ra; let the Eye of Horus come forth from the god and shine(?) outside his mouth. I have worked, and I make the poison to fall on the ground, for the venom hath been mastered. Verily the name hath been taken away from the great god. Let Ra live, and let the poison die; and if the poison live then Ra shall die. And similarly, a certain man, the son of a certain man, shall live and the poison shall die."
  a certain man, the son of a certain man, shall live and the poison shall die: Isis was often invoked against poisons
These were the words which spoke Isis, the great lady, the mistress of the gods, and she had knowledge of Ra in his own name. The above words shall be said over an image of Temu and an image of Heru-Hekennu, and over an image of Isis and an image of Horus.

Sources: E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods

 


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October 2003

 

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