An Egyptian Magical Stele (Cippus), Late Period, ca. 664-332 BC

a brown serpentine cippus, or magical stele, here the child Horus emerges from the background in high relief, with his left leg striding forward and his head directly facing the viewer.  Although there is loss to the right side of his face, the long side lock of youth can be seen on his right shoulder.   Above him is the head of Bes, the dwarf deity with leonine features who had traditionally protected households but by this time had become a more general protective deity.  To symbolize his magic powers, Horus stands upon two opposing crocodiles, each scaly tail extending up the border edge, holding two snakes in each hand, a lion also in his left hand, a scorpion and a jackal in his right. The back, sides and base, in fact every available surface is incised with hieroglyphic inscriptions that contains magic spells to protect against poisonous bites and wounds and to cure the illnesses caused by them.  With proper recitations, a liquid poured over the stela by either the owner, a priest, or a physician would be charged with the power of the inscribed spells and images. Persons who desired a cure or protection against poisonous wounds could drink this liquid or pour it over themselves.  The carved suspension loop at the top together with the size and condition suggest this piece was worn and handled often, clearly being a much loved piece.

 Cippi (a type of stelae) were popular from the sixth century BC onwards, although they appear as early as the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC), when they were made of wood rather than stone. They were intended to prevent as well as cure snake bites and scorpion stings where, a victim could recite or drink water that had been poured over the magic words and images on the stela. 

According to myth, while Horus and his mother, Isis, were hiding in the marshes of the Delta, the child became ill. In her despair, she cried for help to the "Boat of Eternity" (the sun boat in which the god travels over the sky), "and the sun disk stopped opposite her and did not move from his place." Thoth was sent from the sun boat to help Isis and cured Horus by reciting a catalogue of spells. The spells always ended with the phrase "and the protection of the afflicted as well," indicating that by using these spells, any type of affliction in human beings would be healed.

Literature:  G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

Condition:  The heavy wear and smooth surface are consistent with repeated use, break to the suspension loop at the top and some loss to the right side of the Horus face, otherwise intact and in very good condition overall.   A most fascinating piece.

Dimensions: Height: 6 cm (2.4 inches) 

Provenance:  Private collection of Robert J. Molnar, Hillsdale, NJ, acquired 1960s.


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