Healing, Emotions & Relationships © Martyn Carruthers 2009

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Egypt was long civilized even in ancient times, when it was renowned for its science, art and medicine. Ancient Egyptian medicine was rooted in both theoretical magic and observation.

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Ancient Egyptian Healing

In the ancient world, you were healthy or you were dead!

Egypt has been a civilized country for about 5000 years. If you were ill in ancient times, the best place to be sick would have been Egypt. Egyptian physicians were revered across the Mediterranean world and their healing methods were studied (and copied) by Greek, Persian, Phoenician, Hebrew and Roman healers.

We gained our insights into the medical practices of ancient Egypt from centuries of Egyptology – from the study of archaeological sites, medical scrolls, mummified remains and pictures of bodies.
(Note: Egyptology originated in ancient Egypt … the ancient Egyptians researched and tried to understand their distant ancestors.)

Osiris, Lord of the Afterlife

Egyptian civilization is OLD! Cleopatra is further in time from Cheops
(the pyramid builder) than we are from Cleopatra!

In ancient Egypt, diseases were generally considered to be caused by gods, demons and ghosts, by dark magic, evil spirits and by poisons. Hence, ancient Egyptian doctors were also exorcists and magicians – they used rituals, spells and counter-spells as well as herbal remedies and surgery. The basis of Egyptian medicine was to heal both the body and the mind as a path for returning to health.

The historian Herodotus wrote in 400 BC that Egypt had medical specialists, including experts in eye diseases and women’s problems. In the second century CE, Clement of Alexandria mentioned Egyptian medical books about anatomy, diseases and remedies:

  1. Berlin Medical Papyrus
  2. London Medical Papyrus
  3. Kahun Papyrus (gynecology)
  4. Hearst medical papyrus
  5. Ebers Papyrus (head, skin & digestive maladies)
  6. Edwin Smith Papyrus (surgical treatment)

(The London Magical Papyrus includes magical spells for treating physical ailments).

Physician Hesi Re, 2650 BC

The old Egyptians called depression: fever in the heart, dryness of the heart, falling of the heart and kneeling of the mind. (We understand that the old Egyptians considered heart and mind to be the same. Brain tissue was not considered worthy of embalming or mummifying).

One solution for mental problems was to sleep in a temple. The island temple of Philae (near Aswan) was a center of temple sleep. Dreams there (likely influenced by the temple surroundings and confidence in supernatural powers), were interpreted by priests.

Temple at Philae (Photo: Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz)

Herodotus wrote that the ancient people of Egypt were healthy. That was true compared to lesser developed regions, although ancient Egyptian scribes, mummies and skeletons tell other stories. Although Egypt’s fruit and vegetables were famous around the Mediterranean, we know that many people had lung problems from breathing dust and tooth problems from eating sandy food. Many young children died. Operations were seldom performed, not even tooth extractions. Very few people lived to the age of sixty although wealthy people lived longer than average.

We know from mummified bodies that many ancient Egyptians suffered from malnutrition, arthritis, bilharzia, eye diseases, heart diseases, infections, tetanus, diabetes, smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, plagues and cancer. Priests and their families had a higher incidence of blocked arteries, from eating the sacrificial food. Contrary to New Age ideas, Egypt did not enjoy a golden age of health.

Great physicians could be deified. Temples were erected to worship Imhotep, the physician and vizier of King Zoser (3rd dynasty). Imhotep was also an astronomer, architect and the builder of the Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara. (The Greeks later identified Imhotep with their own deified doctor, Asclepias.)

Imhotep, Louvre Museum, Paris

Our modern medicine focuses on healing the body.
Healing the mind seems to have hardly improved since the time of Imhotep.

Still, those pragmatic Egyptian healers developed medical and dental cures that were copied for centuries. Few aspects of Egyptian healing now continue … most of their remedies are long forgotten. Some ingredients are difficult to find and some ingredients would scare or disgust Westerners. Yet every remedy offers insights into the minds and views of ancient Egyptians.

As some diseases were perceived to be caused by sorcerers, deities or demons, many healing activities were based on sympathetic magic. On the other hand, modern doctors might have few problems with their treatment of scorpion stings, snake bites, wounds and physical injuries.

Oh My Gods!

Egyptian gods could evolve. The earliest Egyptians were nomadic hunters, and their gods appear to have been warlike and bloodthirsty, and later developed into a pantheon of gods more appropriate to agricultural villages and towns. Pharaohs, workers, merchants and peasants could choose which gods to worship.

Like many Asiatic Great Mother goddesses, Nut (the sky) was a virgin goddess and partner of Geb (the earth). In Egypt Isis combined the attributes of many Great Mothers, who were perceived as earlier manifestations of her, with Osiris as her male partner and Horus her divine son. Together they created a holy trinity and a holy family that probably inspired the founders of later religions.

Ancient Egyptians believed that we consist of five elements; the Ba, the Ka, the Akh, the Name and the Shadow. Prayers and incantations that attuned these elements to the gods were part of healing. For example, Sekhmet was the goddess of healing, Hathor was originally seven beautiful goddesses of fertility (later adopted as a single Aphrodite by the Greeks), and Bes was a deity of childbirth.

As some of this resonates with Polynesian spirituality, it has been suggested that ancient Phoenician sailors and navigators took Egyptian knowledge and Carthaginian navigation far to the East.

Cults of a Great Mother are widespread cults across history. Almost every people and agricultural tribe seems to have honored a goddess of harvest and fertility. Many of these goddesses merged into the cult of Isis (known now as Mother Nature) – Isis reflected nature’s cycles of seasons, life and death, the rebirth of life and the resurrection of the sun every winter solstice.

Ancient Egyptian Life

In ancient Egypt, religion was integrated into everyday life. Traditional religious rituals and healing methods were used together for people’s health and harmony. Here, if you wish, you can explore a little of what we know about the ancient Egypt world-view.

Relax … slow down … take a deep breath or two … and imagine an older time … between endless deserts … back in time … by a huge river … in an Egyptian village … under blinding sun … with the smell of cattle … and the sounds of insects …

… where we live together by a huge river surrounded by haunted deserts. We have known each other since birth, and most of us are related. We believe we are descended from the same ancestors and created by the same gods. We know everybody in our village – we know their qualities and problems. We want to live in harmony with our neighbors and with our gods. And we want to live forever.

Our basic wisdom is Ma’at, the structure of reality: truth, order and balance. Ma’at is our guiding principle for living good lives and avoiding esefet (evil) and the temptations of the dark god Set. (Set is the god of imbalance: of lies, chaos and confusion.) Prayer and worship are important parts of our daily lives. May we walk with the gods every day.

Our wise elders and pharaoh guide us. We want harmony amongst ourselves, with mother nature, with other communities and with the spirit worlds. Our pharaoh is our wisest and bravest; a descendent of the gods and a god. Through pharaoh’s wisdom there is stability and order within our very Egypt. And our pharaohs lead us along the road to eternal life …

Our daily life is our religion … we use rituals to guide and help ourselves. We are careful not to offend the gods; instead we want to please them.

Goddess Hathor

Sun God Ra

Our elders tell us what is right and what is forbidden. We need life-energy (ki) for all our actions, and we create life-energy by living right, with our elders’ guidance.

We respect our elders as the keepers of our wisdom and the teachers of our children. Our elders teach us how to live, and we must carefully learn. Our elders may choose children with special talents to be trained to become the new experts and scribes. Our pharaoh is an incarnation of Horus, and can communicate directly with the gods on our behalf. May we live forever.

We make our own essentials, or we trade for them, although we build boats and buildings together. We often farm and work together. Our desert hunters know every star and breeze; and our boat captains know every sand bar and current.

Disease reflects imbalance. Did the diseased person offend an ancestor, the pharaoh or a god? We heal disease with herbs, prayers and with magical rituals – and we heal wounds with surgery, poultices and bandages. Our healing rituals are based on the knowledge of our elders and healers.

We learn our traditions and we repeat them faithfully. Deviation can lead to chaos! We pray to the gods, including Min in the Eastern desert, to Hapi in the river Nile and to many others. The high gods Horus and Isis live in heaven, and Osiris in the underworld, and the god of confusion (Set) in the hot desert. There are over two thousand gods, we are told, all created by the first god Neter.

If we invite you into our community, we have simple rules: Respect our traditions and join us in our rituals. Do not annoy our rulers or gods – instead work with us in harmony, honor our ancestors, with great mother nature and with each other. And when your body stops breathing, we will open your mouth and read for you the Papyrus of Ani … commonly called the Book of the Dead.

We considered ourselves wise yet to you we were ignorant. We can teach you how to live in peace with yourself, how to live in harmony with each other and how to find your right place in this world. We can teach you how to connect … to each other and to the gods.

Were we not civilized? We built great wonders that still stand after 5000 years. But most of our people were lost to the diseases of mind, body and spirit during Greek, Roman and Arab invasions. We are exhausted – and we are nearly extinct. Yet our world needs our love and our respect.

Goddess Isis giving eternal life symbolized by an ankh

We struggle to survive in the remote places that you do not want. And when we are gone – may we live forever – we will be gone forever. Help keep our wisdom alive.

Our heritage is tradition and stability. Your heritage is innovation and change. Can we work together, to reflect our love of life and your love of information? Let us love our living world. Let us learn together how to live together in harmony and balance. Too soon it will be too late. May we all live forever!

We are researching the spiritual practices of old Egypt. Would you like to join us in the temples at Luxor? Will you walk with us into the Valley of the Kings? Will you come with us to explore the desert ruins?

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