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 pragmatic 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 even more 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 AD, Clement of Alexandria mentioned Egyptian medical
books about anatomy, diseases and remedies:
- Berlin Medical Papyrus
- London Medical Papyrus
- Kahun Papyrus (gynecology)
- Hearst medical papyrus
- Ebers Papyrus (head, skin & digestive maladies)
- 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 rich sacrificial food. Contrary to some 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
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 interesting insights into the minds and world
views of ancient Egyptians.
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 bears a strange resonance to
it has been suggested that ancient Phoenician sailors and navigators took
Egyptian knowledge and Carthaginian navigation far to the East.
The cults of a Great Mother are the most 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 during 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.
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
the guidance of our elders.
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 He 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 of Greek, Roman and other invasions. We are
exhausted - and we are nearly extinct. Yet our world still needs
our love and our respect.
Goddess Isis giving eternal life symbolized by
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 and explore the desert ruins?
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