Explore / Articles
Demons and magic in ancient Egypt
Demons lived at the edges of creation, both in the world of the living and of the dead. In the Underworld, some demons were the followers of Osiris, while others harassed those who travelled through his realm. Even the boat of the sun-god was not safe, and was threatened every night by Apophis. Similarly, in the world of the living, demons known as the 'Messengers of Sekhmet' brought disease and misfortune, and the discontented dead and evil spirits could disturb the lives of ordinary people.
The Egyptian word translated as 'magic' is heka. As a god, Heka appeared at creation as the creator's life-giving force. Heka could also be invoked in times of crisis. For humans, this could be a life threatening event such as illness, the bite or sting of a poisonous animal or childbirth. In ancient Egypt there was no distinction between 'medicine' and 'magic'. Treatments consisted of the diagnosis of the complaint, a prescription, and a formula to be recited. A variety of gods could be called upon to give their aid, especially Isis, who was called 'Great of Magic' and her son Horus. Amulets associated with these deities were also worn as protective and preventative measures.