Wooden figure of Bes playing a tambourine

From Thebes, Egypt
18th Dynasty, around 1300 BC

The ugly and noisy protector of women in childbirth

The god Bes was particularly associated with protection of the home. Figures like this one were placed inside houses, often on the domestic shrine, or images of the god might be painted on interior walls. Bes was often shown holding a knife with which to fight evil forces.

The most important role assigned to Bes was the protection of the mother and child during the dangerous time of childbirth. A spell to help with birth complications could be recited four times over a clay figure of the god, that had been placed on the head of the woman in labour. Bes was depicted as a dwarf with a large head and short thighs and his ugliness was believed to be a great deterrent to evil spirits. His frightening appearance was enhanced by his tongue. Clapping and playing musical instruments such as the tambourine have the same effect, as does stamping and dancing. It was also believed that the raucous music and dance of feasts and festivals was important to prevent hostile forces spoiling the celebrations, as well as for the enjoyment of the people taking part.

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More information

Bibliography

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

L. Manniche, Music and musicians in Ancient (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

Dimensions

Height: 28.000 cm

Museum number

EA 20865

YCA5167

Location

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