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 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.
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)