Wax figure

From Egypt
Roman Period, 2nd century AD

Containing a piece of papyrus on which part of a spell is written

Figurines in human form were used to cast spells on the people that they depicted. These figures were usually of wax, a substance which was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as both protective and destructive. This example, from the Roman period, has human hair pushed into its navel, to transfer to it the essence of the person against whom it was directed. Some curse spells of this period recommended that the hair be mixed with that of a dead person, to make it more effective.

The scrap of papyrus inserted in the back of the figure was probably inscribed with a spell, but is now illegible. The spell did not necessarily wish harm on the individual. Figures were also used to gain somebody's love. Invocations were also written on lead tablets and tied to the figures with string, or placed beside them when they were buried in the cemetery.

Written evidence suggests that this use of figurines was part of Egyptian religious practice in earlier times. Figures of malevolent demons and enemies of the state were ritually destroyed in secret ceremonies within the major temples. This was seen as part of the eternal battle against the forces of chaos.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Height: 7.600 cm

Museum number

EA 37918

YCA61017

Location

Find in the collection online


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