The Magic of Names

Belief in magic was an integral part of Ancient Egyptian culture. It was believed that the essence of any person, animal, object or indeed of the gods themselves was contained within its true name. Ra, for instance, had many names but his real power resided in his hidden name which was engraved upon his heart at the moment of creation. The ancients were convinced that to possess the true name of Ra would make the possessor all powerful.

On a more mundane level, children were given two names, one for general use and the other to be jealously guarded for fear it might be used in malign enchantment.

This belief in the power of names extended to funerary practices. In tomb paintings the gods are repeatedly begged to make the deceased’s name live forever to ensure his or her immortality. This is the primary reason that the pharaohs of old were so keen to build enormous statues, temples and mortuary palaces eternally to enshrine their names. Conversely, disgraced rulers such as Hatshepsut (d. 1458 BC), Akhenaten (d. 1336BC) and even Tutankhamun (d. 1325 BC) were condemned to oblivion by having their names systematically erased from monuments which were originally raised in their honour.

Source: Chronicles of Ancient Egypt by Jonathan Dee

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