Amulets in Ancient Egypt were both decorative and practical, as they were considered as having apotropaic powers to protect or bestow power upon the wearer. Not only worn by the living, amulets have been found inside the wrappings of mummies, as they were used to prepare the deceased for the afterlife.
Amulets held different meanings, depending on their type or form. Small amulets depicting gods and goddesses seem to have induced the protective powers of the deity. On the other hand, small representations of anatomical features or creatures suggest that the wearer required protection over a specific body part, or that he/she desired the skills of a particular animal. Amulets depicting animals were very common in the Old Kingdom Period, whilst representations of deities gained popularity in the Middle Kingdom.
Anubis was closely associated with the afterlife, and was the god of embalming. Often portrayed as a jackal or jackal-headed man, he brought souls into the afterlife and was present at the weighing scale during the Weighing of the Heart – the ceremony that determined whether a soul would be allowed to enter the realm of the dead.
One of the first gods of Egypt, the Apis Bull was associated with fertility. As a ritual, a living bull was selected to be kept alive and worshipped for up to 25 years and then ceremonially killed. Another ‘Apis Bull’ would then be selected, and thus the ritual symbolised the cycle of rebirth: death was not considered to be the end of life, but merely a transition to the realm of Osiris.
A dwarf god, Bes was the protector of the household, women, children and childbirth, as well as sexuality, humour, music and dancing, making him a very popular deity with the people. He was seen as the protector of all things good and as the destroyer of evil, and there is evidence of people dressing as him, and of girls getting tattoos of the deity on their inner thighs.
Horus was the god of the sky and looked after the sun and moon. He is usually depicted as a falcon, or a man with a head of a falcon
Eye of Horus
According to mythology, while Horus battled the god Seth, his left eye was plucked out by his opponent. The eye was then restored and healed by the god, Thoth. Eye of Horus, or Wedjat, amulets represent the right eye of Horus and are associated with rebirth, regeneration, and the deflection of evil, and were a symbol of protection in the afterlife, worn by the deceased.
Osirian Triad (w/ Nepthys and Isis)
This triad is made up of Horus in the centre (the son of Osiris), Isis on the right (mother of Horus), and Nepthys on the left (sister of Isis). The figures are recognisable through their various attributes. This scene was especially popular during the Saite Period (26th Dynasty), and this would have been worn on the lower torso of the deceased as a protection amulet.
The symbol of the throne is used in the forming of Isis’ name and translates as ‘seat’. She was thus associated with the throne and royal kingship, together with her husband Osiris, and was looked upon as the divine mother of the Pharaoh. She was believed to have been born on the first day of creation.
Tyet of Isis
Sometimes known as the ‘knot’ or ‘girdle’ of Isis, the Tyet is a common amulet form, often found with the dead. ‘Tyet’ translates as ‘life’ or similar, and is associated with Isis’s protective abilities and her connection with the afterlife.
Known primarily as a god of war, Maahes is usually depicted as a lion-headed man, and was either the son of Ptah and Sekhmet, or of Bastet and Ra. He was also the god of protection, weather, knives, lotuses, and the devouring of captives. His cult centres were based in Taremu and Per-Bast.
The sister of Isis, her name translates as ‘Lady of the Enclosure’, and therefore Nephthys is mostly associated with the home or temple, or as a priestess. Her attributes include a symbol of house and basket on her head. She is also associated with mourning, rivers, childbirth, and the night.
The sky goddess, Nut is sometimes depicted as nude woman stretching across the sky covered in stars. She was believed to give birth to the sun each day and then swallow it again every night. Her depiction as a sow is most likely tied with this aspect of her story, as female pigs were believed to eat their own offspring.
Ptah or (Ptaichos)
Ptah was a creator god, and was believed to have thought the world into existence. Another dwarf god, he was also the protector of artisans and artists. He was often shown holding snakes, making them harmless to people and children, and therefore was thought to provide protection against snakes and crocodiles.
Depicted as a lion or a lion-headed woman, Sekhmet was the protector of pharaohs, as well as the goddess of the sun and war, who would bring plague and pestilence with her and it was believed that the desert was caused by her breath alone. According to myth, she was a savage who wanted to slaughter the human race and to drink human blood, prevented only by Ra.
God of light and air, Shu also personified the wind, and was often called upon by sailors for aid. Amulets depicting Shu often show him kneeling with raised arms. This alluded to the myth that his children, Nut (goddess of the sky) and Geb (god of the Earth) were infatuated with each other. Shu intervened, and held Nut above his head to separate the pair: in doing so, he created the atmosphere.
God of the river and swamp and, due to his ferocious nature, the military. Sobek is depicted as a crocodile or crocodile-headed man, and was worshipped predominantly in Egypt’s Faiyum region, although from the Old Kingdom through to the Roman period. His was a fluid nature, associated with both fear and protection.
Thoeris or Tawaret
The patron of pregnant women, Thoeris attended them at birth, and was depicted as a heavily pregnant hippopotamus. She is thought to have been a household deity, with no actual temple, but with shrines found in every home. Later, in the Amarna period, she gained importance as a funerary deity. This was because her powers were considered to be regenerative as well as protective.
Depicted as a man either with the head of a baboon or an ibis, Thoth was known as the keeper and recorder of all knowledge, and as the inventor of language. When depicted as a baboon, which was a much more unusual occurrence that as an ibis, Thoth became A’an, god of equilibrium. He was present at the ceremony when the deceased heart is weighed against the feather of Ma’at after death.
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