Egyptian Amulets and their Meanings

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.

Animals

Cobra

The Uraeus cobra symbol derives from word ‘iaret’, meaning ‘the risen one’. Cobras rising up in protection were used on the front of the headdresses of gods and pharaohs, suggesting the amulet may have been an emblem of royal and divine power and authority.

Fly

The symbolism here is uncertain, although it is thought to be linked to either persistence in battle or the wish for the fecundity of a fly.

Hare

Again the symbolism is unknown, but due to their abundance in the Egyptian desert, they could have been associated with fertility.

Lion

This amulet would have endowed the wearer with ferocity and bravery, as well as the regenerative properties that lions were supposed to possess.

Scarab

Becoming popular in the Middle Kingdom, amulets in the shape of scarab beetles were thought to represent the sun god, Ra. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the scarab beetle rolling its ball of dung across the dessert mirrored the journey of the sun across the sky from day to night. As the beetle laid its eggs within the dung, it became a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.

Vulture

Amulets of vultures represented the danger to be averted rather than the intended characteristic of the animal. In this case the fear may have been of being devoured.

Body parts

When an amulet depicting a body part was worn on the living, it protected specific parts of the body from harm or illness, and when on the dead, there were connotations of bodily unity and the integrity of the mummy itself.

Heart

Considered the most important organ, the heart was believed to be the seat of intelligence and the origin of feeling and action. This was the organ that was weighed in the ceremony of judgment with A’an and Ma’at. Heart amulets have been found placed on the torso of every mummy.

Foliage and Flowers

Ancient Egyptians had gardens and loved to plant flowers. Sometimes real flower heads were strung together to be worn by mummies or by the living, and although their precise significance is unknown, flower imagery and amulets were typically symbolic of new life.

Cowroid Shell

The cowroid was likely intended as a fertility amulet, based on the cowrie shell’s resemblance to female genitalia. A longitudinal piercing might suggest that it was worn over the pelvic area as part of a girdle, averting evil forces away from its wearer, who may well have been a pregnant female.

Daisy

Daisies were used to soothe the skin and to aid digestion. Perhaps this amulet was used by someone seeking relief from such irritation.

Lotus

The lotus stood for rebirth and creation. Lotus flowers open during the day, and close at night, thus illustrating the journey of the god, Khepri, who rolled the sun across the earth, and in doing so created day and night.

Tools and Misc.

Djed Pillar

Placed on the lower torso or upper chest, the Djed Pillar symbolized stability and endurance. At first describing the pole around which grain was tied, its meaning later shifted to the backbone of Osiris. A spell in the Book of the Dead says: ‘Raise yourself up Osiris! You have your backbone once more, O weary-hearted One; you have your vertebrae!’

Wadj Sceptre

A Wadj Sceptre was a rolled papyrus scroll, with the hieroglyph for ‘fresh’ used in the name. This suggests that the amulet was involved with the preservation of the body, while also symbolising new life and regeneration. Books 159 and 160 of the Book of the Dead refer to a Wadj amulet being placed at the throat of the mummy.

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By Francesca,

  Filed under: Ancient Egypt, Imagery & Symbolism   Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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