UPDATE (Maybe this idea from my novel was prophetic, after all...)
THIS WAS GOING to be a tough room.
|Curses against nations - execrations or smiting texts, were the most virulent of all|
THIS WAS GOING to be a tough room.
Yet the theatrette at Johns Hopkins University was a much more smoothly operating venue than he was accustomed to.
For a start, his PowerPoint presentation was working. A title slide, thrown up in huge scale on the screen, showed an image of an ancient Egyptian wall relief from the temple of Abu Simbel. It was an archetypal smiting scene. A pharaoh, at full stretch, grasped the hair of a clutch of foreigners in one hand, while in the other he held an upraised mace. Poised in the ultimate iconography of menace, he was about to smash in the unfortunates’ heads. A caption said:
SMITING AND EXECRATION TEXTS
Ancient Egypt’s WMD - Weapons of Mass Destruction.
He’d spelt out WMD. Although his typical audience loved baffling mystery and the wildest theory, they didn’t care for him to be cryptic.
But this was not a typical audience today.
He found himself looking out across a corporate, academic, scientific and industrial powerhouse of America. Anson faced the consortium in the cool blue light of a stage area and tried to make out individuals’ faces in the theatrette-style auditorium.
One in particular caught his eye. Dr Melinda Skilling, a brilliant and real Egyptologist, of the establishment kind. Young for her achievements, and darkly pretty, she looked altogether too glamorous to bury herself in the dust of ancient Egypt. Melinda was Chair of the University’s Near Eastern Department. He’d read her books. She’d probably shuddered at his books, both of the nonfiction and fiction variety, although some people categorised all of his work as fiction. ‘I doubt if she’s an avid reader of my alternative ancient Egypt blog,’ Anson thought.
“Egypt was the original Superpower,” he said. ‘Superpower designating not just what you are, but what you possess. And power they had – not just the military kind. Supranormal power. Smiting rituals and execration texts, expressed through pottery, papyrus, bone and architecture. Remote killing, you see, was a state instrument of power. Take this pharaoh here, Rameses the Great, giving a clutch of vile foreigners a headache by bashing in their craniums with a diorite mace. This was not just a piece of wishful propaganda, although it was certainly that too. No, it was a detonation. These were esoteric armaments, you see. Nobody doubted that, for hundreds of miles around, enemies of the state would weaken or simply be flattened, knocked down dead as if by an atomic blast.
“Smiting scenes and execration texts are quite common and shards and clay figurines, upon which were written names of enemy countries and accompanying formulae, are found all over Egypt. This state weapon took over where the instruments of warfare could not go. In fact, the ancient Egyptians firmly believed that the power of such imprecations could reach out beyond temporal boundaries and smite across the ages. They would recite incantations, often employing repetition, then smash the pottery and generally trample, burn and bury the pieces to activate a spell of destruction, in the belief that this could break the power of any nation and all nations. They called on the fiercest gods and goddesses of Egypt’s pantheon to help in destroying every enemy, human or spiritual. And several divinities were pretty fierce, like the lioness-goddess of destruction and plague, Hathor-Sekhmet – a ferocious entity representing apocalyptic power and the instrument of vengeance that Ra unleashed when he pronounced an execration against humankind.
“The Egyptians generally chose red pottery to smash, the colour of Seth, god of chaos, and also the colour of blood, but the use of red ink would suffice, usually scrawled in cursive hieratic text. Let me give you the flavour of threat formulae:
“I overthrow all enemies from all their seats in every place where they are… every land, every ruler, every servant, every woman, every man, every child, every animal… all will be destroyed forever. They will not exist, nor will their bodies. They will not exist, nor will their souls. They will not exist, nor will their flesh. They will not exist, nor will their bones… they will not exist and the place where they are will not exist.
He developed the theme: “There’s plenty of evidence of inscriptional violence. A group of smashed clay pots from the nineteenth century BCE and humanoid clay figurines from the eighteenth century BCE, excavated at Saqqara and Luxor, bear names, among others, of Rusalimum, or Jerusalem, obviously an enemy already. The Egyptians would also create models of Apophis, the archfiend of Outer Darkness, a great serpent that symbolized evil and destruction and that threatened to swallow the sun god Ra each night in the Underworld. Through recitations they would identify an enemy country with the archfiend and then destroy the image, stabbing it with knives, spitting upon it and then burning it.
“Another form of metaphysical coercion was the Egyptians’ fondness for showing scenes of bound foreign captives. Indeed pharaoh’s sandals bore images of wretched enemies so that he could trample on them as he walked. Footstools, paving stones and the handles of walking sticks used the images of bound captives.
“This practice lasted throughout Egypt’s long history. A Greek text tells us that the last native pharaoh of Egypt, Nectanebo II, used his legendary powers of ritual smiting to destroy formidable enemies, including the Persians, and drive them from his country’s borders, and by so doing, maintained his kingdom for a considerable period of time against their onslaughts. When an enemy invaded by sea, he retired to a certain chamber, and, employing a bowl, which he kept for the purpose, he filled it with water. Then he made wax figures of ships and men of the enemy and also of his own forces. He set these upon the water in the bowl, his fleet on one side, and that of the enemy on the other.
“Then, uttering words of power, he raised his ebony rod and invoked demons and the gods to support his attack on the enemy ships and to bring up the winds. His fleet fell on the enemy and as the ships and men of the hostile fleet sank to the bottom of the bowl, so did the real invaders. Every sailor, every soldier and every ship sank beneath the waves. Familiar?
“A more chilling example. I have a theory about what happened to the Lost Army of Cambyses. According to historical accounts, the Persian King Cambyses II dispatched an army of 50,000 men to destroy the sacred oracle of Amun in the oasis of Siwa, which had been making unwelcome predictions about him. Fifth century BCE Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the army left Thebes and set out into the desert, after seven days reaching an inhabited oasis, probably Kharga. Imagine it. A mighty army on the move, their spears glinting, their chariots rolling, their baggage trains of pack animals stretching out to the horizon. Now switch the scene to the inside of a dim, lamplit temple within the Egyptian oasis of Siwa.
“Chanting, shaven-headed Egyptian priests write hieroglyphs on the side of a clay jar. Then the high priest lifts the jar and holds it high over his head, utters the words of a great execration formula, and smashes the jar to the stone floor. The jar flies into a thousand pieces. Now see these thousands of pieces transform into millions of swirling grains of sand as a great and violent south wind arises in the desert to create a cataclysmic sandstorm.
“Back to the army of Cambyses. They march on into the Great Sand Sea towards Siwa, but they march into disaster, and into legend. Sand swarms over the advancing army and blankets them. As Greek historian Herodotus tells us, a wind arose ‘strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear.’ It swallows the entire army, stopping the mouths of every soldier, every servant, every horse and every pack animal with choking sand… they become the lost army of Cambyses. Bad luck? Or a familiar pattern again? Could Egypt’s powers of smiting and execration have had something to do with the Lost Army of Cambyses?”
He could see them thinking about it. Maybe they were taken with the filmic qualities of the disaster. He let it sink in.
“Sometimes the officiants would list Egypt’s potential enemies in detail by name - Nubians, Libyans, Asiatics, Hittites and so on, or they’d designate enemies ‘in the East, the West, the North and the South’. Often they would refer to the mysterious ‘Nine Bows’, a symbolic plurality meaning three-times-three, that stands for all enemies, in all places. For example: ‘He binds the heads of the Nine Bows... He has gathered them all into his fist, his mace crashes upon their heads.’ I suppose you could call it Egypt’s early homeland protection system, if a touch aggressive, and, as I’m saying this, I’m suddenly having just an inkling as to why I’m the surprise – and surprised – guest speaker here today…”
A voice from the audience cut in.
“You really believe someone could put a remote hex on another country? On America? Why bother when we have the current administration?”
A few guffaws.
A heckler already. Anson peered. A man in the front row with military bearing and bulking up a blue suit, turned to throw a glare at the heckler.
In spite of the academic venue, this may not be a polite audience, Anson thought.
Anson hadn’t mentioned putting hexes on America and America wasn’t even on his mind. But it was on theirs, the heckler’s in particular.
Discover more chilling dangers today from the ancient past in THE SMITING TEXTS (Amazon Kindle)