When I was in Egypt last summer I visited the Temple of Isis from Philae and I, like many others before me, was fascinated by the hieroglyphs on the walls. Early hieroglyphics date back as far as 3,300 BCE, and continued to be used up until the end of the fourth century CE, when non-Christian temples were closed and their monumental use was no longer necessary. Hieroglyphs are a complicated business and my intention is to interpret just a few hieroglyphs to give an idea of how it is accomplished. Many ancient Egyptian symbols were used as amulets of protection, or they were used to bring good fortune. Many of the same ancient Egyptian symbols were also used in religious and magical rituals for the living and also for the dead. Hieroglyphs were based on everyday objects along the Nile river which may not be as familiar to us today. As the famous Jean-François Champollion, the man who deciphered the Rosetta stone, commented; “It is a complex system, writing figurative, symbolic, and phonetic all at once, in the same text, the same phrase, I would almost say in the same word”.
When we were in Turkey, we visited the breeding center for the Northern Bald Ibis in Birecik, on the banks of the Euphrates. The Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa, southern and central Europe, with a fossil record dating back at least 1.8 million years. It disappeared from Europe over 300 years ago, and is now considered critically endangered. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the species has been known from two separate populations: a western population in Morocco and an eastern population in Turkey and Syria. Religious traditions helped the northern bald Ibis to survive in this Turkish colony long after the species had disappeared from Europe, since it was believed that the ibis migrated each year to guide Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. The Ibis was protected by its religious significance, and a festival was held annually to celebrate its return north. I wanted to write a post on this subject to bring attention to the work being done in Birecik to restore the Northern Bald Ibis to the wild.
Horus, the falcon, is an important god in Egyptian mythology and since the British museum has a lovely limestone sculpture of him, I thought I would do a post. Horus the Elder was one of the oldest gods of Ancient Egypt. He was a sky god, whose face was visualized as the face of the sun. Since Horus was said to be the sky, it was natural that he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was one of his eyes and the moon the other, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as Harmerty – Horus of two eyes. It seems that in very early times the followers of the god Seth (patron of lower Egypt) may have been conquered by the followers of the god Horus (patron of upper Egypt) who went on to unite upper and lower Egypt. Thus the golden Horus, representing the sun and gold, is one of the titles of later all later pharaohs uniting upper and lower Egypt. In the Old kingdom the Egyptian pharaoh was taken to be the living Horus and the dead king (his father or predecessor) as Osiris.