"Legends of the Gods - E. A. Wallis Budge (1912). Part II - The Legend of RA and ISIS"
-- THE LEGEND OF RA AND ISIS --
"It has already been seen that the god Ra, when retiring from the government of this world, took steps through Thoth to supply mankind with words of power and spells with which to protect themselves against the bites of serpents and other noxious reptiles. The legend of the Destruction of Mankind affords no explanation of this remarkable fact, but when we read the following legend of Ra and Isis we understand why Ra, though king of the gods, was afraid of the reptiles which lived in the kingdom of Keb. The legend, or "Chapter of the Divine God," begins by enumerating the mighty attributes of Ra as the creator of the universe, and describes the god of "many names" as unknowable, even by the gods.
At this time Isis lived in the form of a woman who possessed the knowledge of spells and incantations, that is to say, she was regarded much in the same way as modern African peoples regard their "medicine-women," or "witch-women." She had used her spells on men, and was tired of exercising her powers on them, and she craved the opportunity of making herself mistress of gods and spirits as well as of men. She meditated how she could make herself mistress both of heaven and earth, and finally she decided that she could only obtain the power she wanted if she possessed the knowledge of the secret name of Ra, in which his very existence was bound up. Ra guarded this name most jealously, for he knew that if he revealed it to any being he would henceforth be at that being's mercy. Isis saw that it was impossible to make Ra declare his name to her by ordinary methods, and she therefore thought out the following plan.
It was well known in Egypt and the Sudan at a very early period that if a magician obtained some portion of a person's body, e.g., a hair, a paring of a nail, a fragment of skin, or a portion of some efflux from the body, spells could be used upon them which would have the effect of causing grievous harm to that person. Isis noted that Ra had become old and feeble, and that as he went about he dribbled at the mouth, and that his saliva fell upon the ground.
Watching her opportunity she caught some of the saliva of the and mixing it with dust, she moulded it into the form of a large serpent, with poison-fangs, and having uttered her spells over it, she left the serpent lying on the path, by which Ra travelled day by day as he went about inspecting Egypt, so that it might strike at him as he passed along. We may note in passing that the Banyoro in the Sudan employ serpents in killing buffaloes at the present day. They catch a puff-adder in a noose, and then nail it alive by the tip of its tail to the round in the middle of a buffalo track, so that when an animal passes the reptile may strike at it. Presently a buffalo comes along, does what it is expected to do, and then the puff-adder strikes at it, injects its poison, and the animal dies soon after. As many as ten buffaloes have been killed in a day by one puff-adder. The body of the first buffalo is not eaten, for it is regarded as poisoned meat, but all the others are used as food.
Soon after Isis had placed the serpent on the Path, Ra passed by, and the reptile bit him, thus injecting poison into his body. Its effect was terrible, and Ra cried out in agony. His jaws chattered, his lips trembled, and he became speechless for a time; never before had be suffered such pain. The gods hearing his cry rushed to him, and when he could speak he told them that he had been bitten by a deadly serpent. In spite of all the words of power which were known to him, and his secret name which had been hidden in his body at his birth, a serpent had bitten him, and he was being consumed with a fiery pain. He then commanded that all the gods who had any knowledge of magical spells should come to him, and when they came, Isis, the great lady of spells, the destroyer of diseases, and the revivifier of the dead, came with them. Turning to Ra she said:
"What hath happened, O divine Father?" and in answer the god told her that a serpent had bitten him, that he was hotter than fire and colder than water, that his limbs quaked, and that he was losing the power of sight. Then Isis said to him with guile, "Divine Father, tell me thy name, for he who uttereth his own name shall live."
Thereupon Ra proceeded to enumerate the various things that he had done, and to describe his creative acts, and ended his speech to Isis by saying, that he was Khepera in the morning, Ra at noon, and Temu in the evening. Apparently he thought that the naming of these three great names would satisfy Isis, and that she would immediately pronounce a word of power and stop the pain in his body, which, during his speech, had become more acute. Isis, however, was not deceived, and she knew well that Ra had not declared to her his hidden name; this she told him, and she begged him once again to tell her his name. For a time the god refused to utter the name, but as the pain in his body became more violent, and the poison passed through his veins like fire, he said:
"Isis shall search in me, and my name shall pass from my body into hers."
At that moment Ra removed himself from the sight of the gods in his Boat, and the Throne in the Boat of Millions of Years had no occupant. The great name of Ra was, it seems, hidden in his heart, and Isis, having some doubt as to whether Ra would keep his word or not, agreed with Horus that Ra must be made to take an oath to part with his two Eyes, that is, the Sun and the Moon. At length Ra allowed his heart to be taken from his body, and his great and secret name, whereby he lived, passed into the possession of Isis. Ra thus became to all intents and purposes a dead god. Then Isis, strong in the power of her spells, said:
"Flow, poison, come out of Ra. Eye of Horus, come out of Ra, and shine outside his mouth. It is I, Isis, who work, and I have made the poison to fall on the ground. Verily the name of the great god is taken from him, Ra shall live and the poison shall die; if the poison live Ra shall die".
This was the infallible spell which was to be used in cases of poisoning, for it rendered the bite or sting of every venomous reptile harmless. It drove the poison out of Ra, and since it was composed by Isis after she obtained the knowledge of his secret name it was irresistible. If the words were written on papyrus or linen over a figure of Temu or Heru-hekenu, or Isis, or Horus, they became a mighty charm. If the papyrus or linen were steeped in water and the water drunk, the words were equally efficacious as a charm against snakebites. To this day water in which the written words of a text from the Kur'an have been dissolved, or water drunk from a bowl on the inside of which religious texts have been written, is still regarded as a neverfailing charm in Egypt and the Sudan. Thus we see that the modern custom of drinking magical water was derived from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that it conveyed into their bodies the actual power of their gods.
The Chapter of the divine (or, mighty) god, who created himself, who made the heavens and the earth, and the breath of life, and fire, and the gods, and men, and beasts, and cattle, and reptiles, and the fowl of the air, and the fish, who is the king of men and gods, [who existeth] in one Form, [to whom] periods of one hundred and twenty years axe as single years, whose names by reason of their multitude are unknowable, for [even] the gods know them not. Behold, the goddess Isis lived in the form, of a woman, who had the knowledge of words [of power]. Her heart turned away in disgust from the millions of men, and she chose for herself the millions of the gods, but esteemed more highly the millions of the spirits. Was it not possible to become even as was Ra in heaven and upon earth, and to make [herself] mistress of the earth, and a [mighty] goddess--thus she meditated in her heart--by the knowledge of the Name of the holy god? Behold, Ra entered [heaven] each day at the head of his mariners, establishing himself upon the double throne of the two horizons. Now the divine one had become old, he dribbled at the mouth, and he let his emissions go forth from him upon the earth, and his spittle fell upon the ground.
This Isis kneaded in her hand, with [some] dust, and she fashioned it in the form of a sacred serpent, and made it to have the form of a dart, so that none might be able to escape alive from it, and she left it lying upon the road whereon the great god travelled, according to his desire, about the two lands. Then the holy god rose up in the tabernacle of the gods in the great double house (life, strength, health!) among those who were in his train, and [as] he journeyed on his way according to his daily wont, the holy serpent shot its fang into him, and the living fire was departing from the god's own body, and the reptile destroyed the dweller among the cedars. And the mighty god opened his mouth, and the cry of His Majesty (life, strength, health!) reached unto the heavens, and the company of the gods said:
"What is it?" and his gods said, "What is the matter?" And the god found [no words] wherewith to answer concerning himself. His jaws shook, his lips trembled, and the poison took possession of all his flesh just as Hapi (i.e., the Nile) taketh possession of the land through which he floweth.
Then the great god made firm his heart (i.e., took courage) and he cried out to those who were in his following:
"Come ye unto me, O ye who have come into being from my members, ye gods who have proceeded from me, for I would make you to know what hath happened. I have been smitten by some deadly thing, of which my heart hath no knowledge, and which I have neither seen with my eyes nor made with my hand; and I have no knowledge at all who hath done this to me. I have never before felt any pain like unto it, and no pain can be worse than this [is]. I am a Prince, the son of a Prince, and the divine emanation which was produced from a god. I am a Great One, the son of a Great One, and my father hath determined for me my name. I have multitudes of names, and I have multitudes of forms, and my being existeth in every god. I have been invoked (or, proclaimed?) by Temu and Heru-Hekennu. My father and my mother uttered my name, and [they] hid it in my body at my birth so that none of those who would use against me words of power might succeed in making their enchantments have dominion over me. I had come forth from my tabernacle to look upon that which I had made, and was making my way through the two lands which I had made, when a blow was aimed at me, but I know not of what kind. Behold, is it fire? Behold, is it water? My heart is full of burning fire, my limbs are shivering, and my members have darting pains in them. Let there be brought unto me my children the gods, who possess words of magic, whose mouths are cunning [in uttering them], and whose powers reach up to heaven."
Then his children came unto him, and every god was there with his cry of lamentation; and Isis came with her words of magic, and the place of her mouth [was filled with] the breath of life, for the words which she putteth together destroy diseases, and her words make to live those whose throats are choked (i.e., the dead). And she said:
"What is this, O divine father? What is it? Hath a serpent shot his venom into thee? Hath a thing which thou hast fashioned lifted up its head against thee? Verily it shall be overthrown by beneficent words of power, and I will make it to retreat in the sight of thy rays."
The holy god opened his mouth, [saying]:
"I was going along the road and passing through the two lands of my country, for my heart wished to look upon what I had made, when I was bitten by a serpent which I did not see; behold, is it fire? Behold, is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire, all my members sweat, I myself quake, mine eye is unsteady. I cannot look at the heavens, and water forceth itself on my face as in the time of the Inundation."
And Isis said unto Ra:
"O my divine father, tell me thy name, for he who is able to pronounce his name liveth." [And Ra said], "I am the maker of the heavens and the earth, I have knit together the mountains, and I have created everything which existeth upon them. I am the maker of the Waters, and I have made Meht-ur to come into being; I have made the Bull of his Mother, and I have made the joys of love to exist. I am the maker of heaven, and I have made to be hidden the two gods of the horizon, and I have placed the souls of the gods within them. I am the Being who openeth his eyes and the light cometh; I am the Being who shutteth his eyes and there is darkness. I am the Being who giveth the command, and the waters of Hapi (the Nile) burst forth, I am the Being whose name the gods know not. I am the maker of the hours and the creator of the days. I am the opener (i.e., inaugurator) of the festivals, and the maker of the floods of water. I am the creator of the fire of life whereby the works of the houses are caused to come into being. I am Khepera in the morning, and Ra (at the time of his culmination (i.e., noon), and Temu in the evening."
Nevertheless the poison was not driven from its course, and the great god felt no better. Then Isis said unto Ra:
"Among the things which thou hast said unto me thy name hath not been mentioned. O declare thou it unto me, and the poison shall come forth; for the person who hath declared his name shall live."
Meanwhile the poison burned with blazing fire and the heat thereof was stronger than that of a blazing flame. Then the Majesty of Ra, said:
"I will allow myself to be searched through by Isis, and my name shall come forth from my body and go into hers."
Then the divine one hid himself from the gods, and the throne in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. And it came to pass that when it was the time for the heart to come forth [from the god], she said unto her son Horus:
"The great god shall bind himself by an oath to give his two eyes."
Thus was the great god made to yield up his name, and Isis, the great lady of enchantments, said:
"Flow on, poison, and come forth from Ra; let the Eye of Horus come forth from the god and shine(?) outside his mouth. I have worked, and I make the poison to fall on the ground, for the venom hath been mastered. Verily the name hath been taken away from the great god. Let Ra live, and let the poison die; and if the poison live then Ra shall die. And similarly, a certain man, the son of a certain man, shall live and the poison shall die."
These were the words which spake Isis, the great lady, the mistress of the gods, and she had knowledge of Ra in his own name. The above words shall be said over an image of Temu and an image of Heru-Hekennu, and over an image of Isis and an image of Horus.
The End of Part II
(next and last, III - here *)
(next and last, III - here *)