Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Sata Snake Spell

It wasn't just the ancient Egyptians that revered the snake/serpent as a symbol of regeneration and rebirth. This article leaves out quite a lot regarding why the snake is so important in iconograpy of eternal life but it is okay, as far as it goes.  (For a general overview of serpent symbolism in multiple cultures, see Wikipedia Serpent-Symbolism).

From the
The magic of the mummies
The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains a spell that turns the speaker into a snake
Jonathan Jones, Wednesday 3 November 2010 20.00 GMT

I am the Sata-snake, long of years, who sleeps and is reborn each day. I am the Sata-snake, dwelling in the limits of the earth. I sleep and am reborn, renewed and rejuvenated each day."

This is a translation of a spell (right) from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, on display at the British Museum, which enables the speaker to change into a snake. It may not read like a spell – eye of bat, skin of toad – but it was expected to have a magical effect and to be recited by a mummy – the dead person in the tomb.

Why a snake? Well, if you wanted to travel after death through the Western Lands, over hill and through river, a serpent's body was ideal. Also, the Sata-snake was thought to be reborn in an endless cycle mirroring the dream of eternal life.

The spell is shorter in English; hieroglyphs, says John H Taylor, curator of the exhibition, include phonetic signs and ideograms, and any word is likely to mix the two. But every symbol has magic in it. Images and words combine to give the mummy power, as The Book of the Dead puts it, to "go forth by day".
The sacred barque upon which the deceased braves the obstacles of the after-life to reach the
other side of the sky and achieve the realm of the Imperishable stars, in Hour 10 symbolically
takes the form of Mehen, the Enveloper, ancient protector of Pharaoh, as the deceased
(identified with Pharaoh) is assuming a new form as Horus hovers overhead.  Notice
that Mehen as the sacred barque wears the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The Tenth Hour

A change of direction. We turn south to the luminous, solar region of Helipotis. Af, purified by the fire and water, becomes the unborn Kepri. The snake, Mehen, entwines itself around this body, which is in the process of being reborn. A falcon hovers above the boat. The cynocephalus of Thot recognize the god and present the Oudjats to him. The limpid waters are split where those who have already bathed in the light of the east peacefully frolic.

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