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Magic perfumes: Egypt




MAGIC PERFUMES


By Marguerite de Rivasson

(Excerpt)


It was in Egypt, however, that the practice of perfumes developed most extensively, both to honor the gods and to honor human beauty and make it more precious.

More than five thousand years before our era, they existed in the form of round lozenges, in the form of ointments, in the form of liquids. There were in Alexandria, as well as in Thebes, famous perfumers who sold aromas composed, according to unknown formulas, of ancient vegetable or animal matter. Were they extracted from labiatae, conifers, or did their aromaticity come from the excrement of certain crocodiles highly sought after by manufacturers?

V. Loret in his book Studies of Egyptian drugstore, says that the modern perfumer, who would be prescribed to prepare these aromatics or these perfumed oils, would not succeed, because several elements entering into these manipulations were not mentioned in the texts. , the high priest not wanting to divulge his secrets.

Perfumes played a predominant role in Egypt, because Egypt was the cradle of pharmacy and perfumery.

Diodorus relates to us the great extension that these two different branches took there. As the papyri tell us, the god Horus was considered the protector and benefactor of the pharmacy he learned from his mother the goddess Isis. He exercised it both through oracles and through medicine. Thoth, whom the Greeks then worshiped under the name of Hermes, taught men medicine and the art of healing, to which only priests were initiated.

I leave this branch of medicine to return to that of perfumes.

Alongside the places of worship, the temple contained premises where the priests were in charge of the preparation of aromatics to be burned, perfumed oil intended for the gods, aromatics in the form of pellets or amschir. This very complicated manipulation required long months of work. Helpers pounded plants, flowers, roots, aromatic herbs, or ground resins and gums. Others brewed wine, oil, honey in large boilers, and the officiating priest, head of the laboratory, read to them aloud and intelligibly the formula which was engraved on the walls of the laboratories.

During the sacrifices and the libations aromatics were burned on the altars and the lamps were filled with fragrant oils, as the hieroglyphs and the drawings painted on the stelae of the temples tell us.

On the days of the great ceremonies, the King or the priest, his representative, was accompanied by an officiant holding the censer or cassolette; if he is alone, he carries it himself; these vapors and this flame must ward off evil spirits and bind Set who seeks the eye of Horus.

We know that the soul of Osiris having found, after the assassination of Osiris by Set, a refuge in the eye of Horus, the assassin pursued it and waited for the favorable moment to seize the eye. of Horus and devour him.

These cassolettes, held at the end of a long handle, were made up of a small container containing burning coals, on which were poured the Soumir, the Kari, the Anti, the Kyphi.

This is the reason why Isis, addressing Osiris, said to him:

“I am here with the light to safeguard you each day. »

And when the priest puts the herb on the flame, he exclaims:

“Divine souls of Heliopolis you are saved and I am safe. »

To fully understand the essential importance that the ancient Egyptians attached to perfumes, it is necessary to study what our Master, Henri Durville, says about them in his very luminously detailed work: Dianoia, chapter: “The Truth of Speech”.

We find there, in a condensed and explicit form, all that relates to the different rites of Egyptian worship.

On page 222, our Master tells us:

“The special anointing of the face constitutes the oil called the perfume of the Eye of Horus. »

“This composition is likened to a make-up that could practically be called a foundation, because it is not special for the cheek or the mouth, but must cover the face. »

And further, we read: "I throw to you the eye of Horus which has united with the Mezet make-up. »

Fumigations also took place at the time of the purification of the offerings; others, when, each morning, the Pharaoh opened the door of the naos where the statue of the god was and, by special rites, returned to his effigy the energies which the night was supposed to have made him lose.

The Pharaoh asked the god to come to his aid, reminding him that he had sacrificed a number of offerings to him, among which he did not forget to mention the perfumes.

This is how Ramses III, invoking Amon in his temple of Medinet Habou, exclaimed: “I celebrated the Master of the two lands every day with breads, beer, bulls, gazelles. I have multiplied the divine offerings, etc. »

And Ramses II exclaims: “Have I not celebrated you many and dazzling feasts? I have enriched your dwelling and I have immolated three thousand oxen for you with all the aromatic herbs and the best perfumes. (See the Pen Fa our, translated by M. de Rougé.)


On an "Egyptian stele of offerings", there are more than a hundred different species of herbs. It is probable that the number of perfumes known in ancient Egypt greatly exceeded that which we could recapitulate at this hour.

The science of subtle essences was then hieratic, mysterious and traditional in the Nile valley.

The high priests exercised, as well as a priesthood, the manipulation of mystical odors using abstruse substances. They had the privilege of selling them at very high prices to wealthy individuals who knew all the value of these divine scents prepared according to ancient unrevealed recipes and which never left the temples of Isis or Osiris where they had were sheltered from profane curiosities.

From Plutarch, we know that the priests celebrated the cult of the Sun, under the name of Ra, with three oblations: the first at sunrise with resin, the second at noon with myrrh and the third at sunset with a mixture of sixteen ingredients, named Kyphi.

The cult of Isis also included a great consumption of perfumes, and it is said, according to historians, that under the reign of one of the Ptolemies, there took place a procession of Panegyries in which appeared one hundred and twenty children carrying, in vases of gold, frankincense, myrrh and saffron, followed by a long file of dromedaries, laden with three hundred hundred pounds of frankincense, saffron, cinnamon, cinnamon, iris and other precious aromatics.

But under no circumstance, perhaps, did the Egyptians make such great use of perfumes as when it came to the embalming of the dead. By the degree of preservation of mummies, after thousands of years, one can judge the perfection of these products.

To understand the initiatory intention that presided over the funeral ceremonies, to follow the details, it is necessary to read, or better, it is necessary to study the work of Henri Durville: Mysteries initiatiques, which exposes and comments on them.

In several of his lectures so beautiful and of a superior spirit, our Master explained to us how, according to the Egyptian belief, the man once dead sank into the night until the day when he was reborn to another life. .

We have also seen that the soul was sometimes represented in the form of a bird: Bd, with a human head.

In the thought of the Egyptians, this figure meant that the bird, by its flights through space, symbolizes the soul which tends towards infinity. Thus, the Egyptians did not consider death as the end of everything, but as a "function of life", as the end of a cycle. Embalming ceremonies were intended to bind the Double to the body.

“The conscious shadow of the mummy must remain in the hypogeum,” our Master tells us, on page 220 of the Initiatory Mysteries.

This helps us to understand this sentence:

“Rise from your tomb for the celestial paradise (place of preparation or self-renewal), you, venerated mummy, your flesh and your bones belong to your limbs, and your limbs in their ordinary place. You have your head in place on the trunk and your heart too. » (Annals of the Guimet Museum.)

Mummification practices do not date from the earliest times of Egyptian history.

Predynastic men were content to bury the dead lying on their sides in a shallow pit; the climate, the very dry soil of the country, alone took care of preserving them. Little by little, one came to look for processes ensuring a more perfect conservation, so that one wrapped them in canvas or leather bags, depositing near them urns containing the food and the drinks necessary for their subsistence. , various hunting and war weapons, fishing gear, which was practiced, moreover, among all primitive peoples.

Little by little, religious ideas having been transformed, the priests sought, by means of resins, to preserve twice his mortal remains and thus assure him peace in the life of the hereafter.

Thus embalming was instituted.

The Egyptian embalmings were accompanied by religious ceremonies which I do not mention since they are admirably described by our Master. (See his book: Initiatory Mysteries.)

The director, or Choachyte, alone knew the secrets of the preservation of bodies, and he alone had the right to apply them.

If he sold his skill at a high price to the rich, he was bound to embalm the poor free of charge, to supply the bandages with which he wrapped the mummy.

This functionary had many auxiliaries: the priests, the tarycheutes or carriers of corpses, the parachists, who made the regulatory incisions, finally craftsmen, laborers, carpenters, weavers who prepared the strips of linen that were brought of Sais, laborers carrying skins or amphoras filled with the sacred water of the Nile.

All these subordinates did not enjoy the same consideration, although several belonged to the non-officiating clergy and possessed their dignity by hereditary rights. These rights were transmitted from father to son in certain families, which had received this grace from Pharaoh.

We instinctively distanced ourselves from the tarycheute, but the real scapegoat of the embalmer's house was the paratrooper; his touch soiled the corpse; no sooner had he made the incisions with his Ethiopian stone knife than he ran off at top speed; without this precaution, the assistants would not have failed to reward him with forceful blows and blows, to knock him out afterwards, thinking they were doing a meritorious act by punishing him, or rather to show a semblance of condemnation towards the profaner of the corpse.

Other priests presided over the funeral ceremonies; they represented Anubis with the head of a jackal.

Strange melodies came out, night and day, from the embalming house, slow chants or high-pitched cries, which contributed to increasing the veneration that people felt for this place.

Herodotus (Book II, chap. 85, 88) mentions three modes of embalming practiced 450 years before our era.

In the first mode, the brain was removed through the nostrils, then the cavity was filled with aromatics and resins. The body was stretched out on the ground, the scribe marking on the left side where the incision should begin and where it should end. The paratrooper then made the incision with a sharp flint, which the ancients called Ethiopian stone and which is also known as Ethiopian stone.

The viscera were removed, with the exception of the heart and the kidneys, the abdominal cavity was washed with palm wine; it was then filled with myrrh, cassia, aromatics, asphalt, with the exception of incense, which could not be used for this purpose. The integuments were then covered.

The body was then washed and salted; it was covered with natron for seventy days.

When this time expired, the body was anointed again with cedar oil; they coated it with balms, they wrapped it in strips, which they covered with a solution of gum arabic.

Then the face of the deceased was gilded or painted; the bandages surrounding his body were sometimes adorned with drawings and hieroglyphics painted with care and of great beauty.

Such was the most magnificent method of embalming the dead.

People wishing to avoid a large expense chose the second method consisting in filling syringes with a creamy cedar liquor which was then injected into the belly of the dead, without making an incision.

Then the body was placed for seventy days in an alkaline solution. The natron dried out the flesh, leaving only the muscles, bones and skin.

The body was then wrapped in bandages, except for the face, which was painted red.

The third mode of embalming, reserved for the poor, consisted in depositing the corpse for seventy days in an alkaline solution of natron, then surrounding it with strips.

A fourth mode of embalming, simpler, was also practiced. The corpses were wrapped in bandages, then buried in the sand at a depth of one meter, as evidenced by the mummies found in this state.

I drew this various information from the Annals of the Guimet Museum published in 1902.


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