• From Isis and Horus in the Delta to Mary and Jesus in Ireland

    Lloyd Graham (see profile)
    Egyptology, Irish Literature and Culture
    Egyptology, Egypt, History, Ancient, Folklore, Ireland, Area studies, Magic
    Item Type:
    healing spell, Isis-Horus complex, Metternich stela, folk-charms, historiolae, Ancient Egypt, Irish studies
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    The historiola of an ancient Egyptian spell (AEMT 90) describes how Isis becomes a fugitive to protect her unborn/young son Horus from Seth, the murderer of her brother/husband Osiris. As her travel-group seeks refuge in the Nile Delta, a noblewoman’s inhospitality to the unexpected visitors results in her young son being stung by Isis’s scorpion escort; however, the goddess takes pity on him and uses an incantation to assuage his pain and save his life. Christian equivalents of this spell – probably derivatives, but now framed around disguised holy men who inflict other ailments on members of the unwelcoming household and then cure them – have long circulated in southern and central Europe as folk-charms. This paper strengthens the case for a genetic relationship between the Egyptian spell and the European charms. It also highlights the existence of an Irish-language counterpart to the continental charms which is unusually close to the Egyptian prototype; in it, the protagonists are a wandering Virgin Mary and her young son Jesus. Some Irish variants even return the historiola’s setting to Egypt, where – in a striking parallel with Isis’s circumstance – Mary seeks to protect her infant son from the murderous Herod. The parallels between the Egyptian and Irish embodiments attest to the cohesion and latent unity of the Egyptian/European corpus of this charm-type as a whole – a family line in which the underpinning tale-type eventually recapitulates the configuration of the ancestral Ur-Tale.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    2 years ago
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