Exhibitions: Magic in Ancient Egypt: Image, Word, and Reality

  • 1st Floor
    Arts of Africa, Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden
  • 2nd Floor
    Arts of Asia and the Islamic World
  • 3rd Floor
    Egyptian Art, European Paintings
  • 4th Floor
    Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
  • 5th Floor
    Luce Center for American Art

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    Magic in Ancient Egypt: Image, Word, and Reality

    • Dates: December 22, 2006 through October 18, 2009
    • Location: This exhibition is no longer on view in Special Exhibitions Hall, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
    • Description: Magic in Ancient Egypt: Image, Word, and Reality. [12/22/2006 - 10/18/2009]. Installation view.
    • Citation: Brooklyn Museum Digital Collections and Services. Records of the Department of Digital Collections and Services. (DIG_E_2006_Magic)
    • Source: born digital
    • Related Links: Main Exhibition Page
    Exhibition Didactics ?
    • Magic in Ancient Egypt: Image, Word, and Reality
      Throughout history humans have felt themselves to be confronted by mysterious beings and powers, some seen as good and some as evil, and have related to these forces through religion, science, art, and magic. In our society it is common to relegate magic, which one modern definition calls “the supposed art of influencing the course of events supernaturally,” to the world of illusion and superstition. Nevertheless, superstitions are still powerfully felt throughout the world (including this country) and often reflect beliefs that were once far more widespread and sanctioned by religion. For the ancient Egyptians, there was nodistinction between religion and magic.

      Magic was widely used in ancient Egypt, and Egypt’s fame for magic was great. In the early third century A.D., it was written that “Egypt was the mother of magicians.” This was the general opinion in the ancient world, as reflected in the Old Testament, where Pharaoh is attended by magicians who compete with Moses and Aaron in performing marvels such as changing wands into serpents and water into blood. Early opponents of Christianity accused Jesus of having trained as a magician in Egypt and of working his miracles through magic acquired there. In the Talmud it is said that Egypt received nine of the “ten measures of magic that came into the world.”

      The ancient Egyptians believed that the manipulation of written words, images, speech, and ritual could influence the world outside the normal parameters of cause and effect by means of what they called Heqa (“Magic”), a divinely created and sanctioned force personified as the eldest son of the solar creator Atum. Deities could use Heqa to sustain the universe—which the Egyptians believed was always threatened by the Nun, the ocean of chaos within which it was created—and for many other purposes. Heqa could also be used by people with the proper training and was a god-given means to help humanity cope with many of life’s problems. Although ancient Egyptians could also employ Heqa for what we might consider evil purposes, Heqa itself was neither good nor bad, but a neutral power that could be put to either use. This concept contrasts greatly with the long-held Western view of magic as evil or satanic in origin.

      Richard Fazzini
      Head, Brooklyn Museum Mut Expedition

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