MEDICAL MAGIC I
The belief that ills of the body may be visited upon man by other than physical causes is older than the science of medicine, and has continued to exist side by side with it. All peoples of whom we have ancient records have looked upon diseases, and even casual pains whose causes have escaped their observation, as the work of demons. The sufferer sought relief, often with the aid of a wizard of his tribe, by taking means to drive away the demon and prevent his return. Hence it is a common function of amulets to guard the wearer against illness or to cure it if it is already established. A very large number of Graeco-Egyptian and Graeco-Syrian amulets are certainly medicomagical, and it is possible that others whose types and inscriptions are obscure would fall into that category if we could be sure of their meaning. The following pages deal with several kinds that are definitely known to be designed for the cure of one ailment or another.
The commonest of all healing amulets are those intended for ailments of the stomach. This was to be expected, in view of man's proneness to excess in eating; but other causes contributed to the frequency of indigestion, especially the want of scientific dietetics and the difficulty of keeping food free from contamination in warm climates. We shall see later that amulets intended for a wider range of uses might be worn at need to cure indigestion; but first we should examine three types that seem to have been specialized for this purpose. They are not completely distinct from one another in all details, though they evidently have separate origins. 1. About twenty stones have come to my attention, most of them unpublished, which have this as their principal design: at the right an altar upon which stands a vessel shaped like an ordinary flowerpot holding three plant stalks or flowers. At the left, facing away from the altar, there is a long-billed bird which most writers who describe the design call an ibis, correctly in my opinion. Most of the specimens indicate that the ibis is tied by the neck to one of the plants on the altar, or at least to some part of the altar; the sketchy execution of the design sometimes leaves this detail uncertain. The cord, or rather the loop which ties the bird, misled Petrie, who thought the two sides of the loop were two plumes projecting backward from its head, and in consequence he called the bird the bennu
, the soul of Osiris.1
1 Petrie, Amulets, No. 135 p–r, p. 30.