A magical stela


so-called ‘magical stela of Horus’ (a stela is a large tablet, usually made of stone) depicts the god Horus in the conventional Egyptian form for a youth: nude and wearing his hair in a side lock. He is portrayed here as Harpokrates, the Greek version of Horus-the-Child. The story told on this stela refers to the episode in Horus’ life when he grew up hiding from his evil uncle Seth in the marshes of the Nile delta. Protected by the magical powers of his mother, Isis, he was saved from a venomous animal’s mortal bite.

This slab shows the infant god as a conqueror of dangerous beasts. He is standing on a crocodile, holding a snake, a lion, a scorpion and a gazelle. These kinds of stelae were inscribed with magical spells and were thought to possess healing properties and used to protect people from dangerous animals. Water was poured over the stela to charge it with magic, the water was collected in the basin and the victim drank it.

This particular stela shows the popularity of ancient Egyptian gods even among people from elsewhere. It features a Phoenician inscription of the person who dedicated it – Paal-Astarte, son of Chemrebi, a man of Phoenician origin who believed in ancient Egyptian magic!

This stela is on display in the BP exhibition Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds  (19 May – 27 November 2016).