Amulets, Scarabs and Crystals
Ancient Egypt was the land of riches, mysteries, vast knowledge and unrivaled civilization that piqued the curiosity of scholars and explorers and even everyday people like you and me. Osiris, Isis, Nefertiti, Ramses, names that invoke the spirit of adventure transporting you centuries back to the glorious reign of the pharaohs over the land of the River Nile. I’ve always been fascinated by the myth and legends of ancient Egypt, and their spectacular architecture often using sacred geometry like with the Giza Pyramids. But to be honest what captivated me the most was the intricately crafted jewelry those ancients wore, and to be specific, their scarab-shaped amulets. I had bought a beautiful lapis lazuli scarab amulet years ago from a Bazar in the Abou- Rawash area close to the Giza Pyramids, and was told by our tour guide friend who recommended the bazar, that scarab amulets were most venerated by the ancients, and that kings and commoners alike wore them. I loved my new amulet. It had a deep azure blue color with veins of white calcite and specs of golden pyrite. Gazing at it was like exploring a mini cosmos with midnight sky traversed by lazy wandering clouds and star dust. I felt its soothing energy envelop me all over, but then it got me thinking. Why did the ancients venerate the form of a beetle- scarabs are beetles- and of all beetles, why the dung beetle? Yes you read right. My lovely scarab depicted no other than the poo-rolling beetle, just like all the scarabs worn in ancient Egypt. So why? What’s the secret? I decided to find out and do some exploring myself.
Amulets had always been popular like I mentioned before. The poor and the rich wore them to bring in good luck and ward off evil. Even the mummified dead were adorned with amulets to ensure their safe Journey to the afterlife. Among some of the famous amulets, the knot of Isis amulet, the Eye of Horus, the Djed Pillar amulet and of course the scarab shaped amulets.
Egyptologists give these poo-pushing champs the name Scarab after the ancient Greek word for beetle. The ancients called the beetle kheper, which meant “becoming into being”. They associated the humble insect with Re, their supreme-being and sun god, and gave their beetle god avatar of Re name of Khepri.
According to mythological interpretations, the scarab beetle god Khepri, was believed to push the sun along the sky in the same manner as this beetle with his ball of dung. In many artifacts, the scarab is depicted pushing the sun along its course in the sky. The Egyptians were close observers of their natural environment. They knew that the beetle pushing the ball was male, although forgetting that the female first laid eggs in it, thanks to Plutarch’s theories. They watched closely as the insect pushed its cargo, stopped, climbed up, did their “jitterbug dance” after which their headed straight in the direction of the sun. Zoologist Emily Bard did her research on dung beetles and her work shed some light on the beetle’s association with the Sun god.
Dr. Bard’s research suggests that the eyes of those insects have built-in polarization filters that would allow them to use the sun’s rays like the points of a compass. Their powers of navigation get even wilder, as even when the sun goes down they can use the moon to navigate, and if there’s no moon, the critters use the Milky-Way to orient themselves. Cool huh?
Egyptians also considered these beetles a symbol of not only the sun, but of life itself. An old beetle disappeared underground to emerge as a new youngster. They believed the dung ball was fashioned by the male beetle to function as an egg, and that they had no need for females. They just injected their semen into the dung and voila. They might have been wrong about the method of reproduction but indeed these critters deserved their status. Even the Greeks put it on their thrones and went so far as to associate it with Zeus.
Scarabs were generally carved from the soft steatite stone-glazed in blue or green- that hardens when fired, or molded from Egyptian faience. Hard-stone scarabs were commonly made from semi-precious stones and crystals like Lapis-lazuli, carnelian, amethyst and jasper, exclusively worn by the rich and royalty. In many cultures royalty was represented by the color blue, and was especially true in ancient Egypt, making lapis one of the most prized gemstones of all time, so lucky me for my royal blue lapis scarab.
The alchemist Kircher believed that the scarab was, the prima material, a substance required to create the philosopher’s stone that supposedly could turn metals to gold.
Dung beetles are especially important for the balance of our eco-system since they feed of moisture and undigested nutrients in waste of herbivores like sheep. Because they roll around so much waste underground they are considered essential to controlling disease and pests among livestock, and also distributing fertilizer more evenly among the plains.
During and following the New kingdom, scarab amulets were often placed over the heart of the mummified body. The scarabs were shaped to look like a heart, and were painted green or dark black, which makes me wonder if they had any association with the Hindu chakra system, since green is for the heart chakra. The heart scarabs in the afterlife, during the final judgment should be weighed against the feather of the truth. The amulets were often inscribed with a spell from the Book of the Dead entreating the heart to not stand witness against its owner.
I find it fascinating that before scientific experimenting and logic people invented and created myth to explain the makings of the worlds around them. They might not be rolling the sun across the sky, but they do have magnificent celestial powers. They certainly don’t magically disappear in their balls to come out young, female are recognized now, but they are indeed no less fascinating.
– Riham Adly –
Riham Adly also known as Rose among friends, is a mother of two, a dentist and an emerging writer from Egypt with several articles and short stories published in local magazines and websites. [Learn More]