The Ancient Egypt
Hypnosis as an art of healing goes at least back to the first dynasty of the ancient Egyptian civilisation. Evidence of this can be found in the papyrus Westcar, containing stories about marvels performed by priests and magicians at the court of Pharaoh Khufu (2589-2566 BC).
The fourth story in the papyrus is told by the famous prince Hardjedef during the 5th dynasty, and concerns a miracle set within Khufu’s own reign. A townsman named Djedi apparently has the power to reattach a severed head onto an animal, tame a wild lion, and knows the number of rooms in the secret shrine of Thoth. Khufu, intrigued, sends his son to fetch this wise man, and upon Djedi’s arrival at court he orders a goose, a waterfowl, and an ox beheaded. Dedi reattaches the heads. Khufu then questions him on his knowledge on the shrine of Thoth, and Dedi answers that he does not know the number of rooms, but he knows where they are. When Khufu asks for the whereas and how’s, Dedi answers that the one who can give Khufu access is not him, but the first of the three future kings in the womb of the woman Reddedet. This is a prophecy detailing the beginnings of the 5th dynasty starting with Userkaf.
These lector priests were widely known as dream interpreters, possibly consulting dream books. Scribe Qenhirkhopshef’s dream book (1190 – 1175 BC) is a copy of a much older texts, but still gives insight in to dream interpretation, the cousin of hypnosis.
The most complete medical work from the ancient Egyptians is the Ebers papyrus2, possibly written around 1552 BC, but certainly copied from much older sources. In this papyrus there is evidence to suggest three different classes of physicians; the regulars, the priest physicians, and the conjurers. The latter very much a reflection of the modern stage hypnotherapists who’s main objective is to entertain and not to heal.
Ebers papyrus at University of Leipzig’s library contains 100 pages and is 20,23 m’s long. It is is certainly from Amenhotep I’s reign (1534 BC) but passages indicates that it could go back to the 1st dynasty (3000 BC).
In Ebers famous papyrus many will be surprised by the advanced level of knowledge these priests and healers had. It gives a surprisingly accurate description of the circulatory system. The papyrus cover cancer, fractures, contraception, diabetes, arthritis, and there is even a short section on psychiatry, dealing with a condition not dissimilar from depression. Mental disorders are detailed in a chapter of the papyrus called the Book of Hearts. For me this is clearly another indication of the fact that the Egyptian priest never thought that intelligence was located in the heart. It was instead used as a metaphor for the fact that m3ˁ-ḫrw (transtransliterated hieroglyphs) or in hieroglyphs:
maak-hrw meant that one is true of voice, speaking from ones heart. Perhaps we know that at least intuitively.
Since magic and proper medical treatments were equally accepted, magic probably gave the priest an advantage of having patients truly believing that the treatment would work. The power of placebo was an important tool among those whom had been initiated already 5 000 years ago.
When the British Encyclopedia inform us that William Harvey discovered the blood circulation 1628, almost 3 200 years old knowledge from Egypt has been deliberately dismissed!
1. Pinch, Geraldine; Magic in ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, 1994, ISBN-0-292-76559-2
2. Klein, Karl H von; The Medical Features of The Papyrus Eber, reprint from AMA; 1905
© Hieroglyphs published by courtesy of Mark Millmore