Magic and religion as a performative theological unity : the apotropaic 'Ritual of Overthrowing Apophis'
Magical and ritual sources have characteristically tended to be under-exploited in the
study of ancient societies, partly for the superficial inaccessibility, and partly because
they have been disreputably attractive to the "esoteric" fringe. They do, however,
provide a number of detailed insights into the relations between real and practical
behaviour and the ideological/religious explanations of that behaviour. The present
study attempts to investigate this interrelation between magical and religious
phenomena, having as starting point and basic theme of reference the apotropaic
"Ritual of Overthrowing Apophis, " the enemy of Re par excellence. It will examine the
function and mechanisms of the ritual from its first appearance in the funerary liturgies
of the Middle Kingdom until its acquisition of a complete cultic character within the
broader religious environment of the Ptolemaic temples of Edfu and Dendera. The
presentation of the available material cannot reach completeness. The present study
does not claim to be a integral philological investigation of either the complex nature of
the serpentine enemy of the sun god or of the ritual texts referring to his conflict with
Re and his final expulsion. Rather, carefully selected texts concerning the Apophis
ritual are used as a trigger for re-examining certain areas and aspects of cultic
phenomena where religion and magic reaches a "theological, " performative unity.
Techniques that are common in both systems, such as the magician's acting and
speaking as god ("divine speech"), the enumeration of the human bodily parts that are
ascribed to particular deities ("lists"), erasure of names and mutilation of images
(damnatio memoria), should be analysed and re-evaluated under this new perspective.
Questions concerning the notion of hk3 itself, should also be considered: was hk3
considered to pre-exist as the archetype creative force, or was it a human invention to
explain the unexplained and to control and repel hostile forces beyond its nature, or
was it a personification of the power of ritual? Such a methodological approach to
Egyptian magic will lead into a stage where the main point of reference will be the
anthropology and sacred praxis of hk3, rather than a random compilation of
superstitions and popular beliefs.