Ancient Egyptian medicine, it is important to note, is made up of what we would call rational treatments and magic. This is a modern division of ancient Egyptian medicine and certainly the ancient Egyptians themselves would not thought this way.
Ancient Egyptian Medicine and Magic
Ancient Egyptian Medicine and Magic

Ancient Egyptian Medicine and Magic

Ancient Egyptian medicine, it is important to note, is made up of what we would call rational treatments and magic. This is a modern division of ancient Egyptian medicine and certainly the ancient Egyptians themselves would not thought this way. Both rational and magic would have been used together and overlapped.

Magic in Medicine

Magic works by bringing about a desired effect by the use of rituals and spells, this could be done over distance and the patient need not necessarily be present. Magic in the ancient Egyptian concept has three main parts.

1. Spells and Incantations

The ancient Egyptians believed in the power of the sound of spoken words and that it had an effect upon the real world. Once words were spoken, they could not be contracted or taken back and the caster would have to know a sort of antidote spell, which would reverse or neutralise the original spell. This all stems from the importance of the word, a theme that is also found in the Bible, but also very much an ancient Egyptian belief.

In the creation myths, everything came into existence through two things; what the heart thought and the tongue spoke. You conceptualise the idea, speak the words and it comes into reality. So spells that bring about the healing of people are very important and also very potent. The spell could also be accompanied by the second part, the ritual.

2. Ritual

This would be a series of acts or gestures, which could be carried out on the patient or a figurine. So working on the figurine could effect long distance healing and the results would affect the patient. There were elements that could help and facilitate this process, which would have their own magical strengths and powers. Elements such as wine, water and oil would have life-giving properties.

Also within the ritual, the magician or doctor might use amulets, which were pieces of sacred jewellery that had magical properties that would assist the healing process. The third element was the person that performed the magic.

3. The Magician

This was the person who held the powers to heal; originally during the Pre-dynastic Period this would have been the chieftain of the village. Over the centuries this was gathered into the person of the king, who was the supreme magician, this power was delegated downwards to the priests and in particular the priest doctors.

Sources

Magic and religion were an integral part of everyday life in ancient Egypt. Gods and demons were thought to be responsible for many ailments, so often the treatments involved a supernatural element, such as beginning treatment with an appeal to a deity. There does not appear to have existed a clear distinction between what nowadays one would consider the very distinct callings of priest and physician. The healers, many of them priests of Sekhmet or Selket, often used incantations and magic as part of treatment.

During the 19th century several sets of extensive ancient medical documents, including the Ebers papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Hearst Papyrus and others dating back as far as 3000 BC, were discovered.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus is a textbook on surgery and details anatomical observations and the "examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis" of numerous ailments. It was probably written around 1600 BC, but is regarded as a copy of several earlier texts. Medical information in it dates from as early as 3000 BC. Imhotep in the 3rd dynasty is credited as the original author of the papyrus text, and founder of ancient Egyptian medicine.