This is a brief overview of Ancient Egyptian Medicine and in no way represents an exhaustive study of the subject. For more on Kemetic Medicine contact Sehu Khepera Ankh.
Ancient Egyptian Medicine is as old as the civilization itself which encompassed all areas of holistic and specialty medicine. From the latest geological dating of the Sphinx (Hor em Akhet) monument we can reasonably deduce that the healing arts were established in Egypt by at least 10,000 BCE.
The unique feature of Ancient Egyptian Medicine is its reliance on the mystical and metaphysical skill of the physician (Sunnu(t)). Despite its emphasis on energetic theories and practices, it was no less scientific in its pharmacopeia and surgical procedures. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus demonstrates the medical scientific and surgical techniques, mostly associated with the brain, face and skull, of the ancient priest/ess doctors.
Due to the sophistication of the olden civilization it was significant that an equal as sophisticated medical system be devised and this is exemplified in the vast pharmacopeia and healing modalities all of which were gained from plants, herbs, shrubs and fauna. James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist who worked during the late 1800’s stated, “The current conclusion regarding the Ancient Egyptian, a conclusion in which myself heretofore shared, has been that he was interested in scientific principles, if at all, solely because of the unavoidable necessity of applying them in practical life.”
This scientific emphasis is found in the manner in which they performed complex surgeries such as, for example, trephination and the setting of broken bones. These techniques are still used today by modern medicine doctors and so in many cases what seems like modern medical discoveries of the Greek period were already being used some thousands of years before the Greek period in North East Africa (10,000BCE).
There was a skilled approach in combining more hidden or esoteric healing practices with purely empirical and scientific measures. In the Lure of Medical History-Pharmacy of Ancient Egypt it states the “Egyptian medical practice was of two orders:
1) The Superior, or Magic, consisting of incantations, prayers for the removal of sortileges, and commentaries on oracles; and (2) the Customary Dogma or common practice.
This conceptual practice of combining incantations and prayers (Hekau- Magical Words of Power) with empirical procedures proved to be a very powerful combination in healing the physical and mental sick and those that became injured by various means. The Physicians however were held to procedural guidelines as well and were not to rely on their own whims but to consult the medical texts in matters of cathartic procedure in diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. In the book, The Old Egyptian Medical Papyri, on page 35, Chauncey D. Leake writes, “Dr. Owesi Temkin has summarized various views on these matters, indicating that gradual tendency to support the empirical rationality of the Chief Egyptian medical texts. This is in accord with the position of Herman Ranke and also of Herman Grapow. Grapow emphasizes the differences in the medical papyri depending upon whether they are to be used as textbooks, or merely as collection of recipes for practicing physicians. In the textbooks, the diagnoses are coherently expressed in sentence form. In the formularies the prescriptions employ loosely connected words and concepts”.
This same formula of diagnoses, treatment and prognosis is still used today by modern doctors. The principle difference with the Sunnu(t) as compared to modern physicians was their use of purely natural substances; in as such in ancient times there were no allopathic medicaments.
Yet the priest(esses) physicians were able to make pills, suppositories, poultices among other curing agents. All of this is documented in the principle medical papyri. Dr. Charles Finch states, “The Egyptians were well versed in many pathological syndromes. The identification of a disease necessitates acute and painstaking clinical observation, often over many years, and many of the ones described in the medical papyri are known today. Egyptian physicians understood the origin of parpalegia and paralysis from spinal cord injuries and recognized the traumatic origin of neurological symptoms such as deafness, urinary incontinence, and priapism. They described many syndromes of cardiac origin". The principle medical papyri are:
Ancient Egyptian Medical Papyri:
1) Edwin Smith Papyrus
2) Ebers Papyrus
3) Hearst Papyrus
4) The Chester Beatty Papyri
5) Berlin Papyrus
6) The London Medical Papyrus
7) The Ramseeum Papyri
8) The Carlsburg Papyrus
9) The Brooklyn Papyrus
10) The Kahun Papyrus
From these we learn of their expertise in areas such as dentistry, brain injuries, therapeutics as well as a highly advanced practice in areas of women’s health, children’s health and veterinary medicine.
These and other profound medical discoveries by the olden physicians are still as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago which is supported by the growing "green" culture. The very basis of Egyptian Medicine was the healing of the sick by addressing the deep and penetrating issues of the mind. Thus coherence was sought between the mind and body. What this means is that the priest physicians knew that physical ailments were caused by mental afflictions such as worries, intense cares or mal adaptive behavior born of vice conjoined with the ariu (karmic basis) of each human being.
Thus, the whole system was taken into consideration and managed integratively, including at the level of the soul of the human being or animal. Therefore, they saw the human or animal not only merely as a biological entity but a complete system which needed to be healed from the deepest aspects to the outer aspects. Although the physicians understood and recognized the penetrating issues of the mind and soul, nonetheless, applied themselves rigorously to understanding the scientific principles and empirical observation that goes into theories of maintaining the health of the physical body; therefore, the medical practice was undiminished and all encompassing.
In this wide ranging concentration on the full system, they truly enacted a healing of the human person and thus transcended treating only symptoms to treating the root causes of the disease at the very source; the soul. In essence they viewed the human being as a soul struggling for enlightenment in the search for liberation from pain and suffering.Therefore, each individual patient was treated as a confused divinity and not simply as a person. When this confusion is ameliorated then the personality discovers her or his true divine nature and thus transcends the condition of the body whether it be in good health or disease. This system can still be used today and this is why the video presentation was made to illustrate how these healing practices and theories are actually timeless and are much needed today as is indicative of the condition of the current medical system in its failure to curb the chronic disease epidemic. Thus there is urgent necessity to evaluate, adjust and change some aspects of the current medical paradigm to address the deeper realities of the human experience.
Ancient Egyptian Physiology: Brief Overview:
This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on Kemetic Physiology and serves only for informational and educational purposes. For more details into this area contact Sehu Khepera.
In Kemetic medicine the heart (Ab) is seen as the center of the body because it is from the heart that blood is sent to profuse the entire terminal cardiovascular system (cells of the body) with oxygen. The heart has a dual function of collecting oxygenated blood from the lungs and deoxygenated blood from the body’s periphery via the venous system. Thus the heart handles the blood fluid in a dual manner as demonstrated by the two atria which collects the blood and two ventricles which distributes blood volume. In as such the heart represents duality (the four cardinal points of the universe; earth, air, water fire,), upon which singularity is the basis. What this means is that the human organism, from the Kemetic perspective, is a manifestation of undifferentiated consciousness and as such has a dual nature. Thus, we have two hands, two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, tow ovaries, two testicles, two kidneys etc. Therefore, the body is a dual system or a system that relies on the homeostasis and synchronicity of that coupled system to maintain its optimal health. When the body is placed under objective and strict scrutiny of a meditative mind in equipoise it is discovered that the body is a small segment of the total experience of the human entity.
In as such the Ab is also the organ that is weighed on the scales of Maat in the form of a heart shaped vase, in the judgment hall that is presented in the Papyrus and Coffin Text genres of Ancient Kemetic literature. Maat signifies order, righteousness and truth and is symbolized by an ostritch feather which is a symbol of the Goddess Maat. How this relates to Kemetic Medicine is that the heart on the balance scales of Maat is actually a metaphor for the unconscious mind of a human being. In the judgment hall, the heart (unconscious mind) is weighed against the feather of Maat. If the heart is drawn with guilt, remorse and extreme self centeredness it will be heavier than the feather of Maat and therefore the mind would go through periods of suffering, misery and will be inflicted with afflictions such as fear, anger, jealousy, desire. Thus these afflictions are the basis upon which disease is born in the body.
Conversely, if the unconscious mind has been made light by a life of virtue, peace and righteousness it will be as light or lighter than the feather of Maat, metaphorically; depending upon the depth of the profundity of attainment of righteous order in life of a given individual. Thus a mind that has been made light by a life of truth will not be afflicted by the anomalies that are created by the mind and thus there is a great reduction in the possibilities of such individual actually suffering from disease. However, a life of virtue does not necessitate nor otherwise presuppose that a given righteous personality will never get ill in his or her life time as all beings in time and space are under the influence of ari (karma).
The heart as the center of the body is related to the heart shaped vase in the following manner.
The physical organ, the heart is the center of health for the body. If the mind is attuned to the cosmic order and made light through a life of virtue, then there would be lightness in the body as well. What this means is that the relative health of the mind has a direct influence on the relative health of the body. Thus, when the body is afflicted it is due to an infusion of negative energy into the body from the anomalies of the mental continuum of a human being. Therefore, physical diseases are mirror images of the state of mind of a human being. Looking at the body is a look into the mind. Thus, the mind body connection is not merely healthy body healthy mind. But rather, more poignantly it is a righteous and disciplined mind leads to a healthy body. This however does not indicate that a person with an unrighteous disposition will all of sudden feel pain in the body and disease of the physical constitution or does it indicate that a saint or sage would never get ill. Thus, the ariu (karmic basis) of the individual patient must also be taken into account. Therefore, Kemetic Medicine is very sophisticated, complex and can not be simplified to gain a true understanding of it.
What the Kemetic Medical paradigm illustrates however is that if there is a habitual tendency towards vice as acted out through the impetus from an impure mind it will eventually show up in the body as a disruption in the proper functioning of the organ and or vascular system. Therefore, the ancient Kemites cleverly knew this and so logically centered their physiologic studies and investigations at the heart and moved from there to the pulse centers at the throat, wrist, thighs, lower legs and feet.
By understanding the pulse system of the human being, one can gain insight to the disease process that has taken place within the physical body and as such gain insight into the nature of the person’s mind. Thus, from a practical perspective modalities would be applied to the body or ingested along with spiritual counsel and recitation of specific formulas to rectify the mental anomaly that is showing up in the body. Spiritual counsel would be given to assist the patient in overcoming life conditions and situations that lead either to vice, impurity or general every day stressors that can grow in magnitude so as to make life difficult to handle.
Therefore, it is not to only heal the body, or to only focus on the mind; but to work both at the mental and physical levels in harmonization. Further, the spiritual dimension of a human being was not left out of the equation. Thus, incantations and spiritual rituals along with counsel in relation to life problems and the human condition would be offered to the patient as well.
In utilizing the heart as the center of the physical body; the philosophy of Swadj was employed. Swadj means to green the body, o r to make the body green. This is done by ingesting green leafy vegetables, and green drinks that act to energize the body’s cells. They employed this philosophy because leaves of plants captures sunlight and congeals it as the chlorophyll molecule which is stored in the chloroplast aspect of the plant cell.
Thus when a human being ingests green vegetables they are in essence ingesting particles of the sun that has been collected in the leaves of plants. The philosophy of greening coincides with the dictum of firstly looking at the heart and examining the entire system from there. In as such Kemetic Medicine places emphasis on preventation of disease by collecting into the mind and body philosophies and foods that lead to good health. The emphasis on the heart center is not to say that the endocrine system was ignored; not at all. In Kemetic Medicine the endocrine system is part and parcel of the vascular apparatus which includes the lungs and the heart.
In this area of Kemetic Medicine it gets very complex as the endocrine system was attuned with and worked through the Sefech Ba Ra (7 Souls of Ra; Psycho Spiritual Energy System, Chakras). In as such the major healing deities are the God Ptah and the Goddess Sekhmet. Sekhmet represents the life forces while Ptah represents the mind. Thus, for good health a balance must be struck by the energetic system and the mind which reflects in a healthy endocrine and blood vascular system.
Philosophically, for health of the body, according to the Kemetic paradigm, there must be health of the fluid systems. In this manner the fluid systems are seen metaphorically as tributaries of the Nile River with the central channel of the energetic system being the main body of the river. Hence, for good health one must drink lots of clean water; whose subtle essence is the energetic quality of the Divinity Hapi.
Therefore when one is drinking water it is not simply a fluid, but rather, a cosmic force or energetic expression of the universe. Thus when we eat green leafy vegetables we are ingesting the energetic quality of the deities Ra and Asar and when we ingest water we are taking in the energetic quality of God Hapi. Therefore, we are eating the Gods and Goddesses and they in turn give our body optimal health. And since they are immortal Gods and Goddesses, they cannot go out of existence if we eat them because they regenerate on their own power (water is in great danger now because of the damming of rivers and massive use of water by soda and beer companies; Maat philosophy talks about not polluting the water). However, the same cannot be said about animals. The eating of animals causes much suffering to the animals and in turn to the people who eat them.
Modern science now says that the earth’s population will level off at about 9 billion people by the year 2050 upon which the rate of increase of the human population will slow and may even see a small decline. Now (November 2011) we are at about 7 billion people. To feed all of the people in the developed world, who mostly eat a meat based diet, 120 billion land animals are killed each year; Not to mention the trillion or so sea animals that die each year as a result of the need for mass human consumption.
By the time 2050 comes around this number will be quite larger. Thus in essence, to feed all of these people a meat based diet will take the continued and escalation of cattle ranch farming techniques that cause much misery to the animals in which they live in deplorable conditions. Not to mention that there would be increase in starvation in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia because the cattle are fed grain, not grass.
The grain that the cattle are being fed to fatten them for human consumption could be better utilized to feed all of the people in Africa and Asia who are starving each and every day. In the XXIII Mind and Life Conference in Dharamsala India, Matthieu Ricard cited that, “1.4 billion poor people could be fed 775 million tons of grain used yearly for raising livestock.” He further stated, “25 million people could be fed throughout the year if the inhabitants of the USA would avoid eating meat for one day a week”. Therefore, a plant and grain based diet is not only healthier as is proven by science, and personal experience, but also it is more efficient metabolically and psychically to eat the cosmic powers, the higher energetic elements of the universe rather than the dense muscle of animals which underlies the moral issue of the mass genocide of animals; which brings us back to the balance scales of Maat.
It has been proven that in cultures where there is predominantly a meat based diet there are high prevalence of metabolic disease such as diabetes and the concomitant diseases such as cardiovascular disease and stroke. The number one killer of people in large industrial nations is cardiovascular disease. Hence, a meat based diet does not bring health to the vascular system but rather causes disease of the vascular system. Now since the populations of industrial nations are mainly eating animals that are essentially slaughtered for no other reason than profit based upon human consumption, it causes heaviness and dullness of the mind which reflects in the body as disease.
This occurs because there is no proper ritual to thank and appease the mind and subtle energies of the animals. Hence when proper rituals are performed it acts as a calming effect on the environment and psyche of those who participate in the ritual killing and consumption of the animal. Thus the cosmic powers are placated and so the wrathful aspects of the deities are not activated. When animals are slaughtered as they are in the slaughterhouses, the animals die with strong feelings of fear, anger, irritability, sadness, hostility and emotional suffering.
Hence, there is a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease in people who based their diet on animal and dairy products as the human body consumes these negative energies which in turn are absorbed by the unconscious mind, the heart, Ab. The negative energies that are ingurgitated into the unconscious mind are then reflected back into the physical body and there ferment into tangible disease. The negative energies causes a disruption in the vascular, endocrine and organ systems of the body. Therefore, broadly speaking, the problem of disease is a problem of the impure energies that a human being absorbs into their psyche.
Thus, since the heart is also seen as the seat of the emotions and the seat of the mind, music therapy was also employed to harmonize the emotions and bring the heart rate and blood pressure to a healthy level by causing a dispersion of the negative energies and collection of positive powers through sound. Nonetheless, in the case of infections antibiotics were used. They made their own antibiotics out of coarse bread. Therefore all aspects of medicine were employed with the philosophical premise and physiological fact that the heart is the center from which health or disease permeates while the ethical and moral condition of the mind is the conduit by which the body is maintained in health or disease.
Therefore the combining of herbs such as carminatives were not crude inventions but rather very thought out and scientifically tested modalities which assisted in the healing of the patient. This is significant because the Sunnut believed that people were healed by self correction and she employed certain cosmic powers to assist the patient with his or her own self correction. Thus the Sunnut was an assistant to the individual’s own power for self healing. For the Sunnu or Kemetic naturopathic practitioner the idea is to align the patient with proper forces for healing and then let the process take its course. In as such healing occurs and the patient dispenses with the negativities that caused the disease and thus return to health and proper livelihood.
Sehu Khepera Ankh