The obsession which the ancient Egyptians had with the other world seems to have created powerful supernatural forces which have lasted for thousands of years. Some of the more sinister and potent ghostly activity reported in modern times stems from Ancient Egypt, whose ageless hauntings have spanned fifty centuries and more.
The Cult of the Dead, which originated in India, reached its apotheosis in Egypt. At first the Egyptians believed that only members of the royal family and certain chosen companions
were privileged to enjoy eternal life. Later the hereafter became democratized and at first nobles and high officials, and finally “all good men” were permitted through the eternal gates.
It is strange that, for all their preoccupation with eternity, the Egyptians never evolved a sophisticated religion. They were not however alone in considering life on earth merely as a brief preparation for the great hereafter.
Their chief god became Osiris, who ruled the region of the dead and who was believed to have fathered all the Pharaohs. The Egyptians were so obsessed with this Cult of the Dead that they
turned the teeming and fruitful valley of the Nile into a place devoted to the dead.
They believed that a soul could not enter the blessed region of Osiris unless his body remained intact in the place where he had lived on earth, and therefore very great importance was placed upon the preservation of he body and the inviolability of the tomb. To despoil a tomb and remove a mummy from its coffin was to the Egyptians an act of terrible desecration.
The awful and solemn ceremonies which took place at the entombment included the most terrible curses on the tomb-breakers, and these curses were inscribed upon the walls of the
death chambers. In view of the intensity of their feeling on this subject, it is not surprising that we hear stories of sprits disturbed in their eternal rest by the despoliation of their earthly tombs, perhaps many thousands of years after their burial, and returning to earth to seek vengeance.
The dread inscriptions on the tombs were supposed to have an especial potency owing to the deep belief the ancient Egyptians had in the magic of the written word. They believed that the very act of writing down the curses would ensure their effectiveness.
Such imprecations were made at the rich and splendid funeral of Tutenkhamen in the middle of the fourteenth century B.C. This unimportant sovereign was only eighteen at the time of his death. He was the son-in-law and successor of Akhnaton, one of the most remarkable of all the Pharaohs. Both the splendor of Tutenkhamen’s unspoiled tomb and his father-in-law’s religious convictions, which shook Egypt to its foundations, had strange echoes in the twentieth century, with stories which suggested that those ancient Nile curses had a remarkable and far-reaching power.
Akhnaton forsook the ancient gods of Egypt-including the sacred Osiris-and worshiped the sun-god Aton. He abandoned Thebes, the magnificent city of the god Ammon, and transferred the country’s religious center to Al Amarna in the plain of Hermopolis, where he built splendid temples to Aton. But the ancient religion was not readily abandoned by the ordinary superstitious Egyptians, and the old priesthood, though temporarily dispossessed and forced to remain silent, worked relentlessly in the background against the heretic Pharaoh.
Akhnaton is regarded by many as an enlightened prophet who foresaw the truth of monotheism, an inspired intellectual in an age of priest-ridden superstition. His Queen was
the beautiful and famous Nefertiti. Akhnaton had no son, but six daughters who constantly appeared with him in the religious ceremonies at Amarna. Entirely wrapped up in his religious activities, Akhnaton neglected his country and lost his empire in Syria, which fell to the Hittite hordes, while Akhnaton wrote poems to Aton.
He had made many enemies in Egypt, where a dangerous situation was brewing. In an attempt to combat this, he married his eldest daughter to the young Tutenkhamen, one of
his favorites, and whom he appointed co-regent with himself when the boy was merely twelve years of age. Akhnaton was faced with family as well as national dissension. It seems certain that his Queen Nefertiti fell into disfavor, for it has been discovered that her name was removed from some of the family monuments at Amarna. The inference is that the family trouble was religious. This was reinforced by another more sensational story which was told later.
One of Akhnaton’s daughters turned violently against her father over the religious question. Akhnaton is said to have treated her with shocking brutality and had her raped and killed. His priests then cut off her right hand and buried it secretly in the Valley of the Kings. As she had reverted to the old religion, this would effectively exclude her from entering the blessed region of Osiris as her body was not intact as her burial.
Akhnaton did not live for long, dying in 1358 B.C. in the seventeenth year of his reign, and at about the age of thirty. His son-in-law, Tutenkhamen, succeeded him and reigned for about six years and was consigned to his magnificent and famous tomb.
The hand of his sister-in-law remained buried in the secret place in the Valley of the Kings under a curse that it was never to be re-united to the body of the princess, who was
thus excluded from paradise. For more than three thousand years apparently the princess awaited at the gates of Osiris, her inexhaustible vigil being finally rewarded in a remarkable, if incredible, manner. The story was told by Count Louis Hamon, a well-known occultist of the day, that in the 1890s he was in Luxor where he became friendly with one of the local sheikhs. The
sheikh caught malaria and Hamon was able to cure him. The sheikh expressed his gratitude by presenting to him a mummified hand which, he said, had belonged to a princess of Ancient
Egypt, the daughter of Akhnaton, who had been killed and mutilated for opposing her father’s heretical religious faith.
This curious gift did not in any way repulse Count Hamon, who had a great interest in the religion of ancient Egypt, the priests of which he believed possessed knowledge and power undreamed of by modern man. He thanked the grateful sheikh and added the mummified hand of the princess to his treasures and curiosities which he had collected during his world travels in search of the unknown and the unfathomable.
In the 1920s Hamon and his wife were living in England, and in 1922 he noticed that the hand which had been shriveled and mummified for the last thirty-two centuries began to
soften and to his amazement and incredulity blood appeared in the veins under the skin.
Hamon and his wife were not unnaturally disturbed at this miraculous development. The count was well acquainted with the workings of the occult, and he decided to bring the matter to a head by burning the hand on the night of Halloween. This is the night when witches and sprits are abroad, and the night, too, when according to some ancient tradition, the souls of the lost are released from their eternal bondage to return to the earth. Hamon knew the story of the daughter of Nefertiti and that according to her deeply-held religion she was one of the lost.
Hamon cast the hand on the fire and read over it prayers from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Upon that very moment, he says, the doors burst open with a sudden uprising of wind and in the doorway stood the figure of the princess from Ancient Egypt. Nefertiti’s daughter made a splendid appearance in her ancient royal apparel, with the serpent of the House of the Pharaohs
glittering on her head-dress. As she went over to the fire Hamon noticed that her right arm ended at the wrist, just as she had been mutilated those many centuries ago. The phantom bent over the fire, and then in a moment was gone. Instantly Hamon went to the fire and found that the mummified hand had also gone.
This was on the last day of October, 1922, and a few days later Hamon read that Lord Carnarvon’s expedition had discovered the tomb of King Tutenkhamen in the Valley of the Kings.
Why did the princess’s hand come to life at this particular moment during her eternal vigil outside the gates of Osiris? Count Hamon did not pretend to know the answer to this riddle, but he believed that the ancient Egyptians possessed strange and remarkable powers, and had the key to many mysteries unknown to modern man.
He obviously connected this weird and fantastic story with the discovery by modern Egyptologists of the tomb of the princess’s brotherin- law, Tutenkhamen. Now this famous tomb had an unusual history. As everyone knows, the Egyptians had for centuries buried their kings in the pyramids, which were just huge shells of masonry built around the royal burial chamber. But they had been a singularly ineffective form of protection, for every pyramid had been plundered of its treasures by generations of tomb robbers, who thrived in Ancient Egypt undeterred by the awful curses laid by the priests upon those who disturb the holy sleep of the royal departed. The Pharaohs eventually abandoned pyramid burial and made their tombs in the cliffs of the
Nile. Even so, the tomb plunders sought them out, and at the time of the fall of the Egyptian Empire (1150 B.C.) Not one royal tomb remained un-plundered.
It was quite by accident that the burial place of Tutenkhamen remained undisturbed throughout the centuries. Shortly after his burial had taken place, tomb robbers broke into the splendid sepulcher, and were discovered in the act. The grim fate of the robbers can be left to the imagination. The loot was all replaced, with the exception of some of the gold vessels which apparently proved too much of a temptation for certain officials and mysterious disappeared during the replacement of the treasures. After that the tomb remained undisturbed, and probably well guarded. Two hundred years later the excavations for the tomb of Rameses VI resulted in the tomb of Tutenkhamen being completely buried underneath tons of limestone rubble.
The actual discovery of the tomb on 4 November, 1922 – four days after the princess retrieved the precious hand which would at long last gain her access to the realms of Osiris-was made by Howard Carter, a well-known Egyptologist whose expedition in the Nile Valley was financed by Lord Carnarvon. The richness and beauties of Tutenkhamen’s tomb had long been
told in legend. It was said that it had been filled with the most priceless treasures. A story had been told for centuries that Akhnaton had chosen Tutenkhamen to succeed him because he possessed some kind of supernatural power, and that these powers had protected his sacred tomb throughout the ages. The opening of the tomb therefore was surrounded by foreboding from the start.
When he read of the imminent opening of Tutenkhamen’s tomb Count Hamon wrote urgently to Lord Carnarvon recounting his fantastic experience with the hand of the dead Pharaoh’s sister-in-law, and begged him not to defy the curse and enter the forbidden tomb, which he would do at the risk of his life.
“The ancient Egyptians possessed knowledge and powers of which we today have no comprehension,” wrote Hamon. “Take care not to offend their spirits.”
Carnarvon was at first so impressed by this warning that he decided not to open the tomb and tempt the ancient curse, but carter would not listen. He had no intention of giving up years of labor on account of an ancient curse which was calculated to frighten the superstitious and the ignorant. Carter was so determined that Carnarvon gave in. After all, he had given his warning. On 22 February, 1923, they entered the tomb, Carnarvon being first, followed by Carter (the order was apparently important), the event being accompanied by a blaze of world-wide publicity. This was
the first and only time that such a tomb had been found intact, and even the archaeologists who know more or less what to expect were astonished at the unparalleled magnificence of the tomb furnishings of the young Pharaoh.
It was a somber moment when these artistic wonders and treasures of the ancient world were revealed once more to human eyes after their three-thousand-year entombment in the Nile cliffs. Tutenkhamen lay in a splendid sarcophagus of blue and gold. The outer coffin richly wrought in gold was uniquely beautiful. The mummy case, made in his likeness, was inlaid with gold and lapis lazuli.
For many long and devoted months Carter worked among these ancient and mysterious splendors, salvaging the magnificent treasure, most of which was put in the National Museum at Cairo. When he opened the mummy-case, he found that the consecration balm had made the body adhere to the bottom of the golden coffin. The examination of the body showed that Tutenkhamen had been about eighteen years old, and no sign could be discovered that he had not met a natural death.
Carter immersed himself in these fascinating excavations which occupied him until 1924, completely undisturbed by the curse which was presumed to have descended upon him. It is not to be supposed that such spirits as have an eternal vigil at these ancient places of burial are less perturbed when the plunder takes place in the interests of archaeology. Taking a mummy from its coffin was considered an act of the most appalling desecration, the perpetrator of which was threatened with swift and fearful retribution, whatever his motive might be. During the excavation of Tutenkhamen’s tomb Lord Carnarvon was bitten by a mosquito, and after several months of illness he died in Cairo on 5 April, 1923. A few years later his brother committed suicide and his stepmother died after another mysterious insect bite. Naturally much was made of the ancient curse.
But Carter, an inveterate tomb-opener, and who had done the real work of excavating Tutenkhamen’s tomb, suffered no ill-effects and continued his work until 1939 when he died at the age of sixty-six.
But those who believe in the tomb curse sat that it applies to the first man to enter the burial chamber, and Lord Carnarvon, whose expedition it was, claimed that honor himself and was swiftly struck down.
Nevertheless the fact remains that many tombs of the Pharaohs upon which the solemn curse was laid have been opened and plundered with apparent impunity throughout the ages. Carnarvon seems to have believed in the curse, and it has been observed that people who believe in curses are more likely to be struck down by them.
More effective was the curse laid upon those who handled the mummy-case of another princess of Ancient Egypt who had been a high-priestess in the Temple of Amon-Ra. She was supposed to have lived in Thebes in about 1600 B.C. The outside of the case bore her image worked in gold and enamel. It was in an unusually good state of preservation and was brought by the late Douglas Murray many years ago while on a visit to Egypt.
Murray knew nothing about the curse at the time, and though he confessed to a slight aversion of this object of ancient curiosity, he could not resist the temptation to acquire it, which he did and had it packed up and sent to London.Much has been written about this particular mummy-case, and it has been said that nearly everyone who had anything to do with it suffered accident or misfortune.
Certainly Douglas Murray came by a terrible accident when, a few days after he had bought it, he went on a shooting expedition up the Nile and the gun he was carrying exploded unaccountably in his hand. Murray lay in great agony while the boat was hastily turned round to return to Cairo for him to have urgent medical attention, but head-winds of unusual force persistently held them up and it was ten days before they reached Cairo, by which time gangrene had set in. Murray suffered weeks in agony in hospital and his arm had to be amputated above his elbow.
Disaster also befell his companions, both of whom died during the voyage back to England and were buried at sea. Two Egyptian servants who had handled the mummy-case also died within a year. When the ship arrived at Tilbury it was found that valuable Egyptian curiosities Murray had bought in Cairo had been stolen.
But the Mummy-case was there awaiting him. Whatever he had lost, he had not lost that, and he said that when he looked at the carved face of the priestess which was upon it, her eyes seemed to come to life and look at him with a malevolence that turned his blood cold. He promptly gave the fatal mummy-case away to a lady, upon whom disaster immediately befell.
Her mother broke her leg and died after months of prolonged suffering. The lady lost her fiancé, who for no apparent reason declined to marry her. Her pets died and she became ill herself
with an un-diagnosable complaint which wasted her away so much that she feared death and instructed her lawyer to make her will. The lawyer, hearing the story, agreed to
make the will, but at the same time insisted on packing up the mummy-case and returning it to Douglas Murray. The lady thereupon recovered, but Murray, whose health was broken, wanted nothing to do with the accursed relic, and presented it to the British Museum, which was presumably too impersonal and scientific an institution to be affected by such superstitions as ancient Egyptian curses. But, it seems, everyone who had anything to do with this mummy-case encountered disaster in some shape or form. A photographer who took pictures of it, which when developed showed living, malevolent eyes in the carved face of the priestess, died mysteriously a few weeks later. Likewise an Egyptologist who looked after the exhibit while awaiting the Museum’s decision to accept it, was shortly afterwards found dead in bed. The Museum finally accepted it and spent much time subsequently denying any stories of strange and unaccountable things taken place in the Egyptian Section.
Eventually they had it removed to the cellars. Many other strange stories were told about this famous mummy-case. It was even said that the British Museum presented the unwanted thing to the New York Museum and sent it over on the ill-starred Titanic. But perhaps it is stretching things a little to blame the ancient Egyptians for that particular disaster.
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