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Marina V. Vorobjova

The Magic of Name: Primitive Thought and Ancient Egypt

Within many religious traditions arise cosmogony myths where one can trace the origin and the development of the world of names by the creator of the universe.  Individuals and all  belongings in the world gain an existance, or reality,  by means of the process  of receiving a name and the method of being named.

Interest in the name as to the source of existanace can be observed within many religious traditions.  Primitive thought to which we can refer in this regard,  comprises both an 'ancient historical tradition' element,  as well as the circumstances and faculties of the individual received at birth. Thus an individual's name founds both existance whilst also serving as an elevating factor in the eyes of current society by the association with the ancient element.  Thereby,  an individual's name is seen as being closer to the spirits and the gods rather than to the being of the individual carrier of the name.

An individual's  name demands a certain degree of protection.  Primitive thought dictates that each human individual is connected with the spirit or god like protector whose name he carries.  The name conferred  by marriage denotes particular value for this further name,  hence is accompanied by appropriate various ceremonies.  Standing and public position of an individual is also tied to an individual's name according to primitive thought.

Through primitive thought in ancient Egypt,  one  finds a developed concept of name and naming. Furthermore, for the ancient Egyptians an understanding of 'name' was required for both an understanding of mortal life on Earth as well as the afterlife.

By the nature of naming there is commonly the case where two individuals will share the same name.  Within each individual dwells an attendant spirit,  or Ka, to use the ancient Egyptian term.  For an individual to lose his name would occasion a break in the eternal existance of the individual's being,  between his two halves ;  that is his mortal life and his afterlife. The occurence on tombs of an individual's name bears witness that the carriers of the name continue to exist in the afterlife.  Such existance of an individual ceases with the disappearance of the name.

To  gain a fuller  understanding of the individual or god and the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians,  one requires knowledge of his name.  Accordingly, the name Isida confirms that the individual concerned will receive the power of Ra,  a god,  followed by Ra sending his name to the individual.  Thereby an extenxive practice of 'magic' is derived from the knowledge of name and naming.

A  certain taboo exists for the primitive thought with respect to names.  A  name provides 'magic' power and so pronounciation of the name yields contact with the carrier of the name.  Primitive thought expresses a reference and awe in respect of  the name.  In  ancient Egypt this understanding derived from the development of the mortal 'magic' individual and was characterized by the quest for knowledge of names so as to use such knowlege to gain an authoritive comprehension of individuals,  gods and the spirits.

Translated by Richard Bishop

GOD. PERSON. WORLD: Annual Scientific Conference, Russian Christian Institute for the Humanities (Saint- Petersburg, 1998): 21-22.