Apotropaic Wand

Accession Number

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A fragment of a magical ivory wand, carved on one face with incised figures of animals, including a baboon, jackal, and frog. These wands are usually made of hippopotamus tusk, split in half to produce two curved wands with one side convex and the other flat. The material possibly invoked Taweret, a hippopotamus goddess of childbirth. It is possible that hippopotamus ivory was considered important because of the power, strength, and mothering qualities of the female hippopotamus. The wands, although usually carefully polished, are roughly engraved. The engravings are of deities associated with the protection of young infants and with childbirth such as Hekat, Taweret, and Bes. This broken wand has an image of a frog deity holding a knife blade in its foot. On other knives too, deities often carry protective knives or snakes. The inscriptions also bear witness to the fact that these 'wands' are intended to be protective, e.g. 'Cut off the head of the enemy when he enters the chamber of the children whom the lady has borne' and 'protection by night, protection by day' (Steindorff 1946, 50). It is usually claimed these wands were used to protect women in childbirth or young children, though most have been found in tombs. The fact that the points of some wands are worn away on one side has suggested to some that they were used to draw a magic circle around the child (Hayes 1953, 249). Some examples have perforations at each end with a cord running through, perhaps to carry or move other objects (Teeter & Johnston 2009, 77). On tomb walls, wands are shown being carried by nurses (Robins 1993, 87), but here their presence shows that they had a secondary function of protecting the deceased at the time of their rebirth. On long-term loan since 2005 from the British Museum who acquired it in 1837 from Harry Osborn Cureton. Cureton had purchased it in the same year from the collection of Giovanni d'Athanasi.


Goodridge, Wendy and Stuart Williams 2005. Offerings from the British Museum. Swansea: The Egypt Centre. [p. 17] Hayes, William C. 1953. The scepter of Egypt: a background for the study of the Egyptian antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I. From the earliest times to the end of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Harper; Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quirke, Stephen 2016. Birth tusks: the armoury of health in context - Egypt 1800 BC. Including publication of Petrie Museum examples photographed by Gianluca Miniaci, and drawn from the photographs by Andrew Boyce. Middle Kingdom Studies 3. London: Golden House Publications. [pp. 4, 245–246, 248, 308–309, 311, 374–375, 388, 393, 408] Robins, Gay 1993. Women in ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Steindorff, George 1946. The magical knives of ancient Egypt. The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 9, 41–51. . Teeter, Emily and Janet H. Johnson (eds) 2009. The life of Meresamun: a temple singer in ancient Egypt. Oriental Institute Museum Publications 29. Chicago: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

Last modified: 27 Nov 2023

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