Amuletic disk (Hypocephalus)

The term hypocephalus refers to a piece of Late Period and Ptolemaic funerary equipment. It is specifically an amuletic disc made of cartonnage, bronze, textile, or rarely from papyrus and even wood, emulating a solar disc.

It was made for Tasheritenkhonsu. Linen and plaster, inscribed in ink. It dates to the Late Period, 26th Dynasty, ca. 664-525 BC. Linen and plaster, diam: 20 cm. Now in the Ashmolean Museum. AN1982.1095

Amuletic disk (Hypocephalus)
Amuletic disk (Hypocephalus)

“A hypocephalus is a small disk-shaped object generally made of stuccoed linen, but also of papyrus, bronze, gold, wood, or clay, which ancient Egyptians from the Late Period onwards placed under the heads of their dead. The circle was believed to magically protect the deceased, cause the head and body to be enveloped in light and warmth, making the deceased divine.”

Magic in ancient Egypt, by Geraldine Pinch (#aff)

According to Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead, hypocephali served a number of important purposes: to protect the deceased in the afterlife, to provide light and heat for the deceased, to make the deceased “appear again like one who is on earth” (that is, to resurrect them), and to ultimately transform the deceased into a god.

Hypocephali were also conceived of (and even sometimes explicitly identified as) the magical eye of the sun god Re that consumed enemies with fire. Their circular shape and function to provide light, heat, and protection naturally lent themselves to this conceptualization in the minds of the ancient Egyptians.

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