From Isis and Horus in the Delta to Mary and Jesus in Ireland

Table of Contents


Author: Lloyd Graham
Publication Date: 2022
Publication in: Göttinger Miszellen, vol. 265, 2022, pp. 77-105.

Paper, 29 pages
Available for free at Humanities Commons



The historiola of an ancient Egyptian spell (AEMT 90) describes how Isis becomes a fugitive to protect her unborn/young son Horus from Seth, the murderer of her brother/husband Osiris. As her travel-group seeks refuge in the Nile Delta, a noblewoman’s inhospitality to the unexpected visitors results in her young son being stung by Isis’s scorpion escort; however, the goddess takes pity on him and uses an incantation to assuage his pain and save his life. Christian equivalents of this spell – probably derivatives, but now framed around disguised holy men who inflict other ailments on members of the unwelcoming household and then cure them – have long circulated in southern and central Europe as folk-charms. This paper strengthens the case for a genetic relationship between the Egyptian spell and the European charms. It also highlights the existence of an Irish-language counterpart to the continental charms which is unusually close to the Egyptian prototype; in it, the protagonists are a wandering Virgin Mary and her young son Jesus. Some Irish variants even return the historiola’s setting to Egypt, where – in a striking parallel with Isis’s circumstance – Mary seeks to protect her infant son from the murderous Herod. The parallels between the Egyptian and Irish embodiments attest to the cohesion and latent unity of the Egyptian/European corpus of this charm-type as a whole – a family line in which the underpinning tale-type eventually recapitulates the configuration of the ancestral Ur-Tale.