Modern Egyptian Ritual Magick

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A Note on Translation and Transliteration

(Taken from The Wisdom of Ancient Egypt by Joseph Kaster, without permission but in nothing more or less than the spirit of scholarship.)

"Much sympathy is to be extended to the many interested persons who, in their various readings in Egyptian history, religion, and related subjects have been utterly confused by the wide disparity in the transliteration of Egyptian words and proper nouns. When a reader has encountered such variant forms as Ra and Re, Amenemhat and Amenemmes, Tahutimes, Thothmes, Thutmose, Tuthmosis and Thutmosis, Amenhotep and Amenophis, Akhenaten, Akhenaton, and Ikhnaton, he is justifiably entitled to his confusion. A few words on the reasons for these different renderings and on the nature of the written language of ancient Egypt as we have it are in order.

"All forms of Egyptian, with the exclusion of Coptic, were written with the consonants only. There are no vowels as such in the signs used in the writing. Egyptian shares this orthographic peculiarity with other Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. We can pronounce Hebrew and Arabic with more or less accuracy because during the Middle Ages a series of little marks were devised to designate the different vowels and were written over or under the consonants with which they were to be pronounced. This was not done with ancient Egyptian, as Coptic, the last stage of the language, was written with an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, in which the vowels are part of the alphabet itself. It is important to remember, however, that Coptic differs from classical Egyptian as much as, say, current vernacular English differs from Old English or even Anglo-Saxon, and it seems only logical that it is as incorrect to pronounce classical Egyptian according to derived words in Coptic as it would be to pronounce the language of King Alfred like modern English. It has become the fashion, however, among some modern scholars to try to work back the pronunciation ala Coptic, but to this writer it seems rather futile, for the reason just given.

"It was long ago decided among Egyptologists that since we do not know the vowels, the only thing to do in order to pronounce the words is to insert a short 'e' (the vowel of greatest frequency in the European languages) between the consonants-- a most logical and sober procedure. Thus the word for 'good' or 'beautiful', which is spelled in Egyptian with the consonants n,f, and r, we transliterate NFR and we pronounce 'nefer'. For all we know, it may have been pronounced nofar, nifer, nufar, or even nefer. The fact that in Coptic the word has become noufe (pronounced noo-feh) has given rise to such renderings of proper nouns of which the word is a part as Nofretiti.

"We have a number of royal names rendered into Greek in various Greek writings dating from the late period. The Greeks had quite a cavalier attitude to all foreign names and absolutely "murdered" them. Thus the name of the Egyptian deity who was a scribe of the gods and a patron of learning, which reads, in Egyptian, something like Djehwty, the Greeks rendered variously as Thoth, Thouth, Thout and in theophoric (god-bearing) names introduced further corruption plus the ornament of a Greek ending, with the result that in the name of a king such as Djhwty-ms, "Born of the God Djehwty," we get such specimens of wild misrenderings as Tethmosis and Thmosis. Again it has become fashionable among some modern scholars to use the Greek renderings of Egyptian names in their translations, which accounts for Ammenemes, Sesostris, Tuthmosis, and so on. To this writer, at least, it seems not only affected, but barbarous and recalls the old-fashioned 18th and 19th century custom of using the Roman names of the gods when translating from the Greek: Zeus was "Englished" as Jupiter, Athena as Minerva, and so forth."

For the reasons given above, within this site I will tend to favor the names of the Egyptian gods in the form of transliterated heiroglyphs as opposed to the more common Greek or Anglicized renderings.

All materials copyright 2003, Rev. Dr. Corey Bantik