This article first appeared in The Celator, Vol. 11, No. 11, November 1997, p. 44.
One of the most common amulets to be seen in collections of
Egyptian antiquities is the "Udjat" (the name
by which it was probably called by the ancient Egyptians) or Sacred Eye
of Horus. The amulet, which is in the shape of the stylized eye of a
hawk, was made in both right and left versions. Although early scholars
thought it might have represented the sun and moon, we now believe it
represented either the eyes of the deity Horus who flew through the heavens in his guise
of a hawk, or of the deity of the
Sun "Ra" whose all-seeing eye looked down from the heavens and
protected mankind. Indeed the father and son were often linked in the
complex Egyptian theology. In point of fact, Ancient Egyptians probably did
not pay much heed to exactly which deity was protecting them through the
Eye so long as they felt that such amuletic protection was being rendered.
The Egyptian word Udjat derives from a root meaning to be in
good health, safe, preserved and happy. It goes without saying that the wearer
of the Udjat, whether living or deceased, expected the same benefits of
health, happiness, and safety to accrue to him through its use. Thus it is no great
wonder that the amulet of the Eye
was extremely popular among ancient Egyptians and that the symbol of
the Eye appeared frequently in Egyptian art as it commonly did on
Middle Kingdom coffins. The Sacred Eye is also mentioned frequently in
Egyptian magical texts such as the "Book of
the Dead," for example, the 140th chapter was to be recited over an Udjat
The Amulets appear in many materials and different sizes ranging
from a few millimeters to several inches. As usual with Ancient Egyptian
amulets they are found in various colors of Faience, glass paste, and the
scarcer glass. Stones such as steatite, diorite, lapis-lazuli, carnelian, granite,
and even hematite or slate were common as well. Of course precious
metals such as gold and silver as well as the baser metals such as bronze were
also used. Even very perishable materials like wood were employed by the
common folk, but even in Egypt's dry climate few of these have survived.
As has been noted the Udjat
could be either right or left facing, but it could also be combined into double
or quadruple eyes. Some eyes were solid and some were made in hollow
work and sometimes they were ornamented with other symbols such as the
Head of Hathor or Bes or other eyes in relief. They are sometimes
inscribed with royal, divine, or private names like scarabs.
Indeed, so diverse are they that
the modern collector might well make a fine collection based on Eyes of
Horus aloneand I am aware of several astute collectors who already have.