Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lindsay Townsend: A little Egyptian magic - scenes from 'Blue Gold'

Blue Gold is a mainstream historical romance but, because of the ancient world setting, it contains strong paranormal and magical elements. When I wrote it, I incorporated magic as part of the beliefs appropriate to the times.
Ancient Egyptians believed in magic, gods and spirits - magic especially was practised as a means to influence and change fate and to give power. In this scene from Blue Gold, the ambitious princess Ahhotpe is attempting to ill-wish a political rival:

Ahhotpe shot a second glance at the wax figure posted just inside the doorway of her tent. Noon was not the most propitious time for magic, but the midday heat ensured that her people were resting and that consequently she would be unobserved. When she saw the shaft of sun chink through the closed tent flaps and strike the figure, the young woman laid aside her letter.
She had fashioned it well, rolling and mashing the wax between her fingers, infecting it with her hatred, until a startling likeness formed. That same narrow forehead and wide jaw, the bull neck and broad chest, the wider hips and massive legs: the Pyramid in miniature, three fingers high. Ahhotpe smiled as she settled cross-legged before the model. It was, she thought, the closest she might ever come willingly to Zoser. Invoking the proper forms, she thrust the first small copper pin deep into the manikin’s heart.
This kind of sympathetic magic was practised throughout Egyptian society, by princes and peasants alike. Sometimes more formal magic was evoked, and this could be through ritual and through symbolism, as in the Heb Sed rite described by Pharaoh’s mother Tetisheri:

Tetisheri beckoned to the little girl in Ahhotpe’s saffron-colored dress. “My, a pretty girl! Let’s do your hair like a lady.”
Her fingers were nimble, artistic. Ahhotpe stood nearby and picked an old song on her harp, letting the servants see how very much alike she and Tetisheri were.
“Do you know what a Heb Sed festival is, my darling?” Tetisheri stroked the child’s forehead.
“No, granny.” The little girl naturally used this title. Tetisheri was every child’s grandmother.
“It’s a special time for the King, a sort of birthday. He runs along a magic track, and the gods make him youthful again and fit to rule the whole of Egypt.” Tetisheri cuddled the little girl. “Now you can go to the party.”
“Have you seen a Heb Sed festival, grandmother?” asked Ahhotpe, re-tuning her harp.
“I saw my husband’s, Sekenenre’s daddy.” Tetisheri suddenly tugged off her wig and fanned her sparse brown hair. “He ran straight from the track into my bedroom!” She and Ahhotpe, and then the other women, laughed.
“Surely thirty years have not passed since then,” remarked Ahhotpe. “Kamose says you look younger than I do.”
“That’s brothers for you,” replied Tetisheri, pleased none the less at the compliment. “But you’re right, little one. My boy hasn’t ruled as long yet, but he wants the magic the festival will give him.”
“Isn’t it dangerous? Pharaoh running alone?”
“Well, things have grown rougher since my husband’s time,” admitted Tetisheri, “but Sekenenre doesn’t want anyone else’s feet under his table, so to speak.” The old woman sighed. “For myself, I’d certainly feel easier if Kamose ran with him.”
“So would I, granny,” said Ahhotpe.

Sometimes magic was made through more formal rituals. Magic was an accepted part of religion and of medicine. People wore ‘lucky’ charms and amulets. A mother would recite a spell to see off sickness in her child. The sign of the Ankh, the cross of life, was carved or painted on furniture and tombs as a magic protection.
In the ancient story, “King Khufu and the Magicians,” a wizard makes a crocodile of wax. When this is thrown into the water, it becomes a real crocodile. Another wizard is summoned to the Pharaoh Snefru (Khufu’s father) because Snefru is sad. As a diversion, the wizard suggests that Snefru goes boating on the Nile, rowed by beautiful women dressed in nets instead of clothes. 'And they rowed to and fro,' the story goes on, 'and the heart of his majesty was glad when he beheld how they rowed'. You bet.

Blue Gold 
4.5 Books: "A sweeping epic set in ancient Egypt, this story encompasses life as it was lived then, told masterfully by Ms. Townsend...The detail is luxuriously embedded in a story so compelling the reader will not want the book to end. What I love most about Ms. Townsend's prose is the ability to give the reader an almost holographic entry into life and times long past. You smell the fear, feel the passion, the frustration and anger, and burn under a hot, unforgiving sun, among other delightful stirrings of the senses." -- Honeysuckle, Long and Short Reviews

B review: "Beyond an Egyptian setting, I wasn't sure what to expect with "Blue Gold" as I didn't read the description until after I'd finished the story. And what a story. It's a sprawling 1970s miniseries crossed with a soap opera crossed with the epic sword and sandal movies made only in the 1950s. Plus it's got almost as many characters as Cecile B. DeMille managed to pack into his films." -- Jayne, Dear Author
"The sands of Townsend’s Egypt are blood-soaked, and the halls of her palaces echo with lust and intrigue — and yet, the most interesting part of her novel is how real, how human all of her characters feel (even the supernatural ones). Even while you’re booing and hissing her villains, you’re fully informed as to their motives and might even sympathize a little. Part of this effect can be attributed to Townsend’s keen ear for dialogue and phrasing (when two characters kiss we’re told “their lips met with the greedy accuracy of lovers”) — and the effect is so strong that when all the book’s grandstanding and conniving and personal drama has concluded, readers will be mildly shocked to be reminded that the whole delightfully complicated business happened three thousand years ago. That’s praise indeed." -- Steve Donoghue, Historical Novel Society

Best wishes, Lindsay Townsend

1 comment:

Maggi Andersen said...

How funny! I guess one had to go to such lengths to be entertained before television, Lindsay!