Egypt: The Curse of the Mummy

The Curse Of The Mummy



"Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh."


Contrary to public belief, the above quote was not inscribed on the entrance to King Tutankhamens tomb. In 1923 British gothic novelist, Marie Corelli, sent a letter to The Times in London stating that she had an early Arabic book concerning the opening of Egyptian tombs. This book contained the curse, which was supposedly found on an anonymous tomb. Corelli went on, in her letter, to predict the death of the research team for breaching King Tuts tomb. Within days of receiving Corellis letter, Lord Carnarvon was dead. Within a few short years so was the rest of the expedition.

Magic always played an important role in ancient Egypt. The Arabs understood some of the common language when they arrived in Egypt thirteen hundred years ago. Not knowing hieroglyphics, they certainly understood by the paintings that the Egyptians believed in an afterlife. The paintings in tombs depicted the dead communicating with the living, eating, drinking and hunting. They could hear, taste, smell and see. It was clear that the ancients would have use of everything that had been placed with them in the tombs, and would probably not take kindly to the removal of such items. Egypt, known for its black fertile land along the Nile, was called Keme, meaning the black land. From this word came al keme, meaning Egyptian matter. From al keme came alchemy, meaning witchcraft or sorcery. Incantations, spells and potions were all a part of preparing the bodies for mummification. Everything considered, the Arabs feared pillaging the tombs, and wrathful vengeance was a common notion.

Egypt had been out of the limelight since World War I. The opening of the tomb that revealed all of its splendors made Egyptology popular once more. However, "The Curse" is what topped the newspaper headlines for many years to come. The financial support by Carnarvon allowed the Carter expedition years of exploration in the Valley of the Kings. The greatest archeological find of this century would not have been possible without Carnarvons assistance.

Was it poetic justice that "The Curse" chose him as the first victim, or was it Carnarvons years of failing health that dealt the final blow? The official cause of death was pneumonia. Carnarvon received a mosquito bite a few months before his death that became infected, reduced his immunity and eventually caused pneumonia. Be that as it may, "The Curse" did not actually take root until the news of Carnarvons death became known to London author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Known for the Sherlock Holmes series, Doyle was also a famous mystic and medium. Upon hearing of the Corelli letter and the death of Carnarvon, Doyle immediately proclaimed that the dead pharaoh had indeed been the culprit. The story made headline news around the world. Throughout the months of discovery, and eventual opening of the tomb, reporters flocked to Egypt. Their first hand eye witness of local events helped to add fuel to the fire. For instance, it seems that all lights in Cairo went out at exactly the time of Carnarvons death.

In 1924, the book, Tutankhamen and Other Essays, by Egyptologist Arthur Weigall, flooded the populace with more "Curse" incidents. One story relates how Weigall, Joseph Smith, and their wives decided to put on a play in the Valley of the Queens. During the rehearsal both wives were struck with a serious malady. Mrs. Smith had serious eye pain and Mrs. Weigall abdominal pain. Both women were rushed to the hospital. Mrs. Weigall suffered a miscarriage, and Mrs. Smith apparently contracted an ailment known as ophthalmia. Yet another story concerned a cat. Weigall received a wooden container in the shape of a cat. This had been used as a coffin for an ancient cat mummy. One night, as he lay asleep in his bed, he was awakened by a loud sound, similar to a gunshot. As he opened his eyes, a large gray cat jumped on his bed. Startled, he got out of bed and saw that the wooden coffin had split open. Weigall also related the story that a cobra had swallowed Howard Carters pet canary shortly after King Tuts tomb had been opened.

Many such stories floated around for several years. Hollywood did its best to keep the legend alive by making several mummy movies. Even the Titanic was involved. Supposedly, a coffin was being shipped on the Titanic to an American museum. You know the outcome there.

Time did little to eradicate the curse. When the King Tut exhibit traveled to England in 1972 the crew members of the airplane were afflicted. One man broke his leg two years after kicking a crate containing a royal mask. Two other crew members later had heart attacks. Each one involved blamed the "Curse" and not natural occurrences.

The ancient Egyptians loved death as much as they loved life. It was their lifelong belief that they would have an afterlife and consequently built their existence around that knowledge. Despite the many military campaigns, they cherished tranquility, beauty and justice. In the tomb of Meni, a 4th Dynasty courtier, was found the inscription "Let the crocodile be against him in the water, the snake against him on land. I have never done anything against him and it is the god who will judge him for it." This does not sound vengeful to me.

In truth, its certainly more romantic to subscribe to the notion of Egyptian tombs haunted by the spirits of the dead rulers and those who watch over them. In actuality, quantifying those notions becomes a bit more taxing. And while you can believe what you want to believe, we wouldnt blame the pragmatist in you for denying that the curse exists. Just make sure you watch your back. . . .