Egyptian Mummy Eye

Warding off evil

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This object is an eye from an Egyptian Mummy cartonnage (funeral mask), believed to be from an Egyptian statue. The eye was a powerful symbol in Ancient Egypt. It was used to ward off evil, as Ancient Egyptians believed the eye reflected the evil back onto the evil-doer. Sailors would paint the eye on their ships in the hope that it would protect them during their voyages.

The Eye of Horus:

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the eye is associated the god Horus, the god of the sky, who was often pictured as a falcon. In Egyptian mythology, when Osiris, the father and king of the gods died, Horus and Set (the god of the desert) fought each other to take the throne. During their vicious fight, Set gouged out Horus’ left eye. Horus then gave his lost eye to his father Osiris, to try to bring him back to life. Because Horus sacrificed the eye to Osiris, his eye symbolised healing and protection for Egyptians.

Where did this object come from?

On the back of the eye there is a small label which reads 'National Exhibition of Works of Art, Leeds 1868'. Egyptian artefacts were much sought after by private collectors and museums throughout the nineteenth century.

The eye is part of a collection of charms and amulets in Scarborough Museum, which belonged to William James Clarke (1871-1945), a fishing tackle shop owner from Scarborough. The eye was given to Clarke by Edward Lovett, a collector of charms and a folklore researcher from London.

Young person's response to this object:

'It’s extremely old but well preserved and although the colours may not be as vibrant as they used to be they are still there', Fathia Alesinloye.

Discussion ideas:

  • What do you think ‘ward off evil’ means?

  • Why do you think the Egyptians believed the eye could get rid of evil?

  • What symbol would you use to 'ward off evil'?

  • Can you think of any other symbols used in this way by other cultures?

  • Why do you think the story of Horus' eye was important to Ancient Egyptian people?

  • How do you think the idea of the eye as protection helped them?

Activity ideas:

  • Research other examples of Egyptian eyes held in museums (eg. use the 3D viewer from the Petrie Museum website, link below) and compare them to this one.

  • Explore the different gods and stories in Ancient Egyptian mythology and relate them to museum artefacts.

  • Taking inspiration from Egyptian mythology and examples of ancient artefacts, design your own Egyptian masks/faces/eyes.

Discover other My Learning resources on the Ancient Egyptians!

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