ScarabTHE SCARABS; History, Manufacture and Religious Symbolism OF THE SCARABÆUS, IN Ancient Egypt, Phœnicia, Sardinia, Etruria, etc.

On Scarabs.


Among the many animals, insects and creatures, held in veneration as symbols by the Ancient Egyptians; the one universally in use as a symbol from a most remote period, were insects of the family of the scarabæidæ.

The Greek name of the models of these was Skarabaios, Skarabos, Karabos, Karabis; the Sanskrit, Carabha, which like the Latin Locusta, designated both the lobster and the grasshopper. The Latin name derived from the Greek, was, Scarabæus, the French, Scarabée. To the people of our day, the high position enjoyed in the religion of Ancient Egypt by this insect, appears very strange, for to us, there is nothing attractive about it. With that people however it held, for some fifty centuries; the position in their religion which the Latin cross now holds with us as Christians, and if we consider for an instant, our own veneration for the latter; it would doubtless have been considered, by those unfamiliar with our religion, as also based on a veneration for a very strange emblem; for the cross was the instrument used by the Romans for punishing with death, murderers and criminals of the lowest type; and what would be thought to-day, of a man worshipping the gallows or the guillotine, or carrying copies modeled from the same, suspended from his neck. However we of to-day all understand the emblem of the cross, and the Ancient Egyptians in their time, all understood the emblem of the scarab.

“Men are rarely conscious of the prejudices, which really incapacitate them, from forming impartial and true judgments on systems alien to their own habits of thought. And philosophers who may pride themselves on their freedom from prejudice, may yet fail to understand; whole classes of psychological phenomena which are the result of religious practice, and are familiar to those alone to whom such practice is habitual.”[6] Said Thespesion to Apollonius Tyanæus, according to the biography of the latter, by Philostratus; “The Egyptians do not venture to give form to their deities, they only give them in symbols which have an occult meaning.”

The family of the Scarabæidæ or Coprophagi is quite large, the type of the family is the genus Ateuchus, the members of this genus are more frequently found in the old world than the new, and of its forty species, thirty belong to Africa.

The sacred scarab of the Egyptians was termed by Linnæus, the Scarabæus sacer, but later writers have named it, Ateuchus sacer. This insect is found throughout Egypt, the southern part of Europe, in China, the East Indies, in Barbary and at the Cape of Good Hope, Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is black and about one inch in length.

There was also another species of the scarabæus valued by the Ancient Egyptians, that termed by Cuvier, the Ateuchus sacer Ægyptiorum, which is larger and wider than the others of its family; it is of green golden tints, and is now found principally in Egypt and Nubia. Pliny, in his Natural History says: “The green scarabæus has the property of rendering the sight more piercing, (i.e., curing fatigue of the eye from its green color,) of those who gaze upon it; hence it is, that the engravers of precious stones use these insects to steady their sight.”[7] M. Latreille thinks; the species he named Ateuchus Ægyptiorum, or ἡλικοκάνθαρος, and which is of a green color, was that which especially engaged the attention of the Ancient Egyptians.

The Egyptian also held in estimation, the species Buprestis and the Cantharis and Copris, and used them as he did the members of the true family of the scarabæidæ, and S. Passalacqua found a species of Buprestis, embalmed in a tomb at Thebes.

At least four species of beetles appear to have been held in veneration and were distinguished, by the absence or presence, of striated elytra. The Ateuchus sacer is the one commonly represented on the monuments. The number of the toes, thirty, symbolized the days of the month, and the movement of the ball, which it manufactured and in which was deposited its egg, symbolized among other things, the action of Ra, the Egyptian sun-deity, at midday.

The Egyptian soldier wore the scarab as a charm or amulet, to increase bravery;[8] the women, to increase fertility. The Greeks called it, Helio-cantharus, and, not understanding its significance, were disposed to ridicule it, as is apparent from the travesty upon it by Aristophanes in his comedy of Peace. Pliny also again speaks of it in his Natural History, saying:

“The scarabæus also, that forms pellets and rolls them along. It is on account of this kind of scarabæus that the people of a great part of Egypt worship those insects as divinities, an usage for which Apion gives a curious reason, asserting, as he does, by way of justifying the rites of his nation, that the insect in its operations portrays the revolution of the sun. There is also another kind of scarabæus, which the magicians recommend to be worn as an amulet—the one that has small horns[9] thrown backwards—it must be taken up, when used for this purpose, with the left hand. A third kind also, known by the name of ‘fullo’ and covered with white spots, they recommend to be cut asunder and attached to either arm, the other kinds being worn upon the left arm.”[10]

In the work on Egyptian hieroglyphics attributed to a writer called Horapollo, sometimes incorrectly called, Horus Apollo, the first part of which shows, that it was written by a person who was well acquainted with the Egyptian monuments and had studied them carefully, we find: “To denote an only begotten, or, generation, or, a father, or, the world, or, a man, they delineate a scarabæus. And they symbolize by this, an only begotten; because the scarabæus is a creature self-produced, being unconceived by a female; for the propagation of it is unique and after this manner:—when the male is desirous of procreating, he takes the dung of an ox, and shapes it into a spherical form like the world; he then rolls it from him by the hinder parts from East to West, looking himself towards the East, that he may impart to it the figure of the world (for that is borne from East to West, while the course of the stars is from West to East;) then having dug a hole, the scarabæus deposits this ball in the earth for the space of twenty-eight days, (for in so many days the moon passes through the twelve signs of the zodiac.) By thus remaining under the moon, the race of scarabæi is endued with life; and upon the nine and twentieth day after, having opened the ball, it casts it into the water, for it is aware, that upon that day the conjunction of the moon and sun takes place, as well as the generation of the world. From the ball thus opened in the water, the animals, that is the scarabæi, issue forth. The scarabæus also symbolizes generation, for the reason before mentioned;—and a father, because the scarabæus is engendered by a father only;—and the world because in its generation it is fashioned in the form of the world;—and a man, because there is not any female race among them. Moreover there are three species of scarabæi, the first like a cat,[11] and irradiated, which species they have consecrated to the sun from this similarity; for they say that the male cat changes the shape of the pupils [11] of his eyes according to the course of the sun; for in the morning at the rising of the god, they are dilated, and in the middle of the day become round, and about sunset, appear less brilliant; whence also, the statue of the god in the city of the sun[12] is of the form of a cat. Every scarabæus also has thirty toes, corresponding to the thirty days duration of the month, during which the rising sun performs his course. The second species is the two-horned and bull-formed; which are consecrated to the moon; whence the children of the Egyptians say, that the bull in the heavens is the exaltation of this goddess. The third species is, the one-horned and Ibis-formed, which they regard as sacred to Hermes (i.e., Thoth.) in like manner as the bird.”[13][14]

Horapollo also says: “To denote Hephæstos (Ptah,) they delineate a scarabæus and a vulture, and to denote Athena (Neith,) a vulture and a scarabæus.”[15]

The scarabæus also had an astronomical value and is placed on some zodiacs in place of the crab. It may be found on the outside, or square planisphere, of the zodiac of the Temple of Denderah. Some archæologists think it preceded the crab, as the emblem of the division of the zodiac called by us, Cancer. Its emblem, as shown on the Hindu zodiac, looks more like a beetle or other insect than it does like a crab.[16]

The religious feeling for it, most probably existed among the early Ethiopians, before the migration of the ancient race who were the originators of the Egyptians, into the land on the banks of the Nile. The cult is shown in more modern times by the veneration of the Hottentot for the same insect, and from the worship of the Holy Cricket by the natives of Madagascar. The Egyptians held the scarabæus especially sacred to Amen-Ra, i.e., the mystery of the sun-god. It was their symbol of the creative and fertilizing power, of the re-birth, resurrection and immortality of the soul, and was, through this, connected with their astronomical and funeral rites and knowledge. It was, as the living insect, the first living creature seen coming to life from the fertilizing mud of the Nile, under the influence of the hot rays of the sun, after the subsidence of the inundating waters of that river. The royal cartouches of their kings is in an oval taken from the form of its under side. And this oval form has existed from the most remote times that we have any knowledge of the cartouch.

It is often found portrayed, as if a passenger in a boat, with extended wings; holding in its claws the globe of the sun, or elevated in the firmament, as the type of the creating power of the sun-god Ra, in the meridian. Other deities are sometimes shown praying to it.[17]

Ptah the Creative Power, and also Khepera, a kosmogonic deity of the highest type, had the scarab assigned to them as an emblem. It was one of the forms symbolic of the Demiurge or Maker of our universe. It was also the emblem of Ptah Tore, of Memphis, another symbolic form of the creative power. It was assigned as an emblem of Ptah-Sokari-Osiris, the pigmy deity of Memphis, being placed on his head, and this deity was sometimes represented under the form of a scarab. It was also an emblem of Ra, the sun deity; also, an emblem of the world or universe; and was, as I have said, connected with astronomy and with funeral rites, and the second birth or re-birth, of the soul.

Another use of the scarabæus by the Egyptians was as an amulet and talisman, both for the living and the dead; and for that reason, images, symbols or words; supposed to be agreeable to the deity, or to the evil spirit sought to be conciliated; were incised, or engraved in intaglio, upon the under side. It was also used as a signet to impress on wax, clay or other material, so as to fasten up doors, boxes, etc., containing valuable things, so they could not be opened without breaking the impression. The engraving on the under surface of the scarab was also impressed on wax, etc., to verify the execution of, or to keep secret, written documents; and in some instances, the papyrus or linen, was written upon, then rolled up, and a string used to fasten it; an impression of the signet, made on wax or other material, was then placed on it and the string, so that it could not be opened without breaking the impression.

In very ancient paintings especially those in the tombs of the kings of Thebes, the scarabæus plays a most remarkable part, as an emblem of the creating first source of life, which passes from it to the embryo, through the intermediary of a celestial generator, who is intended to represent the Makrokosm or great Ideal Man, as the demiurgos. We find the idea of the Makrokosm or great Ideal Man, permeating those writings termed, the Books of Hermes Trismegistos, which have reached our day, and which, with some more recent matter, contain much very old, Egyptian philosophy.[18] Statements as to the Ideal Prototype and the Primordial Man, are apparently, set forth in many of the Ancient Egyptian writings.

Part 2


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One thought on “Scarabs

  1. […] showing that Justice is above bribes, and not to be moved by prayer. The Military class had the beetle for device on signet, for the beetle is never female, but all are males, and they breed by […]

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