By Reed Schaefer

So, you’re doing everything you are being told to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus: staying home, washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face. All strong advice, but what else can we do? Let’s look at how ancient Egyptian medicine may help us.

Ancient Egypt was one of the world’s first civilizations, in existence from roughly 3000 B.C. until 332 B.C., yet its medicinal techniques still have applications today. While we often think of ancient Egyptian culture as superstitious because of mummification practices, we usually fail to consider the wider technological, medicinal, mathematical, and spiritual sophistication that allowed Egypt to flourish for so long. For ancient Egyptians, the line between medicine, religion, myth, magic, and everyday life was thin. Ritual, practice, and inner awareness were part of their daily life. While priests often led specialized rituals and used magic for healing, most citizens would have had knowledge of and access to medicinal techniques.

A key element of ancient Egyptian beliefs is that the people who practiced them viewed the world around them as living, breathing, and having life of itself — a world they saw personified through gods. Gods were found in the world around them and inside of their minds, affecting their decisions and shaping the world around them. Outer and inner worlds were equally important and so interwoven that they were seemingly inseparable. The seat of the ancient Egyptian’s inner world was the heart, unlike how many Westerners now believe it is found in the mind.

The goal of ancient Egyptian medicine was to heal a person using an array of techniques that address all aspects of wellness. Based upon our current knowledge of the variety of treatments utilized by ancient Egyptians, like bandaging, fumigations, and administering rubs, potions, poultices, douches, and more, it is likely that ancient Egyptian medicine was sophisticated. However, less “practical” methods were often used in addition: rituals including chanting and spells usually accompanied the drinking of a potion or the bandaging of a body part. These rituals usually invoked the gods as aides or protectors in the process. 

In addition, they looked at both immediate causes and ultimate causes for an ailment when diagnosing an issue. Thus, a scorpion bite could be the immediate cause of pain, but the larger force of chaos and malice (personified by Apep) would be the ultimate cause for that pain. In order to address the ultimate cause, usually controlled by the gods, higher powers and the manipulation of cosmic principles were often turned to in the curing process. Egyptian medicine used parallel methods of practical and non-practical techniques to address all aspects of the ailment, expecting to work in different ways or on different planes of existence, according to Geraldine Pinch, an Oxford University professor and Egyptologist.   

We know that our hand washing, remote schooling, and social distancing will help stop the spread of COVID-19, but our overall health might nonetheless suffer. We must explore additional methods of keeping healthy, and can look to ancient Egyptian practices for healing.

Egyptians worshipped the sun, which they believed to be the source of life, the sun God, Amun Ra, their primary god, and prized a healthy, active lifestyle. Try to get some time in the sun’s healing rays, if you can do it safely. Try to get some exercise, even if you are unable to go outside. In addition, being inside all day makes it hard to do physical activity. Ancient Egyptians prized a healthy, active lifestyle, such as physical labor or exercise and lots of movement on a daily basis, coupled with a healthy diet. Remember that this quarantine is not an excuse to avoid exercise or to eat unhealthy food. 

Many are suffering financially due to the COVID-19 shutdowns: we should not underestimate the effect that a drastic change in lifestyle has on our overall health. We are accustomed to the busy lifestyle of campus life and the constant companionship of our friends, but we are suddenly more isolated with more time on our hands. Even watching Netflix and catching up on sleep grows stale after a while. When this happens, it is time to look to less “practical” methods of keeping ourselves healthy, because another aspect of being healthy is being happy.

When I’m really looking to improve my mood, I like to dance, write, draw, and meditate. Each of these hobbies, in their own way, eases my mind and eliminates tension in my body, making me better equipped to enjoy my day. Quarantine is the ideal time to explore your creative side. It’s time to do those things that you love, and that you wouldn’t usually have the time for. Write a song, learn to play guitar, or expand your cooking skills. We may never have this much free time to explore these ways to expand our minds. Find the hobbies that make you feel good inside, just follow your heart’s desires!  

The COVID-19 crisis is serious, and we need to take all the safety precautions doctors are advising. At the same time, we can take the role of Egyptian priest to diagnose our problems and seek a solution using all methods — not just those that are practical but also the unmeasurable ones that are felt from within. My doctor has never told me that dancing can alleviate a headache or lack of energy; however, I use it like medicine for an ache of the body or the mind. I encourage you to seek out sunlight, exercise and creative outlets, and we can emerge from this quarantine feeling healthier and happier than ever.

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