Materials and Ingredients
Gold was named "nebw" of "nub". It was associated with the power of the sun god Ra (or Re), the pharaoh. However gold was also associated with Set who was sometimes known as "He of Gold town" (the town of Nubt). The skin of the gods was thought to be formed from gold and so gold was thought to represent eternity and purity. Gold was represented by the hieroglyph of a gold necklace, the kind often given by the king to his faithful subjects as an honour.
Silver was named "Hedj". The word Hedj also means white, and silver was sometimes known as "white gold". It represented purity, but could also represent the moon (when paired with gold as the sun). Silver was very rare in Egypt, and so was worth more than gold during the Old Kingdom. By the Middle Kingdom supplies had improved and silver was valued at roughly half the value of gold. Silver became more popular in the pharonic burials of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second dynasties but it is not clear whether this was because of an increase in supply (making it cheaper than gold) or because of artistic or mythological reasons (and a possible link to the god Sokar.
Silver was also used as a base for currency with the major commodities (beer, bread, linen etc). The shat (seniu, Sna or shena) was a flat disc weighing about 7.5 or 7.6g of silver while the deben weighed between 90 and 91g. Deben and shat were not actually used as a form of coin, rather they were used to compare the value of different commodities with reference to their value in silver.
Lapis Lazuli was known as "Khesbedj". Its dark blue colour symbolised fertility and good luck and was associated with the sky and the universe.
The Egyptians called Malachite "Wahdj". The word was written with the hieroglyph of a papyrus plant, which was also used to write "green", "flourish" or "be healthy". Malachite represented joyfulness and was closely associated with the goddess Hathor.
Red Jasper was known as "khenmet" (from the verb hnm, "to delight"). Red could symbolise blood, in particular "the blood of Isis", and hence life and vivacity.
Turquoise was known as "mefkat". It symbolised fertility, good luck, and protection against the evil eye. Turquoise was also associated with Hathor and was highly prized by the ancient Egyptians.
Amethyst (a purple form of quartz) was also popular in Ancient Egypt. The gem was usually formed into beads to create beautiful necklaces but there are also some fine examples of Amethyst rings. The modern word Amethyst is derived from a Greek word meaning "without drunkenness" but in Ancient Egypt the gem was associated with the pharaoh's power and was referred to as "hesmen". Amethyst jewellery became common in the tombs of nobles during prosperous periods and there is some evidence that Egyptian soldiers wore Amethyst amulets in battle to give them courage and strength.
Carnelian (a red form of quartz) was one of the three most popular gems for making jewellery (along with turquoise and lapis lazuli). Amulets of Carnelian were used to ensure the Ka's (the soul's) passage into the next world and the gem was sometimes described as the blood of Isis". However, as the colour red was also associated with fire, anger and chaos, Carnelian was linked to Sekhmet. Carnelian was named "hrst" (herest), which was translated as "sadness" in later periods. It was thought that Turquoise could balance the negative influences of Carnelian because of the association between Hathor (Turquoise) and Sekhmet (Carnelian).
Black Onyx was a popular gemstone which was used in royal and non-royal jewellery. It is a black form of quartz which looks spectacular with sterling silver.
Lotus was known as "sSn" (seShen). The blue lotus or water lily was the symbol of Upper Egypt, often appearing with the papyrus plant to represent the unified country. The flower also had a strong solar connection because its petals opened every sunrise only to close again at sunset. According to one myth, the creator god (Ra, Atum or Nefertum) emerged from a lotus at the beginning of creation. The flower also has narcotic qualities and so was closely linked to Nefertum in his role as the god of aromatherapy and pharmacology. The Egyptians considered the lotus to be a fertility symbol and an aphrodisiac as well as associating it with life after death.
Myrrh, known as "antyw", was one of the ancient Egyptians most prized resins. Expeditions to Punt to trade for Myrrh were recorded as a great triumph on the walls of Hatchsepsut's temple. Myrrh was used in incense, perfume and embalming. In ointment form it was a remedy for headache, backache, toothache and to promote the healing of wounds. The scent was closely associated with Hathor and to a lesser extent Isis as the essence of female sexuality and beauty. Myrrh also had a solar connection. In Heliopolis Myrrh incense was burned in devotions dedicated to the sun god Ra.
Sandalwood was highly prized by the Egyptians for its beautiful scent. It was used during the mummification process so that the deceased did not offend the nose of Anubis in the hall of Judgement. Smelling good was just as important in the afterworld. Sandalwood was also used to remedy indigestion, calm headaches, and to treat gout.
Frankincense (known as Olibanum in the ancient world) was very popular in Ancient Egypt. It was burned as an offering to the gods and was thought to aid meditation and relaxation. The Egyptians were also aware of the medicinal qualities of the resin, using it to alleviate throat infections and asthma, soothe headaches and to reduce bleeding. The Ancient Egyptians also ground the charred resin to make kohl eye liner.
Cedar was considered to be very precious partly because few trees grew within Egypt's borders and cedar wood was thought to be the most beautiful, strong and fragrant. Craftsmen built stunning furniture and boats from cedar and it was a common ingredient in incense (including the precious incense known as "Kapet" or "Kyphi") and was used in mummification.
Galabanum is an aromatic gum resin which was very popular in Ancient Egypt. It was used to make perfume, incense, medicine and was important in the rites of mummification. Dioscorides refers to its sedative and analgesic properties and it was often used to relieve anxiety and tension and to ease the pains of childbirth. It has an intensly fresh leafy scent with back notes of wood and spice and was often known as "the green incense" in ancient Egyptian texts. It was also one of the main ingredients in Metopion perfume, one of the Ancient Egyptian's favourite perfumes.
The ancient Egyptians cultivated geraniums and used geranium oil to treat wounds, depression, period pain and cancerous tumors. It can also be effective against acne because of its anti-bacterial action and has been shown to combat cellulite. The oil has an aromatic, rose-like fragrance with a hint of mint which is both relaxing and uplifting. It is generally considered to be non-sensitive but in very rare cases its balancing effect on the hormones can cause a reaction and some authorities suggest it should be avoided during pregnancy.
In ancient Egypt cypress was one of the most popular materials for the construction of sarcophagi as it symbolised life after death. It was burned as incense along with juniper to cleanse the air and was an ingredient in a number of medicinal unguents. Cypress oil can be used in the treatment of stress and grief and also combats bronchitis, asthma, varicose veins, period pain and to reduce menopausal hot flushes. It is also able to soften scar tissue and lessen cellulite. Avoid during pregnancy.
Lavender was popular in ancient Egypt as an ingredient in perfume and was used in mummification rituals. It can be used to combat acne, asthma, burns and scars, stretch marks, headache, anxiety and labour pains. Lavender oil has a sweet and fresh floral aroma with hints of fruit. Avoid during pregnancy.
Juniper was considered to have the power to purify and so was very popular in ancient Egypt. It was one of the ingredients of the famous Egyptian incense Kyphi. Juniper Berry oil can relieve exhaustion, respiratory problems, arthritis, rheumatism and inflammation and improve memory. It is also used to combat eczema, acne, dandruff, gout, cystitis and menstrual problems. It has a sweet woody aroma with hints of fruit. Avoid during pregnancy or if you suffer from kidney disease.
Jasmine was one of the most popular scents in ancient Egypt and remains so today. It has a beautiful exotic floral aroma. Jasmine oil has sedative and anti-depressant qualities but can also induce a feeling of euphoria and confidence. It is known to tone the skin, reducing stretch marks and scars. It should not be used during pregnancy but can ease labour pains and ease postnatal depression.
Rose was known as "the Queen of Flowers" in ancient Egypt. Rose was used in a large number of perfumes and incense mixes and was widely used in funeral preparations. It has a beautiful floral aroma which gives a sense of calm and wellbeing. It is used to combat depression, stress and lethargy and is claimed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Avoid during pregnancy.
Neroli was very popular in Ancient Egypt and particularly favored by Cleopatra. She soaked the sails of her ship in Neroli when she went to meet with Caesar believing that its aphrodisiac qualities would help her seduce him. It has an exquisitely fresh and light floral aroma with a hint of fruit. Neroli oil can be used in the treatment of depression, shock and grief as its aroma is both uplifting and calming. It can also be used to soften scars and encourage skin elasticity and regrowth so it is excellent as a treatment for stretch marks, thread veins and wrinkles. Neroli is safe for everyone to use.