5 min readDec 10, 2019

Egyptian Word-Magic and Dreams.

Seshat and Thoth

To the Egyptians — the hieroglyphs (medu netjer) were the divine words. The God Thoth (God of the moon, magic and writing) thought that hieroglyphs would make the Egyptian people wiser and improve their memory, but the God Re disagreed with this idea and said that writing would make the people lazy, weaken their memory faculties and lead them to forget the stories and wisdom passed down through generations.

So taking this into consideration, Thoth and his feminine counterpart Seshat (credited with inventing writing) gave the gift of writing to just a select few — the Scribes.


Contemporary Egyptologists reckon around only 1% of the ancient Egyptian population could read and write hieroglyphs and so a scribe was a very valuable member of Egyptian society, considered to be part of the royal court.

They were educated at the Per Ankh ‘House of Life’ — an institution which existed in every reasonably-sizeable settlement and one which was dedicated to learning and mastering the AE hieroglyphic system, religious texts and the spiritual wisdom, which was central to life throughout the many dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Scribes might go on to become doctors, architects, surveyors, astronomers and accountants but their reading and writing skills were useful to almost everyone in society.

Scribal gear and the hieroglyphic logogram for scribal equipment.

To understand the consciousness of their time, we must try to see the hieroglyph as a magical spell form. The codex of hieroglyphic signs is a toolkit to manifestation, hieroglyphs had the power to imbue vital force and special qualities on a described person, animal, natural force, phenomenon or object, it might be viewed as something like a sigil to invoke assistance from a god or other divine power. Many of the signs doubled up as magical charms and were made into amulets to protect the wearer and bring them good fortune.


I have found working with hieroglyphs very useful in dream work. There is something about the way the language operates, at once symbolic, pictorial and phonetic. Puns, wordplay and double-meaning are the language of dreams and are at the heart of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. If you look at a hieroglyph and close your eyes, you see the image of the symbol in your mind’s eye, you have a direct link to the essence of the thought.

If you think about our modern languages with their more-or-less abstract letter forms, they represent an extra step of separation away from material reality, sketching out the noosphere and cutting us off from the divine reality beyond that. The Egyptian system with its vivid and simple symbology is the language of the divine — the representation of created forms and arising consciousness. The hieroglyphs help to develop complex language processing patterns. They integrate visual representations with phonetic values, creating multi-layered meaning.


The logogram for ‘dream’ was the sign of an open eye over a bed.


The ancient Egyptian word for dream was ‘rswt’ which translates ‘to come awake’ hinting at the experience of conscious (lucid) dreaming perhaps. The sign for sleep was a bed — so this logogram is really describing the process of waking up within sleep.

Hieroglyphs operate in complex ways and the pictorial language system contains logograms, phonograms, phonetic complements and determinatives. For this reason it contained over a thousand signs at its peak.

The decision to create, modify or discard a sign would have been a very careful business and this is something I want you to think about when you embark upon creating your own hieroglyphic system for recording dreams.

PHONOGRAM for ‘rswt’ = dream (the open eye is the determinative and not sounded out )

I’ve included a list of common hieroglyphs for some inspiration. What do you think they mean?

𓇻𓇮 𓇯 𓇰 𓇱 𓇲 𓇳 𓇴 𓇵 𓁅𓁻 𓁼 𓁽 𓁾 𓁿 𓂀 𓂁 𓂂 𓂃 𓂄 𓂅 𓂆 𓂇 𓂈 𓂉 𓂊 𓂋 𓂌 𓂍 𓂎 𓂏 𓂐 𓂑 𓂒 𓂓 𓂔 𓂕 𓂖 𓂗 𓂘 𓂙 𓂚 𓂛 𓂺𓊖 𓊗 𓊘 𓊙 𓊚 𓊛 𓊜 𓊝 𓊞 𓊟 𓊠 𓊡 𓊢 𓊣 𓊤 𓊥 𓊦 𓊧 𓊨 𓊩 𓊪 𓊫 𓊬 𓊭 𓊮 𓊯 𓊰


The next time you write down your dreams, make a point of jotting down any images or symbols that seem pertinent. How would you render an idea, concept or word into a hieroglyphic form? One that communicates the essence of the idea. How would you arrange these separate symbols to convey their meaning most effectively?

Egyptian hieroglyphic carvings can be read horizontally or vertically, from left to right or vice versa, the direction can be ascertained by which way the characters are facing. The arrangement of individual symbols is relatively flexible and the ultimate layout on stonework in particular was often a matter of aesthetic harmony and space.

As a simple exercise, create your own hieroglyphic-type representation of the following words: RIVER, THOUGHT, LOVE, TREE, SPRING, DIVINE, ONE, BIG.

You can make your hieroglyphs even MORE elegant than mine.

Now create hieroglyphs to represent the sentences in your dream diary. Try to make them as clear and direct as possible — so that even if you looked at them several months later, they would still be able to communicate their meaning.

Contemplate the power of your symbols, their economy and directness. Would your symbol be obvious to another person? What are the essential visual aspects of the concept you are trying to convey?

I’d love to know how this exercise goes for you — if you have some dreams you would like to share please get in touch with me via email:

Happy Dreaming!

Sarah Janes




Author, researcher, presenter and workshop host exploring the anthropology of sleep, ancient dream cultures and philosophy