The Magician Ubaaner & His Wax Crocodile
In the Westcar Papyrus, the story of the Magician Ubaaner and his Wax Crocodile is said to have been told by the Prince Khafra to his father King Khufu, and it goes like this…
During the reign of Nebka, a king of the third dynasty, there was a magician called Ubaaner, and he was the chief Kher-heb in the temple of Ptah of Memphis. He was a very learned man.
He was married but his wife loved a young peasant who worked in the fields, and she sent him gifts of fine clothing.
Soon after receiving this gift the young man proposed to the magician’s wife that they should meet and talk inside a lodge in her garden. She sat there with the young man and they drank beer until the evening, when he went on his way.
The steward of the household, knowing what had happened, made up his mind to report the matter to his master, and as soon as the morning had come, he went to Ubaaner and informed him what his wife had done.
Ubaaner then told the steward to fetch him his casket made of ebony and silver-gold, which contained materials and instruments used in working magic. From inside of it he took out some wax, and fashioned a figure of a crocodile.
He then recited certain magical words over the crocodile, and said to it, “When the young man comes to bathe in my lake thou shalt seize him.”
Then giving the wax crocodile to the steward, Ubaaner said to him, “When the young man goes down to the lake to bathe according to his daily habit, you shall throw the crocodile into the water after him.”
After some time had passed, the wife and the young man spent another day in the lodge together.
After leaving the lodge, the young man went and bathed in the lake, and the steward followed him and threw the wax figure into the water; it immediately turned into a large crocodile 7 cubits long that then swallowed the young man up.
When this took place the magician Ubaaner was with the king, and he remained with him for seven days, during which time the young man was in the lake, with no air to breathe. When the seven days had ended King Nebka proposed to take a walk with the magician.
While they were walking Ubaaner asked the king if he would care to see a wonderful thing that had happened to a young peasant, and the king said he would.
When they arrived at the lake Ubaaner uttered a spell over the crocodile, and commanded it to come up out of the water bringing the young man with it.
When the king saw it he seemed to be afraid, but the magician stooped down fearlessly and took the crocodile in his hand. Lo and behold the living creature disappeared, and only a wax figurine remained in its place.
Then Ubaaner told King Nebka the story of what had happened, and His Majesty said to the wax crocodile, “Get thee gone, and take what is thine with thee.”
And the wax figuring leaped out of the magician’s hand into the lake, and once more became a large, living crocodile. And it swam away with the young man, and no one ever knew what became of it afterwards.
Then the king made his servants seize Ubaaner’s wife, and they carried her off to the ground on the north side of the royal palace, and there they burned her, and scattered her ashes in the river.
When King Khufu had heard the story he ordered many offerings to be made in the tomb of his predecessor Nebka, and gifts to be presented to the magician Ubaaner.
And that was the gruesome fate of both the wife and the peasant.
The story of Ubaaner and his Wax Crocodile could be seen as either just a tall tale of miracles performed by priests, or it could have a more functional purpose – such as a warning against adultery.
For mythology-buffs here – this would be an example of a functionalist reading of the myth – a method introduced by Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942)
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