Meaning of green in ancient Egypt

wadj: green

The word Wadj (green) also means “to flourish” or “to be healthy”. The hieroglyph represented the papyrus plant as well as the green stone malachite (wadj). The colour green represented vegetation, new life and fertility. In an interesting parallel with modern terminology, actions which preserved the fertility of the land or promoted life were described as “green”. Earth and fertility gods such as Geb and Osiris are depicted with green skin, indicating their power to encourage the growth of vegetation. However, the ancient Egyptians recognised the cycle of growth and decay and so green was also associated with death and the power of resurrection.

Osiris was a god of the dead whose wife Isis magically conceived a son (Horus) and the ancient Egyptians believed that he could help them make their way to an eternal paradise which bore a striking resemblance to their earthly lives (but without any pain or suffering). This wonderful place was sometimes called “field of malachite”.

wadj: Malachite

Malachite represented joyfulness and was closely associated with the goddess Hathor. Ground malachite was used as a pigment in painting and statuary and malachite jewellery was highly prized. Eye make up made from ground up malachite was known to defend against certain eye complaints and wearing it was also seen as invoking the protective power of the goddess. Hathor was also associated with another popular green stone, Turquoise, known as “mefkAt”.

the scarab pectoral of the Vizier Pasermefkaht: Turquoise

The Turquoise and gold bracelet found on the wrist of Queen Zer is the oldest piece of stone jewellery so far discovered, dating from around 5500 BC. Turquoise was mined in Sinai and its blue colour symbolised fertility, good luck, and protection against the evil eye. The Egyptians also used glazed quartz to great effect creating brilliant shades of green.

In the Book of the Dead, the deceased is described as a falcon with wings of green stone and in the Pyramid Texts Horus is described as”Lord of the Green Stone”. Because of this connection with Horus (the hawk god) the “Eye of Heru” amulet, which offered protection and healing, was often green. During the mummification process the heart was left in the body and a green heart scarab was placed over it to magically protect it from damage.

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copyright J Hill 2010