Ancient Egyptian Beer Had Bubbles and Saved the World

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Recently there were stories of a newly discovered ancient Egyptian tomb – no, not a new pharaoh or queen, but the tomb of “A Maker of Beer for the Gods of the Dead”, one Khonso Em Heb. (Here’s the CNN story with photos.) This gentleman lived about 500 years after the era where I’ve set my “Tales of the Gods” paranormal romances, but one thing he, my characters and pretty much all ancient Egyptians shared was a love for beer.

Beer was cheaper than wine, even in ancient times and was thick, sweet and nutritious. One leading Egyptologist, P. M. Chou, is quoted in the CNN  article as saying:

“While it’s a close cousin to modern beer, it’s manufacture was more primitive and they had to use a tube to extract the liquid from below which would have had a fermented layer of substance floating on the top of the jar,” he said.

“It would have had bubbles,” he added.

Not only was beer a staple drink, Egyptians consumed the beverage often, even at breakfast, and included beer as offerings to the gods and goddesses. Workers could even be paid in beer. Women typically took the lead as brewers, and although there were various techniques, the drink was often made with a yeast bread, baked then crumbled into pieces and strained into water flavored with dates and other spices or fruits. An alternative method of beer making involved heating barley and emmer, mixing them with yeast and malt and allowing the liquid to ferment. Quite a few tomb paintings have been found, depicting the beer making process.

Two favorite quotes of the Ancient Egyptians were:

“The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer” from around 2200 BCE and an instruction to young scribes that read (your mother) “…sent you to school when you were ready to be taught writing and she waited for you daily at home with bread and beer…” Their version of an afterschool snack! The last fragment is from my time period, the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 1550 BCE…

As far as beer saving the world, there was a famous Egyptian myth that the goddess Sekhmet was sent  by Ra the Sun God to slay some humans who’d been conspiring against him but she got carried away with wrath and threatened to kill all humankind. Horrified she was going too far, Ra dyed beer red to simulate blood and poured it out for her in floods, getting her drunk enough to pass out. When she awakened, her killing rage had subsided and she left the remaining world in peace.

In my next novel, “Magic of the Nile,” which should be released this February, Sekhmet decides to repay a debt by helping my hero Sahure. Here’s an unedited excerpt from the novel (so, subject to change):

The Great One Sekhmet stood in the center of his office. Sahure blinked, astonishment flooding over him, but the goddess herself was in his office, staring at him from glowing amber cat eyes.  Clad in formfitting red robes hugging the curves of her voluptuous human body, curious rosettes of gold at the shoulders, she was barefoot and he saw her shapely arms ended in the deadly paws of the lioness. On her leonine head, atop an elaborately dressed wig, she was crowned with a golden sun disk, the symbolic uraeus wrapped around the glimmering diadem. Sparks of red and gold light flew from her crown as she regarded him, leaning on a staff crowned with papyrus buds. Slowly he went to his knees, arms crossed in respect.

“I’m honored, Great One.”

“I would taste the beer you offered, had I more time to spend with mortal concerns,” she said, tilting her head, feline whiskers twitching. Her sinuous tail curled around her ankles. “To business, mortal. My sisters are going to take part in a battle on your behalf tonight, the combat of which I spoke,” she said. “I’m here to intervene for you.”

Caught in her hypnotic gaze, Sahure felt as if he’d drunk deep from a highly intoxicating vintage, although he’d only had one cup of ordinary, military-issue beer at dinner. The room was spinning around him. He drew a deep breath to steady himself. “I don’t understand, my lady. Intervene in what? I mean no disrespect, but I’m sworn to Horus the Falcon and he’s given me no orders, requested no action on my part tonight.” Focus, fool, you’re dealing with one of the most dangerous of the Great Ones.

“I don’t speak of combat with sword and shield,” she said, revealing a glimpse of her impressive fangs, her voice almost a purr. “All things will become known to you in the proper time. Explanation tonight beyond what I’ve already revealed would be useless.”

Sahure kept a frown off his face with supreme effort. I’d like to be the judge of that.

But the goddess was still talking. “I acknowledge you’re not one of my children but you saved my beloved village of Kharga from the nomads and the Hyksos.” Her tail lashed angrily at the mention of the enemy, thumping the hard-packed dirt floor. Sighing, she stood taller. “You rescued those who are my children, the people here. You honored my priestess, gave freely to my celebrations, showed proper deference.”

Realizing she seemed to expect him to say something, Sahure nodded. “It was my honor to be of service, Great One.”

“In return I’ll guard you while you’re here in this place.” She pointed her paw at him, one claw extended. “When you are once again in Thebes, it will be the task of others to watch over you. Your task to protect Pharaoh.”

Why do the Great Ones love to speak in riddles? Thoroughly frustrated, Sahure took the risk of standing up. “I’m sorry, Great One, but I don’t understand–”

She extended her golden-furred paw to him, palm up. A curious amulet lay in the middle, in the shape of a tiny hand no bigger than his thumbnail, made of some crystalline stone, deep blue in color, with a cat’s eye depicted in the center, delineated in yellow, purple and black beads.  The amulet was woven into a black leather wristband. “This is for you,” Sekhmet said. “Give me your wrist.”

He extended his arm and the goddess tied the cord around his wrist, skillfully using her claws in place of fingers. Sahure felt a wave of cold run up his arm from where the curious blue hand touched his pulse. The chill ran through his heart and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. He felt Sekhmet’s tail curling around his ankles.

“I deal in magic of all kinds, mortal.” Sekhmet moved closer, putting one paw on his chest. “Therefore I know how to guard against the most evil sorcery, when I choose to intervene.”

“I-I don’t traffic with magic,” he said, searching his mind for any time he’d even remotely been involved with sorcery and spells and coming up empty. The heady smell of her blue lotus perfume was making his vertigo worse, interfering with his concentration on her words. “I’m a simple soldier, loyal to my Pharaoh.”

She nodded, patting his cheek with her massive paw, claws sheathed, before stepping away. “I know this. So I’ve given you a shield.”

He touched the amulet with his fingertips. “Why do I need to be shielded?”

And we’ll just stop there….for now!

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