On this day, according to the Cairo Calendar, it is suggested that we “make incense of different kinds of sweet herbs for Ra and his followers which will please him on this day.” Therefore, I am making a new batch of Kyphi incense today.
The burning of incense was integral to worship of the gods of Ancient Egypt and large quantities of incense were burned every day in temples throughout Egypt.
Kyphi, (or Kapet as it was called in the Ancient Egyptian language) was one of the most popular types of temple incense and it was also used as medicinal remedy. The name Kapet is thought to originally refer to any substance used to clean and perfume. Later it developed into the name for a specific type of incense however Kyphi really should be considered a type of incense rather than a specific recipe because the recipes in ancient sources are varied with only a few ingredients appearing in every recipe. Also, there are no complete recipes for the ancient Egyptian kyphi because some ingredients are unknown and untranslatable.
The first reference to Kyphi is in the Pyramid Texts which date to the fifth and sixth dynasties of the Old Kingdom (2500 BCE). The texts do not list any of ingredients or recipe however it is written that Kyphi was one of the luxuries to be enjoyed in the afterlife.
The earliest recipe for Kyphi is found in the Ebers Papyrus (circa 1500 BCE) which includes myrrh, frankincense, wood bark, other ground herbs, mixed together with liquid. Another recipe is found in Papyrus Harris I which was written during the reign of Ramesses IV during the twentieth dynasty (circa 1100 BCE). The papyrus recorded the donations made by Ramesses III to several temples and refers to the delivery of six key ingredients: mastic, pine, camel grass, mint, sweet flag and cinnamon.
Kyphi required imported exotic ingredients like myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, cassia, cedar, and rose. The Egyptians tried to grow their own frankincense trees but according to records in temples and papyrus, it seems they were not very successful.
In the Temple of Edfu, built in the first century BCE, there are two different recipes for Kyphi inscribed on the walls of the temple. The recipes contain the same ingredients but in slightly different quantities. Another somewhat similar recipe is found in the Temple of Philae on the walls of the Temple of Isis (Aset). This is the recipe for Kyphi which I am completing today. As in Ancient Egypt, religious secrecy veils the exact process and ingredients for making the incense. However, it does require a certain number of days (actually close to two months!), symbolic ingredients (“the tears of the Gods and Goddesses”), and magical spells and blessings.
Blessings to Ra and his followers today!