Unraveling the Curse of the Pharaohs

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In 1699, wrote a book entitled Treatise on Embalming in which he tells the following story. A Polish man had acquired two mummies for the purposes of studying them for medicine. He put them on board a ship from Alexandria. During the night, he began to have dreams of ghostly figures. As he continued to dream about the ghosts, the waters turned violent as the ship seemed to approach a storm. Fearing some sort of curse, the man ordered the bodies to be thrown into the sea, at which point the sea became calm again.

In 1922, the field of Egyptology began with the opening of the tomb of King Tutankhamun by the team of Howard Carter. Carter’s team had been searching for a major archaeological discovery for about 15 years at that point. His efforts had been financed by the wealthy Lord Carnarvon who had been looking to apply modern archaeological techniques to the area in an attempt to more thoroughly record findings across the vast space surrounding the Valley of the Kings. Because of a strange set of coincidences, the opening of the “Boy King’s” tomb set off wild speculation that an ancient Egyptian curse was plaguing those associated with the opening of the tomb.

The Curse of Tutankhamun

Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.

Old Kingdom Curse – Recalled by Zahi Hawass

James Henry Breasted had been working alongside Carter for some time. On the day of the opening of the tomb, while running a routine errand to deliver Carter a message, Breasted heard a strange noise that he referred to as a “faint, almost human cry”. After turning to see what could be making such a sound, he found a cobra inside a bird cage in the entrance of Carter’s home. The snake had eaten Carter’s bird. Arthur Weigall, who had been the Inspector General of Antiquities for Egypt, saw a connection with the Uraeus (the cobra worn on the top of the Pharaoh’s crown). He claimed that the incident symbolized the Royal Cobra and his account was published in the New York Times in December of 1922. This is the beginning of the popular story of the birth of the Curse of the Pharaohs.

Mysterious Deaths and Coincidences

Lord Carnarvon

Lord Carnavon was one of the first to set eyes on the tomb and was also the financier of the expedition.

Six weeks after the opening of the tomb, the ‘curse’ claimed its first victim, Lord Carnarvon himself. After spending three decades financing exhibitions in the region, Carnarvon was bitten by a mosquito. While shaving, he accidentally cut himself where the bite was which caused a blood infection.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes furthered the rumor by suggesting the curse was caused by ancient “elementals” which ancient Egyptian priests had summoned to protect the tomb. A friend of Carnarvon’s helped propel the rumor even further by recalling that Carnarvon had bragged about joyfully breaking into the tomb to a reporter by the name of H. V. Morton. Morton, feeling as though Carnarvon’s joy was inappropriate, made the comment “I give him six weeks to live.” which turned out to be exactly how long Carnarvon had left.

George Jay Gould I

George Jay Gould I was a financier who made his fortune in the American railroad industry. He was responsible for creating railroad lines which were feeding the burgeoning area surrounding San Francisco following the gold rush. After visiting the tomb, he contracted a fever which turned into pneumonia. He died a feww days later in the French Riviera.

Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey

Prince Ali Fahmy was an Egyptian aristocrat who had caught the eye of famous French socialite Marguerite Alibert. Alibert had already had a controversial and rocky relationship with the Prince of Wales. After a late night of partying, the couple began to argue and Alibert shot Ali Fahmy in the back several times, killing him as a result. Ali Fahmy had recently been photographed at the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid

Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid was a radiologist who was the first to x-ray the mummy of Tutankhamun died of a mysterious illness in 1924.

Other Deaths

Aubrey Herbert, the half brother of Lord Carnarvon died of blood poisoning. Sir Lee Stack, who had been the General of Sudan, was assisinated in Cairo in 1924. Mervyn Herbert, also Carnarvon’s half-brother, died of malarial pneumonia as well. Howard Carter’s personal secretary, Richard Bethell, was smothered to death in a club. Richard Bethell’s father, Richard Lutreell Pilkington Bethell, threw himself from his seventh story apartment. Howard Carter himself died 16 years later, largely escaping the fate of so many others associated with the curse.

Modern Versions of the Curse

Zahi Hawass, the famously skeptical former head of the Antiquities Department of Egypt, claims that he had transported some artifacts from Kom Abu Billo. On the day he was transporting them, his cousin died. His uncle died exactly one year later and, exactly one year after that, his aunt died. Years later, he discovered a curse which read:  “All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it may the crocodile be against them in water, and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land.”

Other Theories

An alternative theory to the Curse of the Pharaohs is that the mysterious deaths were perpetrated by the infamous Satanaist Aleister Crowley.

There is one intriguing alternative theory to the Curse of the Pharoah’s. Many of the people who died from the alleged curse also had connections to Aleister Crowley, the British Satanist who had been obsessed with the murders of Jack the Ripper. Although most of the evidence is circumstantial, it’s intriguing nonetheless. One of Crowley’s followers, Raoul Loveday, died in the very same hour Carter opened the tomb, after drinking the blood of a sacrificed cat in a ritual.

In Conclusion

Whether the coincidences and bizarre deaths surrounding the curse are real or mere coincidence is a timeless debate. Many people who looked into to the individual cases have tried to connect the deaths to the curse in a direct, causal manner. However, if the curses are to be believed, their mechanisms are probably too elusive for us to discern.


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