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39                The Legacy to Modern Egypt
as that of Imam Shafa'i, a famous jurist, to whom letters are still
written for advice, just as they used in antiquity to be addressed
to the dead. It is the continuity of idea that interests us, not
of persons.
The saints are able to continue the ancient tradition, though
on a lower plane, because they fill a void which monotheism
has left between the humble peasant and the Lord of the World.
They are interested in individuals, not in the universe, and they
specialize in different ailments. Already in antiquity the great
gods seemed too remote to concern themselves with the wishes
and troubles of the simple folk, and so in private magic recourse
was had to the lesser gods.
These saints are no longer gods, but only near to God.
Theoretically they have no power in themselves, but only as
intercessors. The change of theory, however, makes little differ-
ence to the procedure among the common folk. Vows are made
just as if the saint's power were his own. Tombs are visited,
physical contact is sought by stroking or kissing. The devotees
pass their hands over the rails which enclose the tomb, then
stroke themselves and their children as if they were collecting
and dispensing an emanation from the saint himself. In the
same way the ancients are to be seen in the bas-reliefs transmit-
ting with their hands the vital principle represented by the
fankh symbol. Only their descendants do not transmit anything
as concrete. They act as ifbaraka, blessing, streamed from their
hands, but if asked to explain their action they say that laraka
consists in having good children, money, much luck; there is
no hint of any supernatural property that can be communicated
like a fluid. The whole theory of the act has vanished leaving
behind it only the act and its effects.
The act, however, is so concrete in its suggestion that it is
only too easy to put back into it the concrete intention, to
interpret it as what it seems to be, the gathering and dispensing
of life as a kind of fluid. One feels it is only the vigilance of the