Ancient Egyptian culture has had a major influence on the Victorian era and also modern Steampunk. As indicated by the titles, two classic Steampunk novels include strong Egyptian influences: The Osiris Ritual by George Mann and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.
The Victorians were fascinated with Egyptian mummies and unwrapping parties were quite stylish. George Mann tied Steampunk with mummy unwrapping in a wonderful scene in The Osiris Ritual. Here’s an excerpt from a Victorian mummy unwrapping party in the Steampunk/ Romance, As Timeless As Magic: Heru peered within the sarcophagus, at a coffin shaped like a human figure, in a green headdress with a single yellow stripe and a jewel painted in the middle. His gaze lingered on the beautiful hieroglyphics in orange and blue, thinking of the power they held and the magic his mother created with them in her spells.
“Now, what we have all waited for.” Mister Mugrage opened the coffin. A gilded mask lay over a linen sheet wrapped around a human corpse.
Heru rubbed his brow, then fisted his hand, aching to punch Felicity’s father in the teeth.
Mister Mugrage removed the mask in the likeness of the mummy inside and held it up. “This mask is a wonderful treasure for the evening and I will do you all the favor of parting with it for the highest offer made.”
The crowd all sighed with “oohs” and “ahs.” Heru could tell by the gleam in several people’s eyes, they wanted to own it. This was all about money to Mister Mugrage. He had no love of the history, the art, or the spiritual significance his daughter seemed to understand. Heru vowed he wouldn’t blame Felicity for her father’s actions, but a throbbing surge of anger rose in him as she unwrapped the sheet from the mummy. The guests closed in like a mob and thrust forward. Heru could hardly breathe, the room felt void of air.
Mister Mugrage yanked a strip of linen wrapping, tugging it off as he circled the mummy, unraveling it. He withdrew an amulet from the linen gauze and held it up. “Our first party favor. Who wants this lovely turquoise scarab?”
A lady in a large hat and a blue gown fluttered her fan. “I do, Mister Mugrage.”
“Madame Mills, by all means, this little gem is yours. It shall bring you great luck.” Mister Mugrage placed the treasure in the woman‟s gloved hand as she giggled with glee.
Heru loosened his cravat before he gagged. The crowd‟s thunderous applause fueled his anger. These amulets protected the deceased, helped him find his way in the afterlife, and this ridiculous man handed them out as party favors.
Mister Mugrage continued unraveling the mummy until he came upon the next find, a small hawk carved from blue lapis. He handed it to a man with a protruding belly and white beard, dressed in black trousers, a gray coat, and a green cravat. Heru fought the urge to grab the amulet back from the man‟s chubby fingers.
No sooner had the other guests congratulated the man than Mister Mugrage yanked the wrappings again. “Here we have a hollow gold beetle.” He placed it in Felicity‟s hand. “What is this symbol on the top?“
Felicity peered at the golden insect, examining it closely. “Two crossed arrows over a shield, the symbol of Goddess Neith, deity of the hunt.”
“Who will have this fine beetle?” Mister Mugrage flashed a broad grin.
Heru wanted to yell for them to stop as he stood helplessly by, watching a corpse being violated for nothing but the fleeting pleasure of shallow people. He accidentally bit his tongue. He grabbed his jaw, and rubbed it.
A woman held up her dainty hand netted in a lacy glove. Felicity gifted the lady with the beetle amulet.
As Mister Mugrage unwound more linen gauze, he discovered a small statue with the body of a man and the head of a jackal.
“Anubis.” Finally, an idea struck. Heru swiftly stuck out his hand, almost grabbing the amulet. ”May I?” he asked in French.
“Oui.” Mister Mugrage handed it to him.
Heru knew this held the most powerful curse, for the priests who cast spells on the amulets wore the mask of Anubis. He flipped it over and read the hieroglyphic inscription. “You dare to touch this sacred mummy. You mortal man, whose flesh and skull will return to the desert sand. I curse you with the loss of your hands.” Heru clasped the amulet tightly, whispering the spell in Old Egyptian in the parlor just as he would have in the temple of Anubis. “Curse him, who disturbs the dead, who robs what the gods entombed. His hands should be severed if not his head, his cursed fingers doomed.”
“Give me that. Let me read it.” Felicity’s father reached for the amulet to grab it back from Heru. He gasped. His fingers fell limp. Mister Mugrage screamed, “My hands!”
Felicity rushed to her father and clutched his arm “What is it?”
“I can’t move my hands, not even to lift a finger. They are numb, I cannot feel anything.”
Even more than mummy unwrapping parties, the Victorians loved costume balls. Cleopatra influenced costumes were highly fashionable at these affairs. Steam Ingenious’ Steampunk Cleopatra fancy dress project is inspired by authentic Victorian fashion plates of Egyptian costumes. It’s a recreation of the Celopatra costume Lady Paget wore to the 1875 Delmonico Ball in New York City. The portrait and photo of Lady Paget in the costume along with several fashion plates of Cleopatra style gowns are pictured on the blog and the details of the pattern and the fabrics are included.
Another Egyptian influence on Steampunk is belly dancing, which has been big ever
since Abney Park incorporated it into its live shows. Many belly dancers have been inspired to go steampunk adding goggles, corsets and pantaloons to their costumes. The extraordinary Steampunk Belly Dancers featured here are from the Osiris Dance Company. If they look familiar, they perform at the Steampunk Ball at ComicCon each year and they will also be performing at the Wild West Festival in Tucson next year.
A heroine who belly dances could add an interesting element to a Steampunk novel.
As you can see it’s easy to weave some exotic Egyptian influences into your Steampunk books.
If you liked the excerpt from As Timeless As Magic the novel is free as a kindle eBook from today until Friday, August 31st.