The meaning of the word swt

There is another chapter referring to swt; although it is a confusing text, we can make some deductions examining consciously the words. In the chapter 332 of the Coffin Texts the dead is being guided by a powerful goddess who is

“…the lady of the power, who guides to those ones in the caverns. I am Hathor, Lady of the northern sky, who maintains the ropes kAsw of those awaken…the earth trembles because of the jubilation, while the locks of hair are in the mourning…

locks of hair in the mourning

Sw is a verb, whose meaning is “to be something harmful for someone”[1], maybe it could be translated as “hurt “or “wound”. The substantive would then be swt (“damage”, “hurt”)[2].  We already find this verb in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom:

The two armas over the head is a very normal posture among mourners in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The two arms over the head is a very normal posture among mourners in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

“The deceased is the Lord of his enemies, which have been beaten by Horus for him. Go up! Sit over him! You are stronger than him, hurt him…!” (di ir.k swt ir.f)[3]Isis is sitting, her arms over her head. Nephtys, holds her breasts because of the death of her brother, Anubis is bended over his stomach, Osiris is in his damage » (Wsir m swt.f) [4].

We could maybe consider the word swt as a passive participle of the verb sw, so the translation would be something as: “the damaged ones” or “the hurt ones”, the ones who have been damaged, that is, the mourners Isis and Nephtys; they were hurt by the death of Osiris and that is why they are in mourning.  This would also explain the use of the hieroglyph of hair as determinative in so many words that refer to mourners and mourning.This passage is clearly describing the typical funerary scene in which the mummy is laying while Anubis makes his embalming process and the two mourners Isis and Nephtys regret the death of her husband/brother.

We should also notice a kind of word game with the “locks of hair” (swt) in chapter 531 and the “hurt ones” (swt) in chapter 332, in both cases applied to the mourners who dishevel their hair as a sign of mourning.  It is as well interesting how each mourner is indentified with a lock of hair; so mourners and hair go together. That is what we call a metonymy; the whole (the mourners) is designated using its most significant part (the hair).

But we wanted to go on searching more on the verb swverb sw  and we found that it also could be translated as “to increase the strength” or “to get the strength back” [5]. We can read this verb in the Pyramid Texts[6] and also in the Coffin Texts:

“…I came and I recovered the strength back in nsrsr island”[7].isla nsrsr

In both texts the dead, after drinking milk or beer (both considered revitalising drinks), recover his force and comes back to life. It makes sense the use of the hair as determinative ; if the hair is an energy source and the nwn/nwn m gesture pretend the resurrection of the corpse, it is normal here to find it related with a verb meaning « fortify ». On the other hand, swt is a causative verb that derives from wt, whose translation is “be powerful” or “be big” [8]. In addition, wt also means « to embalm » [9] and there is direct relationship between embalming and the deceased’s resurrection. One of the main goals of embalming was to reconstruct the whole body, the physical reconstruction as getting the soul’s support, and this consolidation is connected with the hair element.


[1]   Wb IV, 59, 16

[2]   Wb IV, 59, 18

[3] Pyr., 652.

[4] Pyr., 1281-1282.

[5] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, II, p. 311, nº 78.3367; D. Meeks, 1976, p. 88, n. 14.

[6] Pyr., 1282 b.

[7]CT VII, 1013. Translation of P. Barguet (P. Barguet, 1986, p. 417).

[8] Wb IV, 77, 9.

[9] Wb I, 378, 8.

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