Three Dimensions of the Ancient Egypt Mourning Rite in a Rishi Coffin.

The distribution of images is clue in Ancient Egypt decoration. Depending on how the scene is ordered and where it is located it has a sense or not.  We have seen how mourning women took up different spaces in a rishi coffin, indicating so two different dimensions onwards the deceased’s resurrection.

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But there is still a third one: the top of lid. On the exterior of the lid a pair of big wings wrap the whole body[1], these ones are usually identified with the wings of Isis. What is the sense of these feathers?

At the end of the XVII Dynasty the feathers on a rishi coffin symbolizing the Isis’ wings would be a way of remembering the image of this goddess over the corpse of Osiris.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In the Egyptian myth of Osiris, Isis, the mourning wife, put herself as a kite over the mummy of her husband for giving him back his breath and his virility. So, we would be facing the highest level outside the coffin as the divine sphere.

coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But due that in the Egyptian belief the upper part of the lid is the divine sphere, this surface accepted another goddess: Nut. At the beginning of the XVIII Dynasty some of the anthropoid coffins changed the feather by an image of Nut, as we can see in the coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. In it an extended image of Nut appears covering the upper part of the lid.

We know that in Ancient Egypt cosmogony Nut was the mother of Osiris and that in the mourning ritual the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards was a way of evoking this goddess and giving the deceased back to his birth. The mummy came back to his mother’s womb and was a new-born.

So between the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII dynasties, the anthropoid coffins in Thebes had three dimensions:

  1. The coffin base was the earthly dimension, where the common mourners on earth shook their hair, remembering what happened on Earth for the deceased’s resurrection.
  2. The threshold of the divine dimension was at the feet of the lid, where the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys did their mourning rites for bringing the dead back to life.
  3. The upper part of the lid was the pure divine sphere, where the goddesses Isis and Nut had their place as wife and mother of Osiris and performed according to the myth.

DIMENSION IN A RISHI COFFIN. ANCIENT EGYPT

 

To be continued…


[1] In fact this is why these coffins are known as rishi coffins, from the Arabic word for “feather”.

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