Category Archives: 03. LOCKS, PLAITS AND RINGLETS

The Book “Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt”…Coming soon!!!!


Book Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt

Book Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt

Mourners shake and pull their hair on reliefs and paintings from ancient Egypt. They took part in funerary ceremonies in ancient Egypt, contributing to the dead’s resurrection in the afterlife. Hair played a clear role in these rites. In this publication Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín (Madrid, 1968) describes the relation between hair and these rites, and the role hair played in death in ancient Egypt. This book is the publication of her Phd research about the Hair in the Funerary Ceremony of Ancient Egypt.

 

 

Four Egyptian Mourners, Four Egyptian Locks of Hair.


Ancient Egypt iconography is usually clear and understandable. Some other times, although the scenes are explicit, the sense of the image it is not so clear. That happens especially with religious images accompanying sacred texts from XIX Dynasty.  That is the case of the resurrection scene from the tomb of Ramses IX  belonging to the Book of the Caverns, in which four women pull their front lock of hair towards the mummy.

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

We know that this was a gesture made by mourners as one of the practices for helping in the dead’s restoration. But we also know tha these mourners making that were the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.

The scene from the tomb of Ramses IX shows four women instead of two. Now the question is why?

Four mourners for Osiris. Temple of Abydos. Ancient Egypt.

Four mourners for Osiris with their front lock of hair falling forwards. Temple of Abydos. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Looking for more exmaples the only similar scene we found is an image from the temple of Osiris in Abydos. Here four women appear in a sorrow position with a front lock of hair falling forwards. Although they are not pulling the hair, it is clear the realtionship of it with the Osiris resurrection. But the inportant point here is that they are four and not two.

In the Egyptian Book of the Caverns from the tomb of Ramses IX, these four women are named as “...the Goddesses who mourn together in the secret place of Osiris…“. So, it would not be crazy to think about these four female figures in the temple of Osiris in Abydos, also as women with a divine nature.

But…who?…Any idea?…

We will see in the next post.

Egyptian Words for “Lock of Hair” related to the Mourning Rite.


Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Ancient Egyptians had different ways to refer to the action of disheveling hair. That happens because the Egyptian was a very rich language and had many centuries of history.

In this same line, we find that Egyptians also had various terms for designating “lock of hair“.

Egyptian word for "lock of hair".

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”.

The most common, that we have been reading and watching all over this blog is the word “swt” or “syt”.It was a very generic word for referring to a portion of head hair. This term seems to appear in the New Kingdom and according to the iconography it was chosen by scribes mainly for naming the pulled lock of hair related to the mourning practices.

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

Egyptian word for "lock of hair"

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”

The word “samt” has in Egytian a double value. In fact it is a controversial term. For some scholars it should be translated just as “sadness” or “lament“, but somne other scholar, due to the hair determinative and taking into consideration the context this word appears in, consider that it could be translated as “lock of hair“.

All along this blog we have seen how the word “samt” is closely related to the mourning rite and concretely to the mourning practice of cutting a piece-lock of hair of the professional mourners at the end of the funerary ceremony. So, one of the translations of  “s3mt” could be exactly this one: “lock of hair of a profesional mourner”.

Another very interesting Egyptian word for “lock of hair” is “nebed“.Lock of Hair nbd. Ancient Egypt It also appears in the New Kingdom and it seems to refer concretly to “plaited lock of hair“. It is very interesting to  notice the  between “nebed” and “nebedj”. Lock of Hair nbD. The bad. Ancient EgyptThis last word exists in Ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom and its translation was “the bad“, in fact with the hair determinative it could also have the enemy determinative. There also was the proper noun of “Nebedj“, which was a way of naming Seth, the enemy of Osiris (and also Apophis,the enemy of Re).Lock of Hair nbD. Seth and Apophis. Ancient Egypt

We wonder if the word nebed for “lock or plait of hair” could come from the former Egyptian term nebedj, which was related to Seth, to he bad, to the enemy of Osiris. This is a dimension which links pefectly with the mourning practices with the hair of the professional mourners destinated to the resurrection of the dead. So, maybe nebedj was another Egyptian word for “lock of hair” again related to the mourning rite.

Hair, Enemy and Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt. Part II: Tekenu and Magical Heads.


The gesture made by the enemy is the same as the one made by mourners when they hold the front lock of hair swt. enemy and mournersThe relationship between enemy and hair is not exclusive of Sed Festival. Egyptian iconography always shows how the Pharaoh grabbed the hair of the enemies of Egypt. They were the personification of the evil and the king had to eliminate them for protecting the country from that danger. Was to kill them also to cut their locks of hair? In those scenes we can see the Pharaoh holding the mace but also sometimes a cutting weapon, the sickle. He could with it to cut the enemy’s head or as well his lock of hair.

Ramses III holding the enemies. Relief from his funerary temple of Medinet Habu. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Ramses III holding the enemies. Relief from his funerary temple of Medinet Habu. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

If cutting the enemy’s hair symbolizes to eliminate the danger, then the lock of hair swt symbolizes the enemy, the evil. We would be again in a case of metonymy with lock of hair swt. As we saw formerly the lock of hair swt identified the two mourners. Once again the whole (the enemy) is identified with a very significant part (lock of hair). In the renovation/resurrection sphere of ancient Egypt the tekenu, whose image appears in Sed festivals and funerals, would be that malignant being that must be destroyed; to cut and get his lock of hair could symbolize his murder, so the end of the danger, the pass from darkness to light, from death to new life.

Obviously this is just a hypothesis, since the rite of tekenu is still much unknown. Anyway, there are some documents that allow us to approach. The tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Thebes[1] dates from XVIII Dynasty and has a very valuable scene related to the tekenu.

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Among the many funerary scenes, there is one showing a hole containing the word tknwtknw; four elements share the place: the skin meska piel msk(apparently where the tekenu was wrapped), the heartheart, a bull leg bull leg and a lock of hairhair. It seems that they are parts of the tekenu[2]. Could we think that the human victim in some moment of the Egyptian history was replaced by an animal victim? All those parts of the victim seem to be very important in the funerary ceremony, at least in Montuherkhepeshef’s burial. Concretely, the lock of hair had to be in the same level of importance as the skin, the heart and the leg and maybe with a very similar function.

If the lock of hair swt in the Egyptian Sed Festival could be a symbol of the evil, and its destruction a symbol of the victory over the meanness, we could also think something similar in the funerary context. To eliminate the lock of hair swt would mean the victory of the good over the evil that the deceased needs for coming back to life. The document has not an easy explanation, but at least we can see how important could be the lock of hair in the mortuary ritual of tekenu; we could consider it as something for providing vital energy to the dead and as a grant of the end of the chaos and the danger; so the beginning of a new life for the deceased.

In this line we consider appropriate to mention the research made by R. Tefnin about the called “magical heads”[3] found in Giza[4]. They are sculptures of heads made in limestone and discovered in non royal tombs from IV Dynasty. The individual features makes think of portraits, but their purpose is not clear.

Magical heads from Giza. IV Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.wikipedia.org

Magical heads from Giza. IV Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: http://www.wikipedia.org

R. Tefnin noticed that, although their individuality, they shared many characteristics; actually it seems that a kind a damage was made in those heads before the burial; these damages were deep incisions in neck, top of the head, ears and in the frontal line of the hair. According to R. Tefnin these marks would respond to a ritual made in some moment of the funerary ceremony. We have already said that in Egyptian though the head was the centre of the life, the head has vital faculties as breathing, seeing, hearing, tasting. Not to have head meant the incapacity of making breathing and perceiving, and that was a synonym of death. Funerary texts show Osiris as a death being who needs to recover vital faculties for finishing his resurrection. In that point R. Tefnin refers to “the ambiguous attitude of Egyptians towards their deceased ones” [5].

Magical head of Nofer from his tomb in Giza (G2110A). IV Dynasty. Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Photo: www.mfa.org

Magical head of Nofer from his tomb in Giza (G2110A). IV Dynasty. Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Photo: http://www.mfa.org

On one hand the deceased needs the help of the living ones, but he can also be a danger; the dead ones belong to an unknown dimension, which the living ones cannot control, so the deceased can become a spirit coming back from the beyond to the earth with bad intentions[6]. If the dead could be an adversary, he had to be treated as an enemy. For R. Tefnin this point of view would explain those ritual mutilations made on the “Magical heads”.

The head, as image of the deceased as an enemy, suffers in some moment of the funerals, some ritual damages, which refer to punishments inflicted to adversaries: the incision in the neck would symbolize the beheading, the mark on the skull would be the hit with the mace, the cut of the ears was also a documented war practice, to cut the hair over the front should then also be a punishment made to the enemies.

Again we meet a relationship between cutting the hair and eliminating the danger. It is the same principle of the tekenu; the idea of an expiatory sacrifice materialized in renovating rites through the ablation of a lock of hair.


[1] TT 20.

[2] Spanish mission in the tomb of Dyehuty has discovered a very interesting scene related to the tekenu.

[3] Also known as “reserve heads” or “replacement heads”.

[4] R. Tefnin, 1991.

[5] R. Tefnin, 1991, p. 86.

[6] In fact we there were conjurations and incantations for avoiding the ghosts to annoy the living ones.

Hair, Enemy and Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt. Part I: The Tekenu.


Related to the lock of hair s3mt we have seen two important points:

  • To keep the lock of hair s3mt intact is a hope of new life for the deceased.
  • The lock of hair s3mt seems to be victim of ablation, just in the moment when the dead gets his head back again (see chapter 532 of Coffin Texts).

It is interesting to notice that the Egyptian verb utilised for “cut” the s3mt is Hsq, which also means “decapitate”[1] ; so the whole sentence could also be translated as « behead the lock of hair s3mt ». The act of beheading is very close to sacrifice. The idea of sacrifice is very common in Ancient Egyptian religion, mainly the sacrifice for avoiding dangers or the slaughter as revenge. But our area is funerals, dead, and renovation, resurrection, regeneration. Could we think of a symbolic sacrifice made in funerals for benefitting the deceased? Or do we know sacrifices made in Ancient Egypt with renovation finality? Yes, we do and we know a victim’s name: tekenu. This enigmatic figure appears in Sed Festival rites and also in funerary ceremony[2]. In both cases he is a man wrapped in a kind of shroud sit or in foetal position and his role is still too unknown.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

According to some scholars there was in ancient Egypt a prehistoric rite where a royal adolescent was sacrificed[3] and wrapped into an animal skin[4]. After the young’s death, the king would cover himself with that animal skin obtaining so the vitality the teenager had impregnated[5]. This gesture would symbolize the king’s return to his mother womb and the following rebirth; granting this way the renovation of the sovereign. The human sacrifice of Sed Festival, real or symbolic, is proven from the scenes of some slabs dating from the early I Dynasty. Maybe this practice of murdering was abandoned during that same I Dynasty and had just a symbolic dimension. After a previous symbolic sacrifice (human or animal)[6] the Pharaoh would be wrapped in a skin/shroud for getting the vitality needed.

It seems that in the heb Sed, the sacrifice had two values, one Osiriac and propitiatory and another ones Sethiac and expiatory. Both, although apparently opposed are complementary, since the death of Osiris requires next Seth’s. On one hand Osiris’ death reflects vileness and on the other hand Seth’s death means the victory of the good over the evil. Two faces of the same coin, where the king dies and comes back to life as Osiris did, while the meanness is destroyed as was Seth in the myth[7]. The tknw of some images of New Kingdom as a huddled person on a sledge could be in origin that human victim of archaic times sacrificed for the benefit of the sovereign, replaced in funerals for the benefit of the dead.

One of the first documents of Sed Festival is the tablet of king Djer found in Abydos by Petrie. The entire scene is disposed in there registers and in the first row is one of the little documents in iconography of a human sacrifice in Ancient Egypt.

Tablet of king Djer. Photo: www.ancient-egypt.org

Tablet of king Djer. Photo: http://www.ancient-egypt.org

The second register shows two possible victims represented in a conventional way, the surprising thing is that both have a frontal trace. What did the sculptor want to represent? The answer is not so easy. A priori it could remember the image of the so common Egyptian image of the enemy, usually interpreted as gripping his own stream of blood flowing from his front. EnemyBut, makes it sense to hold a liquid element with both hands? Would not be more logical to think of a more solid element to catch with both hands?


[1] Wb III, 168, 16.

[2] Designation tknw for the victim in funerals appears in New Kingdom.

[3] A king’s son, that is a prince (msw nsw).

[4] The use of animal skins is common in initiation ceremonies (J.L. Le Quellec, 1993, p. 335)

[5] Enel, 1985, p. 204.

[6] J. Cervelló Autuori, 1996, p. 211.

[7] J. Cervelló Autuori, 1996, p. 209.

 

Cutting the Lock of Hair s3mt in Ancient Egypt.


The Coffin Texts show us how the lock of hair s3mt was not just a symbolic element which had a very important place in the funerary imagery. Apparently it could also have been a physical thing which was manipulated and cut during the ceremony.

Chapter 532 is about to restore many parts of the corpse. To place the deceased’s head in his neck is the main gesture for reaching the new life:

Formula for placing the head…Mi head is placed. My neck is put by Tefnut. This is the day of putting their heads to the gods. My two eyes are given to me, I see with them. I have received my dorsal spine from Ptah-Sokaris. Is tied to me a lock of hair in Heliopolis, the day of cutting the lock s3mt[1]

chapter 532

In this chapter the deceased gets his eyes, his neck, his spine and the lock of hair syt, which we have already identified as the frontal lock of hair in mourners. According to the text it is a Helipolitan practice for restoring the corpse, which also includes the cutting of the lock of hair s3mt.

The Osirian ritual of Ancient Egypt represented the life, death and resurrection of that god. During the Stundenwachen-liturgy, where the two representative mourners of Isis and Nephtys had an important role, there was a practice of tying up the lock of hair. According to the inscription[2], in the second hour of the night one of the mourners, called “small Dyerit”, says:

“Join the head for you, put the plaits of hair Hnskwt[3].Stundenwachen

 Sr can be translated as “hair of woman” or “hair of animal”[4] and srt means “bull’s hair”[5]. The action takes place in a resurrection rite where the mourner is giving a hair element. Could we think of a relationship between this passage of the Stundenwachen and the chapter 532 of the Coffin Texts? The imbalance here is that the document of the Middle Kingdom mentions the lock of hair syt, while the document from a later period mentions the plait of hair Hnskwt. Maybe we should think of a variation due to the passing of time.

Chapter 640 of the Coffin Texts mentions also the same practice, although in a more confusing context:

“A knot is tied for me around me in the sky connected with the earth by Re each day. He puts a knot on the inert over his two thighs on that day of cutting the lock of hair s3mt.

chapter 640

  Seth ties a knot around me when the ennead is in its first power, with no turmoil.

You protect me against those who slew the father. Nut ties a knot around me, at the sight of the first time before I had seen Maat, before the gods were created[6]. I am Penty[7]; I am the heir of the gods”[8].

We find again the expression to cut the s3mt in a context of Heliopolitan divinities.

Would the action of cutting the lock of hair in Ancient Egyptian funerals come from prehistoric times? Cutting rituals (depilation, cutting hair, dental mutilations…) are usually in all cultures one of the first techniques of purification; by means of that men apart themselves from animality[9]. The fact of cutting is something fundamental in initiation ceremonies, as it is for instance circumcision. We know that in Ancient Egypt the cut of the side lock in children was made when they were already adults[10] (nowadays some African peoples still do the same), so in the pass from childhood to a new state of existence.

Nudity and lock of hair were features of childhood. Relief from the mastaba of Ptahhotep in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Nudity and lock of hair were features of childhood. Relief from the mastaba of Ptahhotep in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

We know that death for the Egyptians was just a change of condition and funerary ritual was not just a burial ceremony, but a rite of passage. The dead changed his condition; he passed from dead to reborn, from child to adult, from crescent to full moon. And in some moment of that process happened to cut the s3mt. The fact that this Egyptian word could also be translated as “mourning” or “sadness” refers us again to the mourning women; were there a connection between these women and the cut of the lock of hair s3mt?

P. Barguet considered cutting the s3mt as a Helipolitan ritual[11]. The side lock of Egyptian children was cut when they became adults. In Roman times athletes and youth initiated in Isis cult were distinguished because first ones had a side lock on the top of the head, while second ones had it over the right ear; this lock of hair was cut with the puberty at the same time of circumcision[12]. In religious sphere, Khonsu, the lunar god, was represented with his side lock and his lunar head-dress.

Could we think of cutting the s3mt of chapters 532 and 640 as a lunar rite? In a symbolic context, maybe to cut the s3mt was made when the moon was not a crescent anymore, but a full moon, that is, when the moon stopped being a child and became an adult. In the funerary ceremony, this cut of hair was maybe made as a symbol of the lunar rebirth of the deceased; it could reflect the end of the chaos and darkness which dominated the universe before the creation. Cutting the s3mt would mean full moon, light, order and new life.

 


[1] CT VI, 532

[2] H. Junker studied the inscription from Dendera, Edfu and Philae.

[3] H. Junker, 1910; E XIV, 95.

[4] Wb IV, 191, 3 y 4.

[5] Wb IV, 191, 5.

[6] The primeval moment.

[7] Pnt is an Egyptian verb related to the making of bread (to knead) and beer (press) (Wb I, 511, 3). Desinence y converts it in a prospective passive participle, which indicates a future fact, so, Pnty would mean “The one who will be produced”; that would refer to the deceased as a new creation.

[8] CT VI, 640

[9] G. Durand, 1979, p.160.

[10] Scholars consider that circumcision in Ancient Egypt was made between six and fourteen years old.

[11] P. Barguet, 1986, p. 52, n. 5

[12] V. von Gonzenbach, 1957 (summary in AEB, nº 57214, pp. 61-62).

The Lock of Hair s3mt and the Childhood of the Deceased in Ancient Egypt.


The Coffin Texts mention a final shape of hair also with a deep symbolic meaning. It is the lock of hair s3mt. About the meaning of s3mt there are different opinions. According to A. Erman and H. Grapow s3mt means “sadness” [1]; A. Gardiner translates it as “mourning” [2] and for R.O. Faulkner its meaning is “lock of hair” [3]. We will treat that later and we will notice that all translations result in the same idea.

In chapter 334 of the Coffin Texts the deceased is Ihy[4], the son of Hathor[5], but he is also son of Re, Isis and Nephtys. In fact, many passages of the text refer to the dead one as a being in his first steps of existence. The chapter is very long, so we will skip a part of the text and will focus on the most interesting sentences for the subject we talk about:

“To change into Ihy…I am the first product of Re, he created me in the body of my mother Isis…

 I am the son of Nephtys, I have been great and lucky.

 My lock of hair s3mt is not destroyed in the bosom of my father and my mother.

 CT 334 samt

I live, I exist…I am a protector. I am acclaimed in my name of Khonsu. I am immortal in the sky, with Re and my mother Hathor…”

His lunar nature comes from his condition as son of Re; he succeeds his father the sun, who rules the daily sky, in the sky during the night, the moonlight follows the sunlight. And we already know that the moon in Ancient Egypt is a symbol of new life in the Hereafter. The entire chapter is about the dead one as a new born, a son, he has the ability to be born with no handicaps, even his s3mt keeps intact and thanks to it, he can live and exist.

It is also interesting to notice that because the s3mt has not been destroyed the deceased exists and he is acclaimed in the name of Khonsu. This god was the son of Amon and Mut (Theban Triad) and his image characterized by the lunar head-dress and the side lock of hair[6]. Khonsu and his side lock were a symbol of youth and showed him as the heir[7]. Could we think of the s3mt as the side lock of Khonsu?

Khonsu with side lock and lunar head-dress. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Khonsu with side lock and lunar head-dress. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

If the lock of hair is synonymous with rebirth and inheritance; not destroy it would mean continuity and constant renovation.  The dead one would be in the funerary thought of Ancient Egypt assimilated with Khonsu in the first step of the regeneration. Khonsu with the side lock (maybe s3mt) is the crescent, the childhood of the moon, and he starts its way to maturity; its growth for becoming the full moon, which materializes the deceased’s resurrection[8].

We have to take into consideration also the following passage:

“I am the ejaculated one, I crossed through her two legs…I have germinated in the egg, I have harried up through its sf[9], I have slid on its snf[10]. I am the lord of the blood…my mother Isis conceives me when she is unaware of her body under the fingers of the lord of the gods, who invades her that day of magnificence[11]…that day of disorder[12]… »

To keep the s3mt means to germinate into the egg, that vital centre which contains the energy to create a new being. The deceased remains inside the egg still unborn but and he will be reborn from it.

So, the lock of hair s3mt and the rebirth/regeneration appear together. Could we then think of that lock of hair s3mt as vital factor which helps the deceased in his resurrection? The answer seems to be affirmative[13].


[1] Wb IV, 18, 10.

[2] A. Gardiner, 1988, p. 588.

[3] R. O. Faulkner, 1988, p. 210.

[4] He is the musician with the sistrum.

[5] Already in Old Kingdom the deceased is “Horus, son of Osiris,…son of Hathor, the semen of Gueb (Pyr., 466 a-b)

[6] J. Zandee, recalling Kees, who considered the lunar eye a parallel of the lock of hair (ZÄS 60), identified this one with Khonsu (J. Zandee, 1953, p. 112).

[7] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p. 40.

[8] In chapter 310 there are many verbs of growth, and that could be a proof of how the power of Khonsu increases (J. Zandee, 1953, p. 111)

[9] P. Barguet translates “egg white”.

[10] P. Barguet translates “yolk”, although its real meaning is “blood”.

[11] Could that refer to the sexual act?

[12] The translation of Xnnw is “uproar”, “disturbance” (Wb III, 383, 15). We are facing in this passage a moment of disorder, while the deceased is conceived; that shows the relationship we have already seen between chaos and orgy.

[13] As son of Isis the deceased is then also Horus and we will see later the relationship between this god and the lock of hair s3mt.