Category Archives: 04. HAIR AND THE EYE OF HORUS

Lunar Rituals with Hair in the Ancient Egyptian City of Heliopolis.


It seems that in Ancient Egypt there were a relationship between the hair element and some rites of Heliopolis.

The funerary texts show that the hair, the lock of hair and the cut of this lock of hair were somehow connected with religious practices of this ancient Egyptian city.

In chapters 167 and 674 of the Coffin Texts the deceased receives the offers of bread for the snwt festivity and the bier for the dnit festivity in the moment when the two mourners prepare their hair for him. Both were important lunar celebrations in Heliopolis during the Old Kingdom.

Detail of the eye of Horus from the tomb of Roy. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Detail of the eye of Horus from the tomb of Roy. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The festivity of snwt was celebrated in Ancient Egypt the 6th day of the month (Wb IV, 153, 4) and dnit was the festivity of the first and third crescent (Wb V, 465, 6 and 7). During these days ancient Egyptians celebrated in Heliopolis the process of recovery of the lunar eye, and the following day was called “day of Horus’ festivity” (Derchain, 1962, p. 30). So in Heliopolis, the lunar cycle was celebrated with the hair element as a process of rebirth, as it was in the funerals of Ancient Egypt.

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“The Hand to the Mouth”. Suckling the Dead in Ancient Egypt.


Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Ancient Egypt. Image: W.K. Sympson.

Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image: W.K. Sympson.

The assiduousness of the icon in the icnongraphy of Ancient Eypt of the mother bringing closer her breast with the aid of her hand to her baby’s mouth seems to be plenty of sense in the ancient Egyptian belief related to the new life. For that reason it does not seem too crazy to think that the expression “Djat Ra” (“the hand to the mouth”) from the tomb of Qar was related somehow to the dead’s resurrection. Let’s also remember that this gesture “Djat Ra” was closely related to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the resurrection of Qar’s corpse.

how-to-breastfeed-your-babyThat quotidian gesture of bringing the breast to the baby’s mouth is, in fact, a very basic way of opening the baby’s mouth, for allowing him to nurse. The first tip given to mothers at the beginning of the breastfeeding is to open well the baby’s mouth and to point the nipple to the middle part of the baby’s palate.

In the context of Ancient Egypt this idea would fit in the following way:  

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Offering the Make-up in Ancient Egypt. Funerary rites get into Egyptian Art.


We usually think that the decoration from the Egyptian tombs does not change in the whole history of Ancient Egypt. But in fact, there are  some images, which appear in some periods and become usual during some time.

Mourner offering make-up in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Mourner offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

That is the case of a typical Egyptian scene of the professional mourner in some tombs of the New Kingdom: the tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100), the tomb of Sobekhotep (TT 63) or the tomb of Sennefer (TT 96). The mourner appears with no mane of hair kneeling in front of an altar and offering globular vases. According to the inscription in Rekhmire’s tomb, she if offering green make-up for the eyes (Hodel-Hoenes, S., Leben und Tod im Alten Ägypten. Thebanische Privatgräber des Neuen Reiches. Darmstadt, 1991, p. 130).

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Ancient Egypt.

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer.It is similar to the scene in the tomb of Rekhmire. Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

We could think that, if the scene appears now it is becuase it refers to something belonging to the Egyptian funerals of the New Kigndom,  but in fact it is not so.

This action happens just after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony; ; a group of Ancient Egypt sacred practices 8And also secret) for giving back the life to the deceased. We have already seen that, according to the documents, it seems that in these ceremony the mourners were shaven just after the official mourning rite. It was the moment of offering the Udjat eye to the mummy and reviving this way the myth of Osiris, in which the god received the Udjat eye as a sign if his final resurrection. And in the rite it happens when the ox (as a sethian victim) has already been sacrificed.

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Gourna. Ancient Egypt.

Detailof the offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

At the end of Ancient Egypt funerals the dead had to receive the Udjat eye. The funeral staff symbolized it shaving the mourners and giving make-up for the eyes. The fact of presenting make-up is already documented in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (Pyr. 54b-55; Pyr. 609) and the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (CT VII, 934; 936) as a gesture which symbolizes “to fit the eye in the face” (Wb, IV, 370, 12).

In many cases the mourners offered green make-up for the left eye and black make-up for the right one. This was a way of representing the whole lunar cycle, and therefore the victory of Horus over Seth. A belief, which was very rooted to Egyptian though from immemorial times. So, to give the make-up at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony would be much older than the XVIII Dynasty.

For some reason, the practice of offering the make-up could be during the XVIII Dynasty represented. As it happens with some other gestures of funerary rites, the artists of the New Kingdom were more aware than before of what happened during the Egyptian funerals. The secret funerary rites of Ancient Egypt, got into the Egyptian art.

 

 

 

 

 

Hair offering in Ancient Egypt. Archaeological remains.


Iconography and texts point to an Egyptian funerary custom of shaving or cutting a piece of hair to the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But, does the archaeology say something to us? The answer is yes. There is archaeological information from different moments of the Egyptian history proving the existence of hair offering to the dead.

  • In the tomb of king Djer in Abydos (I Dynasty), a piece of hair and a false fringe were found by Petrie. He considered that they could be from the queen. Nowadays these remains are in Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford[1]. In a common sepulchre in Abydos, dating possibly from the III Dynasty, many locks of hair were found, some of them were plaited and some were tangled up[2].

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: www.prm.ox.ac.uk

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk

  • In a “pan-grave” from the Middle Kingdom near Balabish[3], at the south of Abydos, was found a burial with a masculine mummy, close to the body were laying out some plaits of hair, which apparently did not belong to the mummy[4], so they should be a ritual offering.
  • In the tomb of Tutankhamon was found inside a small anthropoid sarcophagus a plait of hair belonging to the Queen Tiye. According to A. Rowe, that would a queen’s relic, who was divinised, so that plait was considered a goddess’ hair[5]. Due that Queen Tiye was dead when Tutankhamon was buried, it seems much more logical to think of a familiar relic[6].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a group of tombs from XVII, XVIII and XIX Dynasties.  Maspero assures there were locks of hair wrapped and put between legs, arms and around the necks of each mummy[7].
  • In a tomb of Deir el-Medina were found locks of hair inside a basket[8].
  • In the tomb of Queen Ahmose- Meritamun (XVIII Dynasty) H. E.Winlock found three baskets with human locks of hair and plaits of hair inside them.
    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.wikimedia.org

    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: http://www.wikimedia.org

    They were found with some other toilette objects. For that reason, Winlock considered that this hair was maybe for the Mertiamon’s hairdressing in the Hereafter[9]. This hypothesis sounds logical.

  • In many houses from Amarna were found clay balls with hair inside. They cold maybe be utilised for some kind of domestic magic[10].
  • In el-Kahun, Petrie found in 1890 in a tomb dating from the XX Dynasty two clay balls with locks of hair inside[11].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a mummy dating from XXI Dynasty of a young girl, between her two legs were put locks of hair of 40 cm long[12].
  • In Gurob Tomb 605 at both feet of a female mummy was a squared case, which contained locks of hair. In some other tombs were also found hair remains[13].
  • Finally, we have to mention the Douch necropolis, in el-Kharga[14] and dating from I-V  centuries. In ten tombs were found deposits with globular clay vases with cut hair wrapped in clothing packs inside[15]; these vases were sometimes on the ground and sometimes inside a kind of whole in the walls of the funerary chambers . According to scholars the hair inside did not belong to the deceased ones, since these ones still had their own hair, but offerings.
The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

All these archaeological remains make us think of those images of the twomourners called Drt with short hair at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and also of those texts mentioning the shaving of the mourners and the cut of the s3mt.


[1] Petrie and M. Flinders, 1902, p. 5, Pl. IV, fig. 7.

[2] Maspero, 1912, p. 170.

[3] It was in the group B 213, near the cultivable area.

[4] Wainwright, 1920, p. 11.

[5] Rowe, 1941, p. 624.

[6] Nachtergael, 1980, p. 243.

[7] Maspero, 1893, p. 274.

[8] Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, p. 188. They are in Musée du Louvre (Département des Antiquités Égyptiennes, Inv. Nº E 18851).

[9] Winlock, 1932, p. 34, Pl. XXXII y XXXIII.

[10] Peet and Woolley, 1923, p. 66.

[11] Crompton, 1916, p. 128. They are in the Manchester Museum.

[12] Daressy, 1907, p. 34.

[13]Bell, 1985, pp. 61-86, Pl. II.

[14] Dunand, Heim, Henein, Lichtenberg, 1992; Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, pp. 175- 202.

[15] The tombs are: T3, T4, T5, T7, T9, T11, T12, T53, T58, T66.

Cutting the s3mt, shaving the Mourners, offering the Udjat eye.


According to what we have seen all along this last part of the work, there is a coincidence among cutting the s3mt, shaving the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys and giving the Udjat eye. We are at the end of the resurrection process made for the mummy. The two mourners incite with their actions the Osiris’ corpse reanimation[1], after that Osiris is mentioned under a lunar appearance; as Papyrus Louvre I, 3079 says: “gets into the Udjat eye, joining him. Thoth collects the constitutive elements of the eye; afterwards the sadness is captured, because you get up to the sky with it”[2]. The Egyptian myth of Osiris tells how, once the corpse of this god was restored, Horus gave him the Udjat eye (the healed lunar eye of Horus). With this offering, Horus helped in the final reanimation of his father.

Osiris (father) coming back to life and helped by Isis (his wife) and Horus (his son). Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.egypte-antique.fr)

Osiris (father) coming back to life and helped by Isis (his wife) and Horus (his son). Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.egypte-antique.fr

The presence of the son is relevant, because it makes necessary the restitution of the deceased’s virility. The result is the Triad (in this case Osiris, Isis and Horus), which is such a common concept in many cultures. Scholar G. Durand considered the Triad had a lunar nature, since the son’s figure, as an extension of the family line, helps in defeating temporality. On the other hand, the Horus presence means the appearance of the living masculine side as a complement of the feminine one incarnated in his mother Isis. G. Durand’s theory is that the origin of the son’s image would be in the primitive androgynous version of the lunar divinities, having so the masculine (son) and feminine (mother) values together[3]. In ancient Egypt belief, as in all cultures, these two values are necessary for generating life, so in the funerary context they are essential for the deceased’s rebirth.

Horus gives his healthy eye (Udjat eye) to his father and that means the lunar resurrection of Osiris, who becomes “the lord of the Udjat eye[4]. According to some chapters of the Coffin Texts this moment has something to do with cutting the lock of hair s3mt and/or shaving the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But what does the iconography says?

Funerals of Sobekmose with the two mourners (or two kites) with no mane of hair. Relief from the tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.blog.naver.com

Funerals of Sobekmose with the two mourners (or two kites) with no mane of hair. Relief from the tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.blognaver.com  

The tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat dating from the reign of Amnehotep III has a very important relief of the mortuary ceremony located in the north wall of the funerary chamber[5]. On the right Anubis is embalming the mummy while the coffin on a sledge is pulled by seven men. On the left the two mourning women with no mane of hair are the Drty orthe two kites[6], the women impersonating Isis and Nephtys; they are facing the mww dancers. Drty and mww are usually represented in the final moment of the funerary ceremony.

Isis and Nephtys as the two kites. Painting from the tomb of Sennedjem in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Isis and Nephtys as the two kites. Painting from the tomb of Sennedjem in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Also in the north wall over the previous scene there is an image of the deceased in front of the judges; the inscription says: “…I am the nose that gives life to everybody in the day of completing the Udjat eye in Heliopolis[7]

We have seen that the day of giving the Udjat eye is the day of shaving the mourners, and the cut of the s3mt, a Heliopolitan rite, is related with the healing of the lunar eye, so has a lunar nature. Taking that into consideration, it is tempting to relate the expression “the day of cutting the s3mt” we have read in Coffin Texts with “the day of completing the Udjat eye” in the tomb of Sobekmose. We have already suggested the idea of cutting the lock of hair as a way of symbolising the maturity of the moon, so becoming the full moon (Udjat eye).

Hair, moon and Heliopolis converge in ancient Egypt already from at least the Old Kingdom in the figure of the girl Hwnt Hwnt. According to the Pyramid Texts she is “the great young who is in Heliopolis…she has given you the two arms[8] and”she put her arms over you [9]. A. Erman and H. Grapow considered Hwnt wrt as a goddess in Heliopolis, who in the late period was assimilated to Hathor and Nephtys[10]. The Pyramid Texts describe her as “the little girl who is in the eye of Horus” [11], that is, the pupil in the eye’s god[12]. The hieroglyph of a girl with a lock of hair as determinative, made H. Kees think of the lock of hair as a symbol and substitute of the lunar eye[13]; as a consequence he considered the girl with the lock of hair in fury as the damaged eye of Horus, while the hair sm3 was the damage itself[14].

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

By extension we could also relate the shave of the mourners with the two mourners with short hair of the tomb of Sobekmose. They are not the only examples. We count on many tombs with images of the final funerary rites with the two Drty with no mane: the tomb of Sobekhotep[15] and Rekhmire[16] in Gourna, the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab and the tomb of Nefersekheru in Zawyet Sultan (all of them dating from the New Kingdom) show the Drty with short hair at the end of the funerals offering two globular vases in front of the four pools; while the tomb of Renni in el-Kab has an image of the mourner with short hair wrapping a person with a kind of clothing.

The most explicit iconography about what happens in that moment of the funerary ceremony is the tomb decoration of Rekhmire. It shows how after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, a woman with short hair is offering green make-up[17].

Women (mourner) offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

Women (mourner) offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

That is something already documented in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, where we can read: “make up the intact eye of Horus in your face[18] or “Horus has made up to you his eye [19]. Also in the Coffin Texts we can find many mentions to that practice, as for instance: “…I make up to you a green eye of Horus in your face [20], “green make-up and black make-up I give you the eye of Horus, black and white…they will lighten your face [21].

Giving the make-up is a synonym of giving the Udjat eye. According to Z. el-Kordy, “the offering of the make-up was a way of making the full moon to come back and avoiding the cosmic disorder”, so it was a rite with lunar nature[22]. In the Egyptian funerals it symbolized the victory of Horus over Seth and the offering of the healed eye (Udjat eye) to the deceased, who will come back to life as did Osiris in the legend.

We have seen that in the Egyptian funerary texts to cut the s3mt was related to the healing of the eye of Horus and with the shave of the two mourners. The Egyptian iconography shows us the offering of the make-up (Udjat eye) after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and made by a mourner without mane of hair. And also many tombs decoration show the two mourners at the end of the funerary ceremony with no mane.

Everything points to an Egyptian funerary custom of shaving or cutting a piece of hair of the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But, when?


[1] Pap. Louvre I, lines 49-52.

[2] Pap. Louvre I, line 51.

[3] G.Durand, 1979, p. 285.

[4] Songs…, 10, 3. For some scholars, the writing of the Osiris’ nameWsir     means “the place of the eye” (W.B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 17).

[5] W.C. Hayes, 1939.

[6] Wb V, 596.

[7]Sobekmose-inscripción

[8] Pyr., 728.

[9] Pyr., 2002 a.

[10] Wb III, 53, 15.

[11] Pyr., 93.

[12] Wb III, 53, 21.

[13] H. Kees, 1925, p. 6.

[14] H. Kees, 1925, p. 8. Also that made H. Kees think that the lock of hair in the head of the bald of Heliopolis was related to the girl Hwnt (H. Kees, 1925, p. 6)

[15] TT 63.

[16] TT 100.

[17] S. Hodel-Hoenes, 1991, p.130

[18] Pyr., 54b-55.

[19] Pyr., 609.

[20] CT  VII, 936.

[21] CT  VII, 934.

[22] Z. el-Kordy, 1982, p. 201.

Cutting the s3mt, beheading the Enemy.


S3mt was for Egyptians apparently something more than just “mourning”. What about that s3mt that could be cut, which was related to snake uraeus, which appears in a moment of restoring some parts of the mummy and which was also an offer to the deceased? In chapters 532 and 640 of Coffin Texts the s3mt is cut and also tied around the dead one, when his neck and head are also restored. Do we have any other documents where to find more clues?

Chapter 50 of Book of the Dead was the heir of the chapter 640 of the Coffin Texts and belongs to a group of chapters related to the regeneration of the corpse. In a Ptolemaic version in the Egyptian Museum in Turin we can read: Formula for not entering the butchering hall of the god. Speech said by Osiris, alive and justified: my vertebrae are united in my nape by them, the Ennead. My vertebrae are united in my nape (bis) in the sky and on earth by Re, in that day of reinforce and reconstitute the exhausted ones[1]  over the two legs, in that day of cutting the necks[2]. The vertebrae in the nape are united by Seth with his power, when[3] there was no disturbance”.

But in some other versions of the same chapter we read a very similar text to that one of the Middle Kingdom: “…fours knots have been tied around me by the sky’s guardian, he has fixed a knot to the dead ones over the legs in that day of cutting the lock of hair s3mt….”

At this point it is important to notice that the writing for the Egyptian word nHbwt (necks) had the determinative of hair:neck. It seems that cutting the lock of hair s3mt is interchangeable with cutting the necks. So there was in ancient Egyptian belief assimilation between both hair and necks, which would mean that cutting the necks, would be the same act as cutting the s3mt.

Hair and necks, what can that have to do with the snakes? In this regards it is interesting J.F. Borghouts comment about chapter 532 of the Coffin Texts where we have already read about a Heliopolitan rite: “…Is tied to me a lock of hair in Heliopolis, the day of cutting the lock s3mt” [4]. J. F. Borghouts focus on the beginning of the passage: “Formula for placing a man’s head in the necropolis…” The passage relates how the deceased receives his head and his neck at the same time that the gods receive their heads, and that action happens the same day that the s3bwt snakes (or multi colour snakes) were expelled from Heliopolis, because they caused the gods to lose their heads[5]. The s3bwt snakes where the enemies of the Sun god because they injured the gods and let them headless. We would be facing an archetype “rite of defeating the evil one”, where the Demiurge announces: “I have appeased the Heliopolis’ disturbance after the judgement, I have restored the heads to those ones who had them not, and I have finished the mourning in this country” [6].

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The head is the central of the body for all senses, not having head means not having faculties of perception and it is also a lack of identity. In Egyptian funerary belief, the lack of head is, not only the obvious lack of life, it is also the impossibility of resurrection. To restore the head is a step to the new life, since thanks to it the deceased will have again the faculty of breathing, seeing, listening[7]. In line with that is the Egyptian union between headless Osiris and the invisibility of the new moon[8]; the disappearance of the head is like the disappearance of the moon, it is the darkness, and so, it is the death. When a human being dyes he gets into a period of shadows, which fades gradually at the same time of the funerary rites. Among these rites here we need to mention the put of the funerary mask, which was a head’s substitute; with it the dead one will have again access to light, to the new life.

There is a stela found in Abydos and dating from the reign of Ramses VI where we can read: Oh! Horus, I have spitted over your eye, after it was removed by your aggressor…Oh! Isis and Nephtys, I make bring[9] to you your heads, I have put[10] your napes for you in this night of cutting[11] the heads (?) of s3bwt snakes in front of Letopolis…”[12] The text reminds to the former chapters we have already seen about the healing of the damaged lunar eye and the shaving of the two mourners.

The healing of the Udjat eye happens at the same time of the gods’ heads restoring and the revenge over the s3bwt snakes. And cutting the s3mt could be the same as cutting the s3bwt.

According to J. F. Borghouts, the parallel between s3mt and s3bwt could be caused by a deformation in the writing with the passage of the time. But so many times repeating the expression “cutting the s3mt” would maybe respond more to assimilation with “cutting the s3bwt” than just a mistake in the writing. The result would be in line with our research: the lock of hair s3mt would be identified the the s3bwt snakes as a negative element that needs to be eliminated. So, to cut the s3mt would symbolize a sacrifice of a dangerous animal. The hymn to Sobek in Ramesseum Papyrus says:

“Welcome in peace, lord of peace!

Your fury has been eliminated; your anger has passed…

Your s3mt is cut” [13].

Sobek-hymn

 The Egyptian verb whs was used for “cutting hair”, but also for “sacrificing enemies” [14], and that put in the same level to cut the lock of hair s3mt and to sacrifice an adversary. Hair, enemy and sacrifice are already familiar concepts to us.

Beheading the enemies of Osiris. Paiting from the tomb of Tutmosis III in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Beheading the enemies of Osiris. Painting from the tomb of Tutmosis III in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Let’s compile some ideas to give shape to our post:

  • The day of shaving the mourners is the day of giving the Udjat eye.
  • To equip with a lock of hair s3mt appears at the same time of shaving the i3rty of Sokaris.
  • The s3mt is cut when the deceased is still blind/dead and after that action he has access to light/new life.
  • To spit over the damaged eye of Horus for healing it, to restore the gods’ heads and napes and to cut the heads of the s3bwt snakes, the enemies, happened together.

Summing up, we find four elements together in the deceased’s regeneration:

  1. Slaughter the s3bwt snakes as the evil ones.
  2. Cut the s3mt
  3. Restore the heads
  4. Recover the Udjat eye.

The two first ones are similar actions for eliminating the evil and after them the two last ones are actions which meant the perception and the access to light, so the deceased’s resurrection.


[1] The dead ones.

[2] chapter 50 BD

[3] From XVIII Dynasty on, preposition tp could have a temporal sense.

[4] We have seen this chapter in the first paragraph about the lock of hair s3mt.

[5] J. F. Borghouts, 1970, p. 73.

[6] Urk. VI, 115, 9-15 (D. Meeks, 1991, p. 6. The Egyptians thought that Horus from Letopolis was the one who restored the gods’ heads. The day commemorating that was a festivity in Heliopolis (J.F. Borghouts, 1970, p. 206)

[7] D. Meeks, 1991, p. 6.

[8] D. Meeks, 1991, p. 8

[9] siar means “make go up”, in the sense of “bring” or “give” (Wb IV, 32, 10)

[10] smn means “join”, “bind”, “put” limbs that have been separated (Wb IV, 132, 20)

[11] The generic meaning of sn es “decapitate” (Wb III, 457, 17).

[12] KRI VI, p.24, 3-4; M.Korostovtsev, 1947, pp. 155-173.

[13] A. Gardiner, 1957, p. 46.

[14] Wb I, 351, 14.

The Egyptian word s3mt. “Hair”, “Mourning” or both?


We have read in many chapters of the Coffin Texts that the s3mt was cut -although not destroyed (CT 334) – and offered, and that seems to happen when the mourners were shaved. But, do we know exactly what the s3mt was?

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The Egyptian word s3mt had different meanings[1]. According to A. Erman and H. Grapow, it meant “sadness” [2]; but s3mt could also be “moan” [3] or “mourning” [4]. Some scholars have translated s3mt as “lock of hair” [5]. Some consider that it could describe “not cut hair” as a sign of mourning[6] or “careless hair” [7]. William A. Ward took as basis chapter 1131 and affirmed that the expression Hdq s3mt meant “cut the dishevelled hair” and for giving this meaning to s3mt he referred to the Prophecy of Neferty[8].

The text relates how the wise man Neferty tells Pharaoh Snofru (IV Dynasty) about the future (First Intermediate Period), as a chaotic time when all rules (natural and cultural) get reversed. Among all the disasters happening to Egypt (the country will be attacked by Asiatics, the sun will not shine, the Nile will dry, and there will be wars…) Neferty says:

“…nobody will cry for the death,

Nobody will fast during for the death,

A man’s hearth will be concerned just about himself,

Today will[9] not be any s3mt carried out,

Neferty

 

 

The heart will be completely away from it…”

W. Helck translated “…today none will dress hairstyle for death” but M. Lichtheim considered that Neferty was saying that the mourning was not done and for G. Lefrebvre Neferty’s words said “…there will not be mourning ceremonies…”[10] Before that Neferty told how none would cry nor fast for the death, that is, would nobody do the orthodox funerary practices; that means that s3mt could be considered as an Egyptian word for the mourning as a funerary custom. So, for us it makes more sense to translate as: “…today will not be the s3mt carried out…” and it would match perfectly with the chaotic image Neferty is describing.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Thanks to some stelas found in Serapeum we know that during the embalming of Apis there was mourning ceremony called s3mt: “… I was among the miserable, being in moan, being in mourningSerapeum-s3mt[11].

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner's hair or just to the mourning itself.

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner’s hair or just to the mourning itself.

Everything points to the Egyptian word s3mt as a funerary custom related to hair and mourning, but nothing indicates that it could refer to a special hairstyle. Would it be maybe the two mourners’ hair manipulated during funerals for the deceased’s benefit?


[1] In the Old Kingdom s3mt is documented  as a personal name (P.Kaplony, 1966, p. 68)

[2] Wb IV, 18, 10.

[3] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.306, nº 78.3295.

[4] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.304, nº 77.3349. Another way of writing s3mt wass3mt-ojo

[5] R.O. Faulkner, 1962, p. 210.

[6] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 239, nº 79.2409.

[7] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 304, nº 77.3349.

[8] W. Helck, 1970

[9] nn sDm.f implies future.

[10] G. Lefebvre, 1988, pp. 101-102.

[11] W. Jansen, 1994, p. 35; J. Vercoutter, 1962, pp. 37-38.