Category Archives: 08. REFLECTIONS

Isis in Ancient Egypt: A Winged Snake with Hathoric Crown.


There is always news about artifacts of Ancient Egypt. Now it is the turn of the coffin of “Denit-Ast”. It dates from the Persian Period and it is in the Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

As Gayle Gibson exposed, this coffin has many oddities in its decoration, which could be a proof of the lack of god masters in Egyptian art during this period of the Ancient Egyptian history.

Coffin of Denit-Aset from Persian Period. Isis over the mummy. Ancient Egypt. Torontos Royal Ontario Museum

Coffin of Denit-Aset from Persian Period. Isis over the mummy. Ancient Egypt. Torontos Royal Ontario Museum

I would like just to make some reflections on the icon of the snake flying over the corpse. It is a winged cobra with two horns and a solar disk on the head. As Gibson says, this crown is usually associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. But makes sense an hathoric crown here? Could we think on an association of this icon with the goddess Isis?

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Isis with Apis in Ancient Egypt Iconography.


Isis and Osiris were in the religion of Ancient Egypt the perfect couple. Despite the murder of Osiris, they could go on, Isis could revive her husband and both could have a boy. But Osiris was replaced by Apis.

Isis and Osiris. Relief from Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Isis and Osiris. Relief from Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: fineartamerica.

In the mortuary iconography of Ancient Egypt the union of Osiris and Isis was constant, as symbol of resurrection. However from the Saite Period, this icon suffered a transformation. Apis, the bull god of Memphis, was asimilated with Osiris, becoming after his death Osiris-Apis. And Apis in sometimes occupied the place of Osiris.

That is the case of the stele dedicated to Apis from the Louvre Museum. It dates from the reign of Psametik I and was found in the Serapeum of Saqqara. The god is identified as Osiris-Apis (that is Serapis) Khentamentiu and, following the traditional icon of Ancient Egypt, behind him stands Isis. She is not identified by any inscription, but by the hieroglyph of her head.

Stele to Apis. Reign of Psametik I. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Stele to Apis. Reign of Psametik I. Louvre Museum. Photo: wikimedia

It has some consequences…

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Had in Ancient Egypt the Goddess Nephthys a Lower Status?


There is a scene of the Book of the Dead from the tomb of Ay, in which are depicted on the solar boat the gods of the Heliopolitan cosmogony and the Myth of Osiris (apart from Seth): Re-Horakhty, Atoum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Horus…and out of the boat Nephtys stands alone apart from her fellows. Why?

Scene of the Book of the Dead from the tomb of Ay. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Scene of the Book of the Dead from the tomb of Ay. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Isis and Nephtys were usually represented together. They were a perfect divine team in Ancient Egypt for the favour of the Osiris’ resurrection. They were always depicted both collaborating together for the corpse’s resurrection.

However, Nephthys had in some way a secondary role and maybe not the same prestige as her sister Isis.

Firstly, Isis was the wife of Osiris, the dead god, so she supported the main responsability in the regeneration of her husband’s body. Isis, although assisted by Nephthys, was the one who made the ancient Egyptian mourning ritual on the mummy of Osiris for restoring his vital faculties.

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Sexual Stimulation in Ancient Egypt: The Ushabti of Pay.


In ancient Egypt the dead needed many faculties for restarting his new life in the Hereafter: breathing, seeing, walking…and virility.

Sex was an essential aspect for the resurrection in Ancient Egypt and in the funerary rites some ritual practices were full of sexual symbolism.

Ushabti of Pay and Repit. Lateral view with ba bird. Louvre Museum. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Ushabti of Pay and Repit. Lateral view with ba bird. Louvre Museum. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Raven, M. J. The tombs of Pay and Raia at Saqqara. Leiden. 2005, plate 110.

In this line I would like to focus on the ushabti of Pay (from his tomb in Saqqara), dating from the XVIII Dynasty and exposed in the Louvre Museum (N2657).

It is a double-ushabti showing Pay and his wife Repyt both lying on the funerary bed. Man and woman were depicted in the typical posture for mummies in Ancient Egypt: with both arms crosses over the chests. However there is a great difference in the man’s image. He is being accompanied by a ba bird, with arms and face and whose hands touch the Pay’s body.

And this difference could have  very deep sexual meaning….

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Sex in Egyptian Art: the Stele of Sebekaa.


Egyptian art can hide very important information in small pieces.

That is the case of the stele of Sebekaa in British Museum.

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. British Museum

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This piece of ancient Egyptian art dates from XI Dynasty and it was found in Thebes. In just a space of 70 cm x 60 cm (aprox.) the Egyptian artist could include a number of typical scenes which dominated the corpus of funerary Egyptian art.

Although the whole composition does not have a narrative logic, the greater part of the activities can be identified: butchery, bakery, offerings…

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt. On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure

On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure.

At the left of the middle register there is an isolated scene, which was not too usual in ancient Egypain art: the dead lies on his bier and he is embraced by a smaller figure. According to the information from the British Museum’s website: The man on the bed is probably the deceased, and the figure on top of him might be one of a variety of goddesses, such as Isis, Nephthys and Nut, who embrace him. Whether there are any sexual connotations in this scene is uncertain”.

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The Ancient Egyptian Dead Breathes Thanks to “The Hand in the Mouth”.


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 ancient Egyptian expression “The Hand in the Mouth” (Djat Ra) as a way in Egyptian language of referring to the gesture made by the mother breastfeeding her baby. In the funerary sphere of Ancient Egypt that expression seems to be related to the mourning rite made by the professional mourner during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The dead, assimilated to a new-born, would need this gesture as a symbol of his first feed for the Hereafter.

In the relief from the tomb of Qar, this movement of approaching the hand to the mouth was also made by the embalmer. The expression Djat Ra related to a masculine figure cannot have a maternal explanation.

Sem priest opening the mouth with his little finger. Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt

Sem priest opening the mouth with his little finger. Tomb of Rekhmire.

Looking at some depictions of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the New Kingdom we can see how, among the many practices made in favor of the deceased in Ancient Egypt, there is one in which the funerary sem priest opens the dead’s mouth (or the statue’s dead  mouth) with his little finger. Had this ritual gesture made on the corpse or on the statue a resurrection purpose in 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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“The Hand in the Mouth”: Nursing the Baby in Ancient Egypt.


Funerary scene in the tomb of Qar. VI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Funerary scene in the tomb of Qar. VI DynastyPhoto: Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptian expression “Djat Ra“appears in a resurrection scene in the tomb of Qar; according to the inscription the mourner and the embalmer are making the “Djat Ra“. It could be a way of indicating  literally the gesture that both were making.

However, the expression “Djat Ra” also meant “feeding” [Wb V, 514] as the gesture of taking the mouth to the food. It could be related to the funerary offerings, which would grant the food for the dead in the Hereafter. But, it could also refer to gesture of the mother taking her breast to her baby’s mouth for nursing him. In fact the mother approaches her hand to her baby’s mouth for moving her breast closer.

Statuette of nursing woman. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum

Statuette of nursing woman. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum

The woman nursing her baby is a very common icon in Egyptian art. We can find many examples in the private sphere of reliefs and statuettes of nursing women.

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The Dead: An Observer in the Egyptian Art.


Perspective in Egyptian art was special. For us, perspective is the representation on a flat surface of reality how it is seen by human eye. That means that observer is an important element when the artists paints or draw something.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

In Egyptian art the artists had to represent reality, not how it was seen, but how it was.  The Egyptian artisan did not think about depth or vanishing point when drawing, because ancient Egyptian art was not made for being contemplated, but it had a religious purpose.

However in some moment Egyptian art kept in mind the observer’s concept. When the anthropoid coffin appeared in Ancient Egypt, a new surface, with a new shape had to be decorated. This new object offered to the Egyptian artist different spaces for the iconography in the same object.

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Hair was essential in Aztec Mourning like in Ancient Egypt.


Mourning is a extended practice in funerals of many cultures all over the world. Not just in Ancient Egypt, but also in some other African cultures, in the ancient Assyria or in Archaic Greece.

Recently I wrote a short text about mourning in Ancient Egypt for www.mexicolore.co.uk, an on-line platform for the diffusion of Aztec culture. My contribution was just a small text included in an article about the mourning among the Aztecs.

Aztec ritual weeping; Florentine Codex, Book 1.

 Aztec ritual weeping; Florentine Codex, Book 1. Photo: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk

 

American cultures prove, not only that crying for the dead in funerals is a practice inherent to human being, but also that hair is an essential element during the “ritual weeping”.

According to Katherine Ashenburg, Aztecs (central Mexico) had also, as in Ancient Egypt, professional mourners for crying for to dead kings and noblemen and for those who died in war.  Those Aztecs professional mourners did, together with the widows and the children of the deceased ones, a public lament, in which they cried and showed their long and disheveled hair as a proof of their sadness. In addition, during 80 days the widow (s) entered in a period of real dirty, since they could not wash themselves, nor their bodies, nor their hair…After that a ritual washing happened for concluding the mourning.

Native woman from Michoacan

Native woman from Michoacan plaiting her hair.

On the other hand, it is said that native women from Michoacan (in the south of Mexico) plaited her hair for catching in it pain and sadness.

Summing up, also in American cultures women’s hair was a very important element related to the mourning practices, as it was in the ancient Egyptian culture.