Tag Archives: air

The Rite recalls the Myth. The Hair gives Breath of Life and Virility in Ancient Egypt.


The whole funerary ceremony is full of practices that recall the mythic death and resurrection of Osiris and the mourning rite is not an exception. The legend tells how the goddess Isis, when mourning the death of her husband, became a kite and put over the mummy of her husband; flapping her wings she could give the breath of life to Osiris and helped in his reanimation. In this work we have seen that there is also in the thought of ancient Egypt an assimilation between hair and feathers, therefore the nwn gesture of the mourner shaking the hair sm3 forwards the corpse could be interpreted as a way of producing the air that the deceased needs for breathing and coming back to life.

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.common.wikimedia.org)

Isis as a kite flapping wings over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.common.wikimedia.org)

Changing into a kite, Isis could also restore Osiris’ virility. Egyptian funerary texts claim that when the mourners (smwt) give their hair sm3w to the deceased, he impregnates those women. It is interesting to notice that the Egyptian year started with the inundation (season of akhet), which was announced in some rituals (also the funerary one) with the nwn gesture, and the first month of that season was called, which means « inebriation ». On the other hand, the reduplicated form of txi is txtx and means “to dishevel”.

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.

Inebriation and dishevelling are two concepts together in the orgy, and this one is a way of coming back to the primeval chaos. It is the first state of creation, where sexuality and dishevelled hair take part. From anthropological point of view orgy is an act on behalf of life, it helps in generating a new productivity and in agricultural societies it strengthens the agrarian fertility; the orgy stimulates the renovation from the chaos. If the funerary ceremony is a way for getting the deceased’s resurrection through a return to the primeval moment, the eroticism, which encourages the chaos’ creation power, needs to be also a part of the ritual.

When the Egyptian mourner was making the nwn gesture during the Opening of the mouth ceremony, she was making a symbolic movement with her hair sm3 recalling the episode of the Osiris legend when Isis over the mummy restored the virility of her husband and copulated with him.

Opening of the Mouth ceremony; on the right the mourning is making the nwn gesture forwards the mummy. Tombof Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony; on the right the mourning is making the nwn gesture forwards the mummy. Tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The ejaculation of Osiris was a very important step in the myth because it was a proof of his physical regeneration; in fact the virility is in Egyptian sacred iconography a resource the artist had for indicating the resurrection, since he represented the deceased with “penile erection”. It also granted the conception of Horus, his heir, his avenger, the one who eliminated the evilness and restored the order, succeeding to the Egypt’s throne and allowing his father Osiris to revive as king of the Hereafter.

Advertisements

The Hair gives the Breath of Life in Ancient Egypt.


In Abaton, where Isis and Nephtys moan[1], is also where “Osiris receives the crying from your mouth and his soul breaths thanks to the weeping”[2]. The breathing is essential for living and also for rebirth; according to what we have read, that breath can be transmitted by means of mourning. There is a chapter of the Coffin Texts where the deceased’s breath is assured thanks to different aspects of hair, we read how the dead “…breathes the east wind through her plait, he catch the north wind through her plait, he takes the south wind through his plaits[3], he takes the west wind through his curls (or his plaits)…” [4].

Thanks to the hair element the dead /Osiris can breathe the wind from the four cardinal points, in the same way that he could breathe in Abaton thanks to the weeping. Again hair and mourning are two inseparable aspects[5] and once again this union hair-mourning-breath sends us to the Osiris Myth. Isis as a kite moved her wings over the corpse of Osiris made the air for causing his resurrection.

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.common.wikimedia.org)

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.common.wikimedia.org

On the other hand it is also interesting to have a look on the word hw, which indicates a movement made by the feathers and whose writing in hieroglyphs was with the determinative of the hair[6]; also words as “feather” or “wings” in some cases could be written with the determinative of hair.

verbo Hw                          pluma Swt                        alas DnHw

So, the union feather-kite-air seems to be very close to the union hair-mourning-breath; it would not be hare-brained to think then in a relationship between the kite’s feather (in the mythical dimension) and the mourner’s hair (in the ritual dimension), both elements making the breath of life.


[1] Guglielmi, 1980, p. 81.

[2] Guglielmi, 1980, p. 80.

[3] In some coffins we read “eyebrow”.

[4]CT III, 228. A very similar passage is in Book of the Dead (LdM 172).

[5] In the Coffin Texts we read: “…the hands of Ssmw are united over the lungs…” (CT III, 168); and in coffin B4Bo the writing for “lungs” is pulmones

[6]CT II, 148