Tag Archives: Book of Caverns

Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt: Pulling Hair also in the Hereafter.

Mourners of Re pulling hair. Section two of the Book of Caverns. Tomb of Ramses VI. XX Dynasty.

Mourners of Re pulling hair. Section two of the Book of Caverns. Tomb of Ramses VI. XX Dynasty.

Not only on ancient Egyptian funerals were mourners shaking or pulling hair. Also in the Hereafter, supernatural beings were responsible of these kinds of practices. Book of Caverns show in the second section the god Re with head of crocodile walking towards nine divinities that hold their front lock of hair, the text says:

“Oh! The one who mourns, big of lock syt and of strong cry in the West protect the king.

“Oh! The one of the hair who is on the moan [1]el que está sobre el lamento

“Oh! These nein gods that mourn for Osiris, that cry for that one who is in front of Amduat.

Oh, look at me! I am walking towards you I pass by your caverns I call you and you scream to me. Duaty, he feels happy with your voice, those ones who mourn in Duat, the ones with secret faces, under you lock of hair syt[2], your voice is for me. I call you together , I light you up[3], mourners…you lead me and I walk towards you[4], I really protect your souls, I make you have my light, I take away the darkness that is on you…big mourners, having goods, you who are over the lock of hair syt in the land of the West . I walk on the ground I came from in my first birth”.

In the Duat the iakbyw (mourners) work for the regeneration of the dead god Osiris, crying and holding their locks of hair. And at the same time, that resurrection provides protection and light for their souls . When the deceased is in darkness the mourners are “under the lock of hair” covered with this hair:

bajo el mechón syt

When the deceased revives  and can walk in the Duat, the expression is just the contrary: “over the lock of hair” :

sobre el mechón syt

They are not anymore under the hair, but they have come to the light and the dead is “happy with the youth of his body

The words syt and swt describe the front lock of hair the mourners pull. We find also the term syt in The Coffin Texts in chapters 799 and 532, where tells about « tying the lock syt in Heliópolis the day of cutting the samt » and in several documents from the New Kingdom we also can read how a male characters are the mourners of Re and hold their lock of hair syt/swt[5] they grant that Osiris can be justified in the Hereafter [6]. At this point it is also interesting to say that in the chapter 339 of the Coffin texts, the day of the resurrection of Osiris is the day ofshaving the mourning women”.

Again, also in the Hereafter, the nwn m gesture is a part of the mourning rite, as a sign of pain but also as a way of making the dead revive and make easier his way in to the Hereafter.

[1] . Pay attention in the word used for moan (samt), which has de determinative of the hair. In the cenotaph of Seti I in Abydos we read: “Oh! The one of the hair, over his moan, who puts his voice, to whom the souls call” 

[2] . Piankoff translated the preposition  as “carrying” the locks syt.  But the first meaning of that preposition is “under”. If we take the sentence as “under the locks of hair syt” it made sense with the previous expression: “of secret faces”, so, “hidden under the hair”.

[3] The light comes after the darkness of the death.

[4] Mourners guide the dead with their screams. The deceased is blind (dead) and on the way to the new light (new life).

[5] Piankoff and Jacquet-Gordon, 1974, p. 55, Pl. 10.

[6] Berlin Papyrus 6, Piankoff and  Jacquet-Gordon, 1974, p. 57.

Pulling and shaking hair over the mummy in Ancient Egypt.

We have already seen how in chapter 180 of Book of the Dead the mourners appear dishevelled for or over the deceased.

Mourner covering her face with her hair. Tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.egyptraveluxe.blogspot.com

Mourner covering her face with her hair. Tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.egyptraveluxe.blogspot.com

The dead is now in the Hereafter and needs to get again the mobility. This chapter treats about the physical resurrection of the deceased and it was included in many tombs of kings (Tutmosis III, Seti I, Ramses II, Meneptah I, Seti II, Siptah, Ramses III and Ramses IV). In all cases the verb used for dishevelled was nwn. Taking into consideration those determinatives and the iconography of tombs of Amenemhat and Renni, one correct translation could be “…they are dishevelled over you…”.

We can then visualize the nwn gesture over the corpse for his benefit. Because after that the chapter follows: “…your soul gets happy, your body becomes glorious…” It describes the resurrection of the mummy, process in which was important that rite of mourning.

At this point we need to mention three relevant documents that refer to the role of mourning women in front of the body.

1)      The tomb of Ramses IX. On the left wall of the funerary chamber there is a unique scene of resurrection. The dead as a mummy inside an oval, over the corpse four women are making the nwn m gesture of pulling their locks of hair.

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

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

In the following scene the dead is not a mummy anymore, but now his legs and arms have movement. That makes us think about the nwn m gesture as something made for revitalising the body. The text accompanying the image is a fragment of the Book of Caverns in which we read about the resurrection of the dead and in that context it says:

“Those Goddesses are so, they are mourning over the secret place of Osiris…they are together, screaming and crying over the secret place of the ceremony…their secret is in their fingers…”

It is clear the relationship between mourning and the resurrection of the dead, to whom the women are pulling their locks of hair. On the other hand it is interesting to pay attention to the expression “…their secret is in their fingers…”, because with those fingers they are holding their hair. Which one is the secret? Is the resurrection or the way for reaching that resurrection?

2)      The coffin of Ramses IV. In the head piece there is a representation of Isis and Nephtys making the same nwn m gesture.

Isis and Nephtys pulling their locks of hair. This image is the head piece of the coffin of Ramses IV.

Isis and Nephtys pulling their locks of hair. This image is on the head piece of the coffin of Ramses IV.

Both goddesses are facing the head of the dead and the image is accompanied by an inscription where we read:

 “They move their faces during the moan; they mourn over the secret corpse of …

Both goddesses are holding their locks swt, the water is dropping from the eyes of these goddesses…the breath comes from them (the goddesses)…”

In some moment of his resurrection the dead finds Isis and Nephtys, which leaning their faces, holding their locks of hair swt and crying over the corpse, allow the dead to breathe and revive.

There is a very similar example in the coffin of the dwarf Dyedhor, who was dancer in the Serapeum. This coffin was found in Saqqara and belongs to the Persian period. The coffin of Dyedhor shows also Isis and Nephtys pulling their frontal locks of hair (Cairo Museum, nº cat. 1294).

3)      The stele C15 in Louvre Museum is another important document for this subject. It was found in Abydos and dates from XI Dynasty. His owner was Abkaou, chief of the cattle. In the Middle Kingdom became very popular to put a stele in Abydos in the memory of the deceased god Osiris. In this stele the lower register shows Abkaou receiving the offerings while in an upper register there is an image of the ceremonies that took place during the Osiris festivity. Two mourners are over the lying corpse and both cover their face with the hair; in fact it remembers what it is said in chapter 180 of Book of the Dead.

Two mourners making nwn gesture over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou (stele C15) from Abydos. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo (stele): www.cartelfr.louvre.fr; photo (detail): www.commons.wikimedia.org

Two mourners making nwn gesture over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Abkaou (stele C15) from Abydos. Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo (stele): http://www.cartelfr.louvre.fr; photo (detail): http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

The inscription is much reduced: once hieroglyph tm and twice the hieroglyph nwi.   niw tm

The verb tm in ancient Egyptian means “complete”, “be completed”, “join the different parts of the body” (Wb V, 303), especially when it is about the parts of the dead (Wb V, 305, 1) and nwi means “to be in charge of” (Wb II, 220);  the whole could be translated as “to be in charge of completing”. In the Myth of Osiris Isis with the help of Nephtys are the ones who collect the different parts of the body of Osiris, so these two mourners of the image would also be in charge of mending the body of the dead. The nwn gesture they are doing over the body would be one of the practises for revitalizing the deceased.

Suming up, mourners in Ancient Egypt made a kind of rite with their hair during the funerals. It could be to cover the face with the hair (nwn) or pull the frontal lock of hair (nwn m). In both cases we have proofs of this practise over the corpse and always with a revitalising goal.

For understanding better the meaning of this practise we have to know more about the symbolism of hair.