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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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Aside

Looking at the walls of Egyptian tombs belonging to the Old Kingdom we are aware that artists at that period of the Egyptian history represented funerary ceremony not in such an explicit way as they did later on. The mastaba … Continue reading