Tag Archives: funeral

Hair, Enemy and Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt. Part I: The Tekenu.


Related to the lock of hair s3mt we have seen two important points:

  • To keep the lock of hair s3mt intact is a hope of new life for the deceased.
  • The lock of hair s3mt seems to be victim of ablation, just in the moment when the dead gets his head back again (see chapter 532 of Coffin Texts).

It is interesting to notice that the Egyptian verb utilised for “cut” the s3mt is Hsq, which also means “decapitate”[1] ; so the whole sentence could also be translated as « behead the lock of hair s3mt ». The act of beheading is very close to sacrifice. The idea of sacrifice is very common in Ancient Egyptian religion, mainly the sacrifice for avoiding dangers or the slaughter as revenge. But our area is funerals, dead, and renovation, resurrection, regeneration. Could we think of a symbolic sacrifice made in funerals for benefitting the deceased? Or do we know sacrifices made in Ancient Egypt with renovation finality? Yes, we do and we know a victim’s name: tekenu. This enigmatic figure appears in Sed Festival rites and also in funerary ceremony[2]. In both cases he is a man wrapped in a kind of shroud sit or in foetal position and his role is still too unknown.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

According to some scholars there was in ancient Egypt a prehistoric rite where a royal adolescent was sacrificed[3] and wrapped into an animal skin[4]. After the young’s death, the king would cover himself with that animal skin obtaining so the vitality the teenager had impregnated[5]. This gesture would symbolize the king’s return to his mother womb and the following rebirth; granting this way the renovation of the sovereign. The human sacrifice of Sed Festival, real or symbolic, is proven from the scenes of some slabs dating from the early I Dynasty. Maybe this practice of murdering was abandoned during that same I Dynasty and had just a symbolic dimension. After a previous symbolic sacrifice (human or animal)[6] the Pharaoh would be wrapped in a skin/shroud for getting the vitality needed.

It seems that in the heb Sed, the sacrifice had two values, one Osiriac and propitiatory and another ones Sethiac and expiatory. Both, although apparently opposed are complementary, since the death of Osiris requires next Seth’s. On one hand Osiris’ death reflects vileness and on the other hand Seth’s death means the victory of the good over the evil. Two faces of the same coin, where the king dies and comes back to life as Osiris did, while the meanness is destroyed as was Seth in the myth[7]. The tknw of some images of New Kingdom as a huddled person on a sledge could be in origin that human victim of archaic times sacrificed for the benefit of the sovereign, replaced in funerals for the benefit of the dead.

One of the first documents of Sed Festival is the tablet of king Djer found in Abydos by Petrie. The entire scene is disposed in there registers and in the first row is one of the little documents in iconography of a human sacrifice in Ancient Egypt.

Tablet of king Djer. Photo: www.ancient-egypt.org

Tablet of king Djer. Photo: http://www.ancient-egypt.org

The second register shows two possible victims represented in a conventional way, the surprising thing is that both have a frontal trace. What did the sculptor want to represent? The answer is not so easy. A priori it could remember the image of the so common Egyptian image of the enemy, usually interpreted as gripping his own stream of blood flowing from his front. EnemyBut, makes it sense to hold a liquid element with both hands? Would not be more logical to think of a more solid element to catch with both hands?


[1] Wb III, 168, 16.

[2] Designation tknw for the victim in funerals appears in New Kingdom.

[3] A king’s son, that is a prince (msw nsw).

[4] The use of animal skins is common in initiation ceremonies (J.L. Le Quellec, 1993, p. 335)

[5] Enel, 1985, p. 204.

[6] J. Cervelló Autuori, 1996, p. 211.

[7] J. Cervelló Autuori, 1996, p. 209.

 

Hair and Snake as Symbols of Rebirth in Ancient Egypt.


The connection between the hnskt plait and the snake shows again a relationship of two vital elements. All during this work we have seen how the hair was considered in ancient Egyptian as a generating life element. Egyptians also attributed vital energy to snakes, since in mythology this animal was one of the first manifestations of live. On the other hand it is interesting to notice that this is a lunar animal par excellence[1].

According to R. Briffault, “the snake and the moon are interchangeable” in many cultures because both are immortal; they are in constant renovation and that is why the snake is considered a representation of the moon[2]. The serpent shed its skin periodically, it transforms, but it does not perish, it renews itself as the moon does. But also snakes appear and disappear easily; they hide under the ground, the “underworld”, where shed the skin and regenerate themselves. In Book of the Amduat, the snake is one of the symbols of death and rebirth[3] and Re, in the twelfth hour, rejuvenates in a snake’s belly[4].

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, where Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.cefb.it

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, when Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.cefb.it

What about women? They are also “closely associated with the snake, in the same way they are related to the moon”[5]. Serpents have as well a deep fecundity symbolism. Some scholars think that the snake has at the same time a feminine side (lunar) and a masculine one, since its shape and its movements suggest the virility of the penis[6]. So, snakes combine the two principles masculine and feminine needed for the creation. Anyway, in Ancient Egypt the phallic condition of the snake does not seem to be too emphasized[7].

Lastly, the snake is a death’s keeper and, according to Egyptian religious texts, it protects the dead[8]; since it lives in the underworld, it dwells close to the deceased’s spirits and knows the secret of the death. Serpent has a very positive role in the myth of the hero who defeats the death[9]. In fact, according to M. Eliade, « Great goddesses have usually a snake as attribute, they maintain this way their lunar nature, and these goddesses are at the same time funerary divinities. The snake is so, a funerary animal and a symbol of regeneration » [10]. For that reason, we can find in some versions of the Egyptian myth that in the creation of the world, the primitive god is in the Nun as a serpent, where he comes back again also in shape of snake[11].

We can see clearly in chapter 219 of the Coffin Texts the connection between the snake and the resurrection, since to go out from the egg with the plaits hnkswt and the snakes is a synonym of rebirth. The dead one is reborn from the place where the life germinates and goes out from it with its vital power (snakes and/or plaits of hair hnkswt), a very similar image we can have in mind just thinking of Osiris going out from the womb of his mother Nut with the uraeus [12]. If hnkst is a parallel of hnskt and this one is the lock of plaits falling at the back of mourners, again we find these women and their hair in a resurrection act.


[1] All animals that appear and disappear in a cyclic way (snails, reptiles, bears…) are considered as lunar creatures (J.E. Cirlot, 1991, p. 285).

[2] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 314.

[3] W.B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 21.

[4] V, 648.

[5] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 316.

[6] G. Durand, 1979, p.303.

[7] V, 650.

[8] Pyr. 226-224, 276-299, 375-401, 727-733; CT 160, 369, 372, 375, 378, 381, 423, 434-436, 586, 686, 717, 885; LdM,  33-35, 37, 39.

[9] G. Durand, 1979, p.305.

[10] M. Eliade, 1970, p.150.

[11] LdM, 175.

[12] A. Mariette, 1875, II, 152-153, 3; Ph. Derchain, 1963, p. 22.

Hair and Horns in Ancient Egypt Imagery.


The chapter 218 has different versions of the same text, in one coffin the deceased Osiris is called « the bull of the plait hnskt » while in other one and in the same sentence he is « the Lord with two horns ». It seems quite clear the assimilation between the plait hnskt and the horns. In Ancient Egypt, as in many cultures, horns are a symbol of the crescent of the moon, when the star begins its way to the full moon; in fact in those religions where the bull is a prominent divinity, that animal is usually identified with the moon or with lunar gods[1]. So, in Egyptian funerary thought horns are related to the lunar resurrection of the dead.

At this point we need to come back or minds to the Hathor clergy, those ias priest who had the sincipital baldness. If maybe that baldness was related to a Hathor’s loss of hair, could it be also possible to think of a loss of the horns as a cow goddess? Then, is the Ramesseum Papyrus XI we have seen before making allusion to a mutilation of the horns of Hathor? Maybe in the Myth of Osiris Isis suffered a loss of hair; due to the fact that Isis and Hathor are interchangeable, in some moment of the Egyptian history appeared a version of the Myth of Osiris where it was supposed Hathor to lose her horns, instead of Isis to lose her lock of hair. In any case, the priests of Hathor were the “Bald of Hathor” because of their baldness in the wpt, just the place where bulls and cows have their horns.

If horns are assimilated to the crescent of the moon and, as we have read in chapter 218, the plait hnskt is assimilated to the horns, it would be reasonable to think of a comparison between the hair element and the crescent of the moon, both symbols of resurrection.

Then, it would make sense why Hathor, as a cow, is also a lunar deity and why her two ringlets of hair wprty, maybe assimilated to both horns, are a grant of lunar resurrection for the deceased[2]. The two ringlets would compare with the horns; both elements sprout in the wpt and are at both sides of the Hathor’s head; ringlets fall down at both sides of the face, while horns point upwards. We can find the graphic result of that in the Egyptian art legacy; we just need to turn face up the frontal image of Hathor and we notice that her ringlets become the horns/crescent and her face the full moon as in the head-dress of lunar deities.

Comparison of image of Hathor from Deir el-Bahari (Photo: www.1worldtours.com) and lunar head-dress of Thot in Medinet Habu (Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín)

Comparison of image of Hathor from Deir el-Bahari (Photo: http://www.1worldtours.com) and lunar head-dress of Thot in Medinet Habu (Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín)

The imbalance here is how to fix two different aspects of the hair (hnskt and wprty) with the horns of Hathor. Were the wprty the two ringlets of Hathor while still in her head and the hnskt plait the mutilated hair not in her head anymore but in a mop of hair? And belonged this cut mop of hair to the deceased Osiris?

Many questions, whose answers we will try to clear up later. In any case, we keep reading about hair, resurrection and Myth of Osiris. And these three elements refer us again to the funerary ceremony, where mourners cry the death and makes gestures with the hair before the final regeneration of the corpse.


[1] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 382

[2] In Sahara there are many cave images of cattle and snakes together.  According to Le Quellec, both animals are duplicates of the moon (J-L. Le Quellec, 1993, p. 238). This affirmation is important for us, because we have seen how horns and snakes appear related to the plait of hair in a context of lunar resurrection.

The Plait hnskt in the Coffin Texts.


Ancient Egyptian religion show us how rich was ancient Egyptian thought. They converted common things into special elements able of helping the deceased to get to a new life. There is another aspect of the hair which had a very strong symbolic meaning. The Coffin Texts mention plaits hnskt as an element related to two concrete things: horns and snakes, and both in a context where the dead starts his regeneration.

In chapters 181 and 218 the text mentions an action located in a celestial context where the deceased going forward occident is

“the bull of the plait”[1] ink ka hnsktyand « the bull, lord of the plait »[2] [3].

wsirpakanbhnskt

Both chapters are describing the deceased in a lunar shape. To use the image of a bull for it is not a random choice. It comes from the fact that the bovine horns, due to its shape, are a symbol of the crescent of the moon[4]. That is why in the glorification ceremony in Papyrus Louvre 3079 we read: “Oh! The one, who appears as the moon, bull, which rejuvenates himself in the sky every day!” [5]. Horns are the image of the first quarter of the moon, and therefore they symbolise the evolution of the star from the moment it starts its regeneration.

Comparison of crescent (photo: www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martíni.

Comparison of crescent (photo: http://www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The connection between bull and moon explains why in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys Osiris is called “bull which fertilizes the cows[6]. Sometimes “the bull of the stars” was assimilated to kA-mwt.f (“the bull of his mother”)[7]; the one who fertilizes his mother is father and son at the same time, this way he grants in the same person the present and future continuity[8]. We are facing the deceased Osiris, the one who impregnates Isis (she, who is mother and wife at the same time) and who is son (as newborn-resurrected) and Horus father.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

As previously, chapter 219 relates how the deceased travels from East to West and on a boat he crosses the lakes of the horizon. In this context he says:

“…I cross the lakes of the horizon.

I go down in them in (or with) the eggs,

 I go out from them with snakes.

I took over their souls;

I pulled their plaits out…”[9]

Ipulledtheirplaitsout

 Hnkst is a parallel of hnskt. And A. Erman and H. Grapow translate hnksty as plait as a synonym of snake, due to the likeness between both[10].

It seems that to take the souls from the egg and pull the plaits out are on an equal footing, as if the text were describing the act of going out with the snakes. Making that, the deceased catch the life that is inside the eggs, one of the main life centres; this life would be symbolised in those snakes and/or plaits of hair. The dead would go out from the egg (the rebirth) in the same way Osiris went out from the Nut’s womb with the ureus[11]. We would be facing two different forms of saying the same thing: the deceased’s rebirth.

On the other hand, the snake is a lunar animal par excellence. For ancient Egyptians this animal was a symbol of cyclic and temporary transformation (as it was the moon), of fecundity and perpetuity.

Furthermore the word Hnskt is linked with the celestial sphere. The word for Horus (Hr) is also the word for “face” (Hr); we could deduce from that an image of the sky as a face, maybe the face of Horus. The moon and the sun would be the two eyes, while the hair would be the firmament’s supports. Already in V and VI dynasties the Pyramid Texts tells how the plaits Hnskwt of the face of Horus were considered the abode the his four sons[12]; and the Pyramid Texts of king Ounas mentions four ancient spirits who lived in the plaits Hnskwt of hair of Horus and were at the eastern part of the sky holding their sceptres[13].

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo martín.

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.


[1] CT III, 181

[2] In coffin L1Li instead of “plait” it has the word “horns” hnwty.

[3] CT III, 218

[4] G. Durand, 1979, p. 75.

[5] Pap. LouvreI. 3079, cols. 84-86.

[6] Songs…3,6

[7] In the New Kingdom it was an epithet of Amon.

[8] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p. 33.

[9] CT III, 219

[10] Wb III, 121, 2.

[11] See post about nwn gesture and Nut.

[12] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 466.

[13] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 157.

Hathor and Baldness in Ancient Egypt Symbolism.


We have already seen the importance of Hathor and her two ringlets in the Ancient Egypt funerary imagery and symbolism. This goddess has many epithets which link her directly with the hair element; she is the “Lady of the plait” (Hnskt) or « the One of plait » (Hnsktt, Hnkstt)[1]. Also the priestesses who took part in the Hathor mysteries were called « the ones with plaits » (Hnskywt) or « the ones with ringlets » (wprtywt)[2].

There is a fragment of the Ramesseum Papyrus XI, where we read: “Mi heart is for you, my heart is for you as the heart of Horus is for his eye, the one of Set for his testicles, the one of Hathor for her plait, the one of Thoth for his shoulder[3]”. The text is mentioning mutilations suffered by these gods, so maybe were there an Egyptian myth where Hathor could lose a plait of hair? If so, we could then understand why in some magical practises dedicated to Hathor there had to use a plait of hair[4].

We must also take into consideration that in the Egyptian religion Hathor and Isis were associated. Plutarco assured that Isis pulled herself a lock of hair out when she knew about Osiris’ death[5]; this assertion makes us think of the image of mourners pulling their hair in funerals. We could link that with the damages mentioned above suffered by those gods in some parts of their bodies found in the text of Ramesseum Papyrus; however we have also to consider:

1) The iconography just shows us the gesture of pulling the lock of hair, but not the mutilation Plutarco mentions.

2) Ramesseum Papyrus mentions mutilations caused by another one to the god. In the case of Isis we would not be facing an attack to the goddess, but a self lesion.

Hathor and the loss of hair derives us to some statues dating from New Kingdom representing men sit in front of an Hathor’s symbol and which were studied by J.J. Clère[6]. Those men either they are bald, or they were supposed to be bald[7], because the inscription in all of them describe them as « the bald of Hathor ».the bald of Hathor

The Egyptian word for « bald » is is o iasiAs calvo , which defines the natural baldness, that is, the alopecia[8]. J.J. Clère considers that the term ias would have two senses: on one hand it would be « bald » in the most generic meaning, and on the other hand it would allude to the “sincipital baldness”[9]. That is, the alopecia in the upper half of the cranium, so the baldness in the wpt, as in the statues of the ias priests of Hathor[10], who had to be bald.

Head fragment from a statue of a "Bald of Hathor". New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Head fragment from a statue of a “Bald of Hathor”. New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

Around this matter it is interesting to have a look on a sentence in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys, which although very incomplete, could gain sense with all we have seen until now:

“…the baldness on the top of the head…” [11].

baldness on the top of the head

 J.J. Clère did not see the relationship between this partial sentence and the context it is written[12], but in fact it has, because that text is mentioning the damage that Seth has caused: « Seth is in every bad thing he has done » [13], «he has messed up the sky administration» [14], «and he has sent to us bad intentions» [15]. Could we think about a version of the Myth of Osiris, where Seth amputated the hnskt of Hathor? That would explain the comparison with the eye of Horus and the testicle of Re.

That being the case, the term is/ias would describe a sincipital baldness, however not a natural alopecia, but one caused by mutilation; ias would refer to an involuntary loss of the hair, while the term f3k would refer to the voluntary shave.

Equally we could think that Hnskt would be not just a lock of hair falling on the back, but also the hair in the top of the head (wpt). The priesthood of Hathor in the statuary lacks the hair on the wpt; the top of the head; where Hathor, as the cow goddess, has her horns. Could we then think of assimilation between the hair and the horns? If so, then we should also think about a possible version of the Myth of Osiris where Seth damaged Hathor’s horns. Maybe it would be more reasonable to consider that the Hathor in the Ramesseum Papyrus was in fact Isis, the mourning wife pulling her lock of hair as a despair gesture when she knew about the death of Osiris at the hands of Seth. In addition, the title of those ias priests in some statues refers to Isis: “I am the bald of Isis, the Big One” [16] ; « I am a bald one, excellent, favourite of Isis » [17].

Maybe for being assimilated to Isis, Hathor was a divinity very closed to Osiris in the Egyptian religion and it was very common to find her in images accompanying Osiris[18]. But her presence was not just in iconography; in celebrations in honour to Osiris during the month of Khoiak Hathor had also an important role. For instance, in the Middle Kingdom there was at the beginning of the month a sailing of Hathor. This goddess also appears six times accompanying Isis in the Festival of Sokaris (god assimilated to Osiris); her boat guides the other ones and the rest of goddesses are considered as different forms of Hathor[19].

Anyway, statues of ias priest show them always with an hathoric symbol; those men belonged to an Hathor’s clergy, who had to lack hair in the top of the head, apparently not voluntary; maybe in honour to the goddess, who suffered a mutilation with a similar result in her body.

"Bald of Hathor" Ameneminet. XIX Dynasty. Luxor Museum. Photo: www.eternalegypt.org

“Bald of Hathor” Ameneminet. XIX Dynasty. Luxor Museum. Photo: http://www.eternalegypt.org

Summing up, we have three main points related to Hathor and the hair:

  • Hathor related to the two ringlets wprty. These two lateral ringlets are like the two sky doors, which open and allow the deceased to go up to the celestial sphere and see the face of the lunar goddess, that is the moon, so the light in the darkness. The wprty are a grant of resurrection.
  • Hathor or Isis had a possible loss of hair (hnskt), as it was a mutilation, similar to that one suffered by Horus with his eye or Seth with his testicle.
  • Existence of a clergy of Hathor, whose requirement was the lack of hair on the top of the head (wpt), showing this way a relationship between Hathor and the lack or loss of hair.

[1] G. Posener, 1986, p. 113.

[2]S.A. Naguib, 1990, p. 13.

[3] According to some versions Seth attacked Thoth and cut off his arm. G. Posener,  1986, p. 111.

[4] Pap. Berlin 3027 9, 3-7; A. Ermann, 1901, p. 34. Although here the Egyptian word for plait is not Hnskt, but dbnt. Some scholars assure that there are representations of locks of hair with hathoric symbols of regeneration. E. Staehelin, 1978, p. 83.

[5] Plutarco, De Iside et Osiride, 14.

[6] J-J. Clère, 1995.

[7] J-J. Clère, 1995, p. 14.

[8] There is another Egyptian term for “bald”: f3k, used for the priesthood of Heliopolis. Actually it refers to the “shave”, not to the natural baldness. We have already written about the baldness and the lack of vegetation.

[9] J-J. Clère, 1995, p. 28.

[10] We read in the chapter 588 of the Coffin Texts and chapter 103 of the Book of Dead: “Speech for being at both sides of Hathor. I am one who has passed pure, a iAs priest. I will be Ihy in the Hathor’s entourage”.

[11] Pap. Bremner-Rhind, 2, 23.

[12] J-J. Clère, 1995, p. 30.

[13] Songs…, 2, 19.

[14] Songs…, 2, 20.

[15] Songs…, 2, 21.

[16] J-J. Clère, 1995, p. 76.

[17] J-J. Clère, 1995, p. 160.

[18] This assimilation comes from the Old Kingdom. Also in some cases Isis can appear as Re’s wife.

[19] Papyrus Bremner-Rhind ,19, 13 ff.

The two Ringlets wprty give Access to the Realm of the Dead.


The presence of hair in Ancient Egypt funerary belief is more than just the mane or the lock of hair. There are mentions in three chapters of the Coffin Texts to another shape of hair: the ringlets.
1) In chapter 107 of the Coffin Texts the deceased goes out to the day, that is, he comes back to light and to life; in that process we read:

“…praises are given; the double ringlet starts the jubilee

wprty starts the jubilee

 While the Duat gets open for me…”

There is undoubtedly a word game with wpw (open) and wprty; since wpt can be also the crown as the origin of the hair[1], the upper part of the head (and also the zenith of the sky). On the other hand, the Egyptian word wprty describes the lateral plait or ringlet that can be seen in children as a sign of youth[2]; it is also the side lock of the god Khonsu[3], the god of moon.

The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

D. Meeks translates it with a wider meaning as « lock of hair in the temple » [4]. Taking into account that the chapter relates how the deceased gets into the Duat, it makes sense to think about the two lateral ringlets of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess who receives the dead ones in the flank of the West Mountain, when they get into the realm of the dead, and she guides them in the night sky.

One of Hathor’s symbols of identity is her two big lateral ringlets framing her face[5]. Apparently this image of the goddess derives from a version of the myth of the “Eye of Re”.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

It relates how Hathor (also Tefnut) lived in the Nubian desert as a wild lioness, while her father Re ruled alone the mankind. This one commanded Shu and Thot the mission of looking for Hathor and bring her back to Egypt. When they were in Philae, Hathor immersed in the holy water of the first cataract and she became a very pretty woman “goddess of love, with pretty face and the hair on two big ringlets, bright eyes and firm breast”[6]. The legend of the Eye is the legend of the return: the return of the goddess from the desert, the flood after the winter, it is also the cyclic return of the agricultural prosperity[7].

2) In chapter 109 of the Coffin Texts we read:

“Open the Occident. Praises are given. The jubilee starts when Hathor gives the double ringlet”[8]

wprty starts the jubilee (109)

This chapter confirms the previous exposure, since the wprty are the two ringlets of Hathor. It is about the funerary goddess, the one who takes the deceased in the necropolis; she is “Hathor, the Mistress of the Occident, who rules the frontier of the desert”; she presents the two ringlets, Hathor, the lunar goddess which guides the dead in the darkness of the death.

Could we think that this passage is referring to a rite? Would it be ridiculous to think of a kind of priestess or representative of Hathor in the necropolis presenting two ringlets to the mummy? If so, and taking into consideration the assimilation of Hathor with Isis in Egyptian religion, could be that woman the mourner in the role of Isis? [9]. Thinking so, we would keep in the same line and with the mourners as the main persons of our research; we would not need to resort to a third woman, which, on the other hand, does not appear in any funerary scene.

3) In chapter 533 the dead becomes a scribe of Hathor; the text is long but just in a few sentences we find something very interesting for our subject:

“Become scribe of Hathor. I am the one who is glad before her horns, being arms united, the lector priest, scribe of god words…in the secret palace…

…my two ringlets get open

my ringlets open

 and the face of Hathor makes lighter to me. Hathor holds her arms out”

Once again we are facing Hathor as the goddess who takes the dead in, holding her arms out. When the two ringlets separate, as if they were curtains, the deceased discover her face, as if it was a window that lets the light come in; Hathor’s face gets lighter, like the moon in the dark sky.

For the expression “make lighter”, the scribe used the Egyptian word HD, which it is also used for terms related to « clear », « silver » or « moon » [10]. Separate the wprty ringlets means to see the moon; it is the access to the light after the darkness of the death. Hathor/moon allows the vision during the night; she illuminates, guides and takes the deceased in.

It is also interesting to notice how in chapter 44 of the Coffin Texts we can read: “Heaven’s doors open with your beauty, you go out and you see Hathor [11]. To get into the heaven and see the goddess, either the doors get open, or the wprty ringlets get separated. It seems both elements doors and ringlets could be assimilated and interchangeable. To separate the wprty as if they were curtains allows seeing the light (Hathor’s face / moon) in the middle of the night sky.


[1] Wb I, 297, 13. It is also the part of the head new born “opens” the mother for coming to life, so it is a part related to the rebirth.

[2] Wb I, 305, 6.

[3] We can read it in the propylon of the temple of Khonsu in Karnak. K. Sethe und O. Firchow, 1957, 67 78, 81.

[4] D. Meeks, 1977-79, II, p.94, 78.0951.

[5] According to S. Aufrère “Hathor dissimulait sa face ronde et plate d’Asiatique dans une épaisse coiffure de bédouine, aux inmenses volutes, formant la nuit de lapis-lazuli” (S. Aufrére, 1993, p. 17).

[6] H. Junker, 1911.

[7] E. Bresciani, 1993, p. 47.

[8] In some coffins the writing  wprt  is reduced tort.

[9] In the scene of resurrection in the tomb of Petosiris Isis on the left with the side lock is the “Lady of Rekhyt”, an epithet of Hathor (F. Daumas, 1960, pl. I).

[10] Wb III, 206-208

[11]CT I, 44.

Hair, Hathor and Moon.


Joint with the hair, we have seen now two new important elements which we cannot ignore: Hathor and light. Hathor is mentioned as the « guide of the boat, who keeps ropes kasu in front of the rudder in the West ways… », she is « the lady of the light, who guides the Big One who is tired ». Hathor and light means that the text is referring to the lunar Hathor, the guide during the night.

According to an Egyptian tradition, Hathor was patroness of deceased[1]; she was a goddess that very soon became the goddess of The West and the imagery put her on the flank of the mountain, the place of the sunset and where the dead ones got into the Underworld[2].

The goddess Hathor in the flank of the west mountain ready for receiving the dead. Painting from the tomb of Shuroy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Phot: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The goddess Hathor in the flank of the west mountain ready for receiving the dead. Painting from the tomb of Shuroy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Phot: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Religious texts show that from very soon Hathor was a goddess who received the dead[3], who sheltered him[4], who helped him in reaching the eternity[5]; in the Afterlife the dead was in the entourage of Hathor[6] and she was the main one in the necropolis, that is why one of her epithets was “Hathor at the head of the Necropolis”[7]. Hathor helped the dead to go up to the sky, the same sky where she is guardian and that is his own body as celestial cow. In fact, the Egyptian name Hathor means « The house of Horus » [8].Hathor's name

Hathor grants the dead be sitting in the sky, that according to E. Drioton would be a lunar paradise[9], so a night sky. Not only Hathor has a relationship with the moon, with the night sky and with Horus[10], she also is connected somehow with the Udyat eye[11]. There are several examples of Hathor with a lunar character, so she is the “left eye of Re” [12], the “eye of Re in the sky during the day and the eye of Horus which makes the darkness bright” [13].

It is well-know the relationship between cattle and the moon, because the horns are assimilated to the crescent quarter. This aspect contributes to that image of Hathor as a sky goddess, which exist in Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic period.

Cow-head palette from Gerzeh. Predynastic period. Photo: www.touregypt.net

Cow-head palette from Gerzeh. Predynastic period. Photo: http://www.touregypt.net

We see it clearly in the cow-head palette from Gerzeh in Cairo Museum with the image of a cow rounded with stars making a very ancient image of a celestial cow[14].

But Hathor, is mainly a mother goddess, a celestial cow whose main role is feed people and gods and, so that, has the faculty of giving the life[15]. Maybe that is the reason why, as a mortuary divinity, Hathor also took part in the deceased’s resurrection and was assimilated with Isis[16].

The maternal nature of the cow makes that animal a symbol of rebirth. In this sense Hathor should be consider as a manifestation of the primeval mother[17]. Because “horns of cattle, that characterize great fecundity gods, are the emblem of the divine “Magna Mater[18] and because moon and fertility go together.

Hathor, as lunar deity, is also guide of the boat and she maintains the ropes. In this regard we consider interesting to refer to chapters 404 and 405 in the Coffin Texts, where the bow rope is assimilated to the braid of Isis. It is the night boat, which carries the deceased when he revives during the night, so it is the moon. The shape of the boat could remember the quarter of the moon, so the boat crescent-shape will be one of the first means of transport[19] in Egyptian culture, as it will be for the dead once he will be in the Afterlife.

In fact, the usual head-dress for lunar deities is a full moon over a crescent, in the same way the deceased reborn as a full moon will travel in the Hereafter in the lunar boat, identified with the crescent.

Head-dress of Khonsu with full moon over the crescent. Relief from the temple of Khonsu in Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Head-dress of Khonsu with full moon over the crescent. Relief from the temple of Khonsu in Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

So, what we are facing is a lunar rebirth. In that rebirth we have seen the important role of the hair element. The feminine hair appears related to water, maternity, sexuality…and also now to the moon.  If hair is related to water and moon, the lock of hair swt in mourning should also have a connection with the lunar resurrection of the dead, with the goddess Hathor in her lunar nature, as guide of the boat (crescent of the moon) in the dark of the night sky.

Hathor capital. Bahr el-Yussef museum. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Hathor capital. Bahr el-Yussef museum. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

So, we have the mourners and /or the locks of hair swt in the moan, that is, mourning on earth during the funerals while the goddess Hathor in her lunar nature is in the night sky with her both ringlets on each side of her frontal face;  Hathor  is a grant of the deceased’s resurrection and she guides the boat, which bow rope is the braid of Isis. In the funerary ceremony the two locks of hair of the mourners could be the announcement of the lunar resurrection.


[1] E. Drioton, 1985, p. 188.

[2] A. Erman, 1952, p. 50.

[3] Pyr. 1026.

[4] CT VI, 769.

[5]CT V, 398.

[6] LdM, 144.

[7] S. Allam , 1963, p. 67

[8] S. Allam, 1963, p. 99

[9] E. Drioton, BiOr 15, p. 189.

[10] A. Mariette, 1875, IV, 77 a; en Ph. Derchain, 1962, p. 46.

[11] CT VI, 670.

[12] A. Mariette, 1875, I, 112, 7(A).

[13] A. Mariette, 1875, VI, 144, 2-3(J).

[14] According to F. A. Hassan it could represent Orion (F. A. Hassan, 1992, p. 314).

[15] One epithet for Hathor is “Mistress of Life” (A. Mariette, 1875, I, 26 f.).

[16] According to a version of the Osiris legend, Isis lost her head and Thoth replaced it with a cow’s head (Pap. Sallier IV). In addition, sometimes Hathor is called with the epithet of “Beautiful One of Osiris” (A. Mariette, 1875, VI, 3, 3).

[17] F. A. Hassan, 1992, p. 315.

[18] M. M. Eliade, 1970, p. 146.

[19] G. Durand, 1979, p. 238.

The meaning of the word swt


There is another chapter referring to swt; although it is a confusing text, we can make some deductions examining consciously the words. In the chapter 332 of the Coffin Texts the dead is being guided by a powerful goddess who is

“…the lady of the power, who guides to those ones in the caverns. I am Hathor, Lady of the northern sky, who maintains the ropes kAsw of those awaken…the earth trembles because of the jubilation, while the locks of hair are in the mourning…

locks of hair in the mourning

Sw is a verb, whose meaning is “to be something harmful for someone”[1], maybe it could be translated as “hurt “or “wound”. The substantive would then be swt (“damage”, “hurt”)[2].  We already find this verb in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom:

The two armas over the head is a very normal posture among mourners in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The two arms over the head is a very normal posture among mourners in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

“The deceased is the Lord of his enemies, which have been beaten by Horus for him. Go up! Sit over him! You are stronger than him, hurt him…!” (di ir.k swt ir.f)[3]Isis is sitting, her arms over her head. Nephtys, holds her breasts because of the death of her brother, Anubis is bended over his stomach, Osiris is in his damage » (Wsir m swt.f) [4].

We could maybe consider the word swt as a passive participle of the verb sw, so the translation would be something as: “the damaged ones” or “the hurt ones”, the ones who have been damaged, that is, the mourners Isis and Nephtys; they were hurt by the death of Osiris and that is why they are in mourning.  This would also explain the use of the hieroglyph of hair as determinative in so many words that refer to mourners and mourning.This passage is clearly describing the typical funerary scene in which the mummy is laying while Anubis makes his embalming process and the two mourners Isis and Nephtys regret the death of her husband/brother.

We should also notice a kind of word game with the “locks of hair” (swt) in chapter 531 and the “hurt ones” (swt) in chapter 332, in both cases applied to the mourners who dishevel their hair as a sign of mourning.  It is as well interesting how each mourner is indentified with a lock of hair; so mourners and hair go together. That is what we call a metonymy; the whole (the mourners) is designated using its most significant part (the hair).

But we wanted to go on searching more on the verb swverb sw  and we found that it also could be translated as “to increase the strength” or “to get the strength back” [5]. We can read this verb in the Pyramid Texts[6] and also in the Coffin Texts:

“…I came and I recovered the strength back in nsrsr island”[7].isla nsrsr

In both texts the dead, after drinking milk or beer (both considered revitalising drinks), recover his force and comes back to life. It makes sense the use of the hair as determinative ; if the hair is an energy source and the nwn/nwn m gesture pretend the resurrection of the corpse, it is normal here to find it related with a verb meaning « fortify ». On the other hand, swt is a causative verb that derives from wt, whose translation is “be powerful” or “be big” [8]. In addition, wt also means « to embalm » [9] and there is direct relationship between embalming and the deceased’s resurrection. One of the main goals of embalming was to reconstruct the whole body, the physical reconstruction as getting the soul’s support, and this consolidation is connected with the hair element.


[1]   Wb IV, 59, 16

[2]   Wb IV, 59, 18

[3] Pyr., 652.

[4] Pyr., 1281-1282.

[5] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, II, p. 311, nº 78.3367; D. Meeks, 1976, p. 88, n. 14.

[6] Pyr., 1282 b.

[7]CT VII, 1013. Translation of P. Barguet (P. Barguet, 1986, p. 417).

[8] Wb IV, 77, 9.

[9] Wb I, 378, 8.

The Locks of Hair swt are Isis and Nephtys.


The chapter 531 of the Coffin Texts treats about the prophylaxis of the different parts of the funerary mask, always assimilating them with many divinities. After saying how perfect is the face (that is the mask) of the dead we read:

Your White Crown is Thoth; your crown is Wp-wawt[1]. Your eyebrows are both Enneads. Your eyes are the boat of the day and the boat of the night.

Your two locks of hair are Isis and Nephtys.

Swt are Isis and Nephtys

Your nape is Duanenuy. Your plait is Hddt

Hnskt is Hddt

 The funerary mask is like a complete head, or like its substitute, and to put it on the deceased’s face is a revivifying action. The dead is assimilated to the acephalic Osiris and the mask has two functions. On one hand it hides the damage made by Seth on the Osiris’ face; on the other hand it restores the faculties to the head, as to see and to breath; through the mask the dead can also perceive things that mortals cannot notice[2]; the replacement of the head, symbolised by the placement of the mask, allows the deceased to come back to life.

Scholar D. Meelks translated the word swt as “lock” or “plait”[3]. Due that the chapter is describing the funerary mask; we could think that this word would be making an allusion to the two locks of hair that fall on both sides of the face; in the same way that Isis and Nephtys are always at both extremes of the dead.

Khonsu's funerary mask. XIX Dynasty. Metropoliltan Museum of New York. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Khonsu’s funerary mask. XIX Dynasty. Metropoliltan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

Let’s remember also that we have already seen how the word swt designates the front lock of hair the mourners pull. Maybe both locks of hair were assimilated to the hair the two goddesses pull from.

In the wig both locks of hair fall at both sides of the face while the rest of the hair falls over the back. The term hnskt usually means “plait of hair”[4].  But in the context we are the two locks of hair are assimilated with Isis and Nephtys, and just before the text mentions the nape, so it makes sense to think of Hnskt as the mop of hair that in the wig falls on the back[5]. On the other hand, the term Hnskty is a dual that means « the two women with plait », Isis and Nephtys[6]. And that refers us to those images of Isis and Nephtys with the head-dress afnt (see image in header) or to those images of mourners with the hair tied in a back tail; , which would reinforce the idea that hnskt could be that hair identified with the goddess Hddt (a kind of Isis in Edfu).

Mourners with hair tied in a back tail. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Mourners with hair tied in a back tail. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

At this point we consider important to point out a scene of a libation on an altar in Dendera. In it the spelling of Isis Hddt is changed by another one that refers to a light symbolism.  We are in a context where the mission of Isis is to bright in the sky just in the moment of bringing the flood[7]. That makes us think about what we have seen in former chapters about the nwn gesture and the beginning of the Egyptian year; the nwn gesture would be a way of symbolising the new flood, the new year and, therefore, the new life. Again we would be facing the hair element with a strong regenerating symbolism.


[1] “The One who open the ways”, the name of the jackal god from Asiut, that opens the ways to the king in the battle. Let’s think about its presence also in the Sed Festival.

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

[3] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, II, p. 312, nº 78.3373.

[4] Wb III, 116, 4.

[5] Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt considers that Hnskt refers to the small braids under the head-dress afnt (Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt, 1953, p. 28, n. 2) and that it is related with the manifestation of the deceased’s ka (Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt, 1953, p. 25, n. 5). The mother of the dead in funerals wears the head-dress afnt: “Your mother is the great cow in el-Kab, (with) the crown Atef and head-dress afnt, with long hair, with hanging breasts, which has nursed you(Pyr., 2003).

[6] Wb III, 121, 1. It appears like that in The Songs of Isis and Nephtys, Pap. Bremner-Rhind I; 1,9; 3,23; 6,23 y 11,19.

[7] M-Th. Derchain-Urtel, 1993. Leuven, p. 102.

When did the mourners pull or shake hair in the Egyptian funerary ceremony?


During these days we have seen how iconography and texts proof the existence of a gesture, posture or movement made by mourners in Ancient Egypt funerals. Sometimes they pulled their front lock of hair (nwn m) and sometimes they shook their mane onwards covering their faces with it (nwn). In both cases there was always an implicit symbolism, mostly related to the Osiris legend and the resurrection of the dead.

But now many questions come to mind: when did these women do that gesture during the funerary ceremony? Was the mourning rite constant during the whole ceremony or was just for some special moments? Were the normal mourners and the representatives of Isis and Nephtys making it together and/or at the same time?

Firstly we should distinguish the common mourners from the two women in the role of Isis and Nephtys. It makes sense to think about two different kind of performance. The iconography has several examples of mourners “outdoors” making the nwn m or nwn gesture. They would be part of the group of women accompanying the coffin in the funerary procession, we see them in movement in the reliefs from the tombs of Mereruka and Idu or in the Middle Kingdom coffin from Abydos; but also we see them in a more static moment, when some mourners are sit while others are making the nwn gesture, as in the tombs of Amenemhat, Miankht or Rekhmire.

Mourners in the tomb of Mereruka at Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Mourners in the tomb of Mereruka at Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

From the iconography we could deduce that the nwn gesture made by common mourners could take place:

-During the procession, while the coffin was transported.

-In necropolis, when the retinue has already close to the burial.

-Both, first during the procession and second once the retinue were in the necropolis, while the body was being buried.

Mourners. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Mourners. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

However we only have Isis and Nephtys in iconography making the nwn gesture in the stele C15 from the Middle Kingdom (the whole scene represents the Osiris Festivity) and the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga and also pulling their front lock of hair (nwn m) in the coffin of Ramses IV and the one of dwarf Djedhor. Religious texts mention how the goddesses make the nwn gesture and show or give the hair sema to the deceased. It does not seem to be a public moment, but a more secret practice and closely linked to the corpse and the resurrection of the dead. If so, the two mourners representing Isis and Nephtys would be two selected women for representing a divine role. And maybe their mourn ritual with their hair was a part of the group of practices made for the resurrection of the dead.

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou (stele C15). XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

In Ancient Egyptian funerals there was a ceremony for restoring the deceased’s faculties: the ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth, which ended with the final resurrection of the dead. Was it maybe during that ritual when the two mourners made their mourning gesture with their hair? As we will see further in this work, the Ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth was not a public ceremony, but a rite reserved for those who accomplished it, as they were the sem priest, the lector priest and the two mourners. It consisted of a group of practices in favour of the deceased; the goal was to restore all the faculties he needed for his resurrection and his new life in the Herefater: breathing, eyesight, mobility, sexuality… Those practises were made over the mummy or the statue of the deceased and it seems reasonable to think that the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys did their nwn gesture near the body in some moment during the Ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth. In fact it is usual to find in the Egyptian iconography many scenes of that ceremony with the presence of mourners; maybe the most explicit one would be the one in the tomb of Renni, where we can see how priest is making the ritual over the corpse and the statue, while a mourner is making the nwn gesture.

Opening of the Mouth with mourner in nwn gesture on the right. Tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.oisplendorsofthenile.blogspot.com.es

Summing up, the nwn and nwn m gesture had two dimensions, with different meanings and in different moments of the funerary ceremony. The public one made by common mourners outdoors during the procession or out of the tomb in the necropolis; and the private one, made by the two women in the divine role of Isis and Nephtys for the resurrection of the dead. In the first case the nwn/nwn m gesture is related to the chaos, the darkness of the death and is a sign of despair. In the second one those same practices had a revivifying goal.