Tag Archives: funerary ceremony in ancient egypt

Three Dimensions of the Ancient Egypt Mourning Rite in a Rishi Coffin.


The distribution of images is clue in Ancient Egypt decoration. Depending on how the scene is ordered and where it is located it has a sense or not.  We have seen how mourning women took up different spaces in a rishi coffin, indicating so two different dimensions onwards the deceased’s resurrection.

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But there is still a third one: the top of lid. On the exterior of the lid a pair of big wings wrap the whole body[1], these ones are usually identified with the wings of Isis. What is the sense of these feathers?

At the end of the XVII Dynasty the feathers on a rishi coffin symbolizing the Isis’ wings would be a way of remembering the image of this goddess over the corpse of Osiris.

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.

In the Egyptian myth of Osiris, Isis, the mourning wife, put herself as a kite over the mummy of her husband for giving him back his breath and his virility. So, we would be facing the highest level outside the coffin as the divine sphere.

coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But due that in the Egyptian belief the upper part of the lid is the divine sphere, this surface accepted another goddess: Nut. At the beginning of the XVIII Dynasty some of the anthropoid coffins changed the feather by an image of Nut, as we can see in the coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. In it an extended image of Nut appears covering the upper part of the lid.

We know that in Ancient Egypt cosmogony Nut was the mother of Osiris and that in the mourning ritual the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards was a way of evoking this goddess and giving the deceased back to his birth. The mummy came back to his mother’s womb and was a new-born.

So between the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII dynasties, the anthropoid coffins in Thebes had three dimensions:

  1. The coffin base was the earthly dimension, where the common mourners on earth shook their hair, remembering what happened on Earth for the deceased’s resurrection.
  2. The threshold of the divine dimension was at the feet of the lid, where the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys did their mourning rites for bringing the dead back to life.
  3. The upper part of the lid was the pure divine sphere, where the goddesses Isis and Nut had their place as wife and mother of Osiris and performed according to the myth.

DIMENSION IN A RISHI COFFIN. ANCIENT EGYPT

 

To be continued…


[1] In fact this is why these coffins are known as rishi coffins, from the Arabic word for “feather”.

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A double Coffin from Roman Egypt. Double Nut…double Funeral?


Ancient Egyptian culture and traditions were adopted also by foreign people who ruled the country in many different periods of Egyptian history. Funerary customs were not an exception.

In the National Museum of Scotland there is a very interesting double coffin which belongs to two children: Petamun and PenhorpabikBoth mummies were supposed to be buried together inside this sarcophagus dated from the Late Roman Period (175-200 A.D.).

Double coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. In the image a double image of Nut inside the lid. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Double coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. In the image a double image of Nut inside the lid. National Museum of Scotland. Late Roman Period. 

Following the Egyptian belief, inside the cover of the coffin, the image of Nut in a very Roman style, dominates all along the surface. The artist who decorated the inside selected the image of the goddess who, as the mythical mother, granted the resurrection of the deceased, considered in ancient Egypt a new born.

The image of Nut in the inner part of the lid would show that the funerary though in ancient Egypt had not change even under the Roman rulers. Anyway, the fact is that Nut does not appear as we could imagine, that is, with raised arms and disheveled hair. We already know that this was the gesture of this goddess for assuring the dead’s resurrectionNut with a short hair here would be indicating that things were already changing in the Egyptian belief.

Detail of the double Nut in the coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. Funerary ceremony and funerary belief in Ancient Egypt.

Detail of the double Nut in the coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik.

Another point to consider is that, due that the coffin was for two bodies, they needed two images of Nut for their resurrection. So, what comes to our mind is that the image of Nut is double, because the resurrection was also double.

Taking that into consideration, we could also think, that during the funerary ceremony, the mourning rite for reviving the corpse could also be double in the burial of these two children?

If this image of Nut is still a legacy of the ancient Egypt belief from pharaonic times, some questions come to our mind:

Did the Egyptians a funerary ceremony per person?

Did the Egyptians an Opening of the Mouth Ceremony per person?

If the burial was double, then, did they double also the funerary ceremony and each funerary rite?

So, did the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys (the two Drty) make the mourning rite twice?

Let’s think about it…

An Egyptian Mourning Ritual from the Cache DB320 in Thebes.


We usually think that there is a strong lack of documents on the subject about mourning in ancient Egypt. But the more we visit museums all over the world, the more examples we find. The point is that we need to look even at the smallest pieces and also watch at them.

In this fragment of a coffin from Thebes the decoration shows a part of the mourning ritual, which was one of the main practices in the funerary ceremony of ancient Egypt.

Fragment of coffin from TT320 (Thebes) showing a part of the mourning ritual in ancient Egypt. Two mourners are bending over the royal mummy. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Here we have a piece of a rishi coffin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is small, with incomplete decoration and with no inscriptions, so it could be of no relevance. Probably visitors ignore it, but it is extremely important for our subject about mourning women in ancient Egypt and their mourning ritual in the Egyptian funerary ceremony.

It comes from the debris area in the Royal Cache TT320[1] (also known as DB 320 for being next to Deir el-Bahari temples) and it is dated at the end of the XVII dynasty and the beginning of the XVIII dynasty.

The decoration of this small piece of wooden coffin shows the Egyptian mourning ritual made by five women. Three of them are on the left standing with crossing arms on their chests. On the right side, the mummy is flanked by two other mourning women. Although the whole bodies are incomplete, we can guess from their hips that both are bending over the corpse. The lower part of the mane of hair in the mourner on the left is still visible and from it we could deduce that she would be making the typical Egyptian nwn gesture of shaking the hair forwards. Most probably her fellow on the right was making the same gesture.

Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

This would remind us the scene of the stele of Abkaou in Louvre Museum and dated in the XI dynasty, where the two mourners during the rites of the Osiris festivities are bending and shaking hair towards the mummy. The difference here is that it is royal mummy. In that case it reminds the scene in the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga, where the two mourners are bended and making the nwn gesture towards the king’s corpse.

Mummy with both mourners on the extreme making the nwn gesture. Funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photos: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Mummy with both mourners on the extreme making the nwn gesture. Funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photos: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

With all these data we could deduce that this small fragment of painted wooden from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys, so the Drty, performing their ritual mourning and shaking the hair forwards, which was a part of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, over the Pharao’s mummy.

 


[1] The TT 320 was built in XXI dynasty for hiding the mummies of kings, queens, royal relatives and Egyptian noble men; all of them dated from XVII dynasty until XXI dynasty.

 

Isis the Mourner at the Feet of Osiris. An Ancient Egypt Birth?


We know that the position of Egyptian goddess Isis at the feet of Osiris could be a matter of sex, a way of positioning herself ready for putting over her husband’s body.

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Ancient Egypt. Photo: www.thethebanmappingproject.com

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Photo: www.thethebanmappingproject.com

But there is another very important aspect in the dead’s resurrection. We know he becomes a new born, so he needs a mother.

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (Brussels). Photo: www.vroma.org

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (Brussels)

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Photo: www.louvre.fr

In Ancient Egypt iconography the image of the goddess Nut in the inside of the lid of the coffin was a grant for the mummy’s new life. She, as the mother of Osiris, appears in the surface extended with raised arms and disheveled hair.

We have seen that this was a way of representing the birth of Osiris. In fact, Nut, as the vault of heaven would be bended forwards with her hair falling down. In this position she would give birth Osiris (the deceased).

In the funerary ceremony the mourners with their mourning ritual helped in the dead’s resurrection, if this one was considered a new born, he also would need someone making the role of mother. The mourner in the role of Isis could be this woman who, shaking her hair forwards would reproduce the birth of Osiris (the deceased).

We all know that in a childbirth the baby first shows the crown and the head, while the feet go out in the end. If Isis (the mourner) was symbolically giving birth, the correct position in the funerary ceremony (and also in the iconography) should be at the feet of her newborn son (the dead).

Nephtys at the head of the coffin and Isis at the feet. Coffin of Thutmes IV. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Nephtys at the head of the coffin and Isis at the feet. Coffin of Thutmes IV. XVIII Dynasty.

In this case the role of Nephtys would have been helping her daughter’s birth and delivering the baby. That is, her mission was to be the midwife, and for that reason she always appears at the head of the mummy.

Egyptian hieroglyph of a woman giving birth. Relief from the temple of Kom Ombo. Ancient Egypt

Egyptian hieroglyph of a woman giving birth. Relief from the temple of Kom Ombo.

Summing up, the scene of the mummy (Osiris) flanked by the two mourners kneeling, Isis at his feet and Nephtys at his head, could be the image of a birth. One woman giving birth (Isis) and being assited by a midwife (Nephtys). Let’s also rememeber that Egyptian women gave birth kneeling.