Tag Archives: Hathor

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Environment in the Treasury of Tutankhamun.

The tomb of Tutankhamun needs to be seen as an historical document.

Nowadays everyone knows about Tutankhamun. His mummy, his funeral mask, his golden sarcophagus, his jewels, his spectacular furniture … are familiar to anyone.

But this familiarity towards the figure of Tutankhamun and his tomb does not always mean true knowledge.

Funerary Chamber of Tutankhmun. Image: National Geographic.

Funerary Chamber of Tutankhamun. Image: National Geographic.

The Tomb of Tutankhamun is a testimony.

The objects are so spectacular that sometimes they have shaded its true meaning. These objects are more than just forms with precious materials. They are testimony to Ancient Egypt, its religion, its belief.

The tomb of Tutankhamun is a historical document with information on the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians and on their conception of the Hereafter. To discover this information we have to contemplate the treasure of Tutankhamun as an ensemble of elements together with the tomb conceived to ensure eternal life to the pharaoh.


Treasury of Tutankhamun. Photo: www.griffith.ox.ac.uk


Thanks to the tomb of Tutankhamon we know that many objects deposited in the burials of Ancient Egypt followed a concrete order for a concrete aim.

The meaning of Tutankhamoun’s Treasure.

In the “Treasury” the Egyptian craftsmen made three key elements:

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Isis in Ancient Egypt: A Winged Snake with Hathoric Crown.

There is always news about artifacts of Ancient Egypt. Now it is the turn of the coffin of “Denit-Ast”. It dates from the Persian Period and it is in the Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

As Gayle Gibson exposed, this coffin has many oddities in its decoration, which could be a proof of the lack of god masters in Egyptian art during this period of the Ancient Egyptian history.

Coffin of Denit-Aset from Persian Period. Isis over the mummy. Ancient Egypt. Torontos Royal Ontario Museum

Coffin of Denit-Aset from Persian Period. Isis over the mummy. Ancient Egypt. Torontos Royal Ontario Museum

I would like just to make some reflections on the icon of the snake flying over the corpse. It is a winged cobra with two horns and a solar disk on the head. As Gibson says, this crown is usually associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. But makes sense an hathoric crown here? Could we think on an association of this icon with the goddess Isis?

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Ringlets and Plaits, Horns and Snakes, Moon and Resurrection.

In ancient Egypt some aspects of the hair have just a symbolic dimension in the deceased’s resurrection, these are the cases of the two ringlets wprty and the plait of hair Hnskt.

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.

Wprty are, according to the Coffin Texts, the two lateral ringlets at both sides of Hathor’s face; these two pieces of hair are in Egyptian imagery a kind of curtains which open and let see the goddess’ face. It is about the lunar divinity and to see her face means to see the moon, it is the metaphoric access to light from the darkness of the death, so a proof of resurrection. When the two wprty open, the deceased can come into the Herefater and be guided by the moon through the night sky.

Regarding the plait Hnskt, it is assimilated to the snake and the horns, both elements having a lunar nature. In Egyptian belief moon and snake are immortal, due to their cyclic renovation; they change gradually without dying; in fact that change is a way of regeneration and getting in a new existence. This is the Egyptian idea of death: it was not a disappearance, but a change of condition in the human life, so the funerary ceremony could be considered as a rite of passage.

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.

Horns in many ancient cultures, and also in the Egyptian one, were a symbol of regeneration thanks to the shape, which remembered the first quarter of the moon. This union between hair and horns makes us as well think about the two ringlets wprty of Hathor as a hair image of the two horns of the goddess. Precisely for that reason, the horns of Hathor can be connected with the plait Hnskt, which, according to one version of the Osiris legend, the goddess lost.

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 New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

In turn, all that can be related to the clergy of Hathor, whose priests were called “bald of Hathor” and whose requirement was the lack of hair in the crown, so remembering the goddess’ mutilation.

Hair, Mourners and Moon in Ancient Egypt.

According to the Egyptian funerary texts the mourner/s crying close to the mummy were the representatives of Isis and Nephtys, in the iconography the inscription accompanying their/her image/s describes them/her as the deceased’s wife, widow or even servant; so stressing the wife’s role of Isis in the legend of Osiris.

They made a mourning ritual in some moment of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, not only as a sadness proof but also as means of getting the deceased’s rebirth. Thanks to the decoration in some New Kingdom tombs from Thebes we can discern that it happened when the ox was slaughtered.

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. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

From Egyptian funerary texts and from iconography the mourning ritual consisted in shaking hair and/or pulling hair towards the corpse. And presumably it ended with the cut of that shaken and/or pulled hair, which in the mythic sphere coincided with the offering of the Udjat eye to the deceased as a grant of his final resurrection.

At this “lunar” point the presence of two women in the rebirth process of the dead makes much sense. The moon is closely related to women, since it regularizes the menstrual cycle[1]. Scholar R. Briffault considered that in ancient Egypt women’s fertility depended on the moon and he assures the existence of a Theban inscription saying that women conceived thanks to the moon[2].  That point of view would give all the sense to the Osiris’ lunar rebirth, since thanks to it Isis could conceive Horus.

That would also explain why the Egyptian word for moon was masculine (iaH iah moon). According to R. Briffault lunar goddesses become prominent in advanced periods of the culture, especially with the agriculture development[3].  It is a star related also with the magical power of women[4], as the magic practiced by Isis and Nephtys over the mummy to contribute to the Osiris’ resurrection. Because in the primitive belief the moon’s attributes are character and aptitudes of women[5], the star portrays the women’s nature, so, as reflect of the sun, the moon is the feminine complement of the king of stars, which in the mythic sphere was Hathor[6].

Bronze statue of Osiris in his lunar facet. Late Period. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Bronze statue of Osiris in his lunar facet. Late Period. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

At this point it goes without saying the important role of this goddess in the lunar resurrection. But it helps in understanding the function of the two mourners during the mourning rite. Isis and Nephtys appear as the leading performers in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys, where the lector priest barely takes part; that ritual was something just made by women. The lunar rebirth of the deceased seems to be in large part a responsibility of the two mourners impersonating Isis and Nepthys, maybe because this relationship of women with the moon as the star that regulates their fertility and their magic. They shaked or pulled their hair, which we have already seen it was related to the moon and finally Osiris/ the deceased comes back to life when he receives the Udjat eye, the full moon. Osiris/the deceased revives as a masculine moon, but for getting that state he needs the feminine aspect of the star[7].

[1] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 293.

[2] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 294.

[3] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 295.

[4] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 296.

[5] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 307.

[6] H. Kees, 1956, p. 210.

[7] For some scholars the Egyptian word for moon could remember the bisexuality in the creation of the world (S.Ratié, 1984, p. 179)

Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt. First Summary.

Hair and mourning women. Summary

According to what we have seen in the category « Hair and Mourning Women » we can mention some main ideas:

  • Mourners in Ancient Egypt made two gestures: Nwn: to cover their faces with their hair sm3 (in some cases is Snw) and nwn m: to pull their front lock of hair swt. Both are a way of showing despair and sadness.

    Mourning woman of Minnakht's tomb. www.1st-art-gallery.com

    Mourning woman of Minnakht’s tomb. http://www.1st-art-gallery.com

  • The hair over the face symbolized the darkness of the death into which the dead is sunk; it remembered the chaos in the primeval state of creation, so the Nwn gesture symbolized the Nun, the primeval waters.
  • Egyptians assimilated the hair sm3 to vital elements as breath, vegetation and water. So, to give the hair sm3 with the nwn gesture was a propitiatory practice, the hair became an instrument for sending vital energy to the deceased.
  • The heir was an important figure for the deceased’s resurrection in Ancient Egypt belief. As in the Osirian myth, Horus was the avenger who restored the cosmic order. For that reason the dead had to get again his virility. The nwn gesture in funerals could be a way of symbolizing the mythical copulation through which Osiris recovered his virility and Isis could conceive Horus.

    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. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

  • The deceased, as Osiris and as a reborn, became Nut’s son. This goddess also made in the mythic sphere the nwn gesture. In funerary ceremony, the nwn gesture that the mourners made with the hair would remember the posture of Nut, as sky goddess, when bearing Osiris.

Locks, Plaits and Ringlets. Summary

The main ideas of the second category are:

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.

  • The deceased was welcome to the Hereafter by Hathor, lunar goddess whose face is flanked by the two ringlets wprty. When she received the dead one these two ringlets opened and let see her face; that symbolized to see the light of the full moon in the night sky and it was the culmination of the lunar resurrection for the deceased, in the same way the full moon in the Osiris myth meant the resurrection of the god.
  • Egyptians identified the plaits Hnskt with lunar elements as horns (an image of the crescent) and snakes (which regenerates regularly), and also helped in that lunar resurrection.

    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.

  • The lock of hair s3mt seems to be also identified with the first moments of life and the childhood of the moon (it would be the side lock of children), so it was as well an element for contributing to the lunar resurrection of the dead. It also seems to have a negative aspect, since it was maybe identified with the evil which threats the dead one and which suffers an ablation for allowing the deceased to get back to life.

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.

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.