Tag Archives: Hathor

The Ringlets wprty and the lunar Resurrection.

We have already seen how in chapters 107, 109, 332 and 533 of the Coffin Texts the moon is the main element. In them Hathor is the lunar goddess who guides the boat during the night (this boat assimilated to the quarter of the moon) and the one who receives the deceased in the Hereafter. Her two ringlets wprty are separated and/or given and this helps the dead to get out from the darkness of the death and see the Hathor’s face, that is, the moon, the light.

Image of Hathor with her two ringlets at both sides of the face. paintign from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Image of Hathor with her two ringlets at both sides of the face. Paintign from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Hathor is “The one with bright face” (thnt Hr), « The Luminous one » (HAit)[1], and her two ringlets open to see « The Bright One, who makes live everyone she loves, people live when they see her » [2]. The idea of this act is completely opposite to the nwn gesture of covering the eyes with the hair; to die means a lack of light; it is the night of the death; the rebirth comes when the moon appears and provides light in the darkness.

Why is the moon so relevant in the deceased’s resurrection? It is a star that grows and dies, but the moon’s death is not definitive; after a period of some days it revives and appears again as a first quarter. The moon is at the same time death and resurrection, darkness and brightness. The moon is the first dead and symbolises the crossing point from death to life. For that reason the human being wants to have also a lunar nature; the star’s regeneration means a hope of resurrection for him.

Some cultures consider the moon the place for the resurrection; it can be as a trip in the star or as an immortal stay in it after the death.  According to R. Briffault, in tribal societies, thanks to its cyclic nature, the moon measures the time and also creates it[3], so it has the mystery of the resurrection. The moon changes constantly, it increases and decreases, with an interval of invisibility (identified with the death), where it goes out from regenerating itself[4]. If the moon causes the time, to convert in moon means to control the temporality and come into the eternity.

Due to this changing nature, lunar mythic beings are usually crippled[5], as in Ancient Egypt was Osiris. The moon dies, as the man dies, and it resurrects as the man wants to resurrect. It is supposed the human condition to be identical as the lunar condition, so humans, after dying, come back to life in a lunar shape. For that reason for ancient Egyptians Osiris was “the moon in the sky”, he renews himself as he wishes and he gets old when he wants[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

This context helps us understand the lunar nature of Hathor and why opening her two ringlets of hair means to get into the light, into the cyclic renewal, to get into the lunar boat and plough through the night sky[7]. Lunar Hathor guides the dead in the boat through the sky until Sothis, the morning star which announces the flood and the beginning of the Egyptian year, so the renewal of everything.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated the « Festival of the Sky » (Hb n pt), which inaugurated the lunar year and started with the appearance of Sothis. This moment was called in Egyptian “opening of the year” (wpt rnpt). This same expression meant also « the beginning of the youth », since rnpt was substantive of the verb rnpi (« to be young », « to be rejuvenated ») [8]. We find then two parallel concepts: the opening of the lunar year and the beginning of the lunar youth of the deceased. We must here remember that with the term rnp was also designed Osiris in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys.

The moon is a symbol of fecundity too , since it controls the waters, the rain and the tides[9]. Moon seems to be associated to the primeval waters as receptacle of creation power. For that reason the moon metaphorically speaking is the egg or the womb of the world, both elements as life generators. That makes the moon a life centre; and if it distributes the waters, it also intercedes between the sky and the earth (whose union we have seen is the hierogamy, the primeval couple).

In many cultures, the moon is closely related to woman and her fecundity power, because her physiological cycle is also regulated by the star. The moon is, then, the “Lord of the women” and he is sentimentally united to them. “Many people thought that the moon, with the look of a man or with the shape of a snake, mate with their women” [10], in the same way Osiris, as lunar god, is bound to Isis. The menstrual cycle contributes also to the idea of the moon as the first husband of female, as Osiris is Isis’ spouse.

As a star bound to the female fecundity, the moon is united as well to the Mother Goddess, and therefore has a maternal influence over the individual, as alimentary and affective mother[11]. In the funerary ritual that turns the deceased into a new born, who Isis looks after and Hathor takes in (both goddesses related to fecundity and moon).

On the other hand, the connection between the moon and the femininity would explain the intervention of the two mourners in the roles of Isis and Nephtys in the funerary ceremony for helping in the deceased’s resurrection. It would also explain why lunar Hathor, opening and/or giving her two ringlets wprty, allows the dead to get into the Hereafter and aim for a lunar regeneration.

[1] Ph. Derchain, 1972.

[2] A. Mariette, 1875, VI, 33, 8.

[3] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 297.

[4] According to Frazer, due to this regenerating nature, for increasing something it has to be done during the crescent and for decreasing it during the waning moon.  (J.G. Frazer, 1914, Vol. II, p. 133).

[5] G. Durand, 1979, p. 292.

[6] A. Mariette, 1880, II, 54 f., Z.5.

[7]CT VI, 623.

[8] Wb II, 432.

[9] G. Rossi, 1990, pp. 32-33.

[10] M. Eliade, 1970, p. 147.

[11] It is proven that there are more births during full moon (G. Rossi, 1990, p. 36).


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 Hair is a Symbol of Water in Ancient Egypt. Hair in the Festival of the Valley.

The nwn gesture is also represented in a relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. A group of women are dancing in the Festival of the Valley[1].

Dancers in the Festival of the Valley. Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Dancers in the Festival of the Valley. Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

This festivity is documented for the first time in the temple of Mentuhotep II in Deir el-Bahari as a funerary Theban festivity. It was a feast in honour of the deceased ones. People visited the necropolis, decorated the tombs and carried offers to the dead relatives. In the gods sphere the image of the god Amon went out from the temple of Karnak in his sacred barque [2] and crossed the Nile for visiting every funerary temple of the West Bank. In the procession accompanying Amon there was a feminine clergy, among which there were some dancers.

Barque of Amon. Relief from the mortuary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Barque of Amon. Relief from the mortuary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The Festival of the Valley took place in the summer solstice, between the harvest and the flooding season. That means that it coincided with the rising of Sothis in the sky announcing the arrival of the flood[3]. People, who visited the tombs of their relatives during the night sung, drank and danced; according to some scholars sometimes the scenes were even “orgiastic”[4]. “The frontier between death and life disappears with the feast and the inebriation, the border that separates the living world and the Hereafter becomes blurred with the length of the night[5].

The last visit of Amon in his procession was the temple of Deir el-Bahari[6]. In the sanctuary of Hatshepsut the image of the god passed many days and nights. In this temple there is a scene with a barque over the “golden lake” surrounded by four ponds full of milk. During the night the barque was circled by torches, which were put out into the milk n the morning. That night took place the encounter between Amon and Hathor, the Cow Goddess. According to the scholar Naguib the milk into the ponds symbolised the milk of the Sacred Cow, the nourishment of Hathor; and at the same time these four ponds would symbolise the four cardinal points. So, “the solar God gets into the belly of the cosmic mother for renewing thanks to her milk, the same milk where the fire of the night is put out[7]. After that night the procession came back to the temple of Karnak.

After this encounter Amon was energized and ready for facing a new year. In fact it was a funerary festivity in which the god, as if it was a dead one, made a trip to the necropolis and was renewed after some ceremonial practices.

In addition the Festival of the Valley took place before the flood, and during that night of ecstasy Hathor showed her most erotic side. She was “the lady of the inebriation, the happiness in ecstasy, she promoted abundance and fertility”[8] , in whose night the flood was conceived[9]. The feminine being (Hathor) awarded the masculine principle (Amon) the fecundity power confirming this way the enthronement of the solar god.

In this renewing festivity we find again the nwn gesture. In the 30’s E. Brunner-Traut already compared the women who appear in the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut with the mourners of the tombs of Renni and Amenemhat, but she considered that they had nothing to do with each other[10]. According to her, the dancers of the Red Chapel were making a gesture of excitement and ecstasy[11], the movements of the mourners ware just a part of the moan[12]. However, H. Wild considered that what was said in chapters 1005 and 1974 of the Pyramid Texts about mourners pulling hair (« The souls of Buto rock for you; they beat their bodies and their arms for you, they pull their hair for you… ») was a description of a special dance in honour to the deceased king[13].

In the Theban tomb 53 of Amenemhat from the reign of Tutmosis III there is a very similar scene to that one of the Red Chapel. Some women are dancing or tumbling and caver their faces with the hair. In front of them three more women are shaking sistrums and a mena necklace; so this ceremony was related to the cult to Hathor.

Dancers from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT53). Gourna. XVIII Dynasty.

Dancers from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT53). Gourna. XVIII Dynasty.

In the 70`s Vandier considered that these were acrobatic dances and that women were making somersaults[14]. In the 80’s W. Decker, based on a reconstruction made by O. Keel[15], accepted the theory of Vandier and thought that the women with the hair over their faces were in fact getting ready for starting the somersault forward[16]. Also W. Decker compared this gesture with the one of the mourners in funerals (in particular with mourner in the Tomb of Minakht). But it seems unlikely that they describes similar moments; while in the first document we are in a group of dancing women, while in the tomb of Minakht she is not with other women making acrobatics.

Coming back to Deir el-Bahari, in the sanctuary there is a scene of the solar barque in procession. In it two women on their knees are touching their napes and cover their faces with the hair. Vandier thought that they were waiting their turn for making the same exercise as their fellows[17]. He emphasizes the fact that those women are not in a vertical posture, so maybe getting ready for making the somersault backwards[18].

Dancers in the Festival of the Valley. Relief from the temple of Deir el-Bahari. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Dancers in the Festival of the Valley. Relief from the temple of Deir el-Bahari. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

It seems obvious that those women were making some acrobatics, but we do not think that cover their faces with hair were just a way of representing the first step of a somersault.  If thinking of a gymnast gaining momentum, the hair is never covering the face. The gesture nwn in the images of the dancers in the Festival of the Valley is not realistic at all (although about the realism in Egyptian art is another subject for debate). Taking into consideration that as much in tombs as in temples we are facing renewing ceremonies with a regeneration intention. So it is easy to think that nwn gesture in that dance had a reviving purpose. Dancers and mourners do the same movement of bending the body and throw the hair forward; and apparently in both cases with a similar symbolism.

On the other hand, the dance is something very common in religious rituals[19], and they have a connection with lunar rites[20]. “The dance is maybe considered as a fact of pleasant magic for promoting the lunar rebirth”[21]. If we notice that the Festival of the Valley was a funerary ceremony celebrated after the first new moon (a symbol of death) and before the flood (the annual renovation in Egypt), we could think that it was, as in burials, a new creation rite, it was the announcement of a cyclic renovation and the reenergizing of Amon[22].

[1] Michalowski, 1970, fot. 70.

[2] With the ones of  Mut and Jonsu.

[3] Naguib, 1990. Leuven, p. 129.

[4] Stadelmann, 1990, p. 148.

[5] Stadelmann, 1990, p. 149.

[6] Naguib, 1990, p. 126.

[7] Naguib, 1990, p. 128.

[8] Naguib, 1990, p. 129.

[9] Naguib, 1990, p. 130.

[10] Brunner-Traut, 1938, p. 51, n. 13.

[11] Brunner-Traut, 1938, p. 52.

[12] Brunner-Traut, 1938, p. 60.

[13] Wild, 1963, p. 86.

[14] Vandier, 1964, p. 451.

[15] Keel, 1974, fig. 11

[16] Decker, 1987, pp. 140-142.

[17] Vandier, 1964, p. 450.

[18] Vandier, 1964, p. 450.

[19] “Funerary dances take part in rites of passage, as in breaking rites of African cultures” (Naguib, 1993, p. 29).

[20] Briffault, 1974, p. 341.

[21] Briffault, 1974, p. 342.

[22] The physical activity (the movement) is a help for the resurrection. Amon, as king of gods, had to renew his power, as in the living world did the pharaoh.