Tag Archives: kite

Isis and Nephthys, two Essential Images in the Ancient Egyptian Union of Re and Osiris.


The union of Re and Osiris supposed a challenge to the Ancient Egyptian Art, since new iconography was needed for decorating the tomb walls and the papyri.

From the XVIII Dynasty, some passages of the Book of the Dead were introduced in the royal tombs decoration and that meant to depict moments and gods from the Myth of Osiris into a royal space. However the monarchy was assimilated to the sun god, so some Osirian images suffered a solarization. That forced the ancient Egyptian artist to think of an Osiris-Re iconography.

The mourner (left) and Isis the kite (right) in the decorative program of Sethos I. Ancient Egypt

The mourner (left) and Isis the kite (right) in the decorative program of Sethos I.

We saw that in the XVIII Dynasty the figure of Khepri rising up between two images of a kneeling Osiris was the image of the first hour of the Amduat. But the Osirian world was maybe too important in ancient Egyptian belief for reducing it just to this iconography. The conception of the dead god, which resurrected thanks to the action of two women (Isis and Nephthys) was maybe too stablished in the ancient Egyptian thought.

Not for nothing in the XIX Dynasty Sethos I introduced Osirian iconography in royal monuments and he did not forget the two professional mourners…

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The Rite recalls the Myth. The Hair gives Breath of Life and Virility in Ancient Egypt.


The whole funerary ceremony is full of practices that recall the mythic death and resurrection of Osiris and the mourning rite is not an exception. The legend tells how the goddess Isis, when mourning the death of her husband, became a kite and put over the mummy of her husband; flapping her wings she could give the breath of life to Osiris and helped in his reanimation. In this work we have seen that there is also in the thought of ancient Egypt an assimilation between hair and feathers, therefore the nwn gesture of the mourner shaking the hair sm3 forwards the corpse could be interpreted as a way of producing the air that the deceased needs for breathing and coming back to life.

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.common.wikimedia.org)

Isis as a kite flapping wings over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.common.wikimedia.org)

Changing into a kite, Isis could also restore Osiris’ virility. Egyptian funerary texts claim that when the mourners (smwt) give their hair sm3w to the deceased, he impregnates those women. It is interesting to notice that the Egyptian year started with the inundation (season of akhet), which was announced in some rituals (also the funerary one) with the nwn gesture, and the first month of that season was called, which means « inebriation ». On the other hand, the reduplicated form of txi is txtx and means “to dishevel”.

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.

Inebriation and dishevelling are two concepts together in the orgy, and this one is a way of coming back to the primeval chaos. It is the first state of creation, where sexuality and dishevelled hair take part. From anthropological point of view orgy is an act on behalf of life, it helps in generating a new productivity and in agricultural societies it strengthens the agrarian fertility; the orgy stimulates the renovation from the chaos. If the funerary ceremony is a way for getting the deceased’s resurrection through a return to the primeval moment, the eroticism, which encourages the chaos’ creation power, needs to be also a part of the ritual.

When the Egyptian mourner was making the nwn gesture during the Opening of the mouth ceremony, she was making a symbolic movement with her hair sm3 recalling the episode of the Osiris legend when Isis over the mummy restored the virility of her husband and copulated with him.

Opening of the Mouth ceremony; on the right the mourning is making the nwn gesture forwards the mummy. Tombof Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony; on the right the mourning is making the nwn gesture forwards the mummy. Tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The ejaculation of Osiris was a very important step in the myth because it was a proof of his physical regeneration; in fact the virility is in Egyptian sacred iconography a resource the artist had for indicating the resurrection, since he represented the deceased with “penile erection”. It also granted the conception of Horus, his heir, his avenger, the one who eliminated the evilness and restored the order, succeeding to the Egypt’s throne and allowing his father Osiris to revive as king of the Hereafter.

Professional Mourners in Ancient Egypt.


The other point would be to discern who were these two women shaking and/or pulling their hair? Women represented next to the coffin are described as wife, widow, servant…The Egyptian Opening of the Mouth ceremony was secret and made by expert priests in the practices, therefore the mourning ritual, also secret and as a part of the first one, should be performed by women who knew very well every step of the rite.

Close to the mummy the wife cries, while the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys stand at both extremes. Detail from the Papyrus of Ani. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.wikimedia.org

Close to the mummy the wife cries, while the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys stand at both extremes. Detail from the Papyrus of Ani. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.wikimedia.org

If we pay attention to Egyptian scenes of funerary processions, in many cases we can see the deceased’s wife crying on the coffin, while at both extremes stand two women identified as Isis and Nephtys. Although there are generic terms in Egyptian language for mourners, as iAkbyt, smwt or HAyt, the two mourners taking part in the rites for recovering the mummy are called Dryt, the two kites. They are the female figures standing at each extreme of the corpse, making the mourning ceremony impersonating Isis and Nephtys. The other mourning women or the deceased’s wife are never designed like that because the kite per excellence in Egyptian mythology was Isis and by extension, Nephtys. The role of those mourning women was too important and they could not be secular women, but official mourners who had the authority for getting into the “secret place”, where the corpse came back to life.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy's wife mourns her husband's death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy’s wife mourns her husband’s death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

On the other hand these two women in the role of the goddesses are usually represented with clothing covering their hair, while the rest of mourners, also the wife, appear with the black mane visible. We could think that they were hiding a sacred element, through which they were able to bring the dead back to life. That makes us think that the mourning ritual was performed by someone who knew the secrets of the ceremony, a kind of priestess, who played the role of the deceased’s wife and sister-in-law, and who held the title of Drt.

The wife is kneeling and crying, Isis stands on the left and Nephtys on the right. Painting from the tomb of Samut in Assassif. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The wife is kneeling and crying, Isis stands on the left and Nephtys on the right. Painting from the tomb of Samut in Assassif. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Which features should they have these called souls of Buto? Obviously they should be initiated in the Osiris Mysteries, but we know from the Lamentations of Isis and Nephtys that one of the requirements for being a mourner in the role of Isis and Nephtys was not have been mother yet, so to have intact the power of conceiving. This idea is reinforced when in that same text Osiris is considered “the first-born who opens the body”. This was a way of being faithful to the myth and also a way of securing the resurrection of the dead, because the conceiving faculty of both Isis and Nephtys was intact[1].

About what other requirements they needed to have we do not know, but everything points to a pair of women who knew about that secret and sacred rite of mourning and performing with their hair in the deceased’s benefit. They had nothing to do with the common mourners of the cortège and nor with the dead’s wife, maybe even they had any kinship. Possibly they were professional mourners, knowing when to scream, when to recite some speeches and when and how to shake and/or pull their hair.


[1] Ph. Derchain also considered that they were two women without children (Derchain, 1975, p.73). In the myth of Osiris Isis has not yet given birth Horus. This one is born after his father’s death and his birth is the grant of the resurrection of Osiris. In the funerary ceremony the idea would be the same one: maternity happens after the decease.

Hair, Mourners and Opening of the Mouth in Ancient Egypt.


We have seen throughout this work that the mourners’ hair (locks, mane, dishevelled, plaits) played a very important role in the funerary ceremony of ancient Egypt. We have also seen that sometimes those different aspects of the hair had just a symbolic meaning from a resurrection point of view (as for instance the two ringlets wprty). We also know now that there were two types of mourners: those ones being in a group in the procession accompanying the corpse and the two women impersonating Isis and Nephtys and in charge of the deceased’s rebirth.

The two priests and one mourner (the wife according to the inscription) in the Opening of the Mouth of Roy. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The two priests and one mourner (the wife according to the inscription) in the Opening of the Mouth of Roy. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

According to the sources the hair of these two mourning women was important from many points of view: symbolic, mythic and ritual. From the Egyptian iconography and texts we can discern a mourning rite in which the two women made a gesture with their hair or lock of hair over the mummy with a regenerating goal, and we can also guess a practice of shaving or cutting hair to the two mourners that happened in some moment at the end of the funerals when the deceased’s rebirth was a fact.

After the embalming of the corpse, the cortège walked to the necropolis, once there took place the main Egyptian rite for the benefit of the dead: the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, which consisted in a group of gestures for transmitting vitality to the mummy (this way the deceased recovered the ability of breathing, seeing, hearing…), and the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys took part in that process. Many sources reflect this ritual, but usually they are not too explicit. It is mostly represented in a shorten way, with the lector priest and/or the sem priest holding the utensils used for the ritual (mainly the adze and the stone vessels) and officiating on the mummy, meanwhile two mourners or sometimes just one, cry close to the dead. In some cases the scene has a more divine nuance and the one officiating is Anubis, while Isis and Nephtys stay at both extremes of the corpse.

Anubis, Isis and Nephtys in the Opening of the Mouth rite. Painting from the tomb of Nakhtamon in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Anubis, Isis and Nephtys in the Opening of the Mouth rite. Painting from the tomb of Nakhtamon in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The most explicit document about the Opening of the Mouth ceremony that ancient Egyptians have left to us is the representation in the south wall on the tomb of Rekhmire. In a composition of fifty three scenes the artist showed the rite step by step.

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: www.digitalegypt.ucl.uk

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.uk

The broad outline which Rekhmire offers would be:

1. The mummy or deceased’s statue (as it is the case in Rekhmire’s tomb) is put on a mound symbolising the primeval hill.
2. The mummy/statue is purified with water, natron and incense.
3. The sem priest transmits the vital energy rememorizing the ancient Egyptian tradition of the sacrifice and rebirth of the tekenu. The sem priest imitated the ancient victim curled up and wrapped in a clothing, he came up from it and had a small dialogue with the lector priest:

Sem priest: “I saved the eye from his mouth, I healed his leg”

Lector priest: “I have placed your eye, through which you revive”[1].

4. The sem priest makes the first gestures of Opening the Mouth with the little finger.
5. The mesentiu (labourers) work on the statue (polishing and carving) as a creational gesture[2].
6. Sacrifice of the ox of Upper Egypt for restoring the vitality of the deceased. The sem priest offers the animal’s heart and foreleg to the mummy/statue. One of the mourners (the big Dyeret) is present:

Sem priest: “to stretch the arms towards the bull ng of Upper Egypt”

Slaughterer: “get up over him, cut its foreleg and remove its heart”

The big Drt says at his ear: “Your lips have done that against you. Will your mouth open?”

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

This part of the ceremony is very important for us, not just because of the presence of one of the mourners, but also because it seems to remind the conflict between Horus and Seth. According to J. C. Goyon the sequence would stage when these two gods fought and Isis became a kite, landed on a tree and cried to Seth, who denounced unconsciously his crime: “Cry over you. Your own mouth has said it. Your ability has judged you. What else?[3]

The idea is the same one as in the tekenu ceremony we have seen in the tomb of Mentuherkhepeshef: killing a victim and offering the foreleg and the heart… but what about the hair?

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Maybe we should relate the lock of hair of the tomb of Mentuherkhepeshef with the presence of the mourner in the tomb of Rekhmire; and think that a mourner’s piece of hair was cut and offered join with the foreleg and the heart.

7. After the sacrifice the sem priest makes more gestures of opening the mouth to the mummy/statue with the utensils, and in one case with the ox’s foreleg. The finality was to keep in touch the whole of the head with those magical tools (the nTrt adze and the wr-HkAw).
8. The mummy/statue is given to the rpat, who represented the heir[4], and the mesentiu work again on it.
9. New gestures of opening the mouth to the deceased are made. After that, there is an offer of 3bt stones[5].
10. Sacrifice of the ox of Lower Egypt. Here again we have the presence of one mourner, the small Dyeret, and once more the animal’s foreleg and heart are offered to the dead one.
11. After the sacrifice the priest opens again ritually the deceased’s mouth.
12. Funerary offerings and the final resurrection is a fact (the sem priest pays his respects to the new soul who lives in the Hereafter).

According to Rekhmire’s tomb, the two mourners impersonating Isis and Nephtys took part in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. TTA4 and TT53 have both scenes of sacrifice of an ox with the presence of one mourner. But it is also true that in some other cases there is no trace of mourning women in this rite, as we can see in the tomb of Menna[6]

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Anyway, sources proof that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys made an important role in that ritual for the deceased’s resurrection. They were members of the group of personalities who took care of the rebirth of the corpse and who reproduced the myth of Osiris.

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was a group of practices for giving the life back to the deceased assimilated to Osiris. The priests and the two mourners recreated the chapter of the legend where Horus avenges his father’s death at the hands of Seth. In the rite it is the moment of the animal sacrifice, the ox, as scapegoat, with the presence of the sem priest, the slaughterer and the two mourners. The animal’s foreleg and heart are offered to the dead one, but also a piece/lock of hair. At this point we must remember chapter 667 of the Coffin Texts, where the healing of the hair sm3 happens at the same time of the offering of the foreleg and the giving of breath. And the final resurrection happens when the lunar eye is reconstituted and offered as Udjat eye to the deceased. E. Otto assimilated the lunar eye with the foreleg and/or the heart of the animal victim[7]; for others the moon can also be a knife, a leg or a lock of hair[8].

Carrying the leg and the heart for the deceased. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Carrying the leg and the heart for the deceased. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Throughout this work we have seen the relationship in Egyptian belief between the hair and the lunar eye and how there is a clear coincidence between cutting mourner’s hair (cutting the s3mt or shaving the mourners) and giving the Udjat eye to the dead one. It is also interesting to notice the use in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony of the flint knife peseshkef, considered by scholars as a very ancient tool for cutting the umbilical cord.

Knife peseshkef made of flint and coming from a tomb in Giza. VI Dynasty. Kunsthistorisches Museum of Wien. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org)

Knife peseshkef made of flint and coming from a tomb in Giza. VI Dynasty. Kunsthistorisches Museum of Wien. Photo: http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

The sacrifice of the ox represented the victory of Horus over Seth, it was also the moment of restoring the Udjat eye and, according to the funerary texts, shaving the mourners and/or cutting the s3mt. And New Kingdom iconography shows the mourners taking part in the Opening of Mouth ceremony and with no mane of hair after the rite.

But, do we really know why were these two women there, what did they really do or why their presence during the Opening of the Mouth is not so evident in iconography?


[1] E.Otto, 1960, p. 71.

[2] This step would be made when the ceremony was made on a statue. In ancient Egypt the sculptor was called sankh, which meant “to make live”.

[3] J.C.Goyon, 1972, p. 121.

[4] It means “prince” (Wb II, 415, 15).

[5] Some scholars consider they symbolize the milk teeth.

[6] TT69

[7] E. Otto, 1950, p. 171.

[8] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p.20.

Cutting the s3mt, shaving the Mourners, offering the Udjat eye.


According to what we have seen all along this last part of the work, there is a coincidence among cutting the s3mt, shaving the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys and giving the Udjat eye. We are at the end of the resurrection process made for the mummy. The two mourners incite with their actions the Osiris’ corpse reanimation[1], after that Osiris is mentioned under a lunar appearance; as Papyrus Louvre I, 3079 says: “gets into the Udjat eye, joining him. Thoth collects the constitutive elements of the eye; afterwards the sadness is captured, because you get up to the sky with it”[2]. The Egyptian myth of Osiris tells how, once the corpse of this god was restored, Horus gave him the Udjat eye (the healed lunar eye of Horus). With this offering, Horus helped in the final reanimation of his father.

Osiris (father) coming back to life and helped by Isis (his wife) and Horus (his son). Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.egypte-antique.fr)

Osiris (father) coming back to life and helped by Isis (his wife) and Horus (his son). Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.egypte-antique.fr

The presence of the son is relevant, because it makes necessary the restitution of the deceased’s virility. The result is the Triad (in this case Osiris, Isis and Horus), which is such a common concept in many cultures. Scholar G. Durand considered the Triad had a lunar nature, since the son’s figure, as an extension of the family line, helps in defeating temporality. On the other hand, the Horus presence means the appearance of the living masculine side as a complement of the feminine one incarnated in his mother Isis. G. Durand’s theory is that the origin of the son’s image would be in the primitive androgynous version of the lunar divinities, having so the masculine (son) and feminine (mother) values together[3]. In ancient Egypt belief, as in all cultures, these two values are necessary for generating life, so in the funerary context they are essential for the deceased’s rebirth.

Horus gives his healthy eye (Udjat eye) to his father and that means the lunar resurrection of Osiris, who becomes “the lord of the Udjat eye[4]. According to some chapters of the Coffin Texts this moment has something to do with cutting the lock of hair s3mt and/or shaving the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But what does the iconography says?

Funerals of Sobekmose with the two mourners (or two kites) with no mane of hair. Relief from the tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.blog.naver.com

Funerals of Sobekmose with the two mourners (or two kites) with no mane of hair. Relief from the tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.blognaver.com  

The tomb of Sobekmose in el-Rizeikat dating from the reign of Amnehotep III has a very important relief of the mortuary ceremony located in the north wall of the funerary chamber[5]. On the right Anubis is embalming the mummy while the coffin on a sledge is pulled by seven men. On the left the two mourning women with no mane of hair are the Drty orthe two kites[6], the women impersonating Isis and Nephtys; they are facing the mww dancers. Drty and mww are usually represented in the final moment of the funerary ceremony.

Isis and Nephtys as the two kites. Painting from the tomb of Sennedjem in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Isis and Nephtys as the two kites. Painting from the tomb of Sennedjem in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Also in the north wall over the previous scene there is an image of the deceased in front of the judges; the inscription says: “…I am the nose that gives life to everybody in the day of completing the Udjat eye in Heliopolis[7]

We have seen that the day of giving the Udjat eye is the day of shaving the mourners, and the cut of the s3mt, a Heliopolitan rite, is related with the healing of the lunar eye, so has a lunar nature. Taking that into consideration, it is tempting to relate the expression “the day of cutting the s3mt” we have read in Coffin Texts with “the day of completing the Udjat eye” in the tomb of Sobekmose. We have already suggested the idea of cutting the lock of hair as a way of symbolising the maturity of the moon, so becoming the full moon (Udjat eye).

Hair, moon and Heliopolis converge in ancient Egypt already from at least the Old Kingdom in the figure of the girl Hwnt Hwnt. According to the Pyramid Texts she is “the great young who is in Heliopolis…she has given you the two arms[8] and”she put her arms over you [9]. A. Erman and H. Grapow considered Hwnt wrt as a goddess in Heliopolis, who in the late period was assimilated to Hathor and Nephtys[10]. The Pyramid Texts describe her as “the little girl who is in the eye of Horus” [11], that is, the pupil in the eye’s god[12]. The hieroglyph of a girl with a lock of hair as determinative, made H. Kees think of the lock of hair as a symbol and substitute of the lunar eye[13]; as a consequence he considered the girl with the lock of hair in fury as the damaged eye of Horus, while the hair sm3 was the damage itself[14].

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

By extension we could also relate the shave of the mourners with the two mourners with short hair of the tomb of Sobekmose. They are not the only examples. We count on many tombs with images of the final funerary rites with the two Drty with no mane: the tomb of Sobekhotep[15] and Rekhmire[16] in Gourna, the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab and the tomb of Nefersekheru in Zawyet Sultan (all of them dating from the New Kingdom) show the Drty with short hair at the end of the funerals offering two globular vases in front of the four pools; while the tomb of Renni in el-Kab has an image of the mourner with short hair wrapping a person with a kind of clothing.

The most explicit iconography about what happens in that moment of the funerary ceremony is the tomb decoration of Rekhmire. It shows how after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, a woman with short hair is offering green make-up[17].

Women (mourner) offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

Women (mourner) offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

That is something already documented in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, where we can read: “make up the intact eye of Horus in your face[18] or “Horus has made up to you his eye [19]. Also in the Coffin Texts we can find many mentions to that practice, as for instance: “…I make up to you a green eye of Horus in your face [20], “green make-up and black make-up I give you the eye of Horus, black and white…they will lighten your face [21].

Giving the make-up is a synonym of giving the Udjat eye. According to Z. el-Kordy, “the offering of the make-up was a way of making the full moon to come back and avoiding the cosmic disorder”, so it was a rite with lunar nature[22]. In the Egyptian funerals it symbolized the victory of Horus over Seth and the offering of the healed eye (Udjat eye) to the deceased, who will come back to life as did Osiris in the legend.

We have seen that in the Egyptian funerary texts to cut the s3mt was related to the healing of the eye of Horus and with the shave of the two mourners. The Egyptian iconography shows us the offering of the make-up (Udjat eye) after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and made by a mourner without mane of hair. And also many tombs decoration show the two mourners at the end of the funerary ceremony with no mane.

Everything points to an Egyptian funerary custom of shaving or cutting a piece of hair of the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But, when?


[1] Pap. Louvre I, lines 49-52.

[2] Pap. Louvre I, line 51.

[3] G.Durand, 1979, p. 285.

[4] Songs…, 10, 3. For some scholars, the writing of the Osiris’ nameWsir     means “the place of the eye” (W.B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 17).

[5] W.C. Hayes, 1939.

[6] Wb V, 596.

[7]Sobekmose-inscripción

[8] Pyr., 728.

[9] Pyr., 2002 a.

[10] Wb III, 53, 15.

[11] Pyr., 93.

[12] Wb III, 53, 21.

[13] H. Kees, 1925, p. 6.

[14] H. Kees, 1925, p. 8. Also that made H. Kees think that the lock of hair in the head of the bald of Heliopolis was related to the girl Hwnt (H. Kees, 1925, p. 6)

[15] TT 63.

[16] TT 100.

[17] S. Hodel-Hoenes, 1991, p.130

[18] Pyr., 54b-55.

[19] Pyr., 609.

[20] CT  VII, 936.

[21] CT  VII, 934.

[22] Z. el-Kordy, 1982, p. 201.

The Hair gives the Breath of Life in Ancient Egypt.


In Abaton, where Isis and Nephtys moan[1], is also where “Osiris receives the crying from your mouth and his soul breaths thanks to the weeping”[2]. The breathing is essential for living and also for rebirth; according to what we have read, that breath can be transmitted by means of mourning. There is a chapter of the Coffin Texts where the deceased’s breath is assured thanks to different aspects of hair, we read how the dead “…breathes the east wind through her plait, he catch the north wind through her plait, he takes the south wind through his plaits[3], he takes the west wind through his curls (or his plaits)…” [4].

Thanks to the hair element the dead /Osiris can breathe the wind from the four cardinal points, in the same way that he could breathe in Abaton thanks to the weeping. Again hair and mourning are two inseparable aspects[5] and once again this union hair-mourning-breath sends us to the Osiris Myth. Isis as a kite moved her wings over the corpse of Osiris made the air for causing his resurrection.

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.common.wikimedia.org)

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.common.wikimedia.org

On the other hand it is also interesting to have a look on the word hw, which indicates a movement made by the feathers and whose writing in hieroglyphs was with the determinative of the hair[6]; also words as “feather” or “wings” in some cases could be written with the determinative of hair.

verbo Hw                          pluma Swt                        alas DnHw

So, the union feather-kite-air seems to be very close to the union hair-mourning-breath; it would not be hare-brained to think then in a relationship between the kite’s feather (in the mythical dimension) and the mourner’s hair (in the ritual dimension), both elements making the breath of life.


[1] Guglielmi, 1980, p. 81.

[2] Guglielmi, 1980, p. 80.

[3] In some coffins we read “eyebrow”.

[4]CT III, 228. A very similar passage is in Book of the Dead (LdM 172).

[5] In the Coffin Texts we read: “…the hands of Ssmw are united over the lungs…” (CT III, 168); and in coffin B4Bo the writing for “lungs” is pulmones

[6]CT II, 148