Tag Archives: lock of hair

Pulling the front Lock of Hair in Ancient Egypt.


Group of mourners, one of them making the nwn m gesture of pulling her frontal lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Group of mourners, one of them making the nwn m gesture of pulling her front lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In ancient Egyptian funerary ceremony mourners also made a different gesture with their hair, it was the nwn m gesture, which was to pull the front lock of hair. In fact, Egyptian language made an exercise of metonymy and the front lock of hair swt/syt was also used in many texts for designating the mourners, considering that it was their most significant part. According to some documents coming mainly from the Old Kingdom the nwn m gesture was a desperation act, since there is iconography showing mourners ripping their clothes, beating their arms and pulling their front lock of hair as a gesture of sadness.

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

However, thanks to some sources coming from the New Kingdom it could also be a gesture made over the corpse or forward the mummy. It seems that in this case, it could be a way of transferring the life force contained in the hair to the deceased and helping in his final resurrection.

Mourners of Re pulling hair. Section two of the Book of Caverns. Tomb of Ramses VI. XX Dynasty.

Mourners of Re pulling hair. Section two of the Book of Caverns. Tomb of Ramses VI. XX Dynasty.

But in the Egyptian belief the nwn m gesture was not only something made on earth, but also in the Hereafter. Those ones, who also mourned in the divine dimension and pulled their front lock of hair, guided the deceased with their shouts to find the way in the darkness of the death, so they helped him as well, as the mourners did on earth.

Why a front lock of hair? The forehead is a special part of the anatomy in ancient Egypt. According to one version of the episode of Horus and Seth, the lunar disk came out from the forehead of this one. We also know that Re put in his forehead the ureus, the snake which was in origin the eye of Re; the assimilation snake/eye makes us think of a triple similarity: lock of hair swt/ureus/lunar eye. If, as we have seen in this work, eye and snake are closely bound to the idea of resurrection, the front lock of hair might also have regenerating nature. That would reinforce the idea of the nwn m as a gesture made for the benefit of the deceased.

Ramses III holding the enemies. Relief from his funerary temple of Medinet Habu. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Ramses III holding the enemies. Relief from his funerary temple of Medinet Habu. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

On the other hand, Egyptian writing shows us the image of the enemy as a man making what we could understand as the nwn m gesture. We have seen the relationship between hair and enemy in the figure of the human victim in the Sed festival (tekenu) and also in the scenes of the Pharaoh killing the enemies of Egypt while holding them from their hair. The idea is that the front lock of hair swt could also represent the adversaries or the evil the deceased needs to eliminate for having access to the eternal life.

As in the case of  the nwn movement of shaking the hair sm3 forwards, we notice that the nwn m gesture of pulling the front look of hair swt/syt had a negative and positive value, since it was a proof of sadness and consternation but also something made for helping in the deceased’s resurrection.

Hair is Darkness in Ancient Egypt.


All along this work we have seen that hair, in its different aspects, is an essential element in the Egyptian funerary ceremony. Its importance has two dimensions, ritual and symbolic and it is based on how the mourners treat it during the mourning rite and in the strong symbolic meaning of each hair aspect. Hair is a reviving tool, whose handling and symbolism helps in the deceased’s resurrection.

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

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

Hair sm3, whose most precise meaning seems to be the hair that comes from the crown (so the hair from its first origin in the head) is directly related in the funerals with the nwn gesture.

The nwn gesture has two variations: nwn: to shake the hair forwards covering the face with it and nwn m: to pull the front lock of hair swt/syt[1].

Group of mourners, one of them making the nwn m gesture of pulling her frontal lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Group of mourners, one of them making the nwn m gesture of pulling her front lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The nwn gesture has a very deep meaning, negative and positive.

HAIR IS DARKNESS.

In Ancient Egypt belief the hair sm3 means the darkness of the death, because the hair on the face stops the mourners seeing. With the nwn gesture the women reproduce the deceased’s blindness. It is also a way of alluding to the dead person’s lack of knowledge, because not to see means not to know, it is the state of unconsciousness typical of death. The negative nature of the nwn gesture comes not only from the darkness that causes the hair sm3, but also for the evilness that it symbolizes. The hair sm3 is assimilated to the damage done to the lunar eye. The hair sm3 in the Egyptian funerary belief is the image of the disaster that caused the blindness, the evil that Seth made to the eye of Horus, the lack of moon (so the light) in the night sky.

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

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

While on earth the mourners have their hair over their faces, in the mythical sphere the Udjat eye has no vision, it cannot bright in the sky for illuminating the night. For recovering the brightness it is necessary to eliminate the evil, in the mythic dimension is when Thoth, spits on the sm3 and heals the lunar eye. The night has again its natural guide, the moon, and the moon is fundamental in all the regenerating process.


[1] In the Old Kingdom mourners pull the hair sm3; apparently it was later when the word sm3 is changed by the term for front lock of hair syt/swt.

The Mourning Ritual in the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.


The fact of being a secret ceremony would explain why it is so rare to find images of the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys carrying out the mourning ritual. The iconography shows them crying next to the mummy, but it is not usual to see what exactly they do.

on the right the mourner in nwn gesture towards the corpse. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

On the right the mourner in nwn gesture towards the corpse. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Some of the most explicit images of what the mourners do with their hair over or in front of the mummy are the stele of Abkaou (XI Dynasty), the tomb of Renni in el-Kab (XVIII Dynasty), the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga (XIX Dynasty) or the tomb of Ramsés IX (XX Dynasty); being scenes included in the coffin we could also put in this group the representations of Isis and Nephtys pulling their frontal lock of hair in the coffin of Ramsés IV (XX Dynasty) and in the coffin of Nes-shu-tefnut (Ptolemaic period).

Isis and Nephtys making nwn m gesture. Sarcophagus of Royal Scribe Nes-shu-tefnut from Saqqara. Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum in Wien. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

Isis and Nephtys making nwn m gesture. Sarcophagus of Royal Scribe Nes-shu-tefnut from Saqqara. Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum in Wien. Photo: http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

Even the Opening of the Mouth rite of the tomb of Rekhmire does not give us a defined idea of the performance these women did it is the most complete scene of the whole ceremony that ancient Egyptians have left to us, but it is not clear what these two women did, since the mourners appear with a passive gesture. However, thanks to the funerary literature, we know that already from the Old Kingdom they performed a mourning ceremony screaming, crying and shaking or pulling hair. So, Rekhmire wanted the resurrection rites to be reflected in his tomb, but the artist might have a sacred limit, because the divine secrets must be concealed as a sign of respect[1].

According to the sources we have seen all along this work we have proofs of the following:

  • The mourning rite was a part of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.
  • The mourning rite could be made by two women in the role of Isis and Nephtys or just by one mourner in the role of Isis (as Osiris’ wife), reproducing a passage of the Myth of Osiris.
  • In this mourning ritual the hair of the mourner(s) was the main element.
  • This mourning ritual consisted not just of crying for the death of Osiris (the deceased), but of a gesture made with the hair.
  • This gesture could be to shake the hair forwards and cover the face with it (nwn) or to pull the frontal lock of hair (nwn m).
  • According to the iconography these two gestures were made over or in front of the corpse, so in the deceased’s direction.

There is no evidence in iconography, or in the funerary texts that both gestures were done together. It seems that in the mourning rite the mourner(s) did one or another. On what did the choice depend? We do not know.

At this point we wonder in which moment of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony did the mourners made the nwn or the nwn m gesture. Mostly the iconography shows the mourner(s) in the moment of the ox sacrifice, as we can see in the tomb of Rekhmire or in TTA4 and TT53.

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.

Thanks to the funerary texts we know that slaughtering the ox and mourning were not made at the same time. The Pyramid Texts give us a clue of what was first: “…the souls of Buto rock for you; they beat their bodies and their arms for you, they pull their hair for you. They say to you: Oh, Osiris you have gone and come back, you were sleepy and have waked up, you were dead and you have revived…Stand up, look what your son has done for you…he has beaten for you the one who beated you as a bull, he has killed for you the one who killed you as a bull sm3[2] may the mourning stop in both palaces…you go up (Osiris) to the sky and you are like Wpw-W3wt[3]. Your son Horus leads you over the heaven’s ways…”[4].

Reading this passage it seems that we find the following sequence:

1. The souls of Buto are Isis and Nephtys, so the mourners shake and/or pull their hair. We are in full mourning ritual.

2. Horus gets into the drama. That means that Isis has already conceived him and he could then revenge his father’s death. In the funeral it might be the moment of the sacrifice of the ox, as scapegoat. It remembered the fight between Horus and Seth and the victory of the falcon god.

3. Once the animal has been slaughtered, so the death of Osiris revenged, the moan stops. In this moment the deceased receives the foreleg and the heart of the ox and the Udjat eye as a symbol of the final resurrection. The end of the mourning was the cut of the s3mt. And maybe then was also when the mourner(s) were shaved and a lock of hair, assimilated to the healed lunar eye, was offered.

4. The Osiris’ rebirth is a fact.

If the sacrifice of an ox was the revenge of Horus it seems logical to think that the gesture of shaking hair was done before it. One of the meanings of this gesture was to allude to the moment Isis, as a kite, set on Osiris’ phallus for conceiving Horus. Once the heir was there, someone could revenge the Osiris’ death; it was the moment of the fight between Horus and Seth, which ended with the death of this one and the resurrection of Osiris. So firstly the mourner(s) started the gesture nwn towards the mummy; as the hair covering the face could also be a way of remembering the chaos and darkness, which in the legend was the battle between Horus and Seth, in some moment of this mourning rite, when the two mourners (kites) were still making the nwn gesture, started the ox’ slaughter. Once the animal had died, the two mourners (Isis and Nephtys) would stop the nwn gesture.

Sacrifice of an ox in the funerary ceremony. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Sacrifice of an ox in the funerary ceremony. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Taking into consideration that the mourning ritual and the ox’ slaughter were a reproduction of a passage of the myth of Osiris, it seems quite logical to place them at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, after other practices as for instance the tekenu ceremony. This is the way it appears in the tomb of Rekhmire. The tomb of Menna (TT69) has also a scene of the Opening of the Mouth where the tekenu practice appears at the beginning.

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

But in the tomb of Renni in el-Kab (EK7) there is a different version. On the east wall we can see how one mourner is making the nwn gesture towards the mummy during the Opening of the mouth ceremony.

On the right the mourner with short hair is wrapping someone. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

On the right the mourner with short hair is wrapping someone. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

In the upper register a woman with no mane, so the mourner appears wrapping with a kind of clothing a masculine figure. Would it be the early stage of the tekenu rite? So it seems; because the following image shows the tekenu being transported on a sledge while behind him stands the Drt with short hair.

The tekenu on a sledge, behind we can see the mourner (Drt) with short hair. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The tekenu on a sledge, behind we can see the mourner (Drt) with short hair. Scene from the tomb of Renni in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

If so, then the mourning ritual with the hair would have been made before it. Why? Maybe these two practices made in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony had not an orthodox order or maybe the artists did not knew so much so they could represent the ritual as it was.


[1] S. Mayassis, 1957, p. 40.

[2] The bull sm3 is a bull for sacrifice that was assimilated to Set (Wb IV, 123, 17). It is interesting to notice the same phonetic as the word for hair sm3, which we know was related to darkness and chaos.

[3] The One who opens the Ways.

[4] Pyr., 1004-1010; 1972-1978

Hair, Mourners and Secret in Ancient Egypt.


Egyptian funerary texts and iconography mention the mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys as making a mourning ritual with their hair for the benefit of the deceased. According to the sources, this rite was a part of the practises which formed the Opening of the Mouth for the mummy’s rebirth.

There is evidence of the Opening of the Mouth rite from texts of the Old Kingdom (inscription in mastaba of Metjen and in the Pyramid Texts). The Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom continue demonstrating the existence of this rite. In this period of the Egyptian history maybe can we envisage already one graphic proof in the stele of Abkaou (stele C15) from Abydos. In it the sculptor represented the rites of the Osiris festivity[1], where the myth was reproduced.  The two mourners shake their hair over the corpse; between them we can see the hieroglyphs of the adze and the sledge. What does it mean?

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: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

The sledge is the phoneme tm; it can be a negative verb[2], but it also is the term for “to complete”, “be completed”, in the sense of uniting the different parts of the body[3], mainly in relation to the mummy limbs[4]. The adze could be the verb nwi “to be in charge of”[5]. So, we could read the inscription as “in charge of completing” in the sense of restoring the corpse of the deceased. That would not be crazy if we think that in the legend Anubis was the one who embalmed the body, but with the assistance of Isis and Nephtys.

However, looking at the entire register of the stele there is no trace of inscription in the other images. So, why do we have to consider these three hieroglyphs as an inscription?

Detail of the register with the Osiris festivities. Stele d'Abkaou. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of the register with the Osiris festivities. Stele d’Abkaou. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

The tekenu on a sledge. Detail from the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: www.excavacionegipto.com

The tekenu on a sledge. Detail from the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: http://www.excavacionegipto.com

If we consider them just as the pure objects that they represent, we notice that the adze is one of the main tools in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony in the New Kingdom iconography; on its behalf the sledge is one of the means for transporting the human victim/tekenu, whose ritual we have seen was also part of the Opening Mouth ceremony in New Kingdom.

One possible theory could be that in the stele of Abkaou the sculptor was representing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the morning ritual in a shorten version, as it was done later in the New Kingdom, when artist included in the same scene mourners, priests, corpse and ritual tools. And we could as well think not just of a short version, but a codified way of representing a hidden ritual in the attempt of protecting the information of a confidential rite.

Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The image shows the two mourners, the priests and the table with all the tools utilised, included the foreleg of an ox. Painting from the tomb of Khonsu in Gourna. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The image shows the two mourners, the priests and the table with all the utilised tools, included the foreleg of an ox. Painting from the tomb of Khonsu in Gourna. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The renovating rites for the mummy’s rebirth might be secret. All along this work we have read some funerary texts making allusion to this concept of “hidden” in everything surrounding Osiris’ death and resurrection. For instance, in the tomb of Ramsés IX the inscription accompanying the scene of the women pulling their frontal locks of hair says: “…they are mourning over the secret place of Osiris…they are screaming and crying over the secret place of the ceremony …they move away SnDt[6], their two arms with their two arms, their secret is in their fingers…”[7]. In the same line we have the coffin of Ramses IV, decorated with both mages of Isis and Nephtys pulling their frontal lock of hair and whose inscription says:  “…the two goddesses who are in this secret place…they hide the secrets of the divine land… They move their faces during the moan; they mourn over the secret corpse Both goddesses are holding their locks swt”.

It seems that in ancient Egyptian belief, the mystery of death and resurrection was not accessible to all people; because of that in the Book of the Dead we read in relation to the Osiris’ resurrection. “… it is a secret of the Duat and a religious mystery in the deceased’s Kingdom …it is a mystery, that cannot be know, to take care of the blessed heart, give him movement, take away the bandage from his eyes, open his face…Read that with no one seeing it, apart from your truly friend and the lector priest[8].

The death itself was for the dead an initiation to the Hereafter’s mysteries[9]. Only the priests knew the secret of the Osiris death and resurrection, and to keep this secrecy was crucial for the universal harmony[10], possibly for that reason the “night of Isis” hid the mysteries of resurrection[11]. Even Isis sometimes received the name of “The Mysterious One”, since she “has been everything she has been, everything she is and everything she will be, and her veil, no mortal has never took off[12].

The Theban Books of Breathing, dating from Ptolemaic period was a funerary text recited just before closing the cover of the coffin [13] and the woman in the role of Isis gave a speech for reviving Osiris and help his soul go up to the sky as lunar disc: “That is something that needs to be hidden. Do not let anyone read it. It is useful for one in the necropolis. He will live again successfully millions of times”[14].

The chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead mentions the moment Osiris recovers his virility thanks to Isis, and she stresses the secret nature of her action: “I am Isis, you found me when I had my hair disordered over my face, and my crown was dishevelled. I have conceived as Isis, I have procreated as Nephtys. Isis dispels my bothers (?). My crown is dishevelled; Isis has been over her secret, she has stood up and has cleaned her hair”

The Magical Papyrus Salt 825 contains a text about the rite for the conservation of life and it informs the reader that the “House of Life” is hidden, unknown and invisible; it is a “secret book…contains life and death. Do not reveal it, the one who reveals it will die suddenly or will be murdered[15].

Opening of the Mouth ceremony at the door of the tomb. Painitgn from the tomb of Khonsu in Gourna. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony at the door of the tomb. Painting from the tomb of Khonsu in Gourna. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Everything points to the idea that in ancient Egypt the resurrection process is something that only concerns to the deceased and the team helping him in his recovery and that it is not something accessible for everybody. That would explain then why there is no much iconographical evidence of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony; it comes mainly from New Kingdom on (tomb decoration or papyri) and it is not explicit at all. On the other hand these scenes showing the priests and mourner with the mummy in front of the tomb would not be real. If the ritual for the resurrection was something secret, the Opening of the Mouth ceremony could not be made in open air. All practices for helping the mummy to come back to life should be made inside the tomb or inside a special building in the necropolis. So the images of the mourners crying close to the corpse while the priests are officiating would be the artistic solution to allude to the rite without revealing details.


[1] Gayet, 1886, pl. LIV.

[2] Wb V, 302, 5.

[3] Wb V, 303.

[4] Wb V, 305, 1.

[5] Wb II, p. 220

[6] Fear (?).

[7] Piankoff, 1942, pp. 1-11; 1944, pp. 1-62; 1946, pp. 1-50.

[8] LdM, 148.

[9] S. Mayassis, 1957, p. 218.

[10] S. Mayassis, 1957, p. 42.

[11] Sinesio, Epist., XIII,v.s. 89; S. Mayassis, 1957, p. 65.

[12] Plutarco, De Iside et Osiride, 9.

[13] J.Cl. Goyon, 1972, p. 217.

[14] Book of Breathing I, 1.

[15] Ph. Derchain, 1964, p. 139.

[16] S. Mayassis, 1957, p. 40.

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, 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.

Hair offering in Ancient Egypt. Archaeological remains.


Iconography and texts point to an Egyptian funerary custom of shaving or cutting a piece of hair to the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But, does the archaeology say something to us? The answer is yes. There is archaeological information from different moments of the Egyptian history proving the existence of hair offering to the dead.

  • In the tomb of king Djer in Abydos (I Dynasty), a piece of hair and a false fringe were found by Petrie. He considered that they could be from the queen. Nowadays these remains are in Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford[1]. In a common sepulchre in Abydos, dating possibly from the III Dynasty, many locks of hair were found, some of them were plaited and some were tangled up[2].

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: www.prm.ox.ac.uk

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk

  • In a “pan-grave” from the Middle Kingdom near Balabish[3], at the south of Abydos, was found a burial with a masculine mummy, close to the body were laying out some plaits of hair, which apparently did not belong to the mummy[4], so they should be a ritual offering.
  • In the tomb of Tutankhamon was found inside a small anthropoid sarcophagus a plait of hair belonging to the Queen Tiye. According to A. Rowe, that would a queen’s relic, who was divinised, so that plait was considered a goddess’ hair[5]. Due that Queen Tiye was dead when Tutankhamon was buried, it seems much more logical to think of a familiar relic[6].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a group of tombs from XVII, XVIII and XIX Dynasties.  Maspero assures there were locks of hair wrapped and put between legs, arms and around the necks of each mummy[7].
  • In a tomb of Deir el-Medina were found locks of hair inside a basket[8].
  • In the tomb of Queen Ahmose- Meritamun (XVIII Dynasty) H. E.Winlock found three baskets with human locks of hair and plaits of hair inside them.
    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.wikimedia.org

    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: http://www.wikimedia.org

    They were found with some other toilette objects. For that reason, Winlock considered that this hair was maybe for the Mertiamon’s hairdressing in the Hereafter[9]. This hypothesis sounds logical.

  • In many houses from Amarna were found clay balls with hair inside. They cold maybe be utilised for some kind of domestic magic[10].
  • In el-Kahun, Petrie found in 1890 in a tomb dating from the XX Dynasty two clay balls with locks of hair inside[11].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a mummy dating from XXI Dynasty of a young girl, between her two legs were put locks of hair of 40 cm long[12].
  • In Gurob Tomb 605 at both feet of a female mummy was a squared case, which contained locks of hair. In some other tombs were also found hair remains[13].
  • Finally, we have to mention the Douch necropolis, in el-Kharga[14] and dating from I-V  centuries. In ten tombs were found deposits with globular clay vases with cut hair wrapped in clothing packs inside[15]; these vases were sometimes on the ground and sometimes inside a kind of whole in the walls of the funerary chambers . According to scholars the hair inside did not belong to the deceased ones, since these ones still had their own hair, but offerings.
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

All these archaeological remains make us think of those images of the twomourners called Drt with short hair at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and also of those texts mentioning the shaving of the mourners and the cut of the s3mt.


[1] Petrie and M. Flinders, 1902, p. 5, Pl. IV, fig. 7.

[2] Maspero, 1912, p. 170.

[3] It was in the group B 213, near the cultivable area.

[4] Wainwright, 1920, p. 11.

[5] Rowe, 1941, p. 624.

[6] Nachtergael, 1980, p. 243.

[7] Maspero, 1893, p. 274.

[8] Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, p. 188. They are in Musée du Louvre (Département des Antiquités Égyptiennes, Inv. Nº E 18851).

[9] Winlock, 1932, p. 34, Pl. XXXII y XXXIII.

[10] Peet and Woolley, 1923, p. 66.

[11] Crompton, 1916, p. 128. They are in the Manchester Museum.

[12] Daressy, 1907, p. 34.

[13]Bell, 1985, pp. 61-86, Pl. II.

[14] Dunand, Heim, Henein, Lichtenberg, 1992; Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, pp. 175- 202.

[15] The tombs are: T3, T4, T5, T7, T9, T11, T12, T53, T58, T66.

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.

Cutting the s3mt, beheading the Enemy.


S3mt was for Egyptians apparently something more than just “mourning”. What about that s3mt that could be cut, which was related to snake uraeus, which appears in a moment of restoring some parts of the mummy and which was also an offer to the deceased? In chapters 532 and 640 of Coffin Texts the s3mt is cut and also tied around the dead one, when his neck and head are also restored. Do we have any other documents where to find more clues?

Chapter 50 of Book of the Dead was the heir of the chapter 640 of the Coffin Texts and belongs to a group of chapters related to the regeneration of the corpse. In a Ptolemaic version in the Egyptian Museum in Turin we can read: Formula for not entering the butchering hall of the god. Speech said by Osiris, alive and justified: my vertebrae are united in my nape by them, the Ennead. My vertebrae are united in my nape (bis) in the sky and on earth by Re, in that day of reinforce and reconstitute the exhausted ones[1]  over the two legs, in that day of cutting the necks[2]. The vertebrae in the nape are united by Seth with his power, when[3] there was no disturbance”.

But in some other versions of the same chapter we read a very similar text to that one of the Middle Kingdom: “…fours knots have been tied around me by the sky’s guardian, he has fixed a knot to the dead ones over the legs in that day of cutting the lock of hair s3mt….”

At this point it is important to notice that the writing for the Egyptian word nHbwt (necks) had the determinative of hair:neck. It seems that cutting the lock of hair s3mt is interchangeable with cutting the necks. So there was in ancient Egyptian belief assimilation between both hair and necks, which would mean that cutting the necks, would be the same act as cutting the s3mt.

Hair and necks, what can that have to do with the snakes? In this regards it is interesting J.F. Borghouts comment about chapter 532 of the Coffin Texts where we have already read about a Heliopolitan rite: “…Is tied to me a lock of hair in Heliopolis, the day of cutting the lock s3mt” [4]. J. F. Borghouts focus on the beginning of the passage: “Formula for placing a man’s head in the necropolis…” The passage relates how the deceased receives his head and his neck at the same time that the gods receive their heads, and that action happens the same day that the s3bwt snakes (or multi colour snakes) were expelled from Heliopolis, because they caused the gods to lose their heads[5]. The s3bwt snakes where the enemies of the Sun god because they injured the gods and let them headless. We would be facing an archetype “rite of defeating the evil one”, where the Demiurge announces: “I have appeased the Heliopolis’ disturbance after the judgement, I have restored the heads to those ones who had them not, and I have finished the mourning in this country” [6].

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The head is the central of the body for all senses, not having head means not having faculties of perception and it is also a lack of identity. In Egyptian funerary belief, the lack of head is, not only the obvious lack of life, it is also the impossibility of resurrection. To restore the head is a step to the new life, since thanks to it the deceased will have again the faculty of breathing, seeing, listening[7]. In line with that is the Egyptian union between headless Osiris and the invisibility of the new moon[8]; the disappearance of the head is like the disappearance of the moon, it is the darkness, and so, it is the death. When a human being dyes he gets into a period of shadows, which fades gradually at the same time of the funerary rites. Among these rites here we need to mention the put of the funerary mask, which was a head’s substitute; with it the dead one will have again access to light, to the new life.

There is a stela found in Abydos and dating from the reign of Ramses VI where we can read: Oh! Horus, I have spitted over your eye, after it was removed by your aggressor…Oh! Isis and Nephtys, I make bring[9] to you your heads, I have put[10] your napes for you in this night of cutting[11] the heads (?) of s3bwt snakes in front of Letopolis…”[12] The text reminds to the former chapters we have already seen about the healing of the damaged lunar eye and the shaving of the two mourners.

The healing of the Udjat eye happens at the same time of the gods’ heads restoring and the revenge over the s3bwt snakes. And cutting the s3mt could be the same as cutting the s3bwt.

According to J. F. Borghouts, the parallel between s3mt and s3bwt could be caused by a deformation in the writing with the passage of the time. But so many times repeating the expression “cutting the s3mt” would maybe respond more to assimilation with “cutting the s3bwt” than just a mistake in the writing. The result would be in line with our research: the lock of hair s3mt would be identified the the s3bwt snakes as a negative element that needs to be eliminated. So, to cut the s3mt would symbolize a sacrifice of a dangerous animal. The hymn to Sobek in Ramesseum Papyrus says:

“Welcome in peace, lord of peace!

Your fury has been eliminated; your anger has passed…

Your s3mt is cut” [13].

Sobek-hymn

 The Egyptian verb whs was used for “cutting hair”, but also for “sacrificing enemies” [14], and that put in the same level to cut the lock of hair s3mt and to sacrifice an adversary. Hair, enemy and sacrifice are already familiar concepts to us.

Beheading the enemies of Osiris. Paiting from the tomb of Tutmosis III in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Beheading the enemies of Osiris. Painting from the tomb of Tutmosis III in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Let’s compile some ideas to give shape to our post:

  • The day of shaving the mourners is the day of giving the Udjat eye.
  • To equip with a lock of hair s3mt appears at the same time of shaving the i3rty of Sokaris.
  • The s3mt is cut when the deceased is still blind/dead and after that action he has access to light/new life.
  • To spit over the damaged eye of Horus for healing it, to restore the gods’ heads and napes and to cut the heads of the s3bwt snakes, the enemies, happened together.

Summing up, we find four elements together in the deceased’s regeneration:

  1. Slaughter the s3bwt snakes as the evil ones.
  2. Cut the s3mt
  3. Restore the heads
  4. Recover the Udjat eye.

The two first ones are similar actions for eliminating the evil and after them the two last ones are actions which meant the perception and the access to light, so the deceased’s resurrection.


[1] The dead ones.

[2] chapter 50 BD

[3] From XVIII Dynasty on, preposition tp could have a temporal sense.

[4] We have seen this chapter in the first paragraph about the lock of hair s3mt.

[5] J. F. Borghouts, 1970, p. 73.

[6] Urk. VI, 115, 9-15 (D. Meeks, 1991, p. 6. The Egyptians thought that Horus from Letopolis was the one who restored the gods’ heads. The day commemorating that was a festivity in Heliopolis (J.F. Borghouts, 1970, p. 206)

[7] D. Meeks, 1991, p. 6.

[8] D. Meeks, 1991, p. 8

[9] siar means “make go up”, in the sense of “bring” or “give” (Wb IV, 32, 10)

[10] smn means “join”, “bind”, “put” limbs that have been separated (Wb IV, 132, 20)

[11] The generic meaning of sn es “decapitate” (Wb III, 457, 17).

[12] KRI VI, p.24, 3-4; M.Korostovtsev, 1947, pp. 155-173.

[13] A. Gardiner, 1957, p. 46.

[14] Wb I, 351, 14.

The Egyptian word s3mt. “Hair”, “Mourning” or both?


We have read in many chapters of the Coffin Texts that the s3mt was cut -although not destroyed (CT 334) – and offered, and that seems to happen when the mourners were shaved. But, do we know exactly what the s3mt was?

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The Egyptian word s3mt had different meanings[1]. According to A. Erman and H. Grapow, it meant “sadness” [2]; but s3mt could also be “moan” [3] or “mourning” [4]. Some scholars have translated s3mt as “lock of hair” [5]. Some consider that it could describe “not cut hair” as a sign of mourning[6] or “careless hair” [7]. William A. Ward took as basis chapter 1131 and affirmed that the expression Hdq s3mt meant “cut the dishevelled hair” and for giving this meaning to s3mt he referred to the Prophecy of Neferty[8].

The text relates how the wise man Neferty tells Pharaoh Snofru (IV Dynasty) about the future (First Intermediate Period), as a chaotic time when all rules (natural and cultural) get reversed. Among all the disasters happening to Egypt (the country will be attacked by Asiatics, the sun will not shine, the Nile will dry, and there will be wars…) Neferty says:

“…nobody will cry for the death,

Nobody will fast during for the death,

A man’s hearth will be concerned just about himself,

Today will[9] not be any s3mt carried out,

Neferty

 

 

The heart will be completely away from it…”

W. Helck translated “…today none will dress hairstyle for death” but M. Lichtheim considered that Neferty was saying that the mourning was not done and for G. Lefrebvre Neferty’s words said “…there will not be mourning ceremonies…”[10] Before that Neferty told how none would cry nor fast for the death, that is, would nobody do the orthodox funerary practices; that means that s3mt could be considered as an Egyptian word for the mourning as a funerary custom. So, for us it makes more sense to translate as: “…today will not be the s3mt carried out…” and it would match perfectly with the chaotic image Neferty is describing.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Thanks to some stelas found in Serapeum we know that during the embalming of Apis there was mourning ceremony called s3mt: “… I was among the miserable, being in moan, being in mourningSerapeum-s3mt[11].

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner's hair or just to the mourning itself.

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner’s hair or just to the mourning itself.

Everything points to the Egyptian word s3mt as a funerary custom related to hair and mourning, but nothing indicates that it could refer to a special hairstyle. Would it be maybe the two mourners’ hair manipulated during funerals for the deceased’s benefit?


[1] In the Old Kingdom s3mt is documented  as a personal name (P.Kaplony, 1966, p. 68)

[2] Wb IV, 18, 10.

[3] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.306, nº 78.3295.

[4] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.304, nº 77.3349. Another way of writing s3mt wass3mt-ojo

[5] R.O. Faulkner, 1962, p. 210.

[6] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 239, nº 79.2409.

[7] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 304, nº 77.3349.

[8] W. Helck, 1970

[9] nn sDm.f implies future.

[10] G. Lefebvre, 1988, pp. 101-102.

[11] W. Jansen, 1994, p. 35; J. Vercoutter, 1962, pp. 37-38.