Tag Archives: lunar

Hair, Mourners and Moon in Ancient Egypt.

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

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

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hair and Horns in Ancient Egypt Imagery.

The chapter 218 has different versions of the same text, in one coffin the deceased Osiris is called « the bull of the plait hnskt » while in other one and in the same sentence he is « the Lord with two horns ». It seems quite clear the assimilation between the plait hnskt and the horns. In Ancient Egypt, as in many cultures, horns are a symbol of the crescent of the moon, when the star begins its way to the full moon; in fact in those religions where the bull is a prominent divinity, that animal is usually identified with the moon or with lunar gods[1]. So, in Egyptian funerary thought horns are related to the lunar resurrection of the dead.

At this point we need to come back or minds to the Hathor clergy, those ias priest who had the sincipital baldness. If maybe that baldness was related to a Hathor’s loss of hair, could it be also possible to think of a loss of the horns as a cow goddess? Then, is the Ramesseum Papyrus XI we have seen before making allusion to a mutilation of the horns of Hathor? Maybe in the Myth of Osiris Isis suffered a loss of hair; due to the fact that Isis and Hathor are interchangeable, in some moment of the Egyptian history appeared a version of the Myth of Osiris where it was supposed Hathor to lose her horns, instead of Isis to lose her lock of hair. In any case, the priests of Hathor were the “Bald of Hathor” because of their baldness in the wpt, just the place where bulls and cows have their horns.

If horns are assimilated to the crescent of the moon and, as we have read in chapter 218, the plait hnskt is assimilated to the horns, it would be reasonable to think of a comparison between the hair element and the crescent of the moon, both symbols of resurrection.

Then, it would make sense why Hathor, as a cow, is also a lunar deity and why her two ringlets of hair wprty, maybe assimilated to both horns, are a grant of lunar resurrection for the deceased[2]. The two ringlets would compare with the horns; both elements sprout in the wpt and are at both sides of the Hathor’s head; ringlets fall down at both sides of the face, while horns point upwards. We can find the graphic result of that in the Egyptian art legacy; we just need to turn face up the frontal image of Hathor and we notice that her ringlets become the horns/crescent and her face the full moon as in the head-dress of lunar deities.

Comparison of image of Hathor from Deir el-Bahari (Photo: www.1worldtours.com) and lunar head-dress of Thot in Medinet Habu (Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín)

Comparison of image of Hathor from Deir el-Bahari (Photo: http://www.1worldtours.com) and lunar head-dress of Thot in Medinet Habu (Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín)

The imbalance here is how to fix two different aspects of the hair (hnskt and wprty) with the horns of Hathor. Were the wprty the two ringlets of Hathor while still in her head and the hnskt plait the mutilated hair not in her head anymore but in a mop of hair? And belonged this cut mop of hair to the deceased Osiris?

Many questions, whose answers we will try to clear up later. In any case, we keep reading about hair, resurrection and Myth of Osiris. And these three elements refer us again to the funerary ceremony, where mourners cry the death and makes gestures with the hair before the final regeneration of the corpse.

[1] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 382

[2] In Sahara there are many cave images of cattle and snakes together.  According to Le Quellec, both animals are duplicates of the moon (J-L. Le Quellec, 1993, p. 238). This affirmation is important for us, because we have seen how horns and snakes appear related to the plait of hair in a context of lunar resurrection.

The Ringlets wprty and the lunar Resurrection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Due to this changing nature, lunar mythic beings are usually crippled[5], as in Ancient Egypt was Osiris. The moon dies, as the man dies, and it resurrects as the man wants to resurrect. It is supposed the human condition to be identical as the lunar condition, so humans, after dying, come back to life in a lunar shape. For that reason for ancient Egyptians Osiris was “the moon in the sky”, he renews himself as he wishes and he gets old when he wants[6].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Ph. Derchain, 1972.

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

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

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

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

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

[7]CT VI, 623.

[8] Wb II, 432.

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

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

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