Tag Archives: mother

Hair is Water in Ancient Egypt.


In the ninth hour of the Book of the Gates there is the "pool of the drowned". These are the waters of the Nun with bodies floating. These are the primeval waters, which revives the deceased. Scene from the tomb of Tauseret in the Valley of the Kings. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.thebanmappingproject.com

In the ninth hour of the Book of the Gates there is the “pool of the drowned”. These are the waters of the Nun with bodies floating. These are the primeval waters, which revives the deceased. Scene from the tomb of Tauseret in the Valley of the Kings. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.thebanmappingproject.com

The women’s hair is also assimilated to the liquid element. To give the hair sm3 is a way of giving the primeval waters of the first moment in the Egyptian cosmogony. The regenerating rite is mainly a creation ceremony, so it is necessary to remember the primeval waters (Nun) where the world came from. Making the nwn gesture of throwing the hair forwards, the mourners transfer to the corpse the Nun (Nwn), the mythical waters that originated everything. This is a very important step in the regenerating rite, since the renovating waters (so the mourner’s hair) erase the mortal past and transport the deceased to a new existence. Coming back to the primeval moment, the dead one becomes a new-born baby, it is when the Egyptian funerary texts refer to him as an “inert one in the Nun “, it is just the instant when his mother’s water break and he is reborn.

Hair sm3 also symbolizes the waters of the inundation. In this work we have seen how the nwn gesture was as well made in two other Egyptian festivities: The Festival of the Valley and the Sed Festival. Both celebrations coincide with the appearance of Sothis in the sky and the following rise of the Nile and both festivities are a process of death and resurrection for granting the continuity of Amun and Pharaoh’s power respectively.

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

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

In both events there were a group of dancers making the nwn gesture, which as we understand it, it was more than just an artistic movement. According to us, and due to the assimilation between hair and water, when throwing their hair forwards those dancing women were announcing the regenerating waters, which will renew the power of both god and king. In the same way, in the mourning ritual, with the nwn gesture the mourner sent the renovating waters to the deceased.

Hair is Maternity in Ancient Egypt.


The nwn gesture has also a positive reading, because the hair sm3 has also a double value in Egyptian thinking. The hair sm3 is an element full of life force, which has to be delivered to the deceased for making easier the final resurrection.

To give the hair sm3 (rdi sm3) is a gesture that can be linked to the act of nursing; the mother’s milk is the first food, in the Egyptian funerary ambit the dead one in his rebirth is like a baby, so giving the hair sm3 contributes to this idea of the mummy as a new-born baby.

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith from Saqqara. Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end. Ptolemaic Period. Rijksmuseum of Leiden. Photo: www.rmo.nl

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith from Saqqara. Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end. Ptolemaic Period. Rijksmuseum of Leiden. Photo: http://www.rmo.nl

When the mourner makes the nwn gesture of throwing the hair onwards over her face she turns into the deceased’s mother, from whose belly he will be born. The mummy, assimilated to Osiris, is the Nut’s son and this goddess makes the nwn gesture inside the coffin, where happens the regeneration process. Nut bended and with her hair extended forwards gives birth her son Osiris, i. e. the dead one. For that reason we can find inside many coffin covers an image of Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end; it is the way the artist could represent her in that surface; but in reality she was bended forwards making the nwn gesture.

Hair and Maternity in Ancient Egypt.


We already read in Old Kingdom how Isis and Nephtys were considered the responsible ones of the dead resurrection: “Ounas goes up through the two thighs of Isis. Ounas rises through the two thighs of Nepthys” [1]. Both goddesses were the two women who conceived and who gave birth to the Pharaoh, this one rose to heaven after his night travel (death). In the funerary context, the dead Osiris had to be reborn as the son of Geb and Nut: “he is the first-born of Geb, the first-born son of Nut, the one who gone out from the womb with the ureus…”[2]. Also, the resurrection of the deceased had a lunar nature and there is another explanation of the lunar cycle, in which the star was born from the womb of the sky goddess Nut and was then swallowed by her at the end of the cycle[3]. Taking into consideration these three points, we could consider that the two women representing Isis and Nephtys in the symbolic sphere engendered the newborn (the dead) and in somehow made also the role of mothers of the deceased. For that reason we read in the Pyramid Texts “Isis has conceived him and Nephtys has nursed him” [4]. From the Old Kingdom there was a relationship between the goddess Nut and the hair: « Nut gives you her two arms, she with the long hair, whose breasts are suspended »[5]. Nut-nwn  Also in the Middle and the New Kingdoms we read: “…this N. goes up to Busiris for seeing Osiris… Nut shakes her hair when she sees me…[6] So, from those quotes we could imagine the goddess Nut making the nwn gesture of shaking hair onwards. The following step was to search on the multiples images in Ancient Egyptian art of Nut and to see if that could have an iconographical basis. The best example is the funerary stele of the Lady Taperet from XXII Dynasty. It is a small wooden stele with painted decoration in both sides with Taperet praying Ra and Atum. On both sides the upper part is decorated with the body of Nut as the vault of heaven, interesting is the scene with Atum where Nut is the firmament and her hair is falling onwards.

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

This image of Nut and the fact that she is the mother of Osiris in the Ancient Egyptian cosmogony lead us to the conclusion that passages from Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and  Book of the Dead allude to the birth of the dead. Nut, bended and with her face looking at her pubis sees how his son (the dead) is coming to life. For that reason it is said that Nut shakes her hair when she sees Osiris; in that moment she is making the nwn gesture. This posture has then a very strong symbolic meaning: it is an image of maternity and very close to the rebirth of Osiris as a newborn/resurrected. There is also similar example in a coffin of Uresh-Unefer from the Late Period. We see in it a relief with late version of the same scene with Nut onwards and with a suspended lock of hair. Thinking about coffin as the receptacle of the mummy we need to look on how could be Nut represented on it.

Relief on the coffin of Uresh-Nefer. Late Period. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: www.egiptologia.net

Relief on the coffin of Uresh-Nefer. Late Period. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.egiptologia.net

There are many examples of coffins from the Late Period with representations of Nut on the internal side of the cover. In them the goddess is frontally extended all over the surface with hair standing up. In this case we are facing just a different perspective of the same posture. Nut in the cover would be making also the nwn gesture of shaking the hair onwards. The goddess as the sky vault swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun; also many times Nut is the night sky, so she swallows the evening sun and gives birth the full moon.

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (Brussels). Photo: www.vroma.org

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (Brussels). Photo: http://www.vroma.org

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith. Nut in black is an image of the night sky vault. The goddess with her mane standing up is swallowing the evening sun and giving birth the full moon. Rijsmuseum. Photo: www.rmo.nl

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith. Nut in black is an image of the night sky vault. The goddess with her mane standing up is swallowing the evening sun and giving birth the full moon. Rijsmuseum. Photo: http://www.rmo.nl

Inside the coffin takes place the conception and rebirth of the dead, Nut bended, with the hair onwards, will give birth his son Osiris and will put her arms around him: “…Geb is there protecting you; he is your father, you have been put on the world by him; the arms of Nut are around you, she has brought you to life, she brings your beauty…[7].


[1] Pyr., 379c y  996c.
[2] Mariette, 1875, 152-153, 3; Derchain, 1963, p. 22.
[3] Derchain, 1962, p. 27.
[4] Pyr. 1154.
[5] Pyr.2171 a.
[6] CT I, 312 y LdM, 78.
[7]CT I, 60. Translated by Barguet, 1986, p. 198).