Tag Archives: plait

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.

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Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt. First Summary.


Hair and mourning women. Summary

According to what we have seen in the category « Hair and Mourning Women » we can mention some main ideas:

  • Mourners in Ancient Egypt made two gestures: Nwn: to cover their faces with their hair sm3 (in some cases is Snw) and nwn m: to pull their front lock of hair swt. Both are a way of showing despair and sadness.

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

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

  • The hair over the face symbolized the darkness of the death into which the dead is sunk; it remembered the chaos in the primeval state of creation, so the Nwn gesture symbolized the Nun, the primeval waters.
  • Egyptians assimilated the hair sm3 to vital elements as breath, vegetation and water. So, to give the hair sm3 with the nwn gesture was a propitiatory practice, the hair became an instrument for sending vital energy to the deceased.
  • The heir was an important figure for the deceased’s resurrection in Ancient Egypt belief. As in the Osirian myth, Horus was the avenger who restored the cosmic order. For that reason the dead had to get again his virility. The nwn gesture in funerals could be a way of symbolizing the mythical copulation through which Osiris recovered his virility and Isis could conceive Horus.

    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

  • The deceased, as Osiris and as a reborn, became Nut’s son. This goddess also made in the mythic sphere the nwn gesture. In funerary ceremony, the nwn gesture that the mourners made with the hair would remember the posture of Nut, as sky goddess, when bearing Osiris.

Locks, Plaits and Ringlets. Summary

The main ideas of the second category are:

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

  • The deceased was welcome to the Hereafter by Hathor, lunar goddess whose face is flanked by the two ringlets wprty. When she received the dead one these two ringlets opened and let see her face; that symbolized to see the light of the full moon in the night sky and it was the culmination of the lunar resurrection for the deceased, in the same way the full moon in the Osiris myth meant the resurrection of the god.
  • Egyptians identified the plaits Hnskt with lunar elements as horns (an image of the crescent) and snakes (which regenerates regularly), and also helped in that lunar resurrection.

    The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

    The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

  • The lock of hair s3mt seems to be also identified with the first moments of life and the childhood of the moon (it would be the side lock of children), so it was as well an element for contributing to the lunar resurrection of the dead. It also seems to have a negative aspect, since it was maybe identified with the evil which threats the dead one and which suffers an ablation for allowing the deceased to get back to life.

Hair and Snake as Symbols of Rebirth in Ancient Egypt.


The connection between the hnskt plait and the snake shows again a relationship of two vital elements. All during this work we have seen how the hair was considered in ancient Egyptian as a generating life element. Egyptians also attributed vital energy to snakes, since in mythology this animal was one of the first manifestations of live. On the other hand it is interesting to notice that this is a lunar animal par excellence[1].

According to R. Briffault, “the snake and the moon are interchangeable” in many cultures because both are immortal; they are in constant renovation and that is why the snake is considered a representation of the moon[2]. The serpent shed its skin periodically, it transforms, but it does not perish, it renews itself as the moon does. But also snakes appear and disappear easily; they hide under the ground, the “underworld”, where shed the skin and regenerate themselves. In Book of the Amduat, the snake is one of the symbols of death and rebirth[3] and Re, in the twelfth hour, rejuvenates in a snake’s belly[4].

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, where Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.cefb.it

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, when Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.cefb.it

What about women? They are also “closely associated with the snake, in the same way they are related to the moon”[5]. Serpents have as well a deep fecundity symbolism. Some scholars think that the snake has at the same time a feminine side (lunar) and a masculine one, since its shape and its movements suggest the virility of the penis[6]. So, snakes combine the two principles masculine and feminine needed for the creation. Anyway, in Ancient Egypt the phallic condition of the snake does not seem to be too emphasized[7].

Lastly, the snake is a death’s keeper and, according to Egyptian religious texts, it protects the dead[8]; since it lives in the underworld, it dwells close to the deceased’s spirits and knows the secret of the death. Serpent has a very positive role in the myth of the hero who defeats the death[9]. In fact, according to M. Eliade, « Great goddesses have usually a snake as attribute, they maintain this way their lunar nature, and these goddesses are at the same time funerary divinities. The snake is so, a funerary animal and a symbol of regeneration » [10]. For that reason, we can find in some versions of the Egyptian myth that in the creation of the world, the primitive god is in the Nun as a serpent, where he comes back again also in shape of snake[11].

We can see clearly in chapter 219 of the Coffin Texts the connection between the snake and the resurrection, since to go out from the egg with the plaits hnkswt and the snakes is a synonym of rebirth. The dead one is reborn from the place where the life germinates and goes out from it with its vital power (snakes and/or plaits of hair hnkswt), a very similar image we can have in mind just thinking of Osiris going out from the womb of his mother Nut with the uraeus [12]. If hnkst is a parallel of hnskt and this one is the lock of plaits falling at the back of mourners, again we find these women and their hair in a resurrection act.


[1] All animals that appear and disappear in a cyclic way (snails, reptiles, bears…) are considered as lunar creatures (J.E. Cirlot, 1991, p. 285).

[2] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 314.

[3] W.B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 21.

[4] V, 648.

[5] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 316.

[6] G. Durand, 1979, p.303.

[7] V, 650.

[8] Pyr. 226-224, 276-299, 375-401, 727-733; CT 160, 369, 372, 375, 378, 381, 423, 434-436, 586, 686, 717, 885; LdM,  33-35, 37, 39.

[9] G. Durand, 1979, p.305.

[10] M. Eliade, 1970, p.150.

[11] LdM, 175.

[12] A. Mariette, 1875, II, 152-153, 3; Ph. Derchain, 1963, p. 22.

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 Plait hnskt in the Coffin Texts.


Ancient Egyptian religion show us how rich was ancient Egyptian thought. They converted common things into special elements able of helping the deceased to get to a new life. There is another aspect of the hair which had a very strong symbolic meaning. The Coffin Texts mention plaits hnskt as an element related to two concrete things: horns and snakes, and both in a context where the dead starts his regeneration.

In chapters 181 and 218 the text mentions an action located in a celestial context where the deceased going forward occident is

“the bull of the plait”[1] ink ka hnsktyand « the bull, lord of the plait »[2] [3].

wsirpakanbhnskt

Both chapters are describing the deceased in a lunar shape. To use the image of a bull for it is not a random choice. It comes from the fact that the bovine horns, due to its shape, are a symbol of the crescent of the moon[4]. That is why in the glorification ceremony in Papyrus Louvre 3079 we read: “Oh! The one, who appears as the moon, bull, which rejuvenates himself in the sky every day!” [5]. Horns are the image of the first quarter of the moon, and therefore they symbolise the evolution of the star from the moment it starts its regeneration.

Comparison of crescent (photo: www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martíni.

Comparison of crescent (photo: http://www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The connection between bull and moon explains why in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys Osiris is called “bull which fertilizes the cows[6]. Sometimes “the bull of the stars” was assimilated to kA-mwt.f (“the bull of his mother”)[7]; the one who fertilizes his mother is father and son at the same time, this way he grants in the same person the present and future continuity[8]. We are facing the deceased Osiris, the one who impregnates Isis (she, who is mother and wife at the same time) and who is son (as newborn-resurrected) and Horus father.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

As previously, chapter 219 relates how the deceased travels from East to West and on a boat he crosses the lakes of the horizon. In this context he says:

“…I cross the lakes of the horizon.

I go down in them in (or with) the eggs,

 I go out from them with snakes.

I took over their souls;

I pulled their plaits out…”[9]

Ipulledtheirplaitsout

 Hnkst is a parallel of hnskt. And A. Erman and H. Grapow translate hnksty as plait as a synonym of snake, due to the likeness between both[10].

It seems that to take the souls from the egg and pull the plaits out are on an equal footing, as if the text were describing the act of going out with the snakes. Making that, the deceased catch the life that is inside the eggs, one of the main life centres; this life would be symbolised in those snakes and/or plaits of hair. The dead would go out from the egg (the rebirth) in the same way Osiris went out from the Nut’s womb with the ureus[11]. We would be facing two different forms of saying the same thing: the deceased’s rebirth.

On the other hand, the snake is a lunar animal par excellence. For ancient Egyptians this animal was a symbol of cyclic and temporary transformation (as it was the moon), of fecundity and perpetuity.

Furthermore the word Hnskt is linked with the celestial sphere. The word for Horus (Hr) is also the word for “face” (Hr); we could deduce from that an image of the sky as a face, maybe the face of Horus. The moon and the sun would be the two eyes, while the hair would be the firmament’s supports. Already in V and VI dynasties the Pyramid Texts tells how the plaits Hnskwt of the face of Horus were considered the abode the his four sons[12]; and the Pyramid Texts of king Ounas mentions four ancient spirits who lived in the plaits Hnskwt of hair of Horus and were at the eastern part of the sky holding their sceptres[13].

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo martín.

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.


[1] CT III, 181

[2] In coffin L1Li instead of “plait” it has the word “horns” hnwty.

[3] CT III, 218

[4] G. Durand, 1979, p. 75.

[5] Pap. LouvreI. 3079, cols. 84-86.

[6] Songs…3,6

[7] In the New Kingdom it was an epithet of Amon.

[8] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p. 33.

[9] CT III, 219

[10] Wb III, 121, 2.

[11] See post about nwn gesture and Nut.

[12] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 466.

[13] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 157.

The Locks of Hair swt are Isis and Nephtys.


The chapter 531 of the Coffin Texts treats about the prophylaxis of the different parts of the funerary mask, always assimilating them with many divinities. After saying how perfect is the face (that is the mask) of the dead we read:

Your White Crown is Thoth; your crown is Wp-wawt[1]. Your eyebrows are both Enneads. Your eyes are the boat of the day and the boat of the night.

Your two locks of hair are Isis and Nephtys.

Swt are Isis and Nephtys

Your nape is Duanenuy. Your plait is Hddt

Hnskt is Hddt

 The funerary mask is like a complete head, or like its substitute, and to put it on the deceased’s face is a revivifying action. The dead is assimilated to the acephalic Osiris and the mask has two functions. On one hand it hides the damage made by Seth on the Osiris’ face; on the other hand it restores the faculties to the head, as to see and to breath; through the mask the dead can also perceive things that mortals cannot notice[2]; the replacement of the head, symbolised by the placement of the mask, allows the deceased to come back to life.

Scholar D. Meelks translated the word swt as “lock” or “plait”[3]. Due that the chapter is describing the funerary mask; we could think that this word would be making an allusion to the two locks of hair that fall on both sides of the face; in the same way that Isis and Nephtys are always at both extremes of the dead.

Khonsu's funerary mask. XIX Dynasty. Metropoliltan Museum of New York. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Khonsu’s funerary mask. XIX Dynasty. Metropoliltan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

Let’s remember also that we have already seen how the word swt designates the front lock of hair the mourners pull. Maybe both locks of hair were assimilated to the hair the two goddesses pull from.

In the wig both locks of hair fall at both sides of the face while the rest of the hair falls over the back. The term hnskt usually means “plait of hair”[4].  But in the context we are the two locks of hair are assimilated with Isis and Nephtys, and just before the text mentions the nape, so it makes sense to think of Hnskt as the mop of hair that in the wig falls on the back[5]. On the other hand, the term Hnskty is a dual that means « the two women with plait », Isis and Nephtys[6]. And that refers us to those images of Isis and Nephtys with the head-dress afnt (see image in header) or to those images of mourners with the hair tied in a back tail; , which would reinforce the idea that hnskt could be that hair identified with the goddess Hddt (a kind of Isis in Edfu).

Mourners with hair tied in a back tail. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Mourners with hair tied in a back tail. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

At this point we consider important to point out a scene of a libation on an altar in Dendera. In it the spelling of Isis Hddt is changed by another one that refers to a light symbolism.  We are in a context where the mission of Isis is to bright in the sky just in the moment of bringing the flood[7]. That makes us think about what we have seen in former chapters about the nwn gesture and the beginning of the Egyptian year; the nwn gesture would be a way of symbolising the new flood, the new year and, therefore, the new life. Again we would be facing the hair element with a strong regenerating symbolism.


[1] “The One who open the ways”, the name of the jackal god from Asiut, that opens the ways to the king in the battle. Let’s think about its presence also in the Sed Festival.

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

[3] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, II, p. 312, nº 78.3373.

[4] Wb III, 116, 4.

[5] Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt considers that Hnskt refers to the small braids under the head-dress afnt (Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt, 1953, p. 28, n. 2) and that it is related with the manifestation of the deceased’s ka (Chr. Desroches-Noblecourt, 1953, p. 25, n. 5). The mother of the dead in funerals wears the head-dress afnt: “Your mother is the great cow in el-Kab, (with) the crown Atef and head-dress afnt, with long hair, with hanging breasts, which has nursed you(Pyr., 2003).

[6] Wb III, 121, 1. It appears like that in The Songs of Isis and Nephtys, Pap. Bremner-Rhind I; 1,9; 3,23; 6,23 y 11,19.

[7] M-Th. Derchain-Urtel, 1993. Leuven, p. 102.