Tag Archives: snake

S3mt: Hair and Mourning, Evil and Udjat Eye.


The word s3mt appears repeatedly in the Egyptian funerary texts. It can be translated as lock of hair or mourning and it is closely linked to the idea of destruction of evil, the healing of the lunar eye and finally recovering the Udjat eye.

S3mt seems to refer to something related to the  mourning ritual and focused on the mourner’s hair. It could probably be considered as the hair that during the mourning rite women manipulated with a symbolic meaning, shaking it forwards (nwn sm3) or pulling it (nwn m swt).

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

Mourner making nwn m gesture of pulling her front lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Two women shaking their hairs. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Two women shaking their hair. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The funerary texts communicate that this s3mt was cut, using the Egyptian word Hsq, which meant “cut”, but also “behead”. And also we find evidence that the mourners were shaved at the end of the mourning rite.

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 with short hair to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Many documents assimilate the hair s3mt with the s3bwt snakes. These were malign animals that in Egyptian mythology beheaded the gods, so they were an image of the enemy and responsible of the death.

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

In Egyptian funerary belief, it is necessary to restore the head for living again and annihilate those s3bwt. Making that the adversary is wiped out; the gods recover their heads and also their faculties for seeing, breathing and knowing.  In the funerary ambit, this will benefit the deceased, since cutting the s3mt will have the same effects on him: to recover the faculties that give him access to the new life.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Cutting the s3mt is also closely related to the sacrifice and the figure of tekenu. This human victim, who goes back to ancient times in Egyptian history, has a double value, expiatory and propitiatory. In the first documents, one of the remarkable elements of the human victim is a front lock of hair. Once the human victim is replaced by an ox in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony again the lock of hair is one of the most important elements. So, this last one seems to be related with the evil elimination.

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

As cutting the s3mt is a way of removing the bad, it is also a way of recovering the Udjat eye as symbol of the final resurrection. Firstly Thoth spits on the damaged eye of Horus and this action is narrated in sacred texts as Thoth spitting on the hair sm3, afterwards the mourners are shaved or the s3mt is cut and the Udjat eye is offered to the deceased.

Eye of Horus, the falcon god. Detail from an image of Horus in the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Eye of Horus, the falcon god. Detail from an image of Horus in the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Summing up, to cut the s3mt supposes annihilate the enemy, the evil but also recover the Udjat eye and allow the final resurrection.

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Ringlets and Plaits, Horns and Snakes, Moon and Resurrection.


In ancient Egypt some aspects of the hair have just a symbolic dimension in the deceased’s resurrection, these are the cases of the two ringlets wprty and the plait of hair Hnskt.

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.

Wprty are, according to the Coffin Texts, the two lateral ringlets at both sides of Hathor’s face; these two pieces of hair are in Egyptian imagery a kind of curtains which open and let see the goddess’ face. It is about the lunar divinity and to see her face means to see the moon, it is the metaphoric access to light from the darkness of the death, so a proof of resurrection. When the two wprty open, the deceased can come into the Herefater and be guided by the moon through the night sky.

Regarding the plait Hnskt, it is assimilated to the snake and the horns, both elements having a lunar nature. In Egyptian belief moon and snake are immortal, due to their cyclic renovation; they change gradually without dying; in fact that change is a way of regeneration and getting in a new existence. This is the Egyptian idea of death: it was not a disappearance, but a change of condition in the human life, so the funerary ceremony could be considered as a rite of passage.

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.

Horns in many ancient cultures, and also in the Egyptian one, were a symbol of regeneration thanks to the shape, which remembered the first quarter of the moon. This union between hair and horns makes us as well think about the two ringlets wprty of Hathor as a hair image of the two horns of the goddess. Precisely for that reason, the horns of Hathor can be connected with the plait Hnskt, which, according to one version of the Osiris legend, the goddess lost.

Head fragment from a statue of a "Bald of Hathor". New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Head fragment from a statue of a “Bald of Hathor”. New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

In turn, all that can be related to the clergy of Hathor, whose priests were called “bald of Hathor” and whose requirement was the lack of hair in the crown, so remembering the goddess’ mutilation.

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.

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.

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.