Tag Archives: Udjat

Two Mourners in the new discovered Tomb of the Egyptian King Senebkay?


Two mourners in the new discovered tomb of the Egyptian King Senebkay?

That was my first thought when I saw yesterday the new about the recent discovery of the university of Pennsylvania in Abydos. The tomb of King Senebkay, probably dating from XIII Dynasty, built in a simple way and, according to archaeologists, with reutilised blocks, is not too well preserved.

The painted decoration that it remains in this Ancient Egypt grave is very scarce and also quite simple. On a white background some images are visible, like the King’s cartouche, the winged sun disk and some female figures.

Decoration at the funeral chamber of Pharaoh Senebkay in Abydos. XIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Photo: www.terrantiqvae.com

Decoration at the funeral chamber of Pharaoh Senebkay in Abydos. XIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.terrantiqvae.com

The scene which attracted our attention was the one at the last chamber. It is very typical Egyptian funerary scene. On the top of the wall a winged sun disk (image of Horus) is over a painted false door, which is crowned by the heker frieze and contains two Udjat eyes. This icon is very common in Middle Kingdom coffins; the eyes, in the Ancient Egypt belief are the deceased’s connection with the world of the living, so this part of the tomb symbolises the limit between this world and the Hereafter. At both sides of the false door two standing women appear as the only human beings.

According to Joseph Wagner (responsible of the works), the bad conditions of the tomb could be a proof of the bad economical situation of Egypt at that period (Second Intermediate Period). If so, it would make sense the lacking decoration of the tomb (let’s remember that itis about a Pharaoh’s tomb). But this premise would be important. If the decorative programm was limited, the artists had to include in the tomb just the essential for granting the Senebkay’s resurrection. Obviously, the false door and the Udjat eyes as the meeting point between the world of the living and the Hereafter were necessary. And what about those two women?

Let’s emphasize some points:

These two women appear alone, with no other human figures, so they were important.

These two women stand at both sides of the false door, in the same way Isis and Nepthys stand later on at both extremes of the coffin and/or the mummy.

These two women are at the connection point between the world of the living and the Hereafter. It is the place were the Egyptian mummy comes back to life after the resurrection ritual. We have seen all along our research that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys were a very important part in the resurrection of the deceased.

These two women wear around their wrists apparently the hieroglyph of the seal. We still do not know really how to interpret that, but at first sight one image came to mind: the one of Isis and Nephtys in the New Kingdom scenes at both extremes of the coffin holding the shen ring, as a symbol of eternity. The seal and the shen ring hieroglyphs could be both determinative for the Egyptian word djebat (Wb V, p. 566), which meant “signet-ring“, so the seal in a ring worn by the Pharaoh.

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Ancient Egypt. Photo: www.thethebanmappingproject.com

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Photo: http://www.thebanmappingproject.com

These two women had to be there for granting the resurrection of the king. The question is who were they? There is an inscription next to them, which probably will shed light on that issue. Meanwhile let’s also think that the tomb is located in Abydos, place were the Myth of Osiris was specially important. Had the Egyptian artist represented the Osiris (so Senebkay) resurrection as summarized (or even cheap) as he could?

Mourning Women and Mourning Hair in Ancient Egypt Funeral.


All along this work we have found three different mourners involved in Egyptian funerals.

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the matasba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: www.antiguoegipto.org

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the mastaba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.antiguoegipto.org

On one hand there were groups of common mourners (mainly women, but sometimes also men) among the rest of the members of the cortège. They were walking together weeping and making the typical gestures of mourning:  beating themselves, raising arms, ripping their clothes…those gesture included also to shake the hair and cover the face with it (nwn) or to pull a front lock of hair (nwn m). Egyptian documents (texts and iconography) do not give evidence that both gestures were made together; common mourners made one or another nor did the whole group do the same gesture all together. It seems that there was no coordination and that the women could make different mourning movements during the procession. The question is if that depended on something.

  • Was it something spontaneous and did it not depend on any order?
  • Was it an election of priests?
  • Did it depend on a local custom?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased’s family?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased? Taking into account that the tomb and its decoration was made while he was alive, it makes sense to think about a tomb’s owner election.

On the other hand, Egyptian iconography, specially tombs and papyrus from New Kingdom, show us the deceased’s widow next to the coffin also weeping and making mourning gestures, but apparently never shaking or pulling her hair. She is a mourning wife, but different from the group of common mourners and from the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy's wife mourns her husband's death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy’s wife mourns her husband’s death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Finally, the funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt counted on the participation of two mourning women playing the roles of Isis and Nepthys. The New Kingdom is the most prolific period of Egyptian history in scenes of them. They usually appear at both extremes of the coffin with a passive attitude, although funerary texts refer to them as active members in the corpse’s regeneration.

If we construct the puzzle with all the pieces from the different documents the scene we have is the following: during the cortège these two professional mourners stood static next to the mummy and with their hair covered by a piece of clothing, meanwhile the rest of mourners regretted the death of a person crying, screaming and shaking and/or pulling hair. Once the procession arrived to the necropolis things changed.

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased's wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.eu.art.com

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased’s wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.eu.art.com

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. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony for reviving the mummy took part somewhere in an enclosed area (most probably the tomb) and not in view of anyone. It was when the priestly team entered into the mythical dimension; the myth became rite in a group of practices for getting the deceased’s resurrection. The two women (Drty) turned into Isis and Nephtys and the mummy into Osiris. Outside the common mourners (included the deceased’s wife) kept moaning, but inside the two “kites” carried out a mourning ritual in which they made the nwn and the nwn m gestures. This way they reproduced that part of the Osiris myth in which Isis conceived Horus and he could revenge his father’s death.

During the Opening of the Mouth ceremony the sem priest played the role of the tekenu, helping in the transmission of life force to the corpse, but he also was the representative of Horus for facing Seth. This part of the myth is materialised in the rite by means of the sacrifice of an ox.

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.

The animal’s slaughter meant the victory of Horus over Seth, the good over the evil, so the mourning’s end. At that moment we consider the s3mt was cut, cutting this mourner’s hair symbolized the enemies’ annihilation, the end of the mourning and the Udjat eye’s recovery.

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

At the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony there were, among others, a hair offering. It was the mourner’s hair that had been shook and pulled and that served for symbolizing the revitalization process of the mummy (recovery of vital faculties, return to the Nun and to the womb…) and the removal of the evil which could drag out that process (lunar eye suffering, enemies, chaos…). This hair was offered as an image of the Udjat eye and materialised the deceased’s resurrection.

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.

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.

Hair, Mourners and Light in Ancient Egypt.


The finality of the rites during the funerals in ancient Egypt was the deceased’s rebirth. In the mourning ritual accomplished during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony by the two women in the role of Isis and Nephtys, the dead returned to the womb for coming back to life as a new born; he was also the incarnation of Osiris, so the dead husband who needed stimulation for recovering the vital faculties (mobility, breath, eyesight, hearing, virility). The dead needed the eye irt eye irtfor reviving; the eye in Egyptian belief had a regeneration meaning from the moment it created the mankind (rmT Mankind rmT) from the teardrops (rmit teardrops rmit). So, the eye and its tears had the capacity of producing life. On the other hand we cannot omit the semantic relationship between the Egyptian word for eye irt and the verb for “make” iri[1]. For some the hieroglyph of irt could be an image of the solar disc inside the mouth as a symbol of the verb iri[2].

The sem priest is making the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on the dead's image, in front of him the make-up for Udjat eye as final offering. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The sem priest is making the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on the dead’s image, in front of him the make-up for Udjat eye as final offering. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

But the eye needed by the deceased is the lunar eye Udjat, the symbol of light (life) in the darkness of the night (death). The light symbolises rebirth and nature and life depend on the received light[3]; much light means much life, while shadow means the contrary. The Udjat eye as the full moon is the light in the middle of the darkness and it is also the health and strength in the death[4]. The Udjat eye illuminates in the middle of the shadows as a manifestation of life.

In the Egyptian language the concept of lunar eye and light is closely linked to femininity. Not only because irt or wDAt are feminine words (ended in –t), there are many terms and expressions which support this idea: Axt is the « bright eye » of the sun god or Horus[5] ; iAbt is the « left eye », so the moon[6] ; HDt  is the « white of the eye » ; sSmt can be a designation for the « lunar eye »[7] ; iAbt.f iaH m grh means «  his left eye is the moon during the night »[8].

It is also interesting to notice that nearly all terms about hair we have seen taking part of the mourning ritual in ancient Egypt are feminine: Samt, Hnskt, wprty, lock swt. The exception is: hair sma (and/or Hair Sni ) . These two words we have seen that they are related to the idea of chaos and disorder, and when they entail the concept of resurrection they symbolize vegetation, water, breath of life or conception, but never moon/light.

Two different ways of representing Isis and Nephtys assisting the deceased: as the two kites (tomb of Sennedjem) and as women (tomb of Nakhtamon). XIX Dynasty. Photos: www.osirisnet.net

Two different ways of representing Isis and Nephtys assisting the deceased: as the two kites (tomb of Sennedjem) and as women (tomb of Nakhtamon). XIX Dynasty. Photos: http://www.osirisnet.net

The feminine principle was then basic in the ancient Egypt resurrection, it is necessary for giving birth and that makes the figure of Isis essential in the Osiris rebirth. Consequently, in Egyptian funerals the two kites or two Drty made their mourning ritual as impersonations of Isis and Nepthys, but also as women. And maybe that is why their hair with its lunar connexion was such an important element in the deceased’s reanimation.


[1] W. B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 13.

[2] J.E. Cirlot, 1991, p. 339

[3] J. Chevalier et A. Gheerbrandt, 1969, p. 154.

[4] W. B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 15.

[5] 3xt, with the cow determinative is a way of referring to Hathor, whose relationship with the full moon and the rebirth we have already seen. Wb I, 17, 3

[6] Wb I, 30.

[7] The translation of sSm is “guide”, and the moon is the guide in the night sky.

[8] R. el Sayed, 1987, pp. 62-67.

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.

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.