Friday, January 20, 2012

The Egyptian Opening of the Mouth Ceremony (Cont.)

Burial in ancient Egypt was accompanied by ceremonies in which certain prayers were recited and rituals were enacted, the purpose being to assure the deceased the pleasure of eternal happiness in the afterlife. One of the most important of these ceremonies was the Opening of the Mouth,

From the Coffin Texts, Spell Two, we learn that the shade of the deceased was separated from his body after death[1]. It was necessary to reunite the deceased with his shade before he could enter the underworld This reunion was accomplished by means of the Opening of the Mouth[2]. Furthermore, the Opening of the Mouth also enabled the deceased to eat, drink and speak in the afterlife.

            Representations of the Opening of the Mouth are frequently encountered. Several papyri of the Eighteenth Dynasty or later have vignettes which depict portions of the ceremony, with the vignette of Chapter XXIII of the Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Ani being unique in that the deceased is represented in a seated position during the performance of the Opening of the Mouth, while in every other representation of this ceremony the deceased is shown standing. The significance of this, if any, is unknown.

            Another representation of the Opening of the Mouth is to be found in the tomb of Ken-Amun, while in the tomb of Tutankhamen, Aye is shown opening the deceased’s mouth. The tomb of the Vizir Rekhmire (reign of Tuthmose III) contains representations of a large number of the rituals that make up the Opening of the Mouth. Perhaps the finest (artistically) representation of this ceremony is to be found in the tomb of Seti I (Nineteenth Dynasty).

            These representations are helpful in reconstructing the Opening of the Mouth, but it is the body of texts dealing with this ceremony, which is of the greatest help to anyone attempting to understand this funerary ritual. The earliest mention of the Opening of the Mouth is in the Fourth Dynasty tomb of Methen, but it is not until the appearance of the Pyramid Texts that any detailed description is available[3]. References to the Opening of the Mouth in the Middle Kingdom are rare, with what references there are providing little new information[4].

            From the New Kingdom come two detailed texts, one from the tomb of Rekhmire and one from the tomb of the Pharaoh, Seti I. From later periods several texts are known, including the coffin of Buthiamon (Dynasty XXI), the tomb chapel of Imeniritis (from the Saite Period), a papyrus from late Ptolemaic times and a papyrus from the Roman Period[5].

[1] “Geb has commanded, and the double lion has repeated, that you be given your soul which is in the earth (i. e. the tomb) and your shade which is in the hidden places.” See: R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, vol. I, (Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. 1973), p. 1.

[2] T. J. C. Baly, Notes on the Ritual of Opening the Mouth”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 16, p. 174.

[3] Baly, p. 174.

[4] Baly, p. 174.

[5] Baly, p. 174.

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