Saturday, February 4, 2012

The "Sleeping of the Sem"

     After two further censings of the statue, the participants enacted a ritual that has become known as the “Sleeping of the Sem”. The Kher-Heb, Am-Khent and Am-As priests entered the tomb where they found a second statue of the deceased as well as the Sem priest, who was wearing an animal skin and pretending to sleep. With the entrance of the other three priests, the Sem sits up and engages the others in a conversation that refers to events that are unknown to us. Although the exact meaning of this ceremony is unclear, it is possible that the Sem represents Osiris when the latter aroused himself from the dead .

     The Sem then advanced to the statue of the deceased and smote it with a staff after which he presses his little finger to the mouth of the statue and said, “O Osiris, I have come to embrace thee. I am thy son, I am Horus, I have pressed for thee thy mouth. I am thy beloved son.”

     The priests then returned to the exterior of the tomb where the “Bull of the South” was slaughtered. This ritual involved the slaughter of a gazelle and a goose as well as the sacrifice of a bull. Originally, four of each of these animals were sacrificed (so that the deceased could function fully in each quadrant of the world), but by the time of the New Kingdom the East and North quadrants were paired, as were the West and the South quadrants, and only two of each animal were slaughtered . After the bull had been killed its heart was removed and its left foreleg cut off. The heart was offered to the deceased and the still bloody foreleg was pressed to the eyes and mouth of the statue .

     The Sem then used several instruments to open the deceased’s mouth. He took two adzes, the Seb-Wr and the Tun-Tet (the former is symbolic of Set and the latter is symbolic of Horus), and uses them to “cut open” the eyes and mouth of the statue. Next the Sem touches the eyes and mouth four times with the Wr-Hekau (a long, sinuous piece of wood which ends in a ram’s head that is surmounted by a uraeus). This ceremony seems to have transferred some of the vital power of the gods into the deceased and to have also transferred the words of power known by Horus and Set into the deceased.

     The next three ceremonies are very obscure and little can be said of them other than that they take place inside the tomb and that during these ceremonies, the lamentations of Isis and Nephthys for Osiris are described.

Top: The Sleeping of the Sem from the tomb of Rekhmire (New Kingdom) 
Middle: The Sleeping of the Sem (tomb of Menna - New Kingdom)
Bottom: Opening of the Mouth with an adze (tomb of Menna)

Photos copyright John Freed 2012

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