Susanllewellyn's Blog

March 28, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Nut (1)

If Geb was the earthy type, his twin sister Nut was the original heavenly body.  While Geb the earth lay under the feet of their father Shu, Nut arched herself over his head as the sky, her hands and feet standing at the four cardinal points:

 Nut formed a vault over the world, stopping malevolent forces from the cosmos from invading Egypt.   The stars travelled over the vault of Nut, and like many other heavenly bodies with star quality, pictures of Nut appeared everywhere, especially on royal tomb ceilings, like this one:

You can see a line of stars painted in blue, running over her shoulder and down her back like a tattoo.  Nut had a tremendous appetite; every dawn, she ate all the stars for breakfast.  Every evening for supper, she swallowed the barque of the sun god when it reached the western horizon.  Every morning, presumably while stuffing her face with the stars, she gave birth to the ship, the god and his retinue, and the whole cycle began again.   The red disks painted along Nut’s body represent the passage of the sun through her inner workings.  The different parts of her body represented hours of the night.  Her lips corresponded to the second hour of night, her teeth to the third, her throat the fourth, her chest the fifth and so on.  Remember, if you’re tempted to snack as much as Nut was:  a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips…  But then, everything she ate seems to have passed straight through her.  She doesn’t seem to have digested anything, just like all the other supermodels.

Nut was also a favourite pin-up on coffin lids, where she arched protectively over the deceased, offering the promise of rebirth and eternal life among the stars:

In the underworld, Nut was present as a sycamore fig tree, and provided air, water and nourishment to the departed.

Like certain supermodels, too, Nut wasn’t all celestial sweetness and light.  Occasionally, she could appear as a cow or a pig.  She was known to fight with her brother Geb; in one quarrel, he split her head right open.  No wonder their Dad Shu is holding them apart.  The quarrel was hushed up, though, and no-one was allowed to talk about it, for fear of spreading disorder in the company ranks.

Geb and Nut’s parents, Shu and Tefnut, were the first gods to produce children through sex and, like many parents, decided that the kids at better not know anything about it.  This is another reason Shu is holding them apart.  However, the more you deny them something the more they want it.  You could say that Geb and Nut had a love-hate relationship.  Geb’s passion for Nut did not only manifest itself in violence.  Unable to consummate his lust, he became so frustrated that he resorted to blowing his own trumpet, so to speak.  But Nut’s head did touch the ground at the western horizon.  Geb was able to pass his semen to her secretly through a kiss, and in this way Nut became pregnant.

But that’s another story.  We’ll have a closer look at her name first.

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November 22, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (26)

Well here we are, three lines in to the offering formula and about to start on the fourth and last.  And here it is:

en ka en imakhy Senwosret, maa-kheru: for the ka of the revered one Senwosret, true of voice.

Sound like anyone you know?  Do you revere the colleague whose card or whiteboard you are embellishing?  Are they known for their honesty, the accuracy of their pronouncements or their karaoke prowess?  Never mind, it’s only a formula.  Let’s look at the first bit of it.

en ka en:  for the ka of.  Let’s do the easy bit first.   The Sherlock Holmeses among you will instantly have deduced that the squiggly lines top and bottom correspond to the en. 

Elementary.   And speaking of elements, the squiggly line in hieroglyphs represents the watery one.  It’s a ripple of water:

See the resemblance?  We’ve already seen wavy lines representing water, in the post on wabet.  But we haven’t had them as the actual letter n.  Here’s an original:

It’s a zigzag line.  What else is there to say?  The ka, on the other hand…

The Egyptians didn’t have souls.  Or rather, they didn’t just have single souls.  The deceased Egyptian exploded into a whole menagerie of afterlife entities:  the body, the shadow, the akh (a heron-like bird with a lamp who circled the skies with the stars), the ba (a human-headed bird that hung around the necropolis and twittered mournfully – they’ve made a comeback on the Internet lately) and the ka, or life force.

The ka had its advantages and disadvantages.  A disadvantage was that it was confined to the tomb, unlike the ba and the akh.  Maybe it kicked the ba and the akh out, so it could get some elbow room, with the body and the shadow.  Maybe that was why the ba twittered mournfully.  The advantage was that the ka got to ascend the burial shaft, come out through the false door into the offering chapel and feast upon the food and drink brought by the family or magically invoked by the passer-by.  The ka was the life force, and it fed upon the life force of the food.  But we’ve been through all this before.

The hieroglyph for ka is a pair of upraised arms, as found on the head of this royal ka statue:

What a beautiful, slender yet well moulded pair of arms and  shoulders, and delicate, detailed hands.  They didn’t always put so much work into the hieroglyphs,

although they have taken care to paint this ka the dark red colour they used for male skin (men being more likely to be outdoors than women, and therefore more tanned).  I draw my kas very simply:  three straight lines plus a little crescent at each end for the hands.

NB:  this ka is not to be confused with the ka meaning bull of a few posts ago.  Katie Hughes tweeted a good idea about that some time ago:  kh1369  @SusanLlewellyn Egyptians would be sustaining the ka (“spirit”) with ka (meat)? What a multi-purpose word! Also, is “kau” like “cow”? Easy!  She’s great at making these connections.

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