Susanllewellyn's Blog

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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November 15, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (23)

And after goodness, purity:

wabet

wabet transliteration

Wabet,  “pure” or “clean” – in the feminine form when spoken, but without the loaf of bread representing the t , because it’s so obvious to those in the know that the scribe, dashing off yet another offering formula, hasn’t bothered to write it down.  But we know it’s there, don’t we?

Advanced office scribes like us will also have deduced that the masculine form is wab, and that the rather curious sumbol above is a triliteral sign conveying the sound of three letters, w a and b. 

We’ve had b before, haven’t we?  If you cast your mind back to the first line of the offering formula, when we were looking at Abydos or Abdju, one of the major cult centres of Osiris, you’ll recall that the letter b in ancient Egyptian is represented by the human foot.  And what do we have as the bottom half of this symbol?  A human foot!  That’ll be the b, then.

But what’s that spout on top, and what’s it spouting?  No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  They could draw what you’re thinking much better than that.  The upper part of the symbol is a little water pot, and it’s pouring forth a libation of purifying water.

You can see the kind of pot in full pouring action in this scene from the sarcophagus of a royal lady:

lady pouring102

In this scene, one of the lady’s servants is pouring her a drink.  In temples and in funeral rites, water was used for ritual purification, as in this scene where a priest is pouring water over the coffin of the deceased:

priest pouring103

It’s a shame the painting has flaked away just where I want to show you the water spouting out of the pots, but never mind.  And the blue wiggly lines for the water have come out nicely.  So, the symbol for “pure” was the standard ritual purification device of ancient Egyptian religion, the pot pouring out clean water, rendering the person or object it was poured over cleansed and pure.  Wab was also the word for “priest” in ancient Egyptian; literally, “the pure one”.

Here’s an example from a temple relief:

wab seti relief104

We already know how to draw the foot.  Then just draw a little oval on top for the pot, like an egg lying on its side, but square off the pointy end a bit for the rim.  Then draw a zigzag line for the water, arcing out of the pot in a graceful curve.

Finally -please remember all this when the office plant contractors come round and water the aspidistras.  And stop stubbing out illicit cigarettes in the rubber plants, and using the weeping fig as a receptacle for your coffee dregs, or the office party plonk.  They’ve been ritually purified.  Have some respect.

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