Oggetti rituali, Teologia

A RITE OF PASSAGE

The Enigmatic Tekenu in Ancient Egyptian Funerary Ritual

By Jacqueline Engel, based on Greg Reeder’s research

Manifestations of the Tekenu

What or who is the Tekenu?

  • a human sacrifice?
  • an echo of a prehistoric corpse in a contracted position?
  • a container for spare body parts?
  • or was the sem-priest the tekenu in an initial manifestation?

It would appear that the key to the tekenu’s identification lies with his relationship to the “Opening of the Mouth” rite.

Earlier scholarship contains less than convincing interpretations of the figure as a human sacrifice or as an echo of a prehistoric corpse in a contracted position.

In his recent Idea into Image collection of essays, Swiss Egyptologist Eric Hornung sees in the tekenu not a real personage but rather merely a container for spare body parts.

He notes that during the mummification process the embalmers saved everything that came out of the corpse or had been in contact with it.

Select internal organs were embalmed and deposited in canopic jars, while other body tissues and matter were gathered up for separate burial.

Hornung writes,

“The body parts taken out of the corpse that were not placed in canopic jars were placed in an unusual-looking receptacle called a tekenu.”

His relationship to the “Opening of the Mouth” rite

Following the tekenu are four men accompanied by a kheri-heb priest, pulling a large shrine on a conventionally rendered sledge.

Behind the merger shrine walk seven men, at least two of whom are to be associated with the same ceremony, an ami-as and a sem or smer priest.

Tomb of Amenhemhat TT82 Green arrow= Tekenu Blue arrow Muu dancers Red = canopic chest (?)- (Osirisnet)

The kheri-heb (lector priest) presided over the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony and his connection with the shrine depicted is explained in the super inscription, which says that the deceased has come to “see the tekenu being brought and the ointments (merhet] conducted to the top of the mountain” (that is, where the tomb is located).

Therefore, it would seem that the tekenu has some association with the shrine following him in the procession, which contains not the deceased’s canopic jars but ointments or oils.

These are very probably the seven holy oils used to perform the “Opening of the Mouth”.

The mysterious Tekenu is depicted as a curled up form, surrounded by a gray animal’s skin and resting on a sleigh dragged by four men. Other persons are partially obscured by Tekenu, but in fact they are behind him in the procession. The first carries two canes in his left hand folded against his chest.

Transformation in the skin (Meska)

In time an animal sacrifice came to be substituted for a human one and, in memory of the latter, a man or “mannequin” (the tekenu) had to pass through the skin of the sacrificial animal in a symbolic act of rebirth.

Djehutymes (Paroy) – TT 295. Two priests covered in a very tight girdle (shroud, or skin)with red horizontal stripes, except for the head. One is seated, the other stretched out on a kind of low bed, the legs of which bent towards the interior. This is a representation concerning the sem-priest during the Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth in two states, “sleeping” and “awake”.
According to Budge, the sem- priest is first “asleep”, a state during which he sees his “father” (i.e. the deceased) in “all his manifestations”, then he awakens and tells of his visions.
It is suggested lately that the sem-priest would act as the first Egyptian magician and that the whole of the scene would correspond – in a shaman-like manner – to a sort of trance during a pseudo sleep. This ritual could have a tie with the mysterious Tekenu.

Moret recognized that when the tekenu was in the skin (meska), he was undergoing a transformation.

His emergence from the skin- shroud was likened by the French Egyptologist to an infant’s exit from the womb; and thus, through this action by the tekenu, was the deceased automatically “born again.”

Sir Wallis Budge likewise wrote about the meska that by passing through:

“…the skin of a bull vicariously a man obtained the gift of new birth,either for himself of for the person he represented….’

Moret also be lieved that the tekenu disappeared, finally, from depictions of funeral rites in New Kingdom tombs because his symbolic performance was replaced by a simplified ritual enacted by a sem priest, who, like the tekenu, was associated with the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony.

Relief representation in the 18th Dynasty Tomb of Renni at El Kab showing the tekenu as a shrouded man (face exposed) sitting upright (?) on a sledge pulled by two men (only one seen here).

Manifestations

Davies studied many of the tomb depictures of tekenus and classified them accordingly:

  • In eleven cases the tekenu is “…muffled from head to foot in a black wrapper….” -In seven cases he is “…shown in a kneeling posture, wrapped in a yellowish cloak, but with the head free. The hair is long, but the figure, including the face, is generally of an indefinite form and colour.
  • In two cases the body is cloaked but the head and hand are free and
  • in one case the body is “…free of all encumbrance, and to all appearance crouching voluntarily on the sled.

It is with this last example that the rarest and most revealing portrayal of the Tekenu emerges.

The tekenu in the Theban tomb of the fanbearer Montuhirkhepeshef from the time of Thutmose III (TT20)

Tomb of Rekhmire TT100
The Tekenu can appear either on a sled on the way to the tomb, or upon a seat which has feet tucked inwards (or a bed seen on its axis), as here (see xx-075, see bs-38608). It has a varied shape from a bag to a human representation curled up, perhaps a foetal position if we accept that it is seen from above. It is covered with a skin that here is white and forms a cocoon from which emerge only the head and hands (see Tassie). The nature of Tekenu is still debated. Increasingly, it is being thought (following Griffith) that it represents a sem-priest who will participate in the Ritual of Opening of the Mouth.


Tomb of Rekmire – TT 100

It is in the Tomb of Rekhmire (TT100) that answers begin to emerge regarding the role of the tekenu.

On the south wall of the tomb’s entry passage, he is shown lying on a couch with only his head and hand exposed.

The Tekenu can appear either on a sled on the way to the tomb, or upon a seat which has feet tucked inwards (or a bed seen on its axis), as here. It has a varied shape from a bag to a human representation curled up, perhaps a foetal position if we accept that it is seen from above. It is covered with a skin that here is white and forms a cocoon from which emerge only the head and hands (see Tassie). The nature of Tekenu is still debated. Increasingly, it is being thought (following Griffith) that it represents a sem-priest who will participate in the Ritual of Opening of the Mouth.

Above him is written “Bringing to (?) the city of (?) the skin (meska) as a tekenu, one who lies under it (the skin?) in the pool of Khepera (perhaps “pool of transformation”?). “

Budget believed that the meska was to be associated with the name of the Other world, so that the “city of the skin” may be understood as a reference to the deceased’s destination in the Afterlife.

Detail

Thus, when the tekenu reaches the “city of the skin” he is in the “pool of transformation” — that is to say, while physically wrapped.

Within the skin-shroud the tekenu is spiritually in a state of transformation, or undergoing a rebirth.

We are fortunate in Rekhmire’s tomb to witness the metamorphosis of Tekenu.
On the image of the ritual of Opening of the mouth we may be witnessing the awakening of the sem- priest wrapped in his shroud after a trance (shamanic type according to some, such as Helck) that took him into the next world. This journey gives him that powers that now make him able to perform the ritual: the Tekenu is turned into a sem-priest…

On the north wall of the entry passage of Rekhmire’s tomb is an elaborate portrayal of the rites of the “Opening of the Mouth.”

Here a statue of the deceased is set upon a mound of sand, with ritual acts being performed before and directed at it- including purifications with water, fumigations with incense, presentation of magical oils and minerals, a symbolic striking of the statue, the ritual “opening” of the statue’s mouth with various instruments, and bloody animal-sacrifices, all of these being done for the benefit of the deceased in the Hereafter.

Of these various ceremonies, the one relevant to this discussion involves a sem priest who is depicted wrapped in a horizontally striped shroud (or skin) which envelopes his entire body, leaving only his head free.

Detail

The sem kneels upon a low couch, exactly like the one the tekenu occupies in an earlier scene in this same tomb. (Allowing for the convention of Egyptian artistic representation, he may, in fact, be lying on this piece of furniture in a contracted position, rather than kneeling in an upright one.) Standing in front of the sem is the ami-as priest, who calls out, “My father, my father, my father, my father,” to which the sem replies, “I have seen my father in all his manifestations.”

This same scene is depicted in other New Kingdom tombs, as well.

For instance, in the royal tomb of King Seti I the sem says to the ami-as priest, “One touched me when I was lying down asleep, one roused me and I awoke.”

Thus, as interpreted by Budge, the sem in his enveloping shroud is first “asleep,” during which state he sees his “father” (the deceased) in all of his many forms (“manifestations”), then he is awakened and reports his vision.

Was the sem priest a “shamanistic magician”?

Sem priest in the tomb of Rekhmire TT100

The sem- priest is the figure wrapped in a cloak and curled up on a seat which has curved legs, or a bed. This scene represents the sem- priest in two functions, “asleep” and “awake”.
According to Budge, it is in the first “sleep” state during which he sees “in all its forms” the type of statue that must be made for “his father” (i.e. of the deceased) in all its forms”. In addition, he also sees invertebrates (insects and spiders). It has been suggested that the sem-priest would act as the first Egyptian magician and the entire scene would correspond – in an expected shamanic manner to a trance during a ‘false sleep’. This ritual could be linked with the mysterious Tekenu.

More recent scholarship has suggested that the sem priest was particular the earliest Egyptian magician, who

“functioned by shamanistic dream- trance and adopted the leopard-skin dress for animal transformation in the spirit world.”

This was concluded by German Egyptologist Wolfgang Helck, after he had examined certain “archaic features in the “Opening of the Mouth” ritual.

Thus, the so-called “sleep” of the sem was a state of dream-incubation or trance.

After being aroused by the ami-as priest, the sem donned the qeni, an archaic reed-vest meant to protect him during the next rite.

This was the act of “sculptors” or artisans striking a statue of the deceased, simulating thereby the murder of Osiris by Set, and perhaps with some association to the original carving of the statue.

Following this ritual, the sem removed the qeni and draped himself with the skin of a leopard or panther.

Wearing this vestment of his priestly office, he continued the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremonies.

The possibility that the sem priest was a “shamanistic magician” helps explain many of the questions associated with the role of the tekenu. The latter would not, then, have been supplanted by the sem, as Moret believed, for the sem was the tekenu in an initial manifestation.

Imitating the archaic burial by assumming a fetal position, he was veryously enveloped (head/hands uncovered and covered) in a skin shroud, and while so covered he entered, somehow, a deep, cataleptic, trance-like dream-state, his body thus seeming lifeless and formless, and even appearing as Hornung’s “shapeless, sack-like, black mass.

While in this trance-condition, the tekenu-sem located the deceased in the spirit world and recognized him, following which he was awakened from his trance by the voice of the ami-as priest calling out.

Thus, having visited the spirit world, the sem was imbued with powers which enabled him to perform the succeeding

The Theban Tomb 295 of Djehutiymes, Paroy.

Two priests covered in a very tight girdle (shroud, or skin), with red horizontal stripes, except for the head.
One is seated, the other stretched out on a kind of low bed, the legs of which bent towards the interior.
This is a representation concerning the sem-priest during the Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth in two states, “sleeping” and “awake”. According to Budge, the sem- priest is first “asleep”, a state during which he sees his “father” (i.e. the deceased) in “all his manifestations”, then he awakens and tells of his visions.

It is suggested lately that the sem-priest would act as the first Egyptian magician and that the whole of the scene would correspond – in a shaman-like manner – to a sort of trance during a pseudo sleep. This ritual could have a tie with the mysterious Tekenu.

“Opening of the Mouth” ritual for the deceased.

The tekenu was no more because he had been transformed into the sem.

Of course, this is only a possible explanation of the nature and role of the tekenu.

It is based on the rather large assumption that some modern sense can be made of the various and varying depictions of the tekenu, plus the assumption that the ancients themselves understood or agreed upon who or what was being portrayed.

Many questions remain unanswered. Were the representations of the tekenu in various funeralary contexts merely artistic or theological conventions, their meanings being less important than the actual portrayals?

The range of tekenu depictures from fully realized men to nonanthropomorphic sack-like objects may indicate that even the Egyptians were unsure of who/what they were dealing with.

There is a tendency to view ancient Egyptian funerary practices as monolithic in nature, when, in fact, competing theologies, priestly speculation and even simple artistic-preferences all contributed to rich and varied tomb decoration.

In the end, speculations like those presented here may not be much different than the speculations of the ancients.

One man’s bag may very well have been another man’s shaman.

https://www.academia.edu/…/A_Rite_of_Passage_The…

https://www.osirisnet.net/…/rekhmi…/e_rekhmire100_10.htm

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