The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony
On this episode of Death & the Afterlife, we’re talking about a very old and very important ritual called The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, or The Opening of the Mouth and Eyes.
As you can probably guess, this ritual was performed to ceremoniously open the mouth and eyes of the dead.
This was done for two main reasons, the first being that the ancient Egyptians believed that the dead needed to eat, drink, talk, breathe and see during their journey through the underworld and in the afterlife itself.
The second reason is to help release the person’s Ba, or their instincts and personality, from their body. That way it could unite with their Ka, which is like the life force or vital essence of a person. Together, they would form the Akh, which is the most spiritual and immortal part of the soul.
For more on this, check out my video titled “Anatomy of the Ancient Egyptian Soul”.
Conducting the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony
The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was performed by the chief lector priest, the Kher-Heb, the Sem-priest, and other assistants. They used special tools and conducted the ritual inside the Gold Mansion, which is a chamber of the tomb. The ritual was performed on either the mummy or a statue of the deceased.
Because this ritual has records dating from the Old Kingdom all the way to the Roman period, there are many variations. So since I can’t list them all, what I’ll do is give you an overview of the ceremony performed on the statue of a dead king, and then below the video I’ve got some references you can check out for more details and examples.
Before the opening of the mouth itself, there were the purification rites. The deceased was placed on a mound of clean sand facing south. He is then purified using 4 nemset jars of water while the priest recited an incantation saying:
“You are pure, you are pure, you are pure, you are pure. Your purifications are the purifications of Horus, and the purifications of Horus are your purifications”
This was repeated again using the names of other gods.
The deceased would then be purified with natron and fumigated with various types of incense, and the eyes smeared with eye paint. Different magical spells were recited while performing the rituals.
Now it was time for the deceased to be reborn. The Sem-priest, who was lying down in the tomb pretending to be dead would be awakened. When he got up, he’d wear a leopard skin garment and identify himself with the god Horus.
He would then symbolically open the mouth of the statue with his little finger, as Horus had done with his father Osiris.
During these acts the animals brought for sacrifice would be slaughtered, including geese and gazelles, and the two bulls. Their killing would symbolize the killing of the enemies of the dead king.
The hearts and forelegs of the bulls would be presented as offerings to the statue, with the foreleg directly pointed at the lips, transferring strength and power to the deceased.
Now special instruments were used to ceremoniously cut an opening for the mouth and eyes of the statue, and the priest would say:
“I have opened your mouth. I have opened your two eyes. I have opened your mouth with the instrument of Anpu.”
Anpu being the Egyptian name of the god Anubis.
The instruments include the Peseshkef which a type of forked-blade, the Meskha which is a ritual adze-blade, a serpent-headed blade, an arm-shaped censor and a variety of amulets and offerings.
In this scene you see a priest wearing the mask of Anubis supporting the deceased while another priest performs the opening of the mouth.
Mourners are weeping for their beloved. In ancient Egypt, professional mourners were sometimes used, they were paid to scream and cry as loud as they can.
Interestingly enough, in some parts of Egypt this tradition continues to this day.
Once the opening of the mouth ceremony was complete, and the ability to breathe, eat, drink, speak and see were transferred to the deceased in his afterlife, the ritual is over. The deceased is left with offerings of whatever he might need on his journey to the afterlife.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Death and the Afterlife on Experience Ancient Egypt. If you did, please do share it with anyone else you may think will enjoy it.
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Till next time, take care.