The Senet Game: Three Steps to Eternity.

Senet board. Arizona State Museum (ASM 12496)

The Senet game of Ancient Egypt was a board game for leisure in common life, which also had its funerary side.

It was present in the wall decoration and was part of the funerary equipment. According to it, the deceased played against the death and once he or she achieved the end of the board reached also the eternity.

Nefertari playing board game Senet. Ancient Egypt
Nefertari playing the senet game. Painting from her tomb in Luxor. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net.

But the decoration of the five last squares of the board also depicted the final steps in the funerary dimension until the resurrection.

I would like to raise briefly some hypotheses to understand it better.

Squares 26 and 27 of Senet Game: The Prelude of a New Life.

The word nefer or neferu in square 26 refers to something good. But also from New Kingdom neferu can refer to a part of a house or even the innermost part of the tomb (specially of the king).

Square 26 with the hieroglyph neferu. Senet game dating form the reign of Tutmosis III. Metropolitan Mueum of Art (01.4.1a). Photo: www.metmuseum.org
Fragment of the last squares of a senet game XX Dynasty. British Museum (BM102396). Photo: www.statemuseum.arizona.edu

The word mww in square 27 means “water“. In my opinion, and always thinking from the funerary point of view, it could refer to the primeval waters, the chaos where the creation took place. This water had the principles of the Creation and Renewing, both fundamental elements for the dead’s resurrection.

Square 28: The First Step to the New Creation.

The divinities of square 28 could refer us to the first moments of the Creation. In some examples, the small text mention the “souls of Heliopolis“, which from ancient times assited the king in his ascension to the sky. Moreover chapter 115 of the Book of the Death say that the “souls of Heliopolis” were Ra, Shu and Tefnut, the three first gods of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. It seems that here the deceased is facing a first step in a new creation.

Fagment of senet board . 980 – 838 BC. Square 28 mentions the “souls of Heliopois”; square 29 shows the two professional mourners. Provenance unknown. Arizona State Museum (ASM 12496). Photo: www.researchgate.net

Square 29: The Mourning Ritual of Isis and Nephthys.

The square 29 shows always a dual depiction: two women with holding hands and sometimes identified as “the two sisters”. Obviously they are the two goddesses Isis and Nephthys.

There is a very explicit depiction in a senet board from the Arizona State Museum. In it the two goddesses are wearing the Red Crown (Lower Egypt) and the White Crown (Upper Egypt). In ancient Egypt “The One of the North” was Nephthys and “The One of the South” was Isis.

Both Isis and Nephthys are standing over a hetep-hieroglyph; in fact it is part of a complete sentece saying: “seeing the two sisters in peace. Moreover Isis is holding with her hand a sign of life, indicating that it is something is directly related to a revivifyng act.

Square 29 with the two professional mourners Isis and Nephthys. Dynasty XIX. Provenence unknown. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM 922.17). Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

It is not the only example. There is a fragment of a senet game in the Royal Ontario Museum from the Dynasty XIX, whose 29th square is decorated with an image of both women and the text inscribed is almost the same: “the two sisters are in peace“.

The concept of Isis and Nephthys being in peace is already documented in the funerary sphere for helping the dead in his resurrection. The image of the union of both manes of hair of Isis and Nephthys is mentioned in the Coffin Texts and in the Book of the Dead:

 To unite both hairs shenu means to get both banks together, and that would allow the dead to pass to the Hereafter without needing any boat. The hair of Isis and Nephtys was a means for getting the resurrection.

Blog “Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt”

But we can move a step forward. The union of both shores symbolised the reconciliation of the two sisters. According to a version of the legend, Osiris cheated on Isis with her sister Nephtys, of which union Anubis was born. Obviously that caused discord between both sisters; in the symbolic dimension the union of both manes was the end of the discord, as we can read in Book of the Dead: “Pray Osiris …both shores are reconciled…he has caught aversion from their hearts for you, they hug each other”.

Blog: “Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt”
Detail of Stele of Abkaou (D.XI). Ancient Egypt
Detail of the two profesional mourners over the mummy. Stele of Abkaou. XI Dynasty. Musée du Louvre (C15). Photo: www.photo.rmn.fr

To dedicate a complete square just to Isis and Nephthys is not gratuitous. In my opinion, it refers us to the mourning ritual performed by the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephthys, based in the Osirian Myth. It took place in funerals and granted the final resurrection of the mummy.

Square 30: The Final Resurrection.

Once Isis and Nephthys gave back to Osiris all the vital functions, he could revive as a King of the Underworld and Horus, as legitimate heir, became King of Egypt.

That explains why the last square was dominated by an image of god Horus. That was a proof of the resurrection of Osiris.

Square 30 with the image of Horus. Dynasty XIX. Provenence unknown. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM 922.17). Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

The end of the senet game in the funerary sphere indicated that the regeneration of the dead was a fact. He, assimilated to Osiris, was resurrected and reached the eternity.

Conclusion.

Summing up, we can deduce that the five last squares of the senet game as a funerary artifact depict the three main steps of the dead until the eternal life:

  • First he gets into the world of the death and darkness, indicated in squares 26 and 27 by the tomb and the primeval waters.
  • Secondly he starts his procedure to the eternal life, indicated in squares 28 and 29 with the ascension to the sky and with the mourning ritual made by Isis and Nephthys to regain his vital functions; a clear allusionto this funerary rite.
  • To finish, square 30 shows the image of Horus. That means that the mummy (Osiris) has been revenged by is son Horus, who regains the throne of Egypt. The dead obtains the eternal life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.