Hold That Door!: The Gates of the Duat and Their Keepers 

I turn to the drooling hyena holding its flaming sword before the gate.  “We demand your name, gatekeeper.”
The hyena lets loose an unnerving cascade of shrieking sounds that makes Dru wince. “I must have heard him wrong,” she says, frowning.
I shake my head. “Not if what you heard was One Who Eats Up the Putrefaction of His Posterior. Of course, there are many ways to shorten that, though all of them are very vulgar.”
- Children of Actium 

This week, I thought we’d take a closer look at that seventy-eight-foot bundle of fun, the so-called Papyrus of Ani, better known to most people as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, or its more precise title translation, The Book of Going (Coming) Forth By Day. Written to be a map of the Duat, the Egyptian underworld, the Book of Going Forth was meant to help the newly-dead navigate the confusing and potentially treacherous topography of the afterlife, both by illustrating what obstacles the soul would encounter there and by providing the appropriate incantations (heka) to pass through these tests unharmed.

The copy of the text we call the Papyrus of Ani was complied for the tomb of a Theban scribe of that name circa 1250 BCE, during what was Egypt’s 19th Dynasty. It was acquired in 1888 for the British Museum by noted English Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge in the usual way for the period—in a super shady and dramatic fashion. As recounted in Budge’s own memoirs, By Nile and Tigris, Egyptians dealing in the illegal antiquities trade offered Budge the papyrus bundle discovered in the temple ruins at Luxor. (p. 136-7) But before he could take possession of the papyrus, the dealers and several others were arrested for their business practices by the local police and their houses were impounded, with among other ancient objects, the Papyrus of Ani inside. In a show of true English can-do-edness and disregard for indigenous laws or culture, Budge managed to distract the men guarding the house in question with a dinner party long enough for hired locals to tunnel under the building and smuggle the papyrus out of the house. (p. 143-9)

[Score one for exploitative colonialism!]

Back at the library of the British Museum, a rudimentary facsimile of the entire scroll was taken before it was cut into even lengths and mounted on boards for Budge to translate (Goelet and Faulkner, 1994/2015). This of course completely destroyed the continuity of the text, as Budge discovered, but fortunately the facsimile meant the ordering wasn’t completely lost to us. As Stargate fans are aware, ancient Egyptian linguistics have largely moved beyond Budge’s work, but putting aside his illegal methods of getting his material for a moment, his corpus still forms the foundation for the translations of everyone who came after him. If you’ve read the basic Book of the Dead, it’s still very likely that you read Budge’s translation (because it’s copyright-free and therefore cheap). And his two-volume Egyptian dictionary is still the most comprehensive I’ve found and is very useable, particularly if you’re willing to “translate” his letter usage into the modern guidelines, which isn’t difficult to do. Because all Egyptian transliteration is largely educated guesswork, the only reason I’d even recommend taking this extra step is to keep your translations from looking antiquated—it’s sort of like seeing Mandarin in the old Wade-Giles system rather than the more contemporary pingyin. This is how someone like me ends up with three different copies of the Book of Going Forth: a basic Budge for the straight dope of the text (with things like the Egyptian names of various gods and demons), a more intuitive translation like Normandi Ellis’ Awakening Osiris to capture the poetry of the text, and Goelet and Faulkner’s fully colorized reproduction of the Ani scroll to see the text with its proper illustrations there to give it meaning.

[I don’t have a problem! You have a problem!]

Anyway, since it’s impossible to cover the entire Ani scroll in one entry, for this one I want to do one “chapter” of the text that deals with a set of seven gates the deceased must pass through to reach the halls of Osiris. In part because they are something I adapted into my latest book, Children of Actium, but also because this series of gates (and the next chapter of portals that maybe we’ll cover next week) I think really capture the practical aspect of the Book of Going Forth. They present a set series of obstacles to the deceased and the papyrus contains the specific passcodes, if you will, that will allow you to enter them safely and not run afoul of their keepers. Each gate in this section of the Duat is guarded by three deities: a gatekeeper, a guardian, and a herald.

The keepers themselves are also emblematic of Egyptian cosmogony: small gods with a hyper-specific duty, but a duty that was the bedrock of their cultural religious thought. All of the various spells and incantations in the Book of Going Forth have the same basic function—to demonstrate that the deceased led a virtuous, purposeful life and was respectful of the gods and the wider universe they embody. The virtues espoused by the text are recognizable ones: love, charity, modesty, and piety among others. The deceased means to express to the gods that in their life they worked hard, exhibited kindness, and respected the good and the holy. These are the “spells” that will win over the armed gatekeepers, poised to block one’s way. So let’s take a look at these tiny guards and see if we can move through them as easily as the scribe Ani. And in case you ever find yourself trapped in the Duat with an internet connection, I’ll include Budge’s translation of the pass verses, which should be close enough to pacify these grumpy gods.

Gate One

Gatekeeper: Sekhetjerash (“Inverted of Face, Multitudinous of Forms”)
Guardian: Metiheh (“Eavesdropper”)
Herald: Hakheru (“Hostile-Voiced”)

I am the mighty one who createth his own light. I have come unto thee, O Osiris, and, purified from that which defileth thee, I adore thee. Lead on. Name not the name of Rosetjau [Ra’s lands] to me. Homage thee, O Osiris, in thy might and in thy strength in Rosetjau. Rise up and conquer, O Osiris, in Abydos. Thou goest round about heaven, thou sailest in the presence of Ra, thou lookest upon all the beings who have knowledge. Hail, Ra, thou who goest round about in the sky, I say, O Osiris in truth, that I am the Sahu [Spirit] of the god, and I beseech thee not to let me be driven away, nor to be cast upon the wall of blazing fire. Let the way be opened in Rosetjau, let the pain of the Osiris be relieved, embrace that which the Balance hath weighed, let a path be made for the Osiris in the Great Valley, and let the Osiris have light to guide him on his way.

The three deities of each gate are always shown sitting in the order of gatekeeper, guardian, and herald, each holding a weapon of some kind. So here we see that Sekhetjerash has the face of a hare (though based on his name, one suspects this is only one of his many faces) holding an animal-tail whisk or possibly a flaming sword, Metiheh is a snake with a knife, and Hakheru is a crocodile, also with a knife. The forms of the gate gods might feel arbitrary, simply an artist’s rendering of “monsters,” but there is some method underneath the madness. The name of “Eavesdropper” makes sense for a snake god who could easily slither about unnoticed, listening, and few voices in Egypt portended more hostility than the low growl of the Nile’s fearsome crocodiles. The hare might be the most puzzling on its face, but recall in our discussion of the hare goddess Wenet, that to the Egyptians, hares (that is, the Cape Hare) were nocturnal animals associated with night and the Duat, so they would be expected on this journey. Wenet, too, was Multitudinous of Forms, as she began her life as a snake goddess, before becoming the Hare of Hermopolis, and ultimately being depicted as a lioness in the Ptolemaic period. Hares were also associated with magic and perhaps it was the here one moment and gone the next swiftness that suggested to the Egyptians that they had merely changed their appearance.

Gate Two
Gatekeeper: Unhat (“One who opens up the breast”)
Guardian: Seqedher (“Seqed-face”)
Herald: Wesed

He sitteth to carry out his hearts desire, and he weigheth words as the Second of Thoth. The strength which protecteth Thoth humbleth the hidden gods who feed upon Ma’at [Truth] during the years of their lives. I offer up my offerings [to him] at the moment he make the his way. I advance, and I enter on the path. O grant thou that I may continue to advance, and may attain the sight of Ra, and of those who offer up [their] offerings.

Ah, but at the second gate is where things get complicated. Budge tells us that Unhat is a lion, which admittedly makes sense based on his name, but frankly he also has a knife that will vivisect you just as easily as teeth would. My real point is that there are other lions on this very piece of the scroll and they don’t look like whatever this thing is. My readers will know that Unhat is also a gatekeeper I use in CoA, and I call him a sheep. It’s possible he had more of a mane at some point, but it isn’t there now and I think he looks a lot closer to the other ovine deities than he does the leonine. Sir Wallis and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. And if Unhat wasn’t causing us enough trouble on his own, we have his buddies Seqedher and Wesed, who are much more clearly a knife-wielding man and dog, respectively. We know what they are, but their names are basically untranslatable as it stands, so I can’t give you a definitive meaning for them. We don’t really know what a seqed was—there is a similar word (seq) that can mean to smite or destroy, and another word (sqd) that might refer to a mathematical relationship. For me, and this is purely amateur linguistic sleuthing, what it might be trying to convey is that Seqedher means something like “Calculating Expression.” As for Wesed, I’m at even more of a loss, because there aren’t any words particularly close to it in spelling besides its own entry in Budge’s dictionary, which will oh-so-helpfully tell you that its meaning is “a gatekeeper in the Duat.” Personally, I’m going with Wesed means “Stabby Saluki” until someone tells me otherwise.

Gate Three

Gatekeeper: Unemhaw-awentpehui (“One who Eats the Putrefaction of his Posterior”)
Guardian: Seresher (“Alert of Face”)
Herald: Āa (“Gateway”)

I am he who is hidden in the great deep. I am the Judge of the Rehui [Horus and Set], I have come and I have done away the offensive thing which was upon Osiris. I tie firmly the place on which he standeth, coming forth wearing the wereret-crown. I have established offerings in Abydos. I have opened up a way through the kingdom, and I relieved the pain which was in Osiris. I have balanced the place whereon he standeth, and I have made a path for him ; he shineth brilliantly in Rosetjau.

Gate Three, hands down, has the gatekeeper with the best name. Unemhaw-awentpehui is, for the record, a jackal with a whisk, whose name Budge translates so poetically as “One who Eats the Putrefaction of his Posterior,” but we all know this god’s name is Shit-Eater, right? Even actual poet Normandi Ellis agrees with me and goes with “gobbler of his own shit” (p. 89). Which if you know enough about dogs and opportunistic scavengers like jackals, is probably at least a valid critique of their eating habits. As you can see from my flavor text, I chose to make Unemhaw-awentpehui a hyena rather than a jackal to avoid confusing him both with Anubis and another jackal-headed gatekeeper I also use (Atektaukehaq-kheru), but the point stands. The guardian Seresher is another dog, but perhaps either the traditional pricked-eared Egyptian tesem or an unspecified burrowing hound seen in Egyptian art that resembles a modern Corgi. Either way, he’s clearly supposed to be a hunting dog based on his name. And as for Āa, another snake-faced deity, whose name simply means “gateway,” this might represent the liminal space snakes operate in within Egyptian belief. Usually in the Duat, snakes are bad—like the great snake demon Apep; but snakes were often positive, protective forces in Egyptian thought too, perhaps best exemplified by the goddess Iaret/Wadjet in her rearing cobra form. Much of the journey the soul takes in the afterlife can be described as a balancing of the positive and negative forces within the human heart, the “judging of Horus and Set” mentioned in this gate’s incantation. The heart must meet the darkness within to move into the eternal light, and to do that, Horus must be raised up to counter the solo rule of his uncle while the potential threat embodied by the many snakes of Egypt must be met with reverence and respect.

Gate Four

Gatekeeper: Khesefherasht-kheru (“One whose Face Repels, Multitudinous of Voice”)
Guardian: Serestepu (“Alert One”)
Herald: Khesefad (“One who Repels the Crocodile”)

I am the Bull, the son of the ancestress of Osiris. O grant ye that his father, the Lord of his god-like companions, may bear witness on his behalf I have weighed the guilty in judgment. I have brought unto his nostrils the life which is ever lasting. I am the son of Osiris, I have accomplished the journey, I have advanced in Khert-Neter [God’s Domain].

Okay, as we saw with Āa and Seresher at the last gate, you’re going to get some repetitive motifs when you have twenty-one gate gods. Khesefherasht-kheru is another humanoid deity, but he is noticeably different because unlike Seqedher at the second gate whose face is a normal brown, his face is green. This may have been the artist’s attempt to illustrate his name, showing a “grotesque” face in the otherwise relatively static male facial features of Egyptian art. But it should also be remembered that Osiris is most often shown with a similarly green face and in him, it is meant to show the fecundity of life and his rebirth. But admittedly this might be playing with some double meanings, because while the Lord of the West’s rebirth is symbolic of the hope of resurrection the Book of Going Forth is leading its readers on, in order to be reborn, one must first die. Khesefherasht-kheru’s “repellant” face might be the soul’s confrontation with its own mortality, a reflection buried with in the viridian promise of a new day. These might be the gatekeeper’s cacophony of voices too, with both hope and fear tugging at the soul for dominance. This is also borne out in Khesefherasht-kheru’s companions, with the hawk-faced Serestepu and a truly lion-faced Khesefad representing dangerous predators, but ones that were often viewed as protective. Serestepu can lift the soul to the flight it is seeking and Khesefad can defeat a greater enemy, but their warning knives remind the soul not to complacently assume they are on its side. That’s why the incantation for this gate focuses on placing the soul besides the gods as an equal, to draw out the gate deities as allies rather than adversaries.

Gate Five

Gatekeeper: Ānkhfemfent (“He Lives on Worms”)
Guardian: Shabu
Herald: Debherkehakheft (“Hippopotamus-Faced, One who Charges Opposite”)

I have brought unto thee the jawbone in Rosetjau. I have brought unto thee thy backbone in Iunu [Heliopolis]. I have gathered together his manifold members therein. I have driven back Apep for thee. I have spit upon the wounds [in his body]. I have made myself a path among you. I am the Aged One among the gods. I have made offerings to Osiris. I have defended him with the word of truth. I have gathered together his bones, and have collected all his members.

This gate incantation is mostly about the deceased reenacting the regathering of Osiris’ body after Set divides it into somewhere between thirteen and twenty-six pieces, depending on your source material, to prevent his brother from being resurrected. Isis, Nephthys, and Horus laboriously track down the various pieces of Osiris in what is viewed as a great act of both magic and devotion, hence why the deceased is recounting it to the fifth gate deities and symbolically claiming to have done the same with their reverence to the gods of the dead. But I think the deities of this gate are meant to engage in the same symbolism here. Budge calls the gatekeeper, the delightfully-named Ānkhfemfent (appropriate for a bird), a hawk, which could be a stand-in for the hawk-headed death god Sokar, who is another aspect of Osiris. But I believe it is equally possible that Ānkhfemfent is supposed to be a falcon and a stand-in rather for Horus, the gatherer of his father’s bones. Why? In part because the herald of this gate is a snake with a hippopotamus name. As we’ve already mentioned, snakes are a common demon motif in the Duat and because of the treachery of his actions against Osiris, a common group name for demons is “children of Set.” Set is also associated with hippopotamuses, because of how strong and potentially lethal the animals can be, just like the god. But the incantation also specifically mentions driving back Apep, the task which is one that the dark desert god is most often praised for. I think this gate again symbolizes the balance between Horus and Set—because of the symbolism of its gatekeeper and herald—and because they flank a man-headed guardian named Shabu. The name of this god is held as untranslatable, but it can be used both as a word for stonework and masonary, as well as being linguistically related to the name of a minor fire god whose name can be written as Shabu or Ashbu. This may seem like a non sequitur until you realize that Sokar is also traditionally a god of builders and Osiris was occasionally represented by a flaming vase meant to embody his resurrection. This is a lot of linguistic circumstantial evidence, but there are too many points of coincidence to completely toss the connections aside.

Gate Six

Gatekeeper: Atektaukehaq-kheru (“Seizer of Bread, Raging of Voice”)
Guardian: Anher (“One who Brings his own Face”)
Herald: Adesher (“Sharp of Face”)

I have come daily, I have come. I have made myself a way. I have advanced over that which was created by Anubis. I am the Lord of the Wereret Crown. I am the possessor of heka, I am the Avenger according to law, I have avenged the injury to his Eye. I have defended Osiris. I have accomplished my journey. I advanced with you with the word which is truth.

Our Duat-traveler is in the home stretch now with only two gates to go. Which is good because these gate deities are just getting weirder, maybe as a last gasp attempt to overwhelm the petitioner. Atektaukehaq-kheru is recognizably another whisk-waving jackal, but Anher and Adesher are… something… Budge calls Anher a crocodile, which okay, he’s not as detailed as Hakheru was earlier, but fine. I’ll buy that because otherwise I’d say he has the head of an arrow tip or fountain pen nib, the latter making this a time-traveling god. However, maybe we need to return to the guardian’s name because “bringing one’s own face” could potentially be suggesting a fantastical creature. As for Adesher, Budge says this is another dog, but come on! That head could be anything!  It is in fact “sharp of face,” but I’m having trouble labeling it a dog, especially given that we’ve already seen two dogs and neither looked like this. Adesher’s bedroom eye isn’t really helping anything, either—it ends up looking like a sexy camel. On the other hand, both of us may be in the wrong biome because Raymond Faulkner adds the epithet “Belonging to the Pool” to Adesher’s name, so perhaps this really an eel or something. So “Femme Camel” or “Murder Eel” are your final choices as far as I’m concerned.

Gate Seven

Gatekeeper: Sekhemme-tenusen (“One who Prevails over Knives”)
Guardian: Āamaakheru (“Great of Triumph”)
Herald: Khesefkhemi (“One who Repels the Demolishers”)

I have come unto thee, Osiris, being purified from foul emanations. Thou goest round about heaven, thou seest Ra, thou seest the beings who have knowledge. Hail thou, One! Behold, thou art in the sektet [barque] which traverses the heavens. I speak what I will to his Sahu. He is strong, and cometh into being even [as] he spake. Thou meetest him face to face. Prepare thou for me all the ways which are good [and which lead] to thee.

At the last gate, the deities’ names and forms become less monstrous and more celebratory, as if recognizing the victory of the soul over the obstacles placed before it. The hare form returns in Sekhemme-tenusen, who perhaps because they are the knife master, holds a knife instead of a whisk. He is joined by Āamaakheru and Khesefkhemi, a lion and man, respectively; again more protective than antagonistic forms, particularly the latter. After all the deceased has seen, we end with a human god holding the much-less-threatening whisk. As if Khesefkhemi means to gently swat the soul past him into the presence of the greater gods.

Here, as in the first incantation, the soul returns to speaking directly to Osiris, as if the gate deities have vanished and nothing stand between it and the Lord of Life. At last the guards against the soul seem to fully give way and become the escorts who will take the deceased to the feet of the king of the Duat rather than stand against it. Osiris and the petitioner have been cleansed and made whole, ready for their second, eternal life in the Field of Reeds where body and soul can live again in contemplation of the universe. The straight path falls into place before the deceased and the times of separation end. The soul can speak directly to the god with no intercession, and the commentary at the end of this chapter promises that the deceased will be “one body” with Osiris. In this way, the spirit of the god enters the soul and his resurrection can be shared. Well, at least until they have to cross the ten portals in the next chapter…

[Ani and his wife say, ”Stay tuned!”]
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