Ancient Egyptian Musician-Priestesses

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Musician-Priestesses in Ancient Egyptian Culture & their use of sistrum

Meresamun Singer in the Interior of theTemple of Amun

 

My friend & guru Mimi JanislawskiI recently gifted me a beautiful book* published in 2009 entitled: The life of Meresamun, Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt edited by Emily Teeter & Janet H. Johnson.

Meresamun
("Amun Loves Her") was a women who lived in Egypt in approx. 800 BC and Dr.  EmilyTeeter informs us:

“We know Meresamun  from her beautifully decorated coffin, which is now in the collection of the Oriental Institute (in Chicago). A single band of inscription running down the front of the coffin records her name and her job title:

Singer in the Interior of the Temple of Amun  …

and as a Singer in the Interior of the Temple of Amun , Meresamun belonged to a group of elite musician-priestesses who sang and made music for the god Amun....

Music played an important role in Egyptian religion.  The gods, who had many of the same characteristics as humans, were thought to be entertained by music.  The instruments most closely associated with music played in temples are the ritual rattle known as the sistrum & beaded necklaces (menat).  Playing these instruments was believed to calm the gods and make them more agreeable to protecting and helping mankind.  “

While reading this book, I was reminded of being blessed to view the wall (see below) at Hatshepsut's  Chappelle Rouge at the Temple of Karnak  (dating back to approx.. 1460 BC)   wherein carved is a wonderful depiction of khener shaking sistra and clapping the rhythm during the Opet Festival.  HNR is the ancient Egyptian name for a professional troupe of dancers and singers associated with Hathor and Horus.

"In the annual Opet Festival, during which Amun traveled from the Karnak temple to the Luxor temple, the procession was greeted by the queen who shook two sistra.  Behind her was a group of seven women, labeled "Singers of Amun," who hold menat and shake sistra before the boat that carried the god....."

Video clip of Tahya introducing Meresamun:  Click here
 

In the chapter titled Ritual Music Dr. Teeter details:

"A sistrum is a rattle that was played primarily by queens, princesses, and priestesses in the course of offering rituals and sacred processions.  The goddess Hathor, who was known as the Mistress of Music, was so strongly associated with the sistrum that her face decorated the handle of most examples.  The sistrum is also connected to the worship of Hathor through a ritual called “plucking papyrus for Hathor” apparently because the sound of the sistrum was equated with rustling sound that papyrus made in the marsh.  This equation was further stressed by a pun, for both “sistrum” and “plucking” were Seshseshet  (Sššt)  in the ancient Egyptian language..."

"The act of shaking a sistrum was also thought to protect the goddess and her subjects.  This protection is made clear by scenes at the temple of Hathor at Dendera that are captioned:

 

I have taken the Seshseshet sistrum,

I grasp the sistrum and drive away the one who is hostile to Hathor, Mistress of Heaven

I dispel what is evil by means of the sistrum in my hand.

 

 


 

*find this book at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute Museum Store:  Click here