The Mystic of Abydos

When we visited the beautiful temple of Seti I at Abydos last month, we were more interested in the beautiful reliefs, ceiling decorations, hypostyle* halls, and chapels than in the other tourists who were there.

Except some of them were acting a little strangely.

One woman with a big backpack was walking around barefoot in the area near the sanctuary, and I could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of her lying down on the ground on a yoga mat amid the columns afterwards. When we went outside to check out the remains of the now partly flooded Osireion behind the temple, three women were sitting there, eyes-closed, humming.

Egypt has long been a magnet for all matter of hippies, mystics, illuminated, and crackpots (sorry for putting you all in the same category—you know I love you). But, as I learned from an offhand remark in my guidebook, there is one case related to this temple in particular that stands out among all the others.

Dorothy Eady was an Englishwoman of Irish descent born in 1904. After a fall down a flight of stairs as a child, she started behaving strangely. When she visited the British Museum, she became obsessed with Ancient Egypt and eventually moved to Egypt as an adult. I won’t detail her whole life here (although I suggest you read the Wikipedia article devoted to her), but the essential thing to know is that she believed that she was the reincarnation of a priestess of the Temple of Osiris at Abydos who was forced to commit suicide after sleeping with the pharaoh.

The strange thing is that Eady, who was definitely a little strange, also displayed an excellent knowledge of Ancient Egypt. She conducted first-rate ethnographical studies, mastered Egyptian hieroglyphs, and shed light on many aspect of both contemporary and ancient Egyptian culture by studying daily life in the villages around Abydos. She was able to trace the evolution of certain customs in these villages back to ancient times.

So, were the meditative tourists we saw that day in the Temple of Set I trying to commune with the spirit of a reincarnated temple priestess? I didn’t ask. Whatever they were doing, I hope they found what they were looking for.

By the way, there’s another weird detail about the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, which one of the site guards pointed out to me. Near the ceiling of the first colonnaded hall, there is a set of hieroglyphs that look like they depict a helicopter, an airplane, and a tank. The strange shapes of the hieroglyphs are actually due to the fact that they were re-carved, but they’ve fuelled the theories of many UFO enthusiasts over the years.

*it means it has rows of pillars.

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