The Pyramid Texts of UNAS

by Wim van den Dungen

Passage-way l Antechamber l Corridor l Serdab

introduction l English text l plan of the tomb l commentary


ca. 7.3m (E/W) x 3.08m (N/S)


Sethe's Edition l Central Plan

Overall textual distributions :

The burial-chamber has no texts near the sarcophagus, although 18 texts adorn the West Gable, right above the false door designs. These are protective spells against evil serpents. On the North Wall, there are 118 texts. Taken together, these texts form an offering liturgy in 5 parts. The latter takes up over half of the total utterances in the pyramid of Unas. There are 12 more texts on the South Wall and 7 on the East Wall. The South Wall deals with the voyage to the Duat, ending in the coronation & solarization of the king on the East Wall. Finally, on the East Gable, we find foodspells to replenish the king as a Living Horus.

The last text of the South Wall (219) continues on the East Wall. The texts of the North and South Walls begin in the West and read to the East. The texts of the West Gable read from North to South and those of the East Wall and East Gable read from South to North. Let us remind the sacred directions of space :

The first movement is in accord with the daily movement of the Sun, who "dies" in the West at dusk and is "reborn" in the East at dawn (cf. the so-called "Hours" of the night which return a millennium later in the Books of the Netherworld, in particular in the Amduat). This procession is also suggestive of a movement from the burial-chamber toward the antechamber, persisting in the passage-way and in the antechamber. The South-North axis reflects the dynamics between constellations changing through the cycles of the year, in particular Sirius (reflective of the myth of Osiris and the Duat) and the Imperishable Stars in the North (reflective of the sky of Re, the ultimate abode of the divine king).

Structural parts :


1. Protecting the West

Every start is difficult and needs to be protected from adverse forces, offering resistance to whatever process is to be initiated. In this case, the text starts with protecting the tomb of evil creatures related to darkness and Earth (like a series of serpents). The prominent placement of these opening text on the West Gable, right above the sarcophagus, is balanced by the closing spells against similar obnoxious beings on the East Wall of the antechamber, forming as it were the two poles of an imaginary "protective field" (Naydler, 2005, p.296), defining the written areas of the tomb as the protected place of ritual workings.


2. Offering Liturgy

A thorough preparation is necessary before the king takes off to the Duat. In a dramatic, performative way, the Offering Liturgy presents the divine king and his priest as officiating at a royal ritual involving purifications & offerings. This elaborate ceremony, in which the king presides, has (1) rites of purification, (2) the opening of the mouth, (3) a preliminary presentation of offerings, (4) anointing & adornment of the king and (5) offerings made in the form of an elaborate banquet. In these ceremonies, the essential ritual implement is the Eye of Horus, hurt by Seth and restored (healed) by Thoth. The text elucidates how this Left Eye of Horus, or Eye of Wellness, operates three registers :

  1. sum total of offerings : the Eye represents all possible foodstuff etc. placed on the table of offerings ;

  2. offer of offerings (offertorium) : the Eye as the standard for all possible offerings, for every offering is like offering the Eye of Horus ;

  3. offer of communion (canon) : the "embrace" as communion with the Eye to restore Osiris implies the absorbation of the Eye of Horus to heal Osiris (the King).


3. Voyage to the Duat

Departing alive

After the banquet, the divine king finally departs to the Duat. The South Wall records, in 7 texts, the Old Kingdom version of Egypt's theology of regeneration, the so-called midnight mystery, returning a millennium later in the 6th Hour of the Amduat. The first and last three texts are spoken by the priest, while the crucial passage (a prayer recited by the king), is sandwiched between these. The priest affirms the king has not gone dead, but alive. He sits on the throne of Osiris and is identified with Atum (213). However, this does not mean his final goal lies in the Duat. Quite on the contrary, the king is a "purified Falcon" at the "head of the Westerners", who will eventually bathe in the "cool waters of the stars" (214). In the Duat, he is protected by Atum, who will not allow the heart of the king to be claimed by Osiris. Paradoxically, in order to guarantee this escape from the special jurisdiction of the king of the dead, the divine king, a Ba, has to (in a ritual sense) identify with Osiris and simulate his death to live his restoration (rejuvenation & regeneration) to the point of precipitation (incarnation or embodiment). The king is never at the mercy of Osiris, and this because he is a Solar spirit pulled down by Geb, protected by Atum, and eventually ontologically identified with the "Father of the gods".

Midnight Mystery

Just as it would be the case in the Amduat many centuries later, the actual midnight mystery implies (a) the encircling of the king, in the Night Bark, by the Duat & (b) his unification with Atum "in darkness". Being encompassed by the Duat and in its depths, the king comes to renewal. United in the darkness, he rises in the horizon, the place of his spiritualization. The principle is simple : the king, by way of the horizon and its interstitial twilight, returns to the place of origin (the First Time, the Golden Age of he self-created Atum) and, just like the Sun god each night, taps the powers of rejuvenation there.

In the Amduat, the Ba of Re enters the "body" of Osiris (Sokar). Encircled by the Oroboros-serpent, the crucial transformation, by returning the corpse of Re to the First Time (Zep Tepi), is effectuated. The fact that the king is a Solar being is stressed again and again. His ultimate abode is the sky of Re and the dwellers of the Duat, in particular Osiris at the head of the Westeners, are made aware of this through repetition. Even in the Duat, the king is linked with Atum-Re, his father. The Duat Voyage is a darkness leading to regeneration, but the latter is only possible because king Unas (like the Ba of Re in the Amduat and the Book of Gates), unites with Atum, the origin of the deities, the king and the world.

"Through the paradox of rite, every consecrated space coincides with the center of the world, just as the time of any ritual coincides with the mythical time of the 'beginning'. Through repetition of the cosmogonic act, concrete time, in which the construction takes place, is projected into mythical time, in illo tempore when the foundation of the world occurred. Thus the reality and the enduringness of a construction are assured not only by the transformation of profane space into a transcendent space (the center) but also by the transformation of concrete time into mythical time. Any ritual whatever, (...) unfolds not only in a consecrated space (i.e., one different in essence from profane space) but also in 'sacred time', 'once upon a time' (in illo tempore, ab origine), that is, when the ritual was performed for the First Time by a god, an ancestor, or a hero." - Eliade, M. : The Myth of the Eternal Return, 1965, p.21.

The Rebirth of the King as a Living Osiris

The king, identified with Osiris, encounters twelve deities and "lives". The affirmation that King Unas, son of Atum, is Osiris, is not dead, is not destroyed, and has not been judged but instead judges is repeated twenty-four times !

The last text of the South Wall continues on the East Wall.


Coronation as Horus

The king prays to the Red Crown and is crowned with it. He receives the emblems of power and is enthroned with Lotus and Sekhem sceptres. He is a Living Horus.

Coronation Ritual of a Solarized Horus King

A coronation ceremony invokes the staircase at either end of the dais upon which the double throne of the king was placed during the Sed festival. Here, ritual act and ecstatic experience join forces. While certain ritual activity is ongoing, meditative techniques & states are entered to facilitate imagination (visualization), charge the repetition of holy words and trigger various trance-states (much like in contemporary Tibetan Buddhism). Together with the experience described earlier, we have here the two main variants of altered states of consciousness perceived by king Unas. The "silent" third is the divine king himself, the Living Horus who transcends duality and keeps divisions united :

  • Lunar / Osiris : the Living Osiris escapes the fate of being judged ;

  • Solar / Re : the (newborn) Living Horus travels day & night with Re.

These coronation rituals indicate a this-life context, and were placed at the end of the Duat voyage. These rituals might have followed after the trance-state of the king expired and he returned to this plane and awoke.

4. Return from the Duat

The king is called back and nourished, and the "mood has an unfamiliar urgency" (Naydler, 2005, p.180.). Is this the awakening of the initiate-king who returns from a trancelike experience of the Duat ? If so, then the divine king, in a ritual trance, left as a dying Osiris (assumed the death posture) to become (by virtue of the midnight mystery) a newborn Horus and be coronated as such. The Duat provides the transformation-key to move from a living but depleted Horus King to a newborn or Living Horus King (cf. the Sed festival). Identification with the "body" of Osiris provided the key, and in the case of the divine king the merging had to be complete. Osiris the King would be restored (by the Eye of Horus working ex opere operato as a sublimation of offerings and on the level of basic myths) and this restoration of Osiris the King is the awakening of the divine king as a Living Horus.

5. Spiritual nourishment

On the East Gable, these texts mainly deal with the physical and spiritual nourishment of the king. They tell what happened to him in the Duat after he was regenerated by way of the midnight mystery.

As a Bull, king Unas is associated with Min, the god of fertility. He feeds, like the deities, on Maat, the "eye of Ra" and avoids the inversion of his food (eating excrement). His feeding is the result of his spiritual rebirth. As a newborn Horus, he eats and drinks what Horus lives on.

Comments :

While on Earth, the king enters the underworld in an altered state of consciousness. The burial-chamber is the place of Duat-regeneration (rejuvenation) accessible to the divine king in this-life rituals, assuming the death-posture and the role of Osiris. This is a general rehearsal of what happens when the king receives a "sah" or mummy. Because of these this-life practices, he escaped Osiris in this life and in the afterlife.

The midnight conjunction with Atum "in darkness", taps into the infinite power-base outside the natural order. It involves the deepest layer of the Egyptian concept of reality, the everlasting primordial ocean (Nun) and its autogenetic capacities (Atum, the Ba of Nun). This ultimate layer lies outside the sphere of creation, and is described in the Heliopolitan myths as Atum hatching himself by himself in Nun, the inert waters in which Atum floats. Nun is everything outside what is deemed necessary for creation and order. Nun and absolute chaos, isotropic (in all directions) and homogeneous (uniform), are identical. Nun is inimical to life itself and dissolves everything. But, uniting with Atum in the Duat of Osiris, rekindles king Unas, and a new beginning unfolds. The depleted Horus, by identifying ritually with Osiris (becoming Osiris King Unas), is regenerated as a newborn Living Horus, a rejuvenated king.

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initiated : 18 VI 2006 - updated : 14 XII 2010 - version n°3

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2006 - 2017.