Who Does it Belong To?

Today I will be explaining what I believe cultural heritage to be and who can claim it. Specifically, Egyptian culture. And I will be using the movie Al Mummia as my main reference. Warning: there will be many spoilers. Basically I spoil the whole movie, but you should still watch it.


Many people use distorted views of Egyptian culture and spread it in media. These distorted views become common understanding and belief. When someone said Egypt I used to think of  “dance like an Egyptian” and Queen Cleopatra. Both are not clear or accurate depictions of the vast and unique cultural heritage of the Egyptians.

Cultural heritage, is, and I looked this up: the way of life, of a group of people, that is passed down for generations. Therefore, I believe that cultural heritage belongs to the people who continue to practice this, either by actual practice or those who share the knowledge and history. Those who identify as members of the culture.

Now this definition and right to claim makes it all the more difficult to pick a side in the movie Al Mummia.

The story revolves around Wannis, the son of the chief of a mountain tribe. This tribe’s means of survival is selling items from a mummy cache in a cave that only they know about. Wannis learns of this practice after his father’s death as he is the successor. He is disturbed by this practice. When city people arrive in the mountain, with the purpose of finding the cache, Wannis wars over what to do. After much deliberation he leads them to the cache.

The conflict in this movie is less external and more internal. Who does the mummy cache belong to? Does the cache belong to the people of the mountain? Some would say it is their cultural heritage. The tribe leaders argue that the selling of these antique goods is tradition. It is a practice that has been passed down for generation. That is cultural heritage, is it not?

al-mummia cover


However, some would find it difficult to relate to these people who were shown to kill members of their own tribe in order to keep this secret. Morally, is that unforgivable? What would you do if your way of survival was threatened? As the people of a barren mountain, this was their means of survival for generation. By taking the cache away, the city people are condemning those on the mountain.

The city people appear as the “good guys” coming to protect the ancient goods. But their only purpose may also be to, bring more economy to the city. Rather than selling the items, they will be studying them and putting them on display. Morally, these people seem better. They did not kill or wound anyone physically and they are doing nothing illegal. By my definition and right of claim they are also more in favor. They will be sharing the items and knowledge with the people of egypt.

Though in this instance I believe the city people are correct, I realize that this may be my stance only because of my own societal norms. I can see why the mountain tribe did what they did, and I cannot condemn them for this, I believe what happened was necessary. Surviving the way they were is not living. Egypt and the Egyptian people deserve to share what was in that tomb.

There is also the idea of world heritage, which claims that the antiquities of the world belong to the entire world. I don’t know if I can back this idea simply because of practical reason. I believe the idea itself is cool and I like learning about cultures around the world, but claiming cultural heritage from a society I am ignorant about makes no sense to me. I see this leading to problems such as Britain claiming more artifacts from various parts of the world and putting them in their museums.
Conclusively, Al Mummia is based off the actual discovery of a cache of mummies in 1881. The  man, who we will consider to be the parallel of Wannis, was actually tortured for the location of the cache. If this had been depicted in the movie, I believe there would have been much more sympathy with the mountain tribe. In my class there were some who had sympathy, and others who saw the killings by the tribe unforgivable. I believe this depends on your moral views and ability to see more than one side. Similarly, cultural heritage is a difficult thing to apply to peoples when their has been such a gap between their modern culture and that of their past.

The Rosicrucian Fascination with the Effaced King

The Rosicrucian order, from my understanding, is a clandestine society who study and accept varying philosophical and natural laws of ancient civilizations. It is they who own the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, and all the land it sits on. This spot is their foundation in the U.S., their base of operation. I had never heard of the Rosicrucian order before my class trip to their museum. Unfortunately, the day we arrived it was closed. However, we did get to see their library and the grounds, which were a wonder themselves. The library contained writings from many cultures around the world with subjects including folklore, myths, languages, and reincarnation. Their grounds displayed exhibits for alchemy, Greek scholars, and Egyptian religion. Perhaps the Rosicrucians feel akin to the Egyptians who accepted several diverse and conflicting beliefs as combined truth. Perhaps this is why the Rosicrucian order appear to be so very fascinated with Egyptian religion. However, of the aspects of Egyptian religion, it appears from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, that their main interest is in Akhenaten.
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On the building of the museum there is a freeze of Akhenaten worshiping Aten in the center and all the other gods coming to him. Not knowing about this Rosicrucian fascination with Akhenaten I was very confused. I believe some of my classmates were very confused. Not only is the depiction wrong in the time before and after Akhenaten, as the god in the center would be Amun, or Osiris, or Horus, or really anyone but Aten, but it was also wrong for during the worship of Aten. Aten was the focus and the other gods did not play a roll. During our tour of the grounds I saw two temples dedicated to Aten. One we were allowed to enter; It had sections in the roof cut out to allow sun rays to enter. To allow Aten to enter.
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The other temple we were not allowed in. It was only for the order.
Akhenaten was a king, erased from Egyptian history. At the very least the Egyptians tried to erase him from history. His cult, or religion, focused on the god Aten, was possibly the shortest practiced religion. There is evidence of the people still worshiping their ennead and pantheon of gods during the time of this attempt at monotheism. The worship of Aten in monotheistic context did not last more than a generation. His own son, Tutankhamun began the process of returning the country to its polytheistic ways. And yet the Rosicrucians elevate this king who the ancient Egyptians did not acknowledge. I saw little of the religion practiced by the Egyptians continuously for thousand of years, but much of the interruption caused by Akhenaten. At one entrance there were two walls depicting life and death. Life was depicted as Akhenaten receiving life from the rays of the Aten. Death was still the scale, judging the heart against a feather but Anubis was missing. Also there was a monkey sitting on top of the scale and I just really don’t know why that was there.


Magic as a Societal Norm

In most cultures today, and in the past, magic is viewed as heresy, an abomination, defying the highest divine being, the laws of nature. However, the Egyptians did not view magic in the same way. Magic, was in fact, part of their religious practice and their natural laws. Their gods had powers, as most divine beings do. They were the creators. This alone makes magic an accepted part of nature. A spell was no different than a prayer to a god, or gods, asking for them to use their magic to aid. Rather than defy the gods, Egyptian magic was dependent upon them. It was a socially accepted aspect of daily life that was not clandestine, not shameful. There was no burning of citizens suspected of witchcraft by the temple priests. Most often the priests were the ones practicing magic.
Egyptian magic was not power wielded by humans, it was not something people were born with. Instead magic was the knowledge of spells and the ability to communicate appropriately with the gods. Magicians were usually some of the most educated people in Egypt. They were believed to be possessed by Heka, a god who acted as the personification of magic. These possessed men were men who possessed the ability to read the spells to enact magic, mainly being priests.Literally, knowledge equals power. One such example, is the “spell for Causing the Beloved to follow After.” The purpose of this spell is to cause the casters desired to fall in love with them. It begins by calling to both Re and Hathor saying, “Hear me, O Re, Falcon of twin Horizons, father of gods! Hear me, you seven Hathors who weave fate with scarlet thread!” However, knowing spells was not always enough. The casting of a spell sometimes required the reenactment of divine stories. The magician, would become the god whose power he called upon.
Found at the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester
This reenactment of divine story can be paralleled to my last blog post, in that like the pharaoh, the magician becomes the god in order to perform his duty. This recurring theme in Egyptian society displays the Egyptian’s accessibility to their gods. Not only could they communicate with them through oracles and dreams, but they were personified on earth. This personification is also seen in Christianity. The son of God on earth is able to perform miraculous feats. The messenger of God is able to part the sea. Why is it that in later Christianity, such feats would lead to accusation, and burning?
Perhaps the difference lies in the hold of the religion. Throughout, ancient Egyptian history there is no obvious loss of faith in the religion. The religion is quite continuous and while it changes, those in power do not. People could, rather easily, communicate with their gods. The only upset was Akhenaten’s attempt at monotheism. Through this new religion he attempted to raise himself to a divine status and make the god Aten accessible only to the royal family. Christianity was similar in that God was accessed through the church. The idea was that an average person could not access God him or herself. Therefore, magic, which came from God, could not possibly be bestowed upon just anyone by Him. Instead it must come from the Devil.
Found at the Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago
Magic was most often used for morally just actions; protecting children, curing the sick, destroying national enemies. Bes, the protector god of the household and children, was popular during the New Kingdom. Dark magic, spells to kill or injure, where not popular until the very end of ancient Egyptian history. During Ramses III reign a plot to assassinate him was uncovered in which the wax figurines were used. Their purpose was to target the ba. The afterlife of the Egyptian’s mirrored their own lives, and thus also had magic. However, rather than spoken or active magic, this magic was given power through inscription. Spells, such as the ones contained in The Book of the Dead, were written in tombs to aid and support the dead in the afterlife. These spells also invoked the gods with sayings such as “Atum has given me my hands, they are placed as guardians.” (wksht) Other places where in-scripted power was given was on objects such as wands and amulets (as found in Teeter pgs 169 & 172). These were often decorated with the gods whose powers they were to posses, names or reenactments of divine stories.
Magic is at the heart of ancient Egyptian religion. It does not conflict with religion because, as Teeter states in “Religion and ritual in Ancient Egypt, there is no separation between the two.The idea of mystical, magical, ancient Egypt comes from their religion, their vast, and complex practices and beliefs, which we today call magic and myths were their truths and rules of nature.

Parallel Between Kingship and the Divine Stories

Allegedly, Amenemhet I, the first ruler of the twelfth dynasty of Egypt, was assassinated during his thirtieth year of rule by those close to him. The text, “The Teaching of King Amenemhet I For His Son Senwosret,” is a work of fiction produced after his death in which Amenemhet I mostly tells his son not to trust anyone.The text implies that Amenemhet I’s assassination occurred before he could publicly announce Senwosret as his successor. “/And so ruin occurred while I was without you, When the courtiers had not yet heard that I would hand over (the throne) to you,”. “The Teaching of King Amenemhet I For His Son Senwosret” appears to be propaganda, both for the late king and firmly attesting Senwosret’s right to the throne. The text also shows the close relationships between, the monarchy and Egyptian religion.

Colossal Head of Senwosret I, ca. 1961-1917 B.C. Egyptian, Middle Kingdom Limestone, paint; H. 72 cm; W. 32.5 cm The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,  (MK.159) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/591432
Colossal Head of Senwosret I, ca. 1961-1917 B.C.
Egyptian, Middle Kingdom
Limestone, paint; H. 72 cm; W. 32.5 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (MK.159)

The kings of Egypt secured their role as ruler through their relation to the gods. Upon ascension to the throne, the living king was believed to be the living Horus, the king of the gods. The previous king was then believed to be Horus’s father, Osiris, king of the underworld and the dead. Osiris had once been king of the gods and the god of fertility. However, he became the god of the underworld after he was killed by his brother Seth. Seth, the god of chaos, wanted to claim the throne. However, After Osiris’s death, his son Horus also believed he was entitled to the throne. Seth was tricked by Horus’s mother, Isis, into agreeing that a son should receive his father’s estate. This is the explanation for the succession of the throne in the dynasties.
A statue of Horus as depicted at the Metropolitan Museum.
A statue of Horus as depicted at the Metropolitan Museum.

Because Amenemhet I was king he was also Horus, and after his death became Osiris. Senwosret was his son, and thus, was eligible to be the next king. The text does not cover Senwosret’s ascension or if anyone opposed him. However, in “The Teaching of King Amenemhet I For His Son Senwosret,” the first line of dialogue from Amenemhet I to his son is “You who has risen as a god” .This establishes that Senwosret had already ascended to the throne and became the living Horus. In this way his claim is indisputable. He was the son of Osiris and the living Horus. Also, the fact that the dead Amenemhet I, or Osiris, is speaking to Senwosret implies that he is worthy to receive visions or dreams from the gods.

Following this connection, we might assume that those who killed Amenemhet I may be considered to be Seth. Seth is the god of chaos, the opposite of Ma’at. Ma’at is order and justice, both the goddess of these ideals and the ideals themselves. The Egyptians greatly valued and strived for these ideals and it was the pharaoh’s job to maintain it. On the other hand, chaos was to be avoided, making Seth the ill favored god. When Amenemhet I tells Senwosret to “Put no trust in a brother,” it can be interpreted that Amenemhet is telling him to be wary of Seth, or those who oppose him. This classifies those who oppose Senwosret as the “bad guy,” as they are chaos. The rule of Senwosret is thus in accordance with Ma’at.

Throughout the text Amenemhet I also explains to his son all the great things he did in his life. What Amenemhet I praises himself for are similar to what was often written on stelas. It is unclear whether these accomplishments were actually accomplished or written because they were expected and revered. Amenemhet I accomplishments as a military leader in the line, “I enslaved the men of Nubia, took prisoner the Medjay, And I forced the Asiatic tribes to cower away like dogs.” In another he relates kind acts performed for the less fortunate. “I was generous to the pauper, I sustained the orphan, I caused him who had nothing to become at length like a man of means.” This type of act is typically seen on the tombs of the wealthy and can be considered a generally expected act. These types of acts are written so that the dead will be remembered and mourned for. In this way they are remembered positively.

Another interpretation of this piece of literature has been that it denotes that the monarchy is weak and mortal. I believe this to be irrelevant as the text so closely ties into the mythology of Osiris, Horus, and Seth that it leaves little room for doubt of the divinity of the monarchy. Yes Amenemhet I was killed and this shows mortality, but all the pharaohs before him also died and became Osiris. Osiris himself is the god of the underworld because he was tricked and killed. This does not appear to be a very divine circumstance to befall a god. However, Osiris was the king of the gods. I believe this to be due, in part, to the Egyptian’s practical way of explaining phenomena. The gods embody what they are the gods of. Osiris is the god of death and so must also experience it.

A statue of the god Osiris as depicted at the Metropolitan Museum.
A statue of the god Osiris as depicted at the Metropolitan Museum.

In conclusion, the text “The Teaching of King Amenemhet I For His Son Senwosret,” depicts the mortal kings while also giving them their respect as gods. This balance reflects the Egyptian concept that several conflicting ideas can be prevalent at the same time. This concept can be seen in the accumulation of gods, such as Amun-Re, and the varying myths behind the phenomena of the rising and setting of the sun. In Egyptian religion, a new myth does not disapprove or take the place of an old one. Similarly, the kings are divine and mortal, and their right to the throne is absolute.