Mehen, whose name means ‘coiled one’, is depicted as a serpent protectively encircling Re or, by extension, Osiris. In the Amduat book, Mehen appears in the seventh hour, that is, at approximately midnight in the nocturnal voyage of the solar bark, surrounding Re in the middle register and Osiris in the upper register while they oversee the punishment of their enemies. Mehen continues to encircle Re through the subsequent ‘hours’ of the voyage. In CT spells 493 & 495, the deceased, claiming knowledge of the “secret matters” of Mehen (a variant reads, “after the great battle of Mehen”) is thereby empowered to “guard the prisoners,” that is, those who have rebelled against the cosmic sovereignty. In the Book of Gates, Mehen is seen encircling Re in each hour. In the so-called ‘Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld’ from the tomb of Tutankhamun, a large-scale mummiform figure in section A is depicted with a Mehen serpent circling him at the head and at the feet. Both Mehen serpents are shown with their tails in their mouths, an image which in later Western occultism would come to be known as an ouroboros. In section B, six mummiform figures are encircled by Mehen serpents as they receive illumination from disks immediately in front of them.
Spells 758-760 of the Coffin Texts speak of Mehen in a manner which makes him seem virtually synonymous with Re. In the first place, reference is made to “the bark of Mehen” where one might expect the bark of Re. Second, the ‘Shining Sun’, with “paths of fire” around it, is said to “guard the paths for the great bark of Mehen,” whose bow is said to be turned around. It is said that the bark of Mehen makes a circle in myriads of myriads of years. If there is any sense to be made of a text which we perhaps simply lack the skills to read properly, it could seem that the bark of Mehen embodies a contra-solar motion on a period much longer than the daily or annual motions of the sun, longer perhaps even than any of the known astral cycles. In a similar vein are the descriptions in 759 of Mehen’s vast size. Re’s association with Mehen is underscored in spell 759, which states “As for this Mehen, he is the Mehen of Re, and Re is this myriad of years,” or ‘eternity’, heh. To link Re to Mehen in this fashion is perhaps to stress the non-identity of Re and the sun, which facilitates one of the goals which seems to be at the heart of much of the afterlife literature: mediating the opposition between Re and Osiris, where Re represents the solar/celestial and Osiris the cthonic realm, but more trenchantly where Re represents the cosmic and universal, Osiris the individual and mortal, aspect of existence. Spell 760 supports this line of interpretation, insofar as it speaks of Isis having brought Mehen to her son Horus, upon which he becomes “the repetition of the Lord of All.” This epithet is frequently applied to Re but is especially characteristic of Atum, and in CT spell 1130 it seems to be Atum, under the name of “Lord of All”, who relates four “good deeds which my own heart did for me within Mehen in order that falsehood might be silenced.” These four are making the four winds “that everyone might breathe in his time,” making “a great flood”, i.e. the Nile’s annual inundation “so that the poor as well as the great might be strong,” making “every man equal to his fellow,” and forbidding them to do wrong, “but their hearts disobeyed what I had said,” and finally making “their hearts not to forget the West,” that is, to be aware of their mortality, the direction of the setting sun being the symbol for mortality in Egyptian thought, “in order to make offerings to the Gods of the districts,” that is, so that humans would maintain the traditional cults. Mehen appears here as the vessel of a special aspect of Atum’s providence, one which stresses the equal access of all humans to the means of existence (the air to breathe), prosperity (the abundant productivity of the earth), mutual respect, and divinity.
The name of Mehen was also applied to a board game in Egypt, the point of which seems to have been to enact passing through the coils of Mehen to emerge reborn; hence the deceased king affirms in PT utterance 332 “I am this one who emerged from Mehen” (trans. modified in accord with Robert K. Ritner in JNES, Vol. 50, No. 3 (1991), p. 212). A reference to the game itself has been discerned in PT utterance 659, where Ritner reads (op. cit.), “Take to yourself these white ivory pieces of yours belonging to the Mehen game. Go around them with/as an arrow in this their name of ‘arrow’,” in which the phrase translated “white ivory pieces” is literally “white teeth”; thus in BD spell 172, in a passage divinizing various members of the body, “Your teeth are the two ‘heads’ of the Mehen game with which the Two Lords played,” would obviously refer to the game pieces as well. The use of ‘heads’ here could also suggest a connection to the Mehen game for passages in the afterlife literature where the taking of ‘heads’ is mentioned.