Sia

Sia is the divine personification of the power of perception or understanding, and is frequently paired with Hu, the personification of authoritative speech. But Sia and Hu are not simply these powers in the abstract, but are in the first place the understanding and speech of Re as he gives form to the cosmos at the beginning of time and anew each and every day. In BD spell 17, it is said that Re cut his penis and Sia and Hu came into being from the drops of blood he shed. Sia and Hu are Re’s constant companions aboard the vessel in which he traverses the sky. Just as Hu is not merely utterance, but utterance in accord with the truth, and hence authoritative and effective, and thus similar to heka, the power of magically effective utterance (see Heka), Sia is not merely perception, but accurate perception, which is inseparable from understanding. A special connection with vision is implied by the statement that images on the walls of the temple at Denderah had been “beautifully executed in accordance with the glorious words of Sia,” (Mariette, Dend. II, 73) which also indicates that the aesthetic canons of Egyptian art were understood to derive ultimately from Sia; sometimes the images themselves were characterized as “the words of Sia,” (Dend. II, 13e; cited in Saleh 1969, p. 30). Perception is understood as a kind of assimilation, as shown by the characterization of Sia as “the great swallower” (Ritner 1997, 107).

In PT utterance 250, Sia, who is announcing the king to the Gods, characterizes himself as “he who is in charge of wisdom … who bears the God’s book … who is at the right hand of Re.” The deceased king proceeds to identify himself with Sia. In PT utterance 255, the concepts of sia and hu are paired: “I have assumed authority [hu] and have power through understanding [sia],” while in utterance 257 it is said that “the King assumes authority [hu], eternity is brought to him and understanding [sia] is established at his feet for him.” In the Coffin Texts one encounters the affirmation “I know what Sia knows, and a path is opened for me, for I am the lord of air,” (CT spell 237) in which the pervasiveness of air seems to symbolize the all-knowingness of Sia. Another way of affirming command of the faculty of understanding is “I know what Sia did,” (CT spell 241). Sia and Hu are also linked with Shu insofar as they both emanate from the primordial God Atum, albeit in different senses. Thus in CT spell 321, the operator states of Atum (or the deceased, here identified with Atum) that “His utterance is what goes forth from his own heart, he has gone round in the company of Shu upon the circuit of Hu and Sia, who made enquiry from him.” Hu and Sia then say, to Atum, but hence also to the deceased, in regard to a certain winding path in the netherworld, “Come, let us go and make the names of yonder winding in accordance with what went out from his heart, of him who once went round with Shu, for he is his son who fashioned himself.” Thus it seems that the winding path is to take on the name, and hence the shape, of the prior understanding of which the deceased, as a “son who fashioned himself,” partakes.

Sia can also be cast as the narrator of mythic events, such as in CT spell 335, in which a fragment of myth about the “great Cat” (identified with Re) and his actions in a war between the followers of Re and the forces of chaos is attributed to Sia: “What is that great Cat? He is Re himself; he was called ‘Cat’ when Sia spoke about him. He was cat-like in what he did, and that is how his name of ‘Cat’ came into being.” This explanatory passage makes it seem as though the import of attributing a name to the speech of Sia is that the name is in accord with veridical perception, as opposed not only to false perception, but also to possible sources of naming other than direct perceptual acquaintance. In CT spell 816, Sia speaks through the deceased as a result of the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony: “I have seen Sia, and he opens my mouth and tells a true matter to the Lord of All [Atum].” CT spell 958 is “To become Sia who belongs to Re,” that is, the power of perception which belongs to Re, but it is brief and fragmentary. Similar but more informative is CT spell 1006, “Sia [in the midst] of the Eye of Re,” in which the operator, identifying with Sia, affirms that “I go up that I may give you [Re] your plume; I have gone down that I may create Hu,” indicating the mediating role of Sia, that is, perception, between intelligence (Re) and utterance (Hu), “and that a God may be diverted by a God,” perhaps referring to the ability, through knowledge and authoritative utterance (Sia and Hu), to divert an adverse destiny. Sia states here that he is the image of Re in the midst of Re’s shrine, and tells Re that he has “duplicated your soul for your power. I am he who satisfies, and it is your wand which does it again [lit. ‘which repeats’].” The references here to duplication and repetition seem to refer to the alignment of the operator’s powers of perception with the divine perception of Re as its double or repetition, which benefits not only the operator, but Re too, and hence the cosmos itself, for it makes of the operator the executor or agent (ir.t, like irt or ‘eye’) of Re’s will in the world. Hence Sia/the operator goes on to urge Re to “guard this power of mine, give me air, and I will give you what is in the offering … as for him who helps me, I will help him.” CT spell 1143 refers to Sia as being in the ‘Eye’ of Ptah, indicating a similar relationship between the power of perception/understanding and demiurgic activity such as that of the divine craftsman Ptah.

Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Ritner, Robert K. 1997. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Saleh, Abd el-Aziz. 1969. “Plural Sense and Cultural Aspects of the Ancient Egyptian mdw-ntr.” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 68: 15-38.

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