(Seker) Soker is depicted either as a hawk-headed man, sometimes mummiform, or as a hawk, particularly enshrined in his elaborate henu bark, which features prominently in many of the texts which speak of Sokar. This boat, one end of which is in the shape of a backward-turning oryx head (perhaps as a desert-roaming animal, see below), rests upon runners, and has in its center a funerary chest or an earthen funerary mound from which the head of a hawk emerges or upon which a hawk is perched. Sometimes a bull’s head with a leash can be seen facing forward behind the oryx head, and a tilapia fish and six small falcons may appear behind the prow. Sokar is strongly associated with the Memphite necropolis, of which a portion—Saqqara—still recalls his name, and with the resurrection and the afterlife generally, and with the desert and the subterranean world. He is also a patron of crafts, especially metalworking. Sokar’s cult is thoroughly intertwined with those of Ptah and Osiris, the fusion forms Sokar-Osiris and Ptah-Sokar being popular, as well as the triune fusion deity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Ptah-Sokar-Osiris is typically depicted as a mummiform man and a hawk facing one another atop a pedestal, or as a hawk atop a pedestal from which a serpent emerges. Amuletic images of Ptah as a dwarf are also frequently characterized as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Sokar was at the center of an important and popular festival held in the fourth month of the season of Akhet, on the eve of the winter sowing. Despite the extensive ‘Osirianization’ of Sokar’s cult, he differs clearly from Osiris in that Sokar is native to the realm of the dead and its master, while Osiris experiences death and achieves identification with Sokar by virtue of his victory over it.

In PT utterances 364, 645, and 647, Horus lifting up Osiris is compared to the henu boat bearing Sokar, and in PT utterance 610 it is stated that Horus “made a spirit of his father as Ha, as Min, and as Sokar.” In other passages from the Pyramid Texts Sokar is charged with purifying the deceased (PT utterance 479), or as a representative of the deceased, as in PT utterance 566, which asks of Thoth to “ferry me over … on the tip of your wing as Sokar who presides over the Bark of Righteousness,” which is not the henu bark but the boat of ma’ety, lit. ‘the (two) Ma’ets’, a name usually given to a vehicle of Re‘s—an early indication of the ‘solarization’ of Sokar (compare the reference, from a funerary stele, to Re “journeying in the bark of Sokar,” (Gaballa and Kitchen, 60).  Other instances of identification of the deceased with Sokar are in PT utterance 483, where the “watchers of Nekhen [Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt] ennoble him as Sokar” and in CT spell 941 where the deceased says that he has awakened as the “son of Sokar.” BD spell 94 has the deceased affirm, “I have purified myself while I tarried with Sokar,” i.e., in the necropolis. PT utterance 669 consists of a dialogue between Nun and Isis concerning the emergence of the deceased king from an egg in which he resides as yet unformed. Isis states that the henu boat shall be brought for the deceased and he shall be lifted up into it, and that Sokar shall break open the egg with a harpoon of his own fashioning, releasing the king to fly up to the sky. In CT spell 816, the iron instrument used in the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony (see under Anubis) is said to be “the iron … which Sokar spiritualized in Ôn … the iron which Sokar raised on high in the name of the Great One in Ôn.” There are references to iron in PT utterance 669 as well, which, albeit enigmatic, might serve to link these two texts. In a spell to charge a medicine (no. 73 in Borghouts), the drinking of the medicine is linked to the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual, the spell saying “Your mouth will be opened up by Ptah, your mouth will be disclosed by Sokar with that chisel of bronze of his.” Sokar’s craftsmanship, mentioned in the fashioning of the harpoon in PT utterance 669, is also evident in CT spell 590, which speaks of a “gold collar of Sokar,” given to Osiris by Horus, fashioned at the command of Re, with funds dispensed to Thoth and “the craftsmen of Sokar being assembled.” CT spell 173 refers to being “shod with the sandals of Sokar,” which assists the deceased to not have to live on corruption. BD spell 74, “for hastening the feet and ascending from the earth,” appeals to Sokar to “do thou what thou doest, O Sokar, Sokar in his house, who is at the steps in the God’s domain,” the deceased complaining that s/he “ascend[s] to the sky … so wearily,” and walks “so wearily on the shores of them whose speech has been taken away in the God’s domain.” In CT spell 398, the netherworld ferry-boat is to be assembled “in company with Sokar, Lord of the henu bark.” CT spell 275, for “Assuming all forms in the realm of the dead,” states that the deceased “has overturned Osiris from his throne on the day of the Festival of Sokar,” while CT spell 419 salutes Osiris and the deceased alike (or in identification) “in your happy day of the festival of Sokar,” on which see below, as well as the reference to it as one of the “six festivals of eternity” for the spiritualized deceased in CT spell 557. Sokar occurs in CT spell 479, part of the genre of spells for escaping the ‘nets’ of the netherworld fishermen who fish for souls, but the specific formulae refer back to the context of spells for providing fresh food and water for the deceased, i.e., the spells for preventing ‘walking upside down’ or ‘eating excrement’, and Sokar is closely involved in provisioning the “Mansion among the waters” for the deceased in CT spell 571. This is presumably because Sokar, as lord of the necropolis, dispenses the offerings made to the dead.

During the fourth and fifth hours of the Amduat book, which recounts the solar boat’s nocturnal journey through the netherworld, the boat traverses Rostau, the “Land of Sokar who is upon his sand,” a desert through which the solar boat travels by transforming itself into a double-headed serpent which lights the way through the otherwise impenetrable darkness by breathing fire. Sokar himself is shown with Thoth at the center of the fourth hour, protecting the solar eye, which is separated from the boat itself as a symbol of the darkness, and to convey that the realm of Sokar is actually distant from the path travelled by the boat, the site of separate but parallel events. This is more fully revealed in the next hour. At the center of the fifth hour, which is identified with a different region of the netherworld, namely Amenti, or ‘the Western Land’, beneath the burial mound of Osiris, deep in the earth, Sokar is depicted standing on the back of a three-headed, multicolored winged serpent, representing the energy imparted to the underworld by the passage of the solar boat through the night, energy which Sokar harnesses to operate the mystery of the resurrection.

The festival of Sokar was on day 26 of 4th Akhet. On the 25th, participants tied garlands of onions at their necks and followed Sokar’s cult statue in procession within the temple precincts. Garlands of onions were also worn that night, and onions were offered at tomb chapels. The onions “can represent the gift to, and receipt by, the dead of all manner of garden-vegetables,” (Gaballa and Kitchen, 54). Participants probably kept a vigil till dawn. Then on the 26th came the ritual of “following Sokar when he goes round the Walls,” (ibid., 46) a circuit of the old city walls of Memphis by the cult statue of Sokar in the henu boat on a sledge. While in theory the boat was dragged on its sledge, in practice it was carried upon the shoulders of as many as sixteen priests. A symbol of Nefertum led the way before Sokar; an address to Nefertum from Abydos says to him, “thou givest thy hands to Sokar in the henu bark,” (ibid. 59). Participation in the Sokar festival is mentioned often in the afterlife literature. Processions of Sokar around the city walls, modeled on the ceremony at Memphis, occurred in other cities, such as Abydos, Thebes and Busiris. At the end of the festival day, offerings would be made at the tombs, and statuettes of deceased officials may have joined the procession as Sokar visited some part of the local necropolis, which embodied Sokar’s domain of Rostau, the concept of which originally perhaps referred strictly to the Memphite necropolis, but which came to include any necropolis and, indeed, the whole realm of the dead (ibid., 67-68). This excursion would involve a real or symbolic ‘navigation’, a journey on the water.

A text from the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus is called “The Ritual of Bringing in Sokar,” (trans. R. O. Faulkner, JEA 23, 1937, pp. 10-16), the first part of which is a hymn to Sokar. Sokar is hymned as “thou who healest for thyself thy throat,” that is, who resurrects himself, the ability to open the throat being synonymous with the power to breathe and hence with life itself, but also as “thou whose darkness is more enduring than the light of the sun” and “thou who blindfoldest him who is in the Netherworld from seeing the sun”; as “august rope-maker of the Night-bark,” the mesketet, in which Re travels through the Netherworld each night, the rope being what tows or drags the bark, as we have seen, through those portions of the Netherworld which it cannot traverse under its own power; as “living soul of Osiris when he appears as the moon”; but also as “divine one who hidest Osiris in the realm of the dead.”

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One Response to “Sokar”

  1. […] Donald B. Redford refers to as ‘Anzata), the Jackal God Khentiamentiu of Abdju (Abydos), and (Ptah-)Sokar of Mennefer (Memphis). Katherine Eaton summarizes the evidence for these festivals still being […]

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