Freaky Friday – Omm Sety

Entrance to Seti I Temple at Abydos (I) by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on Flickr. Who offer free digital photography related to the ancient world as part of its Ancient World Image Bank initiative. This image was offered under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 .

Entrance to Seti I Temple at Abydos (I) by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on Flickr. Who offer free digital photography related to the ancient world as part of its Ancient World Image Bank initiative. This image was offered under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 .

I’ve always been facinated with ancient Egypt. I wanted to read heiroglyphics because these people had something to say that has reached us, I wanted to read it for myself. So I took several classes at a local museum and now if it’s Middle Kingdom I can tease out the meaning of hypergraphia of ancient Egypt.

One woman who felt not just an interest in ancient Egypt but a kinship was Dorthy Louise Eady Maguid (1904-1981). She was not only a great Egyptologist who contributed greatly to field in chartography of tombs and temples, refining heirglyphic translation, and understanding customs practiced today that trace back to ancient Egypty (thus starting a whole new field of study). She also believed she was a reincarnated Priestess of Isis and once lover of Seti I. Her interesting life and even more intriguing story still amazes people today. Did she know so much from a previous life or just a quick study with intiuntive insight into the ways of Ancient Egypt?

Dorthy was born in London but raised in a small town on the coast of England.  All seemed to be normal development with her until she took a bad fall downstairs at age three.  She had a head injury and was unconscious for some time.  When she came to she spoke with an odd accent she kept the rest of her life and repeatedly asked to be taken home.  As she aged issues developed with her.  Her parents were asked not to bring her to church any more because she kept comparing it to the old heathern religion.  When whe was in grammar school she was taken to the Albert and Vicoria Museum.  Once among the ancient Egyptian exhibits she declared she was home and prayerfully worshipped the statues.  From that point on she was convienced she was reincarnated from ancient Egypt.

She did meet E A Wallis Budge an early Egyptologist and heiroglyphic inerpertator (Please do not use his books to study heiroglyphics we have gained a much deeper understanding of them since then.  He is still an authority to consult on Assyrian history but his Egyptology studies are very early and have been superceded).  He encouraged and assisted her in the early reading of heiroglyphs.

As time went on her belief of this caused issues in the early 1900 society for a young woman in school. At age 15 she had a revealing dream that she was once a priestess of Isis who had a forbidden affair with Seti I falling pregnate she committed suicide to hide her shame.  Her sleep walking, odd talking in her sleep, and severe nightmares cause her to be placed in sanitoriums several times.

At sixteen she left school and began work on archological digs in the UK learning techniques and starting to develop her chartography skills that were so valuable to Egyptology. Back then cameras weren’t great so chartographers would do detailed sketches of digs, artifacts, murals and such.  She became excellent at it.

At 27 she began working at a Egyptian public relation magazine and there met her husband Eman Abdel Meguid.  They married and she returned home with him. They had a son who was named Sety.  It is from him she got her common name Omm (mother) Sety. Where she was welcomed at first into this Muslim family her insistance of her reincarnation and practicing what she called the old religion called strife in the marriage. In 1935 her husband went to Iran to teach Omm Sety stayed in Egypt with their son.  Their marriage broke down during the separation and she took work with the Office of Egyptian Antiquities.  It is here she became known as world class chartographer. She quickly helped with insight on how to improve the reading of New Kingdom heirglyphics.  She was living in local villages and as she began noting local traditions in line with the works she was translating she would note them in her diary.  Eventually work ran out where she was.  She was offered a higher paying job in the city of Cario or a very low paying job at the temple of Seti I at Abydos.  Yes given her conviction of her past life you can guess she chose Abydos.

Over the next decades she documented Abydos with her wonderful chartography.  She continued to live in the local villages as they did while noting customs, habits, rituals, and words in use that came from the ancient.  She was known to one and all as Omm Sety.  She was a tender woman who respected everyone and joined in all celebrations be they Islamic, Muslim or her own private religion.  She met many of the illuminaries in Egyptology over the years and was respected as the ultimate authority on Abydos.  She eventually lost her pay due to her age but after friends and known Egyptologist went to the Egyptian government to plead for her as indespensible in the preservation and restoration of Abydos she was given pay for another 5 years.  Then she supported herself with selling her handicrafts in the market at a friend’s stall, consulting fees from various Egyptology groups, and payments as a guide for tourists at the temple.

She lived in a hut on temple grounds and eventually shared her notes on ancient infulence to modern village life in Egypt. They were so impressed with her work a book came from it and then a full field of study looking for living ancient Egyptian influence.  She was loved by many from Carl Sagan to Klaus Bear.  I laughed as a read one Egyptologist from the Chicago School, where my teacher taught and attended, wrote of seeing an elderly Omm Sety belly dancing in the moonlight at a party at the temple.  I can imagine that was quiet a sight.

All her life she firmly believed she was reincarnated and that led her to a remarkable life and career.  As she approached death she bought a piece of land with help from friends and began to build an New Kingdom style tomb.  The Chicago School even make shawabti figures for her tomb as presents.  She was proud to have been accepted into the Fellowship of Isis an interfaith spiritual movement.  She felt she had atoned for her committing suicide in a previous life. When she died she was not eligible to be buried in a Mulsim or Coptic cememtery due to her unique faith.  Unfortunately the appropriate department of the Egyptian government in 1981 withdrew its approval of burying her in the tomb she had spent years preparing.  Her friends could not get this overturned and sadly buried her in private land in the desert in an unmarked grave.  Her immaculate tomb is now used to show what a tomb of the New Kingdom would have appeared when ready for its burial.

Now the question to ask is was she reincarnated?  She did have insight that led to the discovery of the tombs around King Tut’s only one has been opened and that’s Otto Shaden’s KV 63.  She said in the late 70s that Nefertiti’s tomb was adjacent to King Tut’s and recently scientific leads to that possibility.   She also had an uncanny ability to find things at Abydos, understand heiroglyphics.

She also claimed she knew where the Luxor Hall of Records was.  It is a library more ancient that the one the Romans burned in Alexandria during Cleopatra’s time.  She worked with Dr. Zelini in translanting the inscrpitions of Rams he’d discovered at Luxor.  Curiously there were no inscriptions on the back. As I noted before ancient Egyptians had hypergraphia and wrote on every available surface.  This fact confirmed Omm Seti’s claim they were at the entrance of the great records hall.  Given the location of their discovery she and Dr. Zelini believed the hall was now under the modern building for the Arab Socialist League. That has yet to have any thing more than their speculation but if it holds as her claims of tombs with King Tut’s has held…  wow just think what could be found.

I don’t know if Omm Sety got this knowledge from a deep afflication and understanding of an ancient peoples or reincarnated memory.  I do believe she firmly thought it was the latter. I do wonder if the brain injury early in life caused her to be wonderfully different from everyone else.  That she did find something in that exhibit a the museum that answered a deep longing and her encouragement to use her enthuisam for the new fledging study of Egyptology sealed it.  She started at a very early age seriously studying these things.  Her claims and life path might later have colored interpetations of her early actions.  What for someone like me would be an intuitive jump for her was ‘remembering.’  In the end there is no proof either way and her belief was harming no one.  So here’s Omm Sety a woman who found her own way to follow the passion in her life, possibly on the second go around.


4 thoughts on “Freaky Friday – Omm Sety

  1. I’ve always found it strange that a reincarnated Ancient Egyptian would use the name “Omm Sety”. First, the Egyptian for “mother” isn’t Omm, it’s Mut (observe the feminine ending).

    Secondly, the Egyptians were matrilineal, so the common formula is “X the son of Y”, not “Y the mother of X”. For example, in my travels in Egypt I have frequently seen the inscription “Heru sa Yst” (“Horus the son of Isis”), but I have never seen “Yst mut Heru”. The Egyptians simply didn’t think that way.

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