There are all sorts of unexpected and fascinating stories hidden within the collection at Macclesfield. One of these is the story of an Ancient Egyptian who had an unconventional afterlife thanks to the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley.
An Ancient Priest
Tucked in a corner of a display case at the Silk Museum is a tiny object with a big story. This object is a small wooden statuette of a priest that measures just 7 cm in height. He is stood with legs together, wearing a kilt and with a head shaved all over, save for a little ponytail at the back. We know that this priest’s name was Ankhefenkhonsu from a simple inscription on the back pillar of the statuette.
Transcription of the Inscription
The inscription reads:
‘The Osiris, who is in Thebes, Ankhefenkhonsu, true of voice, son of Besenmut, true of voice’
In Ancient Egypt, ‘true of voice’ was written after the names of people who were dead, like an ancient Egyptian version of ‘RIP’. This is thought to come from the famous weighing of the heart ceremony. After their death, a person’s soul would have to travel to the afterlife and overcome the various obstacles that stood in their way. One of these was the weighing of the heart ceremony where the deceased’s heart was put on a scale by the god of death and mummification, Anubis, and weighed against the feather of the goddess of truth and justice, Ma’at. If the scales were balanced then that meant that they were a good and honest person who could go on to the afterlife. If the scales were not balanced, they were a bad person. Their heart was fed to Ammut, the Devourer, and they could not access the afterlife.
What the inscription tells us
While the inscription on the statuette of Ankhefenkhonsu is quite short and to the point, it includes some very important information that can help us find out more about Ankhefenkhonsu. The Ancient Egyptians didn’t use last names so it can be quite difficult to work out whether two different objects inscribed with the same name belonged to the same person or whether there were simply two people who had the same name. One piece of information that can help with this is when the parents of an individual are named in an inscription with them.
The fact that we know that our Ankhefenkhonsu was the son of Besenmut means that we can try to find other objects from other museums which could provide further information on his life.
Who was Ankhefenkhonsu?
The coffin of an Ankhefenkhonsu, son of Besenmut, is in Cairo (CG 41001). The inscriptions on his ‘qrsw’ sarcophagus, a big chest-like box which housed his inner coffins, reveal that he worked as a Priest of Monthu in Thebes. Monthu was a falcon headed god of war who had a local cult in Ancient Thebes. Ankhefenkhonsu also held a number of other priestly roles in the service of other gods.
The inscription also records further information about his family. It reveals that Besenmut was his father and that he had the same job as Priest of Monthu as Ankhefenkhonsu. Ankhefenkhonsu’s mother was called Taneshat and she was a ‘lady of the house’, a title usually interpreted as housewife, as well as a sistrum player of the god Amun. In fact, looking at the genealogies on Ankhefenkhonsu’s coffin, Egyptologists have been able to trace his family tree back to his great-great-great-great grandfather to discover that Ankhefenkhonsu was born into a longstanding priestly family in Thebes who held titles in both the priesthoods of Monthu and Amun. Long genealogies like this were not common across Ancient Egyptian history but were very popular during the Third Intermediate Period.
Another funerary object that was made for Ankhefenkhonsu was a painted wooden stela now in the Cairo Museum. Stelae like this were created to help the dead person survive in the afterlife. It is fitting, therefore, that it was Ankhefenkhonsu’s stela that gave him a second life in the modern age…