Ancient Egypt: Its History and Culture
Ancient Egyptian symbols: the was
    Origin
    The was as a symbol of power
    Uses
    Divine associations

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Ancient Egyptian symbols: the was-sceptre

also uas, ouas

was sceptre
Wooden was-sceptre [26]
    The was, was , was a symbol and possibly a fetish, dating to earliest times. It was considered to be imbued with the healing powers of a fox-headed tutelary deity,[1] Waset.[2] and was a symbol for well-being and prosperity. It consisted of a rod which was bifurcated at the bottom and at the top there was an abstract form interpreted as being an animal head, possibly that of a canine.

Origin

    The first representation of a was dates to the first dynasty. On a comb of Djet two was symbols support a pair of wings symbolizing the heavens. Originally it may have been a staff like the heqa used by shepherds to control their animals, but it has also been suggested that it may have been used to goad donkeys. Alternatively there may have existed an affinity with serpents.[3] The theory that ankh, djed and was were symbols belonging to an ancient cattle cult–the was being a bull's dried genitals [4]– has not found much acceptance.[3]

The was as a symbol of power

    As a sceptre, was,[5] in the hands of gods it symbolized their dominion, was.[6] An inscription in the Sinai refers to King Snefru:
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the two Ladies Nebmaat, the golden Horus Snefru, Snefru the great god, given power, endurance, life, health and joy of heart for ever, Horus Nebmaat.
Rock inscription in Wadi Maghara, reign of Snefru [7]
head of was sceptre
Head of was-sceptre[27]
    The was sceptre was one of the symbols of power with which the dead king was endowed which would ensure his continued prosperity. A spell from the Pyramid Texts of Pepi I places the king among the gods, those Who Never Set:
May this Pepi steer (?) together with you with the was and the Dam sceptres according to the order of Horus, Iri-pat, king of the gods.
Pyramid Texts #570A [8]
    It has been suggested that the was sceptre represented divine dominion, as opposed to the heqa whose power was more earthly.[9] The gods endowed the kings with their powers. In "royal baptism" scenes the king is often showered with ankh signs, but libation scenes with was symbols are also known.[10]

Uses

   Until the Middle Kingdom wooden was sceptres were at times placed with the mummy.[11] Later the symbol was part of freezes on coffins or tomb walls, on its own or in conjunction with other symbols like the ankh or the djed. Two was symbols were often used on either side of an inscription, at times the ideogramme for heaven was represented above them.[11]
    Some think that the was was used as a gnomon, the upright rod of a sundial which cast its shadow on the dial face,[12] but this is speculative. On the other hand it was a frequently used form for amulets, at times together with other symbols.

Divine associations

Seth holding a was sceptre
Seth holding a was-sceptre[28]
    Many gods were depicted with a was-sceptre, among them Ptah who was often shown holding it,[13] or a sceptre combining the was and the djed.[14] Sopdu often had a was,[15] as did Re,[16] and the Canaanite god Reshef,[17] Osiris, whose mummy is at times depicted sprouting corn, is resting on the ground, which in its turn is supported by was and ankh signs.[18] The god Benu in his anthropomorphic form carried the sceptre occasionally.[19] Seth too wielded the was at times, giving rise to speculations that the top of the sceptre was a representation of the head of the Seth-animal.[25] In the fight between Seth and Horus for supremacy over Egypt Seth's main weapon was a mace or a was sceptre only he was strong enough to handle.[20]
    Goddesses too are depicted with the was: Hathor,[21] Neith,[22] and Satis.[23] The Egyptian name of Thebes was Waset, which was written with a was hieroglyph, to which a feather and a streamer had been added.[24] Waset generally carries this decorated was on her head.
Footnotes:
[1] Lurker 1998, p.216
[2] MdC transliteration wAs.t, Wb vol. 1, 259.18
[3] Wilkinson 2001, p.189
[4] Gordon & Schwabe 2004, p.186
[5] MdC transliteration wAs, Wb 1, 259.16
[6] MdC transliteration wAs, Wb 1, 260.6
[7] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, I. Hafemann (ed.): Felsinschriften des Alten Reiches => Sinai => Sinai 01 - 25E Wadi Magharah => Sinai Nr. 05, accessed 17th July 2010
[8] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site,Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, D. Topmann (ed.): Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => "Wartesaal"/vestibule => Westwand => PT 570A, accessed 17th July 2010
[9] Wilkinson 2001, p.190
[10] Silverman 2003, p.157
[11] Lurker 1998, p.216
[12] Shaw 1995, p.304
[13] Shaw 1995, p.230
[14] Lurker 1998, p.158
[15] Shaw 1995, p.276
[16] Lurker 1998, p.115
[17] Wilkinson 2003, p.127
[18] Lurker 1998, p.120
[19] Wilkinson 2003, p.211
[20] Pinch 2002, p.193
[21] Wilkinson 2003, p.144
[22] Wilkinson 2003, p.158
[23] Wilkinson 2003, p.165
[24] Wb 1, 259.20-260.2
[25] Ruffle 1977, p.194
[26] © David McDavitt . License: Public Domain
[27] © J. Bodsworth, source: http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/british_museum_47.html, accessed 23rd July 2010
[28] © Hajor on Wikimedia. License: GNU Free Documentation License
 
Bibliography:
Andrew Hunt Gordon, Calvin W. Schwabe, The Quick And The Dead: Biomedical Theory In Ancient Egypt, Brill 2004
Lurker 1998
Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology, ABC-Clio 2002
John Ruffle, Heritage of the pharaohs: an introduction to Egyptian archaeology, Phaidon, 1977
Shaw & Nicholson 1995
David P. Silverman, Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press US, 2003
Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early dynastic Egypt, Routledge, 2001
Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson London, 2003
 

 

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