Osiris lives: Exalting the “drowned one” in Qubet el Hawa and at the modern Cemetery of “Gabanat Aswan”


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In Fall 2015, the Bonner Qubbet el Hawa Survey found a strange tumulus during the cleaning of the riverbank searching for the quayside used in funerary processions from Elephantine to the ancient necropolis on the west bank. This mud-brick shrine was definitely built before the Aswan Dam (1898) and is dedicated to a certain Sheikh Youssef, the drowned one. This cenotaph is still in use to date and is the object of exaltation of folk’s natural fertility occult rites. To understand this non-Islamic cult in contemporary Aswan, I will compare this cult with the cult of Heqa-ib in his shrine in Elephantine from the Middle and New Kingdoms, and with the contemporary secret cult in the "Gabanat Aswan," in which such practices take place every night. This extraordinary cemetery congregates hundreds of symbolic graves of all the key figures of Islamic sainthood (Al Hussein, Ahmad Al Refa’y, Saida Zeinab etc). This presentation will give an overview regarding the main characteristics of Osiris and Isis, as derived from Egyptian funerary and temple sources, as well as modern Egyptian cultural memories in folklore, art and literature. All these sources celebrate the resurrection of Osiris after the grooming of Isis and Nephthys, the “two great mourners,” with their long exaltation hymns. Finally, the living God Osiris ascends, the fertile soil becomes green, and Isis becomes pregnant. The young ladies exalting Sheikh Youssuf at Qubbet el Hawa are praying for the one with the “beautiful face” (nfr Hr) and the “beautiful being” (wn nfr), and waiting that he comes out from the Nile so that they become pregnant. This contribution will reconsider the origin of cenotaphs (darieh/maqam/mashhad) in contemporary use as an ancient Osirian tradition, and not, as posited by previous scholars, as a Shiite influence of the Fatimid reign in Egypt.

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