“I had no heir who would make me a glorified spirit at the Portal of the Horizon”: Childlessness, Ancestor Veneration and the Doors of the Celestial Sphere


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In the stela of Padisobek, Cairo J.E. 44065, famously known as the stela of a Childless Man, the owner narrates his misery of not having an heir who would make him a glorified spirit “sAx” at the Portal of the Horizon “sbxt Axt”. Whereas the notion of becoming an Ax is currently widely believed to have been a result of a series of rituals enacted in favor of the deceased mainly by his descendants, these rites, as mentioned on the stela of Padisobek, seem to be associated with the doors of the heavenly realm. Based on ancient Egyptian religious texts, it appears that the main purpose of the portals of the celestial sphere was to separate heaven from the netherworld, to only give access to the sun god and the blessed dead who were his followers. As evidenced by the funerary texts, ancestor cult rituals performed for the deceased in order to attain their Ax status are associated with their entrance into the gates of the celestial domain. Using funerary texts, and in light of the stela of Padisobek, this paper aims to understand the relationship between the sAxw rites performed in favor of the deceased and the doors of the celestial sphere, and whether these doors/gates of the heavenly realm through which the venerated dead who attained their Ax status pass can be equated with other equivalent portals on earth. While those who had an heir had their own Ax status confirmed, the case of the childlessness of Padisobek will also be given special attention.

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