Binding the Dead

They say that death is the final leveller.

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Amidst the grief, the living mourn their loved ones, but amidst triumph, the victor in battle perhaps gloats a little. Yet fear of haunting by ones’ enemies especially, initiated taboos and rituals to prevent the spirits of the dead from returning to torment the living, or to take their vengence upon them.

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Steps were taken to ensure this did not happen.

Artifacts like these are iconic, if somewhat grotesque battle trophies, but they also serve another purpose rooted in the instinctive fears and taboos surrounding death. These are in fact protective talismans for numerous indigenous, remote tribes peoples across South America, India, Africa and Australia.

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Once beheaded, the skulls of ones’ enemies are bound in complex weaves of various organic materials, or shrunk and hung from carefully woven braids, interlaced with spella. Eyes are sewed shut, and beads or shells may be threaded into the flesh for extra protection.

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Nostrils and mouths are pegged or pierced. The heads are defleshed and seared with hot sand and stones. These processes literally ‘sealed’ in the spirit of the defeated enemy to prevent it from returning to torment the living.

Binding the dead was practise common to all peoples the world over, and the few remaining examples attest to the extreme procedures involved. European folk tales provide hints to similar procedures whereby stakes, poles and iron bars were driven through the chest cavity or the skull.

These rituals were often conducted in secret.

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An Egyptian spell typifies the importance of calling upon a higher powere of gods and ancestors to ensure the enemy is rendered impotent and the supplicant remains under their protection.

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“O Ra in his egg, shining in his disk, rising from his horizon,
floating on his sky, whose abomination is evil,
raised on the supports of Shu, without equal among the gods,
who gives the breath of flame of his mouth,
who illuminates the two lands with his power of light,
May you rescue the Osiris N from that god secret of forms,
whose two eyebrows are the arms of the balance
on the night of calculating theft.”

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“It is Bringer by his Arm,
as for that night of calculating theft,
(it is) that night of fire-serpent with sacrifice.
The one who casts lassos against the evil, (roping them in) to his slaughter-block that suppresses souls.”

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“It is the tribunal that prosecutes the enemies of Osiris.
May you together rescue the Osiris N from those ropemen, killers, sharp ones who love to behead, from whose guard none can escape, the following of Osiris.”

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“They can have no power over me; I shall not descend into their cauldrons,
because I know him, I know the name of that one who presses, among them in the house of Osiris, who shoots with his hand without being seen, who circles the land with flame in his mouth, who has reported the Nile Flood without being seen.”

Extract from chapter 17: The Book of Coming Forth by Day – https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/literature/religious/bd17.html

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Sometimes, other treatments were deemed essential: Shrunken Heads:

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THESE IMAGES ARE THE COPYRIGHT OF SHANI OATES 2019 – THEY WERE TAKEN AT THE PITT-RIVERS MUSEUM IN OXFORD.
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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on October 7, 2019.

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