Vreemde vogel, Opet tempel Karnak, foto: Paul van BerkelThe temples of Egypt are without doubt one of the most impressive monuments of the ancient world, not only because of their size but also because of their symbolism.

The deeper meaning behind the design of many pictures and relief intrigue many and often led to lively discussions. It shows the complexity of a religion that is now known but difficult to explain.
One of the most impressive temple complexes, which annually attracts thousands of visitors, is the Great Temple Complex of Karnak in Luxor. Various pharaohs worked at the temple complex. It consists of three main buildings and numerous temples and chapels. One is the Temple of Opet, a small, relatively unknown temple situated next to the temple of Khonsu, into the southwest corner of the complex. It is a temple which is usually passed. However it's worth examining this temple given the interesting decoration. It dates from the Greece-Roman period, the time of Ptolemy VIII. Although the temple is dedicated to the hippopotamus goddess Opet, a goddess who was known as the protector of women during childbirth, the temple was actually in the service of the god Amon.

Various rulers did care about the decoration of the temple. The carvings are indeed blackened, but over time fairly well preserved. Currently the temple is being restored. Nevertheless, a friend recently succeeded attached picture of a remarkable figure in the rear part of the temple where the subterranean tomb of Osiris and the crypt are located. Looking at the picture we see a strange creature, a bird with clear human characteristics. It has a head, wearing a feather crown and it is noticeable just below the wing and above the talon, there is a phallus. The bird, hangs over a deceased figure lying on a bed. This figure represents the god Osiris, the god of the ancient Egyptians linked to the afterlife. The bird with the head represents the sun god Amon Ra recognizable by the feather crown. It is called 'ba' and portrays a kind of soul. The ba-soul is the aspect that for the individual is unique and is related to the modern concept of personality, it represents human consciousness. The ba was being able to move through the tomb, into the cemetery and beyond, flying back and forth. According to the Egyptians at night the ba was tied to the physical body to ensure the survival of the deceased in the afterlife. For that, the ancient Egyptians paid a lot of attention to the mummification of a deceased person.
The image shown in the Temple of Opet is frequently occuring in temples and tombs, but the special and mysterious thing is for sure the phallus of the bird. To our knowledge this image is unique. Normally not only the ba, but also Osiris is depicted with a phallus. This time both gods seem to have a phallus, although in Osiris by a damaged spot, it is difficult to see. It remains unclear why in this temple has not been followed the usual representation of this scene.

The general religious significance of this scene is complicated. It is the union of the two gods. The union of the ba-soul, this time is represented by Amon Ra and the deceased, which is equated with the god Osiris. The ancient Egyptians considered the fusion of these two gods as something that was necessary in order to survive in the afterlife. The Egyptian religion assumed that the afterlife was continued in a more perfect Egypt, which is known as "Fields of Iaro". This was the domain of Osiris, the god of the dead. By observing various religious guidance, it was assumed to be eligible for a life in this heavenly area. The particular image, the 'ba-bird' with the phallus from the Temple of Opet, formed a part of this. It could be assumed that this image only represents such a union of the two gods, but also the fertility and the return of a life after death even more highlighted.

© 2012 Joke Baardemans

Sources: The complete temples of Ancient Egypt, R. Wilkinson, Dood en begrafenisrituelen in het oude Egypte, S. Ikram, A scene from the Opet temple, G. Reeder, website museumkennis.nl