by Greg Reeder

KMT 6:3, Fall 1995 © KMT Communications


"Think of the day of burial, 

the passing into reveredness.

A night is made for you with

ointments and wrappings

from the hand of Tait.

A funeral procession is made

for you on the day of burial;

the mummy case is of gold, 

its head of lapis lazuli.

The sky is above you

as your lie in the hearse,

oxen drawing you,

musicians going before you.

The dance of the muu-dancers 

is done at the door of your tomb." 1

Thus Spoke King Senwosret I in offering an ideal funeral as inducement to the wandering Sinuhe to return home to Egypt before he died. Ointment and linen, gold and lapis lazuli, musicians _ and the dancing muu. From the early days of Egyptology, muu dancers have been the subject of much speculation and controversy. They initially were considered to be jesters, dwarfs and buffoons.2 Alexandre Moret offered an elaborate explantion that ranged from clowns that lightened the heart of Osiris to “Rois Buffons,” who played a roll in the ritual regicide of the king.3 These speculations were fueled by the highly unusual appearance of the muu, that to many seemed humorous, if not bizarre.

The first thorough examination of the subject of muu dancers was Emma Brunner-Traut’s in 1938: Der Tanz im Alten Ägypten (The Dance in Ancient Egypt).4 As with other important writings on the subject of the muu, it is not available in English, so that an indepth analysis of her work is in order.

We learn from Brunner-Traut’s observations of representations on the walls of Middle and New Kingdom tombs that there were three kinds of muu dancers. The first of these hurried to intercept the funeral procession on the west bank and used hand gestures to indicate the necessary permission to enter the necropolis. The second kind were guards or watchmen stationed in a special muu “Halle.” From this structure they watched over the necropolis. The third variety of muu were associated with the “people of Pe,” a subdivision along with Dep of the Delta city of Buto. They are shown in New Kingdom tombs dancing as a pair facing each other. The first two types of muu wear a high green crown on their heads, clearly manufactured from reeds. The pair of opposite-facing dancers are shown bareheaded.


Detail of a scene from the Tomb of Rekmire at Thebes depicting the third kind of muu, a symmetrically posed pair of gesturing males, without a headdress of any sort, who perform a ferryman’s dance and may represent “His-face-in-front-His-face-behind.”

Brunner-Traut explained that in the Theban Tomb of Sehetepibre the priest positioned in front of the funeral procession with outstretched arm declares, “Come O Muus,” demanding from the assembled muu permission to enter the necropolis and authorization for the burial.5 In the New Kingdom Tomb of Tetiki (TT15) a group of three muu are shown in kilts. Again, a priest stands before them with an outstretched arm. The muu make a gesture, with their thumbs and index fingers extended from closed fists.


Detail of a scene from the New Kingdom Tomb of Tetiki at Thebes, depicting the lead funerary- priest extending his arm towards three gesturing, high-stepping muu who wear tall conical wickerwork crowns.

On the same wall, the second type of muu is portrayed. These stand in a building wearing the same crown as the gesturing muu, but their kilts are different. Above the muu “Halle” are strangely irregular divisions which Brunner-Traut believed indicated interior rooms of the structure. Outside the building a pair of obelisks are pictured, along with two sycamore trees and palms surrounding a rectangular pool. For Brunner-Traut, this was “die ideale” landscape for a New Kingdom private grave.

In the Tomb of Renni at El Kab, three muu greet the funeral procession of the tomb owner. Men and women of the funeral cortege, identified as people of “Pe and Dep,” make gestures of lamentation. The muu also are shown here inside their hall, with the same sort of exterior landscaping as seen in the Tomb of Tetiki. Anubis and Osiris are also depicted in their respective chapels. Brunner-Traut pointed out that it is in the Tomb of Nebamen (TT17, time of Amenhotep II) that the crowned and dancing muu (the first category of the type) appear for the last time. In Nebamen the Goddess of the West watches over the whole funeral procession, which also includes people of Pe and Dep, who pull the tekenu sled and are greeted by the muu.6

The third and final category of muu dancers is met for the first time in the Tomb of Paheri, also at El Kab. Here two men dance facing each other. They are positioned next to four structures in the form of the Lower Egyptian per nuu (pr nw) chapels, two date palms and two large gateways. The pair perform the muu dance at the arrival of the deceased’s coffin, which has been transported by boat. Brunner-Traut noted that the two dancers each symmetrically lift one arm so that their fisted hands, thumbs protruding, almost touch. Their other hands are brought to their chests, hands again closed, thumbs protruding. In the Paheri example the facing muu dancers are not crowned but are shown crowned in their hall. The last time this second category of muu are so depicted is in the Theban Tomb of Puimre (TT39).

In the Tomb of Amenemhet (TT82), the funerary sled is pulled by persons labeled as people of Pe and Dep (Buto), Unu, Behbet and Sais. The opposite-facing muu dancers in Amenemhet are also identified as people of Pe. Brunner-Traut dismissed some of the earlier “fantastischen” explanations of the muu, such as Moret’s view of them as “buffons” who represented the king at carnival. She found the people of Pe and Dep and other places mentioned in the western Delta as references to the mythical funeral of Osiris, and thereby to royal funerals. She identified the necropolis which the funeral procession seeks to enter as the Kingdom of Osiris.”7 The hall of the muu is where the coffin is set down and permission is sought for the mourners and deceased to proceed. Brunner-Traut noted it is at the entrance to the tomb that the muu dance and, as agents of the Kingdom of the West (Osiris), offer approval of the burial by proclaiming the will of the gods of the dead. The environment around their hall marks the kingdom beyond. Thus, she believed, the deceased private person is portrayed as making a symbolic visit to Buto, where the paired muu dance in greeting.


Detail of relief-scene from the Tomb Renni at El Kab depicting two crowned muu (lower right) standing within their “hall” alongside a garden with rectangular pool or “lake,” palms, sycamores and two obelisks. The funerary-god Anubis stands in a shrine at left.


A similar scene is found in the ThebanTomb of Tetiki. German Egyptologist Emma Brunner-Traut suggested that the irregular shapes at the top of the muu “hall” represented interior rooms of this structure. She proposed that the setting of the hall represented an “ideal” landscape for a New Kingdom private grave. Fellow-German scholar Hermann Junker identified the palms and “lakes” as a memory of the “holy island of Osiris,” with the obelisks representing Heliopolis.


These burial-rituals for private individuals took as their model the king’s funeral, wherein the deceased ruler journeyed to Buto in the Delta and to Abydos in the south, for the purpose of visiting his father, Osiris. In the Old Kingdom, only the dead king was identified with Osiris; but, even before the Middle Kingdom, each deceased person had become associated with Lord of the Underworld. In predynastic times, Brunner-Traut offered, when a Lower Egyptian ruler died, his subjects _ the “people of Pe” _ performed a “Totentanz,” a dance of the dead; and, as this became standardized, its influence worked southward and was known there as a dance of the “people of Pe.”

Emma Brunner-Traut concluded that the muu were demigods of a sort, who appeared _ acting as agents from the Beyond _ to retrieve the deceased from this world to the next. That they wore crowns, she thought, was to be understood by the fact that most dieties were crowned.8 Brunner-Traut did an excellent job of laying out the problems of interpreting the iconography of the muu dancers. She established the framework for the discussions of the muu which followed her own.


Drawing of a block from the Sakkara Old Kingdom Tomb of Ptahhotep II, which shows two muu with papyrus fronds emerging from the tops of their heads. Junker identified these floral “crowns” with the “coat of arms” of Lower Egypt and associated these particular muu with the predynastic royal funerary-rites of the Delta metropolis of Buto.

Drawing of a scene in the 12th Dynasty Tomb of Sehet-epibre at Thebes in which the priest preceding the hide-wrapped tekenu on its sledge summons a pair of muu wearing the tall conical crown. The priest calls out, “Come O Muus.”

Just two years after Brunner-Traut published her study, another German Egyptologist dived into the pond of muu speculation. In 1940 the renowned and respected Hermann Junker _ a giant in the field of Old Kingdom studies _ published his DerTanz der Mww und das Butische Begr_bnis im Alten Reich (The Dance of the Muu and the Butoesque Funeral in the Old Kingdom),9 wherein he declared the results of his studies of then-recent discoveries in the necropolis of Sakkara which had a direct bearing on the conclusions of Brunner-Traut. With the permission of Salim Hassan, Junker presented a detailed discussion of those discoveries giving the first solid evidence for the existence of muu dancers in the Old Kingdom.

Hassan had discovered a block from the Tomb of Ptahhotep II which showed fragments of a relief which Junker announced would help explain a fragmentary depiction from the Tomb of ‘Idwt. According to the German’s description of the Ptahhotep relief, two men were shown with plant crowns on their heads, the “coats of arms” of Lower Egypt. He argued persuasively that these individuals were muu appearing in a special funeral ceremony.10 Junker offered that this rite was so complex only portions of it could be depicted on a tomb’s walls; furthermore, there were no certain rules governing what parts of the rite were to be represented.11 He believed that all these muu portrayls were styled after prehistoric royal funerals taking place in the ancient Lower Egyptian metropolis of Buto.12

This Butoesque ceremony involved the deceased king making a journey by boat to Buto and to other sacred sites in the Delta, primarily Sais and Heliopolis. These royal postmortem “pilgrimages” Junker called “Totenfahrts” or journeys of the dead. It is representations of such journeys on the walls of Old Kingdom tombs which both identify Buto’s role in the development of Egyptian funerary iconography and, Junker claimed, offer an understanding of just what/who the muu depicted. The Old Kingdom scenes in which muu can be recognized show them in environments which the German scholar identified with Buto and Sais. In particular he reproduced a scene from the Tomb of Nbk3w›r that clearly labels a banner above a gateway with the word for “Sais.”13 In this scene a keri-heb priest is shown in an upper register addressing a group of muu who each wear high conical crowns. In a lower register a funeral boat is shown on a winding waterway, the wrt canal, which (along with a similar representation from the Tomb of Snfrwinjtátf ) was evidence for Junker of sacred water journeys in a funerary context. According to him, in very ancient times, Buto and Sais were directly connected by this wrt canal. Pr nw chapels _ staples in Lower Egyptian iconography _ appear in several of the Old Kingdom scenes studied by the German scholar, and he identified them as representing the royal cemetery at Buto, noting that the shape of this chapel was similar to both the royal palace and kings’ sarcophagi.14 Junker saw the palms and sycamore trees of later representations as a memory of the “holy island of Osiris.” He suggested that the obelisks in the New Kingdom scenes symbolized Heliopolis, one of the other holy destinations of the predynastic Delta kings during their Totenfahrts.15

Junker marveled at the muu theories of others, remarking that it was rare for so many differing explanations to be given for a single custom as those offered for these dancers. He went further than Brunner-Traut’s theory that the muu were demigods from the Beyond fetching the dead; Junker thought they were the very “ancestors of the sovereign…the Souls of Pe.”16 According to him the Pyramid Texts explicitly state that the Souls of Pe clap their hands and dance during their reception of the dead king at the entrance to the Beyond (Pyr. 1005).17 Junker saw the muu dance, therefore, as a rite definitely ceremonial, in which the “step is measured, the extended foot is raised easily over the floor.” He saw the position of one arm of each muu raised to the chest in these Old Kingdom scenes as blows intended to signify mourning and lamentation.18 Thus, in Junker’s view, the muu were not royal buffoons or water spirits; they were, in fact, necropolis demigods, the spirits of deceased kings who emerged from the Beyond to quickly intercept the funeral procession.

Junker believed that those Old Kingdom rites in which muu appear originated in the funeral cermonies of the predynastic rulers of Buto, and these were taken over in dynastic times by the southern kings who had united the Two Lands _ although he did not have any idea just how much of the ancient northern rites was retained and what was Upper Egyptian or else wholly a new creation. Junker did feel that the southern customs took precedence over those of the north; therefore, even if the Buto rituals had been strictly kingly, later imitation of them by private persons was not any usurpation of the prerogatives of rulers of the Old Kingdom.19 Thus, by the Fifth Dynasty, some of the elements of the ancient royal-funerary rituals of Buto had been joined to elements of the emerging worship of Osiris. Junker believed that the Butoesque kingly Totenfahrts to Buto, Sais, etc. had become Osirized, with the dead king now fully identified with Osiris.

Junker recognized that, in the Old Kingdom reliefs he studied, the muu dancer was portrayed with one or the other of two distinct headresses, although these did not seem to reflect any difference in the nature of the funerary rite performed. One muu headdress was composed of papyrus stalks which seemed to be attached directly to the top of the dancer’s head, as if they were growing there. Junker equated the latter arrangement to the plant symbol of Lower Egypt. The other muu headress was a tall, conical, openwork cap resembling the White Crown of Upper Egypt, as well as the bundle-shaped Atef crown.20 That the conical crown of the south should be represented in a rite originating in the funerary rituals of the northern kings of Buto was not a problem for the German scholar, inasmuch he was of the opinion that there had been a united kingdom _ before the unification affected by Menes _ with a capital at Heliopolis. When these united Helipolitan states collapsed, the kings of Buto simply retained the symbols of the former union, the conical crown of the south being one of them. Junker believed that the last funerals of the Buto rulers took place as much as 1,000 years before the Old Kingdom depictions of muu dancers.21

By the time of the tomb representations of the Middle and New kingdoms, the funerary rituals with muu dancers in evidence did not represent real-time excursions to sacred sites in the Delta. Instead, as economic relationships changed, the Butoesque rites were performed at the entrance to the cemetery or of the tomb itself. However, Junker did allow that some important deceased dignitaries may have been taken to the holy places of the north prior to interment, or that a statue of the deceased visited Buto and other Delta sacred sites.22 Thus, the depictions in Middle and New Kingdom tombs of the gateway of Sais, the shrines of Buto, the obelisks of Heliopolis, and pools and palms were all symbolic by these later periods.23

The subject of muu dancers was subsequently discussed by Jacques Vandier in 1944 and Jürgen Settgast in his Bestattungsdarstellungen of 1963. In 1975 another German scholar, Hartwig Altenmüller, offered yet another theory on the muu question, appropriately titled Zur Frage der Mww (To the Muu Question).24

Altenmüller considered the muu as “ritual figures” who appear at four different places in the necropolis. They reside in the “Halle der Muu” and greet the deceased at the boat transporting the coffin, at the ritual place “Sais” and when the coffin is placed on a sled at the “Gates of Buto,” and they greet the canopic chest and the tekenu in the funeral procession. Altenm_ller wrote that muu were identifiable by their headgear, which he saw as plant material, bound papyrus stalks similar to the middle portion of the king’s Atef crown. Altenmüller labled as “psuedo muu” those facing pairs of dancers who appear in New Kingdom tomb scenes identified as muu by captions but who are without headdresses or any distinguishing costumes. He rejected Moret’s concept of “rois buffoons,”25 and saw problems with Junker’s theory of muu as the “Souls of Buto,” inasmuch as no inscription directly equates the two, nor is there one which says the muu are even from Buto.26 He noted that the “Halle der Muu” appears for the first time in fourteen New Kingdom tomb depictions.

Altenmüller described the muu hall as a being situated in a park-like environment with ponds and gardens. By the New Kingdom, the muu dancers were associated not only with a symbolic journey to Sais on the wrt canal _ as in the Old Kingdom _ but also with journeys to the “Two Gates of Buto” and the palace at Heliopolis (represented by twin obelisks). The muu emerged from their hall when the funerary priest called out, “Come the Muu.” But their “funktion” following their appearance is the crux of Altenm_ller’s ideas.27

He turned to the Pyramid Texts for an explanation of the muus’ funerary function, especially utterances 306-3l0, with emphasis on 310:


     To say:

     Should Unas be bewitched, Atum will be be witched,

          should Unas be opposed, Atum will be opposed,

          should Unas be beaten, Atum will be beaten,

          should Unas be hindered on his way, 

          Atum will be hindered.

     Unas is Horus, Unas came after his father,   

          Unas came after Osiris.

     "O thou, His-face-in-front-His-face-behind,

          bring this to Unas."

     "What ferry shall I bring thee?"

     "Bring to Unas the one which flies up,

          the one which alights."28 

Altenmüller interpreted this text as consisting of two sections. The first contains a four-part “swearing” formula which he believed refers to a magical protection for cult instruments against possible enemies. The second is a rejoinder, which contains an invitation to bring up a ferry. Altenmüller was not certain whether an individual ferryman was addressed, or two; but the reference to “His-face- in-front/ His-face-behind” suggests two persons. He equated these persons with the two dancers who face each other at the appearance of the tekenu and the canopic chest. Thus, in accordance with Pyramid Texts utterance 310, Altenmüller saw the muu as ferrymen who, through the use of a swearing formula, care for the safety of the deceased’s ritual transport.29

Altenmüller noted that the crowned muu may have a reference to Pyramid Texts utterance 220, where the four Lower Egyptian crowns are “personified”:


     The doors of the horizon open themselves, 

          its bolts slide.

     He has come to thee, Net (crown of Lower Egypt),

          he has come to thee, Nesert (Uraeus),

          he has come to thee, Great One,

          he has come to thee, Great of Magic,

          purified for thee, in awe before thee.

     Be pleased with him, be pleased with his


          be pleased with the words he says to thee:

     "How beautiful is thy face when thou

          art pleased,

          when thou art new and young!

     A god has given thee birth, the father of gods."

     He has come to thee, O Great of Magic!

     It is Horus who fought to protect his eye,

          Great of Magic.30 

After naming the four crowns, this text _ according to Altenmüller’s interpretation _ reveals their natures, which he glosses as beauty of face, new, rejuvenated and created from the father of the gods. These four crowns, or their natures, greet the deceased and bear the responsibility for his journey over the waters of heaven. The four crown-gods of utterances 220-222, which the deceased encounters during his journey through heaven, Altenmüller linked with the four spirits of utterance 263, who greet the deceased and announce his arrival to the sun-god. He saw them as border guards and ferrymen for the deceased.31


Detail of four high-stepping, gesturing, crowned muu in the Middle Kingdom Tomb of Anteforker shown _ according to the author _ at the verymoment of crossing the threshold between this world and the next, having been summoned by the lead funerary priest to receive the deceased.


     The two reed floats of the sky are laid down for Re

        that he may cross to the horizon.

     The two reed floats of the sky are laid down

        for Horus of the Horizon,

        that Horus of the Horizon may cross on them to Re.

     The two reed floats of the sky 

        are laid down for Unas,

        that he may cross on them 

        to Horus of the horizon, to Re.

     It was pleasant for Unas to be with his Ka,

          and he lives together with his Ka.

     His panther skirt is on him,

          his Ames-scepter is on his arm,

          his Aba-scepter is in his hand.

     He (?) those who bring him those four spirits,

          the eldest ones,

          at the head of the curly ones who stand on the

          eastern side of the sky, 

          who lean on their scepters

          in order that (these four spirits) say to Re

          the beautiful name of Unas,

          and to announce this Unas to Neheb-Kau

          in order that the entrance of this Unas be greeted.

     The fields of Rushes are filled (with water)

          to let Unas cross the Sinuous Watercourse.

     This Unas will cross a crossing 

          to the eastern side of the Horizon.

     This Unas will cross a crossing 

          to the eastern side of the sky.

     His sister is Sothis, 

          his place of birth is the Twilight (Duat).

In utterances 220-222 and 263, the tasks put forth seem the same, according to Altenmüller, who said they were to receive the deceased, informing the sun-god of his arrival and preparation for the excursion in the Boat of the Sun.32 That the muu of the dynastic funerary-ritual are to be identified with the ferrymen of the Heliopolitan mythology is confirmed, Altenmüller argued, by pictorial evidence of an Old Kingdom dance that was performed at the occasion of a procession of a statue of the deceased. But this same dance _ with male dancers in short kilts symmetrically facing each other _ could also be depicted outside the context of a statue procession, as is seen in the shared Tomb of Niakhkhanum and Khanumhotep at Sakkara. In the Theban Tomb of Ibi, this dance would seem to be performed by boat people, for the statue processon in that instance is interpreted as a river journey. Altenmüller expressed the opinion that the muu dancers in these examples supervise the implements necessary for the funerary ritual, and magically _ through their dance _ secure the way for the statue’s transport.33

Additional evidence for connecting the muu to ferrymen may be found in an allusion in Pyramid Text 1223, utterance 520:

     If you delay to ferry me over in this ferry boat,

          I will tell your names to men whom I know,

          to everyone, and I will pluck out those dancing tresses

          which are on top of your heads 

          like lotus-buds in the swamp gardens.34 

Altenmüller suggested that muu dancers in the Old Kingdom made wreaths of lotus blossoms for their hair. Similar lotus wreaths were also typically carried by helmsmen and persons using papyrus craft; and crews of larger rowboats and ships were frequently bedecked with floral head-decorations. Pyramid Text utterance 519 also portrays ferrymen with garlands on their heads. Altenmüller concluded, therefore, that the conical crowns of the muu were probably made of materials from the canals and waterways of the Delta, possibly papyrus shoots or grasses. Likewise, he held that the very name of the muu (35) denoted their waterways connection _ “Men who belong to the water” _ and that this name referred simultaneously to their original role as ferrymen.36

Thus, it can be seen that since the earlier days of Egyptology a subtle evolution in thinking about the myst-erious muu has taken place. What began as court jesters has transformed into divine ferrymen. Hartwig Altenmüller’s ideas seem the most plausible explanation of the muu, and his studies point towards further refinements to the concept of muu dancers as ferrymen in the funerary ritual from Old through the New kingdoms. After digesting his considerable research into the subject, and following up on several trail markings he left behind, it would be remiss to not offer yet more speculation on the subject of the muu “dancers.”


Scene from the Fifth Dynasty Mastaba of Ti at Sakkara depicting gesturing boatmen accompanying cattle crossing a body of water, probably the Nile. These gestures are meant magically to ward off potential dangers to the fording cattle, such as the crocodile seen lurking in the waters. The author proposes that these boatmen’s protective gestures correspond to the hand-signs muu are shown making when they greet the funeral cortege.

All commentators are agreed that, at some point during the funeral procession, the deceased and mourners were met by a group of muu. In a first reading of the tomb scenes, it appears that these muu are “hurrying” to intercept the procession because they are guardians of the necropolis and must authorize burials therein. But more is revealed on a closer inspection of these scenes. For instance, in the tombs of Anteforker (37) and Tetaki (38) a lead priest, the funeral procession halted behind him, gestures towards the assembled muu with his outstretched arm. This is a pose of invocation.39 In the Tomb of Anteforker, three additional priests stand behind this lead priest: a kheri-heb or lector priest (keeper of the scrolls), a sem (a shaman-like priest wearing a leopard skin) and the ami-khent. The lead priest intones the words “Muus Come” or “Come O Muu.”40

It is at this very moment that the muu appear from the beyond, in response to the priest’s commanding summons. They are not depicted in the tomb scenes as hurrying to intercept the funeral procession, but rather are seen at the moment of crossing over from the Other Side. Their feet are raised in the act of stepping across the the threshold between this world and the next. The scene in Tetaki shows them not following one after the other but, rather, in rank side by side, crossing over simultaneously. The muu appear like a chorus line, as each raises one leg, pausing several beats before stepping forward into the field of action. This same step can be seen in the folk dances of modern Egypt.

The strange hand-gesture of the muu can be elaborated upon, as well. As Richard Wilkinson has stated: “From Old Kingdom times a specifically protective gesture is found in representations showing figures extending one or two outstretched fingers toward dangerous creatures such as the hippopotamus or the crocodile.”41 Specifically in Old Kingdom tomb depictions of “cattle fording” scenes, a protective spell is recited and a herdsman, sitting in a papyrus craft extends his magical hand-gesture to protect the beasts which are being herded in the water. Magicians leaning on staffs and uttering water spells, and boatmen with special knowledge, are involved with these fording scenes.42 Since the muu are apparently the ferrymen who ensure the safe transportation of the deceased, it is understandable why they emerge from the Beyond armed with blazing hand-gestures. Like the herdsmen in their boats leading cattle through the water, the muu guide the deceased on the winding waterways to paradise.

The muu “Halle” or “house” is exactly that: where the muu dwell, like genii in a bottle, awaiting the priest to summon them as ferrymen-guardians of the deceased. This structure sits at the edge of Paradise, the gardens of peace. The gods inhabit Paradise, in their shrines, and Osiris is king. The cities of Buto (Pe and Dep), Sais and Heliopolis are the metropoli of the sacred geography of the World Beyond. This gardened Paradise is certainly patterned after the environs of the Nile Delta (see Book of the Dead, chapter 110, for instance).

That the people of Pe and Dep line the watercourse and take positions in the funeral cortege is understandable: they are the inhabitants there, greeting the deceased on his journey to the sacred cities; and they consequently take part in the burial ceremony. This can be thought of in two ways: what is depicted in the tomb scenes is either actually transpiring in the Next World, or the real-life participants in the funeral rites symbolically represent the people of Pe, their actions in this world magically ensuring that those same actions will take place in the Hereafter.

The symmetrically paired dancers in the tomb scenes are likewise associated with the people of Pe. They may appear to be doing the “dance” of the muu, but they are not necessarily muu dancers. The fact that they are portrayed without crowns of any sort clearly distinguishes them from those muu who wear conical or floral headdresses. The dance the pair do is, in fact, about ferrymen, and so they are representing “His-face-in-front-His-face-behind” (Pyramid Text utterance 310, as Altenm_ller recognized), because a good ferryman must be able to see both ahead and behind in order to avoid the dangers of the waterways. It may be supposed that the dance they perform is rooted in an ancient folk-tradition of dancing boatmen who celebrate their expert skills. In fact, this dance may be a ritual of movement and gestures meant to summon the muu from beyond, much as does the vocal invocation of the funerary priest.


Author’s illustration of the possible derivation of the tall conical wickerwork headdress typically worn by muu in Middle and New Kingdom tomb representations The similarity of this “crown” to the prow of a typical pharaonic-period papyrus skiff or float suggests that the former was meant to associate its wearers with the role of boatmen and particularly with their function as ferrymen to the deceased.

This leads to the question of the two seemingly different kinds of muu portrayed in Junker’s Tomb of Ptahhotep II. There one type wear the tall conical crown that all commentators agree was made from papyrus stalks; and nearby, on the same wall, a second type appear to have actual papyrus plants attached to their heads. It is this writer’s conclusion that the conical crown is not, however, patterned on either the Upper Egyptian White Crown or the Atef crown. Rather, the wickerwork conical muu headdress is in the same shape of _ and made from the same material as _ the papyrus skiffs or floats of the Delta boat people. It may even represent the manipulated papyrus stalks which form the prow (front end) of such a vessel [see author’s reconstruction]. Thus, the muu’s affinity with boat people can hardly be doubted.

But what of the muu with actual plants growing on (from?) their heads? The word h3 (ha) can be translated not only as “papyrus” but also “behind,” and more specifically it is used in words meaning the back of the head.43 Most interestingly it is used in the name of the celestial ferryman who is mentioned in chapter 99 of the Book of the Dead; and the same ferryman is portrayed in the vignette of chapter 93 in the Papyrus of Ani, where he is depicted navigating a boat, with his head turned around toward the stern of his craft. The two types of muu, then, are directly related to the ferrymen “His-face-in-front-His-face-behind.” The muu wearing the conical wickerwork crown is the former, while the muu with papyrus plants on his head is the latter.

One gets the feeling that the muu _ based on their surviving representations _ were likable characters in the ancient Egyptian funerary drama. Their high-stepping “dance” and accompanying gestures evoke a smile in the present-day viewer. Clearly they were characters patterned after the common folk on the Nile Delta, people who lived along and worked on the canals of the north, surrounded by lush flora and diverse fauna. Marsh life and people were favorite themes of tomb decoration of the pharaonic period, and their treatment by the tomb artisans often show an affection and humorous sympathy. Who better to call upon to lead one through the winding waterways of Paradise than the boatmen of the Nile Delta?



1. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature 1 (Berkeley, 1975), 229.  

2. E.A. Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary 1 (New York,


3. Alexandre Moret, Mysteries Êgyptiene (Paris, 1927, 257 ff.

4. Emma Brunner-Traut, Der Tanz Im Alten Ägypten (Hamburg, 1938),


5. Ibid., 43.  6. Ibid., 55.  7. Ibid., 57.  8. Ibid., 59.

9. Hermann Junker, Der Tanz Der Mww Und Das Butisch Begräbnis Im

Reich (Berlin, 1940), vol. 9 Mitteilungen, 1-39.

10. Ibid., 1.  11. Ibid., 11.  12. Ibid., 12.  13. Ibid., 3.  14. Ibid., 20. 15. Ibid.,

16. Ibid., 23.  17. Ibid., 24.  18. Ibid., 25.  19. Ibid., 28-29.  20., Ibid., 32-36. 

Ibid., 36-38.  22., Ibid., 38.  23. Ibid., 39. 

24. Jacques Vandier in Chronique d'Êgypte 19 (1944), 35 ff.; Jürgen


Untersuchungen zu altägyptischen Bestattungsdarstellungen

(Gl_ckstadt/Hamburg, 1963), 19, 30 frf., 42 ff., 50; Hartwig Altenmüller,


Der Mww in Studien Zur Altägyptischen Kultur 2 (Hamburg, 1975), 1-37.

25. Altenmüller, 1.

26., Ibid., 2. 27. Ibid., 7-9.

28. For convenience the English texts used are from Alexandre Piankoff, The

Pyramid of Unas (New York, 1969).

29. Altenmüller, 12.

30. Ibid., 13.  31. Ibid., 16.  32. Ibid., 18.  33., Ibid., 20.

34. Utterance 520, Pyr. 1223, is missing from the Pyramid of Unas.  See then

R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford, 1969).

35. Altenmüller, 22.  36. Ibid., 36.

37. Norman De Garis Davies and Alan H. Gardiner, The Tomb of Antefoker,

of Sesostris I, etc. (London, 1920), pl. XXII. 

38. N.d-G. Davies, "The Tomb of Tetaki at Thebes, No. 15," Journal of

Archaeology XI (1925), 10-18.

39. A. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (Oxford, 1978), sign list A26.

40. Richard H. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art (London, 1994);

his discussion on invocaton, 195; also 74 for sacred locations.

41. Ibid., 194.

42. Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice

(Chicago, 1993), 227-229.

43. Gardiner, Grammar, signs M15, M16; also 580.

About the Author

Greg Reeder is a contributing editor to KMT.