The Book of Gates


The Book of Gates follows a similar format as again the sun gods’ barque travels through the netherworld.  Here however, the sun god is seen encircled from the start by the Mehen-serpent and is accompanied by only two deities, Sia (perception) and Heka (magic) as opposed to the numerous crew seen in the Amduat.  This composition is of a late 18th Dynasty date and is seen in tombs beginning with Horemheb forward through the 19th and 20th Dynasties in some form in most tombs in the Valley of the Kings.  It is usually located in the burial chamber and first pillared hall in these tombs.  There is an additional comparison to be made with chapter 144 of the Book of the Dead, which is seen in many non-royal tombs and including the tombs of the Valley of the Queens.  The queens were not allowed to use the same compositions in their tombs that their husbands were as only the king was privy to this unique afterlife.  Strange as it seems, there is no attestation to an original title for this book. 

The sun god’s passing through the underworld is also seen as a passing through the body of the sky goddess Nut.  This idea was introduced earlier, (see: ‘Under the Stars of Egypt’) however, it is now necessary to elaborate further.  The Book of Gates derives its significance originally as being a composition designed as a way to tell time at night through the use of star patterns.  It was important to be able to predict the time of sunrise as the offering rituals for the temples had to coincide with the exact moment of this happening.  All must be in readiness before the sun appears. 

The means of
achieving this was by the observance of the rising of certain stars as the night progressed and marking the hours by these star appearances.  Due to the movement and rotation  of  the earth in relation to  the star patterns,  a series of

Barque from Book of Gates, Tomb of Ramesses I

stars was needed, each star serving for a fifteen day period as the “announcer” of the sunrise.  The next star in the series then would be the “gatekeeper” of the coming hour.  Twenty four such bright stars would be needed for the year, completely rotating in a yearly cycle.  It was soon realized that twenty four bright stars would not be enough as others might appear similar, especially if they all were near the same horizon point.  What was needed here was a recognizable grouping of stars. 

We might imagine that the Egyptians, based upon observation, noticing two somewhat fainter stars rising just prior to the bright star in the pattern.  Sirius, for example, rises just after Betelgeuse and Rigel in the constellation of Orion.  As the stars reach a position high enough so that Sirius is just seen rising, they form a triangle pointing downwards.  The pattern in the rising of the attendant stars, signals the rising of the principal star.  Without a doubt, the Egyptians would have given special names to these stars.  The earliest names are now lost to us, but later appellations are know to us from several sources.  Principal among these is the Book of Gates.  Here, each gate has a guardian in serpent form on its door, as well as two further guardians. In chapter 144 of the Book of the Dead the guardians are also seen and named.  The brightest star is identified as the ‘gatekeeper’ with the lesser ones following.  The announcer (or herald) is first, the guardian is next and the gatekeeper is last, but these are usually indicated in reverse order, showing the most important first (see: Valley of the Queens, tomb of Nefertari for names of the keeper, guardian, and announcer for the gates shown in her tomb).  The Egyptians formed stories for each star group and they associated each group with its own gate.  Since twelve came out of the underworld during the night, so the underworld had twelve gates seen in the Book of Gates.  The Book of the Dead, interestingly enough, indicates only seven gates in the realm of Osiris.

The beginning of the journey is in the mountains of the West in the first hour or division of the Book of Gates.  Here the sun god receives the diadem of power.  Depicted are his neck and head which are adored by the gods of the West.  This is representative of creative power (speech and voice).  The barque moves through twelve divisions marked by pylons or gates, with a guardian serpent on each that spits fire to illuminate the portal.  The guardian serpent of this first Gate is known as ‘Guardian of the Desert’ and the crenellated ornaments seen on the gate itself (arrow like objects) are referred to as Khekheru.  These date from the Old Kingdom.    The special position of the king is more in evidence here, as he accompanies the sun god to his rebirth in the morning.  As we saw in the Amduat, this first hour is really an interface between the two worlds.  The sun god is greeted by the collective of the dead and not individual gods as seen in the Amduat.  As the barque of Re moves into the second hour, past its guardian ‘Enveloper’, it is towed by individuals identified as ‘Those of the Netherworld.’ Here it is met by a procession of gods known appropriately as ‘The Gods at the Entrance.’  Below the barque the ‘Weary Ones’ are seen along with the enemies of Re, i.e. those who are damned.  In the upper register are the blessed dead who live on Maat.

The third hour sees the sun god passing the guardian serpent ‘Stinger’, and awakening depictions of mummies from the dead and causing them to be animated in their shrines.  Here also is the Lake of Fire which can supply the blessed dead or whose waters are as flames for the damned.  In the middle floats the ‘barque of the earth’ with the sun god being towed along.  Below is the serpent Apopis, the enemy extraordinaire, which is opposed by the god Atum with the two Enneads at the rear to control him.  The main focus of the fourth hour is the shrines that contain mummies directly in front of the barque.  They are in death and awaiting the arrival of the sun god to revive them in this hour.  The scene which follows lays out the passing of the hours.  The serpent which is coiled around in an intricate manner is representative of time and the goddesses, of which there are twelve, signify the hours.  The guardian of the fourth hour is called ‘Flame-Face’ and the gate itself is ‘One of Action.’  The lower register shows us Osiris within a shrine and protected by his entourage on all sides.  At the end of the scene (in some examples), the enemies of Osiris are being punished in pits of fire for their opposition to this great god.

The fifth hour is somewhat complex.  Here are gods which are parceling out space (fields) to the deceased in the beyond.  Of interest here, in the lower register, are the four races of mankind at the beginning of the scene.  These are Egyptians, Asiatics, Nubians, and Libyans.   At the end of the hour the judgment ‘Hall of Osiris’ has been inserted.  This is the only image of this scene to be found anywhere in these underworld books.  The dead who are maat-heru, ‘justified and true of voice’ stand on the steps.  An enemy of Osiris, in the
form of a pig, is being driven off to the right.  The glyphs in this scene are very enigmatic and were probably  designed to  be that  way to  enhance the mystery of the

5th Hour, Judgment Hall, Tomb of Ramesses VI

scene.  Notice that the pans of the scale are empty, and thus, are not the same as is found in the Book of the Dead where the heart and the feather of Maat are seen.  In the sixth hour the ba and the corpse of the sun god are united.  This is the deepest point of the travels.  In the lower register, mummies lie on a bed comprised of a serpent, and take part in the joining with the ba and the resurrection.  In the upper scene, Apopis is being held by forked poles and heads of people he has swallowed now appear from his body as he now must set them free.  Time is seen as a twisted double rope coming forth from a god.  Another lake of fire is seen at the end of the lower register.

Just as was seen in the Amduat, the seventh hour is concerned with the overthrowing of all demons that would otherwise prevent the sun god from his renewal.  The so-called ‘Stakes of Geb’ appear in the middle register with two enemies bound to each.  The upper and lower registers show people who are the blessed dead and are seen being well provided with grain in baskets or with sickles to harvest it.  The guardian serpent of this hour is ‘Hidden of Eye.’

(11th hous how aMoving to the tenth hour, the emphasis here is on the battle with Apopis in the middle register.  Apopis is made ineffective by the nets held by the gods and the power of magic.  The text states that the journey is proceeding towards the sky.  The eleventh hour shows Apopis, now bound and dismembered, as incapable of harming the god.  A giant emerging fist holds the rope that binds him.  In the middle, the face of Re travels in a barque so that the dead may see his face.  The reversed direction of the boat is unique.  This may be a reference to the reversal of time as was seen in the last hour of the Amduat.  In the center at the end of the scene, gods acclaim and announce the coming of the sun god.

The twelfth hour is the final hour of the night and the guardian is called ‘He of the Dawn & Enveloper’ with the gate called ‘Sacred of Power.’  Apopis once again is seen in front of the barque, but he is held in check and is powerless to stop the sunrise.  The baboons proclaim the coming sunrise with their raised hands, and below are crowns which function as symbols of power to be worn to mark this event.  Isis and Nephthys are seen as uraei that additionally guard this gate.  In the final scene we see the barque being lifted up by the god Nun from the primev
al waters.  Isis and Nephthys hold the sacred beetle that pushes the sun disk from the barque and hands it to the sky goddess Nut.  She is inverted to indicate the reversal of the sun’s course which will  now be in the

12th Hour, Tomb of Ramesses VI

opposite direction as it travels across the sky of day.  The barque has a full crew of gods at this point.  The body of the sky goddess is seen standing on a circular form that is Osiris and is representative of the underworld. The accompanying text seen inside the circular form reads ’Osiris encircles the underworld.’ Therefore, the entire Egyptian cosmos is displayed in this scene; the primeval waters, the heavens and the underworld.