The muu-dancers performed in people's private funerals in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, a period lasting about 1,500 years. The muu-dancers performed throughout the funeral. Representing the muu-dancers in tomb drawings was a popular choice for tomb owners, more popular than representing the whole funeral ritual as Princess Watetkhethor chose to do. Scholars do not know why this scene was represented so often. Artists represented in tombs the muu-dancers' performance at four different stages of the funeral procession. The muu-dancers greeted the funeral procession at the "Hall of the Muu" where the dancers lived at the edge of the necropolis. They danced while priests loaded the sarcophagus onto the funerary barge at the ritual site called "Sais," associated with the town of Sais in the delta. They danced a greeting to the sledge carrying the sarcophagus at the ritual site in the necropolis called the "Gates of Buto," and associated with the town of Buto, also in the delta. Finally, at an unknown place in the necropolis, the dancers were the reception committee for the sledge bearing the canopic jars and tekenu—the containers for the viscera of the deceased and the still unidentified portion of the corpse, or perhaps the placenta, of the deceased that the Egyptians also placed in the tomb. The sites where the muu-dancers performed illustrate the itinerary that the funeral procession followed, allowing Egyptologists to reconstruct parts of the typical funeral.
Muu-dancers usually wore a distinctive costume that made them easily identifiable. They wore a headdress made from a plant, probably papyrus stems. The headdress resembled a wreath wrapped around their heads. Rising from this wreath was a woven, cone-shaped structure that came to a point, then flared at the end. The headdress resembled but was not exactly the same as the king's White Crown. During the New Kingdom, scribes sometimes identified the images of muu-dancers only with captions rather than showing them wearing the distinctive headgear. In these cases the muu-dancers appear only as male dancers.
The most vexing question about the muu-dancers remains an explanation of their identity and thus their symbolic meaning. Earlier Egyptologists have explained the symbolism of the muu-dancers by equating them with other, known semi-divine beings. These beings include the gods of the necropolis who transported the deceased; the Souls of Buto who received the deceased; the Sons of Horus who rode in the barque (sun-boat) with deceased kings and the sun-god, Re; and the most recently proposed and most convincing suggestion, ferrymen who guided the deceased from the beginning of the funeral procession to the entrance of the tomb. In the earlier twentieth century, the Egyptologist E. Brunner-Traut thought the muu-dancers represented gods of the necropolis who transported the newly dead into their world. This interpretation built on earlier ideas advanced by the Egyptologist H. Junker. Junker tried to identify the muu-dancers with the "Souls of Buto," who were described in the Pyramid Texts as the beings that received the dead into the next world. He also believed that the "Souls of Buto" were deceased kings. Though it is true that the "Souls of Buto" had some role in welcoming the deceased into the next world, no texts actually equate the "Souls of Buto" with the muu-dancers. Rather the muu-dancers danced at the ritual point, called the Gates of Buto. Advances in understanding the Pyramid Texts demonstrate that the muu-dancers performed a different ritual function from the "Souls of Buto" during the funeral procession.
Evidence from Texts and Images.
The Egyptologist H. Altenmüller identified six places where the muu-dancers were active in the funerary procession, combining the evidence of texts and representations. This itinerary of the muu-dancers corresponds with the funeral procession's itinerary. The muu-dancers began their role in the funeral from the "Hall of the Muu." They were present as the deceased journeyed westward toward the land of the dead and then journeyed to Sais, a pilgrimage that was ritually re-enacted during the funeral. They attended the procession of the sarcophagus on a sledge, the separate procession of the canopic jars and tekenu on a sledge, and at the tekenu ritual. Artists represented the parts of this procession in paintings and relief sculpture in Old, Middle, and New Kingdom tombs, establishing that this ritual was part of the funeral for over 1,500 years. Though it must have evolved and changed over time, the muu-dance was a very long-lived ritual.
Hall of the Muu-Dancers.
Artists also represented the setting of the Hall of the Muu-Dancers in tomb paintings and relief sculptures. The Hall sat in a vegetable garden at the edge of the necropolis. When the funerary procession reached the Hall of the Muu-Dancers, the priests called for the dancers to join the procession. In the paintings and reliefs, the caption for this event is, "The Coming of the Muu-dancers." The dancers, standing in pairs, executed a step, crossing one foot over the other with their arms raised to hip-level. In some representations they say, "She has nodded her head" while they dance, perhaps singing. The Egyptologist E. Brunner-Traut explained this phrase to mean that the Goddess of the West—the goddess of the necropolis—had approved the deceased's entry into the necropolis. The muu-dancers' first important role then was to welcome the deceased to the necropolis with their dance.
FERRYMEN IN A FUNERAL PROCESSION TEXT
introduction: The following funeral procession text associated the deceased with the god Atum and thus magically protected him or her from enemies. It then addressed two ferrymen called "Whose-Faceis-on-his-Front" and "Whose-Face-is-on-his-Back." These two ferrymen most likely are represented by the paired muu-dancers.
If [Name of the Deceased] is enchanted, so will Atum be enchanted!
If [Name of the Deceased] is attacked, so will Atum be attacked!
If [Name of the Deceased] is struck, so will Atum be struck!
If [Name of the Deceased] is repelled, so will Atum be repelled!
[Name of the Deceased] is Horus. [Name of the Deceased] has come after his father.
[Name of the Deceased] has come after Osiris.
Oh, you, Whose-Face-is-on-his-Front!
Oh, you, Whose-Face-is-on-his-Back!
Bring these things to [Name of the Deceased].
(Speech of the Ferryman)
"Which Ferry should I bring to you, oh, [Name of the Deceased]?
"Bring to [Name of the Deceased] (the ferry named) "It flies up and lets itself down!"
Pyramid Text 310.
Egyptologists have gained further understanding of the muu-dancers from the Pyramid Texts. These texts were the ritual that priests recited at royal funerals beginning no later than the reign of King Unas (2371–2350 b.c.e.). Something similar became part of the beginning of all elite funerals somewhat later. H. Altenmüller correlated Pyramid Texts 306 through 310 with New Kingdom scenes of the tekenu and canopic jar procession. Artists divided the scenes into five parts, including the bringing of the tekenu, a censing, the bringing of the canopic jars, the bearing of the papyrus stocks, and the dance of the muu-dancers. These five scenes correlate with the five Pyramid Texts. In Pyramid Text 310, the spell identifies the deceased with the god Atum. According to the text, if enemies enchanted, opposed, struck, or repelled the deceased, it would be no more effective than to do the same to the god Atum. The text then associated the deceased with the god Horus. As Horus he asks the two ferrymen—Whose-Face-is-on-his-Front and Whose-Face-is-on-his-Back—to bring the ferry boat called "It flies up and lets itself down" to him. Thus in this text the pair of muu-dancers are ferrymen whose job was to transport the tekenu and the canopic jars.
Personified as Crowns.
H. Altenmüller connected Pyramid Text 220 with scenes in tombs of the muu-dancers before the Gates of Buto. The four personifications of crowns named in Pyramid Text 220 were probably the same four beings addressed in Pyramid Text 310 where they were called ferrymen. In the spell, the crowns were not symbols of royal power. Rather they were personified as beings that wore crowns, each with a beautiful face. The fact that these beings had a face at all, and could also feel satisfaction and appear both new and young, indicates that the spell was addressing beings rather than crowns themselves. The three statements about them in the text referred to their outer form, physical circumstances, and descent from gods. H. Altenmüller associated these four beings with the two pairs of muu-dancers in tomb scenes. As gate-keepers at the gates of the horizon, they played a similar role to the ferrymen of Pyramid Text 310; they facilitated transport of the deceased to the afterlife. Furthermore, Altenmüller showed through connections with other spells that this horizon gate is located in the east, making it the beginning of the sun-god Re's journey from east to west. Thus the evidence from the Pyramid Texts connects the muu-dancers with the transport of the deceased from the east—the land of the living—to the west—the land of the dead—through their dance. This transportation involves the god's boat, a place easily associated with the ferrymen muu-dancers. Pyramid Text spells 220 and 310 thus establish that the muu-dancers represented ferrymen. This connection is clear because of comparisons between the scenes in tombs of the Old Kingdom and the role the texts played in the burial ritual. In Pyramid Text 220, the dancers represented ferrymen who double as border guards on the east side of heaven and who were personifications of the Lower Egyptian crowns. These crowns were also associated with ferrymen in Pyramid Text 1214a.
Egyptian thought conceived of a heavenly world filled with canals and ferrymen from experience of life on earth. These ferrymen, in both realms, wore plants and wreaths as clothing. Numerous depictions of boats in tombs show that the crewmembers decorated themselves with braided plants, placed in their hair. The papyrus-stem headdress worn by the muu-dancers thus connects them further with boats and ferries.
Another connection between ferrymen and muu-dancers can be found in statue processions. In Old Kingdom tombs, there are scenes that depict processions of statues guarded by muu-dancers. Inscriptions in these scenes compare the processions to a trip by boat. The dancers in the processions thus perform the same guardian function during funerals as the dancers perform in the statue processions.
MUU-DANCERS AS FOUR ROYAL CROWNS
introduction: In this Pyramid Text the deceased appeared before the personifications of four royal crowns. A priest greeted these beings on behalf of the deceased. The deceased was called Horus, a god who was also the king and whose damaged and healed eye became the symbol for healing and re-birth. By making this connection between the deceased and Horus, the priest enlisted the personifications of the royal crowns in the rebirth into the next world. It is likely that the muu-dancers became personifications of the crowns at this point in their dance. Various connections within the pyramid texts associated groups of four with the muu-dancers who appeared as two pairs.
The gates of the horizon are open, the door-bolts are shoved back.
He [the deceased] has come to you, Oh net–crown!
He [the deceased] has come to you, Oh neseret–crown!
He [the deceased] has come to you, Oh weret–crown!
He [the deceased] has come to you, Oh werethekaw–crown,
While he is pure for you and while he fears you.
May you be satisfied with him!
May you be satisfied with his purity!
May you be satisfied with his word, that he might say to you,
"How beautiful is your face, when you are satisfied, when you are new and young. A god has created you, the father of the gods!"
He [the deceased] has come to you, oh werethekaw–crown!
He is Horus, who has strived to protect his eye, oh weret-hekaw–crown.
Sons of Horus.
The muu-dancers probably were fused with the Sons of Horus, the spirits who were directly connected to the canopic jars that held the viscera of the deceased. The Sons of Horus helped convey the funerary procession in the land of the dead. The Sons of Horus were also ferrymen and border guards, further connecting them to the muu-dancers.
The muu-dancers might also have represented the deceased's ancestors. The muu-dancers were clearly part of a large group called the "Followers of Re." This group rode in the sun-god Re's boat that carried the sun from east to west in this world during the day and conveyed the sun through the land of the dead at night. Membership in the "Followers of Re" was available to all high officials after their death. The muu-dancers represented all the dead ancestors of the deceased that rode in the sun-god's boat. This connection between the deceased's ancestors and the muu-dancers also explains a line from The Story of Sinuhe. In the letter that the king wrote to Sinuhe inviting him to return to Egypt from the Levant, the king said, "The Dance of the Weary-ones will be performed at the entrance to your tomb." The "weary-ones" was another name for all the deceased's ancestors. The dancers at the tomb entrance certainly included the muu-dancers. Thus the muu-dancers and the ancestors can easily be equated.
Muu-dancers were a feature of Egyptian funerals for at least 1,500 years from the Old Kingdom through the New Kingdom. It is possible, though, that the muu-dancers were replaced by dancing dwarfs by the Twentieth Dynasty. The Egyptian national epic, The Story of Sinuhe, was recopied from its composition in the Middle Kingdom through the end of Egyptian history. A copy made near the time of composition is quoted as saying, "The Dance of the Weary-ones will be performed at the entrance to your tomb." The word for weary-ones in Egyptian is neniu. In a Twentieth-dynasty copy of the same text it reads, "The dance of the dwarfs will be performed for you at the entrance to your tomb." The word "dwarfs" in Egyptian is nemiu. Perhaps by the Twentieth Dynasty, the dwarf-god Bes joined the funeral procession. Bes was both a god of birth and re-birth as well as a dwarf. Thus Egyptian traditions could easily assimilate him into the funeral procession.
Hartwig Altenmüller, "Zur Frage der MWW," Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 2 (1975): 1–37.
Emma Brunner-Traut, Der Tanz im Alten Ägypten (Glückstadt, Germany: J.J. Augustin, 1938).