deCIPHER // Ancient Egyptian Tattooing | Part I

The Gebelein Mummies of Ancient Egypt (Kemet) are the oldest found in Africa so far. Their tattoos are still visible and well preserved owing to Kemet’s intricate mummification process. Several gendered female and male mummies were found, dating from the Predynastic Period (6000-3150 B.C.) to the New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.). All are permanently adorned with the Kemetic pictographic language given the Greek name, hieroglyph (hiero- "holy/sacred" and -glyph "carving/to note/hollow out"). Despite its most common use on temples, monuments, and papyrus--"hieroglyph," is equally appropriate for the act of indelibly inscribing symbols into flesh.

Little is known about the physical application of tattoos during this time and as archaeological information is still being unearthed, we will mostly explore the ethereality of Kemetic Tattooing. These mummies were discovered along the Nile River, in the early 1890s, showing a vast difference in tattooing traditions in regions from Egypt to Nubia. The city of Gebelein was one of many along the Nile, located in Upper Egypt between Luxor and Edfu/Aswan.

This map was chosen to show the entirety of the Nile River, reaching from Nubia and borders of modern day Sudan, to Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea. When looking at the area of Lower Kemet, the top of the river mimics a fan or the shape of a Blue Lotus Flower (a sacred flower used for medicine, healing, and ceremony). It also puts into question why Upper Egypt is located in what we now know as South, and Lower Egypt located in what we now know as North. Comparably, in Ancient China, the Bagua (八卦) and Nine Palaces (九宮), (adapted from the Hetu 河圖 "Yellow River Chart" and the Luoshu 洛書 "Inscription of the River Luo"), a multi-functional map given from the Heavens for; divination, medicine, calendars, ciphering, etc., and are the fundamental geometric structures of the universe. In martial application, the Bagua (Eight Trigram) stepping pattern forms the symbol of the Flower of Life, which will be discussed later. Similarly to Upper and Lower Kemet, the Bagua’s North and South are flipped and are found in many different regions of the world.

The symbols tattooed on their bodies range from lotuses, snakes, cows, and baboons, and many of which are blurred without the use of infrared technology. The speculations of these tattoos and meanings are of my own interpretation and I believe that everything that was done during this time was completely intentional and calculated, filled with immense power and meaning. Some esoteric schools and spiritual practices maintain the idea placement of an image/emblem on a person or object; it seals, transforms, or protects the energetic field, among some of the many functions and capabilities. Tattooing the body can undoubtedly have the same effect.

This image is most well-known for the Gebelein mummies (photo credit: Anne Austin), which shows the clarity and purpose behind why these tattoos were placed on the throat. First, the two most superior and lateral designs depicts two mirrored baboons (Baba or Babi). In the center is a single Eye of Horus (left Eye is related to the Moon and is called the lunar eye, the right Eye is related to the Sun, known as the solar eye). The Moon is deified as the Kemetic god, Tefnut (Yin ) and Sun as the god Shu (Yang ). Below are a set of eyes, interchangeably called the Eye of Wadjet (meaning "whole one"), associated with many different early Kemetic gods.

The cobra-headed goddess (Wadjet) was deemed the overseer of Lower Egypt, and her sister (Nekhbet, who oversaw Upper Egypt) were the daughters of RA. Each eye may be each sister, as the unified period of Upper and Lower Egypt. Wadjet is usually shown without the body, solely her cobra form and lovingly placed on the crown of RA to immortalize and represent the closeness of RA to his daughter. RA themself is the first anthropoidic being to emerge from the Source/One/Absolute, also represented by the Sun, they are said to have given birth to our known world.

According to my kind and knowledgeable guide Khaled, who was one of the last babies born in the Temple of Dendera's birth chamber, and is very familiar with the Temple of Dendera--he informed me that this personified version of Wadjet on the body of a human, is quite rare and wanted to share it. (photo credit: