Sunday, September 26, 2021

Crook and Flail

 From Ancient Origins:

The humble crook (known as the  heka in Egyptian) used by shepherds, is a long, multipurpose stick with a hook at one end, to herd and sometimes catch sheep. It made a useful weapon against predators and helped with balance when negotiating rough terrain. In Egypt, the crook was carried by gods and high officials, and represented the pharaoh's role as a shepherd caring for the people of Egypt. The crook was also adopted as a Christian symbol of care, as in the ‘crosier’. Metaphorically, church leaders care for their "flock", with Christ portrayed as the  Good Shepherd .

The flail (known as the  nekhakha in Egyptian) was made up of three strands of beads attached to a rod. Although historians cannot agree exactly what this was used for, there are two primary interpretations of its origin. When used as a weapon to defend livestock, the flail represented the pharaoh's responsibility to establish the order, through punishment if necessary. Toby Wilkinson, an English Egyptologist and academic, theorized that the flail was a symbol of the ruler's coercive power. As shepherd of his flock, the ruler cared for his subjects while restraining them.

Secondly, a flail is an agricultural tool used for threshing - the process of separating grains from their husks. English Egyptologist and author, E. A. Wallis Budge, who worked for the  British Museum , interpreted the flail as representing the pharaoh's role in providing for the people of Egypt and protecting his kingdom and farmlands. The flail is made from two or more large sticks attached by a short chain. When one stick is firmly held and swung, the other stick hits the pile of grain and loosens the husks. The dimensions and shape of flails changed to suit the particular grain they were harvesting.

The flail is thought to be an origin of the baton known as the nunchaku and was first recorded as a weapon during the 5th crusade, at the siege of Damietta in 1218. Because the crook and flail were such important symbols, they were often illustrated and added to sculptures with the pharaoh holding them crossed over his chest. Some of these images date back over 5,000 years. Both items were typically embellished by gold or ivory with blue bands. 

 The earliest known example of a royal crook is from the Gerzeh culture, and comes from tomb U547 in  Abydos, one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt. The culture dates back to between circa 3500 BC through to circa 3200 BC. By late Predynastic times, the shepherd's crook was used as a royal symbol of rule. The flail was initially depicted alone on early representations of royal ceremonies, but by the Second Dynasty (c. 2890 – c. 2686) the crook and flail were paired.

The only surviving examples of both the crook and flail come from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The staffs are made of bronze decorated with stripes of  blue glassobsidian, and gold, while the flail's beads are made of gilded wood. The crook and flail, which were carried by the pharaoh to all public appearances and among the most famous symbols from ancient Egypt, symbolized the power and majesty of the king. Both these items were associated with Osiris, and later Horus, and signified their early rule of the land.

Osiris, mythical first king of Egypt , was the god of fertility, agriculture, life, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, and vegetation. He was portrayed as either green (the color of rebirth) or black (alluding to the fertility of the Nile floodplain) with a pharaoh's beard, wearing a feathered white  atef crown, and holding a symbolic crook and flail. The crook represents Osiris as a shepherd god while the flail dates back to the god Andjety, a precursor of Osiris, who was one of the earliest Egyptian gods with roots in prehistoric Egypt.

According to the myth, Osiris was murdered by Set, who then usurped his kingdom. Osiris was resurrected by his sister-wife Isis , who bore him a son, Horus. Set was defeated by Horus, and order was restored to the land. The pharaohs were almost always associated with Horus during life and with Osiris in death. Once Horus avenged his father and defeated Set, he took the crook and flail of his father to represent the legitimacy of his reign, and so it was for the kings of Egypt who identified with these gods.

After he was murdered by Set, Osiris' soul, or rather his  Ba which was the personality part of the multi-faceted soul , was occasionally worshipped in its own right, almost as a distinct god. Since the  Ba was associated with power, as well as meaning “ram” in Egyptian, he was depicted as such, or as Ram-headed. With Osiris as the ram, the god's crook and flail represent him herding the tribes of the upper Nile. As with the gods, when crossed over the chest, the crook and flail presented the ruler as a shepherd whose might was tempered by benevolence.

In Egyptian society, as pharaohs were the representation of the gods on Earth, the crook and flail connected the sacred with the secular. The symbols appeared regularly in the Early Dynastic Period during the reign of the first physical king, Narmer. (Read more.)


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