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Ghosts and Ancestors in a Gender Pespective

Renata Schiavo

Abstract


Through an analysis of the letters to the dead, the paper focuses on the role played by women in Egyptian ancestor worship. Special attention is given to the missives addressed to the female spirits: the so-called misplaced stele of Merityfy, the Berlin bowl 22573, Papyrus Leiden I 371, and Ostracon Louvre 698. The investigation has highlighted the existence of a ritual to appease wrathful female ghosts. The malevolent attitude of these spirits is explained in the light of their premature death, perhaps during childbirth. Another trigger is identified as the fear of being replaced in their social role of “mistress of the house” by another woman (for example, because the husband was planning to remarry). Remarkably, the documents taken into consideration did not turn out to be a mere exorcism to ward off a malignant spirit; rather, the aim was to establish, or restore, the positive role of the ancestress as a protector of the household.

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