by Takashi Sadahiro
Among the ruins in southern Egypt sits Abydos, a quiet town where the Temple of Seti I is located. Seti I was a pharaoh who reigned from 1290BC to 1279BC.
During a two-hour visit to the town recently, I saw only three European groups touring the temple. It seemed more popular with sparrows who flitted around in the sunshine in front of a relief.
Unlike Luxor, a popular tourist destination that is home to the Valley of the Kings, time seems to pass slowly in Abydos.
The town held such a powerful attraction to one free-spirited British woman that she spent the later years of her life, from 1952 to 1981, living near the temple.
Because she named her son Seti, after the pharaoh enshrined in the temple, she became widely known as "Omm Sety," or mother of Seti. She believed she was the reincarnation of a priestess in the temple 3,000 years ago who had fallen in love with the pharaoh and was forced to kill herself because their love affair was forbidden.
Omm Sety’s real name was Dorothy Eady. When she was 3 and living in a London suburb, she fell down some stairs and afterward began to believe she was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian priestess.
She said Seti I appeared in her dreams and talked to her. In 1933, she moved to Egypt and lived in a Cairo suburb. There she found a job cataloging excavated items at the Archaeology Ministry and serving as a visitor guide.
In 1952, she moved to Abydos and spent nearly 30 years there studying and following her faith until her death, according to a Japanese edition of "Omm Sety’s Egypt."
Omm Sety offered daily prayers based on ancient Egyptian rites.
Amir Karim, a 55-year-old Egyptian who lived near Omm Sety’s humble lodgings, said neighbors initially thought the British woman was eccentric.
"She spent most of the daytime in the temple, but in the afternoons she would visit a cafe in my neighborhood for tea," Karim said. "When we children approached, she drove us away, saying, ’Go away.’ "
But in about 1970, Omm Sety started to gain the respect of archaeologists worldwide for her deep knowledge and unique interpretation of ancient Egypt.
David O’Connor, a US scholar who recently published the book "Abydos," described Omm Sety as a cheerful and intelligent woman, and said she genuinely believed she was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian.
Omm Sety sometimes correctly predicted the whereabouts of unearthed ruins, claiming that she remembered them from her previous life.
Rather than a supernatural phenomenon, however, it may have been her shrewd observations from intensive studies of ancient Egypt.
At the core of her faith were such concepts as "reincarnation" and "afterlife."
The Temple of Seti I enshrines seven deities in ancient Egypt, with Osiris as the head deity. According to myth, Osiris was killed by his younger brother, and his body was chopped into pieces that were then scattered across Egypt.
Osiris’ wife, the goddess Isis who was also his sister, used her magical powers to bring the pieces of her husband’s body back together. She then became pregnant with Horus, the god of the sky.
Beginning about 2000 BC during the Middle Kingdom, religion underwent a process of mass democratization, with not only pharaohs but commoners believing they would be reborn as gods. As a result, many visitors flocked to Abydos, which came to be regarded as a holy place.
But faith in the afterlife died out with the rise of Christianity.
Manami Yahata, an archaeologist based in Egypt, said, "Worshippers of Osiris started to decrease when the Coptic sect of Christianity grew in Egypt, and pilgrimages to Abydos ended."
In Egypt today, the history of Abydos is no longer taught in schools.