The name of this divinity (Eg., skr; Gr., Sokaris), according to a hypothetical etymology based on Coffin Text Spell 816 and a twelfth dynasty papyrus, is derived from sk r (“cleaning of the mouth”), a word used in the context of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, in which Sokar plays a role. Such word play, does not, however, constitute a true etymology. Nor (pace Brovarski 1987) does the name appear to be related to “Saqqara,” which probably comes from the name of a Berber tribe, the Beni Saqqar.

In iconography established by the Old Kingdom, Sokar is depicted as an anthropomorphic figure with the head of a falcon, evoking his earthly representation and his divine ability to fly in the underworld, on earth, and in the heavens. He is shown either standing or seated on a throne, garbed in the cloth of a funerary god. He wears a White Crown and holds a scepter and a whip, the regalia of Osiris. Sokar is also represented in predatory form, again enveloped in fabric. As a falcon, he can be related to Horus, and like him wears the Double Crown. His solar functions are indicated by the presence of the disk and the uraeus. When in human form, Sokar occasionally wears the atef-crown.

Sokar's emblems include a barge, onions, and geese. The barge, or ḥnw, represents solar triumphs and is set on a sledge. At its prow may be the head of an antelope or a bull, an ἰnt-fish, and birds (falcons or swallows) along the edge of the hull. The mound-shaped štyt-chapel at its center culminates in a falcon's head. At the stern are three or four rudder pins. On the night preceding the procession of this barge, the deceased wears an onion necklace to prepare for the solarization of Sokar-Osiris. A luminous rebirth occurs on the morning of the twenty-sixth day in the month of Khoiak in the ḥnw-barge, which is protected by five geese, daughters of Re, and their barges. The transport of the ḥnw was organized by the high priest of Ptah in Memphis.

In the Old Kingdom, the festival of Sokar was already an annual event in the fourth month of the ʒḫt season, on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth days. It involved a visit to the royal necropolis and offerings to the dead. In the Middle Kingdom, it incorporated Osirian aspects of festivals in Abydos. Later it became a solemn occasion marked by a procession of Sokar's ḥnw-barge in the great temples of Egypt. It celebrated the continuity of the cult of the divine king linked to the resurrection of Sokar and to the revival of the great cosmic cycles.

Egyptological tradition, however, defines Sokar as an essentially chthonic deity acting in the funerary world of the Memphite necropolis. Funerary and offering formulae that mention Sokar appear only in the Middle Kingdom. The Pyramid Texts describe Sokar as a god active in the rebirth of the king and in the ceremonies of confirmation and transfer of royal power. In the Middle Kingdom, he assumes a specific role in the transfiguration at death and in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. In his role in the rites of statues as a metallurgist, he resembles Ptah, who transforms stone and wood. The entity Ptah-Sokar associates the wealth of the soil and its power of growth. The Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead) in New Kingdom times presents Sokar as an image of the world unified in Osiris, linked to the aforementioned festivals or to foundation rituals. The terrestrial Ptah-Sokar becomes Sokar-Osiris, the nocturnal incarnation of the sun during the fourth and fifth hours of the Book of That Which Is in the Underworld (Amduat). He enables the sun to complete its course during the night and to be reborn in the morning. In the New Kingdom, Priests of Sokar bear the same titles as the Memphite clergy of Ptah did in the Old Kingdom, but now they almost always refer to the high priests of Heliopolis. Henceforth, an entity reuniting the three divine forms, Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, expresses creation-metamorphosis-rebirth.

In the Late period, numerous tombs are equipped with Ptah-Sokar-Osiris wood statuettes in anthropomorphic form with a falcon's head or in full animal form as a falcon. This rests on a base containing the Book of Going Forth by Day, or a grain mummy reminiscent of the “beds of Osiris.” In the Ptolemaic period, the Osirian form of Sokar reached its zenith, becoming the focus of the Osirian festivals in the month of Khoiak.

Sokar is related two groups of deities: the Memphite group formed by Khnum, Herremenuyfy, and Chesmu, and the solar group constituted by Nefertum and the five divine daughters of Re, all present at the feast of Sokar. The “Memphite” Khnum is among the Memphite divinities listed in the Sokar chapel and the hall of Sokar and Nefertum in the temple of Sety I at Abydos. Nephthys may be Sokar's companion, or, less often, Seshat. Called “father and mother,” Sokar has no family as such, even though a grammatical doublet—Sokaret—appears; Redoudja is identified as “son of Sokar” in Spell 941 of the Coffin Texts.

In the Pyramid Texts, Sokar is called a native of Rosetjau, a site near the Sphinx of Giza, but ultimately indicating any necropolis, and of Pedju(-she), the lake of Abusir. He is also master of the štyt, which refers to the cabin of the ḥnw-barge, his sandy environment mentioned in the Book of That Which Is in the Underworld, and a chapel dedicated to him in the temple of Horus at Edfu. Two other names for the sanctuary of Sokar are pr-ḥnw (“house of henu”) and ḥwt-Skr (“chapel of Sokar”), referring to the functions of housing the divine barge and the statue of the deity. There are also chapels dedicated to Sokarian aspects and integrated in a temple consecrated to a mother major divinity. There is still no archaeological evidence of a temple solely dedicated to Sokar; however, the deity is known from sites throughout Egypt, initially through textual documentation and later, from the Middle Kingdom onward, through iconographic sources. In the Old Kingdom, Sokar is present from the Memphite necropolises to Helwan. Already well established in the Faiyum during the Middle Kingdom, the deity appears in the tombs of Deir el-Bahri. It reaches Thebes with the declaration of that city as the new capital. From the beginning of the New Kingdom, the deity is found at Karnak; during the reign of Hatshepsut it occupies an important place in the chapel-cavern of Anubis on the second terrace, as well as in the Thutmose I chapel on the third terrace at Deir el-Bahri. Thutmose III dedicated a suite of rooms to Sokar in Akh-menu. In the tombs of Western Thebes, Sokarian elements occur for the first time. Amenophis III consecrated to Sokar a monumental architectural ensemble in his temple of “millions of years” in Thebes. The well-established Sokar cult of Western Thebes continued to develop in the Ramessid period, with numerous representations of Sokarian rites in private and royal tombs. At Gurneh, the Hall IX of the temple of Sety I was dedicated to Sokar, who was also given a cult site in the temple constructed by the same king at Abydos. A group of rooms in the Ramesseum was consecrated to him by Ramesses II, who also had the deity represented on the peripheral wall of the temples of Amun-Re and of Re-Horakhty at Karnak. The most important source for the cult of Sokar exists in the second court of the temple of “millions of years” of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu; In addition, Room 4 of this complex is a chapel for the ḥnw-barge.

The ḥnw-barge becomes dominant in the late Sokarian iconography. Sources include a few Theban sarcophagi from the twenty-first dynasty; the silver sarcophagus of Sheshonq II (twenty-second dynasty) with falcon mask, discovered in Tanis; statues from the twenty-second and twenty-third dynasties; the chapel of Osiris Heqa-Djet at Karnak (twenty-third dynasty); Theban Tomb 32 from the Saite period in Western Thebes; and the temple of Hibis at Chargha (twenty-seventh dynasty).

The sanctuary of Alexander at Karnak and Louvre Papyrus N 3176(S) prove that Akh-menu was active until the Ptolemaic period. Sokar and his barge are, however, infrequently represented in Thebes during Ptolemaic times: on the propylaeum of Khonsu at Karnak; at the temple of Montu in North Karnak; in the temple of Hathor at Deir el-Medina; in the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri; and on the small temple at Medinet Habu. By that time the Sokarian cult had moved to the temple of Horus at Edfu (Halls XIII–XIV) and that of Hathor at Dendera (Hall XVI and the six roof chapels), in the context of the Osirian celebrations in the month of Khoiak. The last representation of Osiris-Sokar with a falcon's head was done under Emperor Caracalla at Philae.


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Catherine Graindorge; Translated from French by Elizabeth Schwaiger