Estimated to be written around 2325 B.C.E., the Cannibal Spell is one of the earliest surviving Egyptian texts. It was inscribed inside the pyramid of King Unis (or Unas- depending on interpretation), in a place where it could never be read by human eyes after the building in which it was carved was completed. Spells (or utterances) of these types were common in pyramids and were primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh’s remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens. This one however is a bit more bombastic than others.
Full of violent imagery, it presents the deceased king as ascending to the sky and taking on the role of the creator god in a perpetual cycle defined by the daily rising of the sun and the disappearance of the night sky, imagined as the king’s devouring of the stars, which are themselves deities. By consuming the other gods, the king assimilated their magical powers. It has been suggested that the Cannibal Spell was composed to be recited during the sacrifice of a bull or ox before a ritual meal that would have formed part of the king’s funeral ceremonies.
|Inner Tomb of King Unis|
The Cannibal Spell describes how the dead king —assisted by the god Shezmu—slaughters, cooks and eats the gods as sacrificial bulls, thereby incorporating in himself their divine powers in order that he might negotiate his passage into the Afterlife and guarantee his transformation as a celestial divinity ruling in the heavens
Of Unis himself, little is known. He was the ninth and last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty that ruled the Old Kingdom of Egypt (Upper Nile area) for 15 to 30 years. Who exactly his father was and how many children he had is unknown (He had at least one daughter that did not ascend the throne after him). He is primarily remembered for his near intact tomb which was unearthed in the last century.
Cannibal Spell for King Unis
The sky has grown cloudy, the stars obscured; the (sky’s) arcs have quaked, the horizons’ bones shaken; and those who move have grown still, having seen Unis apparent and ba as the god who lives on his fathers and feeds on his mothers.
Unis is the lord of jackal-like rapacity, whose (own) mother does not know his identity:
for Unis’s nobility is in the sky and his power in the Akhet, like Atum, his father who bore him—and though he bore him, he is more powerful than he;
for Unis’s kas are about him, his guardian forces under his feet, his gods atop him, his uraei on his brow;
for Unis’s lead uraeus is on his forehead, ba when seen and akh for shooting fire; for Unis’s powers are on his torso.
|Photograph of the Spell inscribed on the tomb walls|
Unis is the sky’s bull, with terrorizing in his heart, who lives on the evolution of every god, who eats their bowels when they have come from the Isle of Flame with their belly filled with magic.
Unis is an equipped one who has gathered his effectiveness, for Unis has appeared as the great one who has assistants, sitting with his back to Geb.
Unis is the one whose case against him whose identity is hidden was decided on the day of butchering the senior ones.
Unis is lord of offering, who ties on the leash (of the sacrificial animal), who makes his own presentation of offerings.
Unis is one who eats people and lives on gods, one who has fetchers and sends off dispatches.
Grasper of Forelocks in the kettle is the one who lassoes them for Unis;
Serpent with Sweeping Head is the one who guards them for him and bars them for him;
|Overview of Unis’s tomb|
Gory All Over is the one who binds them for him;
Courser, the lords’ knife-bearer, is the one who will slit their throats for Unis and takes out for him what is in their belly—he is the messenger he sends to confront;
Shezmu is the one who will butcher them for Unis and who cooks a meal of them for him on his evening hearthstones.
Unis is the one who eats their magic and swallows their akhs,
for their adults are for his morning meal, their middle-sized ones for his evening meal, their little ones for his nighttime snack, their old men and women (fuel) for his ovens;
for the sky’s great northerners are the ones who set fire for him to the cauldrons containing them with the bones of their senior ones;
for those in the sky serve him, while the hearthstones are poked for him with the legs of their women;
for both skies go around (in service) for him and the two shores serve him.
Unis is the most controlling power, who controls the controlling powers; Unis is the sacred image who is most sacred of sacred images; anyone he finds in his way he will devour.
for Unis’s proper place is in front of all the privileged ones in the Akhet.
Unis is the god who is senior to the senior ones,
for thousands serve him and hundreds present offering to him;
for he has been given title as the greatest controlling power by Orion, the gods’ father;
|Inside the tomb of King Unis|
for Unis has reappeared in the sky and is crowned as lord of the Akhet;
for the vertebrae of spines have been broken up for him and he has acquired the gods’ hearts;
for he has eaten the red and swallowed the raw.
Unis will feed on the lungs of the experienced and grow content from living on hearts and their magic as well.
Unis will spit out when he licks the emetic parts in the red, for he is replete and their magic is in his belly.
Unis’s privileges will not be taken from him, for he has swallowed the Perception of every god.
Continuity is the lifetime of Unis, eternity is his limit, in his privilege of “When He Likes He Acts. When He Dislikes He Does Not Act,” which is in the Akhet’s limits forever continually.
For their ba is in Unis’s belly and their akhs are with Unis, as the excess of his meal with respect to (that of) the gods, since it was heated for Unis with their bones.
for their ba is with Unis, and (only) their shadows are (still) with their owners;
for Unis is in this (state), ever apparent, ever set.
Those who do (evil) deeds will not be able to hack up the place of Unis’s heart among the living in this world forever continually.