As a brief reminder, today is Spirit Day, when we honor and remember all of the victims of youthful suicide amongst LGBTQ people, particularly those who have died over the last few years. Ignis Corporis Infirmat, Ignis sed Animae Perstat.
Yesterday, I went to the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. This is the last stop of this particular exhibit’s tour before it goes back to Egypt…forever. Thus, I’m glad I got to see it; and yet, I was a little bit disappointed in it overall. Let me explain.
Some of my earliest memories are of a fascination with Egypt, because of a huge book called Ancient Egypt that my mom and dad got from the King Tut exhibit when it came to Seattle in the 1970s (I think it was 1977). A knowledge of Egypt, to some extent, has therefore characterized my own thinking for the last 35 years or so, and I think this early introduction and fascination ended up feeding my polytheist tendencies when I got older. Thus, the chance to see some of the things that “started it all,” as it were, was a greatly anticipated one on my part.
And, don’t get me wrong, the exhibit is impressive, and I highly suggest everyone who is in the Seattle area and who can make it take the time to do so and attend.
It was pretty crowded when we went–we didn’t have to wait too long, but there were many groups of school kids there. And, in fact, I was able to tell them a few things that weren’t on the information plaques next to different objects. (I ended up serving this role multiple times, and in fact heard one young lady repeating back things I’d said to her earlier quite accurately and exactly to some of her other classmates later!) There was also a very young girl–maybe 5 or younger–who was a pretty good reader, and was there with her mom, and looked at a piece of jewelry with a cobra on it, and she said “I think that’s Wadjet,” and her mother said to her, “No, the plaque says it’s Uraeus”; so I interjected and said “The uraeus is Wadjet,” which made the young girl very happy, but the mother a little annoyed. Oops. Oh well. But, it wasn’t the other exhibit-goers that made the whole thing not-as-good for me (in fact, having all of them there was rather enjoyable in certain respects!).
It was that some of the most impressive of the Tut artifacts were not there (no doubt due to Zahi Hawass never wanting to let them out of his sight…and, his fingerprints and image and voice and writings were quite literally all over the exhibit…Harrison Ford narrated the audio tour, but Zahi spoke more on it than he did!), and that, in my jaded polytheist opinion, there weren’t enough of the gods there, or when they were there, their presence was not always noted. Take the sarcophagus of Tuthmoses’ cat shown above: it had a mummiform Sekhmet on it, as well as Isis and Nephthys, and yet the latter two goddesses were not mentioned at all, and Sekhmet was mentioned in the narration on the audio guide, but not as being present on the artifact itself.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, there was some mention of Osiris (and a statue of him), Amun, Re, Re-Harakhte, Duamutef, Neith, Horus, and Anubis (although in some cases, I think it may have actually been Wepwawet who was shown), but their presence was not always noted as much as it should have been.
And, not surprisingly, Akhenaten (whose statue above was part of the exhibit) got a lot more attention than I think he deserved in certain respects. One monotheist pops up in a culture lasting more than 3,500 years, and they make it sound as if he was the most important pharaoh ever. That having been said, Tuthmose I-III, Khafre, Hatshepsut, Psusennes, and Horemheb (who got rid of the last vestiges of Akhenaten’s reign, and who thus should loom larger in our esteem than he currently does, I think!) also got some attention, as well as several others. The section that was supposed to be on religion and the gods had only very few statues of any gods (including Osiris), but then lots of statues of various pharaohs and others honoring the gods in different ways, like the one shown below.
There was also a strange object that was said to have been a kind of symbol of Anubis, of which four were found in Tut’s tomb in its four corners, which is shown here.
As for things we more readily might associate with Tut, there was the lid of a canopic jar which had his portrait, inside of which were four “organ coffins” like the one shown below, differing only in their inscriptions in terms of what gods they were entrusted to and what organs were in them–in the case here, it was his stomach, and the gods were Duamutef and Neith.
But, nonetheless, I still didn’t feel we were really getting Tut in many respects. The audio tour suggested standing in awe before the statue shown below, one of the two colossal statues from the likely mortuary temple of Tut. It was very difficult to do this with all of the jostling people, and the low light preventing one from actually being able to read about or see some of the objects clearly. Hmm….
I suppose I’m a very difficult consumer for this sort of thing, though. I don’t come to exhibits like this just to see them and go “Ooh, aah,” or to pay ridiculous amounts of money for silly Egyptian souvenirs (though I did do a bit of the latter…where else can one get obelisks, scarabs, and ushabtis easily?), or even to learn something and educate myself about the world; I come to have a numinous experience of the gods, if and when possible, and to see how they were honored way back in the times and cultures that first honored them in order to feed and build my own continued cultus to them today. And, this just didn’t quite do it for me in the way that many less-renowned museums and exhibits have been able to do over the years.
After one goes through the last part of the exhibit, which is supposed to be the “treasury” room of Tut’s tomb (minus most of the objects that were found in it!), one is herded directly into the gift shop that was selling strictly King Tut/Egyptian merchandise. I had hoped they might have a copy of the old Ancient Egypt book (published by National Geographic) so that I could get it myself, as my mom’s copy of it disappeared in their last move, and has been subsequently much lamented by me; no such luck, and the museum exhibit catalogue was not something that I wanted to shell out $45 for (nor any of Dr. Hawass’ books they were selling). And then, just beyond the gift shop, in the hallway leading out to daylight once more, was a replica of Tut’s mummy, shown above. Of course, the real mummy wouldn’t have been sent out to be on display. However, I know the mummy of Tut fairly well, and I noticed something was missing from the replica, which actually went missing for a while a few years back. Take a look at the real mummy below and see if you can guess what was missing, if you don’t know the story already…
When Howard Carter first broke through the sealed entrances to Tut’s tomb, and his patron Lord Carnarvon was standing by, he urgently asked him, “Do you see anything?” Carter’s reply was “Yes, wonderful things…” I can’t deny that much of what was on display was quite wonderful in many respects (including a toilet seat that could have been host to Tut himself from Akhenaten’s palace in Amarna!). But, somehow, the wonder of the whole was not as wonderful as I had hoped. Perhaps childhood wonder can never be matched by adult perception; perhaps the way in which all of these objects, like so much of ancient culture otherwise, were being presented as “art” rather than as religious or devotional in nature; perhaps it was the cognitive dissonance that a variety of things that were inherently spiritual in nature were being put on display in a complex dedicated to science…I don’t know.
Again, let me emphasize that everyone who is interested and who can go to the exhibit should most certainly go, unless they’re planning a trip to Egypt in the near future. See what you thought about it yourself, and I’d be happy to discuss it further here, if you like.