Unis, the pharaoh shaman who lived 4,500 years ago
Unis is one of the most mysterious pharaohs in the history of ancient Egypt. Not only because we know little or nothing about his reign, but also because of the mysterious inscriptions in his pyramid.
Unis was the ninth and last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (he is the 32nd name on the List of Saqqara) and reigned for 30-33 years in the first half of the twenty-fourth century BC (almost 4,500 years ago!), immediately afterward Djedkara Isesi who was perhaps, but we are not sure, his father.
The mysterious texts of the pyramid of Unis
The pharaoh had at least two main wives, Nebet, and Khenut, buried in an imposing double mastaba near the six-step pyramid of Unis himself in the necropolis of Saqqara, between the pyramid of Sekhemkhet, and the one of Djoser.
To build the pyramid of Unis, rediscovered in 1831 by the Egyptologist John Shae Perring, the ground was leveled thus covering older tombs including that of the pharaoh Hotepsekhemwy, initiator of the II dynasty.
The long columns of hieroglyphic inscriptions with symbols filled with blue appear for the first time in the tomb of Unis, which will then be common in the funeral complexes of the VI dynasty and which are known as “pyramid texts”.
One of these texts, on the south wall of the burial chamber, reads: “Atum, this your son […] who you have kept alive, well alive! Unis lives! He is not dead, Unis is not dead! It has not descended, Unis has not descended! It has not been judged, Unis has not been judged!”
A shamanic experience for the pharaoh
Atum in Egyptian mythology he was the creator of the world and embodiment of the setting sun, he had the task of keeping up with the giant snake Apopi, incarnation of chance and evil as well as being by definition father of the pharaoh (whose crown he wears in many representations).
For its part, the cult of Unis survived for about 2,000 years after his death, despite the absence of significant events during his reign. But perhaps the importance of Unis should not be sought in military or political enterprises. The inscription mentioned above seems to indicate that the pharaoh lived a mystical experience in life.
This would corroborate the thesis of someone like James Herbert Brennan writer claims that the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom were also shamans who were able to visit the realm of spirits, a “not geographical place” which can only be visited by the mind.
A place that unites others before him, including Khufu (IV dynasty seventeenth name on the Saqqara List), who was the commissioner of the “great pyramid”, would visit to meet their power animal, that is, the guiding spirit of the shamanic path. We do not know what shape the animal of Unis could have, on the other hand we know that Kufu's had taken the form ofa cat, giving rise to veneration for these animals, which lasted thousands of years.
A sinister hymn to cannibalism
A final mystery surrounds Unis: another of the texts inside his burial chamber describes the pharaoh as “the one who eats men” ande “feeds on the gods […] because Unis rose again in the sky. He is crowned lord of the horizon. He has smashed vertebrae and spines. He has torn the hearts of the gods. He ate the Red Crown and swallowed the Green. Unis feeds on the lungs of the sage, is satisfied by living his heart and his magic”.
Only allegorical and ritual formulas according to the majority of scholars, but according to Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, philologist and orientalist of the British Museum, could refer to the very early dynasties of Egypt when perhaps the practice of ritual cannibalism practiced mystical practices. Lost over millennia, the mystery as to who Unis really looked like is destined to persist.