Could a twentieth century Englishwoman be the reincarnation of a priestess from 1000 BC? How could an untutored elderly woman confound archaeological experts with her recreations of the temple of Sety I, and the realities of a long-vanished religion? How does the mysterious and adjacent Osirion fit into the puzzle?
Omm Sety, born in 1904 in London, died from a terrible fall in 1907, was dead for an hour or more. When the corpse washers and doctor returned, they found her hale and hearty with no visible injuries but puzzled about being in what she insisted was the ‘wrong home.’
Soon after, Dorothy Eady (her name at birth) who had been a normal, happy toddler, began a lifelong series of dreams followed by unusual urges to read and study hieroglyphs and to talk constantly of her ‘real home’ in a long forgotten temple—that of Sety I, at Abydos in Egypt. Her parents were mystified.
The small girl haunted the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum, surrounding herself with the art and artifacts of “her people.”
At ten, she met and was tutored in hieroglyphs and translation of The Book of The Dead by no less a personage than famed Egyptologist, Sir E.A. Wallis Budge. The scholar and expert was amazed at the child’s grasp and expertise but completely astounded when she explained her progress as the result of having once known and written that language, though now to have almost forgotten it.
At fourteen, while half-awake, the young girl was ‘visited’ by the solid apparition of Pharaoh Sety I, in mummy form, who forcefully tore open her new nightgown from neck to hem, without reducing the child to hysterics. This apparently began a series of dreams about the ancient ruler in intimate detail.
As Eady grew older, her interest in the study of the ancient inscriptions and their language not only continued but deepened. Her translations were faultless and her understanding of the language amazing for a young girl with little formal education. In those years in London she encountered people who spoke of reincarnation but did not know what to make of the theory.
At twenty-six she had involved herself with the then-current struggle of modern Egypt for freedom from foreign rule. In months, she’d met and was asked to marry a young Egyptian scholar, for whom she sailed to Cairo in 1933. Her name then became Bulbul (nightingale—for her lovely voice) Abdel Meguid.
The marriage was unsuccessful, despite the birth of a son, due to her bad cooking, her obsession with the past, and perhaps because her nightly visits from the dead Pharaoh had resumed. Her father-in-law had seen the apparition sitting on the side of Bulbul’s bed. In addition it had been seen at various times by both her mother and her mother-in-law. All such sightings were at night.
During this time she had also begun sleepwalking and, while in that state, had taken ‘dictation’ from an entity she knew as Hor-Ra. This Hor-Ra related, in segments, the story of an aging but still powerful Pharaoh, Sety I, who while in Abydos overseeing the construction and completion of his splendid Temple complex met Bentreshyt (child of a foreign mother), a lovely young temple virgin. At the time the Pharaoh was resting from his great labors in restoring Egypt after the decades of unrest following the empire’s collapse (after the reign of Akhenaton). Sety fell in love with the blonde, blue-eyed teenager.
Dorothy understood, eventually, that Hor-Ra’s story was her own story and that she herself had been Bentreshyt, forbidden to any man yet lover of the Pharaoh, and then his mistress.
The Temple Virgin eventually became pregnant but refused to name the lover who had committed sacrilege by daring to violate one sworn to the Goddess Isis—which to even the Pharaoh was forbidden. Forlorn when he left on a long trip she, rather than reveal his name to the high Priest of the Temple, committed suicide. The Pharaoh’s role was, nevertheless, ultimately discovered. For his sacrilege, Sety, on his death was forbidden the joys of the afterlife promised to all the dead, and, like the Flying Dutchman of operatic fame, was doomed to pay his debt by searching the world until his beloved should be reborn, to work out their destiny together in another time.
After securing employment with Egypt’s Department of Antiquities as an artist copying tomb inscriptions and other art, Dorothy strove to become independent and eventually moved out of her husband’s home, taking her baby son to share a small apartment in Cairo.
Her subsequent career in Egyptology was like a coming home to her. As right-hand assistant to many of the great archaeologists of the day, Bulbul became one of the most expert authorities on the small details of everyday life in ancient Egypt, from ritual and ceremonial in the Courts and Temples to the forgotten methods and practices of scribe, artist, and tomb builder. Unobtrusively, she helped some of the younger Egyptologists to research and write many reports, books, and articles for publication. It is said that a book of fiction about Egypt in those times, which was published under the well-known name of another, was her own work.
Her personal ambition was to correctly translate the magical spells of the Fifth Dynasty ‘Pyramid Texts’ into English. She also wrote out in longhand the hundreds of pages of hieroglyphic translations of the ponderous German/Ancient Egyptian dictionary Worterbuch die Aegyptischen Sprache (Dictionary of the Egyptian Language) also translating this huge work into modern English.
An accomplished embroiderer, she helped Museum Director Selim Hassan’s wife complete ten enormous wall-tapestry hangings that depicted ancient Egyptian maps, battle scenes, and lists of the dynastic names and titles of generations of Pharaohs. Nine of these hang in the Wilbour Library of the Brooklyn Museum, while the tenth—of scenes from the Battle of Kadesh, featuring Sety’s son Ramses II—was presented to the wife of Anwar Sadat. It now hangs in the Foreign Office in Cairo. She was to create many smaller embroideries in her later years to sell to tourists and help feed herself and her pets.
Bulbul, balancing days of research projects—drawing of wall texts and decorative reliefs, archaeological methods and excavation techniques, with nights spent at prayer before the enormous Sphinx—presented typical offerings of incense, fresh flowers, and beer to the human-headed lion, whom Sety had told her was actually a representation of the god Horus. Some nights she spent in the dark King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid by herself. (French Emperor Napoleon I is said to have spent such a night in 1797, and had such a seriously disturbing experience there that he refused to talk about it for the rest of his life, saying, “No—what’s the use? You’d never believe me.”) Bulbul Meguid, on the other hand, sought these experiences, climbing the pyramid’s rocky slopes in the company of the disembodied Sety. While on the darkened Giza plateau, she also often saw the apparition of an ‘afreet’—the figure of a woman in ancient dress, known to haunt a place called “Campbell’s tomb.” Once, while a group of various mummies were being temporarily stored in a tomb near Cairo, she spent the night in that tomb, even sleeping between the mummy of her erstwhile lover, Sety I, and his favorite son Ramses.
To some, who knew something about her story, she was regarded as very strange, yet dedicated to her work; while others thought her obsessed and not quite sane, though admitting her depth of knowledge and expertise in archaeological research techniques.
Finally, on March 2, 1956, she moved to Abydos, the tiny Arabic town dominated by the Temple of Sety I, and took a low-paying job copying inscriptions. She had come home.
Abydos, believed to be the final resting place of the murdered body of Osiris, was once the religious center of Egypt. It had once been the ambition of all Egyptians to be buried at Abydos. For this reason, Sety chose to build his huge Temple complex here where Bentreshyt had become a Priestess of Isis.
Shortly after her arrival at Abydos, her familiarity with the still existing temple was tested by the Chief Inspector of the Antiquities Department. He took her there at night in total darkness, commanding her to go from one specific location inside the temple after another—only to find to his confusion that uncannily this mysterious woman was able to walk easily from place to place without any light at all. Had she lived near the monument for any length of time this may not have been remarkable, but for a newcomer it was almost miraculous!
To Omm Sety—the name that became Dorothy’s after her move to Abydos—the temple was “the holiest in all of Egypt for both pharaoh and commoner alike.” Here is where Osiris, legendary hero-god-king of the ancient Egyptian religion, actually was murdered and lies buried (or at least his head)…. somewhere underneath its ‘sacred sands.’
As Richard Hoagland points out on his website (http://www.enterprisemission.com/tombsweb4.html), Omm Sety wrote that belief in a connection between the temple at Abydos and Osiris was reinforced repeatedly for literally thousands of years in annual reenactments on the spot of Osiris’s tragic death. All that was dramatically corroborated in 1909 by the chance discovery at Abydos of the mysterious underground ‘structure’ which some believed could finally be Osiris’ ‘Long Lost Tomb’—much older and far more provocative than even Sety’s splendiferous New Kingdom Temple. From the moment it was found, it was called the ‘Osirion’—the Monument to Osiris.
Omm Sety wrote it up this way: “This imposing subterranean building is one of the great puzzles of Egyptian Archaeology. No one really knows who built it or for what purpose, and so far as is known, there is not another one like it in the whole of Egypt. Curiously enough, certain elements of its architecture closely resemble the ‘Gate of the Sun’ in Peru, high in the Andes Mountains.
“The Osirion has also been attributed to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2160–1788 BC), but judging by its style, the method of building, the material used, and its original stark simplicity, it seems much more likely to be a product of the early fourth dynasty, although the (geological) level at which it lies might tempt one to think of a much earlier date.
“It would seem as though some Egyptians regarded it (the Osirion) as the Tomb of Osiris… But, as the channel surrounding the island has never yet been freed of its water, despite the use of powerful pumps, and probably never will be, it is unlikely that the mystery of the Osirion will be solved. It will always remain one of the most breathtaking puzzles of Egyptology…”
Omm Sety spent the rest of her long life assisting famous archaeologists in revealing the complexities of Sety’s magnificent structure where she’d supposedly spent her earlier life as an initiated Priestess of Isis, taking part in the yearly reenactments of Osiris’ death. Her work on restoring parts of the temple, including drawings and translations illustrating a long-smashed doorway of a small columned temple palace to its front, from over 3,000 tiny fragments, was to astonish the archaeologists who had recovered them.
In 1958, Omm Sety proved prior knowledge of formal gardens, which had flourished in a now unknown place. “I kept on and on about that garden until I came to work here” she would later say, “and then the foremen found it exactly where I said it was—to the Southwest of the temple—tree roots, vine roots, little channels for watering, even the well, and the well still had water in it.”
She believed that any tiny details of architecture or of religious practice were of equal importance to archaeologists as conservators of the past, and as she shared these insights with them, many came to believe as she did.
Once Omm Sety, who’d become a virtual encyclopedia of the temple, became ill with flu and fell from the roof of the Temple. Hearing a grating sound as she landed, she found herself in a subterranean room with the god Osiris standing over her. All around were treasures of gold and painted statues. Dizzily, she observed all this, then somehow found her way out of that place into the second court of the Temple. A subsequent thorough search of the building, however, revealed no such hidden storehouses. Omm Sety, who’d emerged from her mysterious fall covered with dust and cobwebs, concluded “One thing I am certain of—the temple of Sety still holds some secrets… and something bigger and more important than the discovery of Tut Ankh Amon’s mortuary treasures in 1922.”
In her more than 48 years in Egypt, Omm Sety lived in what would be termed ‘parallel worlds’—that of a Priestess of Isis in Abydos of 3,000 years before—who remembered even tiny details of her life and training in Sety’s Temple, and as a literate, knowledgeable and eccentric woman scholar who performed amazing feats of research and reconstruction in that same Temple.
Her knowledge of, not only every inch of the structure but each specific meaning and function of inscription, scene, and chamber, enlightened and amazed college-trained Egyptologists.
Documentaries by the BBC and National Geographic featuring this remarkable double life recorded both worlds of Dorothy Eady/Omm Sety for posterity.
Although Jonathan Cott’s book The Search for Omm Sety is hard to find in the US and UK, it is sold in the streets outside her former and spiritual home—the temple of Sety I at Abydos. She is buried at Abydos, having died again on April 21, 1981, not far from the Temple and the still mysterious Osirion.
The above was first published in Atlantis Rising #30 (November/December, 2001). Before her death in 2001, Beverly ‘Bevy’ Jaegers was the author of many books including The Psychic Paradigm and The Write Stuff (Krause).