Monday, 31 July 2017


“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” ― Patrick Süskind 

Shesmu (alternatively Schesmu and Shezmu) is an Ancient Egyptian deity with a contradictory character. He was worshipped from the early Old Kingdom period. Shesmu was seldom depicted but when he was, he appeared as a man with a lion’s head holding a butcher’s knife. In later times he appeared as a lion. If only his name was mentioned it often appeared with the determinative of an oil press, and sometimes only the oil press was depicted.

Shesmu was a god with a dual personality: On one hand, he was lord of perfume, maker of all precious oil, lord of the oil press, lord of ointments and lord of wine. He was a celebration deity, likewise to the goddess Meret. Old Kingdom texts mention a special feast celebrated for Shesmu: Young men would press grapes with their feet and then dance and sing for Shesmu.

On the other hand, Shesmu was very vindictive and bloodthirsty. He was lord of blood, great slaughterer of the gods and he who dismembers bodies. In Old Kingdom pyramid texts several prayers ask Shesmu to dismember and cook certain deities in an attempt to give the food to a deceased king. The deceased king needed the divine powers to survive the dangerous journey to the stars. However, the interpretation remains open, if the word “blood” is to be taken literally, as the Ancient Egyptians symbolically offered red wine as “the blood of the gods” to several deities. This association was based simply on the dark red colour of the wine, a circumstance that lead to connections of Shesmu with other deities who could appear in red colours. Examples include deities such as Ra, Horus and Kherty.

The violent character of Shesmu made him a protector among the companions of Ra’s nocturnal ship. Shesmu protected Ra by threatening the demons and brawling with them. In the pyramid texts he does similar things. It appears that starting with the New Kingdom Shesmu’s negative attributes became gradually overshadowed by the positive ones, although on a 21st Dynasty papyrus his wine press appears to be filled with human heads in place of grapes (a depiction which was common earlier, on Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts). Then later, on the 26th Dynasty sarcophagus of the Divine Adoratrice Ankhnesneferibre, Shesmu is recorded as a fine oil maker for the god Ra. And even later, during the Graeco-Roman period, the manufacture of the finest oils and perfumes for the gods became Shesmu’s primary role.

Shesmu’s main cult centre was located at the Fayum. Later, there were further shrines erected at Edfu and Dendera.

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