This week we look at the life of Omm Sety, an Egyptologist who claimed to have had a past life as an Egyptian priestess and reincarnated 3000 years later.
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The Second Life of Omm Sety
A young girl frantically wound in and out of the large stone statues of ancient Egyptian kings and queens. She stopped to kiss their feet and called them “my people” in a heavy Egyptian accent, scolding passers-by for not removing their shoes in the presence of the gods.
The scene was proving to be a little awkward for her parents, as the girl was British born, 4-year-old Dorothy Eady, the statues were in the British Museum and the year was 1908.
This is dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
The early life and death of Dorothy Eady
Dorothy Eady was born in Blackheath in London, England in 1904 to a relatively modest, but comfortable family. Her father, Reuben Ernest Eady worked as a master tailor, whilst her mother, Caroline Mary Eady stayed home to look after Dorothy. They lived an unremarkable and peaceful few years, it was the turn of the new century, and they were able to enjoy all the comforts of Edwardian life in a prosperous Britain.
At the age of three, disaster struck, however, when Dorothy tripped and fell down a full flight of stairs whilst playing at home. The doctor was called to the scene, however, after testing for vital signs via placing a mirror and feather by her mouth, there was no hope as far as he could see and he pronounced Dorothy dead. Her parents were distraught as the doctor carried her to her bed and laid her down, before returning to his surgery to enlist the aid of a nurse to prepare Dorothy’s body to be taken to the funeral home. Upon his return an hour later, however, much to his shock, as he walked into Dorothy’s room, he found the young girl, perfectly alive. She was sitting up in bed and playing, chirping happily away to herself and upon inspection appeared to have suffered no real injury. Dorothy’s parents, disturbed by the chain of events chased the doctor out of the house, all the while knocking back his concerned protestations that to the best of his knowledge, the girl had most certainly been dead when he had last seen her. As strange as this situation was, this was just the start of a series of strange events concerning their young daughter for the Eady family.
Shortly after the accident, Dorothy began breaking down into tears. She would sit hidden under the dining table and cry to herself for hours and when asked what was wrong, would tell her parents simply “I want to go home”. Despite telling her over and over again that she already was home, the behaviour went on, all the while Dorothy insisting despite her parent’s efforts to comfort her. On one occasion, her mother finally decided to ask “Dorothy, if this is not our home, where is?” to which Dorothy replied, “I don’t know, but I want to go there”.
It was also this period of her young childhood that Dorothy begun having recurring dreams of a large building with vast stone columns and wide open gardens, a lotus pool sat nestled among exotic Jasmine, Oleander, Mimosa, Dwarf Chrysanthemums and mandrakes. Dorothy did not recognise any of these details at the time, however, only that the dream would come night after night. At times, Dorothy unsettled her parents, when she spoke with a heavy accent, foreign to her own, slipping in and out seemingly unaware to Dorothy herself. This was dangerous territory for anyone, where trips to mental asylums or workhouses had been an easy answer for troubled children, but at only 3 years old, Dorothy was fortunate to be too young and her parents merely tried to console her when she showed signs of being upset and frustrated.
When Dorothy was four years old, her parents, unable to find anyone to look after her, took her along with them on an outing to the British Museum. Dorothy was, as expected by her parents, difficult work in the museum. As every normal young child of four years of age, she showed little sign of any interest in the exhibits and towed around behind them as they did their best to keep her amused. As they entered the Egyptian exhibits, however, Dorothy suddenly and, much to her parent’s surprise, became wildly enthused at the surrounding works of art. She ran quickly in and out, weaving through the large statues of the Egyptian gods and bent down to kiss their feet and spoke angrily at other visitors for wearing their shoes in the presence of the gods. Somewhat embarrassed at their child’s behaviour, they pulled Dorothy away and as they did so, she spotted a mummy in a display case. Dorothy fell silent immediately, walked to the glass tomb and sat down, refusing to move and staring blankly at the preserved face of the Ancient Egyptian. Her mother and father, bemused but at least relieved that their daughter was causing no more commotion, left her alone, as she would not respond when they spoke to her and would not budge from the floor in front of the case. Half an hour later, they returned to collect Dorothy and when exasperated at trying to get her to move, her mother scooped her up from the ground. Enraged, Dorothy yelled out:
“Leave me… These are my people!”
Her mother later stated that her voice was “like that of a strange old woman rather than that of a child” and was so startled, she actually dropped her daughter to the floor. After more commotion, they managed to drag Dorothy away from the museum, kicking and screaming. It was to be another three years, however, before any of the events at the British Museum would begin to make a small amount of sense to the family.
In 1911, Dorothy was now seven years old. Originally her behaviour was thought to be a passing phase, the struggles of raising a small child, by her parents, however, her peculiar outbursts had remained a constant. One day, whilst passing a bookshop on his way home from work, Reuben stopped in and picked up an edition of “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a popular, serialised encyclopedia that ran from 1908 to 1964. In this particular edition, there was an article on the Rosetta Stone which enthralled Dorothy. Her parents commented how the volume was constantly to be found open at the article and often with a magnifying glass lying next to it, which Dorothy used to try to read the writing from the images on the page. When her mother asked her why she was trying to read the etched words, as they were not in English, Dorothy replied:
“I know it. I’ve forgotten it, but perhaps I might remember it.”
Shortly after, Dorothy finally made a discovery that would put an end to years of frustration. Whilst reading a magazine of her father’s, Dorothy came across a photograph of The temple of Seti the First. An ancient Egyptian temple built for the pharaoh Seti, the son of Ramesses I, in Abydos, the capital of Upper Egypt, 7 miles West of the Nile. From the moment she spotted the picture, a wave of satisfying understanding flooded over her. She quickly sprung up and rushed to tell her parents of her discovery. “This” she pointed to the photograph “Is my home!”. However, things were not quite right in the photo, Dorothy immediately pointed out that the gardens were missing, and included details such as the trees and vast Lotus Gardens that existed thousands of years before the ruin was rediscovered. The same happened later when she discovered another photograph, this time of Seti himself, mummified, but recognisable to Dorothy as a man she had known well. Again, her parents dismissed her insistences in exasperated tones, but still, Dorothy adamantly told them that she had known him well and he had been “A nice and kind man”. Whilst still utterly puzzling for her parents, Dorothy, at last, had an answer as to why she had felt such a draw to Egypt since she was three years old. Her story was still incomplete, but the fog was rising in her mind and she gave herself to learning as much as she could of her “homeland”.
The next few years were no easier for Dorothy, despite her newly made discovery. She was still acting ‘oddly’ according to what her parents expected of her. She refused to wear shoes and would walk barefoot at every opportunity, begrudging the times that her parents enforced footwear onto her. At her Sunday school, she told her teacher that Christianity was nothing but a pale imitation of the Ancient Egyptian religion, which ended in the first of many home visits from her teachers and Pastors over the next several years. She would often visit the Catholic church because she enjoyed the ceremony of Mass, the traditions of burning incense was something she was particularly fond of, however, when confronted by the priest on whether or not she was, in fact, a Catholic at all, as he thought he knew her parents, who were in fact protestants. She explained matter-of-factly that she was not, however, Catholicism reminded her “of the old religion” and explained once again, to an astounded priest the virtues of Ancient Egyptian religion. The very next day, the priest wound up visiting her home to lecture her parents on the dangers of Dorothy’s philosophies and asked that she kept away from his church until they had successfully steered her from the path to hell.
When she was expelled from her school in Dulwich for throwing a hymn book at a teacher after being scolded for refusing to sing a hymn that included the line “Curse the swart Egyptians”, her parents decided on extreme measures. They sat Dorothy down and threatened her, quite gravely, that if she continued such behaviours, they would send her away to a convent school in Belgium. Dorothy simply replied that that would be fine, as she would simply run away and in fact, it would be easier for her to travel to Egypt from Belgium than from England. This soon put a halt on such ideas from her parents.
As she grew older, Dorothy found school tiring and from the age of 10, began to skip classes frequently, instead choosing to spend her time among the Egyptian exhibits in the British Museum. It was here that she met Ernest Wallis Budge, a respected Egyptologist and keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum. He taught Dorothy how to read Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, setting her phrases from “The book of the dead” to translate, checking them with his own work. Dorothy learnt at a pace which surprised Wallis and eventually after Dorothy had committed several hundred of the pictographs to memory, he asked her how she was able to learn so much, so quickly. Dorothy stated simply that:
“I had known it all before, Now it is simply coming back to me.”
This was an enjoyable period for Dorothy, with every glyph learnt, she felt she was coming one step closer to an understanding that had slipped her grasp for so many years, however, just as she turned 12 years old, shortly after the first world war broke out and bombing raids became more frequent in London, the Museum was closed and Dorothy was sent to Sussex, to live on her Aunt’s farm. As headstrong as always, Dorothy rode one of the farm horses eight miles every day to the coastal town of Eastbourne, where she would sit in the library, reading everything on Egypt that she could and once again, found peace in the solitude of a life 3000 years in the past.
Seti the First
In 1918, Dorothy returned to London, now aged 14 years old. What happens next is best explained in her own words. One night whilst sleeping, she experienced an event which would give her the next clue she had waited so long for:
“I half woke up, feeling a weight on my chest. Then I fully woke up, and I saw this face bending over me with both hands on the neck of my night dress. I recognised the face from the photo I had seen years before of the Mummy Seti. I was astonished and shocked and I cried out, and yet I was overjoyed.”
“I can remember it as if it was yesterday, but still it’s difficult to explain. It was the feeling of something you have waited for that has come home at last.”
After this, Dorothy begun having a recurring dream of standing in a dark room, thick with the smell of incense as a decorated and stately looking man questioned her aggressively and beat her. She would wake up screaming, her mother often rushing in to comfort her, night after night. The dream meant little to Dorothy, but she knew that it yielded an important part of a memory she had lost and had spent her life so far seeking. Her parents, however, thought very differently of the situation and unsurprisingly for the time, committed her for psychological evaluations at the local mental hospital on several occasions, however, all of her stays were brief and never found any reason for concern, promptly discharging her.
Once Dorothy turned 16, she was no longer enforced by law to attend school. She promptly took this offer and instead intensified a curriculum of self-study on all matters of Egypt that she had previously been following alone for the past several years. Her father, however, was keen to follow his own journey of self-discovery and had recently quit his job as a master tailor to pursue his hunch that moving pictures would be a lucrative business in the coming years. The family took to touring around England and Dorothy would visit the library in every city they stayed in to find new books she hadn’t read previously. Eventually, they settled in Plymouth, where her father built a large cinema, complete with pipe organ. The Eady’s lived in the flat above the cinema and Dorothy would sing to the pipe organ for the audiences on the nights no films were played. As it turned out, Reuben had made an astute observation and the cinema made them a comfortable living, raising them economically.
Dorothy had very little love for the Cinema, however and enlisted in art school. As she grew to a young adult, so her philosophies matured and she began investigating the concepts of reincarnation, partaking in a local group dedicated to sharing their own past life stories, as well as several spiritualist groups. When she recounted the tale of her past, the groups theorised that it was unlikely that she had been reincarnated and were more prone to believe that as she had died, falling down the stairs at three years old, her soul had opened her up to possession, which was surely the true answer to everything that she had experienced of past memories filtering back to her like sunlight through a dark curtain for so many years. Dorothy thought all this was pure guff and so, once again, consoled herself with books and returned to studying alone.
And so, the years passed, until finally in 1931, aged 27, Dorothy moved to London against her parent’s wishes and took a job writing articles for an Egyptian public relations magazine. This was still a volatile period between Britain and Egypt, though formerly the British Empire had declared Egyptian independence from the Empire in 1922, they still occupied the country and controlled much of the affairs of the Egyptian government and Dorothy wrote articles for the magazine promoting Independence for Egypt. Whilst writing for this magazine, she met Imam Abdul Meguid, though the very next day after their chance meeting, overwatching a session in the house of commons, Imam returned to Egypt. Despite this, they continued to correspond regularly, writing letters back and forth for a year, when finally, in 1933, Imam wrote to Dorothy asking for her hand in marriage, which she accepted.
Aged 29 years old, Dorothy stepped off the boat, knelt down and kissed the ground. She had finally returned home.
Unfortunately, Dorothy’s marriage to Imam was not as smooth sailing as she had hoped. His family was well off and didn’t take kindly to her headstrong attitude towards life. Dorothy, never one to keep the fractured details fo her past life secret, also irked them, it was simply not how one should conduct themselves in Egypt as far as they were concerned and this caused further friction with her new family. Still, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a son named Sety, which placated them to a degree.
It was not long after her arrival in Egypt that Dorothy would finally come to understand all of her faded memories of her past life in intimate detail.
During the nights, Dorothy’s new husband would frequently awake at night, only to see Dorothy standing by the writing bureau, frantically scribbling notes onto paper under the moonlight. In later years, Dorothy spoke of these occurrences:
“Most of the time when I was writing, I was rather unconscious, as though I were under a strange spell – neither asleep nor awake. I was being dictated to. The gentleman who was narrating my story – his name was Hor-Ra – Really took his time. He would tell me just a few words, then be absent for a fortnight or so, then come again – always at night – and relate to me a couple of other lines or episodes and after that, his voice would just die away. It was as though this Hor-Ra were bored to death as if he were fulfilling a mission that filled him with loathing. Every night when he came, I felt as though something were shaking me in order to wake me, just as in a dream. When I was writing the bits and pieces of the story I felt I was hearing a soft voice without being able to see anybody.”
“When I was being dictated to, I felt as if I could understand every word, but later on, when I started to decipher the scribblings, I found they were quite difficult to understand. In fact, in the mornings when I woke up, everything seemed so vague, so uncertain, that if I hadn’t been absolutely sure it wasn’t my own handwriting, I would have said it was somebody else’s. The bits and pieces were there, and when finally Hor-Ra stopped coming, I started to piece together what looked to me like a big jigsaw puzzle.”
This lasted for almost an entire year, in which time Dorothy wrote over seventy pages of fractured hieroglyphic text. For the whole period, she had kept the few fragments she had picked up from Hor-Ra that she could make sense of a secret from her husband Imam, who had grown increasingly concerned about his new wife’s behaviour. With Hor-Ra’s tale complete, however, Dorothy worked on translating, with every new segment she would transcribe, the story of her past life became ever more clear. After almost thirty years, she finally began to understand the meaning behind all of her strange dreams, all of the tears she had shed as a child and of those frustrating years she had spent, grasping for answers in the dark.
Hor-Ra’s story told of how Dorothy had spent her previous life as a young woman named Bentreshyt. She had been born in Abydos to common parents, her mother a vegetable seller and her father a military man who was stationed in a Barracks away from the family home. At two years old, her mother had passed away and her father, unable to care for the child, took her to an ancient temple at Kom El Sultan, to the North of a large construction site which was shortly to become the Temple of Seti the First. Here she lived under the tutelage of the High Priest, a man named Antef who she described as:
“His shaven head, his immaculate clothes and his imposing figure commanded respect. He was the prototype of the Egyptian aristocrat – A very distinguished but frightening person indeed.”
At 12 years old, she made her vows to remain at the temple as a virgin priestess. The temple performed plays and Bentreshyt studied “The Drama of the Resurrection and Death of Osiris” under the hard supervision of Antef. One evening, whilst singing in the garden of the temple, she happened upon Pharaoh Seti the First himself, who was visiting the shrine during a visit to oversee the construction of the Temple of Seti. The pair were to hit it off and Seti took a liking to Bentreshyt and during his time staying in Abydos which he extended for as long as possible to spend as much time with the girl as he could, they had something of an illicit affair. After his calling away, however, Bentreshyt became aware that she was pregnant with the pharaohs child, which was complicated on several levels. For the king, it presented obvious complications, but for Bentreshyt, who was a sworn virgin priestess in the temple of Osiris, this was also a dangerous position to find oneself in.
Word managed to spread of the pregnancy through the temple and when Antef became aware, he took Bentreshyt down to the heart of the tomb and questioned her, beating her to find out who the father was. She refused to give a name but finally, as the high priest forced her palm onto the statue of Osiris, Bentreshyt succumbed to her faith and named the king. The crimes for her part, she was bluntly informed, were to be punishable by death as tradition commanded. This presented yet further problems for all parties involved, however, as a death sentence in ancient Egypt could only be enforced after a trial, a process which would make the secret of the pharaohs involvement impossible to conceal. Realising the bleak situation she now faced, Bentreshyt committed suicide in order to save the face of the man she had fallen in love with.
As she finished translating the story, Dorothy fell into peace, within the seventy pages of hieroglyphics, the answers to her past life were finally hers.
The later years of Omm Sety
In 1935, Dorothy’s fierce independence and bizarre eccentricities had taken their toll on her marriage and when imam moved to Iraq to teach English, the couple divorced. Dorothy took custody of their son and Dorothy moved to a town nearby the Giza pyramids. She took a job with Egyptologist Selim Hassan, working as his secretary and draughtswoman. She observed ancient Egyptian religion and spent nights sleeping in the Great pyramids and until 1956 when the Pyramid research project was terminated, she assisted and worked with many prominent scholars and Egyptologists, both translating works and writing her own papers, becoming a respected scholar in her own right.
In 1957 she finally returned to Abydos and took on the name of Omm Sety. During a visit to the Temple of Sety, which she describes as “like walking into somewhere I’d lived before”, the chief of antiquities was visiting at the same time. He had heard of Omm Sety before, as had most in the area, as she was well known for both her unsettling knowledge of ancient Egypt and her eccentricities. He was keen to test Omm Sety, and took her to the temple, in complete darkness they instructed her to walk to various parts of the temple and call out when she thought she was in the correct places. After six attempts to find fault with her knowledge of the temple, all failing, he gave up, thoroughly bemused. At the time of this visit, no articles on the layout of the temple had been published, in fact, even the excavators themselves hadn’t catalogued the entire temple.
It was also during this time that the gardens she had told her parents were missing from a photograph of the temple were excavated. The gardens were exactly as she had described almost fifty years prior as a young girl who had never set foot in Egypt.
In 1964, Omm Sety turned sixty years old and was forced by law into retirement, however, this she felt was quite unsuitable and the Department of Antiquities allowed an exception for her to keep working until 1969, when she finally took retirement and worked part-time as a consultant and tourist guide for the Antiquities Department at the Temple of Seti until 1972. During this time, she claimed she knew the location of the undiscovered tomb of Nefertiti, though was reluctant to give precise details. She did, however, give a rough location “close to the tomb of Tutankhamun”, which ran counter to the opinion of every other scholar of the time. However, in 2015 and using modern scanning technology, this theory is now gaining acceptance and looking to be very much correct.
During her life in Egypt, she had assisted a vast list of respected Egyptologists in their works and cemented herself as a respected scholar and writer in her own right. In 1972, she suffered a heart attack and decided to take retirement for real this time. She lived the rest of her days in Abydos, observing the rights, traditions and systems of ancient Egyptian religion until her death on the 21st April 1981.
To those of us in the West, many believe that reincarnation is a fringe belief, however, in the majority of Eastern religions and philosophies, it is a topic which is absolutely common belief and in most, a key concept, only raising eyebrows in atheistic circles. It dates back as far as the greeks and several ancient religions held some belief in rebirth.
Despite most Western religions holding linear belief systems, that is that we are born, live and die and continue to live on in an afterlife, a 2009 poll showed that 24% of American Christians have professed a belief in reincarnation and a similar poll from 1989 showed that 31% of European Catholics have likewise professed a belief in rebirth to some degree.
It has been the subject of both serious, religious and non-clerical led the academic study and yet still we find that to most it exists in the realm of the paranormal or new-age. For the believer, Psychiatrist Professor Ian Stevenson spent 40 years case filing more than 2500 children who had claimed to have past life memories. His studies found correlations between the children’s stories with real people in history and further correlations were found whereby birthmarks and defects could be matched with wounds from previous lives identified from autopsy photographs and medical records.
There have been several documented cases of Xenoglossy, the phenomena whereby a person is able to speak or write a second language they have never studied previously and even more cases of children leading people to make discoveries of events, murderers and locations that would have been impossible for them to have known in any normal sense, such was the case of a young Druze boy who led police to a neighbouring village, where upon walking through the residents, he pointed out his own murderer. The man confessed to the crime and the boy later led police to dig up the murder weapon.
Conversely, critics point to anecdotal evidence being used as empirical data and claim that in many cases, our own cultural conditioning leads to spontaneous past life memories. Cryptomnesia has also been cited as responsible for cases of past life memories, a condition where past memories are forgotten and when they return to the subject, they are believed to be new memories.
Often times, past lives are heavily romanticised which has obvious psychological assumptions and in cases in the East, where Caste systems operate, scams are not uncommon.
Whether one believes or does not believe is neither here nor there, however, there exist failings in the academic arguments both for and against reincarnation. In many cases, basic psychological factors play an important role in the debunking of cases, but how then can we explain away the cases where correlations can be found between memories and the present? If cultural conditioning and belief systems play no role, why then, do we not all have such memories of past lives? Despite reincarnation being phenomena that many view as rooted in the paranormal or spiritual, it is rather unique in that it has had such extensive, credible academic study and yet, the mystery endures.
Specifically in the case of Dorothy Eady, as a young child, is it not unusual to have an understanding of some of the concepts of an ancient tradition that she demonstrated? Even for someone who is a bright, fast learner, learning to read ancient hieroglyphics at only ten years old, in the time she had to learn is an impressive feat. In her later years, how did she know the things she did of the locations of the tombs and gardens and how did she have the knowledge of the temple of Seti that she appeared to hold before any publications on the temple had been released?
The life of Dorothy Eady is fascinating even if you are to discount all of her claims of reincarnation. However, as a case specifically concerning the phenomena, it is one of the most well-documented cases and even to a sceptic, provides intrigue and mystery. It is one thing to hold a passing phase as a child, but entirely another to live an entire lifetime dedicated to a quest to uncovering memories of a past life with the dedication that she showed.
Professor James Peter Allen, an American Egyptologist working at Brown University said of Omm Sety:
“I don’t know of an American archaeologist in Egypt who doesn’t respect her,”
“Sometimes you weren’t sure whether Omm Sety wasn’t pulling your leg. Not that she was a phoney in what she said or believed – she was absolutely not a con artist – but she knew that some people looked on her as a crackpot, so she kind of fed into that notion and let you go either way with it…She believed enough to make it spooky, and it made you doubt your own sense of reality sometimes.”
On the topic of Omm Sety, Sir William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, wrote of Egyptologists he had met during his travels in the 1980s:
“All were as well disposed to the Mystery as any child could have wished. When the question arose of a dear lady who believed herself to have been a priestess of a particular temple, they did not dismiss her as a crackpot but agreed that she had something.”
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