Dorothy Eady was born in Blackheath in 1904. Aged three, she had a severe fall, tumbling down the family stairs, and was pronounced dead by the ambulance crew which took her to hospital. However, once there, to her family’s relief the medics managed to resuscitate her. Once the child came round, though, things were never quite the same again.
The little girl developed ‘foreign accent syndrome’, where a person may start to speak in what appears to be a different voice after an injury, and began behaving oddly. She began to display an obsession with ancient Egypt. Not only did her Sunday school teacher ask for her to be removed, as she compared Christianity with what was seen as the ‘heathen’ ancient Egyptian religion, she was also expelled from her school in Dulwich for refusing to sing Christian hymns which she felt denigrated the Egyptians with lines such as those which called on God to ‘curse the swart Egyptians’. She liked Catholic mass, which she said ‘reminded’ her of ancient Egyptian ritual, but after her parents were visited by a priest disturbed by her reactions, that was banned as well.
On a visit to the British Museum with her parents, Eady went into the New Kingdom room with its temple of Seti I and immediately said she recognised it : she claimed this was her real home, but wanted to know where the trees and gardens were. She said she wanted to go back there. Running round the Egyptian rooms, she kissed the statues’ feet and said she was now ‘among her peoples’. Dorothy became a frequent visitor, even at the age of 14 once meeting the great Egyptologist Wallis Budge there, who encouraged her in her study of hieroglyphics. Having moved to her grandmother’s home in Sussex, she began to sleepwalk and have nightmares, claiming to have been visited in the night by the mummy of Seti I. School was left behind at 16, when Dorothy became a part-time student at Plymouth Art College, and began collecting cheap Egyptian objects whenever she could find them. Whilst a student, she also took the part of Isis in the college’s theatrical production of the life of Isis and Osiris.
Aged 27, a job offer opened up with an Egyptian PR magazine in London, which she eagerly accepted; it was around this time that she met Emam Abdel Meguid, moving with him to Egypt in 1931 when he proposed. Their son was named – what else – Seti, from which she got her nickname, Omm Seti (or Sety), meaning ‘mother of Seti’.
Eady said, as soon as she reached Egypt, it was clear to her she had been there before. She kissed the ground and said now she was home. In the visions she had, which had carried on since childhood, she claimed to have discovered that she had previously been called Bentreshyt (meaning Harp of Joy) and also ‘saw’ her ancient family. This filled in the background that she had been the daughter of one of Seti I’s soldiers, whose wife had died when Bentreshyt was very young, and because he could not look after her she was given to the temple in Abydos to be trained as a priestess. The young girl had met king Seti I on one of his visits there, and they had fallen in love. Becoming pregnant, she could not hide the fact and committed suicide because of the shame of betraying her vows.
While living in Cairo, Eady worked with archaeologist Dr Selim Hassan who, when he published his ten volumes of excavations in Gizeh, credited her for helping with editing, indexing and illustrating the reports. She was also assistant to Dr Akhmed Fakhry at Dashur. After nineteen years in Cairo, during which her marriage had failed, she moved to Abydos in 1956, aged 52, and set up home. Not surprisingly, many were sceptical of her claims to have lived before. The Chief Inspector of Antiquities decided to test her outlandish claims by asking her to stand with her back to a wall covered in ancient paintings, in the dark. He then asked her to identify them, and explain what they were and what the signified, using her supposed knowledge of her past life. She passed with flying colours, not only doing what he asked but also, in the process, explaining several aspects of the artwork which up until that time had been unknown or a puzzle. The Director was staggered as these paintings had never been published in a book or magazine, either in Egypt or anywhere else.
While in Abydos, Eady began a life immersed in her favourite subject, collaborating with many researchers and publishing several books of her own. She got to know all the major Egyptologists of her day, and lived to see the temple garden whose absence had so puzzled her in the British Museum excavated in exactly the place she predicted it would be found, together with a hidden tunnel on the north side of the palace. She also helped researchers and scholars understand the format of ancient prayers and rituals, seeming to know the contents of some papyri before she had read them. She became draughtswoman for the Department of Antiquities and Keeper of the Temple and curiously, her descriptions of monuments, reliefs and other artifacts were often confirmed by excavation. She claimed to ask her spirit guides, including ‘His Majesty’, about difficult questions. It was said that it was following information from her which led a team to discover tomb KV63 in the Valley of the Kings, near the tomb of Tutankhamun, containing burials of women of the 18th dynasty. She became increasingly well known for her field observations and knowledge of local customs, seeing in many traditions and superstitions a continuity with the ancient past: for example, the lock of long hair that local mothers left on one side of their babies’ shaven heads was identical to ancient practice, but had never been recorded before.
Dorothy Eady died in 1981 and is buried in the desert near the Coptic cemetery in Abydos. She is often put forward as one of the few plausible candidates for proof of reincarnation. She ended her life well-respected for her dedication, insight, hard work, draughtsman’s skills and ethnographical knowledge. But as for having lived a previous life as an Egyptian priestess called Bentreshyt …
well, the jury’s still out on that one.
© Foxoles 2018