Sokar (also known as Seker, and in Greek, Sokaris or Socharis) was the Memphite god of the dead. Still, god Sokar was also the patron of the workers who built the cemetery, the artisans who made tomb artefacts, and those who made ritual objects and substances used in mummification.
The meaning of his name is unclear. It may originate from the term “skr” (meaning “cleaning the mouth”) mentioned in the Coffin Texts and writings relating to the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony (one of the funerary rituals). However, others suggest that it relates to the phrase “sy-k-ri” (“hurry to me”), which was the cry for help uttered by Osiris to Isis, while some suggest it means “the adorned one”.
Sokar was known by the epithet “he of Rosetau”. This phrase refers to the area around the Giza pyramid complex but is also related more generally to any necropolis and the entrance to the underworld. He is also known as the “lord of the mysterious region” (the underworld), and the “great god with his two wings opened” – referring to his origins as a hawk deity.
Memphis was the primary cult centre of Sokar. On the 26th day of the fourth month of akhet (sowing), Egyptians held the Sokar (Choiak) festival on this site. A colossal statue was carried around on a Henu barque (a boat with a high prow shaped like a horned oryx and a funerary chest). Egyptians performed the rituals of hoeing the earth and driving cattle, implying that Sokar was also an agricultural deity.
The festival incorporated Osirian aspects of festivals in Abydos by the Middle Kingdom. The festival had expanded to Thebes by the New Kingdom and rivalled the great Opet Festival. Egyptologists think that the festival celebrated the rebirth of Osiris and stressed the continuity of pharaonic power.
Sokar was initially worshipped as a totem and then a personified hawk or falcon. However, during the Old Kingdom, he was generally depicted on a throne with the Was (symbol of power) sceptre and an Ankh (symbol of life). The New Kingdom portrayed him as a hawk-headed mummy with a Was sceptre (representing power), a flail, and a crook. Sokar usually stands on a funerary mound (which may represent the primaeval mound) and wears a sun disc, cows horns and the regal cobras (similar to the Atef-crown). However, in certain situations, he wears the White Crown. As a falcon deity, he is often related to Horus and wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Sokar is mentioned regularly in the Pyramid Texts in his own right. However, ancient Egyptians often merged him with Ptah from the Middle Kingdom. Ptah-Sokar represented the soil and its power to create life. As Ptah was considered the patron of artisans, Sokar became specifically the patron of goldsmiths.
Soon after Sokar became associated with Osiris as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris’s composite deity. This composite deity represented the three aspects of the universe: creation, stability, and death. In the New Kingdom Period, in the Book of the Dead, Sokar unites the forms of Osiris and Ptah. Ptah-Sokar became Sokar-Osiris (the nocturnal sun during the fourth and fifth hours of the Amduat). Sokar priests retained the duplicate titles that the Memphite priests of Ptah had used during the Old Kingdom, but now they almost always refer to the high priests of Heliopolis.
Ancient Egyptians generally depicted Ptah-Sokar-Osiris as a mummiform hawk bearing the regalia of kingship. However, ancient Egyptians also showed Ptah-Sokar-Osiris as a pygmy with a scarab beetle on his head, representing the god Khepri. Egyptologists think that these images of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris were the source of the deity called Pataikos by Herodotus. Although Ptah-Sokar was married to Sekhmet, Sokar was sometimes linked to Nephthys.
The Amduat describes the underworld in terms of the journey of Ra through twelve hours (or stages). Sokar inhabits hours four and five of the underworld.
During the fourth hour, Ra enters the desert of Rostau. The river becomes a dry bed littered with dangerous snakes, and massive doors repeatedly block the path. Ra’s barque is transformed into a fire breathing snake, and Thoth and Sokar protect the sun god as he makes his slow progress through the desert. In the fifth hour, the sun must pass over the cave of Sokar. Aker lions guard the cave of Sokar. Inside the cave, Sokar restrains the winged serpent Apep, representing chaos.
These depictions have led some to speculate that Rostau was near Gebel Gibli, close to the Great Pyramid. So far, no evidence has either proved or discounted this theory. Archaeologists expect to find an actual tomb of Sokar under the sand close to the mysterious gateway and enclosure wall known as the “Wall of the Crow”.