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Hounds and Jackals: A Game of the Afterlife

Updated: Dec 25, 2021

When I was deep in Egyptian research mode for Queen of Heka and Reeds of Time, the games ancient Egyptians played intrigued me. I'd seen people playing games on the walls of their tombs and the gameboards themselves in various museums. How could I write a novel set in ancient Egypt without including a game?

Game of Hounds and Jackals, Ebony, ivory | c. The Metropolitan Museum

The game of Hounds and Jackals (or Jackals and Hounds as I insisted on calling it) had interesting game pieces that might be made of very utilitarian materials or silver and gold. It's less well-known than Senet, which has been made into a modern game, although most Egyptologists will say we don't know how either game was really played. Although like Senet, it might have had a religious connotation about how to navigate the treacherous path to the afterlife.

It was a giddy game of choice for Iset (Isis) and Asar (Osiris) in Queen of Heka in the early stages of their love affair, as this passage shows.

Iset licked honey from her lips and tapped a silver jackal peg against her chin as she contemplated her next move. For the last week, they’d idled away the hours in the garden while Asar recovered. Drinking pomegranate wine and nibbling on honeyed dates, they talked and played endless games of Jackals and Hounds. He favored the courting game where they exchanged kisses as dainty and restrained as bees sipping nectar from flowers.

“There. I win again.” She plopped the jackal peg in the hole and knocked his last ebony hound off the gameboard.

The game has a different connotation for their enemy, Seti (Set the god of chaos) as he vies for power.

“Can you do that princeling?” Fetket wore skepticism like a crown.

“I’ll think of something.” Something that didn’t conjure up the Duat. Something to end this soul-sapping game of Jackals and Hounds where he was both jackal and hound. Something to stop the flapping tongues of lying gods. Because as sure as Ra’s Sun Boat rose out of the east, their filthy allegation, true or not, was another divine manipulation.

I read dozens of articles about Hounds and Jackals, but this recent article in Egyptian Streets by Mona Abdou compares the game to Chutes and Ladders, a game I played a million times with my kids without realizing we were figuring out how to get to the afterlife. Check it out.

If your Egyptian game fetish prefers a more digital approach, check out 10 Games To Play If You Love Egyptian Mythology.

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