Pool of Lotus: Magical Reflections on New Egyptian Spirituality
Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.
Ancient Texts - Modern Meaning
May the sky make the sunlight strong for you, may you rise up to the sky as the Eye of Ra, may you stand at that left Eye of Horus by means of which the speech of the gods is heard. Stand up at the head of the spirits as Horus stood at the head of the living; stand up at the head of the spirits as Osiris stood at the head of the spirits. – Pyramid Texts, utterance 523 (Faulkner)
The Pyramid Texts are said to be the oldest extant religious texts in the world. Right off the bat, this makes them very difficult to understand, for they are full of more than 4,000-year old idioms, metaphors and jargon which are meaningless, at first glance, to us. The prayer above is one of the more accessible verses (“utterances”), but that is mostly because I have lifted it out of context and we read it with a modern slant.
Deriving spiritual meaning from ancient texts is always a challenge; every Christian seminarian or rabbinical student will tell you that. Just this week I lunched with a seminary dean who said to me, as we discussed her study of Hebrew and mine of Middle Egyptian, “There is no such thing as a literal translation of an ancient language – everything is interpretation!” (I wish that more fundamentalists were able to grasp this, but that’s a column for a different day, different blog.) But not all of us are able to study, let alone master, ancient languages. So we must approach obscure texts in a contemplative way, as a meditation, allowing their unwritten meanings to bubble up from our deep intuitive inner wells of wisdom.
Years ago Karen Armstrong wrote about this in her book, Genesis. She recounted the story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel the night before he is reunited with his brother Esau, many years after having cheated Esau out of his inheritance. (They kiss and make up and all is well.) Armstrong notes that the Jews did not expect their sacred writings to be easy or literal. They knew that spiritual growth comes from wrestling, not from logic.
At the Cherry Hill Seminary summer intensive last month we reflected on several Greek myths. All of them had a tragic ending, all were mystifying. But in some way difficult to explain, the darkest turns of plot were the points at which we were able to enter the inner sacred grove, encounter the wild divine and experience deepened understanding of existence.
The Egyptians chanted the words of the Pyramid Texts, not for centuries, but for thousands of years, repeating cultural references which probably had become archaic even while they were still in religious use. I imagine the voices of the priests softened by the sand and sky of the opening procession, echoing within the stone walls for hours of ceremony, then recessing back out into a landscape beginning to dim its way toward evening. Reverberations of the ritual words, repeated so many times, carried a magic that transcended intellectual reasoning. When I read them now, I listen for those ancient echoes to reverberate in my own being, bringing me the wisdom that I know they wished to preserve and transmit for all generations.
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