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There is a quite different argument against abortion I have heard from several Pagan women. I am more sympathetic to it than to the usual “fetus is human” claim that I demolished in my previous post. Even so, I think it ultimately fails, though it does complicate a woman’s decision....
I was asked recently to develop a talk which could be delivered as a sermon, using ancient Egyptian sacred texts and ideas. Here is Part 1 of that talk.
We open this morning with words from the sacred Egyptian text called the Book of Coming Forth By Day:
[rhythmic shaking of sistrum]
“Oh my heart, my mother! My heart, my mother! Do not rise up against me as a witness, do not speak against me in the presence of the great god, lord of the west. Dua, ibi, hail to you my heart! May you say what is good to the gods. I go forth, not dying in the west, but becoming a spirit in it.”
The crafting of a life is an epic journey, a story which has been told around the world for as long as we have memory. For the ancient Nile dwellers, survival was exquisitely poised on the banks of that great river where the mysterious flood arose each year, bringing new fertility to the whole land. But the Egyptians also carried the understanding of how this life is linked to the next one, the deep mysteries of life, death, rebirth and new, transformed life.
Hail to you, Bull of the West! So says Thoth, King of Eternity, about me.
Most of the Pagan world in the Northern Hemisphere observed the feast of Samhain this weekend, drawing near to and honoring the blessed dead....
The crafting of a life is an epic journey, the story of which has been told around the world for as long as we have memory. For the ancient Nile dwellers, survival was exquisitely poised on the banks of that great river, where the mysterious flood arose each year, bringing new fertility to all the land. This is the time of year when the flood used to peak. But the Egyptians also carried the understanding of how this life is linked to the next one, the deep mysteries of life, death, rebirth and new, transformed life.
The story of those mysteries comes to us from numerous writings preserved in the royal tombs and temples: the Book of Going Forth By Day; the Book of Gates; the Book of Caverns, the Amduat, and several other afterlife texts. Each of them is a variation on the 12-hour journey of the sun through the netherworld, or Duat. Each hour requires passage through a gate, each hour is a stage of personal transformation for the soul. The journey culminates with the re-emergence of the sun - the transformed life - in the brilliant light of dawn. In ancient times, priests of the temple played the role of the gods in the story, as well as reciting and chanting praises and prayers. We know many of these today through the so-called Book of the Dead.
Traces of the Egyptian mysteries were preserved in the books known as the Hermetica, and the process shows up again in the work of the medieval alchemists. Our ceremony tonight is based on the Book of the Night, found in the Osireion at the Temple of Sety in Abydos. The goddess Nut, with her lapis-blue star-spangled body, spans the ceiling of a transverse chapel of the Osireion. There we see the sun in its solar boat beginning the journey through her body.
The afterlife books are filled with layer upon layer of myth and meaning, hundreds and hundreds of years of allegory and symbolism. Sometimes the dying and reborn god is Ra, and sometimes Osiris; the goddess may appear as Hathor or as Sekhmet. Sometimes the goddess Maat is the divine woman wearing a feather on her head, and sometimes maat is the abstract principle of truth, justice, balance, right living. But the central figure is the soul of the dead, whom we will here call Ani, navigating through the dark in the solar boat. Whether a pharaoh or one of us, that soul begins the afterlife journey at the death of its physical body, is rebirthed in the Duat, and emerges as Horus, the powerful shining one who soars like a hawk across the daytime sky.
As we embark on another cycle through the dark time of the year, may your journey bring you to the eastern gates, transformed into an akh, a shining one.
Here's another section of that paper I wrote for class in April.
Every Egyptian expected to make an arduous journey following physical death. Escorted by Anubis, the soul would enter a complex and frightening place called the Duat. Though neither above nor below this world, the Duat is often referred to as an underworld. Rather, it is an afterlife region of transition from death to transformation and rebirth into a new life as an akh, or transfigured spirit. In the Duat, the soul encounters a series of gates for which s/he must be prepared to give a password, as well as strange creatures, a lake of fire, and other often-fearsome things. Most of this is navigated by boat on a winding waterway beneath which lurks a giant menacing serpent. Upon passing successfully through the Duat, the soul appears before Osiris for the weighing-of-the-heart ceremony.
There are other ancient Egyptian texts which describe pictorially what the soul might expect to encounter, and provide spells for use in achieving the goal of transfiguration and eternal life. They include: the Coffin Texts; the Amduat; the Book of Caverns; the Book of the Earth; the Book of Nut; the Book of the Heavenly Cow; the Book of the Night; the Book of Nut; the Book of Gates; and the Book of the Dead. These texts, or parts of them, are found on innumerable tomb walls, coffins, stelae and papyrus scrolls buried with their owner, although some were reserved for the king, e.g., the Pyramid Texts.
Although the afterlife journey begins in darkness with the setting of the sun, it is a journey which results in emergence, or “Coming Forth By Day” (the actual title of the so-called Book of the Dead). (Naydler, 1996) It was not a place of punishment, for it was not a permanent location for anyone, but rather a sort of proving ground for regeneration. The sun, as embodied by Ra, traveled through the Duat each night. The soul which was successful in making the same journey could anticipate a similar rebirth at dawn.
Several primal deities take part in the cosmic drama of the Duat, and are later shown to unite, their fusion suggesting that each deity is an aspect of the others. In simple terms, Kheper is the sun at dawn (the word kheper is the verb meaning “to become”), Horus is the sun at noon, at the height of its powers and lifespan, and Ra is the elderly, declining sun as it sets in the west. The west is thought of as the place of the dead. Cemeteries were typically situated on the west bank of the Nile, e.g., Giza and Saqqara, and the deceased were said to have journeyed to imentet, the place of the west.
Whew! My wild and woolly semester at Cherry Hill Seminary just ended (yes, I'm a student, as well as staff). A real treat was to get to write about my favorite ancient Egyptian religious texts for a final paper in Psychology of Religion, taught by Vivianne Crowley. I thought readers here might enjoy a bit of that paper. Please excuse the stuffy language, and any Egyptologists among you, please write me if you see a glaring error.
Pyramid Texts Overview
A king called Unas ruled Egypt at the end of the 5th Dynasty (2375 – 2345 B.C.E.); he built for himself a large temple and pyramid complex at the royal burial grounds of Saqqara, near Cairo. The walls of the interior are covered with hieroglyphs, the body of which has come to be known as the Pyramid Texts. They are the oldest known religious writings in the world, comprising a liturgy which is assumed to be conducted upon the death of the king. (The title “pharaoh” was not used by Egyptian rulers until the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.), after the reign of Hatshepsut.)
The Pyramid Texts are a liturgical treatment of the afterlife journey of the soul, first through the Duat, then through transfiguration and ascent to the sky as an “imperishable star.” In this specific context the texts apply this journey, also made by the sun, the mythical embodiment of Ra-Horus-Osiris, to the afterlife journey of the king’s soul. Section III of this article describes the Duat, a sort of “world-between-the-worlds” which is the location of the afterlife journey.