Monday, August 15, 2016

Egyptian Gates to the Otherworld

What can we learn from ancient Egypt about soul travel and viable gates to the Otherworld? Among the dense menagerie of Egyptian deities and practices evolved over 3,000 years, so far as we can fathom them through scholarship and far memory, five distinctive themes emerge:

1.          1.  Shapeshifting is a preferred model for soul travel

The gods assume the forms of birds or animals. Humans, in assuming the god forms, take the shames of the same birds and animals. Shapeshifting is one of the shortest passages through the terrors of the Underworld to the heavens of the blessed. In facing down his adversaries, the journeying soul may assume successive forms including those of his most terrifying challengers, such as the crocodile god Sobek.
    This type of shapeshifting is not reserved for the deceased. It is a model for the living of how to journey most effectively in the subtle body. There is a clear continuum here with shamanic practice. Just as in Egypt the gods show themselves as birds or animals, the animal powers – in shamanic cultures – are not confined to animal forms but may display themselves as humans or gods.

  1. Feeding and Preserving the Energy Double
The Egyptian cult of the Ka was an incredibly elaborate magical industry devoted to escaping the “second death” and ensuring the survival of the dream body or astral double close to the realms of the living. It is clearly based on the recognition that different aspects of soul and spirit go to different places after physical death. The Ka has its own priests, responsible for its care and feeding. In the event of their death or dereliction, the Ka may be sustained by objects or images placed in the tomb that supply magical food and support. The Ka interacts with the living. It can travel from its house – the sarcophagus or a separate house or statue inside the tomb – through special doors, just as it sees through special eyes. It may influence the living for good or bad. It may be the source of prophetic dreams. It may stand guard over tomb and their treasures, as in the magical tale of Khaemewas and the Book of Thoth.

  1. Testing Alternate Routes to the Neterworlds
The Egyptians studied and tested various itineraries for traveling to heavens, star worlds and neterworlds. In several thousands of years of evolution, magic and experiment, they developed a rich geography of the afterlife, peopled by a host of gods and demons who set trials and obstacles in the path of the journeyer.
    The Book of Gates depicts the departed soul having to confront a series of terrifying gatekeepers who may all be personifications of the Great Goddess. In other funerary texts, the pilgrim soul has to evade the nets of an implacable Soultaker, brave up to the attacks of a series of monstrous beasts in a passage through utter darkness, or survive a dramatic life review in the hall of judgment where the heart is weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the divine embodiment of natural law. Go out with a heavy heart, and you are consigned to the ravening monster Ammit.
    The Egyptians believed that it helped to cast off from this earth with a good route map, and to know the names of those you will meet. A well-equipped traveler took a map and recognition codes with him into his grave.

  1. Knowing the Names
Knowing the names of the entities you’ll meet along the way was one of the best ways to prepare for these journeys. Egypt was a land of magicians, and the hekau (magic words) were thought to bring things into manifestation; Heka, the god who personified Magic, rides with Ra in the solar barque along with Sia (Intelligence). Knowing the secret names of the neteru and how to vibrate the hidden vowels was one of the highest magical arts. There is a thriller about hhow Isis gleaned the secret name of Ra by catching his spittle to make a scorpion that stung him. Because it was made from his own spit, it had the power to kill; Isis promised a cure at the price of learning his secret name. Now she can wield his power. On the roads of the neterworlds, the journeyer assumes the powers of his challengers – and sometimes their forms – by speaking their names.

  1. Way of the Heart
It is easy to get lost in the thickets of exotic names and directions, in which many pantheons and rescensions over millennia meet and merge and morph, in cohabitation with earth spirits and perhaps star travelers. Let’s notice that the Egyptian craft of death is also a plan for larger life, at home in multiple worlds from the Duat to the Akhet. Of special interest are the Way of Ra and the Way of Osiris (they merge in mystery texts and vignettes of Osiris transforming into Ra, or birthing him from within his mummified corpse). The Way of Ra is the story of the 12 Hours in the funerary texts, in which we see the Boat of Ra go through many levels of the Underworld and survive many challenges before it is reborn. It may also open into the Way of the Sun Behind the Sun, the opening of a stargate that may lead to the intelligences of the Sirius star system>
    The Way of Osiris requires the experience of death and rebirth within a Mystery or shamanic initiation. It becomes enfolded into the ethical teachings implicit in the scenes of the Weighing of the Heart and the 42 assessors.
    Let’s observe that throughout it is the heart that provides the operating center and purpose for the journeys. While the brain is discarded, the heart remains in the chest, sometimes protected by a heart scarab of carnelian.
    Approaching the place of inquisition and judgment, the traveler is reminded to call on his heart – the Ka of his heart – to speak and act for him.

My heart, my mother
My heart, my mother
My heart of my becoming

Photo: Hathor in the Louvre by RM

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