The Egyptian Book of the Dead is full of spells for becoming a bird - a swallow, a falcon, a heron, or the benu bird the Greeks identified as a phoenix, the bird that is reborn from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. Sprouting wings was clearly one of the preferred Egyptian ways of entering the Otherworld and embarking upon a happy afterlife. The ba soul is usually winged; it is depicted in many inscriptions as a human-headed bird coming or going from the body of the soul traveler.
I come to you O Nut
I come to you O Nut
My wings have grown into those of a falcon
My two plumes are those of a sacred falcon
My ba-soul has brought me
and its magic words have equipped me
- PYRAMID TEXT OF UNAS, Utterance 245
In the same passage in the Pyramid Text of Unas, when the star traveler calls to the sky goddess Nut that he is ascending to her on falcon wings, leaving the realm of Osiris below and behind, the goddess gives him the following welcome:
May you split open a place for yourself in the sky
among the stars of the sky
for you are a star...
Look down upon Osiris
when he gives orders to the spirits.
You stand far above him
You are not among them
and you shall not be among them.
A true pharaoh ascended to the realm of the gods in such ways not only to rehearse for death, but to marry the worlds and return to the body with superabundant energy and insight. Initiates made the journey of ascent to enter the realm of the Akhet - the shining ones - and to be made "shining" (akh) in transformed energy bodies.
The transformations recorded in the pyramid texts reflect a passage through several levels of reality, requiring movement beyond several successive energy bodies and the putting-on of a celestial body. Like the shamanic journeyers who find that they are required to give up human or animal form to transcend the astral plane, the royal traveler becomes lightning. In the Unas text, "a blinding light...a flame moving before the wind to the end of the sky and the end of the earth."
Image: Nut on the lid of the sarcophagus of an Egyptian noble lady, Tararo. Necropolis of Thebes, 740-700 B.C. In the Museo delle Antichità Egizie, Turin.
Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.