Friday, May 15, 2020

When you rest your head Egyptian style

Lying on my back with my head propped on a second pillow, it is not hard to imagine that my head is supported by the crescent of an ancient weres, an ancient Egyptian headrest. The crescent is supported by a pedestal so my head is raised the height of a couple of pillows above a bed that rests on lion legs. I can see the paws.
    Instantly a scene forms before me an around me, suffused by wonderful soft blue light. I am lying at the edge of a huge pool. The water is aquamarine and luminescent. The pool is contained inside the hall of a temple or palace.
    Very consciously and carefully, I step out of the body lying on the bed. I am naked, strong and buff.  Beautiful women attendants greet me. My first priority, however, is to bathe in the pool. I enter the water and swim laps. I return to my body refreshed. I notice, unlike dreams in which we seem to live the events of weeks or months in a few minutes of tick-tock time, it took me the same time to swim lengths of the dream pool as it would have done in the physical world.

I wonder now whether the Egyptian headrest was designed with the aim of facilitating lucid dreaming, a certain mobility of consciousness between the worlds. Headrests of this kind are still in use in hot countries in African where they may serve to cool the user by lifting the head so that air can circulate freely underneath. In elite Egyptian houses, the headrest may also have served to protect elaborate ladies’ hairdos.
     A little research informs me that the Egyptian headrest was sometimes loaded with figures and designs– a carving of the dwarf warrior god Bes, or of the hippo-crocodile demigoddess Taweret, lion statuettes – as apotropaic defenses, to keep ghouls and ghosties away.
     Is it also possible that the headrest was meant to help facilitate awakening into a dream, including the dream of the afterlife? There are hints in some of the funerary texts. Headrests were buried with the dead and spells were assigned to them. Some of the spells in Coffin Texts, designed to help the deceased make a successful passage into the afterlife, make explicit reference to the headrest and compare it with the sun’s rising in the horizon. Coffin Text 232 reads: “A spell for the headrest. May your head be raised, may your brow be made to live, may you speak for your own body, may you be a god, may you always be a god” (R. O. Faulkner translation).
     In the famous Egyptian Book of the Dead spell 166 states is announced as a “spell for a headrest (to be put under the head of Osiris N.). Doves awake thee from sleep; they alert thee to the horizon. Raise thyself, [for] thou dost triumph over what was done against thee. Ptah has overthrown thy enemies. It has been commanded to act against him who acted against thee. Thou art Horus the son of Hathor, the [fiery] Cobra [of] the [fiery] Cobra group, to whom a head was given after it was cut off. Thy head cannot be taken from thee hereafter; thy head can never be taken from [thee].” (T. G. Allen translation).
     The hieroglyph for wrs (headrest) resembles the hieroglyph ws (awaken) and they may both be related to rswt (dream).

Hieroglyph for wrs, headrest

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