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various spiritual (1)

various spiritual (1) - " await.9 2’77 According to...

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Unformatted text preview: " await/.9 2’77? According to Herodotus, the Egyptians were “religious to excess, beyond any other nation in the world”. Egyptian religion was not a belief system in the same sense way as Christianity or Islam, with a single deity and one fundamental set of explanations for the origin and functioning of the cosmos. Among the most striking aspects of Egyptian religion were its great number of gods and goddesses — each of whom might have several “aspects” — and its readiness to accept the validity of different and even contradictory cosmological accounts. A The Egyptian Cosmos 114 The Heavenly Domain 116 The Solar Cycle 118 “Before Two Things” 120 The One and the Many 122 The Word of God 124 Amun the Unknowablc 126 The Heresy of Akhenaten 128 The Human Sphere 130 ABOVE: An Nth—dynasty image oft/1e gull Osiris, the head aft/1e divinefumily that played ttflmzl role in Egyptian lieli'efaml mythology. From the tomb ofSetmedjem, Western Thebes. New K ingrl/mz, 20th Dynasty, m. l 14011C15. 0 CHAPTER 9 THE CELESTIAL REALM THE EGYPTIAN COSMOS Looking at the sky without telescopes, the Egyptians saw only an undif— ferentiatcd background of blue by day, or black by night « the same qual— ities visible in the river Nile. Understandably, therefore, the Egyptians concluded that the sky, like the Nile, was composed of water. The waters of the sky were thought to surround the earth and extend infinitely out~ ward in all directions. The world existed as a single void inside this end— less sea, with only the atmosphere to keep the heavenly ocean from falling onto the earth ~ much like a balloon kept inflated by the air inside it, All life existed inside this cosmic bubble: the universal waters them~ selves were devoid of life. By day, the sun sailed across the surface of the sky—ocean, animating those who lived on the earth below; after sunset, while the stars sailed through the sky, it descended into a region called “the Duat”. Because the Egyptians recognized that the sun was com~ posed, in some manner, of fire (the source of light and heat), they realized that it had to remain within the cosmic void, but in a place not visible to those on earth. The Duat was generally thought to lie under the earth, a counterpart to the sky and atmosphere of the known world. In Egyptian cosmology, therefore, the world consisted, as the ancient texts themselves tell us, of “sky, earth and Duat”. This picture of the cosmos is reflected also in images from temples, tombs, papyri and sarcophagi. However, perhaps the clearest and most comprehensive illustration is found on the ceilings of two Ramesside monuments: the Cenotaph of Sety I (ca. 1290‘1279BCE) at Abydos, and the tomb of Ramesses IV (ca. 1156—1150BCE) in the Valley of the Kings, Western Thebes. The ceilings are remarkable not so much for their images (which occur elsewhere) as for the texts that accompany them: these are the subject of analysis and commentary in two papyri of the sec- ond century CE — some fifteen hundred years after their Ramesside origi“ nals. The scene depicts the surface of the sky (the goddess Nut, “watery one”) held above the earth (the god Gcb, “land”) by the atmosphere (the god Shu, “dry” or “empty”), While along Nut’s body the sun is depicted at various points in its daily cycle. The text above her describes both the universe outside the cosmic void and the structure of the cosmos itself: “The upper side of this sky exists in uniform darkness, the limits of which are unknown, those having been set in the waters, in lifelessness. There is no light no brightness there. And as for every place that is nei~ ther sky nor earth, that is the Duat in its entirety.” Texts elsewhere in the scene describe the Dust as lying within the body of Nut, the sky. This reflects the Egyptian concept of the sky “giving birth” to the sun each morning. In Egyptian thought, these images were complementary, not contradictory. Fundamentally, the concept of the world as a cosmic void within a universal ocean remained consistent and essentially unchanged throughout the three millennia of recorded ancient Egyptian history. The Egyptian image of the cosmos was usually depicted by using the “mythological” counterparts of its elements — Nut stretched above the recumbent body of Geb, with Shu in between (sec illustration, p.126). However, the concept of the world also appears as a standard element bor— dering most reliefs and paintings. Traditionally, the ceilings of Egyptian tombs and temples would be decorated with yellow stars on a blue ground; the floors were paved with basalt, evoking the fertile black soil of Egypt; and columns supporting the ceiling were carved and painted in imitation of lotus or papyrus stalks. THE EGYPTIAN COSMOS . 115 The modem Western zarliar deriocsfiom the antimt Egyptian view aft/re night sky. The best—preserved rlepirtian 0f the Egyptian zudiat is on the ceiling aft/re smflll chapel {naos) oftlu' temple 11f Hathar at Dead/2m (left). Ptolemair Period, 323—3013CE. (See aim 1);).120—21.) ROUND WORLDS The rather “box—like” image of the cosmic void conveyed by Egyptian texts (see main text) is somewhat misleading. Arched versions of the “sky” hieroglyph in very early reliefs indicate that the Egyptians recognized the void as round. The same vision is reflected in later metaphors such as the circle often held by gods — whose extended version, the cortouche surrounding royal names ( Q ), indicates the pharaoh’s kingship over the universe. Depictions of a round world occur late in Egyptian history. One of the earliest and most complete is on a sarcophagus of ca. SSOBCE, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York The world is framed by the body of the sky and a ’- compounded hieroglyph (arms with feet) spelling the name of Geb. Between them, two concentric discs depict the known world, with Egypt (represented by the signs of its nomes) inside, surrounded by the peoples of other lands. A third circle, 'with two winged sun-discs, is meant to be seen at 90° to the others and depicts the sun’s journey above and below the earth. The famous Dcndera zodiac (above) clearly implies that the sky covers a round earth. 116 . THE CELESTIAL REALM THE HEAVENLY DOMAIN . 117 REALMS 0F GODS AND BIRDS THE HE AVENLY DOMAIN i ' dynasties, ca. 2350—2170805), are a rich source for this ancient “geogra— Tl E ‘ h k h IE gyptlans saw I e 5 Y” t e phy” of the sky. Among the phenomena they describe is the Milky Way, gods’ primary domain, although l they could be associated with all ‘ which the Egyptians called “the beaten path of stars”. Like other parts of regions of the cosmos. The Pyramid the sky, it could be navigated by boat, and was apparently viewed as a Texts tell of the time “when the sky In keeping with their view of the sky as the surface where the waters of “'35 SP]it from the earth and the EMS the universal ocean met the atmos here of the world th ' ~ - ~ e anc1ent E ~ u a) we!" to the sky”, Birds were also p v gYP , The texts pay more attention, however, to the Field of Offerings and thought to come from the sky, trans envrsaged the motion 0f celestial bodies as a Journey by boat Dur— the “Field of Reeds”. (The latter term is the ancestor of the Classical particularly its northern regions— mg the day, the sun Silled across the sky, and at night the stars d‘d the Elysian Fields, a term —now commemorated in the Champs Elysées, Paris probably reflecting both the annual same. The text accompanying one scene of the solar journey describes it ’ migration of birds from the north as follows: “When this god [the sun] sails to the limits of the sky-basin, =9 and the rich fauna of the Nile Delta series of islands in the midst of celestial waters. — derived from a Greek rendering of the Egyptian word for “reeds”.) Both these areas were associated with the northern rim of the sky, the in ancient times. The dual she [Nut, the $le causes him to enter again into night, into the middle 0f domain of the circumpolar stars (which the Egyptians called “imperish— association of gods and birds with the night, and as he sails inside the dark these stars are behind him. When able” because they never set). Like the Milky Way, they could be navi— the sky is often reflected in Egyptian the incarnation of this god enters inside the Duat, it stays open after he gated by boat, and the texts speak of a “winding waterway" through 21:3: 0f the 5““, Stars and P13nets sails inside it, so that these sailing stars may enter after him and come 1' them. As the North Celestial p013 lies approximately 30“ above the hori— l 5‘ forth after him.” _ zon in Egypt, these “fields” were apparently thought to lie along the edge Ancrent texts describe a number of celestial regions, especially in the of the celestial ocean, much like the marshes that lined the banks of the night Ska The EEYPtiahs were keenly aware 0f the nocturnal heavens, and “ ancient Nile. The sky above them seems to have been viewed as relatively recorded nearly every visible aspect of them. Apart from individual stars empty, except for the Milky Way, which the Pyramid Texts locate in “the and planets (see box, opposite), several features attracted particular atten— height of the sky”. tion, and were interpreted as celestial counterparts of the kinds of envi— ronments found along the ancient Nile, A scenzfi-am the Book of the Dead afAm'. At lefI, the dflc’flfl‘d enjoys the pleasure: of the “Field afRez-ds” (tee main text); at . , "ML he gm” the m” god. New Kingdom, The earliest substantial source of Egyptian cosmological texts, the 18lhor19thD3/ndtlywa,13001301.". Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (dating from the Fifth to Sixth i THE STARS AND PLANETS I ike most agricultural societies, the they saw in their patterns images different Egyptians observed and tracked the from those familiar to us. Among, the most stars as harbingers of the change in seasons. important was Ursa Major, perceived as the In this respect, the most important celestial leg and haunch of a bull; and Orion, identi— body was the brightest star, Sirius, which the Egyptians called “the sharp one” (spdt fied as the god Osiris and seen as a man held— tit-ah : \i ’h’llll‘nltilllllllhttzel’h’llh’hlililllh ing a staff. Based on their observations of or Sopdet, vocalized by the Greeks as stars and stellar motion, the Egyptians till? ztttllllll‘l i ) mill , a l “girdle ‘ r2“? ~ hithtdl‘ééahi Sothis): its annual reappearance in the divided the night and day into twelve hours morning sky, after an absence of some sév— each. This division produced our 24-hour l day, although in ancient Egypt, the hours var~ ied in length, like the durations of the day and enty days, coincided with the beginning of the yearly inundation of the Nile, the chief determinant of life in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians identified five of the night, over the year. Toward the end of pharaonic history, Egypt also produced the nine planets; Jupiter, Saturn and Mars first zodiac (see illustration, p.119). 1 (all associated with various aspects of the _ From the inside oft/1i: mflln [1d, the slay goddess Nut, surrounded byfigm'es repmeming the sign: (If the zodiac and the hourt aflhe day, laaleed dawn on the deceased, a woman willed Shier, Ram/m Period, 2nd century CE. god Horus), Mercury and Venus (called both “the travelling star” and “the morning star”), They also recognized many of the ‘4 same constellations that we do, although I18 . THE CELESTIAL REALM Re—Hera/ehte ("Re Horus afthe Him'zmz"), rm expect oft/1e run god animiliztcd with the sky gall Harm (m box, opposite), is murrhipped by baboon: a! sunrise. Franz the Bark oft/re Dead of Hum/2r. New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty (m, 1292—1190130?) ASPECTS OF A SINGLE GOD Egyptian thought recognized the validity of many different explanations of natural phenomena, even where we might perceive these as contradictory. As a result there is an often bewildering profusion of names and images associated with Egyptian deities (see box, opposite). These were understood not as competing theologies but as alternative explanations of reality, each concentrating on separate aspects of a single force or element of nature. For example, the god Horus could be seen, at one and the same time, as the sun (Horus as Re, king of the universe; see illustration, above, and box), as the current pharaoh (Horus as king of the living, the “Son of Re"), and as a form of the previous pharaoh (Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris). Each of these were understood as an aspect, a manifestation, of the single phenomenon of kingship, embodied in the god Horus. This approach is reflected not only in the multiplicity of Egyptian gods and goddesses, but also in the readiness with which the Egyptians adopted the gods of other cultures (see p.52). THE SOLAR CYCLE For the ancient Egyptians, the day began at sunrise, when Nut, the sky, “gave birth” to the sun in the east. The sun, envisioned as a male deity, sailed the celestial waters in his “day-boat”, before descending in the west into the Duat, the region beneath the earth, and the womb of his mother Nut (see pp.118——l9). At night, he sailed from west to east through the Duat in his “night—boat”, to be reborn again in the morning. While the sun’s daytime journey could be observed as a serene pro- gression through the sky, his trip through the Duat could only be imag— ined. The Egyptians saw this — like the night itself — as a time of uncertainty and danger. Concepts of the nightly voyage appear in the very earliest religious texts, but they are best seen in a series of “netherworld books” composed at the beginning of the New Kingdom. The most detailed of these is the composition known as the Amduat (“He who is in the Duat”), depicting the sun‘s progression through the night. The dangers associated with the Dust were personified in the form of a gigantic serpent, called Apep (Apophis in the Greek rendering), who inhabited the entire length of the netherworld and sought to impede the sun’s journey at the gates marking the entrance to each of the night’s twelve hours. As the sun passed within each region, his light awoke the inhabitants of the Duat, who were thought to include both demons and the souls of the damned. A typical passage in the Amduat describes the sun “calling out to their souls and a sound is heard in this cavern like the sound of people wailing, as their souls call out to the sun”. In the middle of the night, at the deepest part of the Duat, the sun came upon the mummified body of the god Osiris, the power of life and rebirth. At this point in the journey, the two gods became one: “the sun at rest in Osiris, Osiris at rest in the sun”. Through this union, the sun received the power of new life, and Osiris was reborn in the sun. Given new life “in the arms of his father Osiris”, the sun could then proceed through the remainder of the night toward rebirth at dawu. When the sun left the Dust, he did not sail immediately above the vis— ible horizon, but into a space lying between the Duat and the sky. The Egyptians called this region the Akhet, which means “the place of becom‘ ing effective”. In practical terms, this was an explanation for the fact that the sky starts to grow light some time before the sun actually appears. Here the sun received a form capable of life before his actual birth: “Then he is on course toward the world, to be apparent and born. Then he pro— duces himself above. Then he parts the thighs of his mother Nut. Then he goes away to the sky.” In the Egyptian view, this daily solar cycle was not merely a natural phenomenon, but a daily affirmation of the triumph of life over death. MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SUN he sun was in many respects the preeminent Egyptian god. His prominence is shown in the plethora of gods with solar associations — each representing one or more aspects of THE SOLAR CYCLE . Atum: the sun as the culmination of creation. Depicted as a man, Atum is often associated with the sun at sunset, in the combined Re—Atum. Horus: “the far one” the sun as , the sun itself (see sidebar, opposite): ruler of creation; depicted as a man, Re: the sun per se; depicted as a man, falcon or falconuheaded man. He often a falcon, a ram, or a man with the head of appears under the names Harakhte or Re— Harakhte (“Horus of the Horizon [Alzhet]”) and Hor—Em—Akhct the New Kingdom and later, it or Harmachls (“Horus in the was often preceded by the defi— From the ”Mb ”fTWM/eh’zmu" (“1‘ 133243223“) Alehet”). As with Re, the sun in the Valley afthe Kings, Western Thebes. one or the other of these animals, Re means simply “sun”, and in I A pmoml nfgold andremivpreciuus xumex representing Khepri, the rising rim, with the 51m disc. nite article (pa~Re, “the sun”). As the physical manifestation of the sun god, the sun was also called the Eye of Re, and in this form was depicted as a goddess. Khepri: the sun at dawn. The name means “the evolv— ing one”, and was written with the hieroglyph of a scarab beetle (kheprer, a ). Khepri is often shown as a scarab (sometimes holding the sun disc) or scarab—headed man. could be called the Eye of Horus. Aten: the visible disc of the sun, depicted as such. It was not so much a god as the med~ ium through which the sun’s light comes into the world. It was the focus of the reforms of Akhenaten (see pp.132—3), Amun-Re: the sun as the manifestation of Amun, the first and greatest of all the gods. This aspect is usually depicted as a man crowned with two tall plumes. ’mli 119 120 . THE CELESTIAL REALM THE PRIMEVAL HILL he first texts that deal with Egyptian ideas about the temples contained, in their sanctuaries, a mound of earth or Tuniverse and its creation appear nearly a thousand sand evoking it. The tombs of Egypt’s first dynasties were years after the beginnings of recorded Egyptian history. For marked by a similar mound, promising a new creation and earlier concepts, we are dependent on pictorial and archi— rebirth to those buried below it. The image of the primeval tectural images, and on what the later texts tell us these may mound combines with powerful solar symbolism in the have meant. One of the earliest notions seems to have been pyramids that housed royal burials from the Old Kingdom that of the primeval hill, the first “place” to emerge from onward and also in the obelisks that graced Egypt’s temples the infinite waters, over which the sun first rose. It is tempt— (see pp.l70—71). ing to see in this image a reflection of the environment experienced by Egypt’s first settlers: watching the highest mound was viewed as a divine force — in this case, a god points of fertile land emerge as the annual Nile flood called Ta—tenen, whose name means “Rising Land”. It was receded, these early farmers could easily have pictured the also associated with the god Nefertum, who was depicted as world gradually appearing in the same way at the creation. Whatever its origins, the image of the primeval hill to appear after the primeval waters had receded. It was from remained potent throughout Egyptian history. Some “BEFORE TWO THINGS” Egyptian speculation about the state of the universe before creation cen- tred on the nature of the universal ocean that was thought to surround the created world. Like all natural phenomena, these cosmic waters were viewed as a god, which the Egyptians called Nu (“watery one”, a mascu— line form of the word “Nut”; see p.11849) or Nun (“inert one”). Prior to creation, the universe consisted only of Nu’s waters: Egyptian texts describe this as the time when the creator “was alone with Nu before the sky evolved, before the earth evolved, before people evolved, before the gods were born, before death evolved”. As the creation itself was viewed, in part, as the development of multiplicity out of an original one- ness (see pp.126-7), the eternity preceding it was known as the time “before two things evolved in this world”. This pre‘creation universe was the subject of speculation quite early in Egyptia...
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