THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD
– THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD
The Egyptian Book of the Dead, properly translated as The Coming Forth By Day, instructs the individual how to live their lives so they may become one with the universal source, God, and avoid the chaos and suffering caused by wrong action. Written in 1500 BCE, the text contained praises, hymns, magical spells and The Pyramid Texts which explained the process of dematerialization via the spiritualization of matter. There is a remarkable absence of specific, didactic teaching that tells one how to find God. Instead, there is an abundance of symbols and archetypes that act as guideposts by transcending the intellect and speaking to the intelligence of the heart. These Egyptian motifs act as clues pointing to the secret of the universal mystery of life: death. Egyptians, like the Native Americans and Celts understood our connection to nature and its eternally renewing cycles. By watching the Nile, which they thought was a reflection of the Milky Way above, they were given proof that life consists of ebbs and tides and that only through the flood of darkness comes abundance. There is an implicit warning, however, within this text that suggests if we decide not to die to our selves or egos, we will be doomed.
The ancient Egyptians believed that each person is made up of seven different parts including the ka, ba, shadow and name. The ka is considered the center of one’s being which was independent of the ego consciousness. It is like a guardian angel or daimon that we exist to serve and which vivifies and inspires our life toward the light of consciousness. The ka is a manifestation of our spiritual destiny that was with us as at birth and will live on after we die. The ba is the temporary form of the deceased which manifests at death and is symbolized as a human-headed bird because of its need to move around. Like a Christian ghost, the ba is initially confused after death and needs its body as a home until it realizes its host is dead and no longer serves a purpose. The shadow was a metaphoric device to explain the dark side of the unconscious and its absence of light. By being to much in oneself, the soul could be overcome by the shadow and loose its ability to see the light. A person’s name was a magical device to bestow power to the individual. By giving someone your name you were allowing them to have control over you; therefore, secret names were chosen that were deeply private and only received through verbal means by a spiritual teacher.
Much like the Celts, the ancient Egyptians believed that the state of the land and the king were intricately united. They personified this in their myth of Isis and Osiris and how Osiris’ Christ-like death was necessary in order for him to be reborn divine, while Isisâ€™ strength and love guided him through this process. Through Isis, Osiris’ spirit was reborn in their son, Horus, as well as in the underworld where the knowledge he gained from dying allowed him the vision to protect and serve those on their way through the mysteries. It is a beautiful, powerful mythology that initiated sacrilization of the Great Pyramids and the heavens. Men and women were considered equal and each was revered as a god and goddess; therefore, sexuality was seen as a spiritual vehicle emulating the creation of the universe. The ancients also recognized death as a journey mirroring life which gave them a strong religious foundation.
The elaborate Egyptian ritualization of their mythologies kept them in close contact with the intelligence of the heart. Some participated in the Egyptian Mysteries which were ritual enactments of the wisdom expressed in The Coming Forth By Day. Although superficially different, the Egyptian Mysteries were very exacting in their dramatic portrayal of the text in order to make the initiate comprehend the commitment necessary to lead a spiritual life in tune with nature. The use of sensory deprivation, fear tactics and possible hallucinogenic drugs was employed in order to shock the initiates out of the stupor of unawareness. Seemingly harsh in their methods, Egyptian Mystery Priests always warned initiates that taking the journey to learn life’s secrets would require the utmost courage and bravery.
The Coming Forth By Day was broken down into twelve stages mirroring the setting sun at night and its rising forth into the day and was symbolized by the sun god, Ra, who died and was reborn each day. Osiris became Ra’s manifested human form whose death and resurrection made him a god. The Coming Forth By Day took place in the Duat, the field or state of being where spiritual transformations take place. The Duat was also a metaphor for the physical body and the unconscious where the intelligence of the heart resides. By journeying into the unconscious or dark halves of ourselves one could be reborn into the light of consciousness which is the creative force of the universe. The Duat also symbolized an actual place, the underworld, where the dead were judged based upon the weighing of their heart and a feather. If the scales were tipped, faced damnation. In my opinion this metaphor symbolizes the need for each of us to let go of the ego and become light as a feather in order to escape from the ego’s addictive, dramatic cravings. The fact that one could trick the judges by yelling magical incantations is proof to me that it’s easy to avoid enlightenment, yet one cannot escape the fact that doing so will always lead to suffering.
The Egyptian Mysteries and The Coming Forth By Day begin by explaining that in order to gain the secret of life’s mysteries one had to comprehend his inherent oneness with God, symbolized by Osiris. To best demonstrate how the Egyptian Mysteries mirrored on a material level the spiritual significance of The Coming Forth By Day it is important to provide a summary of the twelve stages Ra underwent in the Duat.
1st hour: Ra is symbolized as a Ram-headed deity. The Ram symbolizes stubbornness of the ego to die while its horns demonstrate the ability of the ego to rip through illusion to see the truth. Ra begins his journey on a solar barque led by a woman and is joined by beings who help guide and protect him on his adventure.
2nd hour: Ra begins his physical journey into the underworld, magically sailed along by heka, the cosmic will. There are other boats surrounding the barque carrying corn gods which are symbols of transformation and an announcement of the supernatural breaking into the natural realm.
3rd hour: The most decisive hour when the Lady With The Cutting Knife determines whether or not you have been an enemy of Osiris who symbolizes the individual divine force. Enemies of Osiris include boredom, destractedness, lying, treachery, ignorance, cynicism, secret elitism, adultery and lack of discernment. Those who embody the enemies of Osiris become shadows because they have no inner-light. For those who have remained loyal to Osiris the journey continues.
4th hour: Ra’s spiritual rebirth begins and is symbolized by other passengers including a pregnant hippo, jackal, and stork, all symbolize the beginning of the soulâ€™s rebirth. This is also the hour where Ra dies to Khefri and become the rising sun.
5th hour: This is the darkest hour of the soul where serpent larvae with three heads and wings held back by a hawk-headed goddess join Ra at a point where he is overwhelmed by emptiness. Yet, only through the emptiness can light appear. Isis arrives to save him from the darkness.
6th hour: Isis takes the soul through its night of dissolution when the ego must be destroyed in order for the spirit to live. Here she acts as nurturer and protector, the cosmic mother, who is joined by nine armed serpents who protect Khefri, us, from those who would harm him on his journey into light. Next to Isis are boxes with human and animal body parts to symbolize the eradication of the ego’s connection with the body.
7th hour: Isis and Khefri are confronted by the night serpent who is the eternal enemy of Ra and may symbolize lust and greed. Isis charms the serpent and the barque continues to the 8th hour.
8th hour: Khefri and Osiris speak which symbolizes the unity of the conscious and unconscious minds as a step toward psychological wholeness. Osiris takes on the form of Horus demonstrating his spiritual rebirth. He is surrounded by four rams symbolizing the driving forces of creation: earth, air, fire and water.
9th hour: Khefri begins to row the solar barque himself symbolizing his ability to take control of his new spiritual life. Palm branches are laid out to him and ankhs, the symbol of eternal life, are held in his honor.
10th hour: The symbol of the beetle being born from its larval cocoon along with the Eye of Horus and a hawk rising from a double-headed serpent surround Ra and symbolize upper and lower Egypt, the past and present, the physical and spiritual world and the emergence of spiritual consciousness from the body. Osiris speaks to those drowned, shadow souls and tells them that the only thing keeping them in the darkness is their own desire to swim out of the abyss.
11th hour: Here the solar barque becomes decorated with a disk circled by a cobra symbolizing the awakened Ra who has died to himself by killing his negative thought processes by becoming one with the regenerative force of cosmic time.
12th hour: We are reborn into light.
Initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries included rituals which were fashioned after the twelve stages of The Coming Forth by Day. A sacred guide brought the initiates to an underground temple where they were immediately asked why they were seeking initiation. The only acceptable response was that the initiate wanted to understand his/her oneness with Osiris, the divine source. Inside the Temple is a statue of Isis which has an inscription reading “No mortal has ever lifted my veils”, symbolizing that one must let go of the finite ego in order to erase illusion and see God. The initiate then went to a door with two columns that was a further test of the intelligence of his heart. The red column was the life-giving symbol of Osiris while a black column was the spirit captured in matter. If one chose the red he could continue but still had to undergo the dark nights of the soul through silence, meditation, fasting, etc. After a week, the initiate reaches the Evening of Ordeals which is the ritualization of the 6th hour during The Coming Forth By Day when the initiate sees human and animal body parts and the attachment to the body is killed.
Next, the initiate must crawl along a tunnel on hands and knees then descend into a hole into complete darkness where “the turning around of the eyes” occurs as one ascends into more trials and tribulations including trial by fire, water and the flesh. If one makes it through the trials then he is reborn which is symbolized by a statue of Isis holding Horus who has the face of the initiate. However, the initiate must go through the final stages when he must literally die for three days, induced possibly by hallucinogens, so that the ka can explore the astral plane and receive the secret mysterious of the universe.
The ritual and drama of the Egyptian Mysteries all strive to teach one how not to become an enemy of Osiris by overcoming the seven obstacles of personal concern, wrong notions of providence, false pity, sentimentality, satisfaction, quest for sanctity and routine. To kill these enemies of Osiris one must gain a sense of presence, the ability to concentrate, serenity, appropriate gesture, silence, thankfulness and unbounded generosity. In essence both The Coming Forth By Day and the Egyptian Mysteries teach us that we must chose to kill our ego in order to be reborn to the divine within. If we do not make this choice, our alternative is to live in the shadow world, void of light, where we are spiritually dead.