No country has inspired more soul searchers to its depths than esoteric Egypt. From pilgrims to mystery writers, such as Agatha Christie with her classic whodunit book and movie, Death on the Nile, the numbers of people fascinated by Egypt’s mystique only increases with time.
Lilian Hayball and a boat full of soul-searching tourists have just embarked on a guided ferry down the Nile. The fact that the Middle East has been destabilized by the West adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the tour. But for Lilian, photographer, biologist B.S.c, M.A., and organizer for the University of the Third Age, the mystery is worth it, “I’m living on borrowed time, anyway.” She’ll be looking to the ancients for clues as to how we can evolve into a sustainable species. What forces are responsible for undermining our ability to live together in peaceful and sustainable harmony with nature?
The tourists she is meeting on her Egypt trip are from all over, “I heard Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, German, English, American, Dutch, Scandinavian,” the largest demographic being retirees. Like them, Lilian has seen evolution and devolution with her own eyes and has saved up to grok Egyptian remnants for herself.
The guide orients them to the world of the Egyptians, who have used their own calendar for thousands of years since Maya times, matching our calendar closely. The Egyptian Zodiac is ancient too, originally with gods and goddesses as the twelve zodiac signs. Later, they adopted the familiar animal symbols from the Babylonians, transmitted by the Greeks.
The stars, moon and sun are used for worship, with massive Egyptian monuments catching the first rays of sun at the February and October equinoxes. Throughout the night, navigation is done by the stars, as has been the practice at sea and in the desert, since the days of old until today
“The land masses certainly resemble elephant fossils, mineralisation. Great sleuthing amongst these rocks!” she says. “As a Biologist, I’d say the elephant theory is really possible.” There were also dwarf elephants in the area during the Ice Age (until 11700 years ago). Remains of Palaeoloxodon falconeri, dwarf elephants less than a meter tall, have been found in nearby Mediterranean countries including Cyprus, Malta, and Sicily.
Lilian’s group finds all the modern conveniences at the Swiss Movenpick Hotel, which as an equal-opportunity employer, employs dwarves.
Next morning, it’s onto the boat again, sailing south of Aswan to the Temple of Abu Simbel, built around 1244 B.C.
They arrive at the temple, dedicated to the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, commonly known as Ramses the Great. References to Ramses as Moses’ brother in the Exodus chapter of the Old Testament of the Bible are thought to refer to Ramses II because he is the most prominent pharaoh, renowned for his exploits as a soldier.
Leaders. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Not a big fan of local government, Ramses II was the third ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty, but the first pharaoh to conquer the surrounding territories, starting with rebellious local dynasts in southern Syria. Despite the drawbacks of primitive warfare, Egyptian leaders in ancient times didn’t run as many risks as today. There was little chance of usurpation by militaries neuroticized into self-serving machines since heads of state and army were also sons of God.
On the day of his birthday, the sun rises exactly on the axis of the front corridor of the entrance to the Temple of Ramses II with a length of 200 meters and comes to light his statue, sitting proudly amidst statues of three gods. This phenomenon of solar alignment occurs twice every year, on February 22 and October 22. The temple gets incredibly crowded on the equinoxes, and still looks nice on all the other days when you can get a close-up picture like this.
Gotta no respect. A little more sanctity, please!
This trick of light is even more incredible, considering that UNESCO moved the temple and the whole mountain it was carved into in the sixties. In 1894, the British Administration in Egypt decided to build a dam on the first cataract of the Nile, not far from Aswan, in the south of the country to improve agriculture and irrigation.
After Aswan Dam was built in 1932, the temple was almost entirely submerged for most of the year, and sometimes entirely, the bright paintings washed away.
To save it, UNESCO decided to try its hand at Egyptian monument erection. It procured a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and heavy equipment operators to carve up the temple’s mountain, and move blocks of up to 30 tons to an island similar to its original location, but 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river to keep it from being submerged by the Aswan Dam reservoir.
“We feel that there is something weird, something artificial,” says Egyptologist Marc Pomellet, ‘because it’s in the wrong place. Everything has been reassembled identically, but the energy isn’t the same.”
Divine Truth as a matter of perspective
This is not the first time Egypt’s sacred places themselves have been the sacrifice.
“What disappoints me a little bit in Egypt is, the more you dig into texts and so on, the more you realize everything is focused on political power. It really is a theocracy; they really used God,” says Marc. “Each time a city was established throughout Egypt’s history, theology was tinkered with, according to political power. Amun-Ra became a single entity, with the power behind the theocracy justified by the king as the carnal son of Ra, and the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt confirming his power.”
And/or, the opposite: gods metamorphosed to embody the new candidate. Egypt nevertheless emerged very slowly from prehistory, has desertified. People of the Nile Valley moved over millennia until they were concentrated on the banks of the Nile, the only place where there was still vegetation and water, and they could cultivate the land.
“I remember in Luxor, I had gone for a walk on the plateau at the top of the Theban mountain, and I found a field of fossilized oyster shells from an ancient sea. On the plane near Luxor, you really feel that there was water, rivers, all that,” says Marc.
Because of this migration, Egypt is a patchwork of local religions, and above these local religions, the eyes of the major divinities.
Egyptians were flatists
In the ancient Egyptian conception, Earth was the center of the universe, and it was flat with a dome above, and a dome below called the Duat. It would take a quantum computer to reconcile their model with the current conception of reality. Descriptions of the Duat varied. The purpose of ancient Egyptian texts was, to describe a succession of rites of passage to reach eternal life, rather than to lay out a geography.
Despite the many demonic inhabitants of the Duat, it is not equivalent to conceptions of Hell in the Abrahamic religions, in which souls are condemned with fiery torment. The absolute punishment for the wicked, in ancient Egyptian thought, was the denial of an afterlife to the deceased. Ceasing to exist.
Ordeals for evolution
The grotesque spirits of the underworld were not evil but rather acted as directed by the gods, to provide the various ordeals that the deceased had to face. The Duat was the region through which the sun god Ra traveled from west to east each night, and it was where he battled Apophis, who embodied the primordial chaos which the sun had to defeat in order to rise each morning and bring order back to the Earth.
This mythology provides an excellent clue to what’s at stake for the human race and how to tackle obstacles to our survival in sustainability. It encourages our capacity to face and overcome our failings. This is how we continue to exist. Of course we were duped by life’s illusions. Everyone was.
The point is to fall down, pick ourselves up, peel away another layer of the onion, seek the truth until we evolve, and with humbleness and tenacity, treat the planet with reverence à l’égyptienne, and extend the duration of life on Earth. Compost all the rotten experiences in the garden.
Yes, we were victimized. Only when we choose to stop playing the role of victim can we stop giving ourselves license to victimize others. If we’re going to live together in harmony, even the holocaust narrative needs to be put to rest.
That should grow a very nice peace deal.
Tombs and portals as means of transportation
The Duat was also the place where people’s souls went after death for judgment. Burial chambers formed touching points between the mundane world and the Duat. As such, the west bank of the Nile was associated with the dead and funeral barges would mimic the sun god Ra’s journey through the sky during the day. The Akh, the conscious part of the soul, could use tombs to travel back and forth from the Duat.
The rest of the dead journeyed through the various parts of the Duat to be judged, but not to be unified with the sun god, as was a dead king. If the deceased was successfully able to pass various demons and challenges, then he or she would reach the Judgment of the Dead. In this ritual, the deceased’s first task was to correctly address each of the forty-two Assessors of Maat by name, while reciting the sins they did not commit during their lifetime.
After confirming that they were sinless, the heart of the deceased was weighed by Anubis against the feather of Maat, which represents truth and justice. Any heart heavier than the feather failed the test, and was rejected and eaten by Ammit, the devourer of souls. They were denied existence after death in the Duat.
The souls that were lighter than the feather would pass the test, and would be allowed to travel toward Aaru, the “Field of Rushes”, an ideal version of the known world, where they would plough, sow, and harvest abundant crops.
Divinity in all fields
Considering the importance of the location of the heavenly bodies for Egyptian architecture, it’s no surprise that astronomy was a science practiced by priests.
They divided the 360-degree sky into 36 decans of 10 degrees, with each decan denoting a group of stars at the morning horizon for ten days. At the end of the fifth century BC, the Greeks brought knowledge of the existence and location of the twelve zodiacal constellations, including the zodiac signs used in our modern horoscopes, from Ancient Mesopotamia, located in present-day Iraq and Syria. The ‘zoa’ in ‘zodiac’ means ‘animal’ in Greek, a clue to the respect and worship Egyptians paid to animals.
Rock on, Egypt.
Fortunately, centuries of burning and Napoleonic looting could neither erase the pyramids nor the stars. The Louvre has even made the gesture of digging into its vast plunders of Egyptian artifacts, and returning a handful of frescoes stolen more recently, in the 1980s.
Astrology is also at the root of Christianity, although many astrological artifacts have been vandalized or looted after Christian churches changed policy and erased this heritage as ‘heretical’, ‘furniture’, and ‘pagan’.
In reality, the Bible says in Jeremiah 10:2 that nations will be afraid of astrology, but we should not:
Thus says the Lord,
“Do not learn the way of the nations,
And do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens
Although the nations are terrified by them;
There are still many references to astrology in the Bible. Another example is Genesis 1:14.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;
Astrological calculations by the ancient Babylonians led to new discoveries in geometry enabling the building of the pyramids. Observing and measuring the heavens helped with the development of accurate instruments such as the astrolabe, a handheld measuring device for reckoning time and for observation. Astronomers used the device for scientific purposes at least since the year 17, throughout classical antiquity, the Islamic Golden Age, and European Middle Ages. These days, an astrolabe to make any Steampunk jealous can be had for 25 pounds and up.
It’s not easy to erase monuments.
What has been erased from texts is harder to erase from monuments. Even Notre Dame’s fragile astrological rose windows survived the fire of 2019, caused when “electric wires were running in the roof, placed there at the express demand of the clergy. Despite the risk of short-circuiting, and in breach of all the safety regulations laid out by the chief architects of historic monuments,” according to Le Canard Enchaîné.
Take the Pisces (‘fish’ in Greek), sighted in Egyptian art and ritual as a symbol of regeneration long before Christians used it. These and other animals represented deities in the worship of Osiris and Isis, the latter who is said to have transformed into the ‘Abtu, Great Fish of the Abyss’.
During times of persecution in ancient Rome, early Christians used the fish symbol as a secret sign of identification among believers. It is said that a Christian meeting a stranger would draw one arc of the fish on sand or stone. If the stranger was a Christian, the stranger would recognize the symbol and draw the other arc. So the ichthys marked secret gathering places, catacombs, and homes of the faithful.
Wherever there is light, shadow lurks, and after so many attempts on our heritage, we need a high-frequency spotlight to reveal whodunit.
‘Democrisy’. It is we who have spoiled ‘the elite’ and jeopardized our sustainability.
Now in the age of Aquarius, hypocrisy and democracy converge into ‘democrisy’. It’s clear that all the 1950s talk of capitalism versus communism has amounted to a mere distraction from the real game: governance by the military-industrial complex, about which former US President Eisenhower forewarned.
Europe governance has already been abandoned to the arms industry. Hindsight reveals the sphinx of Brexit guarding the UK from the battlefield.
Egypt has much to worry about. To the north in Syria, there’s the West’s thinly veiled theft of land and natural resources. To the south, tensions over the dam Ethiopia is building upstream on the Nile. Not to mention the most recent round of Cluedo in the neighborhood’s copper kitchen, with the lift of the ‘arms embargo‘. As if countries were lining up to deliver their governments to overfed arms outfits. But people promoted these mercenaries, and people can save the day.
The boat reaches a city of many names.
After days of “tombly” bedazzlement, Lilian’s boat reaches its final destination on the Nile. Founded around 3000 BC, ancient Thebes is recognized by the West as the scene of tragic Oedipus Rex (circa 426 BC)–not the best souvenir for tourism. Also known as Waset to ancient Egyptians, the city was the capital of Egypt during parts of the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1750 B.C.) and the New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1070 B.C.). The latter renamed the city Luxor, meaning ‘luxury’ in Latin.
Of old, boatmen on the Nile had been protected by Amun, at that time a minor God of the air. Sailors depended on Amun when they needed wind to sail the Nile. With the new empire, Amun became elevated as the God of ‘Luxor’. Modern curators have recast the most brilliant city of Upper (Southern) Egypt, this time as a magnificent open-air museum.
Lilian had to catch her breath after setting eyes on the Karnak Temple Complex. “Oh wow! Just wow. Oh, it’s all magical!.” And she found more to love than fantastical tombs in Egypt. “The Egyptians are wonderful people.”
She did note that at certain moments, it was not clear what was real and what was a mimic. “There was a lot of repetition of images in the wall paintings at Karnak. Statues lay on the Earth in the temple grounds waiting to be assembled and lined up astronomically according to the planets and stars.”
Military machination in place of animism and theocracy
Egypt’s theocracy came to an end when King Farouk was overthrown four years after the founding of Israel. It was replaced with a series of military dictatorships condoned by the West. As this kind of hostility advances, one can only hope the mercenaries steer clear of our Egyptian heritage and don’t pave over the path back to sanctity, read sustainability.
The world saw what happened when the US allegedly left undefended Iraqi monuments including the world’s most ancient library at the University of Mosul, as a result of unleashing its ISIL, as evinced by former US presidents including the business savvy front runner, Trump. One of the first objectives of invading barbarians has been the desecration of monuments. What has not evolved is the extent to which the goal of today’s wars is annihilating clues to past/foreign intelligent life.
May the gods save Egypt!
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Balloons on the Nile, photo courtesy Lilian Hayball-Clarke – all photos provided by the author.