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Temple of The Cosmos  
By Rootsie
December 03, 2003

Temple of the Cosmos:
The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred
by Jeremy Naydler

This is an excellent book. The author is a philosopher, and tends to use complex language when simpler would do. Nevertheless, he has done a great thing here.

He begins with Egyptian creation stories and works his way to the initiation process which is described by the Book of Coming Forth By Day ('The Egyptian Book of the Dead') Western writers tend to assume that the Egyptian understanding of sacred matters had to be primitive by modern standards. The Western idea of 'progress through time' has blinded many to the refinement of Egyptian thought. Naydler is not one of these.
"In ancient times, people had the feeling that in the part of the world they inhabited, the whole was experienced as present...The physical world had a 'vertical dimension'; it reached up into, and included within itself, spiritual realities that for the modern consciousness are no longer a living presence. But for the ancient Egyptians, a metaphysical world poured into the physical, saturating it with meaning.

...But today we are, to a large extent, shackled to a 'horizontal' mode of perception from which the illuminating presence of the gods has been excluded."(11)
For the Egyptians, the purpose of earthly life was to strive constantly to bring the earth and one's self into alignment with the divine cosmic order. Thus Isis for example was a goddess of human love and fertility and the cycles of earthly life, but she was also Sirius, the star that rises each year on the horizon just as the Nile floods. The major goddesses and gods had this double aspect. The cycles of the stars were the ultimate reality, and the cycles of birth, life, and death on earth were reflections of the ultimate.

The purpose of ritual and history-writing and science and architecture were to charge the material plain with this divine energy. Thus Ma'at, the dynmaic ordering principle of the universe, was the object of all human effort. To be in alignment with Ma'at was to participate in divinity.

And Naydler shows how important it is that Ma'at is depicted in human form, as a goddess. For it follows that if all that exists is 'saturated' with divine meaning that the very limbs and organs of the human body correspond to various aspects of divine truth. The nose breathes, the mouth speaks, the ear hears. There are spiritual dimensions to all of these activities, and to be in Ma'at is to experience this. The mouth, because of what comes out of it, pertains to morality. The eye is 'the psychic center of a person's health, well-being, and power.' (182) Mind and wisdom are where the ear is, for 'He who hears is beloved of God...'(183) The belly is seen negatively as the seat of appetite, and positively as a person's power center. Arms and legs house the will, the ability to do. And most important is the heart.
"My heart, my mother.
My mother, my heart.
My heart whereby I came into being...
May it be at peace within me."
The heart is the seat of ka, a person's vital energy. It is the seat of the divine within. "I am a listener who listens to maat, who ponders it in my heart." The heart is a still place, a place of listening. The Judeo-Christian worldview rejects the flesh as fallen and laden with sin. Imagine the joy of a people who perceive that, with effort, the flesh can be seen as it truly is, as sacred.

Naydler discusses the importance of the Egyptian concept of 'magic' in this regard. Magic is the means by which a person comes into balance with Ma'at.

"Magic, then, is a mysterious divine force through which the spiritual and physical universe becomes manifest, and hence and force permeating and linking all levels of reality from the highest to the most material. But it is also...the means by which a human being, and ultimately all creation, returns to the Supreme Godhead, the unmanifest source of all that exists."

Historians and Egyptologists have largely looked at Egyptian texts and paintings as describing the journey of the body/soul after death. They can be more properly understood as descriptions of the inner journey of realignment with the divine essence of the universe, and ones do not have to wait for death to undertake this journey. For the Egyptians, the Duat, or 'underworld' was not a geographical location. The Book of Coming Forth was the map of a psychic journey of reconnection to Osiris, who embodied the principle of the god-man, the object of all spiritual effort. It was human efforts to re-member Osiris that cyclically caused him to be regenerated and bring abundance to the earth. In order to re-member Osiris, it was necessary to engage the negative forces of Seth, who in the myth was Osiris's brother who cut him to pieces out of jealousy. Osiris' and Isis' son Horus engaged Seth in battle and overcame him and this freed Osiris to take his throne in the heavens. Horus and Seth were seen as opposing psychic forces which humans had to bring into balance in order to experience their own divinity, their Osiris within. It is no easy task. And few succeed.

In order to make the 'underworld journey,' to make the body divine, the ba must be caused to rise. The ba is that part of humans that seeks out heaven. Humans strengthen their ba by cultivating the spirit in their lives. The ba is the energy that carries humans to higher and higher levels of being. It is depicted as the jabiru bird. The ba can be trapped in the body, unable to move on. All 'untransformed earthly appetites and obsessions' (205) cause it to remain stuck.

The first stage of the underworld journey is called 'Opening the Door of Tomb.' The ba is released from the body, but this is just the first step. The rest is not a matter of divine grace and help so much as it is a matter of firmness and patience and determination. Over and over in the texts one's 'boat' is mentioned as the means of navigation through the underworld. This boat is not furnished by the gods; only the tools to fashion it are. The strength of one's boat is everything, and this is determined by the strength of one's character. It is important to note that a divine guide was always required. This was most frequently Anubis, the jackal. Jackals were seen by Egyptians as creatures of the borderland between populated and unpopulated places. The journey begins in darkness, in a place where all that once gave comfort and distraction is stripped away. If one does not lose heart at this point, she/he will hear the voice of Amon:
"I shall give you spiritual radiance
In place of cakes and liver;
Peace of heart
In place of the gratification of desire;
And you shall look upon my face
And you shall lack nothing."
A specific danger in the Duat is walking 'upside down', which is easy to do in a disorienting, unfamiliar realm such as this. The texts warn and the hieroglyphs show how easy it is to end up eating one's own excrement. This occurs as a result of 'ignorance and self-neglect.' (222)

One then moves to "The Field of Rushes", the place of purification, of peace, ruled over by Hotep, 'The Peaceful One.' In many hieroglyphic maps, the goddess Ipy is depicted suckling travelers with her divine milk to strengthen them on their journey to the stars. The Field of Rushes is followed by the Lake of Fire, for no purification is possible without it. This is not a journey for the meek. Here is the source for the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which describes in the same way the necessity to meet both the peaceful and wrathful deities, if only ultimately to choose the peaceful way in one's life. One of the objects of the underworld journey is to understand in fullness one's own power to choose. We seem these days to always choose the hard way, but this is more often than not because we do not understand that we have the power to choose differently. Naydler writes:
"In the Underworld there is no physical environment, for it is not a physical world. Rather it is a psychic world that arises for a person out of his or her own psychic condition...what is presented to one as an external environment is but an expression of one's own psychic energies. The wisdom of the map-making tradition is that it charts, as psychic environments, the range of possible archetypal states of soul. One is thus enabled to understand 'where one is,' and to move from one region to another. Progress through the Underworld consists in a gradual purging of the ba of all those elements in it that are spiritually disharmonious." (229)
The journey in one's little boat is full of dangers. Either one is riding along the back of the terrible serpent Apophis or the journey consists in being digested by him. There is always the danger of looking back, like Lot's wife, or being devoured by elemental beasts. The engagement with all of one's 'Sethian' energies is necessary before one can truly step into their highest self. This is the oldest story of death and rebirth, for one must die to one's old way of being in order to find oneself at last in the Hall of Ma'at, the final stage before the reunion with Osiris. This journey through the Duat is really the journey to one's own heart of hearts.
"May my heart be with me in the House of Hearts!
May my heart be with me, and may it remain there,
Or I shall not eat of the cakes of Osiris."
One must first however pass through the Gates. This signals the final death of the human soul to any energy other than the divine. The immense temples of Luxor and Edfu are architectural renderings of the journey through Duat. They feature hall after hall after hall, doorway after doorway. Each doorway is protected by different guardian deities, and sometimes ordeals are necessary, and sometimes magic words suffice. At last, through the final door, is the Hall of Ma'at.

Depictions of the Hall of Ma'at show a scale, often empty, indicating that balance itself is the goal. At other times the heart is weighed against the 'feather of Ma'at', and if the heart weighs more, the soul it is devoured by a beast. Here the soul makes his 'negative confession' and reflects on the conduct of his life. In may way, the achievement of balance and alignment with divine order as symbolized by the Hall of Maat is the end and the object, and the meeting and reunion with Osiris is the reward. The balancing of the energies of Horus and Seth is the balancing of the heart. And the heart rests in Ma'at.

This meeting with Osiris is a realization of one's deepest self. One understands that he is in essence a shining spirit, the akh. This journey is the journey to ultimate self-recognition, recognition of one's self as one with God.
"May I shine as Ra,
having put aside all that is false.
Through me, may ma'at stand behind Ra.
May I shine every day,
As one who is in the horizon of the sky."
Naydler suggests that in this time we are more open to the energies that the Egyptians described. Their ideas of 'non-temporal time' and 'non-spatial space' are familiar to anyone with a little information about modern physics.

Reading this book helped me to understand the fatal error of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They drew from these Egyptian sources the outer husks of meaning rather than the essential kernel. They tried to transpose these ideas that rose from a people who saw time as cyclical and recurring onto a notion of linear time. So, instead of a world where redemption and rebirth are always possible, we have one fatal Fall, and can only hang on helplessly to a hope for future redemption. For the Egyptians, the journey to one's essential divine self was not a matter of the Grace of God. It was a matter of day-to-day conduct and the cultivation of character and virtue. In the realest way possible, it is humans who save themselves. With help.

What is obvious by reading this book is that our ancestors of 5,000 years ago, at least the initiates among them, were having experiences of the divine which are for the most part completely unknown to us. What is exciting is that if they could reach for human perfection and exalted states of consciousness, it is at least possible for us as well.


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