Escaping Ausar – 2

Escaping Osiris
O Osiris the king,
who goes forth by night !
by Wim van den Dungen

Part 1

The legend of Osiris is told in various ways, but we possess no complete tale. The Egyptians themselves only alluded to the assassination and probably conceived the sequence of events as a form of sacred history.

Most narratives go back to De Iside et Osiride of Mestrius Plutarch (ca. 45 – 120 CE), an initiate of the mysteries of Apollo. He stressed the connection between the myth of Osiris and the inundation of the Nile and its fertility (cf. agriculture), a reading confirmed by Egyptology, connecting Osiris with popular Predynastic (Lunar) vegetations rituals (the “Bull” as consort of the great cow goddess of the Moon ?). The “Golden Age” or “age of the gods” could therefore reflect some of the events of the period of the formation of the two kingdom (the Late Predynastic Period, ca. 3600 – 3300 BCE, or the Gerzean culture of Naqada II and the Terminal Predynastic Period, ca. 3300 – 3000 BCE). In these last 600 years of prehistory, the role of the male chief, important from the start of agriculture in Lunar-based, nomadic and semi-nomadic societies, increased, and the “good king” became an emblem of power and unity.

Besides its merits, the text of Plutarch is a Hellenistic composition, adding elements which cannot be corroborated by the record, although, given the age of the record, absence of evidence is never evidence of absence. In many ways, his version remains the most “romantic” rendering of the tale, opening vista’s to syncretism and analogy :

“Osiris is none other than Pluto …”
Plutarch : Peri Isidos kai Osiridos – first century CE

The original cult-centre of Osiris is unknown, although the Eastern Delta (the 9th nome) has been proposed. In the Early Dynastic Period, Osiris is not attested by name. The paring of Horus and Seth, essential in the later Osiris myth, is given from the middle of the First Dynasty (ca. 2900 BCE), i.e. antedating the written name of Osiris (in the Vth Dynasty Pyramid Texts) by six centuries or more, suggestive of a broad unwritten oral tradition.

In the IVth and Vth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, Osiris assimilated indigenous gods of several places. In Djedu, known as “per-usir” (Abusir or Busiris, “The House of Osiris”) in the Delta, Osiris replaced Andjety, probably a local king represented as an old man holding a crook and a flail, and wearing a double-plumed crown. In Djedet, near Djedu, the soul of Osiris was thought to dwell in the sacred ram, worshipped as “Ram-Lord-of-Djedet”, the Greek “Mendes” (according to Pindar, the Ram had intercourse with women). It was a powerful symbol of strength and virility. The Egyptian word for “ram” was “ba”, but “Ba” also meant “soul”. In Abedju (Abydos) in Upper Egypt, Osiris superseded Khentiamentiu. This god of the Abydos necropolis, the “Foremost of the Westeners” (who ousted Wepwawet, or “The-Opener-of-the-Ways”) is mentioned on seals of Pharaohs Den and Qaa of the First Dynasty (ca. 3000 – 2800 BCE). Associated with Sokar in Memphis, Osiris and funerary concerns merged. Osiris is depicted in human form, and his earliest appearance yet found, shows the head and part of the upper torso, topped by his hieroglyphic name (IVth Dynasty block from the reign of Pharaoh Izezi, ca. 2411 – 2378 BCE). His iconography portrays him wrapped in mummy bandages, with the apparel of Andjety (crown, crook, flail) and a curved beard (reminiscent of that of a ram or a goat ?).

In the Pyramid Texts, the “magister” of countless generations of ante-rational theological reflection, Osirian theology is already well developed and integrated in the royal cult. The good god has become part of the Heliopolitan “Ennead” or company of deities, suggestive of a period of gestation and formation, at least bringing us back to the Terminal Predynastic Period (3300 – 3000 BCE), when the process of unification is on its way. This would make the historical appearance of Osiris more or less coincide with the emergence of writing and the formation of the Pharaonic State of Egypt.

Heliopolitan ideology had been developed in two steps :

  • the king incarnates Horus the Elder : the sky-god incarnates on Earth and each king is a physical manifestation of the same Horus again, etc. The sky-god assimilates the powers of the Predynastic “great sorceress” (like the sky cow Nut or Neith) ;
  • the king is the son of the creator : Re, the creator, impregnates, as high priest of Re, a woman giving birth to a divine prince corronated as the “son of Re”, the sole mediator between sky and Earth in this life and the only effective power in the hereafter. As a spirit of light, he navigates on the Bark of Re for “million of years”.

“Horus the Elder” (“Heru Ur”) of the Early Dynastic Period is not yet “Horus”, son of Osiris, and thus easily blended with Re, who too strides the skies. The king, a follower of Horus, is an incarnation of Horus the Elder, but not yet the “son of Re”. In the IVth Dynasty (ca. 2600 – 2487 BCE), the relation between Horus the sky-god, Re and his son the king became canonical for Egyptian kingship (cf. Pharaoh Khufu’s titulary, the god Herakhety, “Horus of the Two Horizons”). The Vth and VIth Dynasties (ca. 2487 – 2198 BCE) evidence the introduction of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris into the royal funerary theology, betraying the growing importance of Osiris. Besides being the “son of Re” in this life, the divine “Lord of the Two Lands” and the “living Horus”, was also “Osiris the king” in the afterlife. As in Old Kingdom theology, only the king had a “soul”, and so nobody except the king could be transformed into Osiris. The immortal strength and virility of the ram/soul was still a royal privilege.

“Yet Osiris is more than just a fertility god ; his presence in cult, myth and legend is unique. He is king of the dead, but his kingship maintains a vital link to the kingship of the living pharaoh. That link is evident on the numberless Egyptian monuments and can be seen in almost any museum where Egyptian objects are to be found. It is the raison d’être for the most common performative utterance in Egyptian funerary religion, the offertory.”
Hare, 1999, p.16.

In the Pyramid Texts, largely written in a pre-rational mode of cognition, there are unresolved tensions between the salvic paths offered by Osiris and Re, as well as between certain themes crucial to both myths. Worse, in a few isolated spells, we read how Osiris is to be kept out of the tomb (cf. supra) ! Those who wish to enter the domain of Re, are prone to escape from the kingdom of Osiris and they offer supplications to encounter no resistance when trying to rise and reach the sky of Re.

In these utterances (spells, hymns, prayers etc.), the “old” traces of the dark, subterranean, “enterred” Lunar (nightly) Osiris (predating the Dynastic Period) confront the light of the Solar “royal” Re and in the ritual, a functional integration occurs. Other issues, such as the obvious importance of Seth in the royal ascent (holding, together with Horus, the “ladder of the sky”) hand in hand with him murdering Osiris, are left untouched. The mechanical addition of “Osiris” to the texts betrays a rewriting of the “old” Heliopolitan corpus, originally largely dedicated to Re (Breasted, 1972). In the Pyramid Texts, the process of Osirification had already reached the stage of maturity and automatism.

In written form, the oldest form of the name “Osiris” appears for the first time in the pyramid of Unas, with growing prominence during the next millennium and more. The hieroglyphs used are a seat (Q1) or “ws” and an eye (D4) or “ir”, making “wsir”, “Usir” or “Osiris”. Osiris, the one with an “eye” (a verb meaning “to make”, “to do”) on the “throne” of Egypt, or “he who makes the throne” (cf. Budge, 1973, referring to Erman), was the embodiment of the “soul” or “Ba” of the nation, both in its parts as in general, both in this life as in the next. His early integration in the royal canon focused on Atum-Re, is a clear mark of his popularity, even in the Late Old Kingdom, and points to the supportive (accommodating) role of the popular, Lunar faith in the new royal ideology. Indeed, as king of the dead, Osiris guaranteed the reign of his son Horus, the first name of every earthly monarch. Although royal theology was masculine and Solar, the presence of Lunar, darker and feminine qualities was not rejected, but (at first) poorly integrated in the overarching Heliopolitan theology.

“O Osiris, take away all those who hate King Unas and who speak evilly against his name.”
Pyramid Texts, § 16.

In the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE), Osiris is finally acknowledged as the netherwordly, nocturnal side of Re. Before, Re had been the sole herald of truth and justice (cf. his daughter Maat). In the Pyramid Texts, the rapid growth of individualized ethics, as well as Osiris’s assumption of the role of “judge of the dead” are not yet discernible, although the king is truly Osiris. But, in the rather “provincial” Feudal Age that followed, Osiris would become the god of righteousness par excellence (cf. the weighing of the heart against the feather of Maat). If, in the Old Kingdom, only the divine king had been justified, by the Middle Kingdom, in principle everybody who could pay for the rituals could be transformed into an “Osiris NN”. Even a poor wretch could be saved if the “soul” had a “house” (i.e. a tomb or a coffin) and a few spells were known.

The Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts evidence a nightmarish conception of the Duat, a dismal, sinister, dark and dangerous place. These chthonic connotations of the kingdom of Osiris were inflated to give way to the extraordinary power of magic, nullifying the chains of interlocked events. Every justified individual was “saved” through magic. Its powers outwitted the enemies lying await in the afterlife. The deceased was protected against his or her “evils” (“isefet”) by the declaration of innocence placed in the “house of the soul”. The effectiveness of the “divine words” of magic was absolute and irreversible. But in order to be justified, the deceased was first put on trial: was his conscience too heavy ? If so, the soul was lost and one’s existence had been pointless.

“L’individu n’est plus confronté, devant le tribunal divin, à un adversaire, mais à la Maât elle-même. La confrontation revêt de ce fait une signification tout à fait différente, qui se traduit par l’image de la balance et de l’action de la pesée du cœur.”
Assmann, 1999, p. 91

In the New Kingdom (ca. 1539 – 1075 BCE), deep speculations about the regeneration of the soul of Re ensue, uniting, in the 6th Hour of the Amduat, with the body of Osiris, thus completing the theology of the dark, eclipsed Sun. In this New Solar Th […] Assmann, 1995), his function involved the “midnight mystery” or “Ars obscura” of the Duat. Osiris helps to regenerate the dynamic power of Re (eternal motility), and so becomes integrated in the cycle of Re : Osiris is the “body” left in the Duat.

Finally, in the Ptolemaic Period (305 – 30 BCE), Osiris was transformed into “Serapis” (a composite deity, for Osiris and the Apis Bull merged). Adding Greek elements, Serapis could be worshipped by native Egyptians and Greek immigrants alike. Under the Romans, the cult of Osiris and Isis flourished in Athens, Rome, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Gaul, Britain, Carthage and the countries of North Africa. Especially Isis became very popular.

Centuries after the end of the official cult of the Egyptian deities, Osiris and Isis still had great cult centres, left untouched by the emerging Christian faith. In 389 CE, the “Serapeum”, a stronghold of Pagan henotheism, was destroyed by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I (378 – 395). In 535 BCE, the Isis cult, surviving on the island of Philae, was closed down by Narses, a general of Emperor Justinian (527 – 565 CE). He removed the statues of the gods from their shrines and brought them to Constantinople. The priests were imprisoned. On the island of Meroe, the cult may have survived a little while longer. So the cult of these remarkable “netjeru” had been “officially” in service for ca. 3.500 years (ca. 3000 BCE – 535 CE), and had, in the last nine centuries, accommodated an international call. Were they incorporated in the emergent Christian theology (Osiris and Horus in the figure of Christ and Isis in the “theotokos”, the “Mother of God”) ? Probably so, but not without changing their nature.

“The secret of the enormous popularity enjoyed by Osiris from the New Kingdom to the end of the Pharaonic period lay in the hope of eternal life that he held out to everyone who had made at least some preparations for death.”
Watterson, 2003, p.69, my italics.

As soon as, throughout the variety of Osirian myths, an “Egyptian prototype” is discerned, a series of “dramatic moments” or a sequence of crucial events emerge. The record suggests a human tale, a recognizable story-line, moving from a state of goodness and plenty, to a state of evil and want, to return to a state of greater goodness and everlasting happiness. These narrative features give the Osirian myth “a stronger sense of uniqueness and linearity, than for instance, the rising and setting of the sun or the stars” (Hare, 1999, p.15). The irreversible episodes of the Osiris myth the assassination, dismemberment, scattering, reassembly, reanimation, resurrection and coronation of Osiris. His murder only takes place once, and the Egyptians were reluctant to address the issue directly. There is no perpetual repetition, but an everlasting “final” state : Osiris, king of the Duat, is for ever and ever the same (even after Atum destroys the world – cf. Egyptian eschatology).

the Lunar Phases and the Mystery of Osiris

Meaning of the Lunar Phases
1th Quater / Isis & Nephthys

darkness at its maximum, initiation of external phase, gathering of impulse

IIth Quater / Horus Avenging

sustained efforts to maximalize cycle, the means to do so manifest

IIIth Quater / Horus & Osiris King

light at its maximum, realization of intent, initiation of internal phase, culmination of impulse

IVth Quater / Set

withdrawal of the light, sustained efforts to eliminate components

Although projected upon the Lunar cycle for commemorative reasons, the legend of Osiris has no “internal” cycle, but represents a linear process defined by a clear beginning and a final end. This process may be repeated, but each time the same linear sequence is run through. This remarkable difference with the Atum-Re cycle and its widely discussed neheh-time (eternal recurrence), coupled with his enduring popularity, mystery and magic, make Osiris an outstanding factor in the Egyptian pantheon, for in a way all deities except Osiris share in the Solar fate of rise and fall. They are part of eternal repetition, whereas Osiris gives everlasting sameness (djedet-time).

In the Heliopolitan Ennead, the dramatis personae of these myths belong to the last generation of gods : Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Seth. The conditions of order (Air, life -Shu- and Water, truth -Tefnut/Maat-) as well as the generative powers of “sky” (Nut) and “Earth” (Geb) are already in place. The last generations introduces human affairs, albeit in a “divine” format (a “Golden Age” when the gods reigned on a mythical Earth).

The dynamism between these anthropomorph divinities, who act like family members, focalizes on Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, the avenger who triumphs over his evil uncle Seth, the rejuvenator of Osiris, who resurrects his father and becomes the justified king of Egypt, source of unity and peace. Taking into consideration many known sources, the following picture emerges :

  • Osiris is the good king of Egypt : the god-king Osiris lives on Earth and establishes all good things, he brings civilization to Egypt and is loved by all, except Seth and his gang, those who wish to usurp the throne of Egypt by sheer might ;

  • Osiris assassinated, dismembered and scattered : Osiris is tricked & killed by his brother Seth, his body dismembered and scattered all over Egypt ;

  • Osiris reassembled and reanimated by Isis : his wife and sister Isis recollects his body (except his penis) and revivifies it with the help of the gods ;

  • Osiris inseminates Isis who gives birth to Horus : before the slumbering Osiris moves to the netherworld, Isis, the Great Sorceress, is able to take his seed and give birth to Horus ;

  • Osiris avenged by his son : although persecuted and sodomized by Seth, Horus grows up with the help of Isis and prepares to avenge his father by fighting Seth (loosing his left eye but crushing Seth’s genitals). He triumphs over his evil uncle, who henceforward is forced to carry Osiris ;

  • Osiris restored by Horus : his Left Eye made well by Thoth, Horus is declared King of Egypt and descends into the Duat to bring the Eye of Wellness to his father, so as to restore him completely (turning him into a supportive god of the just) ;

  • Osiris ascends as “king of the dead” : Osiris reassembled, reanimated and fully restored by Horus, ascends to the sky (of the Duat) and is enthroned as its king for ever and ever. In this capacity, he judges the dead and nobody is able to move further without being judged by him. He is the guarantee, on yonder side of existence, of rejuvenation and an eternal life featuring the best of this life. His is the perfect kingdom of darkness.

Note that Osiris escapes, like the precreational Nun, the cyclic and endless repetitions of Re and the other stars, most of them rising and setting in accordance with the law of eternal recurrence initiated by Atum-Kheprer. Osiris thus relates to Nun, to the primordial waters of precreation, deemed limitless, inert, dark, lifeless and gloomy. Nun preexists creation and is separated from it. The kingdom of Osiris is part of creation, but separated from its Earth and sky. Creation itself, conceived as a living organism (cf. hylezoism), has a body of generation, or “Osiris”, and a spirit (“akh”) of order (“Maat”), i.e. the eternal recurrence implied by the first time of Atum-Re. Like Nun, separated from creation by inertia, Osiris is separated from the living by death, and rules the world from the underworld.

Three considerations to conclude this brief introduction.

Firstly, to encompass the whole range of Osirian beliefs (namely from the beginning of the Pharaonic Period untill the last strongholds of its cult abroad) is beyond the limitations of this paper. Instead, let us focus on a selection of the evidence available in the Pyramid Texts and by doing so try to isolate the original core of the theology and this by using the oldest historical evidence available (namely between ca. 2348 – 2205 BCE).

Being first, complete as well as canonical, the Unas text testify of the importance of Osiris in the royal cult, focused on Re. Although integrated in the latter’s “Ennead” or group of nine manifestations, the cult of Osiris became national in the Middle Kingdom only. But it was already popular enough to be part of the royal canon from the start. So from the XIIth Dynasty (ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE) onwards, the pilgrimage to Abydos, where the head of Osiris was kept (in the Osireon ?), became popular among Egyptians wishing a good place in the afterlife. Discovering the rudiments of Osirian theology, before it became popular and was “harmonized” with Solar faith (Atum-Re & Amun-Re), will allow us to put into evidence the bottom layer of Osirian faith and confirm the dramatic sequence of the latter tale.

Secondly, Osirian faith initiated the offertory and canon as a sacred separation and sublimation. All offerings are assimilated by the offer of Horus, who brings his healed Left Eye to Osiris and so fully restore him. Hence, all offerings are the Eye of Horus (given to Osiris to heal him). When Osiris is fully resurrected, he efficiently acts on behalf of Horus, and allows the divine king and flood-maker to celebrate the yearly return of the life-giving waters, emerging, in the South of Egypt in mid July, out of the netherworldly Nun. All offerings serve rebirth and rejuvenation. By offering Maat, the king serves the rebirth of creation.

Thirdly, the validity of an exclusive funerary interpretation of the Pyramid Texts (or for that matter of the complete corpus of canonical religious texts, such as the Coffin Texts, the Book of Coming out into the Day and the Amduat), taught by Morenz, Piankoff, Mercer, Frankfort, Faulkner, Assmann, Hornung and Allen, has to be addressed : is there a mystical dimension or direct experiential contact with the divine beyond the first three studied by Egyptology (Assmann, 2002) ? This is not “esoterism” defined as “difficult to access”, but as direct spiritual experience. After cross-cultural comparison and participant observation (cf. mysticology) and although highly subjective in each individual case, a general pattern is detectable. Esoterism is then the knowledge and practice of an inner development along spiritual lines, involving a direct contact with the ontological foundation of reality. The universal characteristics of the religious, sacred, numinous, mystical peak-experience have been summarised as follows (cf. Pahnke & Richards, 1972, in Tart, 1975) :

  1. unity : the nominal distinctions between both object & subject dissolve ;

  2. noetic quality : a conscious state, capable of contemplative, intuitive thought ;

  3. space-time-shift : everything happens in the perpetual “now” ;

  4. paradoxality : the experience involves the conjunction of both opposites ;

  5. ineffability : the essence of the experience can not be verbalised ;

  6. temporality : this state is only exceptionally permanent (deification), one moves backwards, to settle at the nominal level without loss of memory.

Besides these, mysticology confirmed the three-tiered nature of the process of spiritual emancipation (cf. the “scala perfectionis“) :

  1. purification: proper preparation to the spiritual operation demands physical, psychological, social and moral discipline and is often operationalized as sensoric reduction, typical EEG-frequency patterns and the invocation of archetypal, sacred images and sounds (cf. neurotheology) ;

  2. totalization: the actual, direct experience of the “totaliter aliter“, radical otherness ;

  3. actionalization : the fusion with the Divine, eventuating a “return” to the world, brings an outstanding increase in ethical awareness, unconditional compassion and a direct action changing the world for the better.

Compare these stages with those of the cave mysteries of the Upper Palaeolithic :

  1. intro : the tunnel : the process of differentiation from light to darkness ;

  2. sanctum : the “rock cathedral” : the secluded place of the mystery of the hidden light ;

  3. exit the return : the process of integration from darkness to light.

Concerning Egyptian religion, four dimensions seem appropriate :

  1. the cultic : the local, political residence of the deities, either as belonging to a particular place and/or as state deities, functioning as symbols for the political identity of the collective ;

  2. the cosmic : the emergence, structure & dynamics of the sphere of their action ;

  3. the mythic : the sacred tradition, or “what is said about the gods”, their cultural memory as set down in myths, names, genealogies etc.

  4. the mystic : the direct experience of the deities or the objective spiritual realities encountered by the divine king, his priests and the worshippers.

Let us focus on the fourth dimension. In the context of the New Solar Theology in general and Atenism in particular, the question can been posed, rather ironically, whether Egyptian religion had religious subjects other than the dead ? Answered affirmatively, the role of Osirian initiation may be touched upon (cf. the Osireon). Akhenaten’s return to the “pure” form of Solar worship allows us to work out the inner dynamics of the this-life mysteries exclusively celebrated by Pharaoh in his royal cult, “mysticism” being defined as the direct experience of the Divine.

“(Akenaten) :
The words of Re are before thee, (—) of my august father,
who taught me their {essence}, (…) them to me. (…)
It was known in my heart,
opened to my face, I understood (—)

(Ramose) :
“Thy monuments shall endure like the heavens, for thy duration is like Aton therein. The existence of thy monuments is like the existence of the heavens ; thou art the Only One of {Aton}, in possession of his designs.”
Breasted, 2001, §§ 945-946 – tomb of the vizier Ramose – original lost – Akhenaten justifying Atenism to Ramose by referring to his personal & exclusive mystical experience – Beasted notes : “These accompanying inscriptions are directly below the upper row, depicting the decoration, and belong with a lower band connected with the same incident. They are only in ink and very faded ; I believe my copy of them is the first made. They have never been published.” (p.389)

Atenism rejects the “hidden” and the “dark”, and so cannot exist together with Osiris and Amun. It eliminates the “hidden” side of Re, returns to the exclusive worship of the lightland of the double horizon (cf. Ra-Horakhety), and rejects all possible netherwordly interpretation by eliminating the Duat and bringing the sky on Earth, namely in Akhetaten, Akhenaten’s City of the Aten. This is the Solar economy pushed to beyond its limits. Its sole mooring-post being the king.

And the people ? They secretly continued to worship Osiris, even in Akhetaten, and likely elsewhere. Did they remember the failures of kingship (namely at the end of the Old Kingdom) ? Or did they disbelieve Akhenaten ? If so, they still obeyed. Perhaps, in their own hearts, the certainty of a good place in the kingdom of Osiris gave greater comfort than the “new” heaven of Akhetaten ? Indeed, the second-best, Lunar heaven of the commoners had not lost its alluring power, quite on the contrary. The apogee of Osiris was yet to come.

In Osirian faith, the mystic dimension is “demotized”. But how could commoners directly experience and “see” the deities ? For Moret (1922), “mystery” implied “voluntary death”, a “psychological death” experienced before actual physical death. This “dead posture” preludes spiritual rebirth or “peret-em-heru” : going out into the day … For Wente (1982), the New Kingdom Amduat and Book of Gates bring “the future into the present”, so that rebirth “could have been genuinely experienced in this life now”. And this, most likely through initiations (for the priests), festivals, pilgrimage & personal piety. In these latter contexts, Osirian faith allowed non-royals to have direct spiritual access to the Duat, the world of magic and of the dead. The Books of the Netherworld are usually very explicit about this, but Egyptology has yet to take them serious. Of course, only a small elite had the necessary education …

“He who know these words will approach those who dwell in the Netherworld. It is very very useful for a man upon Earth.”
Amduat, concluding text of the Second Hour.

“The mysterious Cavern of the West where the Great God and his crew rest in the Netherworld. This is executed with their names similar to the image which is drawn in the East of the Hidden Chamber of the Netherworld. He who knows their names while being upon Earth will know their seats in the West as a contented one with his seat in the Netherworld. He will stand among the Lord of Provision as one justified by the Council of Re who reckons the differences. It will be useful for him upon Earth …”
Amduat, introductory text of the Ninth Hour.

How can these texts not point to this-life occult knowledge ? And once we acknowledge the presence of a mystical dimension, we beg the question of how to operate the magic ? Is there a particular series of rituals enabling one to experience the objective spiritual realities behind three thousand years of spirituality today ? Of course, the first thing to do is to lift the funerary restrictions put on the available corpora. Although found in tombs, they move beyond funerary concerns (cf. Wente, 1982), but also show us an initiatic and experiential register, albeit in ante-rational terms.

Distinguish between psi-events (parapsychology), occultism (knowledge of the invisible worlds) and mysticism (direct experience of the Divine). Although in immature instances of meta-nominal experience (i.e. those falling outside empirico-formal consciousness), these phenomena cannot be distinguished, let us avoid adjectives as “shamanic” or “shamanistic” (cf. Naydler, 2005), and prefer “ecstatic”, which is more neutral and devoid of the historical connotations implied by historical Shamanism (the art & science of controlled trance). The word “ecstatic” comes from the Greek “ex”, “out” + “stasis”, “standstill” or “statikè”, “art of weighing”.

In Ancient Egypt, the variety of ecstatic experiences covers personal piety (offerings, prayers, festivals, mystery plays), magic (psi-events), the occult (initiation, entering and leaving the Duat) and mysticism proper (the spirituality of the king and his high priests, meeting the deity “face to face” or transforming into one). Unfortunately, I must strongly disagree with one of my most rewarding sources of inspiration, Erik Hornung, who wrote about the Egyptians :

<“… any sort of ecstasy appears quite alien to their attitudes.”
Hornung, 1986.

Recently, Naydler (2005), by suspending the funerary interpretation, made clear that the Pyramid Texts in general and the Unas texts in particular, reveal an experiential dimension, and so also represent this-life initiatic experiences consciously sought by the divine king (cf. Egyptian initiation). These may be classified in two categories : Osirian rejuvenation (cf. the texts of the burial-chamber), already at work in the Sed festival, and Heliopolitan ascension (cf. the texts in the antechamber). In the New Kingdom, Lunar and Solar spiritual economies were refined : the way of Osiris in the Osireon and the Netherworld Books (cf. Amduat), and the way of Re in the New Solar Theology of both Atenism and Amenism. Both the Amduat (cf. the 6th Hour) and the Pyramid Texts testify that the core of the Osirian Ceremony involved rejuvenation (found in the pit of darkness – cf. the Ars Obscura). In the Memphis Theology of Ptah, a synthesis between Re and Osiris was sought and found in the idea of creation by the heart (mind) and tongue (speech) of Ptah, of whom Atum-Re and Osiris are theophanies.

Elsewhere, the reader may find my epistemological survey of mysticism. In the context of this paper, the term “ecstasy” is defined as the class of events pertaining to rapture, the ravishing experience of sublime delight, bliss and joy, accompanied by intense emotion, noetic clarity, creativity and (stages or stations of) trance. One moves outside the “nominal” ego (defined in terms of three spatial, one temporal and one semiotic dimension) and “enters” the realm of the Higher Self, i.e. a sixth-dimesional witnessing focus of consciousness, allowing for the direct perception of objective spiritual realities, hidden from ordinary consciousness as dreamless sleep is hidden from waking (indeed so far hidden, for Socrates to compare the former with physical death).


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