Posted by: Isidora | June 5, 2009

What the Egyptians knew

Reading some ancient Egyptian texts, we can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the Egyptians were some kind of aliens. The references in the texts are often deeply obscure, the metaphors unlike any we might ourselves choose; the thoughts expressed not ones we would have. Yet this enigmatic strangeness is surely one reason for our ongoing fascination with Egypt.

Perhaps we wonder what the Egyptians knew that we have since lost. We still haven’t figured out exactly how they constructed those pyramids. And we certainly can’t decode all of the references in the religious texts. Those of us interested in spirituality pore over the texts searching for (sometimes imagining) the spiritual techniques that formed the backbone of Egyptian religion and have upheld its magical allure for over 6,000 years.

But the Egyptians were not some kind of aliens; to understand that, just read the love poetry. They starved and struggled, danced and delighted, worshipped and whined like the rest of us. Nevertheless, when I read those texts from a thousand or more years ago, something stands out as being more present for them than it is for many today. And that is the ongoing, indispensable, and reciprocal interrelationship between humanity and Divinity. 

I’ve written about this in connection with making offering in Offering to Isis. The Egyptians believed that it was necessary to make offering to the Deities in order to provide Them with the energy They required to maintain the World. That’s why the offerings were usually food or something beautiful, such as flowers or art; these are the things that sustain both body and soul. It was the innate, vital energy contained in the physical objects—the ka (sing.) or kau (pl.)—that nourished the Goddesses and Gods. 

Making offering was one way the Egyptians participated in this reciprocal relationship with the Divine. Another was simply the way the ancient Egyptians saw things. In Temple of the Cosmos, Jeremy Nadler calls this Egyptian way of seeing a perception of “interpenetrating worlds.” In contrast to a too-common modern mode of seeing in which the physical world is the only one, Nadler posits for the Egyptians a universe with a “vertical” dimension as well as a “horizontal” one. Behind the horizontal physical world are vertical spiritual worlds—layering upon and blending with one another. In these vertical realms, the Deities, symbol, and magic originate and are vividly alive. What’s more, these worlds interpenetrate each other; humans can reach into the spiritual worlds to experience or draw energy from them just as the Deities can extend Themselves into the material world in order to have effect here. Thus it is just as easy to understand the presence of Isis in one of Her temples, in Her sacred bird, the kite, in the hieroglyph for Her name, or in the loving care a mother gives to her ailing babe. All these things resonate with the spiritual harmonies of Isis; they are all joined by the interpenetration of the worlds.

I very much like this vision of the world. It is intimate, close, alive. And—when my head and my heart are in the right place—it describes my relationship with Isis.

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