N. , Death and the West


N. is no one in particular. N. is everyone. He/she is the peasant of the Nile, the builder of pyramids, the daughter of Pharaoh, the soldier of his army. Or Pharaoh himself.

Everyone must go through this: the door of death.

N. just died. He/she is placed in the presence of God. He/she speaks and addresses Him.

« Tribute to you who has come, God Atum, creator of the gods. Tribute to you, King of the Gods, who makes your ‘tuau’ shine with your beauty.

Tribute to you who come in your splendors, around your disc. »

At the same time, the prayer of the officiants accompanying the ceremony rises:

« O Sun, Lord of light, emerged from the East, shines on the face of the deceased N.!

May the soul of the deceased N. be at your side in your boat as you cross Heaven (…)

Your perfume is not known. And incomparable is your splendor. »i

The « Great Egyptian Papyrus » of the Vatican Library gives an idea of how the dead are introduced before God, to plead their cause and be admitted to divine transformation.

The funeral ritual of the ancient Egyptians was highly sophisticated. Traces of the prayers accompanying each phase of the « manifestation to day », and of the « luminous transformation of the soul » have been kept.

Emmanuel de Rougé translated in 1864 an Egyptian Funeral Ritual that includes more than a hundred chapters. Each one corresponds to a prayer adapted to a particular action in favour of the soul of the deceased. Together they form a subtle gradation, reflecting the stages of the soul’s journey into death:

« Take the form of the divine sparrowhawk » (Ch. 78), « Take the form of God » (Ch. 80), « Open the place where Thoth is and become a luminous spirit in Ker-Neter » (Ch. 96), « Sit among the great gods » (Ch. 104), « Receiving happiness in the dwelling of Ptah » (Ch. 106), « Advancing into the manifestation of the gate of the gods of the West, among the servants of Ra, knowing the spirits of the West » (Ch. 107), « Knowing the spirits of the East » (Ch. 109).

Ker-Neter is the Sheol, Atum or Tem is the Sun of the Night, Ra is the Sun of the Day.

Egyptology, an evolutionary science, has proposed guiding ideas for finding one’s way in this ancient world:

1) Every soul is admitted before the supreme God, and can plead his/her cause.

2) The deceased N. is called to be admitted to « cross Heaven » in the company of the God Atum himself.

3) The deceased N. can undertake a long spiritual journey involving more than a hundred distinct and successive stages.

4) Achieving the « happiness of Ptah’s dwelling place » is only one of these many steps, and it is not the highest. The final stages include the knowledge of the spirits of the West, then the knowledge of the spirits of the East.

In essence, the religion of ancient Egypt is generous, open to all. It promises after death a great journey of the soul, described with great detail in advance, for the benefit of the living.

In contrast, subsequent religions, which appeared more than two or three thousand years later, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have really little to say about what awaits the soul after death.

In contrast, and in the face of this void, poets from different periods, such as Homer, Virgil or Dante, wanted to fill the latent demand.

Today, « modernity » has no use for these old aspirations, these pictorial descriptions. Death is no longer a dream.

But fifty-five centuries ago, the future dead dreamed of « knowing the spirits of the West and the East ».

i Il grande papiro egizio della Biblioteca Vaticana, édité par Orazio Marucchi, Rome 1888

The Unique Liqueur


It is often said that the civilization of ancient Egypt was centred on death. Less well known is its deep fondness for love. This is reflected in the Papyrus of Turin, which contains a collection of original love poems.

Three trees successively take the floor to sing of the love of lovers.

It’s the old sycamore tree starting. « My seeds are the image of her teeth, my wearing is like her breasts. I remain at all times, when the sister was wrestling [under my branches] with her brother, drunk with wine and liqueurs, dripping with fine, perfumed oil. Everyone passes – except me, in the orchard (…) »

Then the fig tree opens its mouth and its foliage says: « I come to a mistress – who is certainly a royal like me – and not a slave. I am therefore the servant, prisoner of the beloved; she has made me put in her garden; she has not given me water, but on the day I drink, my stomach is not filled with a common water ».

Finally,  » the young sycamore tree, which she planted with her hand, opens its mouth to speak. Its accents are as sweet as a honeyed liqueur – of excellent honey; its tufts are graceful, flowery, full of berries and seeds – redder than carnelian; its leaves are variegated like agate. Its wood has the colour of green jasper. Its seeds are like tamarisk. His shadow is fresh and windy (…). Let us spend each day in happiness, morning after morning, sitting in my shade (…) If she lifts her veil under me – the sister during her walk, I have my breast closed and do not say what I see – either what they say. « (G. Maspéro, Egyptian Studies, Volume I, 1886).

The Papyrus Harris No. 500 also has preserved a poetic, passionate, powerful, and precise love song:

« Your love penetrates into my womb as the wine spreads in the water, as the perfume amalgamates with the gum, as the milk mixes with the honey; you hurry to run to see your sister as the runner who sees the stallion, as the hawk (…). My sister’s belly is a field of lotus buds, her udder is a ball of perfumes, her forehead is a plate of cypress wood (…) I have no mercy for your love. My wolf’s berry, which generates your intoxication, I will not throw it away so that it may be crushed at the Vigil of the Flood, in Syria with cypress sticks, in Ethiopia with palm branches, in the heights with tamarisk branches, in the plains with forks. I will not listen to the advice of those who want me to reject what I desire (…) »

« Let my sister be during the night as the living spring whose myrtles are similar to Phtah, the water lilies similar to Sokhit, the blue lotuses similar to Aditi, the[pink lotus] similar to Nofritoum (…) My sister’s villa has its basin right in front of the house: the door opens, and my sister leaves angry. Let me become a doorman so that she may give me orders and I may hear her voice (…). »

I find a strikingly similar tone in the verses of the Song of Songs. This famous text was composed around the 5th or 4th century BC, seven or eight centuries after the Egyptian love poems that have just been quoted.

It is difficult not to feel some subliminal correspondences between the Song of songs and the Egyptian poems. Lo!

« Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. « Ct 1,3

« A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. « Ct 1,13

« Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. « Ct 1:16-17

« Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? « Ct 3, 6

« Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them. »Ct 4.2

« Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. » Ct 4,11-12

« I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. « Ct 5,1

« I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; dnd the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. « Ct 7,8-9

One is struck by the frequency of similar words in the Egyptian and Hebrew texts: Sister, breast, spring, garden, perfume, myrrh, cypress, palm tree, teeth, wine, milk, honey, oil, breeze.

These words belong to a cultural and geographical area that extends from the Nile to the Tigris, including Israel… They were part of an age, several thousand years old, when love was perfume, sweetness, taste.

It is an irresistible lesson!

The power of softness! The only liqueur!

The Ink in the Sand


Iamblichus thought that humanity is composed mainly of fallen souls, but that the gods have sent some wise men like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, or Hermes here to help them. Iamblichus also boasted being knowledgeable about theurgy.

What is theurgy? It is the idea that the human can unite with the divine through special practices. The soul is called, by means of intense religious gestures, initiation rites, sacrifices, invocations aimed at ecstasy, to unite degree by degree with beings of a higher nature, heroes, « demons », angels and archangels, and ultimately with the One, the ineffable God.

In the Mysteries of Egypt, a book devoted to Chaldeo-Egyptian wisdom, Iamblichus evokes the idea of a progressive « degradation » of man, of his fall from the divine plan. The hierarchy of this fall includes divine beings, archangels, angels, demons, heroes, archons. Human souls are at the end.

Iamblichus also describes two kinds of ecstasy, analyses the causes of evil, the theurgic power of sacrifice and presents the symbolic mystagogy of the Egyptians as well as hermetic theology and astrology. Every soul is guarded by a « demon » who helps it to reach its goal, happiness, union with the divine.

Unity is possible, but not through knowledge. « Actually, it is not even a knowledge that contact with the divinity is. Because knowledge is separated by a kind of otherness. »i

The contact with the divine is difficult to explain. « We are rather wrapped in the divine presence; it is it that makes our fullness, and we take our very being from the science of the gods. « ii

Iamblichus uses well-documented Egyptian metaphors and symbols, such as silt, lotus, solar boat. These are effective images to explain the background of the case. « Conceive as silt all the body, the material, the nourishing and generating element or all the material species of nature carried by the agitated waves of matter, all that receives the river of becoming and falls with it (…) Sitting on a lotus means a superiority over the silt that excludes any contact with it and indicates an intellectual kingdom in the heavens (…) As for the one who sails on a boat, he suggests the sovereignty that rules the world. » iii

Through the magic of images, the silt, the lotus, the boat, the whole order of the universe is revealed. Why go looking elsewhere for distant and confused explanations? Just look at the Nile.

Where does the anaphoric, anagogic power of these images come from? They are the equivalent of divine names. « We keep in our souls a mystical and unspeakable copy of the gods, and it is by the names that we lift our souls to the gods. »iv

Names have this magical, mystical and theurgic power because they have the ability to touch the gods, even if only in a tiny way, in a language that is their own, and that cannot leave them indifferent. « As the entire language of sacred peoples, such as the Assyrians and Egyptians, is suitable for sacred rites, we believe we must address to the gods in the language known to them, the formulas left to our choice. »v

All the religions of the region, from the Nile to the Indus, the religion of ancient Egypt, the Chaldean religions, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Vedism, have multiplied the names of God.

Each of these names represents a unique, irreplaceable way of knowing an aspect of the divine.

Men use multiple invocations, prayers, formulas. Religions give free rein to their imagination. What really matters is not the letter of prayer. The important thing is to place yourself on the field of language, the language « connatural to the gods ». We don’t know this language, of course. We only have a few traces of it, such as names, attributes, images, symbols.

Of these minute traces, we must be satisfied. In the early 1970s, an archaeologist, Paul Bernard, headed the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, and conducted research in Ai Khanoun, at the eastern end of the Bactria River, near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

This city, located at the confluence of the Amu Darya River (the former Oxus) and the Kokcha River, had been nicknamed « Alexandria of the Oxus » by Ptolemy. The archaeological team uncovered the ancient Greek city, its theatre and gymnasium.

In a room of the great Greco-Indian palace of Ai Khanoun, invaded by the sands, Paul Bernard found « the traces of a papyrus that had rotten, leaving on the sand, without any other material support, the traces of ink of the letters. Wonderful surprise! The traces of papyrus fragments were barely visible in the corners, but the text in Greek could still be read: it was the unpublished text of a Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s disciple, who had accompanied Alexander on his expedition! »vi

The communist coup d’état, supported by the Soviet army, ended the archaeological work in 1978. The result of the excavations, deposited in the Kabul Museum, was heavily damaged by successive bombings, and a little later was vandalized by the Taliban.

Have the tiny traces of ink finally disappeared?

iMysteries of Egypt, I,3.

ii Ibid. I,3

iii Ibid. VII, 2

iv Ibid. VII, 4

vIbid. VII, 4

viCf. P. Bernard, Fouilles d’Ai Khanoun I, Paris, 1973. Qoted by Jacqueline de Romilly. Petites leçons sur le grec ancien.

The Black God


Alphonse Constant, aka Eliphas Levi, gave a precise description of the « mysteries of Eleusis », of which this is the final scene:

« When the initiate had triumphed through all the trials, when he had seen and touched the holy things, if he was judged strong enough to bear the last and most terrible of all the secrets, a veiled priest came running towards him, and threw this enigmatic word into his ear: ‘Osiris is a black God’. Words darker and brighter than jet! »

André Breton, in his book Arcane 17, quotes these same words, ‘Osiris is a black God’, which he describes as a « magic formula » that « works ».

« So, every time an association of ideas treacherously brings you back to that point where, for you, all hope one day has been denied and, from the highest point you then hold, threatens, soaring in search of the wing, to rush you back into the abyss, testing myself the vanity of every word of consolation and holding any attempt at diversion as unworthy, have I convinced myself that only a magic formula here could work, but what formula could condense in it and instantly restore to you all the strength to live, to live with all the intensity possible, when I know that it had returned to you so slowly? The one I decide to stick to, the only one by which I find it acceptable to remind you to me when you suddenly lean towards the other side, is in those words of which, when you start turning your head away, I just want to touch your ear: « Osiris is a black God ». »

What is actually behind the name of this « magic », and whose help Breton invokes?

What do these words really mean: « Osiris is a black God »?

Anubis, funerary god, reigning over the necropolises, one of Egypt’s oldest deities, dates back to the pre-dynastic period, more than 5500 years ago. Anubis is usually represented as a large black canid. Is it a wolf? A jackal? A wild dog?

Being a hybrid, it has the ears of a fox, the tail and head of a jackal, and the silhouette of a greyhound.

Anubis is the adulterous son of Osiris, according to the version of the myth transmitted by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris.

« Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

In some manuscripts Osiris is also represented with a black face.

It can be noted that the cruel death of Osiris murdered by his brother Seth, the dismemberment of his body and his resurrection are irresistibly reminiscent of an analogy, at least in form, between the faith of the ancient Egyptians and the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in Christianity.

But why a « Black God »?

I propose the following down-to-earth explanation.

The flooding of the Nile (in its part called the « white » Nile) brought a black silt each year, allowing to cultivate its banks.

In those days, this phenomenon remained mysterious and unexplained for a long time.

It is from this black silt that Egypt’s ancient name, Kemet, comes from, which means « the black land », that is, the « arable land ».

Osiris is a « Black God » because he brings life, every year, covering land with black silt.

The three colours of the Egyptian flag, black, white and red, still bear witness to this mythical belief long after. These three colours are a reference, respectively, to Osiris, Isis and Set, Osiris being the black God, Isis the white goddess, and Set, bound to the desert, being symbolized by red.

Black is the colour of life, of eternal life.