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 Hidden God


In Judaism, the idea that God is ‘hidden’ is deeply embedded. God transcends all conception. The Holy of Holies is empty.

The prophets repeat:

« Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. » (Is. 45,15)

« Why do You hide Your Face?  » (Ps. 44,24)

But in reality, this notion of a ‘hidden God’ was not specific to Judaism. The ancient Egyptian civilization had had, long before Judaism, a similar conception of a ‘hidden’ Supreme God.

Ra hides Himself in His own appearance. The solar disk is not the God Ra, and it does not even represent the God. The solar disk is only the mysterious veil that hides the God.

This is also true of the other Gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who are in reality only multiple appearances of the one God. « The outer forms which the Egyptians gave to the divinity were only conventional veils, behind which were hidden the splendors of the one God. « , analyses F. Chabas, in his presentation of the Harris Magical Papyrus (1860).

In the language of hieroglyphics, the word « hidden » (occultatus) is rendered by the term ammon . This word derives from amen, « to hide ». In the Harris Papyrus an address to the God Ammon-Râ sums up the mystery: « You are hidden in the great Ammon ».

Ra is ‘hidden’ in Ammon (the ‘hidden’), he is ‘hidden’ in the mystery of his (shining) appearance.

Ra is not the sun, nor is he the Sun-God, as it has been often misinterpreted. The solar disk is only a symbol, a sign. The God hides behind it, behind this abstraction, this pure « disc ».

By reading the prayer of adoration of Ammon-fa-Harmachis (Harris Papyrus IV 1-5), one grows convinced of the abstract, grandiose and transcendent conception that Egyptians had of the God Ammon-Râ.

This elevated conception is very far from the supposed ‘idolatry’ that was later attached to their ancient faith. The Papyrus Harris gives a vivid description of the essence of the Ancient Egyptian faith, flourishing in Upper Egypt, more than two millennia before Abraham’s departure from the city of Ur in Chaldea.

Here are the invocations of a prayer of adoration:

« Hail to you, the One who has been formed.

Vast is His width, it has no limits.

Divine leader with the ability to give birth to Himself.

Uraeus! Great flaming ones!

Supreme virtuous, mysterious of forms.

Mysterious soul, which has made His terrible power.

King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ammon Ra, Healthy and strong life, created by Himself.

Double horizon, Oriental Hawk, brilliant, illuminating, radiant.

Spirit, more spirit than the gods.

You are hidden in the great Ammon.

You roll around in your transformations into a solar disk.

God Tot-nen, larger than the gods, rejuvenated old man, traveler of the centuries.

Ammon – permanent in all things.

This God began the worlds with His plans. »

The name Uraeus, which is found in this text as an epithet of the God Ra, is a Latinized transposition of the Egyptian original Aarar, which designates the sacred aspic, the royal serpent Uraeus, and whose second meaning is « flames ».

These invocations testify to a very high conception of the divine mystery, more than two thousand years before Abraham. It is important to stress this point, because it leads us to the conclusion that the mysterious, hidden, secret, God is a kind of ‘universal’ paradigm.

Since the depths of time, men of all origins have spent millennia meditating on the mystery, confronting the hidden permanence of the secret divinity, inventing metaphors to evoke an unspeakable, ineffable God.

These initial intuitions, these primeval faiths, may have prepared the later efflorescence of the so-called « monotheism », in its strict sense.

But it is worth trying to go back, ever further, to the origins. The prayers of ancient times, where did they come from? Who designed them? Who was the first to cry:

« Ammon hiding in His place!

Soul that shines in His eye, His holy transformations are not known.

Brilliant are His shapes. His radiance is a veil of light.

Mystery of mysteries! His mystery is not known.

Hail to You, in Goddess Nout!

You really gave birth to the gods.

The breaths of truth are in Your mysterious sanctuary.»

What strikes in these short prayers is their « biblical » simplicity. Humble, simple words to confront with high and deep mysteries…

Premonitions, images, burst forth. The « brightness » of God is only « a veil of light ». This image, of course, leads us to evoke other mystic visions, that of the burning bush by Moses, for example, or that of the shamans, all over the world, since Paleolithic…

Moses, raised at the court of the Pharaohs, may well have borrowed one metaphor or two from the Egyptian culture. No one can claim having a monopoly of access to the mystery. Many years before the time of Moses, and according to the Book of Genesis, Agar, an Egyptian woman, met four times with either God or His Angels, – said Rachi, the great Jewish commentator. Sara, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, was not endowed with such a feat…

What really matters is that from age to age, exceptional men and women have seen ‘visions’, and that these ‘visions’ have transformed in a deep way their lives and the lives of those who followed them.

For thousands of years, humanity has accumulated a rich intuition of what is hidden beyond all appearances, it has perceived the probable existence of incredible depths beyond the shallowness of reality. Some men and women have at times been able to lift a corner of the veil, and to see, as if through a dream, the unbearable brilliance of an ineffable light.

It is necessary to consider the essence of what was ‘seen’ by these chosen pioneers, the depths of their experience, in the interest of Humankind as a whole. Their collective knowledge constitutes a general, universal, massive, plurimillennial, anthropological fact, anchored (then and now) in a number of living human souls, at the very bottom of the cortex.

But these fundamental experiences have not really succeeded in connecting all men of faith around the Earth. Why? Why, today, such a spectacle of religious hatred, the continuing desolation of endless violence, the proliferation of despair?

How long still will the God stay ‘hidden’?