Insofar as the Pyramid Texts are religious phenomena, we shall be attempting to understand them on their own terms, on their own religious plane of reference. This is not to say that religious life in Old Kingdom Egypt should be summarily reclassified as a type of shamanism. He is the author of Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred and Goethe on Science. It is the shamanic spiritual tradition, argues Naydler, that is the undercurrent of the Pyramid Texts and that holds the key to understanding both the true nature of these experiences and the basis of ancient Egyptian mysticism. Unlike many traditional Egyptologists, Naydler believes that the pyramid ritual describes, not primarily burial rites, but the festival of Sed. Again, it is unlikely that the ancient Egyptian would have made much of the idea of union with the universe, for the universe was not conceived independently of the gods, of which it was regarded as an epiphany. Union with gods we do meet, but union with the universe is a notion quite alien to the Egyptian mentality.
We can feel that we touch a dimension of human experience that directly, perhaps disturbingly, impinges upon us today. Serves as a mirror to our own consciousness, reflecting back to us objective spiritual realities which have fallen out of contemporary discourse, and waking us up to deeper layers of our own humanity. Up until now these texts have been regarded as funerary texts, for use in the funerary liturgy of the dead king or to aid him in his afterlife journey. Until now, the Pyramid Texts have been viewed primarily as royal funerary texts that were used in the liturgy of the dead pharaoh or to aid him in his afterlife journey. We attempt to penetrate further into its meaning by allowing its meaning to penetrate into us. Visionary or paranormal states have frequently been held by both practitioners and scholars alike to be of marginal significance, and are often regarded as distractions from the true goal and real meaning of mysticism—namely, mystical union or identity with the godhead.
During the ritual and guided by priests, the king underwent a spiritual process of death, dismemberment, reintegration, and rebirth. Ancient Egypt was a sacred culture, and this, more than anything else, is the key to its perennial allure. Truly to expose ourselves to the inner meaning of utterance 223 is to risk releasing the full power of a mysterium tremendum. This emphasis on funerary interpretation has served only to externalize what were actually experiences of the living, not the dead, king. Contrary to the usual funerary interpretation he demonstrates evidence that the utterances beginning with Dd mdw, literally 'say words' served functions other than as spells to carry the deceased king on his way to a happy afterlife. But archaic spirituality could and should be regarded as mystical to the extent that it involves supernormal states of consciousness in which experiences take place in, or in relation to, a transcendent dimension.
And so, instead of mysticism, attention is focused on the funerary beliefs of the Egyptians. ²² Our focus, then, will be less on social, political, economic, and other cultural influences on religious forms of experience and expression—important though these undoubtedly are—than on the essentially spiritual content of the religious experience. This emphasis on funerary interpretation has served only to externalize what were actually experiences of the living, not the dead, king. While there are many today who still share that view, the consensus of most Egyptologists is that no evidence exists that Egypt possessed any mystical tradition whatsoever. Ultimately, the work of the gardener involves not only ensouling the garden but also gardening the soul.
³¹ Yet Egyptology cannot avoid hermeneutics. The tendency of many scholars to focus more or less exclusively on the latter has had the effect not only of bypassing whole realms of spiritual experience but also of misunderstanding what is bypassed, for it has too often entailed the reinterpretation of what are really visionary cosmologies as mere intellectual constructs. Serves as a mirror to our own consciousness, reflecting back to us objective spiritual realities which have fallen out of contemporary discourse, and waking us up to deeper layers of our own humanity. I would have liked to see more expansion on the apparent fusion and irregular equivalence of Horus and Osiris in these texts but that isn't the author's aim. While release from imperfection was not part of the Egyptian worldview, the perfecting of the imperfect world through attuning it to Maat certainly was. This is not to criticize Egyptology, but simply to distinguish two different kinds of approach to the same subject matter.
Among them, we may include Mircea Eliade, Henry Corbin, Gerda Walther, and more recently J. Here do we not knock on the door of a realm of experience that is both unfamiliar and terrifying? Felix Padel for his enthusiastic response to the whole text, and his recognition of its implications; to Sam Betts, for his sustained interest and for his comments, especially on chapter 5; to Deborah Clarke for her feedback on chapter 1; and to Maura Maguire for hearing various chapters and for the warmth and consistency of her encouragement, especially during the long bleak weeks of the siege of Stalingrad. Subjective Engagement There is, then, something potentially problematic in a purely Egyptological approach to the study of Egyptian religion: namely, that unless the Egyptologist adopts a frame of mind that takes the whole sphere of human religion and religious experience seriously, then the attempt to penetrate ancient Egyptian religion with real understanding is unlikely to succeed. Unlike a modern printed book, which can be read more or less anywhere on the planet, the Pyramid Texts are wedded both to the chambers and to the walls on which they are inscribed. Egypt provides this anchorage: not the daily life Egypt that so readily captures the imagination of children, but the more potent religious Egypt that calls to us from deep within our own souls. If we are to understand the character and significance of these experiences, we need to approach them not simply from an Egyptological standpoint—as products of the culture of ancient Egypt. But let us stay with Assmann.
It is the shamanic spiritual tradition, argues Naydler, that is the undercurrent of the Pyramid Texts and holds the key to ancient Egyptian mysticism. This is achieved through a sevenfold identification of its different parts arms, shoulders, belly, etc. ³ This understanding of mysticism as a state of total absorption in the godhead, empty of any imaginative or visionary content, has dominated scholarly studies of mysticism during the twentieth century. It is in such circumstances that the issue of boundaries arises. Religion—even a so-called dead religion as ancient Egyptian religion may seem —is not so much another academic subject to be covered as a universe of human experience to be encountered, engaged with, and affected by. An essential book for all of us who long to experience the greater possibilities of the human psyche. It is simply not possible to approach an understanding of these experiences unless one accepts that they relate to a dimension of existence of a different order from the sense-perceptible world that normally captures our awareness.
The texts that a wall hosts derive an important dimension of meaning from the chamber that they are in and from the orientation of the wall on which they are inscribed. He argued that images, whether symbolic or literal, play an enormous part in mysticism, which was for him essentially a vivid sense of the reality of the unseen. Something can stir in us that is not quite the same as the fascination we feel when drawn to other aspects of Egyptian culture. The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe. While there are many today who still share that view, the consensus of most Egyptologists is that no evidence exists that Egypt possessed any mystical tradition whatsoever. Certainly to stop at this point may be a great temptation. An essential book for all of us who long to experience the greater possibilities of the human psyche.
My thanks also go to Louanne Richards for her loving support and encouragement, and for listening and responding to every chapter as it emerged, and then all too often reemerged several weeks or months later. It is a civilization that seems to have the ability to come alive for us in a way that other ancient civilizations do not. Rather than deny that mysticism existed in ancient Egypt, on the grounds that there appear to be no ancient Egyptian references to the kind of nondualistic experience of mystic union that we find in the Upanishads, Shankara, or Meister Eckhart, it is surely more fruitful to accept that while the experience of union or identity with the Absolute is an extremely important mystical experience, it is not the only kind of experience that may legitimately be called mystical. That is, the idea that virtually every monument and text is funerary. . As Mircea Eliade has pointed out, shamanism should be classed as a type of mysticism.