Ptah embodies the work of the human hand. Ptah the Professional Nayture is the prime metaphor for the magic which can be created by the human hand. Egypt’s beauty and majesty were entirely handmade — they had good reason to respect and revere Ptah. The men who built the Pyramids considered themselves to be Messen Ptah, “Born of Ptah.”
Ptah’s name is a wonderful set of visual puns:
Ptah was the main Nayture in Memphis and was joined with Sakhmet and Nofertum as their family trinity. Sakhmet, lioness Nayture of the driving passions of the X, honors the passion of the artists and craftsmen who built their civilized world. The passion of working with your hands is a special and important kind of joy.
Khnum is the Nayture with the ram’s head and a resplendent set of horns. He is the magical power Rae has over your flesh, your conscious control of yourself. He is the obedience of the Sunship to your command. The great bull, like a man who cannot control himself, is a semi-wild animal, a dangerous creature who must be restrained, around whom you must always be on guard. That can be unsettling in daily life. Sheep and goats joined the human family in very early times, although long after the dogs who guarded them. Sheep and goats are stubborn creatures, yet small enough that they fall under the command of your voice and a firm grip on the horns. These useful herd animals were part of the household compound, gentle enough to participate in family life yet wild enough to represent a mischievous spirit.
The ram which can be led by its horns is the civilized person who can willingly submit to the rules of society and participate with self-control, having the “horns of the mind” in a firm yet loving grip.
Rae Af is the Ram-headed form of Rae while asleep in Duat, your consciousness dissolved into dream and kept safe until Suty wakes you the next morning.
Amun’s crown is a pair of writing tablets, symbol of sworn oaths “chiseled in stone.” The ancient Egyptians created the first contracts, the first negotiated agreements written down and signed. There were contracts between bride and groom, and contracts with specific Naytures. This concept of the social oath so permeated their society that Amun Rae eventually became the primary Nayture in their pantheon.
Amun is the Nayture of laws and rules, the physical laws which govern space-time as well as the spiritual laws which govern your inner life — in other words, there is a reliable structure to reality that can be used for the sake of civilized life. Amun Rae is civilization. Civilization is the social contract you have with the rest of humanity. Amun Rae is the conscious participation in the patterns and cycles of daily life, the awareness of being a social animal, with all the demands and rewards of your local group and your nation.
Amun Rae is the Organizer. He creates order. Without civilization, chaos rules. Civilization solves problems.
Amun Rae is always shown as a human being, acknowledging the value of each individual in the grand design of civilized life. Eventually, Amun Rae was regarded as the most valuable of the Naytures, and his priests and priestesses held the greatest responsibilities for maintaining the contract, which led, of course, to the greatest temptations for human corruption.
Ancient Egypt’s prehistoric environment was a rich land of grass, marshes, lakes and rivers, teeming with delicious animal life. These people were nomadic hunters and herders, as well as early farmers with small villages. The evolution of their civilization began around 10,000 years ago, driven by dramatic changes in the climate of north Africa, when the Saharan landscape dried up into desert sands, leaving only the fertile banks of the Nile for human survival. In just a few generations, the vast desert, the one river and the sticky mud of the annual inundation were all they had left. Water, mud and rock were their tools. Their world was entirely dominated by human beings. Safe beside the Nile, and secure within the desert’s protecting embrace, they turned their handmade society into the most enduring civilization in history.
Shamans and Calendar-Priests
In order to survive this drastic environmental collapse, Nomadic herdsmen and huntsmen with shamanic beliefs had to settle down with farmers, led by priests who watched the Moon and stars, and counted the days in order to manage the bounty of the Earth. They learned that cooperation was not only the means of survival, but also the pathway to a better lifestyle for all.
The fundamentals of ancient Egyptian mythology evolved from the self-guided shamanism of nomadic herdsmen and huntsmen interfacing with the calendar-guided world of villages and farmers. Shamanism places each human being at “the center of the cosmos.” In other words, you are the ruler of your own inner world. The work of shamans is the re-centering of an out-of-balance psyche. The calendar places you in a community with shared values and a common worldview, and the work of a calendar-priest is to inspire and organize an entire community to work for the group as a whole.
A third, more fundamental element united these two perspectives, “ancestor worship,” as it is called today, the belief that there is another dimension beyond the horizon -- the place of before birth and after death. In ancient Egypt, it was Duat, the “holy territories within Osiris,” visualized as the starry night-sky at your core, the virtual reality of your inner cosmos. Duat is the paradox of the night sky as both heaven above and the underworld of the dead.
These concepts were transformed by the Egyptians into the foundations of their philosophy: a basic world-view of symmetry and dualism -- in other words, the subjective cosmos of your private inner worlds and the objective space-time reality shared by all are equally real. These are the Mayaty, “Dual Reality,” or the Tauy, “Dual Dimensions.” You are bigger on the inside. You can fit entire universes into your mind, into your imagination, and you create the wonders and demons of your inner worlds.
Cain and Abel
Metaphors in herding mythologies categorize human beings as sheep, goats, ox, etc., that is to say, as domestic animals whose sacrifice makes life possible -- or else as wolves who steal livestock. Within this worldview, the herd needs a human leader who keeps them in control, a chief shepherd who maintains the boundaries of grazing lands, and decides who is to be sacrificed for the good of the group. Record keeping is largely a matter of who belongs to whom within a given group and society, lists of who-begat-whom. Moon and Sun are less important than storms, winds and the breeding seasons of the herds. Your position as an individual in this community is determined by your relationship to the chief shepherd or the most powerful huntsman.
The worldview of farming mythologies uses the metaphors of the plant world, that is to say, that human beings are seeds with the potential for miracles that work in the dark, miracles that can support an entire community. The cooperation needed to farm successfully is totally different from that of shepherds. We share these miracles with each other because we all participated in making them happen. Leaders of farming cultures must maintain the relationship between the community and nature, the miracle of life revealed by the planted seed, and the even greater miracle of bread. Earth, Moon and Sun are the primary guides and intimate knowledge of nature is needed for a successful progression of crops. Your position as an individual in this community is determined by the depth of your understanding of the nature of the miracle and of the miracles of Nature.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
In the Near East, the collision of these two worldviews is reflected in the story of Cain and Abel, as well as the even older story of Inanna, the Farmer and the Shepherd. The biblical Cain and Abel compete for the love of their heavenly father, Yahweh. The Mesopotamian shepherd-god Dumuzi and the farmer-god Enkimdu compete for the love of their heavenly mother, Inanna.
On the banks of the Nile, this collision of herding and farming cultures created the mythology of Isis and Osiris, the heavenly parents who give their blessing to the herds and the fields, weaving them together in a yearly round of rituals, poetry and celebrations, guided by a sacred calendar merging lunar, stellar and solar time-keeping with the cycles of the River.
Today, we pre-label this inner dimension as “only” in your mind; “It’s just your imagination.” “Delusions.” “Psychological.” People with a rich inner life are called “dreamers.” Ancient Egypt maintained her identity as a civilization for five thousand years by acknowledging and enriching the inner life of each and every citizen. The contract between the citizen and the pharaoh was annually renewed through the ceremonies and rituals of the calendar round.
The ability of the pharaohs to honor the contract between the nation and her citizens was as individual as the men and women who wore the double crown, but the only pharaoh who deliberately breached the contract was Akhenaton. He smashed the tablets of Amun Rae and turned his back on his obligations to the citizens and the nation, squandering the wealth of centuries on his self-glorifying madness.
He rejected the concept of Rae, the sun in his mind, unique to each citizen, and turned instead to the Aton, the sun in the sky shared by all. The other Naytures were dismissed. There was only the Aton, and Akhenaton was his only priest. Despite this, the people upheld their side of the contract. They built his city in the desert. They kept the business of the nation moving forward, even though Akhenaton had taken away the rituals and rounds of their year.
When he died, they abandoned his city and called him the heretic pharaoh. They erased his name from their walls -- but they did not forget what he had done. His son, the famous Tutankhamen, renewed the temples of Amun Rae and restored the contract.
The Shabaka Stone is an interesting survivor of ancient writing and thought — barely surviving. It was used as a millstone centuries later, so the center is damaged. Nonetheless, it is a brilliant expression of Egyptian thought. Pharaoh Shabaka of the 25th dynasty had the text carved in stone in the Memphis temple of Ptah, claiming it had been found on a decaying papyrus of King Menes, founder of the first dynasty. The concept is surprisingly modern.
“Sight, hearing, breathing - they report to the heart, and it makes every understanding come forth.
As to the tongue, it repeats what the heart has devised.
Thus all the Naytures were born and his Paut was completed.
For every word of the Nayture came about through what the heart devised and the tongue commanded.
Thus all the faculties were made and all the qualities determined, they that make all foods and all provisions,
through this word, to him who does what is loved, to him who does what is hated.
Thus life is given to the peaceful and death is given to the criminal.
Thus all labor, all crafts are made, the action of the hands, the motion of the legs, the movements of all the limbs,
according to this command which is devised by the heart
and comes forth on the tongue and creates the performance of every thing.”
Just as the craftsman breaths life into his art, bringing the images of the Naytures into view, so the Naytures within breath life into you.
“Ptah's Paut is before him as teeth and lips.
They are the semen and the hands of Atum.
For the Paut of Atum came into being through his semen and his fingers.
But the Paut is the teeth and the lips in this mouth which pronounced the name of every thing,
from which Shu and Tefnut came forth and which gave birth to the Paut.
He gave birth to the Naytures.
He made the towns.
He established the spates.
He placed the Naytures in their shrines.
He settled their offerings.
He established their shrines.
He made their bodies according to their wishes.
Thus the Naytures entered into their bodies, of every wood, every stone, every clay.
Every thing that grows upon him in which they came to be.
Thus were gathered to him all the Naytures and their Kas, content, united with the Lord of the Two Lands.”
This text can be taken as declaring Ptah to be the creator of the world and the Naytures. I think it is more likely that this is a declaration of the power of humanity. “Though his semen and his fingers” is an excellent statement of the acts of creation which a man has at his command. The author is describing the work of the human beings, the craftsmen of the nation, the masons and the artists who actually brought forth the wonders and comforts of their civilized life. This is a celebration of humanity. It was this dynasty, the twenty-fifth, that saw a revival of building and a flowering of the arts, so this Shabaka Stone text described what was happening at the time.