Ramona Louise Wheeler

Yes, We'll Gather at the River, the Beautiful, Beautiful River

The Neolithic environment of ancient Egypt was a land of grass, marsh and river, rich with animal and plant life and populated by nomadic hunters and herders living alongside small farms. The evolution of the nation was initiated about 8,000 years ago when this Saharan biosphere began to collapse, turning their world into sand. The vast desert, the one river and the annual inundation were all they had left; water, mud and rock were the only resources and their world was dominated entirely by human beings. The fundamentals of Egyptian philosophy evolved during this upheaval as the self-guided shamanism of nomads interfaced with the calendar-guided world of farmers. Safe beside the Nile and within the desert’s protecting embrace, their handmade society built the most enduring civilization in history.

Metaphors from hunter mythologies used the animal-dominated world of your immediate experience; in other words, you were a natural function of an animal family. We were all animals together. The spilling of blood made life possible and the shaman spoke with the voice of the Animal Master. The shaman’s work of healing was done by re-centering an out-of-balance psyche and placing each human being “at the center of the cosmos;” in other words, you were the ruler of your inner world just as the Sun ruled the day and the Moon ruled the night. The entire landscape itself was sacred, as both Home and Creator. You yourself and the sky, land, water and life were your categories of reality, and only the Moon knew the time.

As territories shrank and hunters became herders, humans became flocks of related animals who needed a watchman to maintain the boundaries of grazing lands and to make the blood sacrifice for the good of all. You, sky, land, water and life were still your categories of reality; however, Moon and Sun were less important now than storm winds and the breeding of the herds, and time was kept by lists of who begat whom.

By contrast, metaphors from farming mythologies focused on the plant world and the buried sacrifice of the Corn God; in other words, humans were seeds with the potential for miracles that worked in the dark, miracles that supported an entire community. “Give us this day our daily bread.” You shared the miracle with others because everybody participated in making it happen.

The cooperation needed to farm successfully was totally different from the Great Hunt or the Good Shepherd. A calendar-priest must inspire and organize shared values and a common reality by synchronizing your inner worldview with the cycles of Nature and the needs of the group. The mystery of life revealed by the planted seed provided the even greater miracle of bread; to accomplish this, Sun and Moon determined the cycles of human activity, and only natural-born mathematicians knew what time it was.

The emotional resonance of the conflict  between these two world views is heard in the story of Cain and Abel, as well as in the much older story of Inanna, the Farmer and the Shepherd. The biblical Cain and Abel competed violently for the love of their heavenly father, Yahweh; the Mesopotamian shepherd-god Dumuzi and farmer-god Enkimdu competed violently for the love of their heavenly mother, Inanna. A more recent echo comes out of the century of the American Wild West, a time of mass migrations and cultural clashes, when herders and farmers competed over the “open” prairie. Many were killed before the newly fledged government stepped in to enforce peace.

“Thou, O shepherd,
why dost thou start a quarrel?
O shepherd, Dumuzi, why dost thou start a quarrel?
Me with thee,
O shepherd, me with thee why dost thou compare?

Let thy sheep eat the grass of the earth,
In my meadowland let thy sheep pasture,
In the fields of Zabalam let them eat grain,
Let all thy folds drink the water of my river Unun.”

The basis of both viewpoints is a unifying principle born in the deep heart of Africa, ancestor worship, as it is called today, the belief that there is an invisible reality, hidden "beyond the horizon," that is the source of the energy sustaining spacetime. Divinity is not a person but a dimension of reality, a place. The oldest known name for this place is from Australia, “Dream Time,” the land you wander in dreams, defined as that place from which you came before your birth and to which you returned after death. It is also known as Valhalla, Hel, Annwn, Heaven, Xibalba, The Twilight Zone. According to mythologist Joseph Campbell, this belief is global and evidence of its expression can be found in every era of human cultural evolution. Psychologist Carl Jung called it the collective unconscious, those black depths of the human psyche from which both dreams and mythology are born.

In ancient Egypt, this place was Duat, the Sacred Territories Behind Osiris, visualized as the starry sky overhead shining in your deepest core. Osiris is Duat, that invisible world below the horizon which is visible only in the night sky, and he is your soul; Osiris is everybody’s soul. Osiris is the landscape of your soul, the mansions in your mind. He is the place where souls meet. In the 21st century, our night sky, especially our view of the Milky Way, is light-washed to a pale remnant of the magnificently dazzling display seen by the ancient peoples. Their stars, however, were each one a beloved ancestor shining brilliantly above as eternal guide and comfort; the Milky Way was the Holy Mother and the constellation of Orion was the stellar body of Osiris. His beloved, Isis, was the bright star Sirius always at his side. Their arrival opened the new year.

The icon of Duat is a star inside a circle, come down to us as the mystic’s pentacle. Their star sign stood for the Sacred Souls who are the stars shining from Duat, and dua is used in words for dawn, morning and rising early. Duat was the place from which you awoke. Long before the Buddha focused on waking into pure consciousness from the dream that is life, the spiritual focus of the ancient Egyptian was the miracle of consciousness waking each morning from the death of sleep.

Belief in Duat unified these various perspectives gathered together at the river into a single, grand vision of reality. Osiris was the sacred Bull of His Mother, Lord of Horns, and he was descended from the magnificent creatures on the walls of Paleolithic cave cathedrals. His sacrifice as the Apis Bull continued rituals which began during the Great Hunt to honor the magical vessel of flesh which carried you through spacetime; simultaneously, Osiris was the Corn God of the planting world and his cut-up body decayed into the rich silt of the annual flood, without which there would be nothing.

Bring peace, Lady of the Two Lands.
I have come into you.
I have immersed in the waterways as Osiris,
Lord of Putridity, Lord of the Swamp Lands, as the Oldest One, Bull of The Vultures.
I am a heron which has eaten the like. (Spell 110)

Just as Duat was inside everybody from pharaoh to farmer and the sky was everybody’s sky, both realities were equally real; in other words, the subjective cosmos of your private inner worlds and objective spacetime shared by everyone were equally real, equally valid and equally necessary to humankind and to civilization. These were the maaty, Paired Realities, or the Tauy, Paired Worlds. Like Doctor Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S., you are bigger on the inside; you fit entire universes into Duat, and you create the wonders and demons of your inner worlds.

This synthesis of cultures and worldviews evolved into the intricate mythology of Isis and Osiris, the heavenly parents who gave their blessings to the herds as well as the fields, and their beloved child Horus, who is you. Horus is everybody, individually. Their sacred calendar of lunar, stellar and solar patterns was woven on a loom of the River’s cycles, creating a rich fabric of poetry, tradition and rituals shared by the entire nation. This calendar was used to schedule the annual round of planting and temple-sponsored events, so that you knew when it was time to work the fields and when the next party started—everybody was invited and it would be a shame if you missed it. Inwardly oriented shamans, who understood the language of Duat, became artists, alchemists and healers. Mathematically inclined calendar-priests, who understood time, measured reality. Together, they turned the landscape of their apocalypse into a mighty and long-lived nation.

“Man fears time, but time fears the Pyramids.” ~ Arab Proverb, 12th century

Mappe Munde

Ancient Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The source of the Nile is south of Egypt, in the region of Lake Victoria in East Africa. The River then flows northward to the Mediterranean Sea, therefore, Upper Egypt actually lies to the south of Lower Egypt.

On our maps that seems odd, since the Lower Egypt is “above” Upper Egypt. Their world, however, is older than any map or any sense of magnetic north and south and directions were aligned by the Nile, known to them simply as Iter, The River, in seasons of regular flow, and Hapy, The River in Flood, carrying the sacred substance of Osiris. Sunrise and sunset points on the horizon were the primary points of orientation, turning on the Pole Star, The Permanent One. (The use of a magnetic compass for navigation was not discovered until long after Egypt herself was dead.)

Their boating technology was the most advanced of their time and the Nile dominated both kingdoms; the River was their compass and south is at the top of their world map. West, therefore, symbolized the right hand and east the left, also the reverse of our modern system, and the West Bank of the river became a euphemism for the graveyard. Even the alignment of temple layout was perpendicular to the River first, and east-west on the solar horizon second.

Chariot Wheels in the Sand

The worldview of this ancient riverside society evolved long before the invasions of the Chariot Warriors which overturned the entire Mediterranean worldview and shaped the emergence of the Mesopotamian Bronze Age. During the second millennium BC, the Chariot Warriors of southwest Asia swept westward, conquering everything in their path and disrupting cultural norms that had held for millennia. The Chariot Warrior culture was a superb distillation of the vigor, skills and capacity made possible by testosterone and, as a refinement in expressing its aggression, they developed an enthusiastic weapons technology and chariot wheels that carried them to victory over much of the world north and west of Egypt.

There were mass migrations, and the peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean went through a crisis that changed their own concepts of reality and humanity; the Earth was no longer a sacred landscape where gods walked and the sky a goddess who enfolded us all in her love—it was strange place, and you were not welcome. Your world was, quite literally, turned upside down; the earth became a woman to be plowed and seeded, the property of man; the sky was a man, a stern god, and he spoke only to his own priests; until then, the gods had served humankind, functionaries of the immortal consciousness living in each of us but, during these overwhelming invasions, pleas to these gods for protection had gone unanswered, so attitudes changed. In the Chariot culture, humankind served the gods—more specifically, humankind served the men who spoke for the gods; they were the winners, so their ways were adopted.

The Chariot Warriors eventually reached the Nile and the nation absorbed them, improved on their chariot designs and weapons strategies, and mastered them; Egyptian royalty in particular acquired some of their attitude. The most influential change in Egypt was in temple staff, who had been democratically chosen before then; posts had been filled in rotation by the citizenry. Afterward, temple posts were honorary, permanent—and powerful. The rebellion against this dramatic change in the time-honored traditions of the temple lies at the heart of Pharaoh Akhnaton’s abandonment of the temple structure and their gods. He, however, maintained the concept of the intermediary; no one could speak to the Aten but him. Once Akhnaton was dead, the gods returned, but the democracy of the priesthood did not.

The rest of the western world was not so resilient. Over the following centuries, “New Age” cults sprang up, some devaluing or even denying the soul’s reality; Duat was no longer universally shared and privately created; entrance required certification and Duat was generically designed. In regions conquered by the Chariot Warriors, priesthoods which had grown out of age-old traditions of divining, oracles and auguries became the only accepted connection to the gods; ordinary humans were no longer qualified to speak with them. Re was quite forgotten, the Sun reduced to the Aten, and the spiritual quest of Isis and Osiris wandered off into the wilderness on the back of a donkey.

Divine or Not To Divine

The value of our Latin-based word “divine,” in all its variations and nuance, has changed in a deep and powerful way since the days of the Great Pyramids; at its root is the concept of foretelling events and reading portents, oracles and auguries. These were vital skills in the animal world; your environment changed every second, and a keen awareness of its intentions and potentials was a skill you could perfect far beyond that of your animal brothers.

Millennia later, these skills, passed down from generations beyond time, became the basis for prophecy, fortune-telling and augury in a world increasingly crowded and uncertain; invaders were breaking through the shield of the desert in waves, and the attention of the gods had begun to drift away from human concerns.

In these pages, (and only here, I point out) the adjectival form of the Egyptian word netjer, usually translated as "divine" appears as holy, sacred or blessed; holy if the context is spacetime; the root of holy is Middle English, related to “healthy, whole, hale and the Holy Grail,” concepts closer to the original use of netjer in the waking world. I use sacred and blessed when the context is Duat, because Sakh was the constellation Orion, the stellar body of Osiris; the root of the word sacred is Latin, a cultural sphere influenced by the world of the Nile. Sacred and blessed are both rooted in the philosophy of the blood sacrifice from the earliest days of the Great Hunt, as a means of ritually returning the lifeforce of the slain animal to the Earth so that the animal could live again in another form; in other words, it was an intentional, ritual and human link between Duat and spacetime. In Egypt, the gentle light of Re consciousness warmed your mind enough that you could take off your animal-skin cloak, no longer needed as protection against the harsh winds of spacetime; you were still an animal, but you were a human animal, and you could be civilized.

When Ramses the Great declared himself to be netjer, it meant something different from Augustus or Caligula declaring themselves deus; Egypt’s gods walked the earth on human feet. Once Egypt had been slain and erased, we learned that our feet were of clay, Duat lost its reality and the gods withdrew to an unreachable dimension. The sky was just air, the afterlife promise developed financial complications and the kingdom of heaven was no longer spread upon the earth, because we were only human.

Land of Milk and Honey, Land of the Sedge and the Bee

The taste of beef is the taste of luxury and celebration, but milk is the primary gift of cattle, thus milk is the iconic metaphor for the contributions of the cattle herders to the nation’s human comforts, glorified in the Great Mother Cow that was the Milky Way. The bee was the icon of kingship; farmers well understood that the most fertile ground could not produce seed if the humble bee did not perform its ritual duties from blossom to blossom. As a metaphor for the pleasures of life by the beautiful River, Land of Milk and Honey is quite accurate, because there both the Herder and the Farmer found peace.