Thursday, April 25, 2013

shamanism is entheogenesis - alkhemia concerns the alkahest...,

realitysandwich |  In Plato, Shamanism, and Ancient Egypt, the writer Jeremy Naydler argues that there is good reason to believe that Plato and other Greek philosophers journeyed to Egypt in order to receive some form of initiation. In Plato's case, according to Naydler, this led to his philosophy -- to which, as Alfred North Whitehead remarked, all subsequent western thought is merely a footnote, which suggests that a book on The Egyptian Roots of Western Philosophy remains to be written. Exactly what Plato and the others received may not be absolutely clear, but Naydler believes that by trying to understand Plato's relationship to Egypt, we can gain a firmer grasp, not only on Plato's ideas, but also on "that deep current of thought and spiritual practice known as the Hermetic tradition."

Naydler argues that some form of shamanism was involved in ancient Egyptian spiritual practice. Naydler points out that the central narrative in Egyptian mythology is the story of Osiris' dismemberment at the hands of his evil brother Set and his resurrection by his consort Isis, and argues that this is paralleled in the dismemberment motifs in shamanic initiation rituals. He also argues that the journey of the soul through the underworld -- what the Egyptians called the Duat -- as described in the Book of the Going Forth By Day, otherwise known as Egyptian Book of the Dead, can be found in shamanic ritual, as can be the idea of a spiritual ascent, which is another Egyptian theme. In both shamanic and Egyptian religious accounts, this ascent to the sky takes place via wings or a kind of ladder, and it should come as no surprise that a parallel idea appears in the Hermetic notion of a journey through the planets to the "Eighth sphere." That Plato described a version of this stellar ascent too, suggests for Naydler that his version and the Hermetic one stem from the same source.

Predictably, for 'official' Egyptology, Naydler's ideas put him the lunatic camp, as most mainstream Egyptologists reject the notion of Egyptian shamanism. They reject it because, Naydler argues, they are fixated on the funerary interpretation of Egyptian religious texts, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead is a collection of hymns, spells, incantations, magical 'power words,' and instructions used to guide the soul of the deceased in the after-world; unlike the Tibetan Book of the Dead, however, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is much older, is an often wildly heterogeneous assembly of writings, gathered over millennia, and is not really a book at all, at least not in the modern sense. Its earliest 'chapters,' known as the Pyramid Texts, were written on the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs circa 2350-2175 BC, but originated in sources much earlier; the practice of mummification and concern for the afterlife can be dated to at least 3100 BC, and according to the occult scholar Lewis Spence, an inscription on the sarcophagus of Queen Khnem-Nefert, of the 11th Dynasty (circa 2500 BC) states that a chapter of the Book of the Dead was discovered in the reign of Hosep-ti, the fifth king of the 1st Dynasty, "who flourished about 4266 BC."

We may take Spence's remark with a grain of salt, but the fact remains that the material making up the Book of the Dead is at least five thousand years old. Later parts of it, circa 1700 BC, came from what are known as the Coffin Texts, writings found on the sides of wooden coffins, or contained in scrolls placed with the dead. Although originally reserved for the pharaohs, this sort of Rough Guide to the afterlife gradually became available to anyone who could afford a scribe to copy it out. Perhaps the most well known version is the Papyrus of Ani, a copy of the Book of the Dead made for the scribe Ani circa 1240 BC, which contains the famous illustration of the god Anubis weighing Ani's heart on the scale of Ma'at, the goddess of justice. Late versions appeared with blank spaces for the names of individuals not yet dead. Initially the privilege of an elite, the spiritual rebirth associated with the journey through the underworld became over time something more democratic.

Yet while the funerary aspect of the Book of the Dead was certainly made use of, Naydler argues that the text had another, more central use. It was, he believes, a manual on how to "practise dying," a method of learning how to experience the separation of the soul from the body, which normally happens only in physical death, while still alive. Naydler argues that as this was also the aim of Plato's philosophy -- the Phaedo famously argues that philosophy is a "preparation for death" -- there is good reason to believe that rather than merely picking up an idea that was 'in the air,' Plato learned it at first hand from the priests at Heliopolis. The belief that one's nous, or mind, was immortal while one's body was subject to death and decay was, as a central theme of the Hermetic teachings, and this suggests that, rather than repackaging Platonic ideas - as some have argued the Corpus Hermeticum does -- both it and Plato's philosophy originated from the same source.


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