In the beginning there was the Word. Communications, writing especially, is the ultimate priesthood. Within it we can heal, we can harm, we can convey the very contents of our souls, our dreams and aspirations. We can create, we can destroy – and they can live beyond us. The Word creates the world.
That is why the sacredness of words is so central to the Ancient Egyptian or Kemetic belief system. The ancient Egyptians held that the word was sacred. They believed that uttering the true name or ren of something or someone could either create or destroy them. You could, make or unmake if something was uttered absolutely correctly. If not, and something is misspoken? Well, we Kemtics have a saying that “the Mysteries protect themselves.” In my experience, that has been very true. The chances of disaster striking is less likely because unordered words were not and are not effective.
Behind this notion is the power of the Word. This concept, which is also a Goddess in her own right, is Ma’at. Ma’at is the right order of things, the balance of the sum total of everything. Ma’at is the moral ideal, and that which judges us in the end. There is Universal Ma’at, but there is also personal ma’at and only we can determine what that is or is not for us. Through our words and our deeds, ma’at is that which we are responsible for, each of us every moment of our lives. Every contract we sign, every promise or vow we make holds us into account for what we have done, and ultimately feeds into who we are as a person. Either we are trustworthy or untrustworthy, balanced or out of balance. It is something that is with us for every moment of our lives. As Sir Lawrence Olivier once said about life and livelihood: “Everything we do is autobiographical.”
This Ma’at through our words is all stored within the heart. And it is that which is, at the time of our death and in the Halls of Double Ma’ati in Amenta or the Underworld, weighed against the feather of Ma’at. This is the purpose that the Negative Confession, often mistranslated as being the 42 “Laws” of Ma’at, provides. The “confession” served a purpose. In the litany of denials of all the things we have not done to disturb not only universal ma’at but our ow. The Negative Confession was used so that your own heart would not rat you out or betray you. In antiquity, this meant the difference between joining Wasir (Osiris) and the rest of the gods in the Field of Reeds or ending up as a snack for the Ammit, and dying the second death, from which there was no return. If anything, this negative confession gives us pause to think before we act or before we speak.
It also underscores the idea that whenever we know something in our heart, we can feel it. This feeling is right in that undeniable spot. When we are stricken to our core, it is in that place where we feel it most profoundly. From there it spreads out to the rest of the body and in some extreme cases, can even strike us down where we stand. It can keep us up many a sleepless night and dog our every step during the day. We may try to drown it in drink, alcohol, drugs or any other external pleasure or inner escapism, but still it waits for the moment where it can niggle at our innards and we essentially eat ourselves via that reminding voice.
Immortality lies within our words. That is why writing is so vital for those of us who call ourselves writers. Some, like me, cling to this notion. We tear into it ravenously upon waking or even before sleeping because we know that ultimately it is what is at the very core of us. Getting those words out, whether it is by telling stories that are inside of us via fiction, non fiction, film or by some other means, it is as important to us as breathing. We do not feel right with the world or ourselves if we sit on the words that are inside of us.
In the beginning was the Word…
My own mouth came to me, and Magic was my name.
The Ancient Egyptians understood something that we moderns quite often forget. Within the pictographs of the language was also housed a deeper, unseen meaning. There are literal and symbolic meanings. Most indigenous cultures still tap into this symbolist’s viewpoint. Symbolism often can bridge the gap between literacy and illiteracy. Though literacy, as we know it today, was not as widespread in antiquity as it is now, there is always something that resonates through the world of the symbolic ‘word’ to the world of form. It is not just a primitive and simplistic superstition. It is a reality. Look at the symbol for the word life – the ankh. This has been incorporated into so much of what we know today. You don’t even have to know how to spell the word, ankh, the symbol by itself conveys several thousand years of the idea behind it. Ancient mirrors were shaped like an ankh because they reflected life. The same is true of so many other symbols. Another symbol, the eye – the window of the soul, what you serve, what sees, what bears witness, what punishes us for the wrongdoing, what protects us in the end from enemies that might wish to do us harm.
This is why, to my mind, the works of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, his wife, Isha, and his stepdaughter, Lucie Lamy had it right. Recent offerings from Jeremy Naydler and Richard Reidy also tap into this idea using ancient symbolism along with what we know archaeologically and egyptologically. Somewhere between the ridiculous offerings of new age hucksters and the staunch, unwavering scientific certainty of liturgy that has been “proven” is something else. Between those two extremes is a middle ground where our words are felt by instinct. Of course, modern language is not nearly as complex as that of the ancients. Their words, comprised of hundreds of symbols could have as many as seventeen tenses and double and triple entandres in addition to the symbolic meaning. No wonder so few were scribes or even literate!
But all of this aside. Study and absorption are all a constant for each of us. Writing is part of that process and if we are alive and conscious, especially within this social media driven world, some of us have become determined to prattle less, write more. Within that resolution, came the newest nighttime behaviour: less awakened by nightmares, I have been awakened by insights rather than nightmares of ruin and destruction. These insights are the very things that I have hoped for. It’s the feverent wish to be given a small clue, realization or insight that are needed. As I write this, there is a small gold statue of Djehuty (Thoth), the god of Wisdom and writing watching over me. I think sometimes he must somehow just blink ant my unordered thoughts!
To my mind, I have been sitting on my words for too long. I have endless reams of what I have written either on Livejournal, PanHistoria, Dreamwidth and my various blogs. The hardest part for me is organizing it and perhaps that is where my use of Scrivener comes in. It allows me to do what needs to be done and pass it between PCs in smaller files that are more easily arranged. It’s long since time to actually do something with it.
We are surrounded by words on a nearly constant basis. We are rarely able to escape from them for any length of time and we are immersed in them to such a degree that we barely have time for our own thoughts. But perhaps thinking about the words that we write or that we utter, we can come to an understanding about how and why words were considered sacred. This is especially needed in a world where our words will undoubtedly outlive us.
5 responses to “Words and Symbolism”
I really enjoyed this article on writing. I have several Facebook group which I plan to share it with later today. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you very much! 🙂 It’s a topic near and dear to my heart.
Scripture must be understood as it was written, meaning in the proper context. The bible is not a smorgasbord of words and phrases we can use any way we see fit.
And? The Judeo Christian bible, though I do respect it, is not my liturgical text. It belongs specifically to those who practice Abrahamic faiths, of which I am not one. As for being understood as it is written, I find very few Christians, particularly Protestants, have even the most rudimentary understanding of their Bible or of scripture. Very few know either Coptic, Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew, nor do they study their scripture with a critical mind toward the symbolism behind what is being conveyed with the original translations in mind. Rather, there is far too much by way of literalism that is applied, usually through a pastoral figure who tells members of their respective congregations what those scriptures say, even when they have no idea about the original source texts either. This is especially prevalent within Calvinist, Fundamentalist Christianity that is most prevalent within the United States.
Egyptian liturgical texts cover a larger period of historical time, they have a source language that over the course of five thousand years underwent multiple changes, but much of that history is still extant and can be found as having been incorporated into many of the Coptic Christian texts. Protestantism does not have any such claims.
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