Category Archives: Pagan Blog Project 2014

E is for Eye

eyofra

Painting on papyrus of a pectoral of the Solar Eye from the treasures of Tutankhamun

The eye has served as a powerful image for humanity for millennia. The Eye, in Kemetic belief, centres around the Udjat Eye – which is that of protection. Also the Eye of Heru (Horus is his Greek name) and the Eye of Ra – which are separate entities from Ra’s more than 70 forms – and can function independently of him.

Even in the earliest periods of Ancient Egyptian history and culture , the sun and the moon were often regarded as very eyes of the Great Falcon, Horus. Later the two were differentiated in that the Eye of Horus was the Left Eye or the Moon, while the Right Eye was Ra or the sun. One particular myth which comes to us from the tomb of Tutankhamun, talks of how Horus’ eye was blinded but then restored by Hathor – who is Herself an Eye of Ra. This ties into the cycles of the moon and of the waxing and waning action of that heavenly body that is ever present above us.

The more well known “Eyes of Ra” are HetHert (Hathor), Sekhmet, Bast, Wadjet, Mut, Meretseger and even Aset (Isis). The Eyes of Ra were considered to be the protectors and enforcers of divine law. Probably the best known myth surrounding this is the “Destruction of Mankind” where Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and all that is good is told that Mankind has rebelled and attempted not only to overthrow the Netjeru (gods) but destroy them utterly, is sent forth by Ra in order to punish them : Thus Sekhmet was born.

These goddesses, known as Eyes also resided in the crown, or uraeus that was upon the brow of royalty. These goddesses held the power of the King and their power is manifested through him. This is where the function of the Queens or Great Royal Wives were the stand-ins for the Eye Goddesses, such as Hathor and Isis and insured the protection of Kingly Power and function within the Two Lands.

The Eye of Horus, or Eye of Ra or Udjat Eye were all a part of this greater protection. There were almost always eyes included within funerary equipment in the form of amulets, and painted motifs on coffins, walls. The Eye was a major theme to protect not just the pharaoh, but common people as well. It worked to keep away evil, to insure the path toward the Afterlife of the Duat was kept clear. The sailors of Ancient Egypt would often paint the eye on the prow of their ships and even skiffs to insure safe travel. Even today, modern Kemetics will have Eyes either painted on their vehicles, or in similar fashion to the Fish motif of the Christians, they will have an eye on their car. I certainly have them on all of our vehicles.

The Eye as depicted in Ancient Egyptian art is based off of the markings of falcons, such as the Peregrine Falcon ( Falco peregrinus ), a totemic representative of the God Horus. As depicted on many Eye artifacts, whether it be an actual amulet, piece of jewelery or a painted motif, shows the “teardrop” marking near the bottom of the Eye, not dissimilar from the markings on the Peregrine falcon. A similar line is also found just below the eye of the African Cheetah, who at times can be taken to represent Eye Goddesses that take the form of big cats.

Hieroglyphically, there are several symbols for the Eye. Gardiner Sign list, symbols D4 through D17 either depict the Eye or parts of the Eye. The attached meaning in Ancient Egyptian to these often talk of “doing” or “making” or one who “makes or does”. This idea ties rather emphatically to the eye and what it symbolizes as being an active rather than a passive role. “Here comes protection”, or “The Eye goes forth”, which could be in a protective or punishing type of function. The Eye of Ra is there to protect and to defend authority and keep the balance and either defend or restore ma’at. https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f5/Oudjat.SVG/200px-Oudjat.SVG.png

The Eye is also used symbolically within Ancient Egyptian mathematics as a sort of symbolic break down for the concepts of measurement in the form of fractions. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus and the Lahun or Kahun Papyrus, both have tables of unit fractions (1 as the numinator), and scribes would often have these tables for use within their work. The various parts of the Eye would be broken down in this fashion:

  1. Right side of the eye = 1/2
  2. Pupil = 1/4
  3. Eyebrow = 1/8
  4. Left side of the eye = 1/16
  5. Curved tail = 1/32
  6. Teardrop or downward marking= 1/64

Unfortunately, however, studying this particular diagram does nothing for those of us who are mathematically impaired, no matter how much we love all topics that pertain to Ancient Egypt! 1000px-Ancient_Egypt_Wings.svg Another symbol of the Eye of Ra in specifics is the sun disk that appears on the heads of solar deities in the Egyptian pantheon, such as Sekhmet, Horus, and even Ra Himself. The sun disk and the Uraeus at the centre were protective and punishing at the same time. The sun or Ra moving across the sky could be found in the symbolism of the Solar Barque, which carried Ra across the sky each day. In the Barque of Ra or the Solar Barque, other deities rode with Ra. Certainly the body of the heavens was equated with the Celestial Cow who travels with Ra.

The symbolism of the Eye is central to Ancient Egyptian belief and the complexity of everything this one symbol can encompass can be both complex and at times confusing. While the Eye was a protector, it was also a punisher of wrongdoers. While it was protective of that order or Ma’at, it was sometimes difficult to control and would tend to wander. The cycle of the Wandering Eye returning to the Two Lands to signify that balance would once again be restored was met with great joy and merrymaking. When the Eye is restored and reestablished, we, too, are likewise restored and reestablished as well.

Resources:
Roberts, Alison. Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1997

Roberts, Alison. Golden Shrine, Goddess Queen: Egypt’s Anointing Mysteries. Rottingdean, East Sussex: NorthGate, 2008.

Roberts, Alison. My Heart My Mother: Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt. Rottingdean, East Sussex: NorthGate, 2000.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Wikipedia, “The Eye of Horus”. Web.

Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture., p.176 – 177; London: Thames and Hudson, 1992 Pagan Blog Project 2014

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D is for Dancing & Drumming

dancers For those of us who have been raised with an intimate knowledge of our Indigenous culture, we know that dancing is an important part o our and many cultures throughout the world. For myself, hearing the sound of drums and the sound of bells and jingle dresses and the singing along the powwow trail begins at the first sign of spring and continues on well into the fall. We dance, because we can. We dance and sing and beat drums and it serves as an affirmation of life; our own heartbeat and the heartbeat of everything and everyone around us. People gather to dance and to sing and to celebrate the rhythm that permeates every aspect of our existence.

Dancing and music figure prominently in our religious and ritual practices as well. Dance is a meditation, it can send us into a trance and be a way for us to express emotion, ecstasy and connect us to the Divine. The truth of the matter is that dance has been a part of human history or prehistory around the world since probably before Homo Sapiens became fully bipedal.

The first great culture to really infuse its entire society with the magic of music and dance was that of Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians enjoyed life to its fullest and no celebration in Ancient Egypt would have been complete without music and dancing. At parties, singers and dancers performed to the music of harps, lutes, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers and tambourines. During festivals, crowds chanted and clapped, carried along by the vibrant rhythm of Egyptian orchestras, while dancers performed amazing feats, leaping twirling and bending their bodies in time with the music. It was so important a feature of everyday life that musical instruments – frame drums, harps, clappers, sistra, and other instruments found their way into the tomb of those who passed to the Beautiful West and their entertainment in the afterlife.

Most of Egyptian secular and religious life was marked by the performance of music and dance. This important aspect of daily life of the Egyptians is depicted as early as the Pre-Dynastic periods. Ceremonial palettes and stone vessels indicate the importance that music had even in the earliest of periods. The importance of music in daily life in Ancient Egypt is underscored by the large number of musical instruments found in museum collections around the world. Of the several terms used in ancient Egyptian to describe dance is ib3.

In many banqueting scenes found within the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians, the banquets appear to be more secular. Shown in these scenes are an idealized rather than any actual event. The basic components of these scenes changed very little throughout Egypt’s history, until the New Kingdom. Around the 18th Dynasty, there is a marked change of character, in the song, dance and the overall “feel” of these scenes. At this time we see a marked sense of erotic significance. Lotus flowers, mandrakes, wigs and unguent cones, as well as men and women clothed in semi-transparent garments and the gestures of the banquet participants. Music, love and sensuality go hand in hand in most civilizations, ancient as well as modern, and in different spheres. Overall music is a major component of life, an important piece of both secular and religious life.

NileGoddessDance was far more than just an enjoyable pastime in Ancient Egypt.During the Pre-Dynastic period were found depictions of female figures, perhaps of Goddesses or Priestesses, dancing with their arms raised above their heads. The act of dancing was undoubtedly an important component of ritual and celebration in Ancient Egypt. The Neolithic figurine of a goddess or priestess that currently resides in the Brooklyn Museum is commonly referred to as “the Nile Goddess” or “Nile Dancer”. The figure has arms that are raised above her faceless head like some sort of pre-historic ballerina. Her body is slender with ample breasts and broad hips. Some have speculated that her graceful limbs lifted above her head are to emulate the horns of the Goddess Hathor, who was the personification of the joys of music dancing, love and life itself. This particular piece of very early ancient Egyptian art has been an inspiration for many modern sculptures and art lovers just in its beautiful simplicity.

girlmusiciansPeople from every social class were exposed to music and dancing. Manual laborers worked in rhythmic motion to the sounds of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained passers by. In normal, daily life musicians and dancers were an important and integral part of banquets and celebrations. Dance troupes were available for hire to perform at dinner parties, banquets, lodging houses, and even religious temples. Some women the harems of the wealthy were trained in music and dance. Unlike today, however, no well-born Egyptian would consider dancing in public. The Nobility would employ servants or slaves to entertain at their banquets to a offer pleasant diversion to themselves and their guests.

Elizabeth ‘Artemis’ Mourat, professional dancer and dance-scholar categorized the dances of Ancient Egypt into six different types: religious dances, non-religious festival dances, banquet dances, harem dances, combat dances, and street dances.

muudancers1There were certain ritual dances that were crucial to the successful outcome of religious and funerary rites. This is particularly true of the Muu-Dancers. These dancers wore kilts and reed crowns and performed alongside funeral processions. Funeral rites often employed or were based off of the Songs of Aset and NebetHet (Isis and Nephthys in Greek) and the retelling of how Aset searched for the body of Wasir (Osiris in Greek) and reassembled his dismembered form for burial and restored to eternal life through Her prowess and skill in magic. This period of singing, dancing, drumming and lamentation was said to last over a period of five days. It was through these rites that it is believed Roman mystery cults arose.

With the emergence of the cult of Wasir dance was a crucial element in the festivals held for both He and Aset, His sister-wife. These festivals occurred throughout the year. Dance also figured prominently in the festivals dedicated to Apis. Another deity that has been linked to dancing, is the Dwarf-God, Bes. He has been depicted in both reliefs and in statuary playing a tambourine and dancing, denoting the idea of using dance in order to drive away evil spirits. Images and amulets of Bes were often found in and around the birthing chamber for women who were giving birth. In these images, Bes is quite often shown playing a tambourine or a drum. Wikimedia Commons

acrobatsmThe act of dancing was inseparable from music, and so the depictions of dance in Pharaonic tombs and temples invariably show the dancers either being accompanied by groups of musicians or themselves playing castanets or clappers to keep the rhythm. Little distinction seems to have been made between dancing and what would be considered today as acrobatics. Many dancers depicted in the temple and tomb paintings and reliefs show dancers in athletic poses such as cartwheels, handstands and backbends.

Detailed study of the depiction of dancers has revealed that the artists were often depicting a series of different steps in particular dances, some of which have been reconstructed in the modern era. Movements of Egyptian dances were named after the motion they imitated. For instance, there were “the leading along of an animal,” “the taking of gold,” and “the successful capture of the boat.”

Men and women as a general rule and in the more conservative society that was Ancient Egypt were never shown dancing together. The most common scenes depict groups of female dancers often performing in pairs and more rarely, men dancing in groups. Dance was done in private chambers as well as public festivals and gatherings, in the streets as well as Temple rituals. The importance of dance has not lessened over the years, it has maintained and is carried on even today. Professional dancers, musicians and other performers, though they are often admired for the work that they do, are not often given a high status within society. Because they wander the country side often with men to whom they are not related, especially if they are women, this sort of behaviour is still rather looked down upon – especially within village societies.

There was a notion within early Egyptology that noblewomen or women of a certain class or caste would never engage in dancing except in private. The only exception to this idea were the dancers, singers and musicians that were dedicated to the service of a deity, for example. The dancers that are depicted within the ancient tombs are often described or depicted as being a part of the tomb owner’s immediate family. As a direct relation to the deceased then any taboos were lessened. Today, women may dance within the privacy of their own homes, or that of a family member, but never in public. It is a good idea that depictions in tombs were never intended to be viewed again by the living once they were sealed, and as such served as a private residence for the deceased.

Modern day bellydancing has a little resemblance to the graceful and acrobatic gestures that were a part of dance in antiquity. Because of so many external influences – the Greeks, Romans, and influx of other cultures over the centuries, not to mention that dance in Egypt as also influenced by the influx of Islam into the region. In spite of all of this, however, we can still see within Egyptian culture the idea of dancing just for the sheer love of it.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Most of this piece is a reworking of a section of my website, ‘The Ancient Egyptian Virtual Temple’, 1995 -2014, Copyright Ma’at Publishing. (Mirrored at fannyfae.com)

Other Resources

Manniche, Lise, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt British Museum Press, 1991. Print.
Threee
Redmond, Layne, When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm Three Rivers Press, 1997. Print.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Spencer, Patricia, “Dance in Ancient Egypt”, Near Eastern Archeaeology, 2003, p 111 – 121

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A is for Ankh

ankh-nose.jpg w=300&h=179The ankh is one of the most widely recognized religious symbols in the world. Ask anyone what the ankh means, and invariably, the words, “eternal life” will be the definition that is offered even by laypersons.

In terms of the hieroglyphic catalogue or sign list that was put together by Sir Alan Gardiner, lists the ankh as Gardiner sign S 34. Scholars have speculated that it can either represent something as simple as a sandal strap, or as complex as an elaborate bow or knot that carried specific religious significance. The profusion if its use in iconography throughout Egyptian culture and that it is held by numerous ancient Egyptian deities in their various depictions underscores the meaning ascribed to the ankh – the meaning is life. Even those who could not read or wriite, and in Ancient Kemet, the literacy rate among its people was something like 2% or 3%, the meaning of the ankh was known. It was commonly found as a potter’s mark on vessels throughout the history of Egypt. (Shaw)

Even today, we often hear the ankh referred to as the Key of Life. More than this, it stands for several life-sustaining things. In some reliefs, ankhs are seen pouring out, to symbolize water and in turn purification. Other reliefs show the sustenance in the form of food or flower offerings which were referred to as ankhu. Most often, however, it is shown to represent the breath of life. Often statuary, paintings or reliefs will show a King, a Queen or other member of the noble class being presented with an ankh that is held beneath their nose by the god or goddess.

From the Tomb of Huya, Amarna Period, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the Tomb of Huya, Amarna Period, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the reign of the Heretic Pharaoh, Amunhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, reliefs of the Aten disk can be seen with streams that form long arms and hands that offer ankhs to the Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children. During this period, the literal disk of the sun, or the Aten is what gave life to the Two Lands.

Ankh mirror case

Mirror case from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Most everyone also knows that the word ankh can also mean mirror and often mirrors in ancient Egypt were made in the shape of an ankh.

The idea that a Temple was called a Per Ankh or ‘House of Life’ did not just mean simply it was a place of worship, but also learning how to live, via the Netjeru and that Rameses IV claimed that he had studied the papyri at the House of Life to learn the secrets of the gods. Living one’s life is an active thing and so we can only surmise that the training that the King underwent was experiential and the secrets he learned were not just intellectual in nature. (Naydler)

The ankh survives today, not just among Kemetics and Pagans who incorporate the symbol into their personal practices, but even after the fall of Ancient Egypt to Roman Rule and Roman Paganism, the natives of Egypt among the first to convert to Christianity, but the ankh survives in the form of the crux ansata, ansate, looped, or handle-shaped cross in the Coptic Church.

Resources

Naydler, Jeremy. Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996. Print.

Naydler, Jeremy. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005. Print.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture., p.176 – 177; London: Thames and Hudson, 1992

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