To Become A Magician


the sacred Great Word, its divine record by the ante-rational mind
the magic of the everlasting existence of Pharaoh's light-life
and the primordial power of magic in Ancient Egypt

by Wim van den Dungen

The translation of Becoming Magic is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

Thoth, Lord of Divine Scripture
after Champollion, J.F. : Panthéon Egyptien, planche 30C

"The sky quivers, the earth quakes before me, 
for I am a magician, I possess magic."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 472 (§ 924)


1 The genesis and growth of cognition.

  • 1.1 The origin of cognition : in the beginning was the action.

  • 1.2 Summary of the findings of Piaget.

  • 1.3 An eclectical model on cognitive growth & the historico-psychological paradigm.

  • 1.4 The early stages specified : mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational.

  • 1.5 The importance of an integrated rationality.

  • 1.6 The place of schema-theory.

2 The "Great Word" and divine scripture.

  • 2.1 Brief predynastic chronology and the primeval goddess of the sacred.

  • 2.2 The "Sia", "Hu", "Heka" & "Maat" of Re and Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom.

  • 2.3 The mummification of the divine words.

  • 2.4 Philosophy of language and the Egyptian language.

  • 2.5 Early cognition and Archaic, Old and Middle Egyptian.

To Become A Magician : I AM HEKA !

3 Heka : first-born of Atum-Re & son of the Great Goddess.

General considerations

  • 3.1 The origin of Egyptian magic : the Great Sorceress & divine kingship.

  • 3.2 The primeval "heka" of Hathor and Isis : love, life, death & resurrection.

  • 3.3 The Ogdoadic "heka" of Thoth : let it be written, let it be done.

  • 3.4 The core of Egyptian magic : the power of the Great Word.

  • 3.5 Heka as the primodial power of effectivity.



Parapsychology prompts philosophy to reconsider the importance of magic and the magical. Egyptology must bear the exercise too, for we know in Ancient Egypt magic ("heka") was the cornerstone of all major & minor state cults as well as being crucial in the personal piety of the commoner.

"The evidence for Extra Sensoric Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK) -and I have presented only brief summaries of a few examples of it- seems to be adequate. Serious attention to the evidence should be convincing to all except those who are irreversibly committed to the worldview of materialism and sensationalism, according to which ESP and PK are impossible in principle."
- Griffin, D.R. : Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality : a Postmodern Exploration, State University of New York Press - New York, 1997, p.89.

The egyptologist Jacq wrote :

"Un égyptologue qui ne croit pas à la religion égyptienne, qui ne partage pas une sympathie totale avec la civilisation qu'il étudie, ne saurait, à notre avis, qui prononcer des paroles desséchées. L'intellectualisme, si brillant soit-il, n'a jamais remplacé le sentiment vécu, même dans une discipline scientifique."
- Jacq, 1983, p.7, my italics.

The fact "remote viewing" (the ability to access and provide accurate information through psychic means, about a person, place, object or event, that is inaccessible through any normally accepted means, regardless of distance, shielding or time) actually exists, begs the question 'How' ? Instead of focusing on the objective (like a physical theory allowing for these unexplainable events - cf. "actio-in-distans"), contemporary magical theory tends to view magic as the result of a particular magical state of consciousness accompanied by corresponding actions and external forms. The latter are necessary, for the magician wants to direct the process of the physical world.

"La magie égyptienne est une vision du monde qui éclaire des zones à la fois lumineuses et obscures de l'âme humaine. Bien avant la psychanalyse, elle a été une voie de recherche féconde pour la connaissance de l'ultime réalité qui est en nous. Elle a également servi à manipuler, non sans danger, une énergie psychique que la science la plus rationnelle commence à redécouvrir, à tâtons et avec un certain étonnement."
- Jacq, Ch. : Ibidem, p.35, my italics.


In this paper, I try to understand how Ancient Egyptian thought arrived at its proto-rational stage. Such an understanding can not deny that magical features prevailed in the earliest stage of their cognitive growth (pre-logical or mythical thought). However, in Ancient Egypt, magic is particularly "mental" and it continued to play a dominant role in the next stages of cognitive development. As magical rituals and techniques as such are of no interest here, I will not present a comprehensive list of magical activities (as has been done by others). Instead, I will try to focus on the "mental" core of Egyptian magic itself.

A life lived according to truth & justice (cf. "Maat") and the ceremonial release at death of the subtle foci of consciousness and their co-relative bodies (cf. my paper on the Ba) out of the "net" of the physical plane  were the two major goals of the Ancient Egyptian. The former guaranteed that one would exist as a happy human being on earth, the latter that one would put off one's humanity at death and continue to exist as a deity in the afterlife, while having access to the physical plane via the mummy. Both goals were related, for if one had been unjust on earth, no deification could be expected and total annihilation would ensue (to the name of the justified deceased, the epithet "just of voice" was added, i.e. his or her heart had never conceived unjust words and hence only truth had been uttered). 

To realize these goals, the Egyptians placed their trust in the power of speech, or the ability to create by uttering the proper words (creative utterance or "hu") insightfully conceived beforehand in the mind ("ab" or heart). In the Memphis Theology, this power of creation through the word is cosmogonic and associated with Ptah, but we find the independent concept as early as the Pyramid Texts. In fact, without "words of power", there would be no Egyptian magic, rituals or ceremonialism. It is true that all kinds of actions accompanied this use of words, but the deities would never send their doubles ("kau") souls ("bau") & power ("sekhem") if the priests did not know what to say. The magical actions were important, but absolutely impotent without the words necessary to empower them. Moreover, to assume the form of the deities needed, precise recitation was deemed necessary. Hence, Egyptian magic makes ample use of the auditive faculty (hearing the words of justice and -if silence is not indicated- speaking the words of power). Besides uttering these words of power, the auditive was also stimulated and underscored by using analogical languages like body language, music and art to give magical rituals their full suggestive effectiveness.

Instead of understanding magic as a tool to change objective circumstances directly, I suggest (based on the evidence from the earliest sources) that magic is a technology aimed at altering the magician's state of consciousness in such a way that he or she has access to psychic abilities which do not only allow for telepathy and telekinesis, but which make it also possible to influence the collective unconscious in such a way that out of it particular, collective events may emerge & crystalize. Compare this with the effects of strong suggestions during a deep state of hypnosis, but then on a collective scale. Direct suggestion of this kind is like the empowering effect some charismatic leaders have on crowds. 

In Ancient Egypt, Pharaoh and his Residence provided for the continuous presence of a power said to have derived from "the gods" (Pharaoh as son of Re). In the Old Kingdom, he alone was the real center of the divine on earth, for the spirits and souls of the deities existed in the sky. These gods & goddesses could allow their "kau" and "bau" to accept the invitation spoken and enacted by the priests. In these ceremonial performances, only the deities spoke, listened & moved. The priests (brought into trance through the ongoing litanies ?), enacted complex mystery plays, divine interactions and events between the deities. The priests identified themselves as much as possible with the pantheon. 

The initiatic as well as the funerary rituals make use of this magical technique called "the assumption of godforms", i.e. the total, personalized identification of a single priestly mind with a pure archetype, i.e. a conscious, symbolical (albeit proto-rational) approximation of a natural forca & a cultural form. Ergo, it is possible to view the Egyptian deities as forms or symbolizations of natural processes leading to a complex syncretism in harmony with the fundamental unity of the "first time" in which all the deities were (and continuously are) (re)created, (re)generated and (re)juvenated. The epistemic status of these godforms are not rational but proto-rational. They are the archetypes of the collective unconscious of the Ancient Egyptian, i.e. forms & symbolizations reflecting a collective understanding of certain processes of nature & culture.

"The Egyptians were the first to practice a Jungian psychology of archetypes and to recognize the fundamental restorative power of the unconscious. They realized that in sleep and dreams, one experiences these depths as a psychic reality in which one may encounter gods and the deceased alike."
- Hornung, 1992, p.95.

In order to understand proto-rationality, we need an objective standard to measure these stages of cognitive growth. In my Naar een Stuurkundige Antropologie (1993) I already developed an eclectical model on cognitive development. It was based on the work of Piaget, Kohlberg, the neo-Freudian school and Maslow. See also : Criticosynthesis, 2008.

Once the role of magic in the proto-rationality of the Ancient Egyptians has been understood, it may be possible to contrast this knowledge with Greek philosophy, especially with the thought of those Greeks who visited Egypt and studied there. It may become clear then, that many of the themes developed by Greek philosophy did not arise "ex nihilo".

In a later stage, these comparisons will be helpful to clarify the relationships (resemblances and differences) between Ancient Egyptian civilization and the Semitical cultures of the Jews and the Arabs, both influenced by Ancient Greece.

1.The genesis & growth of cognition.

This chapter provides information enabling one to understand "ante-rationality", so that "instinct" may be distinguished from "intuition". To arrive at this, the genesis & growth of cognition will be investigated. Two barriers are discovered : between reason and its ante-rational foundation, the early layers of cognitive activity (mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational thought) and between reason and its intellect, the post-formal layers of cognition related to intuition, creativity, inventivity, gnosis & the direct experience of the Divine (mysticism). I argue for an integrated rationality able to make use of these barriers when necessary.

1.1 The origin of cognition : in the beginning was the action.

In his Le Structuralisme, Piaget defines his pivotal notion of "structure" as a system of transformations which abides by certain laws and which sustains or enriches itself by a play of these transformations, which occur without the use of external factors. This auto-structuration of a complete whole is defined as "auto-regulation". In the individual, the latter is established by biological rhythms, biological & mental regulations and mental operations. These can be theoretically formalized.

Piaget refuses to accept that "real" dialectical tensions between physical objects are the true foundations of thought and cognition (its possibility, genesis & progressive development). Piaget never fills in what reality is. He maintains no ontological view on reality-as-such, considered to be the borderline of both the developing subject and its objective world, stage after stage.

The cognitive is approached as a process, for rationality grows in developmental stages, each calling for a particular cognitive structure on the side of the subject. What reality is, is left open. Why ? Every objective observation implies an observer bound by the limitations of a given stage of cognitive development, i.e. a subjective epistemic form, containing ideosyncratic, opportunistic and particularized information.

Neither did Piaget choose for a strictly transcendental approach. Conditions which exist before cognition itself (like in Foucault) are not introduced. What Popper called the "problem-solving" ability of man, can be associated with Piaget's notion on "re-equilibration". Popper introduced the triad : problem, theory & falsification. In anthropology and psychology Piaget introduced : activity, regulation & re-equilibration (auto-regulation).

Living substances begin their existence with action. This is rooted in biological processes. Action implies the formation of cognitive structures which -at first- are exteriorized in coordinated external movements. After repeated actions, interiorization, permanency, invariant principles and imagination allow for the emergence of internal cognitive structures.

So the following sequence appears : 

  • external actions (system) & reactions (environment) ;

  • interiorization and permanency ;

  • internal cognitive structures and auto-regulation ;

  • novel external actions.

These internal cognitive structures are constantly being transformed and regulated in order to adapt the system to new situations. This process is recurrent and so always more complex cognitive structure emerge. Ergo, the continuous emancipation of the different cognitive forms of equilibrium (an always increasing cognition) is the pivotal notion (cf. The Development of Thought, 1978). This increase is the natural result of successfull re-equilibrations, in which logico-symbolical functions plays a major role.

Auto-regulation is also the result of the interactions between the system and its environment. Hence, intersubjectivity is always essential in the construction of new and stronger cognitive structures. This implies that cognitive processes not only appear as resulting from organical auto-regulation (of which they reflect the essential mechanisms) but also emerge as differentiated organs of this regulation in the arena of interactions with the environment. Cognition is the most differentiated biological organ of survival human beings have.

Piagetian psychogenesis (based on the observation of children) shows that knowledge implies a developing relationship between a thinking subject and the objects around it. This relationship grows and becomes more complex. Stages of cognitive development can be defined by means of their typical cognitive events and acquired mental forms. This development is not a priori (pre-conditions), a posteriori (empirical) but constructivistic : the system is always adapting and creating new cognitive structures, causing novel behavior which may be interiorized and form new internal cognitive forms, etc. The foundation of this process is action itself, the fact that its movements are not random but coordinated. It is the form of this coordination, the order, logic or symbolization of the pattern of the movements which eventually may stabilize as a permanent mental operator.

Two main actions are distinguished :

  • sensori-motoric actions exist before language or any form of representational conceptualization ;

  • operational actions ensue as soon as the actor is conscious of the results & goals of actions and the mechanisms of actions, i.e. the translation of action into some early form of conceptualized thought.

 1.2 Summary of the findings of Piaget.

In Piaget's theory on cognitive development, two general functional principles are postulated : organization & adaptation. 

The former implies the tendency common to all forms of life to integrate structures (physical & psychological) into systems of a higher order. The latter (to be divided in assimilation & accommodation) shows how the individual not only modifies cognitive structures in reaction to demands (external) but also uses his own structures to incorporate elements of the environment (internal). Organisms tend toward equilibrium with the environment. Centration, decentration (crisis) & re-equilibration are the fundamental processes forcing the cognitive texture of humans to become more complex.

Mental operators are the result of the interiorization of this cognitive evolution. An original, archaic sense of identity is shaped. After prolonged exposure to new types of action -challenging the established original centration and its equilibrium- a crisis ensues and decentration is the outcome. A higher-order equilibrium is found through auto-regulation (re-equilibration).

In this way, several strands, levels, layers or planes of cognitive texture unfold. The process can be analysed as follows :

  1. repeated confrontation with a new kind of action ;

  2. action-reflection or the interiorization of this novel action by means of semiotic factors ; this is the first level of permanency or pre-concepts which have no decontextualized use ;

  3. anticipation & retro-action using these pre-concepts, valid insofar as they symbolize the original action but always with reference to context ;

  4. final level of permanency : formal concepts, valid independent of the original action and context & the formation of permanent cognitive (mental) operators.

Mental operators identify (symbolize) actions in sets, strands, layers of conscious, informational & material activity. In this way, Piaget defined four layers of cognitive growth :

  1. sensori-motoric cognition, between birth and 2 years of age ;

  2. pre-operational cognition, between 2 and 6 ;

  3. concrete operatoric cognition, between 7 and 10 ;

  4. formal-operatoric cognition, between 10 & 13.

1.3 An eclectical model on cognitive growth & the historico-psychological paradigm.

The work of Piaget, the findings of neo-Freudian theory (Lemay), Kohlberg's research on moral development & some major theories on post-formal cognitive growth (Maslow, Tart, Wilber) yield a genetico-cognitive model which integrates the three main perspectives on the living human being, namely the cognitive (Piaget, Kohlberg), the socio-affective (Freud and his school) and the moral (Maslow and transpersonal psychology). These explain the stability, continuity and architecture of a system of cognitive relationships, structures & operators.

This part of the model is "vertical", in the sense that it explains how cognitive structures stand erect. Complementary to this is the approach of Prigogine, who investigated the horizontal, dynamical features, found to be irreversible (cf. infra).

Each phase is characterized by matter (pragmatics) and the complexification of its biological operations, by information (syntax) or the synthetical symbolizations of these operations, and by consciousness (semantics) summarizing the meanings & intentions which occur as a result of the activities of a living substance (casu quo the body).

These findings can be expanded in three ways. Firstly, the Piagetian model did not only prove valid in the psycho-cognitive realm, but can also be used as a tool to understand the evolution of cultural forms and the crisis undergone by societies & civilizations (understood as living systems - cf. the historico-psychological paradigm). Secondly, the stages encountered in the cognitive growth of individuals correspond with the development of cognition in the human species as a whole (from mythical to rational thought and beyond - cf. Jaynes, 1976). Thirdly, stages beyond the formal stage of cognitive growth can and will not be a priori excluded.

The historico-psychological paradigm used in my hermeneutical studies is a synthesis of Piaget's genetical epistemology and the historical approach of civilization, seeking the general mental form or forms underscoring the economical, socio-political, scientific, artistic, spiritual and symbolical (codified, written) expressions of a given civilization in general and its overall, common cognitive structure (or cultural form) in particular (cf. Jaynes, 1976). Its main principles are :

  1. thought originates from action, i.e. coordinated movements. This coordination is a "form" which is : (a) executed by the biological organism at hand, i.e. its matter, (b) explained through the interactions with its environment or information and (c) given meaning by the unique identity or consciousness typical for each member of a species ;

  2. thought is based on an indirect, functional contact with the physical world, i.e. thought is always mediated, by a third term (whereas fysiological processes are direct) ;

  3. thought is a finite process which is an integrated part of a particular living organism but simultaneously thought is also the extension with which consciousness may touch the universal, unconditional, infinite & absolute ; 

  4. the development of thought depends on the successive improvements of the variety of its abstract forms of equilibration, which is a historical process ;

  5. the construction of more stable cognitive forms becomes necessary to resolve the contradictions which characterize the previous stage, and so they are regulations of  regulations, etc.

  6. to explain the historical development of these equilibrations both individual as social factors are to be taken into consideration. Society is a system of activities based on actions which influence each other reciprocally ;

  7. the rise and development of a cultural form, especially its cognitive features, is understood as a collective, historical equilibration on a higher, more stable level of civilization which allows for the construction of new inner operators (actional, affective, cognitive, intuitional) and novel outer behavior (as families, societies, cultures & civilizations), eliminating those tensions which disrupted the development of civilization in an earlier stage of its cultural development.

To complete this model, we need to consider non-equilibrium dynamics or the notion of irreversible process as developed by Prigogine in the context of his study of complex, open, communicative & energy-consuming wholes, i.e. dissipative systems or organizations. 

In his famous book, La Nouvelle Alliance, Prigogine poses the question how highly intelligent systems escape the constant chaotic movements which surrounds them ? Indeed, Piaget (psychology) focused on the forms of equilibrium which characterize the relative stability of a given stage of cognitive development. These forms represent order, structure or architecture (stability, conservation, repetition). Prigogine (physics), aware of the entropic qualities of physical systems with complex trajectories (initial position + dynamical process), emphasized the chaotic dynamics of the environment and is therefore impressed by the architecture of order evidenced by complex systems. The fact that crisis (decentration) is necessary to trigger re-equilibration, as well as the observation that crisis is initiated by interacting with the environment, were put into evidence by Piaget and are confirmed by the analysis of complex trajectories by Prigogine (cf. Chaos).

Both positions are complementary, and focus on a different functional horizon of complex systems. Prigogine studies the horizontal, dynamical characteristics of a system, the fact that they constantly reorganize to survive the entropic decay around them. Piaget investigates the vertical, static architecture of a system, the fact that it has a strong backbone which is the result of many years of evolution and uncountable trials & errors.  

Both acknowledge that systems go through crisis and define auto-regulation (Piaget) and auto-structuration (Prigogine) as explicative for the continuous reorganization (permanent reformation) to which highly intelligent systems submit themselves, especially when the number of interaction with the environment is large (increasing the arrival of new input). Because fluctuations rise, more interactions increase the chance of crisis and trigger crisis (decentration). Only crisis will increase the survival-needs of a system and trigger auto-structuration which can be measured as :

  • a decrease of entropy or negative entropy (i.e. negentropy in a galacy largely composed out of entropic matter). Complex life is a refutation of the "black box"-model, the "closed systems"-theories and the "stimulus-reflex"-thinking ;

  • a more comprehensive database which allows for more information to be stored, assimilated and made to work to solve problems ;

  • a more coherent field of consciousness, able to attribute meaning to the objects which are part of it.

"Le calcul montre que plus un système est complexe, plus sont élevées les chances que, pour tout état, certaines fluctuations soient dangereuses. (...) Il est probable que dans les systèmes très complexes, où les espèces ou les individus interagissent de manière très diversifiée, la diffusion, la communication entre tous les points du système est également très rapide. (...) Ainsi, ce serait la rapidité de communication que déterminerait la complexité maximale que peut atteindre l'organisation d'un système sans devenir trop instable." - Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. : La Nouvelle Alliance, Gallimard - Paris, 1979, p.178, my italics.

A swift communication indeed increases fluctuations, but the latter do not destroy the system because a critical balance has been realized.

"La taille critique est donc déterminée par une compétition entre le 'pouvoir d'intégration' du système et les méchanismes chimique qui amplifient la fluctuation à l'intérieur de la sousrégion fluctuante."
- Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. : Ibidem, p.178.

Hence, auto-regulation through the dynamics of conflict, implies both external (environment) and internal (power of integration) changes. The latter, vertical aspect of a system, defies entropy as long as it can and this with an exemplary tenacity. But if no power of integration is operative or if it is not strong enough compared with the fluctuations at hand, then an increase of chaos is the most likely outcome. This reduces the existing heterogeneity and variety to a more standardized and uniform format. It makes the system withdraw and collapse. For this reduced system avoids communication and hence fossilizes out of the lack of new input and the absence of auto-regulation.

1.4 The early stages specified : mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational.

When investigating ancient cultures in general and Egyptian civilization in particular, the first three layers of cognitive growth are essential. 

Let me list their specifics :


First substage :

  1. adualism and only a virtual consciousness of identity ;

  2. primitive action testifies that a quasi complete indifferentiation exists between the subjective and the objective ;

  3. actions are quasi not coordinated, i.e. random movements are frequent.

Second substage :

  1. first decentration of actions with regard to their material origin (the physical body) ;

  2. first objectification by a subject experiencing itself for the first time as the source of actions ;

  3. objectification of actions and the experience of spatiality ;

  4. objects are linked because of the growing coordination of actual actions ;

  5. links between actions in means/goals schemes, allowing the subject to experience itself as the source of action (initiative), moving beyond the dependence between the external object and the acting body ;

  6. spatial & temporal permanency and causal relationships are observed ;

  7. differentiation (between object and subject) leads to logico-mathematical structures, whereas the distinction between actions related to the subject and those related to the external objects becomes the startingpoint of causal relationships ;

  8. the putting together of schematics derived from external objects or from the forms of actions which have been applied to external objects.

Comments :

The earliest stage of mythical thought is adual. The only "symbols" and "forms" are the material events themselves in all their immediacy and wholeness. This non-verbal core makes myth as analogical as art (music).
In mythical thought, everything is immediate and the immediate is all. Ergo, myth goes against the differentiation which feeds the complexification of thought & cognition.

"But while the true tendency of scientific, analytical-critical thinking is toward liberation from this substantial approach, it is characteristic of myth that despite all the 'spirituality' of its objects and contents, its 'logic' -the form of its contents- clings to bodies."
- Cassirer, E. : The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Yale University Press - Yale, 1955, vol.2., p.59.

Even before the rise of language, we see that knowledge has forms which are part of action itself, namely by differentiating between object & subject of experience and by being conscious of the material, exteriorized schematics connected to both.

The first differentiation occurs when, on the level of material, actual, immediate actions, the object is placed before the subject of experience. This emergence of subjectivity implies the decentration of the movements of the physical executive agent (the body), which unveils the subject as source of action and prepares for the interiorizations of pre-rational thought. By this foundational difference between the body and the empirical subject, consciousness can be attributed to a focus of identity (ego). 

This stage of mythical thought is non-verbal. Nevertheless, actions are triggered by a subject which is conscious of a whole network of practical and material actualizations, although without any conceptual knowledge but only through immediate, exteriorized material schemes. Mythical thought is irrational, i.e. runs against the principle of logic itself. Irrationality is the foundation of all ante-rational thinking, the "good" reason why rationality is called for ...


  1. because of the introduction of semiotical factors (symbolical play, language, and the formation of mental images), the coordination of movements is no longer exclusively triggered by their practical and material actualizations without any knowledge of their existence as abstract forms, i.e. the first layer of thought occurs : the difference between subject & object is a signal and gives rise to the sign ;

  2. upon the simple action, a new type of interiorized action is erected which is not conceptual because the interiorization itself is nothing more than a copy of the development of the actions using signs and imagination  ;

  3. no object of thought is realized but only an internal structure of the actions in a pre-concept formed by imagination and language ;

  4. pre-verbal intelligence & interiorization of imitation in imaginal representations ;

  5. psychomorph view on causality : no distinction between objects and the actions of the subjects ;

  6. objects are living beings with qualities attributed to them as a result of interactions ;

  7. at first, no logical distinction is made between "all" and "few" and comparisons are comprehended in an absolute way, i.e. A < B is possible, but A < B < C is indeed not ; 

  8. finally, the difference between class and individual is grasped, but transitivity and reversibility are not mastered ;

  9. the pre-concepts & pre-relations are dependent on the variations existing between the relational characteristics of objects & can not be reversed, making them rather impermanent and difficult to maintain. They stand between action-schema and concept.

Comments :

A tremendous leap forwards ensues. The formation of a subjective focus was necessary to allow for the next step : interiorization and the actual articulation of pre-concepts, leading up to pre-relations between objects, but the latter remain psychomorph.


  1. again a radical change occurs : concepts and relations emerge and the interiorized actions receive the status of "operations", allowing for transformations. The latter make it possible to change the variable factors while keeping others invariant ;

  2. the increase of coordinations forms coordinating systems & structures which are capable of becoming closed systems by virtue of a play of anticipative and retrospective constructions of thought (imaginal thought-forms) ;

  3. these mental operations, instead of introducing corrections when the actions are finished, exist by the pre-correction of errors and this thanks to the double play of anticipation & retroaction or "perfect regulation" ;

  4. transitivity is mastered which causes the enclosedness of the formal system ;

  5. necessity is grasped ;

  6. constructive abstraction, new, unifying coordinations which allow for the emergence of a total system and auto-regulation (or the equilbration caused by perfect regulation) ;

  7. transitivity, conservation and reversibility are given ;

  8. the mental operations are "concrete", not "formal", implying that they (a) exclusively appear in immediate contexts and (b) deal with objects only (i.e. are not reflective) ;

  9. the concrete operatoric structures are not established through a system of combinations but one step at a time ; 

  10. this stage is paradoxal : a balanced development of logico-mathematical operations versus the limitations imposed upon the concrete operations. This conflict triggers the next, final stage, which covers the formal operations. 

Conclusion :

Proto-rationality is always limited by a given context. Moreover, there is no reflection upon the conditions of subjectivity (just as in the pre-rational stage objects remained psychomorph). This contextualization leaves in place uncoordinated actions and concepts which are the expression of many serious & fundamental contradictions.

The formal operations leave these contextual entanglements behind, and give a universal, a-temporal embedding to the cognitive process. Cognition is liberated from the immediate events and able to conceptualize logical & mathematical truths (deduction) as well as physical causalities in abstract terms, without any consideration for their actual occurence, if any (as in an inner thought-experiment). Thought is able to combine propositions. Self-reflection happens and the internal, transcendental conditions of the cognitive apparatus are discovered (cf. Rules, Prolegomena, Knowledge, Criticosynthesis, Intelligent Wisdom, Book of Lemmas).

1.5 The importance of an integrated rationality.

Firstly, an integrated rationality knows how to use the mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational layers of cognitive development in affective, non-verbal, analogical and contextual happenings. This is reason in harmony with instinct. Secondly, in its own domain, the production of empirico-formal propositions, reason works in harmony with a set of normative rules governing the "game" of "true knowing" or production of knowledge that works. This is reason in harmony with the completion of itself. Thirdly, a multi-dimensional rationality (cf. Marcuse, Maslow, Wilber) explores the meta-formal, creative and inventive operators, i.e. seeks to understand intellectual "perception" ("gnosis", "intuition") as a higher ("intellectual") complement of reason. This is reason in harmony with intuition. Only when pre-nominal, nominal and meta-nominal thought is allowed to exist in the logical space of a possible cognition (cf. transcendental logic), may a comprehensive picture on the extensive potential of cognition ensue.

1.6 The place of schema-theory.

The last three decades has seen the rise of schema theory across the fields of linguistics, anthropology, psychology and artificial intelligence. Human cognition utilizes structures even more complex than prototypes called "frame", "scene", "scenario", "script" or "schema". In cognitive sciences and in ethnoscience they are used as a model for classification and generative grammar. The schema is primarily a set of relationships, some of which amounts to a structure, generating pictoral, verbal and behavioral outputs. The elements associate with great flexibility & interchangeability, although connected. For the schema's first attribute is that of being a relation. The schemata are also called mental structures and abstract representations of environmental regularities. Events activate schemata which allow us to comprehend ourselves & the world around us. 

Schema-theory is part of genetic epistemology. The term is used to define a structured set of generalizable characteristics of an action. Repetition, crisis & reformation yield strands of co-relative actions. Ergo, different types of schemata emerge :

  • sensori-motoric, mythical thought : aduality implies only one relationship, namely with immediate physicality ; object & subject reflect perfectly ; earliest schemata are restricted to the internal structure of the actions (the coordination) as they exist in the actual moment and differentiate between the actions connecting the subjects and the actions connecting the objects. The action-scheme can not be manipulated by a thought and is triggered when it practically materializes ;

  • pre-operatoric, pre-rational thought : object and subject are differentiated and interiorized ; the subject is liberated from its entanglement in the actual situation of the actions ; early psychomorph causality. The subjective is projected upon the objective and the objective is viewed as the mirror of the subjective. The emergence of pre-concepts and pre-conceptual schemata does not allow for permanency and logical control. The beginning of decentration occurs and eventually objectification ensues ... ;

  • concrete-operatoric, proto-rational thought : conceptual structures emerge which provide insight in the essential moments of the operational mental construction : (a) constructive generalization ; (b) the ability to understand each step and the total system (1 to 2 to 3 ... and (c) an autoregulation enabling one to run through the system in two ways, causing conservation. The conceptual schemata are "concrete" because they only function in contexts and not yet in formal schemata. 

2. The "Great Word" and divine scripture.

2.1 Brief predynastic chronology

The study of predynastic Egypt started with Petrie in 1895 (sequence dating by ordering ceramics with respect to decoration & manifacture at the sites at Nagada, Abydos and Hu). In 1923, the Badarian culture was discovered (cf. Badari in Upper Egypt). The first major synthesis was that of Kantor in 1944 and 1952. In 1960, Butzler initiated the study of Nile floods and other elements of the palaeoenvironmental record of Egypt. Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, studies by Hassan focused on enviromental reconstruction, subsistence, settlement & demographic investigations. He also investigated the cognitive schema of predynastic peoples through their rock art and the mythogenesis of the early state.

Thousands of years of prehistory left no textual witnesses, but some of its elements did determine the cultural form of Egypt :

  • the landscape : life-threatening deserts bounding a narrow cultivable valley, with luxuriant growth, yearly inundated by the water of the Nile with a fertile triangle in the Delta, gaining in size when the sea of the tertiary period sinks ;

  • the climate : down through the neolithic period, Egypt had equatorial African features (hot and humid with abundant rainfall). This changed after the Old Kingdom, to become the dry and desert-like climate of today ;

  • the people : when the last wet period (ca. 5500 BCE) ended, the Nile valley became attractive for human settlement. Upper Egypt assumed cultural leadership, and Badarian and Naqadan cultures span the fourth millenium.

Evidence suggests that the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of cereals appeared in the Western Desert ca. 5000 BCE Mid-Holocene aridity probably encouraged desert herders and farmers to settle along the banks of the Nile. The following chronology of the cultures of predynastic Egypt may be helpful :

  • Neolithic period (so called for the Delta and the Fayum, and "predynastic period" in Upper Egypt) : the interval between the emergence of farming villages on the banks of the Nile and the initiation of the Egyptian nation-state. The earliest evidence of Neolithic communities in the Nile Valley dates between 5000 and 4100 BCE (cf. Merimda Beni Salama). The Badarians (cf. Badari, Upper Egypt) were a farming and herding community. These settlers raised cattle, sheep/goats and pigs. They cultivated barley and wheat and agriculture was supplemented by fishing and fowling. Pottery, glass, copper and glazed staetite were found at some sites. They provided their dead with food and placed female figurines in the graves.

  • Middle Predynastic period (ca. 4000 - 3600 BCE) : with Amratian culture (cf. site of el-Amra, Sohag - Naqada I) agriculture inceased, hunting deceased and a marked technological change took place. Pottery not yet diffused from Mesopotamia was created with geometrical and naturalistic designs, unstructured in layout. Concentration and centralization of power in its incipient stages with the formation of a managerial class. Transportation of goods along the Nile. Social status evidences in funerary cults. Religious activity around female deities such as Hathor. Graven images in tombs, head of deceased pointing South, looking West.

  • Late Predynastic period (ca. 3600 - 3300 BCE) :  in Gerzean culture (cf. site of el-Gerza, Fayum - Naqada II), fundamantal changes, techniques were improved. Contacts with Mesopotamia. Cult centers and urban centers emerged, associated with chiefdoms, principalities, provincial states and village corporations united into regional kingdoms. Trade continued to flourish and wealth distinctions became more salient. Whole burial treasures. Cow goddess Hathor ;

  • Terminal Predynastic period (ca. 3300 - 3000 BCE) : The rise of the Egyptian state was the result of wars and alliances. Over at least 250 years, fragmentation and reunification occurred. In Upper Egypt, there were the kingdoms of Naqada and Hierakonpolis, and in the Delta the petty kingdoms of Buto, Sais, Tell el-Balamoun, etc. The first major power emerged when the two kingdoms of Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) and Naqada united. The kings from Hierakonpolis, later known as the "Followers of Horus" conquered and annexed the kingdom of Naqada (Seth) and later the Delta. 

    The culmination of the process of unification led to a single nation state (Narmer Palette). In this period, the nomes are administrative divisions in which authority rested in a local deity (this situation may go back to the Gerzean). These divisions more or less overlap with the territorial boundaries of the historical nomes (a nome was also an agricultural fact, defined in terms of flood basins). In the last decades of the predynastic period, events dating to the beginnings of kingship were already many generations old and without written records. Hence, predynastic Egypt passed into myth. Stone became the preferred material for the eternity of the afterlife. Trade and cultural relationships occasionally interrupted during the late Gerzean period by war ...

painted bowl of man harpooning a hippopotamus
Amratian culture - site of el-Amra - Merimda Beni Salama - ca.3800 BCE - Metropolitan

A few important predynastic realizations :

  • a spoken language ;

  • administrative organization of provinces, groups of nomes ;

  • chieftains accumulating power and prestige and founding the myth of kingship leading to the unification of Upper Egypt ;

  • commercial and artistic activities ;

  • the wish to unity the Nile valley into one state (conquering Middle Egypt and the Delta) ;

  • a traditional notion of the sacred rooted in the worship of the primeval goddess ;

  • oral tradition of mythologies, stories, legends, charms, songs, hymns & funerary rituals assuring the afterlife of the deceased ;

  • artistic works in clay and ivory - stone increasingly becoming the preferred material to eternalize the afterlife ;

  • Gerzean ware design schemata reveal the lessening importance of the feminine in religion and the concomittant increase in masculine religious principles ;

  • the first "mnemonic" symbols and semi-cursive hieroglyphs appear on labels of recipients, suggesting that the first hieratic (the cursive form of hieroglyphs) was predynastic and already in use in everyday life.

As mentioned, the kings from Hierakonpolis (later to be knows as the "Followers of Horus") conquered and annexed the kingdom of Naqada in terminal predynastic times. The deity of Naqada was Seth. The legends of the great conflict between Horus and Seth and the subjugation of the latter by the former as well as that of the "Two Lands" may refer to this unification (of Upper Egypt). The next step involved the annexation of the key nomes of Middle Egypt and the remaining Northern nomes. Finally, consolidation of the rule over the Delta (not necessarily total conquest) encouraged the conquerors to establish a new capital : Memphis. The unification of Egypt was thus completed ca. 3100 - 2950 BCE When the two Kingdoms were newly united, Heliopolis was already important (in the first Dynasties or Thinite period). In the Pyramid Texts (881b) the first kings were identified or compared with "Horus, son of Atum".

The transition to the Dynastic Egyptian State was marked by a new order based on justice and the rule of law instead of on military power. This stabilization of this concept of order by and through Pharaoh, protecting Egypt against the chaotic forces, was the key invention of the early Dynasties and of the Old Kingdom as a whole.

"The incredible amount of quality excavation and survey over the Nile Valley has allowed a very good picture of predynastic material life to emerge. With aid from hieroglyphic writing, early Dynastic religion, and other historical sources, cognitive interpretations must be made using the same artifacts which have been used for only material ends in the past. As mentioned earlier, this is beginning to take place in Egyptian archeology."
- Czerwinski, 1995, p.39.

The predynastic, sacred & feminine source of divine kingship

Although agriculture was the decisive economical factor responsible for the rise of Egyptian civilization, other elements played their role. According to Hassan (1992), mythogenetic changes were an essential ingredient in the rise of the state and they were not merely a consequence of economic or political developments. In my opinion, this makes the Egyptian cultural form so exceedingly interesting.

"Ritual and myth provided individuals with a matrix of sacred meaning in which economic, social, and political developments were grounded and reinforced. Similarly, economic and political developments provided a framework for the transformation of ritual and myth along a co-evolutionary course."
- Hassan, 1992, p.307.

For Hassan, the ideational aspects involved are the assimilation of the sacred power of female deities by Pharaoh. The power Pharaoh had over others was legitimated by sacred myths that linked him with supernatural forces. In predynastic times, female deities were associated with the sacred domains of birth, death and resurrection, as well as with plants, domestic animals and the cycles of nature. The ritual domain of the gods focussed on hunting and judicature. This composite nature of female deities can be observed in ancient goddesses like Hathor who was polymorphic. In addition to her image of a cow (prominent as goddess of the sky in the Narmer Palette and as Great Mother suggestive of the idea of birth from the womb), she was also a tree-goddess and a goddess of the sky. She was both mother as goddess of the deceased. This complexity must, according to Hassan, be regarded as a manifestation of the primeval goddess who combined many of the functions that later were differentiated and assigned to other deities.

This important sacred role of goddesses is confirmed by the prominent role played by goddesses in the pantheon, the representations of female figures in late predynastic Naqada II iconography, the equal status women enjoyed in this society and the association of women with the sacred domains of existence (birth, fertility, creation, death and resurrection). Moreover, in the Old Kingdom, the mother of the royal heir was his official consort and on the Palermo Stone the name of Pharaoh was directly followed by that of his mother. Neither were the tombs of some of the early queens essentially different from those of Pharaoh, protected during his life by the "Two Ladies", the goddess Nekhbet -a vulture- and Wadjet -a cobra-, both representing Upper and Lower Egypt respectively ...

"You are a son of the Great Wild Cow. She conceives you, she bears you, she puts you within her wing."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 554 (§ 1370).

With this unification and assimilation, all power was centralized in Pharaoh, a "Follower of Horus". This sky god, was represented by a falcon. The Horus name in Pharaoh's titulary, also called banner-name or Ka-name, shows Pharaoh as the earthly embodiment (incarnation) of Horus.

These "Followers of Horus" represented the notion of royal ancestor worship as a legitimization of male power, for all kings were so many incarnations of the same sky-god. Each ruler became part of this upon his death. Divine kingship emerged when legitimate descent was coupled with the image (myth) of divine power, and the acquisition of such power was achieved by assimilating pre-existent goddess cults and their sacred domains.  

"The King is the son of one who is unknown ; she bore the King to him whose face is yellow, Lord of the night skies." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 320 (§§ 515-516).

Pharaoh became the son, brother and husband of the primeval sky-goddess (Hathor) and as such became divine. As these goddesses were identified with nature, they ruled over creation, resurrection, nurture & protection, i.e. the areas of the sacred and the supernatural. This assimilation was not complete, and hence goddesses continued to play their part as mothers, sisters and wives. Marriage with a sister was hence considered a sacred marriage, reaffirming the divinity of Pharaoh.

"The Ennead and the Osirian myths proved to be durable schemata (organizing formats) for the cosmogony of divine kingship. The myths conserve the power of female deities, but at the same time provide a cosmic rationale for the rule of a male king and hereditary succession. The struggle between Seth and Horus and the triumph of Horus, as well as the judgement of the gods in favor of Horus, established the rule of Law (Ma'at) and resolves the potential conflicts between clans over kingship and succession." - Hassan, F.A. : Art.cit., p.319, my italics.

life-size statue of Djoser
in Sed regalia (IIIth Dynasty)
Cairo Museum

The power of Pharaoh was invigorated by the ceremonies of the so-called "Sed" festival (cf. the statue of Pharaoh Ninetjer in Sed festival garb - Dynasty II), during which he was recoronated to re-assert his sovereignty (cf. my paper on Akhenaten). He received the chiefs (princes) of Upper and Lower Egypt, who payed him homage and proclaimed their allegiance to the throne.

A key feature of this ritual (the rules of which are to be found in New Kingdom sources) was the Heb-Sed court (or court of the "festival of the tail"), which had chapels of the various nomes, containing the statues of their respective deities (cf. the festival court at the southeast of the Step Pyramid of Djoser).

Four times Pharaoh moved round a track as the ruler of the South and four times as the ruler of the North. He was the supreme over-seer, like the falcon. With this act he showed that all the deities accepted, reaffirmed and reinforced his divine rule and also his physical ability to do so.

The deities in their chapels represented the temples of Egypt, for Pharaoh was the ultimate high priest, thanks to whom the deities dwelled in their statues by sending their doubles and souls (cf. my paper on the "Ba"). 

"Be not unaware of me, O god ; if you know me, I will know you."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 262 (§ 327).

Each of the statues had thus been made alife by the "Opening of the Mouth" ritual and in the Heb-Sed court they were not alone (as they were in their respective places of worship) but they were together with the doubles and souls of the rest of the pantheon, gathered around Pharaoh who metaphorically "flew above" them as a bird.

Although Pharaoh, to become a divine king, had assimilated the sacred power of the primeval goddess, he was not yet a god himself (as Pharaoh). In the first Dynasties, Pharaoh represented divine kingship which guaranteed the solid theocratic unity of the "Two Lands". The king was a "Follower of Horus" and his power was legitimized by the notion of royal ancestor worship. His divinity was not yet based on any filial relationship (Pharaoh was not called "son of Horus") but on the sacrality he assimilated from the primeval sky-goddess allowing him to soar into the sky like a falcon, acting as sole overseer of the "Two Lands" ...

Between the IIth and the IVth Dynasties, Re gradually surpassed Horus in importance. Re became the active power in the world, a position previously exclusively held by Horus (i.e. the king). Pharaoh was no longer an incarnation of the same Horus but he was a unique son of Re, a god in his own right. So the transition from the universal mother goddess to this god-king was formalized in the Solar cosmogony of Heliopolis. Pharaoh assumed the title "son of Re" in Dynasty IV.

The transition from the incarnational to the filial approach of kingship also introduced a different foundation for its divine nature : instead of being based on ancestor worship (for all kings were the same Horus), Pharaoh himself became the object of cult, and as the sole god physically abiding on Earth, he was the exclusive mediator between the deities abiding in the sky and human culture (each Pharoah was another son of Re). Only Pharaoh faced the deities. 

This Solar interpretation of kingship formalized the measurable presence of deified masculine authority which had started with a national justice system, set in place after unification. Divine kingship (the masculine power of the hunter combined with the sacredness of the primeval goddess) was aiming at the theo-political unity of the state though the institutions of Pharaoh and his will to manifest his divine presence, first as Horus & next as a god in monumental and other sublime artworks everywhere in Egypt.

2.2 The "Sia", "Hu", "Heka" & "Maat" of Re and Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom.

the emergence of the solar cult of Re

In the early dynastic period, the sky-god Horus incarnated as Pharaoh. But that Re  was associated with kingship too is evidenced by Pharaoh Re-neb of the IIth Dynasty. The hieroglyph for the Sun -a circle with a central dot- first appears in late predynastic times. Pharaoh Radjedef (ca. 2548 - 2540 BCE - IVth Dynasty) was the first king to bear the name "son of Re", although not in his titulary (this will be done by his brother or half brother Khephren who completed the royal titulary).

The Solar cult which developed in Heliopolis was closely connected with the separation between the Sun (in the sky) and Nun, the endless waters (originally Atum was worshipped in On, but he was solarized and assimilated by Re). This distinction was related to creation itself. Water referred to Nun and the Nile, whereas the luminous Sun and its rise and dusk connected with the appearence of the mound or hill of creation (in "zep tepy", the first time between pre-creation and creation). The overseeing qualities of Horus are also found in Re, who fused with a sky-god into Re-Harakhty.  

In the Old Kingdom (ca.2670 - 2205 BCE, from Dynasty III to VI), Harakhty was venerated in On (Heliopolis) as "Horus of the Horizon". Re-Harakhty was worshipped in his traditional form of the heroic god. He was represented as a falcon bearing the uræus-encircled solar disk on his vertex. He is the Sun god emerging at dawn, sovereign of the sky.

"The reed-floats of the sky are set in place for Re.
That he may cross on them to the horizon.
The reed-floats of the sky are set in place for Herakhti.
That Harakhti may cross on them to Re."

Pyramid Texts, utterance 263 (§ 337).

Horus of the Horizon, combined Re and Horus, and as Re-Harakhty the translation "King of the Sky" is also applicable. This god was a solarized Horus, symbolizing the emerging, dawning power of the fully rejuvenated & regenerated Solar deity. In the Heliopolitan view, Re created the world and so he was also associated with Atum. Re, as the real father of Pharaoh, played a central role in the whole of Ancient Egyptian religious history, culminating in the New Solar Theology of the early New Kingdom and Amarna culture, to merge, in late Ramesside theology, with the all-encompassing theology of Amun-Re.

The real expansion of the cult of Re came with the ruling family of Dynasty V. As the Westcar Papyrus relates, every Pharaoh was the son of Re, begotten of the wife of the high priest of Heliopolis. These kings devoted a large proportion of the resources of the state to build Sun temples, open structures, surrounding the Solar emblem of the "benben", the first place of creation and prototype of the more slender obelisk. Re remained the guarantee of every monarch's worth.

the power of the mind, the Great Word and its protection

In the Pyramid Texts (end Vth and VIth Dynasties, ca. 2300 - 2200 BCE), Re makes use of wisdom & understanding ("Sia"), creative, authoritative utterance ("Hu") and powerful magic ("Heka"). These passages make clear that Sia, Hu and Heka are personifications of the creative, vertical activity and power of Re and his son, Pharaoh, who ascends to the sky. This activity and power are however rooted in mental factors, as was the whole cosmic (Re) and terrestial (Pharaoh) order. 

For example, because every morning, specific mental processes (through ritual recitation or prayer) were executed, Re was unharmed by Apophis (the place where this could happen was called the "island of flames"). By speaking the Great Word, the bolts were unlocked and creation was recreated. As long as the rituals brought the ritualists (as deities around Pharaoh) back to the first time (potential full-emptiness of the eternal now), Re dawned and separated the celestial from the terrestial.

Let us first consider Sia, the deity of the sense of touch or feeling, considered to be the foundation of the empirical mind (for the Egyptians touch & hearing were primordial and not, as would say the Greeks, sight).

"I have come to my throne which is over the ka's, I unite hearts, O you who are in charge of wisdom, being great. I become Sia who bears the book of god, who is at the right hand of Re. (...) I, even I, am Sia who is at the right hand of Re, the proud heart, who presides over the Cavern of Nun."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 250 (§ 268).

"The Great One indeed will rise within his shrine and lay his insignia on the ground for me, for I have assumed authority (Hu) and have power through understanding (Sia)."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 255 (§ 300).

"Make salutations, you gods, to the King, who is older than the Great One, to whom belongs power on his throne ; the King assumes authority (Hu), eternity brought to him and understanding (Sia) is established at his feet for him. Rejoice at the King, for he has taken possession of the horizon."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 257 (§ 307). 

"This King is a master of wisdom (sab-bwt) whose mother knows not his name." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 273 (§ 394).

With Sia we touch upon the whole sphere of knowledge, both cognitive (understanding) and intuitional (wisdom). In the cognitive domain, Sia represented the perceptive mind with its empirical ego. Sia carried the sacred papyrus, whose contents embodied the areas of mental activity in which understanding had been achieved. Sia was also insightful planning and insofar as the inventive side of the latter was considered, intuitional elements join the connotative field of the semantics of Sia. Hence, Sia was also wisdom and the sacredness of perfected understanding.

That Sia was important is testified by the fact that in the company of the gods, Pharaoh was Thoth, the god of knowledge, (U611, 665c - §§ 1725, 1914), who spoke "this great and mighty word" (U577, § 1523) contenting all the gods, for in Thoth was "the peace of the gods" (U570, § 1465). Furthermore, Thoth protected, was the wing-feathers of Pharaoh and "the mightiest of the gods" (U524, §§ 1233, 1237)
. Knowing was in "front of the Temple" and behind Pharaoh (U554, § 1371), who unites the minds (hearts - ab's) and the vital forces (ka's). In the Book of the Dead, Sia appeared in the Judgment Scene among the gods who watched the weighing of the heart (i.e. the mind) in the Great Balance, indicative of the relationship with the mental. This cogitation (by the mental energies of the "heart") was intimately related with sensoric perception and with intent. The presence of Sia near Re indicated that Re had an extraordinary "power of mind". 

Sia stood not alone, for Re had also creative speech at his side. Hu, the deity of the sense of taste, personified this verbal authority associated with the Great Word of creative command. Like Sia, Hu came into being from a drop of blood from the phallus of Re. Hu was the companion of Pharaoh, son of Re, when he had become a lone star in the sky.

"O King, they {the gods} make you live and resemble the seasons of Harakhti when they made his name. Do not be far removed from the gods, so that they may make for you this utterance which they made for Re-Atum who shines every day. They will install you upon their thrones at the head of all the Ennead(s) as Re' and as his representative." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 606 (§§ 1693-1694), my italics. 

"My tongue is the pilot in charge of the Bark of Righteousness. I will ascend and rise up to the sky." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 539 (§ 1306).

"It is said : 'Say that which is, do not say that which is not, for the god detests falsity of words.'"
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 511 (§§ 1160-1161).

"My lips are the Two Enneads. I am the Great Word. I am one who is loosed. I am one who ought to be loosed, and I am loosed from all things evil." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 506 (§ 1100).

"Hear it, O Re, this word which I say to you ; your nature is in me, O Re, and your nature is nourished in me, O Re." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 570 (§ 1461).

"There is no word against me on earth among men, there is no accusation in the sky among the gods, for I have annulled the word against me, which I destroyed in order to mount up to the sky."- Pyramid Texts, utterance 302 (§ 462).

The authority of Pharaoh was this Great Word which he commanded. This creative, authoritative speech can also be found in the archaizing Memphis Theology (written in the New Kingdom).

For example, column 55 of the Shabaka Stone reads :






heart / lips

Hu / lips

teeth / lips

semen / hands


"His Ennead (Ptah's) is before him as heart, authoritative utterance, teeth and lips.
They are the semen and hands of Atum."

Memphis Theology, line 55, my italics.

Note that this powerful, omnipotent utterance is linked with righteousness and truth, the two characteristics of Maat, the goddess who personified the great ideal of the Old Kingdom, reflected in the rule of law initiated & maintained by Pharaoh (with the plume of Maat above his head) and in the didactical literature (for example the wisdom-teachings of Ptahhotep). Pharaoh uttered a truth which silences the deities and commands authority. The power of the spoken word of Pharaoh could not be countered, not even by the gods. All words directed against Pharaoh were automatically annulled. He was the only living man in Egypt able to communicate with the pantheon. He was the top of the pyramidal structure of the theocracy and its institutions & administration ...

The third element was Heka, used in the Coptic New Testament to translate "mageia", the knowledge and art of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians (exercising supernatural powers over natural forces). In those days they were associated with the wise men from the East guided by a star (cf. astrology) paying homage to Jesus. 

In Ancient Egypt, Heka was the goddess personifying extraordinary, supernatural powers or magic. She appears a a child of Re, sometimes as his personification. The regard Egyptians had for magic is self-evident.

"'How lovely to see ! How pleasing to behold !' say they, namely the gods, when this god ascends to the sky, when you ascend to the sky with your power upon you, your terror about you, and your magic at your feet." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 306 (§ 477).

"How lovely to see, how uplifting to behold, when this god ascends to the sky just like Atum, father of the King, ascends to the sky ! His ba is upon him, his magic is about him, the dread of him is at his feet." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 480 (§ 993).

"I will ascend and rise up to the sky. The magic which appertains to me is that which is in my belly. (...) It is not I who says this to you, you gods, it is magic (Heka) who says this to you, you gods. I am bound for the Lower Point of Magic." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 539 (§ 1318 - 1324).

"The sky quivers, the earth quakes before me, for I am a magician, I possess magic." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 472 (§ 924).

Heka was associated with tremendous and terrible powers mastered by Re and Pharaoh. However, although magic could express in many things and different kinds of magicians existed (cf. infra), Egyptian magic was closely related with the expression of an idea (Sia) through creative speech (Hu). In this process of creation through the Great Word, Heka does not represent the power of conception (taking place in the mind), nor its utterance (taking place on the tongue). Heka was the "protection" of this intelligent creative speech against anything or anybody trying to counter it. So Heka was there to break resistances. 

This distinction provides us with a key to distinguish religion from magic in Egypt. The former is the general cult of the deities, the latter the inherent power of a concept expressed with authority, eliminating that which is able to counter its realization. However, both overlap, for during the rituals the deities spoke and hence made use of Heka, whereas magical acts (like making an amulet or talisman) involved the help of the deities who (through the priests) uttered their "words of power" to initiate the magical effect of the operation ...

" ... anthropologists and scholars of world religions struggled for a long time in the hope of finding more objective criteria for distinguishing between magic and religion. The results of decades of discussion have not been satisfying, particularly with respect to Egyptian religion."
- Goelet, 1998, p.145. 

In Ancient Egypt, the common ground between religion and magic is intelligent (Sia) creative speech (Hu). This sheds a completely different light on the spirituality of the Egyptians, far more concerned with mental factors than recent egyptology has put into evidence.

 Maat : the righteousness and truth of protected, intelligent creative speech

The importance of Maat in Egypt's didactical literature has been studied elsewhere. In the Pyramid Texts we read :

"The sky is at peace, the earth is in joy, for they have heard that the King will set rectitude (Maat) in the place of wrong (isfet). The King is vindicated in his tribunal {the court of justice over which Re presides} on account of the just sentence which issued from his mouth ..." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 627 (§ 1775).

"I seat myself upon the throne of 'She who preserves Justice (Maat)'." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 503 (§ 1079).

"I come forth, the guardian of justice (Maat), that I may bring it, it being with me." -
Pyramid Texts, utterance 260 (§ 319).

"My tongue is the pilot in charge of the Bark of Righteousness (Maat). (...) The soles of my feet are the two Barks of Righteousness." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 539 (§§ 1306 & 1315).

"You will cause me to sit because of my righteousness (Maat) and I will stand up because of my blessedness in your presence, just as Horus took possession of his father's house from his father's brother Seth in the presence of Gêb." -
Pyramid Texts, utterance 519 (§ 1219).

"If you wish to live, O Horus in charge of your staff of justice (Maat), then you shall not close the doors of the sky, you shall not slam shut its door-leaves before you have taken the King's double to the sky, to the nobles of the god, to those whom the god loves, who lean on their staffs, the guardians of Upper Egypt, clad in red linen, who live on figs, who drink wine, who are anointed with unguent. He shall speak on the King's behalf to the great god, he shall conduct the King to the great god." -
Pyramid Texts, utterance 440 (§§ 815 - 816).

O King, I have wept for you, I have mourned you, and I will not forget you, I will not be inert until the voice comes forth for you every day, in the monthly festival, in the half-monthly festival, at the Setting down of the Brazier, at the Festival of Thoth, at the -festival, and at the Festival of Carving as your yearly sustenance which you fashioned for your monthly festivals, that you may live as a god." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 690 (§§ 2117 - 2118).

The Coffin Texts superseded the Pyramid Texts as early as the VIIIth Dynasty (First Intermediary Period, ca.2198 - 1938), but their principal sources are the later cemeteries of the nomarchs of Middle Egypt in the XIIth Dynasty (i.e. Middle Kingdom - ca.1938 - 1759). 

Here we find :

"O you who are content with what you have done -four times- and who send Maat to Re daily, the liver of Re is flourishing daily because of Maat, and he partakes of the meal of the Great Goddess." - Coffin Texts, spell 165, III 6.

Pharaoh sat on his throne to do justice. Daily he uttered the Great Word and therewith he recreated the just order of things and made iniquity and chaos vanish. By doing so he fed Re who partook of the meal of Maat. He returned the essence of his light-being ("khu") to its origin (the stars) by saying (truth) and doing  the right thing (righteousness). Pharaoh sustained the order of the world through justice & truth. Maat was also the guarantee of the sacredness of royal insight, command and protection. By sending justice to Re, the last and the first connected to form the infinite cycle of unending existence and harmony.

 the Heliopolitan "logos"

In Heliopolitan theology, Re and Pharaoh were the two proto-types used to describe the order of creation. Re encompassed all cosmic functions, Pharaoh all terrestial. The Osirian cycle explained the mythogenesis of divine kingship, leaving room for the figure of the sacred primeval mother goddess (cf. the importance of Isis in the cycle, able to outwit Re & restore Osiris, assisted by Thoth). Solar theology was a cosmogeny, a model of creation and salvation through rejuvenation and eternal life. The harmony (unity) between both aspects of order was justified by the generative relationship between Re and Osiris-Pharaoh, the son of Re, doing justice and feeding his father with truth in order to return to him.

In both cycles (the macrocosmic and the microcosmic), the mental played a considerable part. In fact, take away the Great Word spoken by Re and his son and there is no creation and no Egyptian state. It is strange that this omnipresence of the power of the Word has not aroused more scholarly interest. Both in the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, as well as in the Memphis Theology, we find the rudiments of the notion of the "logos" as a creative agent :

  • the senses report to the mind, able to synthesis a (proto) concept allowing for thoughtful planning, understanding, wisdom (Sia). This is the making of the Word in the mind ;

  • on the basis of this, authoritative commands are uttered by the tongue. This is the objective expression of the Word (Hu), an object among objects ;

  • the execution of this command is guaranteed by the power of the words spoken. This is the supernatural power to break resistances part of the "meaning" (name) of the Word (Heka) ; 

  • the whole purpose of speech is the offering of truth and justice to the source of the Word. This is the aim of all communication : to establish truth and expell falsehood (Maat).

The Memphite theology (developed at the end of the New Kingdom) probably used the Heliopolitan theology to develop its own interpretation of the "logos". In this view, Ptah encompassed both the pre-creational, creative and created phases of cosmogony (He is both Nun, Atum as Re) and created everything with his word.

Heliopolitan schema becomes

Memphite schema

Sia : thought thought in the heart
Hu : speech Hu : word on the tongue
Heka : protection inherent in Hu
Maat : truth inherent in Hu

Sia & Heka were not mentioned, for the Memphites reduced the whole Heliopolitan scheme to the formation of thoughts in Ptah's mind and the creative speech on his tongue (Hu). This creative command is able to realize itself automatically and establish the peace needed by the Two Lands. Hence, in Memphite theology Heka is inherent in the Great Word. When spoken, "justice is done to him who does what is loved". The Memphis Theology attempts to supersede the Heliopolitan doctrine on three accounts :

  • Ptah is all-encompassing : he is the Great One of pre-creation, first time & creation ;

  • The Great Word spoken by Ptah creates the Ennead, whereas in the Heliopolitan view, Atum creates the deities through onanism ;

  • mind and creative speech on the tongue are like the semen and the hands of Atum, i.e. the Great Word spoken is the first cause and not Atum's mythological initiatoric act of taking semen in the hand and in the mouth.

2.3 The mummification of divine words.

the predynastic origin of the Egyptian language

"Archaic" Egyptian is generally not included as an actual stage of growth of the language, for too little texts survive to allow for a fruitful study of the underlying language. Did the Egyptians invent their own writing system or did they borrow it ?

The earliest Sumerian writing ante-dates the first hieroglyphs by a century and more. During the late predynastic period, there were contacts between Egypt and Mesopotamia. A pictographic system, similar in appearance and structure to the hieroglyphic script, was used to write the earliest Sumerian and proto-Elamite languages (cf. Proto-Elamite Tablet, Louvre), although the Egyptian signary was from indigenous sources. The form of various artistic designs and motifs (for example the felines on the reverse of the Palette of Narmer) indeed evidence the cultural transmissions between both cultures. 

Unmistaken differences refute the thesis of a direct borrowing of this early Sumerian :

  • in the earliest Sumerian, logography (a word is directly represented by its picture) predominates and phonography (a word is represented by a series of signs for the spoken sounds) is limited. The latter took several centuries to fully develop ;

  • in the earliest Egyptian, a substantial (if not complete) phonography is present ;

  • the earliest Sumerian is syllabic and defines the vowel (each sign is a syllable consisting of either a vowel or a consonant + a vowel) ;

  • the earliest Egyptian is consonantal with unstable vowels which are not recorded ;

  • Sumerian has no determinatives and no developed pictoral ideography (a variety of signs representing idea, context, category, modality or nuance) ;

  • the earliest Sumerian quickly became cuneiform, whereas Egyptian hieroglyphs remained pictoral until the last inscription (Temple of Philæ - 394 CE).

Indirect borrowing of the Sumerian is likely (cf. "stimulus diffusion"). But the differences show the Sumerian example was adapted to the culture of Predynastic Egypt, its iconography and the grammar of its artistic styles. It is possible that in Predynastic times, the population of the Delta was in contact with south-western Asia, and settlers may have entered the region and mingled with the local population, but this was (against Derry and the "Dynastic Race" theory) incidental to the cultural development of Egypt.

In historical times, borrowings from some Semitic languages are well attested. But there is no evidence for an "African substratum" in Ancient Egyptian (an indentifiable, specifically African language). In fact, scholars conjecture many of these similarities are not borrowings at all, but prove both the Egyptian and the Semitic languages are derived from a common ancestor, the Afroasiatic or Hamito-Semitic language family ...

the sacred power of the Great Word

The "Great Word", creating celestial & terrestial order, was, in predynastic times, foremost a spoken word. The many references to "lips", "mouth", "teeth" confirm this. This spoken command is fluent, direct, immediate and auditorial (with reference to actual listeners). 

The Great Word was spoken by Re to create the world and by Pharaoh to fashion the terrestial order. Before the advent of writing, some kingdoms had reached a considerable level of organization and culture. But only final unification would bring lasting peace and justice. Around 3000 BCE, nomads, cattle breeders, farmers, Africans, Aziatics, Semites and Hamites united to form a single state, with each new Pharaoh uniting the disparate elements of his kingdom by delegating portions of his authority to his elect. The advent of Pharaoh established a vertical order (risen land, obelisk, pyramid) making the horizontal plane of the "Two Lands" to be just & true (overseeable). Simultaneously, written records appeared. The making of the pharaonic state, the justification of divine kingship, also implied the confirmation of masculine presence by stabilizing the fluidity of the sacred spoken sound through the confines of glyphs representing these sounds only partly in divine word-images. The feminine sacrality of the Great (spoken) Word was assimilated by the enduring divine power of word-images in stone.

unification, the advent of writing and double script

The earliest inscriptions emerged at the end of the final predynastic period (ca. 3000 BCE) and in the archaic period (the first two Dynasties), i.e. during the period of the final unification of the "Two Lands" and the coronation of Pharoah at Memphis. Inscriptions became necessary in order to date and name important events. The historical age of Egypt started with this unification of the Two Lands. With Pharaoh, the ancestor worship of each "Follower of Horus" had been initiated. To identify their shrines, inscriptions became necessary.

The assimilation by Pharaoh of the sacred power of the predynastic goddess, implied the creation of a permanent higher focus beyond all divisions, a divine authority uniting (political and theological) dualities. Upon the ongoing, horizontal processess of nature (birth, life, healing, death, resurrection) and their chaotic origin (cf. the predynastic wars and petty conflicts), Pharaoh superimposed the vertical, sole presence of the divine on earth (whereas all other deities abided in the sky).

The feminine, receptive (auditive) process of the use of the spoken word was assimilated by the masculine, radiating, dazzling, living written reality of the divine name of the Lord of the Two Lands, the sole landmark of presence : Pharaoh's titulary, monumentally eternalized in word-images in stone, was a landmark which faced "milions of years".

spoken word

written word

predynastic - prehistorical dynastic - historical
realm of sacred myth realm of divine rule
primeval mother goddess
Great Sorceress
Great Magician
mind (Sia), speech (Hu)
and effect (Heka)
image-words as
offerings to Maat

Also note the distinction between hieroglyphic script and hieratic script, both attested in the predynastic period. Hieroglyphs were first used to write different kinds of texts, in a variety of media, but as hieratic developed, the former became increasingly confined to religious and monumental works, in carved relief in stone (cf. the Greek "ta hieroglyphica" : "the sacred carved letters"). Hieratic was an early adaptation of the hieroglyphic script, the glyphs being simplified and easier to outline. It became Egypt's business and administrative script. Also employed to record literary, scientific & theological works, it can be found on all sorts of media, especially on rolls or sheets of papyrus or on pieces of stone and pottery (ostraca). This "day-to-day" script, which had been used for 2500 years, was ousted by another script, demotic, at the beginning of the Late Period (ca. 600 BCE) and thereafter confined to religious documents (cf. the Greeks calling it "hieratika" or "priestly"). The latest demotic inscription is a grafitto in the Temple of Philæ dated 450 CE

the oldest examples of Egyptian writing

The first hieroglyphs appear in the late predynastic period, in the form of label-texts on stone and pottery objects from various sites (ca. 3100 - 3000 BCE). Writing (in both scripts) is used to record short information, like names of persons, places and products. 

Palette of King Namer
Late predynastic Period (ca.3050 BCE) - Cairo Museum - JE 32169 - H. 63 cm


The name "Narmer" is written with the phonograms of a cat-fish "nar" and a chisel ""mr" and written above him, enclosed in a rectangular called a "serekh" (between the Hathor-heads).


Narmer is shown engaged in a ritual procession, with his name occuring twice, written with the same signs as on the obverse. Other identifyable hieroglyphs are present.

The Palette of Narmer commemorates a victory, probably the final one, ending the struggle for the unification of the entire Nile Valley (or Delta of Lower Egypt). By this time Hierakonpolis was a powerful political and religious center in Upper Egypt. Narmer or Menes was the legendary or historical Pharaoh who united the Two Lands, initiating the end of the predynastic era. The "heraldic" value of this palette is unmistaken (cf. ivory tablet of Den, relief of Semerketh).

Here are some other early examples of Egyptian writing :

  • from a fragment of a large, globular, green faience vessel or vase inlaid with the name of Pharaoh Aha in brown-coloured faience (Ith Dynasty, ca. 3000 - 2800 BCE, in British Museum) we learn about the sophistication of the combination of faience technology and artistic talent in the early dynastic period ; 

  • the tomb stela of Pharaoh Djet (Djer, Wadj, Uenephes, "serpent" - Ith Dynasty, ca. 2920 BCE - Louvre E 11007) has his Horus name inscribed on it ; 

  • the tomb stela of Pharaoh Reneb (Saqqara, IIth Dynasty, in Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York) was also the focal point of the royal mortuary cult (it represents the falcon Horus surmounting a paneled facade, with the hieroglyphs "Ra" and "neb", meaning "Ra is my Lord.") ; 

  • the statuette of Pharaoh Ninetjer in festival Sed-garb (IIth Dynasty, ca. 2760 - 2715, little over 5 inches in height) has his royal name on it ; 

  • the gods Geb and Seth have been identified on a fragmentary relief of Pharaoh Djoser (IIIth Dynasty, ca. 2654 - 2635, in Turin Museum) ; the mortuary temples at Maidum & Dahshur of Snofru (IVth Dynasty, ca. 2600 - 2571) were simple (an altar with two tall stelæ bearing the royal titulary) but the valley temple of the Bent Pyramid was provided with statues & relief decorations (processions of the royal estates in the various nomes) and columns (with ceremonies like foundation rituals, scenes of the Sed festival, scenes of Pharaoh being kissed by the deity) ...

The first major literary application was the so-called Offering List which contained a list of foods, ointments & fabrics. It probably already existed in the IIIth & IVth Dynasties. It was carved on the walls of the private tombs of high officials. The written word gave a special identity to the pictoral representations, named the tomb-owner, his family, his ranks & titles and the offerings the deceased was about to receive. We have to wait for Pharoah Wenis or Unas (end of the Vth Dynasty, ca. 2378 - 2348) to actually read what had probably been recited orally for at least since the beginning of the dynastic age (if not earlier), i.e. the spells of the Pyramid Texts.

the magico-religious intent of Egyptian writing

Memphis, the city of Ptah (represented in Sed garb), and the pharaonic state have always been intimately related. Indeed, in the final phases of unification, the Delta had been the most difficult area to unite. Enthroning Pharaoh at Memphis had therefore a strong symbolical meaning and this remained the case throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. Politically, the "White Walls" of Memphis were suggestive of the unity of the "Two Lands" guaranteed by Pharaoh. The period of strife and was over and order and justice could reign. So the king was a living divine reality bringing justice and truth. His divinity was directly linked with the sacred cycle of birth, life, health, death & resurrection.

This advent of order and truth was eternalized by written hieroglyphic inscriptions on stone, a craft ruled by Ptah. The act of carving these icons was considered magical, for each hieroglyph was deemed to be a divine sign, a place for the ka's and ba's of the deities to dwell in, a key inviting the invisible to manifest. 

Hieroglyphs were always more than just a writing system. The Egyptians referred to it as "writing the divine words" or "divine words", whereas the individual icons was termed "image" or "form", the same word for a representation in Egyptian art, showing its relationship with pictoral art. Indeed, like art, the script works with pictures and they all have a well-defined form. Governed by strict rules as to content and representation, it had as its purpose to make the depicted exist eternally. In the Old Kingdom, the relationship between art and writing is consistent. In fact, it was a system of art endowed with magical characteristics. 

The Great Word was protected by magic to realize itself when uttered. But hieroglyphs were seen as living beings just in the same way as statues were considered alife after the words of the ritual of "Opening the Mouth" had been spoken over them while the ritual actions had been performed . As this "life" was also an offering of justice and truth by Pharaoh to the deities, hieroglyphs participated in the divine life of the monarch. As such, they became divine image-words depicting and giving fixed meaning to the divine order. As living icons, they were the loci for the Ka's and Ba's of the beings they represented. Their magic is precisely this : the divine words mummify the spoken word, stabilize their form and hence make the power of execution to last throughout the ages, for "millions of years". Just as the mummy released the "sâh" of the deceased for eternity (cf. my paper on the Ba), so did these divine words eternalize the power of meaning (the name). Taken together, the hieroglyphs create a separate world of divine image-signs, interacting which each other and with the representations around them (pictoral scences, statues, tomb, temple etc.). It is not exaggerated to state that they animated a metaphysical world of image-meanings ... they took the physical, shape it and added to it divine, eternal meaning. Through rituals, the signs were as divine as the statue (temple, mummy) of a deity in which its Ka dwelled.

This is also shown by the fact that certain hieroglyphs, like those depicting humans, birds and animals, were considered potentially dangerous when for example placed near the sarcophagus or the food offerings for the deceased. Sometimes these icons were suppressed or modified : the bodies of humans and the heads of insects and snakes were omitted, the bodies of birds were truncated, the bodies of certain animals were severed in two, snake tails were abbreviated and the evil serpent Apophis is sometimes shown as constrained or "killed" by knives and spears ... The written name of a deity or Pharaoh was a direct manifestation of the essence of the former. Sometimes this name was destroyed to harm a god (cf. Akhenaton's eradication of Amun), sometimes old monuments were usurped simply by removing the name and replacing it without touching the appearance of the piece to conform it to the style of the time ...

To write was to do justice. Hieroglyps in stone were a divine form of communication, a divine speech between, on the one hand, Pharaoh (the sole god on Earth) and the deities and, on the other hand, between the divinities of the pantheon themselves (cf. its companies of gods & goddesses, the Enneads). The divine text was also a testimony, providing concrete evidence that Pharaoh had been at work in Egypt to assure justice and unity. Each letter embodied his double and soul, for nothing happened outside the authority of the Great Word of Pharaoh. By writing it down, he assured that posterity would remember his work as a god. Moreover, this solidification was also a mummification, a bringing forth of the subtle life of the Ka's and Ba's of the truth embodied by Pharaoh in each and every letter of his divine script. Thus, to write was to subjugate all resistances by virtue of the powerful protection (Heka) inherent in the divine hieroglyps, incarnating the "maât" of the divine communication. The hieroglyphs revealed the divine order and truth which ruled the world and which Pharaoh offered to his light-father Re, who fed on Maat.

2.4 Philosophy of language and the Egyptian language.

philosophy of language

It is impossible to outline contemporary philosophy of language within the limited framework of this paper. I will limit myself to those themes which seem essential to me in the discussion of the genesis of the Egyptian language and the early stages of cognitive growth. 

Language is the outcome of the process of transforming experiences into glyphs, intended to be used to communicate with another. This broad definition includes the languages of the natural world, from crystalline structures and their qualities to the complex social structure of the gorilla in its biotope.

A glyph (from the Greek "glyphê" or "carved work") is the physical presence of the particular character of some distinguishing, differentiating activity, understood through its meaning (semantics), its order (syntax) and recurrent practice (pragmatics). Glyphs always trace a contrast with their environment, involving (single or a combination of) visual, auditive, olfactoric or tactile experiences. Glyphs are hence meaningful & well-formed states of matter. 

This definition of "glyph" is in accord with the general description of the three fundamental operators of my ontology (or theory on being) :

  • pragmatism or matter (hardware) : all beings are executive material aggregates, composed of nominal (crude, gross) and/or meta-nominal (subtle) matter - cf. hylic pluralism ;

  • syntax or information (software) : all beings are ordered architectures by virtue of the laws of symmetry which describe their well-formed code and non-redundant information ;

  • semantics or consciousness (userware) : all beings are a source of meaning, develop a unique perspective or conscious outlook enabling them to auto-redefine, auto-regulate and auto-reorganize as a function of their degree of intelligence (or freedom).

My moderate, modular, postmodern philosophical investigation of human language (as the advent of culture) calls for a non-reductive study of meaning coupled with a structured approach (both Fregean and non-Fregean), hand in hand with a participant investigation of the actual use of language in all kinds of contexts, situations & environments. The qualification "postmodern" is justified, because of the acceptance of the overall "double coding" to be found in texts, namely the difference between, on the one hand, the text and its inherent ambiguities (which are left intact), and, on the other hand, an imaginal margin drawn next to the text in which the "false doors" in the text are presented to the reader. The implication being that the written word is a form of presence.

This philosophy of human language and its hermeneutics is hence not restricted to the spoken or written word. Art and body-language are good examples of non-verbal languages. In this broad definition of language, all cultural forms are languages but not all languages are cultural forms. Culture always implies conservation and the transmission of meaning to the next generation (which is absent in most of the animal world with its specific languages).

Of course, the production of sounds (in music and through the spoken word) is an excellent way to trace the characteristic distinctions of a glyph. A sound is not a noise. The latter is homogenous & chaotic, i.e. in noise, entropy is always high. No distinct meanings are conveyed, no specific order or differentiation can be recorded and a long exposure to too much local noise even causes one to hear less (negative pragmatical result). 

Sound-glyphs exist as distinguishable entities "carved" in air. These distinguishing features are clear and distinct when the level of noise is low and the articulation of the characteristic meaningful acoustic form is well performed. XXth century classical and to a lesser extent popular music have demonstrated that the line between noise and sound is relative. However, the return of tonality, polytonality & the non-alleatoric show that sounds can not be produced with (educated) noise alone ...

On the other hand, sound-glyphs are volatile. Before the technical ability to record them existed, they were always lost. Hence, as soon as humans understood the advantage to record these sounds for future reference and (re)transmission, history started. Of course, prehistoric glyphs other than sounds existed (like artifacts, rituals, pictoral art etc.), but their meaning can not be established as distinctly and unambigeously, and the information derived from them is always prone to redundancy. 

The process of recording sound-glyphs implied the standardization of sounds, which came about either by drawing pictures of the object denoted by the sound-glyph (the logogram) or by isolating individual sounds, as it were reducing the spoken to its elements or "phonemes" (from the Greek "phônêma", or "speech sound" and "phônein", or "to sound"). The moment these spoken sound-glyphs are recorded as individual written glyphs, phonograms emerge (from the Greek "gramma", or "the written"). Phonograms are the foundation of all written languages although in archaic languages, like early Sumerian, logography was predominant suggesting that phonography was derived from logography.

the Egyptian language

Our knowledge of ancient Egyptian is the result of modern scholarship (its final decipherment, starting in 1822, was the work of the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion, 1790 - 1832). The Egyptian language was first written down towards the end of the terminal predynastic period (end of the fourth millennium BCE). There is a continuous record until the eleventh century CE, when Coptic (the last stage of the language) expired as a spoken tongue and was superceded by Arabic. 

Six stages have been identified : 
Archaic (first two Dynasties), Old (Old Kingdom), Middle (First Intermediate Period & Middle Kingdom), Late (New Kingdom & Third Intermediate Period), Demotic (Late Period) and Coptic (Roman Period).

In the last two stages, new scripts emerged and only in Coptic is the vocalic structure known, with distinct dialects.  Archaic Egyptian consists of brief inscriptions. Old Egyptian has the first continuous texts. Middle Egyptian is the "classical form" of the language. Late Egyptian is very different from Old and Middle Egyptian (cf. the verbal structure). Although over 6000 hieroglyphs have been documented, only about 700 are attested for Middle Egyptian (the majority of other hieroglyphs are found in Greco-Roman temples only).

Egyptian hieroglyphs is a system of writing which, in its fully developed form, had only two classes of signs : logograms and phonograms.

• logogram (word writing) 

A logogram is the representation of a complete word (not individual letters of phonemes) directly by a picture of the object actually denoted (cf. the Greek "logos", or "word"). As such, it does not take the phonemes into consideration, but only the direct objects & notions connected therewith.

For example :

, depicting the sun, signifies : "sun", is a logogram

, depicting a mouth, signifies : "mouth", is a logogram

A writing system exclusively based on logography would have thousands of signs to encompass the semantics of the spoken language. Such a large vocabulary would be unpractical. Moreover, which pictures to use for things that can not be easily pictured ? 

• phonogram (sound writing)

Egyptian phonography (a word is represented by a series of sound-glyphs of the spoken sounds) was derived through phonetic borrowing. Logograms are used to write other words or parts of words semantically unrelated to the phonogram but with which they phonetically shared the same consonantal structure. 

For example :

The logogram  , signifies "mouth". It is used as a phonogram with the phonemic value "r" to write words as "r", meaning "toward" or to represent the phonemic element "r" in a word like "rn" or "name".

    "rn" or "name" : the logograms of mouth and water

This pictoral phonography is based on the principle of the rebus : show one thing to mean another. If, for example, we would write English with the Egyptian signary, the word "belief" would be written with the logograms of a "bee" and a "leaf" ... The shared consonantal structure allows one to develop a large number of phonograms. They are the solid architecture of the language. In Egyptian, the consonantal system was present from the beginning. Three main categories of phonograms prevailed :

  • uniconsonantal hieroglyphs : 26 (including variants) - they represent a single consonant and are the most important group of phonograms ;

  • biconsonantal hieroglyphs : a pair of successive consonants (ca. 100) ;

  • triconsonantal hieroglyphs : three successive consonants (ca. 50).

The last two categories are often accompanied by uniconsonantal hieroglyphs which partly or completely repeat their phonemic value. This to make sure that the complemented hieroglyph was indeed a phonogram and not a logogram and/or to have some extra calligraphic freedom in case a gap needed to be filled ...

This phonography allowed a word of more than one consonant to be written in different ways. In Egyptian, economy was exercized and spellings were relatively standardized, allowing for variant forms for certain words. 

• ideogram or semogram (idea writing)

Logograms are concerned with direct meaning and sense, not with sound. Likewise, Egyptian used so-called "determinatives", derived from logograms, and placed them at the end of words to assist in specifying their meaning when uncertainty existed. 

A stroke for example was the determinative indicating that the function of the hieroglyph was logographic. The determinative specified the intended meaning. Some were specific in application (closely connected to one word), while others identified a word as belonging to a certain class or category (the generic determinatives or taxograms). Determinatives of a word would be changed or varied to introduce nuance. The same hieroglyph can be a logogram, a phonogram and a determinative.

For example :

The logogram , depicting the sun, signifies : "sun" (in continuous texts, a stroke would be put underneath the hieroglyph to indicate a purely logographic sense). Placed at the end of words related to the actions of the sun (as in "rise", "day", "yesterday", "spend all day", "hour ", "period") the hieroglyph is a determinative. In the context of dates however, it is a phonogram with as phonetic value "sw".

Besides these purely semantical functions, the determinatives also marked the ends of words and hence assisted reading. They helped to identify the "word-images" in a text. Once established, these were slow to change, causing, as early as the Middle Kingdom, great divergences between the written script, becoming increasingly "historical", and the spoken, contemporary pronunciations.

Logograms and determinatives are both ideograms. Pictoral ideography (a variety of hieroglyphs representing idea's, notions, contexts, categories, modalities or nuance's) conveys additional meaning. Ideograms are purely semantical (or semograms). To the objective sound-glyph (the phonetics, in this case, being the consonantal structures with no vocalizations) an ideogram is added changing the overall meaning.

Hieroglyphic writing remained a consonantal, pictoral system allowing for both phonograms and ideograms to convey meaning.

2.5 Early cognition and Archaic, Old and Middle Egyptian.

I try to correlate certain features of Egyptian (and its genesis) with the earliest stages of cognitive growth, evidencing that in the course of the completion of Egyptian in its "classical" form, from the Late predynastic Period (ca. 3000 BCE) until the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1759 BCE, the death of Pharaoh Nefru Sobek Shedty), the stages of development of the language are in accord with what is known about mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational cognition. 

I conjecture the written language went through the same stages (but faster) than those which the spoken language had gone through in the prehistorical period.

of thought
in Egyptian thought
major stages of growth in the formation of Middle Egyptian
Gerzean ware design schemata, early palettes (Battlefield, Libyan, Vultures), Palette of Narmer individual hieroglyps, no texts, no grammar, cartoon-like style
Relief of Snefru, Biography of Methen, Sinai Inscriptions (Khufu) Testamentary Enactment, Pyramid Texts individual words, archaic sentences, rudimentary grammar to simple sentences in the "record" style of the OId Kingdom
concrete operations
  Maxims of Ptahhotep, Coffin Texts, Sapiental literature ... Amduat ... Great Hymn to the Aten ... Memphis Theology from simple sentences to the classical form of a literary language capable of further change

Let us start at the beginning :

mythical writing

neolithic period

Before the differentiation between the spoken and the written language, no identification and transmission of meaning was possible, except through oral means. Insofar as the ability to identify conscious activity was concerned, only anonymous cultual productions prevailed. Mythical memory produced its tales, legends and typical designs. No individual consciousness can be denoted. The differentiation between, on the one hand, nature and its processes and, on the other hand, human consciousness is very small or completely absent. The graven images found in graves, point to the start of the first decentration and the rise of the idea of objectifying meaning in picture-glyphs (beginning of logography ?).

middle to terminal predynastic - Archaic Egyptian

This slow process of objectification gave rise to the experience of spatiality : navigation on the Nile and the emergence of cult centers and urban centers, associated with chiefdoms, principalities, provincial states and village corporations, finally united into regional kingdoms. Trade continued to flourish and wealth distinctions became more salient. The subject experienced itself for the first time as source of cultural actions. Differentiation (between object and subject) led to logico-mathematical structures, whereas the distinction between actions related to the subject and those related to the external objects became the startingpoint of causal relationships. The grammar of ware design is used, allowing for the decentration of actions with regard to their material origin, for now myths could be recorded in schemata which could be objectified by later subjects. The linking of objects was also evident. Means/goals schemata rose. The dependence between the external object and the acting body was mediated by elementary rules of design and cultural dressing. These schemata led to spatial & temporal permanency. 

This process of interiorization (starting with the first decentration and ending with the exhaustion of the mythical mode of thought) led in the terminal predynastic period to an entirely new subjective focus which exteriorized itself in single hieroglyphic writing. This event defined the most important breach with the past : the end of the exclusivity of the mythical mode of thought and its already complex spoken language and the start of the history of Ancient Egypt. The advent of political unification is consistent with this radical change. 

In the mythical "first time", the "primordial hill" emerged out of the undifferentiated. In the passive principle (Nun), the active (Tatenen) lay dormant. In the resulting Ennead, 4 feminine & 4 masculine deities formed a balanced ogdoad + a masculine "Great One" (Atum, Re, Ptah, Thoth, Amun-Re). The active pole drew its "force" out of the balanced passive ogdoad (reminiscent of the pre-creational primordial Ogdoad of chaos-deities - cf. Hermopolitan theology).

The final unification of the Two Lands became possible thanks to the centralizing, masculine role of Pharaoh and his justice & truth. He was the falcon who oversaw everything, the witnessing eye. Instead of the emergence of conscious focus out of the inert, there came the conscious awareness drawn from the panoramic overview. The presence of the "Followers of Horus" was the divine-on-earth (not in the sky). Like Atum it was self-created, self-governing and everlasting. Unlike Atum, Pharaoh did not exist forever momentarily (fugally) in the first time, but in all times forever. The masculine is not drawn from (or constructed upon) the feminine (as in the natural order), but the feminine is assimilated by the masculine (as in the cultural order). The "onanism" of Atum can be linked with this connotative field, for masturbation does not serve procreation (neither does taking seed in the mouth). The proto-typical battle between Horus and Seth is one in which the feminine is totally absent.

Palette of King Namer
Late predynastic Period (ca.3050 BCE)

The Palette of Narmer shows that hieroglyphs were intended as explanations of the pictures (cf. cartoons). So the "gist" of the complete message was conveyed by groups of individual pictures, logograms & phonograms.

Narmer, with ritual beard and hedjet-crown (the "white one") holds & crashes the head of a chieftain called Washi (harpoon and pool) who is from the North (cf. the falcon or Horus of the South controls -by the mouth- a head coming out of papyrus).

Pharaoh is followed by his sandal-bearer and underneath his feet his enemies crawl.

This obverse side of the Palette of Narmer could then be conjectured as :

"Narmer of Upper Egypt, Beloved of the Two Hathors, Falcon-god Horus, smites chieftain Washi and leads captive the inhabitants of the land of the papyrus."

This formidable political unification needed its landmarks. The "Followers of Horus" became divine ancestors. They had to create a material blueprint of their presence. The divine power of words being very firmly established, no elaborate hieroglyhic writing was called upon. A few signs in stone sufficed.

Stela of Pharaoh Djet

Dynasty I (ca.3000 - 2800 BCE) - in the serekh the first hieroglyph of his name, "dj" - in the Louvre - E 11007

Stela of Pharaoh Reneb

Dynasty II (ca.2800 - 2670 BCE). Hieroglyphs Re and nb in the serekh, or : "Re is my Lord" - Metropolitan

The rise of semiotics transformed the sound-glyph into logograms & phonograms. The fact that phonograms and logograms were used in a monolithic, outstanding way (hand in hand with artistic pictoral representations) shows the need to exteriorize in heraldic fashion this collosal attainment around 3000 BCE (unification) and the foundation of the dynastic age (Dynasty I & II). 

pre-rational writing

early Old Kingdom (Dynasty 3 - 5) - Old Egyptian

When the difference between subject and object became a sign, a higher mode of cognition could be expressed. This involved the written language to realize its first internal structure, so that words could be joined together in simple sentences. Internalization led to the formation of pre-concepts, i.e. word-images created through imagination and the interplay of meaningful objective relational contexts. Subjectivity is expressed as a function of an objective state. The actions of the "I"-form are objective states which are not yet (self) reflective. The opacity of the material side of presence prevailed. The subject has no transparancy of its own.

The Relief of Snofru (first Pharaoh of Dynasty IV, ca. 2600-2571) shows Pharaoh with the Atef-crown and upraised war-club about to smite a Bedwi, whom he has forced to kneel, holding him by the hair of his head. During Snefru's mining operations in the Sinai, he probably had to battle with the Bedwin of the region. The inscriptions that accompany the relief contain only titles and attributes of Pharaoh. It reads :

"King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Favorite of the Two Goddesses, Lord of Truth, Golden Horus : Snefru, Great God, who is given satisfaction, stability, life, health, all joy forever."
"Horus : Lord of Truth. Smiter of Barbarians."
Sinai Inscriptions of Snofru, rock-walls of the Wadi Maghara in the Peninsula of Sinai and palace façade (the "banner"), translated by : Breasted, 2001, p.75, § 169.

The earliest biography is that of Methen, who died in the reign of Snefu, but who's affiliations were with the preceding Pharaoh's. His was the story of the gradual rise of a scribe to overseer of provisions, and governor of towns and districts in the Delta. He also was deputy in the eastern part of the Fayum and the 17th Anubis nome (Upper Egypt). He was amply rewarded and tells the reader about the size of his house with an account of the grounds. He was buried near the terraced pyramid of Zoser of the earlier part of Dynasty III. An excerpt :

"He was made chief scribe of the provision magazine, and overseer of the things of the provision magazine. He was made (...) becoming local governor of Xois, and inferior field-judge of Xois. He was appointed judge, he was made overseer of all flax of the king, he was made ruler of Southern Perked and deputy, he was made local governor of the people of Dep, etc ..."  - Biography of Methen, from his mastaba-chamber in Sakkara, Berlin Nos.1105-1106, translated by : Breasted, 2001, p.77, § 172.

In 400 years, the written language had considerably developed. But although words could be joined together in simple sentences and the latter in pragmatical groups (dealing with honors & gifts, offices, legacies, inventories, testaments, transfers, endowments, etc.), the additive, archaic quality of the style remained. The composition between these groups was loose or absent. Subjectivity is objectified. Pre-operatoric activity is limited by the immediate material context. Writing reflected the part one had played in the state.

In his biography, Methen tells us about his house :

"It was recorded therein according to the king's writings ; their names were according to the decree of the king's writings." - Biography of Methen, translated by : Breasted, 2001, p.78, § 173 (8), written under the reign of Snofru.

In the Testamentary Enactment of an Unknown Official of Dynasty IV we read : 

"This is the decree which I made concerning it : I have not empowered any of my brothers, my sisters, or my daughter's children, inferior mortuary priests, or assistant mortuary priests, to take lands, people, or anything which I have conveyed to them, for making mortuary offerings to me therewith, whether their man-servant or their maid-servant, their brothers or their sisters, save to make mortuary offerings to me therewith, in the cemetery in my eternal tomb which is at the pyramid : "Great-is-Khafre" according to the portion of lands, people, and everything, which I have conveyed to them, for making mortuary offerings to me therewith." - Testamentary Enactment of an Unknown Official, translated by : Breasted, 2001, p.91, § 202, written under the reign of Khephren (Dynasty IV - ca. 2540 - 2514).

The Pyramid Texts have their own particular problems and difficulties. They are a set of symbolical "heraldic"  spells which mainly deal with the promotion of Pharaoh's welfare in the afterlife. These spells were recited at various ceremonies, mostly religious and especially in connection with the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Pharaoh. These texts are to a large extent a composition, compiling and joining of earlier texts which circulated orally or were written down on papyrus a couple of centuries earlier. Some of them go back to the oral tradition of the predynastic era, for they suggest the political context of Egypt before its final unification. The relative rarity of corruptions is another important fact which makes their study rewarding.

However, these texts are pre-rational because they are an amalgam of thoughts in which contradictions occur (between the Heliopolitan and Osirian elements) which are left intact. In harmony with the writing practice of the Egyptians, older structures are mingled with new ones and many traces of earlier periods remained. The extent with which this layeredness took shape here is rather pronounced. The language itself has the style of the "records" of the Old Kingdom, often additive and with little self-reflection (which starts with the First Intermediate Period). These Pyramid Texts are the culmination of pre-rationality.

"While there is some effort here to correlate the functions of Re and Osiris, it can hardly be called an attempt at harmonization of conflicting doctrines. This is practically unknown in the Pyramid Texts. (...) But the fact that both Re and Osiris appear as supreme king of the hereafter cannot be reconciled, and such mutually irreconcilable beliefs caused the Egyptian no more discomfort than was felt by any early civilization in the maintenance of a group of religious teachings side by side with others involving varying and totally inconsistent suppositions. Even Christianity itself has not escaped this experience." - Breasted, 1972, pp.163-164.

Their literary characteristics show that in the collection no epics or drama is to be found. Didactic poetry (precepts) and lyrics in which personal emotions & experiences are highlighted are nearly  absent. The texts deal mainly with religious & political literature. One of the common forms of this literature is the litany-like scheme. We also find hyms & songs of triumph. Stylistically, the texts reveal that parallelism and paronomia are numerous. Various types of parallelism can be observed : synonymous (doubling or repetition), symmetrical, combined, grammatical, antithetic, of contrast, of constraint, of analogy, of purpose and of identity. Metrical schemes of two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight lines occur (the fourfold being the most popular). The play of words is the commonest literary feature and depends on the consonantal roots of the words. Alliteration, metathesis, metaphors, ellipses, anthropomorphisms and picturesque expressions are also found. 

early proto-rational writing ?

late Old Kingdom (Dynasty 6) - Old Egyptian

The administration of the Pharaonic State was considerable. The need to develop the language rose. In the Old Kingdom, we see the rise of three independent literary genres : religious poetry, sapiental instructions and the biography. The literary style of the period reflects the tranquil security of and unshaken faith in the power of kingship.

At a certain point, the interiorizations became operations, allowing for transformations. The latter make it possible to change the variable factors while keeping others invariant. Conceptual and relational structures arise. We see an increase in the formation of coordinating conceptual structures which are capable of becoming closed word-images by virtue of a play of anticipative and retrospective constructions of thought (imaginal thought-forms). This anticipation is clearly attested in the legal documents. Retrospection was also  firmly established. 

A good example of this early proto-rational writing are the Maxims of Ptahhotep. Here the rhetorical device of playing with words that have identical consonantal skeletons was used. In other texts, identical grammatical formulæ are repeated, and ready made groups of word-images are used. 

"Ensuite, il faut avouer qu'à notre goût la composition paraît décousue. Des conseils de civilité puérile et honnête voisinent avec des fines remarques psychologiques. Mais si la forme de notre exprit exige une organisation rationnelle et un classement de matières, l'alternance de conseils de politesse et une tentative, requérant l'effort, pour modifier son propre caractère, est peut-être pédagogiquement excellente et résulte d'une grande expérience de l'enseignement." - Daumas, 1987, p.354, my italics.

The Middle Egyptian of this and other text from Dynasty VI (cf. the Instructions of Kagemni) can be explained as resulting from only minor alterations, for the end of Dynasty VI and the beginning of Dynasty XI are only a hundred years apart. Moreover, many of the forms characteristic of Middle Egyptian are found in the biographical inscriptions from Sixth Dynasty tombs. Dynasty VI is hence transitional. Also politically, for the importance of the provinces had risen, preparing the great changes introduced in the First Intermediate Period and in the Middle Kingdom.

In the Discourse of a Man with his Ba and the Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb the acquired introspection leads to inner dialogues (in the first work between the "I" and its "soul", in the second between the "I" and its heart).

the advance of proto-rational writing

First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom - Middle Egyptian

The increase of individuality forced the language to acquire more reflective capacities. The formal system underlying the language became more complete. All necessary word-images were present and a variety of literary styles existed (religious, funerary, legal, sapiental, poetic, prose, etc.). The classical form of the language could already be sensed in the Maxims of Ptahhotep (late VIth Dynasty), and the Discourse of a Man with his Ba (First Intermediate Period) but clearly emerged in works like the Instruction to Merikare (XIIth Dynasty), the Prophecies of Neferti (XIIth Dynasty), the Eloquent Peasant (XIIth Dynasty), the Admonitions of Ipuwer (late XIIth Dynasty), the Story of Sinuhe (late XIIth Dynasty) ...

Constructive abstraction, new, unifying grammatical and semantical coordinations allowed for the emergence of a total system and its auto-regulation (or the re-equilbration caused by perfect regulation). That mental operations were "concrete", not "formal", i.e. they exclusively appeared in immediate contexts, is evidenced by the inability of the writing to realize a system which :

  • was liberated from the limitations of a pictoral signary ;

  • defines its vowels and 

  • was able to specify meaning otherwise than through determinatives and ideography.

Furthermore, the position of a noun in the sentence determined whether it was the subject or the object of a verb. The normal word order being : verb + noun-structure + noun-object. Complex sentences (with more than one subsentence) were rare, and the meaning of a sentence could only be derived at one step at a time. 

This concrete, proto-rational writing contained a paradox : a balanced development of logico-mathematical operations was evident, but the limitations imposed upon the concrete linguistic operations pushed the language to move beyond this. 

The Story of Sinuhe shows the complexity arrived at. The composition contained a lot of variety : narration, hymn, epic, monologue, dialogue, copy of a royal letter and epistle-like response with stereotypical expressions ... This work is also a psychological novel, explaining the adventures of its hero on the basis of his character. The style of the writing is of an elegant simplicity and the verbal forms have been carefully chosen. The narrative style is organized by rhythmical prose using parallelism and constituting a veritable religious song. This work has been found on 6 papyri and 10 ostraca, proving that it was amply used to serve as a model for student scribes (the limestone ostrace, the largest of its kind, is the partial copy in hieratic of the work by a school-boy of the XIXth Dynasty of the New Kingdom). 

Late Egyptian introduced considerable grammatical changes. As a result, the differences between Late Egyptian and Classical Egytian are as considerable as those existing between modern French and Latin, although the literary genres remained unchanged (with greater originality though) ... 

The verbal structure developed, but the pictoral, consonantal and ideographic limitations were kept in place. Just like the New Solar Theology was able to naturalize the deities without eliminating the old pantheon, so were new linguistic innovations introduced side by side the "old" language. This conservative tendency was one of the chief causes of the layeredness of the language and suited the "multiplicity of approaches" (cf. Frankfort) extremely well. Old forms (although syntactically problematic) were retained because of the divine nature of words and the idealization of the Old Kingdom. In the New Kingdom as well as in the Late Period, achaism were savoured because the ancient word-images were believed to arouse the Ka's of old and hence provide the necessary magical succession. To change a pattern for formal reasons was deemed less important than to maintain a wrong combination which had proven its magical merits. 

We see therefore the remnants of mythical thought at work in pre-rational writing by virtue of its psychomorph features (a good example are the "Hunting gods" spells -273 & 274- were the "Grasper of Knots" lassoes the deities for Pharaoh who gulps down their spirits and eats their magic). The presence of predynastic material in the pre-rational Pyramid Texts is attested.

In proto-rational writing, these confusions were at times left behind (cf. Great Hymn to the Aten). Amarna theology banished the old pantheon. Only the light-presence of the Aten, absolutely alone, was divine, just as Pharaoh, son of the Aten, receptacle of the revelations of the Aten and teacher. However, after Amarna, the pre-rational confusion of object & subject was restored (together with its foundational mythical identifications) and the plurality of contexts was never conceptually transcended by means of a theoretical form. 

The explosion of the signary in the Late Period may be linked with this, for the confrontation with other cultures, in particular Greek culture, with its outstanding dialogal & theoretical inclinations, could only lead to stress in the pictoral orthography, with its use of consonantal phonograms, logograms & determinatives. Inventing new hieroglyphs was the simplest way to introduce new word-images without making complex combinations of logograms, phonograms & ideograms for the same spoken words ... The procedure was first used in a tomb of the early New Kingdom, namely with the hieroglyphs of the chariot and the horse, unknown in Egypt before the Hyksos invaded Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1759 - 1539, Dynasties XIII - XVII). The phonetic value of these new objects is however completely unknown, for by inventing a new logogram for them, even the consonantal structure was lost. This explains why the meaning (vocabulary) of some hieoglyphic texts of the Late Period can only be properly understood if their logography is know (i.e. the answer to the question : "To what does this hieroglyph refer ?").

Hence, insofar as Ancient Egyptian civilization as a whole is concerned, the decontextualization of meaning in an abstract theoretical form never took place. The language remained layered and archaic elements were sometimes introduced or copied to give the text a feeling of antiquity (for that reason, the Memphis Theology was long regarded as an Old Kingdom text). Pictoral representations elucidating the text remained in place (cf. the vignette), as well as a type of ideogram called "orthogram" or "calligram", which conveyed neither meaning nor sound but was written for aesthetic reasons & pleasure. The cultural form of Ancient Egyptian civilization remained at the level of the concrete operations.

Summarizing :

  • Archaic Egyptian = mythical : the myth of divine writing - single hieroglyphs as divine passage-ways to the divine - cartoon-like messages (pictures accompanied by logograms & phonograms). This phase ends with single inscriptions without grammar, culminating in loose pictoral narratives assisted by a few phonograms (Palette of Narmer).

  • Old Egyptian = pre-rational & early proto-rational : the actual initiation of writing - written monuments for practical purposes - the first pre-rational linguistic structures appear - single sentences with simple forms - the emergence of contextualizing determinatives - beginning of anticipation & retrospection - single word-images forming groups which convey a particular style - the differentiation of literary genres - sapiental writings. This phase ends (in the late VIth Dynasty) with sentences in a particular style, able to convey in a short and laconical way insights of incredible depth (Maxims of Ptahhotep).

  • Middle Egyptian = proto-rational : the formation of the classical form - interiorization leading to a stable, self-reflective first person singular - object & subject conceptually & relationally distinguished - verbal structures and the form of sentences allow for greater nuance and poetry - the explosion of literature and a further differentiation of the literary genres. This phase ends with sentences and styles which can compete with the classical literatures of all times. The classical form was flexible enough to change even further in the New Kingdom (Late Egyptian). However, proto-rationality was never superceded ... 

The particular "Egyptian" quality being linked with the pictoral signary and the consequent adherence to the pre-rational and mythical modes of thought which can be found interlaced in the Egyptian literature as a whole, with the exception of Amarna culture.

scriptorium & auditorium

The historical records undeniably show that writing played a major role in Ancient Egyptian society, but it is unlikely that literacy was widespread among the population. The production, direct access and appreciation of writing was most certainly the preserve of the educated élite (professional priests, palatins and/or state officials), estimated to be no more than 1% of the population during most of the Pharaonic Period, rising to about 10% in the Græco-Roman Period when Greek was the official language (these are educated guesses). 

Throughout their history, writing was a very desirable acquisition, conferring status and securing one's position and means of advancement (leading to the highest offices). There were elementary schools, and the teaching system was based on the "apprentice/master"-relationship, the latter in many cases being a father or a relative. 

Moreover, the presence of literature testifies that groups of intellectuals existed who found the time to endulge in the pleasures of writing & reading. 

"Si l'Égypte antique n'avait connu que les mélopées des travailleurs dans leurs champs ou sur leur chantier et les contes débités par quelque beau diseur pour un certain nombre de badauds, elle pourait posséder un riche folklore, main sa vie littéraire serait inexistante." - Daumas, F. : Op.cit., p.345.

Although monumental writings are anonymous, sapiental instructions (born in the circle of scribes) were signed (cf. Hardjedef, lost sage of the address to Kagemni, Ptahhotep, Neferti, Ipuwer etc.). In a collection of "chosen pieces" for pupils, the papyrus scroll was compared with the cermonial equipment of the priests, books with pyramids, writing reeds with children and the surface of the stone with a woman. The places of origin of these literatures were the "House of Life", which was an important part of every major temple.

3  Heka : first-born of Atum-Re & son of the Great Goddess.

Coffin Texts, spell 261, Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE) - hieroglyphs compiled on the basis of all the coffins mentioned in Buck, de, 1935-1961,  vol.III, 382 - 389.

The translation of To Become Magic is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

General considerations :

African "traditional thought" also in Ancient Egypt ?

In contemporary African philosophy, so-called "traditional thought" (involving the existence of gods, ancestor spirits and their supernatural power, practices, rituals and social involvements) is embraced (as the characterizing mark of African culture) or shunned (as the loathsome past to be critically modernized). 

Both attitudes are rejected, because :

  • to embrace "traditional thought" is to do away with critical reflection and to return to modes of thought inferior to rational thought, which is an unacceptable regression ;

  • to deny it entails the formation of a fixed barrier between rational thought and the early stages of cognitive growth, with their mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational modes and their concomitant fantastic practices & bizar rituals.

Since African societies are said to be among the closest approximations in our contemporary world to social formations which have not reached the rational stage, their interest for comparative cognition is considerable. The additional fact that Ancient Egypt was an African culture in which magic played a very prominent role, may lead to conclusions regarding how to optimalize the communication between the "inferior" and "superior" modes of thought, so as to realize an integrated rationality.

the rational mode and the "barrier of reason"

The rational, formal mode of cognition, reached its point of culmination (critical, nominal, self-reflective thought) only slowly. The dialogal interest linked with this mode evolved too. The evolution of the rational mode involved disconnecting the constructions of the mind more and more from their objective pendants, be they modalities of the Ideal Subject or the Real Object. Ockham initiated this movement (cf. nominalism), Kant formalized it (cf. the "Copernican Turn"), and it was finalized in logic, mathematics, epistemology and phenomenology and finally superceded by postmodernism, showing the inevitable limitations of thought as such (scepticism) and allowing both instinct (the ante-rational, emotional intelligence) and intuition to come into the game of knowledge.

For the rational mode is only a thin layer, rooted in the architecture of the early stages of cognitive growth. Instead of approaching these deep-layers with mythology (cf. Freudian psychoanalysis), a study of these early strata of development is made. Pre-relations & pre-concepts are traced, as well as their schematical pre-structural organization and mythological roots. Next, contextual concepts with their concrete operations are listed. This yields an overview of the network of the ante-rational. Indeed, the early stages of cognitive growth taken together, provide semantics, syntax and pragmatics of the "ante-rational", showing (as does chaos-theory) that some order can be found in what seems only mad turbulence (cf. Hamlet).

In the rational mode, we have to realize that the "barrier" which is introduced is a mental artefact which should not dominate the "natural" evolution of cognition. In fact, as soon as the "barrier of reason" is made into one of the idols of science (as it was in logical positivism) reason becomes "perverse" (to use a word of Kant). The "barrier against ante-rationality" should be a mental operator exclusively used when critical inquiry is called for. As a tool, it should be ready and near, but to use it as a totem or a monolith is to mythologize reason and thus to slow down the growth of human cognition. The only way out is an integrated rationality, acknowledging & knowing its ante-rational, instinctual foundations (magic) as well as its intuitional aspirations (intellectual perception). When a critical approach is necessary (as in science), this comprehensive reason is assisted by the "barrier of reason", which has the status of methodological rule. 

The "barrier of reason" should be erected against the "irrationality" of mythical thought. But also against "intuition" ? Put together, intuition is then said to be irrational, although both represent the ends of the spectrum of cognition. Closed, barricaded reason fails to develop a comprehensive outlook on reality and humanity. It eventually splits into parts which constantly fight each other (creating new barriers). At times an utilitarian, volatile peace ensues. Creativity, inventivity and the artistic are not understood. Subjectivity is left unstudied. A huge gap between the reality of everyman and the conclusions of this barricaded reason is created. This leads this highly specialized but handicapped reason to become devoid of history and hence unable to maintain its linear barriers and predictable controls. "Hubris" is high, but the collapse of even its highest structures is always imminent ... Fanatism poisons all cognitive growth. This is the end of the "reason" of the "big stories" (cf. Lyotard) ...

a free, open, integrated, comprehensive reason

In contemporary Western philosophy, magic is too often regarded as based on an inferior type of "false" cognition. It is true that childhood cognition is inferior to mature adult thinking, but on what does this maturity largely depend ? On a multiple, multi-channeled, inner, conscious communication between the ante-rational, rational and intuitional aspects of our experience of reality (called "experience of life"). This simultaneous approach is only possible if an integration has taken place, causing a functional co-operation between all the different layers of cognition. Clearly reason is at the "heart" of cognition, but not without taking into account all other cognitive architectures which are actively taking part in the cognitive process as well, but which are not a member of the operational categorial conditions demanded by reason.

Reason itself has all the tools it needs to continue to grow and let the cognitive process do its work. The unconditional and the infinite (all limit-concepts of the normal, nominal empirico-formal cognition) urge reason to pose the fundamental questions of being, becoming and returning, which lead to further reflection and reason's discovery of its intellect.

Accepting that intellectual knowledge is possible but irrelevant to the process of the production of facts. Intuition reinterpreted ? The intellect organizes reason like reason organizes mind and mind organizes the synthesis of what is sensed. The unity of reason leads to the contemplating intellect. 

To become conscious of the transcendental Self, the empirical ego should be bracketed. The "natural" context of action, the emotional life & mentals connected with the ego are constructions with a limited and fragmented reality-for-me. They should be set apart for they do not endure. During dreams, new conditions are operational. In dreamless sleep all identified consciousness or subjectivity seems annihilated. In the waking state, different turbulence may create episodes of lowered consciousness, while physical conditions may create unease & pain. The empirical ego is unstable, unpredictable & differential. 

As soon as we try to explain consciousness, we are forced to think a transcendental Self which accompanies all possible states of the empirical ego. Reason pictures this "I" as formal & empty, waiting for "the flash of insight" to be poured into the pure Grail. It can do and should do nothing more. The impact of the intellect (of contemplation) on reason is limited because the transcendental ideas do nothing more than regulate the processes of the mind so that more objective knowledge may be gathered. They do not constitute factual knowledge (i.e. they never constitute reality-for-us). Nor are these ideas representations of the true order of things (as traditional ontology supposed).

The Self-ideas (cf. Cantor's aleph-1, ...) thirst for manifestation and succeed through intellectual flashes of insight to inspire, initiate & engage new, creative & just activity of reason. Without these ideas, reason would not be able to truly and permanently unify the heterogeneity of the objective knowledge (facts) gathered by the mind. On a higher level, all possible ideas (cf. Cantor's Omega) are totalized. There is the link between intellect and mystical revelation, the ultimate type of knowledge, the core of which is absolutely ineffable and hence, insofar as human culture is concerned, only an object of ethics (the ultimate criterion to distinguish genuine from insane mystics is what they do) & esthetics (sublime exemplaricity is what drove adherents to keep the revelations and revere them as divine words).

3.1 Origin of Egyptian magic.

Two modes of supernatural effects are distinguished. In general, these modes can be seen to correlate with the presence of physical light, triggering two main states of human consciousness : the diurnal (waking or Solar) and the nocturnal (dream and dreamless sleep or Lunar). In Ancient Egypt, both modes were called "heka", but conceptual & practical differences were present.

Figurine of Mamariya
Early predynastic Period (ca.4500 BCE)

This and other female figurines (like that from Naqada) show signs linking their breasts and hips with water, grain and plant symbols. 

The raised arms, although associated with boats, fig trees and ostriches, point to the Great Mother Goddess, the Cow Goddess of the Sky (Hathor). 

This primeval goddess was the guardian of the sacred, the hidden, namely fertility, birth, creation, death and resurrection. 

In those mythical times she guaranteed the cosmic legitimacy of the kings & rulers as long as they were affiliated with her.

The sacred magic she represented, was related with the processes of nature and recquired no writing to be effective. It was the sorcery of lasting, antagonistic continuity, of Moon, night, femininity and the Great Sorceress.

Figurine of Mamariya
early predynastic period, painted earthenware, H = 0,29m - Brooklyn Museum.

Solar magic versus Lunar sorcery

The magic of Pharaoh has been described with the best of thoughts as :

"He (God) made for them magic as weapons to ward off the blow of events, guarding them by day and by night." - The Instruction to Merikare, 135, First Intermediate Period.

This legacy of a departing Pharaoh taught the laws of kingship (135 - 140). Here Pharaoh admonished his son "Merikare" ("He who loves the Ka of Re") to make firm his station after death by being upright and doing justice (125 - 130), which is the only way to endure on earth (45 - 50). Demolishing is possible only if one restores later. "Beware ! A blow is repaid by its like, to every action there is a response." (120 - 125). A man's name, known by Re (135 -140), is not made small by his actions (105 - 110). In this treatise the word "god" is always used in the singular, for the instruction is a royal one, i.e. from the Pharoah, the living god, to his divine son. "God" then being another word for the Sun god Re.

We read that Re provides Pharaoh with the powerful weapon of magic, like a shield protecting him against the "blow of events" or "fate", i.e. the dreaded emergence of the chaotic, threatening the survival of light (cf. Apophis). This protection is continuous, during the day (when Pharaoh rules the Two Lands) as well as during the night (when he navigates the Nile of the underworld on Re's Bark of Millions).

In pharaonic Egypt, the underworld and the night remained powerful metaphors indicative of the chaotic powers of pre-creation, the most dark & total annihilation, but also of regeneration, rejuvenation and resurrection. In fact, it is fair to say that Ancient Egypt's mythological thought is precisely rooted in this pre-creational realm of endless, inert & passive water (Nun) and the Ogdoad of chaos-gods, worshipped at Hermopolis (the city of Thoth). The feminine keeps the sacred hidden, for the essence of the processes behind fertility, gestation, growth, healing, death & resurrection are invisible. A sacred male ruler could place his throne & feet on the body of the feminine earth of the Great Mother Goddess, the Great Sorceress, but his supernatural powers depended on his affiliation with her. Without her sacred power he was unable to hunt in safety and keep the "good" order of his domain.

The rise of Pharaoh dramatically altered the situation. The origin of his magic was totally different and developed in two stages :

  • as a "Follower of Horus" he was the incarnation of the overseeing plane witnessed by the piercing eyes of the Horus Hawk high up in the sky, the height of heaven. "Heru-ur", "Horus the elder" (cf. shrine of his sanctuary at Sekhem were he was worshipped in the form of a lion), was the son of Re and Hathor (of Qesqeset), indicative of the first phase of the assimilation of the sacred by Pharaoh : Horus is the outcome of a merge between the (rising) Solar religion and the sacred, Lunar powers of the Great Sorceress ;

  • as the "son of Re", Pharaoh finalized the assimilation by causing his own birth, life, death and resurrection as a god among the deities of the sky. Pharaoh creates himself and everything through the command on his tongue and out of his mouth. His magic lets divine presence shine so bright that all darkness is transformed into luminous matter. He himself goes through the cycle of birth, growth, decay, death & resurrection (rejuvenation) as do all deities, but Pharaoh is nevertheless different. He is the only god on earth and his divinity implies a magic which is all-encompassing, perceiving both night & day, extending from the pre-creational to the first time and its eternal recreation in the future. Pharaoh is actual divine presence moving ahead and embracing the future. A light bringing order, peace & justice in a chaotic, unpredictable world with "blows" coming from the everpresent chaos ("isefet").

The presence of Re and his son Pharaoh were the light-beam and the foundation of the vertical obelisk which is constructed of the horizontal, continuous and imperfect movement of the sacred feminine and its sorcery (the shamans and their earth). Pharaoh brings perfection and what he does is discontinuous, unique, always new, forever rejuvenating. This is Solar magic. The feminine (the earth) is conquered with the spirit of heaven and light. The magic of Pharaoh is a priori just, pure, true, white. This inner necessity is not present in sorcery.

The sorcerer in general and the Great Sorceress of Ancient Egypt in particular, were at work during the night. Their craft belonged to the earth, to the dreamworld, to the underworld, to hypnosis, trance, divination and the feminine. Sorcery is always "Lunar" and accompanies ancestor worship, family ties, local traditions, dark secrets and love stories. The hurt & pain caused by one's personal past will often become the object of these witchcrafts & sorceries. Neadless to say that destruction, hate, suffering & annihilation also belong to the initiations of the night, the knowledge & practice of the "lower" mysteries. 

The magician is a healer, an incarnation of communion. Pharaoh is the unity of the Two Lands. He is prepared by isolation (self-creation and absolute self-steering) to unify the antagonistic divisions left untouched by the passive, feminine (magnetic) force-field and its balanced Ogdoad. To do this, he creates in himself an active, masculine action ahead (cf. like a free electron), fed by the continuous rejuvenation caused by the daily Solar transformation, navigating with Re and joining him in this self-eternalizing light-feast of beings of light, all in perfect peace, justice, unity & truth, the eternal concert of the immortal ones praising the Great One.

Moreover, Pharaoh as a Magician was stronger than Kephri (the self-creative aspect of Re) ! To Pharaoh belonged everything before any deity had come into being. This can only mean that Pharaoh is before Atum. He is the son of Her who bore Atum, namely the Sky-goddess (or "Nut", the feminine consort of Nun). Pharaoh is the son of the Great Sorceress herself ! So how could his magic fail ? Her sacred powers are incorporated in Pharaoh, for he is the son of both Re and the sky-goddess (Hathor). He is Horus and he is the son of Re.

Nevertheless, Pharaoh's magic remained "Solar" and its strongest implication is a perfect protection in all action. The higher "mysteries" teach the aspirant to be silent and to bow (for the deities). Through silence, magical speech is acquired. Then the just Great Word can be spoken and magical speech conferred. Through service, mastership is continuously perfected and refined. But there is much more. The Pyramid Texts teach the possibility of deification. Pharaoh's magic is ascending, transformative, dynamical. The healing powers of his light & presence make Pharaoh's magic stand firm against destructive sorcery. In principle, Pharaoh rebuilds what he destroys. His magic is boundlesss and no god, spirit, demon or fiend could resist the power of the sacred words spoken with authority and written down in the divine script.

This brings us to the true fact of magic in Ancient Egypt. The magician is a scholar and a priest. He knows how to read and write hieroglyphs, knows the ancient books and their powerful formulæ. He is a magician because he knows. Hence, his official function is symbolized by a papyrus scroll, determinative of writing, abstraction and esoterical knowledge. He is able to travel in the realm of the dead protected by Horus (cf. Coffin Texts, spell 572). In this magic the mouth is essential, for it is with it that the Great Word is spoken. If it were closed, nothing could be said and no magic could ensue. The magician knows his name and knows what exists in his heart and so he is able to utter whatever he likes. However, the way the Great Word is pronounced, its intonation, rhythm and psalmody are also very important. To repeat a formula four times made it powerful in all quaters of creation. Magic is a powerful tool to realize spiritual & material ends.

Our text shows that the Masters Magicians (the Bulls of the Sky) judge the aspirant on the basis of his esoterical knowledge, which are more important than his practical aptitudes to be developed later. They judge him using what they know of him. The magician speaks and it is the divine that speaks through him. He is before Atum, before the Ennead, before all other deities. His knowledge extends to the pre-creational realm and so the great magician is the father of the gods ! 

"Des millions the magiciens égyptiens, éternellemant vivants, nous entourent. Ils sont 'sorti du jour', dans la lumière, parce que la puissance magique était avec eux, leur permettant de lever toute entrave à leur liberté de mouvement." - Jacq, 1983, p.59.

Although the distinction between pharaonic magic and popular sorcery stands, the division was less pronounced in practice. For Egyptian Solar Magic was founded on the principle of assimilation of the power of the sacred feminine, and the greatest magician was he who is able to extend his power beyond creation and the pantheon. He was the child of the Great Sorceress and only through Her was he all-encompassing. So all Solar Magic was rooted in the Lunar approach but transcended this through the medium of light. Because of the pure clarity established by the panorama of Horus & Re (their "height of heaven"), Pharaoh's magic was at work day & night. Furthermore, his magic was mental, verbal and scriptoral.

oral versus initiatic magic

This can not be said of sorcery, which is often oral and aimed at a specific goal : the illiterate magic of scorpion charmers & amulet men contrasts with the activities in the House of Life & its priests (lector priests, Sekhmet priests, Heka priests, Ka priests, healers).

The House of Life ("per ankh")
Papyrus Salt 825

This is a symbolical representation of the "House of Life" which was part of every major temple complex in Ancient Egypt.

In the House of Life, wisdom, authoritative utterance, writing and their combined magic were studied & practiced. The highest goal of the priests being to (re)create life itself. At the cardinal points of the square (the foundation of the pyramid) the 4 elements were placed.

Eight deities guarded its inner space. Osiris (the Greek "Pluton") had resurrected in, through and with subtle & gross materiality (cf. mummification). He was the "fifth" at the top of the pyramid, ascending to the sky in his transformed physical body, and entering eternal existence, i.e. a life in all possible being.  

The House of Life was also the place were texts were copied and the best young scribes were trained. Its object was the life of the world as a whole. The life of the divine, as in ritualism & cermonialism (and all their adjacent disciplines). The life of the human, as in medical & funerary practices. Mathematics, astronomy, astrology, art, morality, and the organization of the Egyptian state were differentiated areas. This institution played a considerable role in the intellectual life of Ancient Egypt. The proto-rational Egyptian House of Life covered more topics than the Greek academy. It compares with a medieval European university. This fact has been overlooked by most histories of philosophy.

The structure of Egyptian magic was transformative. Its sorcery was generative. To transform is to create a new form, which implies a total departure (revolution) from the paradigmatic perspective on reality and oneself. Of course, in Ancient Egypt this "new" form was embedded in the traditional forms of pharaonic presence because alongside proto-rational classical literature, Egyptian culture remained pre-rational and mythical. But, each new Pharaoh brought a new time-scale, another vertical, overseeing approach of the same horizontality of the Two Lands, which could always return to their mythogical state of confusion and chaos. 

This possible return of confusion being the main problem with a cognitive texture that has not yet realized stable abstract concepts, i.e. altogether eliminate the contextual element which remains present at the level of concrete operations (proto-rationality). Without this dependence on context, mythological & pre-rational structures can be clearly distinguished from conceptual thought itself (transcendental self-reflection as the result of abstract thinking). When this is the case, their direct influence is under the control of reason. In a certain way, Akhenaten is the only Pharaoh who realized this at the level of thought. However, his repression shows how much the Ancient Egyptians refused to relinquish their petty myths (cf. the pre-creational Ogdoad) and local & conflicting pre-concepts & pre-relations (cf. the god of each nome being the "sole" creator). The "multiplicity of approaches" was never left behind ...

Sorcery did not need to transcend the material order. The powers it used were generated by nature. Material manifestations could be impregnated with sacred natural forces. The sorcerer or shaman, who induced a state of trance at will and entered the "invisible" worlds to do his job (the subtle layers of reality - cf. hylemorfism in my study on the Ba) drew his power from nature. These sacred forces were generated because nature is rooted in the primordial energy of the inert ocean of the Great Sorceress. She who is before Atum. 

The sorcerer was able to make a amulets & charms. These are vehicles for this sacred energy or force (cf. "sâ", "sekhem") which has been directed to some particular purpose, like healing, protection or good fortune. The sorcerer could fashion a wax statue of a person and make it to magically represent that person by incorporating a part of that person's lifeforce into the statue or by drawing by means of magical words the person's Ka into the statue. The statue was then used as his "passage-way" (cf. the "false doors" in tombs) to the real person. Because this subtle link existed, the sorcerer could heal or harm that person. These "magical words" were probably oral utterances, a combination of nonsensical barbarous invocations (as in late Greek magic) with local mythology and of course, Pharaoh's approval. Spectacular combinations of sound-glyphs surely had hypnotic effect. They also lowered the threshold of consciousness, allowing for (auto)suggestion, fiction, placebo-effects & genuine magical (paranormal) effects.

In Ancient Egypt, pharaonic magic & local, mysterious sorcery worked together. In a way, the assimilation of the sacred by Pharaoh in the process of his deification, is also the emergence of a (Heliopolitan) religion which incorporated the sacredness of nature in a Solar theology and subjugated sorcery to magic. The Uræus serpent, for example, the power of the goddess "great in sacred force", becomes the "daughter of Re", formed by his light. The fact that Thoth, the god of divine scripture, was associated with the phases of the Moon and with magic, proves the point again. Many attributes of the sacred power of the feminine were reassociated with divinities which all navigated on the Bark of Re. On the other hand, goddesses like Nut, Hathor, Isis & Maat show that this assimilation was never complete. The association of the mythical realm with the natural power of the sacred feminine remained active. Hence, next to the litterate & learned magic of the House of Life probably existed the sorcery of the local shaman, who at times was also willing to cast an evil spell for a little beer.

funerary magic : Solar and Lunar magic combined

The funerary rituals (as recorded in the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead) give the best examples of a combination of magic & sorcery. For Pharaoh, his nobles and high officials, these ceremonies could take as long as 70 days. After this period, they continued in the chapels of the tomb as long as the Ka-priests got payed. As hieroglyphs were considered creative words of offering, their presence was enough to give the Ka's their due anyway. The offering formula "hetep-di-neswt" translates as "An offering which the king gives" to the gods so that they in turn may give so-called "invocation-offerings" (for example to the "Ka" of the king of someone else). Typical provisions are bread, beer, oxen, fowl, alabaster and clothing.

A major combination of Solar "heka" and Lunar sacred witchcraft was the ritual of "Opening the Mouth", a funerary rite derived from temple ritualism (were it was been used in the ritual of bringing statues to life). It was extended to royal mummies and then to the dead in general. The idea being that the mummified corpse could be given "life" by virtue of this ritual which invited the subtle bodies to dwell in the material recipient at hand.

The Ritual of "Opening the Mouth"
The Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead) - Papyrus of Ani - plate XV

"23. Chapter for opening the mouth of Ani : My mouth is opened by Ptah and what was on my mouth has been loosened by my local god. Thoth comes indeed, filled and equipped with magic, and the bonds of Seth which restricted my mouth have been loosened. Atum has warded them off and has cast away the restrictions of Seth. My mouth is opened, my mouth is split open by Shu with that iron harpoon of his with which he split open the mouths of the gods. I am Sekhmet, and I sit beside Her who is in the great wind of the sky.

 I am Orion the Great who dwells with the souls of Heliopolis. As for any magic spell or any words which may be uttered against me, the gods will rise up against it, even the entire Ennead."

The Sem priest transmits the Sa, the fluid of life, by touching the statue of the deceased with the Ur Hekau or "Mighty of Enchantments" sceptre.

In the Pyramid Texts we also find this ritual, but with other words : 

"O King, I have come in search of you, for I am Horus. I have struck your mouth for you, for I am your beloved son. I have split open your mouth for you. I announce him to his mother when she laments him, I announce him to her who was joined to him. Your mouth is in good order, for I have adjusted your mouth to your bones for you. Recite four times: O Osiris the King, I split open your mouth for you with the ( ...) of the Eye of Horus."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 20 (§ 11 - 12).

The core being the action of activating the mummy. In my interpretation of Ancient Egytian funerary ritualism, this resurrection-in-matter was directly linked with the Great Sorceress, Great-in-sacred-power, the mythical figure of the primeval mother goddess, later assimilated by Isis who stole the secret name of Re (the creational formula) from him to revivify & restore the body of Osiris. The "alchemical" transformation worked, when both Lunar and Solar elements were made indispensable in the operation : the Lunar sacredness of the procedure processing the receptacle (cf. Isis) and the divine Solar command of the Great Word read & well pronounced during the rituals (Thoth). Together they formed the subtle link which caused the resurrection of Osiris. 

So is it surprising that the resurrected life of the spiritualized mummy was initiated by speech ? Apparently, the first thing the deceased needed was his mouth (symbol of silence and of speech) so as to be able to speak the truth and to be protected during his journey. For judgment lay ahead and if found light of heart he would be transformed into a god. If, however, his mind was too heavy, total annihilation awaited him. Deification implied that his humanity was left behind, except for his (a) Ka (or double) that may continue to exists in the tomb (if offerings continue) and (b) his Ba (or soul) that moved freely in its spirit-body (the "sâh"), but was gratified by the offerings made to the Ka. Meanwhile, the deceased himself had become a "Khu" or "Akhu", a celestial light-being or pure spirit. As such it could visit the "sâh", but its existence is beyond all possible confirmation and denial. A continuous existence in all states of being being the ultimate goal of Ancient Egyptian funerary rituals.

3.2 The "heka" of Hathor and Isis : love, life, death & resurrection.

the golden Hathor

"Heka", the power of the supernatural, can be seen at work in two modes :

  • "heka" as the protective magic, the divine light-power of Re and Pharaoh ;

  • "heka" as the sacred power of nature of the Great Sorceress (personified in goddesses as Hathor, Nut, Maat & Isis).

The secrets of Hathor are numerous and there is no real myth connected with her which emanated directly from her being. Hathor is portrayed in various ways : 

  • a female personage bearing as headgear two horns embracing the Sun-disk and ornamented with the Uræus ;

  • a cow wearing the same headgear and also a necklace ;

  • a female visage with cow's ears and a wig.

For the Greeks, Hathor was like Aphrodite, goddess of love and procreative life. In Egyptian, her name means "House of Horus", pointing to Horus the Sky-god, linking her with the earliest forms of religious activity and making her into a sky-goddess. From time immemorial, she was also called "the Gold" or "the Golden One". Gold was the "flesh" of the deities, and hence this epitheton qualified her imposing personality and inexhaustible strenght, defying transience. Hymns speak of the "epiphany of her beauty", and in the Coffin Text it is said that the deceased "shines like Hathor". 

As said, Hathor was a primeval goddess, often called "Mother Goddess" for she ruled the mystery of giving birth to new life (cf. the prefigurations of Hathor in the prehistoric female figurines). The mysterious factor being that Hathor was both mother and virgin. From the beginning of the first dynasty we possess a little ivory engraving (cf. tomb at Abu-Roash) representing the head of Hathor flanked by the hieroglyph of the god Min, the god of vegetation, linking Hathor with fertility. From the image on a porphyry urn from Hierakonpolis we learn that Hathor (represented with stars on the tips of the horns, on the forehead and on the tops of the ears) was also a goddess of the starry firmament. As "mistress of love", Hathor stimulated sexuality and fostered the affection of the heart by which two young people come together. Patroness of dance, music & song, she was also also a goddess of the deceased and mistress of the Western desert, of the necropolis and the realm of the dead. Another outstanding title was "mistress of the sky" (Aphrodite Urania). She was a "royal" goddess, for Pharaoh called himself the oldest son of Hathor. She guarded him for the rest of his life, making him young and endowing him with magic for she, the mistress of the goddesses, was the goddess of rejuvenation and renewal.

These associations prove the point that Hathor was one of the manifestations of the Great Sorceress and her magical powers derived from nature. From the start of Pharaonic Egypt, this sacred power was assimilated by Pharaoh but incompletely. As a result, the power of the feminine remained an important factor in the life of dynastic Egypt. Although Hathor is also seen as goddess of the diurnal course of Re, there are good reasons to think that she was primarily the goddess of the nocturnal sky (cf. her association with the stars). In the Story of Sinuhe, Hathor is "mistress of the stars" and in the Book of the Dead, she is called the "mistress of the evening". Although Nut (consort of Geb) is the goddess of the sacred sky (the firmament as deity), Hathor resides in the sky. This proves the point that Hathor was foremost nocturnal and hence related with the sorcery of the night, the regenerative powers of the dark & the hidden.

the powerful Isis, great of magic

Hathor, the mother of the elder Horus, is sometimes distinguished from Isis, the mother of Horus, the son of Osiris (Pyramid Texts). But although the two great goddesses came close together at an early age (at Dendera they are almost inseparable) they are not identical. Hathor resembled a number of goddesses and acted in a way akin to them. 

About the predynastic Isis little is known. Her name is represented by a throne, suggesting the direct relationship between kingship and herself, for she was the symbolic mother of Pharaoh and hence transmitted kingship. In the Pyramid Texts, Isis forsees the murder of Osiris by Seth, and is described as sitting despairing & weeping over her brother Osiris, whom she loved on earth. Isis was the mother of Horus, and as Pharaoh was the living Horus, she was regarded as the vital link between the pantheon and kingship. 

More clever than a million gods, Isis succeeds to discover the secret name of Re, conferring limitless powers. Mixing saliva that Re had dribbled with earth, she fashioned a snake that bit Re. He became feverish because of the poison. Then Isis offered to use her sorcery to alleviate the pain in exchange for his true name. As Re was not willing, she "turns the screw" and caused him to have more pain. Her guile and tenacity are great. Re succumbed, and Isis became "the mistress of the gods who knows Re by his own name". 

In this story, sacred sorcery is used to force Re to divulge his divine magic ! Surely the intentions of Isis were noble (to restore Osiris) but her means are not so pure. Her "grey" sorcery is however potent in the area of the alleviation of pain. Her saliva and urine ("the Nile flood between my thighs") are the source of this sacred power, healing scorpion bites, scalds and other hazardous afflictions. All sorcery of the night (Lunar magic) are hers, and so Isis is at the heart of the "lesser" mysteries. As such, she is more than the personification of the sacred power of the Great Sorceress, for she is a synthesis of the latter with the divine magic of Re. Hence, Isis is "great of magic", extraordinary powerful because encompassing both the sacred and the divine. Only her son Horus, the true Pharaoh of Egypt, has comparable powers. 

A vital balance was realized :

  • the Great Sorceress remained the mythical source of the sacred power of the great goddesses of pharaonic times (cf. Nut & Hathor). Isis as Great Sorceress assimilated the true name of Re and hence she personified the feminine synthesis of the sacred & the divine (with emphasis on the former) ;

  • Horus (the elder), Horus (son of Osiris) and the son of Re (Pharaoh) introduced the "logic" of the presence of discontinuity, i.e. the quest for the "form" of unity of the Two Lands (which was "just", i.e. the battle between Seth and Horus judged by Thoth). Divine Pharaoh, the Great Magician, assimilated the sacred power of the Great Sorceress (being her son) and hence he personified the masculine synthesis of the sacred & the divine (with emphasis on the latter).

The actual restoration of Osiris (initiating his resurrection as living king of the dead) was realized by Isis with the help of Thoth. Indeed, the whole process of mummifications asked for a specialized knowledge of nature, both inner & outer (subtle & gross). This sacred component was rooted in the feminine care the Great Sorceress, the great-of-sacred-power had for her children. Together with the divine magic of Thoth, Osiris was restored. In the Late Period, Thoth, the god of divine scripture, is called "the heart of Re" (Heliopolis) and "the throat of Amun" (Thebes). In the Old Kingdom, Thoth was the "vizier of Re", who "writes Maat", being the "Bull of Maat".

3.3 The "heka" of Thoth : "Say : 'Let it be written, so let it be done.'".

Thoth's name is written with the hieroglyph of the ibis :

This bird appeared perched on a standard on slate palettes of the late predynastic period. The sacred ibis had a long curved beak, suggestive of the crescent New Moon, and black & white feathering reminiscent of the Lunar phases of waxing & waning. In the Old Kingdom, the association between the ibis and Thoth had already been made, for in the afterlife, the wings of Thoth carried Pharaoh over the celestial river. Hopfner thinks that "djhw" could have been the oldest name of the ibis, implying that Thoth ("djhwtj") would mean : "he who has the nature of the ibis". Others, like Wessetzky, conjecture that it proceeds from "hwwtj" or "messenger" + dj. 

Another, less common, pictogram for Thoth was the squatting baboon, who greeted the dawning Sun with agitated, chattering sounds. These baboons are also represented on their hind legs with front paws raised in praise and greeting of Re. They faced the rising Sun (cf. above the statues of Ramessess II at Abu Simbel). In both instances, Thoth wears a crown representing the crescent Moon supporting the disk of the Full Moon. In the Middle Kingdom, he was worshipped in all of Egypt. In all major temples, the cult of Thoth was present. 

He was the secretary of Re, the "scribe of the gods" and also Re's messenger who promulgated the laws of "the Lord of the All". He was a traveller and an international deity, for his name can be found in many ancient languages : neo-Babylonian, Coptic, Aramean, Greek & Latin. Thoth represented the embodiment of all knowledge and literature. He had invented writing and wrote himself. He was at the comand of all the divine books in the House of Life. The wisdom of Thoth was revered and considered too secret for profane eyes.

In the story of the magician Djedi, a man of a hundred and ten, we read that Djedi knew the number of the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth. He was "medw netjer", the "word of the god" Re. He is called the "son of Re" and "Lord of the eight gods" (of Hermopolis). In the funerary rituals, Thoth acted the part of the recorder, and his decision was accepted by all the deities. Thoth observed whether the heart (mind) of the deceased was light enough to balance the feather of truth & justice. This by "weighing the words", for the heaviness of heart was the result of unwholesome speech (cf. the insistence on silence serves magical purposes). Thoth was also the ultimate teacher of magic, ritualism & the words of power which opened the secret pylons of the underworld.

His original home was Khemenu, or "eight-town", referring to the four pairs of mythical chaos-gods existing before creation, of which Thoth became the leader and head. The Greeks called it Hermopolis. In myth, it was famous for the "high ground" on which Re rested when he rose for the first time. This "risen land" was a central metaphor, an example of the emergence of creation out of the undifferentiated waters, in which inert chaos lay dormant. This chaos was personified by the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, showing that this theology was intimately linked with the "mind of Re" speaking its Great Word which transformed the pre-creational, chaotic Ogdoad (cf. the "Eight of Hermopolis", four female snake-goddesses & four male frog-gods with predynastic roots) into the created Ennead of Hermopolis, headed by the "first of the eight", the Great Word of Re. The Hermopolitan scheme is magical, for the true magician (like Pharaoh) finds his origin not in the pantheon, but before the Enneads. The differences between the Memphite & Heliopolitan (pre-rational) systems of thought are obvious :

  • Heliopolitan ritual (appearance) : Atum-Re creates himself in the first time and the Ennead is made. Here pre-creation is left behind. Self-creative Atum-Re has understanding, wisdom (sia), authoritative utterance (hu, the Great Word), magic (heka), justice & truth (maât). His eternal rejuvenation is based on his being all-light, forever alife & mutating perpetually in his Bark, although at night Re navigates on the Nile of the underworld, the depth of which touches the primordial chaos of pre-creation.

  • Hermopolitan magic (names) : Thoth is the head of the pre-creational Ogdoad and when, as the sacred ibis, he drops the creative Great Word from his beak, he creates everything. Here the mythical origin (before time and before the intermediate, transient, fugal first time) is placed under the command of the divine mind, word of Re and god of magic.

  • Memphite unity (body) : Ptah is one & all-comprehensive (He is Nun, Atum & Re). With mind he speaks the Great Word and creates everything therewith. Pre-creation, first time & creation are all put into one category, an exemplaric summation. Ptah was before creation, during the first time, at the moment of creation and in every created god & goddess, in all Ka's & Ba's, in all temples and on every altar ... Just as Pharaoh was the only one facing the deities (everybody else had to face him), so was every member of the pantheons (the Enneads) a manifestation of Ptah.

In Isis and the other great goddesses (personification of the Great Sorceress) the balance tilted towards Lunar sacrality, in Osiris Pharaoh, Follower of Horus, son of Re, towards solar divinity, but in both cases not exclusively. Isis knew the "true name" of Re without which Osiris would not have resurrected. The divinity of Pharaoh was not without the sacred, for he was the son of Her who bore Atum !

The peace of Thoth was a neutrality which was also the objective guarantee of objectivity, truth and justice. This middle path had chaotic polarities of equal force (four females, four males) around it. Slight movements away from the straight path could imply going astray and be assimilated by either polarity of the Ogdoad. Disease was the outcome of this loss of equilibrium between and control over the forces of chaos. Through the power of the Great Word the greatest evil could be conquered (cf. the overthrowing of Apophis, the giant snake that at the end of each night tries to swallow Re just before dawn). The creative verb is dropped by the sacred ibis, and order is restored. The mind of Re brings clarity, distinction and operational control in all contexts.

Thoth is known as the divine witness, mediator & messenger who recorded things as they were. He was also the arbiter, and his duty was to prevent Set or Horus from destroying the other. He was able to keep these hostile forces in exact equilibrium. Darkness & light, night & day, evil & good were balanced by Thoth, the heart and tongue of Re. It is Thoth who spoke the Great Word that resulted in the wishes of Re being carried into effect, and once he had given a command and had put it into writing, it could not fail to realize itself.

The androgynous nature of Thoth can be derived from his being a male deity. Just as the great magic of mother Isis (female) was derived from her knowing the true name of the creator Re (male), so was the writer Thoth (male) a great magician because he (as the mind of Re) knew how to practice the sacred Lunar traditions (female) to invent writing, science & literature. Pharaoh (male), Lord of the Two Lands, was the greatest of magicians, because as a living god on earth he had assimilated the power of the sacred Great Sorceress Herself (being Her son) and hence Pharaoh stood before the Enneads abiding in the sky. Pharaoh's Great Word was spoken by a living god-with-us, and hence Pharaoh's "heka" was outstandingly sublime and greater than that of the greatest deities. In this light, the exclusivity claimed by Akhenaten (Re -Aten- reveals himself only to Pharaoh) can be better understood.

3.4 The core of Egyptian magic : the power of the Great Word.

In this paper, I have tried to isolate the core of Egyptian magic. Instead of focusing on the fantastic & bizar practices related to it, the effort has been one of defining the importance of the "logos", creative verb, or Great Word. According to the Pyramid Texts, Re is "the great spoken word" and his "lips are as the Two Enneads" (1100a-b). As we have seen, this creation of the deities through the spoken Word, is not only attributed to Re, but also (to name the most important deities) to his son Pharaoh, his mind Thoth and the great architect Ptah. The discovery that the great magician returns to a state of affairs which pre-dates the coming into existence of the pantheon is important, for it teaches us an important fact about the deities.

Except for Atum & Ptah, the deities are subjected to the "flow of life" as all the other creatures. They draw their life-power from the presence of Re, who himself is daily rejuvenated through his magic. Atum exists fugally, in-between pre-creation and creation, and only Ptah is truly all-encompassing. So except for the Great One, the pantheon represented a set of natural states or paradigmata of various natural orders which may be disrupted and which are in need of rejuvenation. Except for the Great One, the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt are not omnipotent outside their own, local, contextual field of activity. Just like each temple needed Pharaoh to realize a direct contact with the deities, so did the deities need the power of the Great One to remain operational in their own nomes and communicate with the others. 

On earth this revivifying contact is realized by the son of Re and in the sky it is Re himself who feeds the deities with his light. Re himself is rejuvenated because, during the night, he is in touch with the dark chaos of pre-creation and by uttering his Great Word he subjects chaos and brings order for himself and for the whole of creation. Hence, to be great in magic, meant to be greater than most deities.

Instead of understanding magic as the secundary effect of authoritative speech (which is true in a lesser extent), the Great Magician is at the core of the whole system of theology. For it no return to the pre-creational realm is made, chaos would inundate order and the world would seize to exist. However, if such a return is realized and the Great Word can not be spoken, then total annihilation would also be the outcome (cf. the deceased who spoke too much nonsense will make the Great Balance tilt in his disadvantage). Only a return to the moment of emergence ("ta-tenen") which preludes the first time ("zep tepy") and the ability to utter the Great Word, guaranteed the survival of all the deities and the created order ! We have seen that this ability was linked with the fact that the Great Magician is the son of the Great Sorceress of predynastic times.

Of course, the Ancient Egyptians did not realize this theology of magic in rational terms. Mythical and pre-rational elements continued to be an intrinsic part of their discourse which -at its best- only reached the proto-rational level of cognitive growth. It is this mix of different layers of cognition which makes it so difficult for the rational mind to understand many texts and practices. Indeed, the incorporation of mythical thought makes every discourse return to the pre-creational order. This chaotic state of conflict had been the rule in predynastic times, and not Pharaoh but the Great Sorceress had guaranteed the sacred power of the chiefs of the nomes and also of regional kings. Moreover, to establish the importance of Pharaoh firmly, a contrast between the unified state with the division of the Two Lands was helpful.

When, with the invention of writing, the pre-rational stage of cognitive growth was reached, the tranquil, stable and centralized mode of life of the Old Kingdom got associated with Old Egyptian itself. The archaisms of later periods show the difficulties with which the Ancient Egyptians relinquished their past and how important it was to introduce "old" schemes to give an air of authority to the text (cf. the New Kingdom redaction of the Memphis Theology). Pre-rational schemes of thought (especially its psychomorphism and unresolved contradictions sought for their own sake) blur the theological expositions and make it very difficult to understand the underlying message. To understand the Pyramid Texts for example, one needs to realize the continuous impact of mythological strands on the formation of the message, as well as the normal deficiencies of the pre-rational mode of thought. Hence, the meaning of what is written down can only be derived if the myths & pre-conceptual frameworks are taken into consideration.

With the advent of proto-rational thought a great leap forward occured. However, from the Maxims of Ptahhotep to the Ramesside theology of Amun-Re (with the exception of the best of Amarna culture), no effort is made to eliminate the influence of mythical and pre-rational strands of thought on the proto-rational discourse. As a result, the blend becomes less opaque than had been the case in Old Egyptian, but no clear understanding is arrived at as long as these older layers of thought are not temporarily but between brackets. The clarity arrived at then is for the sake of our own comprehension of Ancient Egyptian thought, for in the texts themselves the influence of myth & psychomorphism remained present and was left into place to assure that no ancient traditions had been left out of the picture. This assimilative feature of proto-rationality (putting outdated archaism together with new concepts) contrasts with the differentiating and dislocating abstractions of rational thought. The best example is the practice of copying errors only because they were written a thousand years ago. Indeed, as the future was the recreation of the past "first time", every old object or text was thought to be endowed with a more "original" force (nearer to the mythical source of creation). Hence, to mix this with "new" material would only improve the latter !

These procedures led to confusion, also for the Egyptians themselves. Akhenaten was the only one who tried to do away with the "old pantheon" and its ways, but with no success. Although some features of Amarna art were incorporated in post-Amarna Egypt, its monotheist theology was totally obliterated. Ancient Egyptians refused to eliminate the "old" mythological & pre-rational procedures, calling for a variety of deities under the unity of the Great One. 

In vain egyptologists have sought for a clear theological exposition of the Great One. In the context of the early stages of cognitive growth, such a quest is quite illusionary. For Hornung, only Atum was the Great One. However, Atum only existed fugally in the "first time". Ptah's all-comprehensive features also make him a likely candidate. From the perspective of the deceased, Osiris was the Great One. In a proto-rational discourse which does not relinquish its mythical and pre-rational setting, it is impossible to arrive at a coherent definition. The best one can do is to try to understand the overall pattern and compare this with the rest. Such intra- & extra-textual comparisons may reveal the meaning of the connotative field. 

In many ways, Egyptian texts, because of their mythical & pre-rational affiliations, should be read, appreciated & investigated much in the same way as poetry. To understand the image-words used, one needs more than their denotative meaning. The history of the images, especially the contexts in which they appeared for the first time, the layers of the text with their different approaches & suggestions, the play of words, the attributes of the deities the text calls for, the ideosyncratics of each individual writing etc. are all part of the compact writing of the ante-rational mind. If this exercise is brought to a successful close, then other forms of ante-rational codifications are easier to understand (cf. Vedic thought, some Buddhist texts, a lot of material from the Torah, early Qabalah, Christian Trinitarism, Renaissance occultism, etc.).
3.5 Heka as the primordial power of effectivity.

In Spell 261, the magician invokes Heka, raising himself to the level of the god of magic himself, ending up becoming him. In this operation, he recalls the characteristics of this deity, and they are lofty indeed. This spell records the most salient features of this god.

We read how Heka existed before anything else was created, even before the gods (of the Ennead) themselves. Indeed, Heka was the first creation of Atum-Re, the Sole Lord, who, before he created the Ennead & the cosmos in the "first time", was afloat in Nun. Heka appears before Atum's emanation of Hu, the "authorative utterance", by which the Ennead & Nature were created. Heka infuses Hu with his magical vitality, thereby aiding Atum bringing the gods & the cosmos into existence. Heka is able to do so because, as a pre-creational power, he is also the son of "Her Who-bore-Atum", the primordial matrix (cf. the sea of Nun). So Atum creates, by the Great Speech, the Ennead effectively because Heka is his first-born and the son of the matrix of all things, the Primordial Goddess. Heka is a power directly related with the Ogdoad of pre-creation, and so intimately related to speech and Thoth. The same importance on this creation-by-the-word is found in Memphite thought. Indeed, magic resides in the word.

As creation is cyclical, it is re-enacted with each sunrise. Daily Heka takes his place upon the bark of Re and in the night-bark he protects Re. In the Amduat, during the Seventh Hour, Heka is the power by which Isis & Seth defeat Apep, the primordial adversary of Re and his creation, the serpent of chaos, also present in Nun. The magic of all gods (Isis included), is derived from Heka.

So we gather magic is a primordial power, pre-cosmic and derived from Atum-Re (the father of All) and the primordial matrix (the mother of All). All deities of Nature derive their magical power from him. To become Heka is to acquire a power beyond the cosmic realm and so one able to manipulate everything part of creation.


1. Is it not true to say Pharaoh is the only one who is truly alife in all possible layers of existence ? He does not depart from life as one who is dead, but as one who lives ! Facing Pharoah, the deities remained silent and the Ennead placed its hand on its mouth (Pyramid Texts, 254b). He was the Great Word, the just speech, he who acted. He spoke and did Maat. His tongue was the pilot of the Bark of Maat and without him the natural decay of creation would be realized ("isefet"). Pharaoh had power of life & death, even over the deities. Why ? Pharaoh was co-substantial with the primordial liquid, the ocean of Nun. He was born in this ocean before sky & earth came into existence (Pyramid Texts, 132c).

Throughout the historical period, Ancient Egyptian spirituality was essentially verbal and pharaonic. Creation came into existence thanks to the Great Word of Re infused with the power of Heka, his first-born, and was sustained through Pharaoh, his son and the only god existing on earth. Although he had assimilated the sacred and the invisible, Pharaoh's magic was divine presence. His "heka" brought all into being. To study the spiritual system erected on this foundation, is to understand the core : without Pharaoh, no Ancient Egypt.

2. From the First Intermediate Period onward, Pharaoh was also seen as a model for perfecting one's being beyond the level of one's humanity. Indeed, although the literature of the Middle Kingdom has been called "humanistic", nothing less is true. As the "human" part of Pharaoh was paradoxical (for he was born a god), it follows that the ideal to be realized was divinity, not humanity. The nobles (and later the commoners) had to leave their humanity behind. Of course, the physical body (transformed into a mummy), the "Ka", the "ab" and the "ba" represented the human past of the beatified, and as beings of light they could choose to return to the tomb to visit the "Ka" in much the same way as the gods dwelled in their statues & temples. The "Ba" too could use the "false doors" in the tombs and visit the "Ka" and the mummy. 

However, the "Khu" or divine light-essence of every individual abided in the sky (not in the tomb) and was self-sufficient & eternal (the "Ka" and "Ba" were dependent of the offerings). Only during physical life did these foci of consciousness ("Ab" & "Ba") and their co-relative vehicles ("Khat" & "Sah") form a unity caught in the net of the physical body (cf. my paper on the Ba). To be "human" implied a functional unity between all parts of creation through the appropriate vehicle and state of consciousenss. Only Pharaoh realized this unity fully, but he was not a human but a god ! Physical death released the bonds of unity, allowing each subpersonality its place (the "Ka" near the mummy, the "Ab" restored & judged, the "Ba" entering its "Sah" and enjoying its freedom, the "Khu" moving in the starlike body or "Khabs"). For the highest (subtlest) vehicles, offerings were unnecessary. Both "Sah" and "Khabs" were immortal & self-sufficient, whereas only the "Khabs" was "cause sui" (the "Sâh" being the result of the ceremonial activity and the magic of the Great Word).

The ultimate goal of Ancient Egyptian spirituality was deification. For the deified itself ( the "Khu" in the "Khabs") their humanity had no longer any importance. Their metaphor was star-light. Hence, spiritual emancipation was truly anti-humanistic. Spiritual enlightenment did not happen in & through one's humanity but only by transcending the human condition and become a deity among the deities. This essential feature exemplified by Ancient Egyptian civilization as a whole is the main valid reason why the "religions of the book" (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) understood Pharaoh as the arch-villain. Although their insistence upon the unrighteous rule of Pharaoh is historically untrue, it is clear that the major paradox of Pharaoh points to the unresolved tensions within the concrete conceptualizations of the Egyptians and their need to return to myth & pre-rationality. However, the influence of these tensions on Judaism and Greek philosophy should not be underestimated.

3. As Ancient Egyptian civilization happened in Africa, we may discover ways to enhance the communication between the "rational" world and the "natural" and "traditional" way of thought of a lot of Africans. In fact, this paper tried to evidence the fact an integrated rationality is the only rational approach of the emancipation of humanity as a whole. Although as a cultural form the Egyptians did not attain the rational level, they make us understand the ways of mythical & pre-rational thinking, and its persistent influence in the proto-rational discourse in the insistence of context, locality, relativity, multiplicity and continuous variety in all concrete operations. The level of "principles" is never stable. The negative results of this lack of rationality can be seen at work for more than 27 centuries. What a splendid example of ante-rational culture ! 

4. Heka, magic, was the effective operation underlying all creativity (of Atum) and by extension that of the deities derived from his Ennead. Heka is intimately related to Hu, the authorative command, and so linked with divine speech. By uttering the right sequence of words, anything could be realized. By transforming himself into Heka, the priest commanded his magic, and could participate in the work of Atum-Re, the Sole Lord. Depending on what needed to be done, this work could be constructive & destructive. The life of all the deities depended on Heka. Without Heka, Pharaoh would be powerless to guarantee a "good Nile", the foundation of Ancient Egyptian civilization. In this sense, magic was the power making Kemetic religion work.

5. The fictional forms of Egyptian ceremonialism (cf. from Renaissance "hermeticism" & Freemasonery, over the Golden Dawn at the end of the 19th century, to the magic(k)al bamboozle of the Thelemites) show the Western mind, yes, even the techno-rational mind, is unable to organize existence adequately without communicating with the affecto-instinctual (ante-rational) mode as well as with the intuito-intellectual mode of cognition. In the last century, both psychoanalysis as well as transpersonal psychology & parapsychology have shown how important it is for reason to be open & flexible : understanding the howling of beasts, as well as living the wisdom touched by the whispers of the angels of light.


initiated : 22 X 2001 - last update : 01 XII 2016 - version n°10

© Wim van den Dungen