In the Beginning – Part Three
In parts one and two of this whimsical version of the ancient Egyptian creation myth, taken from the book “Pharaoh Ay Remembers” by Anthony Holmes, we read that Ma’at, the daughter of 'The Complete One' accepted her father’s challenge to select a single world; to fashion it from its original chaos and to populate it with beings that would have the free choice to either adore the creator of the universe or to reject him. With the assistance of the three gods of creation, Ptah the word, Atum the power and Harakhte the disseminator, Ma’at created a beautiful world, but now she had to create a worshipful entity with freedom of choice. With the help of Thoth, the god of wisdom, after eons had elapsed, Ma’at was finally ready to define a human being…
In the Beginning - part three of five
Ma’at instructed Ptah to speak the word of creation by calling on the name of ‘Man’. The goddess described all the features and characteristics she had discussed with Thoth, and many more, for man had to be a balanced entity with the ability to choose which characteristics he would follow and those which he would ignore or reject. A man may be honest or he may choose to be dishonest. A man may choose to be kind or he may turn his back on kindness. A man may love or he may hate. Most of all he may choose to adore his god or not.
One choice was withheld from man and that was the choice of the length of his life, for what man would not choose to live forever? Instead, man was given another choice. He could choose to live forever in the afterlife, in the fields of abundance where no pain, no storms and no anxiety exist. He could make that choice in his present life by ensuring that his heart was filled with the lightness of good behaviour and not weighed down by evil deeds. At his death he would be judged. His heart would be weighed in Ma’at’s own balance and if he had lived a good life and his existence in the world was justified, then he would partake of eternal life.
Ptah spoke the word and the concept of man existed. It was now the task of Atum-Ra to use the power of creation to turn Ptah’s word into reality, but Atum-Ra hesitated.
‘It is possible for me to call upon the skill of the great potter, ‘Khnum’ to form this man from the clay of the earth so that man will be a child of Geb, the god of the earth. I can instruct Khnum to create man as you have described him and according to the word spoken by Ptah, but if I do so, man will be just another animal on the earth. You have said he will inhabit the afterlife once he is dead, but what is there left of an animal after it is dead? Their bodies decay, their bones turn to powder and ultimately there is nothing. Perhaps you wish me to create an aspect of man that will survive after his death so that he may enjoy the pleasures you have promised him?’
Once more Ma’at and Thoth the god of wisdom sat down under the Persea Tree to consider his suggestion. They invited Ra-Harakhte to participate in their discussion. They talked the matter over for a long time because it was to be a decision that would affect man for all time. They proposed and disposed many concepts until they finally agreed. They called Ptah and Atum-Ra together and Ma’at addressed them thus:
‘I will describe to you the concepts we have agreed upon. Ptah will name them and Atum-Ra will ensure they are created as inherent components of man.’
‘Man will be formed from clay on the wheel of Khnum the divine potter. At the same time Khnum will also fashion an exact replica of the man. The replica will be indistinguishable from the man except that it will be contained within him and it will be immortal. Upon the man’s death this replica will be released to enjoy the pleasures of the afterlife from the grave. The replica will draw its energy from the memories of mortals and it will be invigorated each time the deceased’s name is spoken with love or reverence.’
And Ptah spoke the word,
‘The replica will be called the Ka of the man.’
Atum-Ra instructed Khnum accordingly and the divine potter with his twisted horns and ram’s head took clay and constructed a ‘Man’ and his Ka on the potter’s wheel.
It was the turn of Thoth to put forward the next concept.
‘I am the god of wisdom and it is therefore incumbent upon me to place wisdom in the heart of man. But wisdom does not start with a man’s birth, nor does it end with his death. You will therefore name and create wisdom in the form of a bird with the head and face of a man. The bird of wisdom will enter a man’s heart when he is delivered of his mother and it will leave the man on his death to fly to another new born baby. The bird will inhabit many successive lives, thus imparting its accumulated wisdom to the heart of the child.’
And Ptah spoke the word,
‘The bird of wisdom shall be called the Ba. A child born with a Ba of great experience will be wise beyond his years whereas a child born with a young Ba will be naïve and innocent.’
Once more Ma’at spoke of the concepts that had evolved in the discussion under the Persea Tree:
‘When man dies his Ka will journey to the great hall of The Complete One. The Ka will bring with him the man’s heart, for in his heart will be the total of all his deeds, be they heavy or light. His heart will be weighed in the balance while the Ka makes its declaration of innocence to the forty-two assessor gods.’
It was Thoth who provided the final question.‘What will happen after the heart has been weighed?’
Ma’at whispered her reply to the divinities around her.‘If the heart is heavy with the foulness of greed, treachery or debauchery, the assessor gods will not accept the declaration of innocence; the heart will be thrown to the beast that will devour it. The Ka will return to the grave, but few will hold the man’s memory dear and the Ka will whither and fade.
'But if his heart is light with happiness, with love and good deeds and the assessor gods judge his mortal life to be justified his heart will become a bright light in the presence of my father, to exist in the realm of the divine for ever. The Ka will return to the tomb where it will partake of all manner of offerings and bask in the pleasures of the afterlife, reinforced by the kind memories of those who yet live and his name will be spoken through all the ages.’
Amun-Ra imbued the man with all that which had been decided by Ma’at and Thoth.
Ma’at instructed that man be given a companion to keep him company and assist him in all that he did, and Khnum took clay and formed a woman and her Ka on his wheel. Khnum then placed a potter’s wheel in the womb of the woman so that henceforth she might do his divine work of creating men and women.
But all was not well with the gods…