Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the Beginning - Part Two

This fanciful version of the ancient Egyptian creation myth is taken from the book “Pharaoh Ay Remembers” by Anthony Holmes. In part one we read that 'The Complete One' created the universe as a pleasurable diversion, but his daughter Ma’at told her father that it was insufficient for the universe to exist merely for him to gaze upon. To be fulfilled, what it needed was a being that would recognise and adore its creator. 'The Complete One' was not convinced, but he gave his daughter the choice of selecting a single world out of the universe and causing it to be inhabited by a rational being with the choice of whether to worship his creator or not. To assist her he gave her three divinities: Ptah with the power to use words to describe a creation, Atum with the power to bring the word to reality and Harakhte who could fly over the world and place the creations where they were required. Ma’at accepted the challenge…

Part two of five

‘When Ma’at came to the world, she found it to be completely shrouded in thick grey fog and clouds. There was hardly any light and the moisture was dank and dark all about her. She asked Ptah what this thick blanket was called and he advised her that it was called ‘Nun’ and that it was the stuff of life that had not yet been ordered into being. It was merely a formless substance of air and moisture.

‘The first thing I intend to do,’ Ma’at decided, ‘is to bring order into this world. Order is fundamental to my own being and it is a requirement for any form of creation.’

She turned to Ptah.

‘I want you to name this moisture and this air and tell me their names.’

‘I name the air ‘Shu’ and I name the moisture ‘Tefnut’ and they shall be a god and a goddess,’ proclaimed Ptah.

Ma’at turned to Atum.

‘You will separate these two substances that have received their names.’

Atum used the power of creation that he had received from ‘The Complete One’ and separated the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut so that the moisture became the seas and the rivers, and the air became the breeze and the wind.

Harakhte flew over the whole world and he reported that the moisture and the air had been separated.

With the separation of the moisture and the air there came about a great wonder because Ma’at could now see the glory of her father’s creation. The great orange ball that shone with her father’s power now cast its light onto the world and the wonder of it was revealed.

Ma’at could see above her and below and she said,

‘What do I call this on which I stand and what do I call that which I see above me?’

Ptah replied to her question thus,

‘That which is below you and upon which you stand I will name ‘Geb’ and he will be the god of the Earth beneath your feet and that which you see above you I will name ‘Nut’ and she will be the goddess of the Sky above you. Geb and Nut will be known as the children of Shu and Tefnut.

Ma’at looked up into the beautiful sky and she saw the glory of the great orange ball that hung in the sky and she enquired of Ptah for the name of the brilliant light.

His name is ‘Ra’ and he shall be called the god of the Sun. It is Ra who will bring light and warmth to this world and allow life to exist and all that is living to grow and flourish.’

‘Surely he will become weary of being high in the sky
all the time?

Atum turned to Ma’at,

‘Ptah does not have the power to alter that which he has already named. That power is with me. I shall provide Ra with a golden barque upon which he can sail across the sky and Harakhte shall carry his symbol on his head so that he will rise in the eastern sky in the morning. Henceforth he shall be known as Ra-Harakhte. I will carry Ra to the western horizon when he is tired and weary in the evening and I shall be known as Atum-Ra.’

‘Ma’at saw that Geb, the god of the earth was very comely and his sister Nut, the goddess of the sky was very beautiful and they were enamoured with each other. They lay together in an embrace. But their father Shu, the god of the air was jealous of his daughter and he reached between them and separated them. He lifted Nut high above Geb so that they might not touch each other, except at their toes and finger-tips, which is where the sky meets the earth at the horizon. The sky was thus separated from the earth by the air.

'The Complete One' looked upon the works of his daughter Ma’at and was pleased with what he saw, for the world was now a beautiful place. The earth was complete with its mountains and its deserts, watered by the seas and the Rivers, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze under the beauty of the sky.

Once more Ma’at turned to Ptah.

‘The earth and the sky are beautiful,’ she said, ‘but when the barque of Ra disappears below the western horizon at night and darkness sets in, nothing can be seen of its beauty. I wish you to name a light for the night to alleviate the darkness.’

Ptah did as he was asked and he named the light of the night the Moon. Atum-Ra forged the moon from silver and Ra-Harakhte carried it high into the night sky where it rested among the stars.

Ma’at called again upon the divinity of Ptah that he might name the time that Ra crossed the heavens and returned again to the eastern horizon. Ptah considered the time and he named it a ‘day’.

Now the earth and the sky were fully formed. Ma’at instructed Ptah to start naming the plants and the animals and the fish and the insects. Ma’at allowed her imagination to range free as she described each creature to Ptah. Some were huge and some were so small that only the magical eye of Ra-Harakhte could see them.

The ages went by as Ptah named all the creatures and Atum-Ra created whatsoever Ptah instructed and Ra-Harakhte placed them in different lands. Sometimes Ma’at decided that which she had imagined was inadequate and she instructed Ptah to change the creature into a more pleasing shape. On occasions the outcome of Ma’at’s imagination was so unsatisfactory that she had to instruct Atum-Ra to reverse the process of creation and to destroy the creature. Finally, after eons of time had passed, the earth was full of all kinds of plants and animals and Ma’at was satisfied.’

Ma’at spoke to Ptah. ‘According to the power given to you by 'The Complete One', I now wish you to give a name to the entity that will inhabit this world and give honour to my father for his creation.’

But Ptah could not do what Ma’at asked him.

‘It is true that I have the power to name anything and having named it, it will exist but what you ask is impossible even for a god. I cannot name something that I cannot imagine, and you have given me no description of the entity you want me to create.’

Ma’at understood the problem for she realised that in truth she did not know how such an entity should look or how it should behave. She spoke to her father,

‘I wish to create an entity to give you adoration for your works, but I cannot do so because I lack the wisdom to imagine its form and shape.’

The Complete One replied to his daughter’s plea.

‘I will send you my wisdom in the form of the god Thoth that he may help you in this matter.’

The god Thoth immediately appeared on the earth before Ma’at. He was in the form of the sacred ibis bird, with a long, curved beak and large eyes, with beautiful black and white plumage. He carried the staff of millions of years and round his neck hung a scribe’s block and brushes. Thoth was the god of wisdom and he also controlled time, keeping a continuous record of all events that took place in the totality of creation.

Before they considered the creation of an entity to populate the world, Thoth spoke to Ma’at.

‘It is in my divine duty and my nature to count and record time. There is no measure of time on this world other than day which is the time that Ra crosses the sky and returns through the underworld to the eastern horizon once more. Beyond that you have not caused Ptah to call upon the name of time.’

Ma’at agreed and called on Ptah to give names to the concept of time. Ptah determined that thirty days would be called one month and that four months would be one season and three seasons would be called one year. Each year would therefore comprise three hundred and sixty days.

Thoth and Ma’at sat under a Persea Tree for ten thousand years and to compose the entity that would inhabit the world.’…

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