Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Creation and Deliverance of Man

It is a common belief across many of the Ancient cultures, and indeed in religions today that we are not the first race of humans to walk the Earth. The lore of Greek, Roman, Near Eastern, Mayan, Aztec and even Christian legend refer to the destruction of a primordial race of humans. Regardless of the reasons why, these ancestors shared a common doom. The belief of the Egyptians was no different. In this short myth, humanity was punished for their disloyalty to their gods, and taught humility – by way of unrivalled slaughter.
Legend tells that Ra, the god of the Sun and the supreme deity, was born of a cosmic egg to the darkness that was known as Nun. The new god was imbued with ultimate power; if he spoke a name, that which he had named would take form and come into being. Ra first declared his mastery of the heavens:

“'I am Khepri at the dawn, and Ra at noon and Atum in the evening'. And the sun rose and passed across the sky for the first time.”
                                                                  - RA DECLARES HIS MASTERY OVER THE HEAVENS

The Egyptian Cosmos
Photograph in the public domain
Ra possessed the gift to change his shape at will, and could take on the form of other gods according to his role. These forms were worshipped across the land of Egypt. The master god then turned his attention to Creation. He named Shu, and the first winds blew. He named Tefnut, whose spit was the first rain to fall. He named Geb, and the Earth was born. He named Nut, who arched over Geb and with her hands clasped one horizon and her feet the other to form the Sky. He named Hapy, who lay in the land and formed the Great River Nile, the life force and heart of the land of Egypt, which grew lush from its waters. From the tears of Ra, mankind was born to the land of Egypt. The legends say that Ra came down to the Earth in the shape of a man and ruled Egypt as the first Pharaoh. The people and land of Egypt grew strong and prosperous under his rule, and the regular floods of the Nile gave such bounty that the time of Ra would always be remembered as the Golden Age.

Ra rules over mankind
Painting from the 22nd Dynasty, in the Louvre
Yet, in the form of a man, Ra grew old in body. Men no longer feared their god and his laws. “His bones were of silver, his flesh of gold, and his hair of lapis lazuli (A precious stone revered for its intense blue)”, men would say. Ra burned with anger at man. His rage grew greater still as he saw the foul deeds men did in disobedience of his laws. Ra called to council the gods and asked of them their opinion. This council he held in secret, away from man, who continued to mock the gods and violate their laws. Nun, the primordial chaos, urged Ra to strike down humanity:

“The fear of thee is great when thy Eye is against them who scheme against thee!"
The Lady of Slaughter - the goddess Sekhmet
Relief from the Temple of Kom Ombo
Ra took out his fiery eye, the eye whose tears had given birth to humanity, and cast it down to the Earth. Mankind fled in terror from Ra into the desert, but they fled in vain. For the eye transformed into a new goddess, the lion headed Sekhmet. Sekhmet was possessed of a fearsome anger, and upon humanity she unleashed her wrath. The desert sands ran red with blood as Sekhmet violently slaughtered all who fell under her gaze. Wherever man fled, Sekhmet followed, rejoicing in the massacre and taste of blood. The Nile itself ran crimson, and even the mountains were stained with proud human life force. The screams of terror and pleas for mercy reached the Heavens, and Ra heard them. The cries for deliverance softened his heart and Ra grew guilty. When he saw what Sekhmet had done, he was filled with sorrow. But Sekhmet, given over to the thrill of death, ignored Ra’s command to stop. Desperate to stop the lioness, Ra ordered messengers to go to Elephantine (an island on the Nile, just beyond the First Cataract) and bring red ochre, and his handmaidens to crush barley and make beer. Grinding the red ochre into the Nile, and filling the Nile with beer, the Great River appeared to be running with blood once more. Sekhmet, filled with a ferocious thirst for blood, gulped down the Nile and ‘it was good in her heart’. Completely incapacitated and drunk, Sekhmet’s anger left her, and she transformed into the peaceful cow headed goddess Hathor.
Never again would man dare to spurn their gods, and every year the Egyptian people held festivals to pacify Sekhmet, so that she never again would do terrible slaughter. Whenever the Pharaohs of Egypt went to war, the worship of Sekhmet followed, and her rage time and time again undid their enemies. This is the origin of the annual pacification of Sekhmet, whereby the Egyptians would celebrate and make merry with alcohol.
This story forms part of the culture behind the religious code of the Egyptians, and is easily available, along with many others like it, in their original translation at Amazon:
United Kingdom
Anthology of Ancient Near Eastern Material:
Ancient Near East, Volume 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures: 001 (Princeton Studies on the Near East)
(Highly useful and an extremely nice book to own, filled with stuff from all over the Levant)

United States
Anthology of Ancient Near Eastern Material:
The Ancient Near East, Volume 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures
(Highly useful and an extremely nice book to own, filled with stuff from all over the Levant)

No comments:

Post a Comment