The Pharaoh's Journey to the Afterlife

The adventures of Alexander and his search for the Immortal Ancestors clearly comprised elements which simulated their experiences: caverns, angels, subterranean fires, fiery horses and Chariots of Fire. But it is equally clear that, in the centuries preceding the Christian era, it was believed (by Alexander or by his historians or by both) that if one wished to attain Immortality, one had to emulate the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Accordingly, Alexander's claim to semi-divine ancestry was evolved from a complicated affair by an Egyptian deity, rather than by simply claiming affinity to a local Greek God. It is an historical fact, not mere legend, that Alexander found it necessary, as soon as he broke through the Persian lines in Asia Minor, not to pursue the Persian enemy, but to go to Egypt; there to seek the answer to his purported divine "roots," and from there to begin the search for the Waters of Life.

Whereas the Hebrews, the Greeks and other peoples in antiquity recounted tales of a unique few who were able to escape a mortal's fate by divine invitation, the ancient Egyptians developed the privilege into a right. Not a universal right, nor a right reserved to the singularly righteous; but a right attendant on the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, by sole virtue of having sat on the throne of Egypt. The reason for this, according to the traditions of ancient Egypt, was that the first rulers of Egypt were not men but Gods.

Egyptian traditions held that in times immemorial "Gods of Heaven" came to Earth from the Celestial Disk (Fig. 7). When Egypt was inundated by waters, "a very great God who came forth (to Earth) in the earliest times" arrived in Egypt and literally raised it from under the waters and mud, by damming the waters of the Nile and undertaking extensive dyking and land reclamation works (it was therefore that Egypt was nicknamed "The Raised Land").


This olden God was named PTAH—'The Developer." He was considered to have been a great scientist, a master engineer and architect, the Chief Craftsman of the Gods, who even had a hand in creating and shaping Man. His staff was frequently depicted as a graduated stick—very much like the graduated rod which surveyors employ for field measuring nowadays (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7


1. Ptah

2. Ra-Amen

3. Thoth

4. Seker
5. Osiris

6. Isis with Horus

7. Nephtys

8. Hathor

The Gods with their attributes;

9. Ra/Falcon

10. Horus/Falcon

11. Seth/Sinai Ass

12. Thoth/Ibis

13. Hathor/Cow

The Egyptians believed that Ptah eventually retired south, where he could continue to control the waters of the Nile with sluices he had installed in a secret cavern, located at the first cataract of the Nile (the site of today's Aswan Dam). But before leaving Egypt, he built its first hallowed city and named it AN, in honor of the God of the Heavens (the biblical On, whom the Greeks called Heliopolis). There, he installed as Egypt's first Divine Ruler his own son RA (so named in honor of the Celestial Globe).

Ra, a great "God of Heaven and Earth," caused a special shrine to be built at An; it housed the Ben-Ben—a "secret object" in which Ra had purportedly come down to Earth from the heavens.

In time Ra divided the kingdom between the Gods OSIRIS and SETH. But the sharing of the kingdom between the two divine brothers did not work. Seth kept seeking the overthrow and death of his brother Osiris. It took some doing, but finally Seth succeeded in tricking Osiris into entering a coffin, which Seth promptly set to seal and drown. ISIS, the sister and wife of Osiris, managed to find the coffin, which had floated ashore in what is nowadays Lebanon.


She hid Osiris as she went to summon the help of other Gods who could bring Osiris back to life; but Seth discovered the body and cut it to pieces, dispersing them all over the land. Helped by her sister NEPHTYS, Isis managed to retrieve the pieces (all except for the phallus) and to put together the mutilated body of Osiris, thereby resurrecting him.

Thereafter, Osiris lived on, resurrected, in the Other World among the other celestial Gods. Of him the sacred writings said:

He entered the Secret Gates,

The glory of the Lords of Eternity,

In step with him who shines in the horizon,

On the path of Ra.

The place of Osiris on the throne of Egypt was taken over by his son HORUS. When he was born, his mother Isis hid him in the reeds of the river Nile (just as the mother of Moses did, according to the Bible), to keep him out of the reach of Seth. But the boy was stung by a scorpion and died. Quickly, the Goddess his mother appealed to THOTH, a God of magical powers, for help. Thoth, who was in the heavens, immediately came down to Earth in Ra's "Barge of Astronomical Years" and helped restore Horus to life.

Growing up, Horus challenged Seth for the throne. The struggle ranged far and wide, the Gods pursuing each other in the skies. Horus attacked Seth from a Nar, a term which in the ancient Near East meant "Fiery Pillar." Depictions from pre-dynastic times showed this celestial chariot as a long, cylindrical object with a funnel-like tail and a bulkhead from which rays are spewed out, a kind of a celestial submarine (Fig. 8). In front the Nar had two headlights or "eyes," which according to the Egyptian tales changed color from blue to red.

      Fig. 8

There were ups and downs in the battles, which lasted several days. Horns shot at Seth, from out of the Nar, a specially designed "harpoon," and Seth was hurt, losing his testicles; this only made him madder. In the final battle, over the Sinai peninsula, Seth shot a beam of fire at Horus, and Horus lost an "eye." The great Gods called a truce and met in council. After some wavering and indecision, the Lord of Earth ruled in favor of giving Egypt to Horus. declaring him the legitimate heir in the Ra-Osiris line of succession.


(Thereafter, Horus was usually depicted with the attributes of a falcon, while Seth was shown as an Asiatic deity, symbolized by the ass, the burden animal of the nomads; Fig. 7).

The accession of Horus to the reunited throne of the Two Lands (Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt) remained throughout Egyptian history the point at which kingship was given its perpetual divine connection; for every Pharaoh was deemed a successor of Horus and the occupier of the throne of Osiris.

For unexplained reasons, the rule of Horus was followed by a period of chaos and decline; how long this lasted, no one knows. Finally, circa 3200 B.C., a "dynastic race" arrived in Egypt and a man named Menes ascended the throne of a reunited Egypt. It was then that the Gods granted Egypt civilization and what we now call Religion. The kingship that was begun by Menes continued through twenty-six dynasties of Pharaohs until the Persian domination in 525 B.C., and then through Greek and Roman times (when the famed Cleopatra reigned).

When Menes, the first Pharaoh, established the united kingdom, he chose a midpoint in the Nile, just south of Heliopolis, as the place for the capital of the two Egypts. Emulating the works of Ptah, he built Memphis on an artificial mound raised above the Nile's waters, and dedicated its temples to Ptah. Memphis remained the political-religious center of Egypt for more than a thousand years.

Rut circa 2200 B.C. great upheavals befell Egypt, the nature of which is not clear to scholars. Some think that Asiatic invaders overran the country, enslaving the people and disrupting the worship of their Gods. Whatever semblance of Egyptian independence remained, it was retained in Upper Egypt—the less accessible regions farther south. When order was restored some 150 years later, political-religious power—the attributes of kingship— flowed from Thebes, an old but until then unimposing city in Upper Egypt, on the banks of the Nile.

Its God was called AMEN —"The Hidden One"—the very God Amnion whom Alexander had searched out as his true divine father. As supreme deity, he was worshipped as Amen-Ra, "The Hidden Ra"; and it is not clear whether he was the very same Ra but now somehow unseen or "hidden," or another deity.

The Greeks called Thebes Diospolis, "The City of Zeus," for they equated Ammon with their supreme God Zeus. This fact made it easier for Alexander to affiliate himself with Ammon; and it was to Thebes that he rushed after he had received Amnion's favorable oracle at the oasis of Siwa.

There, at Thebes and its precincts (now known as Karnak, Luxor, Dier-el-Bahari), Alexander came upon the extensive shrines and monuments to Ammon—impressive to this very day although they stand empty and in ruins. They were built mostly by Twelfth Dynasty Pharaohs, one of whom was probably the "Sesonchusis" who had searched for the Waters of Life 1,500 years before Alexander. One of the colossal temples was built by Queen Hatshepshut, who was also said to have been a daughter of the God Ammon.

Such tales of divine parentage were not unusual. The Pharaoh's claim to divine status, based on the mere fact of occupying the throne of Osiris, was sometimes augmented by assertions that the ruler was the son or the brother of this or that God or Goddess. Scholars consider such statements to have only symbolic meaning; but some Egyptian Pharaohs, such as three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, maintained that they were actually, physically, the sons of the God Ra, begotten by him when he impregnated the wife of the high priest in his own temple.

Other kings attributed their descent from Ra to more sophisticated means. It was claimed that Ra embodied himself in the reigning Pharaoh, through which subterfuge he could then have intercourse with the queen. Thereby, the heir to the throne could claim direct descent of Ra. But apart from such specific claims to be of divine seed, every Pharaoh was theologically deemed to be the incarnation of Horus and thus by extension the son of the God Osiris. Consequently, the Pharaoh was entitled to eternal life in the very same manner experienced by Osiris: to resurrection after death, to an Afterlife.

It was this circle, of Gods and God-like Pharaohs, that Alexander longed to join.

The belief was that Ra and the other immortal Gods managed to live forever because he kept rejuvenating himself. Accordingly, the Pharaohs bore names meaning, for example, "He Who Repeats Births" and "Repeater of Births." The Gods rejuvenated themselves by partaking of divine food and beverage at their abode. Therefore, the king's attainment of an eternal Afterlife called for his joining the Gods in their abode, so that he too could partake of their divine sustenances.

The ancient incantations appealed to the Gods to share with the deceased king their divine food: "Take ye this king with you, that he may eat of that which ye eat, that he may drink of which ye drink, that he may live on that whereupon ye live." And more specifically, as in a text from the pyramid of King Pepi:

Give thou sustenance to this King Pepi
From thy eternal sustenance;
Thy everlasting beverage.

The departed Pharaoh hoped to draw his everlasting sustenance in the celestial realm of Ra, on the "Imperishable Star." There, in a mystical "Field of Offerings" or "Field of Life," there grew the "Plant of Life." A text in the pyramid of Pepi I describes him as getting past guards with the appearance of "plumed birds," to be met by the emissaries of Horus. With them,

He traveleth to the Great Lake,

by which the Great Gods alight.

These Great Ones of the Imperishable Stargive unto Pepi the Plant of Life

whereon they themselves do live,

so that he may also live thereon.

Egyptian depictions showed the deceased (sometimes with his wife) at this Celestial Paradise, sipping the Waters of Life out of which there grows the Tree of Life with its life-giving fruit, the date palm (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9


The celestial destination was the birthplace of Ra, to which he had returned from Earth. There, Ra himself was constantly rejuvenated or "re-awakened" by having the Goddess of the Four Jars pour him a certain elixir periodically. It was thus the king's hope to have the same Goddess pour him too the elixir and "therewith refresh his heart to life."


It was in these waters, named "Water of Youth," that Osiris rejuvenated himself; and so it was promised to the departed King Pepi that Horus shall "count for thee a second season of youth"; that he shall "renew thy youth in the waters whose name is 'Water of Youth. "

Resurrected to Afterlife, even rejuvenated, the Pharaoh attained a paradisiacal life:

"His provision is among the Gods; his water is wine, like that of Ra. When Ra eats, he gives to him; when Ra drinks, he gives to him."

And in a touch of twentieth century psychotherapy, the text adds:

"He sleeps soundly every day ... he fares better today than yesterday."

The Pharaoh seemed little bothered by the paradox that he had to die Fig. 9 first in order to attain Immortality. As supreme ruler of the Two Lands of Egypt, he enjoyed the best possible life on Earth; and the resurrection among the Gods was an even more attractive prospect. Besides, it was only his earthly body that was to be embalmed and entombed; for the Egyptians believed that every person possessed a Ba, akin to what we call "soul," which rose heavenward like a bird after death; and a Ka—variably translated Double, Ancestral Spirit, Essence, Personality—through which form the Pharaoh was translated into his Afterlife.


Samuel Mercer, in his introduction to the Pyramid Texts, concluded that the Ka stood for the mortal's personification of a God. In other words, the concept implied the existence in Man of a divine element, a celestial or Godly Double who could resume life in the Afterlife.

But if Afterlife was possible, it was not easily attained. The departed king had to traverse a long and challenging road, and had to undergo elaborate ceremonial preparations before he could embark on his journey.

The deification of the Pharaoh began with his purification and included embalmment (mummification), so that the dead king would resemble Osiris with all his members tied together. The embalmed Pharaoh was then carried in a funerary procession to a structure topped by a pyramid, in front of which there stood an oval-shaped pillar (Fig. 10).



Within this funerary temple, priestly rites were conducted with a view to achieving for the Pharaoh acceptance at journey's end. The ceremonies, called in the Egyptian funerary texts the "Opening of the Mouth," were supervised by a Shem priest—always depicted wearing a leopard skin (Fig. 11).


Scholars believe that the ritual was literally what its name implies: the priest, using a bent copper or iron tool, opened the mouth of the mummy or of a statue representing the departed king. But it is clear that the ceremony was primarily symbolic, intended to open for the deceased the "mouth" or Entranceway to the Heavens.


The mummy, by then, was tied up tight in many layers of material and was surmounted by the king's golden death mask. Thus, the touching of its mouth (or that of the king's statue) could have been only symbolical. Indeed, the priest intoned not the deceased, but the Gods to "open the mouth" so that the Pharaoh could ascend toward eternal life. Special appeals were made to the "Eye" of Horus, lost by him in the battle with Seth, to cause the "opening of the mouth" so that "a path shall be opened for the king among the Shiny Ones, that he may be established among them."

The earthly (and thus by conjecture only temporary) tomb of the Pharaoh—according to the texts and actual archaeological discoveries—had a false door on its eastern side, i.e. the masonry was built there to look like a doorway, but it was actually a solid wall. Purified, with all limbs tied together, "opened of mouth," the Pharaoh was then envisioned as raising himself, shaking off Earth's dust, and exiting by the false door.


According to a Pyramid Text which dealt with the resurrection process step by step, the Pharaoh could not pass through the stone wall by himself.

"Thou standest at the doors which hold people back," the text said, until "he who is chief of the department"—a divine messenger in charge of this task—"comes out to thee. He lays hold on thy arm, and takes thee to heaven, to thy father."

Aided thus by a divine messenger, the Pharaoh was out of his sealed tomb, through the false door. And the priests broke out in a chant:

"The king is on his way to Heaven! The king is on his way to Heaven!"


The king is on his way to Heaven

The king is on his way to Heaven

On the wind, on the wind.

He is not hindered;

There is no one by whom he is hindered.

The king is on his own, son of the Gods.

His bread will come on high, with Ra;

His offering will come out of the Heavens.

The king is he "Who Comes Again."

But before the departed king could ascend to Heaven to eat and drink with the Gods, he had to undertake an arduous and hazardous Journey. His goal was a land called Neter-Khert, "The Land of the Mountain Gods." It was sometimes written pictorially in hieroglyphic by surmounting the symbol for God (Neter) upon a ferry boat ; and indeed, to reach that land, the Pharaoh had to cross a long and winding Lake of Reeds. The marshy waters could be crossed with the aid of a Divine Ferryman, but before he would ferry the Pharaoh over he questioned the king about his origins: What made him think he had the right to cross over? Was he a son of a God or a Goddess?

Beyond the lake, past a desert and a chain of mountains, past various guardian Gods, lay the Duat, a magical "Abode for rising to the Stars," whose location and name have baffled the scholars. Some view it as the Netherworld, the abode of the spirits, where the king must go as Osiris did. Others believe it was an Underworld, and indeed much of its scenes were of a subterranean world of tunnels and caverns with unseen Gods, pools of boiling waters, eerie lights, chambers guarded by birds, doors that open by themselves. This magical land was divided into twelve divisions, and was traversed in twelve hours.

The Duat was further perplexing, because in spite of its terrestrial nature (it was reached after crossing through a mountain pass) or subterranean aspects, its name was written hieroglyphically with a star and a soaring falcon as its determinatives or simply with a star within a circle , denoting a celestial or heavenly association.


Baffling as it has been, the fact is that the Pyramid Texts, as they followed the Pharaoh's progress through his life, death, resurrection and translation to an Afterlife, considered the human problem to be the inability to fly as the Gods do. One text summed up this problem and its solution in two sentences: "Men are buried, the Gods fly up. Cause this king to fly to Heaven, (to be) among his brothers the Gods." A text inscribed in the pyramid of King Teti expressed the Pharaoh's hope and appeal to the Gods in these words:

Men fall,
They have no Name.
Seize thou king Teti by his arms,
Take thou king Teti to the sky,
That he die not on Earth among men.

And so it was incumbent upon the king to reach the "Hidden Place," and go through its subterranean labyrinths until he could find there a God who carries the emblem of the Tree of Life, and a God who is the "Herald of Heaven." They will open for him secret gates, and lead him to the Eye of Horus, a Celestial Ladder into which he would step—an object which can change hues to blue and red as it is "powered."


And then, himself turned into the Falcon-God, he would soar skyward to the eternal Afterlife on the Imperishable Star. There, Ra himself would welcome him:

The Gates of Heaven are opened for thee;
The doors of the Cool Place are opened for thee.
Thou shalt find Ra standing, waiting for thee.
He will take your hand,
He will take thee to the Dual Shrine of Heaven;
He will place thee on the throne of Osiris ...
Thou shalt stand supported, equipped as a God ...
Among the Eternals, on the Imperishable Star.

Much of what is known today on the subject comes from the Pyramid Texts—thousands of verses combined into hundreds of Utterances, that were discovered embossed or painted (in the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt) on the walls, passages and galleries of the pyramids of five Pharaohs (Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenra and Pepi II) who ruled Egypt from circa 2350 B.C. to 2180 B.C. These texts were sorted out and numbered by Kurt Sethe in his masterful Die altaegyptischen Pyramidentexte, which has remained the major reference source together with the English counter-part, The Pyramid Texts by Samuel A. B. Mercer.

The thousands of verses that make up the Pyramid Texts seem to be just a collection of repetitious, unconnected incantations, appeals to the Gods or exaltations of the king. To make some sense of the material, scholars have developed theories about shifting theologies in ancient Egypt, a conflict and then a merger between a "Solar Religion" and a "Sky Religion," a priesthood of Ra and one of Osiris, and so on, pointing out that we deal with material that has been accumulated over millennia.

To scholars who view the mass of verses as expressions of primitive mythologies, figments of the imagination of people who cowered in fear as the wind howled and the thunder roared and called these phenomena "Gods"—the verses remain as puzzling and confusing as ever. But these verses, all scholars agree, were extracted by the ancient scribes from older and apparently well-organized, cohesive and comprehensible scriptures.

Later inscriptions on sarcophagi and coffins, as well as on papyrus (the latter usually accompanied by illustrations) indeed show that the verses, Utterances and Chapters (bearing such names as "Chapter of those who ascend") were copied from "Books of the Dead," which bore such titles as "That Which Is in the Duat," "The Book of the Gates," "The Book of the Two Ways." Scholars believe that these "books" in turn were versions of two earlier basic works: olden writings that dealt with the celestial journey of Ra, and a later source which stressed the blissful Afterlife of those who join Osiris resurrected: the food, the beverage, the conjugal joys in a heavenly abode. (Verses of this version were even inscribed on talismans, to achieve for their wearer "union with women by day or night" and the "desire of women" at all times.)

The scholarly theories, however, leave unexplained the magical aspects of the information offered by these texts. Bafflingly, an Eye of Horus is an object existing independently of him—an object into whose insides the king can enter, and which can change hues to blue and red as it is "powered." There exist self-propelled ferries, doors that open by themselves, unseen Gods whose faces radiate a glow. In the Underworld, supposedly inhabited by spirits only, "bridge girders" and "copper cables" are featured. And the most baffling aspect of all: Why, if the Pharaoh's transfiguration takes him to the Underworld, do the texts claim that "the king is on his way to Heaven"?

Throughout, the verses indicate that the king is following the route of the Gods, that he is crossing a lake the way a God had crossed it before, that he uses a barque as the God Ra had done, that he ascends "equipped as a God" as Osiris was, and so on and on. And the question arises: What if these texts were not primitive fantasies—mythology—but accounts of a simulated journey, wherein the deceased Pharaoh emulated what the Gods had actually done? What if the texts, substituting the name of the king for that of a God, were copies of some much earlier scriptures that dealt not with the journeys of the Pharaohs, but with the journeys of the Gods?

One of the early leading Egyptologists, Gaston Maspero (L'Archeologie egyptienne and other works), judging by grammatical form and other evidence, suggested that the Pyramid Texts originated at the very beginning of Egyptian civilization, perhaps even before they were written down hieroglyphic-ally. J. H. Breasted has more recently concluded (Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt) that "such older material existed, whether we possess it or not."


He found in the texts information on the conditions of civilization and events which enhances the veracity of the texts as conveyors of factual information and not of fantasy.

"To one of quick imagination," he says, "they abound in pictures from the long-vanished world of which they are a reflection."

Taken together, the texts and later illustrations describe a journey to a realm that begins above ground, that leads underground, and that ends with an opening to the skies through which the Gods—and the kings emulating them—were launched heavenward (Fig. 12). Thus the hieroglyphic connotation combining a subterranean place with a celestial function.

Fig. 12


Have the Pharaohs, journeying from their tombs to the Afterlife, actually taken this Route to Heaven? Even the ancient Egyptians claimed the journey not for the mummified corpse, but for the Ka (Double) of the departed king. But they have envisioned this Double as re-enacting actual progress through actual places.

What, then, if the texts reflect a world which had indeed existed—what if the Pharaoh's Journey to Immortality, even if only by emulation, indeed followed step by step actual journeys undertaken in prehistoric times?

Let us follow in these footsteps; let us take the Route of the Gods.


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