The Sungod's Journey Through the Netherworld

The Sungod's Journey Through the Netherworld: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat

Andreas Schweizer
Edited by David Lorton
Foreword by Erik Hornung
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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    The Sungod's Journey Through the Netherworld
    Book Description:

    "The ancient Egyptian sources come alive, speaking to us without seeming alien to our modern ways of thinking. Andreas Schweizer invites us to join the nocturnal voyage of the solar barque and to immerse ourselves, with the 'Great Soul' of the sun, into the darkness surrounding us. Here in the illustrations and texts of the Amduat, threats hidden in the depths of our soul become visible as concrete images, an analysis of which remains ever worthwhile: even in the guise of the evil, ominous, or dark side of godhead with which Schweizer concerns himself. The netherworld into which we descend underlies our own world. Creative energies of dreadful intensity are active there, and only death, to which all must surrender, makes us truly alive by offering us regeneration from the depths."-Erik Hornung, from the Foreword

    The Amduat (literally "that which is in the netherworld") tells the story of the nocturnal journey of Re, the Egyptian Sungod, through the netherworld from the time when the sun dies, after setting in the west, to its rebirth at sunrise in the east. In the middle of the night, in the profoundest depths of the netherworld, this resurrection is made possible by a mystical union of the sun with the mummified body of Osiris, god of the dead. This great mystery of the union between the freely moving soul of the Sungod, longing for the bright and boundless sky, with Osiris's corpse, which is irrevocably bound to the subterranean realm of the dead, evokes the renewal of all life and the restoration of totality.

    In the Egyptian belief system, the pharaohs and in later times all blessed dead embarked on this same "night-sea journey" after death, ultimately becoming one with Re and living forever. The vision of the afterlife elaborated in the Amduat, dating from around 1500 B.C.E., has been influential for millennia, providing the model for an entire genre of Egyptian literature, the Books of the Afterlife, which in turn endured into the Greco-Roman era. Its themes and images persisted into gnostic and alchemical texts and made their way into early Christian portrayals of the beyond.

    In The Sungod's Journey through the Netherworld, Andreas Schweizer guides the reader through the Amduat, offering a psychological interpretation of its principal textual and iconographic elements. He is concerned with themes that run deep and wide in human experience, drawing on Jungian archetypes to find similar expression in many cultures worldwide: sleep as death; resurrection as reawakening or rebirth; and salvation or redemption, whether from original sin (as for Christians) or from the total annihilation of death (as for the ancient Egyptians).

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5928-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword to the German Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Erik Hornung

    Around the year 1500 BC, an ancient Egyptian created an illustrated vision of the hereafter, the Amduat, that ranks among the great achievements of humankind. In Egypt its impact endured for more than a millennium: it served as the model for a whole literary genre, today known as the Books of the Afterlife or Books of the Netherworld, whose tradition endured well into the Graeco-Roman era. Scholars believe it even left its mark in certain Gnostic texts, in the Hermetic tractates, and in early Christian visions of the beyond.

    As Egyptian art and literature are usually anonymous, the name of...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Andreas Schweizer
  5. Editor’s Note
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    D. L.
  6. Immersion into Darkness
    (pp. 1-14)

    At the end of a long, hot day, as the African sun approaches the west, the life of all creatures unfolds itself anew. Now sheltered by the cool evening breeze, the fields are plowed, hoed, planted, and watered. Everywhere in the villages, fires are lit to cook the evening meal. In the gathering twilight, people grow happier and louder. It is as though with their chatting, joking, and laughter, their music and dance, they want to ward off the approaching spirits of the night. But once the light of the very last fire disappears, its dim glow resisting in vain...

  7. The Amduat—The Book of the Hidden Chamber
    (pp. 15-22)

    At the very end of the Valley of the Kings, at the edge of the Theban Mountain that separates the endless desert from the fertile Nile valley, there is a tomb. Once carefully hidden, its entrance is not, as usual, at the base of the steep rock wall but rather some yards above the bottom of a deeply fissured gorge. Today, visitors who brave the heat and the dust use a flight of steps leading up to the entrance and the sloping corridor just beyond it. This is the tomb of Tuthmosis III, the mighty pharaoh who made Egypt into...

  8. The Title of the Amduat
    (pp. 23-30)

    The many repetitions in this lengthy title betray the intense emotional involvement of its author. For him, it was existentially important to know the dramatic transfigurations that take place in the netherworld. The Egyptian verb rḫ, “to know,” also means “to be familiar with” or “have knowledge of” for the purpose of having power over something. In this case, it is to have knowledge of the nature of a god and of secret things in general, or, as we would say today, to be conscious of the archetypal dimension of life. The infinite horizon of this knowledge is emphasized by...

  9. FIRST HOUR: The Jubilation of the Baboons Getting in Touch with the Animal Soul
    (pp. 31-47)

    The magnificence of sunset now ended, the Sungod and his entourage descend in the night barque to an intermediate realm separating this world from the actual netherworld. This interstitial space embodies an interval of time after which the god will enter Osiris’s realm of the dead through the gate at the end of the first nocturnal hour. Once again, there is a clear distinction between this world and the next, between the world of the day and that of the night, between above and below. Here we observe the Egyptians’ dread of the netherworld, this Land of Silence and place...

  10. SECOND HOUR: The Fertile Region of Wernes First Encounter with the Psychic Totality: Creation and Destruction
    (pp. 49-61)

    The Sungod and his crew have reached the end of the intermediate realm of the first hour. Sailing through the gate called “He-who-devours-all,” they enter the waters of a truly fertile region of paradisiacal beauty. Those who dwell on the riverbanks greet them warmly with jubilation and rejoicing. Everywhere in the depiction of this second hour we see symbols of lush vegetation. One example is the two grain gods in the second barque of the middle register: two ears of wheat, a sign of their fertility, serve as their attribute. Another is the depiction of the six grain gods at...

  11. THIRD HOUR: Rowing on the Water of Osiris The Experience of Love through the World of Psychic Images
    (pp. 63-75)

    The third hour is dominated by the presence of Osiris. What we behold here is not his flesh or corpse as in the dark depths of the sixth and seventh hours but the lively and inspiring presence that made him so popular in the New Kingdom.

    Outwitted, killed, and dismembered by his brother Seth, Osiris suffered a death like no one else’s. Isis, his sister and beloved, collected his body parts, which were scattered throughout the land, reassembled them, and conceived a child by him, though he was dead. One of the Coffin Texts provides an impressive description of this...

  12. FOURTH HOUR: The Snake-Land of Sokar The Dark Night of the Soul
    (pp. 77-99)

    In the fourth hour of the night, we enter an entirely new region of the netherworld, one that is especially dark and dry. Its name is Rosetau, whose literal meaning in the ancient Egyptian language is “act of towing.” The sun barque has run aground in the shallows and can no longer be rowed along the flowing water. With arduous labor, the assisting deities must tow the barque through the sandy region of this nocturnal hour. Gone are the life-giving fertility of Wernes and the gentle light of the fields of Osiris, though the god is intimately present in this...

  13. FIFTH HOUR: The Mystery of the Cavern of Sokar The Regenerative Force of Depression
    (pp. 101-117)

    The fifth hour of the night continues, in far greater depth, the theme of the fourth hour. The water is still shallow; the sun barque continues its journey, though with difficulty. Re’s boat must be towed by the two groups of deities, seven males and seven females, above the cavern of Sokar in the lower register. That the goddesses precede their male counterparts (as also in the twelfth hour) corresponds, as we shall see, to the fact that these images were created in a male-dominated culture that nevertheless highly honored the feminine element.

    From the psychological point of view, this...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. SIXTH HOUR: The Corpse of the Sungod and the Rebirth of Light Re-Union of the Opposites
    (pp. 119-131)

    In the middle register, we encounter the central theme of this hour and, indeed, of this entire Book of the Netherworld. At the deepest point in the realm of the dead, the point where we reach the very edge of the primeval waters of Nun and their primordial darkness and where the domain of Apopis threatens creation with chaos and nonbeing, there lies a huge, ouroboric, multiheaded serpent with many faces, encircling the corpse of the Sungod in his form of Khepri. This image alludes in several ways to the mystery of the renewal of all life in the depths...

  16. SEVENTH HOUR: Apopis, Enemy of the Sun The Unstable Balance of the New
    (pp. 133-149)

    Scarcely has new light been kindled by the union of the ba-soul with the corpse—that is, by the coniunctio of Re and Osiris—when the powers of darkness threaten to extinguish it in this, the seventh hour of the night. No less an enemy than Apopis obstructs the sun barque and those it conveys. This scene would have struck terror in the hearts of the ancient Egyptians, for to them, a standstill in the sun’s course would have threatened to put an end to the order of the cosmos.

    This threat to ordered existence is an archetypal motif: just...

  17. EIGHTH HOUR: Provision with Clothes Religious Renewal
    (pp. 151-157)

    The most difficult part of Re’s journey is over. The sun barque has safely passed the deepest point of midnight, and thanks to the creative magical powers of Isis and Seth, Apopis is defeated. In the caverns, or vaults, of the eighth hour, five in the upper register and five in the lower register, the mysterious gods and the blessed dead are provided with new clothing. Most of the gods are seated upon the hieroglyph for clothing, while some stand directly behind it.

    Here, for the first time since the first hour of the night, the upper and lower register...

  18. NINTH HOUR: The Sungod’s Crew Manifestation of the New
    (pp. 159-163)

    The Sungod and his helpers rest in the peace of this ninth nocturnal hour. In anticipation of activity to come, the sun barque’s crewmen hold their oars at the ready. The accompanying text speaks of their life-giving role, for their rowing is a source of life. Those who dwell on the riverbanks drink the refreshing water that splashes up from the strokes of the oars as the barque passes by:

    They (the rowers) are those who give water with their oars to the akh-spirits (the living spirits of the blessed dead) who are in this place, and who praise the...

  19. TENTH HOUR: The Bodyguard of the Sungod Ready to Fight for the New
    (pp. 165-171)

    The upper register of the tenth nocturnal hour makes renewed reference to the ambivalence of every creative act. As in the Land of Sokar (fourth hour), we encounter the motif of the healing of the Sungod’s injured eye. Though the Living Scarab depicted at the beginning of the upper register points to the coming birth, every birth brings vulnerability and death. The good of creation and damaged life belong inalienably together, and this is why the eight standing goddesses must not be absent. Like the baboon called “Flesh who carries his Eye,” who is seated facing them, they are associated...

  20. ELEVENTH HOUR: The Renewal of Time The Religious Dimension of Time and the New Consciousness
    (pp. 173-183)

    All is filled with anticipation of the birth of the solar child in the morning. A new era will begin. The cosmos has once again been renewed in the depths of the night. The first god in the upper register, called “Lord of (djet-)time,” presides over this hour of the night. He has two heads, with a sun disk between them, and he holds the hieroglyphic signs for life and dominion in his hands. He embodies an aspect of the Sungod himself: Re as guarantor and creator of time. Here, just as everything is about to come into existence, to...

  21. TWELFTH HOUR: The End of the Primeval Darkness The Long-Awaited Birth
    (pp. 185-194)

    For one last time, the Sungod tarries in the netherworld. The name of the place heralds the end of the nocturnal journey: “Cavern of the end of the primeval darkness.” Those who dwell on the riverbanks rejoice and acclaim Re; but despite this all-pervasive jubilation, there is no forgetting that here, too, even after the rebirth of the Great Ba-Soul, Apopis must be warded off. Once more, reverence is displayed toward Osiris, who must remain in the depths of the netherworld and endure its dim light. In the lower register, the ten gods standing in front of his mummy praise...

  22. Closure: The Five Stages of Renewal
    (pp. 195-210)

    We have tarried long over these often mysterious and always fascinating images of the netherworld. We have stood astounded before the cultural testimony of the Theban royal tombs, which speak to us, even after millennia. In many who visit these tombs, there grows a true and abiding love for the divine world of the Egyptians. Though the foreignness of this world might daunt us at first, it is pervaded by a deeply human quality, and we soon can perceive the cares, the needs, the hopes, and the fears of our ancestors. The images bear witness to an intense longing for...

  23. Chronology
    (pp. 211-212)
  24. Glossary
    (pp. 213-220)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-224)
  26. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 225-226)
  27. Index
    (pp. 227-232)