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A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder..
A few weeks ago I wrote on Imagination here. I shared some thoughts on how our imagination represents the gateway to our unconscious which communicates to us in the language of myth. Our unconscious reveals our personal mythology in a number of forms, such as dreams. However I also related the possibility of other mediums, such as visions might one experience in deep trance or meditation. The hypothesis being that dreams and visions are a similar phenomenon, separated only by the degree of transparency to our unconscious.
Our dreams often convey an incomplete self-understanding, indicating where we are being led astray. Visions are more likely to have the character of revelation, where our unconscious conveys its urging to us in a transparent manner through myth.
Myth is the language of our unconscious. The stories our unconscious conveys to us has a recognized universal structure that Joseph Campbell terms the Monomyth, and which was later popularized as the Hero’s Journey. This journey is familiar to us all as the underlying structure common to all our cultural stories. It starts with a call to action, where we are called to confront the unknown and enter the underworld, where we are given a boon that we share with the world.
Jung states our unconscious inspires us to act out our monomyth through our inner potential represented by symbols, also termed archetypes. This potential is actualized when entering our conscious awareness, and are capable of influencing how we interact with the world. Symbols are goal seeking properties, and as such, are in a sense alive. The symbols for example of the great mother, or our shadow have universal influence and meaning, which given expression can lead to detriment or growth in our lives according to our level of self-understanding.
The underworld, and related ideas around initiation are other examples of symbol, and have featured most heavily in visions I have experienced over the past year. Upon reflection, I have traced the symbols that were presented in these visions back to ancient Egyptian texts. I’ll introduce these texts before expanding on the visions themselves in an upcoming series of articles.
Funerary texts from ancient Egypt are among the very first monomyths ever written. The goal of these texts were to guide the individual concerned through the underworld, and to help ensure they survived the tests necessary to emerge back safely. Originally intended for royalty only, these texts evolved over time and were eventually democratized to other prominent individuals. The most famous of these texts, referenced often in popular culture, was the Book of the Dead which dates back to around 1500 BC. This book for example originated the famous Weighing of the Heart process (pictured), which features in one of the visions I’ll be covering later.
We know of these texts, as they were often placed in the coffin of the deceased. While these books are commonly understood to assist the deceased in the afterlife, it is less commonly known they served a this-life purpose as well. We know it was the responsibility of the Egyptian priesthood to re-enact the underworld journey described in these texts on a daily basis, which served a regenerative purpose to ensure good fortune for their community. And it is documented as well that these texts served an initiatory purpose, where direct experience of the spiritual realities described were to be expected.
Book of the Hidden Chamber
The text I have found to be of most relevance to the visions I experienced is another funerary text called the Amduat, also termed the Book of the Hidden Chamber. It is well known for being the first illustrated book in recorded history. The story is a retelling of the Monomyth, where the hero accompanies and re-enacts the sun god Ra’s journey through the underworld. It describes that at dusk, the soul of Ra is exhausted and needs to be replenished. This replenishment takes place through a journey through twelve gates, which stand for each of the twelve hours from sunset to sunrise.
The specifics of the journey is quite involved so I’ll describe it here in brief, and expand in more detail later. Ra enters the underworld through the sky-Goddess Nuit at dusk. The most important event of the journey occurs in the sixth hour at night, when Ra is regenerated in an event termed the Midnight Mystery. In this event Ra encounters the lord of the underworld Osiris, which initiates a move to the ‘first moment’ that exists outside of time. In this moment Ra dips into a limitless sea of potential, sparking the rejuvenation process. Ra returns with increased strength and emerges out of the vulva of the sky-Goddess Nuit as a new solar child at dawn.
So to conclude, the Midnight Mystery represents the seed of our destiny that we begin to commence realizing once emerging from the Goddess at dawn. This seed of destiny is our new creative potential, described by Campbell as the boon that can be shared with the world. By representing the myth as the journey of a single day, the Egyptians relate the rejuvenation back to the renewed energy that is felt after awaking each morning.
I’ll expand upon the specifics of this journey, and particularly how it relates to my vision in the next article. More importantly, I hope to bring it to life by reflecting on how the events in the visions were reflected in the events of my life over the same time.