Issue 36 – 2 August 2017 – rattuos
We can identify ourselves in many ways but underpinning most will be the fact that we are families, tribes and a species. There may be huge differences between us culturally but genetically the differences are tiny and we should not be surprised as every flower is different. If we go back far enough we find that we all have a common ancestor and if so we can liken our family to a tree. Family trees have been depicted since antiquity and the largest is said to be that of Confucius which shows 80 generations and has 2 million living descendants (I would suggest that there are many more in fact). It is not so much an analogy but a fact if we look at our tribe in a particular way. We are but a generation of leaves blossoms, seeds on an old tree that has produced billions of us and continues to do so. That its days are numbered is most unfortunate but something that happens to all trees.
I mention the family tree because today am looking at the core of Egyptian religion and magic and as in so many other cultures we find a tree. The Nordic religion had a world tree called Yggdrasil, and most cultures have a tree or a pillar which is the same. We still have people dancing round Maypoles if rather less that we once did. The tree is representative of fertility, the life death cycle, rebirth and much else but for now try to think of it as the human tree and something we although a fleeting part of might wish to be able to contact, to know and be known by.
In Egypt this tree is called the Djed pillar. It looks like a tree with four branches at the top sticking out at both sides. There were over the course of Egyptian history such pillars made and used in rituals much like the Maypole. People wore them round their necks as charms. Raising the Djed, that is pulling the pillar upright, was a central part of all of this and considered very significant. In Tibet you will still see many monks and people pulling upright a big prayer flag mast at the foot of the sacred Mount Kailash. And if we look inside the Great Pyramid we will find that there is a central chamber and above it a number of vast stones considered to relieve the massive pressure upon it from the weight above. But if we look at the structure as an architect would have we see the Djed pillar at its heart. Djed is given the meaning ‘stability’.
We have to look at very late tales of many of the original myths, usually recorded for us by the Greeks thousands of years later and sadly the tales take a life of their own over the millennia but a very interesting one certainly ties the djed to the family tree. The myth as recorded was that after the king Osiris was lured into a snug fitting, bejewelled casket to try it our for size he was locked into it by a group of elders led by Sutekh who threw it into the Nile. This river carried it out to sea and hence to Byblos in Lebanon where some magic tree grew around it and ended up being used as a pillar in the palace there. Isis eventually found it, opened it up and in some way revived the corpse so that she was able to conceive the child Horus. I would say that the story is one which tells us that the Lebanese monarchy at an early time was considered to be the direct line, the family tree that sprang from or included the Egyptian king we know as Osiris. Even the British monarchy has at times claimed direct descent from some divine line, it is what monarchies do. The pharaohs certainly did.
But we need to go back to the two dynasties that pioneered the pyramids to find out a bit more of what is behind the myth. At approximately 2600BC what we call the Old Kingdom started in Egypt. As far as the Egyptians were concerned this was the beginning of the Third Dynasty and the looked much further back to the first pharaohs of the First Dynasty and the many kings before them. But the Third Dynasty is a good place to start because the first king in that was Djoser ably assisted by his sage and architect Imhotep. There is no doubt both existed and between them they built what is called the Step Pyramid, a massive engineering feat that is still standing. 75 years later a new Dynasty began and this was the age of the Great Pyramid and most of the other massive pyramids. Khufu (often called Cheops) was the pharaoh for whom the Great Pyramid was built possibly by his son Djedefre, whose own perfect pyramid overlooking it from a hilltop has been levelled over thousands of years by caravans taking the excellent stone for building projects in Cairo. In Giza we now see the three vast pyramids of Khufu, Khafre (son of Khufu who succeeded Djedefre) and Menkaure (Khufu‘s grandson and son of Khafre). But Khufu also had another son called Djedi. Or that is what we have gleaned from the tomb inscriptions which are con temporary and much more reliable than stories handed down for 2600 years.
Which brings us to one of the most famous tales in all Egyptian history the meeting of Khufu and the magician Djedi. This tale was preserved in the Westcar papyrus and was written perhaps around 1800BC during one of the Intermediate periods when the Hyksos tribe had taken over the throne. The term Hyksos is not specific (literally ‘rulers of foreign lands‘) but they were considered to have come from what are now Syria and Lebanon, a mass immigration perhaps as had been happening with the Canaanites from what we call Palestine and Israel. I mention this because that is when the story was put on the papyrus. There is little doubt however that it was an ancient and well known tale. But before I start on Djedi I will mention the gully-gully men. When I was about 10 I was shown an old film taken by our headmaster when he sailed through Suez in about 1930. It showed the magician who came on board and produced chicken after chicken, at least twenty of them appearing out of nowhere. He did other tricks but that was the one I remember. The late magician Paul Daniels also wrote about seeing this in 1956 and how influential it was on him. Here is another:
“We spent three years in Singapore, and returned by boat. My earliest memory is going through the Suez Canal when an entertainer and magician, known as a Gully Gully Man, came aboard. I remember his long robe. He produced a chicken from behind my ear and I remember going ballistic with terror, and my parents hooting with laughter.”
A lot of people saw this – almost every Briton sailing to the Far East at one time and you will find many reminiscences on the net (gully-gully, hully gully, gale gale etc). But the origin is exceptionally ancient. The bible mentions the Egyptian magicians and tricks they did with snakes. Then a look at what this is really about. I note how similar the phrase ‘raising the djed’ is to ‘raising the dead’ and of course they have a lot in common. Conjuring tricks perhaps.
We are fortunate in knowing that they are tricks. Having had a very good conjuror or magician working on me one to one I have been staggered when he achieved the seemingly impossible. Getting a coin from my pocket into a beer bottle we had just finished when it was much too small to get through the top and would not come out. He showed me later how his coin was cut in half and joined with rubber almost impossible to see, certainly not through the green glass bottle. It bent in half, went in and popped back into full size. That might have kept me wondering for many years as have some of the other things he showed me.
The ancients did not know they were tricks, they thought they were miracles or magic. And those able to perform them were very highly regarded. Almost every court had one, the jester. It is one of the tarot cards. And these people kept alive something in our societies but based on falsehood. It goes way back even before Egypt to the conjuring of fire.
Here is the tale of Djedi (whose name is spelled in Egyptian with 2 Djed pillars and a reed):
“According to the Westcar Papyrus, prince Djedefhor (one of Khufu’s sons whose sarcophagus is in Cairo Museum) brings up the story of Dedi. He stands before his father, king Khufu, and says: “There is only speaking of miracles which happened a long time ago, something known by past generations only. Truth and falsehood cannot be distinguished here. But there is someone under thy majesty´s own lifetime who is not known, someone who is able to make a ignoramus become wise.” Khufu asks: “What’s the meaning of this, Djedefhor, my son?” Djedefhor answers: “There’s a commoner named Dedi, living in Djed-Sneferu. (rattuos: Sneferu was the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty who had at least two grand pyramids to his name – the ‘Bent’ pyramid and the ‘Red’ pyramid. He was the father of Khufu and had a long reign) He’s a simple citizen, but 110 years old, eats 500 loaves of bread, a shoulder of beef and drinks 100 jars of beer every day. He is capable of resurrecting decapitated beings. He is also said to be able to make wild lions so obedient that the animal would follow him with a cord dragging on the ground. Furthermore, this Dedi has knowledge of the number* of Iput in the wenet–sanctuary of Thoth.” The pharaoh spent a good deal of time to seek for these chambers, for he planned to build something similar to his horizon. And Khufu orders: “You thyself, Djedefhor, my son, may bring him to me!”
And so Djedefhor arranges his journey during the first month of the schemu-season and travels to Djed-Sneferu. He finds Dedi and invites the old man to the king’s palace with the words: “Your condition is equal to someone who lives from aging and to someone who sleeps until dawn, free of illness and wheezing. For ‘aging’ is the time of dying, the time of the preparing the burial and the time of being buried. This is the questioning about the condition of a noble man. I have come to summon you in order of my father, justified, that you may eat from the delicacies my father gives, the food of his followers. And then he may guide you to the ancestors which are in the necropolis now.” Dedi replies: “Welcome, welcome, Djedefhor, son of the king, beloved of his father! May you be praised by your father, Khufu the justified. May he let your place be at the front of all time-honored ones. May thine Ka successfully champion all things against any enemy. May thine Ba know the ways that lead to the gateway of the mummified deceased.” Djedefhor brings Dedi to the harbor and makes a boat prepared for traveling. The old man promises to follow Djedefhor, on the condition that he may bring his books and scholars with him. Djedefhor accepts, and both men travel to Khufu’s royal palace.
Djedefhor enters the palace and goes immediately to his father, king Khufu. The prince says: “May thy majesty live, be blessed and being prosperous! I have brought Dedi to you!” Khufu replies: “Go and bring him to me!” Then Khufu takes place in the royal audience-hall. The Pharaoh receives Dedi with the words: “What is it, Dedi, this denying to have seen you ever before?” Dedi answers: “Oh sovereign, my lord! Only the one who is summoned is one who will come. I was summoned, and now see, oh sovereign, my lord, I have come.” The pharaoh continues: “Is it true, this talk-about that you could mend a severed head?” Dedi says: “Yes, oh sovereign, my lord. May you live, be blessed and prosperous. I know how to do that.” Khufu replies: “May a prisoner, who is jailed, be brought to me, so that his execution may be enforced.”. Dedi refuses with the words: “Not to make a human suffer, oh sovereign, my lord! May you live, be blessed and prosperous. You see, it was never allowed to do something like that on the noble flock.” Dedi chooses three animals instead – first a goose. He decapitates the goose and places her head at the eastern side of the audience hall, the body at the western side. Then Dedi utters a secret spell and the head of the goose stands up, starting to waddle. Then the body of the goose stands up and waddles, too. Both body-parts move into equal directions, then melt together. The resurrected goose now leaves the hall cackling. The same performance is done with an undefined water bird and a bull. Both animals are brought successfully back to life, too. Now the king says: “It is said that you know the number* of Iput inside the wenet-sanctuary of Thoth. Now?” Dedi replies: “May you be praised, oh sovereign, my lord! I don’t know their number. But I know where they can be found.” Khufu asks: “Where is it?” Dedi answers: “There is a box of scrolls, made of flint, which is stored in a room called ‘archive’ at Heliopolis.” The king orders: “Take that box!” Dedi replies: “May your highness be prosperous and blessed, I’m not the one who can bring it to you.” Khufu asks: “Who may be the one who could bring it to me?” Dedi answers: “The eldest of the three children in the womb of Rededjet, he will bring it to you.” The king says: “I really wish all these things you say. Who is it, this Rededjet?” Dedi replies: “It’s the wife of a wab-priest of the god Ra, lord of Sachebu. The god has adumbrated, that the eldest of the three shall worship as a high priest of Heliopolis over the whole realm.” The king’s mood becomes grim after this. Dedi asks: “What is that heart of thine, oh sovereign, my lord, becoming so sad! Is it because of the children I have adumbrated? First your son, then his son and then one of them.” Khufu replies: “When will this Rededjet give birth?” Dedi says: “It will happen during the first month of the peret-season, on the fifteenth day.″ Khufu becomes indignant: “But it’s when the canal-of-two-Mugilidae is cut off!? I would even work with my very own hands to enter them! And then I will visit that temple of Ra, lord of Sachebu.” And Dedi says: “Then I will make the waters at the fordable spots of the canal-of-two-Mugilidae become four cubits in height for you.” Khufu stands up and orders: “Have Dedi assigned to a place within the palace of my son Djedefhor where he shall live from now on. His daily gainings be 1000 loaves of bread, 100 jars of beer, one neat and 100 bundles of field garlic.” And all things are done as ordered.
Historians and Egyptologists such as Adolf Erman and Kurt Heinrich Sethe once thought the tales of Westcar Papyrus were mere folklore. Magical tricks that show animals being decapitated and their heads being replaced were performed as recently as a few decades ago, though today they are rarely shown because of aesthetical and ethical misgivings….” Wikipedia
So is this a lot of fuss about nothing? I will go back 75 years before this was supposed to have happened, back to Imhotep who designed the Step Pyramid. He is ascribed semi-divine powers – a healer, an architect and much more, and like Djedi a ‘commoner‘:
“Imhotep (/ɪm’hoʊtɛp/; Egyptian: ỉỉ-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥatap, “the one who comes in peace”; fl. late 27th century BC) was an Egyptian chancellor to the pharaoh Djoser, probable architect of the step pyramid, and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. Very little is known of Imhotep as a historical figure, but in the 3000 years following his death, he was gradually glorified and deified.
Today, outside of the egyptological community, he is referred to as a polymath, poet, judge, engineer, magician, scribe, astronomer, astrologer, and especially a physician. These claims are founded on the legends that flourished in the millennia after his death, not on historical records. No text from his lifetime mentions these capacities and no text mentions his name in the first 1200 years following his death.
Apart from the three short contemporary inscriptions that establish him as chancellor to the pharaoh, the first text to reference Imhotep dates to the time of Amenhotep III (c. 1391 – 1353 BC). It is addressed to the owner of a tomb, and reads:
The wab-priest may give offerings to your ka. The wab-priests may stretch to you their arms with libations on the soil, as it is done for Imhotep with the remains of the water bowl. (rattuos: The Egyptian scribes always poured out a little water for their patron god Thoth before starting work each day)
— D. Wildung (1977), Egyptian Saints – Deification in Pharaonic Egypt, p. 34.
It appears that this libation to Imhotep was done regularly, as they are attested on papyruses associated to statues of Imhotep until the Late Period (c. 664-332 BC). To Wildung, this cult holds its origin in the slow evolution of the memory of Imhotep among intellectuals from his death onwards. To Alan Gardiner, this cult is so distinct from the offerings usually made to commoners that the epithet of “demi-god” is likely justified to describe the way Imhotep was venerated in the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1077 BC).
The first references to the healing abilities of Imhotep occur from the Thirtieth Dynasty (c. 380-343 BC) onwards, some 2200 years after his death.
He was one of only two commoners ever to be deified after death (the other being Amenhotep, son of Hapu). The center of his cult was in Memphis. The location of Imhotep’s self-built tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown, despite efforts to find it. The consensus is that it is hidden somewhere at Saqqara.” Wikipedia
* Mackenzie translates ‘number of chambers in the sanctuary of Thoth’ as ‘secret of the dwelling of Thoth. Khufu is more interested in this that anything which is not really made obvious in then translation above. The story of Djedi makes me think of bilocation. The ‘djed’ is everywhere and Reddjedet is supposedly the mother of the first three kings of the next (5th) Dynasty. Unfortunately Khufu will not be alive when the first king would be able to reveal the secret.
“ How Pharaoh Userkaf founded this dynasty is not known for certain. The Papyrus Westcar, which was written during the Middle Kingdom, tells a story of how king Khufu of Dynasty IV was given a prophecy that triplets born to the wife of the priest of Ra in Sakhbu would overthrow him and his heirs, and how he attempted to put these children – named Userkaf, Sahure, and Neferirkare – to death; however in recent years, scholars have recognized this story to be at best a legend, and admit their ignorance over how the transition from one dynasty to another transpired.” Wikipedia
We had better look at Userkaf but I note that the last (8th) king of the 5th was Djedkare Isesi who was a great reforming pharaoh and the object of a cult that lasted many years. What is most significant about the 5th Dynasty to my mind is the fact some of the pharaohs (not the first three or if they did the texts did not survive/have not been found) had the ‘pyramid texts’ inscribed on the inside walls of their pyramids which preserved them for us in the oldest form we have.
“Userkaf (meaning “his soul is strong” or “his Ka (or soul) is powerful”) was the founder of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt and the first pharaoh to start the tradition of building sun temples at Abusir. He ruled from 2494 to 2487 BC and constructed the pyramid of Userkaf complex at Saqqara. Userkaf may have been a grandson of Djedefre by his daughter, Neferhetepes…..
The Sun temple of Userkaf was an Ancient Egyptian temple dedicated to the sun god Ra built by pharaoh Userkaf, the founder of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, at the beginning of the 25th century BCE. The sun temple of Userkaf lies between the Abusir pyramid field to the south and the locality of Abu Gurab to the north, some 15 km (9.3 mi) south of modern-day Cairo. The ancient name of the temple was Nekhen-Re meaning the “Stronghold of Ra”. The temple complex comprised several parts: on a low hill situated on the desert edge was the main temple which could be accessed via a causeway from a valley temple, located nearer to the area of cultivation and the Nile.….” Wikipedia
Although used for many years and visited over 1000 years later according to an inscription found this pyramid and its temples were too badly ruined to tell us much about Userkaf. He was followed by Sahure one of the most important kings of the Old Kingdom. Sahure built a pyramid
“….The causeway and mortuary temple of his pyramid complex were once adorned by over 10,000 m2 (110,000 sq ft) of fine reliefs, which made them renowned in antiquity. The architects of Sahure’s pyramid complex introduced the use of palmiform columns (that is columns whose capital has the form of palm leaves), which would soon become a hallmark of ancient Egyptian architecture. Sahure is also known to have constructed a sun temple called “The Field of Ra“, and although it is yet to be located it is presumably in Abusir as well……Trade contacts with Byblos certainly took place during Sahure’s reign and indeed excavations of the temple of Baalat-Gebal yielded an alabaster bowl inscribed with Sahure’s name….” Wikipedia
His funerary cult continued for centuries and a statue of him was made by a much later opharaoh reflecting something not evident now unless it is the Dedi story. The third king was
“Neferirkare Kakai was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, the third king of the Fifth Dynasty. He succeeded his father Sahure on the throne and was in turn succeeded by his son Neferefre. His praenomen, Neferirkare, means “Beautiful is the Soul of Ra“....From the large size of his mortuary complex at Abusir, he was an important king, but since the Palermo stone fragments after his rule, little is actually known about his reign….Neferirkare’s reign was unusual for the significant number of surviving contemporary records which describe him as a kind and gentle ruler. When Rawer, an elderly nobleman and royal courtier, was accidentally touched by the king’s mace during a religious ceremony—a dangerous situation which could have caused this official’s death or banishment from court since the Pharaoh was viewed as a living God in Old Kingdom mythology—Neferirkare quickly pardoned Rawer and requested that no harm should occur to the latter for the incident. As Rawer gratefully states in an inscription from his Giza tomb:
“Now the priest Rawer in his priestly robes was following the steps of the king in order to conduct the royal costume, when the sceptre in the king’s hand struck the priest Rawer’s foot. The king said, “You are safe”. So the king said, and then, “It is the king’s wish that he be perfectly safe, since I have not struck at him. For he is more worthy before the king than any man.”
Similarly, Neferirkare gave the Priest of Ptah Ptahshepses the unprecedented honor of kissing his feet. Finally, when the Vizier Washptah suffered a stroke while attending court, the king quickly summoned the palace’s chief doctors to treat his dying Vizier. When Weshptah died, Neferirkare was reportedly inconsolable and retired to his personal quarters to mourn the loss of his friend. The king then ordered the purification of Weshptah’s body in his presence and ordered an ebony coffin made for the deceased Vizier. Weshptah was buried with special endowments and rituals courtesy of Neferirkare. The records of the king’s actions are inscribed in Weshptah’s tomb itself and emphasize Neferirkare’s humanity towards his subjects.” Wikipedia
So we do not know much more about the secret of Thoth‘s dwelling (who he is and where and when he lives) even if Userkaf would have been able to tell Khufu who appears to have wanted the poor chap dead. But what is significant about the story is that Djedi having given somebody the impression that he knew the secret clammed up when asked by Khufu and gave him directions to unborn children that the pharaoh could not possible follow. Perhaps one needs to be an Ancient Egyptian to understand what fascinated them about us and our time and of course that ‘field of reeds‘ in the far off (in distance and time) Somerset field overlooked by Glastonbury Tor with its scale model of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.