The Portals Of Eternity: Life, Death And Resurrection In Ancient Egypt



Our upcoming story and production is drawn from the civilization of ancient Egypt. Like all human societies, the people of the Nile understood this experience we call life in terms of opposites- joy and sadness, love and hate, war and peace, feast or famine, living and dying. This duality is a common human experience which all religious texts, ideologies, philosophies and traditions acknowledge, and each explains this reality in their own peculiar manner. For the ancient Egyptians, death was not only inevitable but necessary, as it was part of a great cycle whereby the soul is transported to the netherworld. There cannot be life without death, nor death sans living. Everything is born and everything ultimately dies. Perhaps no other society; with the possible exception of the cultures of Meso America, focused so intently on death and created mythological narratives, religion and art that glorified this reality. The Pharaohs and queens of Egypt were given great funerals, entombed in giant pyramids and burial chambers, their bodies preserved and their household items, their food and even their slaves and concubines, were sent along to accompany them in their journey, described in detail in the Egyptian 'Book Of The Dead'. The journey to the netherworld was long and arduous, and was not a light spiritual journey. The goddess Nebhet Het, sometimes known by her greek name Nepthys, held the responsibility to see to it that every soul be taken from the body at its appointed time. Knowing that no soul wished to leave the body or the joys of the Earth willingly, Nebhet Het was terrifying in appearance, the soul itself frightened beyond imagination at her countenance. She forcibly ripped the soul of an individual and transported it, with the assistance of her retainers such as Imentet, through the gates of the underworld, the very 'Portals Of Eternity'. After arriving and going through many terrible ordeals in the realm of the Duat, the heart was weighed against a feather; if the weight of the person's earthly deeds were as light as the feather from their goodness, an eternal abode was the reward, while if the deeds proved to be heavy with evil the person's heart was devoured by the terrible deity Ammit until nothing was left of that unfortunate individual. Ancient human beings understood their existence and created narratives to reflect how they saw their world and indeed, the universe and the possible dimensions that loomed beyond the realm of the familiar. The Nile river, which allowed for Egypt's civilization also inspired her people who saw in the annual rise and flow of the river the rhythm of the cycle of life itself. If the Nile failed life would fail, and it was to the Nile that Egyptians looked to seek, find and understand the will of the gods. Nuut, blue goddess of the sky protected her husband Geb, the Earth, forming her body into an arch to cover him. She allowed light to pass through her belly which then went down onto the Earth which together with the waters of the Nile guaranteed life. Nuut was al things good and beneficial, she inspired hope and joy, spiritual pursuit, compassion and mercy. Yet even this goddess had to acknowledge the role of death, and was in awe of Nebhet Het who ultimately always won the souls of the living. Nuut nurtured life but life itself is temporary, while death is inevitable and the resurrection process required for everlasting life in the abode beyond the portals of eternity. Our joys and hopes, our dreams and aspirations will be shattered by the reality of our end. Nuut knowns this and learns this time after time, cycle upon cycle and represents the human heart which strives for joy but must accept the hand of inevitable fate.

The heavenly mythological figures of the ancients possessed human like qualities, though they were mighty deities who possessed power beyond imagination. They quarreled and plotted against one another and sometimes fought as humans do when they no longer care to parley. These deities represented forces of nature, and nature surely does give the impression that wind and cold, heat and wet, tranquility and storm, dryness and moisture; the life giving Nile and the desert that surrounds it... which are all opposites in fact give rise to this concept of duality. It seems natural that ancient people would interpret their world as such, chaos and order being interchangeable.

The epic recitation is based on this concept of ancient Egyptian duality, manifested as goddesses with opposing attributes. In the mythologies of the past great heavenly battles are fought on cosmic battlefields, the deities themselves supported by their legions of champions who willingly go forth, as human champions do, to sacrifice life and limb for the god or goddess and the attribute they represent. The heroes are sometimes half mortals, like Hercules or Gilgamesh or are those seeking enlightenment while on the path of knowledge, such as the Indian Arjuna and his encounter with Krishna in the midst of a terrible war, while some are fully gods themselves as we read in the Greek Titanomachy, the story of the wars and battles between the gods and the race of giants. Such tales are widespread, truly affirming Joseph Campbell or Karl Jung's theory of a collective, archetypal memory, for such tales of gods doing battle with other deities and with forces of light or darkness are found in most if not in nearly all cultures, spread across the globe from Asia to the Americas and beyond. These tales came about long ago when far off kingdoms, continents and hemispheres had little or no contact with one another. Yet mysteriously, they all tell similar tales. Nuut represents light and goodness and the inherent hope we as humans all aspire to achieve and maintain in our lives. We can get caught up in this pursuit of this higher, spiritual plane and forget the very direct law that dictates the reality of our existence; we must at some point leave this and all other pursuits in this dimension and move on. We will fight, struggle and resist death, like a deity's fierce retainer guards, against these dark forces which we consider as negative and evil. Yet for all our efforts, our time in this realm will end and the terrible Nebhet Het accomplishes her mission. Nuut must accept disappointment, as she is the mother of Nebhet Het who, like a child who sometimes goes astray when growing into adulthood, becomes indifferent to a mother who must sadly accept that her beloved offspring become violent towards one another- Nebhet Het and her consort Seth slay their sibling Osiris, the first to be forced to pass through the gates of the Duat. Nuut, like all of us, maintains that everything will eventually turn out good, but we know we are lulling ourselves into a dream. We know this, we accept it, but nonetheless we fight and struggle because that is all we can do. We die and are hopefully resurrected, and the cycle is repeated again and again, every day until the end of time itself. Nuut can do no more than what she has been ordained to do and like her human counterparts is saddened by this reality but must accept it, as we all must. Everything we know and will yet learn about lies beyond the great gates where liveth the gods and the goddesses, in the realm called the Duat, that place indeed far beyond the very Portals Of Eternity from which we all vacate our earthly realm and this existence which we call our daily lives.