October 3rd - 5th 2000:
From 1,900 BC until about 900 BC, the temples at Thebes were the center of Egyptian Religious life. Thebes is Luxor's ancient name. During the New Kingdom, from about 1,550 BC up until the end of the 21st dynasty 500 years later the pharaoh lived here. It was the Center of The Universe of both the living and the dead.
On the West bank, even in winter the word hot is an understatement. Here ancient laborers built some of the most amazing art the world has ever seen. But it wasn't intended to be seen by living eyes -- dead spirits were these artist's audience.
We walk up the Valley of the Kings under this mountain sacred to the goddess Hathor, and walked down into tombs of nobles long dead.
Here the walls are festooned with drawings in colors still vibrant after 3,000 years. These drawings and inscriptions are various installments from The Books of the Dead.
They explain various gateways and challenges the dead pharaoh or noble will face in their immediate hereafter.
Some of these are spells, a sort of crib sheet for what to do in the afterlife. (Scenes from inside Tomb KV9, Ramses V & VI.)
Here the god Seth puts the Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt on Pharaoh.
(Ramses the VIth again.)
On the right, Tutmosis III suckles at Isis in her guise as a Tree Goddess.
The goddess Maat can be recognized by the feather on her head. It is this -- Maat's Feather of Truth -- which will be used at a dead person's Final Judgment. Thoth will weigh their heart on a balance against the Feather of Truth, and if the heart is heavier, then their soul will be damned.
In the final scene from the Book of
Caverns (one of the Books of the Dead) the sun god Ra is
a ram-headed falcon. Note the base of the pyramid above
his wings. Some have speculated this symbolizes his daily
passage from the underworld to the sky, bursting forth
from the primal mound.
A common motif showing the sun god in three incarnations: Morning (scarab) Midday (solar disk) and nighttime (ram's headed man).
sky goddess Nut swallows the sun every evening. It
travels through her body and emerges born again every
Have a break from the dead, we take on the risky business of learning how to spot counterfeit alabaster from an alabaster salesman.
Alabaster saws are shaped like ancient Egyptian swords.
Back out into the light of Ra, we visit Ramses III's mortuary temple. He was the last great pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty (1,163 BC), and his mortuary temple is in excellent condition.
Behind the temple is a massive wall of mud brick, thick enough be be excavated for homes by later Egyptians.
It was here, looking up at the ceilings and walls that we realized just how colorful these old Egyptian temples must have been.
These blues, reds, greens, yellows, whites and oranges have been fading for over three thousand years. Originally they must have been like the bright frescoes of Europe, but on both the inside and the outside of the temple.
Behind these Colossi of Amenhophis III was once a temple as vast as that of Ramses III. But earthquakes and industrious builders have made off with every block.
Hatshepsut was a regent ruler of Egypt for her nephew, the son of her dead husband. When the boy Tutmosis III came of age, Hatshepsut told him to wait. She continued to reign for a dozen years till her death.
After Tutmosis III acceded to his throne, he waited over ten years to consolidate power and wait for positive memoris of his step-mother to die down. Then he systematically went about and had her image and name erased from every monument in Egypt. Hence the chopped out figure receiving the water of life from the gods.
So far, we have only toured the West bank of the Nile.
Crossing back over, we come to the Temple of Karnak.
This was THE temple of Egyptian religion. The seat of the god Amun himself. Pharaohs conducted the annual Feast of Amun where a golden bull was taken out and paraded down this five mile avenue of sphinxes to the Temple of Luxor.
Every Pharaoh for a thousand years added a major piece to the Temple of Karnak, making it the largest religious complex ever built in humanity's history.
They invented the mold for temples which we use even to the present.
Tall columns draw our eyes upwards.
When our attention is fixed above, we can read the inscriptions. They invented the technique of writing big up there -- which the Greeks used and the Renaissance men rediscovered when they built St. Peters.
Obelisks from Karnak have been plundered for major capitals all over the western world.
These places were built to tell the viewer how small we are in comparison to Pharaoh. It worked so well that these names still evoke something awe inspiring from our collective unconscious. Karnak. Imhotep. Amun. (Amen)
Today we have no pharaoh. Science tries to explain how small we are in a cosmos of billions upon billions. It is hard for that abstraction to touch our hearts. But one walk under the stones and statues of Ancient Egypt, and we feel ourselves the speck. Not in a way to cause despair. But in a way that lets us know, every speck of sand has its tiny place.
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