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Godpyre: The Cosmology of North African Paleovolcanism (cont.)
By R. Avry Wilson @2005-2006

Solving ‘pyramid’ and more?

Etymologists and enthusiasts alike have had a hard time when trying to define the origin of the term ‘pyramid’. In this form it is Greek, and many have noted the prefix of ‘pyr’ (Greek for ‘fire’) but none have made the connection to a ‘volcano’ theme. The actual, purer Greek form of the word is ‘pyramis’, meaning ‘bread’. How to resolve the question of why the Greeks chose the term ‘pyramid’ as a label for these great heaps of stone comes in what bread is. Bread is baked to ‘rise’ from heat/cooking. This reads into a volcano well in how it rises/ascends from/with heat. In context, the Egyptian term for ‘pyramid’ is ‘mr’, which is thought to mean ‘ascend’. However I.E.S Edwards asserts it is a ‘place or instrument of ascent’ [Meltzer]. Had a Greek required to label something after being told the Egyptian meaning it makes sense to allude to the best relative term in his own language. In hindsight it may not have been the closest term, but it does work. Thus, in the fuller context of ‘monument of ascent’, ‘pyre’ within the term and the general root ideas of the words themselves, the input of volcano seems to resolve the etymological issue. At the same time it reveals how and why a pyramid form (and size – at least in the early Egyptian kingdom) could very well have been produced by either direct or indirect association with volcano myth, which in a small way underlies part of ancient Egyptian lore. Even Manetho – torn between two worlds of influence (Egypt and Greece) – placed Hephaestus as the first of all gods in his famous chronological lists [Waddell:3]. Greek in all his forms, Hephaestus seems an odd choice by Manetho who is thought to be of pure ancient Egyptian stock because we see his list of kings and deities drawn directly from Egypt (with Greek-ized versions of the names). So why place a Greek god at the head of all existence in Egypt? As it turns out, Hephaestus is also known by his Roman name; ‘Vulcan’. By accepting volcanic lore as being part of ancient Egypt’s cosmology, such themes and deity assignments begin to seem sensible. Perhaps Manetho’s choice was deliberate, revealing to us a lost and misinterpreted cosmological foundation. It tells us that at some point volcanism helped to form an ancient theosophy, one that would be overshadowed by metaphysical interpretations of the sky (sun, moon, and stars) and local environment (seen in the myriad of anthropomorphic deities – the lion, the crocodile, the falcon, and so on.).

Looking even closer at the pyramids of ancient Egypt sheds light on possible volcanic influences. For example, the truncation of a pyramid mimicking the ‘loss’ of the top of a volcanic peak. Or, we can appreciate a dual meaning for the shafts within the Great Pyramid, where one instance is as a metaphysical aid for the pharaoh’s soul to the reach the sky, while the other suggests a reference to the focused expelling of tephra through mountainside vents, with the similar aid of transporting the soul from within to the sky. As noted earlier, the ancient texts do refer to the king ascending to the sky in this fashion. Another example would be the explicit reverence for – and naming of – the ‘Black Land’, which was very much the local name for Egypt. For them, it was sacred land, and when taken in the context of volcanoes the southern fields covered in black ash speak volumes. Even the specific hieroglyphs used when communicating ‘land’ create an appeasing all-in-one perspective.


After thousands of years of continued experience with volcanism right on their doorstep, it seems entirely reasonable that a proportionate amount of the events remained securely incorporated in the original, basic cosmology. There is the awe of the event; there is the plausible witnessing of the VFs; there is the evidence of origins in the Sahara (pottery styles, drawings, and mummification); the Nubian ‘retreat’ of late pharaohs; the continued reverence for lands to the west and south of the northern Nile; the pyramid form; Pyramid and Coffin Text references; creation myth references; and so on. Through it all, the volcano has been overlooked as a key environmental icon. Perhaps what we’re looking at is just the tip of the iceberg … or … volcano.

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