|The Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid.|
|The descending corridor. Scholars have as yet failed to consider the possibility that the Pyramids and perhaps even the Sphinx of Giza could have been built as three-dimensional models of the "inner world" of the Duat-places of preparation in which initiates may have been selected to immerse themselves, perhaps in total darkness, perhaps for days, in order to gain foreknowledge of the afterlife realm. Yet there is nothing inherently improbable about such a proposition. We already know that the various ancient Egyptian "books of the dead" provide textual explanations and visual images of the Duat with the explicit purpose of preparing the deceased for the afterlife journey. To create a large-scale three-dimensional "model" of the Duat - a sort of simulated Netherworld - would be no more than an extension of this practice.|
|Detail from the Book of What is in the Duat, tomb of Thutmosis III, Valley of the Kings. Astronomically, the Duat was located in the sky between the constellations of Orion and Leo, but it was also a parallel universe which was always depicted as a maze of narrow corridors and passageways and rising galleries and chambers, populated by monsters. Compare to the passageway system of the Great Pyramid, facing page.|
|The Subterranean Chamber of the Great Pyramid.|
|Scenes from the Book of What is in the Duat, tomb of Thutmosis III.|
|The sky region of the Duat on the summer solstice circa 2500 BC-also showing the trajectory of Orion until its culmination at the meridian.|
There can be no dispute that the equipped spirit was thought to master the land of the Duat with "what he knew". But what exactly was this knowledge? The suggestion in the texts that it was used to "go down to any sky" hints very strongly that astronomy might have been involved. This accords with what has been learnt concerning the astronomical interests of the priests of Heliopolis. It also makes sense of an important characteristic of the Duat to which few modern Egyptologists have paid attention: the afterlife region was not at any time conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as an "underworld" in the conventional Judaeo-Christian sense. On the contrary, as Dr R. O. Faulkner of the British Museum long ago observed, it is better described as a "netherworld" since it was "part of the visible sky".
In fact the Duat had very specific celestial co-ordinates. The first systematic attempt to chart these co-ordinates was undertaken in the 1940s by the Egyptologist Selim Hassan. Through a painstaking study of a mass of funerary and rebirth texts he established that the Duat had been conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as having been "localized in the eastern part of the sky" when the bright star Sirius - identified with the goddess Isis - and the stars of the Orion constellation - Osiris - were visible there in the pre-dawn. This was clear, he reasoned, from passages in the oldest texts which tell us: "Orion has been enveloped by the Duat while he who lives on the Horizon purifies himself. Sothis [Sirius] has been enveloped by the Duat while he who lives on the Horizon purifies himself." Hassan understood that such passages must have been based on observational astronomy:
as the sun rises and purifies himself in the Horizon, the stars Orion and Sothis are enveloped by the Duat. This is a true observation of nature, and it really appears as though the stars are swallowed up each morning by the increasing glow of the dawn. Perhaps the determinative of the word Duat, the star within a circle, illustrates this idea of the enveloping of a star.
More recently the author Robert Bauval has been able to pin down the location of the Duat in time and space still further with a crucial observation that Hassan missed. Because of the earth's orbit, the background stars against which the sun is seen to rise each morning very slowly change throughout the course of the solar year. This means that the sun does not rise in concert with Orion and Sirius on every dawn, but only at certain and specific dawns (when the sun lies roughly between the earth and these stars). Furthermore, because of another characteristic motion of the earth, the season in which the "swallowing up" of Orion and Sirius takes place also very slowly changes. This motion is precession, which retards the moment of the sun's arrival at any given stellar "address" at the rate of one degree every 72 years.
Precessional calculations for 25002300 BC - when the oldest surviving funerary texts from ancient Egypt were supposedly compiled - indicate that in that epoch the Duat could only have been regarded as being "active" (i.e. with Orion and Sirius rising just ahead of the sun) at around the summer solstice - the longest day of the year. At this time, and at no other season, would it have been believed to open its gates to the assembled souls of the dead. At one gate stood the constellation of Leo. At the other, divided from Leo by the glowing river of the Milky Way, stood Sirius, Orion and the constellation of Taurus. In 2500 BC this sacred portal in the heavens was said to "open" at the summer solstice because the sun rose in it at that time of the year. Today, because of the effects of precession, the sun "swallows up" Orion and Sirius at the autumnal equinox. In 10,500 BC phenomenon could only have been witnessed on the spring equinox.
Is it possible that the initiate's skill at "going down to any sky" could be a reference to an ability to make precessional calculations - i.e. to harness intellect to imagination and to visualize the skies of former and future epochs?
Was it such knowledge that was believed to be sufficiently powerful to counterbalance the feather of Maat on the scales of Judgement and to triumph over nonexistence?
This is the word which is in darkness. As for any spirit who knows it he will live among the living ... he will never perish ... he will never die.
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