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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Consciousness, Illness, and Belief: Isis and the Sun God's Secret Name

Paul Kiritsis - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The ubiquitous Re, mightiest of the Egyptian deities, was known throughout the kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt by innumerable names. All were common knowledge except one which he shrewdly kept hidden from the conscious awareness of every living creature, divine or mortal, great or small. And the principal motivation for shrouding it? Well, knowledge of such enabled the beholder uninhibited powers in catabolizing or metabolizing the creative processes responsible for the universe and even altering the trajectory of fate. As the sole inheritor of this name, Re could operate in weird and wonderful ways, over and above the mental and physical limitations of everyone else. Nobody knew this name, at least not until a cable of niggling curiosity wrapped itself around Isis, who henceforth made it her life’s purpose to unearth it from the deep recesses of Re’s voluminous mind.     

Isis was the incarnation of justice, motherhood, and providence, amongst other things, but she was also resolute and cunning when it came to obtaining what she wanted. Nobody understood this better than the evil Seth, who had been duped by the goddess into conceding inequitable intent in his own reckonings with her son Horus through the analogy of a cleverly spun tale. Assuming the guise of a femme fatale, she confronted Seth on an island and told him that a stranger had entered her life right after the unprecedented death of her husband, intent on stealing domestic possessions and banishing her young son from the household. Without thinking Seth reproached the foreigner for the same injustice which he himself was now trying to commit against little Horus, and in so doing unwittingly confessed self-awareness of his own immorality. This development influenced the panel of divine judges arbitrating the domestic dispute for rights to the Egyptian throne to decide in Horus’s favour. And it was all because of Isis!

Evident now is that Isis achieved all that she put her mind to, including things that seemed beyond her acquired sphere of skills and talents. As Re’s immediate neighbour, Isis knew precisely what times the famous solar barge was out and about, as well as his lesser known diurnal transformations. Come morning he would appear as a blonde, blue-eyed cherub with the skin texture of an infant and the vitality of a bottlenose dolphin. Then at noon he would grow into a veiny muscle-bound warrior with ash-blonde facial hair and a vane disposition to match. Finally, the purple, pink, and red brows of dusk would greet the god as he stumbled about like an impoverished beggar, drooling and slobbering everywhere; an old, wrinkled, and grey bearded man with a twisted staff who was in no way comparable to the vigour and spiritedness of morning. One afternoon Isis ventured out along the known path that Re travelled and collected minute quantities of his dribble into a glass phial, intending to use it against him. Returning to her subterranean operations room, she combined it with iron globules in an alembic to create a reagent, and muttering a powerful magical incantation, coagulated the roasting mass into a tri-coloured serpent with the deadliest venom. She returned to the same spot late that night and dropped the serpent amidst marshes beside the unpaved path. The trap was set.

The following day Re set out on his diurnal journey, oblivious of the tragedy that was about to unfold. No sooner had he passed the marshes, the black snake rushed out and fastened itself to his right thigh. A harrowing cry reverberated through space as the fangs sunk in, changing the air vibrations as to almost blow the eardrums of all celestial and earthly inhabitants. The gods and goddesses were able to trace the distress call to its origin. When they arrived Re was huddled against a monolith, cradling his wound and sobbing uncontrollably. With bloodshot eyes he explained to them that the venom had come from an extraterrestrial-looking serpent whose inherent nature was completely closed off to his probing mind; there was no way of healing himself without this bit of knowledge. Naturally Isis had witnesses the entire spectacle and judged that it was time to make a move. She ventured outside with a feigned look of sympathy and pity, kneeing beside him and taking him in her arms: “Oh mighty Re, Lord of the Heavens and the Earth, I know the serpent that bit you. Tell me your name, your unknown name, and I will restore you to health.”

At this point it occurs to Re that the whole thing might an evil machination set into motion at the behest of Isis. Was there any way around this dilemma? Perhaps the best reaction under such circumstances would be to try to foil her in return, he told himself. He proceeded to prattle off a chain of qualitatively connected epithets like, “Moulder of the Mountains” and “Maker of the Bull for the Cow in order to bring Sexual Pleasure into Being”, however the austere glace these were met with was enough of an assurance that she had not taken the bait. “None of these are your secret name, your true name,” she advanced. The game of cat and mouse went on to Re’s detriment, for he grew weaker and weaker; he was sweating profusely, convulsing and vomiting, and finally came under the dreaded spell of a deadly languor. Acutely aware that he would lose the battle should the deception continue, Re finally gave in; he leaned across and whispered it into her ear, adding that she should swear never to reveal it to another living soul save for her son Horus. Isis gave her word and subsequently uttered a spell to restore Re to his former healthy state. The inhabitants of heaven and earth rejoiced, for once again their master could take up his mantle of duties and traverse the cerulean skies in his solar barge, infusing everything with love and light.

From that moment on, Isis, Great of Magic, Great of Might, was known as, “Mistress of the Gods who knows Re by his own name.”[1]

 

The tremendous importance of names in the animistic world of ancient Egypt cannot be overstated. These were as good as a DNA footprint, an intangible embodiment of an avatar containing all the veritable marks of character or personality that separated one individual from another. We might compare the Egyptian designation of a name to an inanimate object or a living being to the injection of generic human cells with a unique set of human leukocytic antigens (HLA), or self-receptors, an act which would personalize the cells so that they reflected a specific genetic identity. Names were like self-receptors, conceptually indivisible from the individuals they were attached to. When an Egyptian princess ventured out to the rock-cut tombs of the Valley of the Kings and recited out aloud the names of rulers as spelled out by their royal cartouches, she was essentially invoking the respective life forces that had cleaved unique turfs of influence in the red and black dirt of the Nile Delta. A dialectical opposition between symbolic and literal interpretation wrought by the semantics of modern-day languages was unbeknownst to an Egyptian, who in pronouncing aloud the name of a deceased relative believed in her heart of hearts that she was granting explicit permission for the corresponding spirit force to manifest in the spatiotemporal world. On the opposite end the deed of having one’s name defaced from raised or sunken reliefs in mortuary temples or tombs was the greatest of indignities; it not only denoted sheer abhorrence on the part of the offender, but his entrenched conviction that the life force to which that name was attached should be wiped from all echelons of reality, including the blessed afterlife.    

The theme of names is delicately interwoven into many Egyptian myths, the most distinguished being the trials and tribulations of the sun god Re in the netherworld. In the myth the god makes the mistake of sailing straight into the mouth of the sky goddess Nut, who swallows him whole. All celestial bodies who find themselves in this unprecedented situation, accidental victims of Nut’s autonomous reflex, must traverse the mysterious nether regions of her slender body and emerge from her pudendum unscathed, a colossal task further complicated by the existence of hourly gatekeepers who enable subterranean passageways only on the pretext of being named correctly. An eschatological composition transcribed during the Ramesside period (19th and 20th Dynasties) called The Book of Gates emphasizes the nocturnal journey of the solar barge in the context of these twelve gates and their associate guardian deities.[2] An incompetence at recalling the correct names encompasses dire consequences for the nocturnal travellers: the severity and diversity of punishments range from getting mauled by a river monster, to being frozen into a state of permanent asphyxiation, to getting sucked into gaping holes and caverns darker than the deepest reaches of the Mariana trench, to being bound to stakes and tortured. None of these sound particularly appealing, do they? Down there in the Osirian chamber, a realm beyond the sundrenched savannahs, burning deserts, and palm-fringed oases of our world, a silent whisper reiterates the same leitmotifs twelve hours each night, as ear-shattering as nuclear explosions and as foreboding as the radioactive fallout that comes afterwards: whatever you do ethereal travellers, remember our names and never forget your own! Much of the aforesaid resounds in Isis and the Sun God’s Secret Name, where the mythmakers intended to remind the audience of the self-empowerment that comes with knowing the inner essence of an object, person, or place, an essence which can only be tapped by means of a real name. Healers and shamans working in ancient Egypt believed that surrendering this information, that is, the authentic birth name, was obligatory if an ailment or condition was going to be cured through long-distance intervention, and as we’re about to find out, they may have been right.   

Let’s return once more to the industrialized Western world, an epiphenomenon of Cartesian dualism which perceives and defines itself strictly in terms of its lesser quantifiable parts, without as much as an iota of space for the intangible phenomena and forces that obviously exist but do not lend themselves to scientific methodology. In the wake of the twenty-first century, at least two thousand years since the twilight of ancient Egyptian culture, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ and ‘mind’ have gradually receded from cosmological design and scope, caught in the occult backwash caused by a succession of Post-Reformation waves. And what have these waves brought us but school after school, compartment after compartment, of reductionist and mechanistic thought mostly exclusive in its approach to total knowledge: Newtonian mechanics, evolutionary biology and Darwinian natural selection, behaviourism with its controversial agenda of reducing complex human interactions to the level of basic reflexes and conditioned responses, and neuroscience with its embodied-mind hypothesis. With higher consciousness now under the carpet and well outside the intellectual frontiers of university education, the holistic and shamanic healing methods with anecdotal histories stretching as far back as prehistoric hunter-gatherer times crumbled away into obscurity and became the degenerate abode of occult-dabblers and charlatans along with the ignorant and misinformed stupid enough to follow them.

Presently, the cosmological seabed is churning again, this time with significant contributions by quantum mechanics and transpersonal psychology whose confluence has set the stage for yet another paradigm shift to a postmodern worldview with an innovative and progressive definition of what that something called ‘consciousness’ actually is. Sadly, the clinical disciplines have been far less forthcoming, unable as it were to move on from Newtonian physics and embrace the entanglement of solids and immaterial force fields, matter and energy, neurons and consciousness as one delicate, interconnected web that must be reckoned with as a single unit. As a consequence most diseases and illnesses are not being treated in the context of the whole, the mind-matter synergy; instead of seeing ailing individuals as active members of a cultural group with specific cognitive capacities, religious beliefs, and spiritual leanings, clinicians take them as askew bundles of psychobiological impulses that can be ‘fixed’ with surgery, targeted x-rays, and pharmaceutical injections.

Even with the radical dichotomy the holistic system has survived in anomalous healing methods employed nowadays by psychically gifted persons. Here I use the term ‘anomalous’ for lack of a better term, for it appears the underlying mechanism of action responsible for healing in these alternative practices is still poorly understood. In her description of connecting to a human target for such purposes, contemporary anomalous healer Annette Martin illuminates that:

“I sit and I open my hands. First of all, I take in my three deep breaths, bringing the white light to me… I breathe in through my nose and I’m bringing up the white light, and I exhale through my mouth. And then I breathe in the second time and exhale through my mouth. And the third breath I sent the white goop and I say the person’s name… as I’m exhaling… It’s all happening on the third breath.”[3]

For Martin, successful extrasensory connection to a sentient target involves the recitation of their true name:

“In all my work that I’ve done the first name of the birth name is the most important thing. That’s all I need from somebody is their birth name. That’s on their birth certificate… So, if a relative or a friend is giving me the name, then there’s a particular sound wave on the name, there’s a vibration on the name… It’s like a direct connection, it’s like a telephone connection… I’m dialling right into the electromagnetic field of that person.”[4]

Martin also adds that her intuition guides her in determining the truth of what has just been spoken, for instance:

“I’ve had people call me on radio–and you know I’ve done a lot of radio–and give me this name, and I’ll stop and I’ll say, “That’s not your real name, is it?” And after a dead silence, they’ll go, “No, it isn’t, how did you know that?” [laughter] “Remember, I’m the psychic.”[5]  

When asked to be more specific in describing how she knew the prospective clients were telling fibs, she answered:

It doesn’t feel right. It’s the sound. It’s on a sound wave… You have to remember now, I’m a former opera singer, so I’m very tuned to sound waves.”[6]    

Now let’s superimpose the two women, the mother archetype of Isis and her real-life equivalent in Annette Martin, and determine the parallels. With the myth we see that knowledge of Re’s secret name enables the receiver, Isis, a privileged and distinguished position beside him as co-ruler of the cosmos; Martin herself becomes co-ruler of her subjects’ cosmos in a figurative sense by tapping their unconscious wiring. Though presented in a slightly different light, Isis’s efficacy as magical healer is contingent on learning the sun god’s secret name; on the other hand Martin needs one’s name as recorded on his or her birth certificate in order to make an efficacious psychic connection. As the instinctual Isis will not be duped with a long list of epithets intended to foil her cunning machination, so too is Martin’s intuitive self able to weed out insincerities when they are verbalized. Moving along we see that Isis recites a spell to relieve Re of his fatal condition, an act which almost always involves specific verbal cadence and breathwork whereas Martin adheres to specific pattern of breathing whilst engaged in healing work. Both methods are intended to facilitate altered states of consciousness and dissociation from the ego state. Isis’s extrasensory capacities as a mother goddess include clairaudience; Martin is a former opera singer and is thus attuned to sound frequencies.

The correspondences between the legendary Isis archetype of magician, doctor, and healer in one and this practicing psychic healer of our times are so irrefutably obvious that one has to indeed wonder at what point in history was a collective understanding of anomalous healing, the ability to impact physical health through nonphysical means, lost to us? If truth be told, the phylogenetic swing from hemispheric co-dominance to left-hemispheric dominance in the human brain, the Iron Age ascendance of a patriarchal mentality wishing to dominate over nature, and the Post-Reformation rejection of holism for reductionism all played an instrumental role in creating this self-inflicted amnesia.  On a different note the deep intimacy between individuals and their given birth names implied by the correlation is even stranger; how can a pastiche of vowels and consonants with sound frequencies become attached to a specific psychoneural system of animated matter in a way that allows a sentient observer whose sole source of knowledge is a birth name to catalyse quantifiable effects in the psyche-soma to which that name is coupled? It sounds ludicrous, something out of a medieval fairy tale, yet here we are!   

Yes, we’ve travelled far from primitive Darwinian societies; yes, we no longer reserve a place for survival-of-the-fittest tactics in our social hierarchies; and yes, we refrain from living out our lives unconsciously. But then the downside is that we’ve also forgotten the modus operandi of being for our prior transformations, many of which have obviously been documented anecdotally. Might our evolution be augmented, our Gordian knot be unknotted, with a discernment that the way forward will also require the memory and integration of that which came beforehand? Hmmm…

 



[1] The myth appears in a nineteenth dynasty (c.1200bc) papyrus which is now in the Turin Museum in Italy. Another version can be found on Papyrus Chester Beatty XI, now in the British Museum in London. A retelling of the myth is available in, Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin, Ancient Egypt (London, UK: Annes Publishing, 2002), pp. 324-325.  

[2] The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, edited by Donald B. Redford (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 145.

[3] Pamela Rae Health, Mind-Matter Interaction: A Review of Historical Reports, Theory and Research (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2011), pp. 210.

[4] Ibid, pp. 182.

[5] Ibid, pp. 244.  

[6] Ibid, pp. 245.

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