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A New Translation of The Egyptian Book of the Dead
By Normandi Ellis
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1988 Normandi Ellis
All rights reserved.
Stars fade like memory the instant before dawn. Low in the east, the sun appears golden as an opening eye. That which can be named must exist. That which is named can be written. That which is written shall be remembered. That which is remembered lives. In the land of Egypt Osiris breathes. The sun rises and mists disperse. As I am, I was, and I shall be a thing of matter and heaven.
On a midsummer's day a rustle of beetles fly singing from dry grass to raise the sun like a dung ball. In the sky bright as Nut's belly above her lover, the sun glints like yellow jasper. The body of heaven lies smooth and firm as an egg. It is joy to lick the wind. On countless mornings I see the fireball roll and tears roll down my cheek. The souls of men like tears from Ra stream down the face of heaven. The eye of the great one sees how stars fade.
Osiris returns from the mountain of sand to the green land of his birth. Morning comes to Egypt. Across an expanse of dirt and stone, cool shadows strain toward the mountain where in dry tombs the dead are yawning, wondering who has lit the temple fire and who has brought sweet cake. I, Osiris, rise and hurry into the two lands of the living. Black earth and red earth join by a buckle of sky. I embrace the double horizon. I embrace the two mountains, the east and west. I am god of the living and dead, embracing my soul and shadow.
The ka of Osiris grows bright wings. His face glows with white heat. Above fields, I speak with the voice of a hawk, my eye sharp as a blade against the wheat. I speak the word from which I was made. I speak of truth and splendor and strength, of the honor of death and power of return. I speak of the crested ibis.
Where gods have gathered, the heart grows still. A procession of jabiru walk, laying the eggs of other lives, of blue souls in another time. Incense rises where gods gather. Heaven and earth are long dreams weighed in the balance. A man is known by his words and deeds. Beautiful is the new sun sailing in a river of sky in the boat of morning. Beautiful is man in his moments in time, a thousand beads of thought on a white string.
Darkness gives way to light, dumbness to speech, confusion to understanding. Devourers of the dead are given their own dry bones to eat. The worm that would suck the eye of Ra has been pierced by spears of light. His green heart has been pitched into the fire; it sizzles like rotten meat.
The old man's house is a riot of living. In bright corners children are singing because their mother has given birth. The world is made new with laughter. The strings of the lyre hum. The sun floods the country and cities with light. Boats sail on emerald waters. Fish have returned to spawn. In the field a stubborn donkey sleeps, though his master thrashes him with a stick. I laugh because I have come home. I am content with the movement of hours.
This is the meaning of yesterday—that friends remember my name and after long journeys I am greeted by their voices on the road. They embrace my hands and feet. Look what corn and grapes we share. Look what abundance of meat. Under the eye of the great one the children of Egypt gather. Her four winds gather—mountain dwellers, basket weavers, potters and musicians.
In my life I've known the love of men and seen gods on their slow barges passing. The ka of Osiris walks where he pleases. I am thought, shadow, bone. I am the black ibis pecking at corn and the blade of a hunting knife. I am the guardian of sun and moon, the falcon that flies between them. I shall be given day and night and all the space therein. In the bark of morning and the bark of evening I shall gain passage to hidden things. Law and truth, memory and time shall be my sails and rudders. This is the going forth of gods into the land of triumph. The river is emerald and filled with light. The course of this boat is true. Inside my people has always lived the grace of bullrushes growing. Like a fruit tree sprung up by the river Nile, from my names rises the story of Egypt. That which is written shall be remembered. Osiris lives in the land of his birth.CHAPTER 2
This day I am with you. Stabbed by the light of the great mind I wake. The sun crests the hill and the hawk, according to a higher will, whirls and circumscribes day. I am called from my house. I shuffle sand underfoot, but my heart leaps. I open, am pierced by light. A cry escapes my lips. I know not what I say; it is the language of soul beneath skin, the song of birds in acacia trees.
Beautiful is the golden seed from which the com arises; beautiful the sun on the hill from which springs god's day. My body nourishes some unfolding time and purpose. I shine bronze as Hathor's mirror. My heart lifts like the sun. Passion and power quiver on the land, casting long shadows.
Now the people in their houses stir, yawning, shouting, stretching. Shot through with light, they glow and quiver. Stones of sunlight pile up in heaven. Emerald is truth when god draws near. Blessed are we by sun.
Ra is the child, a golden knot of flesh dropped from open air, bright star in the dark house of Osiris, heir to the ages, word edged into world. He grows a long beard and sits on the mountain, knowing its secrets. He rises from the flood. Drawing up water, he quenches the thirst of his people. They drink and enter the river. He sucks the breast of heaven, golden-haired, flesh on fire. Always burning, returning, always constant and new.
It is his breath we breathe, his love that endures, his power that moves the world. We are the quivering of his arrows, the stirring of his hands. We are his spirit moving in matter. May the eye of god pierce us and give us the grace of his will. We are held in god's hands. Like the ocean, we whirl and remain the same. We are bound by law and held by the truth of change, that all seasons return, and that which was once and is no more shall come again.
Sing then, rejoice and bind yourself to god's will. See how the seed falls from the tree and is buried. Die at once and live again. You shall grow like that sycamore, rooted in matter, bound for boundless sky. You shall be blown by wind. You shall see the storm and sing its praises. You shall lie in the fields and kiss the earth. Raise your arms. You shall see the fury and power of god and change forever.
Drink the cup of heaven. Let grace roll down your head like water. Drink in earth; take in the things of the world. The barley grows straight in rows; the young shoots unfurl according to a higher purpose. Truth rides visibly through the world. Have you not seen it? The sun shimmers with the power of gold. We are breathless in golden air. Drink in the light and praise the cup of forever that spills out the threads of eternity.
Ra is an old man walking the world, as much with the earth as the skin of a snake. He is with us, the spirit, the gold, the god, the ebb of life, watcher over the world. We rise like swallows and fly up the ladder of heaven. We sit in his hand. He buries us in the blue egg of the world. We are pressed into the soil and rise. We grow in him. The world changes, and god and men. We spin and sing in the house of sun. The earth is glad. Cows chew the cud of light. We breathe the perfume of a golden flower. Old men and women rise, burst from their houses, arms lifted, dancing, crying, singing. Dawn is a lyre playing the song of day.
Ra rises. He goes out into the world, a passion, a fire burning up night, making day. His light ennobles the face of heaven. He warms the belly of sky. He gladdens Nut, his mother. He walks the upper regions, his heart inflamed with love. The waters in the pool of the farthest oasis are calmed. He gathers the sand serpents to his breast. He fears no living thing. He made them, what is known and not known. He speaks their names and takes their venom. The snake who gobbles the world enters Ra. Burned in fire, he vomits the evil he has spoken. His words are smelted into gold. With a kiss, Ra turns poison into magic. He twines the snake about him. Now death lives on his forehead, side by side, with light. Let breath come and go. Let the great world change. Let men see that serpents entwine the god as the light of god entwines each man. It brushes his lips with sunlight, with kisses of life, kisses of death, kisses of joy, kisses of poison and magic.
The evening boat draws near. Ra comes to meet it at the edge of sky, the edge of river, the thin blade of time. It arrives and he steps from the shore of knowing. He enters. Small waves rock the boat and the stems of reeds are bowing. He sails off: north, south, east or west. He travels lightly toward the other shore of time. Infinity is his. Behold! a star has entered sky. The geese take flight across a waxing moon. Oh substance, understanding of earth, creature of becoming making himself understood. Flames of fire lick his body like golden serpent tongues, like the mouths of women in love. The wind uplifts him. He sings a dark song gliding toward dusk in the boat of evening. We show him our hands, the magic he placed in them. His boat slices water. He passes towering papyrus. Three godlike ducks wade in and follow. They glide, turn and spiral. Three godlike sparrows swoop and spin above the banks. Even the frogs are dancing and singing.
Ra rules the air and the gods invisible. The book of law lies in his hands. The speech of his lips falls lightly into being. His word enters the world. "Creation," says he. "Destruction. Power invisible. Glory. The house of heaven is the house of man. No walls stand between heaven and earth. You are no farther from me than from your own hot breath." At any moment you enter heaven by saying, "I am a temple of Ra." Love is his light; compassion the light of the world. Ra is fire. Joy is the sky. His heart beats with forever. The white clouds of his thought pass over the sky and water.CHAPTER 3
That quivering evening star is his; blue eye of the watcher; body of Osiris, heart, mind and soul of a god awake in the darkening world. Here, where the sun and sorrow stop, a man may sit long by the river, let water flow through his fingers like history, the ageless Osiris, watch corn rise up and dream vegetal dreams. Or, he may hold grains of sand in the palm of his hand, count and name them "everlasting." The god is walking, walking, a million years; the beat of his left foot, his right—the flux of the universe. He hurries on, going somewhere, running messages between gods and men, propelled by the power in his feet.
Blessed be Osiris. Blessed be the son of earth sprung from the egg of the world, the great cackler. Blessed be the son of heaven, dropped from the belly of sky. Blessed is his birth, five days of peace won from the hands of gods. He is light, the white crown, the ain soph, the joy of becoming in heaven and earth, the father of men and angels. He takes the gold crook and makes himself shepherd. He takes the silver flail and makes himself judge. The power of his divine fathers encircles his spine, as the snakes entwine the caduceus. His heart is hidden fire; it burns a hole in the mountain. He guides his people to the light.
"Come," he says. "I come in the power of Light. I come in the light of Wisdom. I come in the mercy of the Light. The Light has healing in its wings."
He is Nebertcher, the infinite, lord of the universe. The words of becoming taste sweet to his tongue. That which was ravaged is made whole in him; seeds are planted and the earth greens. He is Tahersetanef who walks backwards into yesterday, a man of secrets in a world hidden away. His footsteps are possibility. That which is follows in stride and that which is not yet flows behind him as his shadow. He is Seker, never seen nor looked upon, the benevolent face of darkness, the good death that men call upon, the end, the beginning of truth. He is Osiris, the dark and terrible eye, the broken body and scattered limbs, the smell of rotten flesh, the knowingness and finality of death. He judges the souls of men. He is Unnefer, and he endures forever upon a road bordered by flowers. He sits long by the waters, hears its music, becomes its song. He smiles, time passing, lost in dream.
Blessed be the god in his names, salvation of priests and goatherds, king of kings, lord of lords. He counts the hairs on every man's chin. Celestial fire descended, he steps down lightly onto earth. He hears the prayers of all men, animals, angels. He hears the dead murmur with their mouths full of sand. He uplifts the sky, rents the veil, reveals the temple. His flesh is burnished bright as copper. The eyes in his head are like blue stones underwater, lapis lazuli. Priest and man, his body shimmers turquoise green.
He is solitude and perfection, ether and atmosphere at all times and in all places. His body widens and his people are welcomed into it; his embrace is sleep. He is fire dancing about the heads of dreamers, the instant of forever that sparks poets and lovers. He turns his beautiful face in the dark. He flows quietly away on subterranean waters.
His is the splendor of heaven, strength of earth, triumph over the worm. His is the mind of ibis, the intelligence, in his bones the instinct of animals, in his blood the pulse of iron. He is the elemental made eternal, the upright pillars of temples, the trunk of sycamore trees. The living soul of land, he is matter and mind taking form. He is what he imagines, divine, a spark thrown into dust. The winds swirl above a city of sand. Eternal in essence, he transmutes. He is death, a phoenix, a fire raging, changing, going in and coming out of form in time. He is a mad genius wind howling and the beat of winds, individual and inspired. He is one god or else he is two old men walking, leaning on their sticks, conspiring. He is hell become heaven, becoming hell; he is evolution, a matter of energy, a star in the dark tomb, a shadow cast by sunlight. He is life that can not be contained, a holy insurrection, blessed negativity.
I am with him. I am like that old Osiris waking in the night. Drunk on the cool wine of darkness, I eat the bread of life and die. I know. I am blessed by mortality. I am a field enduring, growing wheat one year, barley the next, tangled flowering papyrus, a hill of sand. I am everafter, changing, while the eye of the watcher shines and takes me in.CHAPTER 4
I cross an open field of stones shaped all like hearts and say to the rocks: this one shall break, and this hold the rain, and this one be still, and this other crumble and its grains of sand shall mark my passage. Beat. Beat. Beat. The power of my Self is moving. My heart. My birth. My coming into existence. My passions. My indifference. The sun within warms me; the heart enlightens the intellect. I am my Self coming forth, a creature bearing light.
May I stand amazed in the presence of god. May the rhythm of my heart stir music that enslaves darkness. May my heart witness what my hands create, the words I utter, the worlds I think. May my flesh be a sail propelled by the breath of dream. May I ride in calm waters toward destiny. May life flow through me as the seed from the phallus flows, with a shout of joy, life begetting life.
May I stand in the midst of celestial fire until my heart is molten gold. May twelve goddesses dance every day about me, a circle of flesh aflame. May I spin among them, my face flushed with heat. May I walk on earth radiant, everywhere complete. May the omniscient eye observe my deeds and know the law my heart knows, the zodiac of men and beasts alive, the call of angels, the word. May my body bend toward the will of the heart. May I not think and act diversely. May truth rest on me light as a tail feather dropped from a falcon in cloudless sky.
Thou spirit within, you are my Self, my power, my ka, the fire of god. May I create words of beauty, houses of wonder. May the labor of my hands be mirrors unto god. May I dance in the gyre and draw down heaven's blessing. May I be given a god's duty, a burden that matters. May I make of my days a thing wholly. May I know myself in every pore of skin. May the god's fire burn in my belly and heart. May I be stronger than these bones and bits of flesh. May my health be the wholeness of divinity.
Excerpted from Awakening Osiris by Normandi Ellis. Copyright © 1988 Normandi Ellis. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The Return,
2. Greeting Ra,
3. Greeting Osiris,
4. The Speeches,
5. Coming Forth by Day,
6. The History of Creation,
7. The Duel,
8. Triumph over Darkness,
9. Seven Houses in the Other World,
10. Twenty-One Women,
11. Triumph through the Cities,
12. The Arrival,
13. Giving a Mouth to Osiris,
14. Opening the Mouth of Osiris,
15. Giving Charms to Osiris,
16. Remembering His Name,
17. Giving a Heart to Osiris,
18. Giving Breath to Osiris,
19. Drinking Water,
20. Water and Fire,
21. Fish Stink,
22. Not Letting His Heart Be Carried Off,
23. Not Scattering His Bones,
24. Not Dying a Second Time,
25. Not Letting His Head Be Severed,
26. Not Decaying in the Other World,
27. Not Allowing a Man to Pass East,
28. Not Losing His Mind,
29. Coming Forth and Passing Through,
30. Bringing Home His Soul,
31. His Soul and His Shadow,
32. Returning to See His Home,
33. Ra Rising,
34. Awakening Osiris,
35. A Preponderance of Starry Beings,
36. Adoration of Ra,
37. A Messenger of Ra,
38. In the Talons of the Hawk,
39. Before Changing,
40. Becoming the Swallow,
41. Becoming the Falcon of Gold,
42. Becoming the Hawk Divine,
43. Becoming One of the Ancients,
44. Becoming the Craftsman,
45. Becoming the Child,
46. Becoming the Lotus,
47. Becoming the Snake,
48. Becoming the Crocodile,
49. Becoming the Heron,
50. Becoming the Phoenix,
51. Becoming a Light in the Darkness,
52. The Apes of Dawn,
53. The Heart of Carnelian,
54. The Cloth of Life,
55. The Knot of Isis,
56. The Pillow of Hands,
57. The Column of Gold,
58. The Eye of God,
59. Entering the House,
60. Entering Truth,
61. The Confession,
62. The Bath,
63. This Body of Light,
64. The Family,
65. A Field of Flowers,
66. Hymn to Ra,
67. Hymn to Osiris,
68. Hymn to Hathor,