Version 1.2 (29/10/2018)
In my last article on the Headless Rite I drew some conclusions about its function according to my understanding after several months of practice. I mentioned that I stopped believing in the Headless One being a specific deity or spirit, but that it is the headlessness itself as a symbol that seems to matter as a core aspect of the ritual.
In this article I would like to elaborate on what I meant by that. In addition I want to attempt a deep dive into the powerful symbols found in the ritual and polyphanize the meanings of headlessness, having sight in one's feet and the name of a heart entwined by a serpent.
The Stele of Jeu was written by an Egyptian mage who lived in Roman ruled Thebes that had already witnessed centuries of assimilation and intertwining influences from Greek, Jewish, Persian and other cultures and religions. He lived in a different era and cultural background than us. Obviously he had a different set of symbols than I would intuitively understand as a German occultist from 21st century post-modern Europe. So how can we attempt to unlock the symbols in the PGM?
The other day I had an insight. It was about the Egyptian myth in which Set and Horus were fighting for the throne after Set had killed Osiris. Set gouged out Horus's left eye, which is said to represent the moon, while his right eye is the sun. In one variant of the story the eye was then restored by Thoth. My vision was this: Horus is our mind and his right eye represents clear and rational solar perception and his left eye irrational and intuitive lunar perception. Set took this sense from us. But who is he? Our confusing desires that want full control over our soul? Our fears? In any case, he blinded us in a way where we are forced to rely on the logical analysis of things to not lose control. Here comes Thoth, symbolizing both, intelligence and reason, but also magical enlightenment. With these powers he heals the broken left eye of lunar intuition! It means we can actually regain what we have lost in order to perceive fully.
Let's intelligently apply reasoning and magic to patch over the flawed intuition and to understand the symbols that lie in front of us. But at the same time we need to be cautiously aware of what Schwaller de Lubicz called "mentality of complexity":
Our exoteric evolution, through the Greek metaphysical phases, leading currently to an exclusive rationalism, has given us, owing to the necessity for analysis, a "mentality of complexity" which today prevents us from seeing simply. (1)
How does that work? I found it helpful to rationally analyze the information in front of me while keeping my intuitive faculties open and active and allowing my mind to have free associations, detect patterns and correspondences, evoke emotional reactions and spontaneous ideas.
Let's apply that method to jailbreak the meaning of the Stele of Jeu aka. The Headless Rite. By "reasoning" and "analysis" I mean applying methods of careful comparison of details and learning about the cultural background of the symbols' origin.
Let's start simple and intuitively: just from mere hunch, the symbol of "being without a head" immediately evokes different ideas. In a frightening way it reminds us of the loss of the "ego" or "sense of self", or of losing "control". On the other hand - as known from different methods of meditation and from the Buddhist tradition it can also be something to strive for, to "calm the mind" or "transcend the ego". In magical practice one of the fundamental skills is to overcome the ever analytical mind and reach an altered state of consciousness or mode of trance in order to tap into the powers that lie beyond. Whatever the goal may be called: ayin, samadhi, gnosis, there seems to be a symbol that fits all of them: to become headless.
Let's compare! This image is such a strong symbol that it can be found everywhere. Throughout human history, spiritual decapitation or full dismemberment have been central to shaman-like initiations around the world. To offered one's head or body to the spirits to be replaced or upgraded to a new divine one with more magical powers. Following are a few examples found in Mircea Eliade's tome on "Shamanism".
(Note: I am using the term 'shaman' in this article, fully aware of the controversy around it. I am not claiming that Siberian shamans are the same as 'medicine men' from Borneo or Tibetan Buddhist monks. I use it to describe the conceptualization of trance-like states of consciousness as means of initiation among differenct cultural practices that can be described as "shaman-like".)
According to North Siberian Yakut shamanhood, spirits carry the initiate's soul to the underworld and imprison it in a house for three years. They behead him, and set aside the head, so the initiate is forced to watch his dismemberment with his own eyes. Them they cut him into small pieces, which are then distributed to the spirits of the various diseases to empower him with the ability to cure. (2)
The blacksmith then [...] forged his head and taught him how to read the letters that are inside it. He changed his eyes; and that is why, when he shamanizes, he does not see with his bodily eyes but with these mystical eyes. He pierced his ears, making him able to understand the language of plants. Then the candidate found himself on the summit of a mountain, and finally he woke in the yurt, among his family. Now he can sing and shamanize indefinitely, without ever growing tired. (2)
Among the Dyak of Borneo shaman-like initiation requires three different ceremonies. In the second one, the initiated elders take the neophyte to a room shut off by curtains...
And there, as they assert, they cut his head open, take out his brains, wash and restore them, to give him a clear mind to penetrate into the mysteries of evil spirits, and the intricacies of disease; they insert gold dust into his eyes to give him keenness and strength of sight powerful enough to see the soul wherever it may have wandered; they plant barbed hooks on the tips of his fingers to enable him to seize the soul and hold it fast; and lastly they pierce his heart with an arrow to make him tender-hearted, and full of sympathy with the sick and suffering. (3)
About the Tibetan Tantric chöd rite ethnologist R. Bleichsteiner wrote in his book "The Yellow Church":
To the sound of the drum made of human skulls and of the thighbone trumpet, the dance is begun and the spirits are invited to come and feast. The power of meditation evokes a goddess brandishing a naked sword; she springs at the head of the sacrificer, decapitates him, and hacks him to pieces; then the demons and wild beasts rush on the still quivering fragments, eat the flesh, and drink the blood. (4)
Also in the initiatory cult of Mithraism, the symbolic headlessness played an important role:
The degree of solider (Miles) was given to those who taken up the spiritual battle against the ego (nafs), the struggle with lower self. During the rite the neophyte is crowned while in bondage of the material world, he is given the kingdom of this world, but he rejects the crown and once his binds were cut, he removes the crown saying: "Mithra is my only crown". The removing of crown also symbolises an attempt to remove the head (intellect) itself, allowing Mithra to be the guide [...] (5)
So, how does all relate to our "Headless One"? Do ancient forms of "shamanhood" have anything to do with the complex metaphysical universe of Ancient Egypt or the spiritual melting pot of Alexandria that birthed the type of ritual practice described in the PGM? To me it does, and apparently some people that - unlike me - are scholarly educated in these topics have also drawn parallels between "shamanic" initiation and Ancient Egyptian religious practice or at least pointed to traces of the former in the latter.
German Egyptologist Sabine Neureiter published a paper with the thesis that "shamanic" practices from Neolithic times must have survived into the collective memory of Pharaonic Egypt. Clear traces can be found in the Egyptian cosmology of a threefold world (heavens/earth/netherworld), the prominent death cult (mummification and resurrection), and many of the texts on magic and medicine.
The philosopher Jeremy Naydler, who specializes in the religious life of ancient cultures, wrote several books on the "shamanic" mysteries that can be found in the pyramid- and the coffin-texts. His works predate Neureiter's paper so they obviously don't feature her research but his conclusions are the same.
Since he features as a main character in our ritual, let's take a look at Osiris. He was the primeval fertility god, killed and dismembered by his brother Set, resurrected by his sister and consort, Isis, and became father of the eternal god-king Horus. He symbolized death and rebirth - of the land and its inhabitants, on a material and spiritual level. His myth is the core of all of Egypt's metaphysics. Egyptian gods were not inconceivable and distant deities that required to be worshipped and appeased. They rather represented archetype-like divine principles - "states of soul" - that humans pass through.
Perhaps the classic example of human identification with divinity in ancient Egypt is the way in which people became united with the god Osiris. This was a pious wish in New Kingdom Egypt, for all who passed over to the otherworld. Osiris was the god who died in this life to be born anew in the otherworld. It was a pious wish, but it was also a necessity if one was to undergo the transformational experiences involved. And so we often see people portrayed as Osiris, and we read their names in The Book of the Dead conjoined to that of Osiris. This same Osiris, it should be said, governed the cycles of death and regeneration throughout the natural world. (6)
[Osiris] presides over and facilitates this rite of passage from one mode of existence or awareness to another. As "an Osiris", a person is able to enter into and come out of the otherworld. Their consciousness is liberated from the limitations that normally restrict it in this life. (6)
The framework of the Stele of Jeu ritual is built around the Osiris myth. He is invoke by his name as "Osor-Onnophris" and in his role of an ancient creator god, but he is also called "headless one", thus invoked in his dismembered, magical, "shamanic" state.
It was part of the fate of Osiris to be dismembered, and this included his decapitation. Decapitation should be understood as an essential phase in the Osirian process that led to the revirilization and "solar resurrection" of both the god and the king. (7)
[...] the condition of headlessness and the restoration of the head were important initiatory experiences within the Egyptian Sed festival "secret rites". This is not to suggest that Niuserre was literally undergoing a shamanic initiation, but rather that the initiatory experiences he was undergoing have clear shamanic parallels. The text describing Niuserre’s “secret rites” indicates that the restoration of his head corresponds to his rebirth as a god, that is to his rebirth as one who—like a shaman—is as much at home in the spirit world as in the world of the living. (8)
Dismemberment of the Symbolic Body
The symbolic attitude of ancient knowledge cultivated the intellect to the extent of perceiving all of the phenomena of nature itself as a symbolic writing revealing the forces and laws governing the energetic and even spiritual aspects of our universe. (9)
To the symbolic mindset of the Egyptians, every single subject and object had a meaning but was also made up of smaller things that had meaning by themselves. This was especially the case with the human body:
Just as the gods were present in the landscape — in desert, river, plant, and animal — so they could become present in the members of the human psychophysical organism, in hair, face, eyes, and hands. By drawing the gods in, in this way, a greater sense of self-integration was achieved. The degree to which people could claim their inner experiences as their own was necessarily compromised, and this meant that the overall experience of unitary self-consciousness was far more attenuated and fragile than it is today. In the process of initiation it was broken down altogether in order to rebuild it more strongly. The important initiatory idea of physical dismemberment becomes comprehensible when it is seen as the only way of describing the experience of catastrophic psychic fragmentation. To a consciousness for which the parts of the body were all psychically charged, the mutilation of the body undergone by Osiris was the prototype of psychic fragmentation that must have been experienced by the initiate in a psychophysical way. This psychic fragmentation was precipitated as a prelude to the initiates reidentifying with a new psychic centre that transcended the “distributed psyche.” The reintegration of the body must have involved coming to a new relationship with one’s “members,” a relationship in which “possession” of the parts by the person was frequently emphasized:
You have your heart, O Osiris;
You have your legs, O Osiris;
You have your arms, O Osiris;
So too my heart is my own;
My legs are my own;
My arms are my own.
A stairway to the sky is set up for me
That I may ascend on it to the sky;
I ascend on the smoke of the great censing. (10)
What is the Head?
Besides its importance in "shamanic" and Egyptian initiation, we need to dive a bit deeper into what "the head" actually meant symbolically to the Egyptians in order to fully unlock the symbol of headlessness:
Of all the parts of the body, it was the head that seems to have corresponded most to the whole person as an individualized being. Hieroglyphically the head shown on its own could represent the whole person (or equally the whole god or animal). The legend that the head of Osiris was buried at Abydos was one and the same with the claim of Abydos to be the burial place of the whole god. Since the head bears our individual facial features, it most naturally symbolized the whole person and was—of all parts of the body—least prone to being invested with the kind of psychic autonomy that we find attributed to other members or organs. It is significant that the ancient Egyptians represented the ba (the soul of a person freed from the body) as a bird with a human head. The head would have the individualized features of the person to whom the ba belongs. (11)
In the Greek original the headless one was called Akephalos. It has been argued whether the Greek word for head κεφαλή (kephalé) might also mean "source" or "origin" in certain contexts, especially in the translation of parts of the New Testament from Greek sources. Regarding the "Stele of Jeu" this also must have been a question, because we are left with the famous "Bornless One" Mathers and Crowley had used in their versions of the ritual ("Liber Samekh"). I am quite certain that κεφαλή means "head" in this context, first because that's the literal meaning and second, because we are talking about a god and a demon - a person - so it just seems way more obvious that akephalos refers to person without head, not a person without origin. But nevertheless, I know it's Greek but the Egyptians loved puns and double meanings in magical formulas, so keep this other meaning in mind as well - it may help to fully grasp the ritual.
Egyptian and Jewish Gods
What does a headless god represent outside the context of the meaning-heavy myth of Osiris? What is left of Osiris without his individualized features, without his ba? The simplest way to understand this is actually part of the text: "you are Osor-onnophris whom none has ever seen". The Egyptian God-king Osiris is turned into an "invisible god" and given more names: Iabas and Iapôs, which are allegedly Samaritian enunciations of "the One" god the Jews called YHVH.
I have read claims that the author(s) of the PGM wanted to "spice up" their spells with some foreign sounding voces magicae and concepts from new and "exotic" esoteric sources and appropriated Jewish magic and religious ideas into their spells. But to be honest, that sounds like a quite lazy explanation and I am sure there is much more to it.
In "Future of the Ancient World" Jeremy Naydler wrote an excellent chapter on the fundamental difference between Jewish and Greco-Egyptian metaphysics:
in ancient Egyptian spiritual life there existed two levels of self-consciousness. On the more “mundane” level, people experienced their psychological processes as originating from, and as tied up with, the activity of the gods. They would thus identify their psychological processes less as their own and more as arising from the gods, with whom they felt the necessity to relate themselves. Beyond this, at a higher level, there existed the possibility of mastering the gods and achieving an experience of union with the divine creative source from whom all the gods derived their power. But in order to achieve such a union with Ra, or Atum-Ra—“to look upon his face” as the Book of the Dead expresses it—a person had to come to experience the polycentric consciousness as involving an inner fragmentation or dismemberment of the soul. This “Osiris” experience was the necessary prelude to the reconstitution of the soul about a single divine center. (12)
For the Israelite, by contrast, at the level of ordinary awareness, the activity of the gods was constantly negated in the psyche. The soul was no longer an arena in which the gods were seen as actively giving rise to psychic events. Whatever occurred therein was ultimately to be claimed by a person as belonging to him or herself alone. At the same time, the “liberated” personality referred more and more to moral and legal exhortations and prohibitions as a way of maintaining a relationship to the divine, now conceived as the One God Yahweh. But unlike Ra, Yahweh was not a god that any human being could become identified with, in the sense that the ancient Egyptian initiate might identify with Ra. Yahweh was a god unlike any other god in that it was not possible to become united with him. Except for the prophets through whom Yahweh spoke, no Israelite would dare to say “I am Yahweh” as an ancient Egyptian—in an exalted state of consciousness—might say, “I am Ra.” And yet Yahweh’s absence was curiously and uniquely present in the still depths of the human soul, demanding an allegiance, which was to be forged in a specifically moral way.
[...] It is a new voice that can be heard coming out of Israel. It is as if the god of the Israelites had in some uncertain way made common ground with what was noblest in the human spirit. And this god, despite his forbidding persona, was at the same time felt to be a “personal God.” He was both far away yet also strangely close to hand. And it is this closeness, this intimacy of Yahw*eh and the human spirit, that distinguishes the Israelite from the ancient Egyptian (or Mesopotamian or Canaanite) relationship to the divine. (12)
Judaism did not reject the possibility of "union with God," so much as it feared and cautioned against the potentially devastating consequences of such an encounter on the functioning ego.
Then God spoke all these words [and] . . . all the people shook with fear at the peals of thunder and the lightening flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the smoking mountain [i.e., their face-to-face encounter with Yahweh]; and they kept their distance. 'Speak to us yourself,' they said to Moses, 'and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die' . . . So the people kept their distance while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
-- (Exodus 20:18-21)
Besides the Jews who saw such an idea as a strictly forbidden heresy and the (Neo-)Platonists who strived for experience of union with "the One" through an ecstatic ascent from the physical realm, there was also another strange sect in town whose followers had been secretly obsessing about this exact topic: the Gnostics!
In "Abrasax II" Merkelbach and Totti already acknowledged that it was probably no coincidence the ritual was called "Stele of Jeu" - in analogy to a contemporary work of magical technology among Gnostic initiates called the "Books of Jeu" (13). These were a complex and very technical collection of chapters in which Jesus teaches the apostles how to "crucify the world", which saves from the archons of this aeon, and about bringing the word of the Father down to earth and raising the minds of men to heaven. This is accompanied by endless numbers of magical launch code sequences, secret names, sigils and diagrams of the path up through god's emanations to the godhead.
Keeping all of these discussed points in mind, it seems to me that the Stele of Jeu tries to attempt no less than applying the well practiced Pagan magical technology of "Systasis" (union and identification with a god) to the distant and ineffable, yet personal Jewish god-form of YHVH!
In the beginning of the ritual he is addressed as Osiris, but headless: As an incomprehensible god without individualized features, as a creator god who from an Egyptian point of view exists in the magical state beyond inner fragmentation or dismemberment, reconstituted with a single, divine soul. Here the other meaning of "head" as "source" also fits: a god without a source, a self begotten, primordial one. In the following step it becomes more clear as one identifies as Moses in his role as an initiated prophet who has experienced direct contact with Yahweh, who had been chosen to mediate between human and divine. This role is associated to being a "messenger of the Pharaoh Osor-onnophis". It seems like Osiris serves as proxy gateway to reach the godhead.
As I have already laid out in "Towards the Godhead" in my Akephalos Redux article, what follows next in the ladder of ascent are potent calls to the supreme god using magical barbarous names, and a process of cleansing and purification through self-exorcism of restraining demons. Eventually one reaches the highest level of abstraction where words are transcended beyond vibrations of the seven divine vowels to the level of pure resonance, the unified field of consciousness.
See? The Headless One is actually a quite approachable archetypical symbol if we allow our immediate intuitive ideas to roam freely and try to match them with historical and anthropological data!
The central part of the Stele of Jeu ritual comes after the adoration of the headless god and purification of the self. The ritualist identifies with being a "a headless daimon" with sight in his feet and a flaming mouth and bearing the name of "a heart girt with a serpent". In the same way we looked at the meaning of "head" through the lens of Egyptian symbolism to unlock the meaning of "headlessness", let's do the same about the other quite powerful images in the ritual:
Sight in the Feet
Much has been speculated about the peculiar phrase "I am a headless daimon with sight in my feet". As already mentioned in my article Preisendanz' Headless God Armand L. Delatte identified the headless demon with the god Bes and referred to some depictions of that deity with serpent- or jackal-heads, but Karl Preisendanz found this insufficient and argued that instead it could refer to a practice that could be found on images of beheaded captives in Egypt who had their heads between their feet. He backed his argument by referring to the Egyptian custom of Akroteriasmos, the dismemberment of a body before embalmment and mummification where the head is usually put between the feet to make it impossible for the dead to wake up and pick it up again. In his Typhonian interpretation of the "Headless One" Jake Stratton Kent sees in this expression a reference to a form of priestly foot-wear bearing an Anubis head on the upper part of the foot.
The data is already contradicting enough, so why not throw in another interesting information to make it even more complicated: the Greek word for "sight", ὄρασιν (horasis) also seems to be the name of a bird appearing in a Hellenistic Greek version of a legend about the Egyptian goddess Tefnut's quarrel with her father, the sun god Re, which led to her departing from Egypt to Ethiopia in the form of a cat. Horasis here is probably the Greek form of the name of an Egyptian deity who, portrayed as a bird, symbolised good sight. (pBritMus 274, fr. 9a, col VI, l. 7). (14) So, there could also be the possibility that "Horasis next to my feet" refers to Isis or Nephthys who in their form of two birds guard the dead Osiris.
Besides speculation there is no way to find the answer from the data we have, so let's look at the original text and try a more direct and simple way:
The whole phrase "headless god with sight in the feet" and some of the following lines of this divine self-description in the Stele of Jeu appears as a much longer, second person address with minor variations in three other Magical Papyri. In PGM VII 222ff and PGM VIII 64ff, as well as pOxy XXXVI 2753, fr. E, D, C (aka. Betz PGM CII 1ff):
I call upon you, the headless god, having your face beside your feet, the one who hurls lightning and thunders; you are the one whose mouth is continually full of fire, the one placed over Necessity. I call upon you, the god placed over Necessity, Iaeō Sabaōth Adōnai Zabarbathiaō; you are the one lying on a coffin of myrrh, having resin and asphalt as an elbow cushion. You arc not a daimon, but the blood of the two falcons by the head of Osiris, chattering and keeping watch.
(PGM VIII 64ff) (15)
I suspect that "headless daimon with sight in the feet" might just have been a commonly used epithet of Osiris in magical spells and the reason to use it in the Stele of Jeu was because of the obviously corresponding symbolic connection of headless Osiris with the invisible god. It is interesting that in the Stele of Jeu many parts of the invocation are omitted. Especially because the omitted parts are the ones that identify the invoked god more clearly as Osiris than the parts that were adopted. To me this is another hint that in the Stele of Jeu Osiris serves as a proxy god deprived of all his individualized features to represent the invisible god of the Jews.
Nevertheless I looked into the symbolic meaning of "feet" to the Egyptians. Unfortunately I could not find anything specifically Egypt related, but I dug up an interesting text on the symbolic meaning of hands and feet from rock art to the Quran in North Africa and Arabia that proved to be quite useful.
Associated with the ancient stone cult of Arabia and North Africa, the foot and the hand became the mark of the Creator. Feet and sandals engraved on rocks, said Cervicek (1986, 96), represented the “striding of the deity” and marked the sacredness of the place. Nowhere is the spirituality of rocks and footprints as dramatically illustrated as in the recently-excavated temple of Ain Dara, Syria. There, two giant footprints, each three feet long, were delicately carved in the limestone slabs covering the temple portico. A single left footprint is carved on an adjoining slab at the threshold of the antechamber, while a single right footprint is carved on the threshold from the antechamber to the main hall. A prototype of a Canaanite temple, with feet proceeding through its three sections towards the “holy of holy,” (16)
The text also reveals that sandals signified sovereign power and regal potency in Egypt and that for example in Egyptian wedding ceremonies sandals were exchanged: the father gave the groom his daughter's sandal to indicate that she was now under the groom's care. Also sandals were used as offerings to the dead. In all these cases the sandals are symbols themselves: of the feet of the owner.
Besides transmitted knowledge through rock art and lore from the past, the language itself has some great hints about the underlying symbolism as we can see here:
Thanks to the generous pliancy of the Arabic language, with a small phonemic shift, a lowly word such as qdm ("foot") is transmuted through the semantic canopies of this language into Muqaddam, one of the ninetynine Most Beautiful Names of Allah. [...] Another small phonetic shift and qidam "eternity" is born. And what an awesome word! So significant is this kindred term of the foot that it forms the ontological core of the Divine transcendence in Islam. (17)
If we carefully put the puzzle pieces together we can conclude that feet probably symbolize the manifestation of influence and authority on earth ("footprint"). Feet of a deity manifest the divine will and power on earth. What has been "imprinted" is established for eternity.
From the feet let's go to the eyes to unlock the meaning of "sight":
Intuitively I can think of a few meanings of "eyes": they are often used synonymous to "the soul" or windows to and from the soul. In Alchemy, the eye is a commonly used symbol. It usually represents a desire to hold to a vision for the future. The eye is also commonly a symbol of 'keeping an eye' on that which is important.
In Ancient Egypt the eye was probably one of the most complicated symbols. There are several myths featuring storylines around eyes (Wadjet, Eye of Re, Eye of Horus, etc.) and to cover all of them would probably easily fill a whole book. Fortunately Wim van den Dungen from Sofiatopia already did all the work for us about the meaning of Eyes in Egyptian mythology, so I will quote from his page:
To grasp the meaning of the Eye, two registers can be invoked. However, in Egyptian pre-rational thought, these levels are often confused, whereas there is a semantic bridge between both registers:
the Eye is a cosmogonic goddess, symbol of reunification and divine kingship : this is the Single Eye of the Supreme, Self-created High God of before creation, namely Atum. This Eye is also called the "Eye of Re" and the "Eye of Horus" (the Elder), associated with the right hand side, the summer and the Sun. Its mythical activity (like that of the autocreation of Atum and the family drama of Osiris) took place in the "first time", the so-called "zep tepy" ("zp tpy") or "Urzeit".
the Eye is an anthropological symbol of restoration and popular wellness : this is the Restored Eye of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, the "Wedjat" ("wDAt" : hale or uninjured), associated with the left hand side, the winter and the Moon. Because Thoth played an important role in its myth, it is also called the "Eye of Thoth".
I also found some paragraphs in Jeremy Naydler's books that are even a bit more on point:
The eye, as source of vision, was also source of inner strength. It was here that a person’s courage, or lack of it, resided. [...] For the ancient Egyptians, the eye had both psychic and magical properties, which meant that reference to the eye was reference to specific attributes that the eye intrinsically possessed. The fact that human beings have eyes meant that the properties attributed to the eye could then be utilized by human beings. But the eye was regarded as an entity in its own right, existing virtually as an independent spiritual archetype. As such, it was personified as the sacred wedjat eye, a potent symbol or divine creative and destructive power that was often employed in a protective capacity in ancient Egyptian religious art. It is sometimes depicted winged or, with an arm so as to emphasize its independent status. (18)
mythologically the Eye of Horus is torn out by Seth in their battle for supremacy over Egypt. This act plunges the night sky into darkness, for the Eye of Horus, cosmically understood, is the moon—the heavenly body that illumines the night. It is Thoth who finds the eye shattered into fragments and, having reassembled them, causes the moon to reappear after its short period of invisibility. In so doing, Thoth restores harmony and wholeness both macrocosmically and microcosmically.21 On the microcosmic level the restoration of the eye signifies the consolidation of spiritual power in the king. (19)
So, boiling them all down to a generalized definition: to the Egyptians the eye symbolized a focused spiritual vision and a divine power that unifies and heals whatever it sees divided and injured.
Given that the Greek term Horasis in the original text means "sight" or "vision" and does not refer to a bird, if we combine the meaning of the eyes and the feet, having "sight in ones feet" could be symbolically jailbroken to mean: manifesting the divine will with a clear and healing spiritual vision on earth and establishing it for eternity.
The Heart Girt With a Serpent
At the end of the Stele of Jeu the ritualist proclaims that his name is a "heart girt with a serpent" - a very powerful image! Let's break it down.
My spontaneous ideas about the heart are: unconditional love and affection, intuition and emotions, the sacred, irrational but fundamental knowledge...
How did the Egyptians conceptualize the heart?
Physically higher than the belly, the heart was also psychologically higher. It was regarded as the spiritual centre of a person, the place where a person would come closest to his or her ka (or vital spirit). (20)
But the heart was also a place of reflection, of contemplation, of memory, and of intention, a "listening place" where one might come to a deeper level of understanding of, and harmony with, life (maat). The true wishes of the heart are mediated by reflection and attuned to maat, unlike the impulses stemming from the belly. (20)
For, as the organ in the body most associated with the spiritual self, the heart was essentially pure. It was therefore considered necessary to protect the heart from corrupting influences or tendencies. We thus find admonitions to “conceal” or to “seal” the heart. This idea of the essential purity of the heart is linked to that of the heart as the source of a person’s being. [...] The heart, then, was a part of oneself that ultimately could not be identified with any of the desires, decisions, or actions that were out of tune with maat. The heart was the incorruptible core of a person, and thus detached enough from all that was mundane in them to stand as witness against them. (20)
So, in contrast to the head symbolizing the individualized ego of a person, the heart symbolized the incorruptible spiritual core and links the human back to the celestial gods.
For the condition of soul that Horus represents is that of Osiris reborn, and equally of Ra grounded - in other words the celestial self that has become incarnate. Horus, to the ancient Egyptians, was the earthly image of Ra: the radiant source of light physically embodied. And the place where Horus came to reside in the initiate’s psychophysical organism was the heart. (21)
As below, so above - so what is the incorruptible spiritual core of a god? In his role as the creator-god, Ptah Tatenen, it is said that he is the father of the gods:
Tatenen, the oldest of them all.
He gave birth to himself by himself
before any becoming became.
And when his becoming became,
he made the world
from the thoughts in his heart (22)
We can conclude that in the context of our ritual the heart might represent the incorruptible core of creative power and love of the godhead. But why is it entwined by a serpent?
My immediate associations with serpents are "dragons", "primeval kingship" and "unpredictable danger", as well as ideas that come from my Christian cultural background: sin and deception. In contrast, there are serpents aplenty in Egyptian symbolism, as they were also part of everyday life in the area. So, of course my own associations are useless for analysis.
In order to understand what the core symbolic meaning of serpents in Egypt were, is it helps to take a look at one of the Egyptian myths of cosmogenesis: the birth of the primeval god Atum:
In the Beginning, there exists only Nun, the dark and abyssal waters that stretch everywhere to infinity. There is no distinction of any one form from another within this primordial ocean; there is only a pervasive formlessness that amounts to nothingness, as all things merge together in this great sea of Nun. One has to imagine a quality of existence that is prior to space and time, up and down, before and after. Nothing lies outside anything else, for everything is intrinsic to every other thing; hence, there are no separate things. Here there is a primordial unity, of which it is impossible to speak save in terms of negatives. And yet the image of water conveys the positive notion of Nun as the source of life. Nun, though nothing in itself, nevertheless contains everything that is to be. Nun is the whole diverse and varied universe existing in a state of potentiality.
This primordial condition to which the name of Nun is given was sometimes pictured as a great serpent. But already, the image of the serpent of many coils must be seen as a first manifestation of something from out of the ocean of potentiality. This serpent is called Nehebkau, which means “Provider of Life-Energies.” In the Pyramid Texts, Nehebkau says:
I am the Outflow of the Primeval Flood [Nun],
the one who emerges from the waters.
I am Nehebkau, the serpent of many coils.
Nehebkau has a similar ambivalence to Nun, in that the snake’s coils both entrap the life energies of all existence in a state of unrealized potentiality, and at the same time provide a secure home, a protective embrace from which these life energies can flow forth. Within the coils of the serpent, and also swimming within the waters of Nun, resides a creative principle that is the spark of life; it alone can release the life-energies held in potential within Nun. (23)
The serpent was thought of as having the most primeval of forms, and hence was the creature closest to the conditions that prevailed in the beginning of time. The eight famous ancient Egyptian primeval gods - or "Ogdoad" - were named after the different qualities of the unmanifest: formlessness, or chaos, darkness, or obscurity, unendingness, or limitlessness, and the hidden, or unmanifest. They were depicted as four serpents and four frogs.
Also the Egyptian Decans, deities residing in asterisms that rule over fate (like our Zodiac signs) were often depicted as serpents, sometimes winged or with arms and legs. They were considered unpredictable, potentially dangerous or benevolent.
I think we can make a quite safe statement that the coiled up serpent symbolized "ultimate potentiality".
The "heart girt with a serpent" also bears a striking analogy to the Orphic "cosmic egg", a powerful alchemical symbol that Frater Acher analyzed quite well in his latest book "Holy Daimon":
Phanes, the Orphic primeval deity of new life hatched from an egg with a serpent wound about it, has been called the ‘Revealer’; and indeed new wisdom awaits us by learning more about this mystical image. [...] let’s take a moment to meditate on the body of the serpent. Can you see the polarity here? The painful and deeply personal dilemma of the snake? At every moment the serpent has to make a decision. Should it continue to incubate the egg with the warmth of its coiled body, or should it tighten its muscles just a little more and break its fragile shell? The snake’s immediate desire is to break it: serpents love devouring fresh eggs. Yet it can choose to resist this desire, even though this means resisting its every instinct. Instead of breaking the egg, it can choose to turn its body into a tool of generation and creation. (24)
Having unlocked the meaning of "heart" and "serpent" the god-name in the Stele of Jeu is a very powerful one: the incorruptible core of creative power of the godhead in a state of ultimate potentiality.
Although we should to be very careful with comparisons between fundamentally different cultures, I can't stop seeing the striking similarities of the symbology we unlocked with the Kundalini serpent from Tantric Hinduism:
the Shakti coiled round Shiva, making one point (Bindu) with it, is Kundalini Shakti. This word comes from the word Kundala or "a coil", "a bangle". She is spoken of as coiled, because She is likened to a serpent (Bhujangi), which, when resting and sleeping, lies coiled; and because the nature of Her power is spiraline, manifesting itself as such in the worlds — the spheroids or "eggs of Brahma" (Brahmanda), and in their circular or revolving orbits and in other ways. [...] In other words, this Kundali Shakti is that which, when it moves to manifest itself, appears at the universe. To say that it is "coiled" is to say that it is at rest—that is, in the form of static potential energy. This Shakti coiled round the Supreme Shiva is called Mahakundall ("The great coiled power"), to distinguish it from the same power which exists in individual bodies, and which is called Kundalini.
Kundali Shakti in individual bodies is power at rest, or the static centre round which every from of existence as moving power revolves. In the universe there is always in and behind every form of activity a static background. The one Consciousness is polarized into static (Shiva) and kinetic (Shakti) aspects for the purpose of "creation". This Yoga is the resolution of this duality into unity again. (25)
Gluing all the dismembered and thoroughly studied pieces back together we end up with this potent meaning of the ritual's core lines:
I am an unperceivable daimon with a single, divine soul. From my incorruptible divine core and with unpredictable potentiality I manifest my will with a clear spiritual vision with every single step securing it for eternity.
It's quite deep, but far from the poetic formulation of the original symbols, right? That's the magic of symbolic language.
The Stele of Jeu is a quite universal spell and the involved headlessness enables boundless possibilities: stripping away the individual features from the god puts him in the magical state of unlimited potentiality: If you want the Headless One to be Osiris/Typhon/Bes/YHVH/Ketu/..., he becomes Osiris/Typhon/Bes/YHVH/Ketu/... A headless god stripped of individualization seems to become whatever head is being put upon him through the intent of the performer. In my experimental performance of the rite to conquer Shai-Hulud I became the Headless Serpent Wrangler.
If you made it all the way to down here, congratulations and thank you! This post may have been a bit confusing as it is actually three articles crammed together into one, covering the topics of a technique for intuitive analysis of symbols, sam-blocking the meaning of The Headless One, and analyzing other powerful symbols in this spell. I decided to keep them all together because in this way it reflects my flow of consciousness while researching. I know of at least one regular reader who told me a main reason they like my blog is that it reflects my thought process, so I'll keep it that way.
What? I forgot something? Ah you mean the symbolic meaning of "having a flaming mouth"? Well, consider that homework! ;)
Thanks to Ricardo for valuable feedback and to Aaron for motivation and to the spirits of Düsseldorf for reassurance and inspiration.
on the terms of "sam-blocking" and "polyphanizing":
- (1) De Lubicz, RA Schwaller. Symbol and the Symbolic: Ancient Egypt, Science, and the Evolution of Consciousness. Aware Journalism, 1981. p.82.
- (2) Doniger, Wendy, Eliade Mircea, and Willard R. Trask. "With a Foreword by Wendy Doniger; Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy." (2004). p. 42.
- (3) H. Ling Roth, The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo, I, 280-81 (found in (2)).
- (4) Bleichsteiner, Robert. L'eglise jaune. Payot, 1937. pg. 222 (found in (2)).
- (5) The Cult of Mithras - An Ancient Rite
- (6) Naydler, Jeremy. The future of the ancient world: Essays on the history of consciousness. Simon and Schuster, 2009. Chapter 6: Gods and Humans.
- (7) Naydler, Jeremy. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Inner Traditions Bear & Company. Kindle Edition. The West Wall (Utts. 254–60). Utt. 254.
- (8) see (7). The Fifteen West-to-South-Wall Texts (Utts. 254–58, 260–63, 267–72).
- (9) see (1). pg. 9.
- (10) Naydler, Jeremy. Temple of the cosmos: The ancient Egyptian experience of the sacred. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1996. Chapter 8: The Soul Incarnate. Transcending the Distributed Psyche.
- (11) see (10). Chapter 8: The Soul Incarnate. Body and Soul.
- (12) see (6). Chapter 11: The Judaic Path to Monotheism.
- (13) Merkelbach R., Totti M. (1991) Eine Selbstoffenbarung des Obersten Gottes. In: Merkelbach R., Totti M. (eds) Abrasax. Papyrologica Coloniensia, vol 17/2. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden
- (14) Arnott, W. Geoffrey. Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, 2007.
- (15) Betz, Hans Dieter, ed. The Greek magical papyri in translation, including the Demotic spells. Vol. 1. University of Chicago Press, 1996. pg. 147.
- (16) Achrati, Ahmed. "Hand and foot symbolisms: From rock art to the Qur'ān." Arabica 50.4 (2003): 464-500. pg. 487.
- (17) see (15). pg. 494.
- (18) see (11).
- (19) see (8). Part 4: Anointing with the Seven Holy Oils (Utts. 72–78, 79, 81).
- (20) see (11).
- (21) see (6). Chapter 11: Christ and the Gods. The Gods and the Psyche.
- (22) see (6). Chapter 6: On the Divinity of the Gods. God and the Gods.
- (23) see (10). Chapter 3: Myths of Cosmogenesis. Heliopolis.
- (24) Frater Acher. Holy Daimon. Scarlet Imprint. 2018.
- (25) Avalon, Arthur. The Serpent Power. Ganesh & Co. Madras. 1950. p.35-36