I'm posting the January tweets a little early, because there's a lot here. This month I began tweeting my notes on the demotic Egyptian "Book of Thoth", which also incorporate some material from another recently published fragmentary demotic text, "On the Primaeval Ocean". There are a few exchanges in this material; in those, I've italicized the words of others, and prefaced them with their Twitter identification.
The Abrahamic monotheisms all stress uniqueness in their own way: uniqueness of prophets and revelations, uniqueness of a historical savior, rejection of translation either literally or metaphorically. Understanding this dialectically, we can be better polytheists: not allowing the concept to determine the individual without remainder.
@tonhoberlinense: I thought you held the problem/value of individuality to be particularly borne out in polytheism, not monotheism
I'm speaking here of the dialectical value of historically emergent theological positions. The value of the individual is already explicit, e.g., in Egyptian theology.
@tonhoberlinense ah ok. But, pursuing my curiosity further, do you hold the stress on uniqueness to be contingent for the Abrahamic religions?
No, but I would argue that uniqueness is essential to all devotional practice.
At first, was annoyed with this blog post (tinyurl.com/834vop5), associating theology w/history, thus privileging Abrahamic theology; then I reflected that "history" here can simply be taken as facticity of myth, peculiarity of divinities.
"On the Primaeval Ocean" (Carlsberg Papyri 5): Rhizome cosmogony: "It will grow, after being cut off" (1.1). I think that there may be a consistent pun in demotic Egyptian between qmA, "reed/rush", and qmA, "create". Rushes are mentioned at the beginning of 1.5, in a broken context, followed by "He uprooted it so that they might live on it together with…". "It grew into a large thicket …" (1.8); "It came to rest in the north. It was called 'reed' [Asy] by name" (1.12). Asy is also "to be light", usually with negative connotations of the ephemeral; here, I think the flux is ground. The "large thicket" of 1.8 is bA aA.t, which could be read "great soul/manifestation". It comes to rest at Hermopolis, seat of Thoth, God of the eidetic, here I suggest peculiarly textuality. Viz. 1.17: "… in writing …"; 1.18: "… rush [qmA; hence, hear 'create']. Ptah spoke a word to come into being upon … the thicket…". (Ellipsis in this text signifies lacunae, not my omissions; the text is extremely lacunose.) The text is peculiarly concerned with the cosmogonic activity of pA-Sy pA nwn, "Pshai in the Nun" or "Pshai the Nun". Shai (here with the definite article pA attached) is "destiny" or "fate"; Nun is the primaeval ocean or chaos. "The destiny in the primaeval chaos" = the properties immanent to the chaos itself. Here, the chaos is essentially textual, a rhizomatically propagating textuality that grows anew from every cut in the flow, that becomes fixed where canons of interpretation are established (Hermopolis). With respect to bA, "soul" (or here, "thicket"), note that the sacred texts are known as the "bas of Re", the "souls/manifestations of Re".
Compare the Book of Thoth: "Let me reveal a sea which is protected/holy… concerning their souls and their creations, concerning their plants, which give birth to new words," (B04, 8/2-5). "I found six rowers, they sitting down, they being complete, they worshipping (in) a mode of speech," (B04, 8/8-9). "Difficult are their words; their explanations being too various to write, whereas it is they who commanded to them the loosening of the papyrus documents," (B04, 8/17-18). Throughout these texts, there seems a close association between the watery environment from which come the plants that make paper and pen and the medium of textuality itself. "He speaks, namely, The-one-of-Heseret, he says: 'Writing is a sea. Its reeds [at.w] are a shore [at]. Hasten therein!'," (B02, 4/13). The "reeds" here are pens; they form a "shore", because only new interpretations create a fixed point in the flux of textual production. On one level, this is merely words spawning words; this is the perspective from within the Nun; within the immanence of intellect (Ptah), however, there is a relative stability.
A discussion of dismemberments in myth
@_shrine_: I'd appreciate any information/direction to Gods that were chopped into pieces (ex. Purusha, whole body, Uranus, castrated)
Osiris (though one hears relatively little of this in native Egyptian sources, as opposed to Greek ones), Dionysus-Zagreus.
@_shrine_: Thanks, I'm looking into these gods as a way to understand 'psychic attack' as a form of attempted dismemberment.
Some interpret dismemberment as symbol of differentiation and conflict of psychic faculties in experience.
@MuJuShinKyo: Note in the Diamond Cutter Sutra it says that Buddha in a past life was chopped to bits by an irate king
Tend to think of kings as symbolizing dominant cosmic forces.
@OnceOrSooner: Prometheus, right, indirectly?--torn by the birds of prey?
Re: Prometheus, note liver, ancient locus of soul in body, devoured by eagle, predator, symbol of sovereignty.
@cole_tucker: Tyr gave up his hand so that Fenris could be bound. Odin, Vili and Ve cut up Ymir to build the manifest universe from his organs.
Re: Tyr, reminds me of many instances in Egyptian myths of loss of limb and replacement by prosthesis, which I think of as opportunity for mortals to partake a divine potency.
@cole_tucker: Actually, I was just thinking about the variations of the "classic" dismemberment and replacement with divine objects experiences I've had. I think it's Eliade's book on Shamanism that first pulled it out as motif.
Yes, it's the similar images in shamanic experience that gave me insight into the Egyptian prosthesis motif.
@cole_tucker: Odin's giving up his eye to receive the wisdom of the ages might fit the format as well, following that line.
Very much so; Odin a sort of "shaman-in-chief", Norse have interesting model of sovereignty.
@cole_tucker: They do. Flowers introduced me to idea that Protestant Wars were continuation of Germanic-style sovereignty & Roman universalism.
@_shrine_: Did Tyr fight after Fenris was bound? It seems Fenris might be Tyr's hand. Ymir, another shotgun-scattered God/Word
@cole_tucker: Similar to Marduk's forming the heavens and earth from Tiamat's body after slaying her, perhaps. Does she count as another?
A distinct mode of dismemberment motif: topological. Not usually physical topos, though, but psychical, I'd say.
@_shrine_: Working on a song now, hearing different parts instead of the whole as I work, reflects this convo in a way
Yes; any psychogony simultaneously a canon for aesthetic practice.
@_shrine_: Maybe the topological can be seen as division of land and the land as the domain of the body of the Human/God
I think of topological as any terrain from the eidetic to the corporeal. Application of the mythic is unrestricted.
@cole_tucker: Agreed. Reminds me of first beginning to legitimately understand idealism as not speaking of ideas over matter but the cognizing of a World, and whether that World is a given or emergent.
Yes, wish that some who speak habitually of "idealism" vs. "realism" understood that.
(On so-called "flat" or non-hierarchical ontologies, à la Object Oriented Ontology)
@sdv_duras: Perhaps the only possible flat ontology is a communist one, given that capitalism has been increasing the depth of the class hierarchy.
Social hierarchies could easily subsist in a "flat" ontology, as can equality in a hierarchical ontology.
@viconian: every language act is a collaboration with the dead ... we are the dead
"As for the magicians/scholars who came into existence earlier, do they not have a second party/helper?" (Book of Thoth, B02, 2/6)
"Let me interpret the praises which came into being earlier. Let me learn of She-who-is-wise, she being a lamp of prophecy," (Book of Thoth)
"What is the taste of the prescription of writing? What is this net?" (Book of Thoth). The "net" referred to here is the same spoken of in the resurrection literature as trapping fish or birds; these fish and small birds seem to symbolize souls in some state of passivity. "Tasting" used frequently in the Book of Thoth to express knowing; "prescription", used here of writing, gives a sense of composition. "The sSty.t (?) of the harem does not trap like the one who loves enchantment/writing": writing here compared to the netherworld soul-net.
Continuing with "On the Primaeval Ocean (Carlsberg Papyri 5)": In fr. 2, noteworthy is the "union" of the Ogdoad "according to their names". This process seems to be the same by which, also in fr. 2, Ptah "made an assemblage/union" of them. The relevant term in both is twt, meaning image/union/assemblage. There are two sides to this process: Ptah thinking the unity of the Ogdoad, immanent, and the objective conceptual union of the Ogdoad "according to name", probably founding this distinction in the cosmogony. The Hermopolitan Ogdoad is a series of negative principles. A critical stage in several Egyptian cosmogonies is the appropriation of these negations, producing an original positive moment. The process here seems to identify the males in the Ogdoad with one another in Amun, "the hidden", the females in Amaunet, "hiddenness". The Ogdoad are Nun and Naunet, abyss or chaos, Kek and Kauket, darkness, Heh and Hauhet, infinity, Amun and Amaunet, hiddenness. Distinction between masculine and feminine here perhaps best understood by reflecting that the feminine ending -t is also participial. Amun, "the hidden", ultimately incorporates the other modes of negativity; the cosmogony then hymns him as a bull (kA), active principle. This procedure of transmuting negation into a positive principle is essential to Egyptian cosmogonies involving the Ogdoad or Amun alone.
In the Nun Cosmogony, Ptah makes a "union" out of the Ogdoad "according to their names" (fr. 2), i.e., unites them conceptually. Cp. Book of Thoth: "The field is that which gives birth to her children which are as one," (p. 172). "Field" (sx.t) elsewhere in the Book of Thoth seems to be a metaphor for the textual "field", because the latter is on papyrus. A sx.t in Egypt is paradigmatically marshy ground, intensely fertile. Here the stress is on perceiving the unifying plane of the text. The larger fragment from the Book of Thoth whence comes the statement about the sx.t is fairly intact; though enigmatic, it is clearly concerned with language and with thought, not with anything concrete. Both passages concern the unifying effect of the medium of thought: in the Nun cosmogony, immanence in the intellect of Ptah, while in the Book of Thoth, it is the medium of textuality, of writing as such.
The final stage in the process, virtually a dialectical procedure, regarding the Ogdoad in the Nun Cosmogony is their interment by Thoth. We can understand this as the final "concealment" of primordial negativity in the positivity of the text, the flow of which is a kind of return of the flow of the primeval oceanic chaos. I believe that this is why Thoth maintains a surprisingly close relationship to the earliest moments of the cosmogony, despite underwriting (forgive the pun) the most complicated social institutions. We see this in his privileged access to Atum, in BOD 175, as well as in his surprising substitution for Seth in later images of the smA-tAwy, the "binding together of the Two Lands". For the flux of primordial chaos, therefore, the flux of pure textuality, of *words*, has been substituted. When Horus, who embodies civilization and sovereignty, is born, Isis conceals him in the marshes, in the locus of textuality. Thoth instructs the marsh dwellers to "confuse the ways of those who rebel against him [Horus] until he has taken the throne". Thoth thus controls the power of the text's materiality to overwhelm its sense, a power akin to Seth's and thus a way to repel him.
Continuing my notes on the demotic "Book of Thoth", want to discuss the "Chamber of Darkness" it frequently mentions. Indeed, it is possible that the true Egyptian title of this text—only titled the Book of Thoth by modern editors—is actually "Ritual of the Regulation of Entering the Chamber of Darkness" (B07, 4), and that it is addressed primarily to Seshat, Goddess of Writing. The Chamber of Darkness (a.t-kky) is a place, but since usually determined by the book roll sign, seems to be more ideal than real. The book roll determines texts, but no extant temple library catalog has such a book; the book roll sign also determines abstract ideas. The Chamber of Darkness is closely linked to Seshat, who at Edfu is called "Mistress of the Rope, Foremost One of the Chamber of Darkness." Seshat is "Mistress of the Rope" because of her role in the ceremonial "stretching of the cord" when the foundations of temples were laid. Kky or kkw in a.t-kky is not the quotidian darkness of night (grH), but the precosmic darkness embodied in the Ogdoad's Kek and Kauket. Kky-darkness is thus often associated with the Nwn, the primeval oceanic chaos, and with the lack of differentiation; hence the term kkw-smAw, literally "united darkness", this kind of unity being a negative in Egyptian thought.
The precosmic condition is expressed as the state in which "there were not two things", a privative unity.The Chamber of Darkness appears to appropriate this precosmic night. This is peculiarly the writer's task, it would seem. "She-who-is-wise [i.e., Seshat], this one who first established the chamber, she being … a lamp of prophecy," (B04, 7/22). "My heart (HAt) said to me: 'Return to it, namely, the Chamber of Darkness, so as to learn its boundary," (B02, 9/5). "May I see the Chamber of Darkness, entering into the form of it, namely, the excellent limb of the underworld," (B02, 9/12). The association of the Chamber of Darkness with the underworld points to a relationship with the scribes who went before and who are now "excellent spirits" (Axw.w iqr), transfigured from their mortality to become pure sites of enunciation: "… while the excellent spirits think in my heart …" (L02, 1/6). I believe that writing, according to this book, involves a relationship to three externalities: to the transfigured deceased; to a non-human animality (more about this later); to the materiality of the text. The materiality of the text is symbolized by the marshes and their products, chiefly reeds (pens) and papyrus (paper) and by the open waters, with their attendant dangers. Symbols of nets, and the fish or birds caught in them, combine the elements of textuality and psychical, soul-being.
The Chamber of Darkness seems to be strongly associated with "prophecy" (slA, in older Egyptian sr). In the oldest inscriptions, sr has a giraffe determiner, very rare; later this is misinterpreted as a Seth-animal. In the Book of Thoth, Seshat, "she who is wise", and who "first established the chamber [of darkness]", is called "a lamp of prophecy". We also have a fragment "speaks prophecies in the Chamber of Darkness" (C02.1, 5). The subject of the latter clause *might* be "the jackal", but we cannot be certain due to a gap between them. "Prophets" are also spoken of as entities with whom one establishes an immediate, corporeal relationship: "Let one command for me the word which gives birth to the prophets that I may cause that they become pregnant in my flesh," (B02, 6/4).
"Prophecy" is also related to the "messenger" (hby): "The lord of the bA.w of Re is the messenger of prophecy," (B02, 10/2). The bA.w of Re, the bas ("souls" or "manifestations") of Re are the sacred texts; it is a common technical term in the late period. Who masters the sacred texts, therefore, is a hby slA, a "messenger of prophecy". Every occurrence of the term hby, however, is lexically marked by the constant punning in Egyptian between this term and hb, "ibis". The ibis is very important in the Book of Thoth, and specifically in relation to the Chamber of Darkness. "May I wake up in the Chamber of Darkness, the wonder of the Ibis under his guidance," (B07, 15). "May I see the darkness as a servant of Isten, that I may make a glorification of the secrets of Thoth. May I enter therein, namely, the character of all the ibises, that I betake myself to the place of the servants of Thoth," (B02, 9/1-2). Isten (or Isden) is a title of Thoth. The pun between hb, "ibis", and hb, "to send/message" is explicit at L01.5, 9/6: "the excellent ibises [hb.w] … the ones who sent [hb] me." Similarly: "The wise ibis is the one which sent off [hb] the elder ones… And he truly is the one who has prophesized for his father and his mother… The writer/enchanter [spXl] has said to me his children that he may become the greatest of the ones greater than he," (L01, x+3/22-24). To "say one's children" to another evokes the prophets who are to "become pregnant in one's flesh" in the fragment I cited earlier. Note the paradox here, so quintessentially Egyptian: "that he may become the greatest of the ones greater than he." Thoth, in the Book of the Celestial Cow (70f), is charged by Re with the authority to "send out [hb] those who are greater than you… And so the Ibis of Thoth came into being."
This is because invocation as such belongs to Thoth, as lord of the sacred texts. This is Thoth's distinctive variety of the ubiquitous quality of Egyptian deities to master their own conditions of possibility: kamutef, "bull of one's mother", i.e., begetter of oneself, and many epithets similarly constructed, attest to this. This is a universal trait of Egyptian divinities which is particularized in each case; in Thoth's case, it has to do with the crucial position of language, which is late to emerge in the procession of being, but appropriates for itself its conditions of emergence. Hence Thoth is "the great one of the great ones of the young," (L01, x+3/12, var.)
Congratulations on the publication of The Book of Thoth. I have sent this link on to several friends who, like myself, have been aching for an English translation of this wonderful book. Thank you so very much. Will be saving my monies now to purchase it. Tholetas.
Also, the Book of Thoth is pretty expensive, and so you should really have a close look at the excerpts available on Google Books before you buy it. The text is very lacunose, and frustratingly enigmatic even where it is intact. It's really for the specialist. It really helps if you know German, too, because the editor generally glosses words in German in the notes (since the standard professional Egyptian dictionary is in German), and also because right now the useful secondary literature, which expands some of the readings in the damaged sections of the text, is in German.