The element of the first quarter of the year is fire. This life giving force is the reason why we exist on earth. Similarly, spring starts out with the fire within that wants to express itself, interact and play with the outside world to deepen its understanding of itself and its limitless possibilities. Once decided on FIRE, I looked into which Egyptian god or goddess that best represent this power to embrace for January. The answer is pretty obvious and befitting.
Who is Ra? Human origins in ancient Egypt.
Wherever you are, I am sure you have seen the sun. Either staring into it knowing you shouldn't and regret it later, or wishing it would come out in a freezing winter day when you have to spend time outside. That sun is the god Ra of ancient Egypt. Still the same sun, thanksfully!
He fathers all creations, represents the sun, heaven, king, power and light. Humans were made by him too. Therefore the ancient Egyptians called themselves "cattle of Ra". Some time after our creation, human rebelled against his ruling, so he sent our his daughter, goddess Sekhmet to put them into place. She was a fierce warrior, violent ,never hesitate in her slaughtering paths, yet when she transform into Hathor or Bastet, she became gentle, forgiving and nurturing. These 3 goddesses are Ra's children.
Doesn't it sound familiar to you what happens here and what occurs in Babylon when human tries to build a tower to reach heaven and was smitten by God's wrath in the Old Testament.
Another origin story of human explains the view of ancient Egyptian on the conditions of being human, aka "imperfect product of rage and misery."
It was said that when Ra made his first children, the twin deities Shu and Tefnut, he wanted to observe them better so he fabricated an eye to fly out looking for them. When that eye came back, it was enraged to learn that he had given life to a second eye. In order to appease it, Ra gave more power to the first one and it became the sun, the second one, the moon. After that, he wept, his tears and sweat became humans. Rage and misery, oh how relatable sometimes.
How many forms do Ra assume?
Myths and religions are there to describe, explain and elevate civilizations' perception of the world and themselves. To see how closely they resemble each other suggests our fascinatingly connected and similar psyches regardless of time and space.
Recently, I listened to an interview with Bill Carson on Gaia TV who claimed that the god of knowledge, Thoth had many forms because he used high tech avatars to walk the earth while letting his other avatars recharge in the chamber underground. How crazy and exciting is that?!
Similar to Thoth, Ra has many depictions, he can be mixed with Horus looking like a falcon called Ra-Horakhty, as a Phraoh, as his wrathful daughter Sekhmet, or his compassionate daughter Hathor. When he transvers the sky, Ra emerges in the form of a scarab in the morning; Kheper (the one who comes into being), as a sun discs at mid day and as an old man who had completed his cycle and ready to dissolve into the far horizon called Atum.
Once the sun crosses the threshold into darkness, his 2 solar barques turn into an evening boat which took him on his journey in the underworld for twelve hours of the night. Ra merges with Osiris, the god of the dead to pick up newly departed souls and bring them to the Field of Reeds for judgement. Ra-Osiris is one deity of the corpse and the soul respectively. In every cycle, he has to battle and claim victory over the serpent Apophis with the help of the coiled deity Mehen (seen as the serpent wrapping around Ra in the painting above).
The story of Ra yielding his true name to goddess Isis.
Being the almighty doesn't mean Ra was never worn out by his roles. One time, the goddess Isis, mother of Horus, wanted her son to inherit the throne so she set out to learn Ra's true name and use it against him.
This secret name theme is very common across culture. For example, in Vietnam where I grew up, people don't usually know your "rice offering" name. Aka, the name given to you at birth to call you back to the altar to receive offerings from your descendants (once you parted way with your earth body, of course).
Anyway, Isis collected some drool from old Ra during his nap. She mixed it with some earth and sculpted a venomous snake. The bite from such creature was usually harmless to Ra, yet this one had been manufactured from his own being, so it was impossible to rid of the inflictions. There was no remedies that could ease his agony. Then Isis appeared and offered help if only he told her his true name. Ra gave her some classic tactics of an old wise king by reciting:
I am the maker of heaven and earth,
I am the establisher of the mountains,
I am the creator of the waters,
I am the maker of the secrets of the two horizons.
I am the light and I am darkness,
I am the maker of the hours, the creator of days.
I am the opener of festivals,
I am the maker of running streams,
I am the creator of living flame.
I am Khepri in the morning, Ra at noontime, and Atum in the evening.
After all tricks failed and physical suffering increased, Ra gave away his power in the true name. Isis released him of his pain through incantation. Yet she got her wish to enthrone her future son and acquired both the Sun and the Moon eyes from Ra. This spell was written on papyrus document in the 20th dynasty (1200-1085 BCE) and used by priests to cure snake bites.
Ra's retirement plan
Although being immortal and omnipotent, Ra got tired of being the shepherd of humans. One day he asked to be taken into the heaven by the sky goddess Nut. She turned into a celestial cow and carried him away. Ra created the Field of Reeds and arrange the administration of the world before retracting his involvement. Now his only duty is to travel across the sky in his barges. Sounds great to me, no 401K or investment needed to sustain life after retirement.
Although being absent in the action, Ra's influence echoes greatly over thousands of years, especially in the 18th dynasty of Egypt's New Kingdom. Akhenaten (1353-1336 BC) was the first king who collapsed the polytheism practices of Egypt into monotheistic. He was known as "the world's first individual", first identified creative writer who composed hymns in praise of his sole god, Aten the solar deity. He could be called a heretic yet he abolished slavery, human scarifies, gave his queen equal authority, and attempted to uplift his people from war into a brighter future.
The old religions returned when his successor Tutankhamun came into ruling yet the depiction of the Sun god Aton/Aten, as the solar disk emitting rays ending in human hands stays on.
King Akhenaton (left) with his wife, Queen Nefertiti, and three of their daughters under the rays of the sun god Aton, altar relief, mid-14th century BCE; in the State Museums at Berlin
Foto Marburg/Art Resource, New York
When I was in junior high, my family usually had about 2 hours of lunch and siesta together upstairs from my parents' shop. We listened to audio book together on our old CD player. The Egyptian by Mika Waltari was one that oddly captured my imagination. It was about Akhenaton's lost brother and his adventures in different schools of mysticism and across the ancient Minoan Crete, Babylon, Syria and other territories of Egypt. The weirdest thing I remember from back then was the depiction of this king Akhenaton, as a perfect movie star for alien movie because of his elongated skull and strong chin. Now that I learn more about ET and star beings, could it be that he was one of them. Who knows?!
My intention for including Ra in this year's Elemental Wonders is to explore the connection I have with him.
Albeit that I am not Egyptian or a worshipper of the Sun, I do believe that the act of creating his image in the right tempo and state of mind will give me a glimpse into my unconscious and that of the collective.
The fire in the sky, the fire within, and the fire on paper. Let see us how this trinity fan out!
All photos are public domain unless cited.