In That Sleep Of Teeth What Dreams May Come?

I spent an hour trying to get a screaming baby to take a nap today. Usually things are not that hard, but sometimes we get a bad day.

I spent a lot of the time holding her thinking about teeth.

One of the things that’s hard about working with the Nut Cycle, as has been noted recently (and as came up when I was doing my Digging Up The Mysteries talk at Paganicon) is that second hour, the gateway of teeth: knowing that in order to go through the divine rebirth process, one must submit to having the Great Mother bite off one’s head.

It’s hard to get to the point that one can trust that She’ll put the bits back together. Teeth are scary.

(Yes, I am way behind on Nut Cycle summary posts. I am aware of this.)

It is not uncommon for various cultures to connect the process of sleep with the process of death, or to treat sleep as a time when one or more souls is absent from the body (and have taboos about waking sleepers and so on); certainly that is part of the cultural heritage of English-speakers, if for no other reason than Hamlet.

And anyone with experience of small children can recognise that kids don’t want to go through that first gate, maybe missing something in the material world, maybe experiencing terror in dreamland, and perhaps going to sleep is itself frightening – loss of consciousness, loss of time continuity, not knowing who or what will be there after sleep, not necessarily knowing in the body that there is a road back to waking.

That screaming baby who is kicking and clawing rather than go down for a much-needed nap, she’s afraid of the teeth too.

So I wonder: what back in pre-memory teaches us that sleep is an acceptable risk?

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Nut Cycle: Fifth Hour, the Heart

When we left our intrepid night travellers we were struggling through the fourth hour, the place of implied strife transitioning between the outer regions of Nut’s embrace and head and into her body. Now we approach the goddess’s heart, the fifth hour.

(And for the gods’ sakes, my brain is puttering along singing Survivor’s “The Moment of Truth” at me. Make of that what you will.)

Here we enter the darkest hours of the night, the ones in the Amduat in which the Mysteries of the Midnight Sun occur, the night union of the sun with Sokar-Wesir in the hidden cavern of Rosetjau. Here in the heart of the mother, the gate becomes a benevolent royal lady: “Lady of the sky, Mistress of the Two Lands, the Relishing One, Lady of the Entire Land, Great of Awesomeness.” Much as the Contendings give way to the Mysteries of Wesir and the crowning of Heru, we see here the strife (and implied relationship with the Contendings) starting to give way to the kingdom, and that kingdom is the kingdom of life. (While there are still “followers of Seth” found headless here in the lower registers, there is little sign of active strife.)

This is the nefer-region – “nefer” that familiar symbol of goodness, beauty, or, as Roberts puts it, “vitality”. This hieroglyph is the trachea and heart – from the throat into the breast. (In the sixth hour, we will reach the zema-region, the trachea-and-lungs glyph meaning “unite” and seen commonly in such phrases as “Union of the Two Lands”.) We are guided here by “True of Face” (or “True of Heart”), and this is a region of space intimately entwined with Ma’at herself, who is worn by Ra like an amulet about the neck, resting upon his breast. Nefer, nefer, nefer (and now the internal jukebox is trying to set that to the Christian hymn that goes “Holy, Holy, Holy”, but not getting anywhere ‘cos I remember neither tune nor words beyond that bit).

Here the traveller starts to rise up again, sprouting like a plant from the dead “seed” bequeathed by the harsh and scorching opening hours of the night. Power starts to flow once more, feeding the soul on this path, and restoring the heart to its central place. The heart, of course, is the unifying power of the body: the pulse which can be felt in all members is proof of its work to make the disparate organs and parts into a unified and functioning whole. The heart awakens in the heart regions, sensically enough. As Heru comes into possession of the heart-power of his father (in the Ancestor Ritual Roberts links to the Book of Night) with his coronation, creating a continuity across generations, now that governing and generative organ is restored to the traveller.

In the Amduat, the process is approaching Zep Tepi, the first time; the totality of creation implicit in that first moment is delicate and restorative. This is the singularity from which all things come, the first moment, the heart of the mother; it holds the mysteries of creation, rebirth, and union, as if these were separate processes. This is the Underworld of the Underworld, the most secret and precious space in the land of spirit, and yet – when framed as the body of Nut – open and expansive to encompass all things.

Yet, this is only the beginning of the transformation of the process. Simple resurrection and awakening to life is insufficient. Life and power are what must be brought forward, not the endpoint and goal of this process.

Nut Cycle: Hour Four, the Throat

(I see that hour three got cut off mid-sentence somehow and I’m not sure how – a good month after I wrote it – to fix that. I could probably reconstruct the train of thought but yikes.)

(I also see that I’m well into the middle of the Mysteries of Wesir and I have not done jack for research on that. I am hoping to get a post on that subject up Real Soon Now. Until then, last month’s work will have to suffice.)

There’s something interesting about the throat that I think is worth noting explicitly: it is a transitional space. Here, we connect the head to the body. Air from the outside is taken in by the nose and mouth (symbolically speaking in Egyptian magic, strictly the nose) and passes through the throat to the lungs; food (and would-be initiates, as noted last month) passes through the mouth and also to the throat on the way to the stomach. So the throat is the fundamental gateway to the body, and the horrors of the teeth were a part of the necessary preparation to get here.

That rendering into pieces, the exposure of anything that might be corrupt to purifying flames, places the traveller (as you may recall, the Bull King or a related epithet) in a role quite similar to that of Wesir, who is not only felled but broken into pieces as part of the framing of the Contendings. And thus it is unsurprising that the transition here is from the outside realm to the inner realm governed by Wesir, following the same route that he took to get there.

Tracking that path takes its perilous course through the Contendings, and the gate of this hour has certainly taken sides in that conflict: her name is “Sharp of Knives, Mistress of the Two Lands, who destroys the enemies of the Tired Heart, who arouses trembling before the Sinless One, who removes wrong-doing”. This is a warrior gate, prepared to shield Wesir and those who are following in his footsteps from the Sethian forces that might do further harm or interfere with the process of regeneration. The guide through this region is “He who divides the offerings”, and indeed at this phase of the ritual Alison Roberts associates with the Nut journey, the offerings are presented to Amun-Ra – the priest, a manifestation of Heru, draws back the doorbolt on the naos shrine, a manifestation of the phallus of Set, the instantiation of his chaotic and divisive power.

(While in the Nut journey this area is aquatic – filled with fish-headed figures and signs of watery life, the fertile fields of Wernes – in the Amduat this hour enters Rosetjau, entering the nightmare fields governed by darkness and silence and divided by passages marked with knives. “Sharp of knives” manifests as well in the dry-land vision of the hour, it would seem, the symbolism of the conflicts through which one must pass in search of regeneration.)

This hour is filled with fish-headed captives. These may be the chthonic and half-formed allies of Sethian forces, that which will move dismemberment into dissolution or halt the process of regeneration into endless conflict and final death. They may also be the ever-swallowed decanal stars, which take the forms of fish, bound in silence and stillness in the places where they have no names, awaiting rebirth in the pools of tears shed in the Contendings. The conflict exists here, regardless, the confrontation of destruction in its last throes that is necessary before passing through to the mysteries of life and rebirth.

On a whim, I had a look at the wikipedia entry on the throat chakra, and it noted that the resonance of the throat is purification. If the teeth were purification by fire, this is closer to a moral test, to see whether the traveller is allied with the forces that promote life or those which oppose it, the removal, as the gate is named, of wrong-doing. If the teeth expose the potential for infection by dormant seeds of dangerous chaos to the parching flame of the fire serpents, in the throat the actual fruits of rebellion are cut down. The primordial is bound and set on a path to redemption, and the pure is permitted to pass.

Nut Cycle: Hour Three, A Month Late; The Teeth

Okay, trying to pick up threads of thought again.

Teeth. Teeth are an alarming thing. (One of the times I was discussing the Nut cycle with people, months ago, one of them commented that of all the forms of death symbolism, teeth were perhaps among the most alarming.) There is a certain brutality to being eaten, a certain visceral something, which for all I know is what some people like about zombie stories.

Nonetheless, like the Death card in the Tarot, this is not an annihilation; it is a transformation, of which death itself is simply the most complete. Like the shamanistic death, dismemberment, and rehabilitation, crossing this gateway renders the traveller into pieces so that they may be reconstituted anew. (And many, many funereal texts will explicitly say: You have your head. You have your limbs. You have your heart. You have your name. Each member is named, invoked, put into place, and re-bound from the dissociated state which is death, or maybe dream, or of course initiation.)

The gate’s name is “She who lights the fire, the quencher of embers, with sharp flames, quick in killing without hesitation. She from whom there is no protection. She by whom one cannot pass without harm. The one who rears up towards her lord.” The uraeus is here, guardian of Ra, manifestation of the Eye of Ra, whose flame (which always strikes me as a way of referring to the poison of the cobra) is turned against his enemies.

What is the enemy of Ra? That which would dissolve ma’at, that which would put the cosmos out of order and send it spinning into nothingness. That which is not in its appropriate place, and threatens to put other things out of place.

Existence demands the risk of isfet. So long as the creative potential that allows things to change – and stasis is another form of unbeing – flows through all beingness, there remains the possibility that that change will be for the worse. And that potential for change for the worse resides in all things. Nothing can pass by the uraeus without harm, because everything contains these seeds, these possibilities, and she will strike, as the name says, without hesitation.

This is why, to reach the Mysteries, one must face the teeth – one must have these seeds exposed and scorched, to keep them from sprouting. The Mysteries must be protected. The teeth separate the parts, the gate herself purifies them with fire, and then – beyond – this physical cleansing can be healed.

The long title for the traveller from the second hour – the shining bull who is with the Unwearying Stars – is now simply the Bull King. whose guide is the Bull of the Two Lands. The powerful, virile king figure seeking

The Nut Cycle: The Second Hour/Month

Yes, I am running behind again. With a little luck, the adjustments to my medication will help me keep on top of everything for a little bit. So this is late, but it is at least here before the Heb-Sed.

The theme of the first hour/month of the Nut cycle is the entering the realm of the night. Placing oneself in trust into the hands of the mother, awakening to the life of the spirit world. For if you imagine, as the ancients did, that the seen and unseen worlds were intertwined, and dreams were visions that passed through the unseen, then to go to sleep is to awaken in the world of dreams and the dead.

This is not a riskless thing to do. I am sure most of us can quote that line of Hamlet’s, “in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” We go to sleep; we awaken to the world of spirits and gods, of demons and akhu.

The Amduat names the gate between the first and second hours as Which Swallows All; the Nut texts in the Book of Night speak of her as “Lady of Trembling, high of walls, preeminent one, Lady of destruction, who forsees aggression and repels the raging, who saves the robbed from the one who comes from afar. Lady of terror.” The teeth of mother sky divide the traveller from the world of the living, a gnash that suggests, further, a crushing between her cosmic molars of those who would seek to plumb the mysteries of the spirit with “aggression” or as those who are “raging”, or who would “come from afar” – perhaps the sunlit lands of the living – in order to commit theft. To enter here is to face her judgement and her bite.

The king making this journey is, of course, granted passage: he is described as “the shining bull… who is with the Unwearying Stars”. The bull is the Egyptian symbol of virility par excellence; his name in Egyptian is one of many words etymologically related to the ka itself. The shining bull’s guide is the Bull of Light, a twinning that perhaps evokes the ka again, perhaps to serve as a reminder that the world of the dead is also the world of life, the font from which fertility flows, the spring of our blood.

In the Amduat, these lands are the fertile fields of Wernes, filled with the promise of the flood and the praise of baboons with hands lifted to greet the arriving sun. In the Book of Night, Sia acting as herald for our passage cries out to those present to receive their heads, to gather up their bones, to come and receive offerings. These cries are received by the transfigured and holy dead, and the surrendered, who may suffer, but who have submitted to the ministrations of the Mother. Their passivity here is like the passivity of Wesir himself, who was torn to pieces and restored (receive your head, gather up your bones, you are complete).

The body is the vessel of the soul. We cannot travel in a damaged boat; we must gather up our parts and bind them securely. This hour of the night is often linked to the Book of Going Forth By Day chapter 22, for regaining a mouth (and thus the power of speech – and therefore magic) and chapter 71, a spell for reintegrating the body.

Sia calls upon us now to take stock of ourselves, to pull ourselves together so that we can continue. He calls upon us also to partake of offerings, to step up to the space in which we share in the powerful nature of the gods. Here the dead have become divine; the living, also. The Powers are come to grant deliverance and strength, the abilities of the senses, a breath of air, and the capacity for great magic. The Amduat speaks of sharing the blessings of the gods: food and water and sex.

To go on, one must have claimed and established a form. Your head must remain affixed to your spine. You must be in possession of your members. You must be whole and hale and unified, with a clear understanding of your image. If you do not have an image to hold onto, a clear sense of a physical form, you may be lost in the waters. And while the drowned will be saved, in time, that is a voiceless road.

Mehet-Weret comes with the flood and its promise of renewal, and washes everything away.

I Lose Things (Holy Mother Death and Other Thoughts)

Last week or so I knew that I had big thinky thoughts about death and I wanted to talk about them. About fear and death, mostly, and there was something in there about change and transformation and probably the nature of initiatory experience (to become something new is to die as what was old).

Unfortunately, the whole coherent thing kind of vanished while I was asleep and I’m left with scraps.

Scraps, and Mother Death.

This is part of the Nut cycle, the Sow who Eats her Piglets. Her husband Geb is horrified by the way she swallows stars, her many children, devouring them, dissolving them within her, her many nameless children, until they are re-formed and born again, new stars once again named and visible and brilliant in the night sky. This happens over and over, and still Geb is horrified, even knowing that this process, star-eating, star-birthing, is always ongoing.

(Maybe that’s where I got to thinking about Holy Mother Death. Thinking about Nut, about the approaching gate of her teeth, that crushing and awful visceral image of death. But this death, also, is a nourishment; it feeds Heaven herself. A thing to think about.)

There are addresses to Nut in various texts. “In your name of Coffin”, some say. That coffin is allegorised, metaphorised, syncretically bound to the womb. When I wrote the concluding hymn for the Guide I referenced this:

Let me be a star within you
Held safe within your belly’s span.
Bind me together
As my mother bound me together
Hold me for millions of years
As her ten months held me.

What does it mean to die? The earliest Egyptian judgement day was putting Death itself on trial, hearing the evidence, convicting, and condemning Death for the act of murder that created a rift in communities, which slew the innocent. Death – subjected to proper judicial processes – was cast back into its place. Even if its depredations could not be prevented, justice could be had for them, the victim could be enshrined safely in the community of the other side as recompense.

And at the same time, Nut is there in her name of Coffin, in texts that were collected in the same places, written on the same walls, decorated with her body painted arched over the dead. Because this is the transformation moment, the Death card of the Tarot, the place where the old thing passes away and the new thing comes into being.

I wrote this sonnet – “Jackal at the Gates” – a number of years ago, and it is still one of my favorite pieces.

You fear to speak what rests upon your heart
As if the past is root to some decay
A feather’s condemnation of the part
Unborne, unwritten, never forth by day.
What was has been, what is is yet to come
That was must pass is cause enough for grief
But morning’s voices will be ever dumb
If morrow’s burnt to buy today’s relief.
They say such endings come but once a life —
They say, though those who say are wrong —
In every transformation lies the strife
Of Phoenix flaming out to renew song.
You live through ending with each taken breath.
Come, take my hand, and have no fear of death.

The thing about these transformational cycles, these bennu moments, is that we don’t know what we’re going to lose, I think. We know that something is lost, something is discarded, but it’s not exactly easy to say what dies and lies inert and what lives on, in any given ending. And the bigger ones, well, that’s a thing to shy away from, because the risks are larger.

Of course, there are risks in not changing, too. Of not taking Anpu’s hand and accepting Holy Mother Death. The stars get swallowed whether we wish it or not. The stars are reborn, again … whether we wish it or not.

These are initiation cycles. These are also the cycles of living, the rhythms of being. My sister prays for the lives that feed her life, for the deaths that feed her death, and here is that space again. The iron in my blood was the death of a star once, but it feeds me the air I need to breathe. What star died some five billion years ago that I could live? Swallowed up, swallowed up. Swallowed up and born again.

Another prayer, neither ancient nor my own:

“Holy Mother, in whom we live, move, and have our being, from you all things emerge. Unto you, all things return.” – Victor Anderson

Nut Cycle: The Embrace (Hour/Month 1)

This is a horizon month, a liminal one. We are not held within the cycle, but are puttering about in its periphery. Preparing to take the plunge, as it were. We place ourselves into the hands of Nut, knowing that she is the Sow Who Devours Her Children, and she will swallow us when she takes hold of us.

This month is named Djehwty; we consider the regulation of time. It is by his influence that Nut bears children, regardless of her tendency to devour them. The primary celebration of this month is the Wag Festival, also known as the Feast of Wagy, which is immediately followed by the Great Festival of Djehwty and then the Festival of Drunkenness.

From Wine and Wine Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt, Mu-Chou Poo, in his section on the Wag Festival:

In view of this relationship between Osiris and the inundation and the flourishing of vegetation, the “seasons” and “times” in the passage “The Lord of Wine through the inundation, his seasons have recognized him, his times have remembered him” (Pyr. 1524a-b) should refer to the seasonal ripening of the grapes.

The flood arrives. It dissolves the forms of everything that it approaches, sweeping them away in a great blood-red, wine-red wash of water. This may be regulated and ordered by the governance of time, but it is still unsettled and perilous. The Wag festival may be a festival of rebirth, but it still carries within it the knowledge of the preceding death.

We know this when we place ourselves into the hands of Nut: to be reborn, to be reforged, we will be consumed, broken down, and mended. These are the relentless cycles, the unswaying truth that horrified Geb. To be reborn, one must die. For the land to flourish, the flood must wash away whatever is in its path.

For the Wagy, we venture into the anterooms of the dead, we bring them gifts, we hang out in their parlors for a time. This is the horizon space, the borderland, and we venture there. We venture there, under the measured governance of time, and emerge into the other horizon, the one suffused with ecstasy, the touch of the Lady of Intoxication who is also the Lady of the West.

What is it to accept the embrace of Nut? To go into the space between the seen and the unseen knowing that we will be eaten whole, choosing to trust that the teeth of the mother are a way to life, not the end of our personal world? We have to loosen up, accept the drunkenness that comes with a full embrace of living, and embrace it so fully that we can also embrace ending.

We are called to this process of regeneration, we hail it and welcome it, even though we know it has its dangers.

I have come to you, O Nebet-Het
I have come to you, O Night-Bark
I have come to you, O Maa-her-tjerut,
I have come to you, O Meskhat-kau,
Remember me.
Sah is encircled by the Duat
Pure and living in the horizon.
Sopdet is encircled by the Duat
Pure and living in the horizon.
I am encircled by the Duat
Pure and living in the horizon.
It is well for me and with them,
It is pleasant for me and with them,
Within the arms of my father,
Within the arms of Atum.

– Pyramid Texts 216, Faulkner translation

And Atum’s name appears to mean “the complete one”, which is why – aside from being a primordial creator – he is the setting sun, entering into the horizon at this time. That sun is complete, its life is over, and it, like us, goes Westwards into the night. Arm in arm with the Creator, we approach the gate of Nut’s teeth: Which Swallows All.