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The Spirit Rising : Awakening into Day

The Spirit Rising : Awakening into Day

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This classic illustration of the ‘ba’ or spirit rising from the dead body, the mummy or ‘khat,’ is typical of many funerary texts in ancient Egypt and graphically portrays the Egyptians’ belief about the process of death, as testified in numerous writings. The 'ba' holds the ‘shen ring’ or ‘ring of eternity,’ to symbolise its immortality.

This afterlife of the spirit appears to have been the main focus of Egyptian spiritual thinking, as it is a primary focus for virtually all religions around the globe. The pioneer translator of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, E W Budge, comments, “That the Egyptians believed in a future life of some kind is certain; and the doctrine of eternal existence is the leading feature of their religion, and is enunciated with the utmost clearness in all periods.”

Immortality was Everything in Egypt
The wealth of funerary texts from ancient Egypt are virtually the only surviving evidence of Egyptian religious life. The earliest of these are the ‘Pyramid Texts,’ first inscribed on the walls of a pyramid tomb of a pharaoh of the Old Kingdom, about 2350 BC, though bearing evidence of an earlier tradition. This style was later developed into ‘Coffin Texts’ inscribed on the coffins of eminent officials during the Middle Kingdom and eventually became even more popular in the New Kingdom with the introduction of the so-called Book of the Dead writings, mainly on papyrus.

The consistent theme of all these texts is the spirit attaining an afterlife among the gods. The earliest idea locates this ‘heaven’ among the polar stars, later it is a place in the Sun’s great ship in its daily voyage across the sky and finally, in the Middle Kingdom, Osiris is recognised as the great god of the afterlife and it is in his kingdom where the spirit hopes to spend eternity.

Osiris’ story is a model for Christ. He is murdered by his evil brother Seth but then enjoys a miraculous Resurrection. The spirit of the dead is routinely called his ‘Osiris’ in recognition that he too has risen from the dead. Like Christ, Osiris is resurrected in his body to be able to father Horus with his wife, Isis, but normally it is the ‘ka’ or more especially the ‘ba,’ the spirit, which goes on to the afterlife.

Because ancient traditions were preserved alongside more recent variations, with no set text, it is impossible to present a single clear idea of Egyptian concepts of life after death. Yet all texts seem to agree in presenting the resurrected spirit as an equal to the gods or even greater. Budge comments, “When the Osiris of a man has entered into heaven as a living soul … he becomes ‘God, the son of God,’ and all the gods of heaven become his brethren. His bones are the gods and goddesses of heaven … every one of his members is identified with a god. Moreover, his body as a whole is identified with the God of Heaven… Further, this identification of the deceased with the God of Heaven places him in the position of supreme ruler.” This foreshadows the metaphysical insights this work traces from the Tree of Life : the association of the planets with the our physical form and not least the message of Genesis that when man eats the fruit of the Tree, when he recognises his spiritual heritage, he attains divine status.

Immortality Brings Divinity : the Tree of Life
Budge mentions one early pyramid text which describes the triumphant resurrected spirit conquering the gods : “ He roasts and eats the best of them, but the old gods and goddesses are used for fuel.” This vividly suggests the immense power and strength of the spirit which has recognised its own immortality and its own divine spirit and has no further use for the mundane business of religion. It is made quite clear eating the gods means absorbing their divine spirits into his own, as in the Eucharist we eat the flesh and blood of Christ to inherit His Spirit. This is not so different in principle from the texts which describe the gods as the flesh and bones of the resurrected spirit.

Another idea seems to have been that the etheric bodies of the ‘ba’ and ‘ka’ merged in the ‘ankh’ which represented the immortal spirit. The ankh symbol signified ‘life’ and particularly immortal life. It is widely agreed the circle at the top represents the spirit. Like the Crucifix, it bears a striking resemblance to the central cross of the Tree of Life. The ankh was adopted by Christians from the earliest days and still features in Coptic Christianity in Egypt, with its acknowledged ancient roots. It would be surprising if the Egyptian priests did not display the knowledge of the Tree in their ancient pantheon but there is every reason to believe they were among the earliest masters of its secret lore. The Egyptian gods fit impressively on the Tree, representing all the outermost planets in Traditional, Kabbalistic portraits. (See The Principal Egyptian Gods on The Tree of Life)

The Tree of Life is mentioned in the Egyptian Book of the Dead in very much the same terms as it appears in Genesis where it is the food of the gods which bestows life. The life of the gods is of course immortality : the resurrected soul "goeth to the great lake in the midst of the Field of Peace whereon the great gods sit; and these great and never failing gods give unto him [to eat] of the tree of life of which they themselves do eat that he likewise may live." E W Budge, Recueil de Travaux, t. vii., p. 165 (l. 430).

“And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil, and now lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever …” Genesis 3.22.

(Near) Death Experiences : Resurrection Reassurance
The modern experience of so-called ‘near death experiences’ (NDEs) provides powerful evidence of the reality behind religious visions of life after death.

Near death experiences are a familiar modern phenomenon. They often occur in hospital after patients suffer medical emergencies, usually heart attacks, in which they become ‘clinically dead’ or ‘brain dead.’ Some recount extraordinary experiences after resuscitation. Sometimes they remember watching as a disembodied spirit, generally up near the ceiling and recall everything that went on and was said while doctors and nurses tried desperately to bring them back to life. These experiences are mostly accompanied by various insights into the ‘reception’ process of death which are marked by a striking consistency. The same familiar features are recounted time and again by patients who have never heard of NDEs before.

Apart from the out of body aeronautics and the well-known ‘life review’ when one’s whole life seems to flash before one’s inner eye, there is usually the experience of going down a tunnel of some kind at the end of which is a gentle bright, white light which radiates an effulgence of love and forgiveness and that is what it implies is important in this life. One may see this light as Christ or Krishna, or more impersonally, according to one’s faith. Then there is often a barrier of some kind, which marks the point of no return between this world and the next. Quite often, too, one meets deceased friends and especially family who are welcoming and reassuring but who also generally tell one ‘your time is not yet come.’

The reason given is invariably because one’s life’s work is not yet finished – a good excuse for not putting in more overtime !  Actually it is usually your children, needing you. But some accounts suggest one’s sometimes sent back just to tell the story, spread the word !

These accounts have been repeatedly rubbished as ‘hallucinations’ because they challenge our conventional disbeliefs. Critics assume a naïve attitude by those who find these accounts convincing. Just as they assume astrologers, or ancient sages, are or were very gullible in holding beliefs which are not accepted by modern science.  As the inquiring scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, pointed out, in defence of astrology, the difference is between those who “have studied it” and those who “have not.”

The evidence of an active consciousness operating from outside the clinically dead body is overwhelming and irrefutable for those with open minds. It is these ‘out of body’ experiences which are the real clincher for NDEs. Many can be shown to provide verified evidence of what went on when they were clinically dead. Other elements of these experiences will always be open to doubt, until it’s your turn, which is a bit late. But the objective verification of the ‘out of body’ experience should persuade us to credit the accompanying components of the NDE so closely associated with it. Since it is impossible to objectively ‘prove’ these experiences by standard scientific methods, an alternative evaluation is required.

The objective evaluation method adopted by researchers in an article published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal was to assess the psychological impact of the experience. This could be described as an effective ‘reality’ test for such subjective phenomena. They found near death experiences usually had a profound effect on subjects, even when the experience had been relatively superficial. They tended to change people’s outlook on life in a positive way, making them less materialistic, more spiritual, more socially responsive and subjects entirely lost any fear of death. The fact the experience was invariably recalled in detail even eight years later was also a powerful psychological endorsement of the subjective reality of NDEs. Other forms of hallucination, vision and dream do not normally carry such a memory impact unless repeated a number of times and then only rarely have profound life consequences.

NDEs are additionally plausible because of their universal consistency, the same basic constituents being reported across all cultures; and perhaps too because they make impressive spiritual sense.

But we are human and quite naturally not as open-minded as we like to think when our most cherished beliefs, for instance in the comprehensive truth of material science, is questioned. If we cannot recognise this natural instinct to prejudice, we reject the most basic evidence of human psychology. We reject our human nature.

Those who research and record these NDE accounts are generally desperately keen to be objective and rational and exclude any evidence which is open to objection, which can be explained in some alternative way. They are acutely aware of the barrage of scathing criticism and determined to eliminate any justification for these objections which might undermine the wealth of evidence which is so impressive and unexceptionable. If only their critics adopted the same standards ! Instead, supported by the overwhelming weight of current opinion, these critics too often are quite content to offer dismissive explanations and disbelief which take no account of the evidence. Such has always been the defence of dogma. If we believe we are beyond such prejudice, so much greater the danger. More information can be found on the International Association for Near Death Studies website : www.iands.org

Near Death Experiences seem merely to confirm in dramatic fashion the age-old message : we have a spirit which leaves the body at death. This is something modern science, unsurprisingly, seems determined to reject because it fundamentally challenges the belief, the dogma, that there is nothing more than physical matter. Is it possible similar experiences informed the ancients’ understanding ?

When we consider the Resurrection of Christ, we shall find that St Paul presents a view of resurrection in the earliest years of Christianity which is simply the spirit departing the dead body. He makes it plain he believes this is the model of death common to all humanity.

Death : ‘Awakening into Day’ ?
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is sometimes subtitled ‘Awakening into Day,’ but this is now more usually translated as ‘Coming forth by Day.’ The experience of NDEs is sometimes described as ‘like waking up from the dream of life,’ and this interpretation seems to be a more meaningful translation. A quotation from the Book of the Dead suggests this may be closer to ancient Egyptian thinking. To the resurrected soul "the earth is an abomination, and he will not enter into Seb; for his soul hath burst for ever the bonds of his sleep in his house which is upon earth.” (Seb is the god of the Earth, as Hera and Gaia were for the Greeks.) The feeling of extreme reluctance of the liberated spirit to return to life on earth within the confines of a physical body is a constant refrain in NDEs.



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