The Jackal Shaman and I meet at the crossroads once again. In my hands is an offering relating to an important archetype. One deeply connected to the ancient Egyptian creator deity Ptah. My recent offerings have been rather light-hearted, providing relief and laughter. Not so on this occasion. I feel the need to revisit old haunts for quiet reflection. My visits to the shores of Khem have been rather infrequent and this opportunity presented itself. Currents of the subconscious move in unfathomable ways, sometimes I have to just go with the flow where these posts are concerned. As for a conversation with the Jackal Shaman, these are infrequent but meaningful when they occur. He usually turns up when there are changes afoot.
The primary theme of this discourse is the Apis Bull but it may be useful to gain an insight into the lineage of this archetype. The bull has been viewed as a symbol of virility, fertility, strength and chthonic power from early times. The spilling of its blood in rites such as the Taurobolium and Mithraic Mysteries were thought to bring blessings of purification, good health and regeneration in their wake. We encounter the bull’s darker symbolism in the myth of the Minotaur lurking within the labyrinth and bullfights in modern times. J E Cirlot, suggests the bull may have been a lunar symbol due to the shape of its horns representing the crescent moon. Mircea Eliade posited a connection between bulls and thunderbolts with sky deities. Black bulls were thought to be connected with death.
The bull’s ancestor the aurochs (Bos primigenius) and various subspecies had a range that stretched across Europe, large regions of Asia and North Africa. Bos acutifrons Lydekker, 1898, ancestor of all later species flourished in India in mid-Pleistocene times and over the course of this era aurochs spread outwards. Extinction occurred through loss of habitat and over-hunting, the last aurochs surviving in Poland until 1627.
As for the physical attributes of the aurochs, scientists have estimated the shoulder height of a bull to be between 160 – 180 cm and about 150 cm for the cow. The coat of the bull was black-brown and reddish brown for the cow. Both probably had a light area around the snout. Their horns were forward pointing and curved inwards, with variations in length, thickness, etc.
Its worship in ancient times stretched across the Mediterranean, Britain, Egypt, India, and the Near East. This list is not exhaustive of course and a fuller exposition is not within the remit of this article. Although special mention must be made of neolithic Çatalhöyük (“forked mound”), located south east of Konya, Turkey. The site consists of a main mound and west mound and was first identified by James Mellaart in 1958 and excavated by him between 1961–65. Excavations were restarted in 1993. The main mound covers an area of 14 hectares, a sizeable area!
Çatalhöyük was thought to have been established around 7400 BCE and occupied until 6000 BCE. Our attention is drawn to the discovery of mud-brick and plaster buildings dating from 6500 BCE; in which remarkable shrines had been unearthed showing bull veneration, vulture cults and depictions of a mother goddess. We must ask ourselves why such symbols have endured over huge tracts of time and embedded themselves deeply within our psyche. Life and death entwined in an eternal cycle.
Theriomorphs played an important part in religious worship throughout Egypt’s history. They were entities set apart from others of their species by virtue of special traits and markings, vehicles in which gods and spirits indwelled. Bull cults in particular were an important aspect of early dynastic Egypt, being primarily a royal symbol. The Pharaoh was called “Bull of his Mother” and linked with Hap (Egyptian) or Apis (Greek) who was the living manifestation of the creator god of Memphis, Ptah. The Palermo Stone attests to the antiquity of the worship of Apis soon after the establishment of the Egyptian state. The animal was known as the “blessed soul” or “deputy” of Ptah and was an intermediary between humanity and the creator. Such was the importance of the relationship between the two that the king rang alongside the Apis Bull in a ceremony called the Ritual of Running of the Apis (pHrr Hp). This was performed to symbolically fertilise the land and affirm their fitness to rule. The link continues into the afterlife, as the phallus of Apis was believed to be instrumental in helping the pharaoh ascend to the heavens.
At this juncture it may be useful to shed light on the nature of Memphite theology, The worship of Ptah was quite ancient, the god becoming established in Memphis once Menes had made it the country’s capital. It was highly mystical and philosophical in nature, the like of which was never to be seen again in ancient Egyptian religion. These concepts were in existence long before monotheism took root. Ptah created the other gods through thought, Horus the Elder acted as his heart or mind and Thoth as his tongue. The creator god was seen as the Eternal Heart or Mind and self-created. Budge elaborates further on how this deity was viewed by his priesthood, which will strike a chord with many:
“…self-created, self existent, without beginning and eternal. He was the Mind of the Universe, the Cause of Causes, whose thoughts had produced every material thing and being in heaven, earth and the underworld…Light was an emanation from his heart, his influence pervaded all Nature through his breath of life every creature lived, and almighty power resided in the Word of his Mouth”.
What of the “blessed soul” of Ptah? His birth and life were extraordinary events. The Bull was conceived through the action of lightning striking his mother, who was unable to bear another calf. The Apis bull was black in colour and distinguished by special markings consisting of:
– a white diamond shape on his forehead.
– the shape of an eagle on his back.
– double the number of hairs in the tail.
– the shape of a scarab beetle under his tongue.
At any one time there was only one Apis bull, who once found was installed in luxury quarters to the south of the Temple of Ptah in Memphis, being consulted as oracle and venerated for the rest of his life. His life span was abut 14 years and upon his death was embalmed and buried with full honours, interred within a stone sarcophagus (weighing 70 tones) in the Serapeum, Saqqara. After death the Apis was identified with Osiris. In later times the two gods were merged to become Serapis. By then the true essence of ancient Egypt had moved back into the shadows, still intact and waiting.
Jackal Shaman, its time has come. Is my offering worthy?