White Rabbit looks into the distance, deep in thought. The Jackal Shaman and I watch him. Rather than break the silence we converse in signs and symbols. You may well ask how that’s achieved. Pens and pieces of card. Neither mystical nor magical. Or is it? Ancient sigils imbued with mystery and knowledge, they open gates that are closely guarded. Those giving access to our secret selves, our subconscious, our memories.
White Rabbit turns round and mutters, do you know one aspect of magical Taoism is to guide the soul of the dead to the underworld? This is based upon the belief that the soul can get lost if it isn’t accompanied to the right place. A situation that can be dangerous; as the region between the living and the underworld is inhabited by malevolent spirits, demons and ghouls. Their prey is the soul of the dead, who is allotted forty-nine days to reach the underworld. If this isn’t achieved, then all is lost and they join the ranks of these predators. The Sorcerer’s task is to ensure the soul is safely guided through this dangerous terrain. Much like Anpu and Hermes.
The Jackal Shaman tries to hide a smile, White Rabbit does the same. Are they co-conspirators? This is an unexpected aside from the little Trickster. I gradually edge away and give a sympathetic look. ‘Humour them and then run’ my mind urges me. Too late. I trip over a snake, a very large snake. Mehen or Apep? The imagination is playing games with me. This place is one of illusions and trickery. As the Underworld can be. Point taken. What awaits us in the Hall of Ma’at for the second stage of the journey? Weighing of the Heart ritual. It’s more than a judgement of the soul, it’s a transfiguration of the Self.
The three of us gaze across the waters at the mainland. On the shore stands a male, the skin of a leopard draped across his shoulders. What’s a Sem priest doing here?
The Jackal Shaman comments quietly, he is the third companion. Our friend the Hare will remain here on the island.
Our boat makes its ways across the lake slowly. Sky and water appear undifferentiated. Time flows as a mountain stream, singing a song of gaiety and potential. We bathe in its crystal purity. His Nibs and I became one and the same. Our timelines meet at this point, as does that of the Sem priest. We finally disembark, a strange sensation. Priest and god greet each other. A feeling of shyness suddenly hits me. Standing in the presence of such beings brings with it a sense of humility and wonder. I gladly grab their outstretched hands, for it is courage and protection that is needed at this time.
Lush green foliage stretches into the horizon and beyond, an unfamiliar scene where the land of Khem is concerned. It soon fades to reveal the familiar mound in the distance. A great body of water surrounds the mound now and necessitates the use of a boat to reach it. Faint shapes can be glimpsed in the water, silent in their movements. The sky and water are again undifferentiated, both mercury grey in colour. The simplicity of the mud and reed hut hides a great power, that’s quite evident. Its presence in this place between the worlds is a rare event. Alas, our passage across the water is brief. My feelings are mixed regarding the coming event.
We enter through the small doorway in a position of humility. The dim interior pulses with an electric energy, tiny blue sparks of light appear and disappear periodically. The small pottery lamps hold the light steadily. The doorway opposite the main entrance beckons. The presences in this hut emerge out of the gloom. Figures clothed in hooded robes of skin. Bright eyes stare intently at me and then at my companions. It appears they’re quite familiar with each other. No one moves, I wonder what’s happening at this very moment. Then, the atmosphere changes. Time to move forward and downwards.
Dear Reader, please remember that I’m only a witness to the mysteries to be enacted in the Hall of Ma’at; a huge hall filled with numerous pillars. Forty-two precisely, twenty-one lining either side. Light streams down from small apertures in the ceiling. The scent of incense only increases the sense of power and numinosity in the space. Forty-two Assessors sit in front of the pillars, Aser (Osiris) is upon his throne at the end of the hall. Aset (Isis) and Nebthet (Nephthys) stand on either side. In the middle of the hall stands a gigantic pair of scales, its two pans empty. They wait on the feather of Ma’at and, the heart of the one to be assessed and judged. There are others, Anpu, Djehuty and the Devourer of Hearts, Am-mut. The demon throws the Sem priest and I a sidelong glance. Its form isn’t fully substantial, that’ll come with the emergence of the heart to be weighed.
I close my eyes and sense the inner lines of power running through the Hall. The Sem priest joins me in this endeavour. We walk in each other’s steps, shadows of one and the other. The heart of the one to be assessed materialises on one pan of the scales and then the feather of Ma’at on the other. I open my eyes and see that the heart is in fact the deceased’s twin and the feather, Ma’at in her human form. As for Am-mut, it’s the (Jungian) Shadow of the deceased in all its intense anger and unfulfilled promise. Hungry, hungry Shadow. The litany of the Negative Confession begins in front of Aser and the Assessors. This occurs on the first level of consciousness, with the weighing of the heart on the second. The two events flow in and out of each other. Mingling, bringing knowledge and emotion. It brings into awareness self insight and responsibility (or its lack) for the deceased. For this is the moment it surveys the history of its existence and acts. Will the telling of its tale satisfy the Assessors and ultimately Aser? It does not and the Shadow consumes what’s left.
This drama plays out many times, the face of the one to be judged is different on each occasion. Some succeed and others don’t. It feels as if I’ve spent an eternity in this place. The Sem priest lays a hand on my shoulder, giving me hope and strength. I look at him. His eyes reflect the mysteries of the Duat and the ‘Imperishable Stars.’ I’ve looked into his soul. Where to now moving on from the Heart of the World?
The judgment is over and Aser beckons the one who’s been judged to be ‘true of voice and justified.’ I watch them walk the length of the Hall, all is silent. Aser looks across at me, for we’ve met before but I wasn’t ready for what he was offering. Let’s just say it was a case of ‘casting pearls before swine.’ Time and experience has changed all that, I hope! It’s time to go back, this part of the ritual isn’t one I’m allowed to give voice to. We step back into the shadows and make our way back through the corridor, hut and cross a liminal threshold back to our little island.
The Sem priest bids us farewell on the shore. I’m intrigued to know more but this isn’t the time or place to further the acquaintance. My Jackal Shaman, how possessive I sound, my Jackal Shaman exchanges brief words with his priest and takes my hand. I squeeze it tightly. Time to go home. White Rabbit, Anpu and I are reunited. So much to take in, how can one articulate the experiences of the Soul in a way that’s understandable? I glance at my feet, still encased in furry slippers and solidly present in the here and now.