Saturday, July 6, 2013

Utterance 245: transformation into a hawk

Above is an image from Wikimedia commons of an Olmec figurine, discovered in what is now Mexico, and thought to date from the 6th century BC to as far back as the 10th century BC.  It is made of greenstone, which is a material that is notably treasured by the Maori of Aotearoa and used by them for centuries to make figurines and jewelry, as discussed in this previous post.  

This particular Olmec figurine displays features of a man, but also of a bird of prey, possibly an eagle, including a plume between two wide-spread eyes, and a beak-like mouth.  Here is a link to the page at the Metropolitan Museum of Art describing the figurine.  The discussion there notes that some scholars believe that:
such figures are representations of a shaman's transfiguration into his nahual, or powerful animal counterpart. It is believed that, in this altered state, a shaman is able to interact with the spirit world and use his abilities to heal, punish, or predict the future.
In the Pyramid Texts of ancient Egypt, the king is described as transforming into a bird of prey as well.  Scholar Jeremy Naydler has argued that the Pyramid Texts do not describe the hoped-for journey of the soul of a departed king, but rather that they describe a deliberate out-of-body journey taken by a living king.  In other words, he believes the Pyramid Texts are primarily shamanic rather than funerary.  See this previous post and this previous post for further discussion of Jeremy Naydler's important thesis.

You can visit the Pyramid Texts online through an outstanding website called the Pyramid Texts Online.  There, you can read the texts as they are laid out in the pyramid of Unas, last king of the Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, whose reign ended circa 2345 BC.  On the south wall of the passageway between the sarcophagus chamber and the antechamber, you can find Utterance 245, in which Unas is transformed into a hawk:
This Unas comes to you, O Nut,
this Unas comes to you, O Nut!
He has thrown his father down to earth
he has left a Horus behind him.
His two wings have grown as those of a hawk,
(his) two feathers (are those) of a holy hawk.
His soul has brought him (here),
his magical power has adorned him.

May you open your place in heaven amongst the stars of heaven!
You are indeed the unique star, the comrade of Hu.
May you look down on Osiris, when he gives orders to the spirits!
You stand high up, far from him.
You are not of them, you shall not be of them.