Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

Orion rising on the eastern horizon (left), crossing the center of the southern sky (center, directly over the letter "S"), and sinking down into the west (right). (Click to enlarge). Planetarium app:

In the previous post, we took what appeared to be a quick break from the discussion in the preceding posts regarding one of the central foundational themes of all the world's ancient myths: the dual physical-spiritual nature of human existence and indeed the dual physical-spiritual nature of the world / universe / cosmos in which we find ourselves, embodied in the great annual cross of the solstices and equinoxes, and in the "casting down" and "raising-up" of the Djed column of Osiris in ancient Egyptian symbology.

Previous posts explored evidence of that cycle operating in the Easter cycle in the New Testament, beginning with the scenes of the Triumphal Entry, followed by the descent that takes place beginning with the Last Supper through the Crucifixion and ultimately the Resurrection or Anastasis (a word which literally means "standing again"). 

Included in the examination was a video entitled "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul" which attempts to illustrate some of the connections between the celestial mechanics involved in this worldwide mythological metaphor and the spiritual message that I believe it was intended to convey.

During that extended discussion, the assertion was made that this great foundational cycle was intended not only to explain important aspects of the "big picture" of our incarnation in this body (throwing light on central issues concerned with "the very meaning of life," if you will), but also to illuminate the importance of connecting with this cycle within the "shorter cycles" of our life here in this incarnate existence -- in fact, something we can and perhaps should be connecting with every single day, and maybe even throughout our waking and sleeping travels within each day!

One way that ancient sacred traditions around the world reminded themselves of the reality and immediacy of the invisible, divine, spiritual world that is present at all times in every single being and that in fact infuses and animates everything within the visible universe was certainly through the practice of what Mircea Eliade called "techniques of ecstasy" and which other researchers including Gerald Massey called "trance conditions" -- the practice of actually making contact with or entering into the invisible world, of projecting one's consciousness into the other realm. 

There is plenty of evidence that the scriptures that made their way into what we call "The Bible" are no exception (see for instance the previous post entitled "The Bible is essentially shamanic").

And, it is certainly possible to practice such techniques on a regular basis -- even every day. I initially began a "mini-series" exploring some of the methods which cultures around the world have used to enter into such a state, entitled "Ecstasy every day." However, it is not really practical to remain in such a state at all times. Therefore, I have decided that it is actually more appropriate to make a distinction between the concept of what can be called "raising the Djed" (of recognizing and remembering and elevating and evoking the spiritual aspect in ourselves and the world around us) and the practice of entering into "trance" or "ecstasy" itself (which is, in some sense, temporarily "crossing over" the condition of stasis into the realm of the spiritual to a greater or lesser degree). 

Both are important, but it may be that the condition of "ecstasy" is a special form of "raising the Djed," and that the broader concept of raising the Djed can be practiced more often -- even "all the time," while entering into a trance or ecstatic state cannot.

Therefore, I've decided to re-imagine that "Ecstasy every day" title to be a little more "broad" and examine "the Djed every day" instead. The first installment of that examination touched on the practice of qigong (or chi gung).

After that first installment, we took what seemed at the time to be a "quick detour" to explore the wonderful perspectives offered by The Lord of the Rings and the music of The Lord of the Rings. 

But as it turns out, upon further reflection, it wasn't a detour at all, because it can be satisfactorily demonstrated that the same fundamental theme is absolutely operating within Tolkien's story, on multiple levels -- which is not surprising, given the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien himself had a deep connection to ancient myth and was one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world on certain families of mythology during his lifetime.

In fact, Tolkien's work provides a beautiful window which leads right in to the discussion of the vital importance of the Djed concept.

As some readers are already aware, the Djed column in ancient Egypt was associated with the god Osiris: it was known as the "backbone of Osiris" and the symbol of the Djed column itself was usually depicted with horizontal segments resembling "vertebrae" in a backbone (see for instance the images of the Djed from the Papyrus of Ani discussed here). 

In some ancient Egyptian art portraying episodes from the story of the murder of Osiris by Set and the recovery of the tamarisk tree containing his casket by Isis, such as the imagery discussed in this previous post, the tree with the casket is depicted as a Djed. The Djed column, in other words, was understood as a symbol of Osiris.

Readers are probably also aware that Osiris was strongly associated with the constellation Orion -- the constellation in the night sky with the highest ratio of bright stars to total stars, and one of the most-recognizable figures in the heavens, making it a fitting representation of the "lord of the underworld," if the heavenly realm is seen as a symbol of the incorporeal realms. The glorious nearby star Sirius, the brightest of all the fixed stars, was associated with Isis.

Once we understand that the Djed is symbolically associated with Osiris, and that Osiris is associated with Orion, then we can more readily understand that the motion of the constellation Orion itself illustrates the great theme of the casting down and the raising back up of the Djed. 

In his nightly motion, Orion can be seen rising in the east and tracing an arc across the sky prior to sinking back down into the west, just as the sun does during the day. During different times of year, of course, Orion rises at a different time due to the progress of the earth in its orbit, which means that at some parts of the year he is already far across the sky by the time the sun goes down (as he is now), but just considering his motion in general we can see how he embodies the casting down and the raising up of the Djed.

When Orion is first rising on the horizon, he appears in a nearly horizontal position, as can be seen in the image at the top of this post (in which the view is from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about latitude 35 north, similar to the latitude of Egypt and the Mediterranean, and looking towards the south, with due south in the center, the eastern horizon to the left, and the western horizon to the right). As he arcs upwards into the heavens he becomes vertical. Then, as he sinks back down towards the western horizon he becomes horizontal again.

In the image above, the stars of Orion are shown in all three locations: rising in the east, vertical in the center of the sky at the high point of their arc across the heavens, and then sinking down into the west and becoming horizontal again. Readers who are able can go out this very evening after sunset and see the stars of Orion with his distinctive three-star belt sinking down towards the west.

Below, the same image is reproduced, but this time imagery of Osiris has been added, illustrating the way that the stars of Orion himself portray the "casting down" of the Djed (particularly as Orion sinks down into the west) as well as the subsequent "raising back up" (or Anastasis) of the god -- and a vertical Djed column is depicted directly above Orion's head in the central position:

To add further support, if any is needed, to the argument that the nightly motion of Orion was anciently associated with the casting-down of Osiris and the Djed and with the subsequent raising back up of the same, there are many examples of sacred art in ancient Egypt which actually depicts Osiris lying "cast down" on his funeral bier in the same striding posture that typifies the stars of Orion -- see for example here.

Since no one can, as a practical matter, stride around anywhere while lying upon a bier, and since the ancient Egyptians obviously knew that just as well as we do, the fact that they sometimes depicted Osiris in a horizontal position but with his feet apart as if walking purposefully forward is a major clue that these drawings depict the constellation Orion as he looks when he is near either of the two horizons: horizontal rather than upright, but still in the characteristic "striding" posture that Orion always has, whether he is straight up or lying down.

Below is one more set of images I've prepared in order to illustrate the identification of Orion with the celestial Osiris, and with the casting down and raising up of the Djed.

First, a closer "zoom" of the constellation as it appears on the horizon, to show that Orion really does look "horizontal" when he is near the horizons (the images above de-emphasize this fact, because of the fact that they "wrap" the horizon like a planetarium, and so the horizon itself on the left edge and right edge or east and west of the image, as well as constellations parallel to the horizons on the left and right sides of the images above, appear more "vertical" and upright in those images than they do along the actual horizon outside):

In the above image, you can see that Orion really does look as if he is lying on his funeral bier when he is located at the eastern horizon (rising), and the same is true after he crosses the sky and begins to sink back down into the western horizon (setting).

If we superimpose the outline of the "striding Osiris" on a bier as he is depicted in the Dendera Temple relief linked previously, we can see how this celestial figure represents the Djed of Osiris "cast down" (but preparing to rise again):

Below is another version of the "Orion in three positions" crossing the night sky, this time with the horizons left more "flat" (without the "planetarium wrapping effect"):

(Click to enlarge).
And one more time, with the outlines of Osiris added, to assist in locating the constellation Orion for those less familiar, as well as to illustrate the way Orion's motion embodies the "Djed cast down" and "Djed raised back up."

Now, to bring in the Tolkien connection to this subject, we must delve into the mythological traditions discussed by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in their landmark examination of the celestial foundations of the world's myths, Hamlet's Mill (first published in 1969). There, they cite previous generations of scholars who demonstrate that the myths upon which Shakespeare's Hamlet are based, in which a king is murdered by his brother and must be avenged by his son, existed in northern Europe going back many centuries before Shakespeare, and that in the 12th century version discussed by Saxo Grammaticus, Hamlet's father's name is Horwendil. This same mythical figure also appears in the Eddas and in other myths, under names that are vary slightly but can clearly be seen to be linguistically related, as Orwandel, Orendel, Erentel, Erendel, Horvandillus, Horwendil, Oervandill, Orvandil, and Aurvadil (see Hamlet's Mill pages 12, 87, 95, 155, and especially Appendix 2; an online version of the text is available here).

But the mythological pattern of the Hamlet myth goes back even further, as de Santillana and von Dechend demonstrate: in fact, it is clearly the exact same pattern as the Osiris myth, in which the rightful king  (Osiris) is killed by his malevolent brother (Set) and must be avenged by his son (Horus). Von Dechend and de Santillana demonstrate convincingly (with citations and references to numerous scholars of previous generations) that Orvandil the father of Hamlet represents a manifestation in mythology of the mighty archer in the sky, Orion, in the same way that Osiris does in the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt.

And, as some readers have perhaps already deduced, the name of this lost father of Hamlet -- Orvandil or Erendel -- is very close to the name of Earendil in the saga of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, there is abundant evidence that Tolkien imported this name directly from Old English, where it is found in a poem by Cynewulf, and a poem that Tolkien the premier scholar of Old English had commented upon as a personal favorite as early as 1913, forty years before the publication of the Ring story.

Specifically, Earendil is the spelling that Tolkien used for the very similar name Earendel, which is found in line 104 of Cynewulf's Christ part I (it is a poem which, like The Lord of the Rings itself, is broken into three parts). You can see it for yourself in the Old English on page 5 of the "poem" portion (after the lengthy "Introduction" portion) of this online version of Cynewulf's poem, which is actually page 115 of the online file (use the "slider" at the bottom of the "two-up" version and go to page 114 out of 421, which shows you pages 114 and 115 of the file). 

There, we read:
104 Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast 
105 Ofer middengeard monnum sended
which is translated in Hamlet's Mill as follows:
"Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels, thou
sent unto men upon this Middle Earth . . ." (355).
and which is actually part of an extended section of the poem praising the Christ using many epithets. What is most interesting is that the Old English poet Cynewulf (who lived in either the 8th, 9th, or 10th century AD, depending on which scholarly argument you accept) is here clearly associating the Christ with the celestial figure of Orion, whether Cynewulf knew it or not (and one should not assume that poets of previous centuries knew less about these esoteric subjects than is known today -- in all likelihood, they knew much more).

Cynewulf is thus associating the Christ with a figure who is cast down and who rises again, and we have already seen from previous discussions, including some of those linked in the second paragraph from the start of this essay, that the Christ of the New Testament can be shown to have very clear Osirian parallels.

That Earendel in the poem is also a starry figure is fairly clear from the context -- and in fact this portion of the poem is translated by Charles W. Kennedy on the top of page 4 of the year 2000 translation available online here in unmistakably celestial terms, as follows:
Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man throughout the earth, and Thou steadfast splendor of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season.
In The Lord of the Rings, Earendil is the ancient High Elven king who carried the light of the morning star on his brow to Middle Earth in the high and far-off times. This star is the most beloved star of the Elves, and a portion of its light is given to Frodo to help him in his quest, in the Phial of Galadriel. 

Earendil is also the father of Elrond the Half-Elven, which is extremely intriguing, and makes Elrond something of a Hamlet figure. And indeed, in the story, Elrond is a figure who is often shown as somewhat conflicted, able to see the future but in a way that nearly drives him to despair. He is also shown as bringing his daughter to tears by his harsh words, in much the same way that Hamlet in the Hamlet story drives Ophelia to tears (and worse).

Eventually, Elrond declares that the time of his people is over, and they must disappear into the west (which is exactly what Orion the celestial Earendil does as he sinks down into the western horizon).

So, we see that The Lord of the Rings appears to contain a reflection of the great Osirian cycle of the god who comes down to dwell among humanity (Osiris and other Osirian figures throughout mythology including Saturn, Prometheus, Quetzlcoatl, Kon-Tiki, and others are usually benevolent, civilizing figures credited with teaching men and women how to cultivate grain and in some cases how to stop eating one another) and who then disappears, often into the sea or into a cave beneath the ocean.

And, as has been argued in numerous previous posts, this moving story -- which is found in various forms in myths literally around the globe -- has an incredibly hopeful and uplifting message for us as human beings, in that it speaks not only of our "casting down" but also of our eventual "standing up again," and that it also conveys to us the message that within this life we should be going about the business of remembering who we are, and of recognizing that the visible and physical and material realities with which we are daily confronted are not the only reality or even the highest reality, that there is an invisible and spiritual reality within each and every one of us and that in fact interpenetrates every single molecule and sub-atomic particle of the universe around us, and that we can and should be actively engaged in "raising up" and bringing forward that positive spiritual reality within ourselves and within the rest of creation.

There are many, many ways that we can do this every day -- some of which involve the ecstatic state, and others which may not.

Previous posts have mentioned the practice of blessing and not cursing, the practice of aligning with and not contending with the flow of the universe (or the Tao), the practice of nonviolence on the many levels upon which that concept can be applied, and many more which each can be incorporated into daily life -- all of them related to the concept of "raising back up" as opposed to "casting down" (as opposed, that is, to degrading, debasing, objectifying, cursing, dehumanizing, and brutalizing).

Clearly, Tolkien was aware of this concept on some very deep level, and incorporated it into his beloved literary masterpiece.

Perhaps seeing these connections will cast additional light on the subject for all of us, and help us as well, in our own journey through this Middle Earth.


Below is a short video I made showing the path of Orion across the sky and the connection to Osiris and the Djed, as a supplement to the illustrations included in this post. 

Also, here is a link to a previous post from all the way back in 2011 that discusses Tolkien, Orion, and Earendil.