Miscellaneous Myths: The Journey Of Ra

A funny thing about mythology is that by necessity, Its stories exist exclusively in the past. A modern mythology for a living culture isn’t called a mythology, It’s called a religion, or a tradition, or a belief system. Mythologies are historical. Creation myths for example, Explicitly kick off how the world began and most hero stories by necessity talk about how a hero lived and died in the past. Past tense myths are convenient for us because the mythos to us already exists in the past. So we can just think of their myths as having taken place in some faraway time and place. Some mythologies Also have future myths like Ragnarok that are expected to take place in some nebulous, future timeframe. And those are fine too because we can just think of them as happening eventually. But some mythologies confuse matters by having continuing or cyclic myths that don’t end in the past but continue into the present. This makes things a little complicated because the mythos is past tense But the myth itself is present or future tense so when exactly we’re supposed to think about it happening, gets a little confused. What do you do when a mythology has a concept of eternity that outlives the mythology itself? Aside from adapting it into nifty urban fantasy premises of course. Now for an example of a mythology with a concept of practical eternity, Ancient Egypt actually had two of them named Renpet and Heh where Renpet was a female goddess of the yearly cycle And Heh or Hauhet was an ambiguously gendered representation of infinity itself. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a culture So strongly dependent on yearly cycles of river flooding, Ancient Egypt had a lot of cyclic themes. But the most well-known one is probably the journey of Ra. Now Ra is the Ancient Egyptian Sun God or rather, a Sun God because there are kind of a lot of ’em. For a quick rundown of some of the other contenders for the title, Aten was the sun disc whose worship outpaced Ra’s under the rule of Akhenaten. Amun wasn’t a Sun God until he got fused with Ra into being Amun-Ra and Horus was usually just a sky god but on occasion would be fused with Ra too. Ancient Egypt really like remixing their gods for some reason. But the main Sun God, and the one that basically everyone except Akhenaten agreed was a Sun God was Ra. Now We’ve talked about Ra once before, when he took out his eye to create the vengeful war goddess, Sekhmet, and subsequently retired to his barque forever. This myth could be considered the sequel to that little misadventure as it outlines what exactly Ra does in that sun barque all day every day. Or rather every night because we know what he does during the day. He’s busy being the Sun after all. So Ra’s sun barque sails across the sky through a river that loops through the sky and underworld. The notion being that it’s one of two rivers, the other one being the Nile.The points where the river intersects with the horizon are the mountains Baku in the east and Manu in the West. They also do double duty holding up the sky. Fun fact, the hieroglyph for horizon specifically refers to the parts of horizon that the sun passes through, the gates of Ra. Anyway, so in the course of a single day, Ra sails through 24 kingdoms. Each one a different hour with different rules and rulers. During the day, Ra travels through the twelve kingdoms of the day, each of which he rules. It’s pretty uneventful. But things start to get interesting as Ra approaches Manu and the first of the gates of night. The sacred apes that live on Manu go nuts and mourn the death of Ra because by the way he’s dead now. The barque passes through the gates as the sun sets and that’s where the fun begins. So the barque gets picked up by twelve goddesses of the night who start towing it along. Each night goddess is specifically equipped to handle the challenges of one of the twelve kingdoms of the night, and they’re fairly important for reasons that will become clear at approximately 1am. So the first kingdom of night is called the Watercourse of Ra, and not a whole lot happens here. It’s kinda dark, but conveniently illuminated by a squad of fire-breathing snakes. The wolf headed war god Wepwawet/Upuaut, guides the boat and Sia (read: Sah), the first night goddess, guards the boat from anything that might try and interfere. That takes Ra through the first hour of night and into the second where the barque passes through a huge spiky gate guarded by three huge poison breathing snakes. This is where Sia taps out and the second goddess of night taps in, opening the gate and telling the snakes to chill out for a second by invoking their real names. This kingdom of night is called ur-nes or more specifically Ouranos, and it’s actually kind of a party. This is the part of the underworld where dead kings live. Along with the gods Bes, Nepra, and Tepu-yn so things are pretty sweet here. What with all the snakes and spikes and such it’s basically the afterlife equivalent of a fancy suburban gated community. Another gate, another snake, another goddess and it’s on to the third kingdom of night, affectionately nicknamed the Watercourse of the Only God because this is where Osiris lives. This is where Osiris does all the dead people judging stuff, with the help of four of Horus’s sons, each of whom is in charge of protecting a different set of organs. And if they look or sound familiar it’s because these are the dudes whose heads are on all those canopic jars. Symbolism. Moving on to the fourth kingdom of night we’ve got Living One of Forms, which is also part of Osiris’s domain, but beyond that it’s pretty miserable. There’s nothing around but a metric buttload of, take a guess, multi-headed snakes. And also the river disappears and turns into a ravine, charmingly called the Mouth of the Tomb. So in the absence of any water to sail through, the fourth night goddess transforms the barque into, no points for guessing on this one, a giant snake, yup, which carries them through the fourth hour of night. The fifth hour is just called Hidden, and it’s at the bottom of the huge ravine from kingdom four. This kingdom is ruled by Seker, a mummified falcon god whose job it is to punish people by dunking them in a boiling lake. There’s also a couple sphinxes and, you guessed it, more snakes! The far wall of the canyon is charmingly named, The Realm of Night and Darkness. But despite the ominous title, something good actually lives there – Khepri, a little scarab beetle with a big job we’ll talk about in more detail later. So Khepri buzzes in and lands on the still dead Ra, and the boat sails on. Kingdom number six, The Abyss of Waters, is another Osiris place. This one in his capacity as a fertility god. The river’s back, the boat is a boat again, and shockingly this part is actually devoid of snakes! Anyway, hour six is also really… mysterious. There’s a bunch of unknown gods on the banks of the river and there’s a huge lion for some reason and three shrines we’re not supposed to know the purpose for and it’s just really arcane. Anyway, if you were disappointed by the lack of snakes in hour six, don’t worry, hour seven, The Secret Cavern, has snakes for days. This is where the ludicrously giant serpent Apophis lives and Apophis is noteworthy because he makes it his personal life goal to eat Ra and consequently end the world. But luckily for everyone, the goddess Isis is ready on the barque with some nifty magic to summon a different giant snake named Mehen to fight Apophis. Selket and Horus dive off the boat to fight Apophis, too so he’ll be sufficiently weakened that Isis’s magic will be able to seal him away for another night. With that party over, it’s on to hour eight, the Sarcophagus of the Gods, where dead gods call out to Ra from the banks of the river. The boat is escorted by four rams, which apparently collectively represent Tatenen, a genderless primordial earth god. By the way if you’re noticing how many Egyptian gods are genderless, I don’t actually know why this is, but among other things, a lot of Gods, especially minor ones, explicitly have two variants of their name. One male and one female and will be referenced in either capacity. For example, Bes and Nepra, the gods I mentioned earlier that live in the second kingdom of night, also have feminine counterparts Besset and Nepet. So that’s neat. Anyway, we’re in the homestretch when we reach hour nine, The Procession of Images, a bright and cheerful land where the dead go to receive offerings from the living. Hour 10 is similarly pleasant, called Abyss of Waters Lofty of Banks where the residents come down to the river to greet the barque. And hey we got more snakes again! The Morningstar, a two-headed snake with legs, guides the boat and also this is the hour when the scarab of Khepri merges with Ra and brings him back to life. A lot happens at 4 a.m, basically. Hour 11, the Mouth of the Cavern, is a bit of a return to underworld form in that it’s rather less cheery than hours 9 or 10. The boat is towed onward by, 3, 2, 1, a snake! And the whole area is red-lit and kind of dismal because this is where especially bad people are tormented in fire pits by monstrous fire-breathing goddesses. Anyone who’s had to be awake at 5 a.m. can confirm. And finally hour 12, the extravagantly named Darkness has Fallen And Births Shine Forth, is where dawn finally breaks. Ra’s not resurrected so much as he is reborn, as Khperi, who is basically an aspect of Ra specifically in his capacity as the rising sun. And in case you were wondering, yes there is a snake here. His name is Life of the Gods and his body actually is the 12th kingdom of night. To end his nightly journey, Ra sails out of the Serpent’s mouth and into a brand-new snakey day. Love of mine, Someday you will die, But I’ll be close behind. I’ll follow you into the dark. No blinding light, tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight Waiting for the hint of a spark If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied illuminate the “no”s, on their vacancy signs If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks Then I’ll follow you into the dark In Catholic school, as vicious as Roman rule, I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black And I held my tongue as she told me son Fear is the heart of love so I never Went back If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied, Illuminate the “no”s on their vacancy signs If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks, Then I’ll follow you into the dark If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied, Illuminate the “no”s on their vacancy signs If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks Then I’ll follow you into the dark I’ll follow you into the dark
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Chrp-H-Jk4

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