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Wednesday January 26, 2005: Egyptian Myths for Non-Believers

        For people who don’t believe in gods and goddesses, there should be other ways of explaining myths. I have often wondered if all myths were based on some small particle of historic truth. I don’t think ancient people sat around inventing fanciful stories with imaginative abandonment, the way we do today. Myths were created for a definite purpose. Even if skeptics believe early man created God in his own image, the stories that evolved into myths must have begun from some natural occurrence that confused or frightened the population. Tales were created to explain the occurrences and to issue warnings -- how to appease strange and unpredictable forces of nature, how to prevent future calamities, how to best deal with the challenges of stressful times. 

        The question then becomes – what could have occurred in ancient times that would appear as the work of some unearthly power? If we’re looking at tribal memories of some event in Egypt’s pre-historic past (before recorded history), then I need to let my own imagination run wild (which I can easily do because I live in the 21st century).

        Looking again at the myth of Sekhmet and her destruction of mankind, I try to reason out what event might have occurred. I imagine a village that worships gods and goddesses of natural forces (one of the early stages of religious worship). Part of the tribe develops a more secular viewpoint: "There aren’t no dang gods out there. We make our own future."

        This talk makes the priests and the traditionists in the tribe uncomfortable. Early settlements all developed along the banks of the Nile. Rather than face continual conflict with traditionists in the settlement, the secular group sets up camp farther away from the Nile. As much as the legend says they fled into the desert, Egyptologists believe the areas that are now desert might have been more lush in pre-historic times. So, either there were areas capable of sustaining a new tribal location and the myths which evolved over time explained the relocation to areas known to later generations as the desert, or the desert existed at the time these myths came into being and these secular groups became like the Bedouins.

        The secular tribe goes about their business and even flourish for a time – long enough for the priestcraft of the Nile-based tribes to feel their own belief system threatened. If one does not worship and appease the deities of nature, the gods are supposed to become angry and bring disasters. Yet, this secular tribe continues to thrive without suffering the anger of Ra.

        Somewhere along the line, a traveler passes through the outlying village and discovers everyone dead – the entire village wiped out, its dead lying exposed in hideous contortions. Men, women and children are all killed in a manner unlike anything the traveler has ever seen before. By their appearance, these deaths were not caused by warfare, animals, or natural catastrophes. I can’t help wondering what would leave the impression that a deity had came down to earth and ripped apart bodies, drinking their blood?

        Hemorrhagic viruses might give that appearance. Perhaps a virus like Ebola spread through the village, killing everyone, leaving bodies riddled with evidence of once-bleeding wounds. These wounds would clearly not resemble anything made by man or animal. This is the moment the priests of the Nile have been waiting for -- proof of the gods’ revenge.

        The story develops that Ra could not take personal revenge and so he called up a lioness-headed goddess to kill the blasphemers. She begins killing the leaders of the secular group and moves on to killing everyone else in her path. Only the compassion of Ra and the other gods stop the goddess of destruction before she can reach god-fearing communities on the Nile. The priests create an annual festival, something the people will look forward to celebrating, while at the same time reminding the tribe of what happens when gods are not properly honored.

        Of course, this explanation of the myth is only a theory, and a wild one at that. The fact that I could instantly think of a similar myth from India makes one wonder if a single myth was carried to other lands and reinterpreted to fit different religions, or if priestcraft from widely scattered areas all had the same inner experience, interpreting those impressions based on their own cultural mores. The Indian myths of Durga and Kali bear the most similarity to Egypt’s myth of Sekhmet. Maybe we should look at those next.

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 05:17AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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