There can be little doubt that our twenty-first century civilization is facing economic, ecological and spiritual meltdown. In this intriguing new book, Lucy Wyatt takes a highly original and relevant look at just what we can do to reverse this very real and potentially disastrous situation. After studying International Relations and Italian at University, Lucy Wyatt went on to work for the National Economic Development Office, then in commercial design and marketing within Sir Terence Conran’s empire and followed this by editing a business magazine for a firm of City of London stockbrokers. Lucy Wyatt comes from an illustrious family of mathematicians, architects and writers and herself has a life-long fascination for the ancient past and the political and economic realities of the ‘bigger picture’. She lives with her family on an eco-farm in Suffolk, where she puts much of what she has learnt from her research into practice. Approaching Chaos is her first book.
Please join us in welcoming Lucy Wyatt as November 2010 Author of the Month! And, please remember to weigh in with your thoughts, facts and opinions at the AoM Message Boards.
Megaliths, Shamen & the City Builders – the hidden connections
We all share certain assumptions about the ancient past. There are many commonly held presumptions about megaliths, shamen and city builders. What I want to do in this article is challenge those presumptions; as well as explain what the hidden connections are and why they are hidden. What I am going to do is describe a brief overview of civilisation that goes right back to the end of the Ice Age and so give an alternative interpretation of how living in cities came about – in particular, by exploring the links between megaliths, shamen and city builders. This article is based on research from my book ‘Approaching Chaos’.
The first point to make is that we do not normally link megaliths and shamen with city builders. Indeed, there are no ancient cities associated with well-known megalithic sites in the UK such as Avebury or Stonehenge. If you mention “megalith” to anyone, Avebury or Stonehenge are normally the images that spring to mind; and if you say “shamen” then people think of Peruvian medicine men in the jungle or Mongolians in smoke-filled yurts. Much of what we talk about in the West when we talk about our ancient pagan ‘primitive’ past refers to Nature and nature spirits; sacred groves of oak trees; landscape temples and zodiacs in the landscape; energy lines, rocks and springs. We think of Druids; we think of Stonehenge. It is all wild, elemental and powerful.
We do not think of pharaohs, nor do we think of places like Washington DC – and yet they are all linked.
One reason why we do not make these associations is because of a certain group of people known to us as the Romans. The Romans, along with the Greeks, as the most powerful of all the Indo-European tribes, continue to dominate us in the West. So much of what we understand about the ancient past is mediated through these people: it is filtered through their mindsets, their way of thinking; because we have inherited their languages. As well as giving us our access to the past – because we can learn about life 2,000 years ago by reading the material they left behind -, they also form a barrier.
This may sound bizarre, but the Greeks and Romans themselves did not understand everything about the times they were living in. In fact, they were quite capable of getting it wrong. More particularly, they did not fully understand another group of people we call ‘the Egyptians’ – in spite of living with them for several hundreds of years.
The Greeks of all the Indo-European tribes were those who were closest to the Egyptians and it is mostly through the Greeks that we know as much as we do about ancient Egypt. After the end of the C4th AD even that possibility disappeared and we lost all ability read hieroglyphs. And then so much about Egypt remained mysterious, a closed book.
So what are these connections that have remained hidden for so long?
The Ice Age
[Figure: The Ice Age map, reproduced courtesy of Prof Bryan Sykes, ‘The Seven Daughters of Eve’, Corgi books, 2001]
To answer that question I want to go right back, back to the beginning as it were; back to the end of the Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago (the dashed line on this map represents the extent of the ice; the other line, the lower sea levels – you can read about the clans in my book). The Ice Age is when we tend to start the story of how civilisation began; how we came to be modern, progressive people with all our urban comfort and sophistication, leaving behind the wild, woolly, elemental stuff. ‘
And the story we tell ourselves is that it all starts with the farming experiment. You can read about it in the British Museum: paleolithic man instead of sitting in his cave begins to throw seeds around outside; he finds he has a surplus of crop and, being clever, he decides to exchange it for something else. We, as primitive people, were then on our way to becoming civilised with towns and cities growing out of early market places. We could leave behind our hunter-gatherer cave-dwelling past and evolve into modern man, with the help of the Greeks and Romans of course. Lots of people continue to believe that civilisation only really starts with them.
The Farming Experiment?
But unfortunately we have been telling ourselves the WRONG story. This is not what the prehistoric record shows. There was no farming experiment. Natufians, for instance, who were around from about 12,500 BC onward, cultivated wild seeds for 3,000 years. During this time there was no change from a wild seed to a domesticated seed. Even when the change from wild to domesticated did occur after 9,500 BC, it is not plausible to suggest that it was an ‘evolutionary’ process.
Figure: Barley head
What we are talking about here is the difference between wild and domestic in terms of a single gene: one that relates not to taste but to convenience; convenience being one of the hallmarks of civilisation. This image is of a barley seed head and shows the rachis, the little hinges that connect the seed heads to the stalk. What happens with the wild seed is that the rachis break when the seed heads are ripe; what the domestic version do is wait. They wait to be picked.
The chances of a rare genetic mutant wild cereal turning into domesticated cereal have been calculated at once or twice in 2-4 million seed heads – according to Gordon Hillman who is cited by Steve Mithen (a well-respected prehistorian academic). For this change to have occurred naturally would take 20/30 cycles – ie 20 to 30 years.i No one is realistically going to wait around that long for an ‘experiment’ to work – they would return to trapping and say “Dad, can you forget your farming experiment…”. The obvious conclusion is that this change was deliberate: someone knew how to interfere genetically with cereals.
i – pp36-37 After the Ice–A Global Human History 20,000 -5,000 bc. Steven Mithen, Phoenix, Orion Books Ltd, London, 2004
Figure: Machu Picchu, Peru
Another factor which is suspicious is where this change takes place. In South America, for example, one such place is Machu Picchu high up on the altiplano in the Andes; in the Golden Crescent – often referred to as the cradle of humanity because so many ‘firsts’ happened here. The first fully morphologically domesticated cereals occur at Halula in the northern Euphrates valley in about 7000 BC. As this map shows, the Golden Crescent the mountain ranges from the Taurus mountains in the West, in Turkey, to the Zagros in the East, in Iran, with both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers coming from a mountainous area in the middle of the Crescent.
Figure: Map of Golden Crescent
If farming really were the stimulus for the creation of civilisation, why were the earliest examples of it located in such agriculturally difficult places? Jacquetta Hawkes is one of the few to draw attention to this curious situation in her comment that civilisation ‘was not inevitable, for on the one hand men have lived on well-watered and fertile land without creating civilisation, and on the other hand they have created civilisations in apparently poor environments’.ii
Jacquetta Hawkes is not alone in her comments. Diana Kirkbride, a one-time director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, commented about one site dating to 7500 BC that she excavated in the 1970s in Mosul-Sinjar region in North Eastern Iraq (a place called Umm Dabaghiyah) that it was ‘singularly uniniviting’ – even allowing for change over time and degradation of habitats. Likewise Charles Maisels discusses another site dating to 6000 BC to the east of Mosul at Yarim Tepe on the Upper Zab describing it as a zone of rocky limestone hillocks ‘not really suitable for farming, yet there is plentiful evidence of it here’.iii
It is also in the Golden Crescent that we have the remains of a series of well-built settlements dating to times between the 10th and the 8th Millennia BC – the most famous being the end of the 8th millennium at Catal Huyuk in Anatolia, southern Turkey. Catal Huyuk is something else that is hailed as mankind being on its way to a civilised life.
What is significant about Catal Huyuk is that well-constructed storerooms are the central feature of the settlement – better built than the human dwellings around them. Catal Huyuk is carefully laid out with all the houses having the same floor plan and a proper street pattern, and yet it does not develop into any kind of ‘city’. Their diet is also resolutely Stone Age. It consists of wild animals, aurochs and such like. A contradiction of the idea that farming leads to surplus; leads to markets; leads to towns etc etc. None of this makes sense.
Here in the Golden Crescent we have the earliest evidence not only of farming but of metal work and pottery. Not civilisation as such but the fingerprints of the civilisers. So what were they doing in the mountains? I will return to this question later…
ii – The First Great Civilisations. Life in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and Egypt. Jacquetta Hawkes, Hutchinson and Co, London 1973
iii- pp432-434 After the Ice –A Global Human History 20,000 -5,000 bc. Steven Mithen, Phoenix, Orion Books Ltd, London, 2004 & p126 Early Civilisations of the Old World – the formative histories of Egypt, The Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. Charles Keith Maisels, Routledge, London 1999
Bronze Age Secondary Products Revolution
Then, suddenly, around 5,000 BC, the time of the Bronze Age, the first cities start to appear in Mesopotamia (southern Iraq) – about as far away from mountains as is possible in that part of the world. By 3,600 BC Uruk, for example, was a great city with over 10,000 people. We know that these are cities because they have the recognisable infrastructure of a city and evidence of activities like administration and record keeping. These are skills that are not innate [we only have to look at our own modern difficulties with teaching well-known civilised techniques like writing to know that even after thousands of years of civilisation these skills have to be re-taught].
And coincidently, not just cities appear, but something happens in farming too – what the archaeologists call the ‘Secondary Products Revolution’. It is around this time that we can take milk from a cow (and make butter/ cheese etc); plough; ride a horse; take wool from a sheep; plant a vine and so on – the kind of farming that we would all recognise. Before this moment in time it was not possible to take wool from a sheep: sheep had coats like a deer, even though there is evidence of sheep/goat ovricaprids having been eaten by humans as far back as 10500 BC.
How odd and how useful that just when lots of people start to live in cities, the production of food becomes more organised… This shift had to be deliberate because no self-respecting hunter-gatherer a) would give up providing for himself and his family to live in a city until he could be sure that he could rely on someone else to do food production and b) that he had a skill that would be useful in a city.
In particular, farming skills had to be taught. Farming is not natural. Anyone who thinks it is easy should try it. The hunter-gatherer was not used to staying in one place; he followed the herd. He was more used to killing than keeping stock alive, especially through the winter. Farming is a completely different skill set which requires knowledge of the soil and the calendar.
What is notable is that people did not make the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer to nomadic pastoralist. The shift to farming always involved a settled pattern first – usually identified by the presence of pigs which cannot be herded long distance. Take the example of the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia which is in the eastern part of Uzbekistan and is famous today for its Kirghiz tribes who herd massive flocks of sheep over long distances. The evidence of older patterns of Bronze Age farming, the Chust culture – which can be seen in the museum in Tashkent, capital city of Uzbekistan – is still of the settled pattern first.
What this suggests to me is that the early farmers were not necessarily hunter-gatherers who took up farming because of some environmental change or other external pressure. But were actually a different people with a different knowledge base. First cereals were genetically interfered with and then animals. This was not a natural evolutionary process. Even Julius Caesar knew that aurochs could not be domesticated. In any case, how would Neolithic Man know what would make a ‘good’ cow, just from observing them at waterholes?
Figure: Map of Golden Crescent
I would argue that this change in farming happened because of cities and not the other way round. Not least as the first evidence of a city’s existence wasn’t a market place but a shrine. One of the oldest cities in southern Mesopotamia, Eridu, has a shrine dating to 2,000 BC that has 17 layers underneath it that possibly go back as far as 5,000 BC. Jacquetta Hawkes has also commented on the fact that the key group of people who are involved in cities from the start are not farmers– but priests.
So, what has this got to do with megaliths and shamen? The connection lies in what these cities represent as a total concept of civilisation; a concept in which megaliths and shamen were an integral part. Cities did not develop out of farming but arrived as pre-planned artificial constructs on the landscape. They have identifiable characteristics that link them to a specific archetype which includes the knowledge of how to move the big stones, and has shamanic ritual at the heart of it.
The total Civilisation Concept
I refer to this archetype as the ‘Ur-concept’ of civilisation. The Egyptians called it living in ma’at living in truth – the goddess Ma’at having the feather of truth. But I prefer ‘Ur’ which in this context doesn’t just mean the famous city which Sir Leonard Woolley excavated in the 1920s in southern Iraq (and in my opinion mistakenly identified as the Biblical ‘Ur of the Chaldees’ as I have good reason to believe that was another Ur elsewhere); Ur in this context has a meaning of ‘foundation’ and as such can be found in names like Jerusalem (Uru-shalem – ie ‘foundation of peace’).
The best way to describe this Ur concept is to imagine a colour wheel plus white. The archetype was based on all the usual attributes we attribute to civilized city living: straightness/accuracy/precision/ balance/design/ infrastructure /organisation.
Figure: The ‘Ur’ concept of civilisation
If any part of the circle is more important than any other it is the temple at the centre which holds all the other parts in balance. It was the priesthood that supervised the foundation of cities, the construction of the great engineering works and monumental architecture; sanctioned the trading exchanges; determined the calendar and predicted the weather; educated the young and kept written records; healed the sick and helped the dying on their way; they understood the importance of the soul (the psyche) and its role in reincarnation and immortality. Were they also the ones who genetically adapted wild animals into domesticated versions?
There are also the relationships across the wheel: all forms of communication (trade, travel and education); the individual body, cared for through the art of cooking, and link between food and medicine; agriculture (domestication of animals & organized arable production); and power. Power in this context refers to political power (administration, justice, architecture and infrastructure), and religious power, the defined roles of the priesthood; the critical relationship between priest and king – the melchizedek – the shamanic part.
This is an archetype which exists for all time and in all places which is why the same characteristics appear in the Near East as in the Indus Valley, in Phoenicia, in Minoan Crete, and in Central and Southern America (and possibly the Far East – but I haven’t explored that aspect). Egypt became the best example of it.
But what is truly extraordinary about the Ur-concept is the confirmation of aspects of it among people who themselves were not civilised and who can be found living a long way away from the civilisers. They did not even live in cities. These people are the very early Indo-European tribes long before they came to Europe, the proto-Indo-Europeans.
The location of the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans before the 4th millennium BC is controversial. There is no universal agreement. My own personal view is that it was in the Pontic Caspian in the Ukraine – a long way away from the civilisers in Mesopotamia. And yet, there is evidence obtainable from an analysis of proto-Indo-European language that the civilisers came into contact with these early Indo-Europeans.
It is now a well-established idea that the Indo-European tribes (Celts/ Romans/ Greeks/ etc) once all lived together. What linguists have worked out is that Indo-Europeans last lived together over 5,000 years ago – a timeframe that relates to the Bronze Age civilisers. How this was discovered was through the realisation in the C19th that Indian Sanskritt, although written in a different alphabet, has the same language roots as other European languages like French or Latin or Greek.
Etymology reveals what kind of environment they knew; what kind of dwellings they had; what skills they had; and to a limited extent, what they thought. And, in my opinion, certain concepts that relate to the UR-civilisation archetype have been embedded in the language for more than 5,000 years – 2,500 years BEFORE they lived in cities.
Contact with civilisers is implied in that the Indo-Europeans knew about bronze and about copper but not about tin which suggests that they did not know how to make bronze but got bronze from elsewhere. They also picked up from the civilisers over 5,000 years ago, practical farming skills and benefitted from the Secondary Products Revolution. They knew about stock-breeding (‘sheep’ and ‘cattle’ can be reconstructed to proto-Indo-European, and herding, as can the secondary products ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’).
There is a very good reason why the civilisers should want to make contact with the early Indo-Europeans. There was a certain something that the PIEs had for which the civilisers were keen to exchange skills and ideas. It was this certain something that I think establishes the PIEs in a distinct time and place and that something was the wild horse, the tarpan. The Indo-Europeans lived in the range of the tarpan.
Until the arrival of the civilisers, who knew how to genetically interfere with wild creatures for the benefit of humans, the tarpan had been of little use to the PIEs. The first domestic horse bones are usually claimed to be those dating from 4,000 BC found at the Dereivka site in the Sdreny Stog region of the Ukraine. The break-through in the exploitation of the deep steppe did not happen until about 3,500 BC, and the first wheeled carts did not appear on the steppes north of the Black Sea and Caspian before 3,000 BC.
The civilisers would have brought horses down from the Ukraine, and, although it was longer before they made an obvious impact on Mesopotamia, within a certain period of time there is evidence of their use here. By 2,800 BC 80% of Sumerians lived in cities and had wheeled carts.
The shift from wild to domestic horses had such an impact on the PIEs that they venerated the horse for thousands of years. They attributed God-like powers to them. Their attitude to religion was simple and nature based (Sky god/ earth mother). A term for religion can be reconstructed from ‘creed’ based on two words cre dhe, meaning “put into your heart”.
One concept that particularly demonstrates the impact of the civilisers and is inexplicable to linguists is the concept of ‘king’ (*reg) that can be reconstructed to the earliest level of proto-Indo-European language (rex/ raj/ reich). This is a remarkable concept as it underpins the rules/regulation/accuracy aspect of the archetype. But at the time they learnt this word the Indo-Europeans were wild warlike tribes living in mud huts where the central focus was the hearth. Linguists are forced to give the ridiculous explanation of two kings: one for war and one for ruling.(!?) Did the Indo-Europeans pick up a word that they did not understand the full meaning of?
Global Catastrophe – 4th Millennium BC
Then, in around 3,159BC, there was an appalling environmental catastrophe which resulted in a massive migration of all peoples PIEs, civilisers etc. It is after this catastrophe that the ancient Egypt as we know it starts. At this point the proto-Indo-European split up into their individual tribes and the civilisers had no further common impact on them although bits of knowledge got stuck with the individual tribes.
Celts for example went the furthest West, ending up in Ireland, and far to the East in the Tarim basin on the West of China where they became Tocharians. 4,000 year old tall ginger haired mummies wearing tartan have been found in the Chinese Taklamakhan desert.iv Celts, as the ones who went the furthest, are those whose language retained the most archaisms (and, for instance, more connections with Indians and Sythians), and are possibly the most interesting.
To give one example, the Celts possibly retained knowledge of the gods of the civilisers. They continued to refer to Tetates, one of the old names of Thoth the Egyptian god of writing, when the Greeks and Romans had already changed him to Hermes and Mercury. The implication of this Celtic reference is that Egyptian deities could have been known to the Proto-Indo-Europeans BEFORE the start of Egypt. The name ‘Hermes’ is in itself worth noting as its root is possibly Ur-mes meaning son of Ur [mes or mos being Egyptian words that mean ‘son of’, as in ‘Thutmosis’, the name of certain pharaohs which has the meaning of ‘son of Thoth’].
But in spite of the close proximity of the PIEs and the civilisers, there is no obvious evidence that they knew about shamanism in order to access the metaphysical secrets of the original archetype – which is perhaps why they never built cities themselves until much later. Even though concepts of ‘shamen’ and ‘shamanism’ are are well-known, how they relate to civilisation is less familiar.
iv – The Mummies of Urumchi. Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Pan Books 1999 London
Shamanic Ritual & Role of the Pharaoh
In essence, a shamen is someone who has an out-of-body experience in which they undergo a journey as a spirit on behalf of a person or a community in order to find answers to particular questions. The kind of shamanism that is practised these days is more usually on behalf of a sick person or child so as to identify remedies will cure the patient. It is important to understand that the information thus obtained is not discoverable through experimentation as it often involves the use of poisons that have to be treated in a particular way first otherwise they would be fatal.
These shamanic journeys are trancelike dangerous, frightening, near-death experiences that can result in the actual death of the shaman. They are therefore to be avoided by anyone who is not properly trained or prepared [one of the problems with modern drug taking that it can result in mental damage from ignorant use]. The initiation or training of the shaman is thus critical from an early age. In addition, the preparation of the substance that brings on the trance is also key to the whole process.
How this applies to the original archetype of civilisation is that the king had the responsibility of undertaking the special journey on behalf of his people. In the case of Egypt that person was the pharaoh; a title interestingly enough which could well be a Greek corruption of the words Per Ur, the name of the place where the pharaoh’s initation took place – Per Ur meaning ‘house of foundation’ – which might have been at Nekhen (or Hierakonopolis, its Greek name), possibly in its mysterious ‘fort’ which had no defensive purpose.
What the pharaoh prepared here for was a highly important festival which only happened every 40 years, and is also referred to as the pharaoh’s jubilee, which the Egyptians called the Heb Sed festival and which incorporated the Osirian rites – a renactment of the death of the god Osiris and his revival at the hands of Isis his wife. This festival took place in a purpose-built courtyard adjacent to a specially constructed pyramid. There were public aspects and secret aspects. Citizens from all over Egypt came to the festival and the purpose of it was to re-dedicate the country to civilisation.
In the public aspects the pharaoh wore a special bull kilt and had to run around the courtyard. He also participated at a ritual meal called the Hetep. After this meal the pharaoh disappeared into the secret part of the festival which took place inside the pyramid where he entered the realm of the deity Sokar.
Figure: The Realm of Sokar
Sokar is interesting because of what he represents. Sokar had a more complicated association with death than just being dead. He was part of a triple manifestation of the gods Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. These gods represented ‘the triple powers of animation, incarnation and restoration’ and thus were essential to the Egyptian ideas of cycles of life and death, in terms of the soul being immortal and reincarnated in a living body.
Writer Rosemary Clark describes Sokar as representing ‘the latent spiritual principle within all living things, the spirit embedded in the deepest regions of matter that await arousal’, a description which implies the beginning of life rather than the end of it.
Pyramids – not tombs
It is our cultural problem that we think of pyramids as tombs. Very few dead bodies have ever been found in them. The Egyptians buried their dead either in the Royal tombs on the West bank of the Nile opposite Luxor or in mudbrick mastabas. The Egyptian word for pyramid is mr which has the idea of an instrument for ascending. Another clue as to their function is to examine closely the structure of the most famous, the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Some statistics: the Great Pyramid covers 13 acres; 2.3 million blocks on solid rock; an average weight of 2 tons per block; some blocks are 50 tons each; four corners are true 90 degree angles ‘to within 1/100th of an inch’; it is aligned on the cardinal points and deviates by only 5 degrees.
Figure: The Great Pyramid, Egypt
What is remarkable about this pyramid is that it has clearly been constructed very carefully and very deliberately and it is devoid of any kind of internal decoration or ornamentation; whereas the mastaba tombs at Saqqara are beautifully decorated with the most exquisite bas-reliefs of life scenes that would help a pharaoh on his way in the afterlife.
To take the most important of the all the chambers in the great pyramid, the Kings Chamber, an enormous effort was made to bring extraordinary granite slabs – megaliths – that weigh up 50 tons 500 miles from the quarry in Aswan. And then these slabs were used in the chamber in such a way that their function was obviously not visual. Furthermore the chamber is deliberately constructed so that its walls and its ceiling are not connected. The ceiling is supported by walls beyond the internal walls. Above the ceiling are also a series of hidden granite beams with bits taken out of them.
A plausible explanation for all of this is that the purpose of the chamber was to create an electrical field using vibration. The quartz in the granite has piezo-electric properties. The reason for not tying in the walls to the ceiling was so that they could vibrate freely and the explanation for the gouges in the beams above the ceiling could have been for fine tuning the resonances.*
By way of reinforcing this idea of vibration in an electrical field, the pharaoh either lay in a sarcophagus of alabaster or granite or on a special Heb Sed festival bed covered in gold leaf – Tut’s golden bed can be seen in the Cairo museum – gold being a good conductor of electricity.
Before doing this the pharaoh put on the qeni garment over his chest and participated in the Wepwawet opening of the mouth ceremony. Was the point of using the qeni garment – which the pharaoh described as the embrace of Osiris – to protect the pharaoh’s heart from the electrical field? And was the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony to stop him from swallowing his tongue during his trance?
What confirms my suspicions that this was all part of a shamanic ritual are the Pyramid or Coffin texts. These texts were discovered in the C19th by Flinders Petrie, the Victorian archaeologist. Again it is our cultural problem that we think of them as the description of the journey of the pharaoh’s soul after death whereas it is more likely that they describe his soul’s journey in life. Dr Jeremy Naydler, an Oxford academic, is one of the few who has come to this conclusion.
The Pyramid Texts frequently refer to the pharaoh taking on the form of a bird and flying up or climbing a ladder. Chapter XX of The Book of the Dead, for instance, talks of the pharaoh rising into the sky ‘like the mighty hawk’.The Antechamber Texts in the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara refer to ‘a stairway to the sky [which] is set up for me that I may ascend on it to the sky, and I ascend on the smoke of the great censing. I fly up as a bird’. Elsewhere, the same texts refer to the pharaoh flying up in the form of a falcon to the ‘imperishable northern stars’ – an important point I shall come back to.v
* The importance of materials is not unique to Egypt and maybe explains the presence of a giant slab of mica found hidden in the pyramid of the Sun in Mexico. One modern commentator, Christopher Dunn, who has a technical background, has worked out that the Egyptians knew about ultrasound and used it for carving and drilling (that is how he explains the amazing accuracy of Egyptian stonework and the fine carving on very hard stones like basalt and granite – examples of which you can see in the British Museum, exquisite examples of vessels).[ The Giza Power Plant – Technologies of Ancient Egypt, Christopher Dunn, Bear and Company, Rochester, Vermont, 1998]
v – Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, Jeremy Naydler, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, USA, 2005
Alchemy & The Solar Bread
If this was a shamanic experience, was the Hetep meal the means by which the pharaoh brought on a trance? A significant element of the meal was the solar bread. And there are references to the solar bread in the pyramid texts. One Pyramid Text, which Naydler describes as an ‘enigmatic food spell’, is an utterance for the offering bread to ‘fly up’.
So what was the solar bread? This essential ingredient of the Hetep meal clearly had special properties. This is when the story gets really interesting. It is at this point that the Greeks, through whom we know as much as we do, got confused. What they confused was a process with an outcome: as a result we know about the process without being aware of its purpose and that process was what we call ‘alchemy’.
Have we been misled about alchemy? Maybe alchemy isn’t the changing of another metal into gold, or even a spiritual transformation, but the purification of gold to achieve an even purer gold [the 4,000 year old Mesopotamian Golden Ram caught in the thicket – now in the BM – is an example of very pure gold]. There are several methods for achieving purification and one of them is to expose gold to a high electrical charge to remove impurities. It is also possible to use this process to turn this pure gold into a white powder with levitational properties.
Figure: The Golden Ram
The usual source for the word ‘khem’ in ‘alchemy’ doesn’t fit in this context which is the description of Egypt as the ‘black land’. What makes more sense – to me at least – is that what ‘alchemy’ actually means is ‘journey to the fixed stars’, ‘the imperishable northern stars’ – the khemi, the Egyptian word for the fixed stars. And the Egyptians possibly used the levitational properties of the white powder in the form of solar bread as their means of entering a trance.
Because of the Greeks’ misunderstanding, we use the term to identify only one part of the process, the means by which the Egyptians made that journey, the preparation of the gold. The Greeks were ignorant of the outcome, the astral planing to the fixed stars. The circumstantial evidence that confirms my interpretation that the preparation of the gold was key to the whole operation are the links between the solar bread – the substance consumed in the pharaoh’s ritual meal the Hetep – and the cow goddess Hathor.
Hathor & Gold
Hathor the cow goddess had many roles, mostly to do with nurturing. She is sometimes attributed with lending her cow horns to the goddess Isis when tending the infant Horus. Hathor is also the one who nurtures the soul of the pharaoh on his journey.
Figure: Hathor, the Cow Goddess
Even more significantly, it is in her temple at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai peninsula where in the C19th Flinders Petrie found a mysterious white powder, vast quantities hidden under slabs in the floor. Furthermore, another of her names is Nub-t, the word for gold and her connection with gold is obvious at her temple at Denderah on the Nile which has the hieroglyph of gold on its back wall. It is in the Denderah temple where there are the strange ‘light bulb’ reliefs in the crypt.
Mouni Sadhu, who wrote a fundamental work on the Tarot in the late 1950s, alludes to the role of electricity in his summary of a typical alchemical process, albeit repeating the widespread deception that gold results from other metals.
Figure: reliefs in the crypt at Denderah
‘In order to transform another metal into silver or gold, we must first destroy the imperfect combination of its components, that is to separate the subtle from the gross in that metal, and then to establish a new, perfect combination, passive or active …The Emerald Tablets speak about this separation of the subtle from the gross. …’ Sadhu goes on to explain in more detail the stages that an alchemist might follow to create the Philosopher’s Stone which he identifies as being a ‘powder’.vi
The first phase is the preparation of the ‘Universal Solvent’ or Mercury using a mineral called the ‘Magnesia of the Sages’. The second phase is ‘the operation’ which produces a ‘dazzling white colour’ after slow heating in the athanor (the alchemist’s oven). There are several points to note in his account: his view that the Stone is a powder; that the ‘universal solvent’ is called the ‘Magnesia of the Sages’ which he later identifies as some kind of electrical charge; and the specific description of the powder being a ‘dazzling white’ colour. Is this the powder that Flinders Petrie discovered in the Hathor temple at Serabit el-Khadim?
Writer Lawrence Gardner also describes the electrical process of purifying gold which results in a white powder with levitational properties. According to Gardner, when the molecular structure of the gold changes some of its matter turns into energy and becomes pure light. Not only does the powder weigh less than the original metal, but it is capable of transferring some loss of weight to the container in which it was originally weighed.
vi – The Tarot, Mouni Sadhu, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London, 1962
Snakes Communicating With DNA
So, now we have all the ingredients. There remains one more piece of the jigsaw to add – what was it that the pharaoh was communicating with? Who were the netr, the Egyptian gods? Were they sometimes giant snakes? And is it just coincidence that an Egyptian word for gods Netr compares with a proto-Indo-European word for snake *netr (Latin = natrix; Old Irish = nathir; Old English = naeddre, where it then becomes ‘adder’). Is that the reason that Thoth aka Hermes is associated with the twin snakes of the caduceus?
Some research which is relevant here is the modern experience of Jeremy Narby which he describes in his book the Cosmic Serpent.vii He travelled to the Peruvian Amazon in 1985 in order to study a native community, the Quirishari, as part of his PhD in anthropology from Stanford University.
Here he undertook a shamanic experience using the ayahuasca vine in which a pair of enormous snakes communicated with him. What particularly struck Narby was the visual parallel between the image of entwined snakes such as in the caduceus and that of the double helix of DNA.
Figure: Thoth as Hermes with caduceus
Narby then came to the fascinating conclusion that the parallel was more than visual: it was actual. Shamen, he concluded, were communicating at the level of molecular biology, of DNA itself. He was surprised to discover in the technical literature that the shape of the double helix of DNA is ‘most often described as a ladder … or a spiral staircase’, which compares with the worldwide frequent references made to climbing a ladder during a shamanic trance.
Narby thus discovered how native people acquired their knowledge of medicinal plants. These plants were often highly toxic and required critical special preparation before use – otherwise they would kill you before you had chance to experiment with them and find out their healing properties. Native people knew precisely which plants to choose out of ‘80,000 Amazonian plant species’. And the means by which they knew this non-empirical knowledge, he was told and personally experienced, was through shamanism.
Pharaohs – Sophisticated Shamen
What the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were doing was much more sophisticated than the Peruvian jungle version. And knowing the importance of gold to the whole process also explains why civilisation appears to start in mountains: that is where the gold is. The point about Catal Huyuk and why the storerooms were better constructed than the human dwellings was because Catal Huyuk was part of a supply chain of emporia to support operations elsewhere in the mountains which were more important than how the locals lived.
Mesopotamia had no gold reserves and yet its ancient name of ki-en-gi translates as ‘Land where Gold is King’. Mesopotamian gold came from the aptly named Golden Crescent. What made the hairs stand on the back of my neck was when I realised that the sites where the earliest pottery was found in the Golden Crescent are near gold mines and important routes for gold.
It should now be clear that the links between megaliths (the ability to move massive stones weighing 50 tons or more over vast distances, hundreds of miles) shamen (wise men who can take their souls on journeys for the benefit of others at great personal risk to themselves) and the original cities are all integral to each other.
The reason why we don’t realise any of this is because of the barrier that Greeks and Romans have created for us. A barrier that grew even greater after the Romans came under the influence of a monotheistic religion we call Christianity – from the C4th AD onward. I would personally argue that it was at that point that civilisation collapsed and that we have been living in the Dark Ages ever since, struggling to reconnect with the original archetype that appeared in the Bronze Age over 5,000 years ago.
vii – The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, Jeremy Narby, Phoenix, Orion Books Ltd, London 1999
It was in the C4th AD that fanatical Romano-Christians massacred the last Egyptian priests at this temple of Isis on the Island of Philae in the Upper Nile. And were the same people who destroyed the site of the Eleusian mysteries in Greece near Athens in 396 AD, and burnt down the famous library at Alexandria in 415AD, brutally murdering Hypatia, its last priestess.
The Egyptians had realised long before that the writing as it were was on the wall and that the end lay ahead. The shift that marked the start of Egypt’s long decline was the change from Bronze Age to Iron Age in about 1200 BC characterised by the fall of Troy. It was at this time that the Hekla volcano in Iceland erupted in 1159 BC causing 20 years of poor harvests, famine and appalling social destruction including a form of child sacrifice.
There is a particularly sad prophecy in the Hermetica:
‘If truth were told, our land is the temple of the whole world; … a time will come when … Egypt will be abandoned. The land that was the seat of reverence will be widowed by the powers and left destitute of their presence. When foreigners occupy the land and territory, not only will reverence fall into neglect, but … a prohibition … will be enacted against reverence, fidelity and divine worship. Then this most holy land, seat of shrines and temples, will be filled completely with tombs and corpses… only stories will survive and they will be incredible to your children. Only words cut in stone will survive to tell your faithful works… Whoever survives will be recognised as Egyptian only by his language; in his actions he will seem a foreigner’.viii
Egypt had become increasingly vulnerable to invasion which happened first with the Persians in about 600BC, followed by the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 333BC. The Romans who were so desperate to get hold of Egypt did not succeed until 30BC at the time of Anthony and Cleopatra. Before the arrival of Alexander, the Egyptians had decided to open themselves up a little to the Greeks from about 500BC onward – which explains why all of a sudden the Greeks knew ‘everything’ (mathematics, geometry, geography, medicine etc). Pythagoras, for example, is reckoned to have spent 25 years in Egyptian temples being taught. He was not the only Greek to have done so.
When the Romano-Christians killed the last Egyptian priests at the temple of Isis in 394 AD all knowledge of hieroglyphs was lost and only rediscovered 1,500 years later in the C19th with the translation of the Rosetta Stone by Frenchman Champollion. As a result, one means of accessing Egyptian wisdom and knowledge was soon forgotten. By the end of the fourth century AD the Romano-Christians had symbolically and literally cut us off from the ancient past. Not surprising then that we knew nothing about the shamanic ritual of the pharaohs or the connections between megaliths and cities.
The Egyptians were especially keen that their secrets should not fall into Roman hands. The Romans were powerful enough as it was but they never knew how to move the big stones. And if anyone still falls for the explanation that megaliths are moved by teams of slaves, then they need to consider the point that Rome was the ultimate in slave society and still couldn’t move megaliths. The Romans HAD to invent the pulley and mortar. Roman building is either smaller dressed stone or many many bricks on a spectacular scale.
viii – The Hermetica – the lost wisdom of the pharaohs, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Piatkus, London 1997
We might mistakenly think that the massacre that occurred on the Island of Philae in C4th AD was because the Christianised Romans had seen the light and realised the need to eliminate pagan practices. The truth is, however, that the Romans had been attacking certain sorts of pagans for years before they converted to Christianity.
The military campaigns that the Romans waged against ‘pagans’ all had something in common – those ‘pagans’ all knew about aspects of the original archetype of civilisation. The Romans threw out the Pythagoreans; they banned alchemy; they invaded Britain to destroy the Druids; they fought in central Turkey to destroy the Chaldean Magi; and attacked on the Essenes at Qumran on the Dead Sea etc etc. All of this happened long before Christians infiltrated the Roman state.
Indeed, Constantine’s decision to adopt Christianity in the C4th AD was because he could see the political advantages of it. The Romans were used to uniting behind the glory of Rome and now they could use religion and the one god as another tool of unification. This monotheistic religion then became a useful weapon for attacking those pagan pockets that had metaphysical secrets that were denied to the Romans. And so it was that the connections between megaliths, shamen and cities were hidden for such a long time and perhaps needed to be, given that the knowledge was for peaceful purposes only. Alchemy was the missing link.
The secret knowledge did not entirely die out after Egypt collapsed but went up the trade routes appropriately to the northern Euphrates to Harran where it was kept alive by alchemists and a people known as the Sabians. The story of how we gradually began to reconnect with that hidden knowledge is explained in more detail in my book ‘Approaching Chaos’ which is available on Amazon. I hope I have managed to give a brief overview of the connections between megaliths, shamen and city builders; why they are hidden and why we have not realised until now.