It came from the deep

Have beings from inner/astral realms influenced, perhaps even deliberately directed, human cultures and civilizations? Should UPG be added to the list of evolutionary forces?

Sumac Icaro, from The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Ameringo.
“Sumac Icaro,” from The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Ameringo.

I am not the first person to pose this question, and some have argued emphatically that yes, our experiences on other planes have shaped our actions on this one (here’s one, here’s another, and another). Let me say first of all that I am not talking about “ancient astronauts”–corporeal visitors from other planets flying nuts-and-bolts spacecraft. If, as certain big-haired proponents of AA theory claim, extraterrestrials had visited Earth in sufficient numbers and over a long-enough span of time to be the Annunaki, build the Egyptian pyramids, the Maya pyramids, Stonehenge, ley lines, etc., I have two questions: (1) where is the material evidence for these material beings and spacecraft? Are you telling me no aliens ever died here, no spaceships ever crashed, nobody dropped an interstellar wrench or cigarette butt? And (2) where are they now? Did they just get bored after the Maya collapse? Did they decide that feeding us scraps has led us to lose our fear of them and start noisily scrounging around their trash bins at night, like city raccoons, or bears in a national park? So now they just drive by occasionally, making sure to keep the doors locked and windows up?

It’s not that I think visiting extraterrestrials are impossible, but they are completely conjectural. Experiences of immaterial visitors, however, are attested all over the place. They seem to happen all the time, but even those who have had such experiences often deny their reality because they don’t fit into the dominant philosophical paradigm of materialism. On the other hand, many people either believe in ETs or are at least willing to consider the possibility because that story fits within the materialist paradigm.

I am inclined to believe that Jacques Vallee is right when he argues that UFOs and ETs are essentially the same immaterial, or semi-material, phenomenon as faeries and miraculous visions of the Virgin Mary. As Gordon puts it, “The Neighbours already have a propensity to troll and those that present themselves in the guise of UFO phenomena are the trolliest of all.” At any rate, until someone shows me actual material evidence of ET, I shall remain skeptical of ET’s materiality. In the meantime, I feel there is more than sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of non-material beings and experiences, even if I cannot explain their nature.

Howard Carter examining the coffin of Tutankhamun.
Howard Carter examining the coffin of Tutankhamun.

For years now I’ve been fascinated by questions of the psycho-magico-spiritual aspects of human civilization. But there are only three ways to investigate it: (1) Ancient texts provide a huge amount of information. The downside is it’s often cryptic or symbolic, and texts are always based in cultural contexts that are now missing. There is a reasonably good chance of unraveling the surface meaning of a text if the writing system has been deciphered, but its twilight language is likely to remain obscure. (2) Oral traditions still exist on the peripheries of the Westernized world, but we usually don’t recognize their importance until they are already disappearing. And sadly, it now seems that these traditions have to be protected from rapacious interests that would first steal, then commodify, and finally destroy. (3) Then there’s Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). This is the most direct route but also the most fraught, since not only do we have to learn to discern gnosis from imagination, it seems our interlocutors often have weird agendas of their own (not limited to trolling in UFO garb) which sometimes includes really crazy shit.

As an archaeologist by training, I often think about what archaeology might have discovered–what it might have restored–if it could have shaken off the chains of materialist orthodoxy. Realistically, I don’t think that could ever have happened, because the academic-intellectual project as we know it (including the discipline of archaeology) derives from the same cultural sources as materialist ontology. The entire moral justification for the practice of archaeology–digging up and confiscating old stuff and the graves of ancestors–is predicated upon the modern Western “religious sensibility” (to use John Michael Greer’s term). To wit, the belief that matter is devoid of spirit, and that includes human matter–so even if souls really do exist, they have long since vacated their mortal coil and therefore it harms no one to dig up the bones and take them to a museum half a world away.

This sensibility constrains the kind of questions that a professional intellectual can publicly ask. It’s perfectly ok to argue that other people are influenced by their culture’s spiritual/religious beliefs and even by hallucinations brought on by psychedelics; but to suggest that encounters with actual, non-material beings with goals of their own not only happen, but that they inspired changes in human behavior, would be to lose one’s job and reputation. Even tenure can’t protect one from those consequences.

During the halcyon “post-processual” era of the 1980s-1990s, archaeology flirted with more philosophical explorations of human being and doing; but that was followed by a hard swing back to quantitative analysis, the more mechanized and lab-centered the better. I butted up against this during my Ph.D. research: Fundamentally, I knew I was researching changes in consciousness that seem to have spread across Eurasia during the 1st millennium BC, and I hypothesized that these changes either dovetailed with, or precipitated, changes in concepts of the self. But there is no way to subject that to a quantitative analysis, and so all I could do was catalogue a list of “beliefs” attested in the literature. Even then, I was forced to add a completely irrelevant and overly simplistic quantitative analysis of categories of Eurasian funerary offerings, to make it all look scientific. I was expected to publish my dissertation, but to be honest, I’m embarrassed by the way it turned out. I’m sure there are some who would say that about the intellectual endeavor of archaeology as a whole. Part of what I’m trying to do here is to break out of those shackles without completely abandoning intellectual rigor.

The solar barque of Ra passing through the 2nd hour of the Duat.
The solar barque of Ra passing through the 2nd hour of the Duat.

When I was a teaching assistant in human evolution classes, we taught the four forces of evolution: gene flow, genetic drift, mutation, and natural selection. What if the Otherworld and its denizens should be added to that list?

I came across this article titled “Dream as a Constitutive Cultural Determinant–the Example of Ancient Egypt” (free full-text pdf download available). From the article abstract:

“Among Ancient Egyptian texts there are a number of dream reports, which document an interest in observing dreams. Even larger is the corpus of the night literature that deals with themes of an otherworldly, nighttime reality, the so-called Duat. There are etymologic and textual hints that these assertions on a complex, nightly meta-reality in the Egyptian culture are especially related to the hours of the late night, the peak of REM-sleep and the phase of highest dream recall. This paper develops the hypothesis that the Ancient Egyptian culture appreciated dream experience as a reality deserving high attention; and that the Egyptians deduced cultural knowledge from dream experience, intended for individual and collective, cultural application.

(Emphasis mine.) The author, Gotthard Tribl, bases his arguments mainly on etymological analysis of Egyptian language and hieroglyphs. To follow the argument, you need to know that a glyph can be read as an ideograph (a picture), a phoneme (a sound), or a determinative (a marker that indicates the general category of phenomenon to which the word belongs), and many words consist of all three. Tribl proposes that Egyptians’ consciousness and cognition was shaped by their dreamworking, though, interestingly, a hieroglyphic for “dream” has never been found. Instead the noun we would translate “dream” derives from a verb meaning “to awake in the morning,” with the addition of a determinative meaning “eye.” So it seems the Egyptians regarded the dream experience as a form of awakening, and that it was primarily construed as a visual phenomenon. Moreover, the words/glyph for “morning” (duau) and that for “Otherworld” (duat) are both written with the star hieroglyph (designated N14) plus determinative endings suggesting, respectively, time and space. Another related word, dua, shows a star followed by a man with upraised arms and a papyrus scroll, and means “‘to praise’ or ‘to adore’ in the morning.”

Egyptian literature about night and the Otherworld (duat) indicates that when the sun went down in our reality, it rose in the Duat. My own speculation, based on Tribl’s research, is that there were therefore two mornings–morning in our world, and morning in the Duat (which would have been evening in our world). Waking in the morning seems to have been followed by prayer/ritual/worship–but was this ritual performed during morning in this world, or morning in the Duat, or both? From a modern perspective, this means, was the person awake or asleep at the time?

Tribl’s work suggests that distinction may have been irrelevant to the Egyptians. For example, during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, texts and images indicate that

“…the Sem-priest was performing part of that ritual in sleep state (Hornung and Burton, 1991). Apparently, this part of the ritual dealt somehow with an active use of the sleep state….the sleep state of the Sem-priest is clearly prominent in that ritual and belongs to the most original parts of it (Baly, 1930). Beyond doubt, scenes nine and ten depict sleep conditions accompanied by a ‘vision‘…”

(Emphasis added.) I don’t know if dreaming was understood as a visit to the Duat, though it seems possible, at least based on the etymological argument and the surviving religious texts. Regardless, it seems that what we would call dreamworking and lucid dreaming were a huge deal in Egyptian life, and that priests and/or magicians would have been expected to be skillful navigators of that realm. It’s very interesting to look at other heiroglyphs that include the N14 star glyph. It appears in the word “star,” and in the names of various stars and constellations, but also in the words for “priesthood” and “teaching.”

Egyptian words containing the star glyph.
Egyptian words containing the star glyph.

If you look at the glyphs N13-N15 above, you can see that in the first one, the half-arc above the star indicates the passage of a half-month. Not pictured here is the glyph for a full month, which contains a full arc above the star. I find it very interesting, then, that in the glyph for the Duat, the arc has been extended into a full circle–which rather suggests the cyclical nature of day/night and life/death in Egyptian mythology. (I am not an Egyptologist, just speculating, so I imagine someone else has had this thought before. If you know of a source, let me know.)

Since Egyptian magic, along with that of Greece, is one of the most influential roots of the Western Magical Tradition, one can’t help but wonder what influence this Egyptian dreamwork had upon the WMT, and indeed on Western civilization as a whole. How much of our culture comes from the Duat? And what does that mean for us humans? Can we assume that the beings with whom we are communicating have our best interests at heart, or are we merely bugs that get sucked into their grill as they drive past? From a gnostic point of view, one might hypothesize that the beings guiding us are archons who decidedly do not have our best interests at heart.

I hope to explore this more as we go.


7 thoughts on “It came from the deep

    1. Maybe so! I can’t say for sure because, though I have been meaning to read Jemisin for years, I actually haven’t gotten around to it yet. 😦 My book wish list is longer than my bank account is large, alas!


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