The Path of Ra

In the theology of the priests of Heliopolis, we catch a glimpse of mankind’s earliest spiritual understanding of the nature of light. Those clever theologians managed to describe its relativistic quality — nothing with any matter at all can go faster than light — in terms of a mythological unity of great depth and philosophical complexity, the “operative and creative power” imagined by the Egyptians as the great god RA.
This powerful archetypal image was crafted by the rehket-sa, or “assembly of sages,” of Heliopolis, with the help of a group of beings known as the Henmemet, or “The Shining Ones.” From earliest times, (the spelling of the name of the city itself, Annu — a finned spear-head, a jar and the symbol for city — suggests the place where the space-ships land their cargo). Heliopolis seems to have been a very cosmopolitan place, one where several races and a few interplanetary species mingled freely. The spelling of the name Henmemet suggests a group of physical beings, definitely not spirits, who are “filled with light.” This phrase re-occurs as the priests of RA try to describe life for the departed believer in the Boat of a Million Years; in a sense, the followers of RA would become like the Henmemet and travel the stars fed and clothed with light. Perhaps it is these celestial voyagers who educated the sages of Annu in the arts of mathematics, geometry, physics, astronomy, and so on through the familiar list of the early dynasties’ unexpected sophistication. Wherever they learned or discovered the information, the priests of Annu were the first humans to code these physical constants, clues to the structure of the universe, into a mythical theology that is descriptive of the actual nature of both physical and psychological reality.
If we think of RA as the personification of all that we now call the nature of light, then his role as the original creative principle suddenly comes into sharp focus. Time, we are told, began with the first appearance of RA; eternity is referred to as “since the time of RA.” These are ideas that strongly suggest the role of light as the ultimate yardstick of the space/time continuum. Without the activity of photon binding and threshold kindling, our physical reality would not exist. It is the discontinuous nature of quantum events, the absorption and emission of photons, which creates this discreet and sentient existence. Therefore, RA, when understood as the nature of light, does creatively enact our world and all its parts.
The ancient Egyptians expressed this in the way they spelled the word, ra. The “r” sound is rendered as a mouth, or a vesica piscis and the “a” is the out-stretched hand symbol. The determinatives are: a sun symbol with a line to the ground and the seated god figure, which tells us that this ra is a god who localizes the energy of the sun, or great light. The phonetic symbols suggest, in hieroglyphic rebus fashion, that the waves give or supply the energy of the sun. The mouth of RA is a schematic for the sine wave of a vibrating string, and, as the vesica, generates the irrational number of the square root of 3. This number divides the volume-form of the cube (a cube with edges equal to 1; a rectangular plane is passed diagonally through the cube, the diagonal of which equals the square root of three) and, remember, every form in the created universe is a volume. Think of the square root of the as a form generator, regular polygons arising one after the other in the succession of vesica constructions unfolding from the self division of unity. This form-creating flow, the glyphs suggest,is the gift of the local energy source, the sun. This gift of form is the essence of what the Egyptian theologians considered divine. In that sense, RA was indisputably the One God, the unity at the heart of diversity.
Hang on to that realization. It is a clue to understanding the basic mysteries of Egyptian theology. The Followers of RA, like the Henmemet, who visited Heliopolis in the early dynastic era, were real people, not spirits. It is from them that the concept of “God the Principle,” the “RA Function” passed to the priests of the City of the Sun. The “Light Beings,” that is, creatures who are fed on, clothed by, and enveloped in light, naturally became the focus of the religious concept they taught. If we believe (as the early Egyptians thought) in the RA Function, the “One God who is All Gods,” then we will become like these light beings when we die. Like them, we will voyage forever in the Boat of a Million Years…
Beliefs like these were popular with the priests and the intellectuals, but the mass of Egyptian people never wavered from their faith in the shamanic paradise of Osiris, a vegetation god whose worship created a cult of the deified dead. If the RA function existed since the beginning of time, then the Osiris cult surely has its beginnings in the moment the first Handy monkey learned of death. The only god worthy of respect to that grieving monkey was one who could assuage the awful lonely emptiness of extinction. An afterlife of judgement and reward ensured that existence was continuous and that it had meaning, even if that meaning was judged as negative. Ausar Un-Nefer, Osiris the Justified One, filled the existential void of death with a panoply of shamanic ordeals and divine interaction. Life was anything but dull in the Hall of the Lord of the Dead.
The genius of the IVth Dynasty Heliopolitan theologians and social scientists lies in their creative resolution to the problem of these two contrasting afterlives. Ausar (Osiris) was invited into the Boat of a Million Years and was asked to sit at the right hand of RA. In fact, he was asked to be RA’s regent, his viceroy among the monkeys, as it were. The name, Ausar is spelled with the eye of RA above a throne, and the god figure as a determinative. His distinctive function, “stability,” symbolized by the backbone-like djed, was once, along with “light,” considered one of the powers of RA. Osiris worship, with its shamanic paradise, was thus elevated by its merger with the RA function to the level of an universal religion. As such it long out lasted the priests of RA, whose functions were usurped by Amun of Thebes. (Although a memorialized form of the ancient wisdom continued to be celebrated among the ruins of Heliopolis until the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century of the Common era.)
The union of these two god-forms produced the central mystery of the Egyptian religious experience. A line of the Vth Dynasty Pyramid Texts reads: “The Great Secret, The Great Mystery; it is RA, it is Osiris.” This could be interpreted as: “The Great Secret: we are of extra-terrestrial origin — The Great Mystery: we can return to that level of being; it is RA (who reveals the Great Secret), it is Osiris, (who shows us the Great Mystery).”
This blending of cosmological and metaphorical values supplied the inner tension that kept the Egyptian mysteries vital for over three thousand years. The path of RA offered a transcendentally cosmological existence in the boat of a million years, while the path of Osiris promised eternity in an astral metaphor for life along the Nile. We are told in the “Book of the Dead” that RA and Osiris are twin souls, united between the pillars of the Djed, but we are left with few clues as to how this unification was to be accomplished.
The clues that we do have (see discussions at Edfu and Letopolis) point to the agency of Heru-Ur, the elder sky god who somehow manages to be both cosmological and metaphorical and therefore acts as a medium for their unification. Strangely enough, the Neophyte Ritual of the nineteenth century magical group, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, suggests the same process by having the god-form of Heru-Ur (Aeouris) be the active or initiatory form of Osiris. In that same ritual, much is made of an Egyptian phrase, “Khabs m Pehket,” which is translated as “Light in Extension.” With this inspired choice, the Order penetrated to the core of the Egyptian mysteries.
The Egyptians had many words that meant “light,” showing a subtle and sophisticated understanding of both physics and optics by their varied spellings and usage. But one, the one used by the Order, had a very unusual series of meanings associated with it. Khabs in its root meanings suggests “to shine or sparkle like a star.” It can also mean the star itself, or any other celestial “lamp,” as in the “Lamps of the Decans.” This meaning of “lamplight” became a mystical phrase associated by the experience of being filled with light, as were the Henmemet. In this sense it passed into Islam as the 35th verse of the 24th sura of the Koran, becoming over time the focus of many Sufi sects, including the Al Hagag Sufis of the Temple Mosque at Luxor. Khabs implies the whole mystery of RA and “the Path of Becoming Light,” as pehket (the word translated as “extension” by the Golden Dawn), expresses the physically focused nature of the Osiris cult.
How these fragments of Heliopolitan wisdom found their way into a nineteenth century English magical society is quite another story, but their very survival indicates the deep archetypal power of these formulations. “Light in Extension” seems to be the key to activating the Equinox of the Gods, the Unification of the Paths of RA and Osiris, and the medium through which this will occur (is occurring!) seems to be that of the ancient God of the Sky, Heru-Ur. After all, March 21 in the Cairo calendar is called the “feast of Re-constituting Heaven: The Company of the Gods, union of the houses of RA, Ausar and Heru.”

© 1995 Vincent Bridges