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by Philip Coppens What is the meaning of the interior design of the Great Pyramid and its three chambers? Is there a representation of the Duat, the Egyptian concept of the “place” after death, around Gizeh, as many authors have posited? What if the two questions have the same answer? What if the interior design of the Great Pyramid is a three-dimensional representation of the Duat? What happens to the soul? The question must be as old as Mankind. J.W. Dunne stated that “there can be no reasonable doubt that the idea of a soul must have first arisen in the mind of primitive man as the result of observation of his dreams. Ignorant as he was, he could have come to no other conclusion but that, in dreams, he left his sleeping body in one universe and went wandering off into another.” The possibility that “soul” and “body” were separate, must have been around millennia of years.
So when the body died, what happened to the soul? Did it die also, and if not, what happened to it? In the 21st century, the only answer to that question apart from the various religions that argue in general directions, is the Near Death Experience. Two eminent doctors, Fenwick and Parnia, investigated the experiences of 63 cardiac arrest victims at Southampton General Hospital. They concluded that “these people were having these experiences when we wouldn’t expect them to happen, when the brain shouldn’t be able to sustain lucid processes or allow them to form memories that would last […] Essentially, it comes back to the question of whether the mind or consciousness is produced from the brain. If we can prove that the mind is produced by the brain, I don’t think there is anything after we die because essentially we are conscious beings. If, on the contrary, the brain is like an intermediary which manifests the mind, like a television will act as an intermediary to manifest waves in the air into a picture or a sound, we can show that the mind is still there after the brain is dead. And that is what I think these near-death experiences indicate.”
Whether or not this is true, it is definitely what the experience indicates – and what our forefathers must have experienced. Small wonder therefore that some researchers believe that the Near Death Experience, and similar events in which body and mind dissociate, are at the origin of religion. The first form of institutionalised religion occurred in Egypt and Sumer. Specifically because of political regimes in Iraq, the fame of Sumer has always failed in comparison with Egypt. Nevertheless, in both cases, notions of what the Egyptians and Sumerians believed to the soul after death – whether true or perceived truth – is generally lacking. In short, the region of death in Egypt was called Duat – very close to the word Death; in Sumer, it was called Nibiru, “Crossing”. Nibiru was not a strange planet circulating our solar system, as authors as Zecharia Sitchin would have us believe, but instead was the region of Death, that “crossing” between the world of the living and the dead – which in Greece was symbolised by Charon, the ferryman who would transfer the soul to the other side of the River Styx. In Egypt, the symbol was that of the Henu Bark, the boat that carried the soul to heaven – the equivalent of the Magur boat of the Sumerians.
The Apkallu, or Anunnaki, would by extension not be astronauts, but would be the spirit aides that help the soul in its negotiations of the Duat, or Nibiru – the neteru, gods, of the ancient Egyptians. The Sumerian shem would not be a spaceship, but the “Celestial Bark”, the Argo, in which the soul would travel in Nibiru. Shem can be translated as “sky chamber” and if our interpretation of the chambers in the Great Pyramid is correct, this name is particularly apt: the chambers were “sky chambers”. The Pyramid Texts were said to be written on the “Henu Bark”, and as they were written on the walls of the burial chamber inside the pyramids, it is clear that the chambers were envisioned as the Celestial Bark – thus explaining the presence of boats next to the pyramids, such as the Great Pyramid.
The Pyramid Texts state how “I am a soul… a star of gold”. In Egyptian symbolism, the soul was placed on a boat, lead by a navigator: the boat would be the instrument for the soul’s exploration of the Duat. The Papyrus of Nu, from the 18th Dynasty, says that the original text was indeed present in the Shrine of the Sacred Boat. The Book of the Dead was literally a map for travel in the Duat.
But what was the Duat? Eastern religions speak of a state following death that is literally a “state of nothingness”. They have called this the “bardo”, which is identical to the Christian concept of Purgatory – or the Egyptian concept of the Duat?
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is not the only map for the travel of the soul after death: the Tibetan Book of the Dead is a similar work. The Tibetan Book is called the Bardo Thodol and is a manual to help the soul in the review of its previous life and the planning of the next life. It is clear that this body of knowledge coincides with the elementary aspects of the Near-Death Experience.
The Tibetan Book describes the various stages that the soul will have to pass through at death. But it is a book for the living as well: it aims to concentrate the mind of the living on their continual preparation for the afterlife, with liberation from the cycle of life and death as the ultimate goal. However, reincarnation is deemed to be the most likely outcome for the majority of human beings who have not attained sufficient spiritual advancement during their life, and preceding past lives. Some authors, in particular Andrew Collins, have argued that the Duat, the Egyptian Underworld, must have been physically represented underneath the Gizeh complex. This idea has led to various theories, specifically referring to Edgar Cayce, who claimed that a chamber underneath the Sphinx existed, which would hold evidence of the lost civilisation of Atlantis. In more recent years, the discovery of a small door leading from an “air shaft”, the so-called Gantenbrink door, has fuelled speculation that there are as yet undiscovered chambers inside the Great Pyramid.
Though this is certainly a possibility, most if not all of us have missed the point. If we were to ask the question whether anyone doubts the fact that we have identified the core chambers and corridors of the Great Pyramid, the answer would be “no”: it is clear that the current known passages are the main arteries inside the highest building in the world, until the Eiffel tower was finished in the 19th century.
The next question to ask is what these passages mean, if anything. For many Egyptologists, they are merely the visible evidence of a Pharaoh who repeatedly changed his mind, from being buried in the subterranean chamber, to a new room, which is now known as the “Queen’s Chamber”, and eventually the King’s Chamber. Anyone familiar with project management will know that project owners often change their mind, and either request changes, or even alter the scope of the project. But if you were project manager of the biggest building project the world had ever seen, and would ever see for the next 5000 years also, would you agree with these changes? The answer would be “no” – specifically as it is known that Khufu – or Cheops as the Greeks called him – was not a tyrant as Herodotus would have it, but instead an apparently nice man: his father Snofru was easily swayed in his opinions and ideas, but nevertheless successful managed the construction of three pyramids. Rather than argue that case, let us assume, as more and more Egyptologists do, that the design was always intended to incorporate three chambers. What would that mean? What was Khufu trying to do?
The answer has always been lacking, though speculation has been wild, including theories that each chamber formed part of an operational process in which the Great Pyramid was nothing more – or less – than a power plant.
Let us look at the Egyptian word for pyramid, which is mer. As leading Egyptologist Mark Lehner has pointed out, this is possibly derived from m, meaning “instrument” or “place”, and ar meaning “ascension”. Therefore, the pyramid is either the place of ascension or the instrument of ascension, or both. I.E.S. Edwards also identified mer or mr as “instrument/place of ascension”, but added that the interpretation was “open to justifiable doubt”. What the word meant, nobody knows for sure, as the m-er conjunction is unusual in Egyptian grammar. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the mer is written as a pyramid, which is definitely capturing the essence.
Again, “ascension” has been interpreted as taking off in a rocket space ship. But the “ascent to Heaven” should perhaps be looked upon in a metaphysical context. After all, though Egyptologists might not have been perfectly able to explain the meaning of the pyramid, it is a matter of fact that the Pyramid Texts speak of a metaphysical journey, of the soul, on his way through the Duat, to reach the Afterlife. Charles Muses (1919-2000), a man who walked the fine line between New Age and solid research, realised that in the museum of Torino, in Italy, there was a coffin from the Egyptian village of “Two Hills” (Gebelein) which depicted the plan of the Duat, as written down in the Coffin Texts, spell 650.
It visualises the three paths of the soul at death, at the Duat, the Crossing: floating about, return or voyage. It is depicted as a fork in which the central path leads to regeneration (the voyage) and the other two diverge from it, postponing the regeneration.
The Egyptians visualised this in the concept of the Henu Boat, where his navigator guided the soul: once it set off, where did the soul want to go to? Float about, return to shore, or go to an undiscovered country?
Muses identified each path with the types of couch, or bier – or coffin – on which the deceased, and Osiris, the god who had died and had had to face the same trial, laid. The central path (resurrection) was identified with the lion couch, the hippopotamus couch with return to the shore (reincarnation) and the cow couch with the floating about in the Duat.
There are various depictions of the “lion couch”, as this was the path obviously favoured by all those who were buried – and definitely for the Pharaoh. After all, if the Pharaoh did not go on the voyage, who would? Examples of a hippopotamus and cow bier were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and his tomb shows that each couch was furnished, as to a large extent, what would happen after death could only be confirmed once the deceased Pharaoh was dead – it was then that the choice had to be made. As Tutankhamun died at a very young age, it is clear that it was not at all clear that his “mission in life” had been fulfilled and that he would have gotten enough brownie points to enter the Afterlife – the realm of the gods, the “First Time”, a point beyond Creation, beyond Time. The state of the bardo is therefore identical to the encoffined Osiris: though dead, he is not “dead dead”: there is still potential, not for an earthly life, but for a life “elsewhere”. The “soul” is in a “land of nothingness”, a gateway, a crossroads, where the soul is also in need of a guide.
Let us go through each option one by one. At death, the easiest path was the path of reincarnation: one body was exchanged for another and the cycle of life continued. In nature, this cycle was visible in the snake shedding its skin, the sun rising and setting, the seasons, the deer renewing its antlers – symbols and “physical evidence” that has been found at many sacred sites. It was the path chosen by most souls, it seems for a variety of reasons: the sahu, the Egyptian term for soul, might have too much fear to go on a voyage or even dwell in the Duat for too long; the life review might have been specifically negative: life was not led properly, and hence a successive incarnation is required for the soul to grow before it might be ready to return to the Source.
The path of the Cow was to sail about in the Sacred Boat in the Duat. It is believed that this was literally “biding time”: the soul was undecided what to do. It is this state that in popular parlance is known as a ghost: the soul is literally in a state of “nowhere”, it has not gone on. It could also be the state in which certain séances, particularly popular in Victorian England, contacted the “dead” and received information from “the beyond”. But at some point, the soul could either reincarnate, or the boat could set course towards the “Lion Path’s Gateway”. As mentioned, some authors, in particular Andrew Collins, have argued that the Duat, the bardo, must have been physically represented underneath the Gizeh complex. But if the Duat was represented on the Gizeh plateau, I do not think it is something hidden underneath its sandy surface. Could it be in front of our very eyes? Central to the imagery of the Duat is a central path, a tunnel, from the world of the living, into the darkness of the Duat. In that tunnel, the soul is given three paths, each leading to a specific destiny, and identified, at least at the times of Tuthankhamun, with three different couches: a cow, a hippopotamus and a lion.
This imagery translates straightforwardly to the Great Pyramid: the entrance leads down into a dark, low tunnel. By default, the path descends to the Lower Chamber. However, there is an entrance towards another tunnel, leading to the “Queen’s Chamber” or the “King’s Chamber”. A lot of ink has been written as to how this stone blocking this tunnel was put in place, and whether it could pivot or not. That is less important than the observation that there was a “guarded” entrance in this fork in the road. Once in the ascending passage – an apt description for those trying to attain heaven – a further fork occurred, one leading to the Queen’s Chamber, another that continued to climb, towards the King’s Chamber.
Did each of the tombs symbolise a path? The path of reincarnation, of the Hippopotamus, would be the Underground Chamber: easiest to reach, but very “basic”: earth to earth. The path of the Cow would be the Queen’s Chamber: in between both, specifically there for a soul stalling to make the final ascent to the King’s Chamber. The Lion’s path would be the continued ascent towards the King’s Chamber, where the “tomb of God”, the coffin, was the symbol of resurrection – initiation in the Divine Abode.
This interpretation of the Great Pyramid as the three-dimensional visualisation of the Duat would explain many anomalies, too many to list here. But one intriguing anomaly is the “Well shaft”, a roughly hewn path that connects the Lower Chamber with the fork in the tunnel towards respectively the Queen’s and King’s Chambers. This path was the “loop” from the second path, that of the Cow, either to reincarnation or regeneration. It would, by default, have to bypass the original “choice” (the original fork in the road), but would have to lead to both other chambers. For the architect, this presented a problem, but I believe the shaft and its execution display exactly the nature of the path: it was rough, “unhewn”. To some extent, the architect had made the passage from the Queen’s Chamber to the Lower Chamber more difficult than the passage towards the King’s Chamber: It was a reminder that the seeker “had come so far, why not go all the way”?
The Well Shaft is not open to the public and few people officially enter it, though it seems that the guards on the Plateau must occasionally practice climbing it, as they normally act as decent guides for those who do enter it, such as Mark Lehner. Its purpose is unknown and whatever scenario has been proposed for its function, it has always failed. I believe that the theory that the Great Pyramid was the three-dimensional representations of the Duat and the paths within, not only makes sense of the number of chambers, but specifically of the reason behind the presence of the “Well Shaft”. It would also firmly set into place the presence of the Sphinx, the guardian of the Duat – and above all, why the Sphinx was in the form of a lion with a human head. Was it because those who entered were humans on the Lion’s Path, towards the Abode of Osiris?
The longevity of the Lion’s Path and its shamanic origins were substantiated and reported during the final phase of this book. On December 18, 2003, The Times reported that three tiny figurines carved from mammoth ivory had been unearthed in a cave in Germany, at Hohle Fels. The figurines were 30,000 years old. One of the carvings was of a humanoid body with the head of a lion, which was identified by the archaeologists of the shamanic religion of our forefathers 30,000 years ago. A similar “lion-person” had been discovered in another German cave, in 1939. The cave, of course, was Nature’s “sky chamber”, a dark place in the womb of the Earth, at the end of which was a bright light; a natural Great Pyramid, a natural representation of the bardo experiences. The Book of the Dead, it seems, is much older than the origins of the Egyptian Dynasties. Mark Lehner states that the Duat, the Netherworld, was written as a star in a circle. He states that “in the Pyramid Texts the Duat is connected to the Earth or to a darker region lying primarily beneath. Aker, the earth god in the form of a double Sphinx, was the entrance – already the Sphinx is a guardian of gateways.” In this case it is quite clear how the Duat is entered: via the Sphinx. Or rather, the Sphinx is the guardian of the entrance, of the gateway, which from the depiction of the Duat as a star in a circle, is quite literally a “star gate”, although not in the concept of an entrance to heaven, but to the Underworld. It is, furthermore, not an opening to an Underground Chamber which would hold evidence of Atlantis, but it is an entrance into the Duat. The sphinx is a mixture of Man and a Lion, expressing the idea that those who came, should aim to walk the Lion’s Path, and opt for the “difficult option”, to ascend to Heaven, to the Realms of the Gods.
When Rundle Clark noted that the concept of the Duat was “without light and beyond the reach of man. It is the place of the formation of the living out of the dead and the past, the true meeting-place of time before and after” , he described it as a midway station, a place where past, present and future met – a place outside of time.
Rundle Clark stated that the “Egyptians […] do not seem to have given a fixed location to the Duat; it is usually under the Earth but sometimes beyond the visible sky vault (“the belly of Nut”) or in the waters which they imagined to extend everywhere beneath the land.” What Egyptologists in general and Rundle Clark in this instance have missed, is that the Duat was a metaphysical place: it was not in Orion or elsewhere in the stars; the stars were merely aides, used in the storytelling of the voyage of the soul…The Great Pyramid was a three-dimensional representation of the soul’s journey in the Duat. Visible and clear… built to last, finally understood… This article appeared in Atlantis Rising, Issue 76 (July – August 2009).