“Man fears Time, yet Time fears the Pyramids.”
Until ca. 1500 AD, Egypt was believed to be the only country where pyramids could be found. With the discovery of America, we learned that the Mayan civilisation had its own pyramids. And that, it seemed, were the only two civilisations that were into pyramid building as a national pass-time, if not obsession. But in the last decade, pyramids are being found almost anywhere: in 1994, the existence of pyramids was confirmed in China; then, archaeologists announced the discovery of a pyramid complex in Caral, Peru, which was older than the pyramids of Gizeh; more recently, there have been controversial announcements of their existence in Northern Italy and in 2005, the latest in this series, a global media phenomenon with the announcement that there were pyramids in Bosnia.
The old status quo that it were but the ancient Egyptians and the Mayans that built pyramids has been upset and over the past decade, hardly a month seems to have gone by without a pyramid being found; and almost each year, a gigantic pyramid or pyramid complex is found somewhere. Today, it is clear that massive pyramids are a feature of many civilisations, while the pyramids of Italy and Bosnia are not easily associated with any culture that is known to have either built such large remains or built pyramids.
Over the past decade, the landscape of the pyramid debate has therefore radically changed and offers science a challenge. Today, I want to set out the challenge, as well as provide some of the answers that may be the key revelation of what the pyramids truly are. I hope that it will stimulate debate and can become a “foundation stone” of what I have termed “The New Pyramid Age”. With the discovery of the new world, the “Great Pyramid” of Egypt remained great, but no longer the greatest: the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla, is now the largest in the world by volume. It has a base of 450 by 450 metres (1476 by 1476 ft) and a height of 66 metres (217 ft) – making it smaller than the Great Pyramid in height, which thus largely preserves its status as “the highest”. But it is its total volume, estimated at 4.45 million m³, which makes it almost one third larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Many have not heard of the pyramid of Cholula and few tourists visiting Mexico will find it on its path. There is a reason for this: the pyramid remains largely unexcavated; it appears to be a natural hill surmounted by a church. The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of the Remedies), also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de los Remedios (Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Remedies) was built by the Spanish on the site of a pre-Hispanic temple in 1594. It is this church’s presence that is preventing the pyramid as a whole to be excavated and restored to its original glory. Still, archaeological excavations have occurred and some five miles (8 km) of tunnels have so far been uncovered inside. It has been established that the pyramid was begun in Pre-Classic times (2000 BC – 200 AD) and enlarged four times.
You might think that the Spanish weren’t aware of the pyramid’s existence when they built the church on top, but you would be wrong. The Franciscan Diego de Duran visited Cholula in 1585 and interviewed the town’s elder, who was said to be more than one hundred years old. He told de Duran how “in the beginning, before the light of the sun had been created, this place, Cholula, was in obscurity and darkness; all was a plain, without hill or elevation, encircled in every part by water, without tree or created thing. Immediately after the light and the sun rose in the east there appeared gigantic men of deformed stature who possessed the land. Enamoured of the light and beauty of the sun they determined to build a tower so high that its summit should reach the sky. Having collected materials for the purpose they found a very adhesive clay and bitumen with which they speedily commenced to build the tower… And having reared it to the greatest possible altitude, so that it reached the sky, the Lord of the Heavens, enraged, said to the inhabitants of the sky, ‘Have you observed how they of the earth have built a high and haughty tower to mount hither, being enamoured of the light of the sun and his beauty? Come and confound them, because it is not right that they of the earth, living in the flesh, should mingle with us.’ Immediately the inhabitants of the sky sallied forth like flashes of lightning; they destroyed the edifice and divided and scattered its builders to all parts of the earth.”
The story seems like a new world version of the Tower of Babel, equally destroyed by God and equally resulting in our scattering “to all parts of the earth”. The question that intrigues me most for the moment is the question whether this “tower of Cholula” was the pyramid of Cholula. Unlike the Tower of Babel, de Duran’s story does not indicate that the Tower of Cholula was destroyed. Was the Pyramid of Cholula the structure that was raised towards the sky, so that man could enter it? It seems that within the local mythological landscape, this could indeed be the case. Far better known to the tourists is Teotihuacan, the largest-known pre-Columbian city in the Americas. It bloomed between 300 and 600 AD and covered 20 km2 (7.7 square miles), once holding a population of 200,000 people. The name was given by the Aztec centuries after the fall of the city and is translated as “the place where men became gods”; the original name of the city is unknown. Recently, the glyph that represents the city has been translated as “the place of the precious sacrifice”.
The central focus of the complex is, as mentioned, a series of pyramids: the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun, whom together with the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, are the axis along which the city was developed. The actual central axis is the “Avenue of the Dead”, running from the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon past the other pyramid and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and beyond, originally covering a distance of four kilometres (ca. 2.5 miles). It was named “Avenue of the Dead” because of the archaeological discoveries made alongside it, though the name may also betray a mythical aspect, as Stansbury Hagar suggested that the Avenue may be a representation of the Milky Way – which in mythology is normally seen as a Way of the Soul, taken by the soul after death, to ascend to the Afterlife… Heaven. As Teotihuacan was known as a “place where men became gods”… Teotihuacan was a place of pilgrimage in Aztec times; the Aztecs identified it with the myth of Tollan, the place where the sun was created – and a site that popular authors often link with Atlantis. According to another legend, it was where the Gods gathered to plan the creation of man and yet another legend stated that the complex was built to transform men into gods. Like Cholula, the sun, a “tower to reach the gods” and a point of creation seem to be required ingredients in any pyramid package. But Teotihuacan offers us an insight that will allow us to go beyond these initial observations.
When astronomer Gerald Hawkins investigated Teotihuacan, he discovered that the streets were laid out on a grid system, intersecting at angles of 89 degrees, instead of the ninety degrees you would expect to find. This could be a simple design flaw, until Hawkins realised that the grid was not aligned to the four points of the compass, but was instead twisted sideways so that the Avenue of the Dead ran north-north-east, thus pointing at the setting of the Pleiades. On May 17, ca. 150 AD, the Pleiades rose just before the Sun in the predawn skies. This synchronisation, known as the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, only lasted a century. It is now suggested that it was this event that was at the origin of Teotihuacan and marked its foundation. The sun and the Pleiades are important in the religious rituals of the New World. The Sun-Pleiades zenith conjunction marked what is known as the New Fire ceremony. Father Bernardino de Sahugun’s Aztec informants stated that the ceremony occurred at the end of every 52 year Calendar Round. The Aztecs and their predecessors had carefully observed the Pleiades and on the expected night the constellation was supposed to pass through the zenith, precisely at midnight, the New Fire ceremony was performed.
The story is in line with the legend that the gods gathered together at Teotihuacan and wondered anxiously who was to be the next Sun. The conclave occurred at the end of the previous World Age, which had just been destroyed by a flood. Now, only the sacred fire could be seen in the darkness, still quaking in the wind following the recent chaos. “Someone will have to sacrifice himself, throw himself into the fire,” they cried, “only then will there be a Sun”. Two deities, Nanahuatzin and Tecciztecatl, both tried the divine sacrifice. One burnt quickly, the other roasted slowly. It is here that Quetzalcoatl’s religious importance is explained, for it was then that he manifested himself and was able to survive the fire, ensuring a new World Age – ours.
A subterranean passage leads from a natural cave (another parallel with the Great Pyramid of Giza) under the west face of the Pyramid of the Sun. It is believed that this cave played an important role in the New Fire ceremony. The cave opening points directly to the setting sun on May 19 and July 25, the key dates for Teotihuacan. The cave is seven feet high and was found to run eastwards for more than 300 feet, until it reached a point close to the pyramid’s geometrical centre. Here it led into a second cave, which had been artificially enlarged into a shape very similar to that of a four-leaf clover. Each “leaf” was a chamber, about 60 feet in circumference, containing a variety of artefacts such as slate discs or mirrors. There was also a complex drainage system of interlocking segments of carved rock pipes. This is strange, as there is no known source of water within the pyramid. The story of Teotihuacan fits within a lost Aztec Codex, written down by Martin Matz from Mazatec Indians, who transmitted it for several centuries within their community. The text is known as the Codex Matz-Ayauhtla, or the Pyramid of Fire, and describes a series of legends, from the creation myth to the New Fire ceremony, which is the finale to the initiatory spiritual journey that is encoded into the codex. The text underlines the essence of the Mayan’s religious experience, namely that life is a spiritual journey to ascension – a return to God, the One who created the universe. The text states how the supreme deity, Tloque Nahauque, manifested itself as three forces – a duality functioning against a neutral background, from which the four prime elements were created.
Matz made the journey himself; he visited an initiatory site with his shamanic guide, where he took a hallucinogenic substance (in his case mushrooms), entered a cave at a specific moment in the calendar, and consequently was shown a landscape of pyramids, including one that was dedicated to the Moon. The initiate was then taught about the World Ages, the success of Quetzalcoatl, and how ascension and world ages were connected via the New Fire ceremony – and how they were performed every 52 years.
The American author John Major Jenkins has described this as “the ultimate self-sacrifice that is the ritual death attending the mystic initiation into divine life […] in order to merge with Quetzalcoatl, which according to my reconstruction of the New Fire ceremony represents the Pleiades in the zenith with sun at nadir”. It is clear that Teotihuacan formed a site where this New Fire festival was performed: the cave inside the Pyramid of the Sun, with its specific alignment, is primary evidence. But we also need to ask whether the pyramids of Teotihuacan were – could be – a visual representation of the hallucinogenic landscape that the initiates experienced… Was Teotihuacan the materialistic representation of a dream – literally?
Also, let us note that the purpose of the codex and the essence of our existence is the transformation of man into God – which is what the name Teotihuacan signifies. But how was man transformed into God? Was the New Fire ceremony the literal burning of men, who died for ascension?
It now seems clear that Teotihuacan too is indeed a “Tower of Babel”, or a “Tower of Cholula”: a place where men tried to become one with the gods – which, to make a quick parallel with the Old World, in Egypt was known through the myth of Osiris. Let us listen to the Mayan story of creation, which has survived the destruction of the Spanish invasion. It is contained within the Popol Vuh, a 17th century book of the history of the Quiche Maya. The focus is on the activities of the Twin Maize Gods and their family at the time of this Third Creation, which the Maya date to 3114 BC. Many scholars now believe that August 12, 3114 BC marked a significant celestial event – though its exact nature remains elusive.
There are several parallels between the Codex Matz-Ayauhtla, describing the New Fire ceremony, and the Popol Vuh. When playing ball, the Twin Maize Gods disturbed the lords of Xibalba, the Maya underworld. The Xibalbans summoned the Maize Gods to the underworld to answer for their disrespectful behaviour. There, they subjected them to a series of trials. When they failed these tests, they were killed and buried in the Ball court of Xibalba. The eldest twin was decapitated, his head hung in the tree next to the ball court, as a warning to anyone who might repeat their offence. It is the Mayan equivalent of the two contenders for the new sun who entered the Fire and perished.
Despite the stern warning not to meddle with the gods, the daughter of a Xibalban lord went to visit the skull, which spoke to her, spitting in her hand and thus making her pregnant. She escaped from the underworld and gave birth to twin boys, the Hero Twins, Hun-Ahaw and Yax-Balam, who themselves were summoned to the Underworld, after they had found their dead father’s ball playing equipment. Like their father, they too had made too much noise, but they, unlike their predecessors, were not fooled by the trials of the lords.
After a long series of ballgames, the Hero Twins defeated the Lords of Death and resurrected their fathers, which were reborn as infants. They quickly grew to adulthood, and with dwarf helpers (indeed), woke up three old gods. Two of them became known as the Paddler Gods, because they paddled the Maize Gods to the Place of Creation. The third oldster, God L, was the patron of the merchants and warriors, and destroyed the Third Creation by a great flood. I will briefly point out the many parallels between both accounts: the ballgame vs. the Fire, the destruction of the Third Creation vs. the end of a World Age, etc. But above all, it involves yet another “point of creation”. When the Gods arrived at the place of the New Creation, they sprang up from a crack in the back of a Cosmic Turtle. The crack is identified with the Ball court. But the Maya identified this turtle with the three stars of Orion’s Belt – and we thus finally understand why the pyramids of Teotihuacan – if not Gizeh – were laid out in this form.
Once reborn, the Maize Gods directed four old gods to set up the first Hearth of Creation, to centre the new order. This was a hearth made up from three stones. The first stone was in the shape of a jaguar, the second in the form of a snake and the third was a crocodile or shark. The first was set in a place called Na-Ho-Kan, by the Paddler Gods. The second stone was set on the Earth, but by whom is not known. The third was set in the sea by Itzamna, the First Sorcerer.
The Maya saw this hearth in the sky, as the triangle of stars below Orion’s Belt (Al Nitak, Saiph and Rigel), with the Orion Nebula as the fire. And it is this hearth that was set up on August 12, 3114 BC – the day of creation – the date of a New Fire ceremony. 542 days later, on February 5, 3112 BC, the Maize Gods completed the Fourth Creation, by setting up the four sides and corners of creation and erecting the central tree – the world tree. This tree was the Wakah-Kan, or “Raise up Sky”. It was a great ceiba tree in flower, because February 5, the day of its erection, was also the flowering season for this popular Latin American tree. The tree’s stellar equivalent is the Milky Way, leading us back to the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan. The temples of the Chichen Itza complex are amongst the most widely visited in Mexico and its proximity to the holiday resort of Cancun is not solely to thank for this – though it definitely helps. As it sits at sea level, the climbing experiences are less harrowing than for example Teotihuacan. But pyramid climbing unfortunately detracts from the tremendous insights that this complex is able to provide us: Chichen Itza is the easiest location where one can enter into the mind of its builders – or, to be more specific, where we can answer that all-important “why”-question.
The name Itza itself is derived from Itzamna, the chief Mayan deity that sat on top of the World Tree – like the musician of the Papantla Flyers. Itza functioned as a regional capital of the Maya from 750 to 1200 AD. Chichen Itza’s Mayan name means “city on the edge of the water sorcerer’s well” and that well is the Sacred Cenote, the path the tourists will best remember for being lined with endless souvenir stands that lead to a round lake – which for some tourists has less appeal than the toilet facilities next to it. Still, it is the Sacred Cenote’s presence that may have been the main reason why the town was built where it is – a fact that most tourist guides on the complex fail to underline… some tours leaving out the Sacred Cenote – and toilet facilities – altogether. In one version of the myth, the Aztec built a temple on top of Snake Mountain for their patron god Huitzilopochtli, who then built a ball court at the base of the mountain, and in the centre he placed a hole, called an Itzompan, or Skull Place. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that there is a Ball Court next to El Castillo. Indeed, the Ball court of Chichen Itza is both one of the most impressive and one of the best preserved.
The Ballgame had a sacred function, visualising with the Myth of Creation and Origin. The most essential message we should retain from it is that it was the visualisation of the story of the creation of the Fourth World; it thus should be seen as theatre, more than sport. Finally, nearby is indeed the “Skull place” – confirming that Chichen Itza was indeed built following the layout indicated by the creation myth. Tour guides will tell stories that the captain of the winning team was decapitated, whereby his decapitated head was brought to the T-form shaped platform. Perhaps… perhaps… but perhaps the true answer to the enigma of the “Skull place” can be found in the creation myth. And could it be that it was here that one of the enigmatic “crystal skulls” was located? When I walk around Chichen Itza, I can see legends and mysteries come to live, painted against this stone backdrop. Like the inside of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, El Castillo contains a man-made cave, which was believed to be a passage to the Otherworld. On the “mirror side” of Chichen Itza, we find the High Priest’s Grave, which was constructed over a natural cave and which has been described as a “smaller version of El Castillo”. Pyramids, sitting on top of natural caves, with artificial chambers inside… it sounds so much like ancient Egypt. It sounds like the Great Pyramid.
The chamber inside El Castillo contains a statue of a red jaguar, decorated with flint teeth and jade eyes. A jaguar… almost like a lion? Like the Sphinx? What archaeologists have accomplished in the Mayan world over the past two centuries – and on many sites, in less than a century – is impressive. The buildings have been interpreted within their religious framework, that of the creation myth, which is intimately linked with an astronomical cult, in which key dates to do with the star Venus and its position to the Earth were of extreme religious and social importance. The Inca do not appear to have been great pyramid builders, though they took over the management of several existing pyramids along the Peruvian coastline. As impressive and beautiful as Macchu Picchu or Cuzco are, there are no pyramids, though sites such as Sacsayhuaman, on the hill above Cuzco, are clear evidence that the Incas were able to work with gigantic stones.
I can’t blame the Inca for not building pyramids: building pyramids at altitudes sometimes in excess of 9000 feet may stretch the notion of fun – most people have problems walking at their normal pace from the hotel to the boats moored on the shores of Lake Titicaca, at 3821 metres (12,536 feet) the highest navigable lake in the world. But there is always a but… The legend of Viracocha and how he “walked” the sacred valley, which roughly stretches from Tiahuanaco to Cuzco and onwards to Macchu Picchu, brings us face to face with the enigmas of the Incan civilisation: Tiahuanaco, Cuczo and Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo and Macchu Picchu. They designate key sites on his voyage, the “Holy Road” travelled by the Creator Deity. The recent fame of Macchu Picchu has somewhat upset the importance of this “path” as a whole, but two Peruvian authors, which I will refer to as the Salazar brothers, clearly identify that Ollantaytambo was in Inca times much more important. Though at first apparently much less impressive than Macchu Picchu, its siting within the landscape is nevertheless complex – and contains more symbolism than Macchu Picchu. Again, though there is no pyramid at Ollantaytambo, it is a sacred site and it has been carefully positioned within the natural landscape, with which it interacts.
Research has identified that the Inca civilisation had specific preferences of alignments to certain mountain tops, evidence of which can be found in Macchu Picchu. These mountains were the residences of the apu, the mountain gods and every year, a major procession still makes it way up one mountain, to come face to face with the divine abode of god. But the pilgrimage is hard and only fit men dare to go on it. Many – most – both now and in Inca times, had to experience their religious life in the valleys below.
At Ollantaytambo, most guides point out how the impressive megalithic structures were placed on the side of the hill and the effort that went into them. But the Salazars point out that what gave the site its sacredness was the profile of a human being, identified with Viracocha, which can be clearly distinguished in the mountain side opposite the main sanctuary. They have further identified that the temple at Ollantaytambo is aligned to certain notches in that hill, the alignment of which coincides with important sunrises in the calendar. In Ollantaytambo, it is the stone face of Viracocha towering over the site that is part of the Inca legend; it is this presence that shows that the creator god is still present, literally “watching over” his people… and the modern tourist. There are more such solar alignments incorporated in this area’s sacred layout: the Salazars identified that in the valley below Ollantaytambo, the first beam of the sunrise falls on the so-called Pacaritanpu (“House of Dawn”), where the gods became divine and which they identify as the site of the Inca’s mythic origin – a place of creation. When you look upon this “House of Dawn” from Ollantaytambo, it is hardly identifiable and definitely does not look important, unless it is looked upon with the “right eyes”. At first, there appears to be nothing but a cultivated field. Though dating from the Inca time period, the question why an ancient field should be so important, is a good one. But a second glance will reveal that the entire field portrays a gigantic pyramid. So, rather than build an actual pyramid, the Inca have used an “optical illusion” to create a pyramid out of delineating fields. It is a pyramid, but it’s a pyramid in two dimensions, though when viewed from the right location – which was marked as sacred – it looks like a three-dimensional pyramid. The Salazar brothers say that the Incan legends identify the Pacaritanpu as the site from which the first Incas came into the world after the Flood, the end of the previous age and thus the point of creation of the new world. “So wrote Cabello Balboa in 1586 without understanding the magnitude of the monument he was describing, because this place […] was not built to be seen from the dwellings of man […] but rather from the heights where the mountain powers have their abode.” This abode is a place called Intipuncu, or Gateway of the Sun, and is located five hours of continuous ascent from the valley floor. Climbing this mountain would be suicide (and I “of course” did not have the time… and it rained at the time as well…), so I will let the Salazars describe what all tourists can see on the pages of their book: “the succession of nine terraces used for cultivation (and provided with irrigation canals and founts of water) appears to the observer to make up the two main faces of a pyramid […] Recent studies carried out in the area agree with a tradition that says that the soil for these terraces was brought from far away in order to build them.” This sand thus sits in the same category as the mica of Teotihuacan and that other enigmatic sand inside the Great Pyramid; “out of place materials” incorporated into the pyramid shape.
The Salazars draw specific attention to two areas on one “side” of the pyramid, which they describe as “two enigmatic ‘windows’”: “In Inca mythology these ‘windows’ symbolize the doorway through which one gains access to the world of the unknown.” So it seems that these windows were like a gateway, an entrance – a stargate? – into another dimension. “They also represent the sacred receptacles with which, by means of light from the sun, the upper world communes with the interior world in the cycle that activates the principle of generation that give life to man and the Earth.” So, once again, the sun and stories about (re)generation of man and the Earth – linked with floods and creation. What does it mean? Modern research suggests that the Sacred Valley of the Vilcamayu and Urubamba rivers symbolised the Milky Way – further parallels with the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan and other pyramid and religious centres. William Sullivan reports on the intentional flooding of Cuzco, when in January, at sunset, they opened the floodgates and let a torrent of water rush through the streets of the capital: “As the floodwaters scoured the streets, they washed along the ashes of all the burnt offerings from the previous year. Runners waited at the bottom of the city, at the point where the Tullumayu and Huatanay rivers convened, and swept the offerings into the Vilcamayu River. As the flood approached them, the runners began a race of more than thirty miles along the banks of the Vilcamayu, all the way to Ollantaytambo, where the river begins to drop off steeply toward confluence with the Amazon.” Sullivan and others have seen the Vilcamayu as the “River of the Sun”, taking on the form of the Milky Way. The inhabitants of Cuzco, it seemed, remembered the Flood of the previous world by creating one annually. It clearly signified a renewal of life, the New Year, and washed away the “ashes” of the previous year. And, in what should now be unsurprisingly, as the flood washed away the ashes of the old fires, a new fire was lit – a New Fire Ceremony. At Ollantaytambo, “at a bridge spanning the river, [others were waiting] and threw a final offering of coca into the torrent. Throughout the night, innumerable torches, stationed along the river bank, lit the runners’ way. […] The river, then, was meant to carry the offerings right out of this world. […] According to Molina, this event began at sunset in the month of January, that is, when the southeast/northwest branch of the Milky Way was up and moving toward the zenith.” Why is there this connection between the Milky Way and the soul? Because it was seen as the path the souls took on their way from this realm to the “Otherworld”. Did the lights along the runner’s course represent both the stars and the souls of the deceased, along which the runners raced towards Ollantaytambo, the site near the “Pyramid of the Dawn”, where the gods became gods – like at Teotihuacan, where a ceremony involving water and fire equally seemed to “make gods”? In Teotihuacan, “men became gods”; they ascended. The Egyptian hieroglyph for “ascent” is a step pyramid. Was the pyramid therefore a stairway to heaven, to help the king ascend to the sky, to the abode of the gods?
Ancient Egypt was a concretisation of tribal shamanic knowledge. The tribe’s shaman not merely focused on death, but also on the world of the living, which many cultures saw as preparation for death. The notion that life and death are not mutually exclusive but should be seen as an integrated whole can also be found in the innovative approaches of Lehner and Hawass. They are slowly abandoning the old dogma that the pyramids were nothing but tombs. They may have been tombs, but it is now also more and more obvious that they performed a function for the living king – they were a temple, as well as a tomb.
This forces us to see the pyramid as places of initiation, rather than gigantic mausoleums. Such an interpretation was very much in vogue a century ago, mainly by people of Masonic ideology. But Freemasonry is, in essence, a stylised rendition of a voluntary death during the lifetime – an initiation. Before Hawass and Lehner, the “pyramid as temple of initiation” debate – which makes the Egyptian pyramids conform to the pyramid template –was revived in 1982 by the Egyptologist Edward Wente and has been discussed by British author Jeremy Naydler. Naydler stated that “while scholars generally accept that this ‘voluntary death’ was one of the central aims of the Greek and Hellenistic mystery cults, Egyptology has resisted the idea that any such initiatory rites or experiences existed in Egypt.” In my opinion, this would make Egypt unique amongst all ancient civilisations – by the absence of such practices. It would mean that Egypt, of all ancient cultures, did not have a religion that allowed for the spiritual development of the soul… which would be extremely odd, for all ancient accounts argue that Egypt was precisely the world’s authority on such practices. But, Egyptologists argue, where is the evidence? What, apart from ancient travellers’ account (which for Egyptologists somehow do not seem carry any evidentiary weight whatsoever)… what is there? Though it is without doubt that the Pyramid Texts focus on the king, Jeremy Naydler argues that they focus mainly on his role as ruler – not as the deceased head of state. The Texts thus become records of the rituals that the king performed, at key times of his rule, which Naydler has identified as his coronation and the Heb Sed festivals, which was a renewal of his kingship that occurred at thirty year or less intervals. These rites confirmed the power of the king over this and the “otherworld”, the union of which was accomplished by the king, through which he established his divine rule over the land. Let us note that in this interpretation, the pyramid becomes a temple, and the inscriptions on its wall were not meant to be read by the funeral cortege, or by the deceased soul of the pharaoh, but by the living pharaoh, as he performed these rituals in the interior of the pyramid. The Heb Sed festival lasted five days and took place immediately after the annual Osiris rites, at the time when the Nile’s Flooding retreated, at the moment of the rebirth of the land, mimicking the creation of the world – and a new age. It is yet another clear parallel with the “New Fire ceremony” of the Maya, for the five days preceding the Heb Sed festival, a fire ceremony called “lighting the flame” served to purify the festival precincts.
The most sacred parts of the rite occurred in a secret chamber – and the question is where this chamber was located. From the reliefs of Niuserre, the 6th ruler of the 5th Dynasty, we know that this chamber contained a bed (a couch?), though other depictions show that in certain cases a sarcophagus was used. Naydler has titled one of the chapters of his book “The pyramids as the locus of secret rites”. He argues that the Heb Sed festivals were performed in the pyramids. There is an obvious contradiction in the fact that the construction of a pyramid seemed to be abandoned as soon as a Pharaoh died. When he was most in need of a tomb, all work on his tomb was stopped? Let us note that several Pharaohs who did not live long enough, had no pyramids whatsoever. Djedefra, Khufu’s son, did not live very long and his pyramid was never completed – though he clearly died, the son of a dynasty of pyramid builders extraordinaire who could surely have spared some men to build at least a small or minuscule tomb for this king?
This makes little sense. Surely his successor – often his beloved son – on occasion would desire to have his father’s and/or predecessor’s tomb to be completed, so that his father could be buried inside, before work commenced on his own pyramid? If the successor was in his early twenties when he ascended to the throne, there was more than enough time left before he had to wonder about death, as the life expectancy of an Egyptian pharaoh was not too different from most of us. But each time, work is stopped, as if the pyramid is no longer required now that the pharaoh is dead. In the “pyramid = tomb”-equation, that does not make sense. I.E.S. Edwards described how the Sphinx was said to guard the “Splendid Place of the Beginning of All Time”, which is of course the primeval hill – the Mound of Creation. Furthermore, Gizeh and Heliopolis were connected by the “Sacred Roads of the Gods”. Anyone travelling from modern central Cairo towards Gizeh can cross one of the southern bridges. They will see the majesty of the pyramids rising in front of them. The two greatest pyramids rise like two mountains, next to each other. It is a magical sight that has lost little of its splendour when the casing stones were removed.
As the primeval hill was a place of descent for the Creator God, was the myth of Atum descending to Earth related to the Gizeh plateau?
The primeval mound was the location where the Creation had occurred; it was the site sacred to the Creator God, the god to whom we would return at the ascension. The original word for “mound of creation” is “niwt”, which means the numinous centre of the universe, the seat of God.
I will leave it to you to put the pieces of the Gizeh puzzle yourself – or invite you to read my book. We may think that Egypt is the cradle of the Pyramid Age, but in truth, it seems that Mankind almost received a “cosmic imperative” to start building pyramid. Or perhaps Mankind was finally able to express the Creation Myth in stone – a pyramid. But if there was indeed a cosmic imperative, then we could look towards an extraterrestrial being telling us what to do. But this is more than unlikely the right answer. Instead, perhaps we should wonder whether there is any connection at all with the start of the Mayan calendar, August 12, 3114 BC, a date which seems to have had no specific significance for the Mayan civilisation, which did not yet exist at the time. It was a date predating their culture, but which was clearly an important date. Why? And what are we to make of the end of this calendrical event, December 21, 2012 AD? Is it a coincidence that it is in the two decades leading up to 2012 AD, in fact since 1994, that Mankind has grown to understand the message of the pyramids? For centuries, they have intrigued us – but they equally puzzled us. Then, since 1994, we are suddenly finding answers, new pyramids, new interpretations, as if a cycle of time is about to end and this type of information is linked with such key calendrical dates. If it is mere coincidence, what an intriguing coincidence it is. What is also amazing, is not that we find pyramids in various areas of the world. What amazes, is that they all conform to a clearly identifiable “pyramid template”, which, as any template, was adapted according to local circumstances. Though details of the template may vary across cultures – though often within one culture as well – the core of the message remains the same: if you see a pyramid, you have found “a place of creation”, linked with sacred kingship and rule, linked with the Creator God, the start of a new era, linked with a New Fire ceremony. Though on numerous occasions in the past, such correspondences across continents and space have been seen as evidence of extra-terrestrial interventionalism, in my opinion, it shows that we are face to face with a core myth of Mankind, one that it possessed from its earliest origins as a species, before it began to disperse across the world. Perhaps one should say it cherished this myth from its own point of creation?
Wherever and whenever we established “true” kingship, we have built pyramids. The pyramids scattered about the surface of the Earth are the legacy of this knowledge… The Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, but equally the small pyramid of Falicon in France, incorporate natural caves, suggesting that the sites on which the pyramids were constructed were deemed to be sacred before the first stone of the pyramid was placed – they had already been mapped according to the “point of creation template”. The pyramids are more than just tombs. For an Egyptologist, it is the threshold he needs to cross, however dangerous it can be for a career. Lehner and Hawass seem somewhat daring to go beyond, though it is with trepadation in their steps. The naturalist Thomas Shaw visited Cairo in 1721. When he entered the Great Pyramid, he felt its interior was not suited to be a tomb and therefore considered it to be a temple. He interpreted the sarcophagus as an implement for the mystical worship of Osiris. Others agreed, including the physician Charles Perry and Cornelius de Pauw. They described them as temples for the worship of “the Being who filled the universe with light”, viewing the interior chambers as the tomb of Osiris. At the same time, Abbé Terrasson raised the notion that the pyramids had served as places of initiation, which he outlined in his novel Séthos, published in 1731. Terrasson wrote at a time when Freemasonry had just come in vogue; and Freemasonry used Egyptian imagery into the construction of their rituals and initiations.
Almost three centuries later, the fascination with ancient Egypt and the pyramids remain. Rainer Stadelmann described how “before and just after sunrise, the faithful of the pyramid mystery sects, along with members of Masonic lodges with mystical leanings, gather in the tomb chamber and the so-called Queen’s Chamber and devote themselves to hours of meditation and soft chanting.” Many Egyptologists scoff at the notion that these pyramids are used as such (in fact, some seem incapable of understanding that other people than they may have a right to enter an archaeological site). But even if the pyramids were “just” tombs, it is clear that they thus were a religious building… which incorporated religious services: prayers, meditations and perhaps even hours of soft chanting for the soul of the deceased king.
Pyramids are not just relics of the past, there as mute and dead witnesses of a by-gone age that by all accounts should be left alone. They still exist and though at one point our ancestors stopped the religious obedience their builders desired, any such return would coincide with the intended desire and purpose of the builder. And it are his wishes we should place central, not that of a chorus of people believing they are the sole guardians of these monuments and its builders. That doesn’t solely apply to Egypt… it applies to every pyramid, if not any monument. Recently, a newspaper ran the article that “Aymara Language and Gesture Point to Mirror-Image View of Time.” It reported that new analysis of the language and gesture of South America’s indigenous Aymara people indicated a reverse concept of time. The study provided a unique insight into “points of creation” and ancient civilisation’s obsessions with calendars. The article stated that contrary to what had been thought to be a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies’ orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group located this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind. The scientific study noted that “cognition of such everyday abstractions as time is at least partly a cultural phenomenon. With the same bodies – the same neuroanatomy, neurotransmitters and all – here we have a basic concept that is utterly different.”
In the 1920s, Arthur Eddington was one of the first physicists to propose that the Relativity Theory suggested that “the stuff of the world is mind stuff” and that this “mind stuff” is not spread out in space and time; “these are part of the cyclic scheme ultimately derived from it”. What science found out was the central role of consciousness and how it seems to enter into another dimension – or even a multitude, such as Heaven and Hell – may have been practically known by our ancestors for thousands of years and may have been at the core of the “point of creation template” – and the pyramid. We look towards chronology and time and try to place the pyramids within this construct. It is the scientific method and it has helped us a long way. But to go the final furlong and truly understand the pyramid in all of its importance that it held for these communities that worked years and sometimes centuries to construct it, our modern approach will fall short. We will need to let go of our own habits, acquire new capabilities, and transform science itself into a method of understanding – true understanding.
For the Aymara, neither time nor space exists as it does for us; we may share a world with them, but not a reality. And what we see as a long sequence of events, seeing history as linear, our ancestors saw as cycles. The pyramid was seen as a sign of creation – a place outside of time, and a time unaffected by space. Time fears the pyramids, indeed.