Friday, 21 October 2011

The Name of All Things

In the beginning was the Word according to John but according to Genesis God said ‘Let there be light’.   The name - that is where it all begins.  So it was a word – or words - a declaration

But where do I really begin this story?  With the power? With the secret? With the name?
I guess after all I must begin at the beginning.  Names have always been at the beginning.  After all the name is just a word and in the beginning was The Word – at least according to John.  Was the word a name and a name the word?  Of course it was a word but was it the word?  The beginning in the Beginning was not a word - it was only the beginning.  From the beginning began the many beginnings according to the Book or at least one particular book which would not be a book until much later: the formless void that was the earth, the darkness that covered the face of the deep, the wind that swept over the face of the water.  The water?  Where did that come from?  It too was one of the beginnings.  And then another word – light – let there be light - another beginning.  The dome, that also was there at the beginning.  God made the dome.  Did he do that also by the word?  The Book does not say that He did.  But does that mean that it was not so?    In any case there was the dome that was declared (another word) to be the sky.  And apparently so it was – for so the book declared.

After all these beginnings there were many more.  God made the light separate into the greater and lesser; the land from the water; the day from the night; the days and season and the years.  In the sea were the fishes.  On the land was the vegetation, and the swarms of living creatures – the birds of the air, the animals creeping and wild of every kind.  Finally there was man and then inevitably man’s helpmeet – woman.  All these were beginning and if John is to be believed there was the Word and the words for each of these beginnings. 
It was not until the second creation that we are told things were named.  The man and the woman were named – Adam and Eve they were named.  The man Adam was given the authority to name all living things.  “The man gave names to all cattle, and every bird of the air and every animal of the field” (Gen 2: 20).  This is the first time the power to name was passed on – name became what – a co-creator – for to name is to create.

Later we have another beginning with the beginning of the covenant between YHWH and a man, Abraham.  I know there was an earlier one signified by a rainbow but that was with all creation.  This one was with one man – at least in the beginning.  His name in the beginning was not Abraham.  It was Abram, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”  The name now signified the relationship that now existed between God and man. 

So here is the beginning of beginnings – at least in the version we know and many believe in.  It began with a word that was a name and beginning followed the beginning with names for everything.  Yet the beginning is not the only beginning.  In each one a name - the name was the power and in some the name was secret.  Let us look at another Beginning and the role that name held in that beginning.
In that land in which the chosen people were enslaved and that sheltered the Holy Family, Egypt, there is another account of another beginning.  In that beginning all was darkness.  There must have been darkness in story of our beginning recorded in Genesis as we are told darkness covered the face of the earth which was a formless void until God had to declare that there would be light.  But I digress somewhat.  In this beginning rather than a formless void there was only a great waste of water called Nun.  Out of this water and darkness arose a great shining egg Re.  I will not ask how it could be shining in the darkness that must be left to the Gods.

We are told that Re was all-powerful and that power and the secret of it lay in his name.  That name we are told was hidden and the power lay in its secret.  Further all things could come into being merely or not so merely by Re speaking the name of that thing.  An so things were named; Shu the first winds, Tefnut the spitter of rain, Nut the sky, Hapi the river Nile the source of fruitfulness.  Re named all things on the earth and last (and some might say not least - but I would not say that) he named mankind.  Thus there were men and women and of course children in Egypt.
Re then took the shape of a man (sounds vaguely familiar) and more than just a shape as after becoming the first Pharaoh and ruling for a millennium or more became old.  OR could it be it is our shape that requires us to grow and grow old?  As a consequence men no longer feared (obeyed?) his laws.  It ever was thus.  Re became angry at the disobedience - the ... shall I dare say sin?  And they no longer feared him and thus were no longer (if they ever had been) wise. 

What then did Re do?  Did he send a flood as some other deity might have?  No, he did what seems to my mind a more thoughtful reaction; he called together all the gods and goddesses in council.  In his wisdom he asked Nun the eldest of the gods what he should do.  The response was not unexpected, “send them a glance of your eye in the form of Sekmet and destroy them” Not quite a flood but still destruction.  Sekhmet was one like a lion whose chief delight was slaughter; whose pleasure was in blood.  All whom she saw she slaughtered and tasted their blood to her pleasure and delight.
The Nile now ran red with blood as in the other plague from another tradition.  And yet Sekhmet was not satisfied and continued to slaughter the inhabitants of that sad land.  Why you might ask did Re not insist that she stop the slaughter?  Well it turns out that once she was on the rampage nothing - not even Re could stop her blood lust. 

Re’s heart softened as the sight of all the slaughter.  In his anguish a plan arose.  He bade the women of Heliopolis brew the sacred drink beer coloured with the red of ochre which was brought from the isle of Elephantine.  The tainted ochre was poured onto the ground to a height and depth of nine inches.  Sekhmet believing the red tinted beer was blood drank her fill and more than her fill until she could drink no more.  From that day it has been told that Sekhmet could kill no more.  And indeed from that day she never slayed another man.
Once more Re ruled over all the lands of Egypt.  He ruled until the time came in which it was ordained that he should withdraw to the heavens and in his place a younger god should rule.  Yet Re refused to yield his power.  In growing old he no longer grew and as a result had lost his wisdom.  Re continued to reign and none could challenge him.  None could remove him from the earth as long as his power remained.  This would happen only when his secret could be revealed – the secret that was his name.

Re continued with the gift of the gods which was mortality.  He became old and older still.  He became very old in the way of old men.  He stumbled as he walked and drooled as he spoke.  His spittle fell on the earth.  Isis, one of the younger gods whose time it was to rule the earth, took the spittle and made mud where the spittle fell.  She kneaded it and formed it into clay.  This spittle was not used to make the blind see or to form humankind – it was too late for that. 
Instead of a human being she formed Uraeus, the first cobra.  Isis placed uraeus in the way of Re, on the path which Re trod each day.  Uraeus bit him in his most vulnerable place, his heel.  The venom like the poison which coursed through Achilles veins, flowed through Re.  Unlike Achilles, Re did not die but did cry out a great cry which rang out across the earth and sky.  This cry was so great that the gods hearing it came to investigate its source.  Re, finding his voice, pleaded to the gods for help.  He had been stung despite the secret power of his secret name which protects him.  As they could not help him the god called all the others of their kind who had powers to heal.  With them came Isis who held the power to revive the dying.

This time it was a god who was betrayed by the serpent and was threatened with expulsion from the earthly paradise.  The goddess Isis offered to heal Re if he would reveal his secret name to her.  Re in his stubbornness revealed all his names; maker of heaven and earth, builder of mountains, source of waters, light and darkness, creator of great Nile, Khepera in the morning, Re at noontide and Turn in the evening.  But he would not reveal his Secret Name the Name of Power which still lay hidden in his heart.
Isis bided her time until the time was ripe, for she was the source of all patience, until she enticed Re with promises of release from his torment.  At last Re responded with a great cry, “let the Name of Power, my Secret Name pass from my heart to the heart of Isis.  However, swear that you will reveal it to no one save the son which you will bear so that the name will remain with him.”

And so the Name passed from Re to Isis and so too Re passed from his earthly paradise and ascended to the heavens.  There he passes across the sky by day and crosses the underworld of Amenti by night.  With him he takes the souls of the dead.
Here our tale must end as it began with a name named at the beginning and named at the end of all things.  So my children remember and learn the power that the name holds and do not use yours carelessly lest you name reveal more than you know (particularly in this age of social networking and identity theft). 

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