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The Duat [Dec. 16th, 2004|08:56 am]
Tony Grist
The ancient Egyptians put a lot of effort into preparing for the next life. They thought it would be just like life on earth. One would have parties with musicians and dancing girls, one would go wild-fowling among the reed-beds, one would ride in one's chariot or go boating in one's felucca. By imagining this future life one made it real.

And one backed up one's imagination with images. The dead person was launched into the afterlife in a little capsule full of painting and sculpture. Everything she would need was there in picture form. She would open her eyes in the dark and look around and see mirror and comb and fish-spear and fowling-net and heaps of fruit and bottles of palm wine.

It was a very powerful magic. The Egyptian otherworld- the Duat- still exists. With the right passwords, the right nod to the gate-keepers, one can go into it and look around.

I had a friend who did just that. She had friends in the Duat. They told her that after three- four- thousand years the magic is beginning to weaken and many of the old ghosts are giving up on it and dropping back into incarnation.

Three thousand years of partying and wild-fowling and boating and chariot-driving- I can see how it might pall- how one might feel as if one were stuck on a dead end street. Perhaps through the thinning walls of magic one might get glimpses of other worlds and be curious about them.

The afterlife is a static place. We create it from what we know in this life. Once we are dead the stream of experience dries up- and we can add nothing to our store of image and emotion. Our magnificent imaginings may keep us happy in our heavens for a long, long time, but in the end, if we've got anything about us, we'll be craving something new.

And so we come back to earth. It's the workshop of the universe. All other worlds are created here.

[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-16 01:11 pm (UTC)
First: did I ever mention my friend's dream to you? If felt like something else to me.

(She was an old woman, almost blind from glaucoma, and her husband had recently died after losing a leg and had left her alone. She had been depressed, felt increasingly frail, and had planned to turn down an invitation for Thanksgiving at her daughter's. Then she had this dream, which she carefully wrote down in the form of a letter to me. When I dropped by that morning, she started crying, and read me the letter. Later we sent it to a relative of hers who was dying of cancer.)

"This morning I had a dream. I am writing this before it fades from my memory. I saw Charles again.

"I was walking on a little track, like a railroad track, but more narrow, and to my left were great white waves, lashing up higher and higher to a white misty sky. Charles came walking to me, in his nice jacket I always liked. I told him I was afraid, but he said, Come with me. I am afraid, I said, and he showed me how to sit down on the track and dangle my legs over the side. I told him we would ruin our clothes if we went out into the waves, because the little track began to move towards them. Charles left me then, and disappeared into a crowd of people. They were talking, and out of the crowd came a man who seemed familiar to me. He helped me up and said, Your trip has been postponed. There is something you need to do.

"Then a pretty young girl came to me, wearing a white dress, and she led me down a path to a beautiful park where rocks were all around a deep pool. I climbed on the rocks like a girl, without worrying about falling or being old and dizzy, since I wasn't.

"These are the most beautiful rocks, I told the girl. Then I saw the pool and was drawn to it. I wanted to go inside it, but the girl took my hand. I'm going to take you home, she told me, and then I woke up in my bed."

I could see, she told me, and Charles was young again, like me.

What a beautiful dream, I said. It was real, wasn't it?

It wasn't a dream, she agreed: it was so clear, I can see it now, just as clearly as anything. . .

I said, Charles loves you, and others love you, not just here; and when it is time, it will be so easy, as easy as your dream.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 01:41 pm (UTC)
Some scientists say that experiences like this can be explained by funny things happening to the brain's chemistry. I think they're quite wrong. The quality of the experience speaks for itself.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-16 01:51 pm (UTC)
The quality of the experience speaks for itself.

She told me many times that the dream didn't fade as usually dreams do.

At the time, I thought (still do, really) that the essence of who she was somehow wandered away from her weighted body.

Further, it seemed to me that her husband was confused when she mentioned her clothing--that's when he disappeared into what sounded amazingly like a "cloud of witnesses"--the woman described it as lots of people all together in a shifting pattern like a kaleidescope, and out of that cloud came another person--she didn't see her husband after that. To me, reference to clothing seemed almost like a signal that she was still a part of the world of matter.

When people describe near-death experiences, so often they find some final barrier that pulls them toward it--in her dream it was the pool of water. I've read also about fences, walls--

(When you think about it that way, Frodo's journey to drop the ring into Mount Doom is fascinating because in some ways it is a similar journey to the one a soul might take at death.)
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2004-12-16 02:10 pm (UTC)
What a terrible, arduous journey! Though I fear you are correct; I suspect at least that my soul's journey will not be an easy one.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 02:17 pm (UTC)
I find her story wholly convincing.

The point about the clothes is interesting. It confused her husband because he had ceased thinking in those terms. He had to go find someone else to deal with the situation.

The afterworld may be suffused with a sense of love and companionship, but the dead don't actually know any more than they did at the point of death. They're no wiser than us and a lot less well informed.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2004-12-16 02:42 pm (UTC)
I hope not....I would hope that, if we choose, we can stay informed. That we can choose to continue to watch the world, see how people continue to evolve, watch how human society on our tiny little earth grows and changes. If not...I'm not sure Heaven would be Heaven, at least for me.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 02:46 pm (UTC)
Jung says that the dead have to consult the living if they want to stay informed. I think he's right.

My own feeling is that "heaven" is only really meant to function as a rest house. If we stay there too long we stagnate.

Sooner or later we need to return to earth to continue the journey.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2004-12-16 04:00 pm (UTC)
Frankly, I would prefer to never leave, and simply be immortal.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 06:10 pm (UTC)
In the run up to the millennium there was a lot of talk about new technologies that would halt the ageing process and allow us to live forever. Is that stuff still being researched in our glum, post-911 world?

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-16 10:33 pm (UTC)
Jung says that the dead have to consult the living if they want to stay informed. I think he's right.

Did you ever read the strange books of Swedenborg? What odd writing it is.

I had a thick book of his once, and it seemed a little loopy, but it was also intriguing. He said the dead were fascinated with the living and could influence them by hovering around and vicariously enjoying the pleasures of a living body--it was almost like a possession, he said.

(Once I had a dream in which I found the bones of the dead "Bishop of Nevers" in a basket. I think I read something, and in the dream I thought that the dead Bishop could listen to my reading and learn from it.)

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 11:49 pm (UTC)
Yeats (him again) writes about putting a glass of wine on the table on All Souls Eve to entice the spirits. Although they can't drink the wine, he says, they can taste its aroma and be driven to "ecstasy" by it.

I'm sure he'd read his Swedenborg.

I haven't. Do you think I should?

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-17 01:12 am (UTC)
I looked out there in Googleland and found this and this, both of which helped me remember that I thought Swedenborg seemed rather naive and even wistful in his reasoning.

Imagine the presumption:

In 1734, satisfied that he had understood the mechanics of the unfolding of the natural universe from the first natural point or the first finite, he turned his attention to the problem of the nature of the infinite and its relation to the finite.

(Italics mine).

I think he's quite interesting. He thought spirits inhabited each of the planets in the solar system, and described each in a rather judgmental way. I think that's what turned me off, finally--he seemed to be reporting visions, but it was rather cryptic and even--amazingly--a little dull.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-17 10:04 am (UTC)
I've just read a page about heaven and angels. It strikes me that he sets the tone for Victorian spirituality. There's a sentimentality and a banality about his vision.

For some reason- which I haven't explored- he makes me think of Hans Christian Anderson.

Was Anderson a Swedenborgian?
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-16 03:06 pm (UTC)
I remember reading one odd (and convincing) story about a man who had died (he returned after being revived) and was afraid of his body! A nice twist on ghost stories.

Another man came back from the dead muttering something about Bell's Theorem--a quantum theory about nonlocal events.

I found that particularly thrilling, since at the time I was all excited about quantum physics being the way to understand God.

(Morton Kelsey, a famous Episcopal priest and writer, lectured at a Jungian conference I attended in the early 90s, and he told us he thought a course in quantum physics should be required for all seminarians. Another thrill. But that was the zeitgeist of the 90s.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-16 03:25 pm (UTC)
The zeitgeist seems to have received a slap in the face and been sent staggering backwards. I don't hear of anything interesting happening in the world of theology today. Maybe I'm out of touch, but all that reaches me here is the rumble of homophobia.

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