User maat Re, Setep en Re

The title of this post is the throne name of Ramses II, variously known as Ramses the Great, Ozymandius, and the ‘Great Ancestor’.  He was one of the most powerful and well-known pharaohs to ever have lived, both today and during his own time.  The throne name itself is cited by Wikipedia as meaning “The justice of Re is powerful, chosen of Re”, but there’s something a little funky in the translation there.  I couldn’t find a better on online, but I think it’s closer to ‘Ra’s powerful law (as in the strong arm of the law), beloved of Ra’.

So why is this mummy man still important?  Well, there is his undeniable on our own culture.  There’s Shelley’s poem.  There’s the fact that this may or may not have been the Pharaoh of Exodus.  There’s his deliberate defacement of the monuments and records of the Amarna period, when women ruled as king (Hatshepsut) and monotheism threatened to dominate the country (Akhenaten and Nefertiti).  He’s the one who built a large number of the monuments that characterize our knowledge of his own day, as well as the chronologies and events of Ancient Egypt.  He re-expended the boundaries of Egypt in a number of decisive battles, and may or may not have won against the Hittites.  Even today, we are uncovering remains of what he built.

While I have no personal desire to be a pharaoh myself, or to burden the future with my own skewed version of the past, or to get upwards of a hundred children, still there is something appealing about the man.  Perhaps only as a product of his culture, he was ruthless.  But also as a product of that culture, he was a patron.  He built more buildings in Egypt (temples, palaces, monuments) than any other pharaoh.  In the sheer length of his life (he lived to be about 90), he was a living legend – Egyptians, almost all of which had been born during his reign, thought the world would end without him.  I wish my life could also inspire that sense of living magic, that monumental outpouring of culture.

Selling your Soul

A man in New Zealand named Walter Scott (seriously) has sold the deed to his soul for $3800 to Hell Pizza.  The company was willing to fork over the fee for the deed as part of their so-bad-it’s-good reputation.  And it is amusing.  You make a little splash of ridiculous publicity and get paid for it.  But still, there are tons of people upset by the purchase.  If you’re religious, it’s blasphemous.  Does that make it wrong?

A part of the issue depends on how you perceive religion.  Is it an oppressive force that has inhibited man throughout the ages?  Is it a moral compass?  Is it yet another code for simple human interaction?  Is it a barricade opposing lucrative moneymaking like soul-selling?  is it Is it an unbending set of rules not to be questioned?

Some people believe that the devil is out to win your soul from you – to corrupt you, to convert you for the final battle, to doom you to the end of all time.  If there is such thing as a devil, I would prefer to believe in a different sort.  I want the devil who thinks he’s the greatest thing since peanut butter cups yet continues to lose when matching wits against a canny, crusty old woman or a boy with a fiddle.  Like Walter Scott, I want to gain some profit of the things I’m not using.  Perhaps it’s pride or fear, but I’d like to bargain with the devil and come out ahead.

Wellfleets. Yum.

I like raw oysters.  Only since moving to Boston did I realize I like them.  In Indiana, oysters just aren’t as prevalent, and while I like seafood, somehow I never got around to trying them.  Now I love to hop up to Summer Shack after a long week and grab a pitcher of Fisherman’s Brew and a nice little selection of oozy goodness.  I generally try what they have on hand, learning the names of different types and maybe even something about the part of the coast a particular oyster comes from.

Wellfleets are pretty good.  The Wellfleet Oyster Fest describes them as ‘long and strong-shelled. Experienced tasters know that they are plump and clean with a distinctively good balance of creamy sweetness and brine.’  But I’ve never been to Wellfleet, MA, and didn’t even know they had a lighthouse, until now.

It is interesting to me the way local legend grows up around a particular event or circumstance.  It must have been true that someone in Wellfleet knew the fate of the lighthouse at the time it was moved.  The amount of effort it must take to move a lighthouse from one coast to another, even disassembled as some think it was, must have meant the local population was well aware of the movement, even if they were unaware that the lighthouse would eventually end up on Point Montara, CA.  Someone must have written the letters that are now coming to light as evidence of the movement of the lighthouse.  Local rumor may have eventually spewed forth the idea that the lighthouse was merely disassembled and not transported, but what of those ‘in the know’?  Is there some reason they would not want the town to know that their lighthouse was still being used (and is still being used today) somewhere else?  Or did the townspeople themselves simply prefer to allow the truth to fade into past and legend.

It is odd the ways truth and story blur in local tradition.  In Talcott, WV, it is often said that after his titanic battle with the steam engine, John Henry came home to his wife, had a quiet dinner, and passed softly in his sleep, his big heart finally giving out from the strain of that struggle.  In Ireland, Oisin lives to tell his tale to the future, perhaps even to Saint Patrick.  We are drawn to the poetry of the moment, and who would rather not see their beacon of light sinking slowly beneath the waves forever, rather than used for purposes not their own on some distant shore?

Mayan long-count and 13 crystal skulls.

The soon-to-be-released Indiana Jones movie has got quite a few people up in a huff about crystal skulls. You know, because real-life Mayans worshiped faceted, stylized skulls today. While there has never been any evidence that ancient Mayans worshiped the skulls at the height of their civilization from about 200 to about 900 AD, a few of the existing skulls can be dated to very close to the time of Spanish contact. It remains unclear whether or not the current Mayan skull-worship is a result of that contact or predated it.

So, what are the facts we do have? The Mayans had a complex calendar system involving days, months, and two types of years. They made funerary and ritual masks in a variety of shapes and substances, quite a few in jade and other stones that looked something like skulls.  Astonishing, no?

So what’s with the hocus-pocus and theories?  The Mayan calendar is winding down.  The longer cycle of years, or ‘Long Count’, which lasts about 5,000 years, is almost over.  According to what we know of Mayan legend (i.e., what we can glean both from current tradition and the incomplete Mayan glyph translation of monuments and codices that we have), at the end of the Long Count, something happens to change everything.  Some people interpret this as a cataclysmic event, or the end of the world.  Others say that at this time, something needs to happen to save the world – perhaps the reunification of thirteen ‘original’ crystal skulls, most of which have been lost.  For the Maya, no doubt it had extreme significnace beyond the turning of the year, even beyond what the turn of the century would have for us.  My personal belief is that we’re all looking for answers, and any idea that still has meaning with modern dates (since Nostradamus was wrong) is going to have a variety of followers.

Me, I’m content to wait.  After all, a day like today is bound to cycle around again.  Eventually.