The Pyramid of Unas
Location of the Texts
The walls of the pyramid of Unas are inscribed with 228 Utterances. The Utterances are the organic basis of the Pyramid Texts. The texts are to be found in the sarcophagus chamber, the antechamber, the passage between the two chambers and at the end of the entrance corridor nearest to the antechamber. Unlike a modern printed book, which can be read more or less anywhere on the planet, the Pyramid Texts are wedded both to the chambers and to the walls on which they are inscribed. A north wall sarcophagus chamber text could not be transposed to the east wall of the antechamber without losing a whole dimension of significance. The texts that a wall hosts derive an important dimension of meaning from the chamber that they are in and from the orientation of the wall on which they are inscribed. Furthermore, between north and south wall texts, and between west and east wall texts, there exists a powerful dynamic, and the same thing goes for other walls: texts on one wall will often relate in significant ways to texts on walls opposite, adjacent to or even on the reverse side of them, as we shall see.
The Sarcophagus Chamber Texts--South Wall
(1) Utt 213: Departing Alive
At the western end of the south wall, nearest to the sarcophagus, the priest addresses Unas with these words:
“O Unas, you have not departed dead,
you have departed alive
to sit upon the throne of Osiris.”
As we have seen in Chapter 3, this statement is usually interpreted as a pious denial of the reality of the king’s death. However, not only is the king said to be sitting on the throne of Osiris, he is also said to be grasping hold of a scepter in either hand.37 The Utterance clearly implies a kingship ritual, quite possibly a coronation ceremony, celebrated by the living king.
This ceremony involving the throne of Osiris and the grasping of scepters is said to enable the king to give orders on the one hand to “he living,” and on the other hand to “hose whose seats are hidden,” i.e., the dead. The contrast here between the living and the dead is so clearly stated that it would seem perverse to interpret the word “living” as meaning anything other than what the sentence suggests: namely, the living as opposed to the invisible dead, “whose seats are hidden.”38 Since the ability to give orders implies that the king is in some sense “present” in the domain in which his orders are given, we may assume that there is an inner, or mystical, event that lies behind the king’s taking up the throne of Osiris, and the extension of his authority into the realm of the dead. This mystical event must surely be what is referred to in the sentence that appears at the beginning of the Utterance:
“O Unas, you have not departed dead,
you have departed alive.”
If this were any normal departure, there would be no reason to state so explicitly that the king was departing alive and not dead. It would seem that the destination of the king is the realm of the dead, but he is journeying into it alive.
Journeys into the realm of the dead by the living form part of a long and universal tradition, attested in a great many cultures all over the world. What is implied in such journeys is that the soul is capable of separating itself from the physical body, and “traveling” independently of it. The experience of becoming aware of oneself in a consciousness independent of the physical body--what we would today call an “out-of-body experience”--is the first step in the process of cosmic ascent referred to in Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Hermetic mystical writings. It is also well attested in shamanism. Eliade has pointed out that one of the characteristics of shamans is that they
are able, here on earth and as often as they wish, to accomplish “coming out of the body,” that is, the death that alone has power to transform the rest of mankind into “birds”; shamans and sorcerers can enjoy the condition of “souls,” of “discarnate beings,” which is accessible to the profane only when they die.
Eliade’s reference to the soul’s bird-like condition in the out-of-body state is peculiarly apt for, as we shall see, in the very next Utterance, Unas is transformed into a falcon.
Before this occurs, however, the physical body of Unas must be protected. This is achieved through a sevenfold identification of its different parts (arms, shoulders, belly, etc.) with the god Atum, with the exception of Unas’s face, which is identified with Anubis. Significantly, the Utterance ends with a reference to the king having “encircled” the realms of Horus and Seth. “Encircling” was a very ancient magical ritual, attested from archaic times to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. A ritual circumambulation of both fertile land (the realm of Horus) and desert (the realm of Seth) was an integral component of coronation rites, and was repeated during the Sed festival.
This Utterance concerning the “departure” of Unas therefore has both ritual and mystical elements. The ritual elements can be seen first in the reference to an enthronement ceremony in which the king’s authority over the realm of Osiris is confirmed, second in the protection ritual, and third in the ritual circumambulation that the king enacted in order to secure his power over the realms of Horus and Seth. The main experiential counterpoint to these rituals must have involved the projection of the king’s consciousness into the realm of the dead. In shamanic terms, his soul journeys beyond the confines of the physical world.