the twelve hours of the night

Ramblings / Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The ancient Egyptians believed that, after death, their pharaohs had to go on a journey of rebirth through the netherworld, through the twelve hours of the night, just like the sun god Ra did before them.

The story of the twelve hours of the night is written in the Amduat, a funerary text, which was found in the tomb of Thutmose III in the Valley of the Kings, in ancient Thebes, today Luxor.

The journey through the twelve hours of the night starts with the emergence of Ra on the Western horizons, just when dusk shifts the sun from the sky and night starts to fall. Ra must then pass through chaotic waters and fight adversaries in the hours to come, until the sixth hour, which marks the middle of the night and with it, the re-binding of Ra’s soul with his body; the feat is done, the sun thus begins its regeneration and its journey forward and the sun god travels through the remaining hours of the night, paying with toil and sweat. And by the twelfth hour of the night, Ra emerges finally on the Eastern horizon in all his glory, a splendid sun on the new born sky, marking the end of the terrors of the night and shining new hope over all the land he touches.

We all have our own twelve hours of the night sometimes, our own chaotic waters and inner adversaries to wade through and off, a restless stretch of time from dusk to dawn where the world seems bleak and chances of light small.

But then there’s always a middle of the night, a half-time mark when we can re-connect our bodies and souls, and there’s always an emergence from the darkness to a bright new dawn.

I think it’s a beautiful metaphor, the story of the sun god Ra, and his journey through the twelve hours of the night.

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