It is no secret that the author Joan Grant was a believer in reincarnation and she wrote Winged Pharaoh as a magical memoir told from the viewpoint of a life lived long ago, through the means of what she called her “far memory”. Writing while in a state of light-trance she was able to reach back into the past, claim knowledge of a previous life, and give it new life on the page. The vitality of the book speaks to the soul of the reader as it relays important information regarding the nature of dreams, magic, and the cosmos in an entertaining form. It is a manual on the nature of Egyptian seership disguised as a novel.
That Joan Grant had a highly developed moral character is in full evidence. There is nothing prudish in the story, though it doesn’t indulge in idle arousal either. War, love affairs, and the tribulations of everyday life are all part of the tale. What makes it an uplifting story is that the reader is able to take part in the main characters own growth. The book tells the story of an entire life from childhood to death at old age. Sekeeta is a daughter of the Pharaoh Atet. Many smaller stories and many dreams are woven through the book, which is as tightly wound as the strings of a lyre. In that sense the book is a fair imitation of life, reflecting many truths through its tangle of words. That it gives a clear reflection makes the work all the more valuable.
The first section of the book is about Sekeeta growing up with her brother Neyah, and how her dreams lead her to become a priestess of Anubis. Her father and mother recognize that their daughter has a gift for dreaming true and this brings her to the attention of the priest Ney-Se-Ra, who gives her further instructions that test and refine her abilities. Eventually when she has reached maturity, following the heroic death of her father in battle defending Kam (Egypt) from swarthy invaders, she goes to the temple for intensive training.
One of the most important things she develops here is her memory. Inscribing her dreams on wax tablets in the morning, Sekeeta learns to strengthen her memory. Her days and nights blend seamlessly together as she learns to remember all of her dream and out-of-body travels. Earlier in the book her mother had impressed upon her to “cherish memory above all things, for memory of yourself, which is the silver key, will stop your feet straying upon a path that you have found leads not to freedom…One day you will posses the golden key which unlocks the memories of others. And this will show you that there is no pit into which you may fall, from which others have not climbed, no great mountain though it may seem steep, that others have not conquered, even as you must conquer…”
While there she is also taught prayers to the various Egyptian deities. This one is good for any dreamer, “Anubis teach me to become a master of paths, so that I may be as thy symbol, the jackal, which can cross a desert on a night with no stars and leave a track which others may follow in the light. And by thy wisdom may I cross the chasm between this world and thine, and lead my people to thy country of peace.”
Throughout Sekeeta’s training the reader is taken on a journey into the mythic and imaginal realms of Egypt, to various astral locales utilized by the priesthood, such as the Place of Records “where the Keepers of the Great Scales of Tahuti take those of mankind who cannot themselves look into the past; and here they show them those things that are reflected in their future, so that upon Earth they know what, of their free will, they should do to adjust the balance.” The Place of Weather is visited, and also realms where teachers appear, where prayers are answered, and places where peace or harmony dwell. After visiting all of these realms Sekeeta must face seven ordeals before she becomes a winged one, the highest rank that may be attained in the temple.
It is also while at temple that she meets an architect from Minoas who initiates her into the mysteries of love becoming the father of her child. Sadly, because of her high duty to the land and its people this is a love that is never able to grow into old age. They must confine themselves to secret trysts in moonlit gardens. Eventually the relationship is cut off (after she has left the temple to become Pharaoh ruling alongside her brother) when Dio learns of her status as a co-ruler of the country.
I was also struck by certain similarities between Sekeeta and the Phrygian Goddess Cybele. Sekeeta was fond of lions, tamed one, and kept it as a pet and Cybele was raised by lions. Sekeeta gave birth to her son Pakee while seated on a throne, surrounded by seers, priests, and healers. There is an Anatolian figurine of Cybele giving birth on a throne that has two feline hand rests. Besides these similarities I also see Sekeeta and Cybele as the Queen of Wands in the Thoth tarot deck. If nothing else, both the Goddess and character in the novel have the qualities of a lioness.
Students of dreamwork and the Western Mystery Tradition alike would do well to read this book. For those who work with the Goddess Maat (and I speak here as a member of Horus Maat Lodge) there is much valuable insight about the Goddess of Truth in these pages. When Sekeeta becomes Pharaoh, ruling with the flail and the scales of justice, it is required of her to weigh the hearts of those who come before her seeking justice. Nothing can be hidden from her, least of all the Truth, for she is an adept who has purified her inner sight in service to the Gods and Goddesses of the Light. As a dream traveler who can look into a person’s soul, she has the ability to call out those things which are most noble in an individual, and adjure him or her to let the ignoble fall away. The justice dispensed is never cruel or injurious to a person. Balance is always sought to restore the scales and usually this is in a form of karmic yoga, i.e., a way to repay or work off the debt is found. This is a far cry from the punishments exacted by the U.S. legal system. Those who work in law would also do well to study the ethical system laid out in this book.
In one of his many wise counsels to his children Atet tells them, “The strong do not fear the contact of evil, for they are like the vulture who dies not when he eats filth, but of his special strength, thrives upon it, and after such a meal can fly to great heights.” Maat, Goddess of Truth was often depicted as having the wings of a vulture. For those who walk in Truth need not fear the evils of the world. Through the power of flight the dreamer is able to rise above evil and free herself from the control of base urges.
Many other elements of magic are taught or hinted at throughout the book. There is much about Egyptian knowledge of the soul, myths from their pantheon are taught and recounted, as well as talk of the healing arts in various forms: herbal, surgical, and energy healing. Seers played a vital role in the latter by being able to perceive the human energy field and adjust it as necessary for the benefit of the sick and injured.
Joan Grant is generous in sharing her knowledge of the magic power of song and poetry, from the folk magic of the people who worked the land to the high art of the temples. Music in the 21st century is not used in the same ways it was even a century ago. In the workplace music may be played to pass the time, to distract oneself from the actual work one is doing, or in the case of ambient music, as sonic backdrop and aid to thinking. Yet as little as 100 years ago and less, songs were still sung in the fields and other places of labor, while working. Songs were sung to babies, songs were sung while cooking. There were many types of music for many types of occasions and purposes. People made it themselves, and while the extremely talented were highly regarded, music was not an industry and the main purpose of it was not consumption. These musical practices lent themselves to greater enjoyment of work and living, bonded the community together, and made the job easier by acting as a type of folk magic spell. For instance in the story a fisherman sings,
“O my net! Swing widely for your master.
Call to the fish that you would give them shelter
from the monsters of the river.
O fish! Leave the caverns of the reeds
and drowse in the shadow of my boat.
Blow softly, wind! So that my boat glides through the water
quiet as a naked girl swimming at sunset.
O fish! Hear me and join your brothers in my net
so that it may be weighed with silver
so that all my family rejoice with me.”
There are other magical folk songs sprinkled throughout the book, each one crafted to give aid to the chores of living. Perhaps in this contemporary world, people need songs about programming code, making lattes, bioengineering, and recycling resources.
The final part of the book follows Sekeeta into the afterlife, as she takes the Boat of Time into the great hall wear dwell the Forty-two Assessors of the dead. The Feather of Truth is balanced against her heart. She leaves this “shadow-land of tears and pain” to join her ancestors and companions in the Light.
Winged Pharaoh was first published in 1937.