What is the most Egyptian ever
Exercises in thinking out your own lifetime
Jan Assmann in conversation with Jochen Rack
JOCHEN RACK: Mr. Assmann, as an Egyptologist you have dealt intensively with a culture that puts death at its center. If one asks what our modern understanding of death looks like, it is worth looking into this distant historical mirror. How could our dealings with death and the dead be characterized from the point of view of Egyptian culture?
JAN ASSMANN: One has to differentiate between dealing with one's own death, the awareness of the finiteness of life, and dealing with the dead. The Egyptians would be very surprised, because our society does not live in an intensive interaction with the previous generations; rather, the dead are outsourced and forgotten more or less quickly. It was different in Egypt. Now we are only well informed about the upper class, i.e. the class that was able to build these monumental graves. It can be seen from these graves that they were visited: These are facilities that not only served to give the deceased a dignified resting place, but that were primarily there to keep them present in society, i.e. in front of those who were born afterwards to deliver. If you look at these graves today, you can see that they have been visited: visitors have written graffiti, homage texts, invocations, descriptions of their impression when visiting the grave, of course everything is very formulaic. But at least it is clear from these inscriptions that the purpose of such a visit to the grave was to come into contact with ancestors from the past. There are letters to the dead that have been deposited in the graves, from which it appears that the dead were regarded as important members of society. To a certain extent, they were understood as liaisons to the world of the gods: In times of crisis, the family is turned to the dead and asked to intervene with the great gods to whom they have access. The dead play an important role in the imagination of society. With us, where there is no actual cult of the dead, this is not the case. It has a long history that begins in the Old Testament, that is, in the ancient Israelite religion, in which the abolition of the cult of the dead, which was condemned as pagan, was a regulation. This decoupling of the dead from the society of the living developed fairly early within the framework of monotheism.
In the Egyptian cult of the dead there is the idea of a life after death. There are ritual forms of dealing with the corpse, there are the famous pyramids, the necropolises for the dead. What were the central elements of Egyptian belief in the afterlife?
We are talking about 3000 years of the religion of the dead. A lot has changed and developed there. But let's take the classic form, as it developed around the turn of the 2nd millennium and was canonically established until the middle of the 2nd millennium. A central aspect is the thought of transformation: the dead are not simply buried, but treated beforehand. The aim of this treatment is to transform him. The corpse is, so to speak, a raw material; in this transformation ritual it becomes a mummy on the one hand and a transfigured spirit of the dead or ancestral spirit on the other. This is the embalming ritual, which usually lasts over seventy days.
The second central aspect is to remain present in posterity by placing a memorial. The font plays a major role in this. The idea that one can, so to speak, lead an endless dialogue with posterity in the medium of the tomb is alien to us today. The grave complex is full of texts, through which the visitors are addressed and are supposed to be impressed by the meaning of the recorded life. We owe a wealth of ritual texts on conversion to the first aspect, and to the second an abundance of monuments, from the pyramids to humble tombs that the common people somehow tried to afford. The thought of transformation is very interesting because this ritual has a variety of relationships with other so-called rites de possage stands, as the religious scholar Arnold van Gennep called it. Rites de possage On the one hand there are initiation rites, for example manhood rites, with which one enters the union of adults, on the other hand there are burial rites. There are many parallels between the two: The burial is actually a great initiation into the world of the gods.
The goal of treating the dead is to transform the corpse into a mummy through the means of chemistry. To do this, the corpse is eviscerated and dried out. It is built up with spices to make it durable, then it is wrapped in a mummy bandage, inscribed with magical sayings and provided with amulets in order to make it an immortal and, in a certain sense, divine being. A strong idea of immortality is associated with the ritual of the dead; it's about getting into the world of gods. The threshold is the judgment of the dead, where one must qualify for the world of gods. This is an idea that is developing very slowly in Egypt; in the old kingdom, in the third millennium, this was originally reserved for the king. Only the king enters the world of gods after death, and he is able to do so because by virtue of his kingship he is already a god on earth. This is part of the Egyptian idea of king and applies up to the Roman emperors, who were also pharaohs. With the fall of the Old Kingdom, i.e. at the end of the 3rd millennium, these thoughts also spread among the people. The ticket to the world of gods was then no longer royalty, but a kind of ethical and moral worthiness: one must have lived a good life in order to qualify for the world of gods. The moralization of the original royal idea is reflected in an abundance of texts. The most important text found its canonical form in the Book of the Dead around 1500, 1400 BC, namely in Chapter 125, to which Chapter 30, Psychostasia, the weighing of the heart, also belongs. The idea is that the deceased must first go through a series of gates. It's a long way to get to the courtroom. Once there, one must recite a long list of sins and affirm not to have committed those sins. The rules of Egyptian ethics are placed on a divine basis in the judgment of the dead, a divine judge watches over their observance. So while the deceased stands before the judgment, his heart is weighed. This is, of course, a symbol that may refer to embalming procedures. The heart is taken out and returned. The basic idea of embalming is to cleanse the corpse of all possible perishable substances so that it becomes incorruptible; and the idea of the judgment of the dead is to cleanse the spiritual and moral person of the deceased from all moral pollutants. To do this, the heart is weighed, and it must not be found too heavy. The counterweight is a spring - this shows that it is not that easy to pass this test. This is different from the occidental idea of the judgment of the dead, where the Archangel Michael weighs the dead and the important thing is not to be found too light.
They emphasize two essential aspects: the metaphysical aspect, according to which the life of the dead and the life of the living are in a continuum and a connection is established through magical-ritual practices - unlike in our modern conception, in which death is, so to speak, the other represents and is blown off In addition, there is the idea that at least in Christianity continued to have an effect for a long time: that with the judgment of the dead there is a moral dimension of death.
That would be the key point. On the one hand there is death, one could almost say: a phase of life, nothing split off, not the other of life, but its continuation under different conditions, a transition into another form of existence. Man lives on after death. On the other hand, this connection between life and death is very strongly moralized, which means that we can already prepare for death here through the way we live.
Now you say that remembrance of the dead is the archetype of cultural memory. Would this mean that our culture, which can no longer adequately deal with death and the remembrance of the dead, is one of the lack of memory, that is, one of the repression of the past?
The thesis put forward together with my wife Aleida Assmann states that cultural memory developed from the cult of the dead or has its origin or its primal scene in the cult of the dead. The idea is this: in exploring human memory, we must distinguish three dimensions. One would be the neuropsychic dimension as the basis of memory. Second, the research of Maurice Halbwachs and his successors has shown that memory is also a social phenomenon. The basic neuronal equipment of our brain would be of no use if we did not build up our inner world of imagination through communication with others in the first place, in which the memory is expressed. Structure only comes into the memory disposition through communication and socialization. Our thesis underlines that it is not only the way we deal with other people that shapes our inner world of imagination, but also the way we deal with symbolic forms in which ideas, texts, thoughts, images and so on are objectified. We deal with texts, rites, and images that extend far beyond our lifetimes and generations. That is the cultural memory. The special thing about cultural memory is that it exceeds the horizon and the lifetime. The most tangible form of this transgression of one's own lifetime is the connection with the dead, which was intensively developed in ancient Egypt. Basically, however, all ancient cultures lived incomparably stronger than we did with their dead together. The ancestor cult is probably the early form of religion. That is why one can make plausible that it is the connection with the dead and this constant thinking about one's own lifetime that is the origin of the cultural memory.
But now the cultural memory has moved far away from this origin and developed its own forms that have nothing to do with the cult of the dead. For example the classical period or the "great tradition" of India, i.e. an organization of tradition that places very specific basic texts at the center of what is important and must be preserved and passed on to future generations. Take that, for example Gilgamesh-Epos in Babylonia or Homer in Greece. Every culture has such a structure of center and periphery. The focus is on a few very important texts. In India a distinction is made between the "great" and the "small tradition". The great tradition is the Sanskrit texts, which form the center of the tradition throughout the Indian region. In addition there are regional traditions, that is the small tradition. Instead of "great tradition" one can also say "classic". In Egypt, too, the connection between a classical period in the sense of a normatively exemplary past with the institution of the cult of the dead is still palpable. For example, when you open a classic, you offer the author a donation from the water bowl that is part of the writer's equipment. So already in Egypt the idea comes up that it is much more effective to write a book than to build a pyramid. The tombs, the pyramids are at the mercy of time, but a book lasts for centuries. The book is the better pyramid. This idea was taken up by Horace, who was of the opinion that with his book of Odes he had erected a monument for himself, higher than the pyramids and more immortal than ore. It is one of the basic texts of occidental cultural memory. With us, the idea of making oneself immortal through great works of art plays roughly the same role as the monumental architecture of the tombs in Egypt. The graves are an edition of collected works, if you will, because they are filled with letters from top to bottom. To a certain extent, art is the successor institution of this Egyptian monumental architecture, but has moved far away from the idea of the cult of the dead. But this, we say: practicing thinking about one's own lifetime is a basic instinct that is very much alive with us. On the one hand you live with old texts, and on the other hand you invest in projects of some kind.
The keyword "lack of memory" naturally applies to an aspect of the modern situation. On the one hand there is this programmatic "decoupling" from the past, such as the American project. America developed a pronounced anti-Europeanism in the 19th century in the sense that we shed ballast and bet again. This basic attitude has been since Rumsfeld dated "Old Europe" spoke, tangible again. On the other hand, there is Germany with its memory crisis aptly diagnosed by Karl-Heinz Bohrer: The Germans' history was, to a certain extent, pimped up by Auschwitz. We cannot think of the past in any other way than as a prelude to Auschwitz, and this has made us deeply suspicious of our own history. This is a crisis that can be explained very well and that cannot simply be treated as Bohrer would like it to be. We have to go through this. But Bohrer described the finding completely correctly. It is a form of lack of memory, which in turn is related to the cult of the dead: The Holocaust made it clear to us Germans how much the present can be haunted by a past and how strong, binding demands a past makes on the present. It is just not like the constructivists, like Maurice Halbwachs and others, show that every present makes up its past. This is true insofar as the past only exists to the extent that we remember it, but that is only half the story. Because there are traces and clues, and there are the dead. Hence there is an obligation for every generation through this past. The past of Auschwitz or the Holocaust is something special; not every present has lived under such an obligation. This is an experience that was unknown in the days when Freud and Halbwachs and others pondered memory. What we learn from this experience are the demands of the past on the present and the structural change in the past that is given by it. This claim is so overwhelming that cultural memory in Germany, Israel and America appears in a certain light.
It seems to be a contradiction that we have this political commemoration, the commemoration of the atrocities caused by Germans and the murdered Jews, to whom large memorials are dedicated, and that on the other hand we have a non-commemoration of the private dead. Does one commemoration replace the other? For example, cannot we commemorate the dead in the air bombardment because our commemorative culture is so heavily occupied by this other obligation?
It can be said that this overwhelming obligation character of the German guilt commemoration made it impossible for a long time to commemorate one's own dead and one's own sufferings at the same time. This has only started to come to the fore again in about eight years. Sebald has in Air War and Literature pointed out that there are no more important works in German literature dealing with the aerial warfare, the experience of the bombing nights and so on. It seems evident that until the late 1990s these two memories stood in the way of each other. One could not think of one's own suffering and the suffering of others caused by us at the same time. The turning point came around the year 2000 - with books like In the crab by Günter Grass or Dieter Fortes The house on my shoulders. The thesis of my wife Aleida Assmann is that the memory of the Holocaust is indelibly embedded in the foundations, in the founding semantics of the Berlin Republic, i.e. in Germany that has been reunified since 1989. Only since this has been secured has it become possible again to commemorate one's own sufferings. Remembering one's sufferings does not mean in any way that one relativizes the guilt for the sufferings of others and the magnitude of the sufferings of others in any way. That this stood in the way was only valid as long as one asked whether it was not even necessary to draw a line. Some believed they had paid enough. They wanted to be a completely normal people in the community of states again and not always carry this heavy burden of debt on their shoulders - guilt and debt in a double sense.Others were of the opinion that one can never draw a line under events of human historical importance, but that the memory of these events must form the basis of politics for the next millennia. After the scales have sunk in favor of this second option and the talk of a final line is finally off the table, it becomes possible to let your own sufferings come to their own without competition. In addition, one must learn to practice memory without blame. When the Germans commemorate the fall of Dresden, they expect the English queen to apologize. But the Queen of England did not apologize, and that is quite right, because it would create an unnecessary, obstructive link between memory and blame. It must be possible to remember the fall of Dresden and the hundreds of thousands of dead without us thereby accusing the Allies. It must also be possible for the Germans to mourn the Jewish victims, and it must not be the case that there is a division of labor here: that the Jews mourn their victims and the Germans remember these victims in the form of self-accusation. The German form of memory would also be falsified if it were denied the element of mourning.
I would like to come back to remembrance of the dead in the narrower sense, which is a problem of modern cultures in general. In the history of secularization, the religious conceptions of death have largely been dissolved. Taboos were created, one could no longer think beyond death because there was the criticism of pure reason and a long series of criticisms of religion in the 19th and 20th centuries. How did the Egyptian conception of the judgment of the dead about Greek culture, which of course put the judgment of the dead at the center of Plato's work, migrate into the West, and how was it worked out in Christianity as the concept of a hereafter divided into heaven and hell?
Egypt took a different path with its idea of the judgment of the dead. All ancient cultures, including Rome and Greece, assume that the dead are dead. This being dead does not mean disappearing, but the transition of the dead into a world of the dead, in which they spend the time of their being dead. This is not a living on; being dead is a form of existence. Hades is also not a hell, but a dusty, waterless, lightless shadow realm. This idea prevails in Mesopotamia, in Israel there is Sheol, in Greece there is Hades, in Rome there is Orcus. One can start from a three-story worldview. There is heaven, or Olympus, where the gods live, the earth where people live, and there is the underworld into which people go down after their death. In Egypt it is originally the same. Only the king was this exception. It did not sink into the underworld, but flew up into the sky. With the fall of the Old Kingdom, as I have already said, this royal idea was democratized to a certain extent and made into a model of general human fate in the hereafter, so that the idea of the chance of redemption from this underworld arose in Egypt. Even the Egyptians first go to the world of the dead after death, in which you walk on your head and in which everything runs the other way around, but they have the chance to be redeemed from it. I think that is a great idea that is significant in terms of human history.
Was that not the case in the Hades conception?
This was not the case with the Greeks, and neither was it with the Jews, or the ancient Israelites or the Hebrews. Only the Egyptians had this idea of redemption from the world of the dead and salvation in the world of gods. That prevailed. In Israel you can see this with the Pharisees: the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the Sadducees did not. The Jesus movement, of course, belongs to the movement that believes in a resurrection. This has prevailed in rabbinic Judaism, in Christianity of course, in Islam likewise ... In Judaism and Islam this was developed in such a way that the dead, precisely because they are redeemed and pass into a kind of immortality, with the living have nothing more to do. The living live in time and the dead live in eternity or in a wait for eternity. Only the Catholic conception of purgatory created a common time again in which the living can do something for the dead, that is: reading funeral masses, paying indulgences and so on. The living can do something for the dead: that is an enormous re-Egyptization. The idea of living with the dead in time together. Only Protestantism cut this connection again. The idea that the dead live in a different time when we living have no contact with them, the radical rejection of the dead, seems to me to be the main reason why the dead have fallen out of our society.
When death is repressed in our culture or, as you say, the dead fall out of society, the question arises as to what takes the place of the repressed. Because people have to relate to their finitude in some way. They want to know what happens to them when they die, or what happens to the deceased whose death they experience. Where would you see signs that something repressed is returning?
One of the signs of the crisis is the enormous boom in the Asian doctrine of rebirth. I don't know what percentage of Christians now believe in rebirth, which means something completely different from Egyptian redemption. Rebirth means that one gets another chance to exist on earth in a different form than humans or animals. This idea is gaining ground more and more, and it is alien to the Christian and also to the Jewish religion. Because with it the idea of salvation is denied or scraped off. One can see that the Christian notions of immortality, which were ultimately derived from Egypt, lost more and more of their persuasiveness. Of course, one must also mention existentialism, that is, philosophical forms of incorporating one's own death and the finiteness of life into the shaping of existence, i.e. not denying and decoupling death, but making it a meaningful element by making it clear that our life is it is precisely because of its limitations that it gains its preciousness and its moral obligation. This existentialist moment is ancient, it can also be found, for example, in the book of Kohelet or in the 90th Psalm: "Teach us to know that we must die in order that we may become wise." Literally it says: "Teach us to count our days." When you realize finitude, you really live. That is an ancient thought that does not come out of redemption, just not, and yet it is always there in Egypt alongside the idea of redemption and which culminates with Heidegger. In my book on Death and the Beyond in Ancient Egypt, I referred to death as a generator of culture. That means that the cultural creation of the people is connected with the consciousness of their finitude.
If one thinks of esoteric currents in the present, of the existing appeal of parapsychology, but also of the media spectacle at the death of the Pope, one could assume that the religions that have been repressed in modern times are returning.
Obviously the cult of the dead has an enormous attraction, namely the cult of the dead of prominent personalities. We experienced that impressively with Lady Di. Millions have made the pilgrimage, and there have been reports that are very reminiscent of the New Testament and the events of Christ's death and resurrection: Diana is said to have appeared in visions to all sorts of people. It looks as if a form of the cult of the dead, the veneration of the dead, is returning in today's media society, which seems somewhat archaic. This is inseparable from a celebrity cult. The media society creates a kind of public that has a completely different visibility among celebrities, I would almost like to say: "intrusiveness" wins than it used to be. There used to be an equestrian statue in the city or a Bismarck monument, but today people are constantly reminded of who is in love with whom, who is getting married, who is divorcing whom. The life of celebrities permeates and permeates everyday life in society. Of course, this has repercussions on the death of the celebrities, which becomes a media spectacle on a completely different scale. The cult of celebrities has nothing to do with religion, so I would be careful to include the death of Lady Di or the Pope under it. That belongs more to our media society.
Could it not be that religious energies, which to a certain extent float freely, penetrate these media myths and create imagery for which there is a deeper need? Because the problem of coping with one's own death or the death of the other in any way remains, despite our prohibitions to think beyond the / evenly.
First of all, I would ask: Are there any religious energies? Are they bound, shaped, culturally shaped by the religions? And do they somehow become free with the loss of validity of these religions? It is clear that there are religious needs. It also seems clear that the major religions are in a crisis and that these needs are now looking for other channels. Death is a central issue, and a great many of our religious needs stem from the awareness of finitude and the fear of death. But the need for political ties is also promoted and shaped by religions, especially by monotheistic religions. The people of God in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition denote a membership structure that is religiously founded and independent of family, clan, people, state and so on. World religions create a form of belonging that is at odds with political forms of belonging. This is a very important function that has been losing its validity since the 18th century. And what do we experience? We experience a kind of politicization of religion or sacralization of politics. Politics in the 19th century is based on the religious willingness to die for the fatherland. Nineteenth-century nationalism seems to me a successor institution to the faded religion. In the 20th century it becomes violent in the most terrible way. Islamist fundamentalism also seems to me to be such a phenomenon. Going through the modern age, he calls for a resacralization of law - the Sharia - and precisely the state of God.
For the suicide bombers, the idea that after death they will come to the kingdom of heaven, where they are expected by virgins, plays an essential role.
These are modern forms of religious needs that are no longer fully satisfied by tradition - because the Koran sharply rejects suicide. This form of political action actually has nothing to do with Islam as it has developed over the millennia and has been thought through theologically.
In a conversation with an Egyptologist it seems interesting to me to point out that in the substitute religions of socialism there is a cult of the dead and burial that is very reminiscent of the Egyptian forms. In order to keep Mao Tse-tung and Lenin in mausoleums, the millennia-old practice of embalming was revived. How would you rate this strangely archaic cult of the dead?
This cult is perhaps less related to socialism than to the revolutionary. Every revolution has the great problem of perpetuation. When the founder dies, everything depends on not falling back into a pre-revolutionary state. It is an enormous problem to put the revolution, which draws all its dynamism from the overthrow, on an everyday basis. This only works if you immortalize the figure of the founder and legitimize yourself through it. It's basically like in ancient Egypt: The new pharaoh legitimizes himself through the cult of the dead on the old. Stalin also legitimized himself through the cult of the dead on Lenin.
In Russia there is a discussion about whether Lenin should not be buried at last. The departure from socialist ideology would be expressed by handing the founding father of this ideology back to earth in the Christian sense.
That would only be logical, since one has completely renounced revolutionary semantics - unfortunately in favor of a nationalist one. In the nationalist framework, Stalin in particular does not appear as the great criminal he was, but as a great son of the people, as an important historical personality. In this context, in turn, it is not so easy to get rid of Lenin and Stalin. The founding figures of the revolution have become national heroes, that's a paradox.
Our everyday forms of grave culture are still strongly influenced by Christian iconography and Christian rituals, but at the same time have become questionable and merged with new forms. How do you perceive this funeral cult in our western culture?
I paid little attention to that. Of course I visit my parents' grave from time to time and I am glad that it exists. My parents were toying with the idea of a lawn burial, completely anonymous, that would be great for me contre coeur went. One must - and that is not so much part of the Christian tradition as it is part of the basic anthropological endowment of human beings - but set an example for those left behind. The idea of disappearing completely without a trace is certainly very enlightened, but it is more from the point of view of one's own relationship to death than of one's offspring. The descendants do not want that, they want a place where they can concentrate their thoughts, knowing full well that this place with the actual place of the dead, whatever we think of it, maintains a relationship only of thought and not an essential one. Incidentally, these are considerations that already appear in Goethe's elective affinities when Charlotte clears away the gravestones and sets them up on the church wall and now wants to create a meadow instead of the graves. The tombstones are at the church, but there is no longer a burial ground around the church, but a beautiful lawn. There this problem is reflected very nicely, that the dead are somewhere completely different and the place of burial has no relation to their actual place, which is why it doesn't matter where the gravestone is. But at least the tombstone should be there.
The dissolution of the binding nature of ritual forms in dealing with death leads to strange new forms that could be described as bricolage, tinkering with predetermined forms. There are, for example, so-called internet cemeteries, and there was the case of a grave whose tombstone had been given a www address. I remembered when you said that the walls of the pyramid were labeled. In the internet cemeteries, writing returns to a certain extent to the grave.
Egyptian funerary art has elements of the virtual. The very idea that one can have a dialogue with posterity has something virtual about it. The idea that you could create an artificial body in the grave statue and an artificial voice in the texts that you record on the walls can easily be spun off.
In a way, the early form of a multimedia spectacle ...
? You can put yourself on the Internet as an avatar that outlasts you, and you can give this avatar all kinds of texts. The avatar is an Indian form of embodiment. Just as Buddha reincarnates himself on earth in the form of avatars who somehow multiply his existence, so today we can multiply our existence by entering into such virtual embodiments on the Internet. The internet offers the chance of a mask-like form of identity. You spoke of bricolage: It is interesting that one collects terminology from all religions. What the Egyptians did with writing goes in a direction that is reminiscent of much of what we do on the Internet today.
Many of the new funeral cults are on the verge of kitsch. If it is so that we can no longer go behind what you called the "Mosaic distinction", that is, the demarcation from old cultic forms under the sign of monotheism, and if we no longer apply the traditional Christian forms of the cult of the dead without any problems can, then, how could our deficient relationship with death be corrected? What would be the forces that could be mobilized here?
I don't see myself as a contemporary therapist. The problem can only be solved individually, so each individual is required to think about whether he is missing something or whether he is suppressing or denying something. Of course, the churches could reflect and curry less by refraining from developing kitschy forms of a popular burial culture in the hope that this would bring people closer again. The churches could go back to their good old forms and make them stronger.But what good does it do when people leave the church en masse? We are drifting into an individualism where each individual is required to think about how he or she relates to these questions. This may lead to forms that are so widely accepted and make so much impression that they are generally accepted. Right now we are living in a period of decay in which something new may be building up.
Modern art has often taken up topics that were previously at home in religion. It deals with the subject of mortality and death, think of a video installation by Bill Viola, where birth and death are combined in a triptych, or installations by Joseph Beuys or paintings by Jörg Immendorff, in which the emblematic of the bone man shows up. Could there be a correction of our modern, nihilistic conception of death on the part of art?
I would almost say: from where else? If we say that this is the matter of the individual, it can only come from art, that is, from very individual creations that develop new ideas and develop a new effect. Art also includes literature and film. This is a broad spectrum of cultural creation that is now required to overcome this crisis of our imagination. The religions have lost their validity and I don't see how they could regain them without the help of art.
You once pointed out that the pastor who was traditionally involved in the process of coming to terms with death is now partly replaced by the psychotherapist. Could one also see a secular direction there that overcomes these still existing needs for mourning work and saying goodbye to the dead in a modern way?
You are absolutely right. The development of psychotherapy and the role that psychotherapy, especially psychoanalysis, plays in our modern society is actually a textbook example of how a society seeks new forms to satisfy religious needs. It is astonishing how very archaic, shamanistic ideas about the dead come up again in some of these therapy directions. I think of Bert Hellinger and his "family constellations". The dead are also set up there, and media experiences arise. The people who are supposed to embody these dead have real experiences, the kind that someone uses them as a medium. This is the basic principle of many shamanistic forms of cult of the dead: that a medium makes itself available to the dead spirit that speaks through it. The "family constellation" is a common method that apparently works extremely well. Those who take part in it really have experiences. Whether this helps to cure mental illness is another question. But it has been proven that this is not hocus-pocus. This shows that people are connected to their dead, not in the sense that the dead existed somewhere, but that we carry them within us. It is quite clear that this presence of the dead in our lives, who in our conscious culture - in contrast to ancient Egypt - have no forms and no place, then seeks other forms of expression. From an enlightened point of view, one should not think of it as if these dead lived near us and were in contact with us, but one could explain it in such a way that we carry the dead within us.
That we represent them symbolically, so to speak, in memory ...
And that this memory calls for a symbolic representation. Bert Hellinger offers this, it works and leads to new insights. Much comes to light there that comes from the unconscious. Death in particular has a deep relationship with the unconscious. Plato had the idea of a prenatal memory, the anamnesis. Who knows what is inaccessible in our consciousness, but what is somehow activated by such techniques. It is precisely the so-called systemic therapy that makes discoveries that come very close to what the ancient Egyptians practiced and knew: how much a person is integrated into a network of relationships. For the ancient Egyptians it was perfectly natural that humans are always only the junction of a network of relationships. Systemic therapy works with a similar concept of the person: You can only treat a personal crisis if you include the partners in this network of relationships. In this respect, the family constellation is the most Egyptian of all forms of therapy.
From Jan Assmann:
Egypt. A story of meaning
Frankfurt / M 1999, Fischer
Munich 2004, Fink
Rule and salvation
Munich 2000, Hanser
The cultural memory
Munich 1992, Beck
Ma'at. Justice and Immortality in Ancient Egypt
Munich 2001, Beck
The Mosaic Discrimination or the Price of Monotheism
Munich 2003, Hanser
Moses the Egyptian
Munich 1998, Hanser
Religion and cultural memory
Munich 2000, Beck
Theology and Wisdom in Ancient Egypt
Munich 2005, Fink
Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt
Munich 2001, Beck
The origin of the story
Stuttgart 2005, Velcro-Cotta
Wisdom and mystery
Munich 1999, Beck
The Magic Flute
Sacrifice and Mystery Munich 2005, Hanser
Jan Assmann (ed.)
Farewell to the dead
Göttingen 2005, Wallstein
Jan Assmann, Adelbert
Ripe voices of hieroglyphics
LI 4, 3 Berlin 1998
Jan Assmann, Thomas Macho
Death as a theme of cultural theory in ancient Egypt
Frankfurt / M 2000, Suhrkamp
Ecstasies of time
Munich 2003, Hanser
The house on my shoulders
Frankfurt / M 1999, Fischer
In the crab
Göttingen 2002, Steidl
Maurice half wax
Constance 2001, UVK
W. G. Sebald
Air War and Literature
Frankfurt / M 2002, Fischer
From: Lettre International 72, Spring 2006, pp. 95-99
© 2003-2018 by Dr. Dietmar Höhne
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