Bird singing the blues: Revival of a native tradition

When looking at the collective stories of any group of people it is not only important to look at what the stories say but also how those stories are attained. In his book “Reading the Voice” Zolbrod hypothesizes that oral poetry is meant to be transmitted from spoken voice to listening ear and that when it is encountered in a written form, it needs to be acknowledged that something is lost because the words are meant to be encountered not read. While the words themselves have importance; the rhythm, the tonal inflections, the language, and the experience of one person speaking or singing the poetry and the other hearing it are just as important. There are benefits and constraints to both the written word and the spoken word. Scholars have been working to put onto paper the songs and stories of non-written cultures in order to share and preserve them but what is lost is the context which must be in the least, acknowledged and ideally, experienced.

As I mentioned, there are benefits and constraints to both oral and written transmission of stories.  While documenting a story by putting it on paper or on a recording does give the story a level of authenticity and permanence that can’t be assured with oral transmission; it does not have the same power.  Written words do not change, they are fixed so generations from now, a person can read and know the stories.  The stories may even be recorded electronically so the voice is still heard, the body movements, and experience seen but that is still not oral transmission.  With oral transmission, there is a human contact that over time, becomes a relationship.  It means the student is accountable to an elder or elders.  These relationships also carry traditions, responsibilities, and guidance to the young people that seek them.  The drawback to oral transmission is twofold as I see it.  First, there must be a teacher for the student.  Oral transmission can’t occur unless there is someone willing and able to pass on the traditions.  The other drawback that may be seen as a positive by some is that the oral transmission can be fluid.  Stories, even when sung and passed down through the generations can change.  As seen with bird singing, the songs may lose their words because the singers don’t know the language they are singing or they may lose their sound due to younger singers trying to set themselves apart in pow wow competitions. Neither written or oral transmission is superior, they are just different and have different purposes.  For bird singing the transmission must be oral and experiential.   

For this paper, I will be looking at the transmission of a specific form of poetry, the bird songs of the local Cahuilla people. The Cahuilla people can be generally divided into three groups based on the geographical region in which they lived: Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla and Western (San Gorgonio Pass) Cahuilla. All three spoke the Cahuilla language, had similar lifestyles and practiced the same traditions. There are a total of nine Cahuilla Indian nations (Green). This form of oral poetry was almost erased from the culture by the years of forced separation, assimilation, and education of Native children by the American government.  Its phoenix-like resurgence in the local Native communities is a testament to the power of the songs and their need to be heard.  Now that more people have been exposed to the bird songs, issues of transmission and legitimacy are being raised.  The question of what it means to be a bird singer has been raised and the importance of how the songs are learned is a major part of that discussion.  In this paper, I will attempt to offer a glimpse of the Cahuilla people through their songs.  Not the words of their songs, the experience of the songs and their importance to the people.

For eight years, I worked at Noli Indian School on the Soboba Reservation in Southern California.  It was there I witnessed the revival of bird singing.  Today, if you attend a pow wow or similar function in Southern California you will likely see several bird singing groups, each with their own set of songs, sometimes the same words just sung in a subtly different way.  The practice is so prevalent that it is hard to believe that the tradition was almost lost when the last ceremonial singer, Joe Patencio, passed away in 1977. A group of men decided to make an effort to bring the songs back to the people.  With the help of a grant from the California Arts Council, young men within the tribe were partnered up with mentor bird singers to help the practice continue to the next generation (Sing birds, 2009).  It was their passion and dedication for sharing the songs with the young men of the tribe that brought this tradition back to life.  

Working at Noli Indian School, I learned a lot about bird singing and had the fortune to listen to many of the elders like Ernie Morreo, Alvino Siva, Anthony Andreas, and Sat Torres in person before they passed away.  Also, I had the honor to work alongside Kim Marcus, the man responsible for so many young native youth learning their songs and culture.  Mr. Marcus is the school counselor, culture teacher, distinguished elder, and bird singer at the school.  It is due to his efforts that bird singing is such a large part of the culture of the school.  In culture class, boys make gourd rattles and girls sew ribbon shirts and ribbon dresses worn by the singers and dancers. Songs are a part of the everyday life of the school, not something learned as much as experienced naturally.  Those that want to learn can practice and perform at school functions and weekly during lunch breaks.  Elders within the community are often present on campus helping transmit the songs to the next generation.  Many bird singers perform with the students and the school has its own group that performs at local cultural events to educate people about bird singing, this is Mr. Marcus’s group, the Noli Bird singers.  This group includes Mr. Marcus, elders like Willis Torres, students that are establishing themselves as bird singers, and students that are just learning bird singing.      

In my eight years at the school, I saw a handful of students that actually bore the label of bird singer.  Bird singing can be practiced by any of the students but only certain students labeled and respected as actual bird singers.  Since there are no longer any practicing Shamans, the official title of ceremonial bird singer has been lost but there is a difference in stature of a boy that is learning the songs and a boy that is a bird singer.  These boys were also usually in a lineage of bird singers, they came in knowing their culture and the school just nurtured their growth. Some of the boys I watched become bird singers were Bo Bullchild, Joe and Dominic Duro, Julio and Daniel Briones, William Morrell, Dusty and Rocky Rhodes, and Adam Trujillo.  To “be a bird singer” is more than just memorizing the songs and performing.  A young man couldn’t just sing the songs, he had to know what they meant.  This means the young man has to learn his culture, learn his language and adhere, or attempt to adhere to the code of conduct of bird singers.  They had to carry themselves in a manner that befitted the respect they received from the community.  For instance, bird singers are not permitted to use drugs or abuse alcohol.  If a singer is using drugs or drinking excessively, the other students would become upset with them and help them to get back on the path.  Out of respect, singers should stop singing when they know they aren’t living an honorable life. This has led to some tensions within the community as many of the younger singers bend the rules, especially the use of marijuana and alcohol. 

The songs have importance because they hold the history of the tribe and to sing them in the wrong way is to take power from the songs.  It is important how they are taught and practiced.  Both student and mentor need to recognize the sacred nature of the songs and the relationships that grow from their transmission.  The relationship between elder and apprentice bird singer is a special one, not unlike the relationship between Guru and disciple. This is because of the sacred nature of the material.  It isn’t just teaching, it is mentoring.  It is a care relationship not unlike father and son.  “The transmission of Dharma requires language, encounter, and human relationships” (Tsyogal) just like bird singing.  Some people try to learn the songs by listening to the recordings and imitating them but this is the wrong way.  It must be transmitted just like Dharma, by acquiring the language, encountering the songs and their ceremonies and by building relationships with elder singers.

The songs tell the creation story, track tribal migration and history and reinforce native language transmission but they also foster a code of conduct in the community. They are a major part of tribal gatherings and bird singers are respected members of the community, members that are following their cultural calling and keeping the songs alive.  Being a bird singer is no small task.  Bird singers are often asked to perform at gatherings and ceremonies.  In the community, if there is a death, the bird singers will be asked to sing.  On the night of the wake alone, the singers will sing from sundown to sunup, often in a small room with tobacco smoke hanging in the air.  The bird singers are often exhausted both mentally and physically after these events.  Many times, Mr. Marcus would hardly be able to speak after perfoming the songs for a passing tribal member. The importance of teaching the young people culture, especially the bird songs is highly stressed at Noli Indian School as well as on the reservations. “A 1990 census revealed that there were only about 35 people left who could speak the Cahuilla language. The language is nearly extinct, since most speakers are middle-aged or older” (Green).  Soboba tribal hall hosts weekly storytelling nights, language classes, and basket weaving gatherings. Many of the other local reservations have similar events and most have annual gatherings and pow wows where bird songs are sung and danced.  Each day Noli School begins with tobacco offering and prayer, at least once a week bird songs are performed at lunch, often with community members in attendance, and special events occur throughout the year like presentations from community members and the annual gathering. 

The important lesson is not the songs themselves necessarily but the way they are taught and what they have to teach.  Since these songs are taught through practicing together, there is a strong bond that develops between the elder singer and his students.  Most men teach the songs to boys in their direct family; sons, younger siblings, or nephews.  Even with the resurgence of the tradition, the tradidion struggles to survive intact.  Life on the reservation is a struggle for the young men and many from the reservation die young or find their way into the prison system. Sadly, two of the bird singers I saw emerge from the school Dusty Rhodes and Joe Duro died shortly after they graduated high school from gun violence while others ended up in prison, or fell prey to addiction or crime.  This is part of the reason many boys at Noli School do not have that strong male role model to teach them the ways of their people.  Many of the families were led by women because it was the women that were the ones that raised the families and become elders.  This is where men like Kim Marcus and many others stepped in to give these boys instruction on what it means to be a strong, Native man.  They were taught what it meant to have cultural pride and a heritage.

The way these songs are taught are by experience and social interaction.  The men and boys get together and sing.  They sing at social gatherings like funerals, fiestas, and even just backyard get togethers, anywhere can be a place to sing.  At first, a boy will just shake the gourd rattle with the others, next he will hum along but eventually, he will sing. By the time the boy sings, he will have spent enough time with the elder singers to have learned much more than the words to the songs, they will have taught him about his culture and how to be a man.  They will have created bonds that hold the young man to have respect and act in a manner that is culturally acceptable.  This is why the method of transmission is so crucial for keeping the bird songs alive.  In our world today of electronic media, the songs have been recorded, the words and stories will no longer be lost but the tradition, the language, and the social interactions are also in jeopardy of being lost.  Now that the words of the songs, the performance aspect is safe, the sacred needs to be protected.    

The revival of bird songs has brought some mixed feelings about the future of bird singing. “The loss of the Cahuilla language, infusion of money from Casinos (in some of the bands), contemporary western culture and issues of mixed blood have all affected the intention of the singers and the purity of the bird songs” (Sing birds : following the path of Cahuilla power – National Film Network).  The culture of the Cahuilla people was almost destroyed through the over 100 years of forced assimilation of reservation youth.  Now that the culture is being brought back to the reservations, the people need to decide how much they will allow the old rules to bend in order to attract the younger people to participate.  This is not limited to Native cultures but can be seen universally. The issues have to do with who can participate, how they need to be taught, and how they must behave once they are taught.  This is not a matter of who is allowed to participate in social gatherings or simply want to know about the songs, which is open to everyone.  This concerns becoming a ceremonial bird singer; one that has the respect from the community, sings at special functions, and learns the sacred songs.  I will attempt to introduce and look at each of these issues.  I am only trying to look at the arguments, I am not trying to take any position on the subject.  They are part of an ongoing conversation within the bird singing community and in many Native communities.  There is no wrong or right answer, just a conversation. 

First, there is the matter of exclusivity.  The battle to keep the culture alive has not been an easy one through the years.  It makes sense that after struggling so hard to revive the culture, the people are now very protective of that culture and do not want it put under the scrutiny of those that do not understand the context.  Bird singing is a sacred tradition and the songs hold power.  Some members of the community argue that anyone that wants to learn the songs, if they want to do it from their hearts, should be permitted to learn.  They are more concerned that the songs do not die out.  Then there is the other side which wants to limit the songs to members of the tribes that traditionally practiced those songs.  They may talk about blood qualifications and tribal enrollment.  The matter of blood quantum and enrollment is a huge, heated issue in the local tribal communities especially since the economic boon of casinos hit those communities.  Members that have identified themselves with a tribe for generations have been and continue to be disenrolled to increase the payouts for the members that are still enrolled. I admit to feeling slighted as an outsider when I hear that tribal members want to exclude outsiders from learning their traditions.  This is natural but I have to look at it from the perspective of the people that are trying to protect their dying culture. It is not about keeping people out, it is about preserving the specialness of the songs.

By limiting the amount of people that learn the songs to specific individuals, the members are trying to protect the way the songs are transmitted and also keep the power and sacred nature of the songs alive.  While tribal members may also approach the songs in the “wrong way” just like an outsider, it is less likely that they would do so if properly exposed to the culture. When too many people learn a tradition, the tradition begins to weaken.  People begin to learn the songs without the traditions, they do not understand the power of the songs so the songs begin to lose their power.  We as humans value that which is limited, like time or gold.  If everyone could sing the songs, eventually they could lose their meaning, especially when the people singing the songs do not know the language.  It becomes more performance than ceremony and loses its power.

 One way to protect the bird songs from becoming performance pieces is to limit the way these songs are learned. In my mind, this seems to be a bigger issue than the first.  The manner of transmission has everything to do with what is sacred and powerful about the songs. The songs are not something that can be learned from recording or books.  They have to be learned experientially and through human interactions. Many would also argue that to sing the songs, the singers should know the language and understand what they are singing.  While many of the young singers know the songs and their meanings, not as many know the individual words they are using.  When the singers do not know the individual words and their meanings, it is more likely for them to sing the songs incorrectly, the songs just being sounds not actual words.  This is a criticism from some of the elders that do not just want to see the practice of bird singing survive, they want to see the transmission of language and culture to follow that practice. 

The last issue raised is the code of conduct for bird singers.  This is a difficult line to balance when trying to keep a tradition alive.  Similar to the issue of who can learn the songs because it is about protecting the power of the songs.  Reservations are known for their alcohol and drug problems.  Many of the young men that want to learn the ways of bird singing also want to experiment with drugs and alcohol with their peers.  The problem with this is what to do when a singer becomes involved with “small” infractions, like smoking marijuana.  For some members of the community, this is not seen as a “big deal” but others lose respect for the singers when they do these things.  Respect from the community is crucial for the songs and singers to have power in the community.  At all bird singing events on campus, the respect for the songs was maintained and emphasized.  Staff members and often other students would remind each other to remove hats and cease speaking as the songs begin.  The respect for the songs gives them the power and by holding themselves in a place of honor with a code of conduct helps to give those singers their respect within the community.

The future of bird singing is much brighter than it was thirty years ago but it is still a shaky future.  With high rates of death, incarceration, alcoholism, and drug use on the reservations it is easy for young men and women to stray from the cultural traditions.  I saw the young bird singers struggle with trying to stay on the path.  Even some of the older bird singers stray occasionally.  It is a difficult responsibility to hold the position of ceremonial bird singer.  Not only to keep a code of conduct but also to perform at so many functions all over southern California.  It is a daunting task that not many young men today are willing to attempt.  The songs may live on but the traditions and culture that are transmitted with those songs are still on shaky ground.    

It is important for the Cahuilla people to keep their songs alive but it is also important to humanity.  We are at an interesting time in history.  With technology and globalization, cultures are mixing and melding at a rapid pace.  This is at the same time wonderful and alarming.  It is amazing and wonderful the amount of information one can find simply by turning on the computer but what is the cost of this convenience?  Globalization can also be called assimilation into a larger world community and when assimilation occurs, often so does a loss of the original culture.  This is not always a bad thing, some cultures need change but they shouldn’t be forgotten.  By looking at the issues facing the Cahuilla and their attempts to revive their cultural tradition of bird singing, we see our own desire to connect to a larger cultural context and what that means in a society of instant information.  The transmission of stories, language, culture, and the mentoring to the younger generation are issues that face all of humanity not just the Cahuilla.

Works Cited

Green, Mary. “The Cahuilla People.” The Cahuilla People. Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://augustinetribe.org/cahuilla.html&gt;.

Sing Birds: Following the Path of Cahuilla Power. No Special Ability Productions, 2009. DVD.

“Sing Birds: Following the Path of Cahuilla Power – National Film Network.” Sing Birds: Following the Path of Cahuilla Power – National Film Network. National Film Network. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <https://www.nationalfilmnetwork.com/store/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=1110&gt;.

Tsyogal, Yeshe. Lady of the Lotus-born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe-Tsogyal. Boston: Shambhala, 1999. Print.

Zolbrod, Paul G. Reading the Voice: Native American Oral Poetry on the Written Page. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995.

Transformation: Amduat, the college student, and the river that unites them

Sixth hour images

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Seventh hour

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The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus wrote “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This quote unites the river and man as both experiencing change but the connection between the soul and the river go far beyond their inability to escape change. For ancient Egyptians, the Nile River was life. More than just a metaphor, the river brought life and death. It was the soul of Egypt. Ancient Egyptians knew that the river and the soul were natural and could not be controlled but they were not passive with this knowledge. One reason the Ancient Egyptians thrived for longer than any other known society is that they were active in their quest for wisdom and growth. They had core knowledge and they made sure that people knew these secrets to life and living. Egyptian civilization centered on the cycles of the river just as life of the individual is determined by the state of the soul. The Nile was studied and tended to, in order to maximize growth and minimize risks. Similarly, they studied the soul. They monitored the soul and tended it just as they did the river. By applying this knowledge, the Egyptians didn’t merely survive, they continually blossomed. The value of this knowledge did not escape the Egyptians. They made sure to record it to guide those that wished to follow the same path and to further their society.

The crucial knowledge for life and growth was recorded in multiple forms and texts. The Amduat is one of the oldest texts to record the knowledge of transformative growth. It shows Re, the sun god, as he journeys from sunset to sunrise. It is a guide for the afterlife but afterlife can’t be known. The idea of an afterlife is an attempt to create immortality. The attempt to understand the afterlife comes from the knowledge that time is limited. The idea that the body is mortal yet the soul lives on forever offers people the hope that part of them will not perish. A possible extension of existence gives people meaning in this life. The only way to attempt to understand the afterlife is to look at it as a reflection of life. Examining the Amduat as a reflection on life reveals a great deal of insight on the human psyche. It shows the fear of wasting time, how to continue to grow, the need for social interactions, the need for education, and how to navigate transformations.

The Amduat uses this reflective awareness metaphorically to explain how to grow through transformation. “The Amduat, written 3500 years ago, contains in a nutshell the knowledge necessary to reunite the individual soul with this inner guiding light” (Abt and Hornung, 9). It teaches how to have wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to do, how to do it, and when it should be done. To have wisdom, a person needs to know themselves, they need to understand their motivation and ability to carry out their ideas. Thousands of years before Freud and Jung gave us the vocabulary for depth psychology, the Egyptians used the story of Re to instruct people how to grow and improve through transformation. Re’s journey through the underworld is not a map for the afterlife, it is a guide for the soul during transformation.

There are three levels for change. These are simple change, transition, and transformation. Simple changes are slight. Like with the water flowing along its path. Most people would look at the river and believe it to be unchanged but it is never the same river. Just like a person may seem the same but the soul is always changing even if the change is not easily recognized. Transitions are more noticeable, like a twist in the river’s path that causes a change in direction. Finally, there is transformation. Transformation is more than a change in direction. It is more like the river that goes underground and resurfaces in a new place. Transformation requires an individual to dive down into unconscious to gain knowledge, learn to accept and incorporate this knowledge, and finally to rise back up to the surface as a new person. Changes, transitions, and transformations are natural. In order to thrive and avoid death, the Egyptians learned the natural paths for growth, both agriculturally and psychologically.

Changes, transitions, and transformations of the soul can be understood through the river. They need to occur for the health of the river and soul. There is no way to escape change. If the water in the river did not flow, it would become stale and cluttered with weeds and algae. It would cease to exist as a river. In the same way, the soul of a person needs to flow or it can become stale and cluttered. The soul and the river can change, transition, and even transform without intervention. If a person just stands in the river, the water will continue to move by them. Life in the form of rain or drought can cause dramatic transformations to occur. The question is what type of transformations will occur. Passive living allows for the currents to deliver life giving water but it also opens a person up to being swallowed by the tides. The river, like the soul, may be just fine following the natural path. However, when the risks are so high, it seems foolish not to take action so the changes create growth instead of destruction.

How can a person create change? Manipulating change effectively and achieving the desired results takes time. Time to acquire knowledge and complete the action necessary for the chosen outcome. Effective change can’t be done with knowledge or action alone, it requires both. A person can know what to do but without actually doing what needs to be done, thus making the knowledge useless. The mere knowledge of how to divert the water from the river to the fields will not get the water where it should be. It takes the work of digging the trenches and constant monitoring for changes to make sure the water continues to flow. On the other hand, action without knowledge is equally useless. An example of ignorant action would be like trying to divert that same water by digging a hole instead of a trench. It doesn’t matter how hard the person works or how deep they dig, without the knowledge to dig trenches instead of a hole, the action is wasted. Not only does lack of knowledge create impotent action and loss of time, it can cause harm. Transitioning improperly is damaging but transforming badly can be disastrous. It is easier to correct a bend in the river than to redirect water that has gone underground. “The journey into the unconscious – encountering, befriending, and integrating the shadow is not to be undertaken lightly” (Brewi and Brennan, 261). In order to create transformation that inspires growth instead of decay, a person needs informed action. Ignorant actions won’t always lead to despair but without growth, they have no meaning. Similarly, knowledge without action can’t grow and will cause the person to remain stuck and unsatisfied.

Transformation requires knowledge and action. For a soul to continue to grow, a person needs to cycle between action and knowledge. A person needs ignorant action to gain the insight that they need knowledge. Once they gain knowledge, they will need to use that knowledge to perform informed actions since knowledge without action has no point. The new action will lead to knowledge through experience but it will also lead to mistakes which should make the person seek knowledge to improve and so on until death. This is why it takes time to become wise. It requires the cycle of action and knowledge. Wisdom is the ability know how to apply knowledge to action. Society needs this wisdom to thrive. Acquiring knowledge and applying it are the quickest ways to reach wisdom. For society to continue to grow, it needs people to reach wisdom at a younger age so people can apply it for the benefit of the society for a longer period of time and continue to grow. With more time, the amount of wisdom a person can achieve is greater. There is a French proverb that has also been credited to Sigmund Freud that expresses the need for early wisdom. “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait – If youth knew! If age could!”  This is saying if only we could have wisdom earlier in life so we had time to apply it and increase the time to gain more knowledge and insights. The purpose of education is to make the person better than their old self and increase knowledge and wisdom in a society. By lifting up others, we all rise.

The two sources of knowledge are experience and social interactions. A person can gain knowledge through experience, a series of trial and errors. This is the hardest, most time consuming, and least successful way to gain knowledge because it requires experimentation through ignorant actions. Ignorant actions can lead to insight but they can also lead to cycles of ignorance and despair. The other way to gain knowledge is through others. By learning from others, a person saves themselves time, heartache, and general overall stress. The realization for an individual that they do not have to do it alone, that others have had a same experience, helps to make transformation more tolerable. Egyptians recognized the need for social knowledge transmission which a reason they permanently recorded texts like the Amduat, to light the way.

The Amduat shows that people need people to grow.   Some people may argue that a person can be self-educated or that the knowledge exists within the soul, a person just needs to access that knowledge. Even personal journeys to enlightenment are social experiences. To unlock inner knowledge a person needs the keys. The keys are only available from others; directly or through art, writing, and other forms of recorded knowledge. Reading requires a writer, a painting needs a painter, and a piece of music needs a composer. Since learning is social, the type of knowledge a person will acquire is dependent upon their society. The more wisdom within the society, the easier it will be for an individual to also gain wisdom and contribute to the wisdom of the world. The knowledge we gain from others could be flawed and following it leads to problems. This is why people seeking knowledge are best served entering societies with others that are seeking knowledge.   By participating in a society of knowledge, a person will more easily learn how gain meaningful knowledge and how to apply it. The best place to find a society of knowledge seekers is to go to school. In America, school is required for preliminary instruction of young people but formal education after this point can dramatically aid in growth and living a fulfilling life.

The goal of college is change. I have never heard of anyone that went to college so that they would have the same life and way of thinking as they when they entered. Education is about opening doors. It opens doors within the mind, soul, and society. There are many motivators to go to school. Some of these motivators include societal expectations of college as the next, natural step from high school, a person may want to improve their employment opportunities, they may simply want gain knowledge, or a parent may want to set an example for their kids to pursue education. One thing all of these motivations are the same – they all open doors. The Amduat is about opening doors. Re moves through gates as he progresses through the subconscious. College requires gaining knowledge but it also requires applying that knowledge to the self. During college, people determine their future path. They learn their strengths and weaknesses. They learn to have confidence in their knowledge so that it can lead to action. It is a period of great excitement and danger. Facing the self, taking action into the future, and growing are not easy. A soul can easily become lost. Texts like the Amduat can help.

As a text about transformation, the Amduat details the soul’s journey through the world of night. The Sungod, the conscious self goes through death and descent where he is united with his brother, Osiris, the subconscious and ascends whole and renewed to the world. Thousands of years after the Amduat was recorded, Jung also used the journey of the sun to illustrate the process of a midlife experience. He explained that the sun shines it light on the world (action) but then reaches a zenith and finds it necessary to turn that light back in to the self (knowledge) in order to become wise and experience satisfaction in the second half of life (informed action). As a person in the middle part of life, I agree with this analogy but I disagree that it is limited to a specified period of life. There are biological factors involved with the midlife experience that make that specific transformation unique but transformations occur through life. Just like the journey of the sun occurs every day, a person has to go through transformation through life in order to continue to grow and avoid stagnation and dissatisfaction of the soul.

The Amduat is recorded as a combination of hieroglyphics and text which makes it especially rich. It is like the text is talking to the conscious, logical part of the person but the hieroglyphs speak to the soul what words can’t convey. Each register contains incredible insight into the psyche. Due to the density of the material, I will limit myself to elements of the sixth and seventh hours and how they mirror the experience of college students undergoing transformation. These hours address the obstacles of growth. Many students that start college do not make it to graduation. Each person has their own set of obstacles to overcome in order to succeed in college. In Amduat, these obstacles are identified as Apopis. Apopis is appears in the seventh hour as a giant snake. Apopis doesn’t want Re to unite with himself. Apopis are the people that don’t want others to succeed. It is the flat tire on the way to a final exam. Apopis is all the things that block transformative growth. While the obstacles are limitless, they can be divided into two categories, external and internal.

External obstacles are the things outside the self that get in the way of education. These include financial difficulties, lack of support or even resistance from a social group, and health problems. These obstacles are real but that doesn’t mean that a person has to let them block the path. Obstacles make the path more difficult but overcoming those obstacles helps a person in gaining both knowledge and confidence to take further action toward growth. Obstacles can be seen as something that holds a person back or as the very things that cause growth. It takes wisdom to resist getting held back by obstacles. Since the college student is seeking wisdom, they need to get the knowledge from others. In order to learn how to get funding for education, how to deal with the people that hold others back, and how to prioritize obligations are all things college students can learn from others. Colleges have counseling centers specifically trained to help students navigate the path but many students do not seek that guidance due to internal obstacles. Passive living is allowing outside obstacles to get in the way of inner growth. This pattern resists taking responsibility for the obstacles as using them as excuses instead of opportunities. “By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them” (Maraboli, 37). Once a person falls into this trap, it takes guidance to gain the knowledge to become free.

Internal obstacles are much more crippling than external forces. In fact, for any excuse to fail, there is a person who proves that it can still be done. External forces are only able to control people because they can’t get past the internal obstacles of fear and ignorance. Ignorance is overcome by knowledge and fear is overcome by taking action and gaining confidence. This is why the answer for overcoming these obstacles is to seek knowledge and take action. In order to gain knowledge a person needs other people to light the way and help defeat Apopis. Apopis is a formidable foe and can’t be overcome alone.

The sixth and seventh hours are the heart of the journey through night. They are the Amduat’s Nile River. It is these two hours where transformation occurs. The first register of the sixth hour contains the spark of knowledge that starts the transformation process. Both hours show the danger of undergoing transformation and the need for others to guide and aid in overcoming obstacles, Apopis. The final register for the seventh hour illustrates how helping others to transform allows others to grow and share in renewal. Together, we rise. Very beautiful message that is may be even more necessary today than ever before. So often, people feel that they have to go through life alone. They may be afraid to admit they need help. They may think asking for help as a weakness. Some people think that in order to prove themselves, they need to do it on their own without help. Whatever reason a person has for not getting help from others the result is a more difficult transformation and most likely not one that will include transformative growth. Without others to guide and support the transforming individual, it is all too easy to get lost and for Apopis to gain power. Receiving help from others is not a weakness or inconvenience; it is an opportunity to turn obstacles into growth for both the receiver and giver. The ability to ask for and receive help is one of my internal obstacles that I continually have to destroy in order to grow. The Amduat helped me to see how receiving guidance and support not only helps me; it is beneficial to the person that gives that guidance and support.

These two hours of the Amduat are crucial knowledge for college students. Seeing their struggles – actually “seeing” them through hieroglyphs that have been around for thousands of years – not only serves to give guidance, it gives hope. I agree with Abt and Hornung that the ability to see the battle with Apopis as an archetypal situation is a profound insight. It can be a transformative insight. The realization that transformative growth is difficult for everyone and that no one is able to do it alone can make difference between quitting and graduating.

The sixth hour is crucial because it is the moment where the soul and the body unite and the action reverses. This is the moment where Abt and Hornung say that consciousness is created, the “very moment of the union of Re and Osiris, the divine eye of the Sungod appears for the first time as a pair of eyes” (80). In the top register there is a small pair of eyes above the head of a lion, Osiris. Osiris represents the subconscious. He is the one that must face the internal Apopis to unite with Re and face the external Apopis. In the central register, Re is sailing along but suddenly there is a break in the action. The center of the entire Amduat is at this physical point. It is lifted, from the rest of the register as if to emphasize the importance of the moment. I think it may even suggest the elevated nature of the scene. It contains the heart of the message, the need for guidance and fortitude in this journey. It is done within the subconscious unlike the barque on the river, like the student enrolling in school that is an outward action and the transformation process is enclosed in the protective embrace of the snakes. This protection is to keep the newly transformed individual for the future battles but also represents the mysterious nature of transformation. It is a process that at this point has to be done internally.

This divine eye is the spark when the student decides to go to school. The transition, the turn in the river, starts here. The text for the Amduat for this moment reads “The Bull with roaring voice rejoices, when Re rests upon his divine eye” (Abt and Hornung, 80). The Bull with the roaring voice is the lion but the roaring voice with rejoice brings to mind Whitman’s barbaric yawp. The spark of consciousness brings an invigorating sense of joy which is needed to sustain Re and Osiris through the next hour of the journey. It is empowering to create a change in direction and actively create an identity. The student begins the journey in the central frame with the barque on the river. Once in school, they begin to gain knowledge but they need to gain wisdom not knowledge or action alone. To turn knowledge and action into transformative growth, the individual needs only to turn to the heart of the Amduat for guidance.

The very center of the mid hour of the Amduat has Thoth, the god of Wisdom in physical form, the baboon, presenting himself in spiritual form, an ibis, to a woman that is hiding eyes behind her back. He needs to surrender his soul in order to gain sight. After the surrender of self, there is a reconnection “with the ancestors’ knowledge and experience of renewal. By respecting the ancestors, the one in need of renewal can find the necessary confidence and mental support” (Abt and Hornung, 83). Once a person meets the shadow, they need to surrender, they need to accept the shadow in order to gain knowledge and growth. On the one side of the woman with the eyes is Thoth. He is seeking the sight. The other side shows generations of pharaohs and a transforming self. This demonstrates that knowledge, sight, can be gained from others and from searching the self. Adler explains that it is in these times of transformation, when a person is in a new situation that the self is exposed. The transforming self since it is exposed is especially fragile requires protection from Apopis. This register gives the key to success in college. The difference between acquiring knowledge and developing wisdom. Wisdom is acquired from others, the past, and the discovery of the new self. Achieving wisdom is achieving a transformative growth. This is the goal of college.   “The rekindling and self-generation of the young light is a moment of great danger” (Abt and Hornung, 90). The sense of danger continues to the lower corner of the bottom register where the snakes are lined up with their knives. The sense of an impending battle is strong as Re moves into the seventh hour, the confrontation with Apopis.

The seventh hour is exciting and beautiful. It is in this hour that both Osiris and Re triumph over Apopis with the help others and unite to become a renewed being. Up to the sixth hour, the river ran its course. Then the person gets the spark of awareness and the river changes direction. As Thoth offers up the soul, the river has surrenders itself to go underground. There the river encounters rocks and other obstacles but in this analogy, it also connects with a hidden underground river and the two unite and rise up together, a new river. Like the river, the self gains wisdom by going down in the subconscious, uniting with the hidden waters within, facing obstacles, and rising renewed. The difference, as shown in the Amduat, between the transformation of a river and that of a soul is that soul transformation requires outside assistance. It can’t be done alone.

The top and middle registers are of Osiris and Re facing their enemies. Osiris is first to face his enemies but with both brothers, we see that they are not the ones performing the action. They are in their protective Mehen-serpents. Abt and Hornung suggest that this protection is confidence from making it to this point in the journey. It also fits for a college student. There is a sense of confidence that comes from being in school. The label of college student is an outward sign that the individual is in a quest for transformation. It is a sign that the person wants growth, they want something more, and they are active to make change. However, it is not all smooth sailing. The inner doubts begin to attack the soul. Many people experience feelings of inferiority and may set standards that are impossible to reach which guarantees failure. It is crucial for the person to complete the journey. Not every person needs to go to college but when a person decides to go to college but doesn’t finish they must carry that dream unfulfilled. Once a transformation is started, it has to be completed in order for the person to grow without regret. Without a complete transformation, part of the river remains underground and becomes an obstacle in future transformations.

It is important that Osiris triumphs over his enemies first. In order to overcome the external obstacles, the self needs to have inner fortitude from defeating these enemies. In order to succeed, a person has to be determined not to fail. They need to have determination that they will make it through no matter what before they encounter Apopis. Without this inner strength, Apopis has a better chance to stifle growth.

Life is change. Things will happen in life while the student is in school. The successful student has already defeated the inner Apopis. In reality, this is an ongoing process but the initial battle has been won which strengthens the individual against future attacks. Once Osiris triumphs, once the student has gained confidence that they can succeed they have to make the decision that they will succeed and take action to make it happen. The knowledge and action in the mind then connects to knowledge and action toward the external forces. This unity is what makes the individual strong enough to face Apopis. It gives a person the keys to life’s secrets. Without success in the subconscious, external obstacles will easily stop a student from succeeding and often it won’t even take external forces. “He or she will be the tragic victim of horrible devouring emotions … Apopis will succeed in preventing the individual, but also a society, from achieving any further development or metamorphosis. The result is psychic stagnation” (Abt and Hornung, 93). The person becomes stuck. They started the transformation process and they turned the light in. Instead of accepting themselves for their perceived strengths and weakness, they allow the weakness to cripple their progress. Obstacles and insecurities are opportunities for growth. When a person recognizes this they don’t let the “problems” of life of life stop them, they use those problems to create solutions.

As I briefly mentioned, the brothers do not defeat their obstacles on their own. In both registers, it is others that have stabbed, decapitated, and done general violence to the enemies of Re and Osiris, including Apopis. This is to let the person know that they are not alone and they need others to get past obstacles. It is in the middle register of the sun where the slain Apopis is presented to the god. This is the outside sign that the obstacles have been overcome and destroyed. The final death of Apopis is graduation for the college student. Osiris and Re have united and fulfilled their destined mutual healing. Re does not rise up as Re, he is new because he is the consciousness merged with Osiris, the unconscious. The transformation is complete which leads to the bottom register.

This is where this hour becomes beautiful. In this register, the renewed Sungod is seated in front of many stars that are sent on their way. “They proceed before the sun to the eastern horizon and share in the renewal” (Abt and Hornung, 94). By going through transformation and gaining wisdom, the college student doesn’t rise up alone. They are joined by the people that helped them achieve that goal. It is through each other that we rise up and gain wisdom. It is through each other that we grow as a society.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Abt, Theodor, and Hornung, Erik. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003. Print.

 

Brewi, Janice, and Anne Brennan. “Emergence of the Shadow in Midlife.” Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. By Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. New York: Putnam, 1991. 260-61. Print.

 

Heraclitus. “A Quote by Heraclitus.” Goodreads. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/117526-no-man-ever-steps-in-the-same-river-twice-for&gt;.

 

Jung, C.G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1955. Print.

 

Maraboli, Steve. Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience. Port Washington, NY: Better Today, 2013. Print.

 

“Si Jeunesse Savait, Si Vieillesse Pouvait.” If Youth but Knew; If [old] Age but Could. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.proz.com/kudoz/french_to_english/art_literary/144795-si_jeunesse_savait_si_vieillesse_pouvait.html&gt;.