Pagan Paths

Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.

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Life Resembles Art (Egyptian)

Only weeks after I began studying hieroglyphs last year I started to notice that my mind was working differently.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Something about reading words and sentences which can go backwards or forwards, in circles, or hopscotch around the space inside an oval or square will do that to you. 


The medu neter (words of the gods) of the Egyptians took an iconographic form, rather than alphabetic.  The standard Gardiner list gives 750 signs, but there are far more than that.  Some of these represent ideas (ideograms), some actual things (pictograph), and some of them are phonetic (phonogram).  Mastering navigation of this lush subtropical written jungle took ancient scribes a fair number of years.  The journey is even more daunting for the modern student since we do not live with most of the items that were common visual parlance for the Egyptians.

Yet, the more I learn of these medu neter, the more I see.  It’s that whole-brain b2ap3_thumbnail_hathorglyph.jpgthing kicking in.  A daily life hawk becomes the glyph (hor) for a ruler, and next thing you know, the ruler is a hawk, a god soaring high in the sky in golden noonday brilliance.  After that, the hawk denotes strength, authority, power and protection.  Then the glyph itself becomes powerful, especially as an amulet, perhaps a bit of turquoise or carnelian set in electrum.  This one (at right) is actually a glyph for Hathor.  The hawk is inside the glyph for house or temple.  Thus, the goddess' name means, "house of Horus."

A step further and we easily realize that a human with the head of a snake is not a biological fantasy, but the symbol of a person or entity with the ferocious protective impulse of a deadly cobra.  A segmented pillar with arms (djed) is not just a cartoonish rendering of Osiris, but a statement about the integrity of someone represented by a backbone.  Everywhere you look in Egyptian art, the glyphs turn up, from the positioning of dancers’ arms to a temple roof which is actually the glyph for the sky.

b2ap3_thumbnail_sedgebee.jpgGoose, garment fringe, body parts, jars, stars, water ripples, feathers, mountains, burning lamps, even a stylized placenta – all of these pictograms are meaning extracted from daily life.  When used as hieroglyphs the process has spiraled around to impose still more layers of meaning onto the life that we experience.  It is in the interstices between these layers, achieved in meditative, altered and reflective states, where we discover the divine. 

You don’t have to read hieroglyphs to find inspiration.  Notice your own sacred symbols. Get down your personal medu neter in colored pastels, stones, musical notes, or movement.  Bypassing the left brain temporarily can stir your soul to as-yet undiscovered joys.  Your life will begin to look more like art, art with beautiful deeper meaning.

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Holli Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the premiere educational resource for Pagan and other nature-based religions (, founder of Osireion (, editor/writer for Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at, and serves on the board of directors for Interfaith Partners of S.C. (  She is co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table,, and author of "Pool of Lotus," available in print, or for Kindle or Nook, at


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