“I rise like Nefertum, who is the lotus at the nostrils of Ra when he comes forth from the horizon each day.”
-The Egyptian Book of the Dead
“Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.”
-‘The Lotos-Eaters’, Lord Alfred Tennyson
Some newfangled Egyptologists (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Naydler! Here’s a high five while we’re at it!) are assailing the staunch anthropological old-guard with some pretty high-fallutin’ hypotheses. These rogue scholars pluckily postulate that the collective papyri forming the Egyptian Book of the Dead are not merely a funery handbook of spells and incantations for dead folks hankerin’ to make a graceful transition to greener pastures. Instead, they’ve laid claim that this ancient, cadaverous tome should be read as a manual for the art of ‘practicing dying’ by us lucky folks topside o’ the soil. I can, and do, emphatically believe the chutzpah of these incendiary eggheads, and not just because I practice dying most every day with desolate relish. Ancient Egypt stinks to high heaven of Shamanistic inclinations! Animal-headed deities, a shamanistic Priesthood highly esteemed within the stratified society, hieroglyphs & papyri a’plenty showing profound knowledge of plant lore and altered states of consciousness, psychoactive ritual cocktails that may (or may not, juries out) have included mandrakes and poppies, transmutation rites, guiding the souls of the dead hither and tither…must I go on?!
Like Naydler postulates in Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt, I’m high on believing the secret of the Egyptian Mysteries could very well lay in the concept of the body itself as a kind of tomb, enclosing godlike candy that has the potential to escape from the earthly realm entirely and dwell amongst the stars. Naydler writes:
“The akh is that part of our inner being that can be considered divine. It has the potential to escape entirely from earthly and even cosmic limitations, and it is through the akh that we can receive divine wisdom and insight. Only once the ba (what we would consider the soul, or consciousness) is seen to be independent of the body, then it is possible to come to know the akh, which was seen by the Egyptians as luminous and associated with the sun, and which, after death or through the ritual of the mysteries, found its place among the stars.“
If we’re in the business of discarding tombs both real and imagined (which I am), Nymphaea Caerulea, the Sacred Blue Water Lily of the Nile, would be an excellent ferry cross the river Styx. Carrying in its serpentine, cerulean DNA a shamanic cocktail of disintegration (apomorphine) and communion (nuciferine), she truly is Hermetic gnosis manifest- a vehicle for the ecstatic alchemical separation of body and spirit, a botanical simulacrum of simultaneous ‘solve et coagula’. Nuciferine serves to ‘strip off the garment’ of the lotus eater, while the euphoric tendrils of apomorphine liberate the akh, the luminous sun of our inner being.
As the sacred flower of the pharaohs, her plant manna was used ritualistically by the ancient Egyptian noblesse to produce shamanic ecstasy and hypnotic trance in magical rites, mostly involving the gruesome twosome of sex and death (9 out of 10 words in that last sentence make me exuberantly, erotically excited). Chinese botanists (my favorite kind, this side of Luther Burbank), were convinced the lotus had the ability to transcend the limitations of time, as they believed she flowered and bore fruit simultaneously. As a ritual libation, I’ve been ensconced in a wanton love affaire with Nymphaea Caerulea ever since ingesting a hydrosol distilled from her cerulean buds at a workshop with John Steele on Shamanism and Fragrance in Ancient Egypt.
All this epically erotic entheogenic Ethnobotany gets me terribly hot and bothered, but the REAL reason I fell in love with the lotus is because of how she’s pollinated. It’s truly the hottest piece of pornography this side of Georges Bataille. Sacred scarabs are lured into the dark waters by the lily at dusk, no match for its irresistibly miasmic pineapple musk. They intoxicatedly feast on the central petals, so engorged with lily liquor they fail to notice when the flower closes over them. The anthers then ripen and shed their pollen over the trapped beetles, whilst the flower descends back into the black waters of the Nile, for a night of Bacchanalian revelry in an underwater boudoir of velvet pollen, beating wings, nectar victuals and ecstatic sex. As Ra rises over the horizon, the enshrined altar re-emerges above the water, and the beetles are set free to do the walk of shame across the banks of the Nile.
The first time I heard this story, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was simply bereft at being relegated to a lifetime of banal ‘human sex’ in church pews and Burger King bathrooms. Not content to suffer beyond this lifetime with the paltry constraints of human biology, I vow that my love and I will incarnate as bandit beetles next time we spin ‘round this rusty wheel. I promise to ensconce us in orgies of Saturnalian stamens and sub-aquatic romps in flowery coffers, of pollinated perversions and death rites in the ether.
In this lifetime, ritualistic victuals of lotus wine will have to suffice. You can make your own sacraments with a decent bottle of Rosé, a few ounces of Nymphaea Caerulea, and a few shakes of a lamb’s tail. Simply take 20 grams or so of lotus, crack open your bottle, skim a few chugs off the top, and soak your petals in the juices for three days to three weeks. You’ll want to re-cork your vessel and store it in the fridge until it’s time to commune. Like most lovely things, she’s a bitter pill, and her unguents may need to be cut with a little raw honey to sweeten the deal. I spent some time enchanting my brew for use in oracular ritual and tomb-discarding tumult. It’s always good to be on the same page as your elixirs.
Like all noblesse flowers of the Philistines, Nymphaea has her very own God presiding over those bodacious blooms. Nefertum is the Egyptian god of the lotus and perfumery, an archetype of rejuvenation and anointment. As an avatar of Nefertum, ingesting the lotus into your temple (lotophagus, as the Greeks say, cause Ancient Greek makes me swoon) is akin to the ribald Dionysian rite of enthusiasmos, a state of being quite literally ‘filled by the gods.’ So make like Alan Watts and leave ‘your skin-encapsulated ego’ behind! Ra, Ra, shish boom Ra!