March 8, 2012

E is for the Eye

Posted in Netjeru, Pagan Blog Project 2012, Thoughts and Reflections at 8:09 am by

For the Pagan Blog Project:

For quite a while now I’ve been fascinated by the symbolism of the eye. Like so much in Kemetic thought, the eye has a dual nature — the function of an eye is to receive light, to take in the world around us, but the eye has a projective quality as well. To see is not just passive but active, as we can tell when we meet another’s gaze. We touch, we recognize, we put meaning to what we see (sometimes overwriting the truth of what’s actually there). We acknowledge the other and assert our own presence. If one or both of us has power of some kind, we probably feel it. You can see a manifestation of that outward-directed force in cultures that have the concept of the “evil eye,” where the arrows of some person’s envious regard can bring about misfortune. Among animals, a direct stare is a challenge; thus cats blink, veiling and unveiling their bright gaze, to show their love. Love, support, affection — all of these are in the eye as well.

Aside from the direct power of the gaze, the act of seeing opens the way for other things to happen or become. Ra’s power of Sia (perception) brings forth and informs Hu (the authoritative utterance); Hu upholds what Sia descries or calls for change. And this is the magical power of Heka, which helps us to shape our world. Perception is also the seed of more concrete physical doing. To solve a problem, you first have to see the problem, then a solution, before you can act effectively. Observation leads to experimentation and new knowledge, which paves the way for new technologies and ways of doing things. The unique individual view creates art. And on and on. The Kemetic word for eye, irt, puns with the verb ir, which means to create, beget, make, construct, do, act or take action, achieve, prepare, or treat. So many meanings — so many different actions!

Embodying all of this are the various Goddesses who bear the title “Eye of Ra.” Ra, removed to the sky, watches over this world from afar; the Eyes are his powers of effective action in this realm. Think of Ra observing the evil doings of humankind and then sending his Eye out in wrath as Sekhmet; think of the guardian uraeus watching over the king and spitting fire to protect him; think of the vigilance of Bast and her swift, unerring action against the enemies of ma’at. The power of the Eye isn’t limited to violent retribution, however. In the Crossword Hymn, Mut is “his eye who gives the land prosperity…the one who makes the land live with her rays, this Sound Eye of Ra.” Her warmth makes the green plants stir — “she goes forth and all good Akhet plants are born” — and the gentle touch of Her gaze suffuses the lives of people and animals, bringing hope and joy with the dawn — she is “the Akhet-eye which illuminates the face when rising.”

There’s also the udjat, the sound Eye of Heru, which was restored to wholeness after being wounded by Set. This eye, which is also connected with the Eye Goddesses, represents healing and completeness, as well as offerings made to the Gods. All the good things that the Eye brings forth are made pure and returned with thanks and praise to the Gods, who then revert the offerings back to us, reflection upon reflection. And in the Coffin Texts, the Eye of Heru, the Goddess of the Eye, brings blessings and protection to the deceased as well:

    Bast, the daughter of Atum, the first daughter of the All Lord,
    she is your protection until dawn,
    until you descend into the necropolis;
    the eye of Horus is she who sheds light for you,
    she is with you into the necropolis.

All of the above is barely a glance at the multivalent image of the eye. The eye is mirror and window, fire and water, the lake of purification and the source of tears that birthed both the human race and the flood of the Inundation. In the circle of the Eye, all things come together. Meeting each other’s gaze, human to human or human to God, we meet each other and are connected, two united in one circuit of exchange. And with the eye of the heart, we know ma’at.

O sole One who made perception, O glorious Eye! May You see me; may You hold me in the pupil of Your eye. And may I see You.

Some sources:
Edward P. Butler, “Hu,”
— — — , “Sia,”
John Coleman Darnell, “The Apotropaic Goddess in the Eye,” Studien zur Altaegyptischen Kultur, Bd. 24, (1997), pp. 35-48. Article Stable URL:
Lana Troy, “Mut enthroned,” in J. van Dijk (ed.), Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honour of Herman te Velde (Groningen, 1997), 301-15. [Google Books]

1 Comment »

  1. Gold of the Valley, Lapis of the River » G is for getting things done said,

    September 13, 2012 at 9:41 am

    […] I noted in my PBP entry on the eye, the Kemetic word for “eye” is also a pun with the verb that means, among other things, […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment