The Weighing of the Heart

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What does the word “integrity” mean to you? A client asked me to create a one off print for them to serve as a reminder to always act with integrity, with reference to the Egyptian God Anubis (this client being a big fan of my Egyptian Gods series). The above image almost immediately came to mind.

In Egyptian myth when a person dies, if they have a soul (we’ll come back to that “if” in a moment), that soul must pass various tests in order to transcend the Duat (the Egyptian underworld, a world between this and the next) and pass on into paradise. One of those tests, probably the most well known, involves their heart (where the Egyptian’s believed the soul to reside) being weighed against a feather. This was no ordinary feather, it symbolised Ma’at, the Goddess of Truth. A heart found heavy and unworthy was devoured by the lion-like goddess Ammit and its possessor condemned to remain in the Duat. Anubis acted as guide in the Duat and oversaw the weighing.

It is my interpretation that the weight of one’s heart had something to do with how caught up in the transient illusions of the material world a being was, clinging to them rather than enjoying the fleeting nature of life for all it could be with respect for all others caught up in the same glorious play of things. It was also how much the base in their nature – wrath, pride, greed, envy and such – they carried in essence that they had failed to face up to in themselves, but that their soul would know and carry in truth. This inner darkness could even consume the soul, or the potential for one, leading to an empty existence of compulsion and fear with only oblivion at its end.

This brings us to what the soul meant, and again, this is my own interpretation. To the Egyptians the soul was a separate being, or double, that was also our truest and highest expression of self, one represented as a bird, usually a hawk or falcon. The soul was birthed from or drawn into the spirit/life force of a being, taking up residence in their heart. All beings had spirit, like all waves in the sea have water, but the soul was a unique expression or higher vibration of this spirit, able to transcend this world and exist in other dimensions. It was a being that could be born/take up residence within the spirit during the lifetime of a person, if they made sufficient effort to attain to it. I would equate this to a mythopoetic form of attaining enlightenment or Jungian Individuation.

There was a third element too, the shadow, represented as a serpent in the claws of the hawk-like soul as it flew, the soul’s triumph over and full acceptance of the worst and most powerful aspects of its incarnation. It is this, I feel, that makes the allegorical difference. For a person to truly act with integrity and remain unburdened by our dark side – our own repressed desires and capacities for everything we ourselves find unacceptable – we must take it in hand, accept and master it. It is self knowledge that frees us from the weight of this world, from the worst in ourselves. It is our own inner truth that guides our actions with integrity.

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