In the Ancient Egypt of the pyramids, the Pharaoh Akhenaten tried to institute a monotheism based on the worship of the Sun. The context was that every morning the star’s all powerful light conquered the dreaded darkness of night, thus announcing the daily assured victory of the good and rational over evil and ignorance with each dawn. Along with that, the scarab dung beetle was worshiped with a similar idea in mind. As one variety would build its nests within the dung of other animals, Egyptians could see new life emerging from the discarded refuse of other life.
The symbolism is multifaceted and reflects themes in other religious traditions, but the point is essentially the same in all of them: death and life are not opposites, but complementary and each is necessary for the other’s existence. Neither is “right” or “wrong.” Both are necessary for our reality to continue.
With that in mind, we should be able to see hope no matter how terrible our circumstances may seem to be at any given time. On the other hand, as wonderful as our circumstances may seem to be at any given time, we should never lose sight of the fact that those are also temporary. While some might find that perspective depressing, it has the potential to provide an equanimity that can help us mature to a fundamental appreciation of what life…yes, and death…are all about.
Ironically, Akhenaten’s monotheism did not last longer than his own reign. His son, the more famous Tutankhaten–“King Tut”–returned the empire’s faithful to its former, polytheistic traditions, idols, rituals and priesthood. Interestingly enough, however, in today’s Egypt there are no more pharaohs and its eternal, indestructible pyramids are decaying as we speak. Modern Egypt’s predominant faith, Islam, is arguably the most strictly monotheistic religion in the world.
Perhaps the scarab has had it right all along…