Saturday, 16 March 2013

Writer’s Block? Call on the Ancient Gods of Writing for Help

All of us writers have our days, or even weeks, when we feel like we are blocked. There are times when the words that usually flow so easily from our typing fingers are harder to find than gold nuggets on the bed of a fast flowing river.  So what can be done to release that writer’s block and get your creativity going again?  Well, if you have tried all the writing tips that you can now find out there on the internet and literally nothing is working for you, then maybe it is time to intercede with one of the ancient gods of writing and writers.

We tend to forget that it is only very recently that being able to read is regarded as a necessary skill that is taught to nearly all children from a young age.  In ancient times, writing was considered sacred.  The only people who could read and write were generally the priests who wrote and needed to interpret the sacred texts, perhaps the rulers and some members or the nobility and the scribes who ran the royal administration.

Thoth - Egyptian God of Writing - Medinet Habu
Thoth - Egyptian God of Writing - Medinet Habu

The Aten Sequence Books are set in Ancient Egypt where from pre-dynastic times they used a form of writing that we now call hieroglyphs.  This is a form of writing that consists of images, phonetic glyphs and determinatives that was used to carve the sacred texts on the walls of the temples, tombs and papyri.  The god that the Ancient Egyptians revered as the inventor of writing was Thoth, who was often depicted with the body of a man and the head of an ibis.  He is also frequently portrayed as an ibis or an ape, or sometimes as an ape with the face of a dog.  Thoth is a lunar deity, so is shown wearing the lunar disc and crescent on his head.  As well as inventing writing, he was credited with inventing medicine, astronomy and geometry. He counted the stars, charted the earth and was the guardian of all wisdom and recorder of all knowledge.   He was also seen as a psychopomp, as when Ancient Egyptians died they believed that they would meet Thoth in the Hall of Maat, where he would record the results of the weighing of their heart against the feather of Maat that determined whether or not they had lived a righteous life.

Uniquely in the ancient world however, during Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom we do have a source of texts written by ordinary people.  The inhabitants of the workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina were literate as they were responsible for digging out and carving or painting the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings and decorating the walls of their mortuary temples.  The villagers would use flakes of limestone called ostraca and scraps of papyrus to record lists, keep accounts, send letters to friends and loved ones and generally record the gossip of the day.  Egyptologists have gleaned a great deal of information about the lives of these workmen and their families from these writings and it is perhaps the earliest instance where we can follow the goings on and lives of ordinary folk.

The centre of Thoth’s cult was at Hermopolis and during the late period of Ancient Egyptian history when the country was ruled by the Greek Ptolemy’s, Thoth became identified with the Greek god of writing Hermes and was worshipped as Hermes Trismegistus.  Hermes Trismegistus was known as the ‘thrice great’ and was associated with astrology and alchemy.  He is credited with writing philosophical or occult texts such as the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius that are collectively known as Hermetica.  These texts enjoyed a revival in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the alchemists that were studying the occult, magic and also experimenting in turning base metals into gold.

Hermes Trismegistus
Hermes Trismegistus

Perhaps one of the oldest deities associated with writers and writing, who is still worshipped by millions today, is the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.  His mother was the goddess Parvati who created her divine son by smearing her body with a paste made from herbs and sandalwood. She scraped this paste off her body, moulded it into the shape of a young boy and breathed her creation into life. Parvati then went to bathe and asked her new son to keep watch over the house.  While she was bathing, her husband the Lord Shiva returned home and fell into a rage when he was denied entry to his own home by an unknown boy.  His outrage was so great that he struck the boy’s head clean off his shoulders. When Parvati emerged from her bath she was grief stricken when she found out what had happened to her beloved child.  Such was her distress that Lord Shiva sent his retinue out to seek a new head for the body.

The first creature they came upon was an elephant, so they decapitated the animal and brought the head back to Lord Shiva, who then revived the boy by placing the head on his shoulders. But Parvati was still not consoled as she feared that Ganesha would be laughed at and disrespected by gods and mortals alike because of his elephant features. To appease his wife, Lord Shiva blessed Ganesha by proclaiming him to be the ‘Remover of Obstacles’ and that henceforth if you wanted success you had to offer up a prayer to the elephant-headed deity before starting projects and quests.

He is regarded as a deity that presides over writing and protects writers because he broke one of his own tusks, which he is portrayed as holding in his lower left hand, in order to inscribe the epic Mahabharata that was dictated to him by the sage Ved Vyasa.  He is worshipped as the god of knowledge, education, wisdom and prosperity and is depicted as a large-bellied man with the features, huge ears and curving trunk of an elephant seated on a rat.  His elephant head symbolises the soul and his human body our earthly incarnation and he pushes humanity to success by removing our obstacles.

So if you are having trouble with your latest writing project, why not ask for some help or a little push from one of these ancient deities?  Ritual and ceremony have long been used for personal growth and to help move our lives forward, so why not keep a picture or a small statue of your favourite writing deity on your desk to remind you to invoke their aid and tap into the ancient wisdom.  In some ways writing is alchemy, as writers take words and form them into different shapes and meanings, so perhaps it is not so surprising that words and writing were once regarded as sacred? And after all, who of us wouldn’t like a little help in achieving success?

Thoth at Medinet Habu - Own Image Hermes Trismegistus image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Ganesha Image Khushi Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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