The ancient Egyptians realized this very well and chose to express their cosmogonies and cosmologies using the multidimensional language of the unconscious mind. This is why they couched their knowledge of the universe using the personalization of natural forces and creator gods; this is why they had no problems integrating and synthesizing a myriad of apparently differing stories of creation. For the ancient Egyptians, it was impossible to understand the universe and man’s part within using only the analytical language of science and mathematics. The universe was too large and too alive for reduction.
The most basic principle of Egyptian cosmology within the several primary mystery schools concerns the undifferentiated substance called the Primeval Waters. These waters are common to all accounts of the origin and eventual end of the universe. Every creation myth assumes that before the arising of any god or being or differentiated power, all that existed or was present (if we can use such words) was the Primordial Watery Abyss. These Primeval Waters extended in all directions without limitation, boundaries nor surfaces. The waters were dark, formless, undifferentiated and without motion. These waters are likely the origin of the Kabbalistic concept of “en Sof,” the Primeval Source that is Without Limit or Boundaries.
The Egyptians conceived of the tangible and existing universe as a vast cavity composed of air, mud, light and water amidst the limitless expanse of the Primeval Waters, known by the name, Nun. This abode of light and order, surrounded by infinite darkness and chaos of the Primordial Ocean, came into existence in the far past and would eventually return to the darkness from which it arose. All creation stories are therefore concerned with explanations of how the positive sphere of light, form, motion, life and order arose amid the indefinite, limitless, watery nothingness of eternal night.
While water is formless in appearance within the universe, having no shape of its own, it is the basic matter of the universe and in one way or another all living creatures are dependent upon it. Without the yearly inundation of the Nile, the land remains dry and infertile, without water there can be no life. Therefore, the Primeval Waters were seen as the foundation of life itself.
The emergence of the universe from the waters is associated with light, life, land and consciousness within all Egyptian cosmogonies. The first appearance of light caused the separation of earth and sky–symbolized by the myth of Shu separating Nut from Geb. Life is associated with spontaneous movements, usually upwards–symbolized by the rearing up of a serpent or a lotus flower rising from the waters with opening petals. Land implies the emergence of the “ben-ben,” the first mound of muddy, damp earth providing a place for a creator god to rest. With the receding of the waters come direction and order. From out of the first Primeval Mound arise plants, animals, and eventually mankind. With man there is the birth of consciousness, thought, will, and mastery over oneself. Associated with the physical symbols were original thoughts, intentions and commands of the creator.
The Egyptian realization that the universe must arise from out of an undifferentiated source is strangely reminiscent of modern physics. For the Egyptians, inner exploration seemed to suggest that of all the primary building materials–earth, air and water–that water seemed to be most primary. Undoubtedly, water was chosen because of society’s close connection and dependence upon the annual flooding of the land by the Nile river each summer. Moreover, when the Nile waters receded following the flood, they observed that plants, insects and animals seemed to appear spontaneously, without obvious intervention. From a modern perspective, we might smile at their conclusions, but upon deeper reflection we should see the importance of these concepts as they are applied to the grand questions of life. For myself, I am quite comfortable with holding simultaneously within my inner mind widely differing pictures of the universe before creation, as the quantum void or the Primeval Waters of Egypt. Somehow, I feel that I understand more clearly “how I am?” and “what I can accomplish.”