Rolling The Ball

Stone found on Saltdean beach.

This is a natural form- the stone has not been painted, inked, or otherwise altered. Nevertheless, scholars of Lapidary Animism (an important aspect of Shoreline studies) have argued that it depicts a scarab: a type of beetle that rolls around a ball of dung (in which it lays its eggs- the dung then serves as food for the larvae once they hatch) and which features prominently in Ancient Egyptian mythology and symbolism.

Dung beetle: Sisyphean toil

In ancient Egypt, the scarab was linked with the sun: as the beetle rolls its ball, so the sun god (in various forms) was held to roll the life-giving sun across the sky each day. There was even a scarab-headed solar deity, Khepera (sometimes Khepri or Xepera), and highly stylised scarabs are a frequent sight in Egyptian art and burial adornments.  In particular, a scarab amulet was placed over the heart of the deceased when a body was prepared for mummification and ritual burial.

In the Egyptian Book Of The Dead, the scarab amulet symbolises the heart. The Book depicts the rites of reckoning through which each new entrant to the afterlife must pass, and contains spells and formulae designed to ensure success on the journey. Once the deceased has gained initial entry to the Hall of Maat, the antechamber of the afterlife, their virtue is tested in the Weighing of the Heart, in which the heart (or rather the vessel containing it, sometimes symbolised by the scarab) is placed on the scales and weighed against shut, the Feather of Maat. A virtuous heart will not outweigh the feather, and will enable the deceased to continue the journey. But if the heart fails the test, the fearsome Ammut (part crocodile, part lion, part hippopotamus) will devour it:

Notice that it is our old friend  Anubis, the Guardian of the Shoreline, who leads the deceased into the Hall and then conducts the Weighing. Another deity of great interest, the ibis-headed scribe Thoth, records the result. Notice also the baleful presence of Ammut, hungrily awaiting the outcome of the Weighing (see here for an expanded version of this image and much more on Egyptian concepts and practices relating to death and the afterlife).

For me, the most intriguing symbolism in all this is that a ball of excrement was held to be representative of, and analogous to, the Sun. This parallels the alchemical ideal of the transmutation of ‘base matter’ (and what matter could be more ‘base’ than dung?) into the fabled Philosopher’s Stone.  In literalistic interpretations of alchemy, this implies the conversion of lead, or other ‘base’ metals, into pure gold. In esoteric alchemy, however, the prima materia of the alchemical process is the consciousness (for the purposes of this post, I prefer this word to ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ or similar) of the alchemist, and the goal is to attain a transformation: what might be called ‘rebirth’ or ‘enlightenment’, depending on tradition, or if not that, then at least a measure of self-actualisation (Jung’s concept of individuation).

The link between alchemical transmutation and the solar symbolism of the scarab is little remarked on. It is many years since I read it, but I think Jung discusses it in Psychology And Alchemy. Finding the stone above is my cue to now revisit that magisterial book.

A final thought on alchemy- as we noted, it has manifested in two opposing ways: as a quest for self-transformation, and as a ruse for getting rich by gulling the credulous. So in the real, messy, human world, alchemy itself embodies a fusion of opposites. It is an illustration of its own fundamental principle.

7 responses to “Rolling The Ball

  1. Pingback: The Ball Keeps On Rolling | The Haunted Shoreline

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  6. Pingback: The Feather of Maat | The Haunted Shoreline

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