Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Ancient Egypt

Oakes and Gahlin

Hermes House 2006

As a child reading World of Wonder magazines, I imagined Egypt as an impossibly mysterious realm, where Indiana Jones-types got into tight spots by uncovering That Which Should Not Be Disturbed. Growing out of this romantic view of archaeology, I abandoned Egypt for years, dismissing it as a land of cat-worshippers who married their sisters. Then as an adult, I read the Book of the Dead, and ancient Egypt once again blew my little mind (pulled it out through my nostrils with a fish-hook, actually). Once you go past all the clichs, and those coffee table books with lots of gold on the covers, the culture of the pharoahs is hard to resist. Like every society, it had its flaws and inequities, but its whole foundation lay in the geography of the Nile and the desert. They worked with their environment, rather than against it, and saw themselves as subject to nature, rather than the other way round. And perhaps what makes the remnants of their lives fascinating is the degree to which religion infiltrated everything. The sacred was everywhere, even in the catbox.

Oakes and Gahlins book takes a comprehensive look at the history, geography, culture and spirituality of ancient Egypt. The burial rituals, animal gods and mythical figures are all shown in the context of specific places and social phenomena. Every page has photos of objects or sites, illustrating a text which achieves a nice balance between academic and accessible.

Towards the end of the book, Oakes and Gahlin also examine the influences of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Page 250 describes the monastery of St Catherine, which has been co-operatively managed by Christians and Muslims since the fifth century. Modern fanatics, take note.

After 500 pages of intriguing facts, they also devote space to Misunderstanding the Pyramids. Here they mention some of the great wacko theories which we on the North Coast love to ponder. But what I really want to know is: What happened to the missing penis of Osiris? Surely aliens cannot be blamed for this.

Note: Two weeks ago I invited Hundertwasser to Nimbin. I have since been informed that he is in fact, dead, and his spirit has already visited several times.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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