Geb, Nut and the role of Shu
I was asked for my personal response on the following well-researched essay: The Symbolic Meaning of the Scene of Geb, Nut and Shu by Joost Kramer
My first response to the text is to question why the author hasn’t tried to determine what is meant by sky and earth. He has assumed that Geb and Nut represent the profane elements and that the separation or upholding of Nut is a cosmological scene, “merely” a creation scene. Even though he queries this, he still does not question what else Geb/earth/underworld and Nut/sky/the stars might represent.
The arching figure of Nut, as he says, ranges from east to west; he identifies the east, her “backside” as he so quaintly puts it, as the origin of birth, the place where the sun rises – the west is the place of the setting sun (where the sun is eaten by Nut – conception was often depicted by ingestion in Egyptian myth) and the entry point to the underworld where the night barge travels, battling Apophis in an eternal fight to resurrect the sun each day. Nut in this sense can be seen as the daytime pathway, or the pathway of conscious awareness.
The fact that Geb is indicated to have Osirian overtones in his title as Lord of the Netherworld is interesting and ties in with my hypothesis above. Geb may be the father of Osiris, but there is a school of thought that all gods are emanations of the gods before them leading back to Atum or to Nun (the primordial watery abyss from which all things came); so I do not see a contradiction in one deity being another and yet being separate. As such I would suggest that Geb represents not only the Underworld and the world of the dead but the deep unconscious, the primordial being within each of us, The Hidden.
The author, in his attempt to explain the separation scene, has concluded it is not a separation scene (although he continues to refer to it as “the separation scene”) but simultaneously has, I think, neglected to consider the symbolism of Shu standing on Geb and supporting Nut. I think the author is correct in seeing a sense of movement in the scene, a cycle of life, the cycle of the day; and naturally within a funerary context it would be easy to conclude that it is merely a representation of the death and resurrection of the corpse concerned.
But what about the meaning for the living. Who is Shu? Interestingly, Shu means “emptiness” or “he who rises up”. I would posit that Shu is us, that we are Shu and only by standing with our feet in the underworld, while supporting the stars (cf Aleister Crowley – Every man and every woman is a star) can we engage ourselves with the cosmic movement of deity, really align ourselves with the daily triumph of Atum over his enemies and the nightly battle with the primordial demons of our inner, hidden selves. Shu is also identified with “air”, an amorphous thing that can only be sensed by the external movement of say the wind, but without which we cannot survive.
Within this scene, I would not see separation, but an absolute necessity of joining; an emergence of the Übermench, the human being that takes an active role in the spiritual cycle: a person who becomes empty and whose spirit is raised up – but just as a living person cannot progress by solely burying their head in the ground of the dead, neither can they progress if they give into the purely conscious, profane world with its beautiful distractions. It would be so easy to spend a life just watching the sun moving across the sky and to watch the twinkling stars without seeking beyond the light reflecting off our own retinas.