In the beginning all was darkness, but then came Ra, and he called all things into being. He was the first god-pharaoh, and he ruled in Egypt for thousands of years in human form. Over time, his human frame grew frail and weak. His head shook as he walked and he drooled like a baby. People whispered and laughed behind his back. His children, the deities Isis and Osiris, were impatient to take his place on the throne, but he would not relinquish it.
Isis was the greatest worker of magic in the world, but even she could wield no power over Ra without knowing his most secret name. He had many names for the many forms he had taken, but one was most secret and powerful of all, and he would not whisper it even to the last grain of sand at the root of a sand dune. Without that name, Isis could do nothing.
She waited. One day, as he stumbled down the path, drooling and trembling with age, she crept behind him and gathered some of the earth his spit had dribble on. Kneading the wet earth into a long snake, Isis set the lifeless thing upon the path. Only Ra could give life, so the earthen snake lay there until Ra stumbled past again. The moment the glance of his eyes fell upon it the cobra was filled with life, and it reared up and bit him in the heel. Ra fell, writhing in agony. As the poison worked its way through his body, the pain became even more intense.
“I can help you, Lord Ra,” said Isis. “But I must make the most powerful magic of all to cast out this poison, and for that I need your secret name.”
Ra hesitated, but at last the pain was more than he could bear, and he cried out his name to Isis. She immediately formed the magic that would rid him of pain. Ra staggered up from his bed, alive but more feeble than ever. At last he knew his earthly days must end. He ascended to heaven in the form of the sun, and Isis and Osiris were able to become god-pharaohs in his place, and their son, Hathor, after them, with the sign of the cobra always on their foreheads.
Spiritual courage, as we have said on this blog, sustains us when we explore the most fundamental questions about purpose and meaning. Humility is one of the values that spiritual courage can help to activate: nobody lives forever, even the great Ra. To pretend otherwise actually robs us of the ability to appreciate the gifts we do have. There will be many generations to come after us, and we must hand on to them what has only been ours temporarily.