Circling a Dung Beetle

October 14, 2008
Have you ever tried to improve your health by walking around a dung beetle statue?

Impressions of Egypt Number 1

In keeping with the blog’s theme of “Enrich Your Life, Enrich Your Relationships,” this is one of several posts about a trip we took in December 2007, to Egypt. It definitely enriched my life and expanded my understanding of that country, and of the many challenges they face as they evolve into a different kind of country than the one I visited. — Note added in 2011 after the spring revolution

This entry could also be filed as one of my “visual viewpoints” you may have seen in earlier posts.

Scarab statue in Egypt

When we arrived in Egypt in December 2007, I had my handy camera, a curiosity of what lay ahead, and enthusiasm for photographing the antiquities we were to see. What I didn’t carry with me with was the sense to keep track of the flash cards on which I had taken hundreds of pictures. By the time I discovered my loss, almost two weeks had passed. I lost pictures from all of our trip from Cairo to Aswan by train, Abu Simbel, pyramids, four days on the Nile, most of Luxor, and many temples and palaces along the way. However, I also gained another lesson in letting go.

Having said all that, I am most grateful that I kept flash cards from that point on and with this first picture I share with you a few of them.

There was so much to learn that I’m sure only a tiny percentage managed to penetrate my brain and I’ve already forgotten some of that. Here, though, remember what I learned about the relationship between ancient stories and dung beetles is one of those

Before going there I hadn’t paid a great deal of attention to dung beetles. I knew that, as Wikipedia says, they “play a significant role in agriculture by burying and consuming dung, improving nutrient cycling and soil structure. They also protect livestock, such as cattle, by removing the dung which, if left, could provide habitat for pestssuch as flies.” In fact, the “American Institute of Biological Sciences reports that dung beetles save the United States cattle industry an estimated $380 million annually through burying above-ground livestock feces.

What does that have to do with the statue above? Well, it turns out that the dung beetle, especially the Scarabaeus sacer, was worshiped by the ancient Egyptians as an embodiment of the god Khepri, “he who has come into being out of nothing.”

An amulet made by those people in the shape of the species is also called a scarab. Typical of male-dominated culture, the ancients believed that the dung beetle was only male in gender, and reproduced by depositing semen into a dung ball. The supposed self-creation of the beetle resembles that of Khepri, the god who creates himself out of nothing. Moreover, the dung ball rolled by a dung beetle resembles the sun.

So the ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

Before going on too long with this story, I’ll cut to the chase. It was believed that those who walked around this scarab seven times in a counter-clockwise direction would be healed. So my husband, taking a contrarian point of view, walked seven times around it in a clockwise direction while and I followed the rules. Neither of us received an improvement in our health.

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