I have no problem with the notion that human elevation to the status of a neter (deity) is possible as this idea can be found among various Afrikan people throughout the continent, from the Dogon, to the Lega, to the Bambara, to the Yoruba and beyond. It is the idea of the body as a prison house of the soul that concerns me, as this idea is conspicuously absent from Afrikan thought. Nigerian religious history scholar Emefie Ikenga-Metuh in his Comparative Studies of African Traditional Religions concludes that Afrikans do not split man into two conflicting entities, body and soul, but instead see the human being as one unit. He maintains that Afrikans do not perceive the body as the prison house of the soul.
To begin with, an obvious semantic problem exists. In Afrikan thought the soul is defined as a component that makes up the self or the total person. The body is a soul, one of several, which even includes the name. Since Afrikans conceive of the human being as having multiple souls, how does the simple body-soul conception fit into the Afrikan paradigm? Apart from the body, what other soul are we referring to? Hence, the very framing of the discussion is inadequate.
In addition, the research of R.A. Scwhaller de Lubicz, who spent fifteen years in Kemet studying its art and architecture, seems to contradict James’ assertion. According to independent Egyptologist John Anthony West, de Lubicz discovered that in Kemet: "The parts of the body were in a general way consecrated to one of the Neters (deities), or divine principle—meaning that the function symbolized by the Neter iscorporified in that part of the body. . . . In the same way, the nomes or territories of Egypt were also consecrated to the Neters–for the physical territory of Egypt was its ‘body,’ the temple in which the rites of civilization [culture] were performed."
Further expounding on de Lubicz’ discoveries, author Peter Tompkins states: "In the Temple at Luxor, de Lubicz found what appeared to be the only hieratic monument which effectively represented an architectural figuration of man, and which includes such esoteric knowledge as the location of the ductless glands, of the Hindu energy chakras, and of the Chinese acupuncture points. He discoveredthat the astronomical orientations of the Temple, the geometry of its construction,its figurations and inscriptions are made on the human body, represented by theTemple, and is physiologically located. . . . In its proportions and harmonies the Temple tells of the story of the creation of man and his relation to the universe."
From the above quotations it seems obvious the Kemeyu did not view the body in a negative way but to the contrary regarded it with great esteem. James’ position and de Lubicz’ represent a major conceptual discrepancy. How do we account for this discrepancy? It may be due to several reasons: 1) Either it was an idea once possessed by other Afrikans but eventually abandoned 2) the Kemeyu borrowed the idea from the Greeks 3) The nuance of meaning was perverted in the assorted translation from the original Medu Neter.
The first idea is the least plausible of the three as it is unlikely that every society would have lost the knowledge, especially since as a continent Afrika has perhaps more “Societies of Secrets” than any other, and it is precisely their task to maintain the culture by preserving knowledge and traditions. Our second explanation is more plausible since the Greeks did rule Kemet for approximately 300 years and we see Greek thought influencing the ideas of various Afrikan thinkers. This is exactly the case with the Hellenized Egyptians who strongly influenced the rise of Christianity, for example, Tertullian, Origen, Arius, and Athanasius, just to name a few. Moreover, during the Ptolemaic period we even see traces of Greek thought in the traditional writings or wisdom literature, especially in Ankhsheshonqui’s work, particularly his latent misogyny. The third argument concerning nuance of meaning is also plausible. Afrikan thought differs significantly from Western thought, more often than not, the two are antithetical. Thus, translations often present problems. The following examples from two British anthropologists are cases in point. In our first example, Victor Turner's word choice affects the idea and subtly alters the shade of meaning. In Ndembu thought mukulumpi is a core concept that Turner translates as “dominant” but is correctly translated as “senior.”
This is a perfect instance of how Western dichotomous thinking misrepresents Afrikan ideas. By Turner translating mukulumpi as dominant rather than senior, he distorts the way Afrikans perceive the various symbols. Though the word senior implies hierarchy, it is relational and suggest organic growth, much in the way a child(junior) will become an adult, elder, and an ancestor (all his seniors). However, the word dominant denotes position, power and a static relationship. Rarely doesthe subordinate grow into the dominant; they remain separate and distinct. Our next example is Colin Turnbull's translation of the Mbuti phrase, “Ndura ndeKalisia, ndura nde Mungu,” as “the forest is the Godhead, the forest is the Creator Himself.”
Another mistranslation, since the Mbuti address the forest as mother and father, therefore the word “Himself” is incorrect. “Herself” is perhaps more apropos, since in the Mbuti language, ndura (forest), ndu (womb), endu (home), each containing the “feminine” root, ndu. The masculine complement to ndu is apa, meaning the camp, that space between the feminine ndura and endu.
Perhaps they have butchered or mistranslated the Rememkemi or Medu Neter to the extent the true meaning or its nuances have been altered concerning body image. At any rate, of the three reasons for the false belief that the Kemeyu conceived the body as a prison of the soul, we believe the second to be the most plausible.
But using the Afrikan worldview, with its pillars of microcosmicism, and anthropocentrism, we have determine the value the Kemeyu placed on the body. I will again employ a trusty diagram I have used in the past.
The body is the foundation of our existence. And like the foundation of anything, say a building, it must be solid if the building is to be of any value. In my blog "Understanding Afrikan Spiritual Systems" (10/05/2013) I have discussed the attitude of the body and its role in spiritual growth and development. Spiritual work begins with the body because it viewed as the foundation of the self. Spiritual growth is not possible until one’s foundation is correct, and this means the body. In the above diagram I have represented the soul in 3 parts; this is arbitrary, as it could be configured differently). Hierarchically the body is junior or lower to the spirit, the latter considered as coming directly from the Creator; Despite this, no “development” can happen without the body. And the explanation is simple: the spirit/destiny soul’s direct link to the Creator makes it “perfect,” complete; hence all development must be on the less developed aspect of self such as the body, breath, and double. If would be foolish and a waste of time for a person to try and develop what is already perfect or complete; what one must develop is that which is closer to the foundation, closer to Creation. Therefore, it is only the body/lower self that can be developed, that must be disciplined in much the way one would an animal. That way the lower self is trained and enable to implement the impulses or directives from the higher self; that part of you that already knows, that is already developed.
Together the Creator and Creation form the unicity we identify as the Supreme Being, just as the human body and human spirit compose the human being. As a result, we can equate Creation to the body or “temple” that houses the Creator. The body in Kemet was viewed as the temple of the Creator. All of the above offers an understanding of the Afrikan spiritual orientation and demonstrated the importance of the body. It was not a prison house of the soul but it foundation. The idea that the body is the prison house of the soul is blatantly Greek, and somehow has been incorrectly identified with Kemetic thought. James might have derived the erroneous ideas from the Greek mystery system of which modern masonry lies, and served as a source for some of his information.