The Great Pyramid
Our second example of a major sacred place, the Great Pyramid at Giza (near Cairo) in northern Egypt, dates from approximately the same time at which the prehistoric people of southern Britain were beginning the second phase in Stonehenge's construction, that is, c. 2500 B.C.E. In fact, the Great Pyramid can be dated far more precisely. It was during the reign of the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) (2551–2528), which marked the high point of what Egyptologists call the "Old Kingdom." It was the first of the three major pyramids built at Giza, the other two being the pyramids of the pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure, respectively, Khufu's son and grandson. However, it also represents the culmination of a long period of development that began in predynastic times with the construction of mastabas, or flat-topped tombs with sloping sides, and continuing through the famous Step Pyramid at Saqqâra (also near Cairo) that was designed by the brilliant Egyptian architect Imhotep for King Djoser (Third Dynasty), who reigned from 2630 to 2611, and the so-called Bent Pyramid built by Khufu's father Sneferu (2575–2551).
Like those pyramids and mastabas that preceded it, the Great Pyramid, which originally rose 481.4 feet (146.73 meters) and is composed of approximately 2.3 million blocks, each of which weighs, on average, 2.5 metric tons, was a royal tomb. It was located on the west bank of the Nile. Indeed, all of the sacred places in Egypt that played host to the dead, from Giza and Saqqara to the Valley of the Kings opposite ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), were located on the west bank of the river because it was in the direction of the setting sun, that is, the land of the dead, the place toward which the Sun God Re sailed each day as he navigated the Celestial Nile, which ran at right angles to the Earthly river.
In view of its mammoth proportions, the weight of the stone blocks, and the fact that it is almost perfectly aligned with the points of the compass, some researchers have suggested that the Great Pyramid, as well as the other two Giza pyramids and the Sphinx, traditionally attributed to Khufu's son Khafre, must have been built by technologically sophisticated extraterrestrials, as no human technology, ancient or modern, could possibly have manipulated stones of this size and weight. However, recent archaeological research at Giza has clearly demonstrated that the pyramids were built by thousands of ordinary human beings, most of whom were peasants, rather than slaves, whose labor was conscripted during the fallow season, and who lived in nearby barracks. Moreover, the architects knew enough geometry to work out the remarkable alignments and, after several earlier failures, to determine the correct angle and slope. It is also clear that by using ramps, rollers, massive sleds, and sheer human muscle power, the builders were in fact able to wrestle the blocks into position without any extraterrestrial help.
Nevertheless, even though they were almost certainly not built by space aliens, from the beginning of Egyptian history, the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara have had a special religious significance. They were thus fitting final resting places for the Pharaoh's soul—or souls, as the ancient Egyptians believed that each person had two souls: a ka and a ba. At death, the ka left the deceased's mortal remains and went to the afterworld; the ba, however, was destined to remain behind in the tomb, which was why pharaohs and other wealthy Egyptians were buried with such a plethora of grave goods: the ba needed these things to survive. Both souls needed as close a replica of the former living body as it was possible to produce, which accounts for the practice of mummification.
In any case, although the wealth interred with Khufu in the Great Pyramid has long since been looted, his ba must have been surrounded initially with a priceless horde of objects with which it could live in a princely style for what his heirs hoped would be eternity. In addition to physical objects, the needs of a deceased pharaoh were served by a retinue of figures called ushabtis, figurines would serve both his ka in the afterworld and his ba within the pyramid's burial chamber.
The interior of the Great Pyramid has two such chambers, the King's Chamber, which is reached by a steep gallery, and the Queen's Chamber, some distance below it. As just indicated, both chambers are now completely empty, and have been for several millennia. However, the King's Chamber, which is located close to the center of the pyramid, has long been considered to possess extraordinary spiritual power. The author of this article once spent the better part of an hour, between waves of tourists, sitting cross-legged in the center of the chamber in question, doing his best to absorb some of that supposed spiritual energy, or "pyramid power," as it is sometimes called. While he failed to notice any appreciable psychic changes, he did come away from the experience with a profound sense of awe and wonder. The Great Pyramid is thus by any measure an extremely sacred place, and all who visit it, even casually, cannot help but be impressed not only by its sheer size, but also by its ineffable majesty and intense spiritual aura.
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