Review by Mike Gleason
Traveller’s Guide to the Duat (Amenti on Two Deben a Week) by Kiya Nicoll © 2012
This book is, in the words of the author (an Egyptian reconstructionist pagan living in New England) “…an exploration of the concepts of the Book, (The Book of Going Forth by Day aka The Egyptian Book of the Dead – reviewer’s explanation) a placement of those ideas within some historical context, and a presentation of a selection of its material in a lighthearted and, I hope, accessible form.”
When most people think about the Book (if they think about it), they perceive it as a collection of magical spells. This author sees it as …a sort of a cross between a hymnal, a grimoire, and The Traveller’s Guide to the Underworld.”
Ms Nicoll has, in my opinion, succeeded in her goal of being lighthearted and accessible. The lighthearted part was easy. This book is presented in the format of a travel guide written by an individual who is familiar not only with the destination, but with the primary forms of transportation and the diplomatic requirements based on length of stay and other considerations. Her poetry is, so far as I can judge, based on Egyptian originals without being a slave to literal translation, thus it is more comprehensible to the average reader.
The illustrations are similarly based on commonly available images although some of them are presented in an extremely unusual and humorous format (the illustration of Anubis sitting at the checkout counter of a Customs check point [page 83] is an excellent example of that). The use of humor makes the images a little less frightening, and downright entertaining in some cases.
As the book nears its end Ms Nicoll provides a list of some correspondences (a very short list, considering the possibilities) as well as a glossary of names and terms. This latter item, in my opinion could benefit from a bit of re-editing – an empty line between entries would break up the “solid block of text” look which it currently has.
The bibliography deserves special mention, simply because it is short yet comprehensive, and authoritative without being intimidating. Add to that the fact that most of the material appeared within the last quarter of the 20th Century or the current century (thus making it more likely you will be able to find copies in your local college library). She also mentions the Sacred Text archive at http://www.sacred-text.com as a source of material which has passed into public domain.
Many years ago I did some studying in an effort to relate to the Egyptian deities. I found it hard to make the connections I wanted partly, I now know, because of my own lack of background and experience but also because the material was presented in a manner which was extremely difficult for me to relate to and assimilate. Ms Nicoll’s presentation would have helped to solve at least part of those difficulties for me. Her writing in crisp and understandable. Her approach balances the information one needs to know with just the right amount of lightheartedness so that you are not trying to absorb the details as much as you are simply absorbing them without trying. It is an approach which is eminently suited to teaching students of varying levels of experience.
This is not the ultimate source book, but it is an excellent source. If Egyptian religion appeals to you, add this book to your library.