egyptian blue, azul egipcio, The primordial water, Matias Quintero Sepulveda

Deep Surface

As I wandered with my eyes over the hieroglyphic saturated walls of the solar temple of Edfu, I found myself, at the top of one of the outer corridor walls, with an image of the goddess Isis nursing her child on her lap. This was one of the few images in relatively good condition that I could see of little Heru Pa Kraat, Horus the newborn, being suckled by his mother. From the torso of Isis's image, just below her uncovered breasts, a veil descended undulating, a thin layer of blue paint that defined the outline of her body down to her ankles. As soon as I saw the image I was absorbed in it, it was extremely familiar. I looked at her for a long time in silence and no matter where I directed my gaze, it was always pulled back towards the veil of Isis. I decided to focus on it, and as I gazed with all my attention at the thin layer of blue paint, I began to feel the surface opening up and growing wider and deeper, surrounding me and hugging me. Little by little the sounds of the swallows nesting in the gaps and fissures of the walls began to grow far away. What were once sharp and clear sounds became more and more opaque, muffled, until they disappeared completely. I found myself alone, in complete silence, the voice in my mind completely shut off. I felt weightless, without gravity, light, I felt that I was submerged in a kind of blue liquid, but without a body, my breath was very long and I could not differentiate between inhalations and exhalations. I was there for an eternal time. Then I began to feel that my heart was pounding very hard, slowly I regained the sensation of my body and the heartbeat began to spread towards my extremities, I felt it in my feet and hands, in the pit of my stomach, in my chest, in the temples but especially in the eyes, I felt that they were going to come out of their sockets, I could see the heartbeat. Little by little, the ocher yellow, characteristic of the stones of the temples, began to take over the blue that had surrounded me until that moment. I'm not sure at what point I noticed that I was still standing there in front of the wall where I had found Isis.


A few days later, while walking around the temple of Kom Ombo, I found myself in front of a completely unprotected and lonely column in a courtyard. This particular column wasn't supporting anything and, in that precise moment, it was receiving a powerful ray of sunlight. I didn't have to get too close to notice quite clearly that after a couple thousand years receiving the harsh rays of the sun and the waves of sandy winds from the Sahara, the hieroglyphics on the column still preserved their colors in total splendor ... especially the blue.

Color blue has been used throughout history to represent, among other things, the robes and veils that cover the archetypal forms of the great universal mother. Everywhere, from the Egyptian goddess Hathor and the astrological ceilings of her temple at Dendera, to the clothing of the Virgin Mary, the mantle has remained the same color. This is due to its link with the sky, where the sun god is born and dies every day. In Rome the Egyptian blue pigment received the name caeruleus in honor of the sky (Caelum), from which our cerulean is derived.

In ancient Egypt, blue was used primarily to color the skies and waters which, more than representations of physical places, were symbolic evocations of their purest ideas: the abysmal and chaotic waters where genesis occurs in all mythological traditions. Blue and its notion of the heavens and the waters was, for the understanding of the Egyptians, a symbol of what in our time we could call the primordial substance in which the phenomenological universe manifests itself, that which, at a pre-conceptual level is the primordial substance that constitutes the whole: prarkriti, or the Pythagorean "0"; a container that is substantially attached to its contents. Thus, Egyptian blue was in essence a color that symbolized the concept of the primordial and the principle of the pregnant womb in which everything necessary for creation and nourishment is given; on the other hand, it was a color evocative of attributes such as purity and infinity or the immeasurable.

The concept of the primordial waters , was known in Egypt by the name of Nun, who was the cause of the universe. The myth tells that in the origin there was only Nun, the abyss, the chaotic primordial ocean. From Nun emerged Benben, the primordial mountain where the spirit, which had been flying over the waters, manifested itself. Thus Atum was born, who, from Benben created the cosmos.

This idea of primordial waters -which in this case should be understood as a material analogy and not in the sense of elemental water- is common to all the myths of the creation of the universe and has received various names in history: Tiamat, Shuniata, Danu, Chaos, Tehom, Tohu wa bohu, Abyss, Void, Ginungagap, Hylé , Sea of the wise, Philosophical or mercurial waters, Apeirón, Arché, Wuji, Possibility, Susceptibility of being, among many others.

"In the beginning everything was ocean, darkness and thought ... from there the earth was born so that we could maintain our seed. The ocean is our mother, it gave us life. Aluna Java is the mother of thought, thought is the origin of all being. The sea gave life to all of us... that's why from the snowy peaks we return to the sea, to nourish ourselves with it. "[1]

Originally Nun was a concept that lacked gender, although it was assigned feminine attributes related to motherhood, it even used to be related to the goddess Mut (in Egyptian it literally means mother), due to the fact that in her myth she gave partogenesis to the world in an asexual manner; However, Nun was actually a hermaphroditic principle due to the autogenerative atributes that characterized it. Materially it could be understood as something that is everything and that being unseparated its simultaneously nothing, its emptiness, because by lacking something (separated) that can perceive it, it does not exist as a conceptualizable phenomenon. The appearance of the spirit is the appearance of consciousness, unity or 1, from which the "great polarity" is derived, the two, that which perceives and that which is perceived, and that is where it divides itself and becomes applicable matter. The relationship with water has a lot to do with the ability of this substance to adopt any form that is imposed by a container, and the consciousness, embodied in the spirit, is the one in charge, through thought (logos) , of containing that substance and manifesting it through the word in the infinite forms. As time went by, Nun became a male deity or concept, but could never be separated from its female counterpart Naunet.

The words Nun and Naunet were written with the essential syllable Nw, expressed in the image of a spherical jug, accompanied by Pt, the sky, and N, the water. Those same jug and sky, together with the feminine determinative T, a bread, were used also to manifest the name of Nut, which was the heaven, as a female deity, the heavenly mother, mother of the sun. The syllable Nw, used in these two concepts, was also used in the name of Bennu, the blue heron of the Nile (which combined the syllable Ben, a foot standing on the water, with which the Benben was designated - that emerged from the waters in the creation myth-, and the jug Nw). Bennu, was one of the few birds that the Egyptians painted blue in their wall paintings and had a sacred status in the Egyptian mythological tradition, where it was considered a solar bird. The Bennu was the original bird of the myth of the phoenix, associated with death and rebirth, the cycles of drought and flood of the Nile, self-creation, regeneration, and especially natural time and its transforming effect.


What is most interesting about these links is the fact that the water jug syllable of these concepts was also symbolic of the dung beetle's ball of dung, the place where it laid its eggs and where its young were born.


For the Egyptians, the dung beetle ball served as a means to understand the idea of the primordial waters. In it, the female of the beetle deposited her eggs so that they would gestate in a natural way with the heat of fermentation and the humidity of the manure, allowing the birth of the larvae that fed, in their first stage, on the material of the ball. Thus, in the ball, which contained together the 5 elements, water or humidity, fire or heat (by fermentation), earth (in the organic material), air, and the spirit that was the beetle that deposited its seed in the ball, contained everything necessary for the gestation and nutrition of the larvae, it was a symbol of the cosmic egg.


In Egypt, the dung beetle was considered a solar symbol, and had a very special place in their pantheon. Kheper "the one who creates himself", was the Neter (deity) scarab, he was the "bringer of the Sun of dawn", and was usually carved in blue lapis lazuli stone. His name, when adhered as an attribute (to a pharaoh's name for example), was used to express the idea of ​​manifestation. The beetle was also recognized as a symbol of resurrection due to its reproductive process. In it, the male beetle would dig underground chambers, where he placed the balls of manure, from where its descendant emerged, already developed, as a young, regenerated image of his father: Nature's dramatization of the myth of Osiris. This process was emulated in the embalming and burial that the Egyptians carried out for their dead. It is for this reason that the Egyptians associated Khepri with self-creation, resurrection, and impermanence: the constant flow of transformation; and his ball of manure with the solar disk that was born and died daily in an eternal cycle of regeneration.


For the Egyptians, things in the material world were not separated from the spiritual plane or divinity, they were symbolic of the spirit. For this reason they were very careful to observe in detail the activities of nature to understand its language. For them, everything they used in their ritual practices, including painting had significant power, which is why, they chose each material carefully. Due to its relationship with the infinite, the immeasurable, the deep, and given the purity it evoked in the ancient Egyptians, the color blue was used to paint the Khepresh and Nemes ceremonial crowns of the pharaohs, and also the hair and skin of some of the the Neteru associated with generation, health, and even resurrection. One of the most exemplary cases was Amun, possibly one of the most important Neteru, since he manifested the idea of ​​the self-created spirit that is the cause and consequence of creation. One of the privileged names of Amun was the hidden one, because it was said that he was in all things and that all things were in him, or rather, that all things were him, and yet he could not be seen (at least not with the eyes).


The myth of Osiris tells of a time when, after learning that her husband had been killed by Set, Isis set out on a long journey to find his body. She searched all over the world, until she found out that Osiris' sarcophagus had been carried by the Nile to the shores of a beach, where it had been tangled in the branches of a tree. In a matter of very little time the tree grew around the sarcophagus, hugging it inside its trunk. The king of the region had the trunk of the magnificent tree cut and used as a column (djed) to support the roof of his palace. Isis, who didn't give up in recovering the body of her husband, arrived at the palace and, disguised as a peasant, got a job as a nurse to one of the king's children. Every night, Isis would transform into a swallow and, instead of suckling the baby with her milk, she gave him her finger to suck on while she put him on the fire to consume his mortal parts.


The swallow (Hirundo rustica), a bird of mainly blue plumage with a red spot on its neck and a white breast, was the bird attributed to Isis. Its colors recall the red sun that survives the night and is reborn renewed with the dawn in the white morning sky. This bird had a significant importance in Egyptian symbolism, where it was in charge of announcing and greeting the sun.

In terms of the annunciation of the sun, it is worth highlighting tha ther is a relationship between Isis and Venus, (both the mythological figure and the planet), which was considered in ancient times as the star that announced the dawn.

In the texts of the pyramids -a compilation of hieroglyphic spells carved inside the pyramids of the ancient empire- there is a mention that relates the swallows to the stars: "I have made my way among those who have a bird trap , I have talked with the owners of the Ka, I have gone to the large island that is in the middle of the Field of Offerings, on which the Swallow gods descend; the swallows are the imperishable stars, they give me this stick of life on which they live, and I will get life that way at once. "

In the book of the dead, plate 66 is an incantation for the deceased to transform into a swallow: "I am a swallow ... a swallow, I too am the Scorpion Goddess, the daughter of Ra, Oh Gods! how pleasant and sweet your perfume is to me that burns and rises towards the Horizon! "

This mention in the funeral texts may have a relation to the fact that at some point, the swallow was symbolic of the Ba (which was later identified with the falcon), the individual identity of the deceased, equivalent to the Atman in the traditions of India. It was one of the 9 components of the soul according to Egyptian tradition. The swallow and the hawk had a strong relationship in Egypt, where the symbolic swallow was often presented as a bird that eventually morphed into a hawk. It is worth remembering that the hawk had a strong relationship with high spiritual realization. When the hawk was used to evoke the Ba, it was represented in wall paintings with blue or green plumage (very different from the color of the feathers of the real animal and evidently fulfilling a symbolic function) allegorical of the purity or divinification of the deceased (who acquired the epithet of Horus when he passed into the afterlife) in the blue case, or resurrection in the green case.

The myth of Osiris goes on to narrate how, after Isis retrieved the sarcophagus, Set managed to dismember Osiris's body and spread its parts throughout Egypt. Isis once again undertakes a heroic search and manages to recover and remember the parts of the body of her husband. Once remembered, to prevent his body from being desecrated again, Isis embalms and mummifies Osiris and partially resurrects him by breathing life into him. Then, having transformed herself into a hawk, through an act of magic, Isis has sexual relations with him, giving rise to the conception of Horus the child (Heru pa Kraat). Horus, the falcon god finally returns to claim the throne of his father by killing his uncle Set from him.


After his resurrection, Osiris (who must remain in the Dwat -the other world- as ruler), is represented with green skin, a color that at first glance may recall the skin of a dead person, but on another level, is associated with the greening of crops and, by extension, with the fertility that came with the rising Nile after the dry season. The green that Osiris' skin was painted with, was crushed malachite, one of the ingredients used in the manufacture of Egyptian blue pigment. Symbolically, this green was the result of the combination of blue, characteristic of Isis (and in general of motherhood) and the waters (also associated with the belly due to the relationship with the egg and the ball of manure), with the yellow that is a solar color par excellence and, by extension, the idea of ​​the spirit that penetrates and inseminates matter in a latent state. In other words, green is the result of the yellow of the nourishing spiritual rays of the sun, combined with the primordial water that makes up all things, the two essential elements in the cultivation of vegetables. Thus, the myth, its symbolism and its formal manifestations, more than simple stories that tried to explain the phenomena of the world, were concrete symbols that reached to touch universal truths that were manifested both in the phenomenological cosmos, as in the individual inner being, each one reflection of the other.

In traditional alchemy, the blue and black colors of the Nigredo are strongly related to each other by their association with the primordial chaos, with the maternal womb and with the mercurial waters. In alchemy one speaks of the "matrix where metals are gestated in the earth" similar to the ball of the dung beetle, which must be emulated in the alchemical flask or crucible, and which must be heated in the furnace with a temperature no higher than that with which an egg is incubated, to prepare the philosopher's stone. Nigredo, or chaos, is also spoken of as the first stage of a four-part process (nigredo, citrinitas, albedo, and rubedo), a stage in which the raw material is reduced to a formless, chaotic black sludge where all the elements and materials necessary for the manufacture of the stone are given: mercury, sulfur and salt.

Something that is very interesting is that one of the raw materials required in the preparation of the pigment is an alkaline salt known as Natron, which allows the formation of the blue crystals in the oven. This salt, which the ancients extracted from the shores of saline lakes in the desert, was used primarily in the embalming process of mummies to prevent the body and its parts from rotting (to avoid the corruption of the body). Its name, natron, is the name from which we obtain the symbol of elemental sodium (Na), but also, it is directly associated with the word with which the divinity Neter was designated, and also the very Egyptian language that was known as Medu Neter (sacred or divine word).


Egyptian blue is not a shade of blue, although, by necessity of categorization, it has been assigned specific coordinates in the RGB and CMYK spectra. In reality, Egyptian blue is a material, a pigment that can produce a variety of shades of blue, with a specific symbolic content. Having mentioned that, and taking into account the magical qualities that the Egyptians attributed to their materials, it is worth clarifying that painting with any blue is not the same as painting with Egyptian blue. The very materiality of Egyptian blue is what, in my opinion makes it unique, due to its high content of copper and Natron, because I am certain that through experience it can produce concrete real effects on the observer, such as the awakening of dormant ancestral memories in consciousness.


For me, being able to manufacture this pigment today brings up a possibility to establish a direct communication bridge with a time when the relationship with the cosmos was closer to direct experience and internal processes, and was less intercepted by descriptive languages. A time in which even created things could be removed from the everyday and from their instrumental and consumer functions, and placed in a place for contemplation and admiration, as a reflection of the cosmic nature evoked from within.


[1] Mamo Luis, word of the Kogui community. Documentary Heart of Water.

egyptian blue, azul egipcio, Isis with horus in the solar temple solar of Edfu
egyptian blue, azul egipcio, Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Notre Dame de Chartres
Screen Shot 2020-05-23 at 3.00.51 PM.png
Nut, el cielo define el arco superior de esta estela. Sus manos y brazos son alegóricos de los 4 pilares que sostienen al cielo
Khepri, el Netjer escarabajo pelotero
Utriusque cosmi
Utriusque cosmi
Utriusque cosmi
Utriusque cosmi


aquello que se pone en el sarcófago