The Drinking Gourd

During America’s Underground Railroad era (1800-1865), Africans escaping slavery in the south knew through ‘map-songs’ that in order to Steal Away to Jesus, they’d have to Wade in the Water (to throw hunting dogs off their scent) and Follow the Drinking Gourd to freedom (“Jesus”). The Drinking Gourd was an African reference to one of their most ancient navigational settings between heaven and earth – the ‘Big Dipper’ constellation that pointed to the North Star and direction of their escape. Though there is considerable irony in African ancestral memory being masqueraded as Christian worship songs and the like, such survival tactics through traditional oral-aesthetic strategies had become necessary since the horrific Atlantic crossing when enslavers disabled the capacity of the captives’ communication infrastructure by destroying their musical instruments.

Some of these traditional musical instruments were constructed with such natural materials as gourds or calabashes, fruits of their African Mother Trees. Harvested young, these fruits can be consumed as a vegetable. Harvested mature, they’re often dried and hollowed out to be used as utensils for eating, drinking, storing, and /or serving food and drink. Africans have also used gourds to great effect as percussive musical instruments such as the shekere (a gourd covered with a net interwoven with beads or cowrie shells), or as elements of the water drum which evolved out of the water drumming techniques of Central Africa’s Baka forest people.  

In some areas of the Congo and Cameroon use of the water drum is reserved for women who traditionally stood in bodies of water to perform their drumming ritual by striking rhythmically against the surface of the waters with their hands. This would usually take place during the early dawn in order to enchant the forest, draw forth its creatures, and thus ease the task of the day’s hunt. The water drum instrument itself is designed using two half-gourds, the larger of which would be filled with water upon whose surface the smaller half-gourd would be inverted to act as the actual drumming surface. Similar instruments and drumming rituals around the world – e.g. tambor de agua (‘drum of water’ in Spanish) where strokes are similar to the culoepuya – can be traced to an African ancestry of hunter-gatherer communities which evolved throughout the Congo River basin. The Congo River drains off Africa’s west coast into the Atlantic from its highland tributary sources in the east-central heart/womb of the Motherland.

So, when we Follow the Drinking Gourd back through its African waterways, we arrive in the larger Great Lakes region at the equatorial border of humanity’s most ancient and sacred womb. Ancient Egyptians staked their origins in this same psycho-geographic space: the beginning of the Nile where God Hapi dwells, at the foothills of The Mountains of the Moon [Papyrus of Hunefer c. 1300BCE]. Navigational settings between Heaven and Earth remain sovereign to the Motherland at this axis mundi, a womb that has been ravaged by predatory European exploits. Here, the toponymic autographs of “Victoria… Albert… Edward… George,” etc. read like crassly-hewn notches on a colonial family bedpost. But as Nyabingi is rekindled during the Lions Gate Portal, like the beat of nature’s drum, her heart causes the dark cloak that would deny her awakening to dissipate. She rises to reclaim Eden’s natal Ma’atrix – the ascension gateway which once-upon-a-time led God Djehuti to proclaim: 

“Art thou not aware that Egypt is the image of heaven, or rather, that it is the projection below of the order of things above? If the truth must be told, this land is indeed the Temple of the World…”

Djehuti then lamented a time when this Temple of the World and her waterways would become “filled with strangers” and “widowed of the Gods”

“To thee I cry, O most sacred River, to thee I announce the coming doom!… Egypt, once the holy land beloved of the Gods and full of devotion for their worship, will become the instrument of perversion, the school of impiety…”

Modern-day Egypt is known to this day as the Gift of the Nilebased on the south-north flow of the sacred river from its two main tributaries upon which Egypt has always been dependent. Said to be the earthly mirror of Maziwa Mkuu (Swahili, meaning ‘the great milk’ – aka Heaven’s Milky Way), the White Nile tributary of the Nile’s southernmost source meets the Blue Nile from Ethiopia in Khartoum (Sudan), and together they flow as the Nile River confluence into the Mediterranean Sea. Relative to the river’s south-north axis and flow, ancient east-west Mysteries followed the rising and setting of the sun. This was why pyramids (royal tombs) were built on the western side of the Nile River, and why the Great Sphinx is positioned with its tail to the west (where the sun exits) as it faces directly east towards the sun’s daily re-birth or resurrection.

NUTAs Goddess of the Sky, Nut was said to swallow the sun in the evening from the western skies and resurrect it in the eastern skies the next morning. A common depiction of Nut was as the female Night Sky arched over Geb, her Earth God husband and father to their children: Ausar, Auset, Nepthys and Set – personifying divine archetypes around whom the most enduring ancient mythologies were based. It was Nut who provided the nighttime canvas upon which enslaved Africans could see and Follow the Drinking Gourd, the Big Dipper constellation which would point their way to freedom in the north. Another common depiction of Goddess Nut is that of the Water-Bearer – her crown being a typical African clay pot whose waters would have been collected as a gift from the Nile River. Some of Nut’s many epithets include: She who Dominates the Northern Sky… Great Being Who is in the World of the Dead… Great Ihet-Cow Who Brings Ra into the Day… Lady of the Sycamore… Mother of All the Gods and Goddesses… Mother of the Stars… Uniter of the Two Lands of Geb… Veil of Heaven… She Who Shelters Him (Heru/Hero)…

HATHORHwt-Hr is the ancient version of her name, meaning Mansion of Heru/Hero. As the fertility aspect of the African Goddess, Hathor houses and nurtures the Divine Masculine seed during its full gestation period, thereafter becoming its portal and early food source once the baby is born into the world. This earthly realm is the field of the S/Hero’s Journey in which one finds and hopefully accomplishes their purpose, while learning to overcome challenges that they will encounter along the way. For Africans, slavery [1619], colonialism [1884], apartheid [1948], etc. have been the community’s collective trials at the hands of one who, in ancient Mysteries, is represented by the archetypal adversary named Set god of the desert, storms, chaos, perversion, disease, violence and foreign oppressors.

In the mythology, Heru – posthumously conceived son of Ausar and Auset whose Heaven-on-Earth throne was usurped by a jealous and murderous Set – becomes the one whose destiny it is to restore Divine Order and Sovereignty to the throne. Meanwhile, Ausar’s widow Auset must search the wilderness [African Diaspora] for the 14 mutilated pieces of her husband as her Shero’s Journey and role in Africa’s/humanity’s ultimate restoration and reparations process.

Goddess Hathor is said to have used milk from her sacred tree to restore sight to Heru’s lunar/left eye after one of the warrior’s particularly bruising battles against antagonist Set and his illegitimate rule – which has been leading humanity into a profound sense of isolation, alienation, disconnection, and disorientation. Depictions of Hathor as nurturer include her as the Madonna-and-Child prototype (after the birth phase) and then as the Mother Tree (after the death phase). As the Mother Tree, Hathor was popularly depicted as the nurturing Goddess who provided solid and liquid sustenance from the sacred tree’s fruits to souls (some depicted as Ba-birds) as they journeyed on through the afterlife. 

Hathor’s many epithets included ‘Lady of the West’ – the direction of the setting sun/‘death’ in which she was a protector, as her appearance on sarcophagi conveyed. Of her other epithets, it was said: Thou art the Queen of the Dance, the Mistress of Music, the Queen of the Harp Playing, the Lady of the Choral Dance, the Queen of Wreath Weaving, the Mistress of Inebriety Without End. Known as the Womb of Time, Hathor’s worship temple at Dendera testifies to all this and more: The One Who Fills the Sanctuary with Joy… Lady of Fragrance… Goddess of fertility, children and childbirth… Milk of Life/Celestial Nurse… Lady of the House of Jubilation… Mistress of the necropolis… Bearer of the Systrum [Hathor’s sacred percussion instrument]… Lady of the Sycamore of the South… Lady of the Tomb… She who is adorned with stars

Heru/Horus the Elder, Hathor’s Divine Masculine counterpart, was worshipped in his temple in Edfu. Upon Edfu’s temple walls lies the following inscription: “I take the measuring cord in the company of Seshat. I observe the progressive movement of the stars. My eye is now fixed upon Meskhetiu. The god of time-keeping stands by me, in front of the merkhet. Then, I have established the four corners of the temple.” (i) SESHAT Divine Feminine representation of God Djehuti, amongst her many other highly regarded attributes was the ancient Goddess of Architects and Builders, & Keeper of Time; (ii) The merkhet was the instrument with which architects of her stature oriented the harmonious alignment of temple foundations with the heavens, in accordance with principles of sacred geometry; and (iii) Meshketiu was the ‘Big Dipper’ of the constellation Ursa Major, the Water-Bearer symbol known by Africans on the Underground Railroad as the Drinking Gourd’… ❤ ❤ ❤

3 Comments on “The Drinking Gourd

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