Cymatics Experiment in the Great Pyramid
Few who have experienced the acoustics of the Great Pyramid's King's Chamber have not walked away with a feeling of awe, in some cases coupled with an impression that the chamber was designed to be reverberative.
For a relatively small chamber the reverberation is indeed extraordinary; one can literally hear one's own breathing (when the fluorescent lighting is turned off!) and this experience often accompanies feelings of cathedral-like reverence. This notion of design implies a prior knowledge of acoustics and materials science.
The high levels of reverberation in the chamber are actually a function of the flat granite surfaces, their parallel arrangement and the chamber's dimensions. Let us discuss the likelihood of acoustics design.
John Stuart Reid in The Kings Chamber, Great Pyramid, Giza
The earliest evidence of granite working in ancient Egypt dates to 3,900 BC at Nekhen, 1400
years before the Great Pyramid was built (around 2,500 B.C.) a long period in
which an acoustics science could have been acquired by the ancient Egyptian
engineers. However, an obvious question to ask is what would have driven their
need to control the acoustics environment? The answer, almost certainly,
relates to their desire to communicate with the spirit world during their
The following quotation from Demetrius, circa 200 B.C., from "Aristotle, Poetics" suggests that purity of sound was important in his era:
"In Egypt, when priests sing hymns to the gods, they sing the seven vowels in due succession and the sound of these vowels has such euphony that men listen to it instead of the flute and the lyre."
Such ''euphony'' would, no doubt, have been enhanced by singing in reverberative chambers, just as reverberation plays an important function in churches today, to enhance one's sense of connection with spirit and to optimize the choir and organ performance. Although the date of this quotation is much later than the pyramid age it should be remembered that vowels were considered sacred throughout ancient Egyptian history and that Late Period customs invariably had their roots in early or even pre-dynastic times. It seems reasonable to suggest, therefore, that the ancient Egyptians of the 4th dynasty, when the Great Pyramid was built, used vowel sound chant as part of their ritual. However, even if their chant was not specifically vowel sound oriented, studies of ancient Egyptian cult texts of a religious character, by Waltraud Gugliemi, have revealed that, in many cases, they were intended to be sung rather than spoken. (The journal of: 'Ancient Egyptian Literature') Singing in enclosed spaces is always enhanced by reverberation.
Dr. Lise Manniche, in her book ''Music & Musicians in Ancient Egypt'' provides confirmation of singing in relation to pyramids with the following quotation from Nikaure of the 5th dynasty.
'Instructor of the singers of the Pyramid of King Userkaf'
This title, given to Nikaure, seems to indicate that a group of singers were retained specifically to maintain song or chant-based rituals at the pyramid of Userkaf, although whether the singers performed inside or outside the pyramid cannot be determined.
Although I did
not carry out a Critical Distance Test in the King's Chamber (the distance
from a given sound source at which the level of direct energy, reaching one's
ears, equals the level of reflected energy) those readers who have visited the
Great Pyramid will know that even when two people are as close as one metre
apart, speech intelligibility is extremely poor in the King's Chamber.
However, this effect works very much in favor of chanting or singing, where
continuity not intelligibility,
is the prime concern. This is particularly relevant where extended vowel
sounds are employed, for example, in Gregorian Chant.
Now consider the following extract from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by R.O. Faulkner in his book entitled ''The Book of the Dead.''
''The Mighty One appears,
the horizon shines. Atum appears on the smell of his censing, the Sunshine-
god has risen in the sky, the Mansion of the pyramidion is in joy and all its
inmates are assembled, a voice calls out within the shrine, shouting
reverberates around the Netherworld.''
One could interpret this spell as being suggestive of a ritual performed within a pyramid in which vocally generated sound played an important part, though further research is needed in which a corpus of ancient Egyptian texts is examined and interpretation of the transliterations is made.
R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz in his book, 'Sacred Science' also believed that the ancient Egyptians used sounds, as distinct from words, in their rituals. In the last sentence of the following passage he quotes from Corpus Hermeticum:
magical language is not to be understood as a succession of terms
''The Pharaonic texts are rich in examples of litanies playing a magical role through the repetition of sounds...and through word play. The hieroglyphic writings allow us to confirm this although their transcription into our language is impossible since the pronunciation of this language is unknown...In a letter from Asklepios to King Amman[he says]:
''As for us, we do not use simple words but soundsall filled with power.''
(Emboldened words represent the Corpus Hermeticum reference)The acoustics study of the Great Pyramid was undertaken in order to investigate my hypothesis that (a) the King's Chamber was designed to be highly reverberative and (b) the chamber and its sarcophagus are acoustically coupled, that is, the energy of any sound made in the chamber is largely transferred into the sarcophagus. Such coupling was, I postulate, designed to support a rebirthing ritual enacted prior to the pharaoh's death or perhaps after his death.
The King's Chamber sarcophagus is highly resonant, partly due to its high quartz content, hence the Egyptian architect"s choice of raw material since limestone and alabaster lack the resonant properties enjoyed by granite. I am of the opinion that vowel sound chant in the acoustically enhanced King"s Chamber was intended to have an energizing effect on the sarcophagus during sacred rituals. A clue as to what such rituals may have involved is given by Professor I.E.S. Edwards in his book 'The Pyramids of Egypt.
According to one of the most popular myths . . . the sun-god Re entered the
mouth of the sky goddess Nut every evening, passed through her body and was
reborn at dawn. When he died, the King was assimilated to Re and was thought
to undergo the same nightly process of gestation and rebirth as the sun god.
sarcophagus symbolized the womb of Nut, it is reasonable to conjecture
that it may have been used as part of their "rebirth" rituals prior to the
pyramid being finally sealed. Noting that the sarcophagus rings like a
bell when struck, (albeit at a low frequency) I considered the possibility
that the architect had engineered it to resonate at the pitch of sound (as
distinct from the rate of beat) of a baby"s heart since rebirth rituals
were concerned with the gestation of a fetus and the birth of new life.
This concept is consistent with Professor Edwards" hypothesis of the sarcophagus as a womb and it is further strengthened by the discovery of a pesh-en-kef instrument that was discovered in the pyramid by Englishman, Wayman Dixon. This instrument was used to sever the umbilical cord of newborn babies; fashioned from flint in archaic times it consisted of two curved blades that met at a point and would be circumflexed around the umbilical, in effect an early form of scissors. The version discovered in the pyramid was made in bronze and was a symbolic representation of a pesh-en-kef, not a working instrument, hence the blades were not sharpened.
between the acoustic field, the resonance of the quartz particles embedded
in the granite and the inherent resonances of the quartz sand grains is an
immensely complex one. However, the patterns that form are essentially
harmonic and in studying the hieroglyphic-like cymatic forms I was
persuaded that these too are essentially harmonic, the result of naturally
occurring geometries within the crystals released during acoustic
excitation of the sarcophagus. Consider that during the fashioning of
granite in a craftsmen"s workshop the stone would ring like a bell with
every strike of the hammer. The resulting sound field patterns would
radiate away and manifest (invisibly) on all the membranes of the worker"s
bodies, their skin, eyes and on every cell. It seems possible that
scribe-priests would have been present during at least some of the work,
perhaps to check on progress, and they too would have been influenced,
albeit subliminally. It may not be a coincidence, then, that the earliest
evidence of granite working in Egypt (circa 3,900 BCE) occurred at around
the same time that Egyptologists date the emergence of hieroglyphic
writing, both are thought to have occurred at ancient Nekhen. It seems
easily possible, therefore, that the birth of the Egyptian written
language and their working of granite are inextricably linked.
Finally, I wish to leave the reader with an illustration of the "Sonic Rebirth Ritual" envisioned with the help of the talented artist Judith Page. In this hypothetical ritual the sarcophagus contains the pharaoh Cheops (either living or dead). The four priests, standing at each corner, gently rest their fingertips on the granite edge in order to sense the resonant frequency. The priests generate powerful vowel intonations, gradually shifting the pitch until maximum acoustic excitation occurs. At this point, two of the priests maintain this frequency whilst the other two drop their pitch by a small margin, thus creating dramatic beat frequencies. Meanwhile the Sem priest, robed in a beautiful leopard skin, continually recites magical spells and confers these upon the pharaoh by holding his left hand over the sarcophagus. Cheops" ka travels to the stars, via the star shafts, and returns to be reborn, illustrated by the image of a fetus.
If you have enjoyed this article my Egyptian Sonics book is available, containing details of many other experiments in the Great Pyramid and many more illustrations. Please visit our cymatics shop. All purchases help to fund further cymatics research. © John Stuart Reid 2009
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