The Strange God of Southern Illinois

by John H. Bailey III

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At right is my illustration of a stone mask found beneath a hill somewhere in southern Illinois by an Indian pot hunter.  He explored a cold, dank, subterranean tunnel filled with thousands of similar objects.  There was evidence of carbon from torches on the ceilings.  When he broke into a burial crypt, he discovered the skeletal remains of a woman and two children on a stone bier.

Once the shock of discovery wore off, Russell Burrows examined the children's wounds, proof of human sacrifice.  Depressions in the children's skulls were the tragic results of a marble axe.  An example lay between the woman and the two children on the bier, as he described in his book, Mystery Cave of Many Faces.  On the bier had been placed a stone mask (Figure 1).  Cold and covered in mud, Burrows carried the grim-faced object out of its underworld chamber into the sunlight of the twentieth century.  Was this artifact the product of an American Indian? Or was it make by someone belonging to another culture.

Examining the Burrows Cave Mask, we notice that it depicts a man's face with a pointed beard, this in a land inhabited by beardless natives.  The Egyptian gods were portrayed in ancient times with stylized beards, but they were longer and more excellently crafted.  However, the southern Illinois object was adorned by a solar disk with many sunbeams radiating outward somewhat in the Egyptian fashion.  Perhaps the face was intended to represent a sun-god or king, but who?

Perhaps the classic translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead by E.A. Wallis Budge contained a clue to the mask's identity.  The Book of the Dead (more properly, "That Which is in the Passage through the Underworld, of the Duat") is a collection of magical sayings and formulae designed to assist the recently deceased soul in its quest through death into the Afterlife.  Along the way, numerous Egyptian gods and goddesses are cited.

One deity in particular, Ptah, the so-called artificer-god of technology and material or artistic achievement.  According to Budge, "As a solar god, he is called Ptah, the disk of heaven, who illumined the world by the fire in his eyes."  Was his the same face portrayed on the Burrows Cave mask?

Ptah wore the so-called Punt beard associated with ancient overseas' commercial expeditions undertaken by the Egyptians, and, when depicted whole, signified the god in mummy wrappings with Ankh-symbols of life in his hands (Figure 2).  Budge observed that "Ptah was associated with the god Khnemu (deity of the moon and psychic power) in carrying out at the creation, the mandates of Thoth (the god of civilization), the divine intelligence.  Ptah's name means the 'Opener,' and he was identified by the Greeks with Hephaistos (the craftsman god), and by the Latins with Vulcan (a Roman version of Hephaistos).  He was worshiped at a very early date in Memphis, whish is called in Egyptian texts.  'The House of the Ka (an aspect of the soul) of Ptah,' and according to Herodotus, his temple was founded by Mena or Menes (the first Pharaoh of a united Egypt).

Thoth's divine partner, Ptah was revered as "the exceedingly great god, the beginning of being, the father of fathers and power of powers.  He created his form, and gave birth to his body."  He belonged to the heavenly triad of Ptah-Sokar-Ausar.  Both Sokar and Ausar (Osiris) were solar deities associated with the western sunset, and, by inference, the motionless dead in the unseen Underworld.  Sokar was depicted as a mummified body with the head of a hawk, but sometimes as a dwarf.  He was held the crook, flail and bird-headed staff, the emblems of political, legal and military power (Figure 3).  Although the southern Illinois' death mask clearly does not have a hawk's face, might represent Ptah or a Ptah-Ausar combination.

In Ancient American (Volume 3, Issue 16, page 48), the small figurine of a king wearing the so-called nemes crown from Burrows Cave appears.  This crude sculpture features the name of Helios, a Greek version of the sun-god, but carrying the symbols held by Sokar, his Egyptian counterpart, minus flail (Figure 4).  This was a figure from Alexander Helios' tomb.  Traditional depictions of Ausar do not show a sun symbol over or on his forehead (Figure 5).  He was revered as "father of the gods who had given him birth" (Budge, cxiii), the symbol of immortality and eternity.  Osiris was what mortal men and women hoped to become when they, like him were mummified and given proper funeral rites.  He wore a crown and held the emblems of juridical and political power, the flail and shepherd's crook, with which king's both punished and guided their people, respectively, as occasion demanded (Figure 5).  Ausar was glorified as "Lord of the Underworld and of the waters, Lord of the Heaven and of the Earth.  Lord of the mountains and Lord of all which the sun goeth round in his course" (Budge, cxiv).

Translation of an inscription that accompanied the sculpted Burrows Cave "Ausar" in the standard manner (from right to left), yields the words, "Bua neyd" (Figure 6), close to "Bua net."  Bua means "great of marvelous," while neyd is probably the same as netNet has many meanings, including "secretion," "emission," "to sprinkle," and may even take the form of the Nile god.  Sperm is an emission and is needed for generation.  Net may not be unrelated to Neith, "a self-produced perpetually virgin goddess, who gave birth to the Sun-god; originally she was a goddess of the chase," according to Budge.  Could this second word also refer to the sex of the female royal in the Burrows Cave crypt?  If so, then the translation additionally means to the "great, self-generating god" apparently portrayed in this strange stone mask from southern Illinois.

Note from Paul Schaffranke: I want to congratulate John Bailey for his outstanding article.  John is an accomplished epigrapher and a very talented artist as anyone can readily see by examining his work.  Keep up the good work John, you are doing a great job and you have my full support.

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