Wednesday, April 11, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

A Woman of Two Worlds

In 1907, at the age of three, Dorothy Eady suffered a bump on the noggin which apparently gave rise to a lifelong belief that she was the reincarnation of an Egyptian temple virgin who had been the secret lover of King Sety I, a pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC). Not only that, His Royal Highness used to visit her nightly for years, until her death in 1981, for some snuggling and pillow talk.

Jonathan Cott’s The Search for Omm Sety: Reincarnation and Eternal Love is an interesting narrative of Ms. Eady’s life and times. She may have been deluded, but she was nevertheless an avid student of the Middle Kingdom and participated in excavations and researches in her adopted home of Egypt for much of the 20th century. * She decided early on that Egypt was the place for her, and took the initiative to get there and live there, even under the most squalid conditions. There, she acquired the name Omm Sety, indulged her passions, and acted as priestess of the old religion, performing rites to Osiris and Isis in the ruins of the ancient holy city of Abydos.

Cott leaves open the question of whether Dorothy was truly a reincarnation of the temple orphan Bentreshyt, visited nightly by her lover, or a harmless and entertaining eccentric. At the end of his narrative, Cott tags on an unnecessary epilogue in which he consults with various psychologists and parapsychologists to see if he can get a handle on this reincarnation thing. What stands out is that, aside from colorful anecdotes from her acquaintances, pretty much all we know about Dorothy Eady and her early life comes from Dorothy Eady. There is no independent corroboration of her head trauma, her precocious interest and familiarity with ancient Egypt, or her (apparently quite noisy) visitations from Sety I. A skeptic myself, I have nevertheless had some interesting experiences pertaining to the concept of reincarnation, but in the end I tend to see Dorothy as someone who very successfully internalized a narrative of an alternative existence. This doesn’t make her a liar, but it did give her what she longed for – a rich and rewarding life, a dream of a glorified existence, and the hope of eternal love.

* Some of her writings are apparently still in print.