Why I Believe in the Paranormal 6: My Egyptian Adventures and Quest for Omm Sety

My Egyptian Adventure and Quest for Omm Sety.  Quo vidis – The Pilgrimage Begins.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Night,  Cairo, Egypt.  2nd August, 1990

“I’m not going to make it to the top,” I conclude perched two thirds of the way up the Great Pyramid, Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. The pyramid’s summit looks deceptively close in the dim light that is growing dimmer with each limestone block I climb higher.  The rocky surface in front of the sphinx’s talon-less paws, however, is very far below me. A fall from this height would certainly invite skeletal fragmentation. At ground level, the Sphinx’s and Son et lumière’s battery of spotlights were blinding, but as I should have known from lecturing on my Physics 101 courses, the tyranny of the inverse square law means that now, ten times further away from those light sources, I have only one hundredth of the illumination to guide me upwards.  A lighted birthday cake candle would be more useful.  At least the dim light allows me to appreciate the beauty of the twinkling stellar tapestry woven around the constellation of Orion hunting the night sky for eternity above my head.  The Dog Star Sirius, sacred to the ancient Egyptians as the harbinger of the life-bringing annual Nile flood, sparkles brightly beneath the celestial hunter’s feet.

Pyramid Orion Constellation

Trapped in Cairo Airport by the sudden onset of Operation Desert Storm, the First Gulf war, when for security reasons Saudia, the official Airline of Saudi Arabia, cancelled my return flight back to the hospital in Riyadh where I was Director of Training.  I and a small group of fellow stranded passengers had to spend seven days and nights in an airport ‘hotel’ room which a Spartan would have rejected. Our passports confiscated, our only escape was a nightly visit by an army captain and a small escort armed with World-War-One rifles. For around twenty Dollars a head per trip, we were offered a chance to see Cairo and its main tourist attractions at 3 am in the morning!  That is how I climbed up and then entered the Great Pyramid in the dead of night.  I was hoping to retrace the steps of the English lady Dorothy Eady, born 1904 into a wealthy family who lived in a London Suburb.

Omm Sety

Later in life, she came to believe she was the reincarnation of a Vestal Virgin who lived in the Temple of Abydos, Upper Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I, migrated to Egypt, and changed her name to Omm Sety.

Reluctantly, I can retrace Omm Sety’s path no further; I will not be able to stand on the pyramid’s summit, turn westwards and ask, as she asked her God Osiris, “Quo vadis” (where am I going?). For Omm Sety in 1956, the clear choice was between taking a well-paid job in the Cairo Records Office, or working for a pittance as a draughtswoman in the ancient temple of Abydos. Feeling she had the blessing of both Osiris and her previous lover Seti I, she chose to pack her bags for the Nile-side temple.  For me, the choice was whether to continue what I had come to call my ‘paranormal pilgrimage’ whose Holy Grail was to answer the ‘mother of all questions’ – can consciousness and memory exist independently of the maelstrom of electromagnetic waves generated by the living brain’s labyrinthine of neural networks?

At least I had been able to retrace Omm Sety’s footsteps into the Great Pyramid and spend some time lying in Khufu’s (Cheops’) red granite sarcophagus in the middle of the night. One of the many mysterious closely guarded by the pyramids is what happened to the missing lid of Pharaoh Khufu’s sarcophagus?  Was it very placed over his embalmed body, or was it smashed into pieces and removed from the King’s Chamber? It was certainly far too large and heavy to drag down the steep steps of the Gallery and Ascending Corridor back to the outside of the pyramid.

Sarcophagus

I would like to think I was also retracing the boot-struts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the sandal-steps of Alexander the Great, but as a salutary example of the dangers of relying on internet research, the oft-repeated stories of these two great leaders’ visits to the pyramid are almost certainly myths: the diaries of Napoleon’s secretary report that he never entered the great pyramid at night, or during the day; the ascending passage (the great gallery) up to the King’s Chamber was only opened over a thousand years after Alexander’s death in 820 A.D. by the Arab Caliph Abdullah Al Manum’s workmen searching for Pharaoh Khufu’s treasure.

I can claim, however, to have repeated a NASA engineer’s confirmation of the perfect flat finish of all the sarcophagus’s internal surfaces. With a pencil flash light borrowed from our guide who was too superstitious to enter the pyramid at night, I place the flat side of my mobile phone vertically on the granite surface with its edge flush with the surface and shine a pencil-torch beam along the line of contact between the stone and phone.  In the pitch darkness of the chamber, neither a bead nor ribbon of light shines through the line of contact.  Any irregularities of the granite surface have to be less than a hundredth of a millimetre.  If Egyptologists are to be believed, this precision of finish was obtained by carving the sarcophagus out of a solid block of hard red granite using copper tools.  That task would have seem to be as impossible as cutting a piece of breakfast toast in half with a knob of butter.  As the NASA engineer had done five years before my visit, I also contacted leading granite workshops on my next visit to California.  These high-tech companies told me, as they told him years earlier, that even with their most modern high-tech cutting and grinding equipment, they were not confident they could manufacture an exact replica of the four-and-a-half thousand-year old sarcophagus hewn out of ultra-hard granite.  The second great mystery surrounding the King’s Chamber is what happened to the stone lid which is assumed to have sealed Khufu’s mummified body in his sarcophagus?  Of this massive lid, there is no trace.

Resting for a few minutes before my descent, I reflect on the unlikely events that led to me climbing the great pyramid in my thin interview suit, in the middle of a bitterly cold Egyptian night, in the middle of a war.

 The Search for Omm Sety.      New York, USA.   September 1988

The story really began two years earlier than my Cairo incarceration, in September, 1988, during a one-day stopover in New York on my way back to the Military Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from Loma Linda University, California, where I had been lecturing on summer school courses in Human Anatomy and Physiology. During my two-month stay over the hot California summer, the recently published book “The Search for Omm Sety – A Story of Eternal Love” by Jonathan Cott and Hanny El Zeini was often in the newspapers and discussed on prime-time TV. In the words of aNew York Times’ article, Omm Sety’s life story is “one of the Western World’s most intriguing and convincing modern case histories of reincarnation.” This seemed an excellent case to start with since the controversial topic of reincarnation was one of the paranormal phenomena I hoped to investigate in my quest for ‘neuron-free’ memories and consciousness.  In the words of one review, the book “tells the story of an Englishwoman who was convinced she had lived in ancient Egypt in a previous life, describes life and her romantic involvement with Pharaoh Sety I.” I decided to buy a copy of the book during the day-long stopover I had in New York on my flight from Los Angeles LAX, via London Heathrow, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  I reached my Central Park hotel late at night and did not sleep well because of the wailing shoals of police trawling for the flotsam and jetsam of the Big Apple’s night life. The sirens echoed loudly down the empty streets between cliff-like skyscraper. As in many big cities, it was clear that crime didn’t sleep.

Waking from my brief unrefreshing sleep, I decided to take a city tour to pass the hours before my late-night flight in the evening.  I had been to New York several times before, but meetings and other university business meant that I had in fact seen very little of the city outside Lower Manhattan.  The tour was scheduled to end at four o’clock in the afternoon giving me at least two hours to hunt for the Omm Se book.

Luck was with me.  The stop light on the Madison Avenue intersection in front of us turns red.  As arranged, the tour bus slides into the left lane allowing me to jump out onto the sidewalk with a quick farewell shout of gratitude to the very pleasant and skilled lady bus driver.  The unlucky fact, however, is that we are running two hours late.  It was five minutes to six.  After those five minutes, all the bookstores in New York are scheduled to close.  Running up to the front door of the Corner Bookstore, I arrive just as a security if putting his key in the large glass door.

“Sorry, we’re closed.  You’ll have to come tomorrow morning,” I’m told.

I point out that tomorrow morning I will be thousands of miles away.  It’s now or ever.  Just as I begin to search in my pocket to find a persuasive greenback, the guard repents and warns me I will have to been very quick. I am likely to find all the sales desk closed already.   A quick glance around the first floor shows multi-tiered shelves of travel, cookery and art books.  No luck here.  I run for the now stationary escalator cooling its jogs after a day of mindless ascents and descents. No time to take the elevator. I bound up the metal steps two at a time to the what Americans call the second floor.  Wrong subjects again, but at least one solitary pay point is manned or should I say ‘womanned’, by an African-American with a significant physical presence probing deeply into the dollar-rich entrails of an antique till. Breathlessly, I describe the book I am desperately seeking.  I might have expected a flat rejection, a disinterest at this late hour of the day, but I was taken totally by surprise by the gales of laughter that my enquiry elicited.

Man, Y’re Dead Lucky Today” she stuttered out as her laughter subsided in an accent whose punched initial consonants and missing final r’s betrayed her Bronx up bring.  “Move You’ Right Hand Off That Pile of Books. Following her instructions, I was spooked to see the Sphinx on the distinctive cover of “The Search for Omm Sety” staring up at me.

Omm Sety Book Cover

This is the Wrong Floo’ for Philosophy and Religion.  The third floo’ sent that stack of unsold books down to me on Friday to return to the publishers this morning. The pickup guy comes every Monday to collect them without fail.  First time in months the guy’s not shown his butt – lucky for you miste’, the casher commented. My amazing luck continues when she charges me a bargain price of five Dollars for the ten-Dollar book.

Safe journey back to the sand and camels.  Rathe’ you than me,” is her passing greeting as she squeezes her bulky fast-food-fed frame out of the kiosk to head homewards to the Bronx.

I also head back to my hotel profusely thanking the impatient security guard, keys posed impatiently in his hands at the front door.  I stop at a small supermarket to buy some paper glue that will hopefully help me hide my newly acquired, distinctly non-kosher book from the Saudi customs.  After a grabbing a light evening meal, I head up to my room and cloak the book in an innocuous tour guide dust jacket and glue any pages with offending religious illustrations lightly together.  My worries are certainly not ill-founded; a lecturer in my department had earned himself a week in jail by trying to smuggle in a banned title into the Kingdom and it had taken me many days, using the kudos of the Military Hospital, to secure his release. I also witnessed a graphic example of Saudi custom’s regulations early in my eleven-year stay in Saudi.  To help broaden the geographical and political horizons of Saudi high school pupils, the Ministry of Education ordered thousands of giant inflatable globes.  With surgical precision, the Saudi Customs cut out the offending State of Israel: a procedure which unfortunately resulted in a rather drastic deflation in the educational benefits of the now non-inflatable globes.  Satisfied with the book’s rudimentary disguise, I ordered a yellow cab to take me to JFK.

During my cab ride I had to time to contemplate the split timing, and the hundreds to one, bookie-breaking odds, that enabled me to literally get my hands on Omm Sety’s biography.  Strangest of all was the moment I found the book lying beneath my right hand at the top of a high stack which had no right to be in the very book shop I had gate-crashed.  Perhaps it was irrational, but I took this as an auspicious start to my pilgrimage.

In-Flight Reading.   The Flight from KFK, New York to Heathrow and on to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. September 1988

During my Heathrow stopover and the total flying time of over twelve hours, I read the fascinating book from cover to cover in case it was confiscated on arrival in Riyadh.  I also had time to plan the investigations and interviews I had in mind for my visit to the Seti I’s Temple at Abydos in Upper Egypt. Although by the time I arrived in Abydos, Omm Sety would have been dead for ten years, I hoped to speak to some of her Egyptian colleagues and villagers who knew her best to check first-hand on the claims reported in the book “The Search for Omm Sety”.

Book Smuggling.  King Khalid Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. September 1988

Arriving safely in the dead of night at King Khalid Airport, Riyadh, I queued rather nervously at the Customs Counter where experience had taught me every suit case is always searched with a convulsive unpacking technique. Sure enough, the custom’s official’s eye homed in on the book I had placed at the top of one my checked-in bags on collecting it from baggage claim and assumed, as I intended, that is was a guide book to Egypt.  The usual flood of questions broke. Where had I been? How long was I there? Where did I go? What did I do?

Ah, Al-Qāhirah – Misr (Cairo, Egypt)!” he sniggers. “Plenty of ……. (mime of the hand movements of an over-enthusiastic drinker, and … (hands up in the air and a clumsy, heavy-weight attempt at belly dancing,”  His oscillating abdominal mass scores an easy six on the Richter scale.  I laugh to humour him. All is well.  My bags are anointed with the required chalk marks and I head with relief to the exit and taxi stand.

The Abydos Plan.  The Military Hospital, Riyadh Saudi ArabiaSeptember 1988 – March 1989

Now back in Saudi Arabia, and the First Gulf War ended, I had time to study my clandestine text and arrange an Easter visit to Abydos.  Listing the evidence for reincarnation embedded in the story of Omm Sety’s life, I began to plan the interviews and investigations for my week-long stay near the ancient temple.  As the scientist’s mantra puts it “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I was determined, at my first port of call on my paranormal pilgrimage, to play the sceptical role of ‘devil’s advocate’ applying the same critical thinking I would apply to my scientific research.  In televised discussions, Carl Sagan, the noted American astronomer and popular science writer/TV presenter, considered Omm Sety as “a lively, intelligent, dedicated woman who made real contributions to Egyptology. This is true whether her belief in reincarnation is fact or fantasy.” She had as he cautioned, “nevertheless carried strong childhood, adolescent fantasies into adulthood.

Carl Sagan was one of the very few objective, sceptics to voice his opinion on the taboo subject of reincarnation. Over that long, hot Californian summer, I became increasingly annoyed at the unfair tactics employed by the atheistic scientists who are always invited to TV discussions on the paranormal.  In my opinion, extreme dogmatic atheism is a religion.

Scepticism is, however, a very important approach in the study of the paranormal and one that I was determined to apply in my Abydos investigations while taking care to avoid the ‘tricks of the sceptics’ trade’.

The Abydos Investigation:  The Temple of Seti I, Abydos, Upper EgyptSpring 1989

Walking across the restored temple roof, I look down into what Omm Sety rightly claims was once a garden with tall cedar trees imported from Lebanon.  I mentally review her extraordinary life and claims.  The amorous advances of Pharaoh Seti I in the temple gardens unfortunately changed her status from consecrated to desecrated Vestal Virgin.  After confessing her resulting pregnancy to the temple authorities, rather than facing trial, a likely death sentence, and disgracing the Pharaoh, Omm Sety chose suicide as the most honorable exit from her previous life.

The tangibly sacred atmosphere of this ancient site reminds me of the mountain-ringed serenity of Delphi, Greece. Abydos, however, was one of the earliest sites of civilization at the dawn of writing and scholarship, with links to the first centres of civilization in Mesopotamia, three thousand years before the shinning white marble pillars of the Delphi temple (400 BC) fluted their way into the azure Grecian sky.

Abydos Temple

The tombs of the pre-dynastic kings of Egypt (3 000 – 2 890 BC) were the first step in a long, ancient architectural journey that would eventually lead to the construction of the Great Pyramids (2 500 BC) of the Old Kingdom centuries later.  Over one thousand, two hundred and fifty years of turbulent Egyptian dynastic history were to pass before Seti began building a New Kingdom temple, which would then be completed by his son, the great Rameses the Second.

If Omm Sety’s recollection of her previous life was genuine, I am walking on the roof where she walked, as a temple priestess, three thousand, four hundred years ago.  Before leaving for Egypt, I had confirmed the triggers for Dorothy Eady’s obsession with Ancient Egypt.

Trigger 1: The first trigger was certainly a fall down a long flight of stairs at the age of three at her parents’ London home. Her apparently lifeless body was examined by a hastily summoned doctor who declared her clinically dead. On his return to the house with a nurse to remove her body, the doctor was shocked to find the young girl playing normally.  What was also abnormal after the fall were the traumatic experiences and tales of a strange land and people reported from her dreams. One skeptical psychiatrist who specialized in adolescent behaviour suggested that the origin of these strange nightly dreams, and daily obsession with Egypt, might be due to the damage of a region of the brain, the locus ceruleus, that controls awareness of the body’s surroundings. If this were true, Dorothy’s memories of Egypt were literally be all in her mind.

Trigger 2.  The pictures of temples and life in ancient Egypt in books and encyclopedias also excited the young Dorothy and fed her desire to “return to her people.”
Seti 1Trigger 3: Hoping to temper their daughter’s strange behaviour, Dorothy’s parents arranged a visit to the Egyptian Galleries of the British Museum.  Much to their embarrassment, on entering the first gallery, Dorothy ran around shouting “my people, my people” as she kissed the statues’ feet.  When she saw a photograph in the New Kingdom Temple Exhibits Room of Seti the First’s temple at Abydos she exclaimed “This is my home!” but “where are the trees? Where are the gardens?”  She also started chanting loudly in a strange, alien language. During her subsequent frequent visits to the gallery museum staff told her that Abydos was three miles from the River Nile in a desert region that lacked the water needed for to make a garden, let alone grow the giant trees she saw in her mind’s eye. Dorothy disagreed vigorously insisting petulantly that “there were beautiful gardens and trees.” On one of her visits, she chanced to meet Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge, Keeper of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities and one of the foremost British Egyptologists of his day. Impressed by Dorothy’s youthful enthusiasm, Dr Budge encouraged her to study hieroglyphs.  Up to this point in the story, sceptics could rightly argue that all Dorothy’s memories and vision were based on what she read in books, heard in radio programs, and gleaned from her museum visits.  Now, however, we come to first piece of interesting evidence that makes her claims more complicated and significant.  Dorothy’s instructors at the British Museum were amazed by the fact Dorothy learned in days or a few weeks what it took even the best Egyptologist students took months or years of diligent study to master.  When complemented on her speed and accuracy in mastering the difficult art of reading hieroglyphics, she responded with oft-reported words of reincarnates “I am not learning, just revising what I already know.”

After being evacuated from London to Eastbourne, Sussex during the London Blitz, she attended Plymouth Art School where she honed the artistic and drafting skills that would prove to be useful in Egypt, the country to which she moved after her marriage to Emam Abdel Meguid, a young English teacher. Her only child, a son, who she named Seti was born in Cairo.  After her baby’s birth, in accordance with the practice in the Arab world, Dorothy Eady acquired a new name – Omm Sety (Mother of Seti).   Following the departure of her husband to teach in Iraq, her short-lived marriage broke down, but she remained in Cairo with her son and worked with two of the leading Egyptologists of the day, Selim Hassan and Ahmed Fakhry, acting as their secretary and draughtswoman.  She corrected the archaeologists’ English articles and wrote many articles of her own.

My hunt in Cairo for archaeologists who worked for Omm Sety proved to be rather disappointing since many of the Department of Antiquities had either died or retired to the far-flung corners of Egypt.  Employees in the department who knew Omm Sety were, however, unanimous in their praise for her scholarship, skills and uncanny knowledge of ancient Egypt.  The prefaces of learned Egyptology texts are peppered with posthumous accolades to the Omm Sety. In the words of one Egyptologist I interviewed, Omm Sety was a “first-rate draughtswoman and prolific and talented writer who, even under her own name, produced articles, essays, monographs and books of great range, wit and substance.” All who knew her agreed, yes she was an eccentric, but certainly not a fraud nor a crank.  Most important of all for my investigation, the former colleagues I managed to contact unanimously confirmed her inexplicable knowledge of the Abydos temple site.  Time and time again, when excavators followed her directions and predictions, they discovered structures and objects that had lain undisturbed for nearly two-and-a-half thousand years beneath desert sand.

Looking down from the temple roof, I ticked off the Omm Sety’s confirmed ‘location hits’ across the temple courtyard that was now a barren, rock-strewn wasteland scarred by the craters of numerous excavations.

  • The garden and row of massive cedar trees. Omm Seti, since her childhood and adolescence, had spoken in raptured praise of beauty of the temple gardens. Egyptologists were highly sceptical of her claim and believed that cedar trees could never have grown in the arid, desert climate of Abydos.  Following her instructions, however, excavators found a row of massive fossilized cedar tree roots at the exact location and running in the same direction as Omm Seti had predicted. Investigations since her death revealed that the Nile has moved to the east over the last two thousand years.  In Seti the First’s time, it would have flowed past the front of Abydos Temple.
  • The sacred pond. A second accurate prediction was the location of a large sacred pond which Omm Sety remembered as being covered with a canopy of water lilies that shaded the meandering swims of ornamental fish.
  • The well. A third ‘location hit’ was the buried deep well found in one corner of the courtyard exactly at the spot Omm Sety had indicated.
  • A tunnel running under the north side of the temple. Excavation that she directed again confirmed her memories of the tunnel.
  • Numerous artefacts. Following her directions, an impressive list of artefacts accurately described at exact locations where she predicted they were buried.
  • The location of the tomb of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten.   Omm Sety’s claims that during the night-time dream visits of her former lover Seti and the Egyptian god Hor-Ra, she was told that the missing tomb of Queen Nefertiti would be discovered in a very unexpected place – very near the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. Intriguingly, radar probes have revealed voids, large empty spaces, behind Tutankhamun’s tomb which some unearthed wax seals suggest might be the resting place of the queen whose bust is one of the most evocative icons of ancient Egypt.

Nefretiti

It will be fascinating if planned excavations prove Omm Sety’s prediction to be true.

Omm Sety’s long list of correct ‘location hits’ led one English Egyptologist to comment during a visit to the Great Pyramid, with nods of approval from a large group archaeologists accompanying him, “if Omm Sety were still here, I’d take her word for where things can be found, any day, over the most-state-of-the-art equipment out there.”

One of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting Omm Sety’s reincarnation claims is the controlled experiment conducted by a former Director of the Department of Antiquities.  The director ticks one of the most important boxes in my requirements for a credible witness; both his religion and concerns to preserve his professional reputation as a leading Egyptologist qualified him to be a highly sceptical witness.  Both Shia and Sunni Moslems are vermanently opposed to the idea of reincarnation. The Druz religion, however, with its blend of Islamic monotheism, Greek philosophy and Hindu influences, does believe in reincarnation.  On one of his trips to Abydos, the director was accompanied by Omm Seti who hadn’t visited the site after the discovery of new wall paintings in the temple.  No details of the paintings had been published at that time.  The director, sceptical of Omm Sety’s claims, took the opportunity of testing her claims.  He stood her in complete darkness before the newly uncovered wall and asked to locate and describe, from right to left (Arabic style), and from top to bottom, the wall paintings based on her memories of what she had seen through the eyes of Bentreshyt (her name in her previous incarnation) thousands of years ago.  The director was shocked by the one-hundred-percent accuracy of her descriptions.

Contrast this solid evidence with the comments of Carl Sagan, one of the most fair-minded of the reincarnation critics, “there was no independent record, other than her own accounts, to verify what Omm Sety claims. She remembered her strong childhood, adolescent fantasies” into adulthood.”  Here, I believe, Carl Sagan is applying two of the tools in the sceptic’s toolkit; he is confusing a trigger of reincarnation memories with their source, and is ignoring many factual details.  One of the most powerful lines of evidence for reincarnation is when, as in the case of Omm Sety, an alleged reincarnate, claims something to be true that is either denied by the current academic wisdom, or is an unknown fact that couldn’t be gleaned from books, museum visits or films/TV/radio programs.  How could Omm Sety’s childhood and adolescent fantasies based on book articles and visits to the British Museum enable her to locate, with uncanny accuracy, location of structures and artifacts, and in darkness point out the location and content of wall paintings at Abydos that had yet to be described?

My Abydos enquiries, through an interpreter, also confirmed both the fear and respect for the strange English lady who lived in their midst for twenty-five years.  Her knowledge of ancient medicine and herbs cured many of their ills whilst many of the teenage players in the informal local soccer team witnessed the success of her infertility treatment.  Most feared of all was the hand-fed pet cobra she housed in her small temple office and controlled with her hypnotic spells.

I left Abydos having found strong supporting evidence for the claims made in “The Search for Omm Sety”.  This success encouraged me to continue my studies of reincarnation and other paranormal phenomena.

Many facts about my life are indeed stranger than fiction, but I can assure the reader that all the events narrated in this account are one hundred percent true.