The first episode of the Sopranos' final season began with a montage and a recording of William S. Burroughs reading an excerpt from "The Western Lands", where he discusses seven Egyptian souls and the roles some of them play when it's time to die. The montage voiceover only covered a bit of the excerpt, and you may not have thought much about it once the shot of Meadow dancin 'bout in her skivvies showed up on the screen. At the time there was speculation about the meaning behind each character onscreen when each soul was described, but to me it seems that there was no connection between the visual and the audio in this case ... but in the end, the souls were connected to someone or something.
Here is the Burroughs excerpt. See how many souls you can connect with an element or character from the final season of the show! I'll mark where the montage audio ended with a nice horizontal rule. The rest of it I'll keep in up to a point so you can read on.
The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.
Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren, the Secret Name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that's where Ren came in.
Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.
Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she, or it is third man out ... depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. Sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense-but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the Land of the Dead.
Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk's body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.
Number five is Ka, the Double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands.
Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.
Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.
I first encountered this concept in Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings, and saw that it corresponded precisely with my own mythology, developed over a period of many years, since birth in fact.
Ren, the Director, the Secret Name, is your life story, your destiny-in one word or one sentence, what was your life about?
Billy the Kid: Quien es?
And what is the Ren of the Director?
Actors frantically packing in thousands of furnished rooms and theatrical hotels: "Don't bother with all that junk, John. The Director is onstage! And you know what that means in show biz: every man for himself "
Sekem corresponds to my Technician: Lights. Action. Camera.
"Look, boss, we don't got, enough Sek to fry an elderly woman in a fleabag hotel fire. And you want a hurricane?"
"Well, Joe, we'll just have to start faking it."
"Fucking moguls don't even know what buttons to push or what happens when you push them. Sure, start faking it and leave the details to Joe."
Look, from a real disaster you get a pig of Sek: sacrifice, tears, heartbreak, heroism and violent death. Always remember, one case of VD yields more Sek than a cancer ward. And you get the lowest acts of which humans are capable-remember the Italian steward who put on women's clothes and so filched a seat in a lifeboat? "A cur in human shape, certainly he was born and saved to set a new standard by which to judge infamy and shame."
With a Sek surplus you can underwrite the next one, but if the first one's a fake you can't underwrite a shithouse.
Sekem is second man out: "No power left in this set." He drinks a bicarbonate of soda and disappears in a belch.
Lots of people don't have a Khu these days. No Khu would work for them. Mafioso Don: "Get offa me, Khu crumb! Worka for a living!"
Ba, the Heart: that's sex. Always treacherous. Suck all the Sek out of a man. Many Bas have poison juices.
The Ka is about the only soul a man can trust. If you don't make it, he don't make it. But it is very difficult to contact your real Ka.
Sekhu is the physical body, and the planet is mostly populated with walking Sekhus, just enough Sek to keep them moving.
The Venusian invasion is a takeover of the souls. Ren is degraded by Hollywood down to John Wayne levels. Sekem works for the Company. The Khus are all transparent fakes. The Bas is rotten with AIDS. The Ka is paralyzed. Khaibit sits on you like a nagging wife. Sekhu is poisoned with radiation and contaminants and cancer.
There is intrigue among the souls, and treachery. No worse fate can befall a man than to be surrounded by traitor souls. And what about Mr. Eight-Ball, who has these souls? They don't exist without him, and he gets the dirty end of every stick.
Eights of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dirty rotten vampires.
A hundred years ago there were rat-killing dogs known as "Fancies." A man bet on his "Fancy," how many rats he would kill. The rats were confined in a circular arena too high for a rat to jump over. But they formed pyramids, so that the top rats could escape.
Sekhu is bottom rat in the pyramid. Like the vital bottom integer in a serial, when that goes, the whole serial universe goes up in smoke. It never existed.
Angelic boys who walk on water, sweet inhuman voices from a distant star. The Khu, sweet bird of night, with luminous wings and a head of light, flies across the full moon . . . a born-again redneck raises his shotgun. . . .
The Egyptians recognized many degrees of immortality. The Ren and the Sekem and the Khu are relatively immortal, but still subject to injury. The other souls who survive physical death are much more precariously situated.
Can any soul survive the searing fireball of an atomic blast? If human and animal souls are seen as electromagnetic force fields, such fields could be totally disrupted by a nuclear explosion. The mummy's nightmare: disintegration of souls, and this is precisely the ultrasecret and supersensitive function of the atom bomb: a Soul Killer, to alleviate an escalating soul glut.
"Stacked up, you understand, like cordwood, and nonrecyclable by the old Hellfire expedient, like fucking plastics."
We have to stay ahead of ourselves and the Ivans, lest some joker endanger national security by braying out, "You have souls. You can survive your physical death!"
Ruins of Hiroshima on screen. Pull back to show the Technician at a switchboard. Behind him, Robert Oppenheimer flanked by three middle-aged men in dark suits, with the cold dead look of heavy power.
The Technician twiddles his knobs. He gives the O.K. sign.
"Are you sure?"
The Technician shrugs. "The instruments say so."
Oppy says: "Thank God it wasn't a dud."
"Oh, uh, hurry with those printouts, Joe."
"Yes, sir." He looked after them sourly, thinking: Thank Joe it wasn't a dud. God doesn't know what buttons to push.