Walk softly and carry a big ankh

The sun rises like a golden crown behind the California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Hurrying toward the de Young Museum, I stop briefly to reread the mysterious e-mail: “Meet us at the Pool of Enchantment at 8:10 a.m.” I’m joining a private tour of the King Tut exhibit, organized by the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. The institute promotes the theories of Carl Jung, trains Jungian analysts and maintains an archive of universal symbols, both ancient and modern. I was about to be initiated into a secret so powerful it nearly destroyed an empire.

I veer right and see the pool in winter disarray. At center is a sculpture of Pan playing a flute to two mesmerized cougars. The tale of Pan’s death is a famous allegory of the end of one era and the start of another, the perfect symbol for what lies ahead.

A tour guide emerges from the museum. “Everything I tell you can be true, or not. It’s the truth as if you are listening to Old and New Testament scholars debate,” she says as our small group follows her into the exhibit. She stops suddenly at the entrance of a darkened room. “Go in and listen to the 90 seconds of hype in the video and then I’ll take you underneath the hype,” she says.

“Very Jungian,” a man says solemnly.

Egypt’s 18th dynasty would have been a historical footnote if not for the discovery of 19-year-old Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb in the 1920s. Tombs were miniature universes for the deceased. Tut was buried with pure gold treasures, plus board games, linen underwear, a bronze razor, workers and cases of food and wine. He was ready for anything.

Given his life above ground, he needed to be. Tut inherited a country in turmoil from King Amenhotep IV, who might have been Tut’s father. Amenhotep had advocated the worship of one god, rather than many, and chose the minor god, Aten, visualized as a disk of the sun. Then Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten, had faces erased from statues of other deities and moved away from the city with his wife, Queen Nefertiti. He anointed himself Aten’s only son and sole high priest. He advocated new styles of architecture, art and realism. He was the first Pharaoh shown worshipping with his queen, although he has breasts and a protruding stomach in the images.

“He looks pregnant,” I say to the guide, “like he’s preparing to birth a new world order.”

“I’ve never heard that before,” she says, eyes widening.

Akhenaten’s innovations inspired panic among the Egyptians, who were already anxious by nature—“That’s why they had so many spells and curses,” the guide says—so, as Pharaoh, Tut restored the old traditions. The guide motions forward, but another woman and I stare at a statue.

“It looks exactly like Michael Jackson,” I say.

“Don’t be sacrilegious,” she shoots back.

As we catch up with the guide, a man in a fedora and leather jacket is shaking her hand. “Thank you very much,” he says.

“I’ll see you on the other side,” she promises.