On the morning following our visit to Abu Simbel, we board our ship, the Moon Goddess, which will carry us from Aswan to Luxor, stopping at temples and sacred sites on the way. The first night on board, I sit on the small deck that opens off my bedroom, gazing out at the Nile shimmering under the darkening sky, reflecting on the wonders of the past days, writing in my journal. I feel as though I am swimming in love. I sleep early, to prepare for our early morning wake up call, our journey to Philae Island, sacred to Isis.
The moon in her fullness creates a golden rippled path on the Nile at four in the morning. It is not yet dawn when we disembark, stepping onto the island. The terrain is of rough stones. I have a sense of hovering trees, low full-leaved bushes, great stone arches, pillars, columns, temples, more Greek than Egyptian. We move carefully in the darkness, following Jean into one of the vast stone temples, towards its sacred heart. A cat has shown up, leads us straight to the entrance, waits as each one enters.
“We know that we are well seen and well blessed,” Jean says. “So often the holy ones show up in the form of the animal.”
The sanctuary of Isis is so tiny that we stand together like people in an elevator. Within this chamber, at the centre and towards the back, there is a stone pedestal, incised with hieroglyphs. This is where the sacred boat of the goddess Isis once rested. The surrounding walls are intricately carved with hieroglyphs as well. I see a delicate fan of outspread wings, recognize the curve and grace as just what I saw on the papyrus of the winged Isis I bought in Cairo. I see on another part of the wall a snake, and then a hawk that is the symbol of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. I look at the outpouring of carefully inscribed wisdom, feel something of the powerlessness, the utter frustration I felt as child before I knew how to read.
In the still darkness, Jean speaks of the writings of the second century Latin writer Lucius Apuleius. “In his story, The Golden Ass, Lucius has done some very naughty magic and has been turned into an ass. After strange adventures, he meets the goddess Isis who changes him back into his own humanity, but does so by giving an epiphany of who and what she really is.
“Here is how Lucius saw her: she had an abundance of hair that fell gently in dispersed ringlets upon the divine neck. A crown of interlaced wreaths and varying flowers rested upon her head; and in its midst, just over the brow, there hung a plain circlet resembling a mirror or rather a miniature moon – for it emitted a soft clear light. This ornament was supported on either side by vipers that rose from the furrows of the Earth; and above it blades of grain were disposed. Her garment, dyed many colours, was woven of fine flax. One part was gleaming white; another was yellow as the crocus; another was flamboyant with the red of roses.
But what obsessed my gazing eyes by far the most was her pitch-black cloak that shone with a dark glow. It was wrapped around her, passing from under the right arm over the left shoulder and fastened with a knot like the boss of a shield. Part of it fell down in pleated folds and swayed gracefully with a knotted fringe along the hem. Upon the embroidered edges and over the whole surface sprinkled stars were burning; and in the centre a mid-month moon breathed forth her floating beams. Lastly, a garland wholly composed of every kind of fruit and flower clung of its own accord to the fluttering border of that splendid robe.
Such was the goddess as, breathing forth the spices of pleasant Arabia, she condescended with her divine voice to address me: “Behold, Lucius,” she said, “moved by your prayer I come to you – I , the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity, the queen of those in hell, the first among those in Heaven, the uniform manifestation of all gods and goddesses– I who govern by my nod the crests of light in the sky, the purifying wafts of the ocean, and the lamentable silences of hell – I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names….
“But those who are enlightened by the earliest rays of that divinity the sun, the Ethiopians, the Arii, and the Egyptians who excel in antique lore, all worship me with their ancestral ceremonies and call me by my true name, Queen Isis.
“Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid. Eternal (spirituality) has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”
“The day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness,” Jean repeats. “This is the place of the birth of new hope, this is the place of the birthing of new life.”
We are invited to call out all the names of Isis as we know her. I hear the names flow like a litany….Mystical Rose, Mary in all her forms, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Queen of Creation, Great Protector, Mother Holy, Star of the Sea, Great Protector, Eyes of Wisdom, Neter of the Heart, Mama Mia, Great Mother Gaia, Inanna, Tower of Ivory, Sophia, the Black Madonna….
This outpouring of names concludes with the title: “She who calls out to us to be born.”
We cry out together a great OMMMMMMM.
“That sound was like one great voice,” Samei our guide tells us when we emerge. But he looks troubled. “I am sorry. I made a mistake. I never should have allowed your full group to enter at the same time. That chamber is much too small to hold so many people at once.”
But it did.