For five days, the Moon Goddess is our home, carrying us down the Nile to Luxor and its temples and tombs. From our “mother ship” we take smaller journeys such as the one to Philae and the Sanctuary of Isis, by felucca, the tiny sailing boats that have navigated the Nile for millennia.
felucca on the Nile near Aswan
Today we set out for Elephantine Island, ancient center of the ivory trade, near Aswan. The island is the place of worship of the Egyptian god Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, of potters and of silt, who acted in trinity with the goddesses Satet, who personifies the star Sirius, whose rising signals the inundation of the Nile, and Anuket, nourisher of the fields.
I watch the elderly dark-skinned Nubian sailor orchestrate the thick ropes that control the sails of the felucca. Both his hands and his feet engage in the task, a graceful dance that he must have been performing for decades. A young sailor, black curls framing a strikingly beautiful face, sings a Nubian love song as we sail. He follows this with a lively, strongly- accented, “Comin’ Round the Mountain”, which he has learned, I think, to please American tourists. “What about Canada?” someone in our group asks. He smiles, ready, says confidently, “Canada Dry” ( naming a popular gingerale).
Samei takes a plastic cup, and, leaning over the edge of the felucca, fills it with Nile River water. He lifts it to his lips, drinks. The Nile is kept clean, he tells us, by a threat of six months in prison for fouling the water.
The felucca draws up to a pier with stairs leading to the surface of this island. We walk past stone houses, masses of pink flowers in the gardens, trees with delicate leaves. A goat is tethered nearby, placidly eating a flower. I take out my camera, hoping for a photo. She must be accustomed to such requests for she turns obligingly, looks directly at the camera while I press the shutter, then turns back to her flower.
Beneath the surface of Elephantine Island, archaeologists have found layers of ruined cities and have already unearthed twenty-four. Legend and artefacts testify that the Ark of the Covenant rested here for a time. This is the place where Isis came in disguise to a council of the gods.
map of Egypt
We walk along a road that leads past the scattered ruins of ancient stone buildings until we reach the place dedicated to Khnum, whose name means, “to create”. Blocks of stone fitted together form a great arch that stretches high above our heads. We stand in silence before it, reaching into the distant past to touch the sacred intent of this place. Around us the ground is littered with scraps and shards of reddish pottery.
“From the clay of the Nile River, Khnum molded the bodies and souls of children on his potter’s wheel, and placed these in the mother’s womb,” Jean says. “Pick up a piece of the pottery, and scratch onto it a word or phrase that expresses what you want to create for the planet. What will be your great gift?”
I think of what I am experiencing, how the narrow limits of my childhood and early adulthood spirituality are being softened, expanded to include so much that is both new and ancient here. Isis and Mary are being rewoven together in my soul. I want to create a weaving that others may also embrace with joy.
“Weave,” I scratch onto the surface of a piece of broken clay. I reach down, dig a hole in the ground, bury my promise here on the island of the potter god. Jean invites us to call out a name of God, and mingling with our voices, we hear the cry of the muezzin.
After the ritual, we walk around the grey ruins, the sky a wash of palest pink, deepening to peach then to dusty rose. The moon appears, almost at full. We make our way back to the pier where we board the felucca for our return to the Moon Goddess.
On our way back to the ship, the full darkness of early evening descends. We make a stop at a Nubian perfume and essential oils factory store. We are invited in by the owners, given places to sit on comfortable couches, welcomed to a feast of scents, as one by one small containers of essential oils are opened, releasing aromas that perfumed the air of ancient Egypt: jasmine, lotus, rose, lavender. The scents of the flowers from which they were extracted enter my nostrils, creating visions of priestesses dancing in ceremony, blessing the air with their fragrance.
I want to create rituals when I return home, imagine blessing the women who come with these perfumed oils. I would like to take home a small vial of each, but when I ask the price I know I must choose only one. I choose lotus, the oil of the sixth Chakra, the third eye, wisdom. When we leave the store, I am carrying a tiny box, papered with a design of pyramids.
The next stop is the Nubian Market, a feast of bright fabrics, healing herbs, brilliant glass, wooden necklaces, spices….I draw in the sights, the scents, the festival atmosphere, but do not purchase anything. My vial of lotus oil is treasure enough for one day.
When we return to the ship, I decide to skip the dinner awaiting us in the dining room. 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.