As we have been listening to the story of Isis and Osiris, the Moon Goddess has been carrying us down the Nile to Edfu, a journey of sixty-five miles. We don warmer layers. Tonight we are to make a private visit to the temple dedicated to Horus. Edfu is one of Egypt’s newer temples, built during the time of the Ptolemies after the conquest by Alexander the Great. It has been restored to magnificence, one of the greatest achievements of the Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass.
As we approach the temple we see it shimmering gold, majestic against the black night, lit from below with what might be a hundred torches. In another story, in another time, it would have been a fairytale castle. The ascending light illumines great carved figures stretching up along its outer walls. They call out their names, through the symbols they wear as crowns: Osiris, Seth, Horus… but I still cannot be certain who they are in the darkness of night, in my unknowing.
The Temple at Edfu
Inside, a statue of the falcon-headed god Horus, wearing a pharaoh’s crown, stands on a small pedestal, at our eye level, welcoming us to his temple.
the falcon-headed god Horus
We wander through, find in one of the chambers the Sky Goddess Nut painted across the ceiling, her arms reaching along one side, her legs with a ballerina’s pointed toes, stretching to the other side. This is the first sight that would have greeted the dead king upon his awakening to eternal life. Nut would be there hovering above him, stars shining across her body. The Mother Goddess who births Ra at dawn and swallows him at dusk. The Mother Goddess who brings joy with sunrise, darkness with evening.
Samai shows us the Graeco-Roman bas-relief carvings, created by cutting around the figures, releasing them from stone. This requires great skill as it is far more difficult than cutting the figures into the stone. In one carving the king is wearing a transparent overskirt. Stone on stone with the delicacy of silk.
Some of the reliefs show parts of the story of Isis and Osiris, the great battles between Seth and Horus. Others show the annual festival of the first fruits at the time of the new moon which celebrated the sacred marriage of Horus and Hathor. The rejoicing lasted for fourteen days, until the waning of the full moon, when the statue of Hathor was returned to Dendera.
In the inner sanctuary we see the boat that was carried here by the king and the priests for the Celebration of the Royal Marriage. Made of wood, with poles on either side for ease in carrying, the boat is small, very like the conveyances used to carry statues of Mary in procession. On the front of the boat, a stone figurehead leans forward, wearing a carved pectoral, its once glorious colours faded to a small patch of blue.
“You are all here but your ancestors were here,” Jean Houston begins. “So we bring together the context of our ancestral lives. All of these things on the wall are the ancestral lives as they are coded not just to priests and priestesses, and kings and queens, but in the very gods, the great creative principles themselves…. Christ is certainly a descendent of Osiris. Buddha is a descendent of Thoth and so it goes, Athena of Neith, Mary of Hathor and of Isis. They’re all here and they’re here with us now.
“Look at your right hand and consider that to contain the world of the fathers, the males of the ancestry. Look at your left hand. Consider that to be the world of the mothers, and the grandmothers and the great grandmothers, going all the way back to those ancestors. Somehow between the worlds of the fathers on the right and the worlds of the mothers on the left, they got to meet each other, through the centuries, through the generations, yes, even through the millennia.
“Somehow they found each other to ultimately result in this unique pattern in space and time called you.
“We celebrate the coming together as we celebrate the coming together of Hathor and Horus, the coming together of your ancestral mothers and your ancestral fathers. But we do it with consciousness now.”
“We’ll meet them with their joyous meeting, their divine hieros gamos, their sacred marriage, their great conjunction.”
“Feel the merriment of the men and women finding each other, so that you may be. Feel the marriage celebrations, feel the birth of the babies, feel the dying and the reborning.
“ You are sending the message back to that world of the fathers on the right, and the world of the mothers on the left, and you are saying, Remember. Remember me. I come forth from you.”
For me, images of ancient Ireland replace those of Egypt, forefathers and foremothers going about the tasks of their daily lives, fisher folk, farmers, shepherds in that green land of soft mists, their faces bearing contours of my remembered aunts and uncles. I see Celtic versions of myself, a young woman in love, a storyteller, a wise older woman, a herbalist…
Jean invites us to look ahead to the future descendants of our bodies or our minds, receiving a blessing from them, accepting their gratitude for what we did for their lives. I think of my work, the deepening call to weave the new spirituality using the finest threads, the most brilliantly coloured, from the old in the pattern.
“So you are the term between, holding past and future, holding the ancestors. Then take the hand of the one in the future. Take the hand of the one in the past, and bring them here in the front of your heart and as with the knot of Isis, put those hands together. And world and time have been connected again, and in you.
“And from this moment forth, should you choose, you will have all of these great ones, small ones, low ones, mad ones, crazy ones, genius ones, children galore, all who have created you, together in you. And the wisdom and the essence of sheer livingness are contained in you now.
“We go out from here with a festival… a Sufi Islamic dance, to be done very slowly and very carefully. Right hand to right hand, and we’re going to sing. Our hands joined, we do a greeting dance, spinning in pairs in this small space, then joining hands in one great circle as we sing: All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”
After the ritual, there is more time to wander through the great temple, to take photos of the beautiful carvings. Gleaming golden in the soft lighting, carved in bas-relief, Hathor, goddess of love and joy, stands looking away from me as I take a photo.
(excerpt from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press Ottawa 2013 ( http://borealispress.com)