In the Valley of the Kings
Now it is late evening. In my room on the Moon Goddess, I write about our visit to Abydos, sacred to Osiris, about Hathor’s temple at Dendera. I write of resurrection and greening, of partnership and the sacred marriage within the self, of joy and rebirth. As I write, tiredness drains the feelings of joy, like wine spilling from an overturned goblet.
I pray that tomorrow will bring some fresh magic when we visit the Valley of the Kings.
Four o’clock. The wake-up call sounds. There is just time to shower and dress, to gather in the ship’s lobby for coffee, before we board the feluccas to cross the Nile. The waning moon is still bright, lighting our way as she descends from her midnight perch. On the far shore, the bus waits to take us to a gorge once hidden among rocky ravines, now accessible by roads.
Some thirteen thousand visitors are expected today in the Valley of the Kings, Samai tells us. Yesterday there were seventeen thousand. Though we reach the entrance just before the gates open at six a.m., two other buses are there ahead of us, their passengers already climbing out.
the Valley of the Kings
Beyond the entrance, we walk a dusty roadway under the looming mountains, still in the grip of darkness. Small signs on posts identify tombs that have been found here and excavated over the past century and a half. I had expected something like a street of tombs in tidy rows; instead I see a muddle of up and down, wide spaces between some, others close together. Choices may have been based on where an entrance could be made, a deep passage dug, hiddenness valued over order or relative closeness to another tomb.
A small opening in the side of the stone hill leads into the tomb of Ramses IX. Inside, we walk along a raised floor made of wooden planks, holding guide ropes on either side. I think of the fictional Amelia Peabody, that intrepid nineteenth century explorer of tombs and pyramids, who gloried in the dust and danger and bat droppings … ours is a more sanitized, less dramatic, journey inwards. The walls of the entrance way are inscribed, floor to ceiling, with a plethora of hieroglyphs, a whole book it appears. What story accompanies this pharaoh on his way to eternity?
interior of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings
The hallway opens into a room dominated by a great sarcophagus made of granite. I wonder how long the pharaoh’s body rested here before being unceremoniously taken away, hurled by the tomb robbers of Gurnah into a jumbled heap with the mummies of many other luminous pharaohs. In 1881 the hidden bodies were found by the Deputy Director of the Cairo Museum, after intense questioning of one of the descendants of millennia of tomb robbers. A week later, two hundred men arrived to carefully pack up the mummies and carry them to the Nile where a ship was waiting to take them to the Cairo Museum. Where, I realize suddenly, we saw them on our second night in Egypt.
After the briefest of visits, really just a circular walk in and out again, we move towards another tomb entrance. A marker near the open doorway identifies the tomb as belonging to Tausert, a little-known Pharaoh Queen, a descendant of the great Ramses 11. This tomb is spacious, welcoming, and as we move into the deeper room where the sarcophagus, long emptied of its occupant, rests, I have a sense of beauty, of colour in the wall paintings.
Jean gathers us into a circle around the empty coffin, invites us to send forth from this place a blessing of peace. Standing here in the tomb’s heart, our voices lift in song, chanting the single word Shan-ti.
Suddenly we are in darkness. Our song, a living thing, resonates, moves in waves around the tomb. As we send this blessing into the universe, the darkness feels choreographed, part of the planning for this ritual. I wonder who found the switch, turned off the inner lights.
We move out from the tomb’s centre to a larger open space, where we pause to experience the quiet. I am standing close to the left wall, beside a luminous painting, a woman’s body, blue-winged, with the head of an ibex, like the deer who greeted me in my roadway the night before I left for Egypt. The wingspread reminds me of my Isis bracelet.
wall painting of ibex with outspread wings in the tomb of Tausert
Suddenly I sense, I know, here in this ancient place, the presence of a great overarching, protective, loving, being. A Sacred One. I know this with my entire self, and the knowing fills me with surprise and joy. I taste the Holy and I am crying.
Slowly, returning to awareness of the group, I realize that on the far side of the room, there is a rustling, a whispering. Cinder, one of our Mystery School companions who has in recent years been losing her eyesight, calls out, “I can see clearly”. Jean invites us to sing the Pachelbel Canon. Our voices rise together, in several harmonic parts, as though we’d been rehearsing for weeks. I open my throat and a rich sound pours out. “Al-le-lu-ia”. Something wonderful is happening here. I don’t begin to understand it, nor do I feel, for once, any need to understand.
We emerge from the tomb. The large group of Japanese tourists who had been waiting to enter has vanished. Samai is looking rather shaken. He tells us that our singing made the tomb tremble and the Japanese ran off in terror.
Jean appears unsurprised by this. “These tombs were built for resonance. They were meant to be sung in.”
Asked about the sudden darkness, Samia is puzzled. No one had turned off the lights.
(to be continued)
(taken from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind, Anne Kathleen McLaughlin, Borealis Press Publishers, Ottawa, Canada 2013 http://borealispress.com )