The Temple of Luxor
After dinner that evening, when full darkness has risen to cloak Luxor where the Moon Goddess is docked once more, we gather in the ship’s lobby. The dockside doors are open, and we pass through them into the lobby of a second, then a third ship, this one securely nudged beside the dock. From there we climb a set of steep stone stairs to the street. In a line, awaiting us, are horse-drawn carriages, their wooden wheels and body painted black and red, their seats made of leather, still carry the faded elegance of a nineteenth century “surrey with the fringe on top”. Their drivers turn towards us in welcome.
We are on our way to the Temple of Luxor but we take a circuitous route through the back streets of the ancient city which Homer in The Iliad called “Thebes of the hundred gates.” We pass parents walking with small children whose faces illumine the night. There are clusters of men, talking, laughing, gathered outside shops and houses. Only rarely do I see women and these stay very near to the front doorway of a house.
The driver introduces himself to us as Mufasa, asks our names. “Are you married?” he asks me. His face lights up when I say I am not, and I realize he is making a proposal. He is alone, he says, married only to his horse Rambo, and would like to change this.
The divine comedy eludes me until later. On a day when I have been struggling with the mysterious depths of spiritual love, an ordinary man is asking me to marry him, and for no better reason than his hope that I would be a better companion than his horse!
The Temple of Luxor really existed for the festival of Opet. This was an eleven-day event during which mass quantities of bread, cakes and beer were distributed. After processions of sacred images, followed by members of the royal family, the king and priests retired to private chambers in the temple where the king and his divine essence were merged, transforming him into a divine being. As part of the festival, the god (in human form) celebrated the sacred marriage with the human queen. The whole event was a ceremony of reconciliation – the king’s humanity with his divinity- for the purpose of renewing vitality for both human and divine beings. Although Amenhotep 111 built the temple, six colossal statues of Ramses 11 flanked the entrance. Of these, only two seated figures survive.
Tonight, the Luxor Temple glows golden in the darkness, lit from below so that the light spills upwards. The effect is magical. Its great monumental gateway is carved with bas reliefs that show scenes from the military campaigns led by Ramses 11 against the Hittites. In front of this wall, next to the two remaining seated carvings of Ramses 11, stands an obelisk, twenty-five metres high. Its twin was carried off to France in 1833 where it now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Jean leads us into the sanctuary-heart of the temple, a place of initiation, where we chant: I AM, WE ARE, THIS IS ME. These three simple sayings hold deep levels of meaning, of interconnectedness. Our ordinary “this is me” lives are enfolded in the “We are” of myth and symbol and archetype that we are learning about in Egypt. “We are” expresses our existence in durative time, the place where we encounter sacred time and space. Beyond and yet within these two realms is the “I Am”, the Holy, Being itself, Love itself.
At Jean’s invitation, we turn to one another saying, “I see the I AM in you. I see the WE ARE in you, and in you I see THIS IS ME.”
After our ritual of recognition, we are free to wander through the open courtyards, to look at the bas reliefs, the walls inscribed with hieroglyphs. An avenue that begins at the front of the temple is lined with small sphinxes that once led all the way to the Temple of Karnak. It has been partially restored, and we walk its length, marvelling.
Along another walkway, rows of rounded columns tower over us like redwood trees in a forest of stone. I am suddenly jolted back from these ancient carvings, from the WE ARE of myth to the THIS IS ME, aware I am standing between two turbaned, long-robed guards. They are gesturing to me, pointing at my camera, then towards a row of lighted pillars. For a startled moment, I feel really afraid, then my experience of other guards in other tombs clicks in, and I understand. I am being invited to pose for a photo with one guard as the other wields the camera. For Baksheesh. Of course.
Later, I will see a photo of a very handsome tall bearded guard and a happily smiling woman standing beside one of Luxor’s storied columns. This is me… we are… held safe in the love of I am.
(from the novel, Called to Egypt on the Back fo the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin,
Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2013 http://borealispress.com )