Note to the reader: If you wonder how Sophia, the Wisdom presence of the Holy in the Hebrew Scriptures, relates to the ancient Egyptian story of Isis and Osiris, or how she is part of this 21st century journey to Egypt, this segment may begin to offer enlightenment. Isis, Hathor, Ma’at and Sehkmet are aspects of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine presence who is making herself known in our time.
After last night’s visit to the Luxor Temple, I fell asleep with columns of hieroglyphs on yellow sandstone moving across my eyelids. Then a clear image of Hathor appeared, goddess of love and joy. I awaken to this new day thinking of the light of Ra, the gift of love that shines equally on all.
Hathor: Goddess of Love and Joy
After breakfast, some of us gather on the upper deck of the Moon Goddess where Marjorie and Paul, a married couple in our group, lead us in Chi-Gong movements. Afterwards, I sit cooling my feet in the pool, looking over at the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank.
In the peace of the moment, remembered words of Jesus rise up within me:
John was a lamp, alight and shining,and for a time you were content to rest in his light.
There is a hint of something here. This light, in which I am just learning to rest, is only for a time. But I don’t follow the thought where it might lead. I cling instead to this present moment, wanting it to last, not looking beyond this day, our final one on the Moon Goddess.
At ten o’clock in the Captain’s Lounge, we re-enter the story, find ourselves in the midst of the eighty-year battle waged by Horus against Seth, the principle of entrapment and limitation. Jean Houston invites us to see how we need to activate the inner muscular Horus within us to stand up to recalcitrance, both within and outside of us, and do battle. People who are entrapped by, limited to the status quo, are living out of their reptilian brains. If we remain working with them, we can only become assistant dinosaurs. To advance the world, the individuated wilful Horus must emerge.
Within ourselves the opposites, the Seth principle of limitation and the Horus principle of abundance, are often at war. We enact a ritual battle between the Seth and the Horus within us, partnering with another to give voice to each aspect of the self. Denise, the woman from Ireland, offers to play Seth to my Horus. I tell her of wanting to travel the earth, working with women to help them find their deep spirit.
“Do you think you can be like Jean Houston?” she mocks. Our role play, as fierce on my side as on hers, leads us into a deep sharing about the need we have both felt for inner guidance, the longing of a woman who feels herself unmothered.
In their epic battle, Seth and Horus shape-shift, become hippos and bears and lions, enduring terrible wounds. Such battles arise, in our time, Jean believes, in cultures that lack guiding principles. Yeats describes it in “The Second Coming”:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity….
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
That rough beast is Seth, Jean suggests.
As in the Iliad, the gods take sides in this great battle. Ma’at, the principle of truth, withdraws, goes underground and lives with Osiris. She chooses to leave the battle to go into the higher order of the unconscious. We, too, when we cannot make sense of things, retreat into the unconscious, taking Ma’at with us.
After the battle, when Isis realizes that she cannot kill Seth, Horus seizes her crown, tearing it from head. Later, he repents and recrowns his mother, giving her the cow-headed crown of the goddess Hathor.
Seth tries to seduce Horus. Jean comments that even after we think we’ve won the battle, we keep meeting our same old issues, again and again, but at increasingly complex levels. We are seduced by our own Seth, given these struggles to strengthen us. Each time we find ourselves in these same old patterns, we might think of them as trenches in the brain, something we need to over-ride. Dealing with these as fractals of the eternal return, old ditches we must cross, helps us to get on with the new story.
The ancient story concludes with Isis tricking the ferryman into taking her to the council of the gods on Elephantine Island. Disguising herself as a beautiful woman, Isis persuades Seth to acknowledge his crime and make restitution. The gods order him to create a barge that will carry the high spirit of Osiris into the depth world.
Rather than what traps us in time, our Seth principle of appropriate limitation becomes the vehicle to carry us into eternity.
The story became a transformational ritual in Egypt, a ritual of the soul. In it, the four principles of movement, fertility (Isis), inspiration (Osiris), limitation (Seth), and growth (Horus) are engaged in the big turn-around and fall becomes resurrection. What is destroyed is transmuted into a deepened quality, rising like the djed pillar in us as compassion, as empathy.
The transformational journey of the soul is the basis of the Mystery Rituals. In a Hellenized version, the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris were celebrated throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Many themes of the Isis/Osiris/Seth/ Horus story reappear in Christianity: the woman, impregnated by a father in the spiritual world; the threat that the newborn child will be destroyed; the tree as vehicle of death. Isis is the virgin/mother /crone who was worshipped in Greece and Rome for centuries. Some ancient black madonnas are actually Isis with Horus in her lap. Many qualities of Isis are subsumed into Mary.
Jesus was like Osiris, living out the Egyptian mystery of the dying/rising God, taking on the full ancient archetypal myth of the Mystery Religions while existing in space and time. No wonder, Jean concludes, he became Jesus Christ Superstar!
After the story, we take time to reflect more deeply on its meaning for our lives.
What vulnerable quality within us can be transformed from a negative Sethian glitch to a deeper potential, as the barge of Seth became transformative for Osiris?
I sit in silence with this question, wondering how my longing for a particular love can be transformed into a love that overflows from within me to others. It is for me the fractal of the eternal return, the question that continues to arise in my life, always from a deeper place, ever more complex.
( excerpt from Called to Egypt on the Back fo the Wind Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press, Ottawa, 2013 http://borealispress.com )