Mohammed has arranged a private time for our group in the shrine of Sekhmet. As our group regathers, makes its slow way through the intense heat towards the shrine, there is an air of quiet, expectation, reverence. We come to a small stone building with two tiny rooms. Jean invites those who feel a particular connection to Sekhmet to join Peg and herself in the ritual.
Sekhmet is a mystery to me, one I have never sought to understand. My drawing has been towards the light, the loving feminine presence I have encountered whether as Mary, as Isis, as Hathor. Sekhmet, the fierce dark side of that sacred energy, has no allure for me. I wait outside with the others who, like me, move restlessly, aware that something sacred is happening within. I hear Jean’s voice and Peg’s in snatches of prayer, words of ritual.
Then something rises in me, some fierce desire to be part of this. I place my hands, palms down on a stone table, an ancient altar that stands just outside the open door. I say silently to myself,” I am here as high witness.”
A stillness rises among those of us who wait outside, as if the group has become one in that same desire. We are united in a space of utter soundlessness.
After a while, the members of our group who have been inside come outdoors and the rest of us are invited into the tiny sanctuary of Sekhmet. The room is so small that some of us must wait in the antechamber for our turn to enter the shrine.
When I enter the room, I look ahead to where she is seated, a woman of black granitee with a lion head, a face that is somehow both fierce and tender. She is naked but for a pectoral intricately carved, resting on her breast bone. A solar disk encircles her head, but the millennia or a more dedicated cruelty have gouged it so it looks wounded, like the stone heart I picked up earlier. Across her knees is a stone slab that may have been a book. Both her arms and one hand have been smashed. The remaining hand rests on the book. The walls behind are covered in hieroglyphs and paintings, so darkened with age that they are nearly silent.
Another Statue of Sekhmet
Whatever I expected, Sekhmet is more. I am not afraid of her. I watch as the people ahead of me approach her, as they reach a hesitant hand to touch her. I notice Jean standing beside the statue, watching each person closely, aware that anything might happen.
When at last I am face to face with Sekhmet, I lift my right hand, touch her cheek.
I know what I must ask. Only a few hours ago, I was offered a gift, a luminous globe of rose and white light, a gift that can fill my heart with a love that will both answer my own longing and pour itself out for others. The tears of grief and loss that followed the offering showed me that I am still caught in my old emptiness. Now I need to accept the gift. I must activate it now. Here. In the presence of the dark goddess, I have to say yes or face a lifetime of falling back into my old Sethian ways. I ask for strength to be my godded self.
All of this happens in an instant, in the time between the lifting of my hand and its tentative touch on the lion face. And in that instant, Sekhmet speaks to me clearly, fiercely: Give up the allure of tragic romance and all its amenities. Your sorrow will not draw love. It will not. You are holding onto old grief. Let it go.
Afterwards, walking away from the Shrine of Sekhmet, I fall into step with Jean and Michael, a young doctor who is part of our group. Jean is holding something in her hand, opens her palm to reveal a small nail. “Bob had a broken bone set with this when he was a child. I found it among his ashes.”
I knew that Jean had brought her husband’s ashes here to Karnak, to the Shrine of Sekhmet to whom he had been devoted, of whom he had written extensively.
Myths collide: Isis, Osiris, Jesus.
“You have invited all of us into your own mythic story,” I say, thinking of the ritual we’ve just had.
“Were you startled by Sekhmet?” Jean asks.
“She is very fierce, “I say, “but I see all aspects as one now, part of the Sacred Feminine.” Only as I speak the words do I realize I now know this in my bones.
“But she is startling.”
As we’ve been making our way along the open pathways back towards the main temple of Karnak, Aten, the Sun god, has been baking us. Michael and I have been drinking from our water bottles. Peg catches up to us, offering Jean a container of water. Absorbed by our conversation about myths and goddesses, I hadn’t even noticed that Jean didn’t have any water with her. I have a great deal to learn about the practice of loving.
(excerpt from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind Anne Kathleen McLaughlin,
Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2013 http://borealispress.com)