The four of us respond enthusiastically to Ellyn’s suggestion for a ritual.
“Let’s ask Jean and Peggy now, before we break for lunch,” Rosemary suggests, as she gestures to our teachers, inviting them to join us.
When Ellyn tells them her idea, Jean groans theatrically. “I don’t have a single song, dance, poem or prayer left in me, but maybe Peggy does.”
I look at Peg, see her fatigue, mingled with her wish to help us. “No need,” I say quickly. “We’ll plan it ourselves. The two of you only need to show up, at, let’s say, 7:30?”
“Over lunch, we’ll talk to the rest of the group,” Ellyn says. “We’ll invite them to work with us on this.”
“I have something you may wish to use in your preparations,” Peg tells us. “Normandi Ellis has a book of Rituals based on the Egyptian Mysteries. It’s called Feasts of Light.”
Towards the end of lunch, Ellyn makes an announcement about the ritual, inviting everybody who wants to take part in the planning to gather in the Meditation Room at four o’clock, bringing their Egyptian robes, the galabiyyas given us by Mohamed, as well as any perfumed oils, jewellery and small statues from Egypt that could be used in the ritual. Then the five of us agree to meet around three o’clock to look through the Normandi Ellis book, and do some pre-planning.
There is something I must do first. I find a pair of thin cotton socks to wear inside my sandals, put on my long cotton coat, and venture out into the wintry universe. The sun by now has melted the snow on the roadway so that, with care, I can make my way to the parking lot. My car is still buried under a foot of fresh soft snow, which I sweep off the trunk with the sleeves of my coat. I open the trunk and reach inside, fumbling around until I locate the heavy fleece-lined boots I’ve brought from home. With a graceless, one-footed dance I manage to step out of my sandals, into the boots.
I feel around again in the depths of the trunk, pull out a cloak of thick cotton fleece. Grateful for its weight, though the fabric is ice-cold to the touch, I pull it on.
The Garrison Institute sits on a height of land that rolls downwards in a gentle sweep from the driveway at its front entrance to the cliff atop the Hudson River. On Mystery School weekends, in spring, summer and early autumn, my companions and I often walked here on the grass, among the flowers, beside trees so ancient that they still hold memories of Benedict Arnold’s famous flight. On a stroll one spring morning, I had discovered an empty stone grotto, tucked in under the stones that support the driveway, hidden by a richly verdant vine of three-lobed leaves. The Capuchin Monastery was named in honour of Mary Immaculate. The monks must have built this grotto. Her statue must once have graced it.
Today, I make my careful way down the snowy stairs to find the grotto. Its vines are barren of leaves, brittle, yet blossoming! Snow has settled on the tiny twigs in soft puff balls, creating an illusion of branches budding with May flowers. A hymn from my childhood, one I’ve not sung in decades, comes back to me: Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today . . . Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May . . .
I stand here for a long while, thinking, wondering. The love I’d known both for and from the spiritual presence whom I called Mary found me and touched me in Egypt under names that were strange to me. But I do not now doubt that the love I experienced there had the same source. Nor do I now doubt that my life has been transformed by that love. This mystery seems to me now so deep, so vast, that I can’t begin to comprehend its ramifications for my life, for my faith, for the planet, for the universe. But a mystery does not ask for understanding. It asks only for trust. And trust is the gift I carry home from Egypt.
It is after three o’clock when I return to the Meditation Room where my friends are gathered, already excitedly making plans. Ellyn waves the Normandi Ellis book at me. “I’ve been reading this ever since Peg gave it to me just after lunch. It’s all here, what we were sharing together about how we were each connected to different aspects of the goddess, the sacred feminine. So here’s what we’ve been thinking. . .”
I listen, growing as excited as my friends. This is truly amazing, a last great gift from Egypt. “So, each of us will portray a face of the goddess, and invite everyone to carry aspects or gifts of the goddess out into the world?”
They nod enthusiastically. “Kathleen has agreed to portray Nephthys, Rosemary will be Ma’at, Suzanne will be Isis, I’ll be Hathor. . .” Ellyn pauses. “And you can represent—”
“. . . Sekhmet!” I am ridiculously pleased.
But there is something missing. “What about music?” I ask. “Shouldn’t there be dancing?”
I wait, and when no one else seems to have a suggestion, I say, “What about Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty? Remember that night at Sharms, watching a film of the ballet under the stars?”
And already others of our companions are arriving, ready to join in the planning.
(to be continued)