Category Archives: Isis and Osiris

Sophia in Egypt: Eight

For five days, the Moon Goddess is our home, carrying us down the Nile to Luxor and its temples and tombs. From our “mother ship” we take smaller journeys such as the one to Philae and the Sanctuary of Isis, by felucca, the tiny sailing boats that have navigated the Nile for millennia.

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felucca on the Nile near Aswan

Today we set out for Elephantine Island, ancient center of the ivory trade, near Aswan. The island is the place of worship of the Egyptian god Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, of potters and of silt, who acted in trinity with the goddesses Satet, who personifies the star Sirius, whose rising signals the inundation of the Nile, and Anuket, nourisher of the fields.

I watch the elderly dark-skinned Nubian sailor orchestrate the thick ropes that control the sails of the felucca. Both his hands and his feet engage in the task, a graceful dance that he must have been performing for decades. A young sailor, black curls framing a strikingly beautiful face, sings a Nubian love song as we sail. He follows this with a lively, strongly- accented, “Comin’ Round the Mountain”, which he has learned, I think, to please American tourists. “What about Canada?” someone in our group asks. He smiles, ready, says confidently, “Canada Dry” ( naming a popular gingerale).

Samei takes a plastic cup, and, leaning over the edge of the felucca, fills it with Nile River water. He lifts it to his lips, drinks. The Nile is kept clean, he tells us, by a threat of six months in prison for fouling the water.

The felucca draws up to a pier with stairs leading to the surface of this island. We walk past stone houses, masses of pink flowers in the gardens, trees with delicate leaves. A goat is tethered nearby, placidly eating a flower. I take out my camera, hoping for a photo. She must be accustomed to such requests for she turns obligingly, looks directly at the camera while I press the shutter, then turns back to her flower.

Beneath the surface of Elephantine Island, archaeologists have found layers of ruined cities and have already unearthed twenty-four. Legend and artefacts testify that the Ark of the Covenant rested here for a time. This is the place where Isis came in disguise to a council of the gods.

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map of Egypt

We walk along a road that leads past the scattered ruins of ancient stone buildings until we reach the place dedicated to Khnum, whose name means, “to create”. Blocks of stone fitted together form a great arch that stretches high above our heads. We stand in silence before it, reaching into the distant past to touch the sacred intent of this place. Around us the ground is littered with scraps and shards of reddish pottery.

“From the clay of the Nile River, Khnum molded the bodies and souls of children on his potter’s wheel, and placed these in the mother’s womb,” Jean says. “Pick up a piece of the pottery, and scratch onto it a word or phrase that expresses what you want to create for the planet. What will be your great gift?”

I think of what I am experiencing, how the narrow limits of my childhood and early adulthood spirituality are being softened, expanded to include so much that is both new and ancient here. Isis and Mary are being rewoven together in my soul. I want to create a weaving that others may also embrace with joy.

“Weave,” I scratch onto the surface of a piece of broken clay. I reach down, dig a hole in the ground, bury my promise here on the island of the potter god. Jean invites us to call out a name of God, and mingling with our voices, we hear the cry of the muezzin.

After the ritual, we walk around the grey ruins, the sky a wash of palest pink, deepening to peach then to dusty rose. The moon appears, almost at full. We make our way back to the pier where we board the felucca for our return to the Moon Goddess.

On our way back to the ship, the full darkness of early evening descends. We make a stop at a Nubian perfume and essential oils factory store. We are invited in by the owners, given places to sit on comfortable couches, welcomed to a feast of scents, as one by one small containers of essential oils are opened, releasing aromas that perfumed the air of ancient Egypt: jasmine, lotus, rose, lavender. The scents of the flowers from which they were extracted enter my nostrils, creating visions of priestesses dancing in ceremony, blessing the air with their fragrance.

I want to create rituals when I return home, imagine blessing the women who come with these perfumed oils. I would like to take home a small vial of each, but when I ask the price I know I must choose only one. I choose lotus, the oil of the sixth Chakra, the third eye, wisdom. When we leave the store, I am carrying a tiny box, papered with a design of pyramids.

The next stop is the Nubian Market, a feast of bright fabrics, healing herbs, brilliant glass, wooden necklaces, spices….I draw in the sights, the scents, the festival atmosphere, but do not purchase anything. My vial of lotus oil is treasure enough for one day.

When we return to the ship, I decide to skip the dinner awaiting us in the dining room. I sit on the small deck that opens off my bedroom, gazing out at the Nile shimmering under the darkening sky, reflecting on the wonders of the past days, writing in my journal. I feel as though I am swimming in love.

Sophia in Egypt: Seven

After our ritual in the sanctuary of Isis, we make our way towards the shore, seeking out places to wait. Some of my companions cluster in groups, but I want to be alone, find a stone wall to sit on. Already the eastern sky is growing pearly, then striated in shades of pale mauve, peach, soft yellow, rose, preparing to welcome the sunrise.

 

Across the Nile, behind a crest of low hills that lie like a body outstretched, the fire appears. There is an opening between the hills at the place where the sun bursts forth. The words of Isis echo in me, “the day which shall be born from the womb of this darkness.”

 

There is a desire in my heart. As the sun rises, I hold it out in trust. “Let me be as you were, Isis. You were a teacher, you gave the women of ancient Egypt the song of the wheel, you taught them to weave, you gave them your love. I want to be a teacher, a weaver when I return.”The sacred moment ends, leaves me with a sense of being deeply heard.

I turn to walk back up to the monuments above the shore, ready to rejoin my companions. A woman from Ireland is standing near the sun-warmed stones. We had enjoyed a conversation at our late dinner under the Nubian sky on the night we visited Abu Simbel. Now  I see in her face a mirroring of the wonder and light that are within me. We speak of our joy at being here, take one another’s photos against the island’s beauty, wanting to hold the memory.

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I notice our group clustering around Samei. He walks us around the island’s great temples and colonnades, the stone glowing gold in the morning sunlight, holding the grace of Greek and Roman design in their shapely pillars. We see massive rows of Greek columns, towering structures, architectural beauty unlike any that I have ever seen. Standing under the great kiosk of the Roman Emperor Trojan, we look up at blue sky framed by an open roof of stone.

As we walk, Samei tells us the long story of Philae’s conquest by cultures and religions. Up close, as we examine the larger than life carvings incised into the outer walls of the temples, I am appalled to see that many of the faces of the Egyptian gods and goddesses have been savaged. Samei tells us it was Christians who ruthlessly chipped and chiseled away the faces of the gods. I feel horror, deep shame, as I imagine attacking hordes of Christians arriving in boats, descending upon Egypt from where?

 

Taking pity on what he sees in our faces, Samei softens the story a little, explaining it was the Egyptian people themselves who, becoming converts to Christianity, wanted to destroy the faces of their ancient gods.

 

As though in answer to the longing I felt in the sanctuary of Isis to read the hieroglyphs, Samei gives us a beginner’s lesson. Pointing to carvings high above us on an outer wall, he shows us that beside each figure are a series of hieroglyphs beginning with his or her name. Next to Isis, the hieroglyph of a throne; next to Horus, the sun; beside Hathor, wife of Horus, the hieroglyph of a sun with two curved lines above it reads, “House of Horus.” I am five years old again, beginning to learn the sounds of the alphabet. It feels wonderful.

 

“Don’t try to understand,” Samei counsels, “just experience. See, in this panel, the King is speaking to the goddess and she responds.” I look at the two carved figures, each focused on the other with a reverence, an intensity that is palpable. The series of hieroglyphs between them are words. I think of the words above characters in comics only this is elegant, noble, mysterious. I ache to read what they say.

 

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We leave this sacred island, with its still undeciphered messages, return to the ferry, then sail home to the Moon Goddess. Only later I realize we have come here on the 13th day of November. It was the 13th day of each month that Mary chose for her appearances to the children of Fatima, Portugal.

Sophia in Egypt: Six

On the morning following our visit to Abu Simbel, we board our ship, the Moon Goddess, which will carry us from Aswan to Luxor, stopping at temples and sacred sites on the way. The first night on board, I sit on the small deck that opens off my bedroom, gazing out at the Nile shimmering under the darkening sky, reflecting on the wonders of the past days, writing in my journal. I feel as though I am swimming in love. I sleep early, to prepare for our early morning wake up call, our journey to Philae Island, sacred to Isis.

The moon in her fullness creates a golden rippled path on the Nile at four in the morning. It is not yet dawn when we disembark, stepping onto the island. The terrain is of rough stones. I have a sense of hovering trees, low full-leaved bushes, great stone arches, pillars, columns, temples, more Greek than Egyptian. We move carefully in the darkness, following Jean into one of the vast stone temples, towards its sacred heart. A cat has shown up, leads us straight to the entrance, waits as each one enters.

“We know that we are well seen and well blessed,” Jean says. “So often the holy ones show up in the form of the animal.”

The sanctuary of Isis is so tiny that we stand together like people in an elevator. Within this chamber, at the centre and towards the back, there is a stone pedestal, incised with hieroglyphs. This is where the sacred boat of the goddess Isis once rested. The surrounding walls are intricately carved with hieroglyphs as well. I see a delicate fan of outspread wings, recognize the curve and grace as just what I saw on the papyrus of the winged Isis I bought in Cairo. I see on another part of the wall a snake, and then a hawk that is the symbol of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. I look at the outpouring of carefully inscribed wisdom, feel something of the powerlessness, the utter frustration I felt as child before I knew how to read.

In the still darkness, Jean speaks of the writings of the second century Latin writer Lucius Apuleius. “In his story, The Golden Ass, Lucius has done some very naughty magic and has been turned into an ass. After strange adventures, he meets the goddess Isis who changes him back into his own humanity, but does so by giving an epiphany of who and what she really is.

“Here is how Lucius saw her: she had an abundance of hair that fell gently in dispersed ringlets upon the divine neck. A crown of interlaced wreaths and varying flowers rested upon her head; and in its midst, just over the brow, there hung a plain circlet resembling a mirror or rather a miniature moon – for it emitted a soft clear light. This ornament was supported on either side by vipers that rose from the furrows of the Earth; and above it blades of grain were disposed. Her garment, dyed many colours, was woven of fine flax. One part was gleaming white; another was yellow as the crocus; another was flamboyant with the red of roses.

But what obsessed my gazing eyes by far the most was her pitch-black cloak that shone with a dark glow. It was wrapped around her, passing from under the right arm over the left shoulder and fastened with a knot like the boss of a shield. Part of it fell down in pleated folds and swayed gracefully with a knotted fringe along the hem. Upon the embroidered edges and over the whole surface sprinkled stars were burning; and in the centre a mid-month moon breathed forth her floating beams. Lastly, a garland wholly composed of every kind of fruit and flower clung of its own accord to the fluttering border of that splendid robe.

Such was the goddess as, breathing forth the spices of pleasant Arabia, she condescended with her divine voice to address me: “Behold, Lucius,” she said, “moved by your prayer I come to you – I , the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity, the queen of those in hell, the first among those in Heaven, the uniform manifestation of all gods and goddesses– I who govern by my nod the crests of light in the sky, the purifying wafts of the ocean, and the lamentable silences of hell – I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names….

“But those who are enlightened by the earliest rays of that divinity the sun, the Ethiopians, the Arii, and the Egyptians who excel in antique lore, all worship me with their ancestral ceremonies and call me by my true name, Queen Isis.

“Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid. Eternal (spirituality) has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

“The day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness,” Jean repeats. “This is the place of the birth of new hope, this is the place of the birthing of new life.”

We are invited to call out all the names of Isis as we know her. I hear the names flow like a litany….Mystical Rose, Mary in all her forms, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Queen of Creation, Great Protector, Mother Holy, Star of the Sea, Great Protector, Eyes of Wisdom, Neter of the Heart, Mama Mia, Great Mother Gaia, Inanna, Tower of Ivory, Sophia, the Black Madonna….

This outpouring of names concludes with the title: “She who calls out to us to be born.”

We cry out together a great OMMMMMMM.

“That sound was like one great voice,” Samei our guide tells us when we emerge. But he looks troubled. “I am sorry. I made a mistake. I never should have allowed your full group to enter at the same time. That chamber is much too small to hold so many people at once.”

But it did.

 

Sophia in Egypt : Five

On the day after our visit to the Step Pyramid, we fly from Cairo to Aswan. A long bus journey through the desert will take us to the Temple of Abu Simbel.

We arrive at Abu Simbel in full darkness, walk the lighted pathway from the entrance in silence, approaching from behind. I try to imagine this massive structure being totally dis-assembled on its original site, where it had been carved out of a mountain in the time of Ramses II.

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Temple of Abu Simbel

It was meticulously re-assembled, block by block, on a concrete frame, moved here in the 1960’s to save it from being inundated in the flooding caused by the Aswan Dam. The UNESCO project was generously funded by England and Germany, the reconstruction so exact that the rising sun on February 22 and October 22 still lights the faces of the four great statues within.

Inside, we see high walls and many chambers, well-lighted with raised floors for ease of walking. No formal rituals are planned for us within this temple. Instead we are free to wander, to take in the majesty, the stunning beauty of the artwork, the ancient stories on the walls around us. Our group is alone here, so we have silence, space to wander contemplatively.

I recognize the story of Ramses’ life in a set of painted carvings that take up the length of the walls of the main chamber. In one a chariot is pulled by an open-mouthed horse, the carving so precise I can see it breathing.

After a careful search, I find a carving of Isis in a small chamber. She stands with an arm on the shoulder of Osiris, while she holds in her other hand an ankh, the symbol of everlasting life.

I continue to explore the painted carvings in the many chambers. Again and again, I am drawn back to Isis, waiting. I do not know what I seek from her, what I expect. Maybe I just want to make a connection here with the sacred encounter I had with her in my community’s prayer room in September. When I return for the third time, I notice that there is a crack in the stone just where her eye appears and it holds light, so that I feel her gaze upon me.

“You remember,” I say to her. Sudden warmth fills my whole body. The words from the ritual I had performed on that day return to me: Know yourself…to have been recognized, honoured, and gifted by that principle of creativity, kindness and renewal that sometimes goes under the name of the Great Goddess.

Though no time has been set, people are beginning to move out of the temple towards the outdoor amphitheater that faces it. There is to be a sound and light show on the life and exploits of Ramses II. My companions and I choose a place together in the rows of stone benches facing the gigantic seated figures on the facade, to await the show.Thunderous music, voices, as a great story unfolds before us, light dancing on the face of stone. At some point, off to our right, a shooting star descends through the black Egyptian sky.

When the show ends, we make our way down the stone stairs towards the path that leads away. But suddenly a thousand flames of light erupt in the facade of the temple. Lights everywhere, subtle, creating shadowed mystery, illumining here a face, there a cleft. I stand awestruck before this, unable to move away. I try to assess the size of this monumental temple, comparing it with other large structures. I see it swallowing the centre block of Canada’s Parliament Buildings, burping, opening its mouth for more.

 

Finally I pull myself away, seeing the last of our group disappearing into the distance. Just before I enter the paved pathway, I stoop down, pick up a stone from the sand. In the light from the temple, I see it has the rough shape of a heart, although one of the rounded curves at its top is sliced open, releasing love.

In the few days we have been in Egypt, I have lost my inner sense of clock time. We have been hours here at Abu Simbel and it was already fully dark when we arrived. Yet we are now on our way to supper.

The bus stops before a small inn. Our hosts graciously allow us to use the bathroom in their own living quarters. We are shown to tables on an outdoor patio under the Nubian sky alive with stars. I recognize Cassiopeia, Orion and Sirius. The air embraces us, warm as our own breath.

Platters of food begin to arrive: a flavour-filled soup, bread and cumin dips, eggplant, fish stew, a sweet dessert. A carafe of red wine is poured into our cups. It is full-bodied, delicious and, Jean assures us, the true Egyptian vintage of ancient days. In this setting, with joy rising, visible on every face around our table, I am ready to believe that Isis and Osiris planted the vines.

Isis/Sophia in Egypt

I waken to a world of sunlight so strong that I need dark glasses and sun hat for the short walk to breakfast in the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. I pass the sun-soaked turquoise pool that sits like a small lake surrounded by palm trees, flowers in brilliant reds and yellows. I climb the marble stairs to the dining room, find breakfast spread out in silver bowls: pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, yogurt, abundance of muffins, breads, sweet rolls, coffee in silver urns on a long linen-covered

 

Immediately afterwards, we gather in one of the hotel’s elegant meeting rooms.
An Egyptian man, perhaps in his early fifties, stands at the front of the room. With shy pride he welcomes us to his country. “I am Mohamed Nazmy”, he says “and my company, Quest Travel, is making the arrangements for your time in Egypt. I know what it is you seek. I have been in communication with your teacher Dr. Jean Houston for several months, preplanning as much as we could, waiting for the time to be right for this sacred journey. My company guides only people like you who seek the spiritual heart of Egypt. But this,” and suddenly his shyness dissipates as a smile like a rising sun irradiates his face, “this will be our greatest challenge, and our deepest joy. Samei, though young, is an experienced and learned travel guide. He will go with you everywhere your journey takes you. I will accompany you when possible, and shall be in constant communication with Samei.

“I do not need to tell you that some of the places you will enter are dangerous, some carefully guarded. As far as possible, I am making arrangements for your group to have private visits inside the tombs, temples and pyramids to allow for the teaching and rituals that are part of your journey.” He pauses, then adds, “the only solitary visit I cannot arrange is to the Valley of the Kings where each day this month, the number of tourists will exceed ten thousand.” With a gracious wish for a safe and blessed journey, he concludes his talk, turns to speak quietly with Jean.

 

We return to the chairs at the front of the room and Jean introduces the guest who has come to speak to us this morning. “You’ve seen him on the Discovery Channel and on National Geographic Programs. He’s Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, passionate about receiving, rescuing, restoring and retaining its ancient treasures. His ongoing archaeological work has earned him world-wide recognition and we can thank Mohamed, his close friend, for arranging this presentation by Dr. Zahi Hawass.”

 

“They call me the Indiana Jones of Egypt,” Dr. Hawass says, with a boyish grin. “They even say I wear an Indiana Jones hat, but the truth is that Indiana Jones wears a Zahi Hawass hat.”

With a power point he takes us with him as he is lowered by a rope into cavernous depths. “What did I find there?” he asks. “Not the wonderful things of Howard Carter’s experience in the tomb of King Tut, but the dung of centuries.”

These days, he’s working with a grant to study DNA from ancient mummies, seeking to trace relationships among King Tut, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti. He’s also excavating in the Valley of the Kings and seeking the burial site of Anthony and Cleopatra. He radiates joy and the passion of his commitment to work he loves. “With passion, any job can be the best in the world,” Dr. Hawass says.

 

“Egypt is a state of being that exists eternally in archetypal reality.” Dr. Hawass has gone, and Jean Houston is speaking to us now. “It is a quality of the psyche, of the intelligence, existing on the space/time continuum. Five thousand years ago, the essence of possibility entered into time”.

 

The magic has begun. I breathe in these words, not fully understanding, but knowing at a deep level their truth. This will be a journey of discovery even more enticing than those of Dr. Hawass.

 

“When in the thirteenth century St. Francis of Assisi visited Egypt, he sat with the Sultan in silence for hours before the Sphinx. At last Francis said, I know the answer. It is love.

“Now you are here as archaeologists of Egypt’s ancient spirit. We shall visit powerful sites, seeking matrix points for a world civilization, a world spirit. As the Ancient Egyptians dreamed a world, we shall, by use of imagination, bring forth a new reality that wants to emerge. We shall collect the broken pieces of our world and gather them into wholeness, as did Isis with the broken body of Osiris.

“And just as Hatshepsut restored the ruined temple of Hathor and created ceremonies of the Feasts of Light, we shall inaugurate ceremonies on behalf of our Temple of Earth.”

I listen intently, believing this to be possible, seeing it as absolutely achievable. It doesn’t occur to me then that a personal descent into cavernous inner places holding dung and wonderful things in equal measure, will be required of me.

“For today, you may be tourists”. Jean is saying now. “Samei will take you to a papyrus factory, then to some of the shops. After supper we’ll see the Egyptian Museum. Enjoy Cairo!”

In the papyrus factory store, we watch the process as papyrus stems are soaked, then soaped and placed under pressure to create paper. Young Muslim women wearing hijabs smilingly show us around the room’s collection of illustrated papyri.

 

Hampered by my lack of Arabic (I am able thus far only to say “Shokran”, “thank you,”) I manage to convey to one of the young women that I am seeking a painting of Isis. After some searching, some reading of identifying hieroglyphs, the young store clerk smiles brilliantly, places a richly-painted papyrus of Isis in my hands. I take in the rich midnight blue of her robe, the throne-shaped silver crown on her head, the breadth of wing span in silver and gold beneath her arms, the mystery of the many-hued hieroglyphs of bird, snake, woman, throne, carefully arranged above beside and below her. I hand it back to the young woman who carefully rolls it, inserts it into a cardboard tube, then returns it to me. I am in awe at this beautiful treasure I now carry.

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Isis, with whom I began my journey two months earlier in a darkened room at my community’s retreat centre. ( to be continued)

from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press 2013  (http://borealispress.com)