Category Archives: Journey to Egypt

A Visit to the Goddess Isis

November 13, 2018

The moon in her fullness creates a golden rippled path on the Nile at four in the morning. I shower and dress, welcome the warmth of my long coat of thick cotton, emerge into the lobby of the Moon Goddess where coffee awaits us. With my companions, I make my sleepy way through the lobbies of two other ships that serve as a bridge to the river’s edge. We climb steep stone stairs up to the bus which takes us to the ferry boat for our journey to Philae.

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 and Peg 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.

Sanctuary of Isis

Sanctuary of Isis on the Egyptian Island of Philae

“We know that we are well seen and well blessed,” Jean Houston 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. “Birthing chambers are tight fits,” Peg Rubin says. “Birth doesn’t happen until things get tight.” 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 look at the outpouring of carefully inscribed wisdom, feel something of the powerlessness, the utter frustration I felt as a child before I knew how to read. 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.

“From this place,” Peg says, “we are born as children of the mother. Remember the love of the mother line, all the mothers. For those of you whose great work it is to embody the goddess Isis, this is where to take that on.”

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, 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….I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names. . . .


 “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 religion 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.”

Peg lights candles. At Suzanne’s suggestion, we 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, 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.” Peg invites us, “With this willingness to be born, greet the day, the sunrise.” We cry out together a great OMMMMMMM.

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 present darkness.”

Here, embraced by beauty, mothered by Isis, there is (a) desire in my heart. This … I hold 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.”



We leave this sacred island. 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.

(excerpt from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind Anne Kathleen McLaughlin, Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada 2013)

Sophia by Another Name

On  September 8th, Christians honour the Birth of Mary, nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception. Those of us who grew up with Mary as the focus of our prayers and filial love may by now have grown into a more complex understanding of this woman who carried for us the face of the Feminine Divine.

Over recent weeks, we have been exploring the presence of Sophia in our lives, especially as she reveals herself in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Has Wisdom-Sophia  become entangled for you in a good and holy way with Mary of Nazareth?

This is deep mystery, as well as a reflection of our human need to name what we experience. I believe there is a presence of sacred feminine energy that holds us in an embrace of love, cares profoundly and personally for each one of us and is willing to respond when we call to her.

Three years ago, on September 8th, I was sitting at my computer to compose reflections on Sophia. An email arrived from Barbara Bizou, a spiritual teacher living in New York City whom I had met at Jean Houston’s July 2012 Manhattan Mystery School. During that session, Barbara, whose Spiritual Tradition is Jewish, spoke with me of Brigid’s fire and the waters of rebirth. Together we engaged in a powerful ritual of reconciliation of our two traditions.

In that September 2015 email, Barbara recalled being in Paris fourteen years earlier at the time of the 9/11 attacks:

In this time of existential uncertainty, it’s often difficult to trust that the Divine has placed us exactly where we are meant to be. On September 10, 2001, I arrived in Paris for a holiday with one of my dearest friends. I awoke on 9/11 with a sense of foreboding and anxiety, which was unusual in one of my most favorite cities in the world. Sharing this with my friend Elynor Johnson, who felt a similar sense of uneasiness, we decided to distract ourselves by window-shopping. But after twenty minutes of aimless gazing, we realized we needed to ground our energy. What called us was the chapel Notre-Dame de la Medaille dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. For me, this has always been a Temple to the Divine Feminine. As we sat and prayed and meditated, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Reading her words, I was touched to know that a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is for Barbara “a Temple to the Divine Feminine”.  I smiled, knowing I was reading this on Mary’s birthday.

Other writers have sought to untangle the Mystery of Mary. Here is Carol P. Christ, in The Laughter of Aphrodite:

…the Virgin Mary inherits many of the aspects of the Virgin Goddesses and functions as Goddess to many of her worshippers. Throughout the Near East, Europe and Latin America, churches to the Virgin Mary were built as places holy to the Goddess. Though she is not prominent in the New Testament, the myths and imagery surrounding her grew as the Goddesses were finally suppressed in Christian Culture. To the Greeks, she is Panaghia, which means simply, “the All Holy”….


Jean Markale writes in his Women of the Celts:

Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed, and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state, and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever, but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines…. Our Lady of the Night. (p. 86)

Those titles that Markale recalls, water, briars, pines, are the sacred things of earth.

Star of the Sea. Guidance in the deep places within. Mystical Rose. There is a litany of sacred names given to Mary. As children many of us learned these names by heart.

While visiting Egypt, I was astonished and delighted to learn that millennia before Mary of Nazareth. the goddess Isis was honoured with many of these same titles. Over time as Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the sacred names were transferred to Mary.

We may choose to name this loving presence as we wish. She will not be bound by a name. Given the mystery that surrounds her presence, we may choose to call her Our Lady of the Night, and simply be at peace in her mystery. Her loving presence in our lives is what matters.

The sacred feminine presence needs us as her partners in the great tasks of our time, calling us to co-create with her, to experience directly the power for good that she works within us when we open ourselves to her.

In the voice of the Sealwoman in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story: “Sealskin, Soulskin”, she reminds us:

I am always with you. Only touch what I have touched… and I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.



Mary: Companion for a Dark Journey

Egypt. November 2008. With my co-travellers on this spiritual journey, led by Jean Houston, I am on the Island of Philae in the Nile River. As we stand crowded together in the tiny sanctuary dedicated to Isis, Jean is reading aloud from the writings of Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian.

Sanctuary of Isis

Sanctuary of Isis on Philae Island, Egypt

In the story, a hapless magician named Lucius has cried out to Isis for help. She responds. The way the Sacred One identifies herself to Lucius startles me: “ I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names… “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 religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

After the reading, we are invited to call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine. I hear voice after voice calling out wonderful names. Many of these names are familiar to me, titles I’d learned as a child, and they refer to Mary. I listen: Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory. Gate of Heaven. My own voice calls out: Star of the Sea. I hear Jean’s voice, strong, certain: Mary in all her forms.

Mary, in all her forms….

For these darkest days of the year, we are companioned by Mary of Nazareth, the woman  wrapped in silence, the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who  “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.  Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief, her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power. Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become, as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?

If you grew up Catholic in the years before the Second Vatican Council, chances are Mary was at the very heart of your faith. You prayed the “Hail Mary” many times daily; you sang hymns to Mary as you walked in May processions carrying flowers to decorate her statue; in every trouble and doubt, in every dark moment of your own life, you turned to her as to a mother whose love for you was unconditional. You probably knew by heart the “Memorare”, a prayer to Mary that says, in part, “Remember…Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided…”


At the call of Pope John 23rd, 2600 Roman Catholic Bishops gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960’s. Believing they were restoring a balance, they invited Mary to step from her throne, and guided her gently to a place among the faithful, the followers of her son, Jesus. The “excesses” of Marian devotion were curbed… and then what happened?

Over the past fifty years we have seen a burgeoning of interest in the “Sacred Feminine”; a recovery of ancient stories of the Goddess; archaeological finds that create renewed interest in the time when the Sacred One was honoured as a woman; an explosion of writing among theologians, historians, cultural storytellers, seeking to understand the power and presence of “Mary” in the Christian story. I will cite a few here: The Virgin by Geoffrey Ashe; Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak; Untie the Strong Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Truly Our Sister by Elizabeth Johnson.

Though I am no theologian, I have a consuming interest in the many aspects of this mystery. What I glimpse is this: the human heart longs for a divine mothering presence. Ancient cultures honoured a feminine divine who over millennia was called by many names: Isis in Egypt; Inanna in Sumeria; Ishtar in Babylon; Athena, Hera and Demeter in Greece, Anu or Danu among the ancient Celts; Durga, Kali and Lakshmi in India; for the Kabbalists, Shekinah; for the gnostics, Sophia or Divine Wisdom.

Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate. Geoffrey Ashe’s theory is that Mary’s gradual ascension in Christianity was not an initiative of Church Leadership, but rather a response to the hunger of the early Christians for a sacred feminine presence. How it came about is less interesting to me than the reality that Mary became for us an opening to a loving feminine sacred presence. Or, put another way, a loving sacred feminine presence responded to the cries of her people when they called her “Mary”, just as that presence had responded over the millennia to other names cried out in love or sorrow or desperate need.

Over these darkening days as we descend to the longest night of the year at the Winter Solstice, Mary will be our companion. We reflect on her pregnancy, her waiting, her uncertainty, the doubts of those who love her, the trust that sustains her while she opens “Deeper into the ripple in her womb That encircles dark to become flesh and bone,” as John O’Donohue has written.

This is profound mystery. For Mary. For each one of us who carries the Holy within, seeking a place of birth. We walk the dark road, with Mary, in trust.We walk companioned by one who knows our struggles to maintain our trust in the face of inner doubts and outer calamity. We walk with one who loves us and encourages us until we are ready to welcome “the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”







Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Six

Following the Ritual of Blessing and Anointing by each goddess, Ellyn speaks in her role as Hathor: “We will now give bodily expression to the joy within us as we dance to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Our dance will be an awakening to new life.”

As the last chords of the magnificent music fade, the dancers, like graceful glass figures adorning music boxes, slowly swirl down to stillness, each standing alone, scattered across the room.

A new voice speaks. She does not identify herself as a goddess.There is no need. The women in the room know this voice, a voice that has guided them through many deep journeys.

Jean Houston speaks: “I invite you now to join with your essence self, your own higher patterning, that dynamic purposive self to whom you are connected. Raise your hands, palms outwards, to connect with that essential self, who loves you, who honours you, who charges you, who cherishes you, and in whose presence you are utterly known, deeply loved, empowered, affirmed, enhanced. Let the connection be so close that you and the entelechy become one.

“Now, breathing from the heart space with this enhanced self, think of two people in this room. From your heart space make a bonding with them. Now ask those two people to make a connection with two people who are not in this room, and at the same time, you make a connection with two people who are not in this room, perhaps people back home, and you ask them, through the heart space, to make a connection to two others and they to two others and they to two others and they to two others and in a few moments, it is true, literally everyone in this world is now connected through your heart space.

“Now think of two creatures, two animals that you know and love, and because it’s heart space, it transcends language but the intention to them is to connect with two others and they to two others and they to two others until finally all sentient creatures are connected.

“Now connect with two plants or trees from the heart space, and know that they are connected to two others, and they to two others and they to two others and in a moment all of earth and all its creatures are connected.

“Now speak to our beautiful planet and ask her to connect with two other planets and they to two others, all from the heart space, and they to two others and they to two others until all the planets in this part of the galaxy are connected.

“Now speak to our sun, our sun who has a deep relationship with all the other suns, and invite it to connect with two other suns, and they to two others and they to two others. Now the 100 to 200 billion suns are connected.

“Speak to our galaxy, from your heart space, and ask our galaxy to connect with two other galaxies, and they to two others and they to two others and soon what is now known to be about 190 billion galaxies in our universe are connecting.

“Now ask our universe to connect to two other universes, in your heart space, and they to two others and they to two others and very soon all known and unknown universes including their multiple dimensions are connecting.

“And now you find that you are connected to what some call God or the cosmos, and you are connected to the mind and heart of all being and the mind and heart of all being is connected back to you in your heart space, and the mind and heart of all being is sending this loving resonance to you and through you to all the creatures and beings and planets and dimensions in all the universe, and they are flowing back to you with love and affirmation and deep knowing. And you can feel your own head and heart and beingness in this great expansion, so that you are now from this moment forth hyper-connected in the great hologrammatic universe. You are ubiquitous through the stars. All of reality shines back in and through you and from your heart space to all of reality and from all of reality back to you. And you are bonded in this deep empathy, in this exchange of essence with all others.

“In the future when you need to connect at a deeper level, do so in this manner, connect with the universe through your heart space and then with a particular human person, one with whom your soul requires to connect. This connection is now amplified through your entelechy to their entelechy, through that which transcends any negativity or any difficulty or alienation. From this day forward, whenever you need to, you may connect in this way, through your entelechy to their entelechy, to a particular life, to all of life.”

And now another loved voice speaks, one that evokes memories of many rituals in Egypt. Peg says, “I offer you, as a blessing and as a summons, the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I give them to you as though they are coming to you from the great Goddess, the Holy One to whom our lives are now given. This is her blessing as you go forth from here, with your life-made-new.”

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody Me.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.

This concludes the series of excerpts I have shared with you from my book,
Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind. To order your own copy, simply contact:

Thank you for sharing the Mysteries of Egypt with me. Next week, on this blog, we begin a new series of reflections: “Sophia in Ireland”. We will be exploring the Sacred Feminine as she was known and honoured in Ancient Ireland, as she is known and honoured today.

Sophia in Egypt Thirty-Five

Epilogue of Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind

It is night. It is always night when a story is told. But this night is part of the story, envelops and transforms it, embraces the ending.

The room holds the darkness gently, the darkness holds the women. The room watches as they take their places. To the east, near the altar where the gold statue of the Buddha sits smiling, unconcerned, the woman stands who is to portray Isis, goddess of new beginnings. To the south against the high windows that receive the morning sun, stands the one who will speak for Sekhmet, the goddess with the fire of the south in her belly. To the west, just at the entrance doors, stands the one who will portray Nephthys, the goddess of the in-between times, of the subtle energies that weave in and out of dream time, connecting our sleeping and waking. To the north, beneath the tall windows, stands the woman who is to play Ma’at, the goddess who envisions our lives from beginning to end, who will at death weigh our hearts on a scale against the weight of the ostrich feather which adorns her hair, Ma’at who portrays honesty, integrity and balance. And in the centre, at the heart of the circle, stands Hathor, the goddess of love and joy. An inner circle of women surrounds Hathor, facing outward, towards the four directions. In darkness, in utter silence, they stand, waiting.

The room does not see goddesses. It sees only women. In seventy-five years, it has seen so many others come and go. First, all the men, then women and men together, now only women in a circle. The room sighs, feeling bored, unaware of the story, unimpressed with its quiet ending.

A light flares in the centre of the room, and in moment a tall candle is illumined. A voice speaks. “Tonight, I am Hathor, goddess of love and joy. I welcome you here to celebrate the gifts of our time in Egypt. Tonight we remember with joy all that we have received. We open our hearts to the gifts, to the promise, and to what may be asked of us in return. I invite you now to look towards the east, to the place of beginnings.”


The Goddess Hathor

A second flare of light and a second tall candle is illumined. A voice speaks. “Tonight, I am Isis, goddess of beginnings. I am the divine power in the womb of my mother Nut. The day of my birth is called the Child Who Is in Her Nest. I am she who finds fruit in the field. I am the mother of Horus. I am she who rises with Sothis, the star that heralds the flood. I am Queen of river, wind and sea. As goddess of beginnings, I call upon you now to dedicate to me your womb, in readiness to receive the seed of new life that the world hungers for.

image of goddess Isis

The Goddess Isis

Will you open yourself to be filled with the life that is needed for your time in history? If you are willing, come forward now, and I shall anoint your hands with the sacred oil of cedar for spiritual strengthening.”

When the anointing is completed, another light flares, another tall candle is illumined, this one beneath the windows on the south side of the room. A voice speaks. “Tonight I am Sekhmet, ruler of the element of fire. I stand in the south where the sun’s fire is strongest. My name means mighty, powerful one. My heart burns with the courage of conviction. I represent the strength of will power. My ennobled passions are best used for healing and preserving others. As goddess of fire, I call upon you now to dedicate to me your belly and back, source of spiritual fire and power.

The Goddess Sekhmet

Will you open yourself to be filled with the courage and strength required to heal and preserve life on this planet at this potent time in history? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the lotus, drawn from the water lilies of Egypt, offered for protection in the heart.”

Now a fourth light flares, and a fourth tall candle is illumined, this one on the west side of the room. “I am Nephthys, and I stand in the west, the place of the sunset, the place of what is passing away into other realms, for I am mistress of the in-between, the subtle energies. My creativity arises from the unconscious, for I represent dreams, ideals, psychic receptivity and the unknowable. I stand at the end of the finite world, the bridge to infinity. I am the one who illumines the dream time, who draws together the invisible threads that unite the seen and the unseen worlds. I am goddess of sympathy and self-sacrifice, opening my life to embrace the sufferings of others, and to ease their pain with the light of what I see. My ears hear the messages of the divine, and my throat speaks the words I hear in gentle songs of hope.

Nepthys wsith edits

The Goddess Nepthys


Are you willing to open your ears to hear the sounds from deep within you, and to speak what you hear to give hope to the people of the planet? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the oil of the bay leaf for purification and psychic awareness.”

On the north side of the room, a fifth light flares, and another woman speaks. “I am Ma’at, goddess of justice, honesty, integrity. I stand in the north, the place of transformation, for I represent the divine principles of cosmic order and law. I offer the gifts of harmony and balance, a life on this planet that will be transformed when it is lived in truth. On my head, I wear the ostrich feather of truth that is placed in the balance of the scales of justice when the heart is weighed in the Underworld.


The Goddess Ma’at

Are you willing to open your heart to me that it might become the heart of Ma’at, by living in truth and keeping your life in balance? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the oil of the rose for the gift of an enlightened heart.”

Now Hathor speaks once more. “We have opened ourselves tonight to be bearers of new life in our wombs, fire in our backs and bellies, wisdom in our ears and throats, the light of justice in our hearts. As goddess of joy and love, I invite you now to open your eyes to be the eyes of Hathor, eyes that shine in the darkness and see love and joy in all things. Come forward to receive the blessing of the sacred oil of freesia, for love, peace and gentleness.”
(to be continued)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Four

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)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Three

Remembering the Gifts of Egypt

When I pull open the large door to Garrison’s Meditation room, I see brilliant sunlight making its multi-coloured way through the stained glass windows, caressing the dark wood choir stalls on either side of the long room that was once a Monastic Chapel, echoing with psalmody. The sun spreads light over the toffee-coloured floor. Already our group has formed a circle at the front of the room, under the beatific smile of a golden Buddha, who sits at ease on the altar. I join the circle.

“Egypt was an experience of utter felicity,” Jean begins. “We entered sacred sites: tombs, temples, pyramids, reactivating spiritual energies that may have lain dormant for millennia. We know what we did there together: the rituals, the songs, the dances, the prayers, the promises we made to embrace a joyous fullness of life, a life of deep partnership with the masculine and feminine energies within and outside of us. We entered a sacred partnership with the Beloved for the healing and wholing of the planet.

“How do we strengthen this new story? How do we keep it alive in outrageous conditions? For the first time in human history, we have to think like a planet.

“That is the work for the rest of our lives. But for now, think about what happened for you personally in Egypt. What newness opened within you? What was birthed within you through your encounter with the spiritual energies of Egypt? What sacred places touched you most? I’m going to play Bruch’s first Violin Concerto. I need you to dance the answers to these questions.”

The sound system erupts with Bruch’s wondrous music and we dance, a dancing that takes us back to Egypt, deep inside our hearts and souls. I am again under the night sky at Abu Simbel, watching a shooting star; I am sitting on a rock wall on the Island of Philae as the earth rolls under the sun at the edge of the waters of the Nile; I am inside the tomb of the Pharaoh Queen Tausret, feeling immense tenderness embrace me as I gaze at the wall painting of an ibex. I see once more the glint of light in the eyes of Isis, in the wall painting; I am standing again before the statue of Sekhmet at Karnak, only now she is smiling, pleased I have finally let go of my fears, sent sorrow packing. My dancing is wilder, freer, more joyous, as though all the gifts of Egypt are reweaving themselves into my heart and soul.

As the music ends, Jean invites us to form groups to share what has returned to us during the dance. Suzanne, Rosemary, Kathleen, Ellyn and I gather chairs to form a circle.

Ellyn begins: “It was Hatshepsut who convened the Feasts of Light at Hathor’s temple at Dendera. That place held special meaning for me when we visited it. My name, Ellyn, means light.”

“Dendera,” I say now, remembering. “That’s where you were blowing the motes of light in the air towards Suzanne and me. You were filled with joy that night. ”

“I recognized a deep, energetic connection to Hathor. While we were visiting the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae before dawn, I focused my photography on the round face of Hathor on each pillar’s capital.” I watch Ellyn as she shares this, noticing that her face bears an uncanny resemblance to the carvings of the face of Hathor.



“At the Temple of Horus in Edfu, there were many images of her in the birthing room,” Ellyn continues.

“The power spot for me at Edfu was the birthing room,” Suzanne adds. “A guard took me aside to show me an image of Isis breast-feeding Horus.”

“Kathleen,” I ask, “which face of the goddess do you identify with most?”

“Isis, I suppose. But also Sekhmet whom I encountered years ago on another trip with Jean. We were in France in the Louvre Museum. When I touched the statue of Sekhmet, I felt energy travelling from her hand and the ankh she held, up my own hand and arm. Why do you ask?”

“I think of you as Nephthys, the goddess of the in-between, of the dream time and of the other worlds, in touch with them, drawing them into our time,” I say. “And I know now that Ellyn relates most to Hathor, and Suzanne, I am guessing, to Isis. What about you, Rosemary?”

“For me, it’s also Isis,” Rosemary says.

“I see you especially as Isis in her role as Ma’at,” I say. “There were times on the trip when you spoke a truth I needed to hear.”

“Which face of the sacred feminine do you relate with?” Suzanne asks me.

“It surprises me to say this now, but it was the fierce Sekhmet who taught me what I most needed to learn,” I tell my friends. “There were times on the journey when I felt caught up in old grief, feelings I thought I’d long ago outgrown. Those were the times when I seemed to hear the voice of Sekhmet saying, Send sorrow packing! When we were in the tiny shrine in Karnak, I stood before the statue of Sekhmet, looked up at her fierce, tender, lion’s face, and prayed for strength to be my godded self. I asked for a fire within me that would become love given freely. And I knew at once that the gift demanded a price . . .” I stop here, wondering if I can share more.

Statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, from the Temple of Mut, Karnak, New Kingdom, c.1391-1353 BC (diorite)

“What was the price?” Kathleen asks, as calmly as if she were asking the price of a cup of coffee.

“I knew I had to give up my—” I pause, seeking the words—“my allurement to tragedy.”

I can see puzzled expressions on the faces of my friends. I smile to soften the words, “I’ve always believed more readily in darkness than in light, expected the worst in relationships, doubted love without constant reassurances . . .”

“So what does it mean to give that up?” Ellyn asks.

The answer that leaps to my mind is so clear that I am surprised as I answer. “Trust. Trust in love and joy. Trust that I am loved, that I can be a giver of love and joy to others.”

“That sounds like Hathor,” Ellyn says. “And it’s giving me an idea. What if we celebrated a ritual of gratitude tonight, for all that we’ve received from Egypt?”

This and the previous “Sophia in Egypt” posts are excerpts from Called to Egypt on the Back  of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin, Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2013. To order online go to

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Two

Unpacking Egypt’s Gifts

With a thump, a rush of speed, a sudden stillness as engines cut, we are in New York. JFK Airport is a different kind of shock, like a dowsing in cold water. Part of me still feels the embrace of Egypt’s warm air, an atmosphere already moving into memory, into mythic time. Here amidst the jostling for position at the luggage carrels, then the locking of trolley wheels, the search for the customs exits, everything feels out of place, out of time, wrong. I am beside Ellyn when a woman in the uniform of security staff rudely orders her to hurry along. I see the look of shock on Ellyn’s face, realize she will not let this pass.

“We are human beings,” Ellyn says with quiet strength. She holds the woman’s gaze, but there is only bored insolence in those official eyes. I whisper calming words to Ellyn, hurrying her past the woman, seeing in memory the security guard in the Cairo Museum who gave me a thumbs up, a joyous smile. In this instant I know the impossibility of bringing our Egyptian experience back into a culture that hasn’t time for courtesy.

Somehow despite exhaustion, despite having flown backwards several hours in time, despite the culture shock of our arrival, our group manages to make its slow, ragged, luggage-burdened way to the transportation area. In the last light of afternoon, we find the bus that will return us to Garrison already waiting. The driver takes our luggage, stows it in the underbelly bins.

There is a quick headcount, each of us asked to look around, to be sure there is no one missing, and we are on our way. I close my eyes, lean against the headrest, try to sleep, grateful that we shall have time at Garrison to recollect the wonders of Egypt.

Though the journey can’t have been much more than an hour, the early darkness of late November is already enveloping the grounds and buildings of our beloved “Hogwarts” by the time we arrive. There is just enough light to see that the trees, radiant in autumn colours when we left, are now almost bare. But there is no evidence yet of snow, and the faint glint of light remaining on the surface of the Hudson River far below us shows that it has not yet frozen.

Inside, we check the list for our room assignments. Seasoned travellers that we now are, we stow our heavier luggage near the coat racks in the hallway, carry up to our rooms only a small bag with what we need for two nights. I have just made up my bed
with the crisp cotton sheets provided, hung my long cotton coat in the closet, and am making my way towards the washroom when I hear the gong announcing supper.

The long polished wood buffet table offers up a thick creamy mushroom soup, a salad of mixed greens, a steaming hot veggie lasagna. There is, as ever, a basket of homemade bread and wheat rolls, a plate of butter squares, a pitcher of iced peppermint tea. Beside the bread and rolls I see a dessert plate of chocolate brownies.

I call upon just enough energy to serve my plate, take a napkin and cutlery, and seek a place at one of the long wooden dining tables. I slide in along the polished bench
beside Kathleen, across from Ellyn and Rosemary. In a few minutes, Suzanne joins us. Suzanne can at least summon a smile, and say “the sounds of silence.” It’s true, I realize. Our whole group is here now in the dining room, and there is barely enough sound to vibrate the air. I see in my companions’ faces that we are all in a state of non-feeling, tiredness, the shock of arrival.

Slowly, as we are warmed and nourished by the food, life returns. Kathleen asks the question that has been on my mind as well. “What do you suppose we’ll be discussing when we gather with Jean and Peg?”

“I think we’ll need to have some sort of decompression exercise, like the astronauts,” Ellyn says. “A chance to speak about what we’ve learned and experienced.”

“Right now, I don’t think I could form a sentence, let alone say anything profound,” Rosemary says.

Suzanne and I are both agreeing when a voice says, “You won’t need to.” We look up to see Peg beside our table. “Jean is telling the groups at the other tables that it would be best to go to bed and have a good night’s sleep. We’ll gather at nine-thirty, immediately after breakfast.”

That night I fall into a deep sleep, after a brief ragged prayer that I might awaken with a feeling of gratitude. In a dream, I am with my travelling companions, all of us asleep in a sort of dormitory of narrow cots, with our belongings stowed under our beds. Jean wakens us, singing, “We are all made of stardust . . .” When the others have gotten up and gone to take showers, Jean hands me a huge ancient-looking iron key, like something out of a fairy tale.
“Have you written about this?” she asks me.
“You mean, made up a story?” I ask, uncertain.
“NO,” Jean responds with a fierceness that would not shame a fairy tale potentate. “I don’t want TALES. Write about your life as it weaves around this.”

When I do truly awaken, just after sunrise, it is to a world transformed. The light coming into my room from the direction of the Hudson River holds a memory . . . “Snow!” I must have said it out loud, climbing out of bed, moving to the window. Not stardust, but snow dust, a magic carpet, laid with exquisite care over tree and rock, river and roadway. The one magic that Egypt cannot create has fallen as we slept.

“Welcome home,” it whispers. And gratitude swells within me.

The level of sound at breakfast assures me that my companions have slept well. Not pomegranate seeds, but steaming porridge awaits us. I find Kathleen, wanting to share my dream.
“Why a key?” I ask her, “and write about WHAT???” But even as I ask, I think I know the answer.

Kathleen is thinking deeply. This is her milieu, her homeplace, the in-between place of dreams and words in the night, the subtle energies that weave in, around and between our lives. “Keys unlock things. Did Egypt unlock something in your life for you?”

“Yes,” I say, unwilling, unready to say more.

Kathleen smiles, her eyes telling me that she is hearing the more. “Then that’s what you need to write about.”

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-One

On our final night in Egypt, the sacred Sufi dances of ecstasy end. A wilder, joyous exuberance takes over within our group, an explosion of emotion, of deep gratitude, sharpened by awareness of the approaching ending.
Some of our company have prepared songs, rituals, presentations to honour our leaders, Jean and Peg, to thank Mohamed for his provision of private time for us in sacred places where we might experience prayer and ritual and to show our gratitude to Samai, our guide through Egypt.
Soon the audience spills onto the stage, and the Sufis are offering lessons in dance and movement. I watch the wildness of dance, wishing I felt free enough to express all the feelings that dance within me.

After we board the bus to return to the Mena House, I pass by Jean. I ask her if there might be a moment to talk with her before we leave Egypt.
The next morning, at breakfast in the Mena House dining room, I look for Jean, see that she is in conversation with someone. I have left my request too late. We are to leave immediately after breakfast for the airport. There will not be time to speak
with her, to share this sense that things have somehow come together in me. I feel a sharp disappointment. I want this resolution to happen
here in Egypt. I want to leave Egypt whole.

I am walking away from the dining room when Jean joins me. “You wanted to talk? Sit with me on the bus to the airport.”

And so it is that as Cairo’s exquisite ornamented mosques and modern buildings march past the bus windows, like a speeded-up time film moving from past to present, I speak with Jean.


Cairo, Egypt

This time I am telling her a story, one I finally understand in my heart, can see in my soul, where its separate pieces are quilted together in a pattern: beautiful, harmonious,

I begin by diving into the deep end of the pool, trusting that Jean will understand if I frame my experience in terms of durative and punctual time. I speak of my experience of an ending in Mystery School, at the final session of the year before, when I had then no hope of returning. How I came home grieving, aware only when I thought it was over, how important Jean’s presence was in my life. How I had been walking in the
woods beside my home when quite suddenly without thought or intent, I was aware of her presence with me, so real that I could converse with her. And how that presence has returned at rare moments, offering me guidance, words of direction when I lose focus, most often when I am leading retreats, sessions in spirituality with women. I have come to know this as a profound gift of her presence in durative time.

Then I tell her how difficult it is for me to reconcile the real Jean in punctual time, whose energies must flow in so many directions, with the Jean who, in durative time, is wholly present to me. I share the sacred experience at sunset on the deck of the Moon
Goddess. I tell her how I spoke with her imaginal presence even as I saw her clearly across the deck, in conversation with someone else.

I pause. This all sounds rather strange even to my ears. I wonder if Jean can receive it.  I look at her, seeking some sign of understanding. I see attentive presence. I see calm receptiveness.

But I see too the woman whom I wrapped in a shawl because she was cold and grieving outside the tomb at Abu Simbel. I see the woman who one evening had fallen into an
exhausted sleep on the felucca that was taking us back to the Moon Goddess. Then, I had looked at her, as surprised as if a statue of Isis had suddenly closed her eyes and nodded off into sleep. That night when we left the felucca, I had guided her up
the steps to the ship, fearing she would fall asleep again on her
feet. Leonard Cohen’s words come to me now, something about
there being a crack in everything that lets the light in.

This is an ordinary human beside me, extraordinarily gifted,
yes, a woman who has opened her life to be a passageway for the
Holy. My glimpses of the Holy in her have drawn me to her. She
has become for me, especially here in Egypt, an experience of
the sacred feminine, real in a way that Isis or Sekhmet or Hathor
could not be. I feel a deep gratitude along with a searing awareness
that to demand, even to expect, more than a glimpse is unfair, unloving.

No one, no matter how wise and generous and loving, can live always  in a state of being awash with divinity. And in that instant of knowing, I realize something else. This is
a woman whom I would choose as a friend, someone whom I will support with prayer and grateful love all my days.

The journey from the Mena House to the airport takes about an hour, but I have now no sense of time. I know (I have been well taught!) that there will be enough time, all the time I need, so I unfold the whole story. And Jean listens, receives.

“You are a very loving person,” Jean says. “Is that what attracted you to religious life?”
I am startled into complete honesty. “No. I came to find love.”

Later, I will understand that these words are the essence of my journey to Egypt. I came to find love. Later, I will write this discovery in a poem:

Egypt is where I learned about love.
Not a lost coin, forever sought in vain,
Not a boon for which I begged, helpless, empty,
Not a burden I placed on others who could not receive.
Rather, a gift, poured into me from Love
Until, overflowing with joy, I poured it forth.

That is Egypt’s gift to me. I know it has its origins in the Love within the Universe that I have come to call the feminine face of God, the tender love that brought me here, that revealed itself in so many ways, as Isis, as Hathor, as Sekhmet, as Jean, in tomb and temple, in pyramids, in the depths of the Red Sea, here on the bus approaching the Cairo Airport.

Now I know in my whole being the call from that sacred presence to finally Send Sorrow Packing, to release the inauthentic constructs of sorrow that have
clouded my relationships. I feel the harmony of a symphony whose opening chords in September have moved through darkness and light, to finally resolve in closing notes of quiet beauty.

I feel held by love.

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty

In the late afternoon we gather in one of the hotel’s lounges for a session, the last we shall have in Egypt. Tomorrow morning the community will part, like the fronds in fireworks, each soaring through a different place in the sky. Some of the group will journey on to countries in Europe; others, will return home to their own countries. Our own group who gathered at Garrison will return there for a final session.

Jean has invited a Muslim woman, Aisha Rafel, a renowned scholar of modern-day Egypt, to speak to us. We have seen few women in our travels throughout Egypt, other than the young girls, wearing the hijab, offering smiling service in the perfume, papyrus and clothing shops. On that dark night when we travelled by horse and buggy through the streets of Luxor to the Temple, we saw clusters of men out walking, conversing, sitting in groups outside houses, but we only glimpsed a few women, swathed in layers of black, in the doorways of their homes.

An intelligent, peaceful presence, dressed with the self-confident ease of a twenty-first century professional, Aisha incarnates what she tells us of the Egyptian woman. I wonder at her words, for she speaks of holding within her memory an ancient culture where a woman might rule as Pharaoh. (I think of the tomb in the Valley of Kings, where we experienced the resonant trembling as we sang, where I felt the presence of the feminine holy. It was dedicated to Queen Tausret, a woman who ruled as pharaoh in the nineteenth dynasty. I think of Hatshepsut, of Cleopatra . . .)

Yet the Egyptian woman, Aisha tells us, also holds the reality of the Ottoman culture that followed, an Arab culture that had a very different concept of woman. In her calm wise presence, in her words, I see no trace of rebellion, of anger, of resentment.

This is a woman who knows who she is, and where her strength resides.

Briefly, she speaks of her work, her writing, which is focussed on seeking interfaith understanding among the Muslims and Coptic Christians of Egypt. Aisha’s goal is a unity where all are seen as one, and a diversity that respects difference.  “This is all we write about,” she says.

After Aisha leaves, Jean offers some concluding thoughts on our own journey into the still-breathing spirit of a culture that stretches back more than five thousand years. “Here you have come home to durative Egypt,” Jean tells us, “an archetypal reality, a quality of mind and presence that continues in the midst of punctual time.” This is an enduring reality that contributes to a rising spirituality. Everybody borrowed from ancient Egypt, “the source-place of spirituality, sensitivity, sensibility.”

“Did things happen for you here?” Jean asks us. “The human essence is being remembered through personal dramatization of the human psyche, a sense of picking up memory . . . I was here before. Take home the sense of the mystery that you received here, that really is implicit in you: things are as they seem and they are not. There is within you a coded reality. Egypt will never desert you.”

Our last day in Egypt is swallowed by night. Like exotic flowers that bloom only in darkness, we gather in the lobby of the Mena House, a flaring forth of colour, the women in shawls, flowered dresses, or long skirts, the men in loose brightly patterned tunics over trousers. Mohamed refuses to tell us where we are going for dinner, promising a surprise.

In the restaurant, somewhere in downtown Cairo, we find places at long tables that extend in vertical lines outwards from a large stage. The food is Egyptian, served on platters, plentiful and delicious. Eggplant slices to dip in hummus, warm soft flatbreads, roasted lamb and chicken, bowls of rice. We eat hungrily, wanting to take inside of us as much of Egypt as we can . . .

After we are sated with food, the performance begins. A man comes onto the stage dressed all in white, loose trousers, flowing tunic top. His dark luminous eyes, copper skin, raven wings of hair remind me of someone, of something . . . I realize he looks like a gypsy. Suddenly I understand the source of the generic name. He looks at us, his eyes full of joy. He begins a dance, accompanied by a singer, and four other men who play flutes, drums, other ancient sounding instruments. Slowly the dancer moves, circles, twirls . . . his eyes closed, his concentration rapt. He is dancing into ecstasy.



We are watching a Sufi dancer, a whirling dervish. It is spell-binding. We lose track of time, drawn into the majesty, into the beauty, into the other-place of the dance. Several young boys come onstage, wearing rainbow-hued tunics over their white robes. They enter into the dance and as the music swells, their colourful over-skirts twirl, lift up and over, becoming flying tents.

Watching, I am again in the King’s Chamber, and the feelings of that time arise within me, return in full force. The utter emptiness I felt, the sense of not being wanted, of being overlooked.

These emotions take over, filling my inner space.

Suddenly I recall a session in Mystery School at Garrison. Peg was speaking to us about Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul, about how there is within us a truer deeper self that is untouched by the pain of passing emotion. I try to recall the teaching, try to summon that untethered soul within me. As the overskirts twirl, lift, fly, my own soul uncertain, shy, eager, follows.

whirling dervish Sufi dancer

As the colourful tents are released into the air, some part of me is set free, an “I” who looks down upon that brooding presence in the King’s Chamber, knows that she is part of me, but not the deepest part of my soul. Slowly, slowly the pain clears. Slowly the happiness sidles in, and with it the hope that my prayers have been heard, my prayers that the Crocodile god Sobek would devour the darkness in me that prevents my loving freely, my prayers for the healing of the wounds of love that have been with me all my life. My senses, thoughts, feelings lift with
the music, the colour, the dance, transforming themselves into peace and recovered joy.

(from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press Ottawa, Canada 2013) to order online go to: