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 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) http://borealispress.com