Tag Archives: Isis

Sophia in Egypt:Nine

At the ruined temple of Kom Ombo, our guide Samei tells us that since the changes caused by the building of dams along the Nile, the crocodiles have disappeared forever from its waters. Sobek, the crocodile god, is the one whom the Ancient Egyptians honoured as the “great devourer”. They asked him to swallow the darkness that threatened their lives.

 

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carving at the Temple of Kom Ombo of Sobek, the Crocodile God

We take time to wander around the temple area, to admire its massive carved walls and pillars, representation of the gods and pharaohs. I recognize Hathor by the hieroglyph of sun and two curved lines. I know when two incised figures are in conversation, though what they are saying to each other is inaccessible. I stare at the hieroglyphs, full of wonder and frustration.

The small shriveled mummies of the crocodiles are a source of wonder of another order… one has overhanging teeth.

A large flat rock, about a meter high, bearing the energy of Sobek, sits alone in a clear space. Jean Houston invites us to gather around it, to pray for the release of any darkness, any negativity we hold within us, to ask Sobek to devour it. Jean prays aloud on our behalf for the release of the way we humans treat the earth, for the crimes committed against women and children. We each touch the rock, make our silent, personal requests. I place my hand on the black surface, worn smooth, surprised to feel energy rising into my palm. “Devour the darkness in me that impedes my freedom to love,” I ask Sobek. For the second time that morning, I sense that my prayer is heard.

 

That afternoon, we gather in the captain’s lounge on the Moon Goddess to hear the great story of Isis and Osiris. We are sailing now, the shores of the Nile sweeping past, clearly visible through the round portholes on either side of the lounge. As a setting for this myth, it is pure magic. Jean begins by reminding us about the power of myth.

In pursuing the Mystery Play of Isis and Osiris, with its themes of love and loss, death and rebirth, revenge and reconciliation, we meet ourselves writ large. And that’s what a myth does. This is what the great journeys of the soul do. We no longer see ourselves as separate and isolated in our sorrows, our regrets, our burdens. Myths are always communal… not simply communal among us, but communal in that you are now part of this great journey that has been told for perhaps six thousand years, perhaps longer. Gradually we will discover as we enter into these profound universal themes, that these ancient stories are our own. Having been Isis and Osiris, we actually come back to our own lives with our energies and our abilities enhanced. That is the genius of the myth.

We watch as an ancient story trunk, jewel-encrusted, opens before us. From it rise the entwined figures of Nut the Sky and Geb the Earth, of Ra, the Sun who is their first born, Ra whose jealously refuses to allow his mother Nut to give birth on any day….Thoth the Moon who wins five days from Ra so that Isis, Osiris, Seth,Nephthys, and Horus may be born. With the lid now open wide, we see flowing from within and around their stories a swath of wisdom that has long been wrapped tightly. Set free, it shimmers and sways, a silken garment painted with butterflies. Every aspect of the story holds hieroglyphs of meanings, layer upon layer upon layer.

The five days out of time in which Nut gives birth remind us of the necessity to make time in our lives for the birthing of the holy within us. Whether we set aside an hour a day, a day a week, a week or a month each year, we must take time for the sacred within us to be born.

Isis and Osiris come in singing. As they travel through Egypt teaching agriculture: the planting of wheat, the crossbreeding of animals and plants; the weaving of cloth; they teach with song and dance, story and music. If we are to be the harbingers of newness for children, for our families and friends, for the new planetary culture being birthed today, we too must come in singing, offering joy and dance and story.

Seth represents in this myth the remnant of the hunter-gatherer society that rejects the new ways of agriculture, refusing to accept newness. He plots the entrapment and death of Osiris, encasing him in a jeweled box, sealed with lead. After this, he and his seventy-two co-conspirators carry the chest to the bank of the Nile, right where we were this morning, and cast it into the river where it joins the sea.

In Seth we see that force on the planet that tries to hold back growth and freedom, to prevent the birth of a planetary culture based on love.

Crushed by the loss of her husband and lover, her partner in co-creation, Isis cuts her hair, puts on robes of mourning, sets out to search for Osiris. In this part of the story, Isis embodies the energies of yearning that are part of the endless longing of the human heart.

Until now, I have been listening to the story’s unfolding as I might listen to a beloved piece of music, swaying to its rhythms, enchanted. Each note, each phrase is more beautiful by its familiarity.

But something alerts me, breaks the spell. I hear Jean say, Our soul is partnered. When one is born into time and space, as we’ve been, the other part of us remains as the beloved in the spiritual realm. The beloved is in the other realm, longing for us….And it is this deepest wounding of the heart, this yearning for the lost unified soul itself that will not leave Isis or ourselves in peace. And it is precisely that wound and sorrow that brings her then, through grace or time or love, into creating a reality in which something happens and the charge returns.

Many of us, throughout our lives, have a series of surrogates, noble and alas, not so noble, fill-ins between the spaces of that yearning. One mistake is that we place on the noble surrogate, the good friend, the spouse, the lover, that person we admire, we place on them that sense of twinning that properly belongs only to the Beloved of the soul.

Projection. The word is like the bite of the crocodile Sobek, sharp and sudden. But Sobek has exceeded his mandate. He has devoured not only my darkness but also my light. Somewhere inside me a vial of precious oil shatters. Lotus oil drains away and only the shards of glass remain.

(To read the entire story from which these “Sophia in Egypt” blogs have been taken, you may wish to order my book Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind from Borealis Press: http://borealispress.com)

 

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 : 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.

Mary, Companion in our Present Darkenss

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 Lucius Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian whose tale, “The Golden Ass” I referred to in my first blog, “A Promise Born in Light”.

The hapless magician, Lucius having turned himself into an ass, cries out to Isis for help. Shining like the sun, she comes to him saying:
“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…shall the sun of your salvation rise….Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

After the reading that day in the sanctuary of Isis, 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.

If you grew up Catholic in the days before the Second Vatican Council, 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.

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 is our true companion in her own 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 us, 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.”