Tag Archives: Jean Houston

Sophia in Egypt: Eleven

ancient-egypt-history3-imagech004885_lr004248

 

Before we leave the Temple at Edfu, my friend Ellyn draws me aside, excited to show me the birthing chamber. We stand together silently looking at the room where legend says Isis bore her son Horus. This is where royal women came to birth their children. Buried deep under the rubble of my joy, a memory stirs of Isis and my own birthing, the ritual in the prayer room in September, but I cannot summon it from the darkness.

When we are back on the ship, Ellyn is eager to see the full moon from the upper deck. I go with her, climbing the flight of steps that takes us up under the night sky. We choose reclining deck chairs, lying back with our gaze fixed on the moon. Always before I have thought of the moon as feminine, but tonight I think of Thoth, the Egyptian god of Truth, and as I sit below his gaze, Truth pierces me. I know now that this truth is a response to my prayer to Isis to show me how to make of my love a gift, not a burden. I remember something I read on a poster. “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”. I stay for a while under the gaze of the moon, reflecting upon all this.

Some of our friends are gathered here, sitting at the edge of the shallow pool, bare feet resting in the warm water. Ellyn and I go to join them, letting the water soothe our feet. Suzanne is here, Denise, the woman from Ireland, and Valarie whom I had met at the Social Artistry session in Oregon. The women are speaking about the different energies they felt in the temples of Isis and Horus. I listen, surprised, realize it is true that on the island dedicated to Isis, I felt a gentle peace that drew me to prayer, whereas in the temple of Horus, itself massive, with its many carvings of fierce battle, the energy was masculine. I have until now not been aware of such things.

Valarie suggests that we should have a ritual at some point during our journey to honour the men who have been brave enough to join this venture. This reminds me of a book I’ve recently read. I tell them about the Canadian man who wrote The Savage Breast. He travelled throughout Europe, seeking ancient sites of goddess worship and wrote a compelling book about his struggles to understand the feminine within himself. He found that many of these temples held birthing rooms.

It is by now long past midnight on this day that began for us before sunrise. Yet, none of us feels fatigue. When at last I do return to my room, I fall into a deep sleep.

I waken to a day of sailing, as we head towards Luxor. After breakfast, I make arrangements to use one of the ship’s laptops, hoping to send my first emails to friends and family. As I sit in the lobby, my efforts to engage the internet, to make connection, prove fruitless. Bent over the task, I become aware that Denise has come to sit beside me. There is at once a connection between us more vital, less complicated than the one I am trying to make with the internet.

“Last night on the upper deck, under the moon,” Denise says, “we were like a group of women in ancient Ireland sitting around the well.”

I agree that the talk was rich and deep, and at once I find I am sharing with Denise the pain and confusion that I had held silent within me the night before.

“Why don’t you speak with Jean about this?” Denise asks.

I recite my litany of reasons, my fear of weighing her down, placing my concerns on her, blowing her away”…

Denise gives me a look that must be the Irish equivalent of you’ve got to be kidding. “Jean looks pretty grounded to me. I think she can handle it.”

The sweet sanity of this dissolves the dark fear still lurking within me. After Denise leaves, I try again to connect with the internet, hear a question above me.

“Sending email?” I look up, see that Jean is here.

“Will you sit down for a moment?” I ask. When she does, I say, “When I asked you about projection yesterday, did you think it was a hypothetical question?”

Jean smiles. “Well, I thought perhaps you were referring to some poor priest.”

“Been there. Done that,” I say, relieved at the lightness in my heart. For an instant, the memory of a powerful love from my own springtime sweeps though me, a love that has endured to warm these autumn days, a love in which I trust.

We speak awhile about love, about how the God in us draws the God in another. “Surely this has happened to you in your work?” Jean says.

“Yes, it has,” I say, remembering, regretting now that I had not understood better at the time what was happening, been more compassionate. “But what you said yesterday, about not frightening people away. How can you love without being a burden to them? ”

Suddenly the response matters very much. I am again on the brink, the cliff’s edge, where I have stood so many times with other people in my life, awaiting the dark response: “I’m sorry. I cannot be your friend… we really don’t have enough in common….I am sorry, but no.”

I have gone back so far in memory to such long-forgotten miseries that I cannot hear what Jean is saying. I tune in to one word, “Impossible”. It is the word I have been expecting. I look at her, unsurprised.

“It’s impossible to blow me away. I’ve been around too long, experienced too much for that to happen with me.”

After Jean leaves, I give up the effort to connect on the internet. I have had two human encounters worth more than a thousand emails. I feel a burden lift from my heart. The sun rises and I can see clearly.

I tasted god like soup dripping from a ladle.
I felt his grace like three lyres humming…
I am made lively as onions and olives.
I walk at peace between lilies and stones.

Normandi Ellis in Awakening Osiris

“Sophia in Egypt” is excerpted from my novel, Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada 2013)     http://borealispress.comancient-egypt-history3-imagech004885_lr004248

Sophia in Egypt: Four

The next day our tour bus takes us to Saqqara on the West Bank of the Nile, about 18 miles south of Cairo. We walk over sand fields to see Old Kingdom Pyramids, some looking now like haphazard piles of stones. It is furnace-hot and we are reminded to drink lots of water.

We emerge from exploring a tomb, its walls alive with colourful scenes from the life of Mereruka, the man buried there. The sun is a cylinder of fire against a distant pyramid, then a copper coin in the darkening sky, as the earth rolls eastwards. By the time we reach the Step Pyramid, it is fully dark, and a pale moon is gathering her energy to light our way. I see a few faint stars, but do not recognize any constellations.

Our group gathers in silence before the entrance to the Step Pyramid, some five to six thousand years old, the first route of initiation in the ancient Egyptian Mystery Rites. In a rush of awareness, our reason for being in Egypt fills me. I am fully here.

With Jean Houston leading the way, we enter a long narrow passageway with tall pillars and a high roof. To our left and right, deep arches open out to the night, like the side altars in a cathedral. The wind is rising, stirring the air through which we walk, creating a pleasant coolness after the day’s heat. I reach into my backpack, pull out my shawl, glad of its warmth. I am aware of the burden of backpack, purse, water bottle, camera… items no ancient initiate would have carried. Ahead of us, Jean is emerging from the passageway, calling out to the ancient ones: Open yourselves to us as we open to you.

We are in an inner courtyard, already dusky in the failing light. Across an expanse of sand, the Step Pyramid huddles against the sky, a black shape, a mythic beast, a cave of unknowing, awaiting us. The doorway is narrow, and we enter single file.

step-pyramid

The Step Pyramid

Inside we walk along a corridor, stone walls and ceilings strengthened against calamitous collapse with steel bars, structures of wood. Here and there electric lights bless the darkness. We walk in silence, with great care, aware of danger.

Ahead, Jean is waiting for us at the edge of a sheer drop. One by one we are invited to look down. I stand at the edge, unprotected by any kind of barrier, leaning forward in order to see all the way down, some three or four stories, to the burial chamber. The cavernous darkness is unrelieved by any artificial light except that which seeps down from the high place where we stand.

I am looking into a walled chamber, the stone darkened by millennia of dampness, to the small stone floor where once Djoser’s body rested. I see only emptiness, an emptiness that is in its way more disturbing than seeing what belongs there. I see all of this in a glance, realize a glance is all I want.

 “Deep are the wells in our minds, our hearts, our being,” Jean says. “ Here we are in the land of depth, here in the oldest architectural structure known to humankind. There are many, many tunnels that bridge from here, three miles of tunnels in this the principal, first route of initiation.

“We think of so many things in which and to which we require initiation. For many of you the initiation is into new life, into new ways of being, into the emerging of what is possibly the end of times but it is also the opening time. Here in this ancient place which was the annunciation of the prophetic moment, is the annunciation that we have entered into a whole new order of civilization.

“Let us take it in our hearts that from this moment forth, from this primordial place, this great sacred mound, from which the genius of Imhotep emerged to create a structure that would be known from time out of mind, from this place of initiation, this place from which a great, great civilization grew … that this is the place from which we affirm, we say, we heartfully know that a great world civilization will begin again.We are in the ending times, we are in the closing times, we are in the opening times.

“Let us speak aloud the words of ancient Egypt: SA the creative breath of life, infusion of new life, energy, inspiration; SEKHEM the creative word of power, that can move in all of us so that we can take the fullness of our creative power into the world; SAHU the perfectly realized being within, the essence who holds the measuring, who holds the beginning and the end and the new beginning, that holds the love that moves the sun and all the stars, that creates the entrance to new life, the energy to be a vehicle of the patterning.”

We reach out to touch one another lightly, as might astronauts about to step out onto the moon.

“The new begins now,” Jean says. “The new that Teilhard de Chardin saw: The day will come when after harnessing space, the winds, tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”                                                                                                                                        

 

We are again in the large sand covered courtyard, now in full darkness. Each of us is offered a candle, already lighted, to guide our way back. We are walking slowly, looking up to where the night sky is alive with stars. I am stunned at the beauty, seeing patterns as ancient as the universe, as new as my own breath.

 

As we enter the corridor of pillars, tears well up in my eyes, fall freely. An inner wave of emotion surges though my body, as the encounter with the Sacred Feminine in my community’s prayer room two months earlier takes on deeper meaning. I know now I am experiencing a triptych of healing that is a rebirthing: with my mother, with my community, with the Holy Feminine, whoever she is, by whatever name I call her: Mary? Isis? At this sacred moment, names do not matter.

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.

image of goddess Isis

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)

Sophia in Egypt

 

Part Three

That evening, as they share their meal, she looks carefully at her Sister companions, listens to the stories they tell of nieces and nephews, of work projects. She no longer expects them to understand her project, her summer journey, but she is comforted by the talk they share.

 

This is the pattern for the three months of her exile. The book opens at her touch, draws her inside where the story continues. She learns that for the Ancient Egyptians, life exists at once on several planes, and time is both clock time and lasting time. In the durative realm, she may visit events that occur in other times.

f1000002

One day, wandering like Isis, she comes in her Ka spirit to the place where shepherd children met the Virgin Mary in 1917, in Fatima, Portugal. She stands and watches as the story, familiar to her since her childhood, unfolds. She sees the light on the children’s faces, sees the solemn kindly being who greets them. She waits until the being looks finally at her. Then she asks what she must ask this Holy One: “Who are you?”

The radiant being smiles and says, “You know who I am.”

Isis brings Osiris to life
and conceives of him their child Horus.
But Seth captures Osiris
and hacks his body into fourteen pieces.
These he hurls into the Nile.
Isis and Nephthys together,
helped by the creatures of the river,
regather the scattered pieces of Osiris.
He goes to rest in the underworld, where he reigns as King.

 

The woman sees that the scattered pieces of her life are being sought out and rejoined in this mysterious adventure. She gives her trust to the journey, to its guide. For a long while now she has been aware that this guide is not the book’s author. She names her Isis, and strange though the name feels upon her lips, she is at home with this guiding presence who has known her, it seems, forever. Isis gives the woman new names for her body (companion), her mind (weaver), her emotions (seeker) and her spirit (Christa).

 

In a dream, Osiris instructs his son,
now grown to manhood, to defeat Seth.
A terrible battle rages for eighty years.
Horus wins, but Isis insists
that he not destroy Seth.
Horus is enraged and pulls
his mother’s crown from her head.
After a time, Horus gains wisdom.
He turns his heart to his mother
and recrowns her Queen of Earth and Heaven.

 

The room holds the darkness gently, and the darkness holds the woman. The days of her exile have almost ended, and she has come to the room where many years earlier she had sat as a young novice. The room is now a place of silent prayer and it watches her as she stands alone, holding in her outstretched hands a crown of mithril silver laced with emerald.

 

In her Ka, her spirit, she recrowns Isis.

 

She waits, knowing a gift will be offered in return. But at once she is overcome by shame. All her life she has been seeker, all her life she has been asking.

 

“Don’t give,” she says to the Holy presence. “Take something instead.” She doesn’t know where these words, this desire, have come from. “Take away this great emptiness that has made me a beggar of love for all my life.”

 

Even as she asks, she is afraid, for without this need, this longing, what would draw her to the Holy?

 

The fear dissolves in what is happening. She is being regifted in her birth. She is gushing forth, being presented to her mother, her mother who had been so afraid. But now another is there, pouring her love into child and mother both. And the woman thinks, “She is there in my birth blood. I am born into love and must ever now have more love than I can bear. I must give it as a mother with full aching breasts.”

 

The room yawns, believing nothing has happened.

 

A few days later, the woman, living once more in ordinary time, is visiting the city when a street woman approaches, begging. Grudgingly, she opens her purse, takes out a bill. Then for the first time she looks into the eyes of the other woman.

 

With no clear knowledge of what she will do or say, she embraces the street woman, holds her close and says, “Your life is so beautiful. Please, please take care of yourself.”
The street woman hugs her back. Both are startled. Then the woman who spent the summer lost in a book feels an astonished delight. Something wonderful has been born.

 

I have given you over recent weeks this three-part story,  first written under the title, “Portal to Egypt”. The very day I completed the final edit, I received a phone call. Beyond hope, beyond even my dreams, I learned that a place had opened on the waiting list, that I would now be travelling to Egypt. In fact, almost immediately.

Nine days later I emerged from the Cairo Airport with the companions who would, with me, and guided by Jean Houston, spend eighteen days in the heart of Egypt. On our visits to tombs, pyramids and sacred sites we were often the only group present, allowing Jean to teach us, guide us, lead us in a stunning experience of the myths, the spirituality, the rituals of ancient Egypt.

You may read of the whole journey in my book Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2014)   http://borealispress.com    Anne Kathleen McLaughlin   

f1000003

Sophia in Egypt

(Continued from last week…)

After the rapture of sunrise, she goes indoors, makes coffee, hurries to her room, climbs back into the book.

She is once again in the story circle. She arranges herself on the cushion, smiles at her guide already seated beside her, and turns again to the storyteller.
Ra, the firstborn, burns with jealousy.
He decrees that no child may come forth
from the womb of Nut on any day of his year.
The Sky writhes in torment,
her full belly unable to release life.
In her womb, Isis and Osiris become lovers,
Seth rages, Horus, the twice-born,
and their dark sister Nephthys wait.
Wise Thoth challenges Ra to a game of checkers.
Skillfully, the moon wins bits of light
until he has five days.
On each of these days, Mother Sky gives birth.

The guide gestures towards another room. “It is the place before time and beyond time. Go inside and look at your life as it was before your birth, and as it is now.”

The woman goes inside, allows herself to be taken into no time. The formless loneliness that fills her has been with her all her life. It has led her to seek love in many places, led her to become one of a community of women. In this timeless realm, she finds herself in the womb of Nut, waiting to be reborn. It is a comfort, though she cannot think why it should be.

 

From far away a bell startles her, breaks into her thoughts, and she finds herself again in the community residence. The light suggests early evening, time for supper with the others who live here. She has no idea what she will say should they ask her how she spent the afternoon.

 

That night the woman dreams she is held in an embrace of love more tender than any she has known. She wakens glad, eats a hurried breakfast and steps back into the book.

Isis and Osiris travel across Egypt giving gifts.
Osiris teaches the secrets of the Nile,
the taming of cattle, the planting of seed,
the guiding of the plough.
At night he plays his reed pipe,
enchanting the people with the songs of Mother Sky.
Isis teaches the women the moon’s cycles,
the shapes of the stars,
the rhythms of the seasons.
She dances with them under the moon’s soft light.
In Ra’s light, she teaches them to weave,
to transform flax to thread, thread to linen.
She gives them the song of the wheel.
She loves them into beauty.

 

When they are alone again, the guide tells her it is time to learn the secret lore of the ancient Egyptians. She teaches her the skill of placing her spirit, her Ka, in an imaginary way in a tree or a bird, then looking back at the self through wise eyes.

 

The woman places her thought in a mountain she has loved, and imagines the mountain gazing at her, seeing her power for movement and speech, for singing and dancing, for growth and change, gifts the mountain does not possess. Through that ancient gaze, the woman sees how wasteful she is of her immense possibilities, her capacity for fulness of life, how she is always seeking and discontent. It seems the mountain looks on her with compassion, and says, “Just rest for awhile and enjoy the beauty.”

P1000637

The woman learns to make simple hieroglyphs, pictures that carry levels of meaning. She shapes a message: I alone in nature sense the Holy. The Holy embraces me with love. Again alone beside a tree I weep for loss. The Holy returns. A bird sings. I know I am not alone in nature. The woman smiles at the childish drawings that have just told her the story of her life.

When they next return to the room of storytelling, the luminous days of the reign of Isis and Osiris are ending.

Seth rages at the lovers.
From gold and precious gems, he crafts a coffin
and tricks Osiris into lying in it.
He seals the coffin and hurls it into the Nile.
Isis cuts her hair, disguises herself as a beggar
and sets out to search for her husband.
In the far land of Byblos,
the coffin has been caught in a tamarisk tree.
Magically, the tree grows around it.
So great is this wonder that the King
takes it as a pillar for his great hall.
Weary and worn, no longer beautiful,
Isis comes at last to the King’s Hall.
She enters by the back door,
asks to be a servant,
to care for the children of the King.
Her love wins her the release of the coffin
from the pillar of tamarisk.

 

A touch on her arm from her guide and they leave the story room. “Today you must find the places in your story where you have been seeking a lost beloved,” she tells her. “I’m going to take you into a larger room where you may walk, dance if you like, and let the memories return. Don’t be afraid.”

The woman is neither afraid nor expectant. In her long search for understanding, she has often visited the place of memory. But the memory that comes is one buried in the dust of forgetfulness.

She is a high school student, perhaps thirteen. On her way home from school, she has come to pray in the large stone Church. It is cool and quiet here. She likes it. Sometimes she walks around the Church praying at each of the carved scenes that tell the story of the sufferings and death of Jesus. She likes to think of how much he must love her, to go through all that for her.

Mary

 

But today she happens to look at the marble statue of the Virgin Mary. That word virgin sounds as cold to her as the marble from which the image was carved. She shivers a bit and looks away. On the bench beside her, someone has left a prayer book. She glances at an open page, sees the words, “I am your mother, Mary”. If the marble statue had broken open to show her a beating human heart, the effect would not have been any more powerful.

Coming to Know Sophia

I have been enchanted in these summer weeks by the book Goddesses:”Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” (New World Library, Novato, California,2013) a compilation of lectures, articles and workshops offered by the late Joseph Campbell, mostly in the 1980’s. In all the richness Campbell offers from ancient mythology throughout time and around the planet, there is but one brief reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, the source book for Muslims, Jews and Christians:

 

The biblical and  Goddess traditions were radically against each other, and while the biblical has remained the authorized tradition, there has been in European culture this waterway of the living Mother Earth flowing underneath. In the Old Testament, we read in early Genesis: “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”. Well, the Earth is not dust, the earth is life, vital, and this intrusive god who comes in late, wanting to take everything over to himself, he denigrates the Earth itself and calls it dust? What he tells you there is, “You really are your mother’s child and you’ll go back to her. She’s nothing but dust, however.” Similarly, you read in Genesis 1:1 , “When God created, the breath (or Spirit) of the Lord brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say he created the waters. The waters are the Goddess — she was there first.

Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” She says it. What you have is the same old mythology that the Babylonians and the Sumerians had of two powers, the female and the male power in tension, relationship and creative co-action. But what happened in the Bible was that the male power was anthropomorphized in the form of a man and the female power was reduced to an elemental condition — just water. It says, “God’s breath brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say the waters of the Goddess, it just says the waters. She’s screened out, but she always comes back. (pp.234-5)

In these words of Joseph Campbell, I find the heart of my work, the inspiration which led me to begin this blog in October of 2014: the intuition that Sophia/ the Divine Feminine Presence is rising in and among us. Her awakening is the underlying theme of all I write.

In her book, Praying with the Women Mystics, (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006) Mary T.Malone offers us a poem in Sophia’s voice, based on Proverbs 8:27-31:

When God established the heavens I, 

Sophia, WomanGod, was there.

When God drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When God assigned to the sea its limit…

When God marked out the foundations of the earth,

There I was beside Him like a master-worker.

And I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before Him always,

Rejoicing in the inhabited world 

And delighting in the human race. 

 

Sophia is present within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. We glimpse “Sophia in Splendour” in this poem of Mary Malone’s, based on Wisdom: 7:26-8:11

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

Jean Houston in her book Godseed  takes us on an imaginal  “Visit to the Sophia”:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…

 

Powers of the Universe: Interrelatedness

Along the lane that leads to my house, there are many many trees, evergreen as well as deciduous, including several ancient apple and crab-apple trees. Year after year, I had driven past them, scarcely noticing their flowering, their fruitfulness, their quiet winter sleep. In the late summer of 2013, some combination of factors led to an explosion of fruitfulness for one crab-apple tree just where the lane ends at my driveway.

I had noticed the tree the day before, saw that its two large branches were split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or else pummeled by winds in a recent storm.

I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.

After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out.

Then, I happened to look up at the tree. Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.

Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I think so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.

Walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks leads down into the Bonnechere River, I sought relief from furnace-like heat.
Embraced by the slowly moving river, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy. But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. A presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…

White Buffalo Calf Woman taught her people that all things are interrelated, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean Houston teaches, is what the power of Interrelatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Interrelatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Interrelatedness or Care has been at work in the universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the universe would fall apart.

Parental care emerged as a value in the universe because it made survival more likely when the mother and father fish care for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.

IMG_0079

While travelling in South Africa, my friend Debra Hawley took this photo. Notice the baby elephant to the left. Mother Elephants care for their offspring for fifty years.

In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chose a sexual partner, one of the qualities she sought was tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.

In a human person in whom the Power of Interrelatedness is strongly present, we see a psyche attuned to relatedness, with the capacity to identify another’s worth, and to be sensitive to the needs of others. Care can result in true devotion, service, nurturance. However Swimme cautions that this power needs to be balanced with the Power of Centration, lest one become so absorbed in the needs and values of others that there is a loss of the self.

Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.

How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (or views a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something that must be “used”.)

What would be another way?

Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have, through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed-in perspective.

Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human. Paraphrasing Meister Eckhart, Swimme says that “the eye we are using to regard care in the universe is the same eye that care is using to regard itself”. He asks: Is the role of the human to provide the vessel for a comprehensive care to come forth in the universe? The space in which this will take place is within the human.

On that September day, I was given the gift of experiencing interrelatedness directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.

Powers of the Universe:Transformation

Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe. Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.

A few summers ago, at our community’s holiday place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body. Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly. Transformation.

 

wazz1

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.

Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE. Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth. Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.

Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.

These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.

Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun. That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it. The memory is passed on by cells.

With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways. The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.

The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.

A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community. We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.

We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species. With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.

The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century age that, We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.

Swimme asks what laws we are proud of: ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals?
Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?

And what of the seismic shifts happening in our purchase of food? What of our growing need to know where our food comes from? Our choices based on local sourcing? farmers’ markets sprouting everywhere? What of clothing purchases now that we know more of the sweat shops in Bangladesh and China?

From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative. We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.

One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace. She writes:

It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes….I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not something I had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.

Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this. Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us.

We are the recoding, the reset button.

Dragonfly3

We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love,

enable us to undertake this task.(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm

Cataclysm, as Brian Swimme teaches in his DVD series: “Powers of the Universe”, is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.

Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.

But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium, that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity. The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.

But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos. This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies. (for a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in  Journey of the Universe,  co-authored by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011)

The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe. Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now. Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes, our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure.

I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals, gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang as a prayer of pleading, “let them continue on….” Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…

Concurrent with this extinction of species is the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes. As though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures, we see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.

Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects…We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.

When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster that revealed what is worth valuing in life?

The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auswitch, wrote words that might be a light for us in this time: I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes, our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.IMG_0007

For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us. Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence. Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes. Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds, “You are blessed to be alive at this time.”

Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis

One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.
Diarmuid O’ Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998 p. 41

Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis: the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body; the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body. The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.

The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas. In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater. In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode. Homeostasis.

Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.

When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life require for continuance.

Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence, the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.

Asking the question why homeostasis is falling apart in major life systems, (the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet…) Brian Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body. The great search now for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, is a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.

Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community. There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.

chambered-nautilus-swimming-se40

“Not just stuff”the chambered nautilus knows when to move to a larger room 

 

Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet. If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.

On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.

Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.

But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side. Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”. The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing. The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.

 

When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play: Cataclysm ….

To my readers: I welcome your comments and questions: what further Sophia themes would you like to read about here?  Contact me: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca