Pool of Lotus: Magical Reflections on New Egyptian Spirituality

Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.

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Holli Emore

Holli Emore

Holli Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the premiere educational resource for Pagan and other nature-based religions (www.cherryhillseminary.org), founder of Osireion (www.osireion.com), editor/writer for Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at Patheos.com, and serves on the board of directors for Interfaith Partners of S.C. (interfaithpartnersofsc.org).  She is co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table, www.paganroundtable.org, and author of "Pool of Lotus," available in print, or for Kindle or Nook, at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/holli1032

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b2ap3_thumbnail_NutCosmicDream.jpgAt the winter solstice I can’t help but be aware that the earth is rushing inexorably towards its fatal crossing of the ecliptic on December 21.  After that longest night, the sun will rise a tiny bit earlier, set a bit later.  Before I know it, the year will have changed again, and life will have moved on as I sleep, whether I am ready for a new year or not. 

Deep in the quiet night, curled up beneath the warm of my down coverlet, I ponder the fragile balance of light and darkness, remembering that the Tanach says in Genesis that G_d separated the evening and the morning, then called them the first day.  In ancient Egypt, all life emerged from the water, but soon began the same sort of bicameral division, first into firmament and waters, then into snakes and frogs, and eventually into ta, the land of Kmt, and Hapy, the great river of life surging through it. Ages later, modern science told us a new story of cell division and multiplication. The act of creating would seem to necessitate divisions. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_isis_horus_20141129-225317_1.jpgWhen I was about nine, my grandfather took a welding torch and created for my church a tall stand on which to set the Advent wreath in the sanctuary.  We had magnificent holly bushes in our yard, so my mother and I each year cut piles of dark, prickly leaves and red berries, then built the wreath ourselves.  None of my friends seemed to have ever heard of Advent, so I thought it was just for Lutherans.  The sermon each of the four weeks before Christmas kept our minds trained on the spiritual significance of the season, and a paper Advent calendar at home with little doors to open each day made me think maybe I should pay attention to it all. 

Nowadays I ponder the iconic maternal images of Mary and Isis, seasonally superimposed one on the other.  Each of them experienced difficult transitions to motherhood. Each struggled to hide her son away from those who would snuff out his life.  Each had enough protective magic to earn them the titles Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. 

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Hail to you, Bull of the West!  So says Thoth, King of Eternity, about me. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_nut-night.jpgMost of the Pagan world in the Northern Hemisphere observed the feast of Samhain this weekend, drawing near to and honoring the blessed dead. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_abydos-crop1small.jpgThe crafting of a life is an epic journey, the story of which has been told around the world for as long as we have memory. For the ancient Nile dwellers, survival was exquisitely poised on the banks of that great river, where the mysterious flood arose each year, bringing new fertility to all the land. This is the time of year when the flood used to peak.  But the Egyptians also carried the understanding of how this life is linked to the next one, the deep mysteries of life, death, rebirth and new, transformed life.

The story of those mysteries comes to us from numerous writings preserved in the royal tombs and temples: the Book of Going Forth By Day; the Book of Gates; the Book of Caverns, the Amduat, and several other afterlife texts. Each of them is a variation on the 12-hour journey of the sun through the netherworld, or Duat. Each hour requires passage through a gate, each hour is a stage of personal transformation for the soul. The journey culminates with the re-emergence of the sun - the transformed life - in the brilliant light of dawn. In ancient times, priests of the temple played the role of the gods in the story, as well as reciting and chanting praises and prayers.  We know many of these today through the so-called Book of the Dead.

Traces of the Egyptian mysteries were preserved in the books known as the Hermetica, and the process shows up again in the work of the medieval alchemists. Our ceremony tonight is based on the Book of the Night, found in the Osireion at the Temple of Sety in Abydos. The goddess Nut, with her lapis-blue star-spangled body, spans the ceiling of a transverse chapel of the Osireion. There we see the sun in its solar boat beginning the journey through her body.

The afterlife books are filled with layer upon layer of myth and meaning, hundreds and hundreds of years of allegory and symbolism. Sometimes the dying and reborn god is Ra, and sometimes Osiris; the goddess may appear as Hathor or as Sekhmet. Sometimes the goddess Maat is the divine woman wearing a feather on her head, and sometimes maat is the abstract principle of truth, justice, balance, right living. But the central figure is the soul of the dead, whom we will here call Ani, navigating through the dark in the solar boat. Whether a pharaoh or one of us, that soul begins the afterlife journey at the death of its physical body, is rebirthed in the Duat, and emerges as Horus, the powerful shining one who soars like a hawk across the daytime sky.

As we embark on another cycle through the dark time of the year, may your journey bring you to the eastern gates, transformed into an akh, a shining one.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_osireionNut.jpgLast night an old friend came to me in a dream.  He has been a genuine soul-mate, both before and after his earthly passing.  Our affair of the heart was stormy, but in matters of spirit he always drew me to my best self.  I blocked him out for many years, but for a while now have been aware of his benevolent and supportive presence.  And he is not the only one.  On the periphery of my awareness there is a veritable cloud of witnesses, as one sacred text refers to those who have crossed over.  I don’t seek them out so often as I simply know them to be with me and part of me. 

Not unlike contemporary Pagans, ancient Egyptians had a complex set of ideas about the afterlife which often look like contradictions without study and reflection.  After the weighing of the heart in the Hall of Maat one might ascend to the sky as an “imperishable star” along with other ancestors.  Or one might face defeat by the monster Ammit should the heart be out of balance.  Most Egyptians simply hoped to live in comfort and happiness in a new world beyond.  Those of a more religious ilk imagined detailed journeys through the Duat, including encounters with all manner of beings and neteru (gods).  They understood this trip to be an alchemical sort of transformative process, describing the path of spiritual development. 

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I'm reading the most delightful book, Lisa Manniche's "An Ancient Egyptian Herbal," and just have to share this ancient recipe from page 42:

b2ap3_thumbnail_food-Maler_der_Grabkammer_des_Menna_009.jpgStuffed Alexandrian Loaf

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a1sx2_Medium_IMG_20140820_152830_274.jpgMummies, shabtis, stelae, amulets and more greeted us as we entered the beautiful Carlos Museum on the campus of Emory University last week (in the Atlanta area).  Several Pagan friends have urged me to visit the museum over the years and I finally had the opportunity.  Their enthusiasm was not unfounded.  The collection of ancient Near Eastern artifacts is a fine one, the presentation every bit as impressive as, for example, the Metropolitan Museum Sackler Wing in New York City.

Now that I can read a bit of hieroglyphs, I was like a child with a new box of Lego-blocks, eagerly trying out my new learning of this very old language.  As an art history major in college, a museum is a feast that I drink in like a glutton.  As an neo-Egyptian Pagan, I find myself sighing with deep contentment, that feeling of coming home to somewhere I’ve never been yet know intimately in my inner self. 

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