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_warfare.jpgFamine, cannibalism, disease, crime – it was widely rumored in ancient Egypt that during a terrible time in its past the forces of isfet (chaos) completely upended the orderly society of which Egyptians were inordinately fond.  The first “intermediate period” between kings became the subject of several Middle Kingdom teaching or wisdom texts, such as The Prophecy of Neferti and The Admonitions of Ipuwer. These writings essentially bemoan the terrible things that are supposed to have happened, and warn readers to maintain maat (balance, justice) in order to avoid a recurrence.

Here’s the thing – there is no real evidence that the catastrophic events actually happened.  Modern scholars lean towards the idea that they were written primarily as propaganda, reinforcing the importance of unifying under the king, keeping religious observances of the neteru (gods), and keeping things on an even keel.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_scribes.jpgMany of us are drawn to ancient Egypt, and of those a small number linger to find and follow the spiritual path embedded there.  Soon we find that for all the wealth of published material about Egypt, there is very little about modern spiritual practice.  Egyptian Pagans are also a small minority in the wider Pagan world, so it can be difficult to connect, find teachers and gather for ritual.

My early years on this path were probably characterized by more bumbling and feeling alone than anything.  But much of the first advice I received was to read the Egyptology literature, surely a daunting task for the non-scholar.  After all, few have set out to simply write about religion; more importantly, there was no monolithic single religion in ancient Egypt, at least not as we understand religious affiliation today.  Here are a few things I learned along the way.

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What does Egyptian religious practice look like in the 21st century?  Maybe more to the point, why do we turn for inspiration to a culture which disappeared nearly 1800 years ago?b2ap3_thumbnail_Pached1.jpg 

The second question makes me think of my friend Marion who just loves to travel.  He’s been in more countries, more times, than I can count.  He and I have mused together about how deeply one is changed by stepping outside of everyday life and being immersed in something completely new and different.  For some of us, religious travel is just the tonic needed for a weary soul. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_101_0669.JPGRecently, Osireion celebrated the vernal equinox (spring) with our own version of the Egyptian secular holiday, Sham el Nessim.  We held a ritual to honor Isis, piling her altar with the simple feast which would follow: lettuce, smoked salmon, capers, onions, boiled eggs and cream cheese (yes, we like lox and bagels!).  Each of us decorated a red-dyed egg with glyphs and used it during ritual, then ate it afterwards.  We peeled little spring scallions, “sniffed the breeze” (sham el nessim translated) and nibbled them, and sang to welcome spring – “we see your life in the greening of the land, we feel your love and begin to understand.” 

At the same time that many of us were holding various kinds of Pagan ceremonies to mark the equinox, present-day Egyptians were picnicking and doing some of the same things.  I hear that Muslim authorities don’t like it, but for most Egyptians it’s a national holiday, involving the eggs, salted fish and onions.  Certainly, after such a long winter here in the States, going outside with family and friends to sniff the breeze and have some picnic-innocent fun has been quite welcome. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Nebamun-2.jpgMore than 50 ancient hieroglyphs depict birds: ibis, quail chick, hawk, vulture, duck, plover, goose, swallow, sparrow, cormorant, egret, ostrich, heron, flamingo, lapwing, hoopoe, guinea hen and falcon, plus variations on each of these.  It’s a veritable feast for modern bird lovers; tomb paintings like Nebamun hunting are still more delightful, showing the teeming color of life in the Nile marshes. 

Egyptian cosmology is closely tied to birds, too.  During Sep Tepi (sacred time), a bird of light flies out of the dark waters of Nun and lands on the primordial mound called the benben. This bird was thought to be an early form of Ra, and Herodotus thought the bennu was the phoenix of later Greek myth, the firebird which rises reborn from its own ashes. 

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[I was asked recently to develop a talk which could be delivered as a sermon, using ancient Egyptian sacred texts and ideas.  Here is Part 2 of that talk. Read Part 1 here]

b2ap3_thumbnail_Osiris-2.JPGSo, what is all this about Osiris?  I don’t know about you, but there are some times when I have felt very beat up by life, even broken in pieces the way Set did Osiris.  I have felt lost, scattered all over like Osiris’ body parts all over Egypt.  I have felt swept by the flood downstream and out to sea, completely overwhelmed.  Like Isis, I have wandered from place to place and through the desert, trying to find all the missing pieces of myself and trying to figure out how to put them back together again.  Anyone else felt that too?  It feels dark, doesn’t it?  Everything out there begins to look like a crocodile, or a singing snake, maybe.  We wish we had a handbook for getting through the dark. 

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I was asked recently to develop a talk which could be delivered as a sermon, using ancient Egyptian sacred texts and ideas.  Here is Part 1 of that talk.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Book_of_Gates_3rd_Hour_20140605-170414_1.jpgWe open this morning with words from the sacred Egyptian text called the Book of Coming Forth By Day:

[rhythmic shaking of sistrum]

“Oh my heart, my mother! My heart, my mother! Do not rise up against me as a witness, do not speak against me in the presence of the great god, lord of the west. Dua, ibi, hail to you my heart! May you say what is good to the gods. I go forth, not dying in the west, but becoming a spirit in it.”

The crafting of a life is an epic journey, a story 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 the whole land. 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.

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