Invocation from Aswan. Be Loud Ladies!
So, I last wrote of the sleeper train where for once in my life, I slept through the clanging momentum of the night. I left you at the lip of a tiny miracle, but I’m going to lead you towards a much bigger one. On day three of my group adventure, after our train arrived in Aswan, I followed “Momo’s family,” wheeling luggage through the station to our new Taftaf van. Without so much as a breakfast break, we engined down to the Lake Nasser to transfer to a 20 foot motorboat. The expanse of blue water, and the breeze that came with it felt unearthly. Peddlers shoved knick-knacks in my sightline, a despair as tangible as the printed pants and maps they wanted to sell. The port was designed as a thruway, it was no luxury stop-off. But to my eyes, now atuned to the dry expanse of the Giza desert, the small port town gleamed like the best in Cinqua Terra.
In the 1960s, the High Dam was built to stabilize the Egyptian economy. For centuries the Nile has climbed and receded through cycles of flood and drought. However, the new dam led to a number of important sites flooding permanently. The buildings dedicated to the worship of Isis were among them. As part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign, the Temple of Philae, the sacred home of Isis, was dismantled and rebuilt in the nearby Agilikia Island. But there’s a kismet to this – Isis is the ruler of the underworld. I’m sure she’s happy to know her first home is now literally underwater, even if the stones now stand nearby on dry land.
But here I am writing about history, a shifting understanding of the past, when my aim is something present – something that began long ago, that lies dormant now. I’ve only been able to talk about the Temple of Philae in shards, broken pieces of an experience that blur in my understanding. On route to see Suzanne, my good friend from Egypt, I knew it was time to get out my metaphorical glue.
I’ve put off writing about Egypt for a number of reasons. I’ve gotten distracted. In the last few months, I’ve been reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, writing papers, learning Sanskrit, and teaching yoga classes as part of my training through 8 Limbs Yoga. I’ve cushioned my psyche from the near guaranteed winter blues that arrive for Seattleites. For me that’s been fusion dancing, sizzling under sun-lamps, letting love in, exploring spiritual communities, learning Tarot, and participating in my Project 40. Mostly, though, I’ve been brainstorming like bubble-charts are my actual career, when my goal is to create a career that helps others navigate their own brainstorming better. Our deepest wounds lie parallel to our greatest strengths. So I’m trying to be patient. You could say I’m in the chrysalis phase of this current growth spurt. This is a sidetrack.
The other reason I’ve steered clear of writing about Egypt is because what happened was so powerful, and so hard to describe. I don’t want to make the magic mundane. In Aswan I felt the hands of Isis, and Mary, and the pantheon of goddesses who all share the same truth, and different names. All my life, I have felt, seen, and heard things that other people don’t. It is hard to tell people this, because it discredits my logic for a host of people. It is one thing to say you’re gay or have a severe case of anxiety, and an entirely different one to say you just spoke with a ghost or a goddess. I have tried to quiet the imprints of surreal, because it’s a power I don’t know how to control, how to integrate. And for my more logical friends, the question swarms up – where’s the proof anyhow? I don’t know. I just know. It’s the exact voice that pulled me to Egypt in the first place. In answering the call, I have dismantled my life like the temple of Philae, without a clear new place to build. It was the best thing I’ve done, and yet I’m still not sure where I’m headed.
What I know for sure is that the old gods are real, and each shows a different face of the One. For me this journey was not just a cultural tour of Egypt, but a pilgrimage to power sites of the first gods. Time and time again, I’ve run into this wall about whether to speak honestly or not. I don’t want to come off as crazier than I already am. But I’m not just a travel writer. I’m not just a hopeless romantic. I am a priestess. I am, and have always been, a servant to a power beyond naming, and a world invisible to most. I fess up. I’m not sure what that means exactly, to be a priestess, but I know it’s true. My trip to Aswan exploded that reality in my face. My world is rich with teachers and guides infinitely farther along than me, but as I step one foot in front of the other, this path shows the same landmarks. I am listening, finally.
This became so clear at Philae. When I stepped off our motorboat at Lake Nassar, onto Agilikia Island, I continued to hover and float, not over water, but land. I wore a long lightweight dress, and as it blew in the wind, I felt my skin as pliant and loose. The world seemed to drop away from me; I felt both in my body, and out of it. I was embraced in a peach pink cloud of light. I stomped my feet to get back to earth, and stay grounded in the body I was given. I saw my groupmates from above and from the earth where I walked. Momo brought us through the first Pylon, past the reliefs and granite lions, into the Forecord lined with colonnades. I had been there, I had known it, I was certain. He began to tell the origin story of Isis, Osiris, Horus, Hathor, Nephthys and Seth. I had come from Katy’s gardentop school where I’d learned the mysteries of the goddesses at the pyramids, and knew the story already.
The breakdown is complex, but here’s the cliff notes. The old gods Geb and Nut gave birth to four children, Osiris, Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nepthys. When Osiris was born, plenty of amazing omens occurred, and he grew up to marry his sister Isis, and become ruler of Egypt. Seth, his evil brother, married Nepthys, as it was custom for siblings to marry at that time. But Seth grew jealous. Osiris, in many ways, represents the establishment, culture, institutions. Seth, you may see, over time, could morph into the story of Satan. But he is also the force that pushes for change, a catalyst for some kind of necessary transformation.
But the story goes that Seth found Osiris’ exact measurements, and had a golden coffin made for him. At a royal feast for the occasio, Seth presented the coffin to anyone who would fit into it – and what do you know? When Osiris climbed in, Seth quickly nailed it shut and kidnapped him. They threw the coffin in the Nile, and Osiris, suffocated in the chest, floated down to the island Byblos in the Great Green Sea. Isis loved him so tremendously, and wandered Egypt forever looking for him. After years of looking, she finally found the coffin, and brought it home. Isis knew Seth would want to keep them apart, but she was wise, and cursed him. Still, she was unable to keep him away. One day, he glanced the hidden coffin, and lurched at it in anger, chopping up Osiris’ body into fourteen parts. He hid these parts in what have now become the different kingdoms in Egypt. Enraged, and fueled by love, Isis tore off trying to find the parts of her good God husband Osiris. Nepthys left her evil husband to come help Isis, and together, they searched for the Osiris’ body parts. Piece by piece, they gathered his dead divine flesh. In a move of ancient comedy or perhaps despair, they never found his penis. But Isis is the goddess of magic, and that was no obstacle for her. She unified what she found, and recreated what she needed. She transformed into a bird, and with the breath of wind created by her wings, she put life back into him for long enough to imbibe his seed. She was able to get pregnant by merely hovering over his body. And with that, the god Horus was conceived. A divine birth without a true sex act? Sounds familiar to me.
Momo told us the goddesses killed Seth, and Katy told me they cut off his member. It reaffirmed the roving nature of myth, and I sat in the schism of that for a while. That was the story. What happened before. I was in the present, which felt a lot like the everlasting.
As Momo told the story, I stood there, clenching my toes into the cork of my Birkenstocks, buoyant in the knowledge that I had known this story. I had served the Goddesses for centuries. I was home. I felt the wings rise up behind me again, the same ones I’d felt in a meditation in Minneapolis months ago. I had thought I’d been visited by archangel Michael, but these were the wings of Isis. Of Hathor. Of Mary. Of Arhianrod. Of Venus. Of Kali. Of the lady in the moon. I was sure of it.
After Momo finished his lecture, I clambered behind the group towards the back of the temple as if drugged. He led us into a small vestibule at the center with a waist high flat stone in the center. My insides swelled up as we got closer, and then entered the sanctuary. The walls were darkened with the sweat of fingers moving over them for eons. The electric lights installed along the baseline corners had been candles and torches in years prior. But the lightest thing in the room was elsewhere. The center stone, the altar, it was different, radiant. Even in the cool room, it was so hot I could feel it from the doorway. I listened to Momo explain the pantheon carved on the walls in hieroglyphics. He plotted the timeline. The temple once held captive the beloved of the hero of Arabian Nights. Supposedly. It once served as a Christian Temple under Coptic Bishop Theodore. There are records of this. But before that, it was a place to worship Isis.
He talked about the hieroglyphics, the history, and I listened to the voice of the hieroglyphics themselves. I literally heard whispering in my ear. Next to the altar, the face of Isis was defiled on the wall, and when I saw it, my core clenched. I felt shook from the inside out, wrung tight like a wet washcloth. I couldn’t breathe right. I had to back out if I didn’t want to wail in public. In a flash, I saw the faces of all the women, all the creators, the midwives, the mothers, the sex magicians, the supporters and leaders, the hermitesses, queens and priestesses snap into focus. The ferocious strength of these women felt volcanic. I remembered what so many of us have forgotten – how powerful we are. But in the same moment, the fear of our beholders cut so damn deep. I felt the heart of Mary Magdalen standing at the cross, hands raised supplicant to her true love, erased. I felt the women confined from the world, too curious, too smart to avoid being a threat. I felt the girls I teach now, denied a voice, told to keep quiet, keep tiny and thin. I felt the dreams I’d sacrificed like mudslides, feeling undeserving. The cut felt direct, and my skin throbbed at it. I felt I might suffocate right then and there from the way that we’ve been silenced and quarantined and shrunk in our love.
And how do you stop loving? How do we forget the goddess that has held us and given us life? How?
I ducked around a corner to an antechamber where hieroglyphics depicted offerings and sacrifices. I had to check my breath, to dial back the crazy. What was all this? A guard came by to tell me to get my back off the wall. I squatted to dip my head between my legs, breathing in air close to the ground. It felt so clear. I had been here. I was here for a reason. It was time, is time, to let the divine feminine out. To honor the source. I felt heartbroken, and so very held.
I had to go back in. I had a vow to make. To renew. To do all I could to elevate the force that had always held me up. To use my voice to uncover the voices who’d been buried. To reach into the truths of my ancestors, my children, the breath and life force of love. I caught my breath, and waited. When I heard the group leave the sanctuary, I went back in, and stood at the altar like I’d been plugged into it. My hands were led to hover above. I linked up skyward, laterally to all four directions, and deep deep into the earth. This was 2017AD and 217BC, no matter. I remembered.
Another guard came in, and said I couldn’t stand there like that. I looked at him through glazed eyes. “Why?” I asked. “You can’t pray here” he said. The fury began to clutch me, but I laughed. I could move, but that wouldn’t change what I was doing. He led me to a nearby smaller room, and he said I could pray there, he wouldn’t tell anyone. “Shh” he said. When he left, I began to invoke the pentagram, the cross, the symbols meant to transform and commit us to our truths.
But five minutes later, he came back into the dark room where I stood alone. I felt him come up from behind, and turned around in time for him to grab my shoulders and push me against a wall. I don’t know if he meant to tell me to leave, or to make me leave my body for a while as he defiled it. But I wasn’t having it. I laughed a rolling laugh that was mine and not mine. Who did he think he was? I shoved him away, and walked with the confidence of all the voices who had told me it was time to speak up. I had the power of the divine, the love of all the light in the world, and all the dark matter between. What did he have? I left the room, the guard, the altar, the regard for my normalcy. I found my way through the elaborate chambers and alcoves of the temple down to the water, and I kneeled down to touch it.
I was whole, so very whole. I noticed the present: the sweat on my body that belied how clean I felt, the cool of the October breeze, the dozen new friends there with me, the hunger in my belly for real food. I stood and walked back to the temple, camera in hand. I played tourist, but it was play, and I knew I was changed. Am changed.
I will not stay silent. I have rejected the very love I’ve sought for years. I will not hide my truth, or allow anyone else to do it. But I am awake, I am alive, and I am capable. I know I’m not alone. In the past year I’ve racked up powerhouses of women, mystics, priestesses, businesswomen, writers, artists, healers, teachers, and mothers. And I feel like Odysseus on his journey after Athena came to him to say, you have to go. You must, but I’ll be here for you. And ladies, women, I am here for you, with you. What a joyous time to be alive, to roar, to howl, to let ourselves be louder than ever.