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_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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b2ap3_thumbnail_unasbc2_20140802-154336_1.pngMay the sky make the sunlight strong for you, may you rise up to the sky as the Eye of Ra, may you stand at that left Eye of Horus by means of which the speech of the gods is heard. Stand up at the head of the spirits as Horus stood at the head of the living; stand up at the head of the spirits as Osiris stood at the head of the spirits. – Pyramid Texts, utterance 523 (Faulkner) 

The Pyramid Texts are said to be the oldest extant religious texts in the world. Right off the bat, this makes them very difficult to understand, for they are full of more than 4,000-year old idioms, metaphors and jargon which are meaningless, at first glance, to us. The prayer above is one of the more accessible verses (“utterances”), but that is mostly because I have lifted it out of context and we read it with a modern slant. 

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Follow your heart, your conscience and your ka – your creative power – all your life. (11) The ka of a just man is a genuine creative energy and makes people rejoice. (22)

(from The Wisdom of Ptah-Hotep: Spiritual Treasures From the Age of the Pyramids, Christian Jacq) 

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Here's another section of that paper I wrote for class in April.


b2ap3_thumbnail_hepetglyph_20140605-165400_1.gifEvery Egyptian expected to make an arduous journey following physical death. Escorted by Anubis, the soul would enter a complex and frightening place called the Duat. Though neither above nor below this world, the Duat is often referred to as an underworld. Rather, it is an afterlife region of transition from death to transformation and rebirth into a new life as an akh, or transfigured spirit. In the Duat, the soul encounters a series of gates for which s/he must be prepared to give a password, as well as strange creatures, a lake of fire, and other often-fearsome things. Most of this is navigated by boat on a winding waterway beneath which lurks a giant menacing serpent. Upon passing successfully through the Duat, the soul appears before Osiris for the weighing-of-the-heart ceremony.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bookofgatesramesses1a_20140605-165627_1.jpgThere are other ancient Egyptian texts which describe pictorially what the soul might expect to encounter, and provide spells for use in achieving the goal of transfiguration and eternal life. They include: the Coffin Texts; the Amduat; the Book of Caverns; the Book of the Earth; the Book of Nut; the Book of the Heavenly Cow; the Book of the Night; the Book of Nut; the Book of Gates; and the Book of the Dead. These texts, or parts of them, are found on innumerable tomb walls, coffins, stelae and papyrus scrolls buried with their owner, although some were reserved for the king, e.g., the Pyramid Texts.

Although the afterlife journey begins in darkness with the setting of the sun, it is a journey which results in emergence, or “Coming Forth By Day” (the actual title of the so-called Book of the Dead). (Naydler, 1996) It was not a place of punishment, for it was not a permanent location for anyone, but rather a sort of proving ground for regeneration. The sun, as embodied by Ra, traveled through the Duat each night. The soul which was successful in making the same journey could anticipate a similar rebirth at dawn.

Several primal deities take part in the cosmic drama of the Duat, and are later shown to unite, their fusion suggesting that each deity is an aspect of the others. In simple terms, Kheper is the sun at dawn (the word kheper is the verb meaning “to become”), Horus is the sun at noon, at the height of its powers and lifespan, and Ra is the elderly, declining sun as it sets in the west. The west is thought of as the place of the dead. Cemeteries were typically situated on the west bank of the Nile, e.g., Giza and Saqqara, and the deceased were said to have journeyed to imentet, the place of the west.

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