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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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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b2ap3_thumbnail_sekhmet.gifSekhmet dropped in on me again the other day.  For me, she’s not been one for words, turning up on rare occasion in startling, stark gestures (I tell about the most dramatic encounter in my book, Pool of Lotus).  But during a meditation with my group the Eye of Ra reached out to me, touching my third eye with a cool sizzle that arced instantly through all of me like lightning.  “You must be hard,” she said.  Strong and unyielding like stone.  Durable as a mountain.  In fact, for you Francophones, what I heard was, “You must be dur.” 

Not what I was looking for at the end of an intensely-stressful week.  I’d just learned of the death of a close friend, finished up a tough semester of studies, juggled two jobs and conducted two weddings.  All of it was happy stuff, but somehow the current holding me steady faltered, leaving me like jelly inside, tearful and anxious on the outside.  But there was more; the next day my friend’s husband would call to ask me to lead her memorial service in a few days.  Sekhmet’s admonition began to make more sense. 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore says #
    Thanks for sharing this Ilyssa! It is her MO, indeed, isn't it Sekhmet is such a paradox of toughness and compassion.
  • Ilyssa Silfen
    Ilyssa Silfen says #
    Sekhmet is my Matron Goddess, and I was performing a ritual for Her once upon a time during a particularly stressful time in my li

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Whew! My wild and woolly semester at Cherry Hill Seminary just ended (yes, I'm a student, as well as staff).  A real treat was to get to write about my favorite ancient Egyptian religious texts for a final paper in Psychology of Religion, taught by Vivianne Crowley.  I thought readers here might enjoy a bit of that paper.  Please excuse the stuffy language, and any Egyptologists among you, please write me if you see a glaring error.

Pyramid Texts Overview

b2ap3_thumbnail_unasbc2_20140507-172026_1.pngA king called Unas ruled Egypt at the end of the 5th Dynasty (2375 – 2345 B.C.E.); he built for himself a large temple and pyramid complex at the royal burial grounds of Saqqara, near Cairo. The walls of the interior are covered with hieroglyphs, the body of which has come to be known as the Pyramid Texts. They are the oldest known religious writings in the world, comprising a liturgy which is assumed to be conducted upon the death of the king. (The title “pharaoh” was not used by Egyptian rulers until the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.), after the reign of Hatshepsut.)

The Pyramid Texts are a liturgical treatment of the afterlife journey of the soul, first through the Duat, then through transfiguration and ascent to the sky as an “imperishable star.” In this specific context the texts apply this journey, also made by the sun, the mythical embodiment of Ra-Horus-Osiris, to the afterlife journey of the king’s soul. Section III of this article describes the Duat, a sort of “world-between-the-worlds” which is the location of the afterlife journey.

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