I am the incomprehensible silence
and the idea often brought to mind.
I am the voice sounding throughout the world
and the word appearing everywhere.
I am the sounding of my name,
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and bravery.
I am without shame; I am full of shame.
I am power and I am trepidation.
I am conflict and peace.
Listen to me,
For I am the scandalous and magnificent one.
Excerpted from Thunder, Perfect Mind, trans. by George W. MacRae
In the silence of the night the waters were troubled. We did not know that far to the south, in the headwaters of the great river, rains swelled the flow, sending the fertile black earth our way. What we did know was that the star of Sopdet, whom we know as Aset (Isis), had disappeared from the sky for weeks now. Each evening the priests watched for it to reappear at the horizon, the signal that Aset was weeping, mourning the loss of her husband Asar (Osiris). After dark there is no way to see if a crocodile lies in wait or a hyena quietly stalks you coming home late. Except in the cities, the silence here is vast, incomprehensible. Against that quiet, the change in the water showed itself in little lappings higher up the bank, a swath of new green advancing up the shores on both sides.
The priests told us that Aset’s tears were flowing, rousing Hapy from his sleep among the rocks of the headwaters. I do not understand these things. Like the Lady, I had suffered loss, the death of my husband at the hands of an evildoer. My grief was unabatable; like hers, my tears seemed a limitless flood. Then I found myself carrying my own Heru, pregnant with my own shining Horus boy, and hope soothed my tears. By the time of planting, I could hardly stoop to the water’s edge with my jar, and as the first harvest came in, my son saw the light of Ra.
The mother is so many things – fearful, yet brave, cunning, but also confused, wandering in search of Asar’s body. I am not pharaoh in his House of a Million Years, nor am I a priest who can explain these things. But I see that she is like me, or maybe I am like her. Maybe we are the same, though she is eternal. When I am cowed by shame or ignorance, I remember that she found her power, found a way to her heart’s desire. When the waters rise each season of Akhet, I remember that even while she wept, Aset brought new life to the world. I smile when I walk back to refill my jar, knowing it is her lovely tears, her life I’m bringing back home with me.
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I am the incomprehensible silence
There has been a lot of very heated discussion lately about Paganism and Polytheism, with some people suggestion that there are certain practices or beliefs that one should hold in order to be able to call themselves a polytheist or pagan. Modern paganism being as diverse as it is, this has taken a lot of people by surprise, and accusations and name calling is happening from all corners.
I know this, and this only: I am a member of an organization that acknowledges "We are people who normally would not mix." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 17) But here we are--representing all sections of this country, all political, economic, and social backgrounds. And-here's where I want you to pay attention--all religious backgrounds....
The ancient, sacred city of Abydos hosted an annual ritual drama about the mysteries of Osiris. Along a processional way the festival crowd re-enacted the abduction and murder of Osiris by his brother Set, and inside the temples, priests conducted uber-holy rites away from the public eye. Every good Egyptian hoped to go on pilgrimage to Abydos at least once in her life. Nearly as good was to have a tablet (called a stela, plural is stelae) set up on the processional route stating your name, titles, a statement of offering (and usually an offering picture) and a request for passers-by to stop and recite the offering prayer on behalf of the deceased. Many thousands of stelae have been found in Abydos, which was also the burial site of predynastic and First and Second Dynasty kings.
In Abydos Osiris is most often known by the name of a jackal-headed god who came from that locale and eventually took on Asar’s identity, Khenti-amentu, “first of the Westerners.” Any mention of the west was an oblique reference to having died (like the sun, which sets in the west). Stelae like the ones at Abydos came to be used at lots of pilgrimage sites, as tomb markers (just like our modern tombstones), and even inside burial chambers. The picture usually shows the deceased standing in front of an offering table piled with bread, beer, geese, the leg of a bull, alabaster and lengths of linen. A typical inscription, known as an “offering formula” among Egyptologists, might say something like:
"An offering of thousands of bread, beer, meat, fowl, alabaster and lengths of linen, and all good, pure and beautiful things, which Pashed gives to the great god (neter aa) Khenti-amentu, first among those at Abdju, for the soul of Pashed."
Last week I was worrying a little about how the whole world get to enjoy ancient Egyptian heritage because moderns have basically robbed thousands of graves. Then I thought about how the Egyptians counted on their descendants and/or priests to perform rituals, “say the prayer,” for them in perpetuity. Obviously, that system broke down in the same centuries that brought Christianity then Islam to Kemet. And yet, here we are all these centuries later, reading and admiring the stelae, contemplating the original owner, pondering what his or her life was like. If you are a student of hieroglyphs like me, you find yourself reciting the offering formulas over and over again in lessons.
To me, that is part of the power and mystery of hieroglyphs, that somehow they have emerged from a time almost before memory to continue to remember the ancestors and honor their wishes. I wish I knew more about people like Pashed, but it’s clear that what he wanted most after his death was to be remembered as constant in his devotion to Osiris. May I be at least in part as dutiful in my respect for those who came before me.
Considering the articles I've read lately about whether or not pop culture icons and fluffy bunnies are appropriate idols for worship, and whether or not to bow to them, I'd like to address the reverence I feel for Classical music and the composers of that art. At the beginning of May, I sang in a concert of music by Beethoven. This concert may have changed my life. Towards peace.
Here's the latest round of translations and commentary from my ongoing examination of the gnomic verses of Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One. While many of the verses deal with the magic of the Norse, many of the lines simply offer sage advice on best behaviour, especially when one travels.
Haldi-t maðr á keri,
drekki þó at hófi mjöð,
mæli þarft eða þegi,
vár þik engi maðr,
at þú gangir snemma at sofa.
nema geðs viti,
etr sér aldrtrega;
oft fær hlægis,
er með horskum kemr,
manni heimskum magi.
Hjarðir þat vitu,
nær þær heim skulu,
ok ganga þá af grasi;
en ósviðr maðr
síns of mál maga.
ok illa skapi
hlær at hvívetna;
hittki hann veit,
er hann vita þyrfti,
at hann er-a vamma vanr.
For the men of Ireland have again followed gentlidecht as it was at first before belief, before Patrick’s advent, save only that they have not worshipped idols. For the heathen had a lie and a good word, and this existeth not today. And every evil which the heathen used to do is done at this time in the land of Ériu, save only that the Irish do not worship idols. Howbeit they perpetrate wounding and theft and adultery and parricides and manslaughter, and the wrecking of churches and clerics, covetousness and perjury and lies and false judgment, and destruction of God’s church, draidecht, and gentlidecht, and dealing in charms, philters and enchantments and fidlanna.
—“Adomnán’s Second Vision” (c. 1096 CE), §15-16...