December 16, 2008

Luxor, Abydos, Dendera

We are finishing our final evening in Luxor. There would have been more intervening posts in the blog, but Internet was not as easy to come by as I had hoped it would be and we had some logistical and scheduling issues so that I didn't have the time to sit and write the way I might have liked to. In any case, I am checking in now to share some thoughts about our time in and around Luxor and north of it toward the temples of Abydos and Dendera which we visited this afternoon.

During our time here we have visited many temples and tombs. We have honored Amun-Ra and His holy family at the great temples of Karnak and Luxor and poured ritual water for royalty in Their tombs beneath the Peak of the West. We have sailed the Nile, after having visited Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna temples along our way downstream, northward, from Aswan to Luxor. We have been into the Duat to see Nut give birth to Ra on the great ceiling of Ramses' tomb, and climbed into the face of Meretseger to read the rituals of Menkheperra Djehutymose. In the Luxor Museum we paid our respects to the king Ahmose, founder of the New Kingdom empire, and a second mummy widely believed to be that of Menpehtyra Ramses (I), and Tem found a Sekhmet statue that made the usual ones seem pocket-sized.

Today we managed to be the very first group inside the great terraced temple of Wesir built by Menma'atra Seti and Userma'atra Ramses at Abydos. It was only as we were finishing our time there that another group, a group of schoolchildren, managed to come inside, filling the ancient, silent halls with laughter and activity. Somehow it seemed appropriate that those who should break the stillness of that place be children, and that they be the descendants of those who had once only sung in its great chambers. The sweet smell of lotus perfume greeted us at Nefertem's chapel, causing all of us to ask each other if we could all smell it as we thought it a hallucination. The waters captive in the Osirion behind the Wesir chapel were green as usual, reflecting upward and drawing the eye backward, westward, toward the break in the mountains where the door to the Duat beckons, above Umm el-Qaab the greatest of all Kemetic cemeteries. For us, as I explained earlier to our guide Ali, who had been asking about the significance of the various temples to our religion, Abydos is Mecca, the place we and all the ancients wished to visit at least once in our lifetimes. I whispered the names of our dead as I walked Seti's halls, knowing as we passed each carved false door their kau would hear and understand. We were alone in the temple, and yet we were not.

The ride to Dendera was quiet, as we contemplated our earlier experience, then suddenly there seemed to be a lot of joking and laughter. The fields gave way to flowers. It really does seem rather cliche but as we entered Qena and then headed toward Dendera the land simply becomes more joyful. Again, we were the first to enter the temple, and spent nearly the entire time there alone except for a handful of guards. Some of us went down into the crypts below the main sanctuary to view the images carved there; others, including myself, opted instead to climb upward into the high vestibule where the images of Hethert were kept, to say prayers asking for joy and prosperity and love for everyone from the Lady of Joy Whose smiling face gazes down from all the column tops. We climbed the ritual stairs to the roof, said prayers in the Sokar chapels, climbed down singing and laughing. We visited both the mammisi chapels and the Coptic church standing outside the temple, and walked its perimeter. In the first screen court I found a small boy sitting on a carpet, watching people coming in and out of the temple; he was the son of a guard. As I was taking photographs of the restoration work being done on the court's ceiling he grinned at me and then beckoned me over to take his picture. When I showed him the photo (it is a digital camera), he laughed, and the laughing echoed through the huge hall.

There is so much more I could write about, and I will, once I've gathered all my thoughts. For today though my ka is full, and tomorrow morning we make another set of pilgrimages: back to Karnak at sunrise, then out to Medinet Habu and the tombs of the nobles and the workmen, before we go back to the airport and return to Cairo for our last two days in Kemet. You will hear from me again very soon.

December 12, 2008

Hapi days

For the last day we have been in Aswan, the modern name of the area of the First Cataract of the Nile and the island of Abu (Elephantine), believed to be the source of Khnum's giving life to the Two Lands via the inundation waters.

As it has been every time I have been here, Aswan is a desert paradise. Water that is literally the color of lapis waves softly northward, carrying thousands of tiny sailboats called felucca as well as loud, noisy water taxis and the giant hulls of cruise ships readying to take the flotilla north to the city of Luxor and its Pharaonic Disneyland of monuments and tourist amusements.

Before we came here we spent a day and a night at Abu Simbel, the area about 300km south of Aswan where the great temples of Userma'atra Ramses and his wife Nefertari shine above the impossible blue of Lake Nasser. Because we spent the night we had a time in the larger temple more or less alone. Tek got to hold the great golden key carved like an ankh that locks the temple up at night, and we spent time wandering the halls, saying prayers, marveling at the beauty of the gods carved into its walls and making offering to the gods there. The second temple had a few more tourists in it but it was wonderful to be able to see Hethert's smiling face up close once again and think of all the joy I know that those who are with me on this trip are yet to experience as we continue to visit the sites and take them in.

In our time in Aswan we have been twice to Philae, once at night and once in the daytime. Imti and Tek got to visit a closed area of a Hethert temple up close and personal and have quite a story to tell about Nubians and the seeds of a sycamore tree but I will let them tell it. We have been to several Nubian houses and the village of Western Sehel, and will be visiting more tomorrow. We have sung and danced in the Nile and even gone wading in its cold and clear waters. We've gone riding through the town and visited the holy places of other religions as well in the form of the large mosque on the hill in the center of town and the great Coptic Cathedral near the Ferial Park and the Old Cataract Hotel. Khnum and Ra, the gods of this Kemetic year, appear again and again on the monuments, in the signs and advertisements we see, and today we saw them both up close and personal in the tiny temple of Beit-el-Wali on the Kalabsha island.

The guards upon learning why we were in the temple (we do not pretend to be tourists on our trips as I do not believe there is anything to be ashamed of in our religion; and the reaction we get when people learn we are neither uncaring tourists or crystal-wielding New Agers is generally very positive) allowed us to climb Kalabsha roof and gaze out over the Nile. While I was there I thought of all of you and wished you could be there with us.

Insh'allah (Netjer willing), one of these days, you will be.

Tomorrow we sail for Luxor. For tonight, we will embrace the city of creation once again, and take in its peace under the full moon over moving waters.

December 8, 2008

In Search of Cool Triangular Shapes

The pilgrimage is off to an interesting start. Currently I am posting on our final evening in Giza, looking out the window toward the place where the Great Pyramid watches the traffic go by. We have spent two days in and around the Cairo area, taking in the city as we adjust to the new time zone and the preponderance of antiquity to be seen nearly everywhere one looks.

Last year the group started a long-running joke about the Pyramids based on the odd English wording on a bag of Doritos brand chips someone purchased during a break. The bag stated that one of the reasons to enjoy the snack was because of its "cool triangular shape." As the bus was driving up to the Giza Plateau about the time that this slogan was discovered, the name stuck -- and a quest to find "cool triangular shapes" began.

You'd be surprised how many triangles appear when you least expect them. Yesterday the obvious ones appeared on the plateau in the form of the pyramids of Khufu, Khaefra and Menkaura. This morning, Menekh found some lurking in the inside of the courtyard washbasins of the Muhammad Ali mosque at the Citadel. Tek and Imti had fun picking them out on Giza's street signs, painted on buildings and trucks for no apparent reason, and even worked into the iron work of gates and fences. Cool triangular shapes make up bus stops, packaging, even items of food and the "free pyramids" thrown in when Kai-Imakhu Sedjemes purchased some clothing at a shop near the hotel.

...And to think some people think that modern Egypt retains no memory or pride for its pharaonic past. Clearly, they aren't noticing the cool triangular shapes lurking all around.

Tomorrow morning we're off to the other end of the country. I'll check in from Abu Simbel if there is internet that far south. If not, you'll hear from me next in the beautiful city of Aswan in a couple of days. Senebty!

December 5, 2008

Back to Kemet we go!

I'm about to pack up the laptop and head out the door toward our waiting airport adventure. Naturally that part of the trip isn't the part you look forward to; it's what comes after the Homeland Security lines and ticket counters and baggage claims.

At this time tomorrow we'll be readying to land in the Two Lands, and five of my students and priests will be experiencing Kemet first-hand in the form of modern Egypt. Several of them have been to Egypt before; others haven't gone at all, and at least one has never traveled outside of North America, so I'm thinking that we're about to have an experience worth remembering that will be quite different for each of us. This will be my fifth visit to the holy land of our gods and goddesses, and I am filled with a mixture of excitement and wonder at having the chance to go, and wishing that each one of you who reads these words could come along with me.

I'll do my best to try and capture the experience for you as we can. But for now, the airport taxi awaits....

November 20, 2008

The future of Luxor

Dr. Ray Johnson's update on the city of Luxor's continuing effort to modernize its tourism facilities without destroying what makes people want to go to Luxor in the first place can be read here.

A new home for Kemet Today

Once again we're starting a new blog. It seems the issues we were having with hosting it on our own domains and then on Livejournal were simply easier dealt with by moving to a new host. Please change your pointers to this new website as new content and information will be happening here rather than at previous pages.

I've also figured out a way to update from Egypt during our upcoming pilgrimage, so I hope that you will come here and share our journey with us as we make yet another trip back to the home of our gods and the religion we call our own.

Be talking with you soon!