November 28, 2009

Dua Wesir! Nekhtet! (Mysteries of Wesir (Osiris), Sixth Hour Vigil)

The incense has been laid upon the fire and offered with the prayers. Natron and water have provided the purification, both the natron and water I poured into ritual bowls and the natural salt and water of the tears we have given to our dead and to Wesir, the Lord of Them All.

Six hours into the ceremonies Wesir is upright again, standing among the icons of the rest of the gods. We are reminded by the visual change that the god Who gave Himself utterly for us was not lost in the giving; rather He came up stronger than before and able to provide even more to us in the giving. Like that other deity to Whom He was often compared by Victorian Egyptologists, He has gone to prepare a place for us, to whence we will go someday after our final judgment to join all of those people who have gone before us. We do not have to make that journey alone. Not only does He wait there, but so do all of those who have already gone - and all of us who will someday join them have shared in that journey once again, for another year, as we keep the annual vigil.

The sun will rise in another hour or so. For now, the sky lightens and the city stirs, and the promise of life is still shrouded in darkness. But we know it is there, and we have Wesir to thank.

Mysteries of Wesir (Osiris), the Fifth Hour Vigil

"Your mouth is the mouth of a milking-calf..."

My students recognize those words as part of the Senut, or our daily ritual of prayers and offerings. They occur at the end of the personal purifications and indicate that what comes after is purely celebratory, purely stepping into the presence of Divinity.

Five hours into the vigil, we purify Wesir as He prepares to emerge with Ra.

I washed the statue, after I'd washed my hands a second time. They weren't dirty, but I'd gotten a bit of smudge on them from one of the altar candles and I didn't want to wipe soot on a clean icon. Even rituals with much preparation end up having little things go wrong, little mid-practice corrections. We're human. We make mistakes, and we fix them. Ritual purity is like this. It's not the end of the world or a moral dilemma if there's a little spot on your ka. Clean it up and get on with what you were doing. Vexing yourself about every little mistake, whether in ritual or in life, is a little like rubbing the stains in so they'll be harder to clean -- or worse yet, so they won't ever go away.

In another hour we will have completed the cycle, and then we rest, until it's time to rise and prepare the next portion of the day. We will visit with those who can't be with us, and then return for the traditional feast before we part ways until our next holiday brings us together. I'll check in again.

Water for the Dead (Mysteries of Wesir (Osiris), Fourth Hour)

We offered water to Him, among other things, in the fourth hour vigil prayers. As I stand before the shrine then back away to take my seat among the other participants I notice as if for the first time just how bright His icon's eyes are, watching me from a deep green face. It is the first time I've noticed all night that His eyes are open, even though they always have been. Earlier, in the ritual, I could not see His face.

At the head of the funeral bier stands Nebt-het (Nephthys), Her icon's arms extended in both protection and mourning, and next to Her, Her son Yinepu (Anubis). To Their right, and toward Wesir's feet, Djehuty (Thoth) and Aset (Isis) stand together, planning, waiting, speaking the words of transformation that will make Wesir change from Dead King into King of the Dead. Nebt-het and Yinepu wait silently for what has happened; Djehuty and Aset create what will be. This is how it always was, always has been and always will be. The past becomes present; the dead are restored to life. The cycle in all of its intricacies plays out there in the form of five gilded statues on a flat surface, standing at the joining point of two walls literally covered with golden stars listing the names of the blessed dead, our ancestors. We can read the names in the half-light, and add Them to the magic of becoming.

Sunrise is closer. The fourth hour of the night passes, and we pass with it. We taste the taste of the water of life and we emerge as Shemsu, His followers, refreshed with it.

Stirring in the Third Hour (Mysteries of Wesir)

"This is the Eye of Heru. Take it, that You might be refreshed with it."

I read the words, as I always do, from a hand copy made in 2003, the first year I started celebrating the Mysteries with anyone in a formal temple setting and not in private homes. About a month before we'd purchased the temple building here in Joliet, and we'd barely finished unpacking everything let alone set up the temple for use, but here we were sitting around the Holy Family Shrine saying the words that have been said for thousands of years on this most quiet night, laying the great god to rest and enabling Him to enter the world of the dead.

It's not easy to read the words in the dark, lit only by a few candles and a single string of clear lights that Nehwen and Padjai brought one year to make the shrine more festive. But they always ring out, raw in the silence, and the icons watch as the prayers are said and the incense goes up and the water and natron sprinkling goes down. By the third hour I am expected to recite on my feet and not on my knees, but it feels strange, as if my legs don't want to leave the floor. It feels odd to rise up, yet appropriate, in this third of the six hours of the night, the hour when everything changes.

The danger of death has been passed. Life shines before us, renewal and daylight. The skies outside are not yet showing dawn, but we know it is coming, from the stirrings of the neighborhood and the occasional calls of birds. Daybreak is coming. A new day will be upon us soon. And in another hour, we will pray some more.

November 27, 2009

Advancing with Your Ka: the Mystery Vigil, Second Hour

When people left the temple after the first hour's prayers it was slowly, quietly. The building was so silent I could hear the water in the heating pipes moving around and little else. Even as the participants returned to their rooms or went downstairs to find a glass of water and sit at the dining room table to wait for the next hour, it was quite a few minutes before anyone spoke. Wesir's Mysteries have that effect upon you. Nothing seems quite so important to say in the face of His holy power, after spending your time in the temple gazing upon His icon which for this event does not stand proudly as it usually does, but lies fallen upon its side within a wooden box, surrounded by the icons of each of His mourning family members.

Eventually, as the second hour nears, sounds and life return. The second hour's prayers, which we have already said, encourage Wesir to go forth into His new life with the ancestors. "Advance with Your Ka," the prayers say. Put your hands and feet out there, one after another. Move. Live again. Do not remain inert, in the place which is neither death nor life. Go forth by day and Become.

Once the third hour of the vigil has come, more will move, imperceptibly, within the shrine. The spoken words and prayers will gain length and cadence as Wesir moves through the Duat and heads for that place where He will unite with Ra and bring the sunrise, and life, to us once again. For now, though, we begin with baby steps.

God is Dead: Thoughts about the Mysteries of Wesir (Osiris)

In a few minutes, I will be entering the temple to begin the lamentations of the great god Wesir, known to the classical world and beyond as Osiris. Once again the cycle of the year turns and we honor the most quiet, most somber, most moving of holidays. Once again, God is dead.

Not dying; not about to be resurrected. Wesir is a dead god, a god that goes to the otherworld/afterlife/netherworld/whatever you want to call the place where dead people are and doesn't come back. Ever. He is as gone from us as gone can be. His voice is no longer heard among the other gods as They gather; His face no longer lit with the rosy glow of life itself. Unlike Jesus Who is returned to his place after a time of testing...Wesir will not come back to us shining in bright white robes as an angel rolls back the stone. He will not come back to us at all; only through the memory of His life, and His sacrifice, will we continue to understand Him and know Him and love Him. This god loved people so very much that He was willing to forsake His immortality to make sure they had a god wherever it is that they go when they die, and a brother Who loved Him enough to help Him achieve death. It is this selfless, permanent act that is remembered overnight in the Vigil we now face and face again one night every year.

The scope of our loss as human beings, and our gain, cannot be measured. Wesir's life and death are intertwined in such a way that He cannot truly be separated from either. What He offers us is renewal, continuance, life in the form of going on. He shows us that there is no such thing as an ending, only a change of position. He assures us that we will not go to that place alone, nor will we be forgotten or neglected once we get there. Every dead person is a Wesir, a dying and yet living one, Who is part of the eternity of life's endless cycle, reborn at dawn in the sun and in spring as the life-giving ground, emerging from the life-giving waters of Aset's tears. Where He goes, so shall we one day, and then we will understand the Mystery in full.

I will pray for all of our ancestors tonight, and all of the living: the continuous circle of beings that inhabit our planet and whom we can call family. May we all be together in the darkness, praying for them and Him as They pass.