Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thoughts on the Festival of Opet

For the final celebration of the Egyptian Epagomenal Days and the New Year, Wepet Renpet, I decided to do the "Festival of Opet" mystery drama from Panthea, http://lotuspharia.freeyellow.com/fellowshipofisiscentralfellowshipofisisliturgy2/id141.html. I chose it for several reasons. First, I had been working in an exclusively Egyptian mode for the 5 "Days out of Time" when Nut's children were born, and writing prayers for each of them each day. Second, while I considered using the Litany of the Earth that Rev. Maury White-Hereford was doing down in New Orleans, after scanning both, Opet felt better to me where I am at the moment.

And third, it helped me get over my prejudice against working with Muth. I know, I know, she gets synchretized with Isis and Hathor anyway, but for a long time, I avoided working with Amen-Re, too, and could never really understand why. It wasn't like I'd tripped over someone wearing an extra-length feather headdress this lifetime, after all. :-)

But in the past few years, I've been getting snippets of a time when I was a high priest of Amun during the time of Akhnaten—whom I've always despised, again for an unknown reason, but it was intense. I believe I may have been one of the priests at the end of his reign involved in trying to re-establish Ma'at across the land after he butched it up so badly. But the anger was real, deep, and weird.

Don't get me wrong—I have plenty of things to get angry about in this lifetime! But you will occasionally get me to ranting about the burning down of the Library of Alexandria, so I do know how to hold a grudge. :-P But Amen and Muth, I just avoided.

Then one morning in the near dream state I sometimes get into just before I wake up, I saw myself carrying an incense censer into the naos of the shrine, opening the bolts, and giving incense to Amun-Re. As the smoke swirled up, I saw his eyes take on the intense shine of sunlight—in a windowless, interior, nearly dark room—and look at me. Something passed between us then, a charge to do a piece of magic to resolve the issue with Akhnaten tearing up the country, and I agreed. I was betrayed by my deputy priest shortly afterward; Karma is a bitch. And it doesn't matter if you're doing the service the Gods instructed you to do, you still got to pay the bill.

So when I began reading the Oracle of Muth in the "Festival of Opet," it began resonating with me right away. Muth says, "In verity the two lands of earth and after-life are One. They are only separated by the blindness of the ignorant. Day and Night are One, Sun and Moon are One, Man and Woman are One. The inner sun which shineth in the depths of the earth is One with the Sun in Heaven. Every heart is united with all hearts through all the spheres through the warmth of Love. Yet every being and atom calleth to the others through unique quality that is its essence.

"But discord destroys peace and joy through this very Love, when it becomes distorted into obsessive passion. It strikes through narrow devotion to family and nation, but it is at its most evil when it consumes the soul with religious fanaticism. Devotees so deluded will torture and kill those who will not accept their object of worship.

"My children of ancient Egypt saw Deity in the Many. They recognized the innate deity of cats and dogs and hippopotami, through beetles and crocodiles and rivers. As intellect brought the separation of man and nature, men found the Path of the One Light: they acknowledged the Many as emanating from the One. This satisfied Mind and Heart. Both ways have brought many to everlasting joy. Yet both have caused great evil through abuse by overemphasis. Those who worshiped the Many in a mindless way degenerated. They became dissipated and lost strength of mind and purpose. After them came the Followers of the One, whether the One God or Mind: these through unbalanced ideals killed millions of their fellows in the name of love and justice.

"The Deities always provide an antidote to poison. And the antidote to obsessive devotion, whether to a person or a country, to a religion or an ideal, is to face the truth. This is not easy. If the facts contradict long-held feelings and opinions, a man would rather die than accept them. Such people regard the Truth as ugly and shun it. They are terrified of the unknown. For them the Goddess is shrouded in black night. Yet if they had the courage to unveil Her, they would see the beautiful countenance of Truth. Instead, they pursue Love, thrusting aside all that stands in their way. Inevitably they are consumed by insanity and violence. Love must be approached with humility.

"Let Love and Truth be brought into that Sacred Marriage which bringeth forth harmony" (Lady Olivia Robertson, 1988, p. 45).

Truly, such an oracle fits the times in which we find ourselves, where the obsessive search for scandal, for pursuing ideals at any cost, and the rise of religious fanaticism in many forms is causing problems for everyone. And it gave me insights into my time as priest of Amon-Re, because while I did as the God instructed me, I drew on my anger and hatred of what Akhnaten had done to the land of Egypt through breaking his vows to the Gods and the land, rather than looking into my own heart at the things I had failed to do to restrain him, or compromise with him. And I had let my self-righteous belief so focus on Akhnaten as The Problem, that I didn't see disaffection arising within my own temple ranks. I've made lesser mistakes this lifetime, but have learned to spot them more quickly, and to try and take a more balanced approach to dealing with such problems.

But the question still remains: Mind or Heart? Science or Mysticism? Our problem comes from expressing these as dualities, rather than seeing them as part of the same process. At Opet in the times of Ramses II, for example, the great statue of Amon-Re would be loaded onto his sacred barge and sailed up the Nile to the East Bank temple of Muth in Luxor, where the Queen awaited the Pharaoh for Opet-Resyt (New Year's Day). The two statues would be united in the Holiest part of Muth's temple, along with the Queen and Pharaoh to celebrate the Mystical Union of these Deities. Then the Queen would proceed down to the Nile and call down the power of Muth to bless the waters, ensuring a good Inundation.

Mysticism would say that the Sacred Marriage, acted out for 11 days after the heliacal rising of Sirius allowed Muth, a sky Goddess, to draw her power down into the Nile and make it fertile so that it would flood and fertilize the land. Amen-Re supported her through his heated rays, making the land desire the water to pour down upon it. But, remember, the Flood in Egypt does not come down as rain, as it does in most countries, or at least not in rain in Egypt!

Science notes that shifts in the pattern and strength of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) across the South Pacific and Indian Oceans tends to control shifts in the monsoons along the Equator. In Egypt's case, those monsoon rains fall on the mountains in Sudan and Ethiopia where the sources of the Nile arise, but they can fail if ENSO shifts into its warm Eastern Pacific modality (an El Nino year). Thus, if the monsoon is small or doesn't arrive at all, the Inundation in Egypt is almost non-existent, and this can lead to severe famines.

This may be why so many gods were concentrated around the Elephantine cascades of the Nile, where the Aswan Dam is now located. The Egyptians knew that the rising of the Nile at this point gave them an idea of what kind of Inundation they could expect, good or bad. They always stored a portion of their grain harvest in good years to serve them in lean years, but even these could be exhausted. So propitiating the Gods such as Hapi, Sati, Isis, Khnum, Anket, etc. who dealt with opening the gates of the flood was also important—and part of the duties the pharaoh took on as part of becoming pharaoh.

So when Akhnaten, through his obsessive dedication to an idealized version of the Sun, the Aten (or Face) of the Sun's disk, shut down the worship of all other gods throughout Egypt and quit enacting the sacred magic festivals that kept everything going, it was not merely a "reaction to the overly powerful, wealthy priesthood who threatened his power;" it was an outright betrayal of the oaths of office he had taken as Akhenamun, in which he became the per-ay-ah or "Great House" of all the Gods. Maybe oaths don't mean as much to us as they once did, but in ancient Egypt, your sacred word was judged by your Heart's weight before Osiris after death—you were either judged "true of voice, justified," and went on to rebirth in the various fields of Heaven, or your heart was fed to Ammit as dead meat. Breaking your word was serious; worse was seeing the consequences of breaking your word and refusing to let go of your obsessive and fanatical religious beliefs.

We are seeing something very similar at the present time at many levels, where civil discourse seems to be a thing of the past, tolerance means you're weak, compromise means "we win, you lose," and Truth has been replaced by "truthiness." Love has been replaced by scandal, and we've forgotten who we are.

"The Festival of Opet" is a mini-drama within a drama using the tale of Rhodope and her lost sandal. She was raised on Rhodes at a temple of Helios, ignorant of her origins, and being taught the Classical Greek linear, logical belief system. But she kept telling them that Helios had appeared to her in a vision and told her their Reason would kill Faith. She was forced to flee the island, rejected and made welcome nowhere. But, before she left, Helios told her to seek the stream from the Lake of Memory, and if she overcame a challenge to drink from it, she would remember her place as a child of starry Heaven, a gift from the Mother of Memory, Mnomesyne.

Eventually, after many trials, she finds the stream, achieves her trial, and is given a drink, but must immediately flee from soldiers coming for her. Ultimately, they do find her, as the Pharaoh Amasis divines from her lost sandal the golden ankh of eternal life, and that she is his missing queen, Nitocris. Through their marriage, Rhodope returns both Truth and Justice, Reason and Faith, to Egypt, which she completes by finishing the red granite cladding on the smallest of the three Great Pyramids (Menkaure), as bidden by Muth.

This speaks to me of the way we have lost sight of all being one people: one human race living on a single planet, Earth, which has a thin atmospheric shell, and the only free-running water for millions of miles around. In the Greed creed of "I've got mine, I got it first, and you can't have any because there's none left," we've wandered a long way from remembering that everyone shares this place. Given that our genetic code is less than 2% different from chimpanzees and bonobos, we've also lost sight of the fact there are a lot of other beings in our family tree that also depend on what we do. 

We have too many creeds that believe that every life is entirely sacred (most run by men), and that under no circumstances should we ever try to hold back the rising tide of babies. Our world is stressed out under the 6+billion people on it right now, which is expected to rise to 9+billion in 40 years or less. Ignoring poor people (of color) in remote parts of the earth to starve so we can keep buying cheap electronics from China is not a long-term or long-sighted solution. Sooner or later, what goes around comes around, and we will find that 1) the bottom of the heap revolts, 2) they die in massive numbers leaving no one to do the dirty work us 1st worlders expect from them, or 3) something unanticipated wipes out most of us—you can't eat money! But we must force women to bear every potential conception to term no matter what, how, who, or why!!!

I don't think any of the Goddesses would get behind that one. What about all the animal babies we have to kill to make room for all of us? Don't they matter?

In the meditation part of the ritual, I found myself confronting my self as a person in this life, someone who has been desperate to be loved—largely unsuccessfully—and who has sought Truth, first through science, then through mysticism, and now through a blend of both. I still want to be loved, but as this ritual made so clear, single-minded pursuit of being Loved by everyone is doomed to failure, just as single-minded pursuit of Truth is ultimately sterile.

One way that I draw on healing energy is by light—Isis charges me to open myself up to the light of Sirius and let it wash all of the hurt and negative energy out of my system. Similarly, Re, in his various forms, has me use sunlight to accomplish a similar task on a different wavelength. It works for me, more effectively than crystal therapy or aroma therapy or sound therapy, Gods, I've tried almost anything over the years. I think, though, that this rite will give me a degree of healing, in that I realize that balance is the key, not desperation.

Someone else enacting the ritual would almost certainly seen a different mystery, and I might well have seen something different if I were in a different point in my own journey. But this is where I was, today, on Wepet Renpet, 2011. May you find your own way to balance Truth and Love!


  1. Thank you for all these postings of your writings and thoughts, Michael. I have enjoyed your new blog very much.

    My husband and I are in the midst of our Nen Sokar or New Year celebrations. In years past we've done them as you do, the closing of the year and the 5 epagomenal days, culminating in the Festival of Opet on Aug 1.

    This year, however, we were trying something different, a more accurate orientation to Peret Sopdet rather than a lose orientation to Lughnassad.

    Alas, we already had the calendar of events for our Weret Renpet celebrations set (today as Ausar's day, based on a heliacal rising of Aug 8th) when I received a link to Isidora Duncan's blog, in which she links to an accurate calculator for the heliacal risings of heavenly bodies. You just need to know your latitude and your elevation above sea level in meters.

    Drat. I discovered that the true heliacal rising for Kansas City is August 16th. That's practically the Wag Festival! So, o well, my attempt at "being correct" has failed this year, since it's too late to change our plans now. There's always next year ;-).

    What do you think about the "correctness" issue when it comes to the heliacal rising of Sopdet? One thing I think of is that perhaps what was important about the rising of Sirius was that it coincided with the Inundation. That perhaps it's not the rising of the star alone that "counts". Because, what about "in the year 2525"? (If man/woman is still alive... ;-) What with the precession of the equinoxes the rising of Sirius could be in September...farther and farther from the seasonal event to which it was moored in ancient times.

    I feel sure you've thought this through so I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.

    "Shay met em ronpu"
    May you live 100 years


  2. I've been using Bob Brier's adjustment for precession for Cairo, which is still coming out to August 1. I will post some pictures in a blog where I address this next, but I wanted to answer you directly.

    The current coincidence of the heliacal rising of Sirius with Lughnassadh is just that, a coincidence. We have been through 4000 years of precession since the heliacal rising matched the mid-July date usually used, and several thousand years since that matched the presumed Summer Solstice date that should coincide with the beginning of the inundation as described in some of the myths. So "correctness" is a non-issue; we are no longer living in a time when what we see matches their world.

    Secondly, if you want to celebrate an Egyptian calendar, I would tend to want to celebrate the rising according to when it is seen in Egypt, not where I am located. My seasons bear no relationship to those in ancient Egypt, so my ritual calendar—to be perfectly correct—should reflect the local, seasonal, and deific aspects where I am. The fact that so many pagans use a northern European Celtic calendar reflects their origins in ancestry, but also doesn't correspond to where they live *now* usually. So that also puts "paid" to the issue of correctness, does it not?

    Thirdly, as I have emphasized, even in Egypt, the Inundation no longer occurs, thanks the the High Dam at Aswan. (Which just happens to coincide with the Elephantine shrines of Hapi and Satis, who were the guardians of the Flood. Go figure!) As a result, the land along the Nile no longer received the fertilizing silt and plant matter that it used to get with the flood—whenever it might occur—and is becoming more like the Red Lands of the desert around it. This is part of the reason behind the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt this year—the people can no longer rely on the fertility of the land to grow sufficient food at a price they can afford because of the Dam, which provides most of the power to cities like Cairo.

    My feeling on this is that we either celebrate the festivals according to what is in our hearts and feels right for *us*, or we need to shift to whatever is *correct* for our own time, place, and location, and quit worrying about what the ancient peoples of far-away lands thought and believed. I tend to use a bit of both, or of all of it, in my own practice, but that's my particular weirdness. I don't believe in "correctness," I believe in pragmatics—what works for my mind to go into an appropriate space for insight into the mysteries.

    It doesn't help things that I tend to think in hieroglyphics, though.

  3. LOL. Isadora Duncan. That would be Rhondda;s "mentalpause" talking ;-)

    Wouldn't it be something if I WAS receiving email invitations to a blog operated by Isadora Duncan? Ahh, but the honored dead do not blog.

    As you no doubt sussed out, the person I meant is the well-known Priestess of Isis and author, Isidora Forrest.

    I will address your comments about "correctness" and festival calendars and the like on the blog post you dedicated to that subject.

  4. Pardon me, I meant Isadora Forrest. I've been on medication for a couple of weeks that has totally trashed my brain. I've been trying to dig my way out of the confusion, but haven't quite gotten there yet.

    I look forward to your feedback on my post, Rhondda! It's always good to have a dialog going.

  5. No, no, not your pardon. MINE. I said I. Duncan when I meant I. Forrest. And you were kind enough to overlook my gaffe ;-)

    I genuinely hope you will be feeling better soon, M.