Last Saturday evening Denton CUUPS presented our Egyptian Summer Solstice ritual for the 10th consecutive year. We had 58 people in the circle, which is very good attendance for us. More importantly, the participation was good and the feedback afterwards was strong.
This ritual is a combination of reconstruction and reimagining. The first part draws heavily from the daily temple ritual as presented in the Coffin Texts and Pyramid Texts. Our statues of the Neteru are sealed in a cabinet. The priests ritually open the cabinet and the statues are reverently placed on the main altar. They are anointed with oil and censed with incense. They are “dressed” with bright cloths wrapped around their bases. They are presented with offerings of beer and bread.
Our goal is to honor the gods and goddesses of Egypt in the way they were worshipped thousands of years ago. Is this authentic? Not really. “Ancient Egypt” was hardly monolithic. The gods and their stories, priests, and temples varied from place to place and from time to time. We only have fragments of a few rituals from a few sources. More importantly, we only do this once a year, not every day as would have been done in a temple. Only a couple of our folks are specifically dedicated to Egyptian deities, although several of us (including myself) have developed relationships with them over the years.
Still, these are goddesses and gods who are becoming active in our world again. We believe it is worthwhile – for us and for them – to make their acquaintance.
The second part of the ritual was a play, a condensed version of the story of how Set killed his brother Osiris and was in turn defeated by Horus, son of Osiris and Isis. Horus the Avenger became the King of Egypt, but Set was not destroyed. He remains as the god of the desert and of chaos – a reminder of the harsh realities of life for a people who were totally dependent on the narrow strip of fertile land on the banks of the Nile.
The third part of the ritual was a dramatic presentation of the Prophecy of Thoth, also known as the Prophecy of Hermes Trismegistus. Both the prophecy and the person of Hermes Trismegistus have a long history in the Western Mystery Tradition – I do not intend to explore those connections here. Instead, I want to share a bit of the prophecy.
Oh, Egypt, Egypt! Of thy Faith nothing will remain but an empty tale, which thine own children in time to come will not believe; nothing will be left but graven words, and only the stones will tell of thy piety. In that day men and women will be weary of life, and they will cease to think the universe worthy of reverent wonder and worship. The pious will be deemed insane and the impious wise; the madman will be thought brave, and the wicked will be esteemed as good. No word of reverence or piety, no utterance worthy of heaven and of the gods of heaven, will be heard or believed.
And so the gods will depart from mankind, and only evil angels will remain, who will mingle with men, and drive the poor wretches into all manner of reckless crime, into wars, and robberies, and frauds, and all things hostile to the nature of the soul. Faith will be no more; all things will be disordered and awry; all good will disappear.
Now, it’s entirely possible – perhaps even probable – that this prophecy was written long after the final collapse of Egypt, perhaps as late as 300 CE. In any case, the prophecy has already come to pass. But it is hard to read it and not see our own era in it, with violence abroad, corruption and spying at home, and climate change and environmental degradation everywhere.
The prophecy says that when things get really bad, the gods will return and restore Ma’at – truth, justice, and order. The track record of gods returning and making everything alright is not good. So in this ritual, the priests portraying the gods said:
Some can learn, and listen, and help steer the world away from total chaos. Now, we shall give them the opportunity to do so.
We make gifts to you. Choose which you will take, what you will learn.
The gods – of Egypt or of any other land – do not make everything right. If we listen to them, if we work with them, they will point us in the right direction. But we have to do the work.
A personal note: in all the years we’ve been doing the Egyptian Summer Solstice, I don’t think I’ve ever “felt” anything during a ritual. No swell of power, no calming serenity, no moving inspiration. Perhaps that’s because the Egyptian liturgy is so different from our usual rituals and I’m concentrating on the text and not the spirit of the text. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have the deep relationships with these gods I have with those I’m pledged to… although that hasn’t stopped me from having some strong experiences of the Egyptian gods during preparatory meditations before the rituals.
What I have seen are results after the rituals: new folks knocking on our door, current folks re-energized, ways opened, obstacles removed. The skeptic in me is reluctant to claim cause-and-effect; the follower of the gods is hesitant to claim these gods were that moved by our little ritual. But we’ve done this every year for ten years, and I can’t deny what’s happened afterwards. We have every intention of continuing our Egyptian Summer Solstice for the next ten years and beyond.
The ritual ended with this benediction:
Go in peace, and may Horus walk between you and the dark places you must travel.