River of the Sun, Chapter Nine
The Priestess Calls
Anzety, high priest of the Isis temple, watched from the east of the temple as his sister, Neferaset, the prime figure of authority on the island, entered through the opened portal of the west. The symbols of her status as high priestess, worn at forehead and throat, reflected the candle lights and seemed to shimmer as she moved. With her were Amkhren, the novice priest to be initiated, and Snefer, his only surviving relative and the woman who had raised him, fighting frailty and pain to do so. Neferaset held her hands behind her, bringing both of them into the temple space with an unusual gesture of equal status.
The only noise in the temple was the movement of Neferaset’s golden slippers, as their leather made subtle sounds of sliding contact, carrying the priestess over the crystalline white floor in a movement that resembled a snake gliding over water. Although the temple’s central space was arranged as twin circles – one inside the other – within each of the rings there was traced an equilateral triangle of marked points; its head being in the east and its twin tails spaced equally to divide the edges of the circles into thirds.
Moving clockwise around the outer circle, Neferaset stopped the boy at the first of these markers, wordlessly instructing Amkhren to remain there with gestures from the fingers of her right hand, which flickered like a cobra’s forked tongue. Once she was sure he had understood, Neferaset continued to take Snefer towards the east and the waiting Anzety, knowing that the novice’s eyes would, from now until the end of the rite, be fixed on her, no matter what happened.
She was so engrossed in binding his attention, that she failed to notice that, dotted in the sea of robed and hooded faces, massed in the half shadows of the outer parts of the temple, several were not facing her, as was customary, but turned away…
Reaching the east, the high priestess smiled at a bowing Anzety, who had taken a step backwards to stand in the outer ring. Neferaset returned the greeting, before passing Snefer to him. Gently grasping the old fingers, the high priest continued the clockwise momentum around the outer circle, taking the boy’s grandmother with him. They stopped at the final point of the triangle, on a line opposite Amkhren. In a mirror of Neferaset’s earlier gesture, Anzety pointed the first two fingers of his right hand at Snefer’s eyes, then closed the gap between the fingers and pointed at the high priestess, who now stepped into the inner circle, as did Anzety, taking his place in the tri-fold structure of power, which lacked only one figure – the experienced priest who took the role of the Vessel of Mut; and who should, many hours prior, have returned from acting as envoy to one of their sister temples, a day’s walk away…
Without preamble and caring deeply for the terrified old woman in their midst, Neferaset began to speak, softly; but it was impossible to hold back the power which streamed from her in this place, and the old woman had tears running down her cheeks as the high priestess began.
“You are known as ‘Snefer’ – we honour you.”
The six other temple officers in the inner ring turned to face Neferaset’s honoured guest and bowed.
“For all our titles,” the high priestess continued. “you have truly done the work of the Gods in the raising of one fit to become a priest in this temple.” Neferaset fought back her own tears as she looked at the pride in the gleaming eyes of the bent old figure. “Tonight,” she continued. “this child of your child joins us on the path to becoming an initiate, a training which will, eventually, equip him to absorb and reflect the Will of the Gods.”
Neferaset looked for recognition of this condition and received it in the eyes of the other woman.
“You know that, from this day on, you will not able to accompany your grandson. Do you have any special words for him as he stands at this portal?”
Snefer looked across the north-south axis of the twin circles below which they had both been placed. The old voice was calm if a little ragged, “I will say, simply, that you have brought great honour on us all, Amkhren, and I know that your mother and father would have been so very proud of you. Hold them in your hearts, now . . . make them part of this moment!”
Amkhren bowed his head to his one surviving relative, “I will, Grandma, and thank you… for everything.”
Neferaset’s voice resumed its authoritative tone as brought to an end the rare indulgence of personal feelings into the sacred space of the sanctuary.
“And now the familial and the familiar must end! Let Snefer stay here and watch, as we begin Amkhren’s initiation into the company of the Gods.”
Neferaset stared at Amkhren, the gentleness passed, the authority returned. “Amkhren!” she held up one hand and all present would have sworn they saw the image of the sun held between her fingers of a hand that she let slide down to the horizontal. “Great Ra has set in his horizon. The boat of a million years has taken him where we cannot go while we live…” She opened the fingers and the perceived ball of light seemed to dissolve into the air, becoming briefly large in its final flourish, then shrinking in light and heat as it sank into an orange space.
“But, tonight,” continued the high priestess, “you must go where the river of your life has not taken you before,” She raised her right hand and fixed him with the hypnotic power of her gold-capped fingers, turning them over and forming them into hooks so that Amkhren was mentally pulled towards the east. “Follow the circle to me, now!” she commanded… Amkhren walked, slowly around the outer circle, clockwise towards the high priestess.
“Look around you, Amkhren,” said Neferaset. “Look and see them for the first time; see them not as the teachers that you knew in the seven years since I brought you, an untutored boy, from the banks of the great river; but as the forces which rule and shape our lives and the landscapes of encounter upon which those dramas are played out …” Neferaset took hold of the young man’s shoulders, turning him away from her and rotating his body clockwise so that his eyes lingered for a few seconds on each of the ritual priests before him–but not long enough for him to fix his mind on any of the details. It was like waking up from a dream into a state of total attention, only to be denied the details of the newly unfolding vision.
“Their stories will follow, Amkhren… Each will take you on a journey tonight…”
As Neferaset turned him, the glories of the Neters–the god-forms held by the temple Vessels around the inner ring of the temple–were revealed in fleeting glimpses of gold, blue, white and skin; each very different, yet each conforming to some time-honoured language of form depicting how their ancient powers were portrayed.
Here, Sekhmet, fierce and challenging; then the kindly face of Hathor, whose gaze melted him with its motherly love, making his heart ache for what had been taken away from him in childhood; then Anzety’s smiles, calm and watching, always watching, like the quiet face of the full moon, whose Neter, Khonsu, he represented in the temple. Then came Tefnut, she of the essence of moisture, the precious liquid of life. To Tefnut’s right, as he spun, was Ptah, one of the most ancient of the gods; then there was a gap, a space which, to his young and unknowing mind, felt like a wound… But then he was turned, again, and there was Thoth, wise Thoth, the giver of knowledge and writing. Finally, just before his vision spun back to take in the controlling high priestess, there was Maat, not really one of form, She of the Truth, the single feather, dancing on the breeze, the weight of the true heart …
“Three, Amkhren,” said Neferaset, now in front of him again; mysteriously, as he would swear that he had just travelled around the inner ring of the temple and away from her…
“Three stages lead to completion–your completion as a priest of the Island of Isis.”
Through glazed eyes he looked at hers. There was precision as well as caring in those eyes. She knew where this went, he did not… he tried to concentrate, but his mind would not focus, as though many here – but not all, he observed – were mentally shouting his name, urging him on. The sense of elation was taking his breath away. Had they given him the high water, the one brewed from the orange petals in the high valleys? He thought not; that was not the way of Isis – knowledge, leading to fuller consciousness, in turn leading to higher knowledge, which again led on to… the way of the true priest, the way of becoming one with the Neters, of sacrificing self, this was his chosen path, and this dimming of the light in his head was not a child of that path. What was it? It felt near… it was threatening, yet he was not sure that the high priestess sensed it yet?
“Three stages that are reflected in the greater journey of Amun-Ra,” the high priestess continued. “from season to season to season, the three of them constant for a million years.” She held up her arms and the two rings of the temple materialised in circles drawn for him in the air. “Djet and Neheh” she said, “Eternity and becoming. Tonight you will begin to understand them; tonight we will begin to open the gates in you so that their presence can make itself felt…”
The high priestess pulled back and turned to her left, looking down into the nearest ring, the Wheel of Djet. It was time to throw Amkhren to the lioness, but no ordinary lioness…
Index to previous chapters:
Chapter Nine – The Unchosen Darkness
Introduction to River of the Sun
In April 2015 a group of people gathered in the Derbyshire hills to enact the Silent Eye’s annual Mystery Play, entitled, The River of the Sun. The five-act mystical drama formed the backbone of that Spring weekend, and told the fictional story of a clash of ego and divinity set in an Isis-worshipping temple located on an island in the Nile, during the the fascinating period of the 19th dynasty, the time of Rameses the Great.
The 18th and 19th dynasties were a time of upheaval for ancient Egypt on many levels. The reign of the ‘Heretic King’ Akhenaten saw Egypt’s religious structure torn apart, as the revolutionary Pharaoh became what Wallis Budge called the ‘world’s first monotheist’; re-fashioning the power of the many Gods with one supreme entity – the visible sun disc, the Aten, for which Akhenaten, alone, was the high priest. Many have pointed to the failure of the ‘herectic’ Pharaoh’s politics, but few have doubted the sincerity of his religious vision. He will, forever, remain an enigma.
Whatever the nobility of his goal, the actions he took were ruthless, and included the shutting down of the annual deity festivals which were the sole point of ritualistic contact between the ordinary people of Egypt and their locally-worshipped gods. In addition, Akhenaten paid little attention to the domestic and military affairs of Egypt, allowing the country’s enemies to encroach on its borders, greatly weakening Egypt’s power at that critical time for the region.
After Akhenaten’s brief reign, culminating in the Pharaoh’s mysterious death, shadowy military forces took control of Egypt, instigating the 19th dynasty in the persons of Rameses I and, soon thereafter, Seti I, whose throne name derives from the god Set – often considered the ‘evil one’ because of his slaying of his brother, Osiris.
Seti I is judged by modern historians as having been one of the greatest-ever pharaohs, yet his importance in the 19th dynasty was eclipsed by the actions of his second son, the brilliant Rameses II, whose long reign of over sixty years included much self-promotion and the alteration of Egypt’s recent history. Both Seti and Rameses II (Rameses the Great) were passionate about the evisceration of the last traces of Akhenaten’s ‘chaos’, as they saw it.
But, although, by the 19th dynasty, the the ‘Son of the Sun’ was long dead and the buildings of his embryonic and doomed city of Tel-al-Armana were reduced to rubble, something of that time remained in the Egyptian consciousness. A new kind of connection between Pharaoh and God had been established, one which elevated mankind, if only in the being of the Pharaoh, to be someone who ‘talked with God’. It was, at the very least, a bold experiment and, though the world would have to wait until the 19th century to re-discover the ‘erased’ pharaoh, the philosophical waves of that period rippled out and dramatically affected the way the incoming 19th dynasty had to repair the worship of the Gods, uniting the people of Egypt under a trinity of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut.
Our fictional story is a tale of politics, friendships, mind and faith. It is set against an historically accurate background, and at a time when Rameses was due to take the throne from the dying Seti .
Returning to Thebes in his swift warship, crewed by his fearsome Talatat mind-warriors, Rameses decides to mount a surprise night-time raid on the island-based Isis temple which has prospered under the sponsoring reign of his father. Rameses suspects that the inner teachings conducted by the revered High Priestess and Priest conceal views that relate to the thoughts of the heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten. He plans to insert himself and his warriors of the mind into the islands’s Spring rites as the high priest and priestess begin a cycle of initiation for a chosen apprentice priest who has proved himself worthy of special advancement.
The resulting clash draws everyone, including the young Pharaoh-in-Rising, into a spiralling situation where each is forced to confront their own fears as well as living out the roles which life has allocated them. River of the Sun is the story of a spiritual and political encounter from which none emerge unchanged, including the man who will shortly be Pharaoh, the mighty Rameses II, whose secret name for himself is ‘the unchosen’.
Through the eyes and minds of those surrounding the chosen priest and the ‘unchosen’ Pharaoh, the River of the Sun takes us on a tense and compelling journey to the heart of power and its eternal struggle with truth.
The chapters of the book will be serialised in this blog. The finished work is planned to be available in paperback and Kindle early in 2016.
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.