The Crystal Air
The great candles hissed and spat, casting off acrid fumes that were masked by the sweet incense rising from the copper burners, made to an ancient formula which spoke of purple flowers in the night. Their light was bright, and cast flickering shadows off the sacred objects in the temple which became dancing forms that flowed across the walls like the mental ghosts of the shadow, the enemy within that the young priests had been trained to see.
The silence in the temple of Isis was so profound that the slightest variation of breathing on the part of any of the temple officers could be heard. Anzety turned to face the eastern wall of the temple. In his mind, Neferaset came forward from the darkness of that inner east and stepped up to meet him, taking his hands and her usual position as the head of ritual… but, this time, she wasn’t here. She was waiting for his signal, beyond the bronze doors of the sacred chamber. The temple was his to command.
Saluting the east, and the great statue of Isis overseeing all that went on in the temple of the sun, he turned to look at the swelled ranks of those who had come to celebrate the inner meanings of the festival of Akhet – and the elevation of the island’s chosen priest. The forces represented by the figures of the triumvirate of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut, symbolically united in their shadowy figurehead of ancient Isis, waited in expectant and respectful silence as he began the rite of Akhet.
Such was the power of the priest…
Anzety held up his hands, palms turned towards the sky; welcoming all in a silent gesture of respect.
He stepped forward into the inner ring, the Wheel of Djet, symbolising eternity, and followed it around the circle, clockwise, extending his arms to all present. “Many of you have travelled from the far lands to be with us at the time of the great inundation – Akhet. We welcome you to our Temple home, where life is devoted to the worship of the Divine Feminine, through the worship of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut, expressed in the service of the supreme goddess, Isis.
“It is customary at the time of Akhet, for us to bring to initiation the most promising of the apprentice priests. Today we honour a young man named Amkhren, an orphan, alone in the world apart from his grandmother. Amkhren was adopted for temple apprenticeship seven years ago by our own High Priestess, after a chance meeting by the great river that revealed some of his promise.”
Anzety studied the faces around him. Most he recognised, but there were a few who were strangers – not unusual for such an occasion, as the priests from other temples would rotate in their attendance, especially as this was seen as an honour–given that the temple of Isis at Gezirah island was sponsored by Seti, himself. Anzety did his best to calm a growing sense of unease. Regaining the east, he bowed to the images of Amun-Ra and Isis, then turned once more to face the visitors.
“An initiation must also be a trial for it to stir into action the hidden chambers of the heart. The worship of Isis is centred in such magic. The young man will be safe through these trials,” Anzety paused, thinking back to a similar occasion, a long time ago… “but he does not know that. For him, this will be a life and death challenge, and we ask you all to hold the dread of that in your hearts, to help fill Amkhren’s next moments with the needed feelings.”
Anzety raised his head to address the Guardian in the far west of the temple. “Guardian!” the white-robed figure stood to attention. The black and gold bands, running diagonally from his shoulders to his waist, reflected the shimmering light of the flames. “Open the temple doors and admit our Sister, the High Priestess, Neferaset; Amkhren, the one whose trial has come; and his proud grandmother, known to us as Snefer, the bent one, our trusted temple servant. This will be the last time his grandmother is allowed to accompany him in his sacred duties, and we do this to honour her devotion to his upbringing amidst such hardship.”
The temple guardian struck the huge brass gong three times. The temple reverberated with the pure resonance of the sound and its harmonics, which took long seconds to fade. “Brethren of the temple,” said the guardian, in a voice that matched the fading sound of the gong. “stand tall and, in the way sacred to your own traditions, honour the entrance of the high priestess and her charges.”
Those in the temple straightened, holding their heads high. Some held their hands over their hearts, using one hand or two, some held their hands upwards forming a part square; others simply bowed their heads. The temple guardian looked to the high priest for his signal that the next part of the rite should begin. Anzety made a slight movement of his head, then stared down, for a second, at the altar in the middle of the sacred space, lending his love and will to what lay ahead for the boy. In doing so, he did not notice the frantic eye gestures of the guardian, trying to communicate something urgent to him…
Index to previous chapters:
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.