A Man by the River
We arrived in Egypt on a Lunar Eclipse at the beginning of Ramadan. Touted by the astrologers as the biggest astrological event of the year, the Harmonic Concordance, this powerful eclipse offered a rare alignment of planets that formed a Star of David in the sky. People all over the world celebrated and prayed for peace at this potent opportunity for transformation.
Cairo was alive with festivities and though starting to feel the effects of jetlag, we spent the evening at a restaurant brightly decorated in rich red tapestries. Soft breezes from the rooftop patio and the lively, infectiously happy mood of the patrons served to energize us as we anticipated our journey through the sacred sites of Egypt for the next two weeks.
The lunar eclipse peaked around 3 a.m., and instead of sleeping, we gathered on the balcony of our tour leader Jane’s room, and watched as the shadow of the earth moved over the face of the full moon. The moon appeared to turn a reddish hue as the eclipse came on and I prayed for my father who was very ill at his home in Jamaica. An avid amateur astronomer with a strong interest in Ancient Egypt, he would have enjoyed watching an eclipse from this setting. The Mena House Hotel, where we were staying, was situated at the foot of the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau and the pyramid’s imposing presence formed a stunning backdrop against the many date palms and fuchsia bougainvillea that graced the hotel grounds.At dawn we went to the nearby Sphinx, known as the Keeper of the Mysteries in Egyptian lore, and had an auspicious opening ceremony for our journey. We were allowed to wander around the monument and enter the passage between its paws, an area generally off limits to visitors. The Sphinx’s giant leonine presence viewed from up close is humbling. It evoked in me the sense that I was looking into an other-worldly presence from the stars. The sun was rising in the east and lighting up the pyramids nearby as we milled around the Sphinx. I said a quiet prayer for my father, knowing how glad he was that I was able to travel to this land. On a hill above the Sphinx, a pack of seven wild dogs, each with a curly tail were scampering along, jumping and biting each other as they raced. I laughed at this scene thinking how my father, who loved dogs, would have enjoyed this.The next evening we were at the train station in Cairo waiting to take an overnight train ride south to Aswan in Upper Egypt. Mohammed, our Egyptian guide, and Jane, came over and gave me the news: my aunt had called them to tell me that my Dad had passed. At that instant I looked over and saw a man with a big black German Shepherd dog waiting to get on the train. I was struck by the thought that I was looking at Anubis, the black Egyptian Dog God of the underworld who escorts the souls after they’ve passed. With the time difference, I figured out that my Dad had passed on the Lunar Eclipse, around the time we were doing our ceremony at the Sphinx.
The twelve hour overnight train ride helped me to process the news. I had been prepared for the possibility that this could happen while I was in Egypt. In fact I had struggled for months with conflicting feelings about whether I should travel to Egypt or go to Jamaica. The conventional voices from society said “you should go to Jamaica to be with your Dad when he passes,” however, my intuitive guidance and my heart said to go to Egypt. My father and I were at peace with each other and while his health had steadily declined for years, I had said “goodbye” five times in five years on visits to him. On my last visit, he had given me his copy of his favorite book, River God, by Wilbur Smith. An epic tale set in Ancient Egypt, my father said he never tired of reading about the ancient civilization and temples and said that his favorite Neter, (Egyptian God), was Hapi, the Nile River God.
Two weeks before the Egypt trip, at my home in Canada, I dreamt that I had traveled a long distance to see my father. I asked him if we weren’t going to be together. He said “no, what I have to do I must do on my own now.”
The dream stirred me to prepare something special to take, so that I could make an offering in the Nile for him. I took his copy of the book River God along with some of the letters he’d written me over the years, some of his favourite passages from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyam, pictures of us and a letter I wrote him along with incense and flowers. Like witches preparing some special alchemy, a friend and I burnt this bundle in her fireplace on the new moon and I saved the ashes to sprinkle in the Nile.
The sun was rising as the train passed through lush green fields approaching Aswan. We disembarked and walked over to the dock on the Nile to catch our boat to enchanting Elephantine Island. Considered the gateway to the Nile, Elephantine Island separates the river into two channels and is the sight of the ruins of several temples. Later, I would learn that the island played a pivotal setting in the novel River God, being the sight of the Pharoah’s palace and the site of a temple to Hapi.
As we approached the island we saw the giant granite boulders that looked like elephants that helped to give the island its name. In the afternoon, we took a boat ride to the site of an old Egyptian temple on the southern end of the island, the Temple of Khnum, the Ram headed God. It was also the site of an old Jewish temple where it was suspected by Graham Hancock in his book The Sign and the Seal, that the Ark of the Covenant had been kept on its way into Ethiopia from Jerusalem. Serene and peaceful in the late afternoon, we were fortunate to have the incredible temple site to ourselves which stood high on a hill overlooking the Nile. Jane asked me to lead a ceremony there for my Dad. I placed his picture and the ashes I had prepared weeks before of his book, River God, on the altar we made. I chose a passage to read from Awakening Osiris, the Egyptian Book of the Dead invoking Anubis and Hapi, the River God:
A Preponderance of Starry Beings
(excerpted from Awakening Osiris by Normandi Ellis)
O starry ones! I am a man by a river, gazing up. And how these same stars quiver above Kheraba and An. How these lights reach farther than the watch fires of Heliopolis. And what of hidden things?
O lord of acacia trees! Whose blooms are the first sensations, who binds the rags of mummies. This sad mortality! The boat is set upon its sledge and filled with yellow flowers. O jackal Anubis! I have passed through the underworld door. Nothing grows and nothing dies; all that was and would be, is. This life is a singular breath and your moving eye is time.
O he whose face is too ponderous for sculpture into stone! Hapi, the waters flow. Papyrus and lotus spring up. In your boat, sailing from some unknown city, your body glistens like water.
The gods have heard my name. Osiris. I am a man by the river, gazing up. Husband and tiller and reaper and king. I am the lord of seasons, of that which falls and returns to light. I am he who sowed the seed. I am the bread I have made.
This is such nourishing peace.
After the ceremony, we walked down to the Nile for me to make the offering of ashes. Two farmers were taking their oxen into the river as herons and two golden hoopoes flew by. The setting sun over the hills cast a glow on the mausoleum of the Aga Khan. I sprinkled the ashes into the Nile and in that split second looked up to see a felucca sailboat flying a flag going by. The green and black diamonds with the yellow “x” running through the flag looked familiar. Gasping, I grabbed the arm of someone standing beside me: “Look, it’s the Jamaican flag!” The Egyptians with us were most surprised, as they had never seen the Jamaican flag on the Nile before.I felt like my father’s spirit followed me from temple to temple after that. Together we paid homage to Isis at Philae, to Horus at Edfu and to Sobek at Kom Ombo. At Karnak in Luxor there was the Sekhmet statue that seemed almost alive with presence and at the Abydos temple, we looked at the ancient hieroglyphs with mysterious but unmistakable images of helicopters. Each site seemed to be better than the last until we ended our journey back at the Great Pyramid at Giza.When I arrived back home, I received an email from one of my uncles. In it he said:
Long ago, your Dad and I and our friends used to debate whether there was an afterlife. Your Dad said that if he ever reached the other side he was going to send back a sign to us. When I got your email from Egypt about the boat with the Jamaican flag, I remembered, and it brought tears to my eyes. I felt that this was the sign. It was just like Desmond to send us back a sign from a felucca sailboat on the Nile in Egypt.
Yes, this was just like him. Even in death, there was adventure, and one final story to be told. And as the ancient Pharaohs believed that on their death they became one with the Sun God Ra, so too my father would have said that he had now become one with his beloved Hapi, the Nile River God. Copyright © Kathy Stanley
In loving memory of Desmond George Stanley
With great thanks to my friend, teacher and mentor Jane Bell, the ultimate guide to the sacred sites of Egypt. Please visit her site at Presence of Heart.