Posted by: Isidora | April 18, 2010

The Mysteries and Symbolism of Egyptian Temples and Temple Ritual

For the photos of the Isis Temple for SunFest, go to the post just before this one 🙂

This is the text of a talk I did for Hermetic Society on…well…what the title says. Today’s installment is a guided visualization of passing into an Egyptian temple. Pay attention to what you see as we’ll be talking about it more later on.

Entering the Temple

It is just before dawn and we stand before the pylon gates of an enormous temple. The pylons are two great, flat rectangles, lying on their sides and tapering slightly at the top. They soar high into the sky and are covered with scenes of the Pharaoh smiting the enemies of Egypt. Four flagpoles—weighing five tons each—are anchored in the pylons. At their tops, flags flutter in a soft dawn breeze. Between the pylons are two huge wooden doors. On perfect, silent pivots, they swing open. We pass through and enter into a large courtyard, open to the sky.

Even at this early hour, there are other people all around us, including villagers who live in the area surrounding the temple, praying, making offerings. There are statues everywhere, some of Deities, some of human beings; some of them bear inscriptions asking us to speak the offering formula so that the spirit of the person depicted by the statue may live.

Around the outer edge of the courtyard, there is a covered colonade composed of many towering pillars with capitals in the form of closed lotus buds. The walls which enclose this court yard are carved with information about the special rites that take place in this temple and the myths of the Deities Who live here.

We walk straight ahead toward another gateway and see another, smaller set of pylons that separate this courtyard from the inner chambers of the temple. As we pass through, on our left we see the robing room, on our right, the library. Past this gate, we enter into an amazingly beautiful and impressive hall. It is literally a forest of pillars, carved as papyrus plants, reeds, lotuses and other plantlife. We notice that the ones near the gate have closed buds, but as we enter further in, the plants carved on the capitals of the pillars seem to open and bloom.

It is getting darker now. Inside the temple, there are no windows we can discern. We can no longer see the open courtyard behind us. We pass by more beautiful carved and painted pillars—dimly seen now—and it seems that the ceiling is getting lower. Or is the floor becoming higher?

We pass another, smaller, pylon gate and the space becomes even more enclosed. Many altars, laid with offerings of food and drink are all around us. Then, in the distance, before us, we can make out the Sanctuary.

Normally, only the Pharaoh and the highest of the high priestesses and priests could go here, but we have been granted special permission. We enter. Now that we are inside, we can just make out the rectangular Shrine where the image of the temple’s main Deity is kept. This Shrine is of an open design and within it, we can barely see the outlines of a 2-ft-high golden image of Re, the Sun God, enthroned in a miniature papyrus boat.

As we watch—suddenly—a beam of sunlight flashes into the sanctuary and illuminates the golden image. We understand that the sun, outside, has risen. All the doors along the central axis of the temple have been flung wide and the sunlight pours straight down the center of the temple, illuminating the sacred image.

From out of the unformed Chaos of darkness, Re emerges. And with Him, everything can now take shape in the Light.

Re glows with magic as the sunlight renews Him. The power of Re in the sunlight has been re-united with the image of Re in His statue. As we watch, it almost seems that the image breathes as the dawn light touches Him. We, too, breathe deeply. We can see clearly. We feel renewed. Day—the First Day that is every day—has come. Mayet is established once more.

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