Friday, April 20, 2007

Lunch with a bird of prey

In a chat last night, Mercurius put a bug in my ear about using active imagination. I decided to give it a try in the context of what I've adopted as my primary (although somewhat haphazard) spiritual practice -- hospitality. I invited Horus for a visit.

At first I was anxious about which aspect of the god would appear, but I quickly realized that he had already given me an indication a couple of weeks ago, when a dove flew into our window and was stunned, to immediately fall prey to our neighborhood hawk. This image was still fixed in my mind, and so I knew which Horus I would meet.

Feeling a little more confident that I could handle the situation, I opened the front door and in flew Horus as his full falcon-self. Everything seemed to slow down as he nodded appreciatively at the airplane models shelved over the stairwell and swooped to a perch on the top shelf of the cats' climbing structure. I touched my hand to my breastbone and bowed, as I often do when entering a sacred space. Then I looked into his eyes, which were warm and intelligent. The ceiling fan was turning, rippling his beautiful feathers ripple with a slight breeze.

He gave a couple of annoyed cries. I hadn't planned what to feed him. We'd just returned from a trip and there was no fresh meat in the refrigerator. In any case, I didn't think he would find cold flesh very appetizing. He turned to look out the window at the bird feeder, and I knew what to do. I opened the window. He hopped down from the cat shelf to the window ledge and glided swiftly and silently toward the feeder, snaring a dove in his talons. Then he carried the dove to the table on the deck, which was suddenly covered not in pollen, but in rushes reminiscent of Horus' birth and upbringing, hidden on the Nile shore. He devoured his lunch as I pulled up a chair to watch at a respectful distance, but feeling surprisingly at ease. The cats sat tall (and safe) on the screen porch overlooking the deck, Agador as usual a little restless as his natural hunter-self thought about what he'd like to do with a dove. Dymka was more serene.

A noise startled Horus and he flew away with the rest of the dove's body, leaving behind just a pile of gray feathers. I swept them and the bloodied rushes into a brown paper bag for the spring brush pickup, happy that they would be recycled back into someone's garden in a year or two.

Some useful observations from this experience:

  • You can issue invitations, but you can't control who will actually come.

  • Even with invited guests, you can set boundaries. I wasn't going to let Horus bring his prey into the house. He had to consume it outside.

  • Guests may leave suddenly and without ceremony. Still, be grateful for the time you had in their company.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Strange night at Roxy's café

Horus, Coyote, and Thor went to their favorite café one evening this week. Prometheus had planned to join them, but he went to bed early -- it's hard to get a good night's sleep when your liver is healing from being torn by an eagle all day long. They were all hoping to get a mega dose of magnificent mocha from Roxy, the star barista, but the café atmosphere was rather odd.

It's not that big a café, just a couple of rooms, and hardly busy at 10 at night, but Coyote was told he couldn't get in because he was already in. The same thing happened to Thor: He couldn't enter the café because he was already inside. How very odd! To be in, but not in. And too bad, because they'd both dressed up for the occasion. Coyote was in a fine black suit, and Thor sported a new helmet and armor obtained at the Nebula.

Horus was able to enter the café, but when he didn't see either of the other two there yet, he went off to the bathroom to change into a different aspect -- it's hard to sip coffee when you have a beak for a mouth. He chose his Harpokrates (Horus-the-child) look, an athletic youth with a fashionably long side lock and a touch of eyeliner to suggest the udjat eye.

"Blue is a nice change from my usual black eyeliner," thought Horus. (Photo by BrittneyBush)

Horus ordered a cup of mocha java from Roxy and then noticed the sign over the espresso machine: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have no fresh coffee. All the coffee is made from old beans, batch number 7. We had to destroy our most recent coffee shipments because they produced a hallucinatory brew that makes you feel like you're in, but not in."

Bewildered, the three friends exchanged text messages and confirmed that they were all indeed at the right café. (Fortunately, this didn't happen the night of the Blackberry blackout.) Horus found a private room that had a back door and opened it to let Thor in. Thor found another room and let Coyote in, but there was no way all three could be in the same room.

I asked Horus later why the three of them, with all their divine powers, couldn't have just opened a door between the private rooms. He said that even gods have limits, that they still have to play by the rules of the universe. The main difference between humans and gods, he explained, is that humans see only part of the rules, while gods know them all. What keeps the gods so aware of these universal truths is the way humans keep retelling creation stories, constantly adapting them to fit new surroundings and new cultures. It's like Marie-Louise von Franz wrote in Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths, "The unconscious re-tells part of the creation myth to restore conscious life and the conscious awareness of reality again." We humans aren't aware of what we're doing when we keep the gods alive in this way.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Visions of Horus

When a god has more than a dozen different identities and takes on a part-animal form, I think Eric Hornung (1996/1970) again summarizes the challenges well:

Evidently a single image is not adequate for the metalanguage, which depends on continually changing combinations of many signs. The outward form of these signs is not decisive. The Egyptians are not concerned to give them as pleasing a form as possible, but to show what they wish to express.... We may feel that the mixture of the animal and the human is grotesque, but we should recall the saying of Christian Morgenstern: 'The material manifestation of God is necessarily grotesque.' (p. 257)

I consider myself among the graphically challenged, but I'm content with the way this image conveys the majesty of Horus as sky god as well as the immediate, concrete presence of Horus in the world, incarnate in the Egyptian king, both centered on the locale of the Temple of Edfu, where the annual drama of Osiris, Isis, Horus, and kingship was reenacted each year. It was tedious to do masking and transparency in OpenOffice Draw, which was the tool required for this assignment. The original images were all public uploads from Flickr, from photographers MykReeve and Lenka P and illustrator flondo. (I'd like to see flondo draw Hathor for Horus to hook up with!)

Hornung, E. (1996). Conceptions of god in ancient Egypt. (J. Baines, Trans.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. (Original work published 1970)