The Initiate of Sekhmet

It’s been the sort of warm, muggy day on which I’ve never really quite woken up, and my rational mind has never really gotten into gear. On days like this, it’s my primitive reptilian mind that stirs into a sort of zombie consciousness, and memories boil up out of the ooze of forgetfulness, and come back to life:

I was in Luxor once, on the eve of the Gulf War. The town was almost empty of tourists, and so the archaeological sites I visited were all nearly empty. If any official said a place was closed, I’d pull out my wallet and ease out a banknote, and it would suddenly be open. That was how I got into one of the closed tombs in the Valley of the Kings, descending wooden steps in semi-darkness deep underground, until I stood alone in a large chamber beside an empty sarcophagus, and wondered if I’d ever get back out again.

After a week or so of trekking round tombs and funerary temples, it crossed my mind that everything was really very dead. The statues and the the hieroglyphs and the stones were all devoid of life. Even the birds and bees chiselled into the stones seemed lifeless.

And then one day, while I was sitting resting with my back against a wall of hieroglyphs, a bee or wasp flew up and started buzzing around my face. I tried to bat it away, but it kept coming back, and so eventually I got up and moved a few feet away. The bee promptly flew up to the wall, and landed on it, and vanished into a gap between the stones that had been right behind where my head had rested. I could see why it had been buzzing round my face: I’d been blocking the way to its nest.

But as it scuttled into the hole in the wall, I noticed that it looked exactly like a bee that was chiselled into the same wall, and was one of the symbols of the kings of Egypt. And with that, I realised that not everything was dead: the bees were still around, thousands of years after the temples had fallen into ruin.

A few days later, or maybe later on the same day, in the northern part of the vast precinct of the temple of Amun at Karnak, a large bird of prey – a falcon or a buzzard – alighted on top of a lamp post, and started plucking the feathers out of a bird it had caught. I walked very slowly towards it until it noticed me, and fixed me with its eyes, and then took off and glided away across the temple precinct. Not only were the bees still around, but the falcons were too. It was all coming to life a bit.

I continued walking slowly in the hot sun to a part of the temple precinct that I had yet to visit. But when I arrived there I found a gaggle of three or four Egyptian temple guards in front of the entrance.

“Is closed,” they said, wagging their fingers.

Wearily, I dug out my wallet, and pulled out a banknote which, I had been told, was worth a month’s wages in Egypt.

“Is open,” they said, suddenly all smiles. One of them got out a huge bunch of ancient keys, and unlocked the wrought iron gate, and let me in.

It turned out to be a huge disappointment. The temple inside had been almost completely flattened. There was absolutely nothing to look at. And so, more or less as soon as I had stepped inside it, I walked back out again.

To my surprise, the guards stopped me on the way out, and jabbered at me and waved their hands. I vaguely wondered whether, having bribed my way in, I’d have to bribe my way back out. But instead one of them took hold of my arm and began to lead me towards a little stone kiosk nearby, and up to the steel door barring its entrance.

The vast bunch of keys were produced again, and the steel door swung open, and clutching my arm, my guide led me into the darkness within.

It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. For it was not completely dark. There was a single small hole in the roof through which the light filtered downwards onto the uneven stone floor below. And directly beneath this light well there sat an impressive black basalt figure of a woman with a lion head, bathed in the wan light from the aperture above.

And it was with a terrific shock, as we approached, that I realised that the statue was alive! Muscles rippled on the surface its taut arms and legs. Its tensed lion head trembled and quivered. It seemed poised to spring, and to release titanic forces locked within it.

Alarmed, I pulled back. But my guide now gripped my arm with both hands, and with a vice-like grip dragged me unwillingly towards the terrifying thing. And taking my hand, pressed it first against the chest of the beast, and then against my own chest, three times, before leading me, shaken, back into the sunlight outside.

As I walked away, I turned once to look back. The guards were standing watching me as I walked away, and when they saw me turn, they raised their hands and waved to me. And I waved back.

Back at the hotel, over a few glasses of whisky, I wondered what on earth had happened. The statue really had seemed to be alive. Enough for me to instinctively pull back from it in alarm, just like I’d ducked out of the way of the wasp in my face. But it couldn’t have been alive, could it?

I eventually pieced together a rational explanation of what had happened. There had been three or four men at the gate, and only one of them had led me inside the kiosk. What had the others been doing? Why, they must have gone up onto the roof, and waved something – perhaps a mirror – over the narrow light well. And it was this rhythmic alteration of the light that created the illusion of life in the statue beneath, as the light from above played and flickered over it. It had all been rehearsed, many times over, for the past three thousand years. I hadn’t noticed the light flickering at the time, but it must have been.

Why had I been conducted on this tour? There was a simple explanation. I had handed over a lot of money to look at something, and I was clearly disappointed by it, and so they decided to make sure that I got my money’s worth. They were kind-hearted temple guards.

A few years later, in the British Museum, I came across a trio of large and very impressive statues of Sekhmet. They were so finely sculpted that they too almost seemed alive, and I couldn’t help but think that they might be brought fully to life if they were lit with a slightly flickering light, to create the illusion that the muscles in their limbs were moving, and the jaws of their lion heads were working.

All very rational, but on days like today, when my rational mind isn’t quite operational, I know quite well that I was led into the terrifying presence of the all-too-alive goddess Sekhmet, and initiated as one of her devotees, and will remain one for the rest of my days, having exchanged in that brief and timeless ceremony a little of my warm life for her cold, ferocious, stony heart. And one day, on a day perhaps augured first by a persistent bee, and then by a watchful falcon, she will come to demand my services in full measure, and I will be powerless to resist. For she is as real and alive as any bee or any bird.

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22 Responses to The Initiate of Sekhmet

  1. Tom says:

    There is strong evidence that ancient Egyptians smoked tobacco, in addition to henbane which was previously known about. Tobacco has been found inside ancient mummy containers inside the bandages, meaning some were buried with tobacco to take with them when they went to the other side. The evidence has been suppressed by mainstream archaeologists mainly because, like their counterparts in every other field, the dogma comes first, facts are made to disappear if they contradict the dogma – but to admit the fact of the matter, the strong incontrovertible evidence for it, is to admit also that tobacco was probably being brought over from South America to Africa thousands of years earlier – which contradicts a lot of dogma that there could have been no trade back then and certainly not in tobacco. They smoked henbane too, but that is something different. Even the Druids smoked henbane, a lot of areas did in the ancient world, before tobacco became more plentiful.

    There are also raptors in SF, CA that are major carnivorous birds of prey and if you come across any and get too close should they have young around and be training them, it can be quite scary if they flutter 10 feet above your head, as fair warning, to stay back. I have an animated .gif I made of one from just a few feet below it while it hovered overhead, ready to attack – me – I thought, but then it snared some small animal in its claws after I quickly backed out of the situation and began taking photographs. Then it flew its prey directly out over the ocean cliffs beyond the woods and it was gone.

    Gee, can nothing be left sacred. Even for the ancient Egyptians, the first thing I always think of is, “Hey, they smoked tobacco!”

    • Marie says:

      Not just tobacco, traces of cocaine were also found in the wrappings of mummies. Several independent analyses have confirmed the presence of these substances, but, as you point out, there remains a complete unwillingness to address the issues of how they got there or what they were used for. We cannot even assume that the tobacco was smoked rather than chewed or snuffed. Add to that the distinctly African appearance of some of the statues in ancient South American cities and it is apparent that the version of human history we are currently fed as fact consists of speculation built around existing prejudice. Given how easily some find it to edit the present it is hardly surprising that they have no difficulty inventing the past.

    • Rose says:

      Nicotine and Cocaine Found in Egyptian Mummies

      “Far from being solved, the mystery that began in Egypt was spreading. Balabanova was suggesting that an unknown type of tobacco had grown in Europe, Africa and Asia thousands of years ago. But every schoolchild knows that tobacco was discovered in the New World. She was asking for a substantial slice of botany and history to be completely rewritten.
      Would anyone back her up?”
      http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Misc/mummies.htm

      A recently discovered rare species

      “Nicotiana africana is a species of plant in the Solanaceae family. It is endemic to Namibia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and rocky areas.”
      http: //www.reference.com/browse/Nicotiana+africana

      “The recent discovery of Nicotiana africana Merxm. extended the known natural distribution of the genus to another continent and generated considerable interest in this geographically isolated species. The chromosome complement (2n = 46) consists of two metacentric pairs and 21 pairs of acrocentrics. Four pairs organize nucleoli, but only two pairs have visible secondary constrictions. The distribution of heterochromatin and the karyotype show similarities with species of the Australian section of the genus, Suaveolentes, to which N. africana is related, and also to some American species”
      http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/73/2/115.abstract

      Well it had to be there really, didn’t it?
      Far simpler than the reproachfully suggested contamination by tobacco smoke from visitors in museums or previously unimagined transatlantic trade routes.

      • Rose says:

        DENTISTRY TRACED BACK TO 1550 B.C.; Paper by Commander G.H. Reed Sketches Its History From the First Records. EARLY BRIDGEWORK FOUND Surgery Is Revealed in the Mouths of Egyptian Mummies–Incantations Practiced
        1920

        “The most popular remedy for toothache in Ancient Egypt seems to have been a mixture of crushed henbane seeds with cement and used as a filling”
        http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FA0E15FE3D5F10738DDDAF0894DF405B808EF1D3

        Much like Oil of Cloves

        I once bought a henbane plant flowering in a pot, so that I could meet this famously scary plant face to face and watch it grow, unfortunately it didn’t like Yorkshire and promptly expired, I wasn’t going to let it seed anyway.

        Henbane
        http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/henbane.htm

        • Tom says:

          There is a book maybe named “Forbidden Archaeology”, both a long and an abridged version, from maybe a decade back, where the author investigated many claims backed by discovered evidence for which there has yet to be any explanation, including finding modern type objects buried dating way back to prehistoric times, objects that can only be of manmade origin. If any of it is true, even one such instance, of which there are hundreds of unsolved cases that do not fit the current dogma, then all of archaeological history would require rewriting.

        • Rose says:

          I’m convinced of it, Tom.

        • Marie says:

          Always interesting and informative to read your posts Rose. Of course we’d best not mention that in addition to nicotine and cocaine ancient Egyptians also had various forms of barrier and chemical contraception and when all else failed were pretty well versed in the art of abortion. Gee the revisionist tendency will have an apoplexy.

        • Rose says:

          Marie

          I once read about that in a book.

          A less scholarly version.
          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-12540/When-crocodile-dung-contraception.html

  2. waltc says:

    Fantastic, transporting essay. I felt I was there. In another few months when I’ve finished some current projects, I’m going to work hard to convince you to do a book of collected essays and try to find an angle that would hold them together. Your stuff is too good to remain ephemeral (though– come to think of it– “remain ephemeral” is likely an oxymoron)

  3. Rose says:

    A wonderful story, Frank, I have always wanted to go to Egypt and see all these things, but I am not a great traveller, I simply can’t stand heat, that painted a wonderful picture, likw Walt, I could see it all..

    It certainly set me thinking, I know that the falcon represents Horus and Sekhmet is associated with the beer that stopped her killing spree. I used to habitually wear a silver bee on a chain and someone who presumably knew about such things once told me that it was once a military award in Ancient Egypt.
    It’s hard to get a definitive answer on any of these things though, there are so many different versions.

    I was so interested in Ancient Egypt when I was young, I spent all my time lino-carving (remember those kits?) cartouches and trying to master writing in hieroglyphics,reading everything I could find, but sadly I’ve forgotten most of it now.

    Mind you, if you can’t get to something, sometimes these things come to you.
    I was breezily walking down the High Street some years ago, thinking of nothing in particular, when I suddenly had the strong impression that there were Egyptian Gods looking at me, this being such a preposterous idea, I retraced my footsteps and there, in a corner of a charity shop window was a small stone statuette of Horus and what I took to be a stone cat. Naturally I bought them instantly, such odd occurrences should be revelled in.
    It was only when I got them home, I noticed the lions tail.

    By coincidence have put her in a dark corner of my cabinet of curiosities next to the computer.

  4. magnetic01 says:

    “San Bernardino’s City Council will meet tonight and possibly again tomorrow to try to hammer out a solution. If the city does file for bankruptcy, it will be the third California city to do so in the past 30 days. Both Stockton and Mammoth Lakes have recently filed for bankruptcy.”
    http://reason.com/blog/2012/07/10/san-bernardino-invokes-the-b-word-bankru?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reason%2FHitandRun+%28Reason+Online+-+Hit+%26+Run+Blog%29

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Itd be nice to see Big Tobacco come in and buy up those cities bad debts then foreclose on city buildings………….

  5. jaxthefirst says:

    “And one day … she will come to demand my services in full measure, and I will be powerless to resist”

    Or maybe one day, in your hour of need, she will come to your assistance as one of her initiates – and your enemies will be the powerless ones …

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    We got a win everybody!
    Alabama USA
    Smoking ban proposal fails in Mobile City Council vote
    http://blog.al.com/live/2012/07/no_smoking_mobile_city_council_1.html

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Ive been fighting there hard for the last 2 years………….

      • jaxthefirst says:

        That’s really good news, Harley. Do you think that maybe – just maybe – some folks in the States are starting to realise that where smoking bans go, financial troubles follow keenly in their wake …?

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Yes I do Jax especially after Evansville Indianas local paper ran the economic hardships being felt in that town after the bar ban!

          I had warned them 6 months ago of the effect theyd see and even gave them countless examples worldwide yet the nazis said no way business increases! Now their eating their words.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Evansville’s bars still fuming over smoking ban
          Lawsuit moves into appeals process
          http://www.courierpress.com/news/2012/jul/08/smoking-ban-story/
          Alsop said members have reported revenue decreases ranging from 25 percent to 45 percent compared to April, May and June of last year.

          And since the ban took effect, at least six establishments have closed, including Gloria’s and Corner Keg. Officials from those businesses couldn’t be reached.

          “And I know there are several teetering,” Alsop said.

          Several owners said patrons aren’t spending as much time at the bar as they used to.

          DeVasier said he’s seen people buy drinks, go outside to smoke and then head home.

          And the more time smokers are outside, the less time they’re at the bar making purchases, Alsop said.

          “They imposed a lot of pain on small businesses,” said Mike Nunning, owner of Hagedorn’s, where he said business is down 30 percent.

          Outside patios were recommended to ease patron inconvenience and encourage stay.

          But they’re costly and some are still being built. Some places, such as the Peephole, don’t have any space for them.

          Also, Alsop said some of his members are running into compliance issues with the Building Commission and other agencies, including having to create more parking because of expansions.

          Whether there’s a patio or not, the 100-plus degree weather lately has been the great discourager. Several owners said they suspect people are stopping by going to liquor stores or visiting establishments that allow smoking.

          Sherry Miller, a longtime clerk at the Heildelbach Avenue Liquor Locker, said her sales seemed to have ticked up compared to previous years.

          “We’re busier than we usually are,” she said, mentioning that they just added an extra staff member last week.

          “I don’t know if it’s (the smoking ban) or if it’s this ungodly heat,” she said.

          Molly Graham, co-owner at Cricket’s in Newburgh, said her sales haven’t exploded, but she has “seen some new faces.”

          And bar manager Lanny Allen at Darren’s Pub in Henderson, Ky., said he’s seen more Indiana license plates since the ban passed.

          “We started doing $2 drafts all day every day, and we started doing an ‘all you can eat wings’ on Wednesday nights,” he said.

          Some smoking patrons just stayed in Evansville.

          “Aztar is another issue,” Alsop said. “I’ve seen my customers sitting at their bars over there.”

          Some alcohol establishments have been doing well, including Sportsman’s Grille & Billiards on West Franklin Street.

          “We’ve gotten busier, but we’d been getting busier before the smoking ban went into effect,” said manager Dave Reitz.

          Reitz said he’s seen some new nonsmokers come but noted smokers aren’t staying as long.

          He said the smoking ban appears to have hurt the smaller bars because their main clientele comprises older people who are accustomed to smoking and drinking together.

          “They’re not going to turn down a good time because they can’t smoke in here,” Reitz said about the college-age patrons at his bar. “The older people, I think they do.”

          Besides food and beverage sales, several bars said the shift to outside has also hurt coin-op revenue from jukeboxes and pool tables.

          And, at least at Peephole, utility bills are higher, Alsop said, because the doors are constantly opened.

          At least one benefit of the smoking ban — according to bar owners and bartenders — is the fact that they don’t have to clean up cigarette ashes and butts.

          “It’s a lot cleaner,” said Nunning. “But you’ll have that when you have no people.”

          Alsop and other owners said because adults can choose whether or not to enter smoking establishments, government shouldn’t regulate smoking at their private businesses.

        • Tom says:

          Unfortunately it won’t affect the California or San Francisco type bans on the west coast any if at all. I’m just saying. It won’t. But for Mobile City and Evansville, that will be nice. But in the larger cities or in anti-smoking held turf, it isn’t going to change anything unless everything changes around them first and there is no denial remaining. As long as there is even 1% denial remaining, it still will not have the bans be lifted in CA or SF, in fact they might even dig their heels in deeper, even more stubbornly if push came to shove. The best result one can hope for, in my opinion, is to never let a ban go into effect in the first place – never. Because once one does, then getting rid of it would almost require acts from God and miracles from heaven before stubborn pride ever gave way and abolished the bans. Better to not let them go into effect in the first place. Trying to fight them after the fact is practically impossible.

  7. Jeff says:

    Hail Sekhmet, great goddess, wrath of Ra.
    Let’s all burn tobacco as an offering to her, so that she comes at high noon and smashes our enemies!
    ;)

  8. WinstonSmith says:

    I have a thick book of Orwell’s Essays. I haven’t come close to reading all of them, but I’ve read “Marakesh”, “Shooting an Elephant” and others. Orwell’s essays are considered to be “great” by literary scholars. So, I’ll put it this way….if Orwell had written this essay, and I found it at the end of my thick book, I’d close the book thinking, “Jeez, they’re right. That Orwell can write one Hell of an essay.”

    Of course, though, Orwell didn’t write this essay. Frank did.

    This is really good work.

  9. Tom says:

    Muslim clerics are requesting that Egypt tear down the pyramids and destroy them – at once !!

    http://www.aina.org/news/2012071094423.htm#

    “According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids–or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what the Sahabi Amr bin al-As could not.”

    Good thing you got to see them when you did, before they possibly get destroyed or become targeted should a war breakout.

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