I spoke recently about making pilgrimages this year, as a way of honoring my spirits and finding spiritual inspiration. I have completed two thus far -
In January, we traveled to the University of Penn archeological museum, to visit the palace of Merenptah. The palace was built for the New Kingdom pharaoh Merenptah (r. 1213-1204 BCE) at the city of Memphis in Lower Egypt.The museum has done an amazing job of exhibiting it, through dramatic lighting, big panels detailing it's excavation and explanations of all its decor. he palace, which housed the king during religious festivals, originally
stood in the vicinity of the Memphite sanctuary of the god Ptah, the
patron of this city. Merenptah’s palace was originally decorated floor
to ceiling with painted, inlaid and gilded images and symbols
proclaiming the power of the king and his associations with the divine.
The palace of Merenptah contained not only public ceremonial rooms such
as the throne room and vast columned hall, but also private areas for
the king and royal family, including bedrooms and bathrooms.
I walk slowly between the lotus columns, their color as crisp and clear as the day they were painted. They stand behind the Sphinx, serene as a pool of calm water. The columns are uplit, making their hieroglyphs pop from all sides. The top fans are gorgeous, and you can clearly see all the colors that they were painted. It amazes me to find that after nearly 4000 years, they are as fresh as if they were hand done last week. I remember the Tut show in 1976 struck the same cord with me. Not every column has its crown, but they are intact enough to give one the sense of how it must have looked centuries ago.
It is carved of red granite, which originated at a quarry in Aswan at
Egypt’s southern border. In an incredible feat of ancient engineering
and transport, this single massive block of stone was shipped on the
Nile River from Aswan to the Ptah Temple at Memphis, 600 miles north.
During much of its post-pharaonic history, this statue was buried up to
its shoulders; only the exposed head was attacked by windblown sand,
which eroded the facial features and the royal false beard. The
inscriptions on the chest and around the base give the five names of
Ramesses II. His son and successor, Merenptah, added his own cartouches
to the shoulders of the sphinx after his father’s death. The Sphinx sits center in the palace, and is the first thing you see as you enter the gallery. It's a stunning set up -- tall lotus columns seem to surround the statue; a single pin point of light illuminates the now blank face. Yet for its age and it's infirmities, the statue exudes a kind of ancient grace. Like the creature it is named for, it still holds mysteries for me. I pat its paws, sing a song to it and leave feeling I have done my work.
Before we exit, I offer a short prayer from the Christian Jacq's Living Wisdom of Egypt prayer book. This book is my favorite set of prayers, and I have turned to them time again, for funeral rites I have done. I remember reading a selection from this book, on the beach in California for Oungan Steve's memorial service. Several strangers stopped to listen, and came up to me later to ask where I had gotten the material. This is the one I offered for the oungan, and again at the palace this day:
I have practiced and preached the justice of Ma'at,
I have told the truth, I have spoken just words.
I have acted with justice. to profit by the love of mankind.
I have dealt justly with those who challenge it.
I have saved the weak from the clutches of the strong as much as I could.
I have given bread to those who were hungry,
Water to those who were thirsty,
Clothes to those who have none.
I have allowed those without a boat to cross to the other bank.
And I have given an eternal dwelling place,
To those who have no sons to build them one. ~ Mastaba of Sheshi at Saqqara
Ashe. Amen. Ayibobo.