The cool morning air raised goosebumps on Miri’s skin and cleared the sludge of sleep from her mind. Both David and Sister Miriam were struck by a fever during the night. Yohanna refused to let either one of them to set forth with Miri and the flock. Instead Manasseh left with Miri. She walked beside the old man, watching as he threw a few small pebbles at the ground in front of a ewe who wandered too far from the road. The startled ewe retreated to the safety of the mob. Manasseh smiled contentedly at Miri.
The face of Shemmesh rose above the hills to the east. The rays from her eyes pierced the sky and caressed the crest of Mount Gerizim. The air filled with the calls of awakening songbirds; they flitted in and out of the bushes along the road calling to each other in a mad mindless celebration of the dawn. From a distance came the melancholy cooing call of the morning dove. They passed two village women returning from the well, jars balanced on their heads. They acknowledged each other silently, speaking only through their eyes.
“David read about Abraham and Yitsak yesterday,” Miri said after some moments of thought.
“Indeed?” Manasseh looked at her in surprise.
Miri stared down at her feet as she walked, then back at Manasseh.
“He has no son, and the story is of a man who receives a son from God,” she said.
Manasseh smiled and shook his head. “You girls think twice as hard as anyone I know. I cannot keep up to your thoughts. They travel on wings to places I could never travel. Miri, Sophistry is for scholars; I am just a simple shepherd.”
Miri grasped his arm. “A simple shepherd, Manasseh?” She laughed. “And then am I a simple shepherdess?” She gestured at the flock before them. “And these our simple sheep?”
The village walls gave way to terraced fields, and a few footsteps past the last field of barley, they turned from the roadway, and followed a narrow path which led into a wide open pasture. They crossed the pasture, but despite their prodding and herding, the sheep resisted their shepherding as the grass was green and lush here. Several cattle already within the pasture stone wall stared curiously at their passage, their eyes glued to the passersby, yet thinking nothing of their visitors kith nor kine. After a great deal of effort, Manasseh and Miri managed to shepherd the flock over a rocky stile. She helped the old man to clamber over the stones. A herdsman, aroused from sleep by their presence stared at them briefly from behind a low wall, blinking with a look as blank as his charges. Miri waved a greeting to him as the last sheep passed over the stile, and the herdsman waved back lamely, then disappeared behind the wall to continue his sleep.
Miri and Manasseh and their sheep continued to climb higher. Eventually the slopes became steeper and the climb more difficult. The sheep were not hampered by the steeper slope; they were at home in the upper reaches of the mountain, but the old man breathed heavier as the climb continued and leaned more and more on his crook. Miri supported him, and finally, Manasseh signalled a halt and the two of them sat down to rest. Shechem lay beneath them, smoke curling lazily up from the morning stoves and ovens, too far for any sounds from the valley below to reach their ears.
“I never tire of this view,” said Miri wistfully.
“So,” began Manasseh, “Young David read of Abraham and Yitsak?”
“What did you think of that scribes’ tale?”
“Sister Miriam thought it might be two stories in one.”
“She is very perceptive. Truth is a precious stone. What you see through the jewel when you hold it to your eye depends through which side of the stone you peer. Every view is changed; details discernible in one cannot be viewed from another aspect of the gem. So there are more than one or two tellings of every story. Between Abraham and you and I are generations of different tongues wagging. The tale changes in the telling, and this is the way of tales. Only when the scribes preserve the tale does it stop to breathe and turn to clay.”
“You do not approve of scribes, Manasseh?”
“The written word stands as a gateway between the past moment and the instant in which it is heard again. But it is not a clear view; the gate once passed begins to close until finally we can only peer through the chinks at once was. Sometimes, the words in the past carry meanings that are now lost to us, just as the whole meaning of our words will someday be lost to those who come after us. Sometimes, the scribe himself distorts what is read to serve his own purpose; a word changed here to conceal the truth, another to shine upon it; sometimes a word becomes its opposite by chance, a slip of the reed brings new meaning to the Word of God. Ideas are best floating through the air from mouth to ear. They must be allowed to breathe, to twist and turn in the wind. So too with the stories of the Scripture. Sister Miriam was right. There are two tales in one. The one of the single god belongs to the Judeans at Yerushalayim, the other from the Israelites right here in Samaria.”
“The scriptures are used as a weapon for the priests in the Temple. The warrior conquers the people with the sword and the crucifix; the priests enslave them with the parchment and reed. ‘See the Word of God’ they say, ‘The scriptures do not lie! If it is written then it must be so! They take a little of the true religion of the people, and bend it to their own purpose. That is why there are two stories in one!’
“Those who are disadvantaged, those who are oppressed, those who are enslaved are never allowed to read the words themselves. They are never taught the meanings of each letter so that they may see the words for themselves. Instead of a pattern of speech, they see nothing; a meaningless jumble of marks and they struggle to make sense of the ineffable. Those who do not know how the letters fit together to form words, see only magic and mystery. The letters themselves are worshipped as gods and meaning is given to them which was never intended-”
“Is that why women are not taught the scriptures?” asked Miri. “So that they may never question the men?”
Manasseh stopped for a minute. “Women cannot think as a man-”
“And how would you know what a woman thinks, Manny?”
The voice startled Miri. She whirled about. Behind them, resting on her staff, her basket tucked under her arm, stood Mermaat.
“Old Woman!” cried Manasseh joyfully, standing up “What a wonderful surprise!”
He turned to Miri. “Miri, this is The Old Woman of the Mountain!”
“We’ve met already,” said Mermaat, touching Miri lightly on the lips. “He’s a wonderful man,’ she said to Miri, “As far as men go, he’s the second best in the whole world!”
“Only the second?” asked Manasseh. “She has no taste, this woman,” he said to Miri.
The crone smiled happily. She set her basket down, and Manasseh held her arm as she sat beside them. “How is Maacah? Is her back still giving her trouble?”
“She followed your advice and the herbs ease the pain” he replied, “Some days are worse then others.”
Mermaat patted his arm, “I can see her pain in your eyes, old friend. I have mentioned her often in my prayers.” She reached into her basket and handed an alabaster jar to Manasseh. “At night, rub this cream into her back. Do not wash it off until morning. She will sleep better for it. And this-” she produced a small cloth bag- “Whenever she needs to rest, prepare a tea with a small pinch of these leaves.” She sighed in satisfaction. “Well, business is business.”
She smiled at Miri and unwrapped a piece of cloth, revealing small sweetcakes sprinkled with poppy seeds. She presented Manasseh and Miri each with a cake.
“I shall fetch some milk,” said Miri suddenly. She pulled a bowl from her own bundle.
“I shall hold the ewe for you, dear,” offered Mermaat.
“It is not necessary,” replied Miri as she stood up.
As Miri walked into the flock, Mermaat stared at Manasseh.
“She has a way with animals,” he said simply.
“Really?” asked Mermaat, “I am not surprised.” She stared intensely at Manasseh, “She must be kept from the altar for as long as possible; the Power is strong within her. If she approaches the altar before her feet are rooted in the ground, she will unleash forces from her fingertips which will be beyond her ability to control.”
“You must teach her,” said Manasseh, “but time is running short.”
“That is why I am here,” replied Mermaat. She looked at Miri with concern, “That is why I am here!”
Miri crouched beside a nursing ewe. “Hello, Bulah. I need some milk.” She slipped her hand to the ewe’s udder. Bulah started but did not move away. Miri began to milk the ewe, squirting the milk into her bowl. “Good girl,” she said softly. The ewe turned to look at her and bleated.
Her bowl filled, Miri returned to her elders and all three settled comfortably into the pasture.
“Thank you, dear,” Mermaat said as Miri offered the bowl to her. She took a sip and passed it on to Manasseh.
“Are you really Egyptian?” asked Miri.
“Yes, I am,” replied Mermaat, “But the two lands have changed and soon the Egypt I know will fade, and its ways become forgotten.”
“How can that be? asked Miri, “Egypt is older than Babylon, older than Rome, older than all the nations of the world.”
“All things of fashioned by human hand must come to an end,” replied Mermaat, “Wood rots away, copper turns green and corrodes to powder, even the stones crumble to dust. We emerge from the womb and with the grace of the goddess, grow larger and stronger, then age stiffens the limbs and weakens the back, and soon we expire, our brittle bones interred in the womb of the earth where we await resurrection. So it is with nations.”
“Even Egypt.” The old woman looked wistfully into the haze on the horizon. “At one time a wife and mother had a voice in public affairs. In the home she was given fealty. A woman could inherit, buy and sell property as she saw fit. Her word carried weight in court. Inheritance passed through the woman. A mother passed on her property and title to her eldest daughter. The right to ascend the throne passed through the female line. The hand of a princess in marriage made a Pharoah of the lowliest felahin in the land. But now, the great age of the Pharaohs has passed. The Two Lands have been raped by the Greeks and throne is now in the hand of the Roman barbarians. The mysteries of the great temples will soon be lost forever and the clerics shall sacrifice by rote. They shall be puppets reciting the ancient rites like so much mumbo jumbo, full of mistakes and meaningless gestures, the true words of power and the wisdom of magic forgotten. The rule of Maat is no more, and I cannot bear to watch my dear Egypt play itself like some obscene parody of its past. But yet, the dying of nations does not concern me.
Mermaat looked at Miri with an irresistable intensity. “We are at the end of an age!” she whispered. “Like Auset, I have come to the land of Astarte in grief. But it is here I shall find a disciple who will learn the ways of old. Here, I shall find the one who will guard the souls of the gods until the time is right for their return! For the sign you know as Taurus is now passing; the Age of Pisces is now in its infancy, and all that was shall fade until the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!”
Miri frowned, and looked nervously at Manasseh. “Does she mean me?”
Manasseh looked away.
“I am not what I seem,” said Miri, “But neither are you. I know I’ve seen you before - before yesterday - but I don’t know where.”
“It is possible we know each other, but not as we are now,” Mermaat said softly.
“You do not seem like an Egyptian,” remarked Miri.
“And how should an Egyptian be?” asked Mermaat.
“Well-” replied Miri, “More like-” She held her arms in a stiff strange angled pose she had seen in an Egyptian scroll Huldah had in her chest.
Mermaat laughed and adopted a similar pose. “Is that better?”
Manasseh stood up suddenly and danced, moving in a similar manner. They laughed together as Mermaat and Miri joined Manasseh, and they danced in a comic parody of Egyptian rendering. Miri stopped as she noticed a certain grace in the dance between Mermaat and Manasseh. She realized they were dancing a ritual dance, a dance to an unknown deity.
She stopped to watch them, then began to clap her hands to the rhythm of their movements. Manasseh and Mermaat pulled her into their orbit and Miri danced with them, copying their movements, then as she gained confidence, they moved together step for step.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” cried Manasseh holding his chest. “I cannot go on any longer!” He sat down panting and laughing and Miri and Mermaat sat together on either side of him.
“That was good!” he said breathlessly. “I have not danced before Ausar for many, many years!” He gulped great breaths of air. “I will have to atone for such an enchanting transgression, I am sure-”
“Who is Ausar?” asked Miri.
“Ausar,” said Mermaat, “Lord of Everlasting Life, He who believes in him shall be born again. He is the hidden Soul who shines forth from the gods. He brings the Bread of Life to the feast table in heaven. He is the eye which sees all, from which nothing can be hidden.
At one time, Ausar descended upon the face of the earth from his boat of light and lived as a man. He was a great king. He taught his subjects husbandry and agriculture, the use of stone for building. From him came mathematics, astrology and he established for the first time a just code of law. He taught men how to worship the gods. People call him Un-Nefer for all that is good comes from him. But just as he is the source of all that is good and beautiful, his brother Set was the source of all that is evil and unjust.
As Ausar was honest and forthright, so Set was cunning and devious. It is known that the Pharaoh can never rule without the consent of the goddess of the land. She is the throne upon which he sits. If he does not mate with her, then he cannot rule, for only the sacred marriage of man to goddess can bring life to the land each year. Without their copulation, the crops will not grow, the seeds lie dormant in the ground. It is the virility of the Pharaoh which pleases the goddess, and without her pleasure life would cease to continue. The fair Ausar pleased Auset, the Goddess of Resurrection, more than any other, and so through the Rite of Sacred Marriage, he became Pharaoh.
But Set, Ausar’s twin brother coveted the throne of Auset. He wished to make love to her and prove his worthiness to his sister Auset. He knew that as long as Ausar lived, Auset would sleep with no other. His jealousy turned his heart turned to the dark side and he vowed he would gain the throne of the Ausar.
Set was married to Nepthet, Auset’s sister, for all four, Set, Nepthet, Ausar and Auset were born from the same womb. He knew Nepthet would not approve of his consorting with Auset, although it would be his right if something were to happen to Ausar and Auset were widowed. So he planned in secret.
On the seventeenth day of Athyr, when the Sun was in Scorpio, in the twenty-eighth year of Ausar’s reign, he invited Ausar to a hunting trip, and after the hunt, he presented Ausar with a beautiful sarcophagus as a gift. Gilded with gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli and coloured glass, the sarcophagus was a wonder to behold. Ausar was overwhelmed by his brother’s generosity.
‘It is nothing, dear brother,’ replied Set, ‘I only hope that it is the right size. I would be devastated should it be too small or too large!’
‘I am sure it is right for me!’ declared Ausar. Anxious to put his brother’s concerns to rest, Ausar climbed into the sarcophagus and lay down in it. ‘See,’ he said happily to his brother, ‘It is a perfect fit!’
Set smiled. ‘I am happy it is right for you, Ausar!’ he declared. ‘I hope that the lid fits as snugly. It would be a shame if after all that work, it did not close comfortably over your form!’
“Close the lid!’ invited Ausar, ‘I could not bear to see you troubled, brother Set!’
So the men who were with Set, the others in the hunting party closed the lid over Ausar. The moment the front and the back were fitted snugly together, the men quickly nailed shut the coffin, and Set sealed the edge with molten lead, chanting an incantation so that Ausar could not cry out from the grave, nor escape from the sarcophagus.
Quickly Set and his cohorts dropped the coffin into the Nile. They were dismayed when it did not sink, but could do nothing but watch as the swift current of the mighty Nile bore the sarcophagus of Ausar northward. Several men wanted to pursue the coffin, but Set smiled and said, ‘It will soon be lost out to the Sea. We have seen the last of my brother!’
They returned to the house of Auset, their faces set in false grief. They had dipped the robes of Ausar in the blood of a lion they had killed, and Set presented the robe to Auset.
‘Ausar is dead!’ cried Set. ‘We ran to his aid but it was too late! We told him he should wait for us, but he was eager to claim the first kill!’ Set took Auset in his arms as to comfort her, but such is the allure of Auset, his phallus rose and hardened, pressed against her as they hugged and she knew his grief was false.
‘I do not believe you!’ cried Auset. ‘Your words are false!’
Taken aback, Set held out the robe of Ausar. ‘But his robe is proof. He is dead! We all saw him torn limb from limb and devoured by lions!’ The other men nodded in agreement.
Auset’s eyes flashed in anger and the men cringed behind Set. ‘Lions devoured Ausar?’ she demanded. ‘Lions? Yet you have here only one carcass! Did you allow the others to escape? Those who killed my husband were allowed to live? How can you call yourselves men, not to avenge the death of the Pharaoh? I am ashamed of you all!’
She turned and descended into her house, barring the doors. The men standing in the portico at the threshold of the House of Auset stared at each other in astonishment and asked each other ‘How did she know?’
‘Shut up, you fools!’ snapped Set. His anger at them was great, but his anger at himself was greater. They turned their faces from the house of Auset and proceeded to the House of Nepthet where they told the same story.
Nepthet flew to her sister’s house and entered the palace through a high open window. She comforted her sister with words of sympathy, but was concerned that Auset did not believe Ausar had died. It is often so that the grieving cannot accept the departure of their loved ones, and Nepthet was skilled in the arts of the mortuary and its keepers.
However, when she heard the reason Auset did not believe Set’s tale, she became angry. She did not believe her sister’s story for she could not imagine Set was capable of such treachery.
‘You must go and search for Ausar’s body,’ she told her sister. ‘When you have found him you will know the truth of his death.’ She set her face grimly. ‘After you bring his corpse back to me, and if what you say is true then I will deal my husband Set!’
The house of Auset was closed and the great goddess cut off a lock of her hair and donned funeral clothing, and left her home in search of her beloved Ausar. She chanced upon some children playing on the riverbank, and she asked them if by chance they had seen Ausar.
‘We have seen nothing of whom you speak,’ replied a young girl, ‘But we did see a large statue floating upon the river.’
‘A statue?’ asked Auset.
‘Yes,’ replied a boy beside the girl, ‘It did seem to be the statue of a Pharaoh, for it was inlaid with gold and coloured glass!’
‘He held a flail in his right hand!’ interjected another.
‘And a gold and blue shepherd’s crook in the other!’ added another. The children all nodded in agreement.
‘Ausar!’ whispered Auset.
‘If that statue is the Pharaoh, he must be very fat!’ declared the young girl.
‘Fat?’ asked Auset, in amazement.
The children all puffed up their cheeks and held their hands out to indicate the fatness of the statue.
‘How could that be?’ she asked in wonderment.
A child pushed forward and tugged on her robes to gain her attention. He had been hiding in the reeds, he said and had seen the men seal a lord inside the statue. They had nailed it shut and sealed it with molten lead, then heaved it into the Nile.
‘Which way did it go?’ asked Auset grimly.
In unison the children pointed to the mouth of the Nile and out to sea.
As there was no Pharaoh and the next in line could no longer consort with the goddess of Egypt, soon the crops withered in the ground, kith and kine went hungry, no seeds sprouted and no calves were born. Women were barren and the children of Egypt grew thin and gaunt.
The people raised a lament and cried to the priests and priestesses in the temples. They conferred with each other and all agreed that the demons of famine and the sorrows had swarmed in after Ausar disappeared. The priestesses of Auset declared that the goddess had fled from her abode in search of her beloved Ausar. The diviners determined that Ausar had been swept away by the floodwaters of the Nile, and the seers agreed that a new king must be chosen, so that the fortunes of the land would once again be blessed by the lovemaking of the king and his wife, the goddess.
Among the crowds were the men who had sealed Ausar in his coffin saw an opportunity to advance their positions and called for Set to be proclaimed Pharaoh. All saw that the brother of Ausar would be the best candidate for the king, and they called for Set, who was pleased by the turn of events for he coveted the throne of Egypt above all else. He knew however, he could not claim the throne without the consent of Auset, for she was the throne of Egypt. To be king, he must consort with Auset.
He accepted the nomination with grace and humility and declared he would search for Auset and bring her back to the temple. Nepthet, though began to doubt her husbands innocence, for she knew if he were king, Auset herself would become the Great Royal Wife, and she, Nepthet would no longer retain her position as head of her household.
Anger built within her at the change in her fortune and she cursed her husband, cursed her sister and cursed the land of Egypt. The doors to her house were barred and a great gloom passed over the Land as Set prepared to search for Auset. There was great sorrow as the people watched their new Lord descend into the great Tannaic Mouth of the Nile, fearing plagues of Evil spirits would soon overtake their land.
Set knew he must find the sarcophagus of Ausar before Auset if he were to retain his position in Egypt. If it were known he had slain Ausar, he would be reviled by all of Egypt and banished to the desert. He announced to the people he would search for the missing Ausar and bring him back were he dead or alive. Furthermore he vowed to bring back Auset, so that Egypt would once again flourish under the blessings of the Goddess of Life.
Meanwhile, Auset received news the chest carrying her beloved Ausar had washed onto the shore of Phoenicia by a great storm and there lodged in the branches of a tamarisk tree. The tree, it was said, had miraculously grown at a great rate and enclosed and completely concealed the sarcophagus with in its great girth. Auset left immediately for the land of Canaan.
The land at that time was ruled by the king Melkaart, consort of the great Queen Astarte. Auset entered the land incognito and passed quickly through the land asking all who she met of a giant tamarisk tree. All pointed her northward to the place where the great tree was revered by the inhabitants of the land about it. Finally, Auset reached the place where the people had said the tree stood, and her heart sank as she saw the tree had been felled, and only a stump remained. Her agony was great for her expectation the end of her road had come had been taken so cruelly from her.
Meanwhile, Set arrived deep within the papyrus fens at the mouth of the Nile. There, he saw the children who had directed Auset playing by the riverbank. He asked not of the Pharaoh, but of the wooden cask, and the children knew he was one of the men who had sealed the fate of Ausar. For the love of the lady Auset, they directed Set into a channel which led not out to the sea, but deeper within the treacherous maze of channels within the great papyrus swamp.
Auset covered herself with ashes and bowed to the ground, and her cries of mourning brought a young girl to her side.
‘Why are you mourning so?’ asked the girl.
Auset related her tale, and the girl brightened. ‘The tree has been removed by our king Melkaart, not more than yesterday. It was such a wonder he took it to mount it in a place of honour in the house of Astarte, where it is to be worshipped on the morrow.’
‘Thank you!’ cried Auset, ‘You have gladdened my heart! May you be rewarded a thousand fold for bringing me such glad tidings!’
Immediately, Auset departed to the palace of Melkaart and the temple of Astarte. She travelled through the night and arrived at sunrise before the house of Astarte. Auset called out to the queen but it was her handmaidens who came out to determine the nature of the visit of the woman at their walls. Auset removed her crown from her basket and gave it to one of the servants and instructed her to offer it to her mistress. Astarte recognized the uraeus, the vulture of Upper Egypt, and knowing the stranger at her door was Auset, bade the servant to make her welcome.
Before she could gain audience with her northern cousin, the maid servants insisted Auset should bathe and be purified with fragrant oils. Astarte, the sensual woman she was, could not bear the exquisite smell of the ungents, so she came down to the baths herself, disrobed and the two queens bathed together, kissing and embracing each other. Bathed, purified and refreshed, Astarte took her sister by the hand and led her to the throne room.
There, the tamarisk tree stood in the apse of the throne room, and Auset was moved to tears.
‘We must remove Ausar from his prison, before Melkaart arrives,’ said Astarte, ‘He will not be pleased his gift to me has been tampered with, so we must remove the chest bearing your husband, so that there will be no scar left on the tamarisk tree. The Ashera must remain unblemished.’
Restored to her queenly state, Auset uttered Words of Power and a vagina appeared in the bark of the tree, and gave birth to the image of Ausar within it. The handmaidens washed the coffin and poured out libations and salt upon it and wrapped it in swaddling linen, as they would a newborn child. The vagina in the tamarisk Ashera closed and no mark showed in the bark where it had been.
Astarte was pleased. ‘I shall provide you with a ship,’ said the Queen of Phoenicia, ‘The captain will be Reshef, my eldest son, and he will serve you as well as he serves me. You must allow him to return after you have been delivered to the mouth of the Nile, for it is not to travel through the papyrus swamps. My protection covers the sea only and ends where the fresh water begins!’
Escorted by Reshef, Auset left quickly, for the procession of Melkaart had begun from the palace, and he was already progressing toward Bethasura to unite with Astarte and assure the fertility of the land of Canaan for another season of growth.
Fortune, however, had not smiled upon Set. He was lost in the dark fens of the papyrus swamps where the children had sent him. There, he was plagued great sorrows: the waters stank and were stagnant and bore no fish he could eat; Frogs and slimy things arose from the waters by night and they covered him and he could not sleep; he was plagued by leeches and lice and by flies and he cursed the land of Egypt.
When Auset landed again in Egypt at the mouth of the Nile, Reshef insisted he continue with her up the river, but Auset denied his offer of aid, for she had promised his mother, she would go no further in her ship. Auset consoled Reshef and in a secret rite she conferred upon him the powers of healing and the secrets of immortality by consuming him in the fires of the Phoenix where he was reborn as an immortal. Her Words of Power, she gave to him in a scroll as his reward for his service to her.
Reshef returned reluctantly to Canaan, whereafter he was held in great esteem for the great works of healing he had learned from the scroll of Auset.
Auset concealed the sarcophagus in a bed of reeds, and entered the papyrus swamps to gather the reeds to fashion a boat. Upon her return to Tetu with Ausar, she would restore him to life there. However, while she was away, Set, hungry and in search of game, stumbled upon the chest containing his brother Ausar. He could not believe his good fortune. Wasting no time he split the coffin and removed the body. Nearby, he spied a farmer’s scythe and with the harvest blade, he chopped the body of Ausar in fourteen pieces.
Each piece he buried in a different place: his head he buried in Tetu, his left eye in Het Maak-heru, his eyebrows in Aum, his jaw bones in Faket, his face in Heb-Kert, his neck in the Nile Delta, and arm and a leg in Aterui-Kema, left leg at Mehet, his tailbone at Anu, his thighs at Heter-Herateb, a foot at Netert, his heart at Usekhet-Maati, and a portion of his backbone at Papaut-Neteru.
His work almost done, Set had only to dispose of the penis of Ausar, when he heard the approach of Auset. Quickly he swallowed the penis of Ausar lest his treachery be discovered and swiftly took on the form of a fish and swam between the reeds to hide. Auset returned and was dismayed to discover the coffin had been violated. She swore a curse upon the robbers of Ausar’s sarcophagus. She was devastated as before, yet her misery was yet deeper than ever, for her trials were draining her of her will to continue.
As her attention was on the shattered sarcophagus, Set saw his opportunity, and changed from a fish to a scorpion and struck at her, filling her in an unguarded moment with poison from his tail. In her weakened state, Auset succumbed to the poison. She did not die, but fell into a deep sleep. Set assumed his human form and bound Auset with Words of Power, and spirited her to a shrine with no windows he had built for her in the desert.
She was imprisoned by Set there and woke from her sleep after several days, and he insisted that she copulate with him to consecrate his kingship of Egypt, but she refused him. He refused Auset food and water to force her into submission and still she refused. He set her to hard labour, spinning straw from the fields into gold, for Auset was a great magician, though she was bound by the spell Set had cast about her house. Set swore to reverse his spell if she would lie with him, but Auset refused.
The crops of Egypt withered in the fields and the kine died in the pasture, and the children of Egypt went hungry; their ribs and bones stuck out like those of corpses. They blamed their misfortune of Set, and his anger grew. Famine spread across the land, and soon the children who had helped Auset were near death. Auset learned of their fate for she feels in her heart the death of every being as well as their birth. Through her magic arts she turned the seven children into scorpions so that they would live. They were called the Matet, the seven sacred scorpions, Tefen and Befen, Mestet and Mestetef, and Petet, Thetet and Maatet. Thankful for their deliverance from certain death, the seven children brought food and drink to Auset by scurrying beneath the door. Auset recovered her powers slowly, and told they her of Set’s treachery, and of all which had befallen the land. Together, they determined to recover all the the parts of Ausar and brought them by boat to Auset. Soon all of Ausar had been joined, all except his penis. It was nowhere to be found.
So Auset fashioned a phallus of gold for the dead pharaoh, and Ausar was complete. Auset sent Petet for her sister Nepthet with the message that Ausar had been found. Nepthet returned with others: Maat, Thoth and her son by Set, Anubis. In a secret rite, Nepthet stood at the head of Ausar, Auset at his feet, and chanted Words of Power. They restored Ausar to life, and Auset copulated with the risen King, and the fortunes of Egypt were restored.
Through the grace of the union of Ausar and Auset, the fetid waters shrank back into the Nile and the land was restored to fertility. The grain grew, and the animals grew fat in the land. The people rejoiced at the return of Ausar.
Ausar gathered his followers around him and his heart was gladdened.
‘I cannot stay with you,’ he told them, and all were dismayed. He held his arms up to calm them, ‘But I am going to prepare a place in heaven for you all who live a life of grace and follow the Path of Righteousness. There I shall wait for you all!’
He stepped onto the boat of Rei taking Thoth, Anubis, Nepthet and the others of his court with him. Auset chose to remain behind for she carried the seed of Ausar within her. Majestically, the boat of Rei ascended to the heavens.
Auset fled from the house and her brother Set that evening. She swept before her the seven scorpions who had preserved her in her cell. Tefen and Befen scurried behind her, Mestet and Mestetef beside her, and Petet, Thetet and Maatet ran before her, showing her the path. She cried out to them “Watch the earth before my feet!” and they bowed their heads low and scuttled before her so that neither man nor beast would see the passing of Auset.
Thus the seven scorpions escorted Auset to the city of Pe-Tep at the edge of the great papyrus swamps. Desperate, she raced to the houses of the governor, but his chief wife, seeing the scorpions and the state Auset was in, was afraid and barred the door to Auset and her scaly brood. A fen woman called to Auset, her heart moved to pity by the sight of her, and opened the door to her own lowly abode that the goddess could enter.
The seven scorpions, the Matet, creatures of quick temper, were enraged by the rude behaviour of the noble woman, and each passed their venom into the tail of Tefen. Secretly, Tefen crawled under the door of the noble’s house and struck down the first born son of the noblewoman who had affronted the Matet and their mistress. As she struck, the boy knocked a lamp from its pedestal, and fire broke out in the house. The women of the household fled from the building, but there was no water to douse the fire, and it being the dry season, none was to be found nearby.
The woman cried for her child, not knowing whether her son lived or had perished in the conflagration. The cries of her lament echoed in the city but none came to her aid. Auset, hidden in the fen woman’s house heard the cries of the mother, and knowing that the child had died by the tail of Tefen, opened her heart to the grief of the mother, for she knew that pain better than any other.
She called out twice to the mother, “Come to me!” and this time the mother hearkened to the call of Auset, and the scales of fear fell from her eyes and she saw Auset as for the first time. The noble woman bowed down before the Goddess and begged her forgiveness. She pleaded to Auset to take her life in return for that of her only son, and the heart of Auset was moved.
Auset called for rain to fall from the sky and the fire in the house was quenched by water, the tears of Auset, falling from the sky. The other women dragged the dead child from the burnt building, but he lay limp and lifeless in the dust at their feet.
Auset laid her hands upon the child and breathed life into the boy’s still throat, her breath bringing blood to his face and renewing the scorched flesh. As she breathed, she called out, ‘O breath of Tefen, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Tefen from the boy and spat it upon the ground.
She called out again.
‘O breath of Befen, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Befen from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
She called out a third time.
‘O Venom of Mestet, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Mestet from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
She called out a fourth time.
‘O Venom of Mestetef, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Mestetef from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
She called out the fifth time.
‘O Venom of Petet, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Petet from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
She called out the sixth time.
‘O Venom of Thetet, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Thetet from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
She called out a seventh time.
‘O Venom of Maatet, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and she sucked the poison of Maatet from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
Thus Auset, Mistress of The Words of Power brought the child back from the grave.
“I shall build for you a great house!” declared the woman. “A place of glory where you shall reside for eternity. A sanctuary worthy of one such as you!”
“Build the house to remember me!” replied Auset, “And to remember what I have done this day, but I cannot rest until my own child has come, and I must retire to the wilds, for surely the Lord Set will find me in your holy place!”
So saying, Auset called for the fen woman who had given her sanctuary, and together they ran to a secret place in the swamps. There the fen woman’s relatives wove a house of papyrus reeds on a knoll deep within the papyrus swamp for Auset to dwell within.
In a nest of papyrus reeds, Auset began her labour. Her moans and cries were carried by an ibis to the ear of her sister Nepthet, and Nepthet turned her ear to her beloved sister, and descended into the papyrus swamps. There she found Auset in the throes of childbirth. Quickly she came to the aid of her sister and the child Horus was born.
The young child was a delight to the sisters for he was a bonny child, full of vim and vigour. The child grew quickly, and many gods made their way to the hiding place in the papyrus swamp to bring him gifts and bear him homage. His uncle Thoth in particular doted upon the child and taught him the written and plastic arts. His aunt Nepthet revealed her arcane knowledge, the wisdom of life and death and resurrection, and his mother Auset taught him compassion and honour.
At times though, Auset was forced leave him alone in the fens, for she had to travel from house to house to beg for food for her and her son. She knew her experience with the son of the noble woman was a warning to her, an omen, and she should beware of all things which live and lurk in the dark places and the dens by the wayside. She could not take Horus with her when she left to forage for food for fear he may be discovered, for she had no doubt Set would kill the son of Ausar should he know of him.
So, she set him afloat in a closed reed basket in a small pond, a backwater of the Nile, and abjured him not to stir until she returned. But Horus, although a god, was still a child, and he disobeyed the word of his mother and often raised the lid on the basket and swam naked to the shore to play.
It was thus Auset returned one day to find the basket empty and her child gone. She found Horus lying face down in the mud, froth in his mouth and eyes lifeless. He had been bitten by a scorpion, just as she had foreseen. His noble heart was still and his muscles seized. Auset sent forth such a cry of agony, all the dwellers of the swamp ran to her at once. The fenmen ran from their houses, and inured as they were to hardship, even they wailed at the sight of the fallen king.
‘My child! My babe! He is nothing!’ cried Auset, and as she drew him to her embrace she sensed the cause of his death. She found the poison sting still in the body of Horus and from the odour, she knew that Set had come to the child in the form of a scorpion. Now knowing the name of her son’s slayer, she could use her Words of Power to bring the poison out of the body.
Her sister Nepthet came to her side and they called out together, ‘O Venom of Set, spill upon the earth and come forth from this child!’ and as Auset breathed life in through the nose and throat of Horus, Nepthet sucked the poison of Set from the boy and spat it upon the ground.’
Seven times they repeated the rite, but the child did not stir.
At that moment Thoth arrived in the boat of Aten-Rei. With his great command of Maa-kheru, and the Words of Power from the Two Queens, they repeated the rite of raising the dead.
Thus Auset, Mistress of The Words of Power brought the child back from the grave. All rejoiced for now Horus had become immortal and beyond death. Those who knew, could see the power of the father in the son. He was ready to take the earthly throne of the mighty Ausar Un-Nefer.”
“Then, Horus was the Messiah of the Egyptians,” said Miri.
Mermaat nodded, “Yes, he slew his uncle Set and banished him to the desert and the wild places to the west of the Nile, the Red Land of the Sunset, and established the rule of the Pharaohs.”
“Did Auset remain in the land of Egypt?”
“Auset is the throne of Egypt. She is the Spirit of the Land. She is the Bride of The Pharaoh. The Shekhina with whom he must be One. She lives Above as Below.”
“Then Auset is Astarte. They are the same.”
“From the womb of the Great Mother springs the Great Waters, from the waters the Air above and the Earth below and the Fire of Life. All life begins with her and ends with her.”
“Then why do we need Ausar? Or Horus? Why do we look to kings for solace and refuge?”
Mermaat smiled secretly at Manasseh. They were satisfied with their young maid, and he smiled back.
From that day, Miri met with Mermaat on the hillside. David became used to the presence of the Gypsy woman, and Miri’s eyes were opened to the abundance of flora upon the hillside. Where once she had seen only fodder for animals, she now spied not only individual plant families, but tinctures for sore eyes, infusions for colic and compresses for open wounds, in the trees bark for anaelgesics, leaves for tea to ease aching muscles and roots for managing many maladies.
After Mermaat cured one of David’s sheep of a bloated stomach, he allowed Miri to leave his sight in the company of the old crone. Mermaat lived in a cave on the hillside, walled at the front and plastered inside. There, she uncovered a chest of papyrus scrolls and parchments upon which were written ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. She taught Miri the meaning and the sounds of the pictures. The young girl learned how to prepare the papyrus strips from reeds, and how to beat them into paper. Mermaat presented Miri with her own stylus and cakes of ink with which to write, then showed her how to replenish them from the wild earth around her. The ancient tongue of the Egyptian’s Rei-en-Kaam was heard upon the mountainside as Miri and Mermaat went over their lessons. Miri enjoyed deciphering the strange pictures, and soon avariciously poured over the manuscripts, drawing the words into herself, and absorbing the knowledge they contained.
A new routine formed, after sharing a mid-day meal, Miri and Mermaat poured over the Rei-en-Kaam papyrii while Sister Miriam and David read the scrolls from the synagogue. Sometimes the lessons tended to lean one way more than the other, but each girl soon knew the lore of the other. When one of the scrolls David had brought turned out to be written in Greek, that language was added to the lessons, for Mermaat was fluent in Greek.
The years rolled by in a lazy steady rhythm set by the seasons. David relished those years and remembered them always as a single calm scene. He, playing his harp while the sheep grazed, the wind blew warm and soft, and Mermaat sitting with the girls reading in Greek, showing them how to form the letters and arrange them into words. Sometime Yohanna was with him, and sometimes he was lying in her arms telling her proudly of the vision of daughters who were to him like sons.