A Ritual In The Isis Shrine

Cleopatra announced that she would be performing an Opening Of The Mouth ritual. This ritual was used in ancient Egypt to give statues, humans, temples and mummies, the ability to be able to receive the benefits of offerings1. That she knew of the existence of this ritual indicated that she had more knowledge of ancient Egyptian religion than had previously seemed to be the case. I decided to attend the ritual.

The chapel was fitted out with a giant statue of Isis, some candles and some absolutely not Egyptian textiles. I noticed that a donation box had appeared in the Isis shrine, which surprised me as Horemheb had always prohibited donation boxes.

There had been no advance advice of the order of the ritual so none of us knew what to expect. Unlike in the case of my initiation ritual I made no meatspace preparations for this ritual. This was probably because I wasn’t going to be an active participant in the ritual, and because it was to be a group ritual and that I knew many people who weren’t priests would be attending. I didn’t believe that the possibility existed that it might be an effective ritual, a possibility I had acknowledged with my initiation ritual. I was treating it only as an inworld event.

People were starting to arrive in preparation for the ritual. In a prior class for priests it had been made clear that only priests could enter the parts of the temple where the cult states were housed and the rituals performed, and that even they must perform ritual ablutions before they could do so. But Cleopatra had invited everyone. All manner of people came in; Egyptians, Romans, and people I couldn’t identify. Some people I had never seen before came in. Most of them were Goreans and part of the combat faction. I was surprised to see so many of them there as they had never shown any prior interest in temple activities. No purifying actions were taken, people just walked in and took seats on the cushions provided. There were several priests and priestesses present and there was a lot of private chat among us about how Cleopatra was not adhering to the protocols for admission to the temple. Many soldiers came in with their weapons. Various high priests approached them and asked them not to enter the temple with weapons. They complained, and stood just outside on the porch where they were still close enough to hear and see the ritual rather than remove their weaponry. A few nobles were present, a princess, the general of the army. No Pharaoh. Just as the ritual was beginning a woman in Gorean silks came in. I found myself irritated that Cleopatra was facilitating behaviors that the priesthood as a group had decided were not desirable. It had been agreed at a priests’ meeting that Gorean attire was to be prohibited in the temples so I approached the woman and asked her to change her outfit. She instant messaged me to say that she wasn’t aware that silks weren’t allowed and left. Other priests messaged me to support my action.

After preliminary greetings the ritual got under way.

Chat Excerpt – The Opening Of The Mouth Ritual

Cleopatra: If you will all take your seats we will get stated with our ceremony
Khasekhemui nods
Thutmose: where is Cleopatra?
Cleopatra: I am here brother
Khasekhemui: Em hotep your highness
Rekhetre: Em hotep
Khasekhemui smiles to the princess
Rekhetre nods slightly to Run
Cleopatra: Em Hotep everyone ...
Khasekhemui: Em hotep
Cleopatra: welcome to the temple of Isis
Rekhetre: Em hotep priestess
Serethor: em hotep
Khenut: Em hotep
Cleopatra: Please... be seated
Adjib: Em hotep
Cleopatra: Tonight we are invoking the spirit ... the Ka of the Goddess Isis
Cleopatra: This ancient ceremony comes to us from the Book of the Dead
Thutmose: looks at Per and says we have a code for dress here. Your current attire is not suitable. Please clothe yourself appropriately before coming to the temple.
Cleopatra: This ceremony is very powerful
Cleopatra: And I would like us all to take a moment to center and close our eyes
Rekhetre closes her eyes
Nebty-nub closes her eyes
Takelot closes his eyes
Meritites: closes her eyes
Serethor closes her eyes
Thutmose watches the room
Kawab: closes his eyes
Cleopatra: ((Also if you could ... please set your World - Environment settings to Midnight for the full effect))
Herneith: closes her eyes
Cleopatra: Can everyone see me alright ... I understand there may be some problems with smoke
Khasekhemui nods
Serethor nods
Thutmose: you are a cloud
Meritites: nods
Takelot nods
Nebty-nub nods
Adjib: nods
Cleopatra: Brother Thutmose I believe you are the only one who is seeing me in smoke
Cleopatra: smiles
Cleopatra: Very well let us begin
Cleopatra: Hail Goddess Isis
Cleopatra: Mother Goddess
Cleopatra: Hear your priestesses and priests
Cleopatra: hear us on this dark of the moon
Psusennes: please be mindful of the ceremony
Cleopatra: Come to us in this sacred ceremony for which we have created for you ..
Psusennes smiles and nods in respect
Penebui: em hotep
Snofru: eh hotep
Cleopatra: Come to us and this scared effigy we have crafted
Cleopatra: We are to bring forth the ka of Isis tonight ... please give us your attention and your will to give our statue the life of Her spirit the Ka of her being
Cleopatra: Great God Ptah open the mouth of this vessel, and unfasten the bindings of this effigy, which are over Her mouth
Takelot: Come forth Thoth, you who is equipped with words of power in great abundance, and untie the fetters, even the fetters of the god Set which are over this divine statue's mouth.
Takelot: {Sprinkles water to the head of the statue}
Cleopatra: {Standing opening her arms to the sky}
Cleopatra: And the god Tem shall cast them back at those who would fetter it with them, and cast them at him. Then shall the god Shu open her mouth, and make an opening into her mouth for the Ka of Isis with the same iron implement with he opened the mouth of the Gods.
Takelot: Goddess Sekhmet, take your seat upon the place by the side of Amt-ur the great wind of heaven
Takelot: {Raising his arms above his head}
Cleopatra: {Reaching up, she touches the mouth of the statue with a strange looking implement}
Takelot: Goddess Sekhmet, take your seat upon the place by the side of Amt-ur the great wind of heaven
Cleopatra: I call to the great Star-goddess Saah, who dwelleth among the Souls of Anu.
Takelot: Goddess Sekhmet, take your seat upon the place by the side of Amt-ur the great wind of heaven
Cleopatra: [Waving her arms skyward}
Takelot: Tem-Khepera who produced himself on the thighs of his divine mother. Those who dwell in Nu have been made wolves, and those who are among the Tchatcha Chiefs have become hyenas.
Takelot: {Comes forward to the statue with an incense burner}
Cleopatra: Behold, I will gather together to myself this charm from the Goddess with whom it is where it is, and it shall come to be, quicker than a greyhound, and swifter that light.
Takelot: Hail, who is bringest the Ferry-Boat of Ra, holder of the course firmly and directly in the north wind as you sail up the river towards the Island of Fire which is in Khert-Neter.
Cleopatra: {Gestures with her right hand to the east}
Takelot: {Circles around the statue with his smoking incense burner}
Cleopatra: Behold, you shall gather together to you this charm from where-so-ever it may be, and from whomsoever it may be, quicker than a greyhound, and swifter than light.
Takelot: The charm made by the transformations of Mut; it fashioned the gods kept them silent; by it Mut gave the warmth of life to the gods.
Takelot: {Bows to the east}
Cleopatra: Behold, these words of power are mine, and they shall come unto me from where-so-ever they may be, or with whom-so-ever they may be, quicker than greyhounds and swifter than light.
Takelot: Let Isis's heart be with us in the House of Hearts. Let Her heart-case be with us in the House of heart-cases. Let Her heart be with us, and let it rest in this sacred statue.
Cleopatra: {As she waves her hands over the statue}
Takelot: Let Isis's heart be with us in the House of Hearts. Let Her heart-case be with us in the House of heart-cases. Let Her heart be with us, and let it rest in this sacred statue.
Takelot: {Let Isis's heart be with us in the House of Hearts. Let Her heart-case be with us in the House of heart-cases. Let Her heart be with us, and let it rest in this sacred statue.
Cleopatra: We shall not eat the cakes of Osiris in the eastern side of the Lake of Flowers, nor have a boat wherein to float down the river, nor a boat to sail up the river to you, nor be able to embark in a boat with you.
Cleopatra: {Sprinkles water of the Nile upon Her breast}
Cleopatra: Let Her mouth be to speak us here and now. Let her legs be that She may walk here and now. Let her arms be here and now, that she may overthrow all foes here and now.
Cleopatra: {Sprinkles water upon Her mouth}
Takelot: Let the two doors of the sky be opened to Her. May Keb, the Erpat of the gods, open his jaws to Her. May he open Her two eyes which are blinded. May he make Her to lift up Her legs in walking which are tied together.
Cleopatra: May Anpu make Her thighs to become vigorous. May the goddess Sekhmet raise Her, and lift Her up. Let Her ascend into heaven, let that which I command be performed in Het-ka-Ptah!
Cleopatra: {sprinkes water over the whole of the statue}
Cleopatra: Goddess, you are master of the heart-case. You are master of your hands and arms. You are master of your legs. You have the power to do that which your KA desireth to do.
Takelot: Goddess Isis, come forth in peace and come forth in peace.
Cleopatra: Great goddess Isis ... come to us in this place we have created for you
Cleopatra: Live her in this place ... as we shall take care of you and worship you
Cleopatra: Bring peace and joy to the people of these Lands
Cleopatra: Bless us all in our daily works and lives
Cleopatra: Give hope and love to all who worship you
Cleopatra: Let your light show through to your servents and children
Cleopatra: We give you now oh great Mother food to nourish and strengthen yourself
Cleopatra: We give you fruit and wine ... bounties of your gardens
Djedefre: Ave
Cleopatra: Great Goddess we see your light shining forth ... alive in this temple!
Cleopatra: Blessings are yours to this land and this temple!
Cleopatra: Great Goddess .... we are honored by your presence!
Cleopatra: We bring you forth into this world great Goddess to teach us and nurture us
Cleopatra: Your children of the Nile
Cleopatra: Em Hotep, Great Goddess
Takelot is Offline
Cleopatra: Welcome The Goddes Isis to this Temple!
Berenike: Em hotep, Great Goddess.
Amon: Em Hotep Goddess
Herneith: Em Hotep great Goddess
Rekhetre: Em Hotep Great Goddess
Thutmose: em hotep great goddess
Cleopatra: Stand everyone and welcome the Goddess
Meritites: Em Hotep Great Goddess
Serethor: Em Hotep great Goddess
Cleopatra: Come greet Her
Adjib: Em Hotep Great Goddess
Cleopatra: There is beer and food available to all
Berenike: Great Goddess, you know my name. My name is Berenike. Em hotep, Isis, Mother of Egypt.
Takelot is Online
Cleopatra: Em Hotep Brother
Amon: Em Hotep Sister
Amon smilles
Takelot: em hotep, my brother
Rekhetre clasps hands and bows down to the Great Goddess
Cleopatra: The beer is in this giant vessel ... enough for all!
Amon: I feel the presence around me
Cleopatra: Smiles
Takelot: As do I
Rekhetre stands and and looks around
Amon: I will pray
Berenike takes a goblet and dips some beer from the urn.
Amon takes a goblet and pours a draught
Rekhetre: Em hotep your holyness
Rekhetre bows slightly
Penebui: em hotep General
Osorkon: em hotep all
Penebui: General
Psusennes: Em Hotep
Rekhetre: Congratulations on the welcoming of the great goddess
Psusennes: smiles at the scene
Takelot: Great Goddess Isis........thank you for letting us do this ceremony tonight without a hitch
Cleopatra: Everyone ... Priest Anubishka has pledged himself to the Goddess as Her servant and guardian
Rekhetre: I have brought these roses so that they may be offered to the goddess
Cleopatra: Thank you Princess
Meritites: Great Goddess Isis, Thank you for bringing me to this beautiful ceremony.
Psusennes remains alert, searching the sands for trouble
Nebty-nub smiles
Cleopatra: grins
Nebty-nub: A wonderful ritual sister
Osorkon: how has everything been general?
Amon places the roses in front of the Goddess
Cleopatra: How'd we do sister?
Rekhetre: has everyone from the royal army come to give thanks and praise?
Nebty-nub: it was perfect
Cleopatra: smiles and sighs
Khasekhemui nods
Nebty-nub: A lot of hard work for you but it was well worth it
Cleopatra: I feel a presence here of Isis ... and it feels wonderful
Nebty-nub: Yes, the goddess is pleased
Cleopatra: I believe She is
Osorkon: well I will have to go
Osorkon: rl
Khasekhemui: Senebty commander
Nebty-nub: Zebina
Osorkon: senebty all
Psusennes nods to the soldiers quietly
Cleopatra: Brother Akhom ... thank you for believing in me ... and the for making this happen
Khasekhemui: Thank you for having us
Rekhetre: senebty
Amon: Be well soldiers and guests
Khasekhemui: Senebty
Serethor: senebty
figure 29. The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

Figure 29 shows the ceremony. There is a small white cloud immediately before the statue of Isis. This is actually Cleopatra. Second Life uses the cloud as a placeholder for an avatar that has not yet downloaded. This was instituted as previously avatars would be rendered naked until their clothes had downloaded. People found it disconcerting to appear naked and so the cloud was inserted as a placeholder. Sometimes though the cloud never went away. Even after plenty of time had passed and every other thing in the scene had been downloaded one or more avatars would remain resolutely as clouds. Sometimes relogging would remedy this, but sometimes nothing could remove the cloud. I had relogged a couple of times to try to resolve this on this occasion, with no success, and Cleopatra remained a cloud during the entire ritual. Not being able to see her certainly distanced me from engaging with the ritual. This adds a whole level of meaning to statements that we are not all perceiving the world the same way. There are literal ways in which this is true in meatspace. For example I may hold up a pen and ask you what colour it is. I may be expecting you to say red, but you are colour blind and say grey. Prior to having this conversation we would have been blissfully unaware of our perceptual differences.

The ability to discern even something as simple as where someone else is directing attention is a complex process “composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, codes, stores, recalls and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in the everyday spatial environment”2. Given the complexity of this single seemingly basic aspect of perception the extent of the problem of shared perception becomes clear. Because our conceptual categories have a perceptual basis3 our consensus reality is biased towards our most frequent perceptions. An example of this bias can be seen in the text of Cleopatra’s ritual where I ask where Cleopatra is, because I don’t know who the cloud represents, and then tell Cleopatra that she is appearing to me as a cloud. Because I am the only person reporting such a perception she takes little notice of it. Experience in the world has shown me that if many people report a similar perception then more importance will be placed on it. If everyone is seeing avatars as clouds it is probably a software bug, but if only I am seeing an avatar as a cloud it is more likely to be a local network effect, i.e. congestion on my local connection that is making me receive data more slowly.

Another example of the way in which each avatar sees the world differently is the environment settings. At the time of my research the time of day that one sees in the world was purely a client side setting. This means that each person chooses a time of day and the exact environmental appearance, e.g. whether it is a clear day or foggy, the colour of the light, whether it is cloudy or if the sky is clear. This has been changed since the time of my research so that now a sim owner can choose a particular environmental setting as the default for their sim. However each avatar coming to the sim still has to agree to this setting and can choose not to use it and pick one of their own instead. Where Cleopatra says “please set your World – Environment settings to Midnight for the full effect” she is referring to the setting which controls what time of day it appears to be. She is asking everyone to select the default night time setting. This is in effect an invitation to standardise the experience for all present, but there is no way to know if others choose to do so. This is also an example of an OOC remark being made in local chat, which is contrary to the community rules. By selecting this setting Cleopatra is choosing to prioritize aesthetic effect over historical accuracy as for the ancient Egyptians the night was a dangerous time and they would not have chosen to perform such a ritual in the night time hours4.

This ritual was comprised entirely of the reading of text with all actions described in text rather than by movements of the avatar. As Cleopatra remained a cloud for me during the entire ritual I wasn’t able to tell if she was doing any actions with her avatar. Others present sent me IMs at the time to say that she simply stood there and said the words, allowing her text to describe her actions rather than attempting them with her avatar.

I was most surprised to see that Cleopatra, whose expressed motivation for the Isis shrine was that it was to be a place for women only, had chosen a priest to perform this ritual with her. Takelot was a low level priest who had only recently joined the priesthood, having been initiated by Amon, though he had been in the community for some time as an ardent combatant. He had not participated in any other rituals I had attended and had never attended a priests’ meeting or class. He spent most of his time being a soldier in the army of Ra. Because of this I had had minimal interactions with him, but I had noticed that he had clear Gorean tendencies. I asked Amon about this during the ritual and he told me that Takelot and Cleopatra had become a couple about a week prior. This knowledge cemented in my mind the understanding that this ritual was focused on the Gorean sector of the community. I did wonder why a misogynist subculture would be interested in a female focused event.

Once the ritual was over everyone who wasn’t a priest left fairly quickly. It was very late for me so I soon left as well. As I logged off I pondered how this ritual had been different from my initiation ritual. I had perceived no feeling of sacred space and neither had my attention been captured by this ritual. I had remained my meatspace self operating my avatar. Was this because I had gone into this ritual not expecting a real ritual? Or was it because the ritual itself lacked the structure and content necessary to create sacred space? On other occasions I have participated in rituals that I did not expect anything from and I have ended up being surprised at their efficacy, so I don’t think my preconceptions are the entire reason, though they certainly contributed. It seems more likely to me that there was not enough of both meaningful content and engaging activity for the ritual to produce a feeling of the sacred for me. Rituals work better when more senses are involved5, and this one had had very little involvement of my senses. In my initiation ritual I had had to interact a lot and had several things to do. Moreover the things I had done formed a meaningful series for me and the content also had meaning. It was a journey that I undertook that made sense to me. During this ritual I had stood on the sidelines and done nothing while others said words that didn’t form a coherent meaning for me. This particular remix had little resonance for me.

  1. Redford, D. B. (ed), (2001), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, New York, Vol. 2, p. 605. ↩︎
  2. Downs, R. M. (ed), Stea, D. (ed), (1973), Image and environment: cognitive mapping and spatial behavior, Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago, p. 9. ↩︎
  3. Rosch E., Mervis C. B., Gray W. D., Johnson D. M., Boyes-Braem P., (1976), “Basic Objects in Natural Categories”, Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 382-439. ↩︎
  4. Morgan, M., (2008), Supernatural Assault in Ancient Egypt: Seth, Renpet & Moon Magick, Mandrake of Oxford, Oxford, p. 18. ↩︎
  5. Bonewits, I., (2003), Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach, Earth Religions Press, pp. 181-209. ↩︎

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