The following excerpt is Hank Wesselman, PhD’s foreword for Sekhmet: Transformation in the Belly of the Goddess by Nicki Scully, published by Inner Traditions.
By profession I am an anthropologist (Ph.D., UC Berkeley), a former college and university lecturer as well as a field researcher who has worked since 1971 with several international research expeditions to Ethiopia, searching the ancient, eroded landscapes of the Great Rift Valley in search of answers to the mystery of human origins. My discoveries have been published in my many scientific papers and monographs.*
Yet in addition, I have been a shamanic practitioner and teacher for more than thirty-five years, and in response to my continued focus on the inner worlds, certain unusual life experiences have become available to me. These have been recorded in my published metaphysical books and papers.
In January of 2003, I led a travel group to Egypt, an extraordinary adventure guided by Emil Shaker, who is mentioned later in Nicki’s book. During this trip we visited the great sites of antiquity in response to which many of the travelers had strong dreams as well as vivid paranormal experiences. The account that follows records some experiences of my own, and although many of my esteemed academic colleagues might regard them as fanciful, even fictional, everything that follows was experienced as real.
January 9—Our guide and Eygptologist, Emil, picked us up at our hotel in Luxor at 6:00 a.m. It was still pitch dark as we boarded our bus and headed for the famous temple complex known as Karnak. When we arrived at our destination, I could just make out the guards smiling as they recognized our guide, and he suavely tipped them so we could enter the site at this early hour.
The temple of Karnak was and is the heart of Egypt. It is one thing to view photographs of this incredible place in oversized books at our leisure. It is something quite different to actually stand among the silent, massive stone pillars of this site in the darkness before the dawn, surrounded by the soft, warm, earthy scent of the desert and the stones, with the soft whispering winds and the overarching stars as our companions.
This immense temple complex is composed of many shrines and was constructed by its builders across hundreds of years on a monumental scale fit for the gods, the neteru themselves. How it was done continues to invoke a sense of mystery within us today, as it is doubtful that we could replicate it in our own time, even with all our high technology.
For example, one side of the immense roof that stands many stories above the ground is built slightly higher than its opposing side, creating a natural form of air-conditioning in that warm air is drawn upward during the hot time of the day, allowing cooler breezes from the Nile to the west to flow inward and downward. And this was conceived and executed by Egyptian architects and engineers while the peoples of Europe were still living in their barbarian villages far to the north, a thousand years before the Greek civilization arose.
We in the group stood humbled under the desert sky as we tried to take in the site’s full immensity and power. Karnak, and its complement, the Temple of Luxor, is one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The light was just beginning to show in the east as our guide took us up the main avenue and into the small shrine that he told us was historically used by the pharaoh to await the rising sun. Having come so early, we were the only visitors in the vast complex on that day, and so this event carried a certain specialness . . . one could almost say “holiness.”
As the rising sun cracked the horizon and suddenly shafted across the altar, we felt our connection with eternity affirmed across more than three-and-a-half-thousand years . . . and we felt our unity with the great mystery that spawned us.
After witnessing the eastern light illuminate the altar, our guide led us quickly to the northeastern edge of the huge site, passing a small scrubby sycamore about eight or nine feet tall, which is more than 2,500 years old and is still alive. We then headed toward a small stone building housing the shrine of Ptah.
The Shrine of Ptah
The word Egypt means “the land of Ptah.” This deity was (and forever will be) the archetypal force of creation, who came from the stars and who formed the world by thinking it and by speaking it into being with his words. In his blue aspect—his blue skin or blue cap—Ptah ruled Egypt for 8,000 years, according to myth. His consort (or complement) during this age was (and is) Sekhmet, the great transformational lion-headed goddess.
After our guide greeted the guards and crossed their palms with a modest wad of Egyptian pounds, the iron grate across the unprepossessing shrine was unlocked and we stepped into the small stone building, entering a room in the center of which a raised dais bears a headless statue of Ptah. After taking in this desecrated sculpture, we gazed around at the reliefs on the walls that depict the great architect and healer Imhotep interacting with the deity Ptah, revealing this place to be a locality of initiation for healers.
Our guide’s restless eyes darted toward a dark doorway to our right, and in a hoarse whisper, he told us that within this shrine is the only living statue of Sekhmet in Egypt—one that was placed in this crypt by the pharaoh Thutmoses the Third in roughly 1450 BCE. He then tipped the guards once again, and the gate across that door was opened, allowing us access to another small stone room.
As the group filed in a small hole in the ceiling let in a dim shaft of early light from the sky. We stood blinking as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then there in the shadows before us emerged a standing black stone image of Sekhmet, a slender female human form with a lion’s head, on top of which was perched the sun disk, with the cobra uraeus in front. From her base to her apex, the goddess seemed to stand a good seven feet tall.
This was a dramatic experience, to say the least, and our guide closed the door after us, effectively shutting us into the shrine with Sekhmet. There was only just enough light to barely make out the outlines of the powerful figure before us. But as our eyes continued to adjust to the dim light and the sky outside brightened with the dawn, the goddess seemed to magically take on form and density, manifesting herself in the small room and intimidating us into silent reverence for a good five minutes or more.
I stood facing her, leaning against the back wall behind the group, taking it all in, and I watched as the group began to respond, their hands slowly coming up and their prayers softly being offered. I considered what our guide had said—that this was the only “living” statue of Sekhmet in Egypt. With that thought, I decided to try to access the shamanic state of consciousness—the same high-frequency brain-wave state described in the books of my Spiritwalker trilogy.
There was no problem. As the first ecstatic surge of energy gripped me in its invisible fist and my breath caught in my chest, I reached for those sensations. In response, the power swept into me like a wave engulfing a beach. I stiffened physically, my mind abruptly expanding . . . and I suddenly felt the goddess’s awareness focused upon me.
There was no doubt. “She” was there.
I tried my best to remain still, controlling my tendency to shake by wedging myself against the back wall. The rest of the group was focused on the statue, and so we remained for another five minutes or more. When our guide finally opened the door, I remained propped against the back wall, while my fellow travelers slowly completed their rituals and quietly filed out the doorway.
Finally only I remained.
There I was, alone in an ancient stone room in Upper Egypt, standing in the presence of a goddess. I observed her feminine form closely . . . and it seemed that I could actually see her breathing. In those moments I suddenly remembered that I had my wife’s little camera in my pocket, so I asked in a stifled whisper through clenched teeth if I could take her picture.
A brief snort of amusement jolted through my mind . . . and I felt her agreement. “Why not? Everyone else does and none of them ever asks permission.”
My blood was hissing in my ears as I brought the little metal box to my face with extreme effort. No sooner had I snapped the shot than I realized that I had filled her sanctuary with a flash of shattering light. In the shocked darkness that followed, I wondered if this had been appropriate and, almost in response, two words appeared in my mind.
Astonished, I remained rooted to my spot, my back braced against the stone wall. I glanced to my right and to my left. I was alone with this leonine goddess. Then again, almost impatiently, the words came . . .
“Come here . . .”
There was no denying this summons. Slowly and reverently I managed to jump-start my legs and feet and slowly shuffle forward until we were only inches apart. I stared up into her lion face and I could feel her cool breath upon my skin.
Then her words came again . . . “Kiss me!”
Somewhat shocked, I looked around me in the darkness, but I was alone with her. The group was outside the shrine. So I slipped off my shoes and stepped up onto the statue’s base and slowly reached around and took her into my arms, suddenly aware that her breasts had become warm and soft against my chest and that I could feel her breathing.
The New Yorker born “I,” who is very much a mainstream scientist, was stunned at this turn of events, and yet as my lips brushed across her’s, I felt her face stretch thinly into a smile. And in that timeless moment the room suddenly brightened, filling with a blue neon light. It was as if an aperture behind her or around her had opened—a doorway into the sky. Thoughts moved through my mind—hers and mine . . . thoughts that conveyed the awareness that there is an inter-dimensional portal here in this shrine.
Without thinking, my hand came up and caressed her face and brow, scratching her as I know all cats like to be scratched. She felt organic, furry, with the bones of her skull and the cartilage of her ears very much alive, the vibrissae of her face stiff and rigid. In response, she bent and pushed her face against mine, butting me with her forehead in a distinctly feline greeting as the cobra on her brow watched me with a flat stare. Did her free hand grasping the ankh come around and clasp me to her chest? I don’t know but it seemed so, or perhaps she generated a force that created this illusion.
In response, the feelings of power soared within me, virtually cutting off my breath. As I gasped for air, Sekhmet leaned down and breathed into my mouth, filling my lungs with her HA—her divine lion’s breath of life. The doorway shimmered around and behind her and once more her words appeared in my mind.
“You will return to me in your dreaming . . . in your dreaming while asleep and in your dreaming while awake. And you may use this portal with my blessing, whenever you wish, now that you know that it is here. Perhaps you will call upon me from time to time . . . I can be of service to you. Until then, may you fare well . . .” And then almost as an afterthought, “It is nice to see you again.”
I leaned my face against her breasts as a burst of sudden tears came, and then the softness of her breathing slowly stilled and once again she became a stone image. Simultaneously, the blue light ceased to exist and the crypt was once again in shadow.
I hastily disengaged and stepped back, wiping my face and her chest, concerned that our guide or one of the guards would come in and find me embracing the statue. Yet I was still alone . . . so I bowed with reverence and, digging in my pocket, I pulled out a small blue-glass crow bead. I breathed my gratitude and my respect into the hole in the bead with a whispered prayer to her and tucked it into a crack in the wall where no one would see it, my ritual now complete, my offering made.
As I emerged, blinking, into the light I saw that the group had drifted back to the sycamore and was taking pictures, and our guide was still joking with the guards. So I strolled slowly past the mute stone walls, alone with my thoughts, as I considered what had just taken place.
Now . . . I am much aware that the existence of spirits is problematic for us Westerners. We do not live in a society in which connection with spirits is part of our experienced reality on a day-to-day basis. There are, as well, the mainstream philosophical theorists of our time like Ken Wilber, Jurgen Habermas, and Jean Gebser who sidestep the whole issue of spirits.
Yet the fact that shamans claim that they are able to come into relationship with transpersonal forces, and accomplish various things through relationship with them, cannot be denied. There exists historical depth for this claim in the anthropological ethnography that stretches across several hundred years, like it or not . . . and then there are my own experiences described in my trilogy.
If I were to categorize Sekhmet in a mythic sense, “she” appears to have two polarities. In Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet represents the warrior as slayer in the negative polarity, the goddess of plagues and pestilence and all sorts of nasty stuff (directed at the enemies of Egypt in days gone by, of course). Yet, in the positive polarity, this leonine female is the warrior as healer—an archetypal force that expresses fierce compassion—a quality that comes through Sekhmet’s willingness to stand with us while we embodied mortals are in the fires of transformation. She offers this so that we may become who and what our destiny holds out to us. And she has served me in this capacity many times during my shamanic healing rituals.
Now—aside from these mythic beliefs (which can be greatly supportive and sustaining in the short term), it is my understanding as one who walks the shaman’s path that this archetypal force called Sekhmet does indeed exist in the subtle realm of things hidden. As such, “she” is one of those dense concentrations of energy plus awareness plus intelligence that possesses certain qualities and abilities that may be of use to us. Indeed, in reviewing her words to me in the shrine, this is what “the agreement” seems to be.
In fact, it may very well be that these deities of ancient Egypt (and elsewhere) embody and express the myriad aspects of nature as archetypal forces that have “overseen” the human experiment from the very beginnings of our long journey across eternity.
And in this sense, each of us has the potential to be partnered by many such benevolent forces that are hovering just offstage of the human drama, willing to constellate within us and through us in order to manifest effects that can be truly life transforming and very far-reaching.
We’re not talking about religion here, in which our priesthoods and scriptures demand worship and deference to some monotheistic father figure in the sky. That’s a belief system, and an archaic one at that. We’re talking about authentic transpersonal experience of the subtle and causal worlds, in which we can come into relationship with forces that are real. But how those forces are experienced depends on how we, as individuals, are psychologically focused.
When we consider the societal games that we all seem to be playing with each other, it could be observed that many if not most of us are anchored in the negative polarity. We may proclaim that we are not—we may say that we are compassionate beings devoted to the greater good, that we pray to God in church or synagogue or mosque—and yet if we achieve success at the expense of others’ failure, if we injure others with our words or deeds or thoughts, if we operate through competition, coercion, zeal, or deception, we are most definitely in the negative polarity.
If, on the other hand, we deal with our family members, friends, and coworkers through cooperation, persuasion, with compassion and authenticity, our anchor is in the positive polarity. This “law of polarity” is most important because the archetypal forces do not judge us. They simply exist in the spiritual realms and express themselves through us, amplifying who and what we already are. This reveals that the archetypal forces essentially expand our experience of whatever polarity we inhabit.
As I have said, over the years that have followed since that first contact, the transpersonal force called Sekhmet has come to me many times during the shamanic healing rituals that I facilitate in my training workshops. And when she arrives, she is always the black leonine woman who exudes qualities of fierce compassion and dark grace—the warrior as healer.
When I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I always walk through the Egyptian collections in that vast building. And there, in the huge room housing the temple of Dendur, brought stone by stone from Egypt, there sits a series of images of Sekhmet, all in black stone, facing the temple.* They were brought from the garden of Mut at Karnak.
And although they are not “alive” as was the image in the shrine of Ptah, I sit in contemplation of them for a while and then I make my prayer to her while holding a small blue-glass bead in my hand . . . and when the guards are looking elsewhere, I breathe my love for her into the hole in the bead and tuck it into a crack in the image that attracts me. It’s one of my responsibilities . . . and it’s part of what it means to walk the shaman’s path.