I had been told to come to the ritual early to place my belongings somewhere within the ritual setting, but when I arrived the door was closed- and I wasn't sure it was appropriate to disturb them during their setup, so I waited outside. I saw a couple of the ritual cast going in, but I was too busy admiring their robes to ask questions.^_^ Most of them were wearing the traditional white, but at least one of them wore a nemes headcloth, one of them was wearing a Hwt-Hrw headdress and white cow ears, and one (the Skhmt priestess dedicant) was dressed all in red with hena patterns on her shaven head- and carrying a wadj scepter! I didn't even recognize the priestess with whom I had spoken earlier, because she was dressed as Ra-Hrakhty, and wearing a beautiful golden robe with sheer golden "wings" gathered at the back, which she unfurled later in the ritual during her invocation and praise! Their ritual clothing really was beautiful- I wish that I had gotten some pictures, but of course I wasn't bringing the camera to a ritual. I've found that the ntjrw tend to frown on that, and pictures have a funny way of being destroyed or rendered completely unrecognizable.^_^'
They began gathering the crowds with a ritual procession, which leads me to focus and I often have meaningful experiences while I'm in that thrall.^_^ And so, when the doors to the ritual room were opened and the procession began to wend its way down the hall, I immediately fell into step behind them. The other worshipers and devotees fell into step behind me, and we walked the circuit from the second floor ballroom down to the lobby and back! The CES priestesses had some wood and metal sistra which they played very, very well- it was probably the best sistrum performance that I've heard to date, and certainly better than what happens when I try it.^_^' As we passed through the doors, Achilles tells me that we were sprayed with some sort of fluid, which I assume was for purification purposes. I didn't really notice it at the time- I must have been too taken up in the procession.
When the procession left us back in the ritual room, we were directed into rows of seats facing the altar- which, much to my surprise, was surmounted by an enormous statue of Bast! Just like the one which graces the impromptu shrine niche in my den. Large statues of Anpw and Djhwty were at Her sides, and on another altar- closer to the level of the worshipers, and just in front of the upper altar- were statues of Skhmt and the members of Her family: Ptah, Nfr-Tm, and I think another one of Bast. But they were more regular-sized statues, and therefore more difficult for me to see from my seat.
The ritual itself proceeded much as the CES ritual format on their webpage describes- the priests began with a visualization exercise of constructing a temple with a floor, four walls, and a ceiling of pure light. Unexpectedly, the lights of the ritual room were raised and lowered according to the invocations to enhance that process. I found out after the ritual that none of the cast had planned the special effects, and so everyone was surprised by it, but apparently somebody had deemed it appropriate and put it into effect. After the temple had been built, the Priest of Hrw- Harold Moss- recited our familiar liturgy of "The fire burns, the fire shines ..." all the way through "May you love us, Oh you gods, as we love You" in a reconstruction of the ancient Egyptian language. Then several other gods were called on to visit- and I assume to pay Their respects to Skhmt or give Their blessings to the people. This was where Ra-Hrakhty was praised and His priestess unveiled her wings, and the cow-eared priestess danced gracefully with a pair of faux candles. When the latter stood up to begin her dance, the entire room was flooded with an absolutely and stunningly beautiful scent.
Overall, it seemed to me that the priesthood had put a lot of passion into designing their ritual, tools, and clothing, and everyone put a great deal of heart into their offerings to the gods.^_^ It brings me great joy to see people who sincerely love the gods, sharing that worship with others. I would have liked to have spent some more time in recognizing and praising Skhmt Herself, though- Her part in the ritual seemed much more obscure than I had expected. There was one point which I believe was the invitation and praise for the presiding goddess, and they used a modern hymn which is one of my favorites- as written, it is a praise to a form of Bast-Skhmt. In my personal practice, I usually alter the wording slightly to direct it either one way or the other (usually toward the Bast end), but they used it straight- so I reasoned that I really hadn't needed to worry about bringing Bast-Skhmt's earrings to the ritual. The ritual itself was conducted in a very warm and motherly fashion- occasionally adopting a playful tone- which reminded me very much of Bast, but perhaps not so much of Skhmt. The approach left me wondering whether the group had feared that a straight-up Skhmt presence would be too intimidating for a public Pagan ritual (which could be a reasonable fear, but I think it could be worked around), or whether they really did interact with a form of Skhmt-as-Bast. Or, perhaps, the levity of the ritual was intentionally designed to keep the goddess' more dangerous aspects submerged beneath a level of goodwill and humor.
Near the end of the ritual, the priests of the group passed out slips of paper marked with a winged sun disk and the Eyes of Hrw and Ra on one side, instructed each of us to mentally focus our prayers or petitions to the gods into the paper, and then allowed each of us to approach the altar and slide the paper into a bowl of lotus-scented water which was placed before the Divine Family for the purpose (normally, I think they'd have used fire- but the hotel's rules forbid it). On our way up, we passed through the walls of the temple which had been constructed at the beginning, and they had been built in such a way that they screened out impure presences. At the time, I was unaware of the purification which we had received on our entrance to the room- and so I thought that this was a clever means of distributing mass purifications at a public ritual.^_^ I'm glad to know now that they had first used a more traditional method, though, because I still prefer a good old fashioned natron and water cleansing.^_^ Each of us also received a blessing from Ra-Hrakhty shortly after passing through the wall, and on our way back the priests shared grape juice and tiny offering cakes/crackers with us, and when everyone had entered their petition they all centered around the bowl- chanting the names of the pantheon, and I think that I noticed Skhmt's name rising above the chant- or at least being mentioned a little more frequently than the others.^_^
When it was ended, the gods were thanked, the visualized temple walls, floor, and ceiling were taken down, and the people were sent on their way. I went up to collect my uniform, and the Skhmt priestess handed me a card from a local wildlife rehab/research foundation for big cats- which seems like a really cool group and I intend to visit them one of these fine days.^_^
After the ritual, we went back to our room and prepared for the oracular Seidh- which is always an educational experience, and this year was no exception. But the next Kemetic event was the House of Netjer's panel on the Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, on the following morning.^_^