Justice and Peace

There is a chant that goes “No Justice, No Peace”.

We offer ma’at; we establish ma’at; we allow Ma’at to ascend to her shrine. Ma’at is the fundamental offering to the gods, the law under which we establish our societies.

Ma’at is justice. Ma’at is order, is law.

Ma’at is truth.

And the truth is there in the chant, in the slogan. Without justice – without ma’at – there is not order, there is not law, there is not truth, because these are the same thing. Without ma’at there is no balance, no reciprocality, no connection between people.

(And my favorite quote on the subject remains “Ma’at is that force which gathers people together into communities.”)

Substitute in words: Justice is that which gathers people together. Truth is that which gathers people together. Play with these concepts a little. Explore.

According to Sylvie Cauville’s Offerings to the Gods in Egyptian Temples, there is a gift back from the gods when ma’at is properly offered.

I ensure for you that the palace remains stable thanks to your perfect conduct….(p 198)

When we give justice….

…. there is peace.

Thanks to Fred Clark of Slacktivist for the seed for this thought.


More rhythmic ponders:

Most of the months of the Egyptian year have a name referencing their primary festival. The last month of the year was called “Mesore”. Birth of Ra.

In ~2500 BCE, the heliacal rising of Sirius would have fallen in early to mid-July, meaning the previous month would have contained the relevant hemisphere’s summer solstice.

Which is interesting.

One of the calendar books I’ve read – and oh gods I have no idea which one anymore – suggested that Ra had twinned birthdays, as with other forms of twinning – the northern and southern birthdays, corresponding to the solstices. I seem to recall there’s some surviving columns that can be archaeoastronomically tied to the northern and southern reaches of the solar motion. (And that there is an inscription about them – Hatshepsut maybe? – describing the “two roads between which my father walks” or some such. Maybe someone will be able to footnote my brain.)

So there’s an interesting pole to put on the year. Maybe. If one’s so inclined.

It is of course not attested in the way that other things are. But it has an interesting feel.

I dither about it every so often.

(In case it’s not obvious, I have just figured out how to schedule posts on WordPress which means that I may have interesting runs of braindump while I chew on specific problems.)

Time and Pacification

So I was thinking about the Great Festival of Djehwty after referencing it in the previous post.

Here is another thing that fits together:

The day after the Great Festival of Djehwty is the Festival of Drunkenness.

Among the associations of that Festival, of course, is the pacification of the Eye – one may recall the red beer offered to Sekhmet in the myth of the Destruction of Mankind. During the unsettled time of the transition from year to year and the Days Upon the Year, the Eye goddesses are ascendant, powerful, dangerous; amulets of cats and lions may have been exchanged to ward off their dangerous attention.

So: if my theory about Djehwty’s guidance over the delicate flow of time in the transition between years is accurate, then the Great Festival is the point at which time is reasserted as entirely, safely normal.

And the day after that the Eye is pacified.

This does not strike me as coincidental: it seems to me that the Eye, having been released and likely enjoying her rampage, needs to be brought back into ordered time, and the point at which that can and must be done is at the point at which time is brought back into its proper place.

… whoa.

Calendric Rhythms

The basic problem I had with how I was approaching calendar work originally was its literalism. I was compiling lists of festivals and suggestions of festivals, figuring out which ones coincided and how, trying to track down practices for each one, individually, when they hit my threshhold of reaching more thoroughly.

The effect of this was kind of like sticking thumbtacks into very precise points on a piece of plain cardboard and wondering why I didn’t have any sense of the landscape that I was trying to map.

For my new approach, I want to paint the map.

The Egyptian map of the year was divided into three parts plus the Days Upon The Year. Akhet (flood), Peret (planting, literally “emergence”), Shomu (harvest). And these parts were not only a seasonal cycle, but a life-cycle, something likely familiar from many forms of project, the shape of things being done in a life.

In the first part of Akhet came the flood. And the flood is complicated. If it came too low, there would be a weak harvest come Shomu; if it came too high, it would wash away anything built close to the water, even that which was up above the line commonly thought safe. The earth it carried with it rejuvenated the land, driving back the desert once more, but as water meets hot dryness it produces the sort of muggy atmosphere that certain diseases love to breed in. This is the beginning of the year, the beginning of the cosmos, the beginning of every project: potential and disaster tangled up together, needing to be welcomed and needing to be protected against, the pieces needing to be sorted through, some of the preparation simply surviving until the waters recede and there is a little less flood to brave in order to get somewhere.

This is a metaphor of life made fact, written out for the ancients year after year: Change comes. Change sweeps away everything in its path. Change is a disaster. Change is an opportunity. Change is different every time. Change is fundamentally the same all the time. Change brings things that need to be weathered. After the change, the planting, making concrete the creative power that comes as part of change.

And so, after the flood passed, people went out and they planted, using the rich mud left by the flood. After the chaotic urges of the beginning, the start of things, it is time to go start making concrete progress, putting things under the surface, letting them grow.

The major festival that falls between Akhet and Peret is the Mysteries of Wesir, which just passed. As the transition goes from flood to growth, from Wesir to Heru, and Heru is established at the beginning of the season of Peret.

If Akhet is the season of chaos and creation – of potential and dissolution – the season that ends with the burial of Wesir and the planting of the seeds – then Peret is the season that establishes order. All of the positive potential of the flood that we can get our hands on is now being put into use, organised, set to work. After the inspiration, the laundry. Using that which the flood brings is a steady progression of work, and if the planting is not done, if the weeding is not done, if the work of the fields is not done, it does not matter how good the flood was.

I haven’t, in my research, come across a major festival for the transition between Peret and Shomu; the end of Peret and the beginning of Shomu both have some dates for offerings to all the gods. But, really, the transition from the steady work of making progress with the work to bring each thing to completion is not actually always clear-cut.

And Shomu is the season that gives back to the desert, where the waters sink away, and the harvest comes in – the season that ensures that there will be food for the year, and the season where privation threatens as the waters fade. It is the season where bounties come in, and where the need for bounties to come in is made clear.

It is in the middle of this season that we find the Beautiful Festival of the Western Valley, assuring that the harvest will come in, that there continues to be reciprocation from the land of the unseen, from whence the flood, in its time, will once again emerge. That the harvest will nourish and help people stay strong, until the next one. And the year, eventually, comes to its conclusion, awaiting the flood.

Which leaves, of course, the Days Upon The Year, that time outside of time, governed only by the attention of Djehwty to keep any form of time going. And these dangerous days fall when – in the abstract and ideal world – floodwater meets parched earth, the spent land meets the fertile renewal, the actual place where the opposites meet, the mysterious and dangerous place between completion and starting over.

Returning to Calendar Gnawing

I’m thinking about calendars again. (I am certain that sentence will make at least three people laugh.)

A lot of my calendrical work has been Unfortunately Generic. I’d been trying to assemble some sorts of broad resources from what was available, and the results are, well. Kind of a mess. It’s not just that I’ve got a heap of cross-referenced stuff from basically every period and a wide variety of temples in Egypt in my notes; that’s just what the data heap is. But there’s very little there in a way of making a coherent calendar out of it.

And that’s the thing: an actual ritual calendar is something of a coherent whole. It has rhythms, it has internal logic, it’s not just an accretion of Stuff. The calendars the ancients used were not only tied to their particular locations and the seasons thereof, but often focused on a specific narrow set of gods, for the most part, the particular guardians of their specific region. Thus, the calendar had a rhythm within that context.

There are people out there who are doing brilliant work with ritual calendars focused on particular powers; jewelofaset at Fiercely Bright One, for example, has done amazing work collecting festivals of Aset. (I also have somewhere in the blogs I read an awareness of someone doing similar work for Sobek, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who. If you read this, hi!)

I’m thinking about how I want to organise my year, my thoughts, my rhythms. What I would do if I were building something. And I think what I’m going to shift to doing is start working on how I perceive the rhythms of the year, the way it breathes, and draw on the festivals first that reach that pattern. I’ll continue compiling All The Notes, of course, because I’m just like that, but what I want is a festival calendar for the year, into which additional celebrations can be added, for example for those who have particular devotions to particular Powers.

I am, of course, partly thinking of this because of the approach of Samhain, and the whole generalised swelling of festival chatter that comes up around that particular holiday in the broader pagan community. And because I’ve thought of it before, connecting it to the Mysteries somewhat even though the Mysteries fall roughly a month later. But there is a rhythm, a space, that I feel in the year, that I get familiar with through my Craft practices, and I want to find that rhythm and space in my Kemetic work too. Rather than have a haphazard assemblage of holidays.

(And what I’ve got is fairly haphazard.)

But time breathes. The calendar, as a means of entwining human life with time, must also breathe.

We breathe.

Perils of Scripturalisation

I read a lot of blogs from a variety of religious perspectives (and a lot that don’t touch on religious subjects at all), as I’ve mentioned. And one of the things I saw recently was talking about prophets, and continuing revelation, and what does it mean for a thing to be scripture.

(It means trouble. With a capital T, and that rhymes with … oh, someone else finish this filk for me, I have systematic theological analysis to write.)

I tend towards the opinion that one of the things that separates pagan religious experience from a lot of mainstream religious experience is this lack of scripture, and everything that comes with it. (Though of course this is one of those places that people get stuck on when converting, because there is no Holy Book to look to for immediate guidance.)

We have ancient texts, but these are not scripture. They are poetry, they are drama, they are magical works, they are written-down oral tradition, and this is an entirely different beast. They are not presented as Words From On High, “god-breathed” – even when those texts are said to be derived from the work of a god, as is the case of some magical texts in Egypt. We have the surviving pieces of the tales people told about themselves and about the Powers and about the cosmos, the surviving evidence for how people interacted with it in practice, and this is not scripture. This is story.

There are times that I have a lot of sympathy for the ancient Celtic belief that writing down the sacred tales and the sacred rites would kill them – that it would pin them in place like a sort of spiritual lepidoptery and let the form overwhelm the function.

I think about that whenever I see someone take the Negative Confessions list from the Papyrus of Ani as some sort of codified, universal scriptural code of behaviour, demonstrating not only unfamiliarity with the Papyrus of Nu and other surviving lists, but of the range and variety of ways in which those lists were personalised, the way they evolved over time, the way that that was a book explicitly and specifically written for an individual who may or may not have said “Just give me the standard text, bub” when ordering their copy at the scribe. (And I still greatly regret not having been able to attend the lecture I heard about – or being able to see the research notes of the lecturer – where the sheer variety of confession lists in those scrolls was discussed. Because I’m pretty sure that someone would eventually try to universalise the one that had something like “I didn’t fail to build my neighbour’s house to code and thus cause the death of his child when the wall fell in” on it.)

I think about it whenever I see someone ask “Which creation myth do you actually believe“, or talk about the Heliopolitan creation myth as if it is canonical, universal, and the only way of imagining the transition from before there were two things to the time of millions of things. Or when I see people noting that ancient threads managed, at some level, to reconcile the Heliopolitan, the Hermepolitan, and the Memphite myths, as if those are the only ones we have. (Honestly, I would love to have more that I could roll around in, but I may be odd like that. The little bits of Nit’s creation story that I’ve found delight me.)

I think about it when I see people want to turn a recommended reading list into a This Is Your Bible list. And then get bogged down in which translator is the holiest one, or which modern writer is truly inspired, truly in possession of the spark of the divine, because clearly a religion needs holy books, that’s what we learned from the Abrahamic revolution, right?

And I understand that it’s hard. That I grew up, too, in a culture of the sacred book, the scriptural thing, the place where people can say “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” and not have that come across as some excessively ungrounded mystic system but actually having reference to a Text With Authority.

But I worry about people finding new texts to set up in place of the Powers.

I worry about people closing themselves off to experience of the divine – and the world – as it is, because it has to be brought into accord with texts which were never intended to be exclusive, but rather part of the vast realm of exploration of what the world might look like.

I worry about the death of poetry, because if there is scriptural poetry, particularly special holy poetry that is true and perfected and better, then who will write the new hymns? Who will tell the stories of the gods in new lands? (And one of my first devotional works was a short poem titled “Seth beyond the borders of Egypt”, which was, in part, an exploration of the rending of Wesir in a context in which there is seasonal rain, not the flood. If this is not a part of the corpus of work dealing with and exploring the nature of the gods, then the gods are closed off to me in a fundamental way: Set is not in my thunderstorms, and Osiris is not in my rain.)

I worry that this notion that there must be a holy book is even more exclusionary than the limitation of magical texts to the literate in a population that mostly could not read: because it creates a form of separation between the true magic of language and the power of spoken words, and the language that you can I can use. Because it re-establishes the Fall, in pagan terms, without ever admitting that it is a claim that now is a sinful and degenerate time, incapable of the truest forms of devotion.