The Eye and the Sky

On my calendar for this Friday (2 March this year due to the leap year; ordinarily it would be 3 March), I have marked down “Festival of the Eye”.

This is … a gross simplification.

On my version of the Egyptian civil calendar (I will explain how I derived this calendar in a post some other time), the upcoming month of 4 Peret, also called Pharmuti, begins on that date.

So, what is celebrated on the first of Pharmuti?

In the Cairo Calendar, according to Brier’s Ancient Egyptian Magic, there is a feast in heaven associated with the repulsion of enemies. Meanwhile, in Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt by Sherif El-Sabban, the festival of Lesser Burning is marked on the calendar of Sesostris II (the Ebers papyrus appears to have this on the sixth, however), Medinet Habu marks a Feast of Sokar, Esna has the Feast of Bearing the Sky (in my notes marked as ‘like Lifting Up the Sky’, a Ptah festival), the small Heru calendar at Edfu has a festival (unnamed), the large Heru calendar at Edfu has the Feast of Ra and the Eye, and the Hetharu calendar at Edfu has a feast of Heru and the Eye.

And if that wasn’t complicated enough for you, on 2 Pharmuti we have (in the Cairo calendar) “Geb proceeds to Busiris to see Anpu”, which I mention for completeness rather than because I can perceive a way it matches, and another unnamed festival on the small Heru calendar. On 3 Pharmuti the Cairo calendar says something about regenerating the eye of Heru-Wr, the Greek period calendar of Kom Ombo’s east side has a Feast of Heru, and the small Heru calendar still parties on. On 4 Pharmuti we have, in Medinet Habu, the charmingly named Feast of Chewing Onions for Bast, and on the Hetharu calendar in Edfu a feast of Pakhet, the Eye, and Heru. However, the small Heru calendar takes a day off partying, only to resume for one more day on the fifth.

And if that wasn’t complicated enough for you…. The months defining the festivals were originally defined by the phases of the moon. While, over time, those festivals drifted to land on the civil calendar instead, some remained lunar. If we line up the lunar festivals that fall in Pharmuti to the civil dates that they share, on 1 Pharmuti we have the Festival of Zep Tepi on the large Heru calendar and the Procession to the Birth-House in the Hetharu calendar in Dendera, and on 2 Pharmuti we have Heru-Sa-Aset’s birthday in the calendar at Esna. The Edfu Hetharu calendar mentions that birthday, but I didn’t find its date clear; it is celebrated until the 21st, which is a long party! The Hetharu calendar at Dendera also has a lunar-linked Feast of Birth-giving.

So. That’s a giant stack of festivalness that I boiled down to “Festival of the Eye”, isn’t it? Perhaps it should be “Festival of Heru and the Eye”, because what isn’t an Eye festival is dealing with Heru, or – to extrapolate very mildly – Ra (Ra-Heruakhety, perhaps?) or the sky itself, which is of course within Heru’s domain.

Now: I had noted when reading My Heart My Mother: Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts that the months of the year appear to be somewhat thematically linked with events portrayed in the hours of the night. (She makes similar comments in the book, so it’s at least not just me.) Pharmuti is the eighth month of the year.

In the seventh hour of the night, the gestation process of the solar child is completed and its true character is revealed; in the eighth, the attitude turns once more martial, as the defenders of Wesir come forth in force, His enemies are bound, and Wesir is securely enthroned. The guide in this hour of the night is none other than “Heru of the Netherworld”, and its gate is named “The leader who fights for her lord”.

What we have here is an establishment and regeneration of the cosmic order and authority. That festival of Zep Tepi touches upon the primal establishment of ma’at, with the Bearing the Sky reflecting the opening of the potential to exist in a cosmos in which there is space between heaven and earth. Into that ordered universe, the protection of the Eye of Ra appears – that leader who fights for her lord – and under Her aegis, Heru is born, establishing His father properly in the Duat.

So that’s what I got.

So, I guess, go eat some onions.

Statement of Principles and Purpose

The popular press of reconstructionist religion is that it is academically rooted, based in research and all that jazz. I actually, weirdly enough, take that pretty seriously.

I’m not writing this for you to agree with me. I mean, if you do agree with me, that’s awesome. For the Horde! But that’s not the point.

The point is academic. I’m building a corpus of practice, and I’m keeping track of where it came from, which references and resources are applicable, and what I am finding and what I am patching in from other systems and what I am making up. If you read The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat you will see that I footnote extensively and have a pretty thorough bibliography, so you can go decide for yourself if I’m full of shit.

I’m carrying over that principle of footnoting here to the blog. I want you, my reader, to be able to be able to go to the references I cite and see if they support me. I want you, my reader, to be able to draw your own conclusions. I want you, my reader, to be able to explore the things that I have explored if you want to and build whatever elaborations you want. I also want you, my reader, to be able to just go off what I’ve said if that is what satisfies you, in reasonable confidence that I’m not producing it all from my nether regions.

And, paradoxically, I want you, my reader, to trust me. Because I tell you what I’ve read and where I read it, you know you can check up on me. You can hold me accountable if I fuck up. And because I try to keep myself situated in context to the actual literature available, you, the reader, know that I’m being as truthful as I can be – because I’m making it easy for you to catch me if I’m not.

I don’t expect you to agree with me. (Especially at times I delve into more mystical subjects.) I’m just building one evolving line of thought here, making my case, and presenting my arguments.

With footnotes.

(This totally needed to be posted before I tackled the problem of the next festival, which is nowhere near as simple as the Festival of the Lights of Nit or even the more recent extrapolations building a clue about the Trt Tree.)

Raising the Willow

While this has not been the best year for organisation, I have a minor ambition to at least improve my observance and awareness of the festival year. Which means that I have been eyeing my calendar with some trepidation, with the coming of Tuesday’s Festival of Raising the Teret Tree.

Because, well, first of all, I had no idea what species a teret tree might be. My best guess was that this was likely related to the ceremonies of the raising of the djed pillar, and thus linked to Wesir in some fashion. (Which I assumed just from the name of the festival; I see when I actually look at my detailed calendar notes that it is explicitly noted as a Wesir celebration.)

I did, through some useful fluke, manage to hit upon a useful search term combination, though, and finally found a tip as to what the teret was: the Egyptian Willow. Somewhere to work with! I pulled down Lise Manniche’s An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, and find “Salix suberrata Willd. syn. Salix safsaf Forrsk. – Willow – Ancient Egyptian: trt”. Score!

From there, it’s off to Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art by Richard H. Wilkinson:

The willow (tcheret) was also particularly important in iconographic symbolism. This tree was sacred to Osiris because, mythologically, it was a willow which sheltered his body after he was killed, and in which the god’s soul often sat as a bird. Many towns had tombs where a part of the dismembered Osiris was believed to be buried, and all of them had associated willow groves. A festival called “raising the willow” was held each year which assured that the fields and trees of the land would flourish. The tree could thus function in Egyptian art as a symbol of life, fecundity, and rebirth, as well as an emblem of a number of deities.

Well then. Rather like the djed in its maypole-like nature, though a somewhat distinct symbol. The link with Wesir is consistent – funerary garlands were made of willow leaves, for example – but I would suggest that the presentation of it as a tree affiliates the willow more with the life-giving vegetal god than the royal and funerary role associated with the djed. (However, if I were to actually construct a djed column for ritual performance, I think I might well want to build it out of willow!)

A little more exploring the internet brought me to this webpage, which has translations of some things I don’t currently have (or at least don’t know where to find) in my reference books.

Specifically, this text from Dendera:

Erecting the willow. Formula:
I offer you the willow. I erect before you this branch of the temple of the sistrum. One makes you the feast of drunkenness in the place which you love with the very great of your majesty. I have erected for you that which belongs to you at the beginning of the first month of the season of summer, and you enjoyed it.

So there you go, something to work with. However, I will note that that passage suggests that it is for the month of 1 Shomu; my calendar places Raising the Teret on 3 Peret 28, corresponding with the entry for the Feast of Wesir in Abydos in the Cairo Calendar and the Feast of Wesir: Raising the Trt Tree in the Abydos calendar of Ramesses.

(There is also an Erecting the Trt-Tree festival in the Medinet Habu calendar for 1 Akhet 29. I do not find a mention of the Teret in my notes on the Dendera calendars. Resolving the excitement surrounding various calendars is, of course, on the to-do list.)

Two

One thing that crops up consistently in Egyptian religion is its relentless duality.

Note: not dualism, that good vs. evil corruption of Christianity’s most popular heresy (Manichaeism). Duality.

Sometimes it seems that everything comes in pairs. The iconography is full of doubles – the Double Crown (Sekhemti, according to Wikipedia), the Two Lands, the sedge and the bee, the papyrus and the lotus, Wadjet and Nekhebet, the desert and the fertile valley. Deities, too, come paired – the great Rivals, Heru and Set, Whose struggle defines much of the mythology we have; the twinned form of Hetharu and Sekhmet, two goddesses become one become two, both with a love of the beauty of ma’at, one turned to celebration, the other turned to avenge upon those who would mar that beauty; any of a number of married Powers Whose union is expressed in the presence of a child, two become three.

The ancients looked at the line of the horizon and saw the double back of Aker, the lions of Yesterday and Tomorrow. They saw the mother Sky and the father Earth. They saw day and night. They saw the seen world, and knew of the unseen.

These twins – sometimes siblings, sometimes lovers, sometimes rivals, sometimes partners, sometimes simply forces in the natural world set up so perfectly that the prevailing winds blow south against the Nile’s northward flow – are the balances of cosmic forces. Perhaps to the ancients that old riddle of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object would be answered, “Ma’at” – for Egypt itself was at the heart of hundreds of such different balanced forces, which left it, as they thought, made perfect, and perfectly in need of maintenance, because with so many pairs, proper balance is a fiddly matter.

An ancient text speaks of prior-to-the-cosmos with the phrase “Before there were two things.”

That twoness is there at the beginning, intrinsic, that Thelemite paradox of 0=2.

For creator to create, there must be the Creator and that which is Not The Creator: two things. It is in recognising the not-self that the self is realised. Two things.

Genesis

I once stumbled across someone asking fellow Kemetics, “So, which of the creation myths do you believe in?”

This is the wrong question.

The moment of creation is a touchstone. All things came into being – indeed, all things come into being – correctly aligned with ma’at. It is to this place that ritual and magic aspire, because if things are made so here, they are made so in all places and all times.

You can take the creation mythos as scientific allegory if it makes you happy – from the unknown/unknowable, a singularity emerges via some process we do not comprehend, which then differentiates into the variety of structures and processes we can observe (and many which we also cannot). The fact that each of the creation myths works well for that is kind of a triviality.

Instead, look at the process of creation. Look at the means by which you, as an individual human, are a full participant therein.

Consider the Memphite theology, in which Ptah conceives in His heart that which is given form by the declarations of His tongue. To have understanding and to speak it is, therefore, partaking of the nature of Ptah creating all things.

Consider Atum in the Heliopolitan theology, producing His children from His mouth (similar to the declarations of the tongue), or via autoerotic means. Again, the products of the voice – or via the possession of innate erotic power, a force which does not require a partner (or if it does, that ‘partner’ may be Iusaas, the Hand of God). To have an erotic nature is to partake of the creative nature of Atum.

Having spawned those children, meanwhile, Atum ‘put His arms about them as the arms of a ka, that His ka might be in them’. Ensouledness passes via embrace, and those of us who love pass the power of a soul to that which we love. To love and embrace, then, is also the creative nature of Atum.

Khnum, meanwhile, applies His skill as a potter to the making of people and their kau, while the rest of creation merely requires moulding – perhaps because one moulds the unformed to give it form, and then living beings must reside within the order, at a greater level of complexity and refinement. But to work with the hands as a maker is to partake of the creative nature of Khnum (who, in His association with the ram, also has powers of virile creation).

Consider Nit, who as I noted last week illumined the unformed chaos with the light from Her eyes, Who then declared that creation would be, and felt it good. Prayers ask for Her protection, for nourishment from Her breasts, for the Mother to look after Her child. Do we perceive? Then we partake of Nit’s creative power. Are we satisfied and pleased? Then, also, we partake of Nit’s creative power. Do we nurture, feed, and protect? In doing so, we are as Nit.

Consider the Ogdoad of Khmun (called Hermopolis by the Greeks), the powers of Secrets, Darkness, Infinity, and Formlessness, Who combined their powers to form an egg containing Knowability, Light, Boundedness, and Form, from which emerged the solar powers. When we combine our knowledge with others, transform it, and use it to generate something new, we claim the power later claimed by Djehwty when it was said that He laid that egg.

Which creation myth do you believe in?

How many and varied are the natures of creation.

Believe in what is.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Traveller’s Guide is now available!

Traveller's Guide front cover artwork

I am tickled not merely pink but a wide variety of amusing colours to announce that my first book, The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat: Amenti on Two Deben a Week, has now been released by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press.

The new release announcement can be found on Immanion’s blog.

Thanks to my first readers, my editor Taylor Ellwood, and my mother Michaele Harrington, who did the fantastic artwork.

The book is available for purchase directly from Immanion.