Offering to the Akhu

Today on my calendar I have marked a festival for Offering to the Akhu. (Normally this would fall on the 25th in the civil calendar, but this is a leap year in the mainstream calendar and thus we bump a day.) This is based on the day in the Cairo calendar in which it is noted that one offers to the spirits at Abydos, which corresponds to a mention in the Medinet Habu calendar for offerings at Abydos.

I just finished writing a post elsewhere about ancestors, which is what reminded me to check the calendar for today. I find the concept of ancestry actually quite complicated, especially in terms of questions like “Do you try to follow in the path of your ancestors” or related things. The paths of my ancestors are many and complex, and it is not as simple as “They came from this nation and….”

But I have lit candles on my akhu shrine. The candleholders I use for the shrine are heavy glass ashtrays that had belonged to my grandmother. I never knew what they were for as a child – I rolled marbles down the slots in the corners and fancied them part of some significant marble-catching apparatus. I poured a water offering into a pewter cup that my grandparents had gotten in colonial Williamsburg, which, while I did not have Revolutionary-era ancestors that far south that I’m aware of, still touched on the most current and relevant part of my cultural heritage. I lit kyphi incense – which was reputed to be the night incense in ancient temples, and thus the incense that would be burning as the night-boat travelled into the unseen world.

My ancestor shrine is full of little items. My grandparents’ prayerbooks. An English-Polish dictionary belonging to my great-aunt. A small cross-stitch of my old cat. A token of a relationship now dead. A ceramic dish painted for me by the woman I adopted as my third grandmother, who lived across the street from me when I was a small child. Some photographs, as well. All these little items, tokens and remembrances.

My father gave me a book recently. He had been going through my grandmother’s old papers and the like, and found it, and thought that I might like it “as an ancestral thing”. It’s a lightly scuffed hardcover, perhaps a hundred years old, which she had bought from the auction house where she worked (there was a folded paper tucked into it certifying it for sale, which she had signed).

The book was about the kings of ancient Egypt. Because – and this I had not known – my grandmother had a lasting fascination with Egypt, and collected such items.

I lit my candles and my incense, I poured my water, and I set – for this festival of Offerings to the Akhu, the spirits in Abdju, in Abydos – a copy of my book. Ironic, perhaps, to share it with those already established and justified in the Duat? But yet … I am sure she would like to read it.

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