In my lepidopterist’s calendar, the Beautiful Festival of the Valley falls on (to a first approximation) the new moon in May. This is of course two weeks off, but rather than scramble at the last minute to put together some writing on the subject I want to do a wee bit of rumination on the subject now.
I wrote briefly about the Beautiful Festival in the Traveller’s Guide, as it is an akhu festival. To summarise my summary from there: Amun of Thebes departs to visit His wife Hetharu, Mistress of the West (possibly Hetharu-Mut, as Mut was Amun’s usual consort at Thebes) on the western bank of the Nile. Hetharu was patron of the festival (according to a quick glance at Bleeker’s Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion), and alcohol flowed freely. People would wear flower garlands and make major offerings of heaps of flowers at family tombs, and wear resined perfume of various sorts, typically antiu, a mixture of frankincense and myrrh. The spiritual gates of the tombs would be open at this time, and the akhu would mingle with their living community, partaking of the feasting and celebration.
It was kind of a cross between Samhain and Mardi Gras, in other words. The veil is thin, the transfigured walk among us, HAVE SOME MORE BEER.
It was also something of a fertility festival. The flow of ka-energy between the Duat and the seen world is intrinsically fertile, and at this time it flowed freely, rejuvenating the dead and invigorating the living. My notes include a standard Egyptian pun – relating the word for ‘perfume’ to the word for ‘engender’ – and this was a highly perfumed festival.
A few years ago, in discussion of the mooring-day of a venerated elder of the Craft tradition in which I study, it was commented that Beltane and Samhain are, from the perspective of that tradition, very similar: the veils are thin, and life passes from one side to the other. (The venerated elder went to her ka on Beltane.) And that occurred to me when I noticed that the Beautiful Festival falls in May in my current calendar rev.
It’s a bit of a separation – my understanding is that those Beltane-celebrating pagans who tie Beltane to the moon rather than simply celebrate on 1 May do so at the full, rather than the new. But it remains interesting to me (along with the fascinating fact that another major life-and-death festival falls in November: the Mysteries of Wesir). We cannot – if we take the Egyptian worldview seriously – separate life and death tidily, not when our glorified ancestors guard the wellspring of life.
So here, at this Egyptian “Beltane”, the Westerners walk among us. And we drink and love and celebrate and perfume ourselves and garland all the world with flowers, because it is the season.
(And in the Mysteries of Wesir, on the flip side of the year, we plant seeds.)
Yes, this is more neopagan than reconstruction-me usually gets, but the parallels are hitting me pretty strong right now. Possibly this is in part related to the fact that I did do major participation at a formal Beltane ritual this year that involved those life-and-death mysteries.