The Beautiful Festival of the Western Valley In Actual Practice

Everything is a work in progress, always. It seems worthwhile to talk about this one, because I’m finding the Beautiful Festival to be very essential, but that doesn’t mean I actually am clear on implementation in practice! I am obsessed with exploring this so that I can know it and build something to improve upon in the future.

Yesterday my daughter climbed up on her footstool in the bathroom and pointed at the stack of little containers of eyeshadow. “You paint eyes purple, green?!” she demanded. I told her, “Tomorrow.”

I don’t do much in the way of cosmetics, but I keep eyeshadow around for religious ritual. This is not without ancient precedent, though I’m almost as likely to paint my face with the stuff as do just the eyes, really. In any case, I did my eyes in black and green – colours of life and death and regeneration – though a bit sloppily. (The problem with eyeshadow is of course that I must take my glasses off to apply it, and thus I can’t see what the hell I’m doing.)

Sacred Luxuries (Manniche) comments about the perfumes of the Beautiful Festival. I don’t have a frankincense and myrrh perfume, so instead (in keeping with the resonance of ‘perfume’ and the word ‘engender’) I put on a perfume that has erotic undertones, and lit frankincense and myrrh incense at my ancestor shrine.

I sit down with Reidy’s Eternal Egypt and flip through the formal ritual for the Beautiful Festival. And mostly I’m left with a whole lot of “Yes, this liturgy is beautiful” and “Yeah, this is not my work, at least not now.” There’s so much stuff that partakes of the formal ritual nature that I love, and it’s not my job – though I know what sort of setup I would want to do more of this, at least. Pipe dreams for future construction, as the family works on establishing more ritual space, I suspect.

The consumable offerings for the Beautiful Festival, according to Reidy, are bread, beer, “water from the inundation”, wine, milk, incense, and cool water. I run through what I have in the house in my mind, and make a note that I want to run to the store and see if I can get a sweet wine and a bouquet of flowers when I have a chance. I also have some cake, which is axiomatically an ancestor offering (it is a recipe that came down from my grandmother, for whom my daughter is named), though there is only one slender piece remaining – one husband put it up on top of the fridge to protect it from the kidlet. I find myself pondering how to rearrange my ancestor shrine space, and file that among the plans that I will want to return to someday.

“Water from the inundation” is an interesting puzzle. This is the water that rejuvenates Egypt, and thus it makes sense that it is particularly associated with this festival. However, that’s not functional either for me here or appropriate to local conditions; retrospectively, it occurs to me that I should have caught some rain from the storms earlier in the month that finally gave the trees enough water to decide to leaf out. There’s a useful thought to file for next year: spring rainwater is a temperate-climate equivalent to water from the Inundation. (And of course I wrote a poem about this in 2003, which startles me with a sort of ‘Wait, I’ve actually been working on these things for a while, haven’t I?’ kind of way. I’m often perplexed by why people are listening to me, but apparently I’ve been doing this for longer than I think I have.)

Hm, water, wine, and milk libations. Noted for the evening. I want to do some formal presentations, even if I am not the sort of priest with the full rituals in place, so I take mental notes for abbreviated consideration.

Of course, life is always more complicated than that, so after lunch we took the older kid to a craft fair that included, among other things, pony rides. These things matter, after all, and I spent odd moments contemplating the nature of spring and festivals. These fairs are how we mark the turning of the seasons here: booths on the common selling jewelry and tchotchkes and pottery, fried food under tents, occasional moments of livestock. (“Sheep and goats!” demanded the kidlet from the back of the car. At least when she wasn’t declaring, “You put colour? on your eye browns? Is greeeeeen?”)

We stopped at the store on the way home, and I picked up a small bouquet of multi-hued roses, primarily gold, which (as I recall Wilkinson) is the colour of the eternal. I also, slightly on a whim, snagged some figs, and then we went across the way and got a bottle of a dessert wine, which I put in the fridge to chill.

Bread. I like to bake bread for major festivals. So I spend the late afternoon dithering about that. Of course, I didn’t pick up yeast when I was at the store, and we have no yeast. Look at my pre-planning skills in action! I spend a while picking out a recipe and get ready to pack up the kids and go back to the store, but wind up starting the bread way too late to get it done at a reasonable hour.

Have dinner. Crack a beer. Wish my sister a beautiful day and an intoxicating drink, for her ka. Schlep offerings up to the ancestor shrine (six instead of the seven Reidy cites, with the note about the Inundation water as a plan for next year; substituting the ancestral cake for the bread which is still in progress).

I get the bread into loaf pans for the final rise, and then go upstairs to get my lector priest on, reading selections from Reidy. I get to the presentation of the flowers and sort of choke up, feeling the sense of things, and only whisper the words at the end.

After a little bit, I put the milk on my side table (I always take milk to bed at night) and reclaim the beer and the wine. In a moment of whimsy, holding one bottle by the neck in each hand, I raise both in the air and proclaim, “For your ka! Drink of the intoxicating drink! It is a beautiful day.” It is a beautiful day.

I take the booze back downstairs to finish baking the bread. Sequencing off, I think, but the theory is quite sound. I feel full of everything, even with my formal ritual kind of half-assed and my bread unbaked. I needed to do as much as I did, reading the prayers by the light of a lava lamp because the candle was not enough to see by.

I will not eat the cake tonight. I suspect the kid would really like me to split it with her, so we will probably have it for breakfast tomorrow, though without grapefruit juice.


4 thoughts on “The Beautiful Festival of the Western Valley In Actual Practice

  1. von186 says:

    Even though things didn’t go entirely according to plan, it sounds like it was a nice day. It’s cool that your family seems to get in on the festivities a bit as well.

    • kiya_nicoll says:

      It’s actively important to me to build a household religious practice. That one of the basic reasons that I riff on Reidy rather than doing the full-on temple-based ritual: the temple-based ritual is not a household ritual. I would rather do something simple that my daughter can participate in, like bake bread.

      Should probably do some writing about this.

      • von186 says:

        I would be interested to see how you (and others) can turn what is essentially Temple Ritual into something that the whole household can do. While I am into the more temple based stuff, the other member in my household is not- and we are still trying to figure out where the middle of the road lies for festival days and things like that so that we can both participate and celebrate together.

  2. […] I personally use ritual eye make-up while preparing for certain works of heka, I use mainly black eye pencils or liners. I’m not adept at applying it, in fact I tend to draw very unsure lines but making it look all nice isn’t the point, the point is that I try to keep in line with ritual purity requirements. I’m sure other Kemetics use eye make-up for ritual purposes (leave a comment!), of one I know for sure, because she mentioned it here. […]

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