I just realised that this month has almost completely gotten away from me, and the Closing of the Year celebration falls on Sunday. Woops!
Today’s quote is from Geraldine Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt:
The fate decreed by the Seven Hathors might be good or bad. Their dark equivalent, the Seven Arrows of Sekhmet, always brought evil fortune, often in the form of infectious diseases. As well as this specific group of seven arrows, there were ‘the slaughterers of Sekhmet’. The demon messengers of this goddess were particularly dangerous at certain times of year. […] Two baboon forms of the god Khons controlled The Books of the End of the Year. These contained lists of those who were destined to die and those who would live.
When I started investigating Kemetic thought, it was summer. I recall this because everyone was talking about how it was totally normal for everything to go to hell in July. It was cleanup time, and the Eyes of Ra were balancing the books and making sure that all the stuff that needed to be dead was getting dead.
(The levels of disruption to the community that were taken as pretty normal strike me now as indicative of something. What does it say about a religious community when that much needs killin’?)
Of course, the ancient logic of this perilous time comes of the Inundation coming in the peak of the heat of summer. The water so essential to life would boil over the scorched mudflats, and the resulting hot swampiness was a breeding ground for the Seven Arrows. So, yes, the flood approached, bringing with it relief and dread, the ambivalence of so many Powers in Egypt. Without it, there would be no food; with it, there would be plague.
The five days following the Closing of the Year are the days out of time, the Days Upon the Year, the epagomenal days. The birthdays of the Children of Nut, yes, but also intrinsically unordered, placed out of the ordered sequence of the 360-day year – a year which, in theory, would be perfectly regular and ordered, a year which was broken to make space for manifest life, and where danger came in through the resulting cracks. The ancients would have done as little as possible on those days, lest the terrible nature of the Days of the Demons (again citing Pinch for the name) infect what was done.
When order is reestablished with the declaration of the new civil year, Pinch notes that the ancients gave each other gifts – often amulets of Sekhmet or Bast, presumably to pacify the Eye goddesses so that the potential for rampaging doom would stop. So if you’re looking for an excuse to give someone a feline-themed trinket….
A few folks have commented that execration rituals might well be an appropriate way of closing the year. I certainly don’t disagree, but I’m sort of mentally taking a different tack on things.
There is a distinction between death and destruction, and execration is a matter for destruction. But death is a different and more complicated thing: a disruption to the community in which the life had resided, certainly, but those spirits take up residence in the Duat, and there become arbiters of powers of life and death, grantors of magic, protectors. Death is a transformation, as much as it is an ending.
So instead of just thinking what enemies I would destroy for the end of the year, I am pondering what can be transformed. I am also pondering what is left undone that needs to be finished; what debts I might be able to pay; what unresolved business can be laid to rest at last; what loose ends to weave together and tie up. This is a time for the books to be balanced – what lives and what dies, they say – but in that great reckoning-up of things, there is more than just what opposes me. There is much that can be taken and changed so that its magic may rest in my belly.
I have a notion for a ritual, which I will write up in a separate post. Must do more research first; I have until Sunday.