Look at me, cranking out a post for a festival over a week before it’s supposed to happen. It’s almost like I’m trying to actually be prepared for things!
On my calendar, the Wag Festival (Feast of Wagy, pick your variant spelling and syntax) falls next Tuesday, 21 August. There is not a whole heck of a lot about this festival kicking around, from what I can tell (and one of my references explicitly said there wasn’t much), despite the fact that it is mentioned several times in the Pyramid Texts.
The Wag festival is frequently linked in texts to the appearance of Sah, the constellation of Orion. Sah has reappeared from his seventy-day disappearance behind the sun already when Sopdet informs us of the arrival of the new year; he is now reliably visible in the eastern sky before sunrise. Utterance 442 in the Pyramid Texts (Faulkner translation) includes the lines, “Behold, he has come as Orion, behold, Osiris has come as Orion, Lord of Wine in the W3g-festival. ‘My beautiful one!’ said his mother; ‘My heir!’ said his father (of) him whom the sky conceived and the dawn-light bore. O King, the sky conceives you with Orion, the dawn-light bears you with Orion.” (It is likely that the reference to Wesir as Lord of Wine refers to the ripening of the vines that depended on the yearly flood, and that the appearance of green leaves on the “dead” vines was proof of Wesir’s resurrection. This has strong parallels in the Greek cultus of Dionysos, of course, who was also reborn with the vine – and the Greeks considered the star Sirius to bring the vine and wine. Reference, Mu-Chou Poo, Wine and Wine Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt.)
While Wesir may be the Lord of Wine in the W3g-Festival, I think it is fair to say that (in my whimsical declaration that there are Wine Festivals and Beer Festivals in the Egyptian calendar) this is a beer festival. The calendar at Medinet Habu has a total of 25 jars of beer on the docket for Wag Eve, and only two jars and four bowls of wine; for the Wag Festival proper, the wine offering drops to just the two jars, while the beer remains the same. This is supported by the contracts of Hepzefi, which arranged for procedures and offerings for the nomarch Hepzefi’s funerary cult; these offerings include a substantial amount of bread and beer for Wag Eve and the Wag festival. A First Intermediate Period letter to the dead, the Louvre Bowl, also has that association: “May one make the Wag-feast (wAg) for you, may one give you bread and beer from the altar of Khentamenti. You will travel downstream in the Bark-of-the-Evening (msk.tt) and sail upstream in the Bark-of-the-Morning (manD.t).”
In Hepzefi’s contracts, we find reference to loaves of white bread:
A white loaf per each individual among them, for his statue, which is in the temple, in the first month of the first season, on the eighteenth day, the day of the Wag-feast.
This is not the only white bread that we find associated with the Wag-festival, or, indeed, with priests of jackal gods; Utterance 667 contains this passage:
I have reaped barley for your w3g-festival and … to be your annual supply, your white bread of Anubis, your p3k-bread, dough(?)-cakes, and fnnt-cakes, O Foremost of the Westerners; your bread is warm, O King, in front of the gods.
Each lay-priest of Anpu (on the Wag Eve) or Wepwawet (at the Wag feast itself) that participates in the procession to Hepzefi’s tomb under his agreement brings that loaf of white bread, presumably – since it must be the same bread as the “white bread of Anubis” mentioned in the Utterance – as part of the role of Anpu in restoring and guiding the dead.
In addition to barley and that white bread, there are several references to the slaughtering of cattle to feast at the Wag-festival, including in Utterance 408 of the Pyramid Texts: “…the festal meal of the sixth day of the month is for my breakfast, the festal meal of the seventh day is for my supper, cows in suck are slaughtered for me at the W3g-festival.” The sixth-day festival is mentioned in a variety of texts, and appears a monthly festival for the akhu.
The priests attending Hepzefi can provide us with guidance for what we might also provide to our akhu on this day. They bring loaves of bread, cakes, and beer; they bring torches and glorification. The word translated ‘glorification’ can be literally rendered ‘to make an akh’, and ‘akh’ is a word with powerful relationships with shining light. As we kindle the torches – and to strike a fire is an act reminiscent of Zep Tepi, in which light emerged from darkness, that most potent moment in the First Moment – we illuminate our ancestors, bringing them light, bringing them to light, driving back that which lurks in the darkness, and enabling them to become akh. (See also Bleeker, Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal.) Bleeker also mentions that model ships were offered at gravesides at this festival, somewhat in passing.
Dieter Arnold, in the anthology Temples of Ancient Egypt, edited by Byron Shafer, mentions that new clothes are given to the icons of the gods at the Wag Festival, and the sanctified old clothes revert to the dead. This has resonances with the issuing of new clothes to the company of the sun in the Amduat, which happens as the night bark, after its victory over the enemy, is approaching dawn and the Field of Reeds. Transformation and renewal come with the kindling of light and the offering of white bread.
All of which gives me a model for celebrating the Wagy:
First of all, it is a good time to clean any and all shrines. This is renewal and light-bringing. If you robe your icons, it is appropriate to provide entirely new robes at this time.
Make bread! Bring bread and beer offerings to the ancestors. If you can do a processional with light, that would be awesome (the kids will love it). Regardless of anything else, set up lights in the evening of the Wag Eve and keep lights going on the ancestor shrine through the Wag Festival proper as much as is feasible and safe. If you have a small boat to present, it is a good offering to make in this context.
Glorify the dead! Make sure that your ancestors are renewed as akh! Make formal recitations and prayers!
I think I will base mine on Utterance 690 of the Pyramid Texts and Spell 83 of the Book of Going Forth By Day. Both of these verses are mildly adapted slightly from Faulkner’s translations of these texts.
O Wesir, the inundation comes, the flood hastens, Geb engenders. I have mourned you at the tomb, I have smitten him who harmed you with scourges. May you come to life, may you raise yourself because of your strength.
O my akhu, the inundation comes, the flood hastens, Geb engenders, provide the efflux of the god which is in you, that your heart may live, that your body may be revived, O god, and that your sinews may be loosed.
Heru comes to you, o my akhu, that he may do for you what he did for his father Wesir, so that you may live as those who are in the sky live, that you may be more extant than those who exist on earth. Raise yourself because of your strength, may you ascend to the sky, may the sky give birth to you like Sah, may you have power in your body, and may you protect yourself from your foe.
Oh my akhu, I have wept for you. I have mourned you, and I will not forget you. May you have your yearly sustenance, which you fashioned for your monthly festivals that you may live as gods. O my akhu, may your bodies be clothed so that you may come to me.
Spell 83, for being transformed into a phoenix:
You have flown up like the primeval ones, you have become Khepri, you have grown as a plant, you have clad yourselves as a tortoise, you are the essence of every god. You are the seventh of those seven uraei who come into being in the West, Heru who makes brightness with his person, that god who was against Set, Djehwty who was among you in that judgement of Him who presides over Ausim together with the Souls of Iunu, the flood which was between them. You have come on the day when you appear in glory with the strides of the gods, for you are Khons who subdued the lords.