Opet Is Fiddly

(Yeah, I know, I’m still really falling down on the blogginess. Sorry about that. Hoping to have normal broadcast resuming soon; I’m getting my office put back together slowly….)

Opet is a major New Kingdom-era festival, the sort of thing that a reconstructionist-affiliated person can’t really ignore: it was one of the big deal things.

It was also a very state festival, and to those people whose Kemetic practice is not state-oriented or state-affiliated, this is complicated and maybe a little disconcerting. How can we celebrate the procession of Amun and Mut to recognise Their son the king, re-witness his crowning, and otherwise Yay Temporal Power in a time and place where, when there are displays of religiously-tinged temporal power, those displays are – to say the least – not Kemetic?

Well, first of all: I would call for people celebrating Opet to be aware of – and responsible for – their temporal power. In all its forms. Religiously speaking, we cannot claim that it’s legitimate to separate authority from religious obligation, when the entire theological structure of ancient Egypt is about the innate religious obligation structure bound up in having power.

This is not the festival season to tip badly, in other words.

The hidden, animating spiritual power of Amun comes to the temporal power of the king. This is a good time to renew: to reaffirm old vows, to dust off forgotten promises, to doublecheck the structure of commitments and do those necessary tuneups to keep everything running smoothly.

That animating spiritual power comes in the form of a parent visiting a child. (Thus do we return to my old favorite line from the Pyramid Texts about the ka of the Creator being placed within the first children.) Those of us who are parents are the first authorities, the ones who teach our children about power, who come to them with affirmation and understanding, who establish them in their places. This is not a small thing, and it is certainly worth a little thought.

In addition to the parent-child relationship, the relationship affirmed is between king and nation, and beyond that to all communities: the celebrations in ancient times included a vast state-sponsored feast. What can we do to feed our communities – both literally and metaphorically? (I know food banks around here get a lot of stuff in November and a lot less other parts of the year. Perhaps the Kemetics can do something for food banks in September.

(Meanwhile, of course, I’m writing this during the local election season, which also is ramping up into high gear during Opet, and contemplating community and connection and authority and how that all goes together. I am not interested in talking politics here, specifically, but for Kemetics in the United States I think it’s worth taking Opet to think about spiritual and temporal authority as reflected in the election processes. And actually read the texts of ballot initiatives, because those suckers are tricky bastards.)

When we look at what ancient authorities said in their propaganda pieces (as recorded on their tombs) we find a lot of useful things: about the protection of the populace from bandits, about the sponsoring of public improvements and public works projects, about the feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and emboatening the boatless. I consider Opet a good time to think about charitable giving (I’m a big fan of Heifer International), about seeking out people to do microloans to (last year I used Kiva to make a loan to someone who needed house repairs), and other such things.

The Theban triad – the particular Powers of this holiday – are Powers of Creation, and also of continuance. On a mystical level, to welcome them is to welcome holiness and life, to allow ourselves to be filled with the secret breath of the living air.

As we live, so shall you live. Kheperu. Nekhtet!

My previous writing about Opet can be found on my Het Seshen site here: Conceptualising Opet and Opet: Deity Contemplations.

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The Nut Cycle: The Second Hour/Month

Yes, I am running behind again. With a little luck, the adjustments to my medication will help me keep on top of everything for a little bit. So this is late, but it is at least here before the Heb-Sed.

The theme of the first hour/month of the Nut cycle is the entering the realm of the night. Placing oneself in trust into the hands of the mother, awakening to the life of the spirit world. For if you imagine, as the ancients did, that the seen and unseen worlds were intertwined, and dreams were visions that passed through the unseen, then to go to sleep is to awaken in the world of dreams and the dead.

This is not a riskless thing to do. I am sure most of us can quote that line of Hamlet’s, “in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” We go to sleep; we awaken to the world of spirits and gods, of demons and akhu.

The Amduat names the gate between the first and second hours as Which Swallows All; the Nut texts in the Book of Night speak of her as “Lady of Trembling, high of walls, preeminent one, Lady of destruction, who forsees aggression and repels the raging, who saves the robbed from the one who comes from afar. Lady of terror.” The teeth of mother sky divide the traveller from the world of the living, a gnash that suggests, further, a crushing between her cosmic molars of those who would seek to plumb the mysteries of the spirit with “aggression” or as those who are “raging”, or who would “come from afar” – perhaps the sunlit lands of the living – in order to commit theft. To enter here is to face her judgement and her bite.

The king making this journey is, of course, granted passage: he is described as “the shining bull… who is with the Unwearying Stars”. The bull is the Egyptian symbol of virility par excellence; his name in Egyptian is one of many words etymologically related to the ka itself. The shining bull’s guide is the Bull of Light, a twinning that perhaps evokes the ka again, perhaps to serve as a reminder that the world of the dead is also the world of life, the font from which fertility flows, the spring of our blood.

In the Amduat, these lands are the fertile fields of Wernes, filled with the promise of the flood and the praise of baboons with hands lifted to greet the arriving sun. In the Book of Night, Sia acting as herald for our passage cries out to those present to receive their heads, to gather up their bones, to come and receive offerings. These cries are received by the transfigured and holy dead, and the surrendered, who may suffer, but who have submitted to the ministrations of the Mother. Their passivity here is like the passivity of Wesir himself, who was torn to pieces and restored (receive your head, gather up your bones, you are complete).

The body is the vessel of the soul. We cannot travel in a damaged boat; we must gather up our parts and bind them securely. This hour of the night is often linked to the Book of Going Forth By Day chapter 22, for regaining a mouth (and thus the power of speech – and therefore magic) and chapter 71, a spell for reintegrating the body.

Sia calls upon us now to take stock of ourselves, to pull ourselves together so that we can continue. He calls upon us also to partake of offerings, to step up to the space in which we share in the powerful nature of the gods. Here the dead have become divine; the living, also. The Powers are come to grant deliverance and strength, the abilities of the senses, a breath of air, and the capacity for great magic. The Amduat speaks of sharing the blessings of the gods: food and water and sex.

To go on, one must have claimed and established a form. Your head must remain affixed to your spine. You must be in possession of your members. You must be whole and hale and unified, with a clear understanding of your image. If you do not have an image to hold onto, a clear sense of a physical form, you may be lost in the waters. And while the drowned will be saved, in time, that is a voiceless road.

Mehet-Weret comes with the flood and its promise of renewal, and washes everything away.