Coronation of Heru: This Festival is for the Birds

Every so often one comes across a festival that is just plain not easy to reframe for the modern day. And thus, we come to the Coronation of Heru, also called the Installation of the Sacred Falcon.

It is inevitable and essential that this festival follow immediately upon the heels of the Mysteries of Wesir, so I’m hesitant to neglect it entirely. It seems to me that it is a part of Wesir’s reign over the Duat that the Sacred Falcon is installed properly, and that the arc of mythological action is incomplete if we do not appropriately turn to address Heru.

This is not a festival that can be addressed and translated simply by having a modern king, either. For all that ancient kings would time their coronations to fall in this period, the better to partake of the appropriate ritual and mythological resonances, this is not a festival of human governance.

Allow me to summarise:

The statue of Heru of Behdet comes from his shrine and rests on a litter of the sort used in the coronation of a human king. He is carried by the ancestors (priests dressed as same), masked as jackals and falcons – the Souls of Pe and Nekhen. This is a silent procession, and it is led by the human king, who faces the god and censes the passage with incense. The god performs an oracle to select the next Sacred Falcon, and he first rejects ‘the high priests, the priests and the great officials’. When all human candidates have been refused, a parade of falcons is presented to the gods (raised on the temple grounds in order to be presented as candidates for the office), and one of those is chosen as the god’s heir, brought inside, set on a stone carved as a serekh, and presented with a ceremonial collar and four bouquets with varying patron deities and significances. Then the falcon sits atop a seat, is entertained with recitations, is given royal regalia, and is anointed with milk. Invocations for protection were made, equating the bird with the living king and Heru of Behdet. Finally, meat offerings were made to the bird (who was by this point perhaps a little tired of all this nonsense and thus enthusiastic at falling upon the symbolic enemies of Egypt and devouring them) accompanied by incense burning, the Heru icon withdrew to his kar-shrine, and the bird was left in charge.

Watterson quotes another Egyptologist suggesting that the care and attention given to the Installation of the Sacred Falcon in Edfu may have been a form of protest against the government by foreigners. It might well be more appealing to raise a bird to the religious throne than a human king considered a usurper of the political throne. However, given the existence of other sacred animals in Egypt, and the fact that the beginning of the first month of Peret was long-established as the appropriate time to install a king, who would be carrying the inevitable weight of the conclusion of the Mysteries with him to the throne, one cannot use the late date of the Edfu temple to dismiss the festival. (And I certainly wouldn’t discard the possibility that earlier falcon coronations might have been held to provide a backup Heru incarnation in case something happened to the human king – and vice versa.)

So there’s a lot of “so what does this mean” to be had here.

Let us assume, as the ancients did, that Heru was present in the Falcon, much as they found Montu in Bakha or Ptah in Hap. The animal could offer oracles and omens, and lived as an honored guest in human spaces. Humans are amazing egotists, able to make everything all about us, all about the things we made and the things we do, but a god explicitly in the body of an animal has to break those boundaries a little. Sure, one can escort that animal into human spaces and build human rituals around it, but a god incarnating as an animal is a god that is willing to touch something alien to human thought, willing to bring that alienness forward as a part of a presence. It is a reminder: the world is larger than you, the world is larger than your human issues.

One may live aware of the possibility that an animal or plant might be the temporary manifestation of a god, a sign or omen (but there is that human egotism again) or the god going about divine business in that moment, but formally committing to the recognition of that particular other is a different thing. It is not momentary, it is not transitory: not only is there a god indwelling that animal, but we can name that god and honor him. What other gods might be lurking in other places, in other forms? It warrants attention.

Further, as the Mysteries of Wesir serve as the mythological template of the funeral, the atemporal/cyclical model upon which our occurrences in linear time, the Installation of the Sacred Falcon serves as the mythological template of the recognition of the leader and unifier of a community. This is something that we revisit every year, even if we have no stated leader, even if we have the same leader we did last year at that time, affirming the presence of this continuity, of the resonance between the mortal world and that of the unseen.

And this is not something that comes of titles and honors – Heru rejects all the high officials presented to him as candidates for this office. Status is not the same as leadership. (And anyone who has had experience in the sort of office where being on good terms with the right janitor or secretary makes a world of difference for how well things can be arranged knows that power-status is also not the same as effective power that gets things done.) One may have a title, but that does not grant special access to the ineffable.

Regardless of what this festival meant to the ancients, I’m going to contemplate it with these two musings – that the gods are not limited to humanocentric models, but have a broader view than human eyes and forms might grant; that power, including holy power, is not the same as status and titles. Both of these have interesting magical weight to them.

I conclude with a relevant note from an entirely different religious tradition. Consider inner divinity, the personal god which is the perfected self, unbound by limitations, able to communicate freely between all worlds. One might call this soul the God-Self, the Sacred Dove, the Holy Guardian Angel, or – as Thorn Coyle suggests in a footnote for her book Evolutionary Witchcraft, “One may also call it the Sacred Falcon, using Egyptian imagery if that is more comfortable for you.” What might it mean, I ask you, to install the Sacred Falcon upon the throne of your life?

Reference: The House of Horus at Edfu: Ritual in an Ancient Egyptian Temple, Barbara Watterson.


One thought on “Coronation of Heru: This Festival is for the Birds

  1. […] to the Kemetic Coronation of Heru (in which every member of the nobility and the trained clergy is rejected – in favor of a […]

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