It’s easy to get tangled up in pointless angst, with this reconstruction thing.
Take something simple and basic: the sixth-day festival honoring the ancestors. It’s mentioned from the Pyramid Texts through the Book of Going Forth By Day, ancestors are foundational to a sound Kemetic practice, go!
… sixth day of what?
Parker has the sixth day of the lunar month named “śnt”, in other words, sixth day, so clearly it’s lunar, and falls the day before “dnỉt”, “part-day, first quarter day”, so the day before first quarter!
Okay if you count the lunar cycle this month the first quarter falls on the tenth day and even if we make it better by figuring this is one of the long months with an extra-long dark moon we can only get it to ninth or maybe eighth, so the sixth day’s location in the lunar month is scary uncertain.
We can try to fix this! We can normalise the lunar month so the full moon always falls on the fifteenth (śmdt, “half-month day, day of the full moon”) and count backwards! Which puts the half-moon on day … eight in May 2013.
Maybe we could do it on the half moon day? There were several surrounding cultures who had major ancestor festivals on half moons, either first or last quarter. But it says the day before, I don’t know, that might be actually genuinely wrong…
Lunar calendars are hard. Maybe we can do sixth day of the civil calendar month instead.
Oh. Shit. Which means we have to know when Wep Renpet is.
Which would be the heliacal rising of Sirius over the great house, home of the king. In, well, fuck. That means picking a king’s residence (and possibly a king), or at least picking a city, and one could go with an Egyptian one, or where one lives, or the capital city of one’s home nation, or …
… and what about that horizon, anyway, if there are mountains or trees or buildings that might interfere with the theoretical appearance of the star, do we use a theoretical horizon?
… is that online calculator accurate, anyway? Humidity? It wants me to put in humidity? Augh!
Maybe I’ll just declare Wep Renpet to be the summer solstice in accordance with the theory of the double birthday of Ra in Revolutions in Time and have done with it, that’ll let me set a nice stable calendar, right? (“Mesore”, the last month of the Egyptian calendar, was one that took its name from a festival that fell in that month, and means “birthday of Ra”.)
(Of course, the solstice date isn’t a fixed point in the modern civil calendar, but let’s not think about that.)
Let’s just … there’s no way to be right about this, so let’s do something else. How about figuring out when to celebrate the Wag festival, that should be more straightforward!
… well, which Wag festival, the civil calendar one (1 Akhet 18) or the lunar calendar one (2 Akhet 18, lunar)?
… never mind.
Somewhere, this whole reconstruction process has to give way to making a commitment. Do the sixth-day festival on the sixth day of the Gregorian calendar month. Pick a startpoint for an Egyptian civil calendar and do it on the sixth day of those months. Do it on the sixth day of the lunar month counting from the new moon, or count back nine days from the full moon, or the day before the half moon, or hell, the half moon day itself.
But do something. Commit. Commit even in the face of sure knowledge that you are probably not doing what the ancients did. “What the ancients did” is a signpost, a guideline, the beginnings of an idea, not a holy state from which falling short is sinful.
In the end, one chooses to give up being “right” and serve the gods instead.
Good reconstruction obsoletes itself; the process ends in something which is inevitably proven “wrong” in time… and which works.
Post derives from a conversation at Warboar.
(Richard Parker, The Calendars of Ancient Egypt, and Revolutions in Time, edited by Anthony J. Spalinger, for source material for the wibbling, by the way.)