The basic problem I had with how I was approaching calendar work originally was its literalism. I was compiling lists of festivals and suggestions of festivals, figuring out which ones coincided and how, trying to track down practices for each one, individually, when they hit my threshhold of reaching more thoroughly.
The effect of this was kind of like sticking thumbtacks into very precise points on a piece of plain cardboard and wondering why I didn’t have any sense of the landscape that I was trying to map.
For my new approach, I want to paint the map.
The Egyptian map of the year was divided into three parts plus the Days Upon The Year. Akhet (flood), Peret (planting, literally “emergence”), Shomu (harvest). And these parts were not only a seasonal cycle, but a life-cycle, something likely familiar from many forms of project, the shape of things being done in a life.
In the first part of Akhet came the flood. And the flood is complicated. If it came too low, there would be a weak harvest come Shomu; if it came too high, it would wash away anything built close to the water, even that which was up above the line commonly thought safe. The earth it carried with it rejuvenated the land, driving back the desert once more, but as water meets hot dryness it produces the sort of muggy atmosphere that certain diseases love to breed in. This is the beginning of the year, the beginning of the cosmos, the beginning of every project: potential and disaster tangled up together, needing to be welcomed and needing to be protected against, the pieces needing to be sorted through, some of the preparation simply surviving until the waters recede and there is a little less flood to brave in order to get somewhere.
This is a metaphor of life made fact, written out for the ancients year after year: Change comes. Change sweeps away everything in its path. Change is a disaster. Change is an opportunity. Change is different every time. Change is fundamentally the same all the time. Change brings things that need to be weathered. After the change, the planting, making concrete the creative power that comes as part of change.
And so, after the flood passed, people went out and they planted, using the rich mud left by the flood. After the chaotic urges of the beginning, the start of things, it is time to go start making concrete progress, putting things under the surface, letting them grow.
The major festival that falls between Akhet and Peret is the Mysteries of Wesir, which just passed. As the transition goes from flood to growth, from Wesir to Heru, and Heru is established at the beginning of the season of Peret.
If Akhet is the season of chaos and creation – of potential and dissolution – the season that ends with the burial of Wesir and the planting of the seeds – then Peret is the season that establishes order. All of the positive potential of the flood that we can get our hands on is now being put into use, organised, set to work. After the inspiration, the laundry. Using that which the flood brings is a steady progression of work, and if the planting is not done, if the weeding is not done, if the work of the fields is not done, it does not matter how good the flood was.
I haven’t, in my research, come across a major festival for the transition between Peret and Shomu; the end of Peret and the beginning of Shomu both have some dates for offerings to all the gods. But, really, the transition from the steady work of making progress with the work to bring each thing to completion is not actually always clear-cut.
And Shomu is the season that gives back to the desert, where the waters sink away, and the harvest comes in – the season that ensures that there will be food for the year, and the season where privation threatens as the waters fade. It is the season where bounties come in, and where the need for bounties to come in is made clear.
It is in the middle of this season that we find the Beautiful Festival of the Western Valley, assuring that the harvest will come in, that there continues to be reciprocation from the land of the unseen, from whence the flood, in its time, will once again emerge. That the harvest will nourish and help people stay strong, until the next one. And the year, eventually, comes to its conclusion, awaiting the flood.
Which leaves, of course, the Days Upon The Year, that time outside of time, governed only by the attention of Djehwty to keep any form of time going. And these dangerous days fall when – in the abstract and ideal world – floodwater meets parched earth, the spent land meets the fertile renewal, the actual place where the opposites meet, the mysterious and dangerous place between completion and starting over.