I have been reading Revolutions in Time: Studies in Ancient Egyptian Calendrics by Spalinger, which I found while trying to get some information about the Wagy. This is a refinement of Parker’s famous The Calendars of Ancient Egypt, which simplifies Parker’s theories by discarding the second lunar-cycling calendar, but adds whole new and exciting headaches.
Usefully, the book also has some discussion of the Great Festival of Djehwty, which falls right after the Wagy, so I was hoping to find a little information about that as well. It suggests that this festival is linked to Djehwty’s governance of time and status as a moon god, which is something useful to go with as a beginning, and then it notes that there is no evidence of it ever appearing on a lunar-based calendar, but specifically and always from earliest attestation on a specific civil calendar date.
Some folks reading along were around for my little mental meltdown about that this afternoon.
In any case, I commented to several people this evening that I was half-tempted to, for the Great Festival of Djehwty, simply write a little prayer-verse that went something like:
Governor of Time
Lord of Wisdom
On this your greatest of festival days
Grant me the fucking wisdom
To understand Your calendar.
And I went back and reread the section and…
… okay. Y’all are probably familiar enough with mainline genero-paganism to recognise the phrase “a year and a day”. Now, the mystical significance of a year and a day is this: it implies an ongoing cycle. It is not, for example, ‘summer solstice to summer solstice’, it is ‘summer solstice to summer solstice and beyond.” It’s the hook into the next cycle. You don’t do your year and then be done, you do your year and take a step forward, because time is a continuous thing.
So. Consider Egypt, where the 365-day civil calendar and the twelve-or-thirteen-lunar-month calendars danced with each other. A quick primer on how this works, for those people who aren’t all nerd-prepared for it: twelve lunar months averages to 354 days, which is obviously something that falls a bit short. Some lunar calendars just run with a twelve-month year (this is why Ramadan drifts in the Gregorian calendar); some run with ordinary years and what’s often referred to as ‘great years’, thirteen-month years, to keep things more or less in place. The Egyptian lunar calendar, like the Jewish calendar, is one of these.
(This is a little bit untidy, but things having to do with the real world often are.)
What does this have to do with the Great Feast of Djehwty?
Twelve lunar months is an incomplete year. That would be inappropriate to mark, enshrining a deficiency, a shortage.
Thirteen lunar months?
365 – 354 = 11. (This is why, if you see calendar talk about Egyptiana, they say ‘if Wep Renpet falls in the last eleven days of the lunar year, there is an intercalary month’ – that’s the size of the gap.)
The lunar month is a little more than twenty-nine and a half days. Call it thirty, because we’re all about the generous calculations here.
Eleven days short of thirty is nineteen.
Which puts us at 1 Akhet 19: The Great Festival of Djehwty.
This is the festival that closes the great year of the moon; upon this day the moon will be in the same phase that it was on Wep Renpet the previous year. While Wep Renpet itself marks the celestial cycle of the stars, returning Nut’s sky to the same position, this is the point at which the moon is, having completed the full year and driven forward into the next cycle, again as it was at that time.
The fact that the stars and the moon keep different times demands that step forward, not a year and a day but a year and nineteen days, a year and a return to the moon of our beginning. I checked my calendar; this upcoming Thursday, the moon will be a day before first quarter, as it was last Wep Renpet. The cycle of these seasons is completed.
As I commented elsewise, this is why I make irreverent prayers. They get me answers.
But they also give me obligations. As I have directed my irreverent reverence to the ears of Djehwty the Acute, I have been mocked in return, with the granting of the wisdom I so lightly requested.
Djehwty, Twice-Great, reckoner of years,
Who reconciles the balance and the scale,
Beautiful one, night’s Aten, silver-pale,
Who knows all things that lie in heaven’s sphere,
Star-counter, singing praise as dawn appears,
Who, hearing prayers, in wisdom does prevail,
This hidden knowledge chooses to unveil
The measuring of time is rendered clear.
The wedjat eye is filled by your command,
Its seasons set in keeping with your will,
The lunar horns and disk become your crown.
Your calculations define heaven’s span,
Your knowledge bounds the earth with unmatched skill,
And by your numbers, year to year is bound.