Friday, 2 December 2011

Old Books for New Times

I’ve recently been reading Dion Fortune’s book Psychic Self Defence. I realise that it was first published in 1930, and in so many places that really shows, but it leaves me questioning some of the validity of older books.
Psychic Self Defence is widely recommended as being a great book for any who follow a spiritual path, and many do read it and in turn recommend it on to others. I feel that it certainly is an interesting book, but there are things that any new reader needs to understand and take on board when reading this.
Occultism in the 1920s and 30s was mostly the realm of Christian Magicians. The Lodges that Fortune refers to were founded on Ceremonial Magic principles – such as the Order of the Golden Dawn, the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons. Their practises were based around a Westernised version of the Jewish Kabbalah system. As such, there are several situations where she recommends calling on Christ, recalling the blue robe of the Virgin Mary and using the Light of God and names of God as the best and at times only way of exorcising an occult attack. This can be a bit heavy going if you’re not of the Christian faith.
Pagan was how you described the natives in distant countries who had yet to be brought into the light of the Christian faith. Anti-Witchcraft laws were still in effect until the 1950s in Britain. So at first it was rather disconcerting to read all descriptions of Witchcraft as being malevolent and evil. Any mention of Witches was that of those who were the wrong-doers. It’s easy to forget that Witchcraft in its modern incarnation is such a new thing and it would be easy for the new witch to be offended at all the references to witch-cults and the wonderful work done in stamping them out.
Modern medicine and science have also come a long way since Fortune’s day. In several places she describes ‘devil-children’ and ‘changelings’ who are distinctly ‘non-human’. She describes physical and emotional characteristics of these people, and goes on to say that the mothers are usually visited by the children’s demonic fathers and the child got upon them when the mother is well gone in drink. Her descriptions sound to me (in my perfect armchair expert capacity) like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome was only clearly recognised and named in 1973, so I’m guessing that prior to that there were any number of interesting beliefs and explanations about why some children look or behave differently from what was considered ‘normal’.
There is also mention of cases of sexual misconduct. When investigating these, the book reads, one should always take note of the demeanour of the victim. The more willing the victim is to talk about abuses of a sexual nature, the more likely it is that it is untrue. Women are never keen to share their shame. While this may have been true 80 years ago, and sometimes is still true, it is not the normal state of things in our day and age. Women (and all children really) have been taught from a young age to speak out when they feel they’ve been assaulted in any way.
There are quite a few mentions of dominating personalities that in Fortune’s opinion are using hypnosis techniques or telepathic suggestion to completely cow others and bend them to their will. What they seem to be performing is what we would call verbal and mental abuse – something that in individual incidents is not always easy to spot, you have to look for the pattern. This is like the workplace bully who messes with your mind and will find subtle ways to control you or push your buttons but this is not an occult attack by any stretch of the imagination.
I did find it curious that listed in the Bibliography are a number of books which have publication dates of 50 years after Dion Fortune’s death. While I haven’t checked, I’m assuming that either they’re reprints of older works or added by the Society of Inner Light – Dion Fortune’s own order which holds the publishing rights to her works.
However, for all that, there is some real value in this book, and some practical advice that I do believe is valid, the problem lies in sifting through the information that is now out of date or invalid to find it. I would still recommend this book as being well worth the read, and a good one for any students of psychism, witchcraft and the occult.
In modern Paganism and Occult studies there seems to be a preference for older works – for some reason they are believed to be more valid than the bulk of modern literature on the same subject, even though many of the modern works list the older books in their source material.
I personally don’t believe that either works have an edge over the other, but each must be taken in context with the times and culture in which they were written. It might be easy to say, for example, that 1930s Britain is pretty much the same culture that we live in now, but this was a completely different world. There was limited electricity – something we take for granted. This was before World War II, something which changed society forever. This was also before the social revolutions of the 1960s, and 70s. Married women didn’t work outside the home. This was not even remotely the same culture that we know and have grown up in.
I’m sure, for example, that many of the antics of Aleister Crowley would have caused quite a stir among polite society in his day, but for us I think it would get a response of “yawn, just another celebrity too big for his boots... what’s on tv?”
Any occult book will have its message and lessons in there to learn, and I believe that re-reading them after a while will provide new information that you missed before. Possibly because you weren’t ready to spot it, and now your understanding of the inner workings of magic have grown somewhat. I’ve certainly found much to ponder over mixed in with my giggles about what seems to me to be a superstitious explanation of now obvious phenomena and how normal society behaves.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Calendar Entry #33: Ramadan

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
A hilal or slight crescent moon indicating the start of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Photograph - Roi.dogabert
The ninth month in the Islamic calendar is Ramadan.  It lasts between 29 and 30 days and is a month of fasting.  During daylight hours, Muslims will fast (refrain from eating or drinking) which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Muslims may eat before sunrise and after sunset.  A pre-dawn meal is called suhoor, while the evening meal is iftar.   There are exemptions for people who cannot fast.  Children are exempt as fasting is only a requirement after puberty.  People who are chronically sick, have a mental illness or are elderly are also exempt.  As are women who are pregnant if they believe fasting will put themselves or the baby at risk.  Additionally, menstruating women and breastfeeding women are also exempt, although they may have to make up the days later. Purity of thoughts and actions is something to be strived for, therefore activities like smoking or sex are also forbidden during daylight hours. 
This month is a time for self-evaluation and spiritual growth.  It is a time for patience, seen in the fasting, humility, in the charity (such as participation in food drives for the poor) that is encouraged, and spirituality, in a renewed effort to read the Qur'an.  Some Muslims try to read and recite the entire Qur'an by the end of Ramadan during special prayers called the Tarawih, held at the mosques each night of the month.  Ramadan teaches Muslims self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those who have less than they do.  Ramadan ends when the first crescent of the new moon is visible. 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Calendar Entry #32: Ritual of Ankhet and Welcoming of the Rising of the Nile

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Nile floodplains - Aerial view of where the Nile flooding ends.  The green fertile lands
after centuries of flooding separate from the poor desert lands that did not flood. (c) Andrew

The annual flooding of the Nile was a welcomed event as the flooding waters provided new nutrient rich top soil.  The three seasons in Ancient Egypt were named for what was happening agriculture-wise.  The month of Akhet was for the inundation - rising and eventual flooding of the Nile.  Every year the Nile's waters would rise and flood the region.  This was due to heavy summer rains in the highlands of Ethiopia, and occurred between June and September each year.   In June the inundation was seen in Aswan but reached as far as Cairo by September.

While flooding, in modern terms, is something that generally brings destruction and or death, the ancient Egyptians welcomed it, because as the river rose it would provide vital water for the farm land.  In addition, once the waters receded it left behind a deposit of rich, black silt that fertilised the land, making the growing of crops possible and fruitful. (See the picture above for an indication of how fertile the flooded area was compared to the non-flooded area).  However, the level of the flooding determined how many crops were able to be planted.  If the inundation was too low, the flooding not as great, then fewer crops could be planted and famine was a threat.

The ancient Egyptians did not know that the Nile flooded due to the monsoon rains in Ethiopia.  They believed that it was at the will of the Nile god Hapi that the inundation occurred.  If the floods were too great (so that they overran the walls protecting villages and destroyed houses) or too low (so that there wasn't enough silt for farming) then it was due to Hapi being displeased with something the Egyptians did or didn't do.  They would worship him and give offerings in the hope that he would bring just the right amount of flooding to the region.  They had no way to control the level of the inundation so worship and offerings to Hapi were very important to agriculture and life for those affected.

Ankhet or Anuket was the personification and goddess of the Nile river in ancient Egypt.  Each year when the inundation would begin the Festival of Ankhet would start.  People would throw offerings of coins, gold, jewellery and other precious gifts into the river as thanks for the water and the nutrients that the flooding would bring.  Anuket was the giver of life, the nourisher of the fields.  She brought the fertility to the lands when the Nile flooded.

For Egyptians in ancient times, Hapi allowed the flooding to occur and controlled the level of flooding, and Anuket brought the fertile black silt with that flooding. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Calendar Entry #31: Panathanaia

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
Panathanaia or Panathanaea is the spiritual celebration of last week's Sunoika (Synoecia).  When the political side of Athens and Attica were united we saw the national holiday of Sunoika celebrated.  Prior to the unification of Athens, the Athenian festival of Athenaea, founded by Erechtheus, was celebrated annually in honour of Athena, the patron goddess of the city.  At the time that Theseus is said to have unified Athens, he also expanded the reach of the festival, from one based in the city, to one that was celebrated by the entire country.  Athenaea became Panathenaea. 
Panathenaea had Greater and Lesser festival observances.  The Lesser one occurred each year which was a shorter festival than its Greater counterpart.  This festival was based around ritual and sacrificial rites that would have been in the normal manner that the cult of Athena practiced.  Such rites included a parade of sorts where the state robe of Athena (peplus) was taken through the streets to adorn a carved figure of the Goddess.  This ceremony would have been duplicated in other centres, although to a lesser extent as the peplus was quite expensive. 
The Greater Panathanaea was celebrated every four years and had chariot races and gymnastic sports as well as other athletic type sports.  It is said that Peisistratus was hoping to make the festival an Ionian rival to the Dorian Olympia festival - where our modern Olympic games has its roots.  One major difference between the two 'games' were that Panathanaea was chrematites (monetary) whereas the Olympia was stefanites (wreath-bearing) because the winning athletes in the Panathanaea received expensive prizes.
Mosaic floor depicting various athletes wearing wreaths.
From the Museum of Olympia. - Tkoletsis
While many of the rites from the Lesser festival were carried out, although on a grander scale, during this Greater festival celebration the whole empire came together to join in a shared sacrifice, usually of bulls.  Each town/colony/state would send a representative and a sacrificial animal.  On the day of the feast there was a grand prossession of priests, assistants and representatives, as well as the calvary.  During the time of Pericles, a musical contest was added to the festival. 
Much like the festival of Skira, this was also one of the festivals where women were able to leave the house to take an active part in the public festivities .  This was also the only time that men were supposed to be allowed to carry their weapons in the streets. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Calendar Entry #30: Kemet New Year & Opet Festival

Kemet New Year
This is the beginning of the first month in the Ancient Egyptian calendar.  In a year divided into three, four month long seasons, each with three, ten day weeks.  The first season is Akhet, meaning the inundation.  It is a time when the banks of the Nile would have been flooding.  The four months are known interchangeably around the internet by both their Coptic and Kemetic names.  This is the first day of Thoth (Djehuty), followed by Paopi (Pa-en-Opet), Athyr (Hethert) and Khoiak (Ka-her-ka). 
The second season, Peret, means growing or coming forth.  Farmers would have been working the fields, planting and growing crops for the coming year.  The months are Tybi (Ta'abet), Mechir (Pa-en-mekher), Phamenoth (Pa-en-Amenhotep), and Pharmuthi (Pa-en-Renenutet).
The third and final season of the year is Shomu which means heat.  It is the summer season, and a time of waiting between growth and inundation.  The months are Pachons (Pa-en-Khonsu), Payni (Pa-en-inet), Epiphi (Ipip), and Mesore (Mesut-Ra-Heruakhety).
Opet Festival
Procession of Amun - Opet Festival
Also called the Beautiful Feast of Opet, this was an annual festival celebrated in Thebes in Ancient Egypt from the New Kingdom period on.  A statue of Amun of Karnak, with statues of Mut, Khonsu and the reigning king visited the temple of Luxor in a great procession stopping at several locations for the priests to rest and for offerings and prayers to be made.  It would have travelled back to Karnak on the river on the god's ceremonial barque, which was escorted by the royal barque with the king onboard. 
The festival was celebrated differently in different periods with it lasting eleven days during the reign of Thutmoses III, according to the Feast List of Amon of Elephantine, while the Festival Calandar of Medinet Habu (attributed to have been from the reign of Ramesses II) had it lasting 24 days. 
While it more likely that the Opet festival was celebrated in the second or even third  month of this season (depending on which period of Ancient Egyptian history you are looking at), the festival is placed on our calendar to coincide with the first day of the Kemetic new year as this is the day that modern Kemetic reconstructionists will generally celebrate the Opet Festival. 
The purpose of the festival, in ancient times, seems to be focussed on the renewal of divine 'kingship' and to recrown the reigning king.  At the height of the festival, Amun-Re's powers were transferred to the king, reconfirming his right to rule.  The renewal was important because it was believed that during the course of the year the gods would become weary and their power diminished.   It follows that that the powers of the earth and the king would also wane. 
The celebrations were great.  There were acrobats and musicians, sacrifices and feasts.  Oxen were offered, and most probably slaughtered and eaten by those in attendance.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Calendar Entry #29: Sunoika

Sunoika otherwise known as Synoikia, Synoecia or Synoecesia is the name of a festival at the roots of the word synoecism. 

a joining together of several towns to form a single community, as in ancient Greece. — synoecy, n. — synoecious, adj.

This was done in Ancient Greece where Athens proper was unified with the country towns and villages of Attica under one government.  The festival of Synoecia is a celebration of the political union of Athens and Attica, but is distinctly separate from Panathanaia which is the religious festival - held next Sunday. I wont go into Synoecia as it is more of a secular, national holiday like Waitangi Day or Queen's Birthday. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

Calendar Entry #28: Asalha Puja Day, Lailat al Bara'ah and Birthday of Horus

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Asalha Puja Day

Sermon in the Deer Park
This is one of the most important festivals for Theravada Buddhists.  It is a day that celebrates the anniversary of the first sermon delivered by the Buddha at Deer Park over two and a half thousand years ago. 
It is named for the month of Asalha in the old Indian calendar and is celebrated on the full moon of that month - the 8th lunar month. 
The typical activites for Asalha Puja Day may include:
  • Recital of the Eight Precepts by the monks. 
  • Giving of alms to the monks.
  • A Sermon may be delivered by a monk who may then lead a Meditation.
  • Monks lead the lit candle procession three times around the Temple while chanting in Sanskrit.
Asalha was also the start of the monsoon season and it is a sort of Buddhist Lent or three month 'Rains Retreat' where monks spend three months of the rainy season in permanent dwellings, in a type of intensive retreat.   As monks usually travel around spreading the Buddha's teaching, this is a time for them to stay put during the period of poor weather.  This is specifically important for those in Thailand and India where the monsoon winds and torrential rain can make travel difficult and dangerous.  It also stops wandering monks from unintentionally damaging newly planted rice crops. 
During these three months the monks are not allowed to spend a night away from their chosen residence, or if they must go out, they have to be back before dawn the next morning.  Although there are exceptions, such as if a monk needs to be somewhere for a longer time due to the illness of a family member or a religions work that is more than a day away.  If this happens, no more than a seven day stretch is allowed.  It comes from Buddha and has been preserved throughout the centuries.
Lailat al Bara'ah

Also known as Mid-Sha'ban it is In keeping with Islamic tradition this celebration began at sunset last night (14th of July).   It is the night that is known as Lailat al Bara'ah or Laylatul Bara'ah, and means the night of records, the night of assignment, the night of deliverance and the night of 'quittancy' or forgiveness of sins.  It is believed, in the Sunni tradition, that this is the night that Allah travels to the nearest heaven to forgive every deserving Muslim.  The Shias believe that this is also a celebration of the birth of their final Imam - Muhammad al-Mahdi. 
Muslims may spend the night in a prayer filled vigil and while some accounts state that there is a celebration with feasting, others state that the day after Lailat al Bara'ah (so that would be today this year) is a day of fasting. 
Birthday of Horus 

I wrote about this in the Epagomenal Days post yesterday. Click here to read it.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Calendar Entry #27: Epagomenal Days

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

A figure of Thoth carved on the back
of the throne of the seated statue of Rameses II.
Jon Bodsworth
Today is the first of five deity birthdays celebrated in Ancient Egypt that are indicated on our calendar. They are collectively known as the Epagomenal Days. In this previous post I recounted the myth where Nut was able to give birth to five children on the days made by Thoth from the light of the moon. These five days were added to the calendar annually from the 13th to 18th of July. Each day a different deity was said to be born, starting with Osiris, then moving to Horus, Set, Isis and finally Nephthys. The Epagomenal days are said to be the Heriu-renpet - 'the Five Days Upon the Year'.

In the Ancient Egyptian civil calendar each season was made up of four months, each with three 10 day weeks. This made 360 days in the year. The five Epagomenal Days come between the end of the previous year and the beginning of the new one. It was said that during this time the world was in a transitional stage from one year to another.

During this time it was said that the people of Egypt were at risk of the plague caused by Sekhmet, but it was also She who could protect them from it. A ritual called shtp shmt (pacifying Sekhmet) was performed and protective charms were drawn and worn on linen around the neck during these five peril filled days.

While the five days are named as the birthdays of the five deities, there is little to no evidence that they were anything other than names. There were no feasts recorded on the epagomenal days despite the royal artisans being work free on those days. By all research accounts it looks as though all the festivities were held back until the New Year festival celebrations.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Calendar Entry #26: Ulambana Begins - kinda but not really.

Calendar event

Our calendar states that today is the beginning of Ulambana. Ulambana (or Ullambana) is a Buddhist festival that occurs on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Unfortunately we have mistakenly added it at the wrong time of the year. This year Ulambana is being celebrated on the 14th of August. What is sometimes celebrated at this time is the Obon festival of Japan. While it is celebrated largely in August, as we've stated in our calendar, it is observed in Tokyo on the 13-15th of July this year.

Obon is similar to Ulambana in that it is the Festival of Souls to commemorate deceased ancestors. However as this is really a festival that takes place in August, I'll go into more detail at the appropriate time.

*** edit ***

It's been pointed out to me that the references I used, and the cross references have pointed me wrong. As far as I could tell from my research Ulambana was not celebrated until August. I even checked out some celebrations that were being organised around the world and they all were set for August 2011. However upon further review it does appear that while what I found was for August, there are groups who would be celebrating this festival in July this year as well. Apologies for putting anyone wrong or misleading you.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Calendar Entry #25: Holiday of Sokar

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Seker or Sokar is a funerary falcon god, closely associated with other gods Ptah and Osiris, both with ties to death and the underworld. This has let to the triple god depiction in late periods of Ptah-Seker-Osiris.

The Book of the Dead mentions him making silver bowls and a silver coffin and the Pyramid texts link his name to 'Sy-k-ri' - the call from Osiris to Isis, meaning 'hurry to me' in the underworld. His name could have been derived from 'skr' meaning 'cleaning the mouth' a reference to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.

Along with Ptah, his primary cult centre was Memphis. This holiday may have been closely related to the Festival in the Estate of Ptah, also on this day, due to the link they have as Ptah-Sokar. In this form Ptah-Sokar represents the soil and its power in the creation of life. Ptah was considered the patron of artisans and Sokar became the patron of goldsmiths specifically.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Calendar Entry #24: Feast of Ptah

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

A Feast of Ptah, in his feast of 'lifting the sky,' has been known to have been celebrated in Memphis as well as Deir el-Medina at around the same time. There have been many references to this feast, including a work journal from Deir el-Medina that referred to the Feast of Ptah as the 'Great Feast'.

The main sanctuary of Ptah was in Memphis, where he was revered as Ptah 'South of the White Walls'. There were many places of worship for Ptah in Thebes, including a temple dedicated to him just north of Karnak. He was also one of the most popular deities in Deir el-Medina. The rock sanctuary on the road to the Valley of the Queens was the main sanctuary for him, where he was 'Ptah of the Beautiful Place.'

I have not been able to find out specifics about rituals, processions or practices that took place during this Feast, although royal artisans celebrated it by making offerings to him in the Valley of the Kings. Additionally there is speculation that grain offerings given just prior to the feast may have been made into beer for the offerings during the feast.

Ptah is the principal deity of the Memphite Triad of Ptah, his wife Sekhmet and their son Nefertem. He is credited with having created the universe and has been linked to Sokar and Osiris, as Ptah-Sokar. He is usually depicted in paintings in mummiform, which isn't to suggest death, but deathlessness. It suggests he was eternal, never changing and fixed in his significance and endurance.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Calendar Entry #23: Lailat al Miraj

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
Mi'raj, Muhammad riding the buraq;
a 16th-century Persian miniature
Lailat al Miraj is a celebration that centres around children, to tell them the story of the Isra and the Mi'raj.  The Isra is when Muhammad travels from Mecca to Jerusalem with the archangel Gabriel on his winged horse, Buraq.  Once he reaches Temple Mount in Jerusalem, he prays and then gets back on Buraq for the Mi'raj.  
The Mi'raj is where Muhammad ascended to heaven where he met with prophets such as Moses and Abraham, and then finally with Allah.  In his exchange with Allah he was instructed to tell Muslims to pray fifty times a day.  Moses told Muhammad that Muslims would not comply that many times so urged him to seek a reduction.  Muhammad went to Allah again and the number was reduced to five times a day.  He returned to Earth to pass the spiritual knowledge he has gained to mankind.  This night is why Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day. 
The Night of Ascent is celebrated with colourful pennants and buntings, oil lamps, candles and other lights.  Children are brought into mosques where they hear the story and are then allowed to pray with the adults.  Prayers are followed with food and other treats. 

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Calendar Entry #22: Holiday of the Shemsu of Horus

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
Canopic Jars of Neskhons, photograph CaptMondo
The Shemsu of Horus, or Shemsu-Heru or Followers of Horus have been more commonly referred to as the children of Horus and are four minor deities who helped Horus, particularly in the embalming of the dead.  They protected the canopic jars that contained the internal organs of the mummified deceased.  In earlier times, from the First Intermediate Period to the end of the 18th Dynasty, the stoppers of the canopic jars were made in the face of the deceased.  After this they were shaped to depict the Shemsu.  These were Imsety, the human headed protector of the liver, Hapy, the baboon headed protector of the lungs, Duamutef, the jackal headed protector of the stomach and Qebehsenuef, the falcon headed protector of the intestines. 
The Followers of Horus is a term that has also been applied to the early invaders and conquerors of Egypt who made Egypt into the great Dynastic civilisation it became.  The Pre-Pharaonic rulers of Upper Egypt thought of themselves as 'Shemsu-Heru'.  

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Calendar Entry #21: Anubis Ceremony & Corpus Christi

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
 Anubis Ceremony
Anubis supervising mummification - Sarcophagus circa 400BC
Photographer: Andre, Amsterdam

Anubis (Anpu, Inpew, Yinepu) was the god of the underworld in ancient Egypt.  His role was to protect and guide the spirits of the dead, guiding them in the afterlife towards Osiris.  Written in the Pyramid Texts, found in Unas, was, "Unas standeth with the Spirits, get thee onwards, Anubis, into Amenti, onwards, onwards to Osiris."
He is depicted as a jackal or jackal headed man, painted black.  This was said to be because black is the colour of fertility, which is linked to death and rebirth found in the afterlife.  It was also because Anubis is the god of embalming and some say that the black represented the tar from the embalming process.
When the cult of Osiris became popular and Osiris became more recognisable and 'powerful' he took over much of Anubis' role as protector and caretaker of the dead.  Anubis became 'He Who is Before the Divine Booth', the god of embalming who presided over funerary rites. 
There are a few ceremonies that Anubis is featured in, but the most well documented is the 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony. 
Once the funerary rituals and mummification of the body had taken place, it was thought that Anubis would appear by the mummy and awaken its soul.  Upon arriving at the door of the tomb a priest wearing the mask of Anubis, embodying the god himself, removed the mummy from the sarcophagus and placed upright against a wall.  The 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony was performed which consisted of rituals of purification, censing and anointing of the mummy, accompanied by incantations.  The mummy would be touched at various places by ritual objects to restore the senses.  The spirit would then be able to see, hear, speak and eat. 
Once completed the tomb would be sealed.  It was believed that Anubis would then lead the deceased to the afterlife, to the Halls of Ma'at.  This was where Anubis, in his role of 'He Who Counts the Hearts' would preside over the weighing of the heart and the judging of souls.  Anubis would pass judgment on the deceased and Thoth would record it.  
Corpus Christi
Holy Communion (Eucharist) Chicago, 1973
Corpus Christi is a feast on the Christian Calendar.  It is held on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday, because of its association with Maundy Thursday.  Maundy Thursday focussed on the commencement of the Eucharist (body and blood of Christ) while Corpus Christi is about celebrating the actual presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine.  So while one celebrates the act, the other, Corpus Christi, celebrates what the act symbolises.  It is officially known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
First celebrated in the 13th Century, Corpus Christi did not gain worldwide acceptance until the 14th Century, due to the untimely deaths of the bishop's and pope's ordering its installation in the Christian calendar.  While it officially sits on a Thursday, some congregations will celebrate it on the following Sunday.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Yule or Winter Solstice

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.  (Thanks Debbie)

Sunrise on the winter solstice 2010, 
looking over Cavan Uppertoward Bohanboy/Killygordon
 © Copyright Sian Lindsey licensed for reuse.

 The word solstice comes from the Latin Sol (Sun) and Sistere (to stand still). The Winter and Summer Solstices are the points when the Sun seems to stop in its journey North or South and stand still, before reversing and moving back.

It’s not surprising then, that in the darkest depths of Winter that there was always a fear that the light would not return, and that it needed help. Many ancient myths surrounding this time involve the death and rebirth of a God, usually the Sun Child in all his glory.

In Britain, The Holly King (representative of the waning year or death aspect of the God) is defeated by the Oak King (who represents the waxing year, or the rebirth of the God, also known as the Divine Child).

In Egypt, Isis and Nephthys mourned for Osiris and Isis gave birth to Horus on the Winter Solstice.

In Athens, Lenaea was celebrated at or around the Winter Solstice, the death and rebirth of Dionysus.

In Norse tradition, this was the night of the Wild Hunt, when Odin rode forth on Sleipnir and brought fertility to the fields.

As most of our traditions come from the Northern Hemisphere, the closeness and links with Christmas traditions shows some overlap between faiths too.

The name Yule has come to mean Christmas for many, but the name has been around for much longer. I’ve been trying to find the meaning of Yule, after reading one account that said “according to the Venerable Bede, Yule comes from the Norse Iul meaning ‘wheel’.“ Another source stated that other linguistic studies suggest that this is a myth and Yule has always simply been the name for the Winter Solstice Festival.

There are many traditions to be kept on the Solstice. In Scotland, the Corn Maiden (the last handful of corn reaped at the harvest) was kept until Yule when it was fed to the cattle, to make them healthy and thrive for the next year. In Slovakia, it was believed that the rites held for the Winter Solstice would protect the crops and livestock from harmful demons, that they’d ensure a good harvest and bring happiness to all for the coming year. Whatever you do on the Solstice will set the rule for the year, for example, nothing should be lent as then all of your property would be lent out for the year.

The Yule log is a widespread tradition. Either the burning of the Yule tree, or a log kept from last year’s Yule fire (traditionally Oak or Pine) is used to start the fire, with another being kept to protect the home throughout the year. The Germans would scatter the ashes of the Yule log over the fields or keep it to bind in the last sheaf of the next harvest.

In modern Women’s Mystery Traditions, it’s common to keep a vigil for the whole night of the Solstice, accompanying and supporting the labouring Goddess through her birthing of the Sun Child, and then singing the Sun up when it does rise.

Another modern tradition is the Mid-Winter Swim. All over the world it seems, people celebrate the shortest day of the year with a swim in icy cold waters. I’ve been trying to find the origins of this and it seems that the closest I can come is that it was part of the Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Calendar Entry #20: Wadjet Ceremony

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

A Wedjat/Udjat 'Eye of Horus' pendant - Jon Bodsworth
Wadjet was a local goddess of Per-Wadjet, an important place in terms of the Predynastic era of Ancient Egypt, who became the patron goddess and protector of Lower Egypt.  She is usually depicted as a snake-headed woman or as a snake (usually a cobra) and her name means "the papyrus-coloured (blue/green) one" which is a general  term for a cobra.  One Pyramid Text said that the papyrus plant came from Wadjet. 
Wadjet is associated with Nekhbet, who was depicted as a white vulture.  Where Wadjet was protectress of Lower Egypt, Nekhbet was protectress of the Upper.  The two goddesses stayed separate and distinctive (even when the Upper and Lower were unified) as the 'two ladies' were seen as the protectors who brought Egypt together. You can see on the image of the Wadjet, above, that you have both Nehkbet's vulture and Wadjet's cobra. 
The Wadjet Ceremony coincides with the northern hemisphere's Summer Solstice.  As the 'lady of flame' she was the protector of Ra, often depicted as a cobra coiled around his heard.  As a solar deity, the Eye of Wadjet was the original name for the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus.  The Eye of Wadjet was known to ward off evil, which ties in nicely to her protector role.  This day marks 35 days of purification before the next flood season. 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Calendar Entry #19: Appearance of Min

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

In ancient Egyptian mythology, Min was the black painted god of fertility.  He wasn't a regular fertility god like Osiris or Hapi who watched over the fields, but he was a god of male fertility.  This can been seen in the usual ithyphallic (with an erect and uncovered phallus) depictions of him.  This was quite scandalous for other cultures, with many of his monuments defaced over time by Christians. It was said that he could give a pharoah the ability to father a child.  When the pharoah had fathered an heir he (the pharoah) was then associated with Min. 

His cult originated in predynastic times (4th millenium BCE) and was centred mainly around Coptos.   

I have found reference to the festival of the departure of Min - which is a fertility festival at the start of the harvest season where the Pharoah would soe seeds; (there has been some controversial interpretations to say he actually had to ejaculate to ensure the annual flooding of the Nile) these seeds are presumed to have been plant seeds, possibly for the erect Egyptian cos lettuce. 

However, as to a Day of the Appearance of Min, I've yet to uncover anything of substance.  I'll keep looking and if I find anything I'll add it here.  However, as the festival of the departure of Min was in the third month of Shomu and we are now in the fourth month of Shomu, which would still be the harvest season, I wonder if there is a possiblity that Min's appearance is to keep an eye over the harvest.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Calendar Entry #18: Procession of Sopdu, the warrior + Feast of the Beautiful Reunion

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Procession of Sopdu, the Warrior

Relief of the funerary temple of Sahure of Sopdu
5th dynasty of Egypt - Egyptian museum of Berlin
As I posted yesterday, Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) was deified in ancient Egypt taking on many forms, one being Isis-Hathor.  In its god-form, Sirius is known as Sopdet (feminine) or Sopd (masculine).   Originally Sopdu was the name for the scorching summer heat, leading Egyptians to view it as war-like and therefore, the subsequent deification of this heat as Sopdu, the war god.  As the heat arrived shortly after the heliacal rising of Sirius, Sopdu was seen as being the progeny of Sopdet.

Due to the rising of the sun (and thus the heat) in the east each day, Sopdu is associated with the east, which also happens to be where his cult was centred the most.  As a war god he is portrayed as a warrior, and said to guard Egypt's borders.

Sopdu has been mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and a representation of him was found on an Abydos ivory tablet owned by Djer of the First Dynasty.

Feast of the Beautiful Reunion

Sacred barque of Hathor -
Bas relief in hypostyle hall, temple of Edfu, Egypt
Hathor and Horus’ pairing in ancient Egyptian mythology was the reason for a long festival known as the Feast of the Beautiful Reunion.  This festival highlighted the marriage of Hathor to Horus, which started with Hathor journeying from her temple in Dendera to the temple of Horus in Edfu, some 180km away.

The procession started 14 days before the new moon where the Goddess’ statue would have been carried on a barque stopping at the temples of the towns between Dendera and Edfu.  This allowed the common people to join in on the festivities.  Worshippers could be involved with some of the ceremony, leave offerings, pray to the deities or even ask for some divine guidance.  This would have involved an ‘oracle’ who the worshipper would approach with a question.  The questions were posed to allow a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  The oracle would ‘consult’ with the deity.  The answer would come with something like a nod or lean of the statue.  For example, forward for ‘yes’ or backwards for ‘no’.

Hathor was said to travel south to Edfu, where she would stay for two weeks while the marriage was consecreated in the temple of Horus.  When she arrived at Edfu the Horus statue would welcome her (carried by priests and other officials) but before they went ashore they would take a quick detour to the Mound of Geb, where the two statues would be placed on a shrine/altar area where the Opening of the Mouth ritual would be performed.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Calendar Entry #17: Feast of Hathor as Sirius

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Zodiac from the Temple of Dendera
currently in the Lourve Museum, Paris

 Before we start specifically on this feast there is a little theory that needs to be dealt with.  Egyptian mythology evolved and changed quite a lot over time.  As seen in previous entries with Horus, in his many forms, the Gods and Goddesses changed.  It wasn't just the Greek influence that changed names (Isis instead of Aset etc) but the myths around the Gods and their origins, relationships with each other, their attributes as well as their names changed as one God or Goddess rose to prominence in a certain area, or as a certain area grew more important on a national scale.  This can be seen with the rise of Amun's 'power' when Thebes was elevated to the 'capital' of Egypt during the Eighteenth Dynasty which I wrote about previously.

In this spirit, when the cult of Ra rose to prominence Ra became associated with Horus as Ra-Horakhty. Hathor had been paired with Ra in some regions and when Isis began to be paired with Ra, Hathor and Isis began to be merged in some regions also, as Isis-Hathor.   It is this pairing of Isis-Hathor, that is seen in this feast.

The third day of Mesore (today) is set aside to celebrate Hathor in her aspect as Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.  Ancient Egyptians called this star Sothis and Sopdet, and attributed it to many things including the Eye of Ra.  As I already stated in a previous entry, Hathor has been known as the Eye of Ra at times.  The star Sirius (Sothis/Sopdet) is seen as a representation of Hathor in that role.

Narrative inscriptions from the Hathor temple at Dendera reaffirm Isis-Hathor as Sirius. 
"Radiantly, above Her father’s forehead, the Golden One rises, and Her mysterious form occupies the bow of His boat. Her rays unite with the luminous God on that beautiful day of the birth of the sun disk on the morning of the new year’s feast." 
This refers to the heliacal rising of Sirius which re-establishes world order by creating a new year,
". . . the beautiful one who appears in heaven, the truth who regulates the world at the head of the sun barge, the Queen and Mistress of awe, the ruler (of Gods and) Goddesses, Isis the great, the Mother of the Gods."
Close up of the Zodiac above showing Sirius
as the star between the horns of the cow Hathor.
There are many images of Hathor that have survived the ages.  The mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, near Der al Bahri, has Hathor as a standing cow with a sun disk between her horns.  Similar images of her have been found in the temple of Dendera and in Saqqara on the walls of the stepped Pyramid of Djoser.  The zodiac from the temple at Dendera depicts Hathor as Sirius using this form.  See image to the right.

Many Egyptian temples were built so the rays of the rising Sirius would fall upon their altars, such was the importance of Sirius to the Egyptian civilisation. It is believed that the temple of Hathor at Dendera was oriented in a way to allow the viewing of Sirius, although there is some speculation that this was just a happy coincidence.

The Great Pyramid also shows a Sirius alignment.  Star shafts leading from the Queen and King chambers of Khufu's pyramid point to specific stars, the King Chamber's to the Orion constellation (as this was identified with Osiris) and the Queen Chamber's southern shaft was oriented to Sirius, being identified with Isis (Isis-Hathor). 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Calendar Entry #16: Ipip Festival and Dipolieia

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Ipip Festival
Tawaret also known as Ipet
Months, in ancient Egypt, were named for feasts that were celebrated during or at the beginning of the next month.  The month of Ipip (Ipt-hmt) is the third month in Shomu and is named after the Ipip festival. The fourth month of Shomu (the summer season) is Mesore and has just begun.  With Ipip occurring at the beginning of Mesore, it's name was taken for the the name of the preceding month.

The Ipip Festival has been mentioned in many sources, from an account by a jeweller in Saqqara to documents pertaining to Deir el-Medina, to papyri dating to the third year of Ramesses X.  During the late New Kingdom the festival was celebrated in the temple of Karnak and the oracle text of Nesamun from the late 20th Dynasty said that Amon of Karnak appeared during the feast's procession.  However, aside from this mention, and despite the festival being referred to in many different ancient sources, the actual rituals and other details about the Ipip festival are largely unknown.

Ipip was another name for the hippopotamus goddess Ipet.  She was a fertility goddess from Thebes and at times equated to the goddess Mut.  She may have been a focus, but again there are no actual references to her that have survived.

Dipolieia  (and Bouphonia)

Buphonia, bulls circling an altar. 
Attic black-figure oenochoe (wine jug)
by a Gela painter 510-480 BC
Dipolieia is a religious festival held in ancient Greece in honour of Zeus.  (Di - Zeus, Polieus - of the city).  One of the main features of this festival, as observed by the Greek traveller Pausanias, is the Bouphonia (which at times has also been another name for Dipolieia).

The Bouphonia (ox murdering) is a ritual that involves the slaying of an ox, that had desecrated the altar of Zeus. Porphyry of Tyre, a Neoplatonic philosopher, described it as a bronze table rather than what would traditionally be an altar.  This suggests that the ritual may have had roots in Mycenaean culture because Mycenaean altars were usually tables of offerings; tables are common in representations of bull offerings in Mycenaean and Minoan art. There is a theory that at some time in the ancient past an unfortunate ox happened upon such a Mycenaean table and started munching on the grains that had been set there as an offering.  An incensed bystander or perhaps a priest, slayed the ox for its sacrilege.

For the Bouphonia, the altar/offering table was set with 'sacred grains' or cakes or both.  A group of oxen were ushered into the Acropolis, near the altar.  (Excavations have found a small temple with an open air precinct, for the oxen to be coaxed into, that has a small central structure where the Dipolieia sacrifice most probably took place).   The first unfortunate ox to eat from the altar was slain with a double axe (a bronze relic much like the table) by a cult official from the Thaulonidae clan called the bouphonos.  The bouphonos (ox murderer) would drop the axe and flee.  The ox was then butchered and eaten in a sacrificial feast.

After feasting comes the second part of Dipolieia, the ritual trial for the murder of the ox as the slaughter of a labouring ox was forbidden.  A judicial assembly was held in the Prytaneum and all who had taken part, in some form, in the slaying of the ox were summoned to appear.   Each laid the blame for the murder upon another.  The water-bearers, who purified the axe were accused.  They passed the guilt to the sharpener of the axe, who cast it upon the person who felled the ox.  That person passed blame to the axe itself.  The axe, unable to speak in it's own defence, was found guilty and thrown into the sea.

Afterwards the hide of the slain beast was stuffed with straw and set to give the appearance of still being alive.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Calendar Entry #15: Ceremony of Horus & Skira

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Ceremony of Horus the Beloved

Statute of Isis Suckling Horus; Bronze
Karnak Late Period (664-332 B.C.)
Egyptian Museum, Cairo
The name Horus is a sort of catch-all for many deities (I'm not going to mention them all).  One of the most famous would be Harseisis also called Heru-sa-Aset or Horus-son-of-Isis.  It was he who was conceived after the death and resurrection of his father, Osiris.  Heru became the patron of Lower Egypt owed in part to his battles with his uncle Set, in an attempt to not only avenge his father's murder, but to protect the people of Egypt and become the rightful ruler.  
There are many myths regarding how the Upper and Lower Kingdoms were united.  One, found in the Chester Beatty Papyrus I is the mythological story of “The Contendings of Horus and Seth” which describes the victory Heru had over Set (who was patron of the Upper Kingdom), as to who would take over Osiris' throne.   Some scholars point to this victory as being the basis of a Father-Son line of kingship succession rather than the King's brother taking over upon his death.  
A relief of Horus and Geb from tomb
KV14 in the Valley of the Kings.
An older form of Horus, is that of Haroeris, Heru-ur or Horus the Elder.  Heru-ur was worshipped in pre-Dynastic Upper Egypt.  He was a creator god, the falcon who flew at the beginning of time.  In this form, he is the brother of Osiris and Set, the second born of Geb and Nut's five children.   Heru-ur was the consort of Hathor, and it is in this form, that I suspect this ceremony refers to. 
This month, although not specifically mentioned by name on the Cauldrons' Calendar, features the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion.  This is a long festival where Hathor journeys from Dendera to Edfu to marry Horus, her beloved.  I'll cover this soon, it is coming up, so do watch out for it. 
What today's ceremony entails, I have been unable to uncover.  I could say that it is some sort of preparation for his upcoming nuptials, but that would be baseless speculation.  If anyone has anything more concrete then please comment.     

Skira is a three day long festival in the calendar of ancient Athens, which marks the end of the old year.  It was such an important celebration that, in Athens, the last month of the year was called Skirophorion, after the festival.  Skirophorion was the month of the final harvest of grain, so Skira was also a major agricultural festival.
To open the festival the priests of the Erechtheum (Erechtheus doubled as Poseidon in Athens - Poseidon Erechtheus) and Helios and the priestesses of Athena jointly took part in a procession beneath a canopy out of Athens to Skiron near Eleusis.  Plutarch stated that one of the three 'sacred plowings'  took place at Skiron, so it has been suggested that the end of the procession had some agricultural significance.
For the men, Skira meant they had to fast during the day, playing dice games to while away the time.  For women it was something different.  Skira, being about dissolution, seemed to flip social order.  This was one of the few days women were allowed to leave the women's quarters and gather in public.  They sacrificed and feasted and denied their husbands sex.  Some sources state that they ate large quantities of garlic to keep the men away.  Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata (411 BCE), portrays the women as using the freedom of Skira to plot to stop male domination.  
There was a also race during this festival to the shrine of Dionysos, where the participants were young men carrying vine branches.  The victor would receive a drink made of wine, honey, cheese, grain and olive oil - all the fruits Athena had been asked to bless. 
I'm not entirely sure that's a drink I would have wanted to win... or at least, taste.   

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Calendar Entry #14: Festival of Mut & Pentecost

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

 Festival of Mut

Mut Precinct, showing the Isheru, Karnak
Captured and edited by Luana on Wikimapia
The specifics of this festival, referred to by some scholars as the 'Great Offering' are unknown but it was also referred to as the 'Sailing of Mut', the Lady of Isheru. During the New Kingdom a statue of the Goddess was placed on a barque (boat) and sailed around the Isheru. The Isheru was a horseshoe shaped lake that was associated with different goddesses who took the role of Daughter of Re.  In the temple of Karnak, Mut was associated with Re as his daughter, coming to be known as the Eye of Re and this festival is to honour Mut in that aspect.

Held in Thebes each year, as with other feasts of the Solar Eye, this festival was likely to have been accompanied by music and lot of singing, dancing and drinking.  Sternberg-el Hotabi stated, in her 1992 work Ein Hymnus an Hathor, that this type of celebrating was to pacify the furious Eye of Re on her return to Thebes from Nubia.

There are several references to the Sailing of Mut in documents originating from Deir el-Medina, an ancient Egyptian village where many of the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived.  There have been inferences taken from some of these documents that some form of the festival may have taken place in Deir el-Medina, as the royal artisans were given time off work during the 'Sailing of Mut'.  It is likely that the feast rituals in Deir el-Medina would have included offerings of flowers and ointment to pacify the furious returning Goddess.

Mut is the mother of Khonsu and the wife of Amun at Thebes.  She was depicted as a woman with a vulture skin on her head as well as the crown of upper Egypt.  She can be traced back to the middle kingdom, but it is likely  that she was worshipped earlier.


Pentecost by Jean II Restout
Pentecost is also known as Whit Sunday, Whitsun, or Whit.  It is celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday.  Sometimes considered similar to Shavuot (where God gave the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai) Pentecost commemorates the birth of the Christian church by the giving of power of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of the most ancient feasts of the church even been included in the Acts of the Apostles (20: 16) and St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (16: 8).
The acts of apostles recounts the story of the original Pentecost.
Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. [Acts 2:1-4]
Pentecost is called Whit Sunday due to an old practice where some churches would baptise some of their converts on Pentecost.  The newly baptised would wear white robes. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Calendar Entry #13: Shavuot

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Encampment of Israelites, Mount Sinai
- Joseph Mallord William Turner
 Shavuot, or Shavu'oth in Classical Hebrew is a holiday that falls on the sixth (and seventh) day of Sivan in the Jewish calendar.  It is also known as the Festival of Weeks and is the second of three big festivals, which include Passover and Sukkot.

From an agricultural standpoint it celebrates the harvest of the first fruits and their being brought to the Temple.  Historically it commemorates the day God gave the Torah to the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai.  It is the giving of the Torah rather than the receiving that is celebrated, because the sages say that Jews are in a constant state of receiving the Torah; they receive it everyday.   This day celebrates the day they were first given the Torah. 

By Jewish law, Shavuot is to be celebrated in Israel for one day and in the Diaspora (anywhere outside of Israel) for two days.  This is why it appears on the two days in our Cauldrons Calendar.  (However, in accordance with Jewish practice, this started at sunset on the previous day - Tuesday 7th).

Shavuot at Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel - Amos Gil, PikiWiki
Shavuot is a movable celebration, in that it comes directly after Passover.  The link between Passover and Shavuot are such that Passover symbolises the freedom from physical bondage while Shavuot, with the giving of the Torah, celebrates the redemption from the spiritual bondage of idolatry and immorality. 

There is no work permitted on Shavuot and while it's not a public holiday outside of Israel, many Jews in the Diaspora may take their annual leave at this time. 

It is customary to: 
  • stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.
  • to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot.  Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with "milk and honey." Others believe it is because when the Jews had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws contained), they were unable to use their dishes until they were made kosher through the kashering process, they had to make do with a dairy meal.
  • read the Book of Ruth.  There is no definitive reason given for this, although one suggestion is that Ruth's conversion occurred during the harvest season.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Calendar Entry #12: Matariki & Arrephoria

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Pleiades star cluster - NASA
Matariki is the Maori name for the group of stars also known as the Pleiades star cluster or The Seven Sisters.  It is also what is referred to as the traditional Maori New Year.  The new year is marked by the rise of Matariki and lasts for up to 3 days after the new moon has risen following Matariki becoming visible.
Traditionally how bright Matariki was visibly determined how well the year's crops would be.  If the stars were clear and bright, the season would be warmer and the crops more productive.  If they were hazy, the year would be less productive. 

Matariki is a time to celebrate concepts and activities related to unity, gatherings, harvesting and planting, paying tributes to ancestors, honouring earth based deities and looking ahead to the future.

Acropolis at night

Arrephoria is a festival in Athens.  During this festival the Arrephoroi (two young girls between 7-11 years of age) were dressed in white and carried 'unspoken things' (or more likely things that were hidden from their view) from the top of the Acropolis to the garden of Aphrodite (at the Acropolis' base).  This is where it is suggested by scholars that this festival may have been confused in Classical and Hellenistic times with one to Erse, the Goddess of Dew.  In his book Greek Religion, Walter Burkert suggests that the girls carried dew, although not only in honour of Erse.  The underground passage they went through on their journey to the garden of Aphrodite passed an ancient spring which is where they could have obtained the 'dew' they carried.  He suggests that the festival also commemorates two daughters of Cecrops, both named for dew (or new growth) who fell from the Acropolis.

It is also believed that the Arrephoria was more likely a ritual completion of the old before the beginning of the new year (which was just after mid-summer in Athens - June in the Northern hemisphere).

In the present, this day would be a time to begin to complete unfinished projects, to remove what is no longer needed and making room for the new. 

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Calendar Entry #11: Offerings to Hapi and Amun

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.
Offerings to Hapi
Hapi is the Nile god (not to be confused with Hapy/Hapi - the son of Horus).  Worshipping of Hapi occurred in both temples and on the river Nile itself.  The annual flooding of the Nile was a very important part of life both in ancient and also modern times.  When the Nile floods the floodwaters deposit nutrient-rich sediment on the plains, creating fertile soil.  The annual floods were attributed to Hapi in ancient times, and offerings of food were thrown into the river because the people knew that if the floods were insufficient then there was a risk of famine.  Prayers and offerings for Hapi were for the floods but also the other blessings the river brought like fish, lotus, papyrus.  Things that the Egyptians used in daily life. 
Follow this link to read the longest surviving hymn to the Nile flood; a literary composition in Middle Egyptian, of uncertain date.
Offerings to Amun

Amun depicted with cow offerings from
the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Amun rose to become one of the most important god figures in Ancient Egypt.  He was the patron god of Thebes, and when Thebes became the capital during the Eighteenth Dynasty, Amun became more nationally recognised.  
Offerings have been recorded as being made in the form of grain, floral arrangements as well as cows.  
Hatshepsut claimed the right to rule by declaring that she was the daughter of the sun god Amun.  The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el Bahari on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings is full of pictures of him receiving her gifts, although subsequent rulers had evidence of her removed from the temple. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Calendar Entry #10: Receiving of Ra

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays - well we would if I had found anything.

Today is slated on the calendar (and all over the interwebs) as being the day Ancient Egyptians celebrated the 'Receiving of Ra'.  Unfortunately, though I've read over 100 pages of text, visited numerous sites over the last couple of days, and consulted all the books I have here with me in Sydney (only a small portion of my personal library unfortunately) I've been unable to find anything more than what the great and powerful (lol) Wikipedia says - "The Holiday of 'The Receiving of Ra' was celebrated on May 26 in the Gregorian calendar."  Gee that's a revelation.

Now I could have gone into a This Is Your Life kind of spiel about Ra, however it wouldn't really sit well in this series of posts and I've decided to do a Gods and Goddess of the World series where I'll look at Ra and his incarnations more fully than I would for this post.

If anyone out there has any actual information about the Receiving of Ra celebration - as in, what they did, why it's called what it is, what it's celebrating, then please leave a comment.  I would really appreciate it.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Calendar Entry #9: Lag B'Omer

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays
The grave of Rabbi Simeon Bar Yochai in
Meron on Lag B'Omer - Jonathan Stein
Lag BaOmer is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer.  According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15) Jews must count the days from Passover to Shavu'ot.  This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. 
There are two reasons to celebrate this day. 

1.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century of the common era and was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah.  He was also the author of the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy."  It is a commemoration of the mystical teachings he left behind. 

2.  The Talmud states that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavu'ot, a plague killed thousands (some sources state 24,000) of students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva.  This was because "they did not act respectfully towards each other.”  On Lag BaOmer it is said that the deaths ceased and the plague was over.  Rabbi Akiva only took five students after this, one of them being Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Lag B'Omer is therefore a celebration of the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and a day to remember to love and respect each other. 

Celebrations include outings, bonfires, parades as well as the first haircuts for children.  The burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in Meron, is the venue for an annual event, where hundreds of thousands of Jews gather to celebrate with bonfires, torches, singing and feasting.