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.