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.