It’s nearing the end of the year for Kemeticists, and that means I’ll have a few posts about it. This is considered a very introductory post to the epagomenal days. It is in no way comprehensive nor should be considered complete. It should, however, give folks an idea of what it is and why it is observed, even if there isn’t much of a celebratory observance.
The epagomenal days are a transition period between the end of the year and the start of the new one. There five days not considered a part of the year. On a practical level, this is due to the way months are arranged. The Egyptian calendar is arranged into twelve months with thirty days. This meant the year would have been 360 days, even though the solar year is roughly 365 days.
There is an exception when an extra month is added to the calendar as a leap month, called an “intercalary month”. The intercalary month is determined by examining when the lunar month of 1 Akhet begins in conjunction with the heliacal rising of Sirius. If the heliacal rising of Sirius occurred eleven days before the first lunar month (which began on a new moon) the intercalary month was added. Even though calculating the observance of the epagomenal days and subsequent new year could get complicated other aspects weren’t.
The myths behind the epagomenal days are a little less complex. Ra, according to the myths, forbade Nut from having a child on any day of the year. This devastated Nut as she was pregnant. Desparate, She employed the help of Ra’s vizier, Djehuty. Thoth then played against Khonsu in a game of senet with an additional caveat: if Djehuty wins, He wins an extra day. Djehuty, Who was incredibly good at the game, ended up winning five times. He then informed Nut that He won five extra days on which She could give birth. On the first day She gave birth to Wesir, the second day Heru-Wr, on the third day Set, on the fourth day Aset, and on the last day Nebet-Het.
Even though these seemed like wonderful things, in Ancient Egypt the epagomenal days were very dangerous. Sekhmet was believed to rise up after the last day of the year and try to destroy mankind. This period was considered dangerous enough to possibly cancel work as there are records of people given time off and little to no work was recorded during this period. People would wear amulets made of linen that was knotted twelve times to protect them from any danger during this period and in the upcoming year. There was also a ritual called “pacifying Sekhmet” which was performed and apparently could use the very goddess that wrought plagues during this time as a protector.
Modern Kemeticists celebrate the holiday with a more positive light in contrast to ancient practices. Members of the Kemetic Orthodoxy light candles and recite prayers, and some go as far as to create shrines to the children of Nut and Geb on Their respective days. Some Kemeticists use this time to fast. Some Kemeticists create amulets such as the linen amulet to ward off Sekhmet. There are even some who recreate the temple rituals during this time as a way to observe these holidays. However Kemeticsts may celebrate, it’s always with reverence and acknowledgment of the old religious year passing and the welcoming of the new one.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to have a few blog posts with a brief explanation of each of the epagomenal days, how they were observed, how they’re observed today, and a bit of trivia on each.
Jauhiainen, Heidi. “DO NOT CELEBRATE YOUR FEASTS WITHOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURS”: A Study of References to Feasts and Festivals in Non-Literary Documents from Ramesside Period Deir el-Medina. Diss. Helsinki University, 2009. PDF file.
Parker, Richard A. “The Calendars of Ancient Egypt”. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 26 (1950). PDF file.
Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002. Print.
Spalinger, Anthony. “Some Remarks on the Epagomenal Days in Ancient Egypt”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54.1(1995): 33-47. JSTOR.