Upholding Ma'at

Journeying through the modern world with ancient ways.

A Semi-Nifty Tekh Guide

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I originally planned on having this as a few different posts, but I decided to merge them into one, because it makes more sense to have everything covering the basics of the holiday in one post.   Since I originally had these sections as separate posts I decided to leave the respective sources with each section.  As usual this research is mostly introductory and incomplete.  I hope, just the same, it will provide a nice introduction to the holiday and provide more understanding of it.

What is Tekh?

Tekh, a holiday which translates to “drunkenness”, observes the myth of Sekhmet nearly destroying mankind but ceased upon intoxication. In Ancient Egypt Tekh was allegedly celebrated through intoxication in addition to rituals.  In the temple of Dendera the ritual for Tekh spanned five days which included a procession of Het-Hert to the temple roof,  returning back to Her shrine slowly, then the procession of the Dendera Ennead to the temple roof for the ritual of uniting with the sun disc.

The laymen during this time, if they could manage it, would also celebrate.  There are records of drunkenness in the temple so worshipers would get closer to Sekhmet through intoxication.  At the Temple of Mut during Hatsheput’s reign. there was a place devoted to this called “The Porch of Drunkenness”.  This part of the temple, however, was abandoned after her reign and even remodeled to cover all traces of it.  Other, similar observances were practiced throughout Ancient Egypt only without evidence of a reserved space.

Sources

  • Bryan, Betsy M.  “Amenhotep III’s Legacy in the Temple of Mut.”  Offerings to the Discerning Eye: An Egyptological Medley in Honor of Jack A. Josephson.  Ed. Sue D’Auria.  Google Books.  Web.  14 Aug 2013.
  • Guilhou, Nadine, 2010, Myth of the Heavenly Cow. In Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles.  21 Jan 2013
  • el-Sabban, Sherif.  Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000.  Print.

The Significance of Tekh

The holiday is more than celebrating the salvation of the world from Sekhmet or entering a state of intoxication. The implications of the intoxication have a religious connotation for practitioners as well as a mythical one. Parallels were of important significance in Ancient Egypt and the myth surrounding the holiday serves multiple purposes, especially considering the date on which it falls (20 days after the new year). Tekh holds many implications about the order on a religious and physical level. The myths in turn lend an explanation to natural phenomenon and serve to reflect the cosmic order in the rule of the land. Ultimately Tekh serves as an explanation for the hierarchical arrangements and natural phenomenon.

One of the outstanding elements of Tekh is the explanation of the current order of the universe and ruling class. The holiday not only marks the restructuring of the world—namely the heavens, the earth, and the duat—but it also establishes the restructuring of how the gods rule. Even though Ra is still perceived as a powerful ruler His ascension into heaven indicates a need to restructure the hierarchical ruling order. In this restructuring where Ra once ruled everything now gods are assigned certain roles, such as Nut reigns over the sky while Geb rules the earth.. The redistribution of rule from one god to many gods implies a need to destroy the current order for the purpose of creating a new order, for which Sekhmet’s rampage served as a vehicle. The need for a new order is reflected in one of the rituals in The Heavenly Cow where the king ascends to heaven as Ra did. Not only does the ritual reenact Ra’s ascension for the sake of the king’s heavenly ascension but it also establishes the creation of different realms.

This new cosmic order affected the earthly realm in the sense of establishing rule over mankind.  Ra’s restructure of the cosmic order affected how mankind structured its government. The government restructure manifests in one form as the parallels of the vizier and Djehuty. Nadine Guilhou notes how Djehuty takes His role of vizier and association with the moon during the rearrangement of the cosmos. Ra, on the other hand, still ultimately rules the day and retains solar associations. It’s because of this solar attribute Ra is able to bestow Djehuty His power and role. Djehuty is appointed not only as the one to serve in Ra’s place while He is away, but also as the light during the nighttime. The direct celestial-nobility connection demonstrates the metaphorical rule of a vizier as one like Djehuty’s: rule as the moon “rules” over the night, the vizier rules in the king’s absence. In addition to acquiring some of His power from Ra, there are implications Ra created Djehuty’s authority based on the puns in how baboon and ibis sound much like calling upon the primordial gods and protection from foreigners. The implication of Djehuty’s role serves as one example of the new order in that it enforces the god’s ability to act on behalf of Ra. Not only does the holiday mark the establishment of the reign of the gods, it also establishes the legitimacy of the king’s reign as well as the legitimacy of the vizier’s role.

There is also the parallel of the myth and natural phenomenon during this time of the year. There are relevant similarities between the timing of Tekh and the narrative. Tekh usually happens around the Gregorian calendar’s hottest part of the summer, the “dog days of summer”, which also coincides with the rising of Sirius (a marker of the new year). The “heat” of Sekhmet’s wrath, a wrath which devastates mankind, parallels the crop-withering heat and deaths from dehydration and diseases that thrive in such a climate. Even though most of the slaying in that respect also contains a following of demons the parallel is still noted.  Despite the dangers of illness and various maladies another even occurred which brought something more positive. According to Guilhou, the inundation also brought waters enriched with iron, namely hematite, which gives the water its red color. It’s not difficult to conclude there’s a correlation between a river of red water and the myth of Sekhmet. Despite the water’s color there’s a positive correlation between this event and agriculture. Much of winemaking—as with all crops at the time—depended on the Nile flood to provide enough grapes, as Mu-Chou Poo also asserts the connection of the red waters of the Nile and the tale of Sekhmet. Her actions also imply other earthly aspects.

The holiday possibly celebrates an aspect of human nature as well. The holiday may serve an element that explains the nature of man’s wrongdoing and free will. Guilhou interpreted the story of Sekhmet asserts evil originates from man as opposed to the gods. Mankind planned to attack Ra first, and Ra responded by sending out Sekhmet. It is because of the initial plot by man the gods separate Themselves from mankind in order to place distance between Them and wickedness. André de Campos Silva believes this distance from the evil acts of humans, at least from the possible view of Ptahhotep, provided the gods more ability to vanquish evil. In that sense evil cannot prevail by this philosophy since evil does not originate from the gods. It also implies mankind chooses to act in evil ways and work separately from the gods, as manifested in Their departure. Regardless of how man punishes itself for wrongdoing, the gods will punish for the transgressions as it’s an act against Them. In the Old Kingdom some of this line blurred given the nature of punishment by the king. Everything event or action parallels.

Tekh serves as a holiday to explain not only the divine order but earthly order. This earthly order manifests as natural phenomena, governmental structure, as well as explain some attributes of human nature. Ultimately Tekh serves as a reminder of the structure in its current state as a result of human actions on a mythical level. It also reminds the Ancient Egyptians how the government hierarchy is sound as it directly reflects the divine hierarchy. Tekh also serves as a mythical explanation for a natural iron deposit delivered during the Nile floods. All of these elements reflect each other in a way the Ancient Egyptians understood as indicative of order.

Sources

  • de Campos Silva, André, 2010, The Status of Free Will in Ancient Egypt’s Old And Middle Kingdoms According to the Instruction of Ptahhotep. Mestrado em História Antiga (Egiptologia), Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon.  Web.  21 Jan 2013
  • Guilhou, Nadine, 2010, Myth of the Heavenly Cow. In Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles.  21 Jan 2013
  • Poo, Mu-chou, 2010, Liquids in Temple Ritual. In Willeke Wendrich (ed.), UCLA Encyclopedia of  Egyptology, Los Angeles.   21 Jan 2013
  • “THE BOOK OF THE HEAVENLY COW”. The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Lisa Simpson.  Web.  21 Jan 2013
  • Stadler, Martin A., 2012, Thoth. In Jacco Dieleman, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of  Egyptology, Los Angeles.  21 Jan 2013

Celebrating Tekh

I will speak about how Tekh was celebrated from a historical basis.  I am not endorsing one try these methods to celebrate Tekh.  There are other ways to induce a trance state which do not include alcohol or drugs.  If one wishes to induce a trance state to celebrate Tekh, I recommend meditation or using music alone or in combination with meditation as a safer method.  There are other methods also recommended in this section which do not require intoxication to induce trance.

This is a festival about intoxication on a surface level. Some believe this is easily accessed with alcohol and drugs, namely the blue lotus blossom infused in wine. It is believed the blossom and root of  the blue lotus has a narcotic effect which includes euphoria, blurred vision, hallucinating, “vivid dreams”, and deep sleep. According to speculation this concoction would be drunk through a straw with a strainer in a cup.   Kasia Szpakowska and others contest the verity of narcotic consumption in this manner, let alone its consumption, since tests performed on the alleged paraphernalia have yet to produce a trace of narcotics of any sort. However I suspect if it wasn’t used to intoxicate the lily could have been ingested for a symbolic purpose given it’s an icon for euphoria, a point on which Szpakowska supports.

Another questionable method of intoxication consists of mandrake use. Just like the blue lotus the mandrake is shown in various offering scenes, often alongside the blue lotus, and depicted on cups. One source asserts  Het-Hert drank beer infused with mandrake in the story of Her destruction of mankind, though other translations do not mention mandrake. As with the blue lotus there’s lacking evidence of mandrake’s recreational use.

Intoxication, both literal and figurative, is achieved through other means. Het-Hert is also a goddess of dance, and these holidays are known for it. Worship of Het-Hert also consisted of general jubilation as She is associated with joy. Drunkenness did occur during this festival, as did all festivals dedicated to Het-Hert, but everything combined to form a state of ecstasy. There is also the altered state of drowsiness which results from inebriation. What seems to distinguish spiritual inebriation from profane inebriation is the purpose. Since the intoxication served as a connection with the gods (or a goddess in this case) and not solely for personal reasons the Ancient Egyptians didn’t take exception, a unique feature since drunkenness was socially unacceptable .

There’s circumstantial evidence that Het-Hert was approached in dreams or a dream-like state dating from the New Kingdom. It appears these states were entered with the help of intoxication. Moreover it seems encountering Het-Hert in a dream wasn’t exactly planned either. She appeared spontaneously, though the festivities at night seem to act as a possible vigil for Her.

Sources

  • Assmann, Jan. The Search for God in Ancient Egypt.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • Emboden, Jr., William A. “Sacred Narcotic Water Lily of the Nile: Nymphaea caerulea Sav.” Economic Botany, 33(1) (1979), pp. 395-407. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.
  • Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology.  Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002.
  • Szpakowska, Kasia. “Altered States: An inquiry into the Possible Use of Narcotics or Alcohol to Induce Dreams in Pharaonic Egypt”. Occasional Volume of the Egyptologists’ Electronic Forum , 1, 2003, 225-237.
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