Upholding Ma'at

Journeying through the modern world with ancient ways.


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Ka-her-Ka 101

So it’s that time when I observe Ka-her-Ka (thanks to the folks at Per Djeba for correcting my spelling on that) and I thought I’d give folks a quick, basic rundown of the holiday. I’m mostly doing this because there actually isn’t a whole lot out there from a Kemeticist’s perspective even with basic information. I will note, however, the myth of Ka-her-Ka I use is the most common one so I haven’t cited the source for it as I assume it’s common knowledge. I also do not cite a source for the Kemetic Orthodox information as I used to be a member and feel a little too lazy to look up where exactly that information is listed on the cite. I apologize for my laziness.

So What Exactly Is Ka-her-Ka?

Ka-her-Ka (sometimes written as Khoiak) translates to “sustenance upon sustenance” roughly. Members of the House of Netjer / Kemetic Orthodoxy refer to this holiday as “The Wesirian Mysteries”. Ka-her-Ka is a festival commemorating the death of Wesir and the birth of Heru-Sa-Aset. The death of Wesir in later periods, and Dendera is no exception, is attributed to the work of Set, Wesir’s youngest brother. According to this myth Aset and Nebt-Het search for Wesir’s body and find it in a river. Upon recovering the body Set cuts up Wesir’s body into 14 pieces. Aset and Nebt-Het recover all but His member as a fish ate it when Set tossed it into the Nile. Aset formed a substitute member, revived Wesir long enough for Aset to procreate, and Aset gave birth to Heru-Sa-Aset. This was also a time when Sokar was observed to have His own death. His statuette was made at roughly the same time as the corn mummies, but buried much sooner.

The myths surrounding Ka-her-Ka reflect the changes in the season .It marks the time when the harvest time wound down and the time to prepare for next year’s crops in Ancient Egypt. This is also believed by some as to why Wesir’s death is reenacted with the creation of corn mummies. In the earlier steps of creating the mummies the molds are watered so as the wheat and barley sprouts. While actual sprouting seems to be of little importance in its creation (more on that later) reenacting the myths reflected on Wesir’s agricultural aspect of the end of crop yield that, with proper care, would grow and yield the next year.

When Is Ka-her-Ka Celebrated?

This question is tricky to answer because it depends on how one chooses to celebrate. In Dendera the priests started the ritual preparations with mixing the seeds for the corn mummies on 4 Akhet 12 and ending on 4 Akhet 30 with the raising of the djed pillar and burial of the corn mummies. On the Gregorian calendar most modern Kemeticists observe this holiday around October or November (though sometimes a bit later if there’s an intercalary month) if they practice like the priests. The Sokar Festival was observed on 4 Akhet 26 in Dendera, which also places it in November on the Gregorian calendar. However, the statuette started work much sooner. This statuette started later than the corn mummies on 4 Akhet 14 but was completed at the same time as the corn mummies. It was also buried with them on 4 Akhet 30.

As with many records on Kemetic holidays there are more records about how the temples observed each holiday. It’s harder to discern when laymen celebrated except for 4 Akhet 22, the day of the funeral procession. Many people participated in the procession and even made pilgrimages to Abydos. Various stelae have been found in Abydos which mark the procession and serve as something of a script, indicating when the audience could interact and when to be bystanders. While there was a procession around the Sacred Lake in Dendera it’s hard to determine, though it can be assumed it happened, if laymen attended. Later that evening people would hold a vigil by lamplight. While there is evidence the laymen also produced corn mummies it’s uncertain if they followed the same formula as the priests did. On that point I will omit the practice and focus on the procession and vigil. If one focuses only on the procession and vigil this would place the holiday observance in November on the Gregorian calendar.

How Was Ka-her-Ka Celebrated?

How the holiday was celebrated depends on which perspective is taken. As mentioned before the priests as Dendera observed this time through making statuettes: one of Khenty-Imenti, another Wesir figure (which has yet to be determined whom it represents), and a Sokar figure. These statuettes were given a procession followed by a funeral, including a burial with preparations starting at 4 Akhet 23 and ending on 4 Akhet 30. In the process of burying the figures the figures of the previous year’s figures were removed on 4 Akhet 24.

The common man, conversely, had a less elaborate time. As mentioned a procession was held in which Wesir’s death and rise of Heru-Sa-Aset were reenacted. Later that night a vigil was held. The layman also made their own corn mummies as excavations have uncovered large amounts of corn mummies buried in pits.

What Are Corn Mummies?

Corn mummies are statuettes made to look like Wesir. In the temple there was another corn mummy made, but not much is known about it at this time. They are made of wheat, barley, and sand. The corn mummies are made over a timespan of roughly ten days. After soaking the wheat and barley for six hours sand is mixed in with the seeds and water. This mixture is placed inside the corn mummy molds (which are lined with linen) and sandwiched between reeds, where it is watered day and night and the reeds changed at each watering. The reeds are buried while the water is collected. This begins on 4 Akhet 12 and ends on 4 Akhet 21 in Dendera.

On 4 Akhet 21 the mummy halves are removed from their molds and joined with incense. The funerary cloth is woven. The mummies are then wrapped in a papyrus cord in four places (the knob of the atef crown, the neck, the arms, and legs). Finally the corn mummies are prepared for burial on 4 Akhet 23 when the mummies are covered in 14 amulets, bandaged, and placed in a coffin chaped like Sokar.

The mentioned creation of the corn mummies is how it was done in temples. In the temples the corn mummies were created by the shentayit, a priestess who enacts the role of Aset. We do know the corn mummy mold was made of a precious metal or even an alloy of gold and silver, though clay molds have been discovered as well. It is uncertain how the corn mummies were made amongst laymen, but it is believed by Egyptologist that laymen had access to the resources to make their own. Some excavations have uncovered pits of several corn mummies by the Nile, leading to the theory that sprouting corn mummies at the time of their creating wasn’t important as much as the symbolism or even being sprouted by the Nile waters.

How Does Sokar Play Into All of This, Then?

Sokar is a god who predates Wesir and even exhibits similarr traits. He originally had a festival much like Ka-Her-Ka which was observed on 4 Akhet 26 in Dendera, but eventually merged with Ka-her-Ka. Like the corn mummies Sokar took several days to be formed though of a different composition. The Sokar statuette was formed of soil, resins, oils, and gemstones and faience beginning on 4 Akhet 14 in Dendera. This was annointed, baked, and shaped into Sokar. It was eventually painted with a yellow face, turquoise jaw, and black eyes. A wig of lapis lazuli was placed on its head.

The ritual on 4 Akhet 26 was very simple at Dendera. A procession circled the temple four times. The procession led into the Chamber of Heru where libations were offered. Afterwards the procession returned to the “House of the Divine Mansion”. On 4 Akhet 30 the Sokar statuette was buried in the crypt, thus replacing the previous year’s statuette. The previous year’s statuette along with previous year’s corn mummies were removed from the crypt days prior on 4 Akhet 24. The previous year’s statuettes’ bandages were removed, and the previous year’s Sokar received beaded netting made of lapis lazuli. Along with the corn mummies the statuette was anointed, bandaged, and buried elsewhere on the temple grounds.

I know for an introductory post this is absolutely overwhelming. It’s why I recommend reading the sources I used for this post to get a better grip on the ritual if a formal ritual is desired. Even if the formal ritual isn’t followed it’s great to get a better understanding of the holiday anyway. In the meantime I think the easiest way to observe Ka-her-Ka is through making a corn mummy and a night vigil given what we know the laymen practices. I’d even go as far as to simplify it by only practicing a night vigil. The important thing to remember about this holiday is the passing of the harvest season, and subsequently Wesir and Sokar. Even though they pass now we work to plant the seeds and sow the fields in order to produce a yield next season in whatever way one wishes to understand growing a crop.

Sources

El-Sabban, Sherif. Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt. Google books.

“Khoiak Festival”. Digital Egypt Online. Web. Retrieved 2009.

Meeks, Dmitri and Christine Farvard-Meeks. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Google books.

Ritner, Robert Kriech. “The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice.” Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54 (1993): 59. PDF.

Schulz, Regine. “A Corn Mummy Decoded”. PDF

Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. New York, Cambridge 2001. Print.

Tooley, Angela M.J. “Osiris Bricks”. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 82 (1996), pp. 167-

179 JSTOR. 2/21/11.

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Craft Friday: Corn Mummy Molds

With the Ka-Her-Ka season upon me I thought about how corn mummies are essential both in temple and layman practice. Given that I’d share how to make a corn mummy mold as corn mummies.  Corn mummies are miniature statuettes made from a combination of sand, wheat, and barley, with soil added to the mix depending on the region.  These mummies were shaped like Wesir and bandaged with linens and finally given a mask and atef crown made of wax.

The sources I found call for the molds to be made out of silver or gold (or both), but there are molds also found made of clay. I am not awesome enough as a goldsmith nor can afford the tools necessary, and I suspect I’m not alone so clay is the media I chose.  If you can get gold-colored oven bake clay I recommend it as it skips painting it.  Plus my paint job is rather embarrassing given I didn’t realize how little gold paint I had.

I’m not making the molds to scale with the corn mummies found in excavations. If you wish to make them to scale the mummies were roughly 17 1/2 inches long, 5 1/4 inches wide, and 5 1/2 inches deep.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Oven bake clay
  • Gold acrylic paint
  • Toothpick
  • Wax paper
  • Paint brush
  • Cardstock
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sculpting tools (optional)

1.  Knead the clay until it’s soft and workable. Form two block from the clay.

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2.  Slightly flatten the blocks. Try to keep the blocks identical dimensions so when used they halves will match up.

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3.  Draw an image of the outline of Wesir onto the cardstock. Cut it out. This will serve as a stencil for the molds so they will match up later.

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4.  Place the stencil on the clay and trace with a toothpick. Scoop out some of the clay.

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5.  Poke holes in the sides leading into the mold.  It won’t drain very well, but given the mold is there to shape germinating seeds it seems to be a non issue.

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6.  Bake in the oven as per the instructions. Let cool, then paint.

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When using it remember to line the mold with linen fabric, as this was what was done when making corn mummies.  In Dendera the molds were also covered in reeds when in use.


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Inspirational Tuesday: The Path of Self-Love

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’ve fully figured out how to love myself. I feel lying to myself like that is a disservice and unloving. What I can tell you is that I had a long road to travel to get to the point where I committed to loving myself. It hasn’t been an easy road. It certainly wasn’t a road where I had some strong advantages in that regard.

In America, especially for women, it’s taught that love isn’t something we can do for ourselves unless there’s external validation for it. Our worthiness for love is taught from a very young age. Everything from my basic assertiveness to outright boorish attitudes was usually met with, “If you don’t act like a lady no one will love you. You will be alone. You must be accommodating and pleasant at all times.” What really got to me over the years was how to be “pleasant”. No matter how “pleasant” I was it was never enough. If I took pride in something I did I was “too proudful” and had to be taken down a peg in someone’s eyes. If I was articulate and conveyed a point intelligently I was “trying too hard to appear brainy” and had to be shown how stupid I really was. Even to this day I’m perplexed how an elementary school teacher exclaimed how I think too big and needed to dumb myself down. If I met these tasks, people took jabs at me in other ways. I was “too ugly”, “too fat” (it didn’t matter the only person thinner than me at times had a thyroid problem), “a slut” (my sexual activity, or lack thereof, was irrelevant), or some other attack on me that was code for acting inappropriately for my sex.

If American society doesn’t teach people to hate ourselves for one reason it finds others. When I very little I was misdiagnosed as developmentally disabled and saw the dark side of learning disabled programs. While there have been strident efforts towards reform and moving away from what it was even in the 80’s (which was when I spent my time) there’s still a lot of systematic abuse. Most of the abuse focuses on making those with disabilities feel inferior or how they don’t matter. I was lucky in that I wasn’t sexually abused, but I’ve heard stories of that happening. I won’t go into all the details of what I experienced because it would detract, not to mention it’s hard to explain how I felt in those moments especially at a young age. While I did escape that program when I entered kindergarten thanks to an experienced teacher passionate about her work with developmentally disabled children, as well as advocacy groups and the district psychologist in tow (I will someday explain why all of that was necessary) I still had that stigma. I still had to battle with my teachers’ prejudices towards me, teachers still convinced I was somehow “less than” due to their prejudices against the developmentally disabled. I didn’t feel I overcame that stigma until college.

Part of my reason for feeling I started to overcome my self-loathing in college happened for many reasons. After battling a very dysfunctional family, an ex-boyfriend who raped me and stalked me, various broken systems (the schools nor law enforcement cared my ex was stalking me, even if it happened on school grounds), as well as my suicidal tendencies I felt free. I had a newfound lease on life by attending college. For once I had a very clear vision of how I wanted my life to look and how I was going to do it. I believed – in retrospect maybe with naivete – college would enhance my odds of getting a career in the performing arts. I always loved dancing and creating pieces, and this love led me to prepare for a career as a choreographer. It was at this time where I ran into a classmate who decided I needed to learn how to be a gay diva. I know many people feel being a diva is only about being “bitchy”, but I’ve come to realize why acting like a diva on some level helps with love. When you live a life that is mired in people wanting to hate you for inherently existing and changing one’s surroundings isn’t possible, raising oneself above the mire through just one of many methods is the only way to do it. There was another way I learned to rise above the mess, one that is probably more socially acceptable.

During my studies I ended up finding a religious path which I consider life-affirming. I found it through my own experiences with Het-Hert and subsequent conversion to Kemeticism. At that time I believed like others the Ancient Egyptian gods could be placed in boxes. I felt Het-Hert was a goddess of love, and given my life I needed plenty. It seemed for a while that everything was falling into place, even with new friends who were loving and supportive. I was learning to heal from my rape through consensual sex, though I picked partners who sent mixed signals. Close to the end of college my life faced an incredible upheaval.

I watched everything I worked for fall apart in six years. I lost my job and couldn’t get rehired, I watched friends abandon me and take advantage of my situation, I abandoned my dream of being a choreographer, and found out how worthless my diploma is despite the assurance of my academic advisors. I lost all of my savings and watched as debts piled up. Saying I was devastated to watch the life I was trying to build crumble is an understatement. I know I annoyed those in my life, but I don’t know if they were too exhausted to tell me they were tired or they never had that compassion to begin with in some cases. Unlike many others I still kept to my faith, even if I felt everything including my self-identity wavered.   If anything during this time I did more to learn what I truly believed and my understanding of Het-Hert. I studied more about the practices of Dendera and started piecing together the rituals. I saw Het-Hert less as an archetype for love and more as a motherly goddess. What I learned about spiritual love in worshiping Her, however, didn’t leave me.

A few years ago I reached a point where I had enough of feeling used up and left for dead. I prayed to Sekhmet to help me clear out those in my life and practices which were toxic. I don’t know if it was a psychological motivator or if She doesn’t waste time but that prayer was answered in a quick and tumultuous way. People whom I thought would always be my friend I either cut out in a dramatic fashion or they parted ways with me. I also saw at that time people who were willing to pray for me as I got through clearing people out. As they cleared I saw my vision for my life return and have pursued it accordingly. I had violent fights with some of my family where they saw my true strength emerge and where I learned I still needed to grow. I saw my wake up call to where if I truly loved myself I would answer it. Part of that meant active pursuit of healing old scars from my past.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but putting my foot down was the first sign I was finally learning how to love myself. Because of that I kicked some folks out of my life while some folks left my life of their own volition. During that time I learned another path of self-love. I learned new ways to take care of my anxiety disorder. Some of it came in the form of therapy, some from researching what to do during an anxiety attack (I ran some of the methods over with my therapist, who found them healthy), and some of it through prayer. I regained my sense of self, albeit slowly.  Some of my experiences with this I’ve shared before on this blog.

Sharing my personal experiences taught me a new approach to self-love, though not in the way people would expect. I learned some people didn’t like I discussed the less pleasant aspects of my life and what I’ve learned from it. I got to see passive-aggressive remarks about how someone’s “trying to be a bad bitch”, “lying”, read posts of how I’m “schizophrenic”, how I’m “a homewrecking slut”, and so on. I was debating how to handle these issues. I couldn’t decide whether to confront these bullies (let’s call it what it is) head on. I prayed about it to Het-Hert and asked people I know have been through similar experiences. The response was something to the effect of ignore them; live my life. I agreed even at the time it was great advice, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling something had to be done. I kept praying to many gods about the issue.

It all made sense when I shared with a couple of other friends. When they looked at what was said and advised the same thing, one of them added the comment of how these are the type of people who have to hate. The people who act like this are truly hate mongers. I ended up responding with, “Well, I guess it’s time to love myself.” I was silent while those words echoed in my head. It was something I should have been doing anyway, but there it was: my dedication to love myself. I finally uttered the words of my path all these years. What started as worshiping an archetype became a personal manifestation for me.

The reason to ignore hate mongers stems not only to bring peace of mind, but because you love yourself enough to know most aren’t worth the time and effort. There will always be someone who hates another for some reason, even if the reason only exists in their mind. Hatred towards people is in no short supply in this world. If left to my own devices I can generate enough self-loathing unmatched by 200 of my biggest “haters”. Let them put forth the time and effort. Yes, there will be a time when facing such hatred will come. There will be people who will do anything to make you feel their hatred for you so they don’t have to work as hard to hate. They will vandalize your things, they will spread rumors about you, they will attack you. However, not every act of hatred will be physically violent. Not every act of hatred towards me is worth my attention. I can call it out when it’s needed and encourage others to call out hatred. However the hatred I currently face is only bullying. I love myself too much to allow bullies into my life or my head.

I’ve cleaned house again and those people have been thrown out. When I find myself starting my self-loathing I’ve made it a habit to pray to Het-Hert to give myself enough love to get through it. I’m not always successful. After all I am human. I’m still learning some things about self-love. I know, though, I have a path that is exponentially less destructive than ever. It’s a path that includes self-compassion and learning to love the person I am and can be.