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 I also do not cite a source for the Kemetic Orthodox information as I used to be a member and feel a little too lazy to look up where exactly that information is listed on the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.
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.