Upholding Ma'at

Journeying through the modern world with ancient ways.


4 Comments

Kemetic Round Table: Happy Multi-Holiday Observance Time!

When anyone converts from a belief in which they were raised to a new one there’s always conflict. If it’s not reconciling old beliefs with new ones it’s reconciling old religious traditions with new ones. I’ve been down this road in many ways before converting away from Christianity. I grew up thinking having to change tradition was a norm. My family is apparently very odd, yet very American, in that respect.

 

My father worked for a German company during my teens, which meant lots of traveling for him. He traveled so much I lost track of which country he was in most of the time. I’m sure my teachers suspected he was running out on us (it was one of those small towns that made Petyon Place look like Mayberry) since they grilled me often about his whereabouts. Awkward school situations aside it meant having to adjust holiday traditions. Since my father was out of the country a good portion of the time he missed out on holidays often. Holiday gatherings that once took place as a family had to be adjusted. Christmas gifts weren’t always opened together as a family or they arrived late. We stopped watching certain movies or specials because they were specific ones he requested and wasn’t there to request them. My father, since he still travels, ordered a Christmas tree this year instead of following tradition of picking out one at a tree farm.

 

Sometimes because my father travels new traditions were added or halfheartedly added. One summer my father insisted we observe Bastille day after coming back from France and missing Independence Day, even though we have no significant French ancestry nor ties to France. What happened was a confusing disaster and a house smelling of cheap wine. All but my father were against this practice for obvious reasons and felt it saw it for the contrived attempt to excuse poor wine choices. We gave up and left him to his cheap liquor. Despite this disaster some other traditions have been introduced with greater success, like a new holiday decorating tradition or a new holiday dish. After all, we’re Midwesterners and easily bribed with food.

 

There were times where family traditions changed not just because of absent family members, but due to changing circumstances. It used to be an Easter tradition to dye eggs for a family Easter egg hunt. As the children grew up there was less need to keep this tradition: we were at an age where we didn’t want to do it and there weren’t any children around for whom to keep the tradition going. There are others, and most changed because the tradition was no longer practical to keep. However gorging ourselves on food is still a family tradition.

When I moved away from Christianity not much changed, though there was some controversy over how I would observe holidays. It wasn’t so much of how my family felt my faith nor theirs would prohibit observation. I lucked out in that respect. My father’s side of the family are predominantly atheist so there was no issue about faith and the holidays. I grew up not attending church as a family, let alone on holidays. While we knew the religious significance my family raised me to observe it as a secular holiday. The issue of my faith stemmed from the holidays I wanted to observe coinciding with theirs, and the dietary restrictions prove to be an issue. My mother knew how to adjust to the family members who converted to Catholicism, but she wasn’t fully sure how to adjust for Kemetic practices. Luckily this is only an issue around Thanksgiving as that’s when I observe Ka-her-Ka and practice the rituals more rigorously. At first I was adamant about my dietary restrictions. As years have worn on I’ve grown too tired of the heated culinary debates and relented. I just do what I can and hope for the best.

 

When I’ve looked at this issue of overlapping holidays I’ve lucked out compared to the stories I’ve heard about Pagans and fellow Kemeticists. Most families are not multi-faith and tend to be hard nosed about what will and won’t be observed during the holidays. My family has made adjustments where possible but also knew what needed to be in which corner. As long as I’m not forcing my family to sit for long periods of time while I perform rituals in front of them they’re tolerant. My Catholic family members don’t expect the rest of us to attend Mass. The Baptist and Lutheran family members attend services and then spend time with the rest of the family. My atheist family members treat holidays like Christmas as secular holidays. The key for us is to understand when it’s time for someone to be religious and when it’s time to celebrate as a family. It’s probably why I don’t have any issues but personal ones about holidays.

 

I think what is key for my family is also the same advice I’d give anyone about celebrating multiple holidays: just know the time and place. Know when it’s time to celebrate family and being with family, and know when it’s time to celebrate it as a holy day. Don’t expect your family to burn a yule log if it’s never been done just because you observe Yule. Don’t look at the family attending church service as religion being shoved down your throat because you’re not Christian or Catholic. I know it’s hard not to look at that situation as forced, but understand to them it’s also an important family tradition. Even though sometimes traditions change there’s usually a new one in place where the whole family can enjoy it. Sometimes finding that new tradition for everyone will take work and tolerance.

 

Advertisements


1 Comment

A Semi-Nifty Tekh Guide

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.