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 I also do not cite a source for the Kemetic Orthodox information as I used to be a member and feel a little too lazy to look up where exactly that information is listed on the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

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The first epagomenal day marks the
birth of Wesir, the eldest child of Nut and Geb. Most of this post is introductory and will focus on the practices of Edfu and Dendera during the Ptolemaic period. Despite this I tried to include some trivia and a bit of an explanation of the significance of the holiday. It is in no way complete.

Coinciding with the myths Wesir is the first epagomenal day since He is the eldest child of Nut and Geb. There were a few names for this holiday. Anthony Spalinger notes in the Leyden I papyrus the first epagomenal day was in reference to Wesir despite the illegibility of the name. Meanwhile the Leyden II papyrus noted it as “HAsgw, who does not know his oar”. Spalinger also noted in the Cairo Calendar the “pure bull in his field” was the name for the Birth of Wesir. However another manuscript about the epagomenal days notes the day refers to the an aHA-fish in a pool, though this is possibly a scribal error. All of these are referencing the new year and connect Wesir with being responsible for it in some fashion.

This connection with the new year was further reflected astronomically through a few aspects. One of the aspects was with the constellation Sah (which many in the Western world will recognize as Orion). Most Kemeticists are familiar with the associations of Aset and Sirius as well that association with the new year. What is less noted is the constellation of Sah and its stellar association with the end of the year. Part of this is suggested by His depiction of looking away from Sopdet (Sirius), whereas Sopdet looks towards Him. They both are believed to look in the direction of the decans and Sah’s turning away suggests and ending of that year, whereas Sopdet looks towards Him as a suggestion of the start of a new year.

One possible interpretation for this connection to the constellation Sah lies in some of the associations of Wesir in other temples. In the temple of Opet there is a passage to Wesir which refers to Him as a harbinger of new beginnings. While the inscription in Opet is most assuredly about the first epagomenal day, there is some suggestion Wesir is also tied to the new year through passages such as this. Some of this comes from the interpretation of how Wesir begins the epagomenal days and, therefore, must begin the new year in the same fashion. A way this is tied is through His birth being visited by Ra at Opet, where a form of Wesir’s father is mentioned as Amun. In the inscriptions there are further inferences about Wesir’s traits of rebirth and rejuvenation. He also is said to bring the new year through “inheriting” Egypt from Aset in Her form of Sirius.

In the Temple of Edfu this festival consisted of dressing the pillar of Behedet as well as Edfu’s ennead. Meanwhile in the temple of Dendera there doesn’t seem to be an observance of this day. On the other hand the calendar for Het-Hert in Edfu notes how the robing ceremony was performed on a statue of Wesir from Dendera. In that light it’s possible there was something observed in Dendera but the information is unavailable to me.

Some Kemeticists light a candle and say prayers during the epagomenal days. While the source I found is a questionable translation of the Cairo Calendar, it should give some idea of a prayer to use if one wishes:

O Osiris, bull in his cavern

whose name is hidden…Hail

to thee; I am thy son, O father

Osiris. The name of this day is

The Pure One…

Sources:

Brier, Bob. Ancient Egyptian Magic. New York: Quill, 1981. Print.

van Bomhard, A.S. The Egyptian Calendar: a Work for Eternity. London: Periplus, 1999. Print.

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

Spalinger, Anthony. “Some Remarks on the Epagomenal Days in Ancient Egypt”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54.1(1995): 33-47. JSTOR.