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22 March, 2012

F is for Festivals

Running way behind.

So the thing about Egyptian religion is that, from the point of view of the common man, the stuff they got to participate in outside their household were the festivals. The daily cultus of the deities in the temples was under the purview of the priests, and regular folks were not invited.

Which means that I think it's kind of important to figure out what to do for those festivals, the things that people like me would be regularly participating in. And that's not a simple question.

Some of the festivals, as is the case for pretty much all religions, were seasonally based. And the Egyptian seasons were different. There were three of them - Akhet, apparently meaning 'horizon', the flood season; Peret, meaning 'emergence', the planting and growth season (often translated, I've found, as 'winter'), and 'Shomu', which means 'low water', the harvest and parching summer season. While that hot summer season significantly overlaps the Northern Hemisphere's temperate season of summer, note that that winds up putting the planting and farming season starting around the time that Wheel of the Year celebrating pagans mark the harvest and the dead at Samhain.

There are ways of thinking about this, but they do require thinking.

There's also the problems of building the calendar itself. The oldest festival calendar appears to have been lunar, and thus structured similarly to the modern Jewish calendar. However, at some point after the establishment of the civil calendar (a 365-day year), festivals started to 'drift' and attach to that. So that raises the question of whether a given date refers to the civil calendar or the religious lunar calendar or, indeed, the later lunar calendar that was attached to the civil calendar rather than observations of the stars.... And how does one want to do it? My current draft calendar is basically a civil-year calendar. I don't like that, and I want to update it at least somewhat, but that's a lot of work - and I haven't really wanted to go to the work to hand-calculate every month, so that's work I'm not doing. Maybe someday I'll find a computer program that will do the grinding for me, and then I can make a shiny new webpage for that.

And then, of course, what to do for each of those festivals, which - in ancient times - were celebrated by the state apparatus, often had governmental activity, involved interactions between active great temples, and so on. Finding something that can be done simply, at home or in a small community, is a lot harder.


Alex said...

Out of curiosity, since it came up for me as I was reading your book, do we know how they accounted for the extra month/seasonal drift? It seemed like there's a half-month or so in there unaccounted for.

My personal feeling would be to go with the symbolic association of the seasons, having Peret for spring/early summer (say, Mar 1 - June 29), Shomu for 'late' summer/fall (June 30 - Oct 31), and Akhet for winter (Nov 1 - Mar 1), since that would be the closest comparison in my neck of the woods, but that would seem likely to throw off other festivals that would be closely associated with the time of year and the seasons...

(For example, if a god's birthday is tagged to a certain date, and suddenly the shifting of the calendar has it in the completely wrong associated season, that's obviously not going to work out.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

The lunar calendar had a leap month every couple of years, like the Jewish calendar does. (If the New Year festival fell in the last 11 days of its lunar month, the following year had 13 moons.)

The civil calendar had no leap day, and thus drifted until some colonising conqueror put an end to that. This meant that after a while they made a second lunar calendar that based off the drifting civil year instead of star observation. Because calendaring is MADNESS, MADNESS.

SatAset said...

You may like to know that in one of Terence DuQuesne's articles "Exalting Wepwawet" on pages 27-28 he mentions that groups of people would gather to celebrate festivals privately; this was called "Offering to the God." And private devotions to a god were called "Being with his/her god" or "Being in the Arms of his/her god".