Since I just celebrated a birthday this week, I decided to take a look at some Ancient Egyptian traditions surrounding a person’s birth. Apparently they didn’t make much of a fuss over individual’s birthdays, not even Pharaoh’s. Festivals and celebrations were more likely to be tied to important dates in the cycles of the Nile, or the key events of a ruler’s reign, such as a great victory in battle. The Egyptians did celebrate the birthdays of some of the gods, however.
Their calendar was quite accurate, consisting of twelve months with 30 days each. Unfortunately this system left them five days out of sync with the Earth’s journey around the Sun every year, so the practical Egyptians solved the problem by slotting in some celestial birthdays. Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis and her sister Nepthys received the honor of a day set aside for them.
The precise details of the ancient festivals are lost in time, but I can imagine there was feasting, drinking, dancing and a good time was had by all, don’t you suppose?
The Egyptians had beliefs centered around the birth of a child, however, including the idea that when you were born, the snake headed, cobra goddess Renenutet whispered your secret name in your ear. I’ve written Renenutet into one of my Tales of the Nile (currently a Work in Progress), as a protector for my heroine, although it’s not easy to summon the Great One. My heroine, Nima, Dancer of the Nile, and Kamin, the warrior traveling with her, are trapped by black magic hyenas.
Here’s an excerpt from the WIP:
“I was an observer at a ceremony for Renenutet the snake goddess once,” Kamin said.
Shutting her eyes for a moment, Nima shuddered. “Yes, but I’m terrified of snakes.”
“If the goddess is attuned to you and sends her serpents to aid us, they won’t turn on you, I swear. What do we have to lose?” He held her away from him, gazing into her pale face.
“Magic for magic.” Nima nodded. “What do we do?”
“I’ll have to cut the amulet off.” Reaching for his knife, Kamin raised one eyebrow, waiting for her permission.
Nima swallowed hard.
Carefully he inserted the tip of the blade under the knotted black leather cords and slashed the bracelet free, catching the clay bead as it fell. “Do we have any bread left?”
“You’re hungry at a time like this?” Reaching for the packs, she rummaged through the contents, coming out with a piece of flat bread.
“Renenutet is a goddess of grain and harvests. Bread is the closest to a proper offering we can get on this rock,” he chided. Holding the bead carefully, he got up and walked to the edge of the ledge, checking on the hyenas. A chorus of eerie howls rose as he peered over the precipice. “Still prowling. I had no real hope of their giving up and slinking away.”
“What do we do now?” She rubbed her bare wrist.
Setting the bread in the sunniest spot on the rock, Kamin laid the bead in center, pushing it into the soft bread and coiling the broken ends of the black thong in a circle. “I need one drop of your blood, sweetheart, so the great one hears the call through your bond with her –“
“You have a certain grim logic to this insane idea, soldier. Should I be concerned how much you know about black magic?”
Gritting her teeth against sharp pain for a brief moment while Kamin made a small incision in her wrist with his belt knife, Nima clenched her fist in the fabric of her dress.
Kamin stood up. “I’m done. Let’s see if this will work.”
As he moved the knife slowly over the bead, Nima watched first one, then two drops of her ruby blood fall onto the raised snake design on the amulet’s surface, coating the entire bead without dripping off the edges. Kamin laid the knife aside and spread his hands out, palms up. “Great One Renenutet, we pray most earnestly for you to send us thy servants, the black cobras of the rocks, to kill the hyenas waiting below. We ask for the one intervention you promised this woman’s mother, when you whispered Nima’s name into her ear at birth. Our need is dire and Egypt’s fate may rest on our shoulders.”
Eyebrows raised, hand extended toward her, he nodded expectantly.
Pure panic froze Nima’s vocal cords for a moment. I don’t know any chants! What does he want me to add? She swallowed past the lump in her throat, licked her lips. “Please, if my mother meant anything to you, as a dancer, as your priestess, help Kamin and me now,” Nima said.
A thin tendril of black smoke spiraled up from the bead. Kamin half lifted Nima away from the spot as first the bead and then the bread burst into angry purple black flames. Writhing in the fire’s grasp, the leather thongs grew, splitting in two and then splitting again, lengthening, fattening and spreading beyond the circle of the offering, in a tangle of tails. Nima screamed as eight black cobras raised their heads from the center of the fire circle, sinuously weaving and entwining around each other, red eyes gleaming, black tongues flicking. Hood pulsating, a ninth cobra, black like the others but with a golden head, reared four feet off the surface of the rock. Lowering its heavy head the snake extricated itself from the tangle of lesser snakes, slithering toward Nima.
And that’s a good place to leave it, for this blog post LOL. I’m editing as fast as I can, to be able to submit the manuscript to my publisher! A very happy birthday to any of my fellow Libras who might be reading this post - how did you (or will you) celebrate?