Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Festivals in Ancient Egypt

We've adopted a "midsummer" theme for June here at Paranormal Romantics so I'm going to talk a little about ancient Egyptian summer festivals. They had a twelve month calendar as we do, although theirs consisted of 360 days, with five days of "makeup time."  Their year began with the inundation of the Nile, and was tied to the first new moon after the star Sirius reappeared in the sky.  With their typical efficiency, the Egyptians also maintained a separate civic calendar that didn't reset by the stars each year, in order for Pharaoh to collect his taxes reliably.

The summer season, or shemu saw some of the biggest festivals and celebrations, including the "Beautiful Festival of the Valley," whose origins trace back more than four thousand years. Held at the New Moon of month two, this festival was a major event in the city of Thebes, often running several days. It was a celebration of the dead, and began with a procession going from East (which represented the rising sun, new life) to the West (setting sun, land of the dead). The priests of Amun would lead the parade, carrying a statue of the god which had been decorated with a fabulous jewelled collar and a sun disk crown. This statue rode in  a ceremonial boat, decked with jewels and flowers, and would be followed by boats with the statues of Mut, his wife, and Khonsu, his son.  At the end of the procession sacrifices of food, wine and flowers would be presented to the gods, after which the people were invited to take flowers away with them to decorate the tombs of their families and loved ones. Feasting in the presence of the spirits of the deceased was considered a joyous occasion, in part because the spirits in the Afterlife would be nourished and supported by the attention.

Other, less well known festivals of the summer included a festival for Renenutet the Snake Goddess, as she and her creatures protected the fields from mice and other vermin. There was also an "adoration of Anubis" and a four day celebration of  the god fertility Min.  Special offerings were made to Hapy, god of the annual flooding of the Nile, and Amun, in hopes of ensuring a good inundation to replenish the soil in the fields. Hathor, goddess of joy and the home, adorned with cow horns (sometimes depicted as a beautful cow, or a cow-headed woman) also came in for some special celebrations at this time of the year.

I included a procession in my novel Magic of the Nile, although this was a one time celebration for Sobek the Crocodile God, as a new crocodile was dedicated at his temple in Thebes. The heroine in the book is Tyema, High Priestess of Sobek, who rides in the procession with the crocodile on display. (The god has given her the power to control his children as required.) Here's the excerpt as the parade gets underway:

Tyema’s heart beat faster at the honor of participating in a procession with Pharaoh. My astounding new cloak might be beautiful, but mere feathers can’t outshine  a living Great One.
            Paying the crocodile no heed, Nat-re-Akhte stopped for a moment beside her chair. “Are you ready for this, Lady Tyema?”
            “Indeed, my lord. It’s all so much grander than I’d imagined, but the procession pays proper tribute to Sobek. Thank you.” She knew if Pharaoh hadn’t taken a personal interest in this ceremony, things would have been done on a much lesser scale.
            He nodded. “An outstanding cloak, my dear, quite unusual. The priests of the Theban temples will have yet another reason to feel cast into the shade. And so they should.” He didn’t wait for an answer but walked to his own chair, separated from hers by heralds and standard bearers with the insignia of the Nomes of Egypt, the one for Nat-re-Akhte’s home province being foremost. The back of his chair was a glorious gilded rendition of the sun rising over the Nile. Uncut rubies set at the tip of each ray sparkled in the real sun as it rose higher. Six fan bearers took up position on either side of him as the burly litter bearers raised the chair high. In front of him soldiers stood ready to march, carrying his gold encrusted bow, shield and sword, accompanied by two handlers with Pharaoh’s snarling hunting leopards on leashes. Behind him was another miniature boat, elaborately constructed and painted, bearing an effigy of the god Horus, Pharaoh’s personal sponsor among the Great Ones. Depicted in falcon form, the statue was taller than a man, wings outspread, decorated in vibrant multicolored enamel and blue faience, with the head gold plated. Gleaming eyes, one a diamond and the other a yellow stone she couldn’t name, gazed upon the scene. Tyema knew Horus and Sobek maintained a friendly rivalry, so she could find no fault with the parade concluding on a tribute to Horus.
            Pharaoh must have made some sign she missed because suddenly her litter was raised into the air. Tyema clutched the arms of her chair as the eighteen men carrying her and the crocodile adjusted their hold on the ebony poles to achieve maximum stability. She glanced at Sahure for reassurance and he grinned, giving her a raised thumb of support. Far ahead, at the beginning of the procession, she heard the blare of trumpets. From her new position, supported on the shoulders of the massive litter bearers, three men at each corner and on both sides in the middle, she could see movement in the ranks of marchers. She took a deep breath, knowing she had to stay calm to play her part in this pageant, and more importantly, to ensure the crocodile played his. So far the animal stayed locked in his regal pose, watching his surroundings with the deceptively lazy demeanor of his kind. The litter bearers closest to him exuded almost palpable fear, and she wished she’d had time to reassure the men the crocodile was firmly under her control.
            Music began, a somber march supported by the rhythmic pounding of drums and then a moment later, her litter was in motion. As she was carried through the gates of the palace road onto the wide street, the roar of the assembled crowd made her blink. The roadway was lined with excited, expectant people, at least ten deep, come to see the parade and marvel. Tyema stared straight ahead as she’d been instructed by Edekh, although it seemed wrong not to acknowledge the people who’d come to watch.  The cheers for Pharaoh were deafening. Nat-re-Akhte was a popular ruler, much beloved. She glanced back once, and saw him sitting straight and unsmiling, the picture of a Great One come to life. She was glad she’d met him in private prior to today, knew what a kind and thoughtful person he was, despite wearing the Two Crowns and being a god walking the earth.

            The procession wove through Thebes along the path they’d all agreed to, passing the large temples of other Great Ones and coming to a halt in front of the somewhat less impressive building that was Sobek’s.  As she arrived at the temple, Tyema saw the marchers who’d gone before her had dispersed to prearranged places beside the building, along the towering pillars inscribed with hieroglyphics extolling the powers of Sobek or in the square in front of the main entrance. Sobek’s cadre of  priests had also regrouped, waiting to greet her.

Here's the story of Magic of the Nile (a Night Owl Reviews Top Pick):
After a childhood spent scorned and ignored by her family because of her crippled foot, Tyema was magically healed then installed as the High Priestess of his temple by Sobek the Crocodile God. But Tyema is still haunted by her memories, scarred by the abuse she endured. Despite Sobek’s protection, as an adult she’s become a near recluse inside the temple grounds…
 Until Captain Sahure arrives in her remote town, sent from Thebes on an urgent mission for Pharaoh, requiring High Priestess Tyema’s help. From that moment on, her quiet, safe life is upended in ways she never could have expected.
 But after a whirlwind romance with Sahure, the two part as Pharaoh orders him to undertake another assignment on Egypt’s dangerous frontier, far from Tyema’s remote town.
 Heart-broken, Tyema is ready to return to her life of loneliness, official duties and, now, regret. But the Crocodile God has other plans for his priestess: she must uncover the sorcerer who threatens Pharaoh’s life with black magic. Soon enough, Tyema finds herself thrown into the chaos of Pharoah’s court, neck deep in intrigue and danger. Just when she thinks she can’t take the pressures of a very public court life and her secret investigation for the Crocodile God any longer, Sahure re-enters the scene.
 But is her former love there to help or to hinder? Can they resolve their differences and work together to find the dark sorcerer who threatens Pharaoh and Egypt? Will the love between a proud warrior and a shy priestess lead them to a future together?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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