For my first blog post in 2018, I would first like to say Happy New Year. I hope your New Year’s period was pleasant in a way that suits you best – whether it was by meditating, taking part in a small gathering with your family and friends or big celebrations. I hope excitements and new plans are happily bouncing around in your minds, and may this year brings more joy to you and your loved ones.
I have been thinking back on some New Years advice from my grandmother. Spend a little time to pray around midnight to be grateful for the year that has passed and ask for blessings for the coming year. If possible, despite the long night of partying, get up early in the first day of the New Year to watch the sunrise. Another advice is to not travel long distance so near the major holidays. If one does need to travel, try to travel one or two weeks (5-13 days) before 25 December at the latest and ideally wait for one or two weeks after the holidays to return. There are ancient precedents for these advice that are rather beautiful.
Nowruz is not only an ancient holiday that is still celebrated globally, it has the distinction of being one of the longest continually celebrated holiday in the world. There are records of it being celebrated in 550 BCE by Cyrus the Great, but versions of the same celebration were also known to be observed 2,000 years earlier in the Kingdom of Aratta. Nowruz is traditionally observed on the day of the vernal equinox, when the coming of spring also heralds the new year. The first five days of the ancient Nowruz celebration were very public, then followed by a more reverent observance. On the 13th day of the festival, people would throw wheat grass into rivers and canals to throw away bad luck and misfortune.
In Babylonia, the festival of Akitu honored Marduk and marked the beginning of the growing season. For the general population, the beginning of the festival meant a week of holidays and celebrations. But, it is the king that I’m especially interested in. The king would begin the festival by going to the temple of Nabu, where the priests presented him with a royal scepter reminding him of his responsibility. He then traveled to the city of Borsippa, where he spent the night participating in religious ceremonies in this city’s temple such as the re-enactment of their creation myths to remind him of his past and the past of his people. When the king returned to Babylonia, he would go to a temple and stripped off his weapons and royal regalia to approach his god with humility befit someone given their rule by a supreme deity.
The hieroglyph for the word renpet (“year”) is a woman wearing a palm shoot, symbolizing time, over her head. She was often referred to as the Mistress of Eternity. She also personified fertility, youth and spring. The New Year, Wepet Renpet (“the opening of the year”), was based on the annual flooding of the Nile River, an earthly cycle which also coincided with a heavenly cycle. Therefore, the New Year was marked with community feasting and a mix of hope and fear. To the ancient Egyptians, every year was potentially their last, because they didn’t know how the flood would impact them. The annual flood left behind rich deposits of silt, which fertilized crops to feed the entire country. Just the right amount of flooding assured a fruitful harvest – too little means famine, too much means destruction.
The celebration celebrated the death and rebirth of Osiris and, by extension, the rejuvenation and rebirth of the land and the people. Solemn rituals related to the death of Osiris were observed as well as singing and dancing to celebrate his rebirth. The call-and-response poem known as The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys was recited at the beginning to call Osiris to his feast. The lamentation is when the two goddess-sisters call the soul of Osiris to rejoin the living. The dual entreaties of the two sisters echoed each other in their attempts to symbolically revive Osiris. The best-preserved version of this work comes from the Berlin Papyrus 3008 dating to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE) although the work is much older.
Another ancient Egyptian interpretation is that the New Year’s Day itself was also regarded as the birthday of the god Ra-Horakhety. The belief was that, on New Year’s day the sun was reborn and grew increasingly frail over the year’s final few months. This is another reason why the end of the year was considered dangerous. At the end of the year, the sun god was weak and vulnerable to attack from his enemies. If he were to be defeated, the new year might never arrive.
Therefore, it was a time of great relief when the sun rose on New Year’s day, because the end of the world had been averted. People would then make offerings to Ra-Horakhety at sunrise, pour black ink into the Nile for the goddess Nut and the god Nun as a sign of gratitude, then cleansed themselves by bathing in the Nile. Afterwards, they wore their best clothes and went off to riotous banquets to celebrate their opportunity to see another year.
Another belief is to do with the fact that the Egyptian civil calendar consisted of 360 days, with five “extra” days added to the end. These five extra days were regarded as a dangerous, transitional time, when the goddess Sekhmet controlled 12 demonic murderers who travelled the earth shooting arrows from their mouths and cause plague wherever they went. To protect themselves, the Egyptians performed rituals and wore charms around their necks to pacify Sekhmet, ensuring her protection instead of her wrath. This is similar to the Aztec calendar where the passing of the old year and the coming of the new were two very different sets of days. The last five days of the year were called nemontemi, and they were considered very dangerous days where dark spirits wander the land. People mostly stayed indoors, kept to themselves, and kept quiet to avoid attracting the attention of these spirits.
I would like to thank you for the support and encouragements for “Time Maps: Matriarchy and The Goddess Culture”. The book is now available through Amazon Kindle and will be available in its physical form soon. I am at the moment going through the round of interviews to promote it. One of the interviews is already available through Sakura Publishing and there will be more interviews and articles to come. Apart from this site, you will also find some of my articles in Ancient Origins and Ancient History Encyclopedia where you will find many more interesting articles on Mythology and Ancient History by other authors, and my talks in Udemy and Yoohcan. I look forward to producing more books, courses and articles this year and will be sure to keep you updated.