When it comes down to putting the books away in a recon-slanted practice or even a pure recon practice, a lot of us end up with quite a few problems. The biggest and most basic of problems tends to be, “how the hell do I do this?” When you go from writing about theory to actually doing, it can be a pretty frightening aspect. You’re so used to just thinking, well, one day… And then after a while, you get to the point where that one day finally appears and you’re left wondering how in the world you can do festivals, feasts, and celebrations in a modern context. While my calendar isn’t complete, I can tell you that it can be pretty hard figuring out how to go about and make an ancient festival really come alive in this day and age.
Here is how I go about this.
What is the celebration about?
From a Kemetic perspective, with the dearth of information regarding many festivals, this can be very difficult to discern. Unfortunately for us, not even academic feels the need to try to figure out what various festivals entailed or were even about. If they were specific to a nome, and the academic is writing a generalized book, they’re not going to include items that aren’t country-wide. In similar vein, if an author is focused on a specific cult of a deity, then they’re not going to discuss other types of feasts and festivals to make the point. Why clutter the initial point in the academia focused manuscript? This means that those of us with lesser known deities in our repertoire – Menhyt, Ihy, and Sokar, for example – and even those with well-known deities in our arsenal, may know that festivals in their deities’ names happened but we may not know what the specifics of their festivals are about.
But this is an important part to figuring out how to celebrate in a modern context.
As Miss Dirty explains in Living with the Earth, “What gets me the most is the undeniable lack of thought that goes into observing seasonally specific festivals/sabbats. If you’re celebrating a holy day, you’re celebrating a fucking concept, and that shit should be influencing your activities. Even if you’re doing nothing else but having a nice fucking meal on the day, the food should at least reflect and embody the core of the observance.” While her rant is specific to pagans and the Wheel of the Year, this is good, sound advice for recon-slanted polytheists. But, if we don’t know what the festival is about, how can we do this?
Take a look at the name of the festival to start with. Most of them are fairly straight forward. You see that most of them are “festivals” or “feasts” or “processionals.” This makes it inherently easy to figure out what they’re about. But, not every single one listed is so obvious as all of that. We have “Day of Answering Every Speech of Sekhmet,” “Sekhmet is Angry in the Land of Temhu,” and “Sekhmet Repels the Follows of Sutekh.” None of those three names make it easy or obvious to figure out what it’s about. There are others, not Sekhmet related, that have names that are equally difficult to discern the meaning behind them.
In those instances, it comes down to two questions that you must answer yourself. Is it worth the spoons to add this particular celebration to my calendar? If the answer is yes, then the next question is, Am I solid enough in my practice to allow UPG to enter and not give two iotas (or a handful, even) what others say about my UPG?
Who are or who is the prime netjer involved in this celebration?
If the celebration doesn’t have any of the key words in it (“festival,” “feast,” and “procession”), then it’s time to take a look at the netjer involved in the celebration. This is, of course, after you’ve been able to handle whether or not adding the celebration is really something you are willing to do and whether or not UPG is A-okay in your practice. As much reading as I do and as much recon-slant as my practices are, UPG is a pretty large focus in various arenas in my practice. No matter how much you read, if you don’t know German or have a good source, then you’re going to have to rely on your personal gnosis to get going.
So, once you know who the celebration is about, then it’s time to start plotting and planning items for that particular netjer. You’re not going to want to do a whole rite involving red meat, if you’re working with Hatmehyt, being a fish-related deity. You are not going to want to have a vegetarian style dinner if you are planning a feast with Sekhmet, Bast, or Mut. This comes down to common sense. (Obviously if you, yourself, having food restrictions, then perhaps focusing on other aspects of the deity that are not food related would be in your best interest.) If you have known associations with the deity either from a book or from your personal gnosis, then utilize those items while planning your celebration. You may want to wear carnelian during a feast of Sekhmet as that stone is associated with her or put on a red wig if you’re celebrating Sutekh.
Now, as far as food taboos in the ancient world, we can’t say for sure if this is accurate. The most common source on specific food taboos is Herodotus and whether that source is reliable is up to you, the practitioner. For me, he is not. There are allusions to the refraining of certain animal substances while a priest was preparing for their time with the netjer As I do not consider myself a priest, I do not consider the restrictions of a priestly caste to be important enough to follow. However, others who are Kemetic may feel that taboos are necessary. For example, some practitioners are specifically asked to refrain from certain food items. I know there is at least one person who was asked, by Sekhmet, to not eat red meat. It is possible that Hatmehyt would not want you to have fish related items in a feast to her because they could be considered her children. In this particular arena, it comes down to “your mileage may vary.”
Why should one bother celebrating this at all?
This is something that is entirely personal, depending upon the person looking to celebrate these festivities. The thing is that after a while, you get to the point where you’ve been talking about these things so long that you get sick of just talking. It equates to telling yourself you are going to run a marathon for years and then actually doing. It equates to telling yourself you are going to write a book about something for however long and then finally getting down to brass tacks and doing so. It equates to all the things you have said you were going to do and then finally actually doing. Discussing the theory and the idea and claiming that you are a Kemetic is fine and dandy, but there comes a point where the theory, the idea, and the claims need some happy back up. Enter in some festivities and your back up is there.
Here comes some UPG, people.
I tend to feel that the OTHERS™ require these kinds of services. I know that in some circles my opinion regarding the OTHER™ needing our attention with our celebrations, our prayers, and our offerings isn’t popular. But considering how much stuff tends to happen once you begin to pay attention to the OTHERS™, it’s very difficult (for me) to say that I’m just full of shit here. Not just the daily offerings, the prayers, and the thoughts about the gods, but with the actual addition of celebrating festivals in their honor, I have begun to feel more connected to them than I have in years. It’s fine and dandy, as I said, to claim a thing but it really does get solidified when you actually do a thing. And the same thing, in a way, for my UPG: You can claim that you have a relationship but it gets sussed out, filled out, what have you, when you actually get down and dirty with celebrations.
How would one go about celebrating these festivals?
All right, here are some pointers for people feeling overwhelmed by the “how.” Since you’ve figured out who the celebration is for and you’ve figured out why the celebration is happening, now you have to really sit down and plot out how to make those things come alive in a modern context. The only thing I take into consideration besides the “who” is the key words in the name of the festivity: Is it a feast, a festival, or a procession?
If you have a procession, then process the deity around your house. I did this, literally, with Sekhmet’s impression of the roamin’ Gnome during her processional celebration in January. I came home from work and deciding to just walk around with the statue, but I thought it would be even more fun if I took pictures. I debated about having her process her golden butt around the outside of my home, but the snow prohibited me from doing so. If I had been doing this in the middle of the day, with the sun out to aid me in rejuvenating ourselves, I probably would have done it anyway.
If it’s a feast day, then I plan a magnificent and sumptuous meal for those involved based on both UPG and historical context regarding the foods that would have been offered to the deity at their cult centers. (The exact foods for some cult centers may be difficult, but if you find something about that temple and the animals it raised at it, you should be able to figure out what types of meats, at least, were probably given to the god. While food taboo is a touchy subject, and long-winded so I won’t get into it here, use your UPG if you have to when discovering this. Ask the god, “Would you like X?” They should let you know in some form or another.
And lastly, if it’s just a festival then that’s up to you. For my last festival for Hetheru, I cleaned up her shrine area, renewed her daily offering, and did some crazy and ecstatic dancing on her behalf. Simple, easy, fast. It took me all of a half hour and some serious out-of-breathness before I felt like I had celebrated as she would have wanted me to. It’s not how long but a feeling of having done some well that alerted me to having completed the ritual as she wanted it.
Now, let’s be real here: having fun should be just as important as the solemnity involved. While I could have used my festival of Hetheru to sit around, pray, and just generally be boring, I didn’t. The same thing for the procession of Sekhmet. Instead of being boring, I took it to a fun place. Part of the reason why I think having fun is more important than the solemnity is because I do not consider myself a priest of my gods. I consider myself a lay person who is building a personal relationship of worship to a bunch of kick ass beings that, for some reason, pay attention to me. And that means that I don’t have to do the whole “hair removal, fasting, etc” thing before I start celebrating. And that means that having fun? It’s part of the package.