I received a notification on Thursday that I was looking at a two-day festival for the akhu and I had no clue. My feelings regarding this were two-fold: on the one hand, I was really excited to start digging into various rites and services from the layman perspective but I was also terrified because I had a festival to prepare for with barely a day’s notice. (This is actually why I really need a desk calendar or something that I have hanging on my wall because before I know it, something like this happens and I’m just like, “Shit.” This happens to me a lot by the way.) So, instead of running around like a crazy person on the start of the festival, I decided to put off doing anything until Saturday.
Throughout the quiet moments on Friday, of which there were many that night, I tried to think of what I could do that would be something common in ancient Egypt. There really isn’t a lot of akhu related items from the poor man’s perspective. We see all of these really fantastic tombs for the kings and their families, the priests and their families, and for the nobleman and their families. While there are graves for people who did not belong to any of the above three buckets in ancient Egyptian society, we have very little to nothing relating to how they went about celebrating their dead. Did they have a shrine in their home? Did they go to their graves? Did they leave offerings for them? Or did they just assume that all of the stuff the priests were doing was enough for them? Unfortunately, John Doe-hotep hasn’t come out of the wood work to explain to me what he wanted for his family or for his soul. Hell, maybe they weren’t even transfigured like all the rich people were and they’re just roaming around the Duat, right now, wondering what the next step is.
The problem here is that I don’t know and chances are, I’ll never know.
I was getting pretty desperate for ideas, so I ended up moseying on over to Wepwawet Wiki. This is a Kemetic Orthodox specific site, which is rife with UPG. I don’t necessarily dislike it, but I do not recommend it as a source unless that person is KO. Nothing against one of the largest established Kemetic orders out there, but I don’t want newbies who are interested in a solitary path, like me, to get caught up in others’ unverified personal gnosis in their path. They could end up with a bastardized version of Kemetic Orthodoxy and it could cause problems for those solitary neophytes later.
According to the KO site, there was a lot of offerings left (pretty obvious) and the priests did a bunch of stuff. And that’s pretty okay. I could definitely see that as being a major part to the celebration.
Back then, the priests were the go-to guys for all such things. In this day and age, however, we don’t have the same time of need for an established priesthood as there was back then. We are all literate. We are all fully capable of providing for ourselves. We are no longer living in a society where the be-all, end-all was a human-turned-god on the throne and the myriad of priests who maintained ma’at through daily ritual. We emulate this in many cases with our daily rites and offerings on an individual basis, so I honestly don’t think an established priesthood is overly necessary nowadays. However, I also don’t want to emulate things that are obvious bastions of an ancient priesthood. I’m not here as a priest; I’m here as the laity, damn it.
The KO site offered a few suggestions for the modern practitioner,
- Visits to local cemeteries, cleaning the tombs, and making offerings to the deceased
- Sharing a picnic in the cemetery with friends, family, and Akhu
- Folding paper boats and re-enacting the ancient tradition
I thought about all of those suggestions and ended up tossing them over my shoulder. I go to local cemeteries to do my grave-tending every Saturday. And since the weather is finally changing away from the oppressive snit it has been in this summer, I will be dedicating every Saturday until winter hits to doing just that. Besides, I attempt to visit my genetic akhu on birth and death days. I didn’t want to do something that I always do to honor the celebration. The second suggestion actually kind of creeps me out, which is hilarious. I spend hours at a time in cemeteries, taking pictures and talking to all of the akhu within, but having a picnic inside of one bothers me? I actually think it’s more of a situation where it would seem disrespectful, to me, to eat in front of souls who can’t eat like I do anymore thing, but it’s still a little weird to me. And lastly, the paper boats thing hearkens back to what the priests did and again, I don’t want to encroach on an area that my practice isn’t willing or ready to go in.
So, what the hell does a layperson do on a holiday to celebrate their akhu?
I gave serious consideration into pulling out my copy of The Pyramid Texts and The Book of the Dead as translated by R.O. Faulkner and going to town. However, this nagged at me. The idea of saying words from ancient Egypt are very well and good, but again, this may not have been something common to the very peoples’ practice I am trying to emulate. Later generations were more than capable of finding a copy of the BotD for their own use, but I’m not really a “later period” kind of recon. As I grow further and further into this recon-slanted/historically informed area of my practice, I’ve come to realize that a lot of the stuff I’m looking for are from the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom. The New Kingdom, for me, is great to study and read about the various pharaohs, but it’s really the older religious practices that interest me (right now, at least). So, I had to think that, maybe, reading some words on a page wasn’t the best idea.
So, again, what to do?
I went back to the basics. I sat down last night, in between doing various chore like items, and asked myself what the point in this celebration was about. To some extent, the celebration is about me and my intense desire to connect with my akhu. While, obviously, the main focal point is the akhu and all things related, it isn’t just about them. We don’t go to graves, go to funerals, tell stories just to keep the memory of our akhu alive, but also to give us closure and to keep them with us and our future generations. So, while this is definitely something that they need, it’s also something that I need. So, if that was the case, what would I want to do to make me feel better?I put a nice little buffet style spread on my kitchen table. I bought a nice dozen roses that were on sale and a small bunch of various white flowers to offset all the red. I brought the candle that sits on my mini-shrine to Anup over as the kind of center piece. Since I burn this candle every Saturday (or try to) when I can’t get out to go grave-tending to honor my akhu, it was practically mandatory. I offered water, soda, and a shot of vodka. I don’t normally offer alcoholic beverages when it comes to my akhu celebrations since many of my family members tended toward alcoholism, but thought it couldn’t hurt too badly. It’s also a slight nod to Bawon (as we are out of rum) because he was a little miffed he was being left out of a celebration for the realm he governs. I set out freshly baked bread (purchased, not baked). I then sliced up a pepper and an apple to leave out, as well as adding a bowl of blueberries and a bowl of baby carrots. I added some of the organic ginger snaps I had purchased for Wep Ronpet this year and some chocolates I had laying around.
Over all, I have to admit that I’m fairly pleased with how this little shindig turned out.
I didn’t want anything flashy and over-the-top. I rarely do anyway, but with my renewed commitment to this whole laity thing, it would seem as kind of a slap in the face to go in that direction. It was simple and moving. When the candle was lit, while I couldn’t see or necessarily feel the akhu feasting away on my meager spread, I did feel like I had accomplished something and I was fully capable of accomplishing said something again in future. Though I have no confirmation that the akhu are pleased, it [almost] doesn’t matter because I am pleased. Sure, I’d like to know that they showed up and hung around for a bit with what I had given them. But, at this [still tender] stage of the game, it’s really all about what I’m doing, how I’m doing, and where I’m going with it.
While I can’t say, clearly, if what I have done and what my aims were are in line with my recon-slanted layperson practice, I think that what I did provide and what I did do could very well be in keeping with how John Doe-hotep did it way back then. It’s simple. It’s small. It’s in my home. And it was done with love and affection, not just for my akhu but for myself as well. And if that’s not the important part, then what is?