Category Archives: Pagan Blog Project 2014

D is for Dancing & Drumming

dancers For those of us who have been raised with an intimate knowledge of our Indigenous culture, we know that dancing is an important part o our and many cultures throughout the world. For myself, hearing the sound of drums and the sound of bells and jingle dresses and the singing along the powwow trail begins at the first sign of spring and continues on well into the fall. We dance, because we can. We dance and sing and beat drums and it serves as an affirmation of life; our own heartbeat and the heartbeat of everything and everyone around us. People gather to dance and to sing and to celebrate the rhythm that permeates every aspect of our existence.

Dancing and music figure prominently in our religious and ritual practices as well. Dance is a meditation, it can send us into a trance and be a way for us to express emotion, ecstasy and connect us to the Divine. The truth of the matter is that dance has been a part of human history or prehistory around the world since probably before Homo Sapiens became fully bipedal.

The first great culture to really infuse its entire society with the magic of music and dance was that of Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians enjoyed life to its fullest and no celebration in Ancient Egypt would have been complete without music and dancing. At parties, singers and dancers performed to the music of harps, lutes, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers and tambourines. During festivals, crowds chanted and clapped, carried along by the vibrant rhythm of Egyptian orchestras, while dancers performed amazing feats, leaping twirling and bending their bodies in time with the music. It was so important a feature of everyday life that musical instruments – frame drums, harps, clappers, sistra, and other instruments found their way into the tomb of those who passed to the Beautiful West and their entertainment in the afterlife.

Most of Egyptian secular and religious life was marked by the performance of music and dance. This important aspect of daily life of the Egyptians is depicted as early as the Pre-Dynastic periods. Ceremonial palettes and stone vessels indicate the importance that music had even in the earliest of periods. The importance of music in daily life in Ancient Egypt is underscored by the large number of musical instruments found in museum collections around the world.  Of the several terms used in ancient Egyptian to describe dance is ib3.

In many banqueting scenes found within the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians, the banquets appear to be more secular. Shown in these scenes are an idealized rather than any actual event. The basic components of these scenes changed very little throughout Egypt’s history, until the New Kingdom. Around the 18th Dynasty, there is a marked change of character, in the song, dance and the overall “feel” of these scenes. At this time we see a marked sense of erotic significance. Lotus flowers, mandrakes, wigs and unguent cones, as well as men and women clothed in semi-transparent garments and the gestures of the banquet participants. Music, love and sensuality go hand in hand in most civilizations, ancient as well as modern, and in different spheres. Overall music is a major component of life, an important piece of both secular and religious life.

NileGoddessDance was far more than just an enjoyable pastime in Ancient Egypt.During the Pre-Dynastic period were found depictions of female figures, perhaps of Goddesses or Priestesses, dancing with their arms raised above their heads. The act of dancing was undoubtedly an important component of ritual and celebration in Ancient Egypt. The Neolithic figurine of a goddess or priestess that currently resides in the Brooklyn Museum is commonly referred to as “the Nile Goddess” or “Nile Dancer”. The figure has arms that are raised above her faceless head like some sort of pre-historic ballerina. Her body is slender with ample breasts and broad hips. Some have speculated that her graceful limbs lifted above her head are to emulate the horns of the Goddess Hathor, who was the personification of the joys of music dancing, love and life itself. This particular piece of very early ancient Egyptian art has been an inspiration for many modern sculptures and art lovers just in its beautiful simplicity.

girlmusiciansPeople from every social class were exposed to music and dancing. Manual laborers worked in rhythmic motion to the sounds of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained passers by. In normal, daily life musicians and dancers were an important and integral part of banquets and celebrations. Dance troupes were available for hire to perform at dinner parties, banquets, lodging houses, and even religious temples. Some women the harems of the wealthy were trained in music and dance. Unlike today, however, no well-born Egyptian would consider dancing in public. The Nobility would employ servants or slaves to entertain at their banquets to a offer pleasant diversion to themselves and their guests.

Elizabeth ‘Artemis’ Mourat, professional dancer and dance-scholar categorized the dances of Ancient Egypt into six different types: religious dances, non-religious festival dances, banquet dances, harem dances, combat dances, and street dances.

muudancers1There were certain ritual dances that were crucial to the successful outcome of religious and funerary rites. This is particularly true of the Muu-Dancers. These dancers wore kilts and reed crowns and performed alongside funeral processions. Funeral rites often employed or were based off of the Songs of Aset and NebetHet (Isis and Nephthys in Greek) and the retelling of how Aset searched for the body of Wasir (Osiris in Greek) and reassembled his dismembered form for burial and restored to eternal life through Her prowess and skill in magic. This period of singing, dancing, drumming and lamentation was said to last over a period of five days. It was through these rites that it is believed Roman mystery cults arose.

With the emergence of the cult of Wasir dance was a crucial element in the festivals held for both He and Aset, His sister-wife. These festivals occurred throughout the year. Dance also figured prominently in the festivals dedicated to Apis. Another deity that has been linked to dancing, is the Dwarf-God, Bes. He has been depicted in both reliefs and in statuary playing a tambourine and dancing, denoting the idea of using dance in order to drive away evil spirits. Images and amulets of Bes were often found in and around the birthing chamber for women who were giving birth.  In these images, Bes is quite often shown playing a tambourine or a drum. Wikimedia Commons

acrobatsmThe act of dancing was inseparable from music, and so the depictions of dance in Pharaonic tombs and temples invariably show the dancers either being accompanied by groups of musicians or themselves playing castanets or clappers to keep the rhythm. Little distinction seems to have been made between dancing and what would be considered today as acrobatics. Many dancers depicted in the temple and tomb paintings and reliefs show dancers in athletic poses such as cartwheels, handstands and backbends.

Detailed study of the depiction of dancers has revealed that the artists were often depicting a series of different steps in particular dances, some of which have been reconstructed in the modern era. Movements of Egyptian dances were named after the motion they imitated. For instance, there were “the leading along of an animal,” “the taking of gold,” and “the successful capture of the boat.”

Men and women as a general rule and in the more conservative society that was Ancient Egypt were never shown dancing together.  The most common scenes depict groups of female dancers often performing in pairs and more rarely, men dancing in groups.  Dance was done in private chambers as well as public festivals and gatherings, in the streets as well as Temple rituals. The importance of dance has not lessened over the years, it has maintained and is carried on even today.  Professional dancers, musicians and other performers, though they are often admired for the work that they do, are not often given a high status within society.  Because they wander the country side  often with men to whom they are not related, especially if they are women, this sort of behaviour is still rather looked down upon – especially within village societies.

There was a notion within early Egyptology that noblewomen  or women of a certain class or caste would never engage in dancing except in private.   The only exception to this idea were the dancers, singers and musicians that were dedicated to the service of a deity, for example.   The dancers that are depicted within the ancient tombs are often described or depicted as being a part of the tomb owner’s immediate family.  As a direct relation to the deceased then any taboos were lessened.   Today, women may dance within the privacy of their own homes, or that of a family member, but never in public.   It is a good idea that depictions in tombs were never intended to be viewed again by the living once they were sealed, and as such served as a private residence for the deceased.

Modern day bellydancing has a little resemblance to the graceful and acrobatic gestures that were a part of dance in antiquity. Because of so many external influences – the Greeks, Romans, and influx of other cultures over the centuries, not to mention that dance in Egypt as also influenced by the influx of Islam into the region.  In spite of all of this, however, we can still see within Egyptian culture the idea of dancing just for the sheer love of it.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Most of this piece is a reworking of a section of my website, ‘The Ancient Egyptian Virtual Temple’, 1995 -2016, Copyright Christina Paul &Ma’at Publishing.

Other Resources

Manniche, Lise, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt British Museum Press, 1991. Print.
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Redmond, Layne, When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm Three Rivers Press, 1997. Print.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Spencer, Patricia, “Dance in Ancient Egypt”, Near Eastern Archeaeology, 2003, p 111 – 121

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D is for Djed

Djed Pillar

Djed Pillar as found in the Tomb of Nefertari, Valley of the Queens

The Djed Pillar or Djed Column is representative of the idea of stability. The Djed pillar comes from as early as Pre-Dynastic times. Some Egyptologists believe it was a pillar that grain was once tied to and this symbol was associated with Ptah and Sokar and then later with Wasir (Osiris). Ptah of the Triad of Mennefer (Memphis) was often referred to as “The Great Djed”. It is because of the association with Sokar and the mummiform figure of Ptah, that the Djed is associated with Wasir. Some illustrations that have been found on papyri and tomb walls show the Djed with arms and a crook and flail – indicated Wasir’s resurrected state in the Duat (Underworld).
Ptah

Ptah

The ceremony of the ‘Raising the Djed Pillar took place in the city of Menefer or Memphis. The King, aided by the priests, would raise the pillar with ropes. A Djed lying on the ground is indicative of death, and the raising of the Djed is symbolic for raising up or bringing new life. Because the Pharaoh was the ruler of the living and Wasir was the king of the dead, the act of raising the Djed was believed to emphasize both the stability of the King and with him, the land, but also tied the king and the land with the rebirth of life in both the world of form and the Duat. Raising the Djed pillar was also done during the Heb-Sed festival which was performed by the Pharaoh to reaffirm his strength and endurance at year 30 and then every three years again after this. It was considered a joyous occassion.

It was a common practice to paint an image of the Djed pillar in the back interior panel of coffin for the obvious reference of the symbol representing the backbone and would be in the precise place where the actual backbone of the deceased would rest. The stabilizing and regenerative meaning of this is obvious. Djed amulets were also commonly included in the wrappings of mummies to insure the renewed life of the deceased in the Duat. On these amulets were sometimes inscriptions of prayers or heka. A portion of the Prt Em Hru or Book of the Dead were engraved on one of two Djed amulets that were found on the mummy of Tutankhamen. The word words to be recited to the god Wasir (Osiris) were:

“Thou hast thy backbone, O weary one of heart; thou shalt place thyself upon thy side so that I may give thee water beneath thee. I have brought thee a djed pillar of gold; mayest thou be pleased with it.”

Nefertari offering to Ptah

Nefertari offering to Ptah

In the tomb of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens in Egypt, Nefertari is shown offering to Ptah who is standing in a kind of kiosk. Directly in back of him is the Djed pillar and even the staff that the god holds is in the form of the Djed. One of the inscriptions include the Djed, the Ankh and the Was and says:

“All protection, life, stability, dominion and health are behind him.”

In Kemetic belief, the four capitals at the top of the Djed pillar signify stability. Everything, for us, is almost always done in fours – the four corners of a building, the four times that we declare purity, “It is pure, It is pure, it is pure, it is pure,” or the four times we encircle a room with natron and water, light and incense and sound – all lend itself to establishing a foundation of purity, and again, tie back to the Djed and its manifold symbolism. Stability allows firmness of purpose, to know where we stand, or that what has been established can be carried on and continued on that firm foundation of stability.

Resources

Naydler, Jeremy. Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996. Print.

Naydler, Jeremy. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005. Print.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture., p.176 – 177; London: Thames and Hudson, 1992

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C is for Celestial Cow

moocowOne of the most enduring symbols of Deity in the Ancient Egyptian cosmogony is that of a Bovine Goddess. From the earliest dynastic period and the Narmer Palette with the figure of the goddess Bat, believed to be a precursor to the popular HetHert – more commonly known as Hathor, the imagery of a celestial or divine cow has endured. Though Aset (Isis) and Hathor both are commonly shown with horns and a solar disk as part of their symbolism, only Hathor has bovine ears.

The Book of the Heavenly Cow, though some believe it originated during the Amarna period under Amunhotep IV (Akhenaten) more likely actually originated around the time of Amunhotep II, Akhenaten’s paternal great grandfather. This is most likely because of an illustration on the walls of his tomb which depicts the pharaoh suckling from the Great Divine Cow. the story is also depicted on the golden shrines that were found within the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Cows appearing in both the sky and in the Duat (Underworld) linked Hathor and Nut as being the one who bore the sun god, Ra, upon Her back. The story of the Celestial Cow appearing in the tomb has less to do with the magical transformation or protection of the King as the tale is probably meant a Creation tale. The Book of the Divine Cow or Celestial Cow ties directly to the mythos surrounding Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind.

I have talked a little about this in other blog posts. This story has direct correlations also, with the Flood of Noah in the Christian bible where Mankind, in its rebelliousness has turned their faces from Divine authority. In the Egyptian version, Mankind not only turned away, but in some versions, plotted to overthrow and kill the Netjeru (Gods). Ra asked the others what to do, and they asked Ra, Who was their King, to send His ‘Eye’. The Eye, in this tale, is HetHert (Hathor) and in Her rage, She transforms from Her more benign form of a beautiful woman with bovine ears into the lioness, Sekhmet.

Before all of this had transpired, there had been a golden age upon the earth where Mankind and the Netjeru had lived side by side under the rulership of Ra. In that golden age, there was no death, there was no real delineation between day and night where Ra traversed across the sky and then into the Underworld at night. He was always visible at all times. All of this was before the accidental creation of the Uncreated One [Apep ] or any knowledge or concept of isfet.

When Ra sought the counsel of the other deities, He asked them to tell him what to do, that he did not want to wipe humanity out, but rather to punish them. He asked Nu, who said, “Send forth Thine Eye (HetHert) to strike those who blaspheme you, for none may resist the Eye when it shines in the form of HetHert.”

When HetHert was summoned, She became very angry at those who would raise their hand against Ra, Her father. She transformed into Sekhmet and for a period of three days and three nights, she indiscriminately slew every human that she came upon; men, women and even children where She found them. Her slaughter began at Hensu (Herakleopolis Magna) and continued throughout the land. Ra was alarmed at the bloodshed and He implored Sekhmet / HetHert to stop her killing. She looked upon Her Father and flatly refused. By this time, the anger that She was feasting on had become a heady draught of its own. “As sure as You live for Me (By all that is holy),” She said, “so it is pleasing (a balm upon My heart) to have triumphed over them (Mankind).”

Ra was concerned that Sekhmet would slay all of humanity until there were none left. He needed a plan to stop Sekhmet / HetHert from destroying humans entirely. It was Djehuty (Thoth) who came up with the idea of taking red beer, spiking it with mandrake and colouring it with red ochre or hematite in order that it should resemble blood. He did this with the assistance of slave girls or priestesses of the Goddess. Vats and vats of this soporific liquid was poured out onto the land until it resembled a vast lake of blood placed directly in the path of the raging Goddess. Sekhmet came upon this lake of red beer and began to drink. She drank and drank until She became happy and forgot about why She was angry in the first place and was at last quelled, turning once again back into the beautiful (if not happily drunken) Hethert. From time immemorial during the feast that commemorated the pacifying of Sekhmet / Hathor, making the beer was entrusted to the priestesses or slave girls to make the intoxicating drink that was consumed.

Celestial Cow Inscription Ra and the rest of the Gods were overjoyed that Sekhmet’s carnage had at last stopped. Ra cried out in joy at seeing HetHert again, “Welcome, welcome in peace, O’ Beautiful One!”

But at this point, Ra withdraws from the Earth, from Mankind, not as a form of punishment but rather because He realized that unleashing His rage, in the form of Sekhmet, He introduced to the world, the reality of death and destruction for the very first time. The Golden Age that knew Mankind and Gods to live as One in the same place upon the Earth is now over. Ra knows deep down that in order save humanity from the potential of His wrath, there needed to be distance between Hims and the creation (Humanity) that He loves.

The Eye of Ra, Who was a lioness, now being pacified has transformed back into a cow. This cow is called mehet-weret ‘Great Flood’ or “Great of Flood”, which is also equated with Nut, the starry sky at night as well as with HetHert. The ‘Great Flood’ was made of beer, rather than of water. The “flood” within Egyptian mythology ends up being Mankind’s salvation when it came, rather than that which was sent to cleanse the earth of humanity. Mehet Weret / Nut allows Her Father, Ra, to ride upon Her back into the sky and the Two begin to ascend.

In the myths that make up the Book of the Divine Cow, several times She (HetHert / Nut) becomes fearful of the heights to which She and Her Father, Ra, have risen. Her Father urges Her to continue to climb, encouraging Her along the way as They keep rising up higher and higher into the sky. At one point, She becomes so frightened that She cannot stand on Her own. Ra summons the sons of Shu, who are referred to as “the pillars that hold up the sky” and the four winds so that They can steady Nut by holding onto Her legs so that She will, shoring Her up so that She will not fall.

At last Ra and Nut and Their entire accompaniment reach Their lofty destination. The Cow, for Herself, becomes quite lonely for all that She and Ra have left behind Them. Ra reassures her by reminding Her that all over Her body are the stars that make up the nighttime sky. Her starry raiment serves as a sentimental glimpse and a memory of all of those good people and things that are now removed from the world by death that may seem now to be gone. They are, in fact, not gone at all, but are always there. Today, like many cultures, Kemetics look up at the starry night sky and see the millions upon millions of akhu or ancestors who are there. Like Ra, they are removed from us but not truly gone. There is a comfort to know that our akhu are never far away and they are between us and the Divine. They keep the Gods company and the serve as a go between to intercede on our behalf and vice versa.

I love the way that Rev. Tamara Siuda explained it that, “In creating the Celestial Cow, Ra has both made sure that She will never be lonely – and righted the wrong of killing people in the first place, by making sure that they can have another life after the lives they lost, and another chance at redemption.”

The takeaway from the lesson of the Celestial Cow is that no matter how bad things may seem, no matter how far from redemption things may appear, we are never alone. Even though it may feel as if we are facing a crisis or the world at large completely with no one to hear or to help, we have many things around us in terms of people, nature, the celestial sky and even our memories to keep us company. They are there to bolster us and back us up whenever the needs arise. The blinking stars in the sky at night are that reassurance that someone, in fact several someones are up there and are indeed listening.

Resources

Piankoff, Alexandre, and N. Rambova. The Shrines of Tut-ankh-amon. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Print.

Roberts, Alison. Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1997

Roberts, Alison. Golden Shrine, Goddess Queen: Egypt’s Anointing Mysteries. Rottingdean, East Sussex: NorthGate, 2008.

Roberts, Alison. My Heart My Mother: Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt. Rottingdean, East Sussex: NorthGate, 2000.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson.The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

Siuda, Tamara L. The Neteru of Kemet: An Introduction. New York: : Eschaton Productions, 1997.

Siuda, Tamara L. The Ancient Egyptian Prayer Book. Chicago, IL: Star Gazer Design, 2009.

Siuda, Tamara L. “Kemet Today: And There Were Stars: How a time out turned into a nighttime sky”

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A is for Ankh

ankh-nose.jpg w=300&h=179The ankh is one of the most widely recognized religious symbols in the world. Ask anyone what the ankh means, and invariably, the words, “eternal life” will be the definition that is offered even by laypersons.

In terms of the hieroglyphic catalogue or sign list that was put together by Sir Alan Gardiner, lists the ankh as Gardiner sign S 34. Scholars have speculated that it can either represent something as simple as a sandal strap, or as complex as an elaborate bow or knot that carried specific religious significance. The profusion if its use in iconography throughout Egyptian culture and that it is held by numerous ancient Egyptian deities in their various depictions underscores the meaning ascribed to the ankh – the meaning is life. Even those who could not read or wriite, and in Ancient Kemet, the literacy rate among its people was something like 2% or 3%, the meaning of the ankh was known. It was commonly found as a potter’s mark on vessels throughout the history of Egypt. (Shaw)

Even today, we often hear the ankh referred to as the Key of Life. More than this, it stands for several life-sustaining things. In some reliefs, ankhs are seen pouring out, to symbolize water and in turn purification. Other reliefs show the sustenance in the form of food or flower offerings which were referred to as ankhu. Most often, however, it is shown to represent the breath of life. Often statuary, paintings or reliefs will show a King, a Queen or other member of the noble class being presented with an ankh that is held beneath their nose by the god or goddess.

From the Tomb of Huya, Amarna Period, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the Tomb of Huya, Amarna Period, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the reign of the Heretic Pharaoh, Amunhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, reliefs of the Aten disk can be seen with streams that form long arms and hands that offer ankhs to the Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children. During this period, the literal disk of the sun, or the Aten is what gave life to the Two Lands.

Ankh mirror case

Mirror case from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Most everyone also knows that the word ankh can also mean mirror and often mirrors in ancient Egypt were made in the shape of an ankh.

The idea that a Temple was called a Per Ankh or ‘House of Life’ did not just mean simply it was a place of worship, but also learning how to live, via the Netjeru and that Rameses IV claimed that he had studied the papyri at the House of Life to learn the secrets of the gods. Living one’s life is an active thing and so we can only surmise that the training that the King underwent was experiential and the secrets he learned were not just intellectual in nature. (Naydler)

The ankh survives today, not just among Kemetics and Pagans who incorporate the symbol into their personal practices, but even after the fall of Ancient Egypt to Roman Rule and Roman Paganism, the natives of Egypt among the first to convert to Christianity, but the ankh survives in the form of the crux ansata, ansate, looped, or handle-shaped cross in the Coptic Church.

Resources

Naydler, Jeremy. Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996. Print.

Naydler, Jeremy. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005. Print.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.

Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture., p.176 – 177; London: Thames and Hudson, 1992

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