Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Time to Talk Chaos

Ancient Egypt can be confusing when one starts to talk about Chaos and Order. In most Western societies, perhaps in most societies in general, there is a feeling that order is good and chaos is bad and that these two things are opposed to each other. This idea is not true in Egypt.

For the moment we are going to leave order to the side and just talk about chaos. Two gods of Chaos exist. (we are going to set aside Set for the moment as his relationship to chaos is most likely a hold over from the Persian invasions and not actually an Egyptian ideal.) We are going to stick with the two original gods of chaos Apep (Ahh-pep) and Nun (Noon), we can also put Naunet (Now-net), Nun's consort, in the same category as Nun.

Nun holding the solar boat aloft.

Apep was in the Egyptian mindset the worst of the worst ever, destroyer of the sun. There was a belief that even saying or writing his name would bring horrible chaos. Nun, on the other had, was considered wise and creative. He was called by Ra on several occasions to give counsel to the gods in times of distress. How could chaos be so different in the mindset of one culture?
Apep's name in hieroglyphs showing the way he was
"disabled" through the showing of him being killed.

The Egyptians had a dual concept of chaos. Chaos could be beneficial, productive and creative. In the beneficial form things such as floods which brought soils, wild animals, rain storms, rebellion against oppressors and the like were classified. These were things that, while extremely chaotic, brought about the continuation of creation, life and order. This is the chaos brought by Nun and Naunet. Apep was a purely destructive chaos that had no purpose other than destroying order. Examples of this would be murder, vengeance, apathy, wrath and so on. Apep was associated with things that didn't really have a positive for anyone or anything involved.

In the Egyptian concept of the world creative chaos (Nun) and order (Ma'at) were companion ideals. Both necessary for creation and the continuation of the world. Destructive chaos (Apep) was the enemy of both creation and order.
Set slaying Apep from the solar boat in the Duat.

Before we leave the subject we'll take a moment to go back to Set and Chaos. Originally, and in the Egyptian mindset, Set was the slayer of Apep. In this he was an agent of order or at least positive chaos. Even in his murder of Osiris he proves as a vehicle for gods and mortals alike to attain eternal life through the creation of mummification by Anubis. The demonization of Set came from two things. First, he was always the god of foreigners because of his protection of people as they traveled in the desert. When the Persians and later the Greeks and Romans invaded Egypt they took on Set as their god and it was the beliefs of these invaders and what they said about Set that started the demonization. An example of this is the Greco-Roman association of Apep, Set and Typhoon as the same entity. However, this belief was contradictory to the beliefs of the Egyptians themselves. So, in this way to an Egyptian Set is an agent of creative chaos. Though he does so bad things.. controls sandstorms, murders, creates thunderstorms and night.. his behavior brings positives and he himself does positive things such as protecting miners and traders and in the end killing Apep himself. When the Persians and Greco-Romans got a hold of Set and gained political power in Egypt then Set was cast as an agent of destructive Chaos. If we look at the myths though it becomes clear that the deity these invaders used was Set only in name. The mythology was that of Apep and Typhoon. Only the frameworks of the Isis/Osiris myth remained. It is believed that he was kept in this mythology because the invaders could not rule or keep control if they meddled in this core Egyptian myth very much. We can further see this difference in the names used. Seth, the Greco-Roman name, is almost exclusively used when Set is demonized.  The exception to this rule is early translations of papyri and tombs that relied on the Greco-Roman god names because the Egyptian names hadn't been all translated or early Egyptologists who believed the Greco-Roman names were more correct for the deities... or at least easier to pronounce.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Creating Egyptian works

I haven't posted in awhile and I thought I would share a small bit of what I have been up to. Recently, I have been working on recreating or perhaps that should be creating some of the Ancient Egyptian things I have been reading about over the past few months.

The first thing I began working on was beading a collar. This is a pain to do but every once in awhile I get it in my mind that it really won't be that hard this time. I don't know how I seem to convince myself of this every time because it really doesn't get any easier. This time around I went for a more simple design with less pattern. I think it turned out nice enough. Some day I will get crazy enough to do a really intricate one.

The next undertaking was something that I don't ever really feel is impossible like working on the collars. I love making masks. To me masks have a lot of significance. There is also evidence that masks were used in Ancient Egypt. The one most often shown is that of Anubis. However, I decided to go with something a little more my personal style. I made Ammut, the devourer of the hearts of those who do not walk in Ma'at. Follows is a series to show the progress of the mask but the first image is the crocodile I worked from to get this project started.

Plaster base, shaped and ready to dry before painting. I used
a wire frame covered with linen strips that were dipped in
plaster. I smoothed these over the wire frame and
waited for them to  dry. A cool thing about this is the back, which
will sit on the head, is actually an old baseball cap with
the wire framing sewn to it. This is a remarkable comfortable
addition to traditional ways of making masks.

After drying I started the painting process. I used acrylics
with water washes to get the plaster damp and work the color
into it. I really loved how the painting went. I feel like once I stopped
trying to paint it with little tiny detail the project seemed to
go far more smoothly.

The finished product. Sadly, I don't have a picture of me wearing
the mask. I should really have taken one before doing this post.
I will add one later, promise.

The last thing I made, just a few days back, refers back to this post about festival cakes. I took some time to make Khenef cakes, or the traditional honey cakes used as offerings in Ancient Egypt. Mine were done in two loaf pans. I really think the recipe needs some tweaking before they come out properly. I can say they are delicious though. They taste sort of nutty and a little sweet. As a friend put it, they don't taste like modern food. I found this to be very true. They don't really taste like anything I have tasted before.

I do suggest that you cut the cakes into small squares before soaking them in the syrup. It seems to work better that way. I ended up cutting mine up in the process to get the syrup to soak in. I think I did something wrong in the baking process that made the surface too dense and the syrup wouldn't soak in. However, these were a good first try and tasted very good despite any structural problems.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Choosing Gods

The question often arises how an individual Egyptian might know which of the hundreds of gods and goddesses were important for their personal practice? There is a formula that can be pulled out of the society of Ancient Egypt to allow us to discuss this topic.

First, all Egyptians and all those who lived in Egypt but may have been of another faith were required to respect the patron god of Egypt. This respect, at the very least, was attendance to the country-wide festivities. For most of Egyptian history the patron of Egypt was some form of Ra: Amun, Atum, Khepera, Amun-Ra, Atum-Ra and so on.

Next, each nome had a patron god or goddess. Nomes are something like a state or district or providence along the Nile river. Each nome had, more or less, one major city. Nome is the Greek word for the areas in Egyptian it would have been sepat. The 42 Nomes can be read about here. This is a fairly good link for the information though I admit I haven't double checked all the names on this site with my own research. (These sites #1 and #2 are also pretty good) I should also mention that 42 is a reoccurring number in Egypt.. 42 nomes, 42 assessors, 42 Negative Confessions and there are others. Anyway, I have digressed. Each nome had a patron deity or sometimes a couple of deities. All Egyptians living in a nome would follow that nome's deities.

Some of the Nome standards from Kom Ombo.

Then, each city had a patron or a triad. The triad was more common and would contain a male, female and child in most of what I have read. Examples would be Osiris, Isis and Horus or Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertum or Thoth, Ma'at and Seshet. Some cities had many deities such as the worship of the Ogdoad in Hermopolis, which was a set of 8 primordial deities.

Finally, an individual would have their personal deities. These would be home and hearth type deities or those deities who oversaw the individual's job or duties. For example, if we imagine a metalsmith with a pregnant wife we might imagine he would worship Ptah, god of craftsman, Bes, who protects families, and perhaps Tuaret or Hathor who both protect pregnant women and their children. While an Egyptian could have images and fetishes for any deity it was most often the personal deities which were home statues or amulets that the everyday Egyptian might wear.

Of course an individual could have more deities than this but this was the normal structure of what an Egyptian might have in their personal worship.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review

Never fear. I am still working on the post for snakes but the days have been getting busy. I am preparing for a ritual this weekend as well as teaching a class. I have also spent some time making an Ammit (Ammut) mask which I will share some pictures of later. In the meantime, while I am too busy to work on researching snakes I figured I would share another awesome kid's book.

This book is I Wonder Why the Pyramids Were Built and Other Questions About Ancient Egypt By Philip Steele. This book is part of the "I Wonder Why" series which is really awesome and includes books about history, culture, science and many other subjects. The whole series is well worth checking out.

The reason I like this book so much is that it teaches through interesting and bizarre facts which is almost always interesting to people. The book covers religion, everyday life and how to become an Egyptologist (Something most kids' books on Ancient Egypt leave out) One great part about this book is that the illustrations, both realistic and cartoons are interesting. There is also a focus on children in Egypt such as what games they would play. This book is well worth picking up to share with your children. You'll get answers to things like "Why did the Egyptians' shoes wear out?", "Who made mud pies?" and "What's the world's stalest bread?"

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Review - Building Pharaoh's Ship

Today I watched Building Pharaoh's Ship, a NOVA production, about reconstructing a traditional Egyptian ship.

This show has a great mix of history and how the discoveries were made that allowed the boat to be made. The thing I found most exciting was how this show portrays Egyptology research. It really shows the mix of modern Egyptian life, carvings and writings used to come to the best conclusion possible. The focus of this particular show is Hatshepsut's trade routes to Punt.

The work is also amazing in that it includes a score of different people working together and really seems to express unity to me. Archaeologists, naval architects, local Egyptian artisans and so on all describe their part in working up to building the finished ship. It is really awe inspiring to see the work that modern man puts into the building and thinking about an ancient people doing it.

There is really a lot of information in this show and it is well worth watching if you are interested in archaeology, Egyptology, early trade, ships, woodworking, ancient culture and so on.

More information On NOVA's site.

Watch it on Netflix here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Cannibal Hymn

I am still working on the snakes and it is taking longer than I expected. Every time I think I have them all I find another. Hopefully that post series will be done soon. In the meantime I thought I would share a piece of 5th dynasty writing from the tomb of Unas. Unas eventually be comes a deified human, perhaps because of this writing. Most Egyptian mythology shows gaining power of a god or thing as knowing their true or hidden name. Unas takes a very different approach to gaining the power of the gods.

Sky rains, stars Darken
The vaults quiver, Earth's bones tremble.
The Planets stand still
at seeing Unas rise in power.
A god who lives on his fathers
who feeds on his mothers!

Unas is the bull of heaven
who rages in his heart
who lives on the being of every god
who eats their entrails
their bodies are full of magic
from the Isle of Flame

Unas is he who eats men,
who feeds on gods
It is Khonsu, Slayer of Lords,
who cuts their throats for Unas
who tears their entrails our for him.
Unas eats their magic, he swallows their spirits.
Their big ones for his morning meal.
The middle ones for his evening meal.
The little ones for his night meal.

Unas has encompassed the two skies.
He has circled the two shores.
Unas is the great powe that overpowers the powers.
Unas is the divine hawk, the great hawk of hawks.
Those whom he finds on the way he devours whole.
Unas is god, oldest of old.
Thousands serve him. Hundreds offer to him.

Unas has arisen in heaven.
He is crowned as lord of light-land.
He has smashed bones and marrow.
He has seized the hears of the gods.
He has eaten the red crown, swallowed the white crown.
Unas feeds on the lungs of the wise.
Unas abhors licking the coils of the red crown
but delights in having their magic in his belly.

He has swallowed the knowledge of every god.
Unas; lifetime is forever, his limit is eternity.
Lo, their power is in Unas' belly.
Their spirits are before Unas as broth of the gods,
cooked for Unas from their bones.

This writing is only known from two places, the tomb of Unas and that of Teti I. Known as the Cannibal Hymn this piece of writing includes a lot of reference to traditional Ancient Egyptian religion and culture but is put together in a manner that would have likely been offensive to the Ancient Egyptians. The first would be the horror of actually cutting a human body. Even people who did this for medicine or embalming were ritualistically attacked to show the horror of cutting a human body. There are other points to be made about this but I think it might be beneficial to do this a stanza at a time.

Stanza 1:
The first three lines could be references to one of two things: Nun's destruction and rebirth of the universe or what is supposed to happen when Apep gains the upper hand over Ra. It is hard to say what Unas was getting at though it is perhaps references to Apep as the rest of the piece talk about destroying the gods.

Stanza 2:
Bull of heaven could be one of three gods: Horus, Osiris or Ra. Not quite sure which one as references later to Unas ruling over heaven does not single out any of these. However, the next line refers to a raging heart which usually refers, in Ancient Egypt, to revenge or thirst for revenge. This makes Horus the likely candidate for who Unas is because Horus is the god of revenge and vengeance. He then goes on to talk about magic from the Isle of Flame. The Isle of Flame is one of the names sometimes given to the area where the mound of creation was believed to exist

Stanza 3:
The most interesting thing to me in this stanza is that Khonsu is the slayer for Unas. Traditionally, Khonsu is a child god related to the moon and moon phases.The son of Mut and Min, Khonsu is supposed to be a kind and passive deity. This makes Unas' choice curious. Some have suggested it might be because Khonsu was a household or regional deity for Unas. In this stanza we also get a little bit of sense about how much an Egyptian might eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We see that breakfast is the big meal and dinner the smallest.

Stanza 4:
The two skies and two shores refer to mortal Earth and Nile and the Celestial Earth and Nile. The Celestial versions are those places in the Duat, i.e. land of the dead. We also see references in this stanza to titles of Horus... Great power that overpowers the powers in reference to overthrowing Set and Great hawk of hawks. Oldest of old though brings us back to Nun or Apep as the oldest of the deities. It is possible that Unas saw himself as some mix of Horus and a god of chaos. This stanza ends with a more traditional line of writings in tombs where the deceased is stating that people shall continue to serve and offer to them after death.

Stanza 5:
Lord of the Light-Land is pharaoh of the lands of both Egypt and Celestial Egypt. Taking the hearts of the gods is brought up here which is important to the overall piece. In Ancient Egypt the heart was seat of deeds and strength. Then Unas goes on to eating the red crown and white crown, the crowns of upper and lower Egypt. It might refer to him killing off or eating other pharaohs. Again reference to power in the eating of lungs of the wise. Lungs were thought to be needed to give both life and intelligence(read something close to common sense or wisdom here) and so this is a reiteration of eating the powers of others. It ends with Unas being delighted by the gain of power.

Stanza 6:
This stanza again has a traditional tomb statement. Line two is a common declaration for the dead to go on eternally. The hymn ends with god soup made from bones ans spirits.

This is an interesting way to immortality for an Egyptian. Though there are no references elsewhere to Unas actually being a cannibal it is possible something like megalomania might be applicable here. Interestingly enough the rest of the tomb text in Unas' tomb is fairly standard "god positive" text about helping defeat the evil in the Duat and helping Ra. Odd that this is slipped in. Some question whether this was something Unas wanted or if a scribe put it in his tomb. It is hard to say what the reason it.

Photograph of the Pyramid Texts in Unas' tomb.

For more on Unas and his texts I suggest checking out The Pyramid Texts Online which has wall by wall translations of the texts. I have not checked this site for accuracy. The text is found on the East wall of the Antechamber. This site gives a different translation of the cannibal hymn but the meanings are very similar. Since I don't know what reference was used for this translation I cannot say anything about the translation quality. Still it is an awesome site which lays out all the walls in a clickable map with translations.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Snakes Everywhere

I was going to handle snakes in one post but then I realized just how many snakes there are in Egyptian mythology. It took me some time to decide who to work with the snakes, mostly because it was a request and I always love requests because I am not here to write for myself but to help others understand or learn.

After considering how to break this apart I decided to handle it by "good", "evil" and those that are in the Duat (underworld). Good and evil aren't the Western ideas of good and evil. Basically, these will be broken down between those that help creation/order move forward and those who deter or destroy creation/order. Then we will handle the ones in the Duat.

It may be a few days before anything shows up as I collect my information together but there will be snakes to come. Hopefully I can handle them all in three posts. We shall see when I gt a finally tally of how many snakes there actually are.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Opening of the Horizons

This is a name of a festival that occurs May 2nd (Sort of, we will have to discuss calenders at some point.). This day is sacred to Aker, the dual lion god who guards the Eastern and Western horizons. On this day he comes forth to be with the people in celebration of the continued rising of the sun. In Ancient Egyptian the day is sometimes called Up-re-Aahkhu-t, the opening of the horizon. 

It was believed on this day Aker (Sef- yesterday in the west and Tuau - Today in the East) would come forth among the people to celebrate the strength of the sun as well as the ability of the sun to bring strength and life to all other things. Secondary in the festival is a day of thanks to Aker for continuing to protect the horizon and watching to ensure only those beings that should pass the bounds of the horizon.

Limestone carving showing a 4th dynasty offering
table - British Museum

Aside from beer and bread, honey cakes were also used in this festival as a sacred/offering food. Beer and wine were honeyed as well according to some records that are assumed to refer to this celebration. Honey was sacred to the sun. The Egyptians believed honey was the tears of the sun because of the way honeycombs drip honey when exposed to the midday heat of the sun. 

I thought I would share a recipe for a likely candidate for the traditional Ancient Egyptian honey cake.

For the cake:
.5 cups softened, unsalted butter
6 oz caster or super fine sugar
2 eggs
.5 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lbs semolina flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 oz flaked or sliced almonds
1Tbsp honey

For the syrup:
5 oz caster or super fine sugar
juice of half a lemon
2 Tbsp honey
.5 cups water

To make cake:
*Beat butter and sugar until smooth
* add eggs one at a time beating after each addition
*Stir in milk, vanilla, honey
* Then stir in semolina and baking powder. Ensure it is well mixed.
*Grease a 8x8 baking pan and pour in batter. Sprinkle with almonds.
*Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly browned.
*Remove from oven and move to serving dish (I find giving it a few moments to set is helpful.)

To make syrup:
*Mix sugar and water in a pan simmering gently until sugar is completely dissolved.
* Add lemon juice and honey, stirring constantly.
* While syrup is still hot, pour slowly over cake allowing it to soak into the cake. 

*Serve with fresh or dried fruit traditionally though it is good with ice cream as well.

While I have listed this cake for this festival it was used in many offerings and festivals. It was the all purpose offering cake/sweet in many tomb scenes as well.