I’ve been writing about Jackal’s Eve, the fictional Kemetic holiday in which Wepwawet and Yinepu deliver gifts on the Night Before Moomas. Moomas is, of course, based on “The Establishment of the Celestial Cow,” which was a relatively unimportant holiday in ancient Egypt. The Rev. Siuda has written a blog entry about Moomas, which she introduced twenty years ago as a lighthearted Kemetic holiday during the Christmas season (much the same as Hanukkah has gained in importance due to its proximity to December 25th.) Oddly, from a Christian theological perspective, Christmas is relatively unimportant compared to Easter. It took a long time for it to be celebrated at any particular time at all, and is only mentioned in two of the four canonical gospels. We’re all pulling out obscure holidays to substitute for Christmas, which is mostly important for commercial and sentimental reasons.
Some people think it’s stupid or silly to substitute another holiday for Christmas. They think it’s easier to celebrate a secular Christmas like the majority of people do. I don’t agree. We’ll come back to that.
On the serious side, the Book of the Heavenly Cow was written on the walls of the tombs of Seti I, several of the Ramesses, and a short version appears on a shrine in Tut’s tomb. Given the timing, it may partially relate to the restoration after the Akhenaten debacle. In My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts (highly recommended!) she points out that Atenism threw out the “Eye of Ra” active female solar goddesses (like Hathor and Sekhmet), and Seti I brought them back with clearer emphasis. Even if Establishment of the Celestial Cow was only a minor holiday, there may be a lot of meaning hidden in the text.
The basic story: Ra becomes disgusted with people, and after setting Hathor/Sekhmet on the course of destroying humanity, then recalling her (with the help of red beer), he decides to leave earth and gain a little distance and perspective. He has Hathor/Mehet-Weret/Nut lift him up into the sky. From way up there, he finally gains some peace.
Edward P. Butler, who writes the henadology blog, wrote the article: The Book of the Celestial Cow: A Theological Interpretation. Its purpose is to demonstrate how one particular Neoplatonist approach can be used to examine myths outside an ancient Greek context, so the academic philosophical style may be very difficult for a general reader. If you’re not interested in the philosophical framework, he turns to the story on the bottom of page 5. I’ll highlight some of the tidbits that caught my eye, both to encourage you to look at the article and as subjects for thought and discussion. Things that happened in mythic time still happen in some form today, so this story isn’t just history.
The meaning of Ra being elderly with bones like silver and flesh like gold is an interesting one. Butler suggests that it’s the age difference that’s important, and I’ve seen elsewhere that the relative age of the Netjeru can indicate a difference of status. For instance, the younger gods don’t really ‘get’ Sobek, because he is so primordial, and in some ways he makes his own rules. Humans are younger still.
Ra asks Nuun what to do. Nuun is as primordial as you can get, so we’re seeing the age hierarchy in action. The humans are closer to the ‘chaotic’ Nuun, so perhaps he can offer some advice. Ra mentions that humans came from the tears of his Eye, and he’s thinking of sending his Eye to kill them. Nuun declines to step in and fix things or offer an alternate solution. Nuun is also associated with wine, beer, and the sleep of intoxication,) perhaps significant in the “red beer” part of the story.
“When Re expresses his intention to kill the humans, we should not jump to the anthropomorphic conclusion that Re takes such an action vindictively, or even reactively… The rebellion is itself a manifestation of Re’s inability to control certain aspects of his domain. It is not an accidental, but an essential effect of the structure of the cosmos…” The universe, as created, isn’t perfect, perhaps because it’s a product of orgasmic joy. Very different from the Christian idea of a perfect universe that was spoiled by humans.
“The humans have fled into the desert, ‘their hearts fearful over what I [Re] might say to them’. Here again we see that humans distance themselves from Re’s communication, from an understanding of the cosmic order which is, in some fashion, available to them. It seems to have been a commonplace in Egyptian thought that humans possess an innate sense of right conduct which they alone are culpable for failing to respect.”
The first attack is carried out by Hethert, “who reports back to Re that she has ‘overpowered’ them, and that it was agreeable to her. Re responds by affirming his intention to ‘gain power over them as king’ ” Then Sekhmet is sent out against the humans!
“Hathor has ‘killed humans in the desert,’ but Sekhmet will ‘wade in their blood.’ Hathor and Sekhmet represent here two potencies beyond Re’s own sphere of activity which he calls upon in order to integrate rebellious humanity into the cosmic order. Sekhmet’s sphere of activity is obviously relatively further from Re’s and more immanent than Hathor’s inasmuch as Sekhmet acts autonomously once Re sends her forth.”
“Hathor strikes humans “in the desert,” where they have fled, out of reach of Re’s speech, while Sekhmet strikes humans in a place where they ordinarily live. Rather than seeing Sekhmet’s attack upon humans as a simple repetition, a second wave, the two attacks can be understood as parallel, the same attack seen on two different levels.”
“The wedjât (Eye of Horus) is a highly multivalent symbol, being used to represent everything from the moon to Egypt itself, but if we seek its essence, it seems to be that the wedjât represents the beneficial power contained within every kind of offerings to the Gods. Whatever the substance offered or otherwise utilised in ritual, once it has been ritually activated, it becomes the Eye of Horus.”
Sekhmet continues her attack, even after Ra calls her back, so he resorts to tricking her with red beer. “The intoxication in the myth can therefore be interpreted as the intoxication of the embodied condition, which is both the cause of our failing to perceive Re’s speech, but also the route to recognising it, since the capacity to understand it is equally innate, equally “in our blood.” The real intoxication is the ecstasy which is symbolised in the myth, on the one hand, and in the ritual beer drinking at the festival, on the other. It is an ecstasy of embodiment for us and for the Goddess alike. The beer is poured out in such a manner as to create an artificial inundation. The inundation always invites comparison to the watery abyss of Nūn, from out of which the primordial mound emerges through the self-creating activity of the Gods.”
An intriguing aspect of the whole story is that people didn’t truly become “human” until the end of the story! “… “if Re remains fully immanent amongst humans, they shall all be slain; that is, there will be no genuine existence for mortals, who would be in immediate unity with him.” Earlier, Ra was present on Earth and had a direct influence on them, but they were closer to the primordial Nuun. This made humans more dynamic and less orderly, more “rebellious” than Ra’s vision of them. The attacks by Hathor and Sekhmet transformed humanity in different ways, and the intoxication and ecstasy formed a bond between humanity and the two goddesses.
After ascending beyond the sky, Ra establishes the “Field of Offerings,” the “Field of Rushes” and divides the Duat from the mortal world. He also directs Djehuty (Thoth) to create written texts and act as an intermediary between humanity and the gods.
It seems to me that “Book of the Celestial Cow” is yet another creation story, this time about the spiritual landscape, and the current relationship between the Netjeru and humans. Lots to consider!
Back to the mundane celebration of Christmas vs Establishment of the Celestial Cow:
Those stuck working in retail during November and December can appreciate Ra’s view of humanity. “Sekhmet, do your stuff!” could truly become the Black Friday worker’s prayer. If you aren’t stuck in that environment, you just don’t appreciate how oppressive it becomes. You have Christmas music blared at you hour after hour, day after day, work extended Christmas hours, are forced to sign hundreds of work Christmas cards (ow! my wrist!), deal with a flood of junk Christmas merchandise, fumble over poorly-coded Christmas promotions that cause the registers to crash, and feel the wrath of customers who become irate when you don’t know what the whatchamacallit is that they’re supposed to buy, but can’t remember the name of. Even as they leave, a holiday salutation is a lose-lose, especially since the War on Christmas hype started. You’re supposed to say “happy holidays,” but that just makes them angry, and they start lecturing. 🙁
So excuse me for a bit, while I look at the wonderful Moomas cards people have sent, and contemplate Nut lifting me up, up, up, with the help of Shu and the Four Winds. Ninety-three million miles? Yeah, maybe that’ll do. 😉