–THE BEAUTIFUL OPET FEAST,
Eve on ‘Menkhet’ XVIII; twenty-four days festivity, from ‘Menkhet’ XIX
Great Temple of the God Amon-Ra at ‘Ipet-sut’ [“Karnak”], ‘Uaset’-Thebes,
detail from the east wall, south half, of the Hypostyle Hall:
the Goddess Mut embracing the God Amon-Ra; to the right, King Ramses II offering incense to the Divine Couple
The Beautiful Opet-Feast is one of the most important and longest lasting (twenty-four days) religious festivity of Egypt: it is celebrated at ‘Uaset’-Thebes, and it is dedicated to the Theban Triad (composed by Amon, Mut, and Khonsu), to the celebration of the Sacred Marriage between the God Amon and the Goddess Mut, and to the renewal of the Royal ‘Ka’ (the vital-spirit) and of the Divine Kingship.
Opet/Ipet is the name of both the two main Sanctuaries of the God Amon at ‘Uaset’-Thebes:
‘Ipet-Sut’, the Great Precinct of Amon-Ra (“Karnak”); and “Ipet-Resyt” (“the Temple of Luxor”), the “Southern Sanctuary” of Amon-Kamephi (k3-mwt=f). The Beautiful Opet Feast indeed concerns these two Sanctuaries of the Great God Amon.
During the Opet-Feast the cult statues of Amon, Mut, and Khonsu leave Their Temples in ‘Ipet-Sut’ and are carried upon Their sacred barques (where the cult statues are hidden within a naos/shrine) by the priests in a procession by land (before the reign of King TutankhAmon) or via the Nile (from the reign of King TutankhAmon onwards) up to reach ‘Ipet-Resyt’, the Southern Sanctuary of Amon-Kamephi.
The reliefs from the two Sanctuaries of Amon show that only when the sacred barques are leaded to ‘Ipet-Sut’ along the Nile a joyful procession of dancers, musicians, dignitaries, warriors, and commoners follows the sacred route by land along the shore of the Nile.
At Ipet-Resyt the arrival of the sacred barques carrying the Gods’ cult statues from ‘Ipet-Sut’ is celebrated with great offerings, music, and dancing; the joyful procession follows the priests carrying the Gods’ sacred barques up to the Court of Ramses II and stops there, while only the priests with the Gods’ barques, together with the King and the Queen enter into the Double Colonnade, then into the Solar Court of King Amenhotep III (the II Court), and into the Hypostyle Hall: the barques of Mut and Khonsu are conducted into their respective barque chamber-shrines at the corners of the Hypostyle Hall, while the two barques of Amon and of the King enter into the “Chamber of the Divine King”; the King’s barques then is conducted to a chamber behind those of Amon and Mut, and the priests carry only the barque of Amon in the innermost chamber of ‘Ipet-resyt’.
Then, after the celebration of the most sacred rites in the inner chambers of the ‘Ipet-Resyt’ Temple, the Gods’ barques are taken back to ‘Ipet-Sut’ along the Nile, accompained again by a great joyous procession along the River’s shores, composed by royal chariots, high ranks of the priesthood, members of the civil administration, provincial governors, border officials, heads of internal economic departments, officers of the commissariat, city officials, together with musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats, soldiers, and commoners ; and finally the cult statues of the Gods are taken back to Their respective Temples in the Sanctuary of ‘Ipet-Sut’.
-FEAST OF TITHOE (Twtw), 14 Tekhy:
14 Tekhy is the day of the major feast (a procession) in honor of the God Tutu/Tithoes, the son of Neith, the protector against the evil spirits:
“Tithoe leaves Bouto at the time of presenting Him with the Book. He returns to His town on the day of the Feast of Opening the Two Lands (XII Tekhy). . . . The House of the Lady of Bouto is in festival when Tithoe enters His town on the Great Feast of the first month” (Temple calendar of Esna; stela from the Temple of Koptos).
-‘WAG’-FEAST OF THE GOD OSIRIS, 17/18(19) Tekhy:
The ‘Wag’ Feast is a solemn festivity (two-day festivity: XVII Tekhy, the Eve of the ‘Wag’ Feast, and XVIII Tekhy) in honor of Osiris as Lord of the Dead and Lord of Wine and Life connected with the appearance of ‘Sah’ (Osiris as the Orion constellation, the husband of Sothis-Isis):
“Osiris has come as Sah, Lord of wine in the Wag festival” (PT 442)
“Osiris, He to Whom many shouts of joy are raised at the Wag festival”(from the Hymn to Osiris, on a tombstone of the XVIII Dynasty)
The text of the contracts of Hepdjefi (nomarch at Lycopolis during the XII dynasty) with the priesthood of Upuaut and Anubis to ensure his needs in the afterlife, contains many informations regarding the ritual celebrations and the offerings to the dead to be performed during the Wag Feast:
“on the eve of the Wag-feast, the great priest of Anubis brought forth a bale of torches, and, heading his colleagues, they illuminated the statue of Hepdjefi in the temple court, while each one of them at the same time laid a large white loaf at the feet of the statue. The procession then passed out of the temple enclosure and wound through the streets chanting the glorification of Hepdjefi till they reached another statue of him which stood at the foot of the stairs leading up the cliff to his tomb. Here they found the chief of the desert patrol, or “overseer of the highland,” where the necropolis was. Just returning from the magazines in the town, having brought a jar of beer, a large loaf, five hundred flat cakes, and ten white loaves to be delivered to Hepdjefi’s priest at the tomb above.
The next day, the eighteenth of the first month, the day of the Wag-feast, the priests of Upuaut in the town each presented the usual large white loaf at Hepdjefi’s statue in their temple, followed by an “illumination of torches” and “glorification” as they marched in procession around the temple court”(James Henry Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt)
“Contract which the count, the superior prophet, Hepdjefi, triumphant, made, with the official body of the Temple (the Temple of Wpwawt), to-wit:
There shall be given to him:
A wick in the first month of the first season, on the seventeenth day, the night of the Wag-feast.
A white loaf per each individual among them, for his statue, in the first month of the first season, on the seventeenth day, the night of the Wag-feast.
There shall be given to him 1 jar of beer, 1 large loaf, 500 flat loaves, and 10 white loaves, for his statue, (which is) in charge of his mortuary priest, in the first month of the first season, on the seventeenth day, the night of the Wag-feast.
There shall be given to him bread and beer in the first month of the first season, on the eighteenth day, the day of the Wag-feast.
A white loaf per each individual among them, for his statue, which is in the temple, in the first month of the first season, on the eighteenth day, the day of the Wag-feast.
He shall give another wick in the first month of the first season on the eighteenth day, the day of the Wag-feast, at the same time with the white bread, which they give to me per individual priest. This wick shall be due from my mortuary priest when glorifying me, together with the lay priests.”
-THE BEAUTIFUL FEAST OF THE VALLEY, 1/2 Khenty-Khety:
(text from “Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt” by Emily Teeter)
“The ‘Beautiful Feast of the Valley’ is celebrated only in Thebes. Like Osiris’ festivals, the Feast of the Valley is closely associated with funerary beliefs. (…)
The Feast of the Valley is observed once a year on the first day of the second month of summer in conjunction with the appearance of the New Moon. The first record of the Feast dates to Dynasty XI. The Festival was most popular in the New Kingdom, the Ramesside Period, and Dynasty XXV-XXVI, but there are references to the Festival as late as 117 bc during the reign of King Ptolemy VIII. (…)
The focus of the Festival is the parade of cult statues portraying the Gods and deceased royalty.
The Festival begins on the east bank of the Nile at the Ipet-Sut Temple of Amon-Ra where, after purification ceremonies, the cult statue of Amon is removed from its dark sanctuary, placed in its portable shrine, and loaded onto a ceremonial boat.
Priests carry the God’ statue from the Temple to the Nile, where it is placed aboard an elaborate barge called ‘Userhat’, ‘Powerful of Prow’, whose topsides are covered with gold and ornamented with scened of the King before the Gods. The procession, led by the King, is accompanied by throngs of priests who carry the great fans signifying the presence of the Deity and by huge crowds of people. The passage from East to West symbolizes the transition from Life to the Land of the Dead. In the divine procession Amon is joined by Mut, Khonsu, and statues of dead Kings and Queens. (…)
Graffiti note that priests watch for the procession from the heights of the West bank. (…) Once the flotilla is sighted, crowds of people who live on the West bank join the throng that had followed the procession from the East. Everyone is dressed in his or her finest white linen clothing, clutching flowers and food offerings as they greet the ‘Divine Arrival’ on the West bank.
According to scenes in Theban tombs, some of the statues were unloaded from the boats and dragged across the sand on sledges. This grand procession, trailed by entire families, set off from the Nile and travels by road and canal through the cultivated lands to the great western necropolis in order that Amon might visit the Temples of the deceased Kings.
The clearest explanation of the procession’s function comes from an inscription on a stela from the Temple of King Amenhotep III. The inscription states that the Temple was considered to be a ‘resting Palace of the Lord of the Gods at His Festival in the Valley in Amon’s procession to the West to visit the Gods of the West when He will reward His Majesty with Life and Dominion’.
Other texts confirm that during the Festival, the God Amon ‘rested’ in the Temple of the current King, and that the Temple was a place of ‘receiving Amon and extolling His beauty’. As a result of the Divine visit, the spirit of the King was revived and ‘rewarded with Life and Dominion’.
All the great Temples on the West bank, the “Temples of Millions of Years” of the Kings, shared the honor of receiving Amon when He traveled to the West. (…) The procession visited the memorial Temples of the ruling King and His predecessors. (…) The divine boats and the act of offering large floral bouquets to Them are hallmarks of the Festival. (…)
The souls of the dead had been summoned by the joyous noise of the procession and by Amon’s presence. The deceased were represented by statues that could be removed from the tomb and placed among the living celebrants.
The union of the living and dead was both physical and also mystical and intellectual. The properties of smell, sound, and taste are capable of trascending the barrier between life and death to reach the deceased and bring him or her into the celebrations. These senses were further stimulated by copious amounts of beer and wine, which creates an ecstatic state and brought the living closer to the dead. The revelers called on Hathor, addressing Her as the ‘Lady of Drunkenness’.
The families encouraged each other:
‘For your Ka (the spirit)! Drink the intoxicating drink! Celebrate a beautiful day …. may your heart be refreshed in your house of eternity (the tomb)’.
The necropolis was filled with activity, noise, smells, and music. Fueled by alcohol and the excitement of the Festival, the living recited hymns to their ancestors’ statues to encourage the spirits of the deceased to enliven them:
‘Emerge from the earth! Behold Ra and follow Amon in His Beautiful Feast of the Valley!’
The spirits were encouraged to join the procession:
‘May you be in the crew of the Royal boat and may you hear the clamor in the Temples in Western Thebes.
May you see Amon in the Beautiful Feast of the Valley and follow Him to the Temple Precincts’.
Bands of musicians circulated through the necropolis visiting individual tombs. Women shook beaded menat-necklaces and clanged their sistra, both instruments sacred to Hathor, while male musicians clapped and sang, creating an hypnotic rhythm that reverberated among the tombs.
Their refrains continued into the night, celebrating Amon’s presence in the “Temple of Millions of Years” of Queen Hatshepsut:
‘Praises are in Heaven, jubilation is in the Great House and celebrations are on Earth because Amon in His Userhat Boat is in the Temple of Millions of Years of Queen Hatshepsut!
His heart is joyful,
Heaven and Earth are happy’.
The odor of food filled the necropolis. The dead were presented with fragrant roasted birds and meat.
Sweet myrrh oil was poured on the meats, making the scents even more alluring. The chants continued:
‘May your voice be true …. and may you enter the earth among the august spirits who are before Osiris.
May you eat the offerings and participate in the repast like the Gods of the NetherWorld.
May you be called into the presence of Osiris Onnophris like those who follow Horus, unhindered like one of them.
May your name endure’. (…)
Another source of sensory stimulation was the enormous, fragrant bouquet of flower, called an ‘Ankh’ (a pun on the word ‘Ankh’, ‘Life’), that each family presented to its deceased ancestors. The flowers symbolize freshness, rejuvenation, and rebirth, as indicated by a text in the tomb of RekhmiRa (XVIII Dynasty):
‘Take scented flowers which I have brought you from the best of the plants which are in the garden.
Behold! The servants carry produce, shoots and fragrant stems of all kinds that you may be satisfied …. and that your heart may partake of its tender growth, and that you may do whatever your spirit desires for ever and ever’.
All these rituals were enacted to produce an ecstatic union of the dead and the living, to bring the living into the realm of the dead and the dead back to the living.
The sanctity of the dead as a true transfigured spirit, the Akh, was proclaimed, and his or her eternal life associated with the undying cycle of the God Ra was affirmed.
This is summed up in a text in the tomb of the official PuimRa that implores the deceased to
‘receive the ornaments of the Lady of Heaven, Hathor, Lady of Drunkenness ….
They open the path in Heaven for you.
They throw open the doors of the NetherWorld so that you may go forth, you appearing as a God, becoming a perfect spirit-soul (‘Akh’) in Heaven and taking shape in the NetherWorld.
Your unrighteous acts are expelled by Ra, You are raised high by Osiris’.
-THE FEAST OF THE BEAUTIFUL REUNION/EMBRACE, 1/15 Ipet-Hemet:
(text from “Worship and Festivals in an Egyptian Temple”, by H.W. Fairman)
“The Feast of the Beautiful Reunion is celebrated at Behdet from the day of the New Moon in the III month of Shemu (Ipet-Hemet), and ends on the day of the Full Moon, a total of fifteen days.
The preliminaries actually commenced , however, fourteen days earlier at Iunet when Hathor boarded Her great river-going processional barge and was towed up-stream towards Behdet in the midst of a great fleet of boats bearing priests and the faithful. The procession stopped on the way at Uaset-Diospolis Megale/Thebes, where Hathor visited Mut of Asheru (the Precinct of Mut), Per-mir (III upper egyptian nome, Latopolites, seat of Nephthys) between Iunyt/Latopolis and Hierakonpolis, and Nekhen-Hierakonpolis (seat of Horus), opposite the city of Eileithyiaspolis. It is possible, though not stated, that there may have been stops at other places, and it is easy to imagine that, as the glittering procession made its slow progress, excited crowds danced and rejoiced on the river banks.
The period of the festival is a time of peace and gladness:
“The inhabitants of Behdet are in jubilation, shouting for joy to the height of Heaven . . . . The great water-flood, it has stilled its raging, the Nile rejoices (pacifying) them that are in the water, while the crocodiles are all quieted and none are able to dart up” [Edfou V 30,3-6]
The procession arrived at the quay to the north of Behdet at the eighth hour of the day of the New Moon and was there met by Horus of Behdet and His following and a deputation from Elephantine. Hathor disembarked and proceeded with Horus to an adjacent Temple and there various ceremonies were performed, the most important being the Opening of the Mouth, an offering of the first fruits of the field, the presentation of the field, the driving of the calves, the offering of Maat, and numerous food-offerings.
The Gods then boarded Their ships, and accompanied by the Mayors of Per-Mir, Nekhen-Hierakonpolis and Elephantine and a host of pilgrims, set sail for Behdet, presumably by a canal joining the river to a place in the immediate neighbourhood of the Temple.
On the way the procession stopped at a place called the Mound of Geb where further ceremonies took place, including another Opening of the Mouth, the celebration of the ritual and rich offerings and burnt offerings, and then pursued its way.
Eventually the boats arrived at the Temple of Behdet, and Horus and His bride Hathor entered the enclosure by the eastern door in the brick enclosure wall and so across the enclosure and into the Forecourt by the door in its south-eastern corner.
This concluded the ceremonies of the day, this was the marriage proper, and Horus and Hathor spent Their marriage night in the Sanctuary.”