The 1st Epagomenal Day: Happy Birthday, Osiris!

When it comes to religion in the workplace, I normally keep a low profile.

Today, however, with the start of the Epagomenal Days that continue through Friday, I am flying my Kemetic Recon freak flag proudly, and the new hire I just met about an hour ago–a very conservative business reporter joining my company’s trade magazine staff–got an eyeful of my handmade Osiris devotional necklace featuring a three-inch-tall statue of Osiris nestled between my breasts, not to mention my Egyptian-made prayer beads coiled around my right wrist and my “everyday Egypt” appearance with trademark exaggerated kohl eyeliner and my perfectly coiffed Cleopatra-esque bob. If she’s a keen observer of a journalist, the Anubis and Bast shrines flanking the desktop plaque of my name (the postmodern West’s answer to the cartouche) didn’t escape her notice either. She was pleasant enough during our introduction, but I inwardly grinned as her eyes zeroed in on my chest as she leaned forward to shake my hand, behavior that didn’t go unnoticed by the editor-in-chief of our magazine, who served as her office tour guide and office personnel introduction facilitator.

My handiwork worn in tribute to the Eldest Son of Nut and Geb on this, His birthday.

My handiwork worn in tribute to the Eldest Son of Nut and Geb on this, His birthday. The Osiris statue is Egyptian-made and I bought it at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History when I was 13(!), when the now-permanent “Inside Ancient Exhibit” was unveiled. I made the statue (how apt that it’s corn yellow!) the focal point of my necklace as a ritual offering to the God two years ago.

 

What Are the Epagomenal Days?

A lover of liminality overwhelmingly attracted to Gods, Powers, and Spirits that inhabit and oversee in-between interstices of time and place and (non-)being, I rejoice with the arrival of the holy, we’re-at-the-end-of-the-old-year-but-haven’t-quite-arrived-at-the-new five-day period the ancient Egyptians set aside as the Epagomenal Days. Their civil calendar, introduced sometime between 2397 and 2821 BCE (Before Common Era), had 12 months of 30 days each. Five “days out of time”–the Epagomenal Days–were added between the last day of the last month of the year and the first day of the new year to bring the total to 365 days. The new year was determined by the Heliacal rising of the star Sirius (or Sopdet, which was seen as the ba or manifestation of the goddess Isis), which instigated the all-important annual flooding of the Nile; by my reckoning, Sopdet rises on August 1, making today the first Epagomenal Day.

As Plutarch, writing in the second century CE (Common Era), notes in his On Isis and Osiris (De Iside et Osiride)–wherein much of our mythological understanding of the chief Kemetic gods of the cult of Heliopolis comes from–each Epagomenal Day was assigned to the birth of one of the divine offspring of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb:

1st Epagomenal Day: the Birth of Osiris, or Ausar (whom Plutarch equates with Dionysos)

2nd Epagomenal Day: the Birth of Horus the Elder, or Heru-Ur (not to be confused with Horus, Son of Osiris and Isis; Plutarch equates Him with Apollo)

3rd Epagomenal Day: the Birth of Set, “who leaped out through his mother’s side” (Plutarch equates Him with Typhon, Son of Kronos)

4th Epagomenal Day: the Birth of Isis, or Auset (whom Plutarch equates with Demeter)

5th Epagomenal Day: the Birth of Nephthys, or Nebet-Het (whom Plutarch equates with Venus)

 

Dua Ausar, Suten Heh! / Praise to Osiris, Lord of Eternity!

Chthonic Gods bestow blessings from the Lands Below. Whether we’re talking about the Roman Pluto (whose name literally means “Wealth”), the Slavic Veles, or Egypt’s Osiris, the blessings of abundant crops and herds, the rich and bountiful yields of the earth, stem from the Underworld and from the generous hands of these Powers. In ancient Egyptian iconography, Osiris is often depicted with green or black skin for this very reason, to denote the rich soil inundated with the Nile’s life-giving properties to be made ready for the sowing of seeds. Furthermore, the pharaonic emblems of the crook and flail, while denoting the symbols of authority and leadership, tie to Osiris’ sacred agricultural Mysteries as well, as the flail in particular was (and is) used in the arduous activity of the threshing of grain.

That act of discernment–separating the wheat from the chaff–also segues nicely into Osiris’ other main chthonic attributes as Judge of the Dead and Signifier of Eternal Recurrence. As the Roman Emperor Augustus considered himself the “First Citizen” among equal Romans, so too in death did Osiris signify for the ancient Egyptian–from noble to common person, from male to female–something of “First Citizenship” in the Duat, the Underworld. For just as He, by possessing the heka of the Words of Power that allowed Him, upon His death, to pass through the Gates of the Underworld into the Halls of the Blessed Dead (Amenti) and become Justified in Ma’at, so too did the average ancient Egyptian citizen become identified with Him in death and thereby secure His promise of the victory of eternal life. As religious scholar Henri Frankfort explains in Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation (1948):

“Osiris lived in the annual sprouting of the grain, in the floodwaters of the Nile, in the moon, in Orion; the dead, by becoming Osiris, acquired immortality within the perennial movements of nature; and this ideal was of immemorial antiquity in Egypt since it was expressed from the earliest times in the wish to become Akhu, transfigured spirits, circling as ‘imperishable stars round the pole.’ The same ideal found yet another expression when the dead desired to join the sun in its daily journey. This desire is strongly represented in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, but the Coffin Texts of the First Intermediate Period commoners also wish ‘to enter and leave by the Eastern Gate of Heaven in the retinue of Ra.’ Whether the dead man’s aim is the solar circuit, or that of the circumpolar stars, or the life of Osiris, the essential wish is the same: to be absorbed in the great rhythm of the universe” (p. 106).

Obviously, early Christianity owes a great deal of debt to Egyptian religion. Even in childhood undergoing the catechism of my Eastern Orthodox Christian upbringing, it was very easy for me to see how Osiris as Judge became adopted in the early Church’s iconography as Christos Pantokrator, the Anointed Judge. Whether Son of Nut or Son of Man, both impart the message that the righteous have nothing to fear from Judgment in the post-death state, and that life everlasting (uhm ankh in Egyptian) will reward the pious. But to those who exit this world with a heavy heart, watch out!

Late Period bronze statue of Osiris now in the Louvre.

Late Period bronze statue of Osiris now in the Louvre. I am struck by the God’s quiet strength in His penetrative, compassionate gaze.

 

Hristos Pantokrator

The stern visage of Christos Pantokrator, the Anointed One as Judge, as seen in the interior main dome of many an Eastern Orthodox Church. The not-so-subtle visual reminder to worshipers whose eyes drift to the ceiling during Mass is that they will have to be accountable for all their earthly deeds one day.

While mighty, Osiris’ energies have always struck me as cool and gentle–the dynamic opposite of His brother Set’s heat and dynamism. (In Vodou terms, Osiris hails from the calm, everything-in-its-proper-time Rada Nation, and Set from the hot, fast-acting Petwo Nation of lwa. More on Set when I honor Him on Wednesday for His birthday!) He is the solidity of dark earth, the assurance of new life in the sprouting grain, the eerie silence emanating from the dark side of the moon.  His beauty is breathtaking. My love for Him is very heart chakra-centric, stemming from both the front and the back of my heart chakra, as Osiris governs the spine, which the ancient Egyptians depicted as the djed pillar, itself a version of the Tree of Life (thought to be the sycamore or the acacia tree, the tree in which the God’s hacked up body parts were encased and located by the wandering and mourning Isis and Nephthys):

Raising of the djed pillar: Isis (Her hair cut as a sign of mourning) is assisted by the Pharaoh Seti I (on the right). Painting from the tomb of Seti I, Abydos.

Raising of the djed pillar: Isis (Her hair cut as a sign of mourning) is assisted by the Pharaoh Seti I (on the right). Painting from the tomb of Seti I, Abydos.

Osiris’ epithets are manifold. To quote a hymn from The Book of Coming Forth by Day (Budge translation):

“Homage to Thee, O Governor of those who are in Amenti, Who makest mortals to be born again, Who renewest Thy youth, Thou dwellest in Thy season, Thou Beautiful One, Thy son Horus hath avenged Thee; the rank and dignity of Tem have been conferred upon Thee, O Un-Nefer. Thou Art raised up, O Bull of Amentet, Thou art established in the body of Nut, Who uniteth Herself unto Thee, and Who cometh forth with Thee. Thy heart is established upon that which supporteth it, and Thy breast is as it was formerly; Thy nose is firmly fixed with life and power, Thou livest, and Thou art renewed, and Thou makest thyself young like Ra each and every day. Mighty, mighty is Osiris in victory, and He is firmly established with life.”

 

Honoring the God Today

Tameran Wiccans and other Pagans who ritually work with the Wiccan Eightfold Wheel of the Year will have no trouble adapting Osirian ritual devotions to traditional Lughnasad or Lammas celebrations.

There will be something of a Lammas vibe for me tonight as I plan on baking some ritual cornbread from scratch upon coming home from work this evening (I warned my fiancé to steer clear of the kitchen in advance) and having some one-on-one devotional time with Osiris as well as with my ancestors. I’ve got a fine ale and figs to share as well. Mondays are my busiest day of the week for my devotionals, as it’s the day I honor, in Ifa, Eshu and my Warriors, and it’s also the day of the week I feed and honor La Santa Muerte. And given that a good chunk of yesterday, as the last day of the year in the Egyptian calendar, was spent in ritual (to propitiate Sekhmet and ask Her to avert sickness, disaster, and evil in the year to come for my household), my Petite Priestess muscles are getting quite a workout this week!

But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Happy Birthday, Osiris! And cheers to an auspicious kick-off to the Epagomenal Days to each and every one of you!

Senebti! Blessings of wellness!

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