According to the Kemetic Orthodox calendar, the 31st of July, 2015, is the third of the five “Days Outside of Time” which precede Wep Ronpet, the New Year, which this year falls on the 3rd of August, 2015 on the Gregorian calendar. This is the occasion which marks the birth of the God Set, following the previous two days commemorating the births of His brothers Wesir and Heru-Wer, respectively.
A prayer to be said on this day, with the lighting of a candle (green or white):
“O Set, Son of Nut, Great of Strength: Protect Your companions with Your arms! I am the Son of Your Son.”
Now, I had intended to post the following separately and a great deal earlier in this past Kemetic year. Unfortunately, I became woefully distracted, and have neglected my blog (among other things) since December, in the midst of a move to an entirely different and distant State to be with my husband, engrossment in my academic work, and more dedicated attempts consistent religious observances.
This day which marks the occasion of Set’s emergence into Creation seems like an appropriate time for me to revisit — that is to say, publish it to my blog like I should have a long time ago — the very first Red Week organized and hosted by members of the Kemetic Orthodox Temple. It is an event which I hope to see occur once again in the coming year, and every year in the Kemetic Orthodox Temple’s future. You may find additional posts (moreover, timely, to which my post is a much-belated addition) about the week-long festival here.
Red Week, Blue Painting
The 11th through the 17th of January, 2015, was the first “Red Week” for the Kemetic Orthodox Temple, a week of events celebrating and contemplating Set. IRC chats were held by participating Kemetic Orthodox members every day during Red Week to discuss and honor Set, to explore avenues each of us hadn’t before, and to share our experiences involving Set. Some Kemetic Orthodox (and, indeed, some who were/are not affiliated with the Temple) held group rituals toward the end of the week, in-person, to give praise and offering to Set, and some of us documented our thoughts and experiences concerning this first Red Week on our own blogs.
This inaugural Red Week was a largely solitary event for me (but not entirely, as I attended some of the IRC chats). It was for me, more than anything, a week of quiet reflection. I didn’t perform rituals or extraritual heka every day of Red Week, though Set was “upon my heart” each day. Instead of attending to the shrine every evening for Set, I spent much of the week working on a special painting for Him. I committed one day toward the end of Red Week to performing a simple, solitarily-performed ritual for Set, for the purposes of dedicating the painting to Set, and for spending quality time in His presence.
That Red Week had been special for me. Well, “special” beyond it being the first days-long celebration of Set I’d seen the Kemetic Orthodox temple do and the first days-long celebration of Set I’d in any way participated in with others.
I hadn’t spent much shrine-time with Set in many months. For the first time in a long time, I went to Set, the first God Who appeared to me, the God Who “opened doors” for me, the first God of Kemet of Whom I thought: “Father.” For the first time in a long time, I gave prayer to Him alone, offering to Him alone. After many months of maintaining worship for other Gods, after many months of being all too absorbed in my academic work, of personal gains and cutting-out, of reevaluation and change, of beginning many necessary transitions, I returned to His presence. That Red Week was a homecoming, marking the much-needed sloughing of a wearied and excessive skin. That Red Week, I took a little time to hold quiet vigil before the Loud God.
Because this painting was central to my observance of Red Week, and because this piece is a bit abstract, it is necessary to explain its symbolism.
It seems a bit odd, perhaps, that I chose shades of blue for Set, a God so strongly, historically, and popularly associated with the color red. Some of His ancient epithets reflect this: Aa Deshr, “The Red Donkey”; Khab/Dab Deshr, “The Red [Bull] Hippopotamus”; and simply Deshr, “The Red.” (Leitz, 668) Indeed, He was associated with the red planet Mercury, called Sebeg(u) by the Ancient Egyptians. (Meeks, 118; Leitz, 667) It might seem especially odd indeed to make Set a blue painting during a festival called “Red Week.” I chose to create a painting using various shades of blue, as I sought to emphasize Set’s heavenly roles, associations, and the unities He forms with some deities possessing like qualities. Set is given the epithets Neb Pet, or “Lord of Heaven;” Neb Pet Mehytet, “Lord of the Northern Skies/Heavens;” and Nega Aa Hery Ib Pet Mehytet, meaning “The Great Bull at the Heart of the Northern Skies/Heavens.” (Leitz, 667) These titles tell us that He is a deity of the ethereal realms. Further, they hint at Set’s associations with Polaris, Ursa Major / The Big Dipper (known to the Egyptians as Khepesh, “The Bull’s Foreleg”), and the circumpolar stars.
Herman Te Velde, who authored the most extensive study on Set to date, has this to offer on Set and His Foreleg :
“The constellation of the Great Bear is the sign of Seth, as Orion is the star [sic] of Osiris and Sirius is the star of Isis. [ . . .] In the stars of the Great Bear the Egyptians saw an adze (msHtyw) or a foreleg (Xpš). In BD 17 the four children of Horus are names as guardians of the Bull’s Leg in the northern sky. In variants, not four, but seven guardians are enumerated, corresponding to the seven stars. The best, although indirect support I have found for the view of Schott is a text from the tomb of Ramses VI. From this it appears that it is the task of Isis and the four Gods “Who repulse the tempest of the sky on this day of the Great Contest” to prevent the msHtyw-foreleg of Seth from going to Osiris. We note from this text that it is not only a matter of concern generally to prevent Seth from approaching Osiris, but that it is His foreleg which may not approach Osiris. Shortly afterwards the foreleg or arm of Seth proves to be a redoubtable weapon with which
Apopis may be vanquished. Part of the spell of the Sixth Hour of the Day is:
‘Let Seth stretch forth His arm to let
Apopis fall! — says Isis in Her incantation.’
[. . .] The Xpš which hieroglyphic writing and the use of the word in the Pyramid Texts show to have been the foreleg of a bull, came to mean not only the constellation of the Great Bear, but also “strong arm,” “strength,” and even “scimitar.” Seth uses this scimitar in the battle against demons of disease:
‘The Xpš of Seth is against you, O smn; the ktp of Baal [Ba’l-Hadad] is struck in your head; the bt3 of Horus is struck in your vertex.’ “ (86 – 87)
Te Velde continues:
“As other Gods do also, Seth presents the scimitar to the king who is at war. Possibly the Egyptians called the scimitar “bull’s leg” because they attributed a deadly force to the latter. The Xpš is a dangerous object as a scimitar and as a bull’s leg in the northern sky, for it must be guarded there. This does not yet prove, however, that Seth killed Osiris with the bull’s leg. Yet after the foregoing such becomes highly probable, considering the function of the bull’s leg in the ritual of the Opening of the Mouth, and allowing for the ambivalence of a symbol, as also obtains with regard to water, which seems to symbolize both the resurrection and the death of Osiris. In the ritual of the Opening of the Mouth, indeed, the msHtyw or Xpš seems to bring not death, but life. Four scenes are important for our subject. In the first scene a bull is slaughtered and its foreleg is cut out. In the second scene heart and foreleg are brought into the dead (Osiris) and laid upon the ground. In the third scene the foreleg is presented and raised up to the face of Osiris. Finally, in the fourth scene, the mouth of Osiris is opened with the msHtyw. The accompanying utterance is as follows:
‘Horus has opened the mouth of NN with that wherewith He opened the mouth of His Father wherewith He opened the mouth of Osiris, with the metal which came forth from Seth: the msHtyw of metal. That with which the mouth of the Gods was opened, with that do you open the mouth of NN so that he goes and speaks corporeally before the Great Ennead of the Gods, in the palace of the ruler Who is in Heliopolis.’
Since it is the Xpš or msHtyw which came forth from Seth that gives life here, the conclusion seems justified that the foreleg of Seth, which according to other texts requires to be so strictly guarded by Isis and the sons of Horus, was the instrument with which Seth killed Osiris. Osiris is also raised up with the assistance of the spittle of Seth. An interesting point is that the bull’s leg, like the w3s-scepter . . . seems to have played a part in the local cult of Seth. Both in Ombos [Nubt] and Sepermeru Seth bears the epithet ‘Powerful of Forefoot.’ The closeness of the tie between Osiris and His murderer, or Seth and His victim, is evident from the fact that the bull’s leg became one of the sacred relics of Osiris.” (88 – 89)
I framed the Foreleg with two was-scepters that support a pet hieroglyph, the latter of which is an ideogram and a determinative for multiple spellings of the words “sky” and “Heaven(s)”. Besides being the symbols of Divine dominion, they are supports of the Heavens and a specific tool — and potential weapon of extreme power — of Set. (Te Velde, 90) I gave these scepters Set-like facial features, to represent Him within the composition in a more readily-recognizable way, and to present Set as a force of Ma’at, as a force which sustains Ordered Creation, as the impossibly strong and unshakeable support and ruler of the Heavens, as an Iun-Sebau.
The symbol beneath the hoof of the Foreleg, painted in white, is an Emblem of Min (see also Wainwright, The Emblem of Min, JEA Vol. 17 No. 3/4, 1931), a God associated with Set, and serves to represent yet more characteristics and weapons of Set, Seda-nef-Pet, “Who-Makes-the-Heavens-Tremble” : His war-cry (hemhemet), and His thunder (nehemhem) and lightning (seshed).
Before the shrine, I presented the painting to Set. I dedicated it with the fumigation of benzoin and myrrh, along with simple but powerful heka:
Powerful-of-Foreleg, I give to You Your Foreleg.
Great-of-Roarings, I give to You Your Emblem.
Pillar of the Stars, I give to You Your Scepters.
Lord of the Northern Skies, I give to You Your Abode.
Whatever has been deprived, I am Djehuty,
Who Makes Whole and Renders Order:
I restore it to You; as good and pure as on the Day of Creation.
O Kingly One, Your servant NN sustains You, as You sustain Your servant NN.
Following the conclusion of the ritual and the making of offerings, I placed the other icons back in the shrine around Set and His new votive. Though the icons have been moved around after cleanings and for other religious observances since, “The Blue Painting / Khepesh” still resides in their shrine, standing in a prominent position behind the icon of Set.
Leitz, Christian. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen. Leuven : Peeters Publishers & Department of Oriental Studies, 2003.
Meeks, Dimitri, and Christine Favard-Meeks. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Translated by G. M. Goshgarian. Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1991.
Te Velde, Herman. Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion. 2nd Ed. English Translation by Mrs. G. E. van Baaren-Pape. Leiden : Brill, 1977.