So we’ve finally made it to the last post in the “tutorial” portion of this series on how to go about setting up a region-specific calendar. We’ve gone over what sorts of information to gather for this process, how to determine your seasons and come up with a basic starting point for your calendar, and how to begin to create associations to help flesh out your holiday celebrations. In this post, we’re going to talk about how to fold in elements from pre-existing religious practices, concepts, and mythologies.
Now, even if you don’t have any religious elements that you want to incorporate into your calendar, I would still recommend browsing this post, because I feel that some of the information I’m going to discuss would still be applicable to anyone embarking in this process. And, as always, this post will be written largely from a Kemetic perspective because that is what I know in terms of religions and mythology. If anyone else ends up writing info pages on this from their religious perspective, let me know and I can link it here.
Deity Associations: A Starting Point
I think one of the easiest places to start this topic from is drawing direct natural associations between the elements in your calendar/region and your deities. It seems that most polytheistic religions have deities that are tied to the sun, tied to harvest, tied to water features; and so these deities could easily be incorporated into any local/seasonal aspects that correspond to their domain. For Kemetics, that means you could focus on Re during the summer, maybe Kephri during the spring, when the sun is more “new” and fresh, and perhaps Atum-Re for the fall as the sun becomes less prominent during the winter. You could also incorporate Aten during your solar season, if your location has one.
If you have a season that’s known for having an abundance of growth in terms of either plants or fauna, you may find that you could incorporate deities tied to fecundity or farming/agriculture. Whether you’re growing these plants that you can eat, or going and foraging for things to eat, you could invoke deities on either end of either process. Asking the gods for assistance with a good growing season or good luck with foraging, and then thanking them after you’ve brought in lots of good things to eat. Folding in additional aspects of what allows this growth to happen would be another way to create new groupings of deities that aren’t specific to antiquity.
This also applies to local fauna and flora. For example, if you’ve got geese that migrate through your area, perhaps you could incorporate Geb into celebrations that occur during that “season.” Hathor has associations with oaks, so incorporating her into acorn collecting or processing might be worth considering. Wenut is tied to rabbits, which often have their own roles in local ecology that could be played into. It seems that nearly every deity collects a bunch of associations with both plants and animals, and so those could be used pretty much the same way that the seasonal associations would work.
To create an example that incorporates the last two paragraphs, if you were going to do the acorn gathering above: you could fold in Osiris for his exudations that allow for excellent soil that fosters good growth, Re for his solar properties that allows the trees to grow, Shu for the air that brings the rains to the area where these trees grow, and Hathor for her association with acorns, perhaps overlapping her joy with the joy that acorns bring to your belly when properly processed.
Of course, there are some other more nuanced ways to align these associations. For example, we’ve got something called the Ironwood tree down here in AZ. It’s a keystone species, which means its already something of a sacred plant to begin with, but there are qualities of the tree that really remind me of my gods.
First is the use of the word “iron” in its name. This often comes from two aspects of the tree’s wood: its ashen color that is similar to iron in nature, and the fact that the wood is considered very hard and very durable. There are trees that have been dead for over a century, but their remains still dot the landscape due to the high poison content that is present within the wood. Literally, the poison is what makes the wood last forever.
Second is that this tree is vital to the survival of many plants and animals throughout the desert. Each tree is said to support and play a role in the survival of over 500 other species in the desert. This tree is both a survivor and a source of sustenance. To me, this tree is a culmination of both Setian and Osirian properties. The iron associations, the ability to survive even better than other desert plants during the harshest conditions, and the use of literal poison to create a means of existing indefinitely all seem like Setian traits. The fact that the tree is responsible for the survival of many species during the worst parts of the year in AZ, the sustenance that it provides for the desert, plus its capacity to endure for literal centuries after death all feel very Osirian in nature.
What I’m trying to get at is that your associations needn’t be super direct to be applicable. Always be willing to dig deeper to find your gods in places you wouldn’t expect. There are lots of ways to see our gods in the world around us, and the more we learn about the plants and fauna that live around us, the easier it becomes to find our deities in our local area.
Once you’ve found an association that resonates with you, you could then find ways to weave it into any current practices you have. For example, I could potentially do rites for Set or Osiris under or around one of our local Ironwoods. I could also reverse that and involve Set or Osiris in any celebrations centered around Ironwood trees. Or perhaps I could find a piece of wood or seed pods to offer to the deities in question. It would also make sense to utilize the seeds as part of a food offering as well. In this way, I would be bringing a small part of where I live to each ritual that I do, thereby closing the gap between the traditional location-based practices and my local area.
Religious Symbols and Concepts
Pretty much every religious tradition has symbols, themes, and concepts that infiltrate the mythology and living practices of anyone who participates in the religion. For Kemetics, we’ve got ma’at and isfet, we’ve got trees that give life, benben mounds that herald transformation and birth, just to name a few. When you’re trying to fold your religion into your calendar, I feel that using these symbols and concepts is a good way to begin to bridge the gap.
Something that seems to have been done with some regularity in antiquity is the idea of bathing icons in sunlight. In some locations, this can be done almost anytime of the year (like Egypt,) but for those who live in places where the sun isn’t constantly visible, it may be worthwhile to pay special attention during the solar season that is present within your region. During this time, it may be beneficial to plan to take any important amulets, icons, or other religious paraphernalia outside where it can soak up some rays.
Rejuvenation and Rebirth
There were many parts of the natural world that the ancient Egyptians decided to embody in their religious symbolism in the form of rejuvenation and rebirth. There were flowers that rose and fell with the sun, blooming once the rays hit the water; that were incorporated into the mythology surrounding Nefertem, and by extension, Re. Re, of course, living a non-stop cycle of rebirth and rejuvenation that is embodied by the sun. There is also the annual cycling of the river that sustained ancient Egypt, often embodied in the mythology surrounding Osiris (at least by the later periods of Egyptian history,) and to a lesser degree, involves aspects of Sekhmet, as plague was more likely to set in when the river was running low (or completely gone.)
Most of us will have our own examples of plants that rise and set with the sun, of animals that come out to greet the sun, of plants that die back during one season only to be rejuvenated once the weather shifts later in the year. Looking for these examples in the world around us, and then seeing where they might dovetail nicely with our pre-existing stories regarding this theme will allow us to see our gods in our immediate surroundings, and provides opportunities to find new ways to celebrate the rebirth that is occurring.
Battling Isfet, Instilling Ma’at
For Kemetics, one of the biggest directives in our religion is to maintain ma’at and get rid of isfet. And if there is one thing that we could do that would help our local ecology (and therefore ma’at) probably more than anything else, its by pushing back invasive species. In a sort of juxtaposition against keystone species, invasive species are plants and fauna that actively destroy and degrade a particular ecosystem. These are usually species that existed in balance within a given ecological system, but were moved into a foreign space that they then began to take over.
Most places try to have “round ups” where people will gather and work to pull out and remove invasive plants that occur at specific times in the year (timed to the cycles of the species that are being removed, usually.) For those of us who are interested in this work, it wouldn’t be hard to create an annual holiday where you go out and join these groups of people to help push back isfet (by removing the invasive species) and help restore ma’at (because you’ll usually replace what you removed with new plants or new seeds.)
And if invasive species are not your thing, there is always trash collecting and cleaning that occurs in many places across the globe. Another way of instilling ma’at would be to learn restorative gardening and land-keeping practices, this is particularly if you happen to own or oversee any property. That way you can make sure you’re not accidentally adding to isfet by mismanaging what happens to the land that you live on.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but I hope that it gives you something of an idea of how you can begin to bring your local areas and your pre-existing religious practices closer without being appropriative. In the final post of this series, I will go over some of the holidays that I’ve created for my area, and how I’m starting to work on folding religious practices into my calendar.