A Twitter acquaintance linked to an article called 11 Winter Holidays You Might Not Know About today. While checking my feed, I clicked on it, because I’m always curious about cultural expressions, and I like to test my knowledge.
Imagine my utter surprise when I read the last holiday on the list. Number 11 is The Establishment of the Celestial Cow, a holiday whose modern celebration, as far as I am aware, is due to my having reintroduced it two decades ago to Kemetic Orthodoxy, based on my translations of ancient Egyptian calendars and mythological texts.
This holiday was established thousands of years ago to commemorate a mythological occurrence. According to myth, the sun god Ra, tired of dealing with the evil of mankind, decides to leave the world. He climbs onto the back of His daughter, Hathor-Nut (or just Nut), Who has transformed Herself back from an angry man-eating lioness called Sekhmet, and into a more peaceful aspect of Ra’s Eye (a sort of ancient Egyptian idiom for bodyguard): a giant, golden cow.
Ra tells Nut to start climbing, so He can get as far away from humans as possible, and the myth chronicles their ascent. Like most hieroglyphic religious texts, the Celestial Cow myth has a serious side, but for holiday purposes, we focus on the joyous part. We also ponder a less joyous, educational part: where human greed and carelessness introduce death and separation from the divine into the created world.
Eventually, Ra and Nut travel so far up from the earth that Nut gets frightened, and Her legs begin to shake. Ra asks Shu, the god of wind and atmosphere, to order each of the four winds to grab one of Nut’s legs and hold it still. All copies of the myth from antiquity show an image of Shu and His wind-spirits reinforcing Nut’s legs as She lifts Ra high above the earth.
And then…from the highest of heights, Ra achieves some sort of peace. Instead of continuing to rage about mankind’s betrayal, He realizes how much He loves His creations. Ra tells Nut that they have reached their destination. He will remain there, “on high,” to watch over mankind forever. Nut asks Ra to make Her powerful enough to withstand such a height, and He responds by transforming Nut into the starry vault of space itself:
Then the majesty of this god looked into Her, and She said: “Make me into a multitude!”
And stars came into being.
It’s a profound myth, something beautiful to tell on a crisp winter’s night under a velvet blue sky. As we consider the stars to symbolize our ancestors, this recalls Nut’s position as mother to and keeper of the dead. As Mehet-Weret, “the Great Flood,” She becomes the Milky Way. The Establishment of the Celestial Cow holiday serves as counterpoint to the strictly solar holiday of the winter solstice that ancient Egyptians and modern Kemetic Orthodox mark four days earlier: the Return of the Eye (also Ra’s Eye, the Wandering Eye called Tefnut, Hathor, and/or both).
This year, Celestial Cow coincides with Christmas. Since this happens relatively often, when the solstice occurs on the 21st, we’ve taken to nicknaming the holiday “Moo-mas.” Over time, our people have started incorporating it into their personal celebrations of the secular/cultural Christmas holiday. Many Kemetic Orthodox have Christian ancestors, and there’s nothing wrong with honoring one’s ancestors’ holidays (or holidays the rest of your family might invite you to celebrate). We try to celebrate Moo-mas in a joyous and light-hearted fashion – after all, the myth has a light-hearted ending. One year, I was even dared to render the myth in catspeak. Never let it be said that I’d pass up a holiday dare.
Whatever holidays you may celebrate this time of year, even if they are summer holidays instead of winter ones, enjoy them. May they be filled with peace and love and joy, with family and friends, and with some quiet time for yourself and your god(s) and spirit(s), if you recognize any. It’s been a long and interesting 2012. Shall we turn it up to eleven on its way out?