I wonder…


First it was Mercury, who, to my knowledge, came into my life during an online conversation with a Hellenic friend of mine. The Facebook chat kept failing every few minutes, so my friend commented that Hermes was having fun with us. And that was the seed. Internet glitches, a laugh and the race was on. When I say Mercury showed up like a sudden gust of wind, that’s because He did. I did not see it coming, but He quickly made Himself at home. And I reckon I pulled a chair or two for Him to sit on, ’cause once the seed was planted, it soon became obvious that Him and I have multiple common interests: sports, writing, research, long-distance trekking, travelling, humour and dogs, including the stray kind, of which me and my parents are usual adopters or feeders. Interestingly enough, our newest dog was sitting in the middle of a road when I my mother drove by on the same day my father got a job offer. She stopped the car to see if the animal was alright, but as soon as she opened the door, the dog jumped right in. Next stop: a new home! And then we sometimes go the extra mile to help lost travels and tourists: several years ago, we drove 15 kilometres just to lead a group of motorcyclists to a nearby main road and, when I was a kid, we invited a Belgium tourist to dine with us, after we led him to the local camping park. Which, come to think of it, may not have been the safest thing to do, since he was a complete stranger, but what the heck. It all went well. I guess there is a reason why my mom loves our domestic shrine to Mercury and says she feels good next to it. Or why I found a 5 Euros banknote on the floor of a crowded canteen by the time the mailman delivered my caduceus pendant; the same 5 Euros I then used to buy a lottery ticket and got a 25 Euros prize out of it. And did I mention that I was born on a Wednesday of May? Yeah…

So this is how or why Mercury came to be such a huge part of my life in just a couple of years. About two months before that started to happen, I added the Egyptian god Khnum to my religious life, for reasons that are completely unrelated to Mercury. Yet the Potter of the Nile did open the flood gates (now there’s a good metaphor for a water god), in that before Him I did not consider worshiping Kemetic gods. I knew they were out there, but they were also outside my cultural focus, which already had to juggle between Roman and Norse pantheons. And this despite the fact that, as a child and I guess like many other children, I had a fascination for ancient Egypt. In fact, the only book I ever borrowed from my high school’s library was on Egyptian mythology. From then until 2011, the only two Kemetic gods that caught my eye were Anubis and Thoth, for obvious reasons: a dog-friend like myself has a hard time resisting a dog-headed deity and the ibis god presides over writing, study and books, which is right up my alley. But, like I said, I never considered worshiping Them, even if They were on the back of my head. Until Khnum opened the gates, followed by Anubis several months later. And now it may be Thoth’s turn… perhaps. I honestly don’t know.

See, I’m increasingly a writer. I’m working on a book right now and there’s a second project down the road. Not to mention the academic papers, which I’m trying to keep at a rate of at least two per year on peer review journals. And when I’m not writing, I’m speaking in public or teaching classes on History and mythology; or publishing posts here. A few weeks ago, as I was writing, Thoth clicked. There’s really no other way of putting this. I wasn’t watching any Egypt-related movie or show, I haven’t been reading on the topic, nor was I working on a text in any way connected. Out of the blue, as I was writing, my mind pointed the lights at Thoth. And just like Mercury a few years ago after the initial seed was planted, He’s been in my head ever since. What I’m going to do about it is yet unclear. It may be an involuntary mental connection, linking a childhood reference with the very action I was doing at the moment. Perhaps He’s saying hi or perhaps it was just my subconscious empathizing with a god I can naturally relate to, with no move from His part.

And then another thought occurred to me: first Mercury, then Anubis and now Thoth… am I on a Hermes trip? Starting with His Roman version, then an Egyptian god He was syncretised with and now another? I wonder…


This month: October

October was originally the eighth month of the Roman calendar (from Latin octo, meaning eight). The Calends, sacred to Juno, are on the first day, the Nones on the 7th and the Ides, sacred to Jupiter, are on the 15th. The 2nd, 8th and 16th days are considered unlucky. In my personal practice, the first Wednesday of the month is dedicated to Mercury, the 19th day to Minerva and the 21st to Ingui.

October 7: Silvanalia
Despite the fact that Silvanus appears to have been very popular at one time, no festive dates are known. This is not, therefore, an historical celebration. It’s just me trying to get closer to the Roman Lord of Woods and, as such, setting aside a day in His honour. The choice of date was practical and symbolic at the same time: in the northern hemisphere, the tree-planting season goes from late September to early March, so a day anywhere in that period would be a good idea to pay tribute to a tree-god; and since I have almost no festivals in October, I picked the Nones of that month.

Besides a formal ceremony, activities in this day may include offerings to wood spirits – from music to beverage and wreaths – as well as planting trees and volunteer work at a local forest.

October 29: Figularia
The Potter’s Festival (from Latin figulus) is not an historical celebration, but my way of integrating the Egyptian god Khnum in my religious calendar. An explanation of the choice of date can be found here and, just as in these last two years, I’ll be making food offerings to the Divine Potter of the Nile, as well as a clay statue of a ram that I’ll then leave on the banks of a river (e.g. here).

Hail the dog-headed!

It’s no secret that I’m a cynophile. My parents have had pet dogs ever since I can remember, we’ve been donating to animal shelters or leaving out food in parks and side walks for years, and our two current pets were stray dogs we picked up directly from the streets. In every possible way for a canine, they are part of the family, including post-mortem, and are included in our New Year ceremony, when a prayer and offerings are made to Diana for their protection and well being.

It’s also no secret that I add non-Latin gods to my religious life and practices, which is not without its historical precedent. If those deities have been Romanized at some point in time – including in modern times – I may integrate Them into my Roman cultus – including ceremonies to Latin gods; if not, I maintain a separate cult according to Their own traditions. So, for instance, in my New Year ceremony Ingui was honoured side-by-side with Jupiter, Mercury, Diana and others, receiving prayers and offerings in the same manner as Them. But I never mix Khnum with Latin deities in the same ceremony, since I haven’t Romanized Him (and have no plans of doing so).

Once the Divine Potter of the Nile entered my religious life, back in 2011, I guess it was only a matter of time before a dog-headed god joined the festive calendar of a cynophile like me. So I eventually added Anubis to my pantheon and, after mentally working things out for a long time and giving Him offerings at irregular intervals, I finally decided on a yearly feast and celebrated it for the first time yesterday.

Anubis - oferendas 01

In the morning, I prepared a temporary shrine and offerings: a candle, incense, water, bread with cheese, walnuts, and dog biscuits. After washing my hands and face, I approached the shrine, bowed, and made an opening prayer. Then I presented and placed the offerings by the image, starting with the candle, and I also added two bowls of water to be blessed, stored and later poured on family graves between the 13th and 21th. Once the incense had burned out, I again bowed and one by one removed the food offerings from the shrine for consumption. Me and my dogs ate all with the exception of the biscuits: since Anubis is also a god of orphans and abandoned creatures – at least in modern times – I wanted to honour Him by sharing some of the offerings with abandoned animals. So I took the biscuits out and gave them to two stray dogs I found yesterday.

There are a few more things I’d like to add to the Cinocefalia, but the ideas are still mentally maturing. For now, this seems to have been a pretty good first time, suitably integrated in the Roman year – which is, after all, part of my matrix – and hopefully enjoyable by the Dog-Headed God.

This month: February

February is a month of purification whose name derives from Februus; the opposite has also been suggested, i.e. the month originated the god as a personification of the rites of Februalia. In any case, it was the eve of the old Roman New Year, which started in March, and that meant a time of cleansing and renewal of family bonds. It remained so even after the start of the year was moved to January.

The Calends, sacred to Juno, are on the first day of the month, the Nones on 5th and the Ides, sacred to Jupiter, are on the 13th. The first Wednesday is dedicated to Mercury, the 19th to Minerva, and the 21st to Ingui. The 2nd, 6th, and 14th days are unlucky.

February 2: Dies Laris Patriae
A Day of a Lar of the Homeland is the anniversary of a national historical figure I admire and whose genius I worship as a communal ancestor. In this case, it’s the birthday of Damião de Góis, a 16th century Portuguese humanist and one of the great European minds of his time. February 2 is a dies ater, but I can neither change that nor the date of his birth, so I pay my respects to Damião with a candle and incense, adding perhaps some laurel or a flower wreath and a reading from one his works. Ideally, I should have an image of him and my other Lares Patriae in my Lararium, but the mantelpiece has limited space, so for the time being I just set up temporary shrines.

February 7: Cinocefalia
The festival of the dog-headed is not an historical celebration, but my newly-created way of integrating Anubis into my religious life. The choice of name is self-explanatory, though it took me a while to get there; the date resulted from a mixture of Roman and Egyptian elements: February is a month marked by ceremonies to the dead, which fits well into Anubis’ role of psychopomp and guardian of the grave, and seven is an odd and therefore magical number, so the 7th day was both special and practical, since it’s evenly between two celebrations.

Ritual practices for the Cinocefalia are still a work in progress. At the very least, a candle and incense are offered to Anubis and a meal is shared with Him in front of a decorated shrine. Flowers may also be given to the god and then be taken to a family grave. The wearing of dog masks is an idea that keeps popping in my mind, together with some sort of game – especially one in which canine pets can take part – but I’m still working on that. Donations to animal shelters, any activity in favour of orphans, leaving out food for stray dogs, or even adopting one are also things to consider for the Cinocefalia.

February 13-21: Parentalia
This is an ancient Roman celebration in honour of the dead, lasting a total of nine days during which graves were visited and offerings made to one’s ancestors. It culminated with the Feralia on the 21st and was followed by the Caristia, which was also a family feast, but this time with the living and divine family members.

If possible, I visit the graves of family members and pets, cleaning them, pouring libations of wine or milk, and leaving flowers. At last once, but several times between the 13th and 21st is also a good idea. During that period, more frugal meals and an unshaved face are preferred, though this will naturally be influenced by one’s professional and social life.

In a way, it is appropriate that the end of the Parentalia falls on my monthly devotional to Ingui: as a god of life He has a hand in its renewal, both through death and procreation, so it is a happy coincidence that I honour Him on the last day dedicated to the dead and on the eve of the feast of the living and divine ancestors. Ingui stands between the old and the new generations.

February 22: Caristia
This is a day to honour the Family Lares around a table set for a feast. The ancestors’ shrine should be decorated, offerings made, and family stories told. A meal should be shared with as many relatives as possible to break the frugality of the previous days and celebrate the renewal of bonds with one’s kin, both living and deceased.

Naturally, the Parentalia and Caristia celebrations depend largely on the available time and where you are. If I’m abroad and unable to travel, a family meal or a visit to the cemetery will be impossible; if the latter of the two festivals doesn’t fall on a weekend, it will probably be harder to gather many relatives around the same table. If that’s the case, at the very least the ancestors’ shrine should be decorated appropriately: soberly and with dark tones during Parentalia, richly and colourfully during Caristia. Meals can follow the same pattern.

Adorations of Khnum

I struggled a bit with this post. Not that I had doubts about writing it, since I’m very fond of Khnum and wanted Him to have a tribute in the list of adorations that has been growing in the blogosphere. In fact, for several times now I’ve felt tempted to step forward and offer myself as an editor of a Khnum devotional by Neos Alexandria. But I’m not a Kemetic polytheist and am fairly recent to the topic, which often makes me feel a bit out of my league. That’s what I had to struggle with when writing my adorations of Khnum: unfamiliarity with the god’s native tradition and mythology. Henadology’s Theological Encyclopaedia was a valuable resource in overcoming that difficulty and a few searches online gave me a few more ideas. Some of the adorations come from my experience with Khnum: Keeper of Tools, for instance, is a reference to my clay-working tools, which I keep in His shrine; there’s also He Who Hums, since I get the feeling that there’s a humming quality to Him. In the end, I had to shorten the original plan of seventy adorations to fifty two, since I ran out of ideas, to be honest. I could probably add a few more, but wanting to retain a symbolic number I stopped in the combination of five and two (5+2=7).

Adorations of Khnum
I adore you, Khnum
I adore you, Ram-headed One
I adore you, Elder God
I adore you, He of the Watery Abyss
I adore you, He of the Primordial Lake
I adore you, Lord of the Underground Spring
I adore you, He of the Vivifying Flood
I adore you, Bringer of Silt
I adore you, Dweller of the River Margins
I adore you, Shaper of Clay
I adore you, Shaper of Life
I adore you, Fashioner of Bodies
I adore you, Granter of Ba
I adore you, Filler of Wombs
I adore you, Maker of Order
I adore you, Consort of Menhyt
I adore you, Father of Heka
I adore you, Consort of Satis
I adore you, Father of Anukis
I adore you, Renewer of Hapi
I adore you, Divine Potter
I adore you, Guider of Hands
I adore you, Father of Godly Images
I adore you, He of Earthy Hands
I adore you, He of the Potter’s Wheel
I adore you, Boat Builder
I adore you, Divine Handyman
I adore you, Crafter of Crafters
I adore you, Shaper of Shapers
I adore you, Father of Fathers
I adore you, Builder of Builders
I adore you, Lord of Created Things
I adore you, God of Esna
I adore you, God of Elephantine
I adore you, God of the First Cataract
I adore you, Water God
I adore you, Giver of Crops
I adore you, Creator of Riches
I adore you, Preserver of the Body
I adore you, Sustainer of Life
I adore you, Ankh Holder
I adore you, He Who Hums
I adore you, He of Beads on His Lap
I adore you, Keeper of Tools
I adore you, Deep Minded One
I adore you, He of Great Patience
I adore you, Gentle God
I adore you, Great Creator
I adore you, He of Sevens
I adore you, He of Undulating Horns
I adore you, Friend of Rams
I adore you, Beloved Khnum

Potters’ day

As mentioned in this post, I planned a feast day for Khnum for this month, either on the 22nd or the 29th. Having chosen the latter, yesterday was largely dedicated to Him. I laid part of my breakfast in His shrine as an offering to Khnum and later consumed it entirely, as prescribed by Egyptian tradition. The thing about being a Roman polytheist is that not only do you recognize divinity outside your native pantheon, but you also assume the need to respect each god’s orthopraxy.

Once the first meal of the day was over, I started doing clay figures. I made two rams with the traditional horizontal horns, one for Khnum and another one to be shared with Him. The former was eventually left by a river bank, so as to “melt” back into the waver and river bed. It’s a symbolic sacrifice to Khnum: He’s a divine potter, so making a clay statue is in itself an act that honours Him; but because He’s also a water god, there’s added devotional value in giving that statue to a river for it to absorb it. There’s a sense of going full circle: clay is taken from the limes of the aquatic realm, worked, and then given back as an offering to a deity that presides over the origin and working process of the raw material. As for the second ram statue, I’ll keep it in Khnum’s shrine.

Once I was back home, I made further offerings of food and some bead work, part of which also as an offering to Khnum, and placed the second ram close to His statue, where it will dry until I can paint it. It was a fulfilling day and hopefully pleasing to the god. At least the “khnumness” has subsided and the 29th of October has made it into my religious calendar.

“Khnumness” returns

Khnumness is what I call the feeling you get when Khnum is tapping on your shoulder, namely when He wants you to do something. It’s not an ominous sensation or an imposing one, though it will stick to you until you get things done. At a Kemetic forum, someone once described Khnum as a sort of ancient and deep lake, serene but very present, and that’s a bit what “khnumness” is: it kind of peacefully occupies mental space, but in a way that makes you know that it’s there. There’s a certain humming quality to it.

The first time I felt it was several months ago, after I finished a clay statue of Saturn and started having memories of an Egyptian god I’d read about online some years before. The feeling only stopped when I did another statue, that of Khnum, which now stands at a small shelf I turned into a basic shrine to Him. After I finished it, did my first offerings, and gave my clay working tools to Khnum, keeping them by His statue, the khnumness ended. I got the impression that the god had stepped back, probably because I’d done something He wanted or at least something He enjoyed. At the time, part of the experience was recorded in this blog post.

Almost a year since I first felt it, the feeling is back. Again, it may be just me, of course, which is what I thought at first. I’ve been having a need to make a beads’ necklace, partly because I tend to think better if I’m working something with my hands. A rock or a coin have been the usual objects, but I once had a string of amber stones that did the trick. At some point, I took the opportunity to buy a few ceramic beads and do a necklace to which I could attach the metal ankh that now stands at Khnum’s lap (or rather my statue of Him). It was one of my original ideas, but then the clay statue seemed to have done the trick. The whole thing may have triggered back a sense of closeness to the god. Or it may have drawn His attention again and He may be telling me something.

The answer may have come last night, when the khnumness led me to yet again research on Him online. I came across Sannion’s Live Journal, namely this post on the festivals of Neos Alexandria. It’s from 2007, so I’m not sure how updated or accurate it is. It includes a Feast of Khnum that’s also called “The Potter’s Wheel”, celebrating His work as a potter. The date is the 18th of the Phaophi, which would correspond to different days in the modern Gregorian calendar, since the ancient Egyptian one was apparently determined by the rising of the Sirius star and the flooding of the Nile. In other words, from our perspective, months tended to move around, but the calendar was eventually reformed and, under Emperor Octavian, correspondence with Roman time-reckoning made easier. Modern Coptic Christians still use a reformed version of the ancient Egyptian calendar, which is what I found here. And, according to it, the 18th of the Phaophi/Paopi falls on the 29th of October. The Neos Alexandria calendar has a slightly different equivalence, with the day falling on the 22nd of October. In any case, it’s about a month from now.

So maybe Khnum is telling me He wants to me to do something for Him on the Feast of the Potter’s Wheel, which seems appropriate, since pottery is what brought us together. I’ll add one of the two possible dates to my calendar and keep it has an annual festival in His honour. And, in about a month, I’ll be adorning Khnum’s statue with a beads’ necklace and do small clay images to offer Him, as suggested by Sannion in the aforementioned link. We’ll see if the khnumness stops then.