A Guide to the Epagomenal/Intercalary Days
Via the Axis Family
The epagomenal, or intercalary days are the final five days of the Kemetic year, leading up to Wep Ronpet, the celebration of the new year which I may write something on in a couple of days. As the story goes, the grandchildren of Ra, Geb (the earth) and Nuit (the sky) spent so much time doing… athletics… that Ra had his son, Shu (the air) physically separate the two. From here the story differs depending on your source (a very common theme in Kemetic stories): either they are forbidden from having children any day during the year, so Thoth gambles with the moon to create five extra days of the year during which they could procreate, or they were simply so close together that she could not give birth, and their separation let her have her five children. In either case, each of the five days, she bore a child, and it’s both the union of earth and sky, and the birthdays of the important figures I’m going to write a bit about below.
It’s worth noting that the actual new year varies depending on where you are in the world. It’s actually based on the ascension of Sirius, which is usually around late July. Therefore, most modern Kemetics simply choose to keep a specific set of days, the most common begin the five days leading up to August 1st (July 27th through the 31st).
Each day, one honors the Netjer/t whose birthday it is, usually with an offering, some veneration and a prayer. Offerings are pretty simple; you usually only need a few things to make an offering:
– Iconography of some kind. Not strictly necessary, but good to help focus on a god/dess, especially if you don’t know them well. This can be a statue or just a picture of them.
– A quiet, clean space where you won’t be disturbed.
– Incense. Incense serves a dual purpose in Kemetic ritual: firstly, it purifies the space. Secondly, it is a signal to the god/desses that you’re requesting their presence, which is reinforced by saying their epitaphs (More on this later)
– A lit candle. Same reasons as above, mostly. It’s a signal, a source of light, warmth, energy. Also if you do pyromancy, it can be helpful for gauging things.
You can also, if you’re inclined, do all of this astrally.
Once you have a space set up, it’s time to present your offerings, light your candle and incense, and get into a calm, receptive headspace. Common offering items include:
– Water/Milk/Beer/Dark liquor/Wine
– Incense (Any kind will do for casual use)
– Natron (Practical as well, for any witch that works with salt)
– Gemstones (Again: practical)
– Any kind of devotional art or writing (Best if you’re pretty familiar with the Netjer/t)
These are the “safe” bets, good for beginners and it’s hard to go wrong with them. Once your offering is complete, then find something to do with it. If it’s decorative, leave them in a place it can be appreciated by them, if it’s a tool of some kind (including salt/natron) then remember to take good care of it, and maybe leave it in a special place. If it’s food or drink, this it’s best to follow the Kemetic tradition of “reversing the offering.” Back then, wasting food was not acceptable, so after allowing the gods or spirits time to eat, the priests would consume the food themselves. The act is in giving and sharing, not in sapping the food of its quality for them. If it’s something you can’t/won’t eat or drink, then you can give it to someone else who will.
This should be pretty easy for those who have experience in summoning, but for those who don’t, it’s pretty simple in practice. Once you have everything together, spend some time settling yourself. Close your eyes, take deep breaths. My personal method of breathing is five seconds in, hold for five, out for five, but do what makes you comfortable.
Once you’re in a good state of passive alertness, you can start reaching out. This can be through mind-speech or actually speaking, either way is good. Begin with the Netjer/t’s name. Easy enough. To make sure they know you’re speaking to them, you then begin adding what we call “Epitaphs,” or titles. I’ve provided a short list with each one the days cover, but feel free to add your own that you find in independent research, or that feel right. You’re not going to offend them for being new at something, or being a little awkward on your first reach. We usually give about three or four for a new Netjer/t we’re contacting for the first time. After that, you explain why you’re contacting them. You have a pretty good reason at the outset: it’s their birthday and you’re saying hello. Tell them what you’re offering, in detail, and why. If you feel comfortable, maybe even talk a bit about yourself. What do they make you feel? Why are you interested in them? What other things do you like? In our experience, they love meeting new people who are curious about them.
Speak for as long as you like, and then try sitting there in silence. They may speak directly to you, if you have a good godphone. They may not for some reason. They may try and use symbols, images, ideas or single words. Keep yourself in that state of receptiveness for as long as is comfortable.
Once you are ready to get up for whatever reason, thank them for receiving your offering and giving them your time, then snuff the candle. The incense, you can leave burning or not, it’s up to you (and sometimes Them). It’s customary to exit the shrinespace by bowing one’s head and taking three backwards steps before turning and walking normally. At this point, you may do what you must with your offering, whether eating it, displaying it or using it.
With all that preliminary discourse out of the way, let’s get right into introducing the stars of the event:
Day 1: Osiris (Original name: Wesir/Ausir)
Osiris is the Netjer of the cyclical nature of death and rebirth, decay and fertility, and the duties of royalty. He is usually portrayed as a tightly-wrapped, upright mummy with green skin, a long curled beard (a pharonic symbol of stature), an atef crown (A tall, white crown decorated by two ostrich feathers) and wielding a crook and flail. Initially, he was associated with the yearly inundation of the Nile, and the harvest that it yielded. Is is for this reason that he is often associated with the colors green (for plant life) and black (the color of fertile soil; indeed, the old name for Egypt—Kemet—translates to “black land.”)
Though the process of mummification far preceded stories of Osiris, he came to represent the mummified dead which had transcended life and now lived in Duat, or the Unseen, after being murdered by his younger brother, Set (more on that later). In Old Kingdom texts, this was a fate reserved exclusively for royalty, but by the New Kingdom, Osiris had come to symbolize any person who was making the journey from this life to the next, to the point where his very name was used to refer to them, regardless of gender. Upon meeting his fate, Osiris became the ruler of the land of the dead, as well as fulfilling his prior role as the one who begins the fertile season. In Osiris, we can see the fluidity of life and death, and the course of nature’s wheel.
– Bulls and Rams
– The colors green and black
– Soil or gardenwork
– Ruler of Eternity
– Foremost of the Westerners (The Western horizon was said to be where the land – of the dead’s borders lie)
– Lord of silence
– Lord of the Sacred Land
Day 2: Horus the Elder (Original name: Heru-Wer)
Whereas Osiris became recognized as the embodiment of dead royalty, both Horus the Elder and his descendant-in-name, Horus the Younger (Heru-sa-Aset, Heru, son of Isis) were very much representative of living royalty. His domain was that of kingship, righteous rule, civilization, justified war, as well as being a god of the day, sunlight and the sky, as opposed to Set, whose affiliations were toward night, the dark and earth. It is difficult to discuss Horus (either of them) without discussing their contention with Set, because in times since pre-written history, the two were embroiled in a binary struggle: order versus chaos, law versus strength, the clear day versus the unknowable night, the restrained and regal versus the uninhibited and animalistic. This relationship was, at different times but in equal parts: violent, playful, mutually beneficial, and sometimes even sexual. Horus, in his most glorious, is divine wisdom, discipline, and the strength to do what is just, even when it is not what is easy.
– Hawks and falcons
– The Wadjet eye (The left eye is the eye of Heru: a powerful symbol of protection, – divinity, sacrifice and healing)
– The Sun
– The colors blue and gold
– Lord of the Sky
– He Who Illuminates the Two Lands
– Great of Strength
– He Who Rules With Law
Day 3: Set (Also Sutekh, Setesh, Sutah, or Seth)
As noted before: Set is in many ways the opposite of the Kemetic ideal (An ideal symbolized by Heru). In stories that feature him, he is loud, abrasive, boasting, arrogant, given to drinking (often in excess), aggressive, and sporting an immense sexual appetite, having the most documented consorts of any Netjer by a wide margin, of multiple genders. His domain is chaos, confusion, darkness, storms, deviancy, foreign lands, the harsh, unforgiving desert, and his favoured form is of a strange, unknown mythical animal with a long, crooked snout, squared ears, and a forked tail. He is wild and energetic, raw and uncouth, and the strongest of all the Netjeru. He is the murderer of Osiris and the enemy of Horus. Depending on the time during which one reads about him, he could be a name that is feared and cowered from, a name invoked to channel his unending strength, or a demon whose name and visage is struck from history. If he is so fearful, then why do we honor him? Why celebrate him as we do noble Netjeru like Osiris and Horus?
Because underneath his outward appearance and mannerisms, Set has much to offer. He is a god of necessary chaos; that which upends in order to rebuild and challenges the status quo. He is the patron god and protector of immigrants, outcasts, and those who are looked down upon by society. He was, in his time, the ambassador for Kemet, and foreign relations were his domain. He may be the god of thunderstrikes and violent winds, but he is also the god of gentle, life-giving rain. His killing of Osiris was necessary for Duat to have the rule that it does, and more than that: to show the ruler of mortals exactly what mortality feels like. After the Contendings between Set and Horus ended, and the two lands united, the both of them crowned the Pharaoh together, and would until its fall; wisdom and strength, in perfect unison. Further, one of his most important roles in Duat was to defend Ra as he made his way across the sky, slaying each night the vile s/e/r/p/e/n/t that threatened all life on Earth. He is chaotic, yes, but chaos alone is not evil, and despite his misdeeds and impulsiveness, Set is far from evil. Set is a reminder to us that looks can be deceiving, and that good can come from unconventional, or even earth-shaking sources.
– Violent rebellion
– Sexuality of all kinds
– Donkeys, crocodiles, hippopotami, boars and scorpions
– Lettuce (His favorite food)
– The colors red, black and gold
– He Who Is greatest of Strength
– Before Whom the Sky Trembles (A favorite of mine)
– He Who Revels in Tumult
– Lord of The Red Land
– Slayer of A/p/e/p
– He Who Neglects the Law
– The Red
Day 4: Isis (Original name: Aset)
Isis is both the sister-wife of Osiris and the mother of the younger Horus, and the ways she conducted herself in each role demonstrate how multi-faceted she is as a goddess. Beside (often behind) Osiris, she is what the ancients would consider the ideal Egyptian wife: supportive, loving, loyal and emotional. When Set drowns Osiris in the river, and he is washed away, she journeys for many years to find him again. When she does, and Set kills him a second time—this time by shredding him into thirteen pieces—she again travels in mourning across the land to dutifully retrieve each piece to put him back together again. When view as a partner to Osiris, she also takes on at least one of his most prominent associations, that of the flooding Nile, to represent abundance and resources.
In her role as the exiled mother of the young Horus, she becomes a protector figure, sometimes taming scorpions in order to best defend him, and using great magic to keep him safe from the forces of Set. As Horus was a sickly and accident-prone child, it should be no surprise that she also used her gifts of magic for healing—a specialty that her cults around Kemet would come to be known for. Isis is a nurturing, motherly figure, but not a weak one. It is through her power and resolve that her family is kept safe. She even, in later myths, was able to swallow her anger toward her brother Set for killing her husband (twice) and endangering her child to cure him of a splitting headache, so deep is her compassion.
– The kite (the bird, of course)
– Red Jasper
– The colors gold and purple (Personal interpretation, not necessarily historical)
– The Great Goddess (simple and to the point, right?)
– She Who Is Great of Magic
– Mistress of the Beautiful West
– The Great Mother
Day 5: Nephthys (Original name: Nebt-het)
Though she is the sister-wife to Set, Nephthys is more frequently shown next to Isis, as when they both weep over the dead Osiris, and are invoked together in hieroglyphs within tombs to protect the dead. Her name directly translates to “Mistress of the House,” and the aforementioned examples, plus her being the mother to the far more well-known god Anubis, should be a clear indication that the house she is a mistress of is the house of death. Whereas Anubis is the god invoked during mummification, and one of the judges of the dead during the Weighing of the Heart, it is Nephthys that guides the dead there, and, by some sources, is also the “reckoner of lifespan” and the “mistress of years” herself. She is in some ways like a dark reflection of Isis: while her sister specializes in healing and abundance in Earthly life, the shadowy Nephthys is the nurturer of the recently dead—during a time of great vulnerability and confusion. It is likely that her influence was vital toward resurrecting Osiris, as well, because in stories where Set falls in his battle against the forces of evil, she is the one who resurrects him. Set’s domain is for the individual to show strength, and to overcome one’s fears and troubles through personal mettle. Nephthys’ is to show care and love for those who are struggling and aid them however you can.
– Passing/Transitioning from one thing to the next
– Kindness (This also includes self-care)
– The color black
– Lady of the Tomb
– Mistress of Fate
– Lady of the Dark
– Protector of the Dead
Goddesses and Gods of the Ancient Egyptians: A Theological Encyclopedia
Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt, by Joyce Tyldesley