Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.
A Good Day To Be Hetep
Most of us grew up listening to song lyrics that proclaimed a lack of satisfaction. Here in mid-life I find myself increasingly satisfied, peaceful and content, or hetep – a fitting mood for today’s annual holiday of Thanksgiving.
The word hetep was also used in the classic “offering formula,” a standardized epithet placed on stelae commemorating the dead, on tomb walls and numerous other inscriptions. The formula started with the phrase hetep-di-nesu, “a gift the king gives.” Since the king was the priest for all of Egypt, any offering was thought of as offered by the king, even if it was just you ordering up a monument for your mom and dad.
Here’s what hetep-di-nesu looks like:
And here’s a whole offering formula for a guy named Ky:
Translated, it means, a gift which the king gives to Osiris, lord of Djedu, lord of Abydos, he gives an offering of bread, beer, cattle, fowl, alabaster and linen and every good thing on which a god lives, for the spirit of the revered one, Ky.
I like the idea that hetep is part of a cluster of meaning and practice - a gift, an offering, feelings of satisfaction, peace, happiness and more - all rolled onto one offering table. And speaking of Thanksgiving, those ancient Egyptians knew how to load up the table. A typical offering table was depicted piled high with lots of bread, game fowl, an ox or two, incense, fragrant oils, yards of fine linen and exotic flowers. Since death was just a transition to a new kind of life, they assumed that you would need the same things there that you used here. Oh, and lots of beer and wine.
It didn’t take long for folks to notice that you might not have relatives handy to renew your offerings in perpetuity, so these same offerings began to be painted on tomb walls or represented in models and objects placed in a tomb. The idea was that during the burial ceremony the painting was imbued with magic, making it an eternally-renewing offering. This should be familiar to modern people of faith since most of us pause to give thanks before eating a meal but don’t feel the need to burn part of it on an altar first. Pagans appreciate the animist concept of the life force in every thing, so we know that our token offerings to the gods can carry great power when they are given sincerely.
In the Osireion tradition, we end most ceremonies with the phrase em hotep (another spelling of hetep), a way of saying that we close in peace, beauty, contentment and gratitude. As Thanksgiving here in the U.S. rolls inexorably through Hannukah, and towards Winter Solstice, Christmas and all the accompanying chaos, may hetep envelop us with its timeless calm.
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