The Egyptian New Year festival (or Wep Ronpet) coincides with the heliacal rise of Sirius, the annual flooding of the Nile River, and the Dog Days of Summer. It technically falls on a different date each year, and its calculation also depends on your geographical location. A heliacal rising occurs when a star that hasn’t been seen in the nighttime sky for a while becomes visible again in the east, just before dawn. Sirius disappears for about 70 days in May, and it reappears toward the end of July and the middle of August. (This is called the “Sothic Cycle.”) The Nile River always floods soon thereafter, just like clockwork. There isn’t much rainfall in Egypt at all, so this annual inundation provided the only means for irrigation in ancient times. And when the Egyptians saw Sirius rising in the east just before dawn in late July, they took it as a sign from the goddess Isis (the ruler of Sirius) that it was time to start planning all their crops for the year. To this very day, the Egyptian people continue to celebrate the annual flooding of the Nile as a two-week civil holiday called Wafaa El-Nil, which begins each year on August 15.
August 15 is also a significant date for me personally, because it marks the anniversary of when I first became a Setian in 1997. I was 14 and agnostic at the time, having been raised by parents who were only nominally Christian. I had developed a passionate interest in ancient mythology as a child, and I remember wishing it was “still OK” to believe in the Egyptian gods in modern times. Whenever I shared this private longing with anyone, it seemed like they always laughed at me, thinking I was ridiculous. But on August 15, 1997, something amazing happened. I happened across an article on the Internet that recounted the beliefs and experiences of people who walk with the Egyptian gods today. It also described one group in particular, the Temple of Set, which is the first Setian group I ever learned about. Here was the answer to the childhood wish I had vocalized several years before, an objective validation of something that had only seemed possible within my own subjective universe up to that point.
And that’s when it happened.
I wish I could say I had some kind of vision or heard some kind of voice, but it was nothing like that. I simply realized that Set is me in heaven, and I am Him on earth. He is me writ large, the Me I would be if I were a god; and I am Him writ small, a mortal incarnation whose true, innermost essence is identical to His. And with this sudden realization, my life was forever changed. I no longer cared as much about becoming a rock star when I grew up; now I would settle for nothing less than becoming a Setian priest. I wanted to tell Set’s story far and wide, to conduct rituals in His honor, and to be someone others could ask for help in learning about Him. I wanted to do His work of inciting others to defy their authoritarian shepherd gods, and of warding off the forces of inertia and ignorance whenever possible. And as of August 15, 2018, I will have been walking with the Red Lord in this way for a full 21 years now.
The thing about Egyptian holidays is that they don’t match our geographical climate here in North America at all. Instead of having four seasons, Egypt has only three. Plus, their planting season coincides with our winter, while their harvest season coincides with our spring. So in determining which holidays I wanted to celebrate as a Setian, I decided against adopting an all-Egyptian calendar. With some exceptions, my holidays are closer in spirit to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, which is much better suited to our North American agrarian cycle. I see nothing wrong with this since Set’s theological jurisdiction includes virtually anything that is foreign to the Egyptian culture. But if there’s any holiday from that culture that I always celebrate each year without fail, it’s Egyptian New Year. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my conversion took place on the same date as Wafaa El-Nil, either. While Kemetics observe it on different dates due to how the Sothic Cycle works, I always observe it on August 15. It’s just easier for me to keep a fixed date, and it also helps knowing that it’s on the same day as my “spiritual birthday.”
Another reason for liking the August 15 date relates to astronomical phenomena. The sun reaches its apex in June during the Summer Solstice (June 20–22, depending on the year); but by early August, its life-giving energy has become a destructive hindrance. This is when our earth aligns itself between the sun and the constellation Leo, the Lion. Leo is located directly beneath the Big Dipper, the astral symbol of Set, and the lion’s head is sometimes distinguished as a separate asterism called “the Sickle.” How interesting, then, that the sun descends from its apex at this time, preparing to cross the Celestial Equator during the Autumn Equinox (September 20–22, again depending on the year). It’s almost as if passing beneath the Dipper and through the Sickle of Leo “cuts” or “injures” the sun, cuing its descent and the opening of the harvest season. With this in mind, it’s difficult not to draw parallels between these phenomena and the lore of Set “killing” other gods to make them regenerate themselves and rise again.
I like to celebrate Egyptian New Year in several ways. I usually go on a camping trip in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. I feel like I have to be outdoors as much as possible during this time, and I have to be somewhere close to a large body of water too (e.g., a river, one of the Great Lakes, etc.). There’s nothing quite so awesome as invoking Set while gazing at the Big Dipper by Lake Superior in the dead of night. I also like to go on what I call a week-long “computer fast.” This means no Facebook, no Twitter, no Wordpress, no nothing. It’s usually a bit hard to “unplug” myself from all that stuff at first, but by the time the fast is over, I always find it difficult to “plug” myself back in (which is actually reassuring). I don’t always get to go camping on this date, and on years when I have to work, it’s impossible for me to observe any computer fasts. But, this is not something that I have ever felt “required” to do. It is entirely my own idea and my own choice, not something that Set or any other god “demands” from me.
I also get really nostalgic at this time of year, and all I ever want to watch on TV are old Nickelodeon shows that were still popular back in 1997. That first August 15 was only a week or two before the start of my freshman year of high school, since I can remember there being so many “Back to School” commercials airing on TV at the time. Even now, as a man approaching his late 30s, I still feel the urge to binge watch episodes of Doug, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? when Egyptian New Year comes round. I also like haunting office supply stores and looking at everything they have on sale for “Back to School.” None of this has anything to do with Set or Paganism, of course; I just enjoy immersing myself in things that remind me of my late childhood at this time each year.
My best New Year celebration so far was in 2008. I was in Texas at the time, and there was a precautionary coastal evacuation happening due to Hurricane Gustav. I lived with about 30 people crammed together in one house for a week. It was incredibly stressful, there wasn’t enough privacy, and waiting in line to use the bathroom was the worst. But it was also a really neat experience, for I bonded with these people over the time that we were together. It was almost like we were a commune. And whenever the house got too crowded, I’d grab my pocket radio, climb a tree outside, and blast some Alice Cooper for the whole neighborhood to hear. The thoughts and feelings I shared with Big Red while headbanging up there in those tree branches were some of the most powerful prayers I’ve ever offered to Him in my life.
Remember, this is not just the start of a new year. It is also an echo of the Zep Tepi or “First Time,” when the first god began to stir within the primordial ocean of chaos. One way to mark this occasion is to greet the sun as it rises (on whichever date you prefer to celebrate) beside a body of water (preferably a large one, if possible). As you watch the sunrise, know that you aren’t just watching the start of another day; you are witnessing a “rerun” of the Creation of the universe. Another worthwhile holiday activity would be execrating any negativity that you might have collected in your life over the past year, which is something that many Kemetics do. (I provide an example of an execration ceremony here.)
As for me, at the very least I will be walking out in the woods by my house, talking to Set through the Big Dipper while observing all the raccoons, woodchucks, skunks, and bats who will be preparing for their breakfasts at that time. There are all kinds of ways to celebrate Egyptian New Year, but being outdoors and beneath the stars with a bunch of woodland critters is my personal favorite. Here’s hoping that everyone who celebrates this holiday will have a most fantastic time, and that everyone who walks with the gods of Egypt will receive many glad tidings over the course of this next year.