The Ancient Egyptian Myth of the Days Upon a Year
The number of days upon a year
This myth is set around the time of the creation when the gods were becoming established. The tale starts with the goddess Nut who had an encounter with the god of the earth Geb and found that she was pregnant. The sun god Re felt his position was threatened by the arrival of more gods and goddesses who might be loyal to their parents rather than to him. Re cursed Nut in a powerful curse which prevented her from giving birth on any day in the year- of which at that time there were 360 days.
The deity Thoth decided to intervene on Nut’s behalf. He challenged the moon to a board game and on beating him claimed his prize as enough light to create an additional five days every year.- these were referred to by the ancient Egyptians as “Days upon a year”. Nut was able to have her babies on each of these days. Scholars will now be saying that Nut had but four children, Osiris, Isis, Seth and ?. In order to satisfy the fact that there were 365 days in a year the Ancient Egyptians said that Nut was also the mother of Horus the elder.
Even after adding these days the Egyptian calendar did not move at the same place as the year as the solar year is 365.25 days long. The civil year gradually fell behind the solar year, moving backwards by 30 days every 120 years and only realigning every 1,460 years. Even though the civil calendar fell out of cycle other festivals associated with natural occurrences such as harvest were celebrated at the correct time according to nature.
This myth was mentioned in the works of the Greek writer Plutarch (c 46-c126 AD). It was probably originally inspired by the need to increase the number of days in the year to make nature more in time with the civil calendar. Indeed the Ancient Egyptians were amongst the first to realise the necessity of this.
Initially the civil calendar was based on the agricultural cycle which turned around the inundation or the flooding of the River Nile. The year was divided into three sections, each comprising four months and each month averaged 30 days and was named after a religious festival of importance which took place during that month. The first season was Akhet- the season of the flood, the second Peret- the season of planting and growth and the third Shomu- the season of harvest and low water.
Lucky and unlucky days
Not all days were the same some were more lucky than others ( I am sure we all can agree that) Days were categorised according to what had happened on those days in the past- These calendars would be consulted by people arranging events so that unlucky dates were avoided. On the additional days, the days upon a year, nothing other than getting on with the basics of life, was to be done. The days did not get absorbed into the month but rather were tagged on at the end. Although these days were for the happy event, the birth of gods, these days were considered to be
particularly dangerous and were known as the “Days of the Demons.”
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