The Navigation Festival of Het-Hert occurs in the third month of Akhet (Inundation), a month also called "Khenet Het-Hert," meaning "Voyage of Het-Hert," during the Old Kingdom. By the New Kingdom, it was shortened to "Het-Hert," and is called "Athyr" in Coptic.
The first mention of the 30-day festival in Het-Hert's month goes back to the fifth dynasty festival calendar of King Niuserre. Old Kingdom tomb reliefs also show boat processions and the rustling of papyrus for Het-Hert. The ancient ritual of rustling the papyrus for Het-Hert recalls her manifestation as a cow emerging from the papyrus swamps of the Delta. Passengers in the escort boats accompanying Het-Hert's larger sacred barque performed this ritual during Her voyage.
Sacred Barque of Het-Hert (from Chassinat's Le Temple de Dendara)
Het-Hert's beautiful golden barque was named "Great of Love," and it was a dazzling sight of gold, encrusted with many semi-precious stones. Het-Hert's icon was placed in a special shrine inside the barque and carried on the shoulders of priests, surrounded by the gods and goddesses of her entourage. Together with the sacred barques of Heru and Ra-Heru-Akhety, the procession made its way into the Hall of Offerings of the temple, where priests offered meats, fowl, breads, wine, beer, fruits and fresh flowers. The lector priest read from the Festival Scroll and the chorus sang praises of the Golden One.
Barque of Het-Hert during the Navigation, from Cauville's La Chapelle de la Barque à Dendera
The monumental door of the temple was then thrown open and the procession emerged into the daylight from the darkened hall. The priests, dressed in fresh white linen and carrying the golden barques on their shoulders, were followed by chantresses singing and shaking sistra, offering-bearers carrying plates of food, standard-bearers with their poles, and the images of Het-Hert's Ennead, the goddesses of her entourage. The entire procession made its way to the barque chapel near the sacred lake, a symbol of the waters of creation. The boats rowed around the still waters of the lake to the delight of many onlookers, after which the procession returned to the temple. However, the celebration continued in the streets of the nearby village throughout the night.
Barque of Het-Hert in the sanctuary at Dendera, in Cauville's Dendera: Guide Archéologique
Towards the end of the month, another procession took place. This one proceeded to the royal barque chapel for the ceremony of greeting the Nile. It was a celebration of thanksgiving for the inundation, and HetHert would give her approval in front of a symbol of the new Nile. The next day, the women of the village participated in a special fertility ritual that promised them future births.
The whole month of Athyr concerns the fertility that the inundation brings to the land. It is appropriate that the month is named after Het-Hert, Mistress of Life, and Lady of Fertility.
Allen, James, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, c. 2000.
Alliot, Le Culte d'Horus à Edfou au Temps des Ptolémées (Bibliothèque d'Étude), Tome XX, Cairo, IFAO, 1949.
Altenmüller, Hartwig, "Feste," Lexikon der Ägyptologie, (Wolfgang Helck, ed.), Band II, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, c. 1977.
Cauville, Sylvie, "La Chapelle de la Barque à Dendera," BIFAO 93 (1993).
Cauville, Sylvie, Dendera: Guide Archéologique de l'Institut Français du Caire, IFAO, c. 1995.
Daumas, François, "Hathorfeste," Lexikon der Ägyptologie, (Wolfgang Helck, ed.), Band II, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, c. 1977.
El-Sabban, Sherif, Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt, Liverpool University Press, c. 2000.
Siuda, Tamara, private conversation October 3, 2002.
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