The festivals of Khoiak are among the best attested from ancient Egypt. They revolve around the myth of the god Osiris, murdered by his brother Seth, and revived by his sister-wife Isis to the point where she could conceive their son Horus. Osiris withdrew to rule the underworld, while Isis protected Horus until he was old enough to avenge his father in battle with Seth, and win the throne. The death and revival of Osiris provide the mythic echo of the annual rebirth of crops. In the ceremony, seeds were sown in earth, which was from the New Kingdom shaped in moulds to the form of Osiris; the sown earth was watered until the seeds germinated, and then this guarantor of a successful crop was buried. The timing of the festival in the official year placed it in the fourth month of flood, just as the waters receded to expose silt-covered fields fresh for sowing. The name of the festival was ka-her-ka 'ka upon ka' (or 'sustenance upon sustenance'); it survived into Christian times as the name of the fourth month of the season of flood, rendered in Coptic as Khoiak.
The focus on grain and burial can be found already in the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC), with earth packets and gridded sowing beds in funerary contexts such as the pyramid complex of Senusret II at Lahun, and formulae among the funerary literature such as Coffin Text 269 'formula to become barley', in which the deceased becomes 'the life that comes from Osiris', and Coffin Text 330 'formula to become Nepri' (personification of grain).
The burial of king Tutankhamun included a bed of seeded earth in the form of the god Osiris in profile, an early and royal example of the later local temple 'Osiris beds'. In the Theban Tomb-chapel of Neferhotep, dating to about 1300 BC, there is recorded for Flood Season month 4, day 18 'day of watering the grain and spreading the bed for the Osiris Neferhotep from this day until day 25, total 8 days', followed by a formula for empowering the funerary bier, a rite of burial known from the Coffin Texts of the early Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC). This can be compared with the later sources in the table below.
From the Late Period there are preserved numerous cases figures, and cases for figures, of both Osiris and the falcon-headed funerary god at Memphis, named Sokar; in combination with extended written sources in inscription and manuscript, these figures indicate that every city temple made a seeded earth figure every year in these ceremonies, with burial each year of figures, and exhuming the figures of the previous year, in a special area of the necropolis of that city. The forms vary from place to place and across time, but the general practice seems regular across the country. The rites culminated in a ceremony of raising the Djed, the pillar symbolising the backbone of Osiris (djed is the Egyptian word for 'stability').
The following table provides comparison of the episodes as recorded in four key sources:
A fifth source is the funerary papyrus Louvre N 3176 columns V-VI, giving the rites for Osiris at Karnak temple, on days 18 to 26, with the 'procession of Osiris' on day 26. The relevant Osiris Khoiak chambers have recently been uncovered in the Karnak temple precinct.
The column on the left gives the day of the month (in the fourth month of the year - Season of Flood, month 4).
|day||Medinet Habu||Koptos basin||Papyrus Jumilhac||Dendera chapel|
|12||watering the moulds||watering the Osiris/relic moulds|
|13||watering the moulds||watering the moulds|
|14||watering the moulds||watering the moulds; Sokar figure made|
|15||watering the moulds||watering the moulds|
|16||watering the moulds||watering the moulds; anointing the Sokar figure, placed on bier|
|17||watering the moulds||watering the moulds|
|18||watering the moulds||watering the moulds|
|19||watering the moulds||finding the head of Osiris||watering the moulds; censing the Sokar figure|
|20||watering the moulds||finding the eyes of Osiris||watering the moulds; weaving the shroud|
|21||opening window in Shetayt shrine||watering the moulds||finding the jaws of Osiris||Osiris and relic figures taken out of moulds; cloth woven|
|22||hoeing the earth||watering the moulds||finding the neck/arm of Osiris||search on the Sacred Lake|
|23||making way in Shetayt shrine||watering the moulds||finding the innards of Osiris||burial preparations|
|24||placing Sokar in their midst||procession of figures||finding the intestines of Osiris||removal of figures of last year|
|25||Netjeryt (tying onion strings in evening)||final rites on roof (or 26?)||finding the lungs/phallus of Osiris|
|26||Sokar festival - circling the walls||final rites on roof (or 25?)||finding the thighs/legs of Osiris|
|27||finding the leg/fingers of Osiris|
|28||finding the phallus/arm of Osiris|
|29||finding the heart of Osiris|
|30||raising the Djed pillar||
finding arm/Horus sons; raising the Djed pillar
|burial of figures; raising the Djed pillar|
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