Once upon a time in Egypt, back when the Nile was free to flood and recede, the harvest season (Shemu) was at its height about now. Planting would have happened in our late fall (Peret); the inundation would come again in mid- or late-summer (Akhet). Renenutet and Aset (Isis) were two of the goddesses who were honored during this season that most of us know as the vernal equinox.
Temple Osireion likes to celebrate this end of the season of Peret, the coming of spring, the flush of new life symbolized by eggs. Many ancients observed this week as the time that Aset gave birth to Horus. In fact, during our ceremony when we wave participants with a fan, it is in remembrance that Aset turned herself into a bird to stir Osiris back to life long enough for her to conceive.
Sham el Nessim is a very old Egyptian national holiday, but even in modern Egypt thousands of families, regardless of their religion, go to parks and the countryside to picnic, decorate eggs, take long walks, and, as the ancients said, “Sham el Nessim,” “sniff the breeze.” At our gathering, we decorate eggs with ancient Egyptian symbols like the ankh and eye of Horus. Everyone takes a sprig of spring onion after the ritual, breaks it open a little and smells it; this is to keep away the evil eye for the year to come - it’s especially important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. And we also share lettuce and fish, more potent symbols of the land when it is rich, ripe and fertile.
Sniff the breeze this week as the sun moves a bit higher in the sky. Although snow has fallen on much of the country, most of us are seeing beneath it the first bulbs and green shoots of spring. The air is indeed fresh with the scent of hope, new possibilities in the season ahead.