Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Golden Grain

As promised, here is an extract from our latest Raven Newsletter, for those folk who miss out on its full magnificence:

     All over the world we grow grain.
     Grains of different varieties are the staple food of millions of people, and have been for thousands of years, and it seems that all over the world, at roughly the same time, people began to attempt to cultivate different grains. This all seems to have happened around ten thousand years ago.
     In Syria or southern Turkey wheat and barley began to be farmed, in the East it was rice, and in southern Mexico maize became domesticated. Archaeologists have worked out that the most ancient crops grown around the Mediterranean were wheat, barley, lentils, peas and chickpeas, plus flax grown both for its seeds and for its use in textiles.
     Oats appear to have been a later addition to the domesticated grain family, but they do grow better in damper and cooler climates such as the British Isles. Oats can be planted in the autumn and over wintered as they are unaffected by frost and snow, but don't like to be too warm.
     These days it is wheat which is the main grain used to make our daily bread, so much of the lore and magic which once belonged to other grains, has been attached to wheat. But it is interesting to see how similar stories crop up of a special spirit or deity who comes to show humans how to grow the grain.
     In ancient Egypt the grain god was Osiris, who is killed by his brother, but magically brought back to life by Isis, so that she can conceive a child by him. In Egypt little clay trays in the shape of the silhouette of Osiris were filled with earth and planted with grains to be placed in the graves of loved ones. The sprouting of the grain gives the hope of resurrection. If the grain can have its head cut off and be killed, yet magically appear again in the spring, then we also have the possibility of re-birth in another life. The Egyptians believed that this was re-birth in the land of the dead, where people would carry on in a very similar way to their lives on earth.
     But in the land of the dead, even the poorest people could live like lords, with servants to carry out their work for them.
    When people were buried they were often given possessions to take with them into the afterlife. In Egypt this often included little models of workers, known as Ushabti. To the Egyptians when any image had its eyes painted in, that was when the image came alive. This applied to images and statues of the gods, to images of the deceased, and to the little Ushabti models too. There were similar rituals which could be used to ensure this awakening also, and these are detailed in the papri found in the tombs of the dead and known to us as The Book of the Dead.
     As it was the god Anubis who performed this ritual for the gods, he was invoked to help do the same for the dead and for the Ushabti:
Anubis grant thou that breathing may take place in the head of [name], 
and that s/he may see with her/his two eyes and hear with her/his two ears, 
and that s/he may breathe through her/his nose, 
and that her/his mouth shall be open 
and that s/he may be able to speak with her/his tongue.
May the voice of [name] be heard.

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