Tuesday 29 November 2011

Festival: Ashuru Mathbati

This year's Ashuru Mathbati was the first festival of the year.  Held in the month of Niqalu, it is usually seen as a festival of purification.  For me it is about these things: purification, the creation of the world, the new year, and autumn.

Ashuru Mathbati goes on for seven days.  Unlike most other festivals though, it is a more solemn occasion.  Most strict taboos go on for this time, and abstaining from several things is important.

Things were now beginning to change.  Summer was passing away, and the signs of autumn were showing.  The days were growing shorter, and Shapash began to move towards the underworld (there is a legend associated with this).  Autumn had arrived at last, and a new year began for me at school.  Getting sorted with classes and preparing for the year ahead became important, and I began to feel ready to celebrate the 'first' new year (there are two half-years, one in spring and the other in autumn).  I enjoyed the last of summer, then began to make preparations for the festival at home.  With the month of Niqalu, Ashuru Mathbati arrived.

The first day of the festival I spent undergoing the Mushuru ritual, which is a purification ritual held around the new year for the cleansing of sins.  During this time I burned some incense around the home to chase away evil spirits.  I spent much of the time fasting and praying, as well as avoiding any music or sexual pleasure.  I managed to have a room to myself downstairs, and sat on the floor in silence.  It was here that I underwent the Mushuru ritual.  I began by washing purifying myself in ice cold water, chanting seven times over as I went.  I then went and removed all my clothes, sitting completely naked on the floor in a state of meditation.  During this time I focused on the deities, requesting the cleansing of any sins or taboos broken that previous year, and to restore my mental state, and give me a clean tablet for the next year.  I swore before meditating that I would not move if I was in any pain or discomfort, and to undergo a period of temporary suffering.  It is during this day that I underwent a punishment for my sins.  I sat in discomfort for 15 minutes (I hope to extend the time every year), not even moving my mouth or legs.  During this time I was desperate to move or get up, but I instead focused on the gods.  At the end of the time I requested El to bless me that upcoming year and purify me.  During the meditation I had a vision where I was once again in a corridor in my old school (where I spent my first years), walking towards a large square archway in the huge walls, which was the doorway to a large classroom where I had once spent two years.  Inside I saw El upon a huge throne, and when I came close he anointed me and told me I was purified, then raised his cup to bless me.  The vision then faded to black and my neck began to grow stiff until my head was moving upwards.  It was then that my eyes suddenly opened and I realised that the 15 minutes had come to an end.  Overjoyed, I went and poured an offering of wine to him, and put my clothes back on.  The I went and ate once more, and realised how good it tasted.

Most of the rest of the week was a celebration of autumn and the autumn season.  It is during this time that if one lives on a farm or raises animals, he or she should prepare specific ones for sacrifices (as in the ancient times this is when farmers brought unblemished animals to the temples).  I gave several meat offerings as animal sacrifices and reflected upon the autumn season and the year ahead.

The Gezer calendar states that this month is a month of gathering the harvest.  I also celebrated by preparing a lot of autumn harvest foods and shared them with the gods.

During this festival, I began to become more aware of the end of summer than ever.  By the time the festival was coming to an end, I saw that the days were now shorter and some of the rains had began to arrive in preparation for the wet season.

I read from the creation story, thinking about the creation of heaven and earth, and meditated upon the world and how it endures and goes on every year in cycles.  I became more aware of the great and good things in life and was thankful to El for creating them.  I thought about the once chaotic and watery state of all things, and how it changed into a state of law and order, and how El formed the world from this prior state, and how Baal ordered it to stay in this manner.  And of how the word of the gods would never pass away.

During the whole festival I celebrated the coming of the new year.  I wore my purple clothing and jewellry, and made offerings to several gods.  During the new year festival it is custom to eat sweet things and avoid anything sour.  The reason behind this taboo is that sweet food brings in a sweet year, while sour food will make the year ahead sour.  I had a large collection of sweets which I ate during this time.  On the final day was when the celebrations began to reach a climax.  This is the time when a small booth shrine, called a Mathbatu shrine or a Sukkot, is constructed of leaves and built in a high place, traditionally on the roof of the house.  Because of my fear of heights, I instead chose to build a Mathbatu shrine indoors, and place it on a high shelf on my bedroom wall, built near the roof.  I made the dwelling out of leaves and placed it on the shelf, then placed inside it the images of several deities.  I then went throughout the house clapping seven times to drive off evil spirits and bad luck for the next year, with the recording of a ram's horn being blown playing in my bedroom.  I ascended the ladder and spoke my heart to the gods at the Mathbatu shrine (as it is custom during this festival for the king to speak his heart to the gods), then prayed for the upcoming year and for the month of Niqalu to be good.

At the beginning of the festival I had felt as though I was still in the previous year, but steadily over the festival I began to feel transition, until by the end I felt that I was in the next year.

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