In the ancient Egyptian language, the word for ‘beautiful’ the ancient Egyptian language, ‘Nfr’ also related to wholeness and perfection. At the temple of the goddess of Het-Hert (Hathor) at Dendera, there are inscribed prayers concerning the festival of the Beautiful Reunion, which also took place during Shomu, the season of harvest.
Festival of the Beautiful Reunion has celebrated the reunion of Het-Hert with Heru (Horus of Edfu) with a wedding procession from her worship centre in Dendera almost 200 km south to her consorts cult centre at Edfu.
Journey of Goddess Hathor
In the House of Horus at Edfu, the Dendera preparations for the Beautiful Reunion began two weeks before the New Moon in the third month of Summer. Ceremonies were conducted, and Hathor was carried out of her temple to begin her two-week journey to Edfu. Installed in her barque by the priests, she would be towed on the river, and thus the reunion begins.
Preparation for the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion
For sure, elaborate preparations would take place before the procession could begin. Offerings of the first riches of the harvest would be made to mark the start of the festival. The procession took approximately 14 days to travel from Dendera to Edfu and involved ceremonial halts en route. Het-Hert’s golden barque was named ‘nb mrwt’, meaning ‘Mistress of Love’. It must have provoked awe in the people lining the river bank as the procession stopped at locations including the temple of Asheru at Karnak, where Het-Hert would visit the goddess Mut. Het-Hert’s barque would stop at various ritually sacred sites, including a visit to the goddess Anuket at Per-Mer, ( Anuket’s temple on Philae island).
Anuket was a goddess dating back to the old kingdom. Goddess Hathor was worshipped as Nourisher of the Fields, a further symbolic link to the theme of fertility, aspects of the festival of the Beautiful Valley (an abundant harvest) and the theme of renewal, rebirth and fertility in the Feast of the Beautiful Reunion.
Anuket was linked to the Nile and its fertile waters; one of her many titles was Nourisher of the Fields. She had her festival, which began when the Nile started its annual flood; then, her festival began. Thanks to the life-giving water and the benefits derived from a good harvest, people threw coins, gold, jewellery, and precious gifts into the river.
While Het-Hert’s procession was nearing Edfu, Heru/Horus of Edfu, joined by Khonsu, set out in his processionary barque to meet his consort. The site is Wetjeset-Hor, just north of the Temple of Edfu, which was believed to be the original site of the primaeval mound of creation where a reed was planted, and Netjer settled to perform the act of creation. It was significant that Het-Hert’s journey includes this location where she is reunited and impregnated by her consort.
The festival culminates as the barques of Het-Hert and Heru sail to the Temple of Edfu; this event would be witnessed by awaiting crowds gathered for the festival. The sacred icons of both gods were placed together in the temple’s sanctuary, and fourteen days of rituals and celebrations began. Their reunion symbolised new life, fertility and regeneration. The meeting point at Edfu was the occasion for offerings of the first fruits of the harvest.
Although the rituals at each temple location were secret and sacred and did not involve the gathered pilgrims or ordinary Egyptian people, the crowds would enjoy refreshments provided by the temples outside the sacred grounds during the festival.
Fertility, renewal, and rebirth are recurrent themes of many ancient Egyptian festivals, and some of the same religious performances and rituals were practised during different festivals. ‘Some festivals had their focused meanings, but renewal or rebirth was a predominant theme in a great number of them.’
At the culmination of the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion, Het-Hert would sail back to Dendera to await the birth of the child conceived at Edfu, Hor-sma tawy or Horus the Uniter.