Ancient Raving: The Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness

Us in the ‘modern world’ tend to think we’ve got the market cornered for most things, and partying is no different. Clubs, drugs, drink and casual sex may be frowned upon even by our elders at times, but it seems those in the ancient world had rather less stringent morals when it came to partying hard. And new research suggests the neon-lit acid haze of the eighties was far from the first movement to find a love for rave culture. It seems that rolling stones had barely been invented before the ancient world was partying like Keith Richards on closing night.

To the fertile banks of the Nile circa 1470 – 1460 BC, and a seemingly bizarre festival of drunkenness whereby Egyptians would achieve a religious epiphany only after entering into a state of total inebriation. John Hopkins University’s Near Eastern Studies chair Betsy Bryan discovered a column revealing the hedonistic hacienda in a 2006 excavation at Luxor, and subsequently released the results, triumphantly entitled Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ancient Egypt. Drunk students may have some pretty good excuses for rat-buttocked behaviour, but the Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness’ raison d’etre trumps anything ever uttered in a lecture hall at 9am. The ancient party centred on a myth in which the sun god Ra decides to wipe out humanity, then sends his daughter Hathor to earth in the form of a lioness. Hathor thus proceeds to devour every human she comes into contact with, while her father laments his decision and resolves to stop her. To end his daughter’s rampage, Ra floods all of Upper Egypt with red-tinted beer which looks like blood. Hathor then drinks the pungent cocktail, falls paralytically drunk, and mankind is saved.

To pay tribute to the tale, Egyptians would consume themselves into unconsciousness in the name of lioness deities, thinking they needed to get them drunk to keep them from doing ill. The annual event, celebrated over 20 days following the flooding of the farmland around the Nile, would involve drinking and promiscuity which would have been deemed immoral any other time of year. Some would even supplement their toxicity by taking the drug lotus, and loud music would be played all night until even the hardiest ravers had seen and taken enough. Bleary-eyed boozers would be rudely awoken early the next morning by a chorus of heavy drum-beating, and at this point they were said to have experienced the goddess to whom they were partying. Wow: those guys at the Hacienda really were late on the scene. Still, if anyone has been involved in a university freshers’ week, they’ll understand that drinking today can still take on religious qualities.

Image by Jan.