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Painting of an ancient Egyptian woman being served beer.

Provocative Yet Sacred: The Ancient Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness


The Festival of Drunkenness is a religiously significant celebration that was held annually (said to be biannually in some places) by the ancient Egyptians. The background story for the celebration of this festival can be found in a text known as The Book of the Heavenly Cow. In this text, there is an ancient Egyptian myth involving the destruction of mankind. According to the myth, human beings were saved from extinction thanks, in part, to alcohol.

The Destruction of Mankind

In The Book of the Heavenly Cow, there is a myth known as the ‘Destruction of Mankind’. This story begins by stating that once upon a time, human beings lived together with the gods, and were ruled over by Ra (Re). It goes on to say that when Ra had grown old, mankind began to conspire against him. Ra became aware of mankind’s scheming, and decided to summon the other gods to his palace, in order to obtain counsel from them.

A scene from the Book of the Heavenly Cow as depicted in the tomb of Seti I.

A scene from the Book of the Heavenly Cow as depicted in the tomb of Seti I. (Public Domain)

After explaining his dilemma to the gods, it was suggested to Ra that he ought to release his Eye, so that it might smite down humanity. He agreed with this suggestion, and sent his Eye in the form of the goddess Hathor to punish mankind. In the meantime, the humans fled to the desert, as they became fearful of Ra.

Nevertheless, Hathor, who was transformed into a lion (or the warlike goddess Sekhmet), descended and slew mankind in the desert. In one version of the story, the goddess went on a rampage, and was about to wipe out all of humanity when Ra took pity on mankind. It was through Ra’s subsequent intervention that mankind was saved. In an alternate version of the myth, it seems that Ra had planned the event to save mankind, so that he could be the savior of humanity.

Statue of Sekhmet from the temple of Mut.

Statue of Sekhmet from the temple of Mut. (Public Domain)

Thus, Ra summoned his messengers, and ordered them to bring him a great amount of haematite from Elephantine. He then ordered the haematite to be ground. In the meantime, barley was also being ground to produce beer. When both substances were ready, Ra had the haematite put into the beer, so that it resembled human blood. It is written that 7,000 jars of this beer were made.

Nun, the embodiment of the primordial waters, lifts the boat of the sun god Ra into the sky at the moment of creation.

Nun, the embodiment of the primordial waters, lifts the boat of the sun god Ra into the sky at the moment of creation. (Public Domain)

One night, Ra poured out the blood-like beer, which flooded the fields “three palms high.” On the morning of the next day, the goddess saw that the fields were flooded with what seemed to be human blood, and was delighted at the sight. She began drinking the liquid without knowing that it was actually beer, and soon became intoxicated, then fell asleep. As a result, mankind was saved from destruction.

The Day of Celebration

The Festival of Drunkenness is celebrated on the 20th day of Thoth, the 1st month of the ancient Egyptian calendar. The festival of drunkenness was a communal affair and on one level, the celebrations took place in temples. On another level, this festival took place in peoples’ houses and shrines.

Typically, the participants of this festival would be served lots of alcohol, get drunk, and fall asleep. It was not regarded, however, as a social drinking session, but was sacred event. In the temples, the celebrants would be awoken by the sound of drums and music. Upon waking up, they would worship the goddess Hathor.

A drawing based on an ancient Egyptian wall painting shows a drinking festival in progress.

A drawing based on an ancient Egyptian wall painting shows a drinking festival in progress. (Betsy Bryan)

Other aspects of the ritual celebration included dancing and the lighting of torches, which was performed in the hopes that the devotees of the goddess would receive an epiphany from her. Another activity believed to have been undertaken during the festival was sex. In a hymn regarding the festival, there is a phrase “travelling through the marshes”, and it has been speculated that this is an ancient Egyptian euphemism for having sex.

Egyptian painting of dancers and flutists, from the Tomb of Nebamun.

Egyptian painting of dancers and flutists, from the Tomb of Nebamun. (Public Domain)

One explanation for this activity is provided by regarding Hathor in her role as a goddess of love. Alternatively, it may have been linked to the fertility of the land as well. The Festival of Drunkenness was typically celebrated around the middle of August, the period when the Nile began to rise. Therefore, sexual activity during the festival may have also been perceived as a means of bringing the Nile floods back, and thus ensuring the fertility of the land.

Featured Image: Painting of an ancient Egyptian woman being served beer. Source: Morbid Anatomy

By Wu Mingren


Anon., Destruction of Mankind [Online]
[Nederhof, M.-J. (trans.), 2006. Destruction of Mankind.]
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Bleeker, C. J., 1973. Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion.. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Boyle, A., 2006. Sex and Booze Figured in Egyptian Rites. [Online]
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Experience Ancient Egypt, 2016. The Eye of Ra and the Destruction of Mankind. [Online]
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Healy, M., 2013. Uncovered: Ritual public drunkenness and sex in ancient Egypt. [Online]
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Seawright, C., 2013. Ancient Egyptian Alcohol: Beer, Wine and the Festival of Drunkenness. [Online]
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I thought the hematite being mixed with alchohal to have the appearance of blood was very interesting. I can totally see the fertility being mixed in with this because when crops get harvested there are usually festivals around this event, beer was made from malt and barley. Malt extract is a wheat product. It is really interesting to note in christianity the alchohal was wine and bread was also ate at the last supper. Could this be a simmilar concept with different names. 

Troy Mobley

Analysed ice core samples extracted from Antarctica indicate elevated levels of cosmogenic Beryllium-10 (10Be) occurring within Egypt’s Predynastic Middle Period – Nagada ll, (3600 – 3200 BC).

Beryllium-10 is created by the interaction of cosmic ray particles within earth’s atmosphere.

One of the results of an increase in cosmic ray activity interacting with earth will be an increase of Beryllium-10 where in about two years, it will settle from the atmosphere and take residence in the polar ice caps where its intensity can be verified and also when the cosmic bombardment occurred.

Ice core samples show Earth, during this dynasty, was heavily bombarded by cosmic rays, twice - firstly around 3200 BC and then again about 3000 BC.

The “Third Eye” was commonly described by ancient sages who had “experienced the divine light”.

Could this divine light have been the interpreted visualization of an extreme cosmic outburst and why the Pharaoh’s role (Abrams, 2006) was to maintain the balance of the cosmos and his realm through the preservation of past and present cosmic events?

The Egyptian secular artistic style during this dynasty, changed during the time of their last encounter with extreme cosmic rays.

The artistic styled they adapted remained unchanged for the next 3000 years perhaps due to this extreme cosmic event.

I believe the comments made by G J Leale, about the “disorientation from cosmic radiation” need to be examined in greater detail. His explanations are quite convincing.

… For additional information, google “Dr. Paul LaViolette + Beryllium-10”, and his “galactic superwave theory”.

Without scientific data, conclusions remain conjecture.

The main property of ground hematite is actually magnetic when mixed with other materials such as copper. Hematite itself is antiferromagnetic - Antiferromagnetism is when the electrons within a material coalesce, forming a chain of oppositely charged particles, even though the material as a whole does not appear to have any magnetic quality. Antiferromagnetism means that the electrons within the material do not align themselves with the same magnetic polarity. Even within the specific domains, the material does not display any magnetic qualities. As a result of the electrons not aligning themselves in the same polarity, they cancel each other out with the specific chain of electrons. It seems the ancient Egyptians knew about iron powder metallurgy and thus they ground the hematite and used it to "deflect" or neutralise the electromagnetic field of Hathor (or what was described as Hathor - possible a field of radiation/cosmic rays from a celestial event?).
In the caves of Lascaux, there are paintings showing the celestial Bull - this we know because the dots in the paintings are identical to the Pleiades and the eye of the Bull is Alcyone, the star which magnetically drakes the entire solar system in tis wake according to ancient sources.
So this festival is not really about drunkeness at all. And it has absolutely no connection to fertility of land or anything else. Any state of "drunkeness" was likely a side effect of the magnetic event at such scale -e.g disorientation from cosmic radiation and subsequent festivities to celebrate the diversion of a disaster.

ancient-origins's picture

Slew and slayed are sometimes seen as interchangeable, but you are right that slew is the more accepted term. We have made the change. Thank you.

The correct past tense of slay is slew, not slayed.

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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