(Originally published November 16th, 2011)
The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert
The early Egyptians were a religious people. They still are today. Egypt is a special land. A unique land. Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Nile is the source of life. For it was the Nile that allowed farming. Because of fresh water. And fertile soil. Black earth. The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high. Beyond the First Cataract. All the way to its headwaters. Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile. That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea. Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks. And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.
The life from the Nile was a miracle. A blessing for the Egyptians. This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert. So they prayed. And they worshipped. To placate the gods. To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest. For when the gods favored them the flooding came. On time. And at just the right height. But when the gods did not there was famine.
By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle
If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable. If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount. Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration. A favorable omen of a good harvest. Which began with the sowing. The grain representing Osiris’ body. A god killed by another god. Seth. Who embodied the lifeless red earth. The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris. At the harvest they praised Isis. For the resurrection. That was the harvest.
The Egyptians were a religious people. Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle. It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars. Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals. And the cycle of farming.
By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship. What to do in the farming cycle. When to do it. And they knew when something was wrong. For one day the floods did not come. The climate had changed. And the water didn’t come to them from the river. So they had to go to the water in the river.
When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation
As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment. And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs. For our environment was the blessing of the gods. And at times their curse. But our observations grew. As did our understanding. We developed the calendar. And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation. Expanding the lands under cultivation. And grew even more food. For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.
Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile. But it was a first step in our critical thinking. Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand. We may have been wrong about the cause. But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons. By studying our environment. And learning how to change it to suit our needs. And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation. And, eventually, to the modern civilization.
Tags: black earth, calendar, ceremonies, critical thinking, cycle, Egypt, Egyptians, farming, farming cycle, First Cataract, flooding, gods, harvest, irrigation, life, lifeless, Mediterranean, Nile, Nile River, pray, red earth, religious beliefs, religious people, rituals, river, silt, soil, water, worship