Festivals of Light
The Deluge and the seven days of brilliant light immediately
preceding it were a universal experience, and they left indelible memories.
Many of the religious rites and observances of all creeds go back to these
events of the past in which the celestial gods Saturn and Jupiter were
the main participants. Among the most ancient of all such observances
were festivals of light of seven days duration, held in honor of
Saturn. The seven days of light just before the Deluge overwhelmed
the Earth are recreated in these feasts.(1)
Herodotos describes a nocturnal light festival held
each year at Sais in commemoration of Osiris death and resurrection.
It was called the Feast of Lamps:
There is one night on which the inhabitants all burn
a multitude of lights in the open air round their houses. . . . These
burn the whole night. . . . The Egyptians who are absent from the festival
observe the night of the sacrifice, no less than the rest, by a general
lighting of lamps; so that the illumination is not confined to the city
of Sais, but extends over the whole of Egypt.(2)
In Rome the feast of light was named Saturnalia. According
to tradition the Saturnalia had been established in honor of Saturn when,
all of a sudden, after a lengthy and prosperous reign, Saturn suddenly
disappeared. (3) Macrobius wrote that
in celebrating the Saturnalia the Romans used to honor the altars of Saturn
with lighted candles . . . sending round wax tapers during the Saturnalia.
(4) In his time the festival was celebrated
for three consecutive days but, Macrobius wrote,
And yet in fact among the men of old there were some
who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days . . . for Novius
. . . says: Long-awaited they come, the seven days of Saturnalia
; and Mummius too . . . says: Of the many excellent institutions
of our ancestors, this is the bestthat they made the seven days
of the Saturnalia begin when the weather is coldest. (5)
Hannukah and Christmas are both feasts of light and,
like the Saturnalia, both can be traced to the days of the Universal Deluge.
The Hebrew tradition that Hanukkah was established to commemorate the
miracle with the oil that was found undepleted and sufficed
for seven days, is a poor rationalization. A better ground for a re-establishment
of a holiday, so similar to the Saturnalia, in Judea, was in the fact
that in the middle of the second century before the present era Rome conquered
Greece, and about the same time in the rebellion of the Hashmanaim (better
known by the name of one of the sons, Judah Maccabi) against Hellenistic
rule, the people of Palestine were drawing near the Roman world with its
usages. It appears that the Romans fomented the revolt in the Hellenized
provinces at the time of their conquest of Greece. Thus the feast of Hanukkah
seems to be an adaptation of the Roman Saturnalia.(6)
The observation of this festival was later taken over
by the festival of Christmas, which was originally observed for seven
days, from the 25th of December until the first of the New Year.
earliest of the festivals of this type that we know of was the yearly
seven-day-long celebration commemorating the inauguration of the temple
of Ningirsu in Babylonia in the time of Gudea (before ca. 2000 B.C.).
For this and other similar festivals, see P. Bourboulis, Ancient
Festivals of Saturnalia Type (Salonica, 1964). Ningirsu
was he who changed darkness into light, the same as Ninib,
or Saturn (M. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens,
ch. IV, pp. 56ff). In Athens the feast in honor of Saturn was
called the Kronia. See H. W. Parke, Festivals of the Athenians
(London, 1977), pp. 29-30. It would appear that the main idea
behind the Saturnalia-type festivals, so widespread in antiquity,
was a re-enactment of the conditions that existed during the Golden
Age when Saturn reigned. The celebration of the Roman Saturnalia,
which, according to Macrobius, pre-dates the founding of Rome by many
centuries (VII. ??), was marked by a reversal of social relations,
the release of the statue of Saturn that stood in the Forum from its
bonds (Macrobius, Saturnalia VII. ??), the crowning of a mock-king
(apparently representing Saturn) whose every command had to be strictly
obeyed (Tacitus, Annales 13, 15; Epictetus, D, I. 25.
8; Lucian, Saturn. 2. 4. 9), and who was later sacrificed on
the altar of Saturn. Some details of such a sacrifice are given in
Acta Sancti Dasii, ed. by F. Cumont in Analecta Bollandiana
XVI (1897). See also Cumont, Le roi des saturnales,
Revue de Philologie XXI (1897), pp. 143-153. Porphyry reports
the existence of a similar festival on Rhodes during which a man was
sacrificed to Kronos (De Abstinentia II. 54). A similar Persian
festival was the Sacaia (Dio Chrysostom, Orationes IV. 66).
A possible parallel in Mexico may be the festival Atemoztli, Coming
Down of the Waters, described in a manuscript reproduced in
Kingsborough, The Antiquities of Mexico: On the XXI of
December they celebrate the festival of that god who, they say, was
the one that uncovered the earth when it was annihilated by the waters
of the Deluge. ].
62, transl. by George Rawlinson. Cf. J. G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis,
Osiris, second edition (London, 1907), pp. 300f.
Saturnalia I. 7. 24: subito non comparuisset. [It
was then, according to Macrobius, that Italy came to be called Saturnia
in honor of the planet. Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates
Romanorum I. 6; Ovid, Fasti, VI. 1. 31.]
I. 7. 31-32, transl. by P. Davies, 1969). Macrobius noted also
the opinion of those who think that the practice is derived
simply from the fact that it was in the reign of Saturn that we made
our way, as thou to the light, from a rude and gloomy existence to
a knowledge of the liberal arts. [Cf.
above, Tammuz and Osiris, n. 9 on the Egyptian light festival
in honor of Osiris.]
- Saturnalia X.
the way of praying with covered head appears to be a taking over of
the Roman usagethe Greek custom was to pray with an uncovered