The Day of Atonement

Wednesday October 5th 2011
Jews praying on Yom Kippur (1868)
by Maurycy Gottlieb
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The wheat is threshed, the apples are picked. It’s time to weigh and measure this year’s harvest. And I mean that metaphorically.

We’re coming to the end of the the ten days that observant and even not-terribly-observant Jews set aside every year for making a reckoning of their own behaviour over the previous 12 months. It’s a time to remember any wrongs you’ve committed over the past year – and ask forgiveness from people and from god too.

The period runs for the first 10 days after the New Moon in Libra this year and most years. Jewish New Year is marked by that New Moon.

Libra is, of course, represented by a set of scales. This is the sign of justice, balance and harmony. Jews all over the world this week are weighing and measuring their own behaviour in a metaphorical set of scales. Each person is readjusting the harmony of his own social relations (also ruled by Libra and her planet Venus). To ask forgiveness is no easy thing (especially if it’s of your grisly Auntie Myrtle who’s horrible to you anyway.)

Anubis weighs the heart, Thoth records the verdict,
Ammut waits to see if he can gobble up the dead soul

This reminds me of the ancient Egyptian belief, which would have been current at the time Moses crossed the Red Sea, that your heart was weighed by the jackal-headed god Anubis after your death. It was weighed against the feather of truth to see if you had lived a good life. If your heart was lighter than a feather, you could go on to the delights of the afterlife.

(Just as an aside, the month of the scales falls just before Scorpio, the sign ruled by Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, and the time of year when, in many parts of the world, it’s traditional to pay your respects to the dead.)

The “10 days of Penitence” end with an all-day fast and prayerathon, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and then you start the year with a clean slate.

Not a bad notion really.

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  1. Happy New Year! I like the idea of this holiday too. I think about it at this time of year, even though I’m not of the Jewish faith. Nice post.