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Monthly Archives: March 2014
For those of us who have been raised with an intimate knowledge of our Indigenous culture, we know that dancing is an important part o our and many cultures throughout the world. For myself, hearing the sound of drums and the sound of bells and jingle dresses and the singing along the powwow trail begins at the first sign of spring and continues on well into the fall. We dance, because we can. We dance and sing and beat drums and it serves as an affirmation of life; our own heartbeat and the heartbeat of everything and everyone around us. People gather to dance and to sing and to celebrate the rhythm that permeates every aspect of our existence.
Dancing and music figure prominently in our religious and ritual practices as well. Dance is a meditation, it can send us into a trance and be a way for us to express emotion, ecstasy and connect us to the Divine. The truth of the matter is that dance has been a part of human history or prehistory around the world since probably before Homo Sapiens became fully bipedal.
The first great culture to really infuse its entire society with the magic of music and dance was that of Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians enjoyed life to its fullest and no celebration in Ancient Egypt would have been complete without music and dancing. At parties, singers and dancers performed to the music of harps, lutes, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers and tambourines. During festivals, crowds chanted and clapped, carried along by the vibrant rhythm of Egyptian orchestras, while dancers performed amazing feats, leaping twirling and bending their bodies in time with the music. It was so important a feature of everyday life that musical instruments – frame drums, harps, clappers, sistra, and other instruments found their way into the tomb of those who passed to the Beautiful West and their entertainment in the afterlife.
Most of Egyptian secular and religious life was marked by the performance of music and dance. This important aspect of daily life of the Egyptians is depicted as early as the Pre-Dynastic periods. Ceremonial palettes and stone vessels indicate the importance that music had even in the earliest of periods. The importance of music in daily life in Ancient Egypt is underscored by the large number of musical instruments found in museum collections around the world. Of the several terms used in ancient Egyptian to describe dance is ib3.
In many banqueting scenes found within the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians, the banquets appear to be more secular. Shown in these scenes are an idealized rather than any actual event. The basic components of these scenes changed very little throughout Egypt’s history, until the New Kingdom. Around the 18th Dynasty, there is a marked change of character, in the song, dance and the overall “feel” of these scenes. At this time we see a marked sense of erotic significance. Lotus flowers, mandrakes, wigs and unguent cones, as well as men and women clothed in semi-transparent garments and the gestures of the banquet participants. Music, love and sensuality go hand in hand in most civilizations, ancient as well as modern, and in different spheres. Overall music is a major component of life, an important piece of both secular and religious life.
Dance was far more than just an enjoyable pastime in Ancient Egypt.During the Pre-Dynastic period were found depictions of female figures, perhaps of Goddesses or Priestesses, dancing with their arms raised above their heads. The act of dancing was undoubtedly an important component of ritual and celebration in Ancient Egypt. The Neolithic figurine of a goddess or priestess that currently resides in the Brooklyn Museum is commonly referred to as “the Nile Goddess” or “Nile Dancer”. The figure has arms that are raised above her faceless head like some sort of pre-historic ballerina. Her body is slender with ample breasts and broad hips. Some have speculated that her graceful limbs lifted above her head are to emulate the horns of the Goddess Hathor, who was the personification of the joys of music dancing, love and life itself. This particular piece of very early ancient Egyptian art has been an inspiration for many modern sculptures and art lovers just in its beautiful simplicity.
People from every social class were exposed to music and dancing. Manual laborers worked in rhythmic motion to the sounds of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained passers by. In normal, daily life musicians and dancers were an important and integral part of banquets and celebrations. Dance troupes were available for hire to perform at dinner parties, banquets, lodging houses, and even religious temples. Some women the harems of the wealthy were trained in music and dance. Unlike today, however, no well-born Egyptian would consider dancing in public. The Nobility would employ servants or slaves to entertain at their banquets to a offer pleasant diversion to themselves and their guests.
Elizabeth ‘Artemis’ Mourat, professional dancer and dance-scholar categorized the dances of Ancient Egypt into six different types: religious dances, non-religious festival dances, banquet dances, harem dances, combat dances, and street dances.
There were certain ritual dances that were crucial to the successful outcome of religious and funerary rites. This is particularly true of the Muu-Dancers. These dancers wore kilts and reed crowns and performed alongside funeral processions. Funeral rites often employed or were based off of the Songs of Aset and NebetHet (Isis and Nephthys in Greek) and the retelling of how Aset searched for the body of Wasir (Osiris in Greek) and reassembled his dismembered form for burial and restored to eternal life through Her prowess and skill in magic. This period of singing, dancing, drumming and lamentation was said to last over a period of five days. It was through these rites that it is believed Roman mystery cults arose.
With the emergence of the cult of Wasir dance was a crucial element in the festivals held for both He and Aset, His sister-wife. These festivals occurred throughout the year. Dance also figured prominently in the festivals dedicated to Apis. Another deity that has been linked to dancing, is the Dwarf-God, Bes. He has been depicted in both reliefs and in statuary playing a tambourine and dancing, denoting the idea of using dance in order to drive away evil spirits. Images and amulets of Bes were often found in and around the birthing chamber for women who were giving birth. In these images, Bes is quite often shown playing a tambourine or a drum.
The act of dancing was inseparable from music, and so the depictions of dance in Pharaonic tombs and temples invariably show the dancers either being accompanied by groups of musicians or themselves playing castanets or clappers to keep the rhythm. Little distinction seems to have been made between dancing and what would be considered today as acrobatics. Many dancers depicted in the temple and tomb paintings and reliefs show dancers in athletic poses such as cartwheels, handstands and backbends.
Detailed study of the depiction of dancers has revealed that the artists were often depicting a series of different steps in particular dances, some of which have been reconstructed in the modern era. Movements of Egyptian dances were named after the motion they imitated. For instance, there were “the leading along of an animal,” “the taking of gold,” and “the successful capture of the boat.”
Men and women as a general rule and in the more conservative society that was Ancient Egypt were never shown dancing together. The most common scenes depict groups of female dancers often performing in pairs and more rarely, men dancing in groups. Dance was done in private chambers as well as public festivals and gatherings, in the streets as well as Temple rituals. The importance of dance has not lessened over the years, it has maintained and is carried on even today. Professional dancers, musicians and other performers, though they are often admired for the work that they do, are not often given a high status within society. Because they wander the country side often with men to whom they are not related, especially if they are women, this sort of behaviour is still rather looked down upon – especially within village societies.
There was a notion within early Egyptology that noblewomen or women of a certain class or caste would never engage in dancing except in private. The only exception to this idea were the dancers, singers and musicians that were dedicated to the service of a deity, for example. The dancers that are depicted within the ancient tombs are often described or depicted as being a part of the tomb owner’s immediate family. As a direct relation to the deceased then any taboos were lessened. Today, women may dance within the privacy of their own homes, or that of a family member, but never in public. It is a good idea that depictions in tombs were never intended to be viewed again by the living once they were sealed, and as such served as a private residence for the deceased.
Modern day bellydancing has a little resemblance to the graceful and acrobatic gestures that were a part of dance in antiquity. Because of so many external influences – the Greeks, Romans, and influx of other cultures over the centuries, not to mention that dance in Egypt as also influenced by the influx of Islam into the region. In spite of all of this, however, we can still see within Egyptian culture the idea of dancing just for the sheer love of it.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Most of this piece is a reworking of a section of my website, ‘The Ancient Egyptian Virtual Temple’, 1995 -2014, Copyright Ma’at Publishing. (Mirrored at fannyfae.com)
Manniche, Lise, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt British Museum Press, 1991. Print.
Redmond, Layne, When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm Three Rivers Press, 1997. Print.
Shaw, Ian, and Paul T. Nicholson. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Print.
Spencer, Patricia, “Dance in Ancient Egypt”, Near Eastern Archeaeology, 2003, p 111 – 121
A few years ago, when I was a Kemetic Orthodoxy Priest, I established a nekhen or shrine to Sekhmet. The name of that shrine was Nekhen Iunen Sekhmet – or to translate, The Shrine of Sekhmet’s Sanctuary. Here in the Wapsipinicon River Valley, in a land that I refer to as the Enchanted Forest, this place has served as a sanctuary for humans, animals, plants and all manner of wildlife. The wild animals seem to know that once they cross into the borders of our 15 acres, which is not much in the scheme of things, they are safe.
After a series of life events that sent my life into a tailspin, the death of my mother, the outsourcing of my job overseas and returning to school and starting a business, things were neglected, I left Sekhmet’s formal service in pursuit of a life that is just now starting to show itself as becoming a reality.
Nekhen Inunen Sekhmet is more than just a place to perform the daily proscribed rites or heka on behalf of others. It has become a way of life, a consciousness of its own. One thing is for certain, I do not and absolutely will not do this in affiliation with any Temple – at all. This is and shall remain absolutely my own. I am doing this out of love and devotion for Sekhmet; She Who owns my head, She for whom Life Belongs – particularly my life. Every medicine I make, ever rug that I weave, every thing that I do in some way ties back to that service. I am not interested in having ‘students’, so it would be futile to even ask. Neither am I the least bit inclined to be out front and telling other people how to be what group to join or sit in judgement of another’s practices. I will let the grand poohbahs and the gurus have at that. I hope they have fun with that. More power to them.
I am frankly much happier being left to my own devices rather than having someone, be it a group or an individual, looking over my shoulder to see whether or not I am doing it right. I am. I have the liturgical texts, I have the materials and the resources that allow me to do it right as in antiquity and I have made the commitment to do so. I do it. I no longer have a single thing to prove to anyone about anything. Further, I am at an age when I no longer give a fuck what anyone else thinks of me – nor do I really give too much of one when confronted with the practices of others. They don’t matter. I am singularly focused on the things that do. Everything else tends to be superfluous and unnecessary fluff.
The measurements have been made. The sand and the amulets have been crafted and have been laid for the foundation. All shall be done as it should be – as the Lioness lies ever-watching and overseeing the Work.
After a great deal of thought, I am going to be switching some things over with this blog. I will be keeping the name, fannyfae.com, but this domain, NiankhSekhmet.com (Life Belongs to Sekhmet;. it is my Kemetic name and it would probably be much better if all of the Kemetic related posts went to live there and the fiction, herbal, writing businesss and other types of posts will remain at fannyfae,com. Of course, I am still working on a new banner for the site, even if the wallpaper is a bit familiar.
In short, the work for both blogs will be more specifically focused. So pardon my dust and I do some rearranging. I promise to keep everyone posted. It gives me the opportunity toward more specific types of branding in posts. I know that one will be for the ebooks and business while the other will be more personal.
So look for this space to change a bit over the next few weeks. No doubt I will be doing the same over on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ & etc. If anyone needs to reach me, they may do so here or can write me at fannyfae at gmail dot com or niankhsekhmet at gmail dot com.
(Crossposted from fannyfae.com)
My disclaimer is that I am Kemetic Orthodox. As such we do have a Nisut as part of our Faith. That being said, I will the answer this question as both someone who is a member of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith, and as a person whose life has taken a divergent course in a spiritual sense from what it may have been a mere year or two ago. I will answer the questions as honestly and with as much openness and candor as I can without betraying any ‘oathbound’ material that I received. I owe that to my community and my gods, and it is a sort of living up to what that calling has been for me.
I have observed that there are those in the modern Kemetic belief sphere that spend a great deal of time arguing about whether or not it is necessary or even useful for Kemetic organizations or Temples to have a Nisut. I have personally observed that those who speak out the most vociferously against the idea of a Nisut Bity(t) generally are people who are outside of any group which has one. The concept of having a Nisut or any sort of Temple hierarchy at all really was very much the norm in antiquity. But for those of us who are trying to reconstruct or revive the ancient Kemetic religion, that idea is not really the same. Having a king or a Nisut in the modern era is not the same cornerstones of Kemetic belief as it was in the past. For those of us who are Kemetic Orthodox, there is the underlying idea that kingship is more a continuation and how that is really a part of a sacred trust. We are not talking about a Pharaonic Theocracy in an absolute kingship with godhead that makes that person “Divine”. But rather someone who has revived and put in so much of themselves to lead people toward doing it right.
The King in Ancient Egypt is, as I mentioned, a part of that sacred trust. There are rituallyfunctional roles for a Nisut or King, whether that be in antiquity or today. I personally have observed that no one has given more to recreating the ancient Egyptian religious mindset than Rev. Tamara Siuda. Everything that she has done and continues to do is about bringing this religious bent back to the world. That, ultimately, is what the Nisut Bity(t) is for Kemetic Orthodoxy. The priests and priesthood help her to do that within a religious structure that before – did not exist in the modern era.
Those who are Kemetic can certainly have a modern, personal practice with their own altar and icons, incense, ritual tools, robes and all the arm-wavey goodness that they think that they need. The major difference between that and what Kemetic Orthodoxy and other similar groups with a King or a Nisut has is that there are both personal rites that one does and there are State Rites – which do centre around the Nisut Bity(t) and/ or the Kingship. End of story. 98% of the Kemetic population today will never do State Rites. They will never need to. These same individuals will most likely never be present for Coronation Rites. Again, in that instance, they technically don’t “need” anything in that context. Those rites are handled by the ritual technicians who DO know what they are and they do them daily. For those who are that flavour of Kemetic, it is a requirement. It is not an option. No one else ever need concern themselves about State Rites. Only those who are priests – w’ab or Hem(t) Netjer (formerly Imakhu and Kai Imakhu) even within Kemetic Orthodoxy’s rankes ever had to worry about performing State Rites.
If someone feels that they do not need a Nisut, then they can be completely content to go on about their business and not even ever have to think about it. It doesn’t make their practice ‘less” in terms of satisfaction or legitimacy, no does doing them make it any better, It just makes the rites that are performed what it is for them.
On the other hand, those who do have a King or a Nisut Bity(t) and who have made it through they have not handed their common sense, their brains or thousands of dollars at the door in cult-like fashion, either. I can speak with an insider’s experience that running a religious organization is hard, thankless and decidedly expensive work. Running an organisation or being a part of the ‘hierarchy’ costs a great deal in terms of time, travel expense, but mostly time.
Anyone who imagines it might be nice, or aspires to be a Nisut, in my opinion, is undoubtedly out of their mind. (I also tend to think that about priesthood, but will save that for another blog entry.)
This is a topic that I have had to think long and hard about. In spite of my having “retired” as a Kemetic Orthodox Priestess or Hm(t) Netjer of Sekhmet-Mut / HetHert, Meryt Amun I am still a member of the House of Netjer. As far as I am concerned, Sekhmet Herself said that I should be ordained as Her Priestess and I am still – and will always be until I die and into the next life. My person, my ka, my ba and every part of me has the indelible pawprint of Sekhmet on it and there is no removing it. Period. I have been a Kai-Imakhu (Exalted Reverend) and a Mut-Netjer (Godmother) and served as a vessel for Sekhmet, HetHert and Amun in the capacity of Mut-Netjer. So even though I no longer do these things – the State Rites, the chats, the being there for the service of the community in any official capacity within the House of Netjer, I do have knowledge of how things are – and how they are not. I have been a participant in the yearly Coronation Rites, and I know what is said, and I know what is involved. I also know that there are Mysteries that are a part of those things. Fr someone who has never actually done them – even if they have merely read them – they absolutely would not know. Kemetic practice is undoubtedly centralized on ritual practice – both personal and state rites. State rites have a purpose and a specific order and function. Not everyone needs to be a part of those functions.
State Rites are not a secret. If a Kemetic practitioner is hellbent on doing them, then Richard Reidy has published an approximation to them in his book, Eternal Egypt. Feel free to click the link, and buy the book. There you are. It is a very good book even though I don’t always agree with what Mr. Reidy has to say on every subject. However, when you read them you will very possibly notice that there is an underlying theme in that the core of these rites. You may notice that even if they are in service of a Deity, again, they are meant to be done by priests standing in for the King.
Do we need a King? Do we need a Nisut?
Speaking only for myself, and for my own practice, I do need my Nisut. I need her in the fact that she created or re-assembled or helped to reassemble what had been gone from existence for centuries. It isn’t that no one else tried. Certainly they did. They did not, however, keep their egos out of it – whereas, I believe and have observed that Rev. Tamara Siuda has done that. I have never seen anyone give more than she does. I have never seen anyone tailor their lives to the degree and centered their whole existence in the service of both the Gods and the community in the way that she has done and done it as good naturedly and as selflessly as she has done. IMO, we need that in the world. I can say that I personally need her not just as a Nisut Bity(t) but in that she is a member of my family. I need her in that she is my friend, and a teacher. She is the godmother of my son, Userbenu – and she was the one that if anything had happened to me before my son reached majority, she would be his guardian. Anyone who knows me at all and how important my son is to me, knows that I would never have made such a provision lightly. So, even if I never do State rites personally ever again, or if I never attend a coronation rite ever again, I like knowing that she is there to help continue building what did not exist 20 years ago and for a much longer period before. I believe that often sight is lost about how much has been re-established because someone cared enough to do it.
So…can one be Kemetic without a Nisut? Absolutely yes. But for those of us who have a Nisut….we are rather glad that she decided to step up to do it. Someone had to. And I am very grateful that it was her.