Let me state at the outset that this particular blog entry is not really going to discuss the legitimacy of folks who teach in our elementary, secondary or university and college level schools. I count many professional teachers and professors as my friends and I truly admire all of the hard work that they do and the patience they must have in order to do it. I am grateful in ways I cannot even begin to recount those teachers to whom I am indebted for my son’s education and my own. For that I say a heartfelt ‘Thank You’. This article, however, is to discuss those who set themselves up as instructors of those who are seeking a sort of spiritual education, both in formal churches, temples, circles, covens and even those who write how-to books for readers who are seeking.
A couple of months ago, Sarah Lawless discussed the topic of Evaluating Our Teachers. While her subject was aimed at Witches and Pagans, the topic is equally relevant to Kemetics as well.
Whenever there is any sort of scandal about religious leaders falling from grace, especially in those faiths that are not Christian, Jewish or Islamic, the scandal seems just that much larger. Rather than simply being a cautionary tale, they serve the mainstream faiths as to why non-traditional faiths are so dangerous.
Certainly, given the more lax standards that most of those who are not of the Big Three (J, C or I) Paganism and it’s cousins can tend to attract a certain level of persons that are just best not allowed such power or influence under any circumstance. Everyone wants to be special. Everyone wants to feel that what they say and do is worthy of attention or the words that they say deserve to be listened to.
Everyone, however, is not suited to priesthood or to teach others in any sort of spiritual sense. Through the lens of being a functional adult able to be both in the realm of the spiritual and the realm of the everyday, ordinary or mundane, they cannot even be entrusted for the well-being and adequate management of their own lives. How then, could they even imagine that they are in any way trustworthy enough to be entrusted enough to handle the spiritual and emotional well-being of others? The momentary highs of arm-wavey goodness in front of a small captive audience is an enticing draw of being some sort of spiritual rock star for some. These folks are mainly attracted to the idea of being such a center of attention or the ego stroking buzz and everyone else around them are merely bit players while they star in their play. These folks don’t realize that the ritual or an organization’s very existence is not even about them at all. It’s about service to one’s community and to the gods above all else.
I have often railed about the sloppy scholarship among Pagans and Heathens that passes for being adequate enough to suit the masses. It seems anyone with an internet connection on their computer or phone can read a Wiki article and become and instant expert. Too few among us have time time, the money, or the tenacity to want to seek out rare and hard to find texts in order to find out as much as possible about their gods. We have precious few scholars and degreed professionals within Kemeticism who actually do practice the faith and who have not either been intimidated into denying that ‘they believe in any of this stuff’, or are patient enough or well suited to the task of helping laypersons sort through the vast amounts of extant texts, books and other materials in order to get to the real spiritual foundations that make up our practices.
The unfortunate thing that sometimes arises is that too many of us have witnessed those who take on a veneer of haughtiness and arrogance that only seems to come with advanced degrees. Looking down your nose at those who are truly interested in doing whatever it takes is not something that good teachers do. Good teachers don’t need to, and usually do not badmouth other teachers that a student may have had previously, even if the previous teacher held views that were contrary to their own. A good teacher does not attempt to be all things to all people. If the area of expertise is something outside the scope of their own, a good teacher will send a student to another teacher who is better suited for the task. A recent kerfuffle over on the blog of a very visible Canaanite polytheist is a clear example of this.
This particular blogger, because historically, the people of ancient Canaan and the people of ancient Kemet were in the same region and had interactions, they have a nasty habit of including Kemetics in their posts as to how Kemetic practioners – priests in particular – should be doing their practices. According to the Canaanite polytheist blogger, to consume offerings after they are offered is essentially stealing from God’s table. Completely ignored is practice of the Revision of Offerings that was standard practice in Kemetic Temples; a custom that is continued to this day in most African Traditional Religions (ATR’s). Other countries throughout Africa were influenced by Ancient Kemet over the course of history.
We know for a fact that Kemetic priests absolutely did consume the offerings. The offerings were made three times a day and as such they were considered to be one of those perks of the job. The priests or Hm(t) Netjer fed themselves and their families and households from these offerings. Sharing the bounty of the gods throughout the community was and still is considered an acceptable practice for Kemetics. Absolutely in no way is it considered “stealing” – especially with the Revision of the Offerings that were pronounced over the offerings so that the gods “may be satisfied with the repast on the right and on the left”. It isn’t stealing. Letting food to rot on the altar or in the shrine of the God was considered a far worse sin than to share them with the community. The idea of uncleanliness, dirt, rot and the pests that these things inevitably bring were considered far worse and an anathema to the ancient Kemetic people.
To be fair, however, that I will admit that offerings which are given to the dead or the akhu are things that the living do not consume. These are often left at gravesites or on outdoor altars for the spirits of the deceased to partake of. Typically, because these were left in the desert on the opposite bank and away from the part of the communities where the living would mostly dwell, they tended to be consumed by the animals that congregated around burial areas. If the offering was consumed in this way, then it was and is considered “accepted.”
Because Kemetics are many time polytheists or monolatrists just as Canaanites are sometimes polytheists or monolatrists, there is a huge temptation to assume that we are of the same opinion based on some of those similarities. Any scholar with even the smallest amount of credibility or integrity realizes that similarity and proximity do not connote sameness necessarily.
For those of us who have been Initiated into formal priesthood, and those individuals that practice privately and to the best of their ability have the very texts on the walls and many aspects of ritual and practice are quite literally written in stone. Because of this profusely available extant evidence, for Kemetics, these things are not really up for debate. Those who erroneously insist that placing Kemetics under the Neo-Pagan Big Top and painting us with such a broad (and dare I say it?) a ridiculously inaccurate brush do nothing to support the arguments and assertions of those espousing them. If anything, it should underscore the fact that such individuals are doing little more than possibly making it up as they go via UPG, if not simply just expressing their own opinions.
While elements such as UPG etc. may seem to be quite a legitimate means to some within Heathenry or Neo-Pagansism as far as religious practices are concerned; such practices are not adequately vetted to be satisfactory. UPG experiences really do not equal scholarship as far as Kemetic priests and laypersons are concerned and a balance of Verified Personal Gnosis (VPG) is equally if not more important than the UPG. It’s how we get discernment. It’s how cults of personality and wrong-headed practices are avoided.
If someone is truly interested or ever in want of real information about actual Kemetic practices have been and are etc. then going to the source(s) might be the wisest course of action. There are lots of good books and growning numbers of Kemetic practitioners. We tend to not be the least bit shy in saying who is a good teacher and why and who is not a good teacher and why.
A good teacher will gently correct you without making you feel stupid.
A good teacher will not mollycoddle you.
A good teacher will point you toward good resources so you can look up the answer yourself.
A good teacher has the expectation that you will make the effort to find out on your own and would prefer to do this rather than to be led by the hand or by the nose.
A good teacher may let you fall flat on your ass without feeling the need to gloat or mock you for your mistakes.
A good teacher knows their self worth and yet are quite able to acknowledge that they also learn from their students is not beneath them to say so.
A good teacher has every right to expect excellence from their students and won’t compromise their integrity in order for students to “pass”.
A good teacher can say, “I don’t know the answer,” and has no problem in giving a referral to someone who very well might know.
It might be a community-wide project for folks to think very seriously about what makes a good teacher and what makes one not-so-good. It could be helpful to consider what makes someone a viable asset to the community, and what types of behaviours tend to paint one as pompous and opinionated and without spiritual authority to dictate to others. Certainly everyone has had both good and bad teachers in both our academic and spiritual lives. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what those characteristics are and what we will settle for and what we won’t.