Category Archives: Kemetic Rount Table

Kemetic Round Table:The Mythic Mystique

“Send Your Eye down as HetHert (Hathor). This goddess indeed went and She slew people upon the desert.
Then said the majesty of this God [Ra], “Welcome in Peace, HetHert. You have done that which I sent You to do.”
Then said this goddess:”As You live for Me, I have been powerful over the people! And it is pleasing to My heart!”
Then said the majesty of Ra,”It is in order to diminish them [humans] that I have sent the power of My kingship.”
Thus did Sekhmet come into being.”
(Translation by Tamara L. Siuda)

Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?

My own answer to this question is a rather dependent upon what we are talking about. Surely when the sun rises every day, and the sky is red, I am reminded of the Kemetic myth that it is because Set has slain the Ap/ep serpent and the waters of the Nun are red with its blood so that Ra may rise again. I hold up my hands in the gesture of praise, or henu and say, “Dua Ra, Dua Set!”

Everyone who considers themselves to be Kemetic has heard the myths about Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind. It is one of the most well-known and important myths in all of Kemetic culture and religion. Unlike many practitioners of other religions and spiritual traditions, Kemetics tend to be a bit less dogmatic about those mythologies.

The above passage, was translated by Tamara Siuda. Tamara herself an Egyptologist and the founder of the House of Netjer Kemetic Orthodox Temple, of which I am a member. One of the things that Tamara teaches, is the reason for Sekhmet’s creation by Her Father Ra was fairly clear. In the time when the Netjeru and Humans lived together in the world, mankind got arrogant. They became arrogant in the pride of their own accomplishments, and collectively they decided that they no longer needed the gods. Not only did they plot to overthrow the Netjeru, they plotted to destroy Them. The benign Hathor, when She learned that humanity wanted to harm Her Father, became the rampaging Sekhmet.

But in terms of Kemetic belief, what does this really mean?

This idea is in itself a metaphor for many of the Kemetic myths. The stories serve to teach us things about how we deal with life’s challenges, phenomena in the natural world and other concerns. Few Kemetics take them as an absolute truth. In the case of the myth of Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind, as found on the Golden Shrine of Tutankhamun, it serves as a metaphor for the nature of anger and how destructive it can be justified or not. Anger, even or especially when attached to righteous indignation can become quite volatile and unpredictable. Who in the world would not want to destroy utterly anyone who would dare raise their hand to their loved ones or those whom they care about? In this case, Sekhmet’s anger with its fury and destruction that almost wiped out the whole of humanity is understandable. Humans were plotting to kill Her Father, Ra. Her anger was indiscriminate, without warning, and absolute.

For anyone who has been so angry that they almost seemed as if they were outside of themselves, they can tell you there reaches a point when that anger produces a high of its own. I have been so angry in one particular incident, that I remember distinctly standing outside of my own self and thinking, “Wow…I am really pissed off.” There was that instant of wanting to stop but being unable to. When anger reaches that point, it is as if you are quite literally drunk on it.

A little bit like Sekhmet, perhaps? Maybe. If anything, the mythology teaches that there is always appropriate action. Sekhmet’s anger was initially quite appropriate, but then it reached the point to where it “got good to Her,” and Sekhmet became less than reasonable to the point where She almost destroyed the whole of Mankind. Going overboard is not what one would call appropriate.

I have found that there are those in and around the Kemetic faith sphere who are divined, or consider themselves to be children of Sekhmet who use it as an excuse. Too often I hear too many of them try to flippantly write off their bouts of poorly managed anger, co-dependent flailing, and just general bad behaviour on being a “child of Sekhmet”. There are still other children of various Names of Netjer who try to blame their need to get drunk every other night or on the weekends as how they deal with being a child of X Name of Netjer. Frankly, I think we all know that this is nothing short of a steaming load of bullshit. It may sound logical, but it really is just abdication of responsibility. Ultimately, you and you alone are responsible for your bad behaviour – putting it off on Deity is quite clearly a cop-out; and a weak one at that. Trying to dodge personal responsibility in that manner is pretty ridiculous. So why do it?

What to do? Well, certainly we are not going to wait around till Djehuti fills valleys with beer stained red with ochre and spiked with mandrake so we can get “happy” and forget why it was that we were pissed off about in the first place. We need to take the myths in the context in which they were, as far as we could tell, originally intended.

They were stories, meant to educate masses of people about natural phenomena that they encountered in their lives. Is the sun (Ra) really being pushed across the sky by a giant dung beetle (Kheperi)? Did Atum create All that Exists by self-pleasure and masturbation? (Talk about a “Big Bang Theory”!) Is the whole yearly cycle culminated by the epagomenal days and Djehuty has to beat Ra at a game of dice so that poor Nut can give birth to her children, Heru-Wer, Wasir, Set, Aset and NebetHet? Do we at the end of those five days, in all actuality destroy the Uncreated One when we perform the Rite of Turning Back the Enemies of Ra – or the sun won’t rise and the world will end? I suppose it really all depends upon your point of view. Certainly when someone wants to tout the benefits of teaching Creationism in schools, I pipe up with the one about Atum. That usually puts a kabbash on any further assertions about teaching Creationism in public education. Apparently teaching school aged children about some cultural mythology can potentially open up a whole other set of issues that some folks just aren’t prepared to explain to their kids!

Myths have served as road maps of a kind for man since antiquity. They help us understand what is going on in the world around us and within ourselves and the struggles that we face on a day-to-day basis. They give us pause during annual festivals of the year and when the seasons change or we gather together and remember our ancestors and our collective pasts. Certainly we see this sort of re-membering in almost any faith that you care to name. Of course, for myself, I tend to think of it in terms of my own Kemetic beliefs, which in many ways are quite similar to Hindu beliefs in how we integrate our religion into our lives. The myths and ritual actions that go along with them serve a purpose to get us to stop, to connect deeper with the Unseen. When we do this, it is my experience that we are healthier, calmer, more contemplative and reflective for having done so.

We also tend to be a little less dogmatic than other faiths because in our beliefs we do not feel the need to “prove” our extant liturgical texts. I have talked to many in non-Kemetic faiths who were excited when archaeological bits turned up that ascertained what was contained in their religious scripture was “proven” by what had been found. If you have Faith, why would actually “proving” something be at all necessary? You either believe something as being a truth religiously or philosophically or you don’t. You either find a way to integrate the beliefs and the symbolism into your life or you are oblivious to it. These things are what make up faith. It doesn’t necessarily need to be proven. Ultimately, I think that’s why it’s called ‘faith’.

Kemetic myths are rich and varied. These myths changed over periods of history and many were considered regional. Some of the better books on Kemetic myth are Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, by Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, The three-volume set of Ancient Egyptian Literature by Miriam Lichtheim. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom, and Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period . ANother good standby that is a bit older than the other aforementioned books is R.T. Rundle Clark’s classic book, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. Any of these go over some of the myths that many of we Kemetics hold up as part of our religious heritage.

For me, the most wonderful thing about these myths is that the longer I am around various folks who practice the Kemetic faith, I get exposed to other myths that I had never heard or just wasn’t paying that close attention to. Certainly in a religion where there are over 4,000 different Names for God and the various manifestations of the Divine, it becomes rather difficult to take them all in. That is certainly alright. Kemetic myths have a way of showing up at the time when they are the most relevant to us and in a time that we most need to hear them. There is something about this that is far less dogmatic and far more freeing when you can look at the sunrise and somehow imagine the Barque of Ra traveling across the sky.

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Every Large Thing is Accomplished by Many ‘Little’ People and ‘That One Large Thing’ That Can Unite Us

What suggestions do you have regarding bridging divides between different Kemetic factions and encouraging cooperation toward common goals?

There is something that I think every single Kemetic wants. It is something that is a bit of a pipe dream. Some of us have been told that maybe we shouldn’t set our sights so high or the unrealistic nature of actually attaining this thing. It would mean that maybe, just maybe, that Kemetics are serious about becoming their own culture once again. Certainly there are those within more Afrocentrically leaning Kemetic community who have suggested this thing long before I have. For that I applaud them, and perhaps since Kemetic belief is an African Traditional Religion or ATR, we can look to them for inspiration and guidance.

We want our own language. If we had this, if we truly want true reconstructionism, using the various texts, whether we used Faulkner, Hoch or even Budge we could all collectively create or recreate that. All of us already know how much we love the aesthetic of ancient Kemet – the art, the music, the architecture, and on and on. Part of those that aestheitc is language. We are already using just a smattering of the language now.

Many of us know how we felt hearing it spoken in bits and pieces in movies like ‘The Mummy’, ‘The Mummy Returns’, ‘Stargate’, brought to us courtesy of the work of anthropologist, Dr. Stuart Tyson Smith, and even that horrible Charlton Heston film, ‘The Awakening. I will confess, a few years ago, I was actually trying to write a script for a film about the transition period between AMunhotep III and Akhenaten and how much a manipulative and megalomaniac bitch Nefertiti was. I was writing it in English and then wanted to translate the whole thing into ancient Kemetic. Of course, the cost of providing materials and language coaches for the actors alone, would have been astronomical. And of course it would have to have incredible sets, costumes, driving the cost of making the film into the tens of millions, but it would have been made in what I would like to think of as our language. What better way to spend a very large film budget? The intensive use of a (albeit, popular) dead language alone would have all but insured that it got into the Toronto Film Festival and Cannes. Hell, I still might try to do a campaign on Indiegogo or Kickstarter for it. The script is pretty well written as it is.

In my temple, the House of Netjer, those of us in the priesthood would regularly get asked by beginners and established members alike for the Daily Rites in Kemetic. The request was always refused on the basis that it was felt that to recite a religious rite to your deity in a language that you were just parroting it by rote and probably had no comprehension of what was being said. Further, such an exercise would be just an elaborate going through the motions. To speak from your heart, it was further rationalized, you needed a language that you were born into.

That is a pretty good argument against it. However, I would offer up the prime example of the traditional Latin mas and how passionately some Catholics feel about hearing and participating in a mass that is in Latin – which, btw is a mostly dead language. I am still old enough to remember when it was taken away from some congregations. There was much upset about this and those for whom the Latin Mass was substituted for one in English, it was traumatic. Some drove long distances just to get to a church that still recited the Catholic mass in Latin. The reason for this, I think is that there was and is something comforting about that source language for worshipers. Certainly much of the Jewish rites are done in Hebrew.

ALthough I can see the point of knowing what the hell it is that you are saying and not just reciting by rote, I do agree there is something to saying rites in their original language. Language, it’s sound, tone and vibration does affect the brain, and in religious rites it can help the adorer or worshiper to make that shift from the mundane world into a more reverent and contemplative one. It was always a dream of mine to have that long before I was Kemetic Orthodox to be able to pray in Kemetic if I want. I still have that dream. I believe that if we had a developed language that went beyond, “Em hotep,” as a greeting, “Dewa nefer“, for “Good morning,” or even “Dua Netjer en ekh / etj”, which means “Thank you,” or more specifically, “Thank God for you.” We already have copies of the short form of “grace” that is said before a meal that is in Kemetic. Wny not more than just these very small snippets? If we, as a community, worked to create this, it would no longer be incoherent gibberish. For those within the community who were determined to use it, it would be invaluable, it would be special and it would be all of ours once again. We would know what we were saying, and if children were raised speaking it, just think of what change we could effect in bringing about true reconstruction of Kemetic religion and culture! Why is this idea any different from anyone trying to learn the fictional languages of Elvish or Klingon?

It isn’t.

What is most ironic about this entire train of thought is that it was not a fellow Kemetic, a book or movie or anything connected to ancient Kemet that got me seriously thinking about pushing for it. It was this guy, Benny Lewis, creator of the Fluent in 3 Months language system, the man has been billed as “The Irish Polyglot”. Lewis’ work was introduced to me via one of my former history professors when he linked Benny’s site on his Facebook page. It was this that ultimately got me to really considering this as a possibility. Benny Lewis has gone around the world and learned tons of languages. His secret, as he says on his website, is to start speaking your language of choice from day one. He is also currently even trying to revive a dead language (Hungarian).

That REALLY got me to thinking about this!

It is my personal belief that this effort would serve to potentially unite Kemetics across the board. I believe we can do this collectively and it would help all to maybe at last get beyond the petty backbiting and social media headgames that seem to erupt. I myself am no expert, but I do know that many do study ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the like. My point is that none of us individually know as much as all of us do collectively. This is the collective effort we need in order to bring together not just the temples, but the people who love the ancient Netjeru as we do. Things like skin colour, philosphy, location, etc. – none of that will even matter. Even if we did end up with different dialects via the different groups, we will have brought something back from extinction and by our attempts we are honouring our Gods, our akhu, the culture they gave us and we love so much, and ourselves.

I want to hear more from others about their ideas about this topic. Maybe it truly is an unrealistic hope. But who among us has not dreamed about hearing the beautiful lilt of spoken Kemetic? Who wouldn’t want to see it happen in our lifetime? It is my firm belief that though the Kemetic community is relatively small in comparison to other faiths, perhaps even smaller than those fluent in Klingon or Elvish, the fact is collectively, we want this. We want it because it’s time.

I say let’s collectively bring about the dream. I say, ‘Let’s do it’.


Resources:
The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian Notes

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Kemetics and Inadequacy

The Kemetic Round Table is a group of Kemetic-centric blogs that discusses issues and concerns of interest to Kemetic practitioners and is aimed at beginners, but those of us who might have been at it a while. Disclaimer: Please note that because I am rather new to this whole WordPress blog thing, I am posting my links manually – at least for this post to the Round Table. It isn’t that I can’t do it like everyone else, it is just that I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I am more than willing to fully admit to my inadequacy in this particular area. 😉 Any and all help would be greatly appreciated.

It seems that the more connected we become in this digital-centric world, where things are up for instant consumption and there is a constant compare and contrast, the more disconnected and inadequate that we can tend to feel. Even we, who are in groups or temples that are long-lived and well-established, feel this. So do those among us who have had a decade or more of working both within the community and as individuals. That fear of somehow being found out as a “fake” or “not doing it right” can be debilitating. There seems to be an all-too-human tendency to compare what we do with what others are doing.

If a fellow Kemetic, also with the same Deity line up that we have has a skill that we don’t personally share, it’s easy to feel as if that Deity is somehow “playing favourites.” The truth is, each of us are Their favourites, and none of us, regardless of what we might think, ever sprung from the womb being a perfect Kemetic. All of us who are Reconstructionists tend to grasp every shred, every scholarly resource we can. Many of us secretly desire to dedicate study to not only the Netjeru, but also to learning ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and somehow phoneticizing them so that we can incorporate these Medw Netjer, writing of the Gods, into our own rites. Wouldn’t it be great to have our own language that marks us as being Kemetic?

Perhaps if we remember that the literacy rate in ancient Kemet was far lower than it is today. And while we may holistic civilisation that ever existed, we have advantages in our time that should not be unappreciated. We can appreciate this fact even if it is that ancient faith of our akhu that calls to the deepest part of our kas. It speaks to us on a deep level and yet, it is easy to feel distant from them and from how it really was in antiquity.

The fact of the matter, as others have pointed out, we are not ever going to be able to completely reconstruct what went on before, as much as we may want to. Ancient Kemet is gone. It lives in our hearts and as a part of our collective human history and heritage – for all of humanity came from Africa. We may not feel as if we are enough because we haven’t got the perfect statue for our Gods or the right altar or shrine or ritual space constructed yet. We may have to be content to wearing street clothes while doing our daily rites, rather than dedicated ritual garments, and somehow, there are always those niggling doubts that creep in because of our not having everything “just so”. All that stuff is just extraneous and trappings to the real concern that we must all feel from time to time. Are we enough? Can we sit down in ritual space, get quiet in that place or even pour our hearts out to Netjer? Sometimes when we do go there, we bring with us a lot of self-indulgent crap. We are human and this self indulgence can be part and parcel of how we processes our feelings and emotions in a spiritual sense.

Personally, I have always felt that the idea of a Divine Parent or Parents and Beloveds spoke to the idea of a family. Within our families, ideally, we can be ourselves even in the face of personal feelings of inadequacy. Being in Shrine, for me, is a lot like coming home and telling my Mother how my day went, or about my hopes, fears, resentments, hurts and yes, even what I would consider to be my inadequacies. In Shrine, it is what is considered ‘safe space’ and it is alright to feel weepy or needy or just contemplative. In that safe space we can come to terms with the reasons why we might feel inadequate. Sometimes, when we least expect it,and when we need it most, that still small voice comes to us and we realize that the feeling of being inadequate has started to dissipate because we have come to realize that everyone starts at the beginning.

Those personal practices that we carve out for ourselves and where we have far fewer performance anxiety, are probably, in my view, much more important than the group rituals that the Kemetic community does in celebration of various festival days. While that personal time might not address our very human need toward community involvement, what it does do is help build a foundation for those times when do come together with others. During those times we find that everyone ends up feeling at least a little inadequate. Time, however, has a way of making that be less of an issue for us and we learn to appreciate the place that we are in and come to realize that once we get our bearings, those feelings of inadequacy begin to dissipate.

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