Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Kemetic Round Table’

KRT: Walking with the Ancestors

Do akhu play a role in your practice? How do you work with the akhu (shrines, rites, etc)? How do you set up an akhu practice?

Learning to honor the akhu, or the blessed dead, has been a challenging process for me. I wasn’t someone who came to Kemeticism with any prior experience of ancestral veneration. Those who had passed away were mostly gone from me, or so I believed, either “far away” in some form of afterlife, to be seen again only when I too passed away, or simply gone as I often felt in my moments of pessimism and spiritual doubt. Learning to open my mind to the possibility that maybe I could still connect with them, honor them, even speak with them? It remains an ongoing effort: difficult but rewarding at the best of times, disconcerting at the worst, and altogether strangely more challenging for me to speak about in a public setting than my interactions with the gods.

With that in mind, this post may seem less candid than others, with fewer references to specific individuals than you may notice in other posts where I readily discuss which netjeru I spoke with, how I perceived them, etc. This relates to that discomfort I mentioned: I struggle with the idea that I might be mishearing one of my ancestors, particularly those I knew in life. With the akhu, it’s harder to forgive myself if I feel that I am not accurately discerning what I actually hear from what I’m mentally making up, for reasons that are difficult to explain. I suspect it relates somewhat to ideas that the gods are beyond human error, will not be affected if I misinterpret something now and again. But to mistake the words of one of my family members, someone likely only being reached out to in this context by me and me alone? It sits strangely at my core, and often prevents me from reaching out beyond the recitation of specific prayers, or a quick hello as I walk by.

My akhu thus have a more generalized role for me, for the time being. I do have a dedicated shrine for them in the living room of my apartment, decorated with photos of various individuals from both my family and my partner’s family, and a few family heirlooms. At least once a week (though I am trying to up this to a daily practice) I greet them aloud, formally welcome them to share my home, and offer water. The water offering is later poured into a specific spider plant that I bought as part of a fundraiser at a Race for the Cure event, and thus I view this as a way of honoring the many akhu my partner and I have lost to cancer over the years. I do not revert this water myself, as I follow the Kemetic Orthodox practice of not reverting the offerings given to akhu, but instead give them to nature or, in my case, a small bit of nature that I tend indoors.

I will light a candle or incense on special events and holidays that would have been significant for my known akhu (their birthdays, Father’s day, veterans day, etc.) I also attend sixth day festival chats hosted by the House of Netjer’s Rev. Raheriwesir, speaking my ancestors names aloud and sharing them via chat, so that they are remembered and, as some say, so that they live.

I also engage in certain practices that relate to my ancestor’s culture and spirituality as a way to honor them that falls outside of what might be viewed as specifically Kemetic. I have learned and prepared various recipes from my Italian great-grandmother’s cookbook. I attend a Methodist church when I visit my father at home, to honor the faith that was so important to many, many generations on his side of the family, even if I personally no longer identify with that particular religion. On occasion my partner and I will sing or play songs that his father liked in front of the akhu shrine, or bake biscuits to recognize his southern heritage. It has been good to share this aspect of my practice with my partner, as I think it helps us both to deal with our losses in some small way, and to always remember.

The memory aspect is what touches me most, I think. Even if I struggle to communicate via conversation like I do with my gods, even if I have moments of concern that perhaps some of my particularly devoted Christian akhu would not want to be recognized through formal Kemetic ritual, they all deserve to be remembered and honored. You can be creative with how you choose to go about relating to those memories, what actions you take to recall what they loved, who they were, what they cared about. But whatever you do, it is worth it to spend that time walking with their memories, thinking of how you personally reflect those who came before, and allowing them to live again as you speak their names and remember.

KRT: Ground Control to Major Gods

God radios: How to live with one, how to live without one. What happens if the reception is bad, or the gods quit responding?

So I’m typing this as I finish reverting the morning coffee I offer to Set on a daily basis. The process goes as follows: brew the coffee, formally offer the coffee, chat with Set about this, that, or the other thing, and then revert the coffee once it’s cooled down (and once I’ve added milk — Big Red may like His coffee black, but I’ve tried, can’t do it.)

The part of this relevant to this month’s Kemetic Roundtable topic is of course that I’m effectively telling you that nearly every morning, for several years now, I hear the voice of a thunder god in my skull and we have a full fledged conversation to kick off the day.

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of the thing: what is this like?

For me, it’s entirely mental. I hear nothing externally, it’s more like someone has tapped directly into the processing portion of my brain and delivered the information without the necessity of making its way through the ear canal. As for what that mental voice sounds like? That varies too. If my connection is good, so to speak, He has His own unique sound. To my mind, He’s a solid baritone, with the capacity to dip into Paul Robeson-esque epic bass if He wants to, which sounds more like a rumble than anything else.

If I’m less focused, I don’t pick up the timbral details, or it may even just be words that I interpret in my own standard mental “thinking” voice. These are the moments when discernment becomes very important — is it actually Him, or did I just hop aboard the USS Make Shit Up? It can be a frustrating process of doubting what you’ve heard, asking for clarification or verification, or using some alternative means (i.e. divination) to verify.

Granted, Set will usually Gibbs slap me for doubting, but that’s just how we work. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, and only you can know what the best way is to double check what you think you may be hearing.

It’s important to note also, that this is most assuredly not the only way to get that god radio functional! In my experience, it’s not solely speech that comes through. This can vary from person to person, but also from god to god. For example, for all that I can pretty much reach out to Set whenever, wherever, and begin a conversation, my mother Bast? Far more diffuse, and far less likely to respond in words than a strong emotion, or image. Hethert-Nut gives me the impression of physical sensations. Heru-wer has a knack for leading me to things in the Seen realm and not using many mental communications at all. Heqat reaches out to me via meditation, which can use any combination of the methods described above.

On your end of things, it may be useful to develop your own form of lexicon for how *you* interpret god communications. I’ve done the following exercise several times when I reach out to a new god before I sculpt Them, trying to establish a connection and way to determine Their feelings on my work as I go.

In shrine (or whatever form of sacred space works best for you, be it in the Seen or Unseen worlds) make an offering to the god you are trying to contact. I usually keep this simple, light the candle, light the incense, offer bread and water — I can make it fancier once I have a better sense of their preferences.

Ask for the god to communicate with you (and the word communicate is important, as that leaves the *how* of it open to interpretation) within the next 24 hours. Explain why you wish to make that connection.

Try to clear your mind of your own thoughts. I find focusing on the candle to be a helpful method for this.

Then, just observe. If something comes to you at that time, be it a voice, a color, an image, a sound, take note of it. Also note where your mind is tending to wander when it shifts away from focusing on the candle. Are you thinking about how the flame moves? Are you noticing certain reflections on an image in your shrine? Did you suddenly remember something that happened previously? Any of this could possibly be the way your brain interprets the god radio. Thank the god and close the ritual as works for you.

Also observe what happens for the rest of the day? Do you see any particular animals? Do you have any other thoughts that strike you as important? Do you notice a particular color popping up all over the place? What do you dream when you fall asleep that night?

It is not all going to be the god radio at work of course, but chances are something might stand out to you as particularly significant. God communication is not all about mental conversations, not everyone has them, not everyone needs to have them. I believe it is a life long process for everyone to determine what form their interaction with the gods is going to take. They may be silent in speech, but speak to you through art, or writing, or music. I firmly believe that anyone can communicate with the gods: it’s just a matter of finding the “language” that speaks to you.

Kemetic Round Table – Shrines on the Go

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week’s prompt asked: “Shrine basics: Setting up your first shrine: How do I do it, what do I need, and what rules are there (if any).

I’ve seen a number of great posts this week which cover the basics of maintaining a shrine, that sacred space that serves not only as a place for performing ritual acts, but also divine temple of sorts where you welcome the gods into your home and into your life. I highly recommend Sobeqsenu’s post here for a concise outline of putting together the basics for your shrine and Satsekhem’s post here which provides a helpful clarification of the distinction between altars and shrines, and why both can be equally valid and important aspects of one’s spiritual life.

Several KRT-authors have also touched on the usefulness of compact or travel shrines. Near the end of her post, Sarduriur offers useful advice for Kemetics or other polytheists living in a space where cohabitants. Devo also suggests wearable shrine options in the form of sacred jewelry, and offers ways to use that jewelry in the same context as an icon.

Given that I am presently visiting my sibling Itenumuti and hir partner in Texas, I thought it might be appropriate to expand a little bit on my personal use of a travel shrine, and provide one take on how one can endeavor to transfer the experience of spiritual work at home to spiritual work on the road.

How do you make a travel shrine?

The sky is the limit when it comes down to how you want to create your travel shrine. Some practitioners choose a box of some kind, often made of wood, ivory, metal, or  even synthetic materials if your gods do not view this as a purity concern. Others wear devotional jewelry on their body, or attached to an important item. Either way, you are welcome to decorate your travel shrine as ornately or discretely as necessary. Go with what strikes a comfortable balance between your relationship with your gods, and the necessity of your current living situation.

If you use a box and intend to place ritual items within it, I recommend finding one with a clasp of some kind, so you can close it securely and lower the risk of spilling items consecrated to spiritual use into a messy location. Of course you can always purify them again, but at least for me, the prospect of accidently dropping an icon into something unmentionable makes me cringe.

What goes into a travel shrine?

There are a few things to keep in mind for what to place within your travel shrine:

1.) What do you need to complete the rituals you will be enacting while you are on the road?

If you are of a path like Kemetic Orthodoxy and hope to continue with the state ritual (senut) — or a ritual with similarly established necessary items —  as you complete it at home, you will want to find a way to fit all of these items for this ritual into your travel shrine. If you have an adapted ritual for travel, perhaps you can bring fewer things. If you are someone who regularly interacts with his or her gods, via meditation, divination, or any other forms, you can always ask Them what They expect of you while you’re off on grand adventures, and “pack” accordingly.

2.) How long will you be gone? 

Packing for two weeks is much different than packing for two months. Try to think ahead for how much of any given ritual item you use at a time. Can you just pack a few small sticks of incense in your travel shrine, or would it be wise to bring an extra box in your suitcase? Unlike the roll of toothpaste you accidentally left on your bathroom sink, you’re probably not going to be able to drive to the nearest drugstore and easily pick up some natron and kyphi. Do your best to think ahead for what you need, and how much of it you need.

3.) Where will you be staying?

Staying in the home of an open-minded friend for the duration of your trip is far different than staying a week in a hotel. Keep in mind what the rules will be for burning candles and incense in your travel location. Tealight LED candles are a cheap and easily-acquired alternative to burning an actual wick, and scented oils can serve as an offering to the gods without the producing the same powerful scent of many incense options, should your host be sensitive to such.

4.) How are you getting there? 

If you’re driving or taking the train, chances are good that you won’t have to worry too much about what you put into your travel shrine. The TSA, however, may find issue with certain items in your shrine. A few important things to note: if you need to pack matches with you, and you are taking them in your carry-on luggage, you must use strike-on-box matches, and you can only bring one box. Strike anywhere matches are not permitted, and neither are torch or micro-lighters. Though perhaps more self-explanatory, if you use a ritual blade of any sort, don’t pack that in your carry-on either.

How do you use your travel shrine once you’ve arrived?

There is no hard and fast rule for ritual use of your travel shrine. Again, take into consideration where you are going, who you are staying with, and how long you are going to be there. Personally, if I am going to be staying in one space for the duration of my trip, a space where I can safely practice without any issue from my cohabitants, I will try to establish a specific spot for my travel shrine early on. Much like my shrine at home, I clean the area before setting up icons, and I purify my body before I enter the sacred space. I welcome my gods to stay in this shrine for the entirety of the time in the new location. I give offerings, usually just cool water while I’m actually in shrine (note my tiny offering cup in the pictures below) but silently offer some of my food before meals. I will then pray, sing, meditate, create art — any and all of the usual activities I would do with, or for, my gods while I was at home.

If I am staying in a hotel, or in a space where my cohabitants would be bothered my spirituality, I take greater precautions. I unpack my shrine, complete my chosen ritual the same way as described above, but after ritual, I pack all icons and ritual implements away in the travel shrine, and tuck it safely back into a bag where I know it will come to no harm. In the case of hotels, I have heard more than one story of cleaning staff accidentally damaging a shrine while they were doing their daily administrations. In the case of a less understanding host, I do this as a sign of respect to whoever has allowed me to stay within their home.

(The caveat here, of course, is if you are going to be living with this person for an extended period of time. In this case, I would suggest a full, free, and frank conversation of your faith before moving in with them, if such a conversation is at all humanly possible. As always, you know your own life better than any other, do what you think is best.)

What does a full travel shrine look like?

You can look at some of the blogs I mentioned above for ideas, but I’ve also included a few photos to show my current travel shrine.

The outside of my travel shrine. I love this box for its compact size, the shining gold caps on the exterior, and of course: the handy clasp.

This gives you a sense of how I pack the shrine, and some of the things I include within it. Please note the strike-on-box matches, as well as one of two lovely icons by Tenu depicting the names of my Parent deities.

Moving one layer down, you can see the incense, a candle, an ankh candle holder, and a small offering cup for fresh water (which is partially blocking a tiny, lotus-shaped incense holder) and two more icons which I made myself from polymer clay. They recently received some touch-ups after their original paint job began coming off.

Finally, here is the full travel shrine when it is set up. I currently place the three-dimensional icons of Set and Bast across from their painted names. This is a visual reminder for me; I was recently tasked in finding the similarities between my parent deities, in an effort to better balance which of Them I more frequently turn to. I enjoy sporadically changing elements of my travel shrine, whether it is the color of the candle I pack, or the type of incense I burn, depending on which Netjeru I am working with, and what I hope to achieve spiritually while I am traveling.

May your own adventures be fulfilling, and your gods near.

 

Kemetic Round Table – Heka and the Musical Voice

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week’s prompt asked: “Heka: What is it? How can I work with it?”

What is heka?

There is no one definition that could possibly encompass the entirety of heka‘s meaning, and I have elected not to try. Even the descriptions of Egyptian scholars are often vague or contradictory on this count, providing the hapless reader with less-than-helpful explanations such as, “a power known as heka or hike … was something like, and yet different from, what we understand by ‘spell.’” (Farmer 1957, 258). Far more useful is Hermann TeVelde’s explanation, that heka can imply a magical power, as well as a magical spell or rite, but also that it exists as a “pneumatic exhalation,” an “occult force that infuses the world of things” (Te Velde 1970, 170). This implies that heka exists not only in, and as, the breath, but also in the force that breath produces to “infuse” or be heard in the world: I argue that the voice is one particularly powerful way that this force might be interpreted.

The creative power of the voice is central to much of Kemetic theology, an energetic force that functions because of the connection between what is vocalized, and what is. Ancient egyptians perceived no divide between what a person spoke and what actively occurred in the real world, and indeed creation myths revolve around this concept.  Hornung writes, “In the Cairo hymn to Amun it is said of the sun god Re that he ‘commanded, and the gods came into being’ …  This primeval force not only rendered creation possible but also, in the hands—or rather the mouths—of the most various deities, serves to maintain its existence.  The underworld teems with beings who live from the ‘breath of their own mouths’ or through the repetition of the sun god’s creative word; here again the ‘magic’ of the creative utterance is realized instantly” (Hornung 1996, 209). The gods spoke, and through their breath they created or continued to create the means of their own existence.

Yet heka was not limited to use by the gods. Hornung writes that, “The creator god gave ‘magic’ to human beings as a ‘weapon’ specifically for self-defense – as it is formulated in the Instruction for Merikare around 2060 BC.” (Hornung 1996, 209-210). This invisible power or energy was believed to be a personal, inward form of knowledge, distinct from the knowledge of facts and figures. Unlike that more “academic” knowledge, heka was believed to have a physical aspect, which could be swallowed or eaten, and thus resided in the abdomen. “When [heka] was transmitted, it was transmitted, as the nature of the information passed on required, from the entrails of the one who possessed it to those of the one receiving it.  Consequently, the malignant forces ranged against the gods preferred to attack their hearts and viscera in order to gain complete mastery over the powers their victims possessed.  To penetrate … the belly of a god was an easy way to establish oneself in the most intimate part of his being and acquire a position of domination there” (Meeks 1996, 96).

This focus on heka, a power contained within breath, being located in the stomach and abdomen intrigues me both as scholar and vocalist. Speaking from experience, when a trained singer breathes, she does so not from the lungs and chest, but from the diaphragm, expanding the muscle that resides just above her stomach to take in the greatest possible amount of air. The vocalist who masters control over her diaphragm is the vocalist who masters control over her breath, permitting her to meet the challenge of the most difficult of art songs or arias. Indeed, if you are singing well for an extended period of time, your stomach muscles should ache and your throat should feel nothing. A similar technique is used to project chants or monologues on stage, carrying the voice to vast audiences without the use of electronic amplification.

There is no way of knowing whether the hymns and liturgy of Ancient Egypt were chanted or sung in the manner of singing that most Westerners would consider ‘music’ today, though Farmer argues that recitation and chant could very likely have been viewed as equally valid methods of ceremonial utterance, relying on philological evidence that “the Arabic equivalent to the Egyptian sedi (‘to recite’) is shada (‘to sing’)” (259). If this is something of a stretch, perhaps more significant is that production of sound, herw (literally, ‘voice’) is associated with those gods often deemed to be most skilled in forces of ‘magic.’ Farmer notes, “We read of the Egyptian god Thoth who made Osiris ‘true of voice.’ The amulet which Isis hung about her neck was interpreted as ‘a true voice.’” (258). The association with the voice establishes these deities as particularly potent in ‘magical power,’ and possibly links them to having greater command over the heka residing within their stomach.

Ivory clappers – from The British Museum

Yet the “voice” did not only imply the sound which emanated from a human (or deity’s) throat. Farmer describes how some of the earliest Egyptian instruments, wooden or bone clappers, may have been used used to conjure Min, in his aspect as a god of agricultural fertility. Later instruments featured images of gods on the body of the object itself, such as Bast, or more commonly, Hethert, being featured on sistra. Farmer argues that, “These features [images of gods on instruments] were of far deeper significance than mere emblems or symbols.  They were a constant reminder that the voice of deity was ever present in their tones; it was not only ears in tonal appreciation that listened, but rather minds in transcendental anagogue that understood. Music therefore had a twofold influence on man in ancient Egypt; one brought about by a purely physical sensation, and another created or sustained by a power known as heka or hike”(Farmer 1957, 258, emphasis mine). Again we see a connection between the physical, experiential aspects of music-making and the physical aspect of heka. The sound or “voice” of the music helped to connect the musical participant to the invisible force of creation inherent to the gods. As one produced sound, one produced a voice, a voice that unto itself was the power of generation and the power of change.

Sistra with face of Hethert, Late Period (c. 600 BC) – from The British Museum

Christopher Wise has argued that the physicality of heka and the musical voice may have been experienced in part through the aphrodisiac qualities of musical instruments in ancient Egypt. “In numerous images of the Egyptian goddess Hathor,” he writes, “she is shown bestowing a pearl necklace called a menat upon her lover. The menat is not only an ornament worn around the neck, but a musical instrument that inaugurates the resurrection of the dead. Isis similarly brings Osiris from the dead through her sexual healing powers. The sistrum, or sesheshet, which is like a rattle or gourd, serves a similar function: to transmit vital energy to her lover that is necessary to his spiritual rebirth” (Wise 2006, 32). Both of these examples connect the power of music to the transferring of sexual and curative powers. The voice of the instruments enables one of the most profound transformations possible, the transformation of the dead to the living.

What did this unique connection to heka mean for human musicians? Terry G. Wilfong, Assistant Curator at the Kelsey Museum, writes that, “Professional musicians existed on a number of social levels in ancient Egypt. Perhaps the highest status belonged to temple musicians; the office of “musician” (shemayet) to a particular god or goddess was a position of high status frequently held by women.” Some court musicians were considered to be ‘near relations’ of the kings, and in the New Kingdom the religious contributions of some ‘chief of the singers’ were deemed to be so significant as to have their names preserved (Farmer 1957, 260). That these court musicians held substantial, even magical, power over the emotions of others was documented by several Greek visitors. While I acknowledge the words of Herodotus and Strabo offer a “creative take” on history, that both note grand processions led by flute and reed-players, where the growing crowd of pilgrims gladly lose themselves in ecstatic abandon, suggests the perceived power of the instrumental voice, even if the events described never actually occurred (Farmer 1957, 262).

How can I work with it?

Make music!

I’m biased over here, living as I am in operatic soprano-land, but I’ll always suggest singing as a great way of connecting to the energy held in your stomach (see Joan Lansberry’s excellent chart, here). Breathing deeply, feeling the weight of the power you have in your own form, and then releasing it into the world as sound can be a deeply satisfying experience. If you’re not comfortable singing at home when others are around, you can always give it a shot in your car. Blast a favorite song, or find a new one that is particularly meaningful to you and your gods, and sing the hell out of it where no one can hear but you and Netjer.

Creativity is also an important element here. Writing new music with lyrics that are relevant to your goals can be a great way to invoke change in your life. Remember: heka is pretty straight forward. If you sing it, you are helping something become. Write a simple chant about confidence and sing that baby before you go into your next job interview, and you’re going to rock that conversation better than any bozo with a power tie.

Not a singer? That’s okay. As described above, the “voice” of an instrument is just as relevant to heka as the voice coming from your own throat. Have a drum? Speak aloud that the drum is the voice of Wepwawet and beat a quick rhythm in the name of breaking down obstacles to opportunity. It’s all good, all open to whatever interpretation best serves your needs.

The important thing is just to sound a musical voice. You can create powerful change through the power of your own, internal force, embodied in the invisible, yet physical strength of a voice. Sing loudly, place your will into your music, and know that the power of your voice is enough to create great change.  Just as Set’s voice “is appropriated by the magician in a ‘conjuration against scorpions’ … which states ‘The voice of the conjurer is loud while calling for the poison,’ [to leave the body] ‘like the voice of Seth while wrestling with the poison’ ” (Henadology), you too can use the power of the musical voice to great effect.

References

Farmer, Henry George. 1957. “The Music of Ancient Egypt.” In New Oxford History of Music: Ancient and oriental music. Edited by Egon Wellesz. New York: Oxford University Press, 255-312.

Hornung, Erik. 1996. The Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Meeks, Dmitiri and Christine Favard-Meeks. 1996. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Te Velde, Herman. “The God Heka in Egyptian Theology.” Jaarbericht van het Voorsaiatisch-Egyptish Genootshap. Ex Oriente Lux 21.

Wilfong, Terry G. “Music in Ancient Egypt.” http://www.umich.edu/~kelseydb/Exhibits/MIRE/Introduction/AncientEgypt/AncientEgypt.html

Wise, Christopher. 2006. “Nyama and Heka: African Concepts of the Word.” Comparative Literature Studies 43: 19-38.

“Seth.” http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/seth/

Kemetic Round Table – One Person at a Time

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

There were many questions included in this prompt, but I have chosen to focus on: “When you look at the Kemetic community as a whole, what flaws, hindrances, and negative trends do you see at work? What methods and tactics should we employ to improve Kemetic presence on a local level; to encourage Kemetics to network not just online, but also in ‘the real world’ ?

 The Kemetic community has its fair share of obstacles to overcome, as other Round Table authors have discussed. We are mentally divided by our opinions on the appropriate way to worship; physically divided by our many, varied locations across the world; and emotionally divided by our seeming inability to hold rational and respectful conversations without the moments of disagreement devolving into unproductive vitriol. For such a small community, a community that could so greatly benefit from developing a network of support amongst its members, regardless of their particular brand of Kemetic belief, many of us still find ourselves bobbing along, solitary.

The internet provides some relief for this. For some, like myself, the House of Netjer offers weekly fellowship or duas — group rituals led by Rev. Tamara Siuda or a high ranking priest — in IRC chats, and for that hour, give or take, we participate with other people in the worship of Netjer, we commit ourselves as a group to a cause of self or community-improvement, and the connection is fulfilling. There are also less formal methods of Kemetic networking. Facebook hosts a relatively lively community across several different “pages” and the Kemetic Round Table, of which this post is a part, has created a space for the exchange of ideas on different Kemetic topics in a more involved manner.

Yet I often find that the internet cannot completely fulfill my desire to experience the Kemetic community in my day to day life. It serves as more of a salve that briefly soothes the lingering ache of something missing, than an actual cure for what I lack. I suspect I feel this way for the following reasons:

1.) The juxtaposition of my communal life online with the physicality of my individual practice is quite jarring.

I don’t use a computer when I am in shrine. So much of my practice involves a physical and mental shift from the profane to the sacred: the purification with water and natron, the burning of candle and incense, the reversion of offerings. It is a deliberate time to be away from the stress of my work, so much of which takes place at a laptop, staring at a screen. It can be difficult to really feel like I’m entering the right “headspace” when I participate in virtual rituals, as much as I cherish them and understand that they are really the only option at the present time.

2.) I am jealous of the physical communities of churches/synagogues/mosques etc. I see near me.

Thank Netjer I don’t belong to a faith where coveting is some terrible “sin”, because come Sunday mornings, I freely admit that I am envious! While I don’t miss my childhood experiences of receiving a guilt-trip of a sermon once a week, I freely admit that I do miss the experience of going to church. I miss seeing the people who considered me part of their religious family, singing together, sharing coffee and brunch as a spiritual community after the service was over. It was good to belong to something, good to have a place to travel to once a week, good to have a special space where people gathered and praised God and acknowledged the start of a new week. The internet just can’t quite match this.

3.) The internet provides anonymity.

Whenever I teach an older relative how to use Youtube, I always warn them: “Don’t read the comments.” Why? Because the internet is full of anonymous faces hiding behind computer screens, ready and willing to say whatever the hell they want without threat of repercussion. You don’t have to look a man in the eyes when you insult him, the filter of conscientious interaction is removed. I think this contributes to the frequent flare-ups of drama within our community, where in-person interaction might inspire greater diplomacy.

The virtual wall of anonymity can also make it more difficult to meet new people. There’s no coffee hour after a dua where you can walk over and introduce yourself to that intriguing woman who raised a poignant question after worship. In the ‘real world,’ you might see a group of long term friends chatting and be inspired, or invited, to join them. On the internet, they’re likely chatting in a private space, and there’s no way to add your voice unless given the appropriate web address or password.

 Okay Ekunyi, the internet sucks, we get it. What do we do about it?

Reach out, one person at a time.

There may not be any self-proclaimed Kemetics living near you: I live in a decent-sized city and it’s slim pickings even here, so this is a highly probable situation to find yourself in.

But there are other spaces, other groups, that will welcome you. Try Meetup.com, use Facebook, seek out groups welcoming Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans, or Druids. They exist, and if their gods are different than yours, so be it. There’s still something to be learned, something to be gained through conversation, something viscerally ka-feeding that can be found in the companionship of another polytheist over coffee. Visit a Unitarian Universalist church and I suspect you’ll find that their Covenant fits quite nicely into the concept of ma’at, plus the discussions in such a multi-faith locale can be quite inspiring.

And those discussions are key. You want to have conversations with the people you meet in these spaces. In teaching others you will simultaneously be learning more about your own beliefs, and perhaps will even find another person who also worships Kemetic deities, or was always interested in learning more. Community is built just like a road, you lay the mortar between bricks, one at a time, establish connections between people, one at a time. It doesn’t matter if these people are “little” or “big,” only that they reach out, seek each other in the physical world, and live their religion by living it with others. 

Kemetic Round Table – Deconstructing UPG

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week, members of the Round Table were given the following prompt: “UPG, or Unverified Personal Gnosis, and doxa are a large part of many modern Kemetic practices. For this round, we discuss the nuances of UPG and doxa. What do these terms mean? Are there rules regarding these terms? How important is UPG and doxa in your practice, and how important should others’ UPG and doxa be in my practice?”

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My issue with the acronym UPG (used for “Unverified Personal Gnosis”)  largely resides in the first word of the three.

Personal is fine. UPG does relate to a personal idea or belief. It is a term which refers to something that happened in your life, or perhaps something that you alone experienced.

Gnosis is a little more complicated, if only in that it’s a complex, multi-faceted concept being shoved into three word phrase. But for now, let’s call it — extremely roughly, mind — knowledge, or insight.

Back to Unverified. Unverified, by virtue of that lovely prefix at the beginning, seems to suggest that it exists as part of a binary. Something is verified, proven to be true, proven to be real, proven to be authentic, or, quite simply, it is not.

And that’s about as gross an oversimplification of the matter as my awful two word definition for gnosis a few lines back.

Now here’s why:

Language is a tricky little git. It gives the illusion of presenting an honest to gods replica of that which it describes, but it never completely encompasses the genuine essence of the experience. Events do occur in time, bodies move, interact, live, breathe, and die — but as soon as any given moment has passed, it can never fully be experienced again save through representations that attempt to revitalize that moment in art, in text, in speech. But none of these ever truly allow the moment to be as it was again: it will be always be bounded by someone’s choices in how to create that representation. The colors, voices, words that are used to encompass some portion of the moment affect how others interpret it in turn, constructing new interpretations of the moment in variations upon variations.

So it goes for our concepts of history.

When I talk with some of the war re-enactors involved in my research, to a man they all contrast the re-enactment history of their group with the “history history,” placing the unverified traditions of their organization in stark opposition to textbook-verified traditions. The re-enactment history: a modern bugle song, anachronistic to the war they seek to portray, yet used for the past 20 years because that’s the way they’ve always done it, becomes a sort of… UPG to these men. A meaningful experience, and yet viewed as a personal choice, something they’ve brought into their own monthly ritual of the re-created war camp without backing it up with proof. In contrast, a brass arrangement of a mid-19th century broadside ballad provides something from the “verified” history — never mind that the primary source was pulled from an edited collection, and that the performance practice is based on a modern-day scholar’s argument of how it might have once been played.

And that’s the issue here: even the “history history” has a touch of “unverifiability” to it. Historians make choices when they decide what goes into their book and what doesn’t. They present us with certain ideas —  some backing these ideas up with sound logic and sources, others not — but these ideas still shape how the history is conveyed. No one writing about ancient Egypt today lived there to tell us how things truly were, we only have the writings of academics, mediated by background and belief and schooling, to give us possible interpretations. And granted, even in considering the history we have lived? That’s mediated too, by emotion, by memory, by nostalgia.

The question raised at the end of all of this: what is the authentic, real, verifiable “history”?

My response:  There isn’t one.

You’re nuts, Saryt. You might say to this.  Why the heck are you involved in a reconstructionist faith if you don’t think there’s a history to be re-created!?

Well here’s the thing. You’re right in saying I don’t believe there’s a history to be re-created. I believe there are histories: personal, communal, national… and each and every one of them valid to the beholder.

And indeed, the way to deal with this plurality of histories and memories is to shift the questions around. I offer the following:

In her seminal work  In Search of Authenticity, folklorist Regina Bendix wrote this critique of research projects devoted to seeking out the history or tradition which was purportedly “authentic” or “real.”

The crucial questions to be answered are not ‘what is authenticity?’ but ‘who needs authenticity and why?’ and ‘how has authenticity been used?’ (Bendix 1997: 21).

With this in mind, let’s ask the following: (a) Who needs a verifiable, authentic Kemetic faith and why? (b) How have verifiable, authentic concepts of Kemeticism been used?

(a) Who needs a verifiable, authentic Kemetic faith?

In my humble opinion, this applies anyone who wants to be a part of the Kemetic community and claim a Kemetic religious identity. There are certain aspects of an identity that can only be stretched so far before it ceases to serve as a marker of a group. There is room for flexibility here: no two people claiming any sort of identity are going to be exactly alike (as a self-proclaimed Irish-American who barely drinks, boy howdy do I know that!) But certain points, certain tenets, must be mutually valued amongst those claiming the title, why else have a title at all.

Chances are good that if you claim to be Kemetic, you’re going to worship certain gods and not others, but the hard versus soft polytheism may vary. Chances are also good that you’re going to find value in the concept of ma’at, but whether or not that becomes a historically informed interpretation of ethics or a more immediate experience of “balancing” in your interactions with gods will different from person to person.

(b) How have verifiable, authentic concepts of Kemeticism been used?

I would argue that verifiable, authentic ideas in Kemeticism, much like any form of historical re-construction (be it other recon-oriented faiths, re-enactment, or even Early Music Performance), are often — but not always! — viewed as a form of what I’ll call subcultural capital. Sarah Thornton defines subcultural capital as that which:

 ..confers status on its owner in the eyes of the relevant beholder. … Subcultural capital can be objectified or embodied. Just as books and paintings display cultural capital in the family home, so subcultural capital is objectified in the form of fashionable haircuts and well-assembled record collection … Just as cultural capital is personified in ‘good’ manners and urbane conversation, so subcultural capital is embodied in the form of being ‘in the know’, using (but not over-using) current slang and looking as if you were born to perform the latest dance styles. (11)

Many of the individuals  that have garnered a fair amount of esteem in the virtual Kemetic community, be they bloggers or spiritual leaders, have objectified subcultural capital: impressive libraries and even degrees. For example, while Hemet balances her academic background with spiritual and community-service based reasons for leadership, people outside of Kemetic Orthodoxy mainly recognize and respect her work courtesy of the several advanced degrees she holds in topically-relevant fields. These individuals also have embodied subcultural capital: they site academic sources, they know the feast days and esoteric information, they write lengthy, academic blog posts. It has arguably become a point of status in the community, certainly a point of recognition, to be well versed in the academic history of Ancient Egypt.

And don’t get me wrong: all of these folks definitively deserve our respect. They’ve worked hard to know what they know, to produce their extensive writings and share their expansive projects. We need folks like them to continue to share what we know of the past, to maintain representations of what was in as close and accurate a replica, mediated though it must be, as words or art can convey. They maintain the community I discussed in point (a) — if newcomers to the faith don’t have access to the vital ideas that allows us to mutually define ourselves as Kemetic, if we lose sight of the agreed upon essentials, we aren’t going to have a community.

But it’s worth it to remember that in the end, both the verifiable “history history” and the unverifiable experiences that we bring to our own interpretations of history are, in their own ways, constructed. Better to be aware of why you need a particular spiritual idea, what it contributes to your religious experience, and to be aware of where that idea came from, be it a textbook, the gods, or your own creative mind, than to beat yourself up over whether or not you can verify it as genuine. That knowledge, that awareness of how the idea was constructed, will serve you well in adding to our community, keeping the debate going as to how we define ourselves now and in the future, and keeping the Kemetic tradition vibrant, changing, and alive.