Next month, my partner and I will make our yearly roadtrip to visit my family; we’ll stay with my mom and her fiancé in the Appalachian Mountains where I grew up and spend a weekend in Ocean City with my sister and her family. It is one of the high points of my year to see the people I love and be in the places that crack my heart open and let the sun in. The mountains I come from and the sea I pilgrimage to are both beloved places for me, and they nourish my ka like few other areas can.
I live in Texas, and it was not until I was living here that I really encountered any Kemetic gods outside of Sekhmet. I will not always live in Texas, and I’ve thought many times on how the change of land will affect my spirituality and my relationship with the Netjeru in my life. Traveling to see my family – in the Appalachians, in Ocean City, in Seattle, in Nevada – gives me a glimpse of how my gods manifest in vastly different places.
Ma’ahes, in particular, is intensely associated with aspects of Texas: the sweltering summer heat and the long, orange sunsets. When I go to the mountains that I love, be they the Appalachians or the Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas, I don’t see His orange light in the west at the close of every day. In most of these places, the particular combination of humidity and 100+ degrees doesn’t occur. When I walk outside in the summer in Texas, the first breath I take is His, and He thaws me from the ice of the overwhelming air-conditioning that most public buildings provide.
But when I leave Texas, Ma’ahes changes subtly, and I find Him in other summers, other sunsets, other flashes of His vivid, liquid orange. In the Appalachians, He is the autumn leaves; in Nevada, He is the stretching, dry desert; in Colorado, He is the red rocks of the mountains.
And Ma’ahes is not the only one to adapt to His shifting surroundings. Nebt-het touched my face with snow last winter in Nevada, and I stood breathing Her chill until I was covered in slow-motion flakes; I had never before realized She was snow, but in that moment, in that place, She stood with me outside a warm house and wrapped me in Her calm, cold presence like a cloak against the wind.
So I take my gods with me where I go, and it is both a challenge and a delight to spot Them in Their other skins, the bodies They form out of the land around me.
Nebt-het comes in a cloud of lavender, pale grey-toned amethyst fog against a dark background of shadow-black. Hethert-Nut is a royal purple nebulae, glistening with silver stars like a full-color page out of National Geographic: full of wonder and heart-wrenching potential and staggering beauty.
Ma’ahes is thick, opaque paint, still shining wet and fresh, the deep orange color of a long sunset. Serqet is desert sunlight shining off a matte sand-yellow carapace.
Sekhmet is hearth-red, ember-red, the red you see when you close your eyes, the color of blood in the bellies of thunderclouds.
I perceive the gods with such specific, visceral colors because I’m synesthetic; every sound, physical sensation, and scent internally translates to a visual color, shape, and/or motion. This is a constant, consistent, and involuntary process for me; other synesthetes may associate colors with numbers and/or letters or personalities with numbers and/or months, to name some common types of synesthesia. For myself, I suspect my other senses barged in on my visual cortex when my vision began deteriorating badly enough to need the assistance; if I couldn’t wear contacts or glasses, I’d be legally blind. Sight is an interestingly propped-up sense to me, full of supplements and quirks.
Turns out that my sensory crossed wires affect my spiritual perceptions, as well, which is why my gods are not faces or voices or even shapes to me, but floods of rich, textured color. The first time I ever heard Hethert-Nut’s name, well before I knew Who She was, let alone that She was my spiritual Mother, I saw Her color; that’s what spurred me to learn about Her in the first place. Every time I call upon Ma’ahes, He appears in color, and that color feels like Him more than anything in the world. Gods with Whom I only occasionally interact also have strong colors: Set, Wepwawet, Yinepu, Heru-wer, Ptah, and now Bast and Sepa as well.
This is how I paint. This is how I design, how I dress, how I work heka, and how I mix scented oils. Everything translates into color, and every single color has a wealth of meaning that can include symbolism, character, and pure feeling. It’s all a loop, a spiral, a fractal sensory experience that can drown me in an ocean of colored inks.
This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?
I consider mythology one of the primary ways to learn about and understand our gods, and I will turn to myths before I look for historical documentation on how ancient Egyptians performed rituals or made offerings, so I consider it absolutely necessary for me. Myths have a huge impact on my practice, from informing my relationships with various Netjeru to helping me grok the purpose and importance of the festivals throughout the year. I do distinguish between earlier Kemetic mythology and myths that originated or were changed during the Greco-Roman period of ancient Egypt; it’s a personal preference of mine to avoid Hellenized Egyptian mythology.
However, I’m a god-centric Kemetic. My relationship with the five Netjeru central to my life is one of the biggest components of my spirituality. That isn’t the only way to be, or the best way to be; it’s just an option. You can be a wonderful, fulfilled Kemetic without having anything to do with a single Netjeru, or even with the immanent divinity of Netjer. You can work solely with your akhu, your ancestors who number among the blessed dead. Or you can simply uphold ma’at in your own life and strive to contribute positively to your community and this world.
For those who don’t heavily weight their work with Netjeru, mythology may not matter as much. It can still reflect and shed light upon the beliefs and culture of ancient Egypt, but if you’re not engaging with a god, you may look less to myth and more to ancient wisdom writings, like the Maxims of Ptahhotep. Funerary texts, like the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, also contain a wealth of information on ancient Egyptian beliefs and gods; they can be extraordinarily useful by themselves or paired with the myths that give the gods in those texts Their backstories and essences.
In essence, mythology is optional, and its usefulness can vary depending on how god-centric a given Kemetic chooses to be. It’s certainly vital for my own practice, but I would never say anyone “should” or “should not” make use of mythology to enhance or influence their own practice – that’s a completely personal choice for the individual.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on the importance of mythology by my fellow Round Table bloggers!
I stayed up until 3 AM reading a novel that I simply could not put down, even though I had to wake up at 7h30 for work. It was a concession I made to my infatuation with the book, which was an urban fantasy featuring libriomancers–people who used books to power their magic. A libriomancer could reach a hand through the pages of a well-loved paperback, using the power of the collective belief of those who’d read it, and draw out anything that would fit between the pages.
The main character is, in part, so likable and enjoyable because he’s a lot like me and many of my friends: geeky, excitable, and prone to feeling awe at figuring out how things work, especially magically. And although I can’t sink my fingers into Tolkien and draw out the One Ring, I can certainly relate to the love and passion that character has for the stories he uses–which he adored before he learned how to do magic with the books.
In many ways, the concepts offered up by that fictional story aren’t so far from the truth for many of us. Reconstructionists, neopagans, and chaos magicians can all draw magic out of the book in their hands, even if it’s not physically manifest. Our subjective reality changes when we read, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction or a little of both. The world shifts around us as our minds project the scenery we read onto our own surroundings, creating our own little holodeck for as long as our eyes are on the page–and often long afterwards.
I finally put the book down, 70% finished, because I knew sleep had to happen for me to function the next day at work. I was buzzing with energy, unhinged through a combination of tiredness and excitement over the story. I didn’t drift off until 4, and I tossed and turned until 5 before I finally settled down for a couple of hours of more restful sleep.
Especially for those who do any kind of energywork, reading can feel like unlocking oneself. In losing myself to the book, in the act of fully imagining everything I was reading, I created an energetic echo of the fiction and put myself in the center of the hologram. The illusion faded when I closed the book, but my body didn’t automatically re-seal and re-shield itself; it remained loose, stimulated, tendrils of half-directed intent swirling about and seeking to paint with invisible colors.
That’s pretty “woo” for a reconstructionist, but I have a decade or more of history working with energy and color, and my imagination is well- and fully-formed from being a writer and artist since I was a child. A fictional story about magic being drawn from fiction has let me draw magic into my world, this very real and strange and wonderful world where I worship ancient gods and work magic with the power of my words and with colors that only I can see.
Like the character in those books, I’ve always wished magic was real–and like that character, I found out that it is, in many ways, as real as breath and sparking synapses. And with all the consequences, with all the challenges, with all the “am I nutters?” self-sanity checks, I still love that my reality is a magical one.
When I asked if I should explore my genealogy in service to my akhu, Nebt-het answered with a firm yes.
So, two weeks ago, I picked up a 14-day free trial to Ancestry.com, which seemed like a good place to start. At the time, I only knew two names of my akhu, my ancestors: my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom, both of whom passed when I was a teenager.
My research exploded. In a single night, I found some 40+ new names of my akhu. Some I had heard in passing from family members but hadn’t memorized; others were entirely new. I found out that my great-great-grandmother’s nickname was the same as the one I bestowed upon my sister when she was 12ish and still use to this very day, which was a delight. I discovered that my great-grandfather is buried three hours away; I had no idea any of my bloodline had been in Texas.
Ironically, my ability to find older generations along either of my “named” lines (that is, my parents’ last names, rather than those who married in) stymied me until my mom sent me a tiny family tree that filled in a couple crucial names… and, last Sunday, I put in more hours following those leads. Determined to make the most of my free trial, I was up until 3 am (thank gods for a holiday weekend!) that Sunday, going through records and tracing the ever-widening web of my akhu.
I found out that my great-aunt was an artist… and an amateur drag-racer in the sixties. I saw pictures of her husband as a child. I came across my great-grandmother, whose name grabbed and held my attention like a punch every time I saw it, and despite having zero personal information for her or photos of her, I realized I had a strong and persistent mental image in my head, unbidden. I found out that an akh-by-marriage had served in the First Special Service Force in WWII, and that his unit’s name was almost identical with the name of the elite unit of a military fantasy novel I’ve been writing. I found pictures of that akh’s sister, whose personality and badassery shone brightly through those photos.
I have been, throughout this entire process, utterly floored by not only what I’m discovering, but at my own reactions to the process. I have never been attached to or overly interested in my blood family outside of my very direct relatives (parents, three grandparents, and my mom’s sister). My own emotional responses as I’m finding photos, obituaries, and just raw names of my akhu are strange and new and strong. This is definitely work I need to do, work that is worth doing, but it is sobering and exciting all at once. One of my akhu lived to 101; one of them died at 15. There are stories here that I can sense under the surface, but that I will probably never know, except possibly by personal gnosis.
This is hard, and good, and worthwhile, and I am grateful to Nebt-het for pushing me to do it, and I am grateful to my akhu for being my akhu.
O Raet, molten gold aflame, mighty and beautiful one!
Consort of the Warrior, Name of the Punisher,
Wet-nurse of the Creatrix, Mother of the New Sun!
Raet, Who wears the uraeus with Her feathers,
You are Queen of the Two Lands, united and whole!
O Raet, Who brings illumination to the Seen world,
You are the globe of the sun in the heavens!
You are preeminent in Your place, second to none,
older than the First One, the bud of the birthing lotus!
Your glory is the color of sunlight,
Your protective wrath is as red as sunset!
O Raet, shine upon us, warm us as a mother to Her child,
and we will flourish under Your unblinking Eye!
Raet (Rait, Raettawy) is the female Ra, associated with sovereignty by Hatshepsut. She is alternately a consort of Montu, mother of Djehuty (Thoth), wet-nurse of Nit (Neith), mother of Heru (Horus), consort of the sun god Ra, the Eye of Ra, and/or Ra’s daughter.
I stepped into the room, exhausted, and looked at my shrine. I had neither the energy nor the focus to perform even my bare-bones daily rite, not after a full day of work, three hours of a root canal, and an evening of thoroughly cleaning in preparation for a house inspection the following morning.
I dug out three tealights: one red, one cream-colored, and one pumpkin-y. I set them on the offering plate and lit them.
I didn’t say any fancy words or even wash my hands to purify. I simply thanked Sekhmet and Serqet, Who helped me through the dental work, and Ma’ahes, Who comforted me when I was afraid and in pain.
Sometimes, it really is as simple as a candle, a whispered word of gratitude, and a feeling of relief for having made it through.
For Kemetic Orthodoxy, this Kemetic year is the year of Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger) as the victorious king. It is one of the most positive oracles I’ve ever read, and I am very hopeful about how this year will turn out, both spiritually and pragmatically. I’ve always considered Heru to be a get’r'done Netjeru, and I look forward to making a lot of progress on various projects on my plate. (Obscure Gods project, I’m lookin’ at you!)
I have worked with Heru-wer (Horus the Elder) before, and I have brushed up against Heru-Ma’ahes once or twice, but I’ve never interfaced with Heru-sa-Aset. Perhaps this year will change that and deepen my understanding of Who He is.
A prayer for the year of Heru-sa-Aset, written August 15:
Hail Heru-sa-Aset in this His year!
Hail the golden child now grown!
Hail the sacred lotus in full bloom!
Hail the son of the Mistress of Magic!
Hail the shining heir, son of His father!
Hail He Who survived the terrors of youth!
Hail He Who was forged by storm and sting!
Hail He Who yet walks among the people!
Hail He Who upholds Ma’at in all things!
Hail He Who knows the secret name of the sun!
Hail He Who brings victory to the Two Lands!
Hail the mighty falcon, wearing the uraeus!
Hail the many-chambered heart of the king!
Hail Heru-sa-Aset in this His year!
Qebshenef is one of the Four Sons of Heru (Horus), a group of netjeri (spirits) associated with the canopic jars that hold the organs of the mummified deceased. The Four Sons also protect the throne of Wesir (Osiris) in the Unseen and assist the deceased through the Duat. Each of the Sons is protected by one of the funerary goddesses and associated with one of the cardinal directions.
Qebshenef, whose name means “cooling his brother (with water),” is hawk-headed and holds the intestines. He is guarded by Serqet (Selkis), the scorpion goddess, and associated with the south.
Imset, whose name means “the kindly one,” is human-headed and wears the nemes headcloth. He holds the liver, is guarded by Aset (Isis), and is associated with the west.
Duamutef, whose name means “praising his mother,” is jackal-headed and holds the stomach. He is guarded by Nit (Neith), the Great He-She, and associated with the north.
Hapy (not Hapi, god of the Nile), whose name means “runner,” is baboon-headed and holds the lungs. He is guarded by Nebt-het (Nephthys) and associated with the east.
While the Four Sons have the above associations in regards to their canopic jars, they also assist the deceased in different ways, including carrying or lifting up the deceased, preparing a ladder into the sky, protecting against attacks and decay, preventing hunger and thirst, bringing the deceased a boat “which Khnum built,” and steering that boat.
The Sons themselves are alternatingly stated to be sons of Aset (Isis) and Heru-wer (Horus the Elder) or Khenty-irty (Horus of Khem), but were also implied to be sons of Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger) by virtue of being the grandchildren of Wesir (Osiris). They’ve also been described as the bau (souls) of Pe (a city in Lower Egypt) and Nekhen (a city in Upper Egypt), along with Heru Himself. In various texts, they’re identified as stars near Ursa Major, as emanations of Heru or as Heru’s bau (souls), and as the king’s “children’s children” (the king being as Wesir, Heru’s own father). They’ve also been identified in spells as the hands, arms, fingernails, and/or feet of the deceased or described accompanying the deceased through the Duat.
Henadology’s article is particularly well-fleshed-out and worth further reading, as my entry here merely summarizes the basics of the Four Sons.
This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
What about holidays? Do we need them? How do I figure out when holidays occur? How do I celebrate holidays? Can I make up my own holidays?
“Need” is a strong word. I myself find great value in the various Kemetic holidays, and while I don’t celebrate all of them by any means, various holidays large and small have provided me touchpoints with Netjer, introductions to new Netjeru, and ways to build my relationship with the gods I’m devoted to. I’ve known other Kemetics to invent their own modern Kemetic holidays, which I think is pretty awesome, too. :)
As for the meat and potatoes of the entry, please forgive me if I direct you to three different places to answer the rest of the questions:
- Earlier this year, I wrote about Feasts and Festivals, which covers this topic from my own perspective (albeit in Cliff’s Notes format).
- In the above post, I linked to another Kemetic’s well-written and thought-out post on celebrating Kemetic holidays, which is very useful for a novice and for those of us who are slightly less new to the path.
- Lastly, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t direct the curious Kemetic to The Ancient Egyptian Daybook by Egyptologist Tamara Siuda, founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy. The Daybook will be released in December 2013 and will provide a detailed, thoroughly-researched Kemetic calendar reconstructed from antiquity. You can preorder copies from that website if you so desire, too!
If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on Kemetic holidays by my fellow Round Table bloggers!
Kemetic Orthodox and many other Kemetics employ polyvalent logic, more commonly known as fuzzy logic, to understand and integrate many of ancient Egypt’s myths. Polyvalent logic proposes that true/false is not a binary, a switch to be flipped on or off, but a sliding scale instead—and with that increased vagueness, more than one thing can be true at the same time (even if one is frequently slightly “less” true than the other).
For example, there are half a dozen or more Kemetic creation myths, none of which reference any of the others; rather than choosing one to be the singularly “true” one, they’re all considered to be true. (With the caveat that most Kemetics don’t take them to be literal truths, but metaphorical or symbolic ones.) Similarly, all the gods involved in those myths are all called creator gods, none excluding the others. Nit (Neith), the Great He-She, Who gave birth to the sun and thus created childbirth as well as all of creation, and Khnum, the artisan, Who created Himself in the primordial waters of the Nun and Who shapes each human’s body on His potter’s wheel, are just as much creators as Ptah, the Master Architect, Who made creation from the thoughts in His heart that He spoke aloud. Neither the gods nor Their stories negate each other as true.
This is, in part, because Netjeru are bendy. They flow into each other’s roles. Over time, one can become equated with, syncretized with, or aspected with another. Older gods will get consumed by the popularity of newer gods and fall into obscurity… or They’ll combine, creating an entirely new Netjeru with properties of both. Depending on how you tilt your head, the Horus that you greet may be Heru-wer, the solar warrior and Set’s twin; Heru-sa-Aset, young king and son of Aset (Isis); Heruakhety, of the two horizons; Heru-behdety, the winged disk; Heru-pa-khered, the child; Heru-em-akhet, the divinization of the Giza Sphinx; or others.
I am extraordinarily grateful that Kemeticism supports polyvalent logic, as I have a hard time thinking in true/false binaries myself. I can acknowledge Nit as the Creatrix and Ptah as the Maker of All in the same breath, and neither is false, neither overrides the other. And that fuzzy logic can extend outwards and make room for multiple belief systems in the world, none of them a singular truth and none of them invalidated by the rest. There are many paths we can take, be they spiritual or not, and they are vastly different, and none of them are wrong.
Standard Disclaimer: I do not support paths that promote hatred, unnecessary violence, bigotry, etc. But there are plenty that have a core of love, peace, balance, respect, responsibility, and humility, and those are the ones I write of here.
As I’d hoped, my (non-Kemetic) partner did indeed make pansnakes and ritually slay them on the first day of the new Kemetic year. More than that, however, he sent me a narrative, accompanied by photos, which I am sharing with you all. I laughed so hard I cried when I got them on Saturday. :D
I feel that Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata aligns quite nicely with my own worldview and with the principles of ma’at, so I am walking joyously into the new year with these words:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.