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.
Bribing and Threatening the Gods: Can you do it? If you can, how so? And is it somehow ‘blasphemous’ or ‘immoral’ to do so?
Can one bargain with, bribe, or even threaten a god? Absolutely. It’s even historically attested. (Here’s a great treatise on ancient Egyptian magical practices. Click on the arrow next to “4th edition” for a free and legal download!) Now, whether or not doing so is wise or will be effective is not as straightforward an answer, and whether an individual considers it blasphemous or immoral is up to that person’s own value system. Again, it was done in antiquity, so it is not automatically seen as outside of ma’at.
For myself, I don’t like the terms “bribe” or “threaten,” though they’re both accurate in some instances; I prefer “bargaining.” Bargaining gives the impression that all parties involved have agency and the ability to accept or deny the proposed bargain, and that said bargain is a compromise created to provide a win-win situation for everyone. While I have bribed gods with extra offerings in hopes of extra blessings, and I have threatened to not do X for a god if I don’t get Y from Them, I do try to stay within the positive and collaborate realm of bargaining.
When I first met Sekhmet, this is how I worked with Her. I knew She had no reason to give me something for nothing, so I would trade an offering for a blessing or a favor for Her heavy-handed assistance in something Really Important. It never struck me as strange at the time, and years later, I learned that this was pretty standard practice for ancient Egyptians. I also know better than to try to bargain for something that would fall outside ma’at; I don’t think that would end well if I did, whether I got what I was after or not.
To elaborate on that point for a moment: things that fall outside of ma’at would fall outside of the natural balance of our existence. If I need protection from a malevolent person, that’s one thing and well within ma’at; if I’m seeking vengeance on someone who wronged me by accident and not malice, that’s entirely another. Curses were part of rituals and spells in antiquity, but I don’t engage with them in my reconstructive practice; it’s a personal choice, so I wouldn’t involve a god in trying to curse someone for me.
Now that I work with gods other than the Red Lady, I’ve learned that some Netjeru do, in fact, give blessings or help out simply because They love me and They care. And, likewise, sometimes I give offerings or favors simply because I love Them and want to honor Them. But bargaining still comes into my life on a regular basis, especially when I feel like I’m asking for something that falls outside the realm of “casual” blessings. Asking my partner to grab me more tea when he gets up is a casual ask; asking my partner to clean the entire house by himself is something I would feel the need to repay in some fashion. Similarly, I want to at least offer a token of my gratitude if a god’s going to help me out in a more major way, even if it’s not a perfect one-to-one return on the god’s investment.
As for the “how” of bargaining with a god, I’ve found absolute transparency to be best. Tell Them up front that you want X and you’re willing to give them Y in exchange for Their help. I also tend to be very specific, both in what I’m asking for and what I’m offering; the biggest trade I can make is for an open-ended I.O.U. of the god’s choosing, and I offer that as rarely as possible. More often, I’ll exchange an extra food or drink offering, or a piece of art, or a service in Their name, and I always try to match the effort needed in my request to the effort I’ll expend on the offering. A god can certainly do a lot more than a mortal like me, but I still want to show appropriate respect for Their time and assistance.
It’s also worth noting that not all gods will want to bargain, while some gods may not be willing to give a petitioner everything asked of Them without being compensated in some way. Respect and humility is key to any relationship to a god, whether or not bargaining is involved.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on bargaining with the gods by my fellow Round Table bloggers!