“Which books should I start with?”
While the Kemetic community gets this question fairly often from newcomers, I don’t think I’ve ever answered it on my blog, so I’m rectifying this today!
In a reconstruction-based religion, research is a pretty big deal. Most Kemetics encourage newcomers to at least familiarize themselves with the basics to support and inform their UPG and personal practices, even if one is more of an eclectic Kemetic or revivalist than hardcore reconstructionist. I think books are friggin’ fantastic—I’m biased in having a lot of them—but which ones should a new Kemetic start with?
Before we go any further, I want to make this clear: There are a lot of free options out there. Free and legal downloads, searchable websites, online academic articles, etc: that’s why I maintain this whole page full of free online resources for you. There are also libraries, most of which can do inter-library loans for the rarer books. If you have a budget, do not despair! You can do this thing. :)
Now, let’s get into the specific recs!
your first book
If you can only buy or borrow one single book, I recommend Geraldine Pinch’s Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. It gives an overview of the timeline, the major myths, and then a reasonable mini-pedia of the gods and concepts. It’s a really good starter text because it’s not super-dry or academically daunting, but the information presented is solid.
the basics: life in ancient Egypt, gods, and magic
Once you’ve devoured that book—and keep it around if you can, because it’s a good reference as you learn more gods—you have a couple of options.
Curious about the actual day-to-day life of ancient Egyptians, both laypeople and priests? Barbara Mertz’s Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt is excellent.
Need moar godz? Can’t beat Richard Wilkinson’s The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, which is the most exhaustive published compilation of deities I have yet to find. Also: Henadology is a well-researched and source-cited compilation of information on all the Names, even the more obscure ones, and unlike Wilkinson, it’s free and online.
Interested in magic (heka) and ritual? You can legally download this one for free: Robert Ritner’s The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice or get G. Pinch’s less-massive version, Magic in Ancient Egypt. (To download Ritner, click the little red arrow next to the “4th printing” line.) For what it’s worth, Pinch’s book is a lot less daunting and contains the same basic overview of everything, but if you love details and really big tomes of information, go with Ritner.
further research: Netjer, gods, source material, symbolism, and hieroglyphs
After borrowing or buying or downloading those, you’ll have a pretty solid foundation in ancient Egyptian life, deities, and magical concepts. Still hungry? Yeah, me too. :)
To further your understanding of the concept of Netjer (divinity) and Netjeru (the gods), try this one by Erik Hornung: Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many.
Now that you have your teeth in the basics, give Dimitri Meeks’ Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods a read. Be warned that he blends mythology of all eras, so you’ll find plenty of Greco-Roman Egyptian myths in with the Old Kingdom ones. (This is primarily why I recommend him for your second phase of reading, after you’ve built a general foundation of knowledge in ancient Egypt itself.)
How about some source texts for your very own? For the Book of Going Forth by Day (aka the Book of the Dead), the Coffin Texts, and the Pyramid Texts, I heartily recommend the translations done by Raymond Faulkner.
If you’d like more on the symbolism and styles of ancient Egyptian art, good ole Richard Wilkinson has a pair of insightful books on the matter: Symbol & Magic in Ancient Egyptian Art and Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture.
Want to learn how to read and write hieroglyphs? Teach yourself with Collier & Manly’s How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs or tackle a slightly larger book with James Allen’s Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.
I hope this has been a helpful suggested progression of books—I welcome feedback and questions at any time if you’ve got ’em!
ps: avoid this
As a closing note, please avoid any texts translated or written by Wallis E. Budge. His translations are no longer accurate or valid and can in many instances be rather misleading, unless you want his books solely to see the original hieroglyphs while ignoring his English versions.