PBP Fridays: F is for the Five Pillars of Kemetic Orthodoxy

PBP Fridays: F is for the Five Pillars of Kemetic Orthodoxy

The following are strictly my thoughts and my personal understanding; if you want the official and formal introduction to Kemetic Orthodoxy, please click here for that information. :)

There are five pillars, five touchstone concepts that form the basis of Kemetic Orthodoxy as an organized religion, five key things that make Kemetic Orthodoxy what it is. To the ancient Egyptians, four was the number of completion, and we see it everywhere – the four directions, the four winds, duality x duality; five is four plus one, “perfection plus something to oversee it.”

The Four Pillars are Netjer (divinity and all the gods), Akhu (the blessed dead, our ancestors), the Nisut (the pharaoh and the concept of kingship), and Community (the people of the faith). Ma’at, the concept of rightness and balance, is the fifth force that unites the four pillars.

I’m going to review the terms/concepts above, then move on to my personal reflections about each.

Netjer

(Netjer = Divinity or God-as-a-Whole; Netjeru = a particular god.) Monolatry is a concept similar to soft polytheism; it states that all gods are simultaneously separate individuals and also part of a greater whole. This can lead to some mind-bendy exercises in chasing down perceptions of divinity, as gods can be aspected (the same god playing a different role, such as Sekhmet and Hethert (Hathor)) or syncretized (a third god being born of the characteristics of two or three other gods, akin to them yet its own self, such as Hethert-Nut) or simply complex (such as the idea of god X showing up “in His/Her name of God Y”). And that’s not even getting into newer Netjeru absorbing the characteristics and cults of older ones, like Hethert absorbing Bat, an older cow goddess. Popular deities like Hethert and Aset (Isis) absorbed dozens of smaller goddesses’ attributes and worshippers over the ages that They were worshipped.

Kemetic Orthodoxy is a soft reconstructionist religion. The founder of the faith is a degreed Egyptologist, and several of our members are Egyptologists by degree or by intensive self-study, while the bulk of the rest of us are armchair scholars with at least a few well-accredited books on our shelves. As such, members are strongly encouraged to do as much research as they want in order to gain an accurate, rich perspective on how ancient Egyptians lived, performed rites, and worshipped the Netjeru that we now do. With the same fervor, members are also encouraged to do more than just read about it, but to practice it, to pray, to reach out to Netjer and see what happens. UPG (unverified personal gnosis, aka subjective personal experience) is respected and supported as true for the individual who experienced it. Ultimately, Kemetic Orthodoxy professes that we cannot know with 100% certainty, so we do our best research and we respect everyone’s experiences as personally valid.

My Thoughts

I know I’ve said this before in this journal, but it bears repeating here – I became monolatrous long before I knew it was a thing and well before I knew Kemetic Orthodoxy existed. It’s a worldview that suits me incredibly well, much better than hard polytheism – it has space for flexibility, encourages UPG, and supports polyvalent logic, without being so nebulous as to prevent a grounded sense of comprehension. Since I came to it as a personal paradigm conclusion, without any labels or outside influences, I am nothing but happy (and surprised) that Kemetic Orthodoxy shares the same basic idea. I also love the combination of spiritual experience and factual research, both of which are treated as valid.

Akhu

Kemetic Orthodoxy practices and encourages ancestor veneration. We believe that, after death, the soul of the departed goes on a long journey through the Duat, the Unseen world, that culminates in the Weighing of the Heart, where that person’s heart – the seat of their personhood, emotions, and memory – is weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of balance and justice. It’s been said that Ma’at has a heavy feather, for we suspect that few are truly “bad” enough to outweigh it and be uncreated (consumed forever) by Ammit, the Devourer. Once a person passes the Weighing, they become an akh, plural akhu, the blessed dead. They go on to Wesir’s (Osiris) kingdom in the Duat, a land for the dead that is not so dissimilar from the land of the living; people work, live, love, and serve Wesir as their god-king. (This is very simplified and abbreviated; forgive me. There’s plenty to read on the subject of the Egyptian afterlife for those so inclined.)

A note about the biology of the soul, according to Kemetic thought: The human soul has several components, the two most frequently mentioned being the ba (plural bau) and ka (plural kau). The ba is the eternal, everlasting part, and for those of us who believe in reincarnation, that’s the part that moves on past this life and begins the next. The ka is the personality of who you are in this life, and it’s the ka that becomes an akh. In a nutshell, this means that a person who has passed can both reincarnate and be a recognizable ancestor-ghost with whom their living relatives can communicate and to whom we can make offerings. (An extra note: If you believe in reincarnation, this means that you can interact with your own former kau as akhu. That’s really cool to me. :D)

My Thoughts

I don’t have a lot of ties to my blood family; I am much more inclined to small, one-on-one relationships than being part of a clan. The idea of venerating my ancestors is not an instinctual one for me, mostly because I don’t have a lot of emotional attachment to kin; however, I can get behind the idea of honoring those who came before and who produced the people who produced me. I’m fully aware of the changing of the times, and being an oddball even according to liberal modern people, I’m wary of thinking my ancestors “get” me, which can be a stumbling block in relating to my akhu. Nonetheless, I’m trying to ease myself into a better, hopefully more interactive relationship with my akhu; I do have a small shrine to them, and I keep a small glass of water filled and a small vase with a few green things/found flowers in it. I think fondly of my mom’s mom and my dad’s dad, both passed, and hope that all my akhu, “known and unknown,” think fondly of me.

Nisut

This is the biggest sticking point for most people when they regard Kemetic Orthodoxy as an organized reconstructionist religion. We have a Nisut – we have a pharaoh, a king. The founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy, Rev. Tamara Siuda (to whom I usually refer as Hemet on this journal), is both our teacher and our leader. She has represented the spiritual nation of Kemetic Orthodoxy more than once at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and members of Kemetic Orthodoxy view her as anything between a hard-working Egyptologist to a historical and spiritual teacher to the embodiment of the Kingly Ka, which bestows the divine right to rule on a human king.

The Nisut performs multiple functions. From antiquity, the pharaoh was seen as the chief priest, and all other priests performed rituals and offerings on his/her behalf, hence the phrase hetep-di-nisut, “an offering which the king gives,” to be said before presenting offerings in the temple. The Nisut also performs multiple daily rituals to Netjer on behalf of the spiritual nation and undertakes all the mundane and less-mundane duties of keeping an organized religion, well, organized and running. Kemetic Orthodoxy has had thousands of members over twenty or so years and has hundreds of active ones at this moment, which is not an easy herd of cats to wrangle.

My Thoughts

I don’t so much care if the gods themselves chose Hemet to lead Their new nation of devotees, even though that’s what a lot of people want to talk about – the divine right to rule, the presence of the kingly ka (spirit). What matters to me is that she’s an earnest person, a knowledgeable Egyptologist and linguist, and has the interpersonal skills to handle a bunch of enthusiastic and diverse people trying to resurrect a really old religion. And, from what I’ve seen, she does. I’ve admired the compassion, eloquence, patience, and overwhelming sovereignty she expresses – sovereignty not in the kingly sense, but in the live-and-let-live sense. She is who she is, and she allows others to be who they are – there’s no pressure to conform or change, nor does she allow herself to be swayed easily. She’s got a lot of strong supporters and plenty of naysayers, and she handles both kinds of attention with grace and humility. Insofar as a leader goes, Hemet’s quite alright in my book.

Community

The Kemetic Orthodoxy community (or House of Netjer) is comprised of Remetj (friends of the faith), Shemsu (sworn-in followers), and the priesthood (which is separated between w’abu, purity priests, and priests who have legal clergy status). There are smaller nuances within these groupings, but this is meant to be a loose overview. All official material and the people themselves emphasize that no title or rank is “better” than the other, merely different. Priests of Kemetic Orthodoxy do not have a better or closer relationship to their gods, nor are they more special to their gods; they perform different duties and have more responsibilities than most non-priests. A Remetj is no less a member of the House than a Shemsu. We are all the people, and without us, Kemetic Orthodoxy could not stand stable on its four pillars.

As a part of the community, people are encouraged to interact. Ancient Egyptians were social people, and no person was an island unto themselves. The modern community is spread across all states in the US and many countries throughout the world; we have a physical temple in Joliet, IL, but we meet wherever there is more than one of us. Members and priests hold large and small gatherings, some religious, some purely for fellowship, many centered around museum exhibits and Kemetic holidays. Every year, the temple hosts a big Wep Ronpet (new year) retreat in early August, and there are many other activities and events held at the temple, as well. To supplement this in-person fellowship, there are weekly fellowship and ritual/teaching chats held online, as well as a thriving forum membership.

My Thoughts

For a solitary person, I am really, really attached to this community. I’ve found fabulous people and an incredible atmosphere of support, curiosity, and shared fascination for obscure, complex gods. Troublesome guests on the forums have been treated civilly (in umpteen years, only 5 people have ever been banned – that’s pretty impressive to me), and I hear newcomers to fellowship or spiritual events in-person are welcomed with open arms, no reservations, no hesitation. The House is comprised of a bunch of awesome people, and if they hadn’t been this awesome, I might’ve stuck to my loner ways – it takes a lot to make me delurk and actually connect with an online community with such a strong offline base. But I’ve made friends, made connections, and I treasure that. I can call these folks my spiritual family and mean it, and I look forward to meeting more of them in person and attending more events.

Ma’at

Ma’at is the force of balance and rightness in the universe. Embodied in a goddess named after the concept, ma’at is neither good nor evil, only objectively fair and just. Imbalance is re-balanced; wrongness is righted; disparities are corrected. Ma’at is not a personal force out to do nice things for you as an individual; ma’at keeps the universe working as intended. Ma’at is a force of creation, where its opposite, isfet, is a force of uncreation. Westerners easily understand isfet as evil, or even chaos; where ma’at seeks to harmonize the function of the world, isfet seeks to return it to a state of nothingness.

There’s more subtlety to these concepts than “good” and “evil” – ma’at, in correcting an imbalance, may seem negative to an individual; fire ecology is a good example of this. In Nevada and parts of northern California, pine forests have been protected from wild fires by humans and allowed to overgrow; the trees are far too dense and numerous. Fire ecology, if allowed to happen naturally, would periodically burn sections of these trees down and enrich the soil for the next generation; however, since humans keep it from happening, a wildfire in such dense forests spreads too quickly, taking out huge amounts of trees and clearing the land. Fire ecology is ma’at, though humans see it as a negative thing and seek to prevent it from working as its nature demands. As a result, the forests are imbalanced and at higher risk for devastation.

My Thoughts

In my head, I correlate ma’at with the Tao in a lot of ways, although the Tao is more about flow than justice. Since I was a kid, I’ve noticed that things in life tend to have a sort of middling point, a balance, a fulcrum to which they generally return, and as an adult, I can recognize ma’at’s effects there. Given my study of the Tao and my practice in following it, studying ma’at and walking within the concept is not a hard stretch – it casts new lights on things I’ve been looking at for a while. Ma’at doesn’t seem like an artificial construct, a fabricated form of ethics to suit a society or religion; it feels more like an observation on how the world works even when we’re not watching, and I rather like that.

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