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KRT: The Impact of Kingship

KRT: The Impact of Kingship

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.

Does the concept of kingship impact your practice, and if so, how?

Being Kemetic Orthodox, the topic of kingship is a particularly relevant one to me, in a few different ways.

For one, kingship is one of the five pillars of Kemetic Orthodoxy (the others are community, ancestors, the gods, and Ma’at). For two, I have met Egyptologist Tamara Siuda, who is the leader of Kemetic Orthodoxy; she is considered our Nisut, our king, though the ways in which members of Kemetic Orthodox interpret that varies. For myself, I see her as our spiritual leader, well-qualified for the job both academically and personally. (As I have no way of personally verifying or disproving any divine right to be king, it ceases to matter in practical ways to me; I am solely concerned with an individual’s actions and attitude when in a position of authority.)

While the concept of kingship impacts my practice only slightly, the existence of the flesh-and-bones leader of Kemetic Orthodox impacts my practice quite a lot. She is a fount of information, support, and guidance, and she is as present as possible to lead or participate in online gatherings (some ritual, some guided discussions, some fellowship). Because my practice is tied to my community, and because she is the leader of that community, I can say with confidence that my experience and practice of Kemeticism would not be the same without her as our king.

However, a lesser-discussed but equally-prominent way in which kingship impacts my practice is its importance amongst the Netjeru. Some gods are kings and others are not; some serve the king, some protect the king, and others act autonomously. Regardless of value judgments (I don’t consider the god-king to be any “better” than another deity), it still provides something of a map, helping me to understand and interrelate various Names. The procession of kingship and heritage is also a major plot point in many myths, most obviously those around Wesir (Osiris), Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger), and Set. The role of kingship in various gods’ identities can greatly impact the whole nature of the god in question: imagine Ra not being a king! It’d give His entire character a spin in a different direction.

In essence, it would be a challenge for me to completely extricate the concept of kingship from its manifestations among the ancient Egyptian gods and within my chosen community. While I don’t consider myself to be terribly amenable to monarchies, when taken in mythological contexts it can be informative and instructive to the nature and roles of the Netjeru, and when taken in a community context it can be very useful to have a strong, respectful leader. I wouldn’t put up with anyone, god or mortal, who sought to abuse that power or that title—but thankfully, I don’t have to.

Note: I do not speak for all of my community nor for Tamara Siuda herself; this blog is solely discussing my personal interpretations and opinions. As always, your mileage will vary. :)

If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on kingship by my fellow Round Table bloggers!

The Name, The Quest

The Name, The Quest

On Wednesday, February 6, 2013, I took vows to become a Shemsu of Kemetic Orthodoxy, along with my sister and a son of Ra-Heruakhety.

A Shemsu, or “follower,” is a sworn devotee of Kemetic Orthodoxy; in antiquity, the term was used to describe “a member of the Kemetic court, sworn to serve the nation as a ‘follower of the royal household,'” as per Kemet.org. The Shemsu vows are pretty simple, once boiled down: to honor the gods of Kemet firstly (not exclusively, mind) and to explore the meanings of one’s Shemsu name. (There are also expectations of good character, primarily around a charge to uphold ma’at in one’s life, and to participate in the Kemetic Orthodoxy community, but those are more general and not explicitly part of the vows.)

The Kemetic name is bestowed upon each new Shemsu by their Parent deity/ies; Hemet, leader of Kemetic Orthodoxy, divines the Shemsu name and its meaning. A new Shemsu receives their name and takes their vows at the same time during a communal naming ceremony, which is a public celebration of the Shemsu’s devotion, as well as an initiatory experience.

My Shemsu name is Itenumuti, which means “Mystery of My Two Mothers,” itnw being ‘mystery’ and mwt being ‘mother.’ My nickname is Tenu, which is what I’ll be going by from here on out.

Much like when I was divined a child of Nebt-het and Hethert-Nut, those closest to me grokked the appropriateness of my name before I did. It took me a few hours of pondering, and a lot of conversation with my sister and my (non-Kemetic but still brilliant) partner, before I felt the first shivery bolt of understanding.

The mystery of my Mothers is one of unconditional love, deep and raw compassion, strong and steadfast protection, and comfort during grief and vulnerability. These are some of the qualities They embody and emanate; these are some of the qualities I am most engaged in practicing myself. Of course I am named after Their mystery which I strive to understand and integrate into my own life and self.

But there was another insight, a deeper reverberation of that understanding. My name can also imply that I am the Mystery myself, too. That I am, perhaps, not only a student of my Mothers’ wisdoms, but also a piece of Their essence. And perhaps, when people quest to understand those mysteries— in the same way that I now quest to understand the secrets and meanings of my Shemsu name— perhaps I can engage with those truth-seekers, those veil-lifters, and offer them what insight and experience I have. And perhaps that will heighten and deepen their own understanding, and the hard-won qualities of compassion and joy will be less mysterious, less distant, to them.

For me, knowing only these two potential interpretations of my name, I am deeply honored and content.

Dua Nebt-het! Dua Hethert-Nut!

PS~ It’s common practice to investigate alternate meanings and puns to one’s name as part of exploring the layers and “secrets” of the name. Not only does itnw mean “mystery” (or riddle or obscurity), it can also mean sun disks, crack in the wall, ashes, one who is complained about, and… fluffy. (That’s right, I am my Mothers’ fluffy. *laugh*) I’m also extremely pleased that the “sun disks” definition can relate to Sekhmet and Ma’ahes both being the sun as an Eye of Ra.

PPS~ Meanings for my nickname, Tenu (tnw) include boundary mark, number / to count, distinction / refinement / honor, to be difficult, senility, to grow up, and to lift up / to promote. Quite a few of these are personally significant: boundary mark relating to Sphinx who guards sacred spaces, to grow up relating to maturing in my spirituality, and to lift up relating to Hethert-Nut lifting Ra upon Her head into the sky. (Of course, I can also be difficult and often feel like I’m a wee bit senile, so it’s not just the wonderful meanings like “an honor” that ring true! ;D)

a promise to make

a promise to make

Tuesday was my birthday, and I was blessed with surprise snow (in Texas, THIS IS AMAZING) in the morning, a zillion wonderfully happy-making birthday wishes from friends and family, and a truly lovely evening spent with my gods in shrine.

Today is a festival of Nit, Who is one of my Mother Nebt-het’s three faces, and my heart is glad: After discourse with Netjer and some months of contemplation, I have made an important choice in my spirituality. I will be taking Shemsu vows, swearing to honor my gods foremost and devoting myself primarily (but not exclusively) to Kemetic Orthodoxy, both the religion and the community. I’ve let Hemet (AUS) know, and I will be standing for my Netjer-given Shemsu name on Wednesday the 30th of this month, at 8h30 CST. It is my great pleasure and honor that my sister Ekunyi and I will be named on the same day; she announced her intentions to become Shemsu earlier this month, to the joy of our Kemetic family.

It has been fourteen months since I underwent the Rite of Parent Divination; it has been almost two years since Sekhmet led me to the House; it has been a lot more years than that that I’ve followed the Red Lady and wholly adored Her. I have loved this community and the Netjeru Who have become my family, and I have grown as a person, for better and for deeper, since I have been a part of Kemetic Orthodoxy. I am proud and excited to step up as a Shemsu, and the four Netjeru of my divination– and Sekhmet as well– support my decision to take these vows.

Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!

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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