Banu (fyrekat) wrote,

PantheaCon 2006, The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt

Bright and early the next morning- or at least, at an hour which certainly seems bright and early when you're at an event like PantheaCon- we gathered in the Cedar ball room for the House of Netjer's panel on the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. There were several members of the House hosting the talk- I'm not going to try to name them all because I'm terrible with names and I don't want to leave anyone out, but the panel encompassed a pretty decent demographic spread in ages, length of time spent in the group, level of commitment, and deity affiliation. Their Nisut was also there, leading the talk. By and large they seemed to be a pretty wholesome lot- good people, sincere in their love of their gods and commitment to each other, and happy to answer questions from the people who came to see them.

The talk began with some basic background information on Kemetic Orthodoxy. One thing which was mentioned was that they did not consider themselves to be a direct continuation of ancient Egyptian practices. Kemetic Orthodoxy's approach is to research the religion as it appeared in ancient Egypt, frame those practices in a model which is appropriate in modern times, and then present those models to the gods for approval and commentary- so the modern religion is derived from ancient practices, but some things are changed and added along the way. They also stressed their identity as a polytheistic religion. They believe in an abstract sense of Divinity, which they call Ntjr, but they believe that the gods and goddesses which were born of that divinity are unique and individual beings. There are several different levels of membership in their House, including Remetj, Shemsu, and Shemsu-Ankh. Remetj is the first level of membership- it comes from a word meaning "the people" and embraces a very diverse group of Kemetics who associate with one another through the House and its online services. If a person decides to dedicate their worship to the Kemetic pantheon only, they undergo a rite of passage which names them a Shemsu. If a Shemsu further decides to devote themselves to serving the community in the name of the gods, they may become a Shemsu-Ankh. The Shemsu-Ankh level of service includes, but is not limited to, the priesthood- the ritual whereby one becomes a Shemsu-Ankh is held one day out of the year, on Nbt-Ht's birthday, prior to Wp Rnpt. It's called the wSm ib, or the "Testing of the Heart." The House's website describes those who have undertaken the vow of a Shemsu-Ankh as the "elders" of their spiritual community.

I mostly asked about the Ritual of Parental Divination (RPD) and related aftermath, since that is one of two major areas of questions which I have about their practices- and it seemed to fall under the heading of the panel's intended subject.^_^ For those unfamiliar with the practice, HoN offers a formal rite of divination which determines the spiritual Parentage of the person requesting divination. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, when a person is officially inducted into the House, it is comparable to the rites of passage associated with being born into a village in ancient Egypt. In this case, HoN's Nisut is considered to be the mother of all who are "born" in this way, resulting in a very large family-like atmosphere within the community. In ancient Egypt, a child would also have had certain oracular divinations performed by the priesthood to reveal their fate and the circumstances of their birth; today divinations are performed by the House to determine the spiritual influences on each new member. The House's practice of naming their members is also reflective of ancient Egyptian birthing practices.

Back to the RPD, the House uses a form of divination known as geomantic divination- there was a workshop on this at the con which I briefly considered attending for further clarification, but unfortunately I didn't end up making it.^_^' However, I have found one example of a geomantic divination system here, which has illustrated the concept for me. Of course, this website does not belong to HoN, nor is it part of their divination ritual- I'm just including it here as an example of how geomantic divination works as a family of practice. The mechanics of this system do seem to agree with what the House's Nisut said, however, in that geomantic divination is a form of divination which does not require subjective interpretation in the sense that many other divinatory arts do- it forms certain patterns or shapes, which are always read in the same manner to mean the same thing. I do not know the specific means which the House uses to form these patterns, nor the associations which their patterns carry, but I can make a few guesses based on what I've read in a couple of other discussions of geomantic divination. One of them can be found here- just skip down to section 2.3. For another look at the subject, check out Adula.

One of my main concerns in this path of questioning was the effect of a divination on one's relationship toward and expectations from the ntjr Who is divined. All knowledge comes with some sort of responsibility attached to it, in my experience- knowledge is power, and power breeds accountability. In my case, I've already got a full plate of Ntjr working within my life- and given some of the experiences I've had with deity overload in the past, I'm a little bit worried about the possibility of adding more; any Who are added by right of Parentage will be present on a regular basis. But the Nisut seemed to feel that the nature of that responsibility was not hers to determine, and diverse enough in its manifestations that she could not give me a particular answer. "You are responsible for what you do with that information" was the final decision. Unfortunately, that kind of left me back where I started- but on the plus side, she later promised to eat a cup if I didn't turn out to be Parented by Bast and/or Skhmt, and the possibility for that spectacle could almost be worth the risk.^_~

I also asked about how HoN reconciled the idea of the ntjrw as localized gods with Their current role in a global religion. In ancient times, the gods' territory extended over a limited area, and travelers would place themselves under the protection of the gods indigenous to the areas in which they roamed rather than the god they worshiped at home, because the local gods were the ones Who had power over those local areas. I am currently farther away from my gods' cult centers than any ancient Egyptian could have possibly strayed- and yet They still reach me. I have my own theories as to how this is possible, but would like to hear what other temples have to say on the matter. I realize that this is not the sort of thing which many people wonder about- the gods do reach us, obviously, so does it matter how They do it? But it is something which interests me, and the Nisut promised to give the concept of Kemetic religion as a global religion some thought, so we'll see what comes of that.

Some random information which came up during the session is that the HoN's Nisut's officially divined Mother is Nit, and for offerings Nit has shown a liking for smooth river rocks, mirrors, red meat, savory spiced foods, sand, and hourglasses. Ssht has similarly approved of wind-related items, such as wind chimes, pinwheels, and those sheets of glass which twirl in the breeze- She also likes small knives and sharp objects, such as arrowheads. Members of Kemetic Orthodoxy have two different types of shines- official state shrines and personal shrines. A personal shrine can be pretty much whatever you want it to be, HoN's Nisut has a lego pharaoh on hers, because the gods found it amusing.^_~ However, they also have formal state shrines, which are more strictly regulated.

After more questions and answers, and a really amusing story of one member's run-in with Ast, the panel closed and folks began to disperse. I stuck around to ask one more question about the food models which I'd set up for my akhw- I've been using dollhouse food replicas to set up an offering banquet of a quality which I could not maintain in my actual offerings, and wanted to know if there was any sort of prayer or procedure that I could or should use to recharge them after a while. But the priests there reminded me that offerings should be eaten after they have been presented, and that models were used in tombs- not in the living cult of the family.^_^' So, it would seem that unless I plan on eating my models after offering them, I should refrain from using them. That was disappointing- it had been such a clever idea! I'm certain, however, that there is still some affordable way of increasing my offerings- quite likely one which makes use of the models. I am considering the construction of a water table, in fact, where water is poured over the models and then offered... and the water can certainly be drunk! But for the moment, I have captured the image of all my models in a glass of water, drunk the water (because I'm sure as hell not eating the models), and taken down the banquet. For now, it looks like my ancestors are stuck with whatever I'm having for dinner- although the priests told me that food offerings do not always have to be what is given, and akhw offerings only really need to be given once per week. Personally, I feel that food offerings are important to feed the kA, and it's fairly simple to recite the offering prayer over my evening meal each day- but it's interesting to hear that this is usually done once per week.

It was an informative talk, all in all- I had some questions answered and came up with a few more, which I plan on taking up on their forums (when I finally get around to posting there^_^'). The next Kemetic event came later on that afternoon- the Bast Festival!
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