Book Review: Ancient Egyptian Religion, An Interpretation

I've received many requests for a book which provides a good starting point for beginners, and with this book I think I have come very close to finding it. Ironically, out of the entire book, it was the chapter on the gods Themselves which I found to be a bit lacking- not necessarily bad or wrong, but just not nearly as helpful or insightful as the rest of the book. So for now, I'd almost recommend skipping the first chapter of this book, but buying it anyway for the other four- which document quite nicely the way in which ancient Egyptian religion was applied to other areas of life, including politics, ethics, attitudes toward death, and art. I feel that this kind of framework is very useful for Kemetics- it gives us a model for living the religion, and does it in a way which is academically supported (and as an added bonus to those who want it, it is not subject to any particular modern Temple's influence- though it can be used with any of them, from what I've seen). This is the most important thing for anyone attempting the reconstruction of an ancient religion to obtain- a basic scaffolding, that's all. Here is an outline of beliefs and how they connect to the different parts of daily life, to which any further scraps of information which may be obtained from other sources may be attached- slowly filling in the spaces between these most basic and important concepts in a meaningful way. And while it's true that the political section ("The Egyptian State, Chapter 2") is probably not quite as applicable as the others, it is still very important to understand the role of the king in ancient Egyptian religion- because for those of us who perform the Daily Rite, we are in effect stepping into his shoes temporarily and acting in his name. Be sure that you get the year 2000 reprint by Dover Publications- this is an edited and corrected version of the original 1948 printing (which is now quite out of date). The book is relatively short, inexpensive, and easy to find- my copy is a paperback, 156 pages of text, 15 pages of illustrations, a very brief time table, and a 10 page index.

As you may be able to tell, in reading through this book I was getting very excited. There is so much useful information, and presented in a fashion which is meant to make the practical application of the religion easy to understand- which is very rare in an academic text, since they generally do not have reconstructionist Pagans in mind while compiling their data and their arguments. This is a continual sense of frustration to many Kemetics, as you have to piece together an understanding of the basics in Kemetic religion before you can most effectively identify which factlets from an academic text will be useful and appropriate, but you also have to use those academic texts to build this basic understanding because most non-academic texts are unreliable- unless you're already an expert in the field.^_^' It can be done- it just requires a lot of reading, and there's definitely something to be said for that. However, the purpose of this book seems to be to combat the notion of ancient Egyptian religion as a jumble of data fragments, and to seek to understand it as a real and powerful force in the daily lives of real (and at one time, living) people. This naturally makes it very useful for those who wish to understand it as a real and powerful force in the daily lives of real (and relatively modern) people.^_^

Some of the subjects covered within the book which particularly caught my attention were the importance of tradition or "eternal values" in ancient Egyptian religion, the method by which multiple approaches could be taken to a problem and all be considered appropriate, the nature of personal and impersonal relationships with the deities, a brief but informative discussion of several different parts of the body (here, the bA, kA, xAt, and Ax are treated in turn- but we're missing the shadow and the name), the role of myths in folk tales and literature, and an insightful discussion of the nature of the ever popular "Field of Reeds" as an expression of the afterlife.

I gave this book a four scribe rating mainly due to the disappointment of the first chapter. I'm currently working on another book to replace it (Hornung's Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, which has looked wonderful so far), but if you must read Chapter One of the Interpretation, I suggest skipping the first five pages and starting at the first paragraphical indentation on page six. Otherwise, this book would have received top rating for the ease of its application to a reconstructionist effort, its easy availability, and the valuable framework it will provide for futher studies. I recommend this book to folks who already have a basic understanding of the religion, and who want clarification on some of the more complex details.

Rating: Four scribes (Great beginning book- but there are better sources than the first chapter)

  • Frankfort, Henri. Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

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    Safety tips from Anubis

    Given merybast's help, I've found another site which hosts this comic. And as it turns out, this is the original source of the comic after all! Click the link below to view a very important message from Our Sponsor... and then take a stroll through the site for a look at 664 other "interesting things."^_^' Enjoy!

    Safety tips from Anubis
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    Bast Project- The Light Bearer

    For our next title, I decided to go with one of my favorites- The Light Bearer. I don't know where this title originally came from, since it was one of the first few titles I acquired and at the time I didn't realize the importance of noting sources, but it has always had a warm place in my heart, and it seems simple enough to be one of the first subjects of this project.

    However, appearances can be deceiving. I have found at least two words meaning "bearer," TAw, and rmnj- both of which are appealing for different reasons.

    TAw means "bearer" in the sense of someone who carries something around. This word is specifically used to denote standard bearers, so for our purposes it is appealing in the sense that it would describe Bast as bearing Her light as a standard- a sacred flag- for all to know and follow.

    On the other hand, rmnj means "bearer" in the sense of someone who supports something- as the bearers of a processional shrine bear the weight of this sacred object upon their shoulders. In fact, the term bears a striking resemblance to the word rmn, which means "a processional shrine" ('glyphs shown to the right). This term is appealing due to the possible word-play invoking the sanctity of the shrine, but it places Bast in the possibly menial task of carrying the light's shrine around. On the other hand, a common Middle Egyptian idiom for "possession" of something was to say that the owner was "underneath" the object- i.e. carrying it. So use of this word may serve the double pun of a shrine-bearer and possessor of "the light," which will be the next subject of inquiry.

    Our first option for light specifically refers to firelight, and some of you may recognize the term rqH, also written "rekh," from the Festival of the Greater and Lesser Burnings, rqH aA rqH nDs, celebrated in the second month of Prt each year. Clearly this word has sacred implications, being associated with such a grand occasion. The main focus of this festival seems to be Hrw Bhdty, in His form of the Winged Sun Disc. In this festival Hrw burns away the traditional enemies of Kmt- it was probably a prime time for execration rituals, where the traditional enemies would be burned, cut, and trampled in effigy (and probably a few personal "enemies" made their way into the list as well). On this festival, we Kemetics celebrate the purifying power of the flame- lighting candles and fires to cleanse those parts of our lives and being which need to have a few things consumed. Not only Hrw, however, but also Skhmt and Hwt-Hrw make Their appearances in this Festival, as the Eyes of Ra. Bast is also an Eye of Ra, so the use of this word would underline the purifying power of Her flame, and draw in the associations of this festival with the epithet. Always a good thing.^_~

    However, let's look at some of the other candidates- sSp means "to be white, or bright," and when combined with the particle "n" it can be translated as "to lighten (i.e. to make the darkness brighter)." Now, I can't see us using that particle given the sort of phrase we're going to be making, and the title isn't about "lightening" the bearer, but rather about bearing the light, so we can reject this one.

    There is another, similar version of the word which holds more promise, however- Ssp also means "white or bright," but has a stronger association with light itself and can also be translated as "dawn" or "light." This word also bears a strong relationship to another term transliterated Ssp, which is show to the right and means "the image of a god." It might also be interesting to note that a completely unrelated word, ax, for which I will not give hieroglyphs at this time to avoid confusion, is translated both as "shining" and "effective," and the concepts of light and power/affluence do seem to go hand in hand in many aspects of ancient Egyptian theology.

    The grammar for this title is very similar to the last one- here again, I'll use a direct genitive (useful little construct, isn't it?^_^). So when we write our title "Light Bearer," we want to write the word for "light" last, because it will be the light's bearer, not the bearer's light.

    So, if we use this term Ssp for "light," and combine it with rmnj for "bearer," we will not only create the title of "Light Bearer," with the associations of power and effectiveness which go with the concept of light itself- we will paint a literary picture of a divine statue within a processional shrine, giving the title a second layer of existence with a distinctly sacred setting, and associating it with those festival forrays in which the image of the god was brought out among the people in celebration, ritual, and oracular consultation.

    However, if we use the term rqH for "light"- and at this point I'm still favoring rmnj for "bearer"- we invoke the purifying power of the flame, and the associations with the festival of rqH aA rqH nDs, The Greater and Lesser Burnings.

    I'm undecided at this point which is better- they both have good points which I wouldn't want to give up. For those who have followed me this far^_^- which one do you prefer?

    Back to the Titulary List
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    Bast Project- The Lady of Truth

    Well, the title which Bast had originally wanted me to start with was a bit too complicated, so we decided to go with a simple yet important one first. The vocabulary for this one, at least, is fairly straightforward; there is nbt, meaning "lady," and maAt which is much more difficult to define- but I'm certain that it's the word which is meant in this title.

    The title for "Lady" is written nbt- basically it's the same as "Lord" except that we add on a -t suffix for a feminine interpretation. Simple enough- you can use this when refering to any ancient Egyptian god or goddess if you like. Just place the title before the names you call Them, for an added element of formality and respect- though some, such as Nbt Ht, already have the title in common use.

    The word for "Truth" in this case is maAt, which has a whole range of meanings including concepts of order, justice, harmony, balance, righteousness, and appropriate action. Add all those meanings up together and take an average, and you'll get a general sense of maAt. I personally view it as a system of relationships, and liken it to a great machine with many interlocking parts. So long as all the relationships/gears of the various different parts of creation are functioning as they were meant to do, then the system glides along smoothly and efficiently, and we find ourselves in a state of maAt.

    So now that we have our words, we can move on to a little grammar.^_^ For this sort of association between two nouns, "Lady" and "Truth," I'd use something called a direct genitive. Basically this means that if you take two nouns and place them right next to one another, the latter noun "owns" the former noun- or shows some sort of possessive relationship towards it (which is commonly translated with the particle "of," or simply by translating the two words without anything between them). For instance, the phrase Hm nTr, also written "hem netjer," is a direct genitive. The word Hm means "servant," and we all know what nTr means^_~, so in this case the phrase translates as "God's Servant," "God servant" (in the sense of a servant who serves God, not a God who is a servant), or "Servant of God." In other words, a priest. So when we write our title "Lady of Truth," we want to write the word for "Lady" first, because it will be the Lady of Truth, not the Truth of the Lady.

    It's important to note that the spelling of maAt which I am using specifically refers to maAt as a concept, not a goddess. The ntjrt's name is spelled slightly differently in the heiroglyphs, so this is how we know that we are speaking of the Lady of Truth, and not Lady Ma'at. However, the similarity is enticing, and titles frequently involve wordplay- so perhaps there is some siginificance implied when granting this title to a deity. All the gods live on maAt, after all, and so maAt is a part of Their essential being.

    And so- placing the two terms together in the appropriate order, we express Bast's association with Divine Order and social harmony through the hieroglyphs:

    Back to the Titulary List

    Bast Project- The Writing of Her Titles

    Today I am beginning a project which is long overdue- the exploration of Bast's titulary list through recreating each name's writing in the original hieroglyphs. Without an original source with which to compare my results, these writings will remain as my best effort and we will not know if it is exactly the way that each title would have been written in temples. However, I hope to explore each of the terms which might possibly go into the writing of these Names, and hopefully learn more about Bast and Her people in general. As Eric Hornung says, in his book Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt:

    "Thus in the case of divine names and epithets, the nature and sphere of influence of a god are extended as the number of his names increases. By using many epithets the believer testifies to the abundant nature and rich and powerful substance embodied in the god who is addressed. Just as every visible image enhances the reality of the god, so also does every name or epithet that is applied to him- hence the tendency of hymns and litanies to cloak great gods such as Re, Osiris, or Amun in a mass of epithets, and to address and praise them with ever more names...

    These are not mere glorifying phrases for the god who is being worshiped; behind every name and every epithet there is a reality of myth or cult, which is often incorporated more directly into the invocations by means of wordplay."

    If anyone has original source material to offer on confirming or expanding our understanding of each of these titles, please share! I will be using WikiHeiro to create the images used in this project- it's a wonderful free program for anyone who is interested in sharing hieroglyphic writing through the internet. If you use WikiHeiro, I've found that the best method is to use a screencap to save the word or phrase once it's been laid out in the 'glyphs, then crop and edit the image as needed. Otherwise, each 'glyph will be hosted as an independent image.

    For the purposes of this project, all hieroglyphs will be written from left to right.

    The best of these titles will be incorporated into a beautiful Bast portrait, which kefi is creating.^_~

    The list so far:

    Lady of Truth
    Light Bearer
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    A rant on calendars...

    I'm becoming increasingly unsatisfied with my current ritual calendar. It's finally become so frustrating that I'm seriously thinking about purchasing/finding a program to track the rising of Spdt on my own, and do some reading on the subject so that I can at least re-align the old Per Ankh calendar I'd been using, and correct the bugs which I've discovered while following along through the past few years.

    It's really pissing me off, though- such an important tool to be used in aligning ourselves with the rhythm of Ma'at and it hasn't been updated since it was first posted three years ago? Not only have the existing dates not been adjusted, but the glitches haven't been addressed- is anyone over there actually following the calendar? How could they not have noticed? It seems like, as with so much stuff over there, they had a really promising start, and then nothing was ever added, what was accomplished isn't maintained, and the systems which were just being put into effect when I left have withered like a leaf cut from the rest of the plant. I know that they didn't deal well with me, personally, but I had hopes that they would at least keep up with their own facilities. What's going on over there?

    I just found a website which offers a program for calculating the heliacal rising of our star- it can be found here, though I'm not sure if this is the one being used by Akhet Hwt-Hrw. I should ask them about where they got their system- I've heard them talk about it before, but didn't really take notice since I was content with Per Ankh's calendar at the time. This site, though, offers a free test- you can calculate the heliacal rising date of Spdt/Sirius (or any star really, but do we really care about any others?^_~) for any year between 4712 BCE and 2012 CE, for any city for which you can find the latitude and altitude. Interesting- I wonder how many times they'll let me try this. Perhaps I can map out my starting dates for each of the years between now and 2012, at least- and perhaps I'll be able to see a pattern which will carry me past then? Sweet- now I just need to figure out how many landmarks go into setting the rest of the dates from there, and it should all fall into place. ^_^


    So, I just tried it and got a very surprising result- for the city of San Francisco, given a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius and 85% relative humidity Wp Rnpt begins on:

    October 8th, 2005

    Wow, that's... really different from what I'd expected.^_^' If anyone else tries out this program, for any city- but especially if you check out San Francisco- please post your results here. It looks like you only get one shot, and I'd like to gather starting dates for each year in San Francisco and see how much it varies from one location to the next. You only get one shot, apparently, and I used mine on San Francisco in 2005. After you get your date, you can further refine it by finding the average temperature and morning relative humidity in a second run with more parameters. I found my temperature and humidity on AskJeeves.com- you can convert their Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius by subtracting 32 degrees and dividing the result by 1.8. Let me know what parameters you used when you post your results.^_^
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    Musings on afterlife beliefs in Kemetic religion

    In Kemetic tradition, there are several interpretations of the afterlife. Once the kA has been justified in a trial based on that person's actions in life, it unites with the bA and produces something called an Ax- more commonly spelled "akh"- which means "a shining/effective spirit." The words for "shining" and "effective" are the same, so it's a pun. The akhw (plural for akh) are represented as stars in the sky, and act as intermediaries between humans and spirits- being spiritual entities themselves, and yet having connections with those on earth, they are in a prime position to act as a sort of bridge. This sort of "job" is what I mostly hope for out of the afterlife. I really enjoy interacting with the modern Kemetic community, I've learned a lot from it, and I enjoy seeing the way our temples are growing and our people are learning- so I want to continue doing this after I die.

    But that's not the only place you can end up- there are many parts to the body, and so the different aspects of being can end up in different places. I'm not sure how all of these interact with each other at this point, but there's also a place called "The Field of Reeds" which seems to be an ideal pastoral setting- where the kA of a person (the energetic double, which contains the memories and personality of a particular life, and is shaped by that person's experiences as they develop) will continue living, much as they would in a similar "lifetime" setting. Here you can grow crops, practice trades, raise families if you want (yes, you can have kids in the afterlife- I wonder if they come from those who die young?), throw parties, and in some cases even rub elbows with the ntjrw Themselves. I've heard of some ntjrw having specialized areas of the afterlife where Their most devoted followers go- Mai-Hs, son of Bast, for instance, is one such god. I suspect that there are others; the afterlife is a big place, with many different fields and divisions.

    Then there is the bA, which I think of as being the essential essence of a person- kind of like a eternal spark of life, or perhaps it's like a piece of divinity which serves as our spiritual core. I'm still ironing out exactly what all the different parts do- it can be difficult since I don't think the ancient Egyptians left us a manual, and most egyptologists don't seem to care much for going in-depth on the theory, but I pick up what I can from my readings in different places. The bA is much more mobile than other parts of the body, and is usually shown as a bird with that person's head. It can travel back and forth between the realms of the living and the dead, and between the various aspects of its former body. There are spells for the bA to use to take on various different forms, so this part of a person could come back to the living world, take on a different form, and watch over/continue to be with living persons for short periods of time. I get the feeling that it can't sustain those forms for very long, but I have no idea what the limit would be- in order to sustain these abilities, however, it needs to be able to periodically reunite with the kA and either the body of the deceased, or a special image of that person's living appearance which was created for the purpose. Personally, I plan on having a small statue created for the purpose.

    However, if a soul fails that all important initial test, then the heart is thrown to the Devourer, Am-Mt, and the kA is destroyed. I see this as an opportunity to start from scratch, as nothing is said about what happens to the bA- I assume that it is placed into a new body to try again. My basis for believing this is that I know of at least one king by the name of "He of many births," there are references in the Book of Coming Forth by Day to souls who are "born again in the morning like Ra," and there is a square on the senet board- a game which approximates the afterlife journey- which is called the "Square of Rebirth" or the "Square of Good Returns," to which one is sent after falling to a perilous square immediately following the square of embalment. I interpret this as meaning that the soul fails an ordeal in the afterlife, and gets sent back to "try again." To me, this makes a great deal of sense, and there are a few other Kemetics who agree with me.

    And so I leave it at that- in the end, I don't spend too much time worrying about it, as I will simply have to cross that bridge when I come to it, and before that- unless I improve my trance journeying ability- there's no real way for me to take a good look around before I go. For now, this is my working theory of the Kemetic afterlife.

    I also believe in multiple afterlife environments, however- I suspect all the various afterlife places which are described by different religions do in fact exist, and that which one you travel to depends on what direction you're facing (i.e. where you believe you'll end up) when you die. Your soul goes to whichever place best matches its expectations of the afterlife, in other words. This makes me wonder about families and friends who follow different religious systems. For most religions, it would probably be similar to living in different neighborhoods or even different states or countries- depending on how "far apart" the afterlife beliefs of those systems turned out to be. I suspect that I could get a passport to travel between realms fairly easily from Djhwty, but then there are other afterlife realms where the inhabitants are not quite so friendly towards outsiders. Christian heaven, for instance, would probably be locked up like a fort, and I don't know how difficult it would be to visit people in there- or if those people would be allowed out to socialize with the rest of us (or more appropriately, perhaps, if they would be allowed back in afterwards). But most likely something could be worked out- I wonder if they have a mail system? I know that the living can send letters to the dead, so I suspect that the deceased can write to one another as well.
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    The problem of Reconstructionism

    I'm a Reconstructionist, which means that I try to re-create the religion of a particular culture in a way which the people of that culture would recognize as their own. I do this because I believe that these people had an intimate relationship with the deities to Whom I have dedicated myself, and that those deities played a major role in creating that culture and shaping the form of the religion which those people practiced into a format which They felt was most appropriate and pleasing to Themselves. So basically, I do this because I feel that it is a way of showing my devotion to Their cause, and also a tried and true method for connecting with Them and learning all that They have to teach me as a human being.

    I believe in these ancient deities because I have felt Them, I have heard Them, and I have seen Them. It's not really what I'd call a matter of faith, per se- I'm the sort of person who's more prone to logic and practicality, and I base most of my philosophies on experience. But when I ask my gods about Who They are, They usually respond by sitting back with an enigmatic smile and wait for me to figure it out. So I go out searching, and for my answers I look to the people who have had the most experience with these Beings before me- the ancients whose lives were shaped by these gods. I look for my answers in books, museums, and lectures provided by respectable members of academic communities, because I value the dependability of their facts and their methods, and I gradually piece together a theology and a practice which facilitates my relationship with the divine.

    But what happens when the academics' view of history changes? From time to time a new breakthrough will be made which significantly alters the way we look at history, and we revise our theories accordingly. As scholars we may learn amazing new things, but what about those of us who had a spiritual stake in the way things were before? What do we do when our theological foundation shifts beneath our feet?

    I view my understanding of Kemetic religion as a model- it helps me to understand the gods of ancient Egypt, and it predicts the way that They and the world of Their creation will react when I behave a certain way. So far I've found it to be fairly effective in its function, though that doesn't necessarily mean that it is always accurate in its depiction. To compare it to a different field, which may help illustrate my view, it's a lot like the way we use Bohr's model of the atom to teach people how atoms interact with one another. Bohr's model shows us electrons orbiting neatly in concentric circles around a nucleus. This is absolutely not the way that electrons behave- atoms don't look anything like this, and we know this. But the model is effective for predicting how atoms bond with one another, and for teaching students the basics of this process. After this is learned, students are shown more complex models of atoms which bring them closer to understanding what an atom is really like. Likewise, models of reconstructionist religions may not be entirely accurate when they are first constructed, but at the time they are created they are tested and evaluated by how well they work in spiritual practice. Whenever we gain new insight into the nature of the subject, we should reflect on how and why our spirituality worked under the old model. Then we may incorporate that experience with the new knowledge, and create a revised version of the model which will be even more effective and bring us ever closer to a true understanding of the nature of divinity. This is a process that can, and should, reflect our growth within the religion throughout our lifetime- it is the sign of a living, vibrant, and active faith.

    This is my take on the issue; I would love to hear from other reconstructionists on how they deal with this problem.
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    Ashes and Snow

    There is an exquisite photography gallery on tour right now, which anyone in an area where they stop should see at all costs. The gallery is called "Ashes and Snow," and is a collection of photographs by Gregory Colbert taken in many different parts of the world, showing the indigenous people and various species of native animals together in scenes which evoke a sense of profound harmony and balance. Colbert's goal for this series was to remove the barriers between humans and other living beings, showing his subjects not as animals who have become a member of the family of man, but man as a part of the family of animals. The complete work is composed of three parts- the gallery of photographs, a video explaining the purpose of the exhibit and how it was made, and a novel which tracks the fictional journey of a man around the world through the 365 letters he writes to his wife. Supposedly, this novel expresses the meaning of the gallery of images, and explains the gallery title. From the accounts I've heard of previous visitors, the gallery is a breathtaking experience not only in the artistry of the photographs, but also the architecture of the traveling museum which houses it. The video is something to be skipped- the artist comes off sounding arrogant and cloying. No one has yet commented on the book.

    I found this exhibit through an article in Smithsonian Magazine, and one picture in particular caught my attention. It's a scene of a youth (beautiful enough to be either a boy or a girl, I can't really tell) dancing in the "mortuary" temple of Hatshepsut with a falcon. The picture is included below, underneath a cut tab for those who would like to see it. There is one more set of two photographs of this youth in the temple if you follow the link to the gallery's homepage and chose "Images and Archives" from the menu. These photographs are absolutely beautiful- I am sitting here in tears and in awe, and wishing that I could make it down to Los Angeles when the tour comes to my area. We'll see. For now- go and enjoy these beautiful images! A small selection is available on the gallery homepage.

    Dancing in the Temple of HatshepsutCollapse )
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    GlyphStudy group

    The coordinator of my Middle Egyptian study group is starting up a new group, which already has 74 members enrolled and almost that many more who have said that they intend to join. I feel that this is a group I can vouch for, since I am currently studying with this lady and I know that she is serious about her language studies and is not going to be starting up a group which will then be neglected. We've been working together for a year now, and she has been working through the book with various other study partners well before we met.

    If anyone is working through James P. Allen's Middle Egyptian grammar, has tried it before, or is interested in studying with us and would like a more structured, and peer-assisted learning environment, I highly recommend that you join this group. It's difficult to keep up the pace without people to ask when you have questions, or a task-master to keep you on track (a job at which K/maatra2- our lovely moderator- excels, which is how she earned her title as "Djhwty's strong right arm"^_~). If you are seriously interested in working with us (I will be joining the group as a review), then you should join the two associated lists.

    The GlyphStudy Yahoo list will be used for discussing study aids, special fonts, meeting times, and arranging chat study sessions for those who want them, and other administrative subjects. This is being done to lessen the post-load we will be placing on the AEL list.

    The Ancient Egyptian Language List (AEL) will be used for asking questions regarding lessons and homework, where we will have an audience of more experienced language learners (some of whom are professionals in the field) who have offered to support us. Also offering to support the group is the Center for Computer Aided Egyptological Research, which has generously offered to give members of this group a discount on a couple of their programs.

    Learning the language is a difficult undertaking, which I personally value for my Kemetic practice, but it is not absolutely necessary and it is not for everyone. If you're going to try, though, I have found Allen's grammar to be interesting- the end of each chapter has essays which feature different aspects of AE culture, which help to associate the language with the culture, and provide an informative study break/reward for making it through the preceding pages.^_~

    There is also an LJ community, middle_egyptian, which seems to have a few Kemetic members who are studying with this same book. You might consider joining both of these groups, and help to raise the literacy level of our modern Kemetic community.