Altar, Devotion, Discernment, Egyptian Gods, Egyptian Wisdom Text, Gods, Instructions for Merikare, Kemetic, Offerings, Polytheism, Prayer, Set, Seth, shrine, Spiritual, Sutekh, The Shipwrecked Sailor, Voices of the Nile
Personal interactions with the Gods are a natural occurrence, and more frequent for some than others. These personal interactions can be entirely authentic and legitimate, and worthy of discussion. Discussing these interactions and understandings openly is all well and good; however, there is a point at which intimate musings of the Divine cease being intimate musings of the Divine, and become unsubstantiated ramblings about what sounds like either an imaginary friend or the echoings of headvoices, if not contrived fantasies about deities perjured for the purpose of garnering attention, “fitting in,” and setting oneself up as a “spiritual authority” in communities with no sense of eldership, nor respect for proven elders.
Another general trend that I’ve noticed among the Polytheist communities I frequent is that there is an overabundance of attention diverted to “altar porn” and “iconography hoarding” (much as I adore an abundance of religious iconography within my own surroundings, iconography hoarding is a problem many Polytheists have and don’t care to own up to), and laundry list-keeping of what offerings any given God likes or dislikes, being the only details explored with any semblance of depth.
This needs to stop. It’s all pomp and no substance. It is not religion. It is not an earnest pursuit of theological study. It is not an exploration of the Divine, but pretense. Nothing more. Such materialist headlessness gets in the way of all “Pagan” movements, their ability to grow, and others’ ability to take them — us — at all seriously.
The dissemination of erroneous, plagiarized “information” such as this certainly doesn’t help matters. It is a prime example of the blind leading the blind — or, in more kindly terms, the misinformed leading the uninformed.
The cited Tumblr page is merely a plagiarized regurgitation of a Wepwawet Wiki page. The Wiki itself offers no proper academic citation of any kind, and makes no distinction between “personal gnosis” and experience and scholarship. And therein lies the problem: there is no attempt at discernment when committing ideas to the written word, and whatever content is written, no matter how unsubstantiated or crude, it is accepted readily as though it were established “fact,” and its eager supporters accredited Historians and Theologians. There is limited educated criticism, and a general inability on the part of individuals to accept, withstand, and learn from educated criticism. The inexperienced prop themselves up in leadership positions for which they are lamentably ill-equipped, and then suffer histrionic fits when they inevitably fall down.
As it is in the world of Fitness, if someone who has never been to a gym before and has never lifted a kettle bell does not have an experienced personal trainer to guide the individual through the processes of learning how to properly exercise their muscles, that someone will inevitably damage their own body by jumping too hastily into a particular exercise, and performing that exercise incorrectly. Of course, the most inexperienced and headstrong will protest, maintaining that they have been in correct form the entire time, and then wonder why their physical health and performance are not improving!
Voice of the Nile ‘s author’s characterization of Set is categorically false and inappropriate in the face of the sum of all Egyptological knowledge — a choice example of an individual attempting to deadlift weight they have not sufficiently trained for. Contrary to the author’s misinformation, Set was, and still very much is, the God of frightening natural phenomena — all frightening natural phenomena, not “just thunderstorms.” In one myth, Set took the form of a great black boar, and swallowed the eye(s) of Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger), or in some variations, the moon itself, undisguised by iconographic symbolism. This act serves as a metaphor for the celestial phenomena of lunar eclipses, and engendered the folk superstition that Set was believed to literally cause lunar eclipses, in His squabbles with His nephew. (Meeks, 61) Set was likewise identified with circumpolar constellations which never set below the perceived horizon, as well as the planet we now know as Mercury, thought to cause every manner of celestial upset. (Meeks, 118) And, while a greatly and persistently revered God at many points in Egyptian History, Set was considered to be a troublemaker in general. (Meeks, 23) Unlike His “perfect” Divine fellows, Set was believed to be the quintessential “excessive” God: violent, aggressive, given to drink. It was these outrageous qualities which garnered Set associations with earthquakes, storms of virtually every kind, and other disquieting natural phenomena. (Meeks, 107) The rending self-birth of Set from his mother Nut’s womb was the specific mythic event which garnered Him an association with thunderstorms, but not the only instance of Set displaying His power in nature, and not His only personification as a force of nature.
A simple trip to the local library, or petitioning the wisdom of someone legitimately well-versed in the subject, could have spared the author of Voices of the Nile that embarrassing mischaracterization of a God (s)he emptily claims to know so very much about. Talking about the Gods like “imaginary friends” does not equate knowledge, much less wisdom. And Google, despite popular belief, is not a reliable source of information, much less an outstanding source for locating scholarly articles on Egyptology and historical (or applied Modern) Kemetic practice.
Likewise, the writer behind Voices of the Nile demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of Egyptian Theology and both historical and Modern Kemetic practice. Citing Dimitri Meeks’ Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods once again, he relays to us:
When one observes the representations, in the temple reliefs, of the mounds of food piled up as offerings to the Gods, or when one peruses the lists and enumerations of the extremely varied foodstuffs intended for Them, one tends to imagine that the Gods reveled in lavish, sumptuous feasts liberally supplied with meat and drink. But this was not at all the case. The copious meals offered to the Gods by men and ultimately eaten by the priests contrasted sharply with the eating habits that prevailed in the Divine world. The Gods avoided excess; as a rule, Their meals were frugal . . . Bread and fresh water were the usual fare.
The “meme” that has been perpetuated — the idea that no one should ever offer a Desert God like Set cool, fresh water, the most basic and established of all offerings — has no basis in theological nor Egyptological fact. The Upper (Southern) Egyptian God ‘Ash, sometimes considered to be one of Set’s (homosexual) consorts and portrayed with essentially the same likeness as Set, was and is God of the Western Desert, Libyan in origin, and considered, among other roles, “Lord of the Oasis.” Set acquired this function when His cult absorbed ‘Ash and His roles and qualities at Nubt (Ombos); ‘Ash’s presence (though He had no formal, centralized cult) is believed to have predated Set’s most ancient Upper Egyptian cult. In short, Set is also “Lord of the Oasis.” Water is not “out of His element,” nor is it out of any God’s element, as Meeks’ text illuminates. Indeed, from the New Kingdom Period onward, the most popular title bestowed upon persons charged with overseeing offerings in tomb service was w3h-mw, meaning “Offerer of the Water” — if that says anything of the importance of water as an offering within historical Egyptian religion. (Redford et al., 286)
The reader may have noticed how dauntingly and parochially the list of prescribed “acceptable” offerings presented in the Voices of the Nile entry appear. There is a blatant emphasis placed on the material substance rather than the intangible, transformative nature of the spiritual transaction. Such materialist emphases overwhelm many practitioners, especially newcomers to revived religions, who feel they must burden garish altars with lavish and expensive offerings upon the Gods. Unless one has committed a severe transgression against a God, and that God demands stringent reparations for the violation of a taboo, the material of the offering is often of little consequence. At least, within the Egyptian mind. In The Ancient Gods Speak – A Guide to Egyptian Religion, contributing scholar Gertie Englund cites lines 128 – 9 of the Instructions for Merikare:
The good qualities of the straightforward person are preferred to the ox of the evildoer.
This same attitude is reflected in the tale of “The Shipwrecked Sailor.” When the protagonist was going back home to Egypt, he took leave of the owner of the island, the Divine Serpent, Who was a representation of the Creator God. The protagonist offered to send all of the riches of Egypt to the Divine Serpent once he had safely returned home. However, the Divine Serpent laughed at the sailor’s offer, saying that He had plenty and could not want for anything on His abundant island, since He was rightful owner of all good things. There was, however, one thing the Divine Serpent wished of the sailor: that the sailor should make His name renowned in his town. The lesson of this tale is that gratitude, remembrance, and adulation of the Divine were infinitely more important than any physical exchange of gifts. Offerings, according to Englund, are part of a continuous exchange of energies that correspond to a holistic worldview, where everything in Creation is ecologically linked in a network of energies. The human being’s role and duty in this network is to contribute to its functioning by perpetuating ma’at. (Redford et al., 286) To dump an excess of expensive offerings on one’s altar, to buy for the Gods ornate icons and objects — while one is certainly welcome to do that if fulfilling — is no substitute for engendering ma’at in the world. Acting in accordance with ma’at and giving the Gods one’s love are the most perfect and highest offerings one can give. Material wealth means nothing in the face of ma’at.
To that end, even substitute offerings historically were, and still are, accepted by deities (and the ancestors). Citing Gertie Englund once again:
Despite the superabundance of offerings, the material offering was not the essential thing. The act of devotion was more important than the material gift, as was attested by substitute offerings. Reciting the offering formula was an adequate substitute for the actual offering. This is particularly well attested where tomb owners addressed themselves to passersby, demanding that the offering formula be read on their behalf. It takes no effort to read it, and it does not take long, they say, but for the grave owner, it is of great importance. As the owner’s name is mentioned in the formula, reading it out makes the owner live on, in the memory of posterity. Further evidence for substitutes of the actual offerings are the figures of wax or incense and the replicas of cake that replace material offerings.
(284 – 5)
Substitute offerings function quite similarly in relation to deity offerings, and sculptural offerings likewise function in the same manner, to the same ends, by the same principles.
In short, material is unnecessary. What Wepwawet Wiki and Voices of the Nile have to say about “acceptable offerings” has no bearing on the reality of the Theology or praxis. Someone who wishes to commune with the Gods does not need expensive icons or fancy altars or luxuriant offerings. By all means, make your altar icons with your own hands! It is one of the highest forms of devotion, however skilled or unskilled the laborer, however refined or primitive the look of the finished product. To reiterate, the only offerings of true and ultimate value to the Gods, according to historical Egyptian beliefs, are ma’at and devotion to the Gods.
To burden practitioners with “altar porn,” to stress impressionable newcomers to Polytheism with nauseatingly long lists of “acceptable” offerings, is to drive oneself and others further and further away from the founding principles of Kemetic religion. It is to put more and more distance between oneself and the Gods.
This is an appeal to sensibility and discernment. Whatever you do, dear reader, please, don’t plagiarize Wiki pages and tout it as “fact.” Do your research, and don’t be afraid to ask for help in regards to that research. Seek out, heed, and respect the wisdom of your proven spiritual/religious elders and more seasoned academics. Be an active and productive member of the community of your religious discipline. Do not blindly accept the flotsam you find polluting the internet from people you don’t know — a scholar’s word is only as reliable as hir sources. And if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to pursue these subjects in college.
Kemetic religion may be in possession of a number of ram cults, but it is by no means a religion for sheep.
W O R K S C I T E D
Dollinger, André. “Ash.” Ancient Egyptian Deities (November 2006): n.pag. reshafim.org. Web. 11 Dec 2012. <http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/religion/ash.htm>.
Meeks, Dimitri, Christine Favard-Meeks. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. English trans., Goshgarian, G. M. Cornell University Press. Ithaca : 1996.
Redford et al. The Ancient Gods Speak – A Guide to Egyptian Religion. Oxford University Press. New York : 2002.