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Tomb of Amonherkhepshef (QV55). Ramesses III embraces the God Tatenen; at right, the young prince Amonherkhepshef is in adoration before the Jackal God Duamutef (not shown).

Tomb of Amonherkhepshef (QV55). At left, Ramesses III embraces the chthonic deity Tatenen (center), one of several Gods associated with the Primordial Mound, the sacred Nile, and the concept of spontaneous creation and rebirth in Ancient Egyptian religion. At right, the young prince Amonherkhepshef is in adoration before the Jackal God Duamutef (not shown).

How one interacts with the Netjeru is a primary concern for newcomers to the highly complex religion of Kemeticism. With hundreds of Gods and an alien, convoluted series of regional theologies, learning how to relate to, and worship, the Netjeru “properly” can seem an oppressive, daunting, and confusing task — even to those of us who have been practicing for some time, and have learned a thing or two about the Gods Who have already made Themselves known to us.

How do we reconcile the past with the present when it comes to praxis? Do we need primary “Patron” deities? How do we find our “Patron” deity or deities? What are we obligated to say, do, and know regarding the Gods of our understanding, in order to be considered “good Kemetics?”

While there aren’t many clear-cut or definitive answers to these questions, I shall certainly attempt to address them as helpfully and honestly as I can. To put forth a necessary disclaimer, what answers and strategies I provide to the reader in this entry are not supreme universal truths or cure-alls. I’m drawing water from my own well, so to speak. To extend that metaphor, I’m not forcing anyone to drink the water from my well; but if anyone wants to drink it, it’s free and potable.

S T A T E   G O D S   A N D   P E R S O N A L   P I E T Y   :
T H E N   A N D   N O W


T h e n

In Antiquity, both before and after the alleged “unification” of Egypt, the territories of that disjointed once-Empire were divided into a series of provinces called sepatu, or nomes, the number and boundaries of which changed over time. Despite these periodic changes in Ancient Egypt’s political map, scholars tend to designate 42 nomes total for all of Ancient Egypt: 20 nomes in Lower Egypt, and 22 in Upper Egypt. Each of these 42 nomes was dominated by an administrative center, and each of these administrative centers was home to at least one religious cult.

A full-color vignette of Ramses III (far right) before the Gods of Iunu/On (Heliopolis). From right to left: Ra-Horakhty, Iusaas-Nebethetepet, and Hathor-Nebethetepet.  Circa 1184–1053 BCE, ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

A full-color vignette on papyrus of Ramesses III (far right) before the Gods of Iunu/On (Heliopolis). From right to left: Ra-Heruakhty, Atum, Hathor-Nebthet-epet, and Iusaas-Nebthet-epet. Circa 1184–1053 BCE, ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Among the numerous chief religious centers in Ancient Egypt throughout various periods of its history were economic and/or political capital cities such as:

  • Djedet (Mendes)
  • Men-nefer (Memphis)
  • Henen-nesu (Herakleopolis Magna)
  • Khmun (Hermopolis)
  • Djanet (Tanis)
  • Asyut (Lykopolis)

The quadriform Ram God Banebdjedet, and His consort, the Fish Goddess of the Inundation, Hatmehyt, were the chief Gods of Djedet. The cult of Tatenen, and later, the cult of the High God Ptah, were centered in Men-nefer. The Atef crown-wearing Ram God Herishef and a regional form of the Goddess Hathor were the reigning deities of Henen-nesu. The ibis-headed Djehuty was the High God out of Khmun. At Djanet, which was founded toward the end of the 20th Dynasty, the Storm God Set and His foreign consort from Canaan, the War Goddess ‘Anat, were the preeminent Gods of the Northeast Delta region. At Asyut, the cults of the Jackal Gods Duamutef, Yinepu, and Wepwawet thrived, and for Their cults the Hellenes later dubbed the city “Lykopolis,” or “City of the Wolves.” (Irytsabu) These Gods were, in Modern layman’s terms, the “Patrons” of Their respective cities. Not all cult centers worshiped all the same Gods, however. The average Egyptian was probably aware of only a handful of Gods, and not much more could be boasted by the average priest. There was no true sense of a universal, united “pantheon” of which every Egyptian, from every town and city, from every stratum of society, was aware and personally worshiped with ritual uniformity. Indeed, it wasn’t until well after the 12th Dynasty that the concept of a Supreme State God and an all-encompassing Henotheistic cult — that of Amun(-Ra) — became a widespread, national religious norm (though it should be noted that individual praxis remained outwardly Polytheistic despite the Henotheistic nature of the official State religion).

In fact, before the New Kingdom Period, the average person had virtually no personal interaction with a deity or His/Her cult. Those involved in institutionalized religion — the upper echelons of the priesthood, and the Pharaoh — had direct access to the heart of a cult and its deity, since they (the Pharaoh especially) were the intermediaries between mankind and the Divine, and were directly responsible for the maintenance of ma’at. (Redford et al., 311) Direct personal interaction on the part of a non-priest with a deity was seldom a religious norm in Ancient Egyptian religion, but it is at the very least evident that such interaction, referred to as personal piety, was something the average Ancient Egyptian aspired to. (Baines et al., 172) As mentioned in the article I wrote on ritual purity, the average Egyptian never set foot inside the temple, and absolutely never came into contact with a deity’s cult icon, much less in the inner sanctum. Indeed, few among any given cult’s priesthood were authorized to be in direct contact with the cult icon, nor were many priests authorized to enter into the inner sanctum where it was kept. Rather, public festivals and processions were a person’s primary exposure to a deity’s icon and the deity’s cult before the New Kingdom. (Baines et al., 173) Sadly, we do not know much about what commoners did specifically, though we do know that the “decorum” prior to the New Kingdom — that is, a set of rules defining what could and could not be expressed in art or literature by specific persons in certain (religious) contexts according to Ancient Egyptian culture, religion, and morality — severely limited what the average person could do. (Redford et al., 312) According to Boyo Ockinga, until the Middle Kingdom,  “decorum excluded the possibility for non-royal persons to depict deities on their monuments; they appeared only in texts, almost exclusively of a funerary nature, or in the form of their emblems.” (Redford et al., 312) Indeed, it wasn’t until the end of the Middle Kingdom that non-royal persons began commissioning depictions of themselves worshiping a deity or deities on devotional stelae.

Precious few pre-New Kingdom texts have been identified in which people state they are devotees of various deities or make comparable pious declarations. The few known examples appear in unconventional contexts, “being either a small stela of very low artistic quality, or a pair of harpists songs without parallel.” (Baines et al., 174 – 5) Baines likewise notes that in hymns, particularly those of the Middle Kingdom Period, the choice of which God to address in a hymn (such as those from Abydos that address Min, Who is not an Abydene God) might point to a personal, interactive relationship with that God, “but such an interpretation is unlikely to be widely valid.” (Baines et al., 175)

In short, before the New Kingdom Period, due to the veritable monopoly royals and high-ranking functionaries had over access to and depiction of the Gods (decorum), we don’t know for certain what manner of relationship the average person had with a deity, and in what context. It is likely, however, that the average individual did not have a personal “Patron” deity. If they did have one, it was likely the chief deity of their locality, but the relationship was probably not horribly personal.

Khafre Valley Temple

Khafre’s Valley Temple floor plans.

Temples are a tangible reflection of the state of personal piety at various points in Egyptian History. During the Old Kingdom Period, temples were rather closed off, and non-priests were very isolated from the religious activities conducted by authorized personnel within. Not many examples of Old Kingdom architecture survive, but one of the finest and best-preserved examples is Khafre’s Valley Temple. Though part of a larger mortuary complex, designed to meet the ritual needs of the deceased, it viscerally channels the highly elitist, insular attitude of State religion during that period. Temples with such floor plans had no place to accommodate commoners, who were invariably restricted access at the gateways of temples. (Oakes, Gahlin, 147 – 8) The temple was considered the home of a God (and sometimes His consort and Their offspring). As such, it was a sacred and secret area, providing for the physical needs of the deity, which correspond to the physical needs of (elite) mortals and how (elite) mortals lived (in luxury). The pylon, or monumental gateway, formed the entrance to the God’s home, with the open interior courts representing the space where in an ordinary house visitors would have been entertained. The hypostyle hall formed the area that would correspond in a mundane mortal dwelling private rooms, such as a bedroom. (Oakes, Gahlin, 148) Only the Pharaoh, who was in some respects considered a God, and other high-ranking religious officials, would be permitted to set foot in these intimate areas belonging to any given deity.

Though not to suggest an instant transition, by juxtaposing the religious architectural styles of the New Kingdom with the Old, the sharp contrast between Old and New Kingdom Period views on personal piety can be seen more clearly. A more open, welcoming style of temple was being constructed during the New Kingdom Period, one which included what is known as a peristyle hall. The peristyle hall was meant to accommodate non-priestly visitors to a temple, allowing worshipers greater access and closer proximity to the God Who dwelt there. While non-priestly worshipers were still not allowed into the hypostyle hall and the inner sanctum, they were no longer barred at the gate outside of the temple. The temple of Heru-Behdety at Behdet (Edfu) is one of the most famous examples of the new style.

What spurred this change? The revolutions in architecture — reflections of the change in decorum and the expression of personal piety — were a violent, reactionary response to the Akhenaten Heresy of the Amarna Period, which took place during the latter half of the 18th Dynasty. The “old religion,” such as it was (since it was a reinstatement of the Henotheistic State religion with the God Amun at its head, rather than pre-12th Dynasty religion), was being reinstated with a vengeance. The political, economic, and religious trauma of the Amarna Period inflicted by exceptionally poor leadership left a great deal of uncertainty in its wake. Boyo Ockinga notes that this uncertainty was demonstrated by theophoric names that contained the verb šd, “to save; to spare,” such as Shed-su-Amun, or “may Amun save him.” (Redford et al., 312)

Views on the concept and maintenance of ma’at also changed during the period immediately following the catastrophic Amarna Period. It was previously held that one’s behavior determined whether or not a person would flourish, or if they would be punished — the Pharaoh being the chief justice and judge, the one who ultimately metes-out justice, being the Godly representative on Earth, “the Living Heru,” God in the flesh. In post-Amarna Egypt, however, one became directly responsible to deity, and deity would intervene in an individual’s life and administer just reward or punishment directly, without any kingly intermediary included in the proverbial equation. (Redford et al., 313) In the re-established State’s attempt to preclude the occurrence of another Akhenaten who would abuse his royal office to render the priesthood obsolete by claiming to be the only true intermediary between deity and man, and the only one who could truly and justifiably mete-out justice in the mortal world, the relationship between deity and the average individual became exponentially more intimate and personal. Not all at once, of course, but the barriers erected between deity and the average individual were gradually dismantled.

Out of this post-Amarna fear and uncertainty arose an enriched religious culture and an explosion of devotion among the people. This was Egypt’s “Golden Age,” which James H. Breasted dubbed “the Age of Personal Piety” in 1912 (specifically in regard to the Ramesside Period). (Redford et al., 312) During the New Kingdom, the instance of processional festivals increased, the cult icon being brought out into public to “interact” with the people, encouraging expressions of personal piety and the celebration of the Divine. (312) Most of the devotional stelae that have been discovered hail from the New Kingdom Period, and display everything from penitential hymns expressing sorrow over committing wrongdoing, to love for and gratitude toward a deity for some boon — the Wepwawet sanctuary at Asyut alone yielding over 600 devotional stelae. (312 – 3)  And it is during the (late) New Kingdom Period that we find at least two accounts of the Goddess Hathor appearing to people in dreams, demonstrating just how personal these God-to-mortal relationships had become. (Baines et al., 172)

The best-known and most telling late New Kingdom pious monuments are from Ramesside Era Deir el-Medina, the famed city of workmen who constructed the royal tombs. It is a remarkable site, not simply because its artifacts are so well-preserved, but because it allows us to see into the lives of the not-so-lofty echelons of society, of whom we otherwise know so very little. Historian John Baines writes:

They were of lower social status than the core elite, but they were still relatively wealthy. They experienced a full range of divine involvement in their lives. The workmen were afflicted by Gods for misdemeanors or for failing to acknowledge Them and show Them respect, and were rewarded when they realized their errors. Those who had been afflicted in this way later recounted these episodes on stelae that they set up in local shrines. A Theban official of the period dedicated much of his property to the Goddess Mut, recounting how he came to do so in a narrative with a literary, almost fictional formulation that is probably meant to assimilate it to the highest models. Another was inspired in a dream by Hathor to build his tomb in a particular place. In the village where the workmen lived, oracles were much used, people consulted seers, and there were various awesome manifestations [bau] of intervention by Gods in human affairs . . . Here piety was the most direct of the many ways in which people and Gods interacted. A literate person who hoped for direct involvement with cult and deity could still suffer exclusion, and this possibility may throw into relief the importance of access to the Gods. In a late Ramesside letter to a God, the sender complains that the God has not processed out from His chapel to judge an oracle on a public matter. This letter is perhaps the bluntest reproach to a God extant . . . [but] the intended audience was probably more the priests [than the God Himself.]

(186)

N o w

Most of us share our homes with our icons of the Gods, if we choose to have them, since we do not have an elaborate State religion which can or does support a series of temples and full-time priests who can interact with deity on our behalf. Many of us carry out a number of priestly functions at home, in all truth, even though many of us are not really priests. Our manner of interaction with the Gods’ icons — and the Gods Themselves — has changed drastically, having become incredibly more personal. We offer and speak directly to the Gods most of the time, usually having no intermediaries acting on our behalf. Many practitioners find that the Gods talk back, often during dreams.

Kemetic religion as it currently stands resembles New Kingdom Period religion, but is taken to a far greater extent than was experienced (and tolerated) in Antiquity. We’re not particularly effected by decorum anymore; there are very few restrictions as to how we can depict the Gods, pray to the Gods, and show ourselves to and with the Gods in a Modern context.

Modern Kemeticism as a whole is almost entirely comprised of expressions of personal piety. Reconstructionist Kemetic traditions have yet to reach a point of successfully re-establishing an effective centralized State religion that can conduct State rituals and maintain State temples with permanent, organized priesthoods — if such an endeavor is even feasible in the Modern world.

P E R S O N A L   G O D S   —
D O   I   N E E D   O N E  ( O R   S E V E R A L ) ?

While most of us feel the need to have a “Patron” God, it’s likely not necessary. One does not require a personal deity in order to contribute to the maintenance of ma’at. One could, theoretically, never hear from or interact with the Gods at any point in one’s life, yet still lead a productive, spiritually-active life, one spent performing right action in the world to promote and sustain ma’at. Ma’at is what is fundamentally central to Egyptian religion. So long as one upholds ma’at, one is a “good Kemetic.”

Among the Kemetics I know, I don’t think there are any who don’t have a God or several they profess to be devotees of. Whether that relationship is one-sided or reciprocal varies from practitioner to practitioner. It’s certainly possible not to have a primary God, and it’s certainly okay not to have a primary God, but from my experience with other practitioners, it’s rare not to eventually find one.

H O W   D O   I   F I N D   M Y   P E R S O N A L   G O D S  ?

There are a number of ways people may find or determine “Who their Gods are.”

My first recommendation is a bit unorthodox: choose an Ancient Egyptian nome at random by some method (divinatory or otherwise), learn about the Gods of that nome, and attempt to develop a working relationship with those Gods. One may not necessarily find the God Who is his or her “Divine Father/Mother,” but it can help one transition more cautiously into Kemeticism, and acquire some basic knowledge through dedicated study, thereby cultivating a sense of patience. Additionally, one may in fact end up developing a strong and effective working relationship with a deity or deities that way, and that deity or deities can help the individual find his or her “Divine Father/Mother.”

In my personal experience, the Egyptian Gods are highly communicative. Even in the event that an individual doesn’t have a consistent or clear “Godphone” (as is the case with me), the Gods will find a way to make Themselves known to an individual if and when They need that individual. One may find that one is having strongly symbolic dreams, if not downright obvious ones. Consistent, repetitive signs of a specific nature may be detected in one’s daily life. I find that leaving offerings for the Gods and asking Them to send a meaningful dream is effective in finding answers to such questions.

One could also consult a trustworthy diviner. The skill of the diviner is what truly matters; the method is not necessarily the determining factor. A competent diviner can help an individual pinpoint which God or Gods is attempting to get through to that individual. It may help to find a Kemetic-oriented diviner rather than, say, a strictly Norse one. It is always helpful to have more than one diviner confirm (or refute) the initial results, regardless of the Gods they follow, if any. If they’re good diviners, they’re good diviners.

In Kemetic Orthodoxy, after one takes the beginner’s course and decides to remain with the Temple as a Remetj, the Remetj may choose to have the RPD, or Rite of Parent Divination, performed for them, in order to find out Who one’s primary or “Parent” deity or deities are. I am by no means recommending that anyone simply join the Kemetic Orthodox religion simply to find out Who their deities might be. Being divined is a serious commitment, not a personality test or any other novelty of a similar nature. The RPD costs around 50 USD, which is used to pay for the materials required for the divination process, and cannot be performed for those who are not at least Remetj.

A M   I   R E S P O N S I B L E
F O R   R E S E A R C H I N G   M Y   G O D S ?
W H A T   E L S E   A M   I   R E S P O N S I B L E   F O R ?

Some undoubtedly find me too pedantic for their tastes, but I don’t particularly care, especially in regard to this issue. I’m absolutely of the persuasion that, yes, people are responsible for learning what they can about their primary deities, and about the history of the religion and Gods in general. This doesn’t simply consist of what offerings a God likes. That’s cutesy-materialist-surface-fluff, and that won’t get a person very far on a spiritual level. Don’t worry about the cutesy-materialist-surface-fluff, because that will come on its own.

Rather, one should be more concerned with questions like: What do the Gods in question stand for, represent? What Cosmic roles do They play? What cultural and/or religious truths are the myths They’re involved in trying to convey, and why? Where do They come from? What were Their historical cults like? How does this contrast with the way They are worshiped now, and what parts of the historical forms of worship can I adapt to my own personal practice in order to make it better?

Researching a deity and His/Her cult can provide so much incredible insight on how one can better cultivate an active spiritual relationship with that deity. It’s fuel for meditation. It’s brain food. It helps to make a person mentally and spiritually stronger. We all have to be careful not to get too caught up in the books, at the expense of actually going to our sacred spaces and spending quality time with the Gods. But a trumped-up aversion to, or fear of, “pedanticism” is no excuse to avoid reading, to avoid challenging oneself mentally, much less promote the coddling of cutesy-materialist-surface-fluff at the expense of Theology. No knowledge is useless knowledge, and by willfully avoiding the pursuit of it, one is only denying oneself a learning opportunity and putting oneself at a disadvantage.

From what I’ve observed over the years, a lot of “Pagans” — certainly not just Kemetics — complain a great deal about how allegedly ignorant Christians are of their own religion, and yet demonstrate the same level of ignorance when it comes to various “Paganisms.” The best way to avoid being a hypocrite is to pick up a book or several and learn the ins-and-outs of one’s religion. If one is literate, one has no excuse not to.

Furthermore, if one knows Who their deities are, it is up to the individual to take the time to cultivate working relationships with Them. One is obligated to devote time and effort to those deities, and one must be prepared for the responsibility such relationships require. This includes prayer and offerings, and caring for the icons (if one has any) and keeping the shrine space clean. The shrine is the Gods’ home within our home. It is rude to leave it in a disordered state. This also includes bettering ourselves — by doing good for others when it doesn’t necessarily benefit ourselves, and through the endurance of ordeals designed to test our mettle.

Finally, one is responsible for one’s own actions. Poor behavior is not the fault of a deity, nor anyone else. The buck ultimately stops with the individual. Setting a bad example that reflects poorly on one’s God(s) or religion is no way to please anyone, and will only earn a deity’s rancor — and anger a lot of one’s fellow humans in the process.

Bottom line : personal piety is contingent upon personal accountability.

W H A T   D O E S   I T   M E A N   W H E N   A   G O D
S H O W S   U P   I N   M Y   L I F E   U N E X P E C T E D L Y ?
C A N   I   T E L L   A   G O D   ” N O ? “

What happens in the event that a deity suddenly shows up in one’s life?

A God making a sudden appearance can mean a number of things for an individual. It could mean that an individual has serious internal/spiritual work to do, and that deity is taking charge of that individual, for the short or long term, by assigning him or her that work and supervising his or her progress. The God may be claiming that individual for good and all for no imminently discernible reason. It’s rather circumstantial, so there are no definitive answers I can give on that line without specific details outlining the given situation.

However, what I can definitively advise is to hear the deity out. What does the God want? How feasible are the God’s requests? How much time, energy, and effort can you devote to this newly arrived deity? What ultimate benefits are there to accommodating this deity? Consider these things carefully.

I do not recommend saying “no” to a God wholesale and straight off the cuff, under any circumstances. If one has no choice but to say “no,” one must strive to be respectful and reasonable about it. Spurning a deity can end very badly for the individual. The Gods are still higher up on the Cosmic food chain than we are.

To insert an anecdotal story of my own in brief, I had refused to acknowledge Set for nearly a decade. Set had approached me in dreams a number of times over the course of several years, which I ignored. The more I refused, the more persistent Set became. In the end, I relented, and acknowledged Set for Who He is and what place He has in my life. As it turns out, my relationship with my “Divine Father” Set has been one of the most rewarding of my life, spiritually and otherwise.

The Gods don’t simply take, take, take from an individual. What one gives, one receives. If one refuses a deity, there’s no telling what one will end up turning down by proxy.

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W O R K S   C I T E D

Baines, John, Leonard H. Lesko, and David P. Silverman. Edited by Byron E. Shafer. Religion in Ancient Egypt – Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice. 1st Ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Print.

Irytsabu, Jennifer. “Duamutef.” Per Sabu – The House of Jackals. 2011. Web. Date accessed: 3 Mar 2013. <http://www.per-sabu.org/duamutef.html>.

Oakes, Lorna, and Lucia Gahlin. Ancient Egypt : An Illustrated Reference to the Myths, Religions, Pyramids, and Temples of the Land of the Pharaohs. London : Hermes House, 2002. Print.

Redford, Donald B. et al. The Ancient Gods Speak – A Guide to Egyptian Religion. New York : Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

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