By Pet-sekhmet Ankh-Djehuti
The Egyptian Faith is the broadest and most complex of human religious endeavors, with similar issues of uniformity and dogmatic truth, and that are as paradoxical to Westerners as Hinduism. The sheer number of deities, traditions, and schools of thought are overwhelming and quickly confusing in either religion. But somehow despite those differences the elaborate spirit of polytheism functions in both faiths.
Unfortunately with two thousand years of domination by monotheism in the west, both polytheism and Theomancy have been branded with stigmas similar to Cultism. This has led many Neo-Egyptian groups to degrade the complexity of the tradition either by seeking Greek forms or overly embracing the historical religion. The short sightedness of both models quickly dulls the critical faculties of their members to the point of near fanaticism. Rather than becoming corrupted by these agendas, it is both more authentic and true to the spirit of the ancient faith to allow for a variety of relationships and understandings within the structure of Egyptian Faith.
Simple people who desire easy answers and dogmatic beliefs should never have claimed a place in a system so personal and potent. Often they try to marry Egyptian Tradition with alien ideas like Wiccan Theology and Jewish Qabalah, among others. It is not that similarities are not present but that they should understand that although we lack most of the records and practices of ancient Egypt, it is a complete Faith Tradition within itself, often more difficult than the systems it is being merged into.
Each Nome, or Egyptian City in pre-Dynastic times practiced its own religion. Later as the Pharaoh became the unifying force both theologically and culturally, the religion of Egypt became more uniform. The earlier practices and traditions continued, but as many of the local Nedjer became syncretized together with more popular beliefs, they seemed to vanish into the dunes.
A monolithic and monotheistic religion of native Egypt, if it had any validity, would not have so many myths of Creation. The Creations from Heliopolis, Hermeopolis and Memphis survive today, giving three very divergent accounts of The Beginning. Each makes the Nomic Nedjer the Creator from the Waters of Nu, in Hermeopolis it is Thoth, in Heliopolis it is Aten. These differing tales of Creation did not lead to Holy Wars or the slaughters of heretical non-believers in that Nome’s Nedjer, but were accepted as varied opinions of each theology.
The contradictory rites and myths stem from the slow centralization of each faith, until the late periods near monotheism. This is based on the faulty belief that each Nedjer had a single and correct practice and worship. This may have been true by the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but seems unlikely before Ankhenaten. Horus had several Nomes where he was worshipped, as did Osiris and Thoth: to believe that each was identical is historically incompetent. Horus is the best example of these tendencies to assert that any Nedjer with the same name and totem is the same cult: his worship in Letopolis where he is married to Sekhmet was certainly different from Edfu or Hercapolis. This confounding of traditions is the most likely reason that the myths seem to disagree or contradict each other, as they were patched together from very different religions.
This is why Osiris, who had two major Nome-centers, has two very different murder myths. The Abydosian myth is likely the mutilation and dismemberment form, being in Southern Egypt while the Northern Delta center of Busiris would be the best explanation for the cask and floating version of Set’s betrayal. It is very difficult to explain these inconsistencies in any other way, and they do show some evidence that even the later uniform traditions began as the fusion of different faiths.
Some Nedjer began as natural forces, others as fertility or ancestor spirits, often later sharing temples and theology. In Egypt these contradictions, unique to its religious history, were not separated into different practices for urban and rural people as in most cultures. This is probably because they were never very far on the Nile, with farms sprouting just outside even modern Cairo. Instead it led to a faith that stressed both personal goodness and the well being of the community, both within the belief in Ma’at.
Being based around the Nome’s needs also shaped the forms of Egyptian Priest craft. In a culture where the Nomic Nedjer is the center of community life, priests quickly became scribes, judges, and healers. This led to local government being partially theocratic from the beginning, ultimately leading to the rise of the Pharaohs. It also led to a necessary specialization of all priests, for initially very practical reasons.
As Shaman and Herb-women gave way to Heb Sebs and Hem Nedjers, and religion became more governmental, different classes of priests arose. These roles were not always determined by the Nedjer -every Nomic temple needed an Oracle, Librarian, Exorcist and Herbalist in addition to The High Priest. Seeing the later titles held by these necessary functionaries of any large temple can be quite interesting; it seems that Temple Scryers or Oracles were usually called The Atef Nedjer, or Wife of The God. Librarians seem to be the Protectors of Temple Secrets, or Warden of Magick Words. It is very likely that each group of Librarians in any given Nome would have their own Mysteries in addition to those of the Nedjer, as would every group of temple priests.
Druids are the only other ancient tradition in the West that practiced a similar diversity of theology and theomancy. They also had a number of specializations ranging from Judge and Bard to Diviner and Sorcerer. Their system was regional as well, and contained elements for all classes from Warriors and Fishermen to the diverse Druid class and Kings. The lack of a single vision of religion, or simplistic definition of priesthood allowed both cultures to grow and prosper in ways unknown to more intellectually rigid traditions.
The diversity of tradition that was the womb of the ancient Egyptian Faith is frustrating to those craving simplicity in pagan religion. They either try to force thousands of years of complex theology and myth into easier Neo-pagan forms or merely accept the more academically grounded Classical forms. As the Faith of Egypt rejuvenates in the English-speaking world, the Nedjer will emerge to call these back to them, not just High Priests but Librarians and Oracles. The Nedjer that calls may not even be one of the more well known of the gods, but they too will need priests. Rather than impose Monotheistic Mediocrity upon this polymorphous and wonderfully specialized tradition it is better we come to see its inherent purity.
So rather than force others of the Egyptian Faith to conform to any system of personal theology or theomancy, as we continue in the ancient ways we must be tolerant. Like the Eastern Traditions, mentioned earlier we Priests of the Nedjeru must come to again value all the inherent diversity within this Faith. Great differences in conceptions of the Nedjer should exist between different groups from other periods, traditions and Nomes- even those serving the same syncretized deity. Rather than engage in useless debate about proper relationships and theology, where none is recorded, we should strive to embrace the strengths these specializations in Theomancy and Duty bring to the Living Faith of Egypt.