By Pet-sekhmet Ankh-Djehuti
In this age, it is important that we keep the traditional Gods of Egypt in perspective, neither degrading them to personalized thought-forms, nor to historical idols of another culture. Jean Houston says, “the neters resembled what we could call gods, but they are diversified gods, each with a specific function. They served as dynamic archetypes and motivating principles which the Egyptians consciously attuned themselves.”[i] Many other Egyptian neo-Pagan and neo-Khemetic groups seem frightened of this essential principle of Egyptian Theomancy. They would rather arbitrarily adopt Wiccan, Greek, or “reconstructionism” platforms. Perhaps they fear the retribution of academia over the realities of Divine Will.
By contrast, it would be ridiculous for a Jew or Hindu to embrace the forms of their faith from purely historical records and archaeological finds. Both have changed in the previous century quite significantly, and almost as much in the course of the last millennia. Those faiths are both living and growing through the intellectual piety expressed so strongly in both Traditions. The scholarly and sage impulses are not considered to be against the grain or heretical in those faiths, but as the necessary challenges of a living religion.
This piety and wisdom was evident in the way Egyptian priests were trained, even from the records of the Classical period writers that visited the ancient temples. Ma’at was a balance of personal and divine, as well as scholarship and religious experience. Today these oppositions are imbalanced within our Egyptian Pagan community; unlike the ancient society most give lip service to rebuilding. The tendencies in some groups toward Egomania, and its partner, Religious Ecstasy, are just as un-Traditional as the pseudo-Egyptology passing as religion amongst other neo-Egyptian groups.
In addition we face the Eclectic neo-Pagan desire to press the Egyptian faith into the same bizarre and unfounded histories and theologies as they had successfully done with Celtic and Greek Paganism. The result has been the spawning of countless malformed idiocies. Everything from calling Sekhmet, the “Crone Goddess of Egypt” to claiming Priestesses had more power than Priests, because of the status of Isis and the Matriarchy. Amusing as a fable, but unfortunately even the easily available Classical sources refute those claims. Such notions exhibit a lack of familiarity not just with the history and culture of Egypt, but with the Nedjer as well.
As a supposition, the opposite extreme seems better at first: that drawing wholly on respectable academic sources would guide the way back to the Egyptian Tradition. It is valuable and necessary to know the culture and history of Egypt to serve the Nedjer, but scientists are not attuned to the living symbols. Even if Egyptology were completely objective and apolitical, it would still be akin to building a city from anthropology and sociology and assuming it to be habitable. At best it would be attempting to turn a museum into temple, maligning the purpose of both in the process.
As such, these are the viewpoints rational Egyptian Priests regard as our faith’s Fundamentalists: the Conservatives preaching “reconstruction” of the ancient way, from Midwestern computers, while the Evangelical neo-Pagan neo-Khemetics seek to idiot-proof and over-feminize our Faith. This would lead to a far more degenerate state of our Faith, were it not occurring in every religion as we enter the Aquarian Age. Divinity students would note that every reform and transition in any religion creates such transitory and extreme elements before saner and moderate voices arise that better speak for both the Faith and the Faithful.
The moderate Egyptian Tradition right now is just beginning to unite and rediscover our shared Ma’at and Nedjeru. For each and every one, the guiding principle of personal faith and practice is that the gods are living and changing to incorporate more contemporary rituals, entertainment and offerings. The Tradition will of necessity include ancient Egyptian cultural elements, but must be relevant and meaningful to modern westerners. This is the key if the Egyptian Faith is ever to break free from the twin slaveries of Egyptology and neo-Paganism.
The first step toward a contemporary western conception of the Nedjeru comes from each devotee encountering the gods. Often it is as simple as making offerings and prayers that you and the Nedjer both enjoy. From these personal encounters is built a personal and evolving faith that stems from the gods, not any one prescription of belief. As more people find attunement to the actual gods, rather than incoherent jumbles of different Dynastic and Nomic systems, better faith and practice will be transmitted from the Nedjeru.
Finding more contemporary and vibrant ways of serving the Nedjer, based on historical precedent is another key of living religion. Today most Egyptian groups could not offer cattle or prisoners, any more than they could construct replicas of the ancient temples for their use. But there is no need to imprison the Nedjer in such a limited perspective had they wished that, they would have never allowed the Rosetta Stone to surface. Better priest-craft is forged from those ancient symbolic rites and traditions but is neither coerced by it, nor is it limited to serving as an extension of archeology.
The ancient priests offered the Nedjer food, wine and incense. These should still be the basis of offerings, but I doubt the gods must subsist on dates, flatbreads and Chianti. Egyptian Priests are servants of the Nedjer, and as good cooks and butlers, should prepare incense, food and cocktails suited to the Divine Personality being invoked. Thoth, “loving all that is sweet” prefers candies, especially ones with nuts and chocolate, and sweeter cocktails and wines, whereas Sekhmet likes meat and fish and more tropical cocktails. Each of the Nedjeru is different, and so is each Nomic and Dynastic Cultic practice but rather than let human Ego bloat through Religious Ecstasy it is better to serve the gods as they wish us to serve them.
The same applies to entertaining the Nedjer in the ancient tradition that women mostly served the temples: as dancers, musicians and mourners and entertainers of the gods. Several new media and art forms have developed since, from MIDIs to stained glass, movies and videogames, all should be used in a modern Egyptian Faith. Most of the Nedjeru in my shrines have a few favorite movies, and television programs, as well as preferred music. In most cases this is fairly obvious: Horus likes Bruce Willis movies, and skater Cali Rock, while Osiris enjoys Vampire movies and girl goth music. Similar principles apply to TV shows and other amusements for each god.
These observations come not from Ph. D’s in academia, but from observation of these archetypes as living beings. The Nedjer do appear in our literature and television if only we are wise enough to recognize them, both as characters and on the street. The Cosmic and Archetypal Dramas have not changed for our culture, just the garments and adventures. For instance, Training Day and Apt Pupil both explore the education of young Horus by Set, but without a solid understanding of the nature of the gods and the meanings of that myth, one would be unable to make that connection. It is not that the myths “grow” or are “reinvented” but that the Ever-time of the Nedjer allows each story to be retold from a variety of perspectives to remain vibrant and challenging to the current members of the Egyptian Faith.
This culminates in a true mystery of our Faith: incorporating the Divine and Mythic into our lives and practice so we may join the Cycle of the Gods. Doing this begins with devotion to the Nedjer, and then treating them as friends and confidants while being an exquisite host. Before learning to see the world as the playground of the living gods within oneself and all you know-everything else is purely academic.
[i] The Passion of Isis and Osiris, pgs. 141-142.