Thoughts On Dogma & Reconstructionism

Souls of Abedju

Lately, an issue that has been coming up time and again in my work as a Priest is the question of traditions, religion, dogma, belief and what it really means to follow an ancient polytheistic faith in today’s world. I have, for inspiration and observation/ study, often looked to the Sanatana Dharma or Hindu religion as a means of seeing how a people may harmonize in the modern world with such a plethora of goddesses and gods and the ancient traditions that go with them.

Brahmins are the carriers of the most ancient sacred traditions in Hinduism. They are priests whose training, study, and level of devotion maintain an unbroken line of teachings, rituals and philosophies stretching back through thousands of years. Brahmins are expected to maintain the highest degree of ritual purity in order to carry out their responsibilities in the temple, and these responsibilities include the very elaborate rites and rituals through which the Gods are honored and their presences commune with their devotees.

Hinduism contains ritual forms that have been handed down by Brahmins for literally thousands of years in an unbroken chain. Because Brahmins have handed down these ritual treasures, guarding their purity and not changing them just to be “current”, people who need the Gods are able to commune with them through ritual and receive blessings. Brahmins I have spoken to about these rituals have told me that the same ritual gestures, mantras and icons have been used in Sanatana Dharma since time began, and that they have not been changed. Now that is a long time!

I happen to follow a religious and spiritual tradition that has not remained unbroken. The Kemetic or Ancient Egyptian religion lasted historically for at least 3,000 years, though Egyptologists now acknowledge the probability that there was an oral tradition of worship going back well before the first dynasty…before the written record. Texts like the Pert-em-hru or Book of Going Forth By Day retain fragments that can be found in the so called Pyramid Texts, and these contain phrases that some mainstream Egyptologists say point to an oral tradition going back at least 4,000 years or more.

However, unlike the rites and rituals of Hinduism, the ancient Egyptian religion was eventually all but stamped out in its own birth place, where Islam and Christianity became the predominant faiths. In modern Egyptian folk traditions there are still practices and beliefs originating in the ancient faith of Egypt, but as a national religion, the ancient beliefs are no longer mainstream in Egypt as they once were.

Kemetic Reconstructionism is embraced by many contemporary spiritual practitioners who desire to return to the traditionally Egyptian (Kemetic) way of honoring the Netjeru or Deities. Unlike the unbroken line of Brahmins in the Hindu faith, we do not have specially initiated and trained priests who have received the ancient traditions unaltered by time or social/ political circumstances. Kemetic Reconstructionists attempt to replace what has been “lost” by digging into the archives…the vast body of literature and archaeological discoveries produced by Egyptologists, in order to put back together our ancient rites and sacred texts. This is a very challenging task even at the best of times, leading some of us to learn the meduw-netjer (hieroglyphs) and spend years sifting through some of the driest academic studies on the planet!

Why bother? Why can’t we just do whatever comes to heart or mind in order to serve the Gods in the new era. Of course, we can do that, and most people would rather do that, because it’s much easier to just “go with the flow” than dedicate one’s life to the stressful task of piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle, one in which a heck of a lot of pieces are still missing!

But then, what would have happened to the Hindu religion…where would modern Hindus be if they had lost many or most of their ancient rites and teachings? I’m sure their gods would manage to guide Hindus still and send them inspiration. But shouldn’t we be asking whether or not such practices, mantras, prayers and scriptures are worth preserving, having and handing down? I think they are, and I’m sure that millions of Hindus would agree with me.

My idea of dogma is blind faith and blind belief…strictly following an idea because you are told to follow it. Dogma leaves no room for personal inspiration or individualized expression. Dogmatism demands that we obey, adhere, and do not question. Dogma threatens. I have never felt that Kemetic Reconstructionism is being dogmatic. Quite the contrary, I feel it is a spiritual treasure hunt, where the Netjeru are hiding and welcoming us to find Them. As we dig deep into the ancient texts and reconstruct the Daily Temple Ritual, and the many other rites of the Ancients, we are communing with living gods whose presences brought inspiration, healing, life and abundance to millions of the ancients for nearly 5,000 years. The ancient Egyptian religion is a vibrant gathering of prayers, practices and gestures that enhances the experience of divinity within Nature and human nature. The ancient gods are alive and well, and Their presence can be felt as strongly today in the ancient rites and prayers as it was felt thousands of years ago.

Reconstructing an entire ancient religion based on textual sources sounds dogmatic to some, but I would argue that dogmatism is asserting one way of doing things over another. Dogmatism removes freedom of choice and individual conscience. What I follow is a 5,000 year old tradition of speaking directly to the Gods, and inviting Them to receive the very best the heart of humankind has to offer. For me, Kemetic Reconstructionism is a framework for carrying out a relationship between the living Gods and creation, as realized by the ancient Egyptians. Since their way of accomplishing this far outlasted all other civilizations, and existed much longer than our own, I think the ancients proved that their expressions of honoring the Sacred have staying power, and that we have so much to learn from them.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Living in My Own Divine World

Ptah-Sekhmet-EyeofRa-detail1-med - Copy
“SEKHMET THE EYE OF RA”~ An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa / Extra fine watercolor & 22 karat gold on 8″ x 10″ archival panel (SOLD).   ORDER A MUSEUM QUALITY ARCHIVAL PRINT Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor: Lapis lazuli (Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), jadeite (Alaska, USA), Mayan blue (Texas, USA), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil) piemontite (Alaska, USA). Cabochon gemstones: Lapis lazuli (Afghanistan). Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski®

I wake up in the morning and before I distract myself with anything from the mundane world, my knees hit the floor in prayer.  Our Shrine to the Household Gods shines and glimmers in the little tea lights that have been placed just so, ornamenting the gilt cult images of the God Ptah and His Holy Family.  I light myrrh resin incense on a brazier of charcoal and waft its fragrance into a sweet cloud for the Gods to enjoy.  “Men nek irit Heru…”, I half-whisper as I raise the palms of my hands in the ancient gesture of worship.  “Men nek irit Heru.  Take unto yourself the Eye of Heru…take unto yourself the Eye of Heru”.

An Egyptian alabaster votive bowl is filled with powdered sugar-topped lemon tart, another topped off with red wine.  Yes, the Gods love their sweets, their alcohol, and in my household, both of these are given in profusion.  In the meduw-netjer, the divine language of ancient Egypt, I recite the traditional offering prayers, inviting the Netjeru-Gods to “bestow the giving of life” for my household.  I vigorously shake a sistrum- an Egyptian ceremonial rattle- to conclude my worship, after I have silently offered my own personal prayers for the ears of the Gods.  I bestow my prostrations to the Great God Ptah, Hearer of Prayers, and, in our temple, King of the Gods.  His gold-covered Kar-Shrine (or naos) containing a small cult image of the God now stands open to receive the morning rays of the sun’s light, and life in my household can spring to action once more.

I readily admit that I live an unusual life.  Our living room has no television.  Yes, we have the obligatory couch and (book covered) coffee table, however, in the place most people reserve for their entertainment center dominated by the almighty flat panel television, my husband and I have installed our Shrine to the Household Gods, which can be seen from every vantage of our flat.  It creates of our home environment a sacred refuge and place of peace from the stresses of the outside world.  It brings our sometimes fragmented focus back to the reality of the Gods in Their place at the very center of creation.  This is a space for prayer and ritual, where our innermost aspirations may be expressed or realized, but it is also the fuel parlor, the generator for my daily work as an iconographer.

An iconographer practices a trade quite different from that of other artists, who often explode with a creativity fueled by a personal drive to explore and express the human psyche.  The modern artist has at her or his center the Self with a capital “S”.  My experience.  My understanding.  My feelings.  My expression.  These are the seeds that sprout the trees of modern art, which is dominated, of course, by the modern artist.  However, in iconography there has been, historically, much less of an emphasis on the iconographer, on his identity or persona, and almost entirely a focus on the icons themselves.  Iconographers are not commissioned to create their own reality, but are instead asked to express time-honored ideals concerning how the Divine should be depicted, and the most important part of this is the impersonal nature of the work itself.

That is not to say that the creation of an icon requires detachment.  Quite the opposite, if the iconographer is true to his calling.  Iconographers are called like priests and nuns to their craft.  There is a drive behind the work that comes from the reservoir of the Sacred, a current of energy passing out from a deity or deities.  It is this higher energy or inspiration that fuels the creation of icons.  So, the work is impersonal in that it is not the artist’s ego or personality that is driving the work or providing the subject matter.  Icons do not glorify the personality of the iconographer, they glorify the Sacred, the Divine, and many well known icons remain the output of unknown painters.

In the case of ancient Egypt, we but rarely are privy to the names of individual painters and artisans, whose masterpieces may be household names and instantly recognizable.  Take the fabulous golden burial mask of Tutankhamun, as one example.  This tomb treasure is often hailed as an “icon of ancient Egypt”, in the sense that its fame and preciousness have come to represent, in the minds of the masses, the greatness of Egyptian civilization.  However, I would add that the mask of Tutankhamun is also an icon in the original religious context of the word.

To the ancient goldsmiths and jewelers who created it, the burial mask of Tutankhamun was a piece of sacred machinery, through whose great magic the deceased King Tutankhamun would be transformed into a living manifestation of the Sun-God Ra.  The mask itself, though carrying upon it a stylized representation of Tutankhamun, is in fact intended to represent the God Ra Himself- gold of skin with lapis lazuli hair- as the indestructible Lord of Heaven, untouched by death and wholly divine.  The Egyptians saw such treasures not as works of art, in the manner that we see them, but as holy objects embodying the powers of the Gods.  They were, in short, icons.

Not only the incomparable treasures of Tutankhamun, but so many works of ancient Egypt had a sacred purpose that took them beyond the realm of the human viewer.  So many works of art that stun and captivate us today were simply never intended to be seen again by human eyes, once they had been created and brought ceremonially, magically to life.  We do not know the names of the craftsmen who produced them, their genius preserved only in the astounding objects they gave life to.

To the ancient Egyptians, the personality of individual artists was practically insignificant.  Their mode of religion called for cult images wrought from the most precious substances on earth…gold, lapis lazuli, feldspar and turquoise, which represented to the Egyptian mind substances forming part of the anatomy of the living Gods.  The task of the artist was to give earthly bodies to the Gods, Who would be invited to take up residence in the precious cult images once they had been ritually awakened.  Thus the ego or personal experiences of the artisan served no purpose to the Egyptians, who saw ceremonial images as the dwelling places of their gods, not as representations of individual mortals.  My, how things have changed!

Enter me.  My profession must be, at times, an experiment, for I am not an ancient artisan of cult images dwelling in a nation where my gods and their servants are supported by the state.  Gone are the monumental temple sanctuaries filled with incense and solid gold cult images.  What we have today are small ceremonial centers and home-shrines, these lovingly filled with not-so-solid gold images of our ancient gods.  The incense and offerings have remained, though not on the scale consumed by the Gods in ancient times.  Gone too are the monolithic stone statues of the Gods and kings that led way to the imperial sanctuaries.  These things belong to a past that has now become a tourist trap.  What we servants of the old Gods have is the Gods Themselves, Who continue to inspire us in ways that may fall outside the realm of traditional pomp and circumstance, but in circumstances that are, nevertheless, effective as a living religion.

In my world, it is the icon, a small panel covered in intricate details, gold and semi-precious stones, that has as much meaning as a massive stone temple or a solid gold cult image.  Those things have meaning too, but for the past, and since we are living in the present, and the Gods are ever-present, our task is to find new traditional ways of honoring Them and asking for Their intervention in our world.

So, every morning, after I have awoken our household shrine with a heady cloud of myrrh or sandalwood, I sit in my studio at my massive table, where a modern panel of wood, which may initially appear inconsequential, will be transformed into an image of ancient splendor.  It is not only gold or lapis or amethyst that will make this little panel something of value, but, much more importantly, the love of the Gods that is poured into its glittering metal and mineral pigments.  Such love for the Sacred is what fuels and entices me to work fervently, day after day, in my own divine world.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Auset is an Urban Goddess~ Part Two

Auset Urban Goddess 2

In the early 80’s I was growing up as part of the MTV generation. Cyndi Lauper, Depeche Mode, Wham!, George Michael, Prince and Michael Jackson were all the rage. But foremost of the 80’s pop royalty was Madonna, savvy media mogul and video temptress, whose attention grabbing blend of sex and urban sheikh fashions, mixed with a high octane cocktail of street smarts and femininity, came to define the 80’s and everything that made us tick then.

The first video I saw of this glamorous street urchin was “Burning Up”, in which Madonna appears as a gyrating, sexually frustrated femme fatale, singing and sultry in the middle of a street as her lover drives toward her. Not an award winner by any stretch, but I was hooked. “Who is this girl?”, I thought, and decided to stay tuned. This was the beginning of a 30 year love affair with the Marilyn Monroe look alike who wasn’t, but also coincided with the initiation of a personal obsession with powerful women and divine femininity that was to take me to the depths and heights of human experience. Though pop goddesses may not seem a very likely introduction to THE GODDESS, for me as a young boy, the entrance of Madonna onto the pop culture stage resonated with a budding belief that the power and sexuality of women was a source of something sacred and mysterious…something primordial and latent in all living things.

I was attending St. Alban’s Perish Day School, a private Catholic institution, when Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” album and video were released. This was a seminal moment of my boyhood. Madonna appeared as a lace and crucifix adorned sex symbol, sometimes veiled, sometimes clad in very little at all, and yet her strength, power and femininity were anything but demure. Here was a girl on a mission to conquer the world, who may at times have appeared as the stereotypical blond bimbo, but whose dominant self possession belied any attempts by men to have or control her in traditional domestic sexist roles.

It was Madonna’s liberated sexuality and confidence that made an impression on me, but also her explicit use of Christian and Catholic iconography. For me, the crucifix and the veil, both making appearances in “Like a Virgin”, symbolized deeper mysteries than Madonna’s need to harvest visuals from her staunch Catholic upbringing. These were hallmarks of an ancient Goddess into whose mysteries I was just beginning to be drawn, a goddess whose veiled countenance was to transfix my inner gaze and provoke a lifelong quest.

On Fridays we were required to attend chapel at St. Alban’s. The chapel was an enchanted building surrounded by rose bushes, clad in vivid stained glass windows and icons of various saints and biblical heroes. I had been raised a Baptist, in the tedious austerity of undecorated churches without incense and ritual, so the Latin Mass, with its flickering candles, chanting and icons, struck a deep and mysterious chord in me. Secretly, I was already praying to ancient Egyptian gods and learning about the Goddess Isis, and had developed an aversion to the concept of monotheism and what I saw as the Christian superiority complex.

When kneeling to say the Lord’s Prayer, which I ardently refused to parrot, I folded my hands and silently prayed to Isis, Osiris and Horus. How else could I go through with it…praying in the house of a god I did not even believe existed? For me, I found consolation in transferring the symbols and dogma of Catholic Christianity into the hieroglyphs and deities of the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

Chapel possessed one virtue for me that helped me during what was a very troubled and difficult childhood. The secret faith I kept locked away deep in my heart had no open outlet through which to find expression. My parents were hardline Baptists…bible thumping church goers who believed and taught in the infallible, inerrant existence of the Christian doctrine. So, it was in the iconography of Catholicism that I was able to covertly maintain a living relationship with the Gods of Egypt. My gods.

The chapel at St. Albans contained a number of striking life size icons, but of all these it was the marble statue of the Virgin Mary that called to my heart. When I looked up into her outstretched arms, her veiled, tender form with its kind and compassionate gaze, I saw the Goddess Isis, most ancient Queen of Goddesses, and I petitioned Her to possess the statue of Mary so I could come and offer Her my prayers and heartaches.

For a year I came every week, and sometimes more frequently, to pray and commune with Isis in Her Catholic disguise, lighting candles, and in my mind reliving the ancient stories of the Goddess and Her holy family. Isis had traversed very troubled times, I knew. Her cherished brother-husband Osiris had been brutally murdered, even cut into pieces after He was slain, and Her son Horus was conceived in secret and reared on the run. The Goddess had lost Her queenship of Egypt, and had had to flee for Her life. She had been a refugee in Her own country, forced to scrape together a living in the marshes of the Delta, and She had almost lost Her son to a near-fatal scorpion bite. She had been alone and persecuted, and knew hunger, fear and heartache.

In Isis I knew that I was not alone, and that far from being a lofty fear-commanding god, Isis was the mother and caretaker of all living things. She took all people unto Her in their troubles, not only those who believed in Her, but all hearts. She did not rule through doctrine or man-made institutions, nor did She demand obedience via the threat of eternal torture in hell. Isis, the Mother of all Gods, simply loves. She is a queen of hearts, and it is through the heart that She calls, nurtures and loves.

One Friday morning Father Treat saw me lighting a candle in front of Mary, and sought me out. With a kind smile he said, “Ah, you are praying to our Lady”. With an even bigger smile I replied, “No, I am praying to Isis”. I am not quite sure what possessed me to confess my secret to Father Treat that day, but the cat was out of the bag! Suddenly I had diarrhea of the mouth, and blurted out everything, right then and there. I told Father Treat under no uncertain terms that my Goddess had given birth to his god, that Isis was the true origin of divinity, and that Her faith, the religion of Her people, was the true and ancient belief of the human race. “Christianity is second hand goods”, I told him. “The real thing began in Egypt”.

That was the end of my secret prayers to Isis, because Father Treat, naturally horrified and beside himself, called my mother to St. Albans for a meeting, during which I was chastised for my blasphemy, and assigned a strict penance for the “wicked lies” I had spoken. “Do you want to go to hell?!”, my mother yelled at me in the car on the way home from school. “Don’t you know that God punished the children of Israel for worshipping the false gods of Egypt?” For some reason I still had a tiny fragment of courage left. “No. He is your god, you deal with him. My god is Isis, and She was Goddess before your god ever existed!”

My father made me spend the whole weekend writing out John 3:16 in a legal notepad, and the controversy lingered in the household for quite a while. I never did recant my heresy, and I even had the nerve to return to chapel on Fridays. How suspiciously Father Treat eyed me as I lit candles in front of the Virgin Mary, and made my heartfelt little prayer to Isis:

Hail Isis, Queen of Egypt,
Mother of the World!
Blessed is the fruit of Your womb,
For the fruit which You have 
Brought forth is the Sun!

Then I went home, turned on MTV, and got my Goddess fix watching Madonna videos. My parents may have seen an 80’s rock sex symbol, dancing in lingerie in front of a burning cross singing “Like a Prayer”, but I saw Isis, the urban goddess, ever present and ever ready to steal hearts…even in the most surprising of places!

All text copyright © 2001-2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Auset is an Urban Goddess~ Part One

Urban Auset

In the late 90’s I had hit personal crisis big time. The long term relationship I had been in was slowly heading for the rocks. Like an ostrich I stuck my head in the sand and waited, hoping that if I hid long enough, pretended to go about things as usual, that it would all just take care of itself. So very Pisces, eh? My partner was a recovering Mormon from Salt Lake City, whose own father had been excommunicated from the Mormon Church for coming out of the closet. Initially, my partner found a breath of fresh air in my practice of the ancient Egyptian sacred traditions, and he seemed to be able to find a source of healing in the story of Isis and Her holy family.

Things took a drastic turn for the worse when my partner faced a crisis of faith, his Mormon past resurfacing to haunt him…his daily struggle becoming one of spiritual identity and life path. As I seriously considered taking priestly vows, my partner found himself despising religion in total, and unable to cope with my increasing spiritual epiphanies. It was a tense and difficult roller coaster ride….Enter Auset, Isis…enter DeTraci Regula.

My partner’s father was close friends with the owner of Better World Galleria in San Diego, and on a chilly Autumn night my partner and I attended a special event there that was to have serious repercussions on my life and spiritual path. DeTraci Regula was presenting a lecture and signing for her new book “The Mysteries of Isis”, and I knew I had to be there. It was one of those seminal moments in life…the kind you look back on even years later, and realize that without this one event, you would not be the person you are today.

DeTraci Regula is one of those rare speakers who has the ability to bring ancient, abstract or dated concepts right into the current moment as fresh and vibrant, living ideas. This is what DeTraci accomplishes in “The Mysteries of Isis”, which must be ranked as one of the most significant contributions to Goddess worship in the modern age. For me, the profound blessing of this book, together with its author, is the continued emphasis on the universality of the Goddess, and the continued relevance of Her worship and mythos in the current era.

Isis is not just an Egyptian goddess”, DeTraci said at the very start of her lecture. “She has Her feet planted comfortably in Greece, Rome, London…even in China and Japan. Isis is at home in New York City!” DeTraci’s ideas and research strive to take Isis out of the confines of Egyptian antiquity and reveal Her much broader influences and characteristics. At the same time, “Mysteries of Isis” links past and present, antiquity and future, by giving the current devotee a means of utilizing the ancient rites and mysteries in the here and now. This is precisely what I needed on that night in the 90’s when I attended DeTraci’s lecture, facing a crisis in private love life…facing a crossroads.

At this time in my life I was struggling with my ardent devotion to my Gods and Their ancient mysteries and how the expression of this devotion could be reconciled with life in the modern era. Gone were the monumental temples of Isis, where priestesses and priests could celebrate the complex rites and rituals without constraints from the secular world. In ancient Egypt the secular and sacred were blurred, and there was no separation of church and state. Ancient celebrants had it easy, say, in comparison with practitioners in today’s New York City. My partner’s identity crisis brought it home to me that in the current era, the sacred was not so readily embraced or easy to find confirmation of. Things came to a head, and I had to make a choice.

I was single, again, and alone, it so seemed, in taking vows to join the clergy of the ancient Egyptian rites of Isis. I had obsessed myself with DeTraci’s book, and it was through her wise but firm guidance that I handed myself over into the two hands of Isis, sacrificing my old life, and becoming a servant of the ancient Mysteries of the Mysterious One.

Isis Lady of the Two Lands
Are you there?
Hear my prayer Isis, hear my prayer.
Are You there Isis,
Are You there!
Isis Lady of the Two Hands
You are there.
You are there Isis,
You are there.
Hear my prayer Isis,
Hear my prayer!

This Isian song was given to me by DeTraci Regula during much happier times, but it lends itself with such grace to my struggles and tempestuous feelings when I began my path as a consecrated priest. DeTraci said to me once, “Ptahmassu, you came into this world a priest!” Most people would agree with her, and most people seem to see me as a natural priest and ritualist, leaping tall obelisks in a single bound…with a simple flick of a wrist manhandling the harmonies out of any sistrum!

But for me, the actual state of affairs is much more complicated, and the sacrifices I have had to make for my priesthood have often been difficult…sometimes devastating. To all would-be priestesses and priests out there I say, be very careful what you wish for…what you think you are asking for. Initiation into the Mysteries of Isis means making of your heart a sponge, and the Goddess squeezes nothing less than everything out of it…then asks for even more.

I spent time on the streets of San Diego just before the 90’s came to a close. I had had to put everything I owned in storage, and found myself without an address. Reading Isis and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy by day, and spending nights on the couches of this friend or that acquaintance, I rebelled against the concept of working a traditional job and being a respectable member of society (some things haven’t changed, right?!), and opted instead to be a shaven headed urban priest of Isis, the Goddess in the red dress.

One night I had no couch to crash on, so there was nothing for it, I crashed in the covered back doorway of a store…one of the favored haunting places of San Diego’s elite homeless. One of the regulars was already there, a kind old gentleman wearing a very sporty suit coat and shiny dress shoes. He tended to mumble incoherently under his alcoholic breath, but he was not unpleasant, and didn’t mind sharing his blankets with me. At one point he turned to me and blurted out, “She’s watching you, you know”. I was perplexed. “Who is watching me?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Don’t ask me…but it’s her…the lady in the red dress”. At that, the old drunk let out a confident fart, and turned over in the blankets. Isis! I thought, almost so loud I was sure the old man had heard me. Just then, I heard him stutter, “Yeah, that lady in the red dress”. Isis, I laughed inside my head….You’ve got to be kidding me!

All text copyright © 2001-2014 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Time For Auset!

Auset

Concerning the use of the name Isis, it disturbs me greatly that this sacred name, belonging to a very ancient Goddess Who embodies the sustenance of life, healing, and justice, would be used by the mass media for a terrorist organization. However, is there any other way we can approach this in order to find resolution, for those of us who adore our Goddess and are sickened by the abuse of Her holy name?

Lady Zarita Zook (Arch Priestess of Temple of Auset Nevada) and I were having just this very conversation recently during her visit to West Wendover. We agreed that this misuse of the name of the Goddess is offensive and evil, and something that needs to be spoken against. But we also agreed that however attached we might be to the name Isis, this is in fact not the original name of the Goddess at all! The original name of our Goddess is Auset (or Ast, Aset), and this name was Hers from the most ancient times until the advent of the Hellenized Ee-sees, which later, via Latin, became Isis.

To the ancient Egyptians, the name held vital significance, and the magical power, Heka, of the person or thing so named. To not call someone or something by their real name is to deny that power, that sacred resonance. For myself as a Kemetic Reconstructionist, I never use the later Hellenized/ contemporary names of the Netjeru in my personal prayers or temple devotions. I only use the more commonly known forms of the Goddesses and Gods when I need to clarify who they are to an audience I know will not be familiar with the original Kemetic names of the deities.

Maybe it is time for adorers of the Goddess Auset to see this experience as a call to honor the most ancient name of our Goddess, Who has been called Auset, Aset, Ast for thousands of years longer than “Isis”. Maybe it is time for us to go back, back, back to our roots as servants of a Goddess Who has existed far longer than our more contemporary civilizations and trends. The ancient words have POWER, and our Goddess has an original and POWERFUL name that has never been tainted or misused by the ignorant. When we speak that original name, we tap into the very source of the Goddess’ most primordial aspect, Her manifestation as the Divine Seat, the Throne of Kemet (Egypt), the Mother of the Netjer Heru (God Horus).

The original names of the Netjeru go back to Zep Tepy, to the First Occassion of creation, and are the original seat of the Gods’ power. The entire spirit and purpose of the Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) tradition is to return to Zep Tepy, to come as close as we can to that state. The name Auset, not “Isis”, is the original sound of the Goddess from Zep Tepy, and my view is that this is where our true connection to the Goddess can be forged.

In using the original and ancient name of our Goddess Auset, we will actually be denying and dis-empowering the abusive use of “ISIS” in the mass media, by not consciously allowing ourselves to associate this sound with our Goddess. It will be very difficult for some, who are not used to the very ancient name of Auset (Aset, Ast), but it is time we all learned, and returned to the roots of our glorious tradition, which are in Kemet, and have always been there waiting for us.

I am deeply ashamed of the misuse of the beloved name “Isis”. It wounds me and lacerates my heart every time I read a media story covering that group of hate so contrary to the values of my Goddess. But can we stop and say Her REAL NAME together? Auset…Auset…Auset. This is a name we will find attached only to the most High, most Powerful, most venerated Mother of our ancient Gods. Maybe it is about time. Maybe it is time for AUSET!

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Striking the Sacred Torch For Ptah: Rites & Rituals of Hwt-Ka-Ptah

Offering Light to Ptah

Fire is the quintessential offering to the Netjer (Deity), and in the Daily Ritual forms one of the most significant episodes of the cult service. In ancient times the kar-shrine (or naos ) containing the living cult image was sealed and maintained in darkness, until that moment when the God’s servants broke the seal and initiated the complex series of ritual actions known as the Daily Ritual. An oil lamp or taper had been lit at the entrance to the God’s sanctuary, and it was this action that magically dispelled any vestige of chaos, signaling the creation of the world from the Netjer’s hand.

Today we may seem to be separated from the very ancient rites of the Daily Ritual and their ultimate meaning. We cannot seem to be able to wake gently, ease into our day with devotion as did the ancient priests, nor can we seem to find even a few moments of mental stillness in the jolt to move our bodies to work, school or pressing responsibilities. Mornings are usually spoken for, not a proper time, it would seem, for elaborate prayers and rituals.

However, my own experience is that when we can set aside a little time even once a day, be it morning or not, and we clear a space to celebrate a brief but powerful rite, we will find our life being energized, bit by bit, through the activity of invoking the Sacred.

One of the ways I achieve this is through the striking of the sacred fire, or striking of the torch for Lord Ptah. He is my primary Netjer, my namesake and my first Father, and it is to His shrine that I go when first I wake, or whenever I am in need of a mental or spiritual awakening. Following in the footsteps of the Ancients, I light an oil lamp before our awakened cult statue of Lord Ptah, and I offer to Him a prayer that invokes the beginning of light for all created things.

If you cannot set aside time in the morning, then make time where you can, and clear a space that will be used exclusively for devotion. This really is essential, to give over one space to the Netjer, where prayer, thoughtfulness, and the activities of cultic service may be performed. A small table fitted with clean white altar cloth will serve well enough. If one does not have an icon or cult statue of Ptah, then find a photograph of a statue or painting of Ptah, and use this by propping it up in the center of your altar space. When all else fails, use a mental picture, and you may even use a mental flame, if a live one is impossible to produce because of external limitations.

Keep in mind that it is always one’s attitude, mindfulness, and concentration of purpose that is vital. We cannot always control our immediate environment; we can, however, control our mind and our intentions. When you enter that space of sacred service, physically and mentally, be prepared to offer the very best you are capable of. The Gods always understand our very human limitations. What They do not excuse is laziness, carelessness or irreverence. Any ritual act, be it ever so grand or humble, requires a mind prepared to serve with respect and integrity. One’s heart cannot be brought unyielding into the presence of the Divine. Our heart must be ready to give.

The Rite

Previous to engaging in any ritual act, the celebrant needs to be as physically and mentally pure as possible. Try to offer this and any other rite after taking a shower, and taking at least a few moments to stop and adjust one’s mind and intentions. This is a rite of rejuvenation and creation. It awakens the presence of the Netjer within our material world, and this certainly includes the human condition. This is an act where a meeting between the Sacred and human occurs, where mortal life is invigorated by the direct presence of the Immortal.

Enter your shrine or altar area in an attitude of respect, with a mental focus on honoring the Netjer. Although the ritual text has been composed for the God Ptah, it may certainly be adapted for any other Netjer (God) or Netjeret (Goddess). Ritual prostration- going down on one’s knees and then bending forward until one’s forehead touches the floor- is the traditional way to show reverence to the Gods, however, it is also acceptable to bow one’s head, raising both arms in front of the body with palms of the hands facing outward (towards the deity). This is known as duwa, the gesture of adoration.

Have a candle taper, tea light or oil lamp ready. Since I serve in a traditional or Reconstructionist Temple, we prefer to use a replica of an ancient Mediterranean ceramic oil lamp, which has a natural fiber wick and uses olive oil. This is much closer to what the Ancients had; but, times being what they are, I say make use of the tools you have, and use them to the best of your abilities.

Hold the taper, tea light (in a glass or ceramic holder) or oil lamp in your right hand, and your fire source in the other. Take a moment to focus your eyes, heart and mind on your image of the Lord Ptah (or any other Netjer you choose). The candle/ oil lamp is now lighted. Immediately after doing this, recite the following prayer:

Striking the Torch Before the God Ptah(1)

“Come You, come You in peace, O glorious Eye of Heru! Be strong and rejuvenated in peace! It shines like Ra in the double horizon, and the power of Your enemy hides itself straightaway before the Eye of Heru, which seizes it and brings it, and sets it before the seat of Heru. The voice of Heru is Truth by reason of His Eye! The Eye of Heru destroys the enemies of Ptah, the Lord upon the Great Throne(2), in all their places. I am pure!”

The candle/ oil lamp is now presented to the divine image by very slowly moving it back and forth, in a right to left motion, in the presence of the deity. The sacred fire is now set before the Netjer so that its light illuminates the deity image. The following prayer is now offered:

“O Ptah, Tatenen, O Ptah-Ra, You shining one, Who does keep the Gods alive! You radiant one, Who does rise on His sun-mountain, Who lights up the Two Countries with His luster! O Lord of light, shining in brilliancy, when He arises before every eye. Living, when He opens the darkness, glowing sun disk, which moves over the sky and passes through the Netherworld(3).

Your entourage, they praise You. The Company of Nine Gods, of Your first primeval time, it rejoices at Your rising, and it rejoices at Your setting in the West. They say to You, ‘Praise, praise!’

You open up the ways of the sky and the earth. You pass by in Your own boat, when You rise elevated over the Gods, after You have driven away the clouds, to provide for the Netherworld, to visit the souls of the West when You descend in the Western mountains.

You have joined with the people in the Kingdom of death and roused those who are in front of their caverns(4)”.

Making the torch of every day for this God Ptah the Lord of Truth(5)

Your arms should again be raised in the duwa-adoration gesture as you recite the offering formula for bestowal of the sacred fire, which is followed by a formal prayer:

Irit teka en hruw neb en netjer pen Ptah neb Ma’at
(pronounced: Ear-eet tee-ka een hee-roo neb een netcher pen Puh-tah neb Ma-aat)

“Making the torch of every day for this God Ptah the Lord of Truth!”

“O Ptah of light, the torch comes to Your ka, O Ptah the Lord of Truth!(6) There comes that which predicts night after day. The Eye of Ra appears gloriously in White-Walls(7). I come to You, and I cause that it come, the Eye of Heru, arisen upon Your forehead, established upon Your brow! To Your ka, O Ptah, the Eye of Heru is Your protection! Hail to You, Ptah the risen land! You are awake and in peace, You awaken peacefully. The Wedjat Eye awakens in peace. The great Wedjat Eye, Who has created offerings, awakens peacefully!”(8)

If possible, it is preferable to leave the sacred fire burning for as long as possible, and until it burns out completely, if it is a small taper or tea light. If you must extinguish the flame after the conclusion of the rite, do so after a few moments of respectful silence and contemplation on the presence of the Netjer, offering the God your gratitude for His (or Her) presence.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa


Notes

  1.  Adapted for Ptah from the Daily Ritual of Amun-Ra of Ipet-isut (modern Karnak). See MORET, ALEXANDRE. 1902. Le Rituel du Culte Divin Journalier. Paris: Annales du Musee guimet, Bibliotheque d’Etudes 14, Ernest Leroux, Editeur, pages 9-10. Also BUDGE, E.A. WALLIS. The Book of Opening the Mouth: The Egyptian Texts with English Translations. First published in London, 1909. Reissued in 1972 by Benjamin Blom, New York. Reissued in 1980 by Arno Press, New York, page 197.  Wherever I have referred to Budge during my gathering of ancient textual sources for Ptah, I have not adopted Budge’s transcriptions or translations. It is now universally acknowledged by scholars that Budge’s transliteration, transcription and/ or pronunciation of ancient Egyptian (together with his translation of Egyptian texts) is much outdated. Many significant advances have been made in the study of ancient Egyptian language since Budge’s time, thus I have opted in my (pronounceable) transcriptions and translations to follow these current advances.
  2. Here I have given the name-epithet for Lord Ptah that corresponds to the name and appellation of Amun-Ra given in the original text (Amun-Ra neb nezet tawy, “Amun-Ra the Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands”).
  3. Adapted from Papyrus Berlin 3048. See M, SANDMAN HOLMBERG. 1964. The God Ptah (Denmark: Lund), page 151.
  4. Adapted from Papyrus Berlin 3048. Ibid, page 152.
  5. Here I have taken the recitation of “making the torch of every day” (which in the unabridged Daily Temple Ritual occurs after the offerings and reversion of offerings) and placed it together with the recitation for “striking the fire”, which I have adapted from the text of the Daily Ritual given to Amun-Ra in His temple at Ipet-isut . See “Certain Reliefs at Karnak and Medinet Habu and the Ritual of Amenophis I- Concluded,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8 (1949): 320 (Fig 30), 321-323.
  6. Adapted for Ptah by placing His name and common epithet here in the place of Amun-Ra.
  7. The “White-Walls”, Mennufer, the primary cult center of Ptah. This has been adapted for Ptah by replacing the Ipet-isut of Amun-Ra.
  8. Adapted from Papyrus Berlin 3048. See HOLMBERG, Ibid, page 118, 30*. As the purpose of these rites is to awaken and renew the power of the Netjer in sacred space, the awakening or restoration of the god is linked to the awakening and restoration of the Wedjat Eye, the whole and indestructible power of the Netjer.

Simple Beginnings

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I am often asked how one can serve the Netjeru (Gods) or connect with Them through the ancient rites if one is not a priestess or priest. Priestess/ priesthood is far from being the only effective way to engage the Gods. What if one does not have an elaborate altar or shrine full of icons/ cult statues? What if one does not know the medu-netjer (hieroglyphs)? These are very real concerns people new to Kemeticism have.

My answer to these questions may come as a surprise. I feel that a simple beginning is the most effective way to initiate a relationship with the Netjeru. Let’s start with respect. The Gods cannot be properly engaged without this most vital quality. Think of the way you would treat a guest to your home. You’d hopefully treat them with respect and courtesy. You’d offer them some refreshment, perhaps a nice meal. You’d invite them to get to know you better. Likewise, you’d make an effort to get to know them better. You’d be hospitable.

The Gods are like special guests when you invite Them into your life and into your home. You begin with showing reverence and respect. You don’t need to be clergy to do this! Even the smallest act, such as pouring out a bowl of wine or a cup of beer, has sacred meaning and power in Kemeticism. Clear away a few minutes at the start of each day, invite the Netjer (God) or Netjeret (Goddess) by speaking Their name out loud. Light incense, and offer that to the deity with as much respect and love as you can generate, and ask the deity to make Themselves known to you. Make an offering, perhaps a libation or vase of flowers. Even if you do not have an awakened cult image, and even if all you have is a picture from a book, use whatever image you have access to, even one you visualize inside your mind, and use that as a focal point for service.

Living a spiritual life, a healthy spiritual life, means making a concentrated effort to open yourself up to the Gods EVERY SINGLE DAY; not just in fancy rituals or in front of a formal shrine, but, much more importantly, during your workaday life as you go about your work and obligations. Learn to ponder the names of the Netjeru in your mind, and offer Them thanks or simple prayers in spare moments. The more you do this, the more you will feel the presences of the Gods joining you and making sacred contact. Each time this happens, your relationship with the Gods grows stronger, until you feel you are never separated from the Gods no matter where you are.

Just remember RESPECT, REVERENCE and OFFERING. These are the keys to establishing a full relationship with your Gods, and a healthy, truly fulfilling spiritual life.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

A Crisis of Faith?

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What happens when we have a crisis of faith? People often ask me how I do it…how I seem to maintain this fierce devotion and conviction I have in my priestly life, and in general as a spiritual practitioner. People look at the way I live…the beautiful shrines I maintain, the dazzling rituals I get to perform, the way I strive to maintain and restore the Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) traditions…and people seem to feel that it is effortless, or that I have the direct line to text message the Gods!

The funny thing is that I have spent much of my life feeling that I fall very short of the kind of spiritual person I seek to be. The closer I get to the doorway of the Gods, the more I am disappointed in how I have maintained my relationship with Them. I pray constantly, I perform the rituals ordained by the historic record…I keep the cult images sacred and share the festival offerings. I try as hard as I can to live a good life, a life in Ma’at, the Truth, the Right Way. Still, I feel that I have not quite fit the part.

I think we all feel these things at times, but what do we do about it? There are times when I ache so badly to be united with the Netjeru that I feel a terrible loss and hole in my heart. I realized quite a while ago that I was born with this feeling of loss, this hole in my heart, this sadness. It occurred to me that the only way I could soothe it was through love, devotion, and service.

Some people tell me that worshiping or serving the Gods is a demure state of affairs, that being humble before any deity is too much like organized religion, that it debases humankind. How can LOVE debase or degrade? How can service make us demure? How can worship, an act of true love, bring us low? One thing the human heart cannot argue against is TRUE LOVE! And just what is true love?

True love is altruistic, it seeks to give without expectation of a reward or recompense of any kind. True love only gives, and receives only in an unselfish manner. When we give to the Gods without expectation, this service manifests the same response from the ones to whom it is given. This is not a subservient or demure act, but an act of strength and freewill. It is the most excellent form of action, worship and love of which the human condition is capable. When we master this in our relationship with the Gods, then we can turn this outward, beyond ourselves, in order to give it to others. This makes others our equals. It uplifts our personal relationships, our families, our communities. It is the root of all enlightened experience.

So, when I feel this darkness and emptiness, and I ask myself how I can become the better man I want to be, I remind myself that LOVE is the real answer…not an abstract principle or ideal, but the kind of love we can use every single day as we go about our lives. I remind myself that service to the Gods through altruistic love forges an unbreakable bond between me and the Netjeru (Gods). When my service and love are selfless, then my Self actually experiences the true nature of the Gods, of Ma’at, more fully and deeply. How then can I feel I have reached a crisis of faith?

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa