How do we know what our Gods want from us? How do we know what They expect from us? How can we please Them, honor Them? People who are new to Kemeticism often confide in me how much they want to engage the Netjeru, but are afraid of offending the Gods, or making mistakes in the process of trying to connect with Them. What advice do I have for those who have these very legitimate concerns?
Within the Heathen Community (contemporary followers of the Norse Gods), there is a term that I think can apply equally well to the beliefs and activities of Kemeticists, Kemetic Reconstructionists, and to other Recon communities: UPG, otherwise known as unverified personal gnosis. This term is used to describe those personal spiritual experiences that fall outside the realm of authenticated source texts, lore/ mythos or the historical record. These are very personal experiences that many devotees believe are communicated by their gods, but cannot otherwise be traced within the generally accepted literature or historic track record of the tradition.
Throughout the many years I have been in contact with others who profess a belief in Kemeticism, I have encountered a fairly common phenomenon, which I think can best be described as UPG. Individuals subscribing to Kemeticism tend to develop very close relationships with their Netjeru (Gods), so much so that the Gods take on active roles in the lives of Their devotees, becoming almost part of their family. The Gods tend to hold conversations with us in our heart, send us signs in the outer world, and connect with us in ways that truly feel like our relationships with our biological family, closest friends or peers. That is because the Gods want to be part of our life directly.
Unlike the mainstream monotheistic religions, where the deity tends to be viewed as separate from his creation, and removed from the intimate lives of humankind, the Netjeru of Kemet have shown in the track record of history that They are very engaged with the material world, and are active in the daily lives of human beings. In contemporary times, devotees of the Netjeru often find it difficult to access the academic, scholastic resources on the Gods, sacred texts, and religious practices of Kemet, and feel obliged to connect with the Netjeru on their own terms. This can often lead to some very colorful contemporary practices that are not necessarily linked with those of ancient times.
I have corresponded with a devotee of Bastet who swore that the Goddess adored the fruit flavored gummy fish she had been placing on the altar. Okay. Who am I to question personal displays of affection between a Netjer and their admirer? If an offering is truly given out of love and respect for the deity, then I have to accept that this is a good action, even if I question the rightness of offering a candy treat of little nutritional value to a great goddess.
My point is that UPG, unverified personal gnosis, seems to be a strong force amongst those who are trying to reconnect with very ancient faiths that have been broken down by the machine of monotheism. There are gaps in the historical record, or access to that record is more or less limited to those with strong academic tendencies and/ or resources, those for whom Reconstruction is the surest way to reclaim our ancient faiths. But how can the average devotee make such a connection?
What is happening is that individuals are reconnecting with the Netjeru via intuition and instinct, following their own inner guidance as they determine who the Gods are and how They should be approached. UPG comes in the form of little epiphanies or flashes of inspiration, where one just knows that Sekhmet wants that shiny red and gold altar cloth. When one lays the cloth down for the Goddess, one just feels very right about it, and things feel like they’ve fallen perfectly into place.
Of course, the Recon way to approach this situation would be to dig into the appropriate cultic text to check for references to red and red fabrics in the mythos and worship of the Goddess. Does red cloth play a role, however small, in the rituals or festival celebrations of Sekhmet? What about Her titles or epithets? Can we find a link with red cloth there? How has the color red played a role in the mythos of the Goddess as preserved in the historical record? I think the reader has the idea.
The Reconstructionist approach strives to fill in as much as possible from the actual records the Ancients left us, which span an enormous length of time and provide us a road map to recovering our ancient traditions. However, for many people, the Reconstructionist approach can be difficult, if not a little challenging to one’s patience.
One might be forgiven for cursing on the other side of one’s face, when simply wanting to touch base with one’s deities, but feeling instead like it’s a process of jumping through academic hoops in order to do the simplest thing. This kind of experience can remove the joy and spontaneity from one’s connection to the Gods, if one is constantly worried about “getting it right” according to the available record.
UPG, therefore, offers the average aspirant the luxury of allowing instinct- rather than historical necessity- to guide, making the spiritual experience feel readily accessible, instead of the exclusive domain of those in the academic know. These are the feelings I’ve had expressed to me consistently by those who inquire about Kemeticism and Kemetic Reconstructionism, and wish to understand how I approach it.
I think UPG is fine, and it works for many people. It tends to give practitioners a hands-on feeling to the Netjeru, and comes without constraints. One simply “feels” one’s way through it. Far be it from me to disparage a person’s heartfelt experiences with their Gods. If Bastet really wants gummy fish from you, then I suppose that’s between you and the Goddess. I’d probably advise they be of the highest quality possible, and at least served on the most traditional offering vessel you can find. But then that’s just me, as I tend (as a hem-netjer or priest) to be a traditional kind of guy.
My advice to practitioners is to make a sincere effort to get to know your Netjeru before you decide for sure that yes, Bastet loves gummy fish and always has. I feel that getting to know the Gods is kind of similar to how we get to know our human friends. It takes work, effort, sincerity, and a willingness to learn something new.
The Netjeru of Kemet are very ancient deities, Who have operated within a specific cultural framework for thousands of years. These Gods are used to the types of offerings They’ve received in Their cults for the duration of millennia, and, in my experience, They still expect to receive. With only a little effort, one can indeed find all the basic information one needs in order to honor the Netjeru respectfully and traditionally. It is just as easy to pick up a bottle of wine or a bunch of figs as it is to head over to the candy isle for that very dignified bag of gummy fish!
One might be very surprised by the reaction of the Gods when you have put effort into finding the things They’ve loved for thousands of years, and offer them in a respectful manner that extends true reverence. These very reverential experiences are the ones that build the most powerful relationships between us and our Gods. Try it, and you will see how satisfying the results can be. You may even find yourself becoming enchanted by the traditional way of communing with these most ancient Gods.
First and foremost, whichever road you choose, UPG or solid Reconstructionism (and perhaps, if you’re like me, some of both blended happily together), learn to open yourself up fully and respectfully to the Gods you worship. Learn to speak your heart to Them, to meditate on Them, and to ask Them for Their direct guidance. Yes the Netjeru can and do speak directly to Their devotees. It may take quite a while before you really feel that level of communication growing, but through honest effort it will happen.
Lastly, learn to listen, to take the time to follow that inner guidance that you will eventually be able to discern as coming from your Gods. There is no magical formula that can produce these results, but you can rest assured that the Netjeru of Kemet, Who have guided and engaged humanity for countless thousands of years, will guide you as you make the honest effort to know Them.
All text and image copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa