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

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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

Called By Auset

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When I was in grade school I attended a private Catholic school where every Friday we were required to attend chapel and say Mass. We were expected to kneel and recite the Lord’s Prayer, and sing the appropriate hymns in observance of various Saint’s feast days. I was utterly offended at being required to kneel to a god I regarded as foreign, and recite a prayer that rang hollow in my heart.

At ten years of age I was already secretly consecrated to Auset, Mother Isis, so it was to Her I fervently prayed when the time came to kneel and parrot the words of the Lord’s Prayer after Father Treat. I remember a gilt icon of the Madonna shining above a rack of glittering candles, and silently, deep down in my heart of hearts, I said to Isis: “When it looks like I am praying to her, I am really praying to YOU!”

One morning after Mass was concluded, Father Treat saw me lighting a candle in front of the Madonna, and he said, “Oh, you are praying to our Lady?” “No”, I replied, “I am praying to Isis”. Father Treat called my mother that very morning and told her what I had said, expressing his outrage and concern, and when my mother came to pick me up at school I was confronted by her and Father Treat regarding my religious beliefs.

What could I say? I told both of them that the worship of Isis was far older than the religion of Jesus the Jew, that the magic and power of Isis was far more profound than the miracles performed by Christ, and, finally, that the Goddess had called me personally and answered my prayers directly. How had She called me?

The nectar of the ancient Faith of Isis (Whom the ancient Egyptians called Auset) is the one virtue that I have always found greatly lacking in many of the world’s current religions, and that is unconditional love; what every mother would recognize as the unfailing trait shared by most mothers. Mothers have a capacity that most fathers, and men in general, find wanting. They are able to love their children, simply love them, for all their imperfections and regardless of shortcomings.

Conditional grace is central to the major monotheistic religions. Belief in one doctrine. Absolute obedience to the core professions of the faith. Salvation is granted only to the worthy, those who accept the one deity and belief as expressed in authoritative scripture. Eternal punishment after death for those who do not.

The religion of Isis is very different in these regards. My personal experience of Mother Auset is that She, like all mothers, loves where others fall quite short. She does not condemn those who do not recognize Her divinity. She does not chastise souls for following their conscience in the place of doctrine or religious dogma. She requires no vows for those who call upon Her in need. She professes no wrath for those who follow other beliefs and yet wish to feel Her mercy.

Even those who challenge Her, those who hate Her, those who attack Her can in the same instant be embraced or saved by Her if they but cry out for Her help. She asks for nothing in return.

Those who serve Mother Isis recall the story of Her trials and sufferings as a single mother hiding in the marshes of Egypt from Her enemies. The Goddess, in Her most dire time of need, was persecuted by a haughty rich woman, who slammed her door in the Goddess’ face when Isis was begging for a place to hide Her infant son. It was a poor woman who invited Isis into her home to partake of what little she had to give.

The guardian scorpions of the Goddess were outraged at the behavior of the wealthy woman, and decided to punish her by stinging her baby son to death. When Isis heard of this retribution, She cried out, “I cannot allow the innocent to die because of me”, and the Goddess used Her magic to cure the afflicted child.

This ancient story reveals the heart of the Isian Mysteries, which are quite less mysterious than they may outwardly appear. The truth of the Divine Mother is that Her grace, Her salvation, Her love is entirely unconditional. What She expresses to those who choose to follow Her is the necessity of altruistic love and the example of a mother’s unblemished mercy for all Her children.

The Goddess does not subtract, She adds. The Goddess does not turn away, She embraces. The Goddess does not govern through fate or doctrine, She and She alone alters fate and cuts through the delusion of power that is the leash of dogma. Isis rises above the conditions set by other deities, receiving all souls into Her care regardless of creed, gender, race or belief.

What Isis inspires is not religious fervor, fanaticism or control, but the freedom that only limitless love, true love…a mother’s love can give. This is the message that Mother Isis gave to me when I was six-years-old and first came to know Her.

It is often a difficult message to live or embody, because I, like all children, am rash, egoistic, imperfect and brimming with conflicting emotions. However, what Isis has in abundance is patience. She sees through our faults and cherishes us for the Soul we all possess.

I am Auset Great of Enchantments,
Within whose body the immortal Gods dwell,
Within whose womb the seed of the universe
Did spring.

There is nothing that exists that I have not
Touched with the grace of my fingertips,
Nor a heart that beats without having felt
My divine breath.

My image is that of Eternity,
My body the thread of the Everlasting.
The gods of all nations know me,
The Threefold Creator invokes me,
I am higher than the governors of the Earth,
And over the starry firmament from which
I have descended.

I am Auset Great of Enchantments,
Whose feet are planted in the Stars,
Whose never ending grace existed before
Time and creation existed.
I endure, and I am before the beginning,
And after the end.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Coming From the Heart: A Conversation With Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa & Anna Applegate~ Part Four

Ptahmassu Portrait

Anna Applegate: What role, if any, do you think Reconstructionist faiths should have in interfaith ambassadorship? Have you personally been involved in such initiatives?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: Personally, I feel that all faiths should take some kind of role in interfaith dialogues, whether that means taking part in a formal interfaith initiative, or simply engaging members of other faiths in discussions and activities from which mutual cooperation and understanding can grow. My experience is that when we invest our interests not only in personal interest, but in the interests of others in the wider spiritual community, we bolster our own personal experience of faith, and create a way for others to understand sacred experiences outside the scope of their own traditions.

When we do this, it helps create awareness and tolerance, which can help to combat prejudice, discrimination, and violence between people of different faiths. Interfaith dialogues have enriched my own appreciation for the traditions I follow, but have also helped me to broaden my perspective, and avoid getting boxed in by closed-mindedness.

Many years ago, when I first began my public spiritual mission, an important part of the work I was doing as a spiritual practitioner and priest was interfaith work, including initiatives for nonviolence and human rights. I had been greatly encouraged in my desire to engage in this kind of work by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose interfaith message and teachings on nonviolence have always had a profound influence on my own ethical perspective.

I was invited in October of 1999 (and again in June of 2000) by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to take part in a series of teachings the Dalai Lama was giving, which I attended in the capacity of visiting clergy in the spirit of interfaith cooperation. The teachings and initiations I received from His Holiness were a significant part of the personal mission I felt was guiding my budding vision as a humanitarian practitioner.

My vision was not only to call for a restoration of the ancient Egyptian spiritual traditions, but also, in a wider perspective, to call for a unity between the practice of religion and human rights ethics…that one could not be separate from the other. In my view, I saw this also as the practice of restoring Ma’at in our world, in cultivating a feeling of solidarity between people of differing views, which could only help in advancing the work of the Sacred Powers. These are all still goals I place at the center of my spiritual practice, which I always strive to include a broader view of the world in which I live and engage.

What I’d really like to see happening is more interfaith dialogue between the various Reconstructionist faiths, and far more cooperation and support between different Kemetic communities. My experience in Kemeticism- both general and Reconstructionist- is that there tends to be a great deal of argument, banter, and disunity between various groups and temples. So much of the fuss seems to be centered around whose version of Kemeticism is the authentic one, or more authentic, or the real thing. Whose interpretation of source texts is correct? Who is using the “right” scholarship to reconstruct the traditions? Which groups have the “real thing”, and which groups don’t?

There is a lot of mud slinging, accusation, and argument taking place that has very little to do with devotion to the Netjeru and Ancestors, and mostly to do with the human ego. Far too much of an emphasis is being placed on source texts and belief, in my opinion, and not near enough emphasis on Sacred Work, cult, devotion, and engagement of the Sacred Powers. After a number of years of trying to connect with other Kemetic groups online, I eventually backed away from online communities entirely, and have concentrated all my effort on building an actual physical cultic house and practice…a hands-on approach, as opposed to a virtual one.

Anna Applegate: Do you believe in evil? If so, how do you define it? How do you avert it?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
: I do believe in evil, yes, and I believe the existence of evil manifests itself in a number of ways. I’d like to begin with a Kemetic view of what evil is, because that’s the spiritual framework I operate in. The Kemetic view of creation gives us two primary forces at play in creation, and these are Ma’at and asfet. Ma’at may be simply defined as “order” and asfet as “chaos”; however, these are very relative terms that need further elucidation. Ma’at is the continuity of the creative process as it was ordered by the Creator God at the beginning of creation, the Zep Tepy or “First Time”, “First Occasion”.

So creation was began and regulated by the Netjer, and established according to a specific pattern of manifestation. The continued existence of all created things is wholly dependent on the maintenance of this pattern, and the tools for accomplishing this were believed in ancient times to have been handed down to the Egyptians for their use. These tools include the Daily Ritual, performed in every temple every day; the engagement of the Netjeru (Gods) through Sacred Works such as temple, votive offerings, and stelae; engagement of the Ancestors, the Blessed Dead; and specific rituals designed to identify and limit the activity of chaos or evil in the material world, which scholars term execration rites.

Ma’at does not just mean “order”, “balance”, “truth” or “right” in the often relative way these terms can be used, but actually the “right way” through which the created world is maintained exactly as the Gods ordered it in Zep Tepy. Ma’at is literally the ongoing process of this divinely regulated creation, which, if deviated from, will result in the collapse of the created world. This collapse, its signs, symptoms and causes, are called asfet, which is anything that upsets the original order of the creative process. Asfet is not just “chaos” or “evil” in a human, social sense, but also self-destruction on the largest possible scale.

The ancient Egyptians were, in a sense, apocalyptic people; they believed in the possibility of cosmic annihilation, which was for them a very real possibility at all times. How could this annihilation be avoided? How can the ongoing process of the divine creation continue? These were the questions that underpinned Egyptian culture and religion. It was through their divinely granted system of rites and rituals that the temples of Egypt engaged the Netjeru in order to keep the Sacred Powers active throughout the human world. These activities were the backbone for the maintenance of Ma’at in ancient Egypt, and without them, Ma’at cannot exist, nor can creation be expanded. The result is asfet, a dissolution of the divinely regulated process of creation.

So how is asfet prevented from gaining a foothold in our world, and infringing on the cohesive force of Ma’at? That is why the Daily Ritual exists, the temple texts were compiled, the rites for engaging the Ancestors and Blessed Dead were established, and this complex framework for divine engagement was woven and remains active in the historical record. So often, modern spiritual celebrants look down on the ancient texts, prayers and rituals as being complicated or restrictive or dogmatic, and wish to move away from them because “these are different times”. They’re not, actually.

The same problems and trials, forms of injustice, and manifestations of chaos exist now that existed in ancient times. The only thing that has changed is our material technology. But the ancient Egyptians were given a tremendous spiritual technology for combating chaos and evil, and this technology is comprised of the liturgies, hymns, ritual gestures and ritual forms that were passed down virtually unchanged for thousands of years. These texts, like those of the Daily Ritual, existed as a direct response to asfet, so that the Netjeru could be directly engaged with humankind in the co-creative process of maintaining and protecting the created world.

In these regards, how do I define evil? I define evil as any force whose aim is to separate myself and the human race from engaging our Sacred Powers and Ancestors in the divine work of Ma’at, which is the maintenance of creation itself. It is by way of our immediate, direct relationships with our Gods and Sacred Powers that this work of protecting creation can continue, and it is our inheritance and responsibility to behave interdependently with the Gods in the furtherance of Their creative work. That is what I recognize as Ma’at, the labor of maintaining the divine creation as it was ordered by the Gods; and evil is anything that rears itself against this sacred relationship, be it human, action, manifestation or entity.

Secondly, I regard evil as that which attempts to strangle our individual mind and conscience from living in the way we know is right. Obviously, this is on a very subjective level, and is deeply personal, but I believe that evil operates in this way; in a way that strives to sever us from our personal knowledge of what is right and wrong, and that includes the operation of our freedom.

Evil seeks to remove our freedom of choice, our freedom of individual conscience, our innate understanding of what is right or wrong for us. Evil strives to entice us into a box, a mode of thinking and living that disregards our conscience and our intellectual and spiritual freedom. Evil for me is any mindset that constricts our ability to reason or choose for ourselves, to operate according to our own free will. Evil is what we are engaging when we prevent others from exercising their free will, when we take away the right or ability of others to choose, think, or live according to their own volition.

Kemetically speaking, but also speaking very much in a general Polytheistic sense, evil can be combated directly through the intimate engagement of our Gods and Sacred Powers. There are very specific rites, rituals, prayers and cult images created for the aversion of evil, and these exist in all Polytheistic traditions. In a Kemetic sense, we have the execration texts and practices, which are a collection of magical recitations and ritual actions designed to hand over the sources of evil and chaos into the hands of the Gods, thereby binding and preventing these sources from operating their influence. These are practices in which I have been trained as a vital part of my work as a priest, and it is certainly one of the basic understandings of what being a priest means.

Being a hem-netjer, a “servant of netjer” or priest, means becoming the hands and feet of the Gods in Their sacred work of maintaining the cosmic order of Ma’at. This means that my primary goal is in the deflection of asfet from within the created world, and this means combating disorder and injustice in as many forms as it takes. How I go about doing this is by using the arsenal of spiritual technology handed down to me by my Ancestors in the historical record, but also by directly engaging the Netjeru and Ancestors throughout all my activities, making sure that I am operating according to Their plan for continuing the process of divine creation.

In another sense, I avert evil by operating according to my conscience, and my conscience tells me that the use of free will, the use of my intelligence to choose for myself, is the strongest threat to evil I can muster. Evil fears free will and freedom itself, which compels the individual mind to think for and act for itself. Evil tells us there is only one way to think, believe, act, and live, and when we try to think outside the restrictive little box, evil closes in and attempts to remove our innate desire for personal freedom.

So, what is a priest, a servant of the Gods to do? He fights evil by looking it directly in the face and declaring I am a free man, and I am going to think for myself! He uses his free will to make choices that do not violate the free will of others to choose, and he summons the Gods and Ancestors each and every day of his life to help him do it! That is how I avert evil!

Anna Applegate: What advice do you give to spiritual seekers who say that they’d like to “work with” a given Deity, as opposed to cultivating a personal devotional relationship with that God or Goddess? Are there ever instances where having a “contractual” relationship with a Power is okay? If not, why not?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: A Kemetic peer of mine recently directed my attention to the way she and others view the concept of “working with” deities. She pointed out to me that “working with” the Gods need not be seen in a negative light, if by “working with” we mean a spiritual partnership with the Gods, a mutually beneficial relationship that can be driven, in Alchemical terms, by the desire to accomplish the “Great Work”.

So, in these terms, I’d have to agree with her, that one can “work with” the deities in a vital partnership for the accomplishment of the highest spiritual labors. We can view the Gods as actually being “hands-on” with us as we endeavor to fulfill our Sacred Work or spiritual aims. Why should we feel that we are alone in the mission of restoring Ma’at, say, to put it in a Kemetic context? The ancient Egyptians saw themselves as participating in the process of maintaining the cosmic order, which was an interdependent process between humankind and the Gods. On the one hand, you have asfet, chaos, the dissolution of the cosmic order of creation, and on the other you have Ma’at, the continuity of creation according to its original framework during Zep Tepy.

Human beings are charged with the task of co-creating with the Gods, keeping the wheels of creation turning properly through maintenance like performing the Daily Ritual. The Daily Ritual is not just “worship” in the contemporary sense of the word, but is actually the vital process through which the cosmos is balanced and directed in a steady course. The ritual episodes of the Daily Ritual are the spiritual technology for engaging the Gods as co-creators with humankind.

Each gesture, each set of prayers, each formula and offering is an integral part of the “work” human beings need to do in order to create harmony with the Gods, which ripples outward to effect the entire created world. So in these regards, “work” is a creative, co-creative process between humankind and the Gods. “Work” means Sacred Work, the labor of engaging the Gods and the Ancestors for the benefit of all created things.

However, I know you’re asking about “working with” the Gods in a way that reads as a strictly business-like, “contractual” relationship, that can sometimes mean the exclusion of a deeper devotional relationship. I’m not fond of “contractual” relationships with deities, and here’s why. Let’s think about our human relationships and how we define them. We have acquaintances, people we know in a casual manner, perhaps like, but don’t necessarily include in our circle of friends…people we might depend on or enjoy spending quality time with.

Then we have people we consider our friends, individuals we actually spend quality time with, share mutual interests with, and generally trust. And then there are those people we have as part of our inner circle of friends, people we might even call our “family”, though there are no blood ties between us. The definitions grow more and more intimate as we define our very best friends, lovers, spouses, and blood family. Think for a moment on how different each of these relationships are, and what each of them contributes to our overall life.

Now let’s apply this outlook to deities. Our relationships with our deities are a two-way street. We are hopefully asking Them to engage with us in a manner that meaningfully contributes to our experience of life, a manner that actually enriches our life and empowers us in every area. We have wants and needs and desires, and we’re asking the Goddesses and Gods to fulfill these. We have “work” to do, and we’re asking Them to help us do this “work”, and sometimes we’re asking Them to do all the “work” for us.

But do we ever stop to consider that the Gods we’re invoking and asking for help are expecting us to meet Them half way? Do we ever anticipate that the level of effort or involvement we bring to the table is going to determine how much our Sacred Powers actually listen to and give us the help we need? Or are we just taking for granted that because the Gods are gods that they’re going to snap to and give us everything we want, simply because They can?

Well, my personal experience over the past 35 years tells me that the Gods are here to help us and to give us the things we want or need. Yes, They will give us what we ask for, and They have the power to do it. However, the Gods expect us to meet Them half way, at least, and They are going to respond in the same manner as we present ourselves to Them. People who use the Gods as some kind of cosmic vending machine are going to find out sooner or later that the Gods stop listening to them and engaging. If we are going to treat Them casually, then They are going to treat us casually.

So, your casual acquaintances, the people you know but don’t consider your closest friends; why don’t you consider them as part of your inner circle, as part of your family…people you know you could depend on in a serious crisis? Probably because your relationship with them is merely polite, casual, friendly but not a truly deep friendship. Maybe you say hello once in a while, or ask them how their day is going. You might see them at work, and now and again exchange a few words.

But who are you going to call when you need someone to really be there and pick up all the pieces for you? You’re going to call the people in your life who have shown you by their effort and actions that they will be there for you and can be completely trusted. We don’t like to think of deities as having these same kinds of discriminating faculties we recognize as being all too human, but They do, and They use them!

If we want our deities to listen to us, be there for us, rescue us, and give us the things we ask for, then we have to be willing to step up to the plate and give Them our time, sincerity, offerings and respect. Without these things as a foundation, the Gods are going to treat us just as casually as we treat Them. If we merely acknowledge the existence of deities, then They are going to merely acknowledge us. They are going to return exactly what we’re willing to give to Them.

Our relationship with our Gods has to come from a genuine effort of cultivation, where we bring our true selves into the dynamic in order to establish a foundation of trust and love, a bond that manifests the blessings of a true and mutual exchange.

The Ancients operated according to the premise of we give because You give, which defines an interdependent system of reciprocity. The Gods give human beings boons, and human beings offer those things back to the Gods. The Gods, then, respond in the selfsame manner, bringing human beings the essence of life, materially and spiritually. But it has to come from both sides. Both Gods and human beings have to meet one another in the middle, otherwise Sacred Work cannot be accomplished, and you will be left with a very one sided partnership.

My experience with people who are “working with” the Gods has often left a bad taste in my mouth, because far too often I see people jumping from pantheon to pantheon every other week (I call them “dharma faeries”), “working with” the Gods in a very skin-deep or superficial manner. I often see these people treating the Gods like a cafeteria, grabbing all the bits and pieces they like, without paying for any of it. Oh, this week I’m “working with” Athena, and next week I’m “working with” Kali. It all get’s very superficial, because instead of actually taking the time and pains to develop a solid relationship with the deities they’re invoking, taking the pains to learn what the deities like to receive within their traditions, people are just snapping their fingers and making demands, then moving on to the next best thing.

I think this kind of spiritual outlook is deeply disrespectful to the Gods, and potentially self-destructive to the people engaging in it. But then again, it all depends on how much you ultimately wish to receive in your interactions with your Gods. You’re going to get no better than what you give, and if you want to grab and go, the Gods are going to grab and go, too. It works both ways, so people need to be conscious of this, that the Gods charge interest on the things we take from Them without bestowing anything in return. The Gods give with one hand, and take with the other.

My honest advice is to check your motives and know your own intentions before approaching any deity…before choosing to “work with” a goddess or god. Be very careful how you ask for the things you want or need, and be prepared to meet the deity on their terms, which I think is very difficult for “dharma faeries” to do. What do I mean by meet the deity on their terms? Gods and Goddesses of all pantheons have a cultural and spiritual framework within which they are used to operating. This is another thing so many people seem to ignore or be unaware of.

Each deity has demonstrated to its devotees throughout history the ways in which she or he likes to be engaged. Deities have favorite foods…oh yes they do! They have colors, textures, smells and sights that have been part of the celebration of their existence since the beginning of their structured worship.

Hellenic deities have a very different flavor and set of expectations than Kemeties deities, or Norse, or Hindu. These are very ancient pantheons, whose desires have been made known and passed down from generation to generation. There’s a reason why- when you examine the devotional track record of any given deity- devotees have brought the same type of offerings to the same deity over very long periods of time.

These aren’t accidents. These aren’t human beings just projecting their own limited framework onto deities. These things become traditions, become part of a deity’s cult, because the deity has indicated, through the bestowal of boons, that such and such an offering is pleasing to them. The same applies to cultic gestures, ritual music, cult images, temple sites, and so on and so forth. Cults are developed through an intimate exchange taking place between people and their gods, and these things shouldn’t be so lightly swept aside if we wish to continue having meaningful relationships with these same deities today.

So, I have to advise people to take some time to learn about the deities you are going to “work with”, if you’re going to develop a “contractual” relationship with them. Demonstrate your respect to that deity or Power by doing your due diligence, as it were, within the tradition that deity has been operating in. Learn the offerings that have been part of that deity’s cult, and have enough respect for these traditions to make a basic effort to include them in your “contract” with the deity.

My own experience is that all deities appreciate even the smallest efforts we make to connect with them in a sincere manner. Starting off on the right foot means bringing your Powers the kinds of offerings they’d expect from those who ask favors of them. If you aren’t willing to offer copious amounts of wine to Dionysus, I can promise you He isn’t going to be interested in anything you have to say!

I don’t think this is rocket science I’m talking about. It’s about basic respect for the Sacred Powers. How can someone demonstrate to you their sincerity to really be your friend? By learning your favorite foods, bringing you your favorite Godiva chocolate on your birthday, knowing your favorite movies, et cetera. The Gods are the very same way. If you want to get Their attention, bring Them the things They love, the things They’ve always wanted, especially if you’re going to ask Them for something in return. People who “work” generally get paid for their labors, and those people wanting the Gods to “work with” them or for them have to be willing to pay for the things they’re asking for. It all comes back to we give because You give.

Anna Applegate: Tell me how Lady Olivia Robertson impacted your work/continues to inspire you.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I think I was about ten-years-old when I started writing to Lady Olivia. Loreon Vigné (Lora at that time) had initiated me into the Isis Society For Inspirational Studies, and Paul Ramses was helping me to explore the doctrine of reincarnation and past lives, but they wanted me to connect in a much deeper way with the many aspects of the Goddess, the Sacred Feminine, so Lora suggested I introduce myself to Lady Olivia.

You know, at that time I was going through a difficult time in my spiritual development, because my parents were very conservative evangelical Christians. They seemed not to have a problem with my enthusiastic correspondence and telephone conversations with Lora Vigné and Paul Ramses, because I think they considered them more or less as harmless New Age types who were helping me in my “Egyptology studies”. I think they went along with it because I never expressed to them the real nature of my involvement with Egyptian studies, or the kinds of things I was really absorbing from Lora and Paul. But I was lonely, confused, and determined to understand why I felt so strongly called by the Goddesses and Gods of Kemet.

When I wrote to Lady Olivia, she was one of those rare friends who instantly showered me with genuine warmth and interest, who showed a depth of sincerity towards my relationship with the Gods. In one of her first letters to me, Lady Olivia explained how she had had her first physical encounter with the Goddess Isis…the great horned Isis…her first tremendous visitation. With that one letter, Olivia had changed the course of my life, because up until that point I had felt so utterly alone in the experiences I had been having with the very active, living Gods of Egypt.

I sat in my bedroom alone for hours at a time, engaged in what I called my “quiet time”. These were my little meditations, where I calmed my body and mind, and invited the Netjeru to introduce Themselves to me. Slowly but surely the Gods initiated a sparkling relationship and dialogue with me, not as figments of my imagination or archetypes of my subconscious, but as living and breathing manifestations. It was Olivia with whom I could share these experiences, because she was having the same kind of experiences, and it was a great part of her work to help others cultivate their natural spiritual gifts, including awareness of the Gods and Sacred Powers.

If there is one cherished gift Lady Olivia gave to me, it is the gift of remaining open…keeping every single channel I have open to Sacred experience…not closing off my mind to any avenue or form the Sacred might take in order to expand my awareness. So often we fall into that trap. We get caught up in spirituality or religion as an exercise of the intellect, and we lose contact, however temporary, with our intuition and heart.

Lady Olivia always threw the doors of the intuitive heart wide open. She was never closed to any of the Goddesses, Gods, Spirits, Faeries, or Sacred Powers, and that is precisely why she was able to accomplish so much life-altering work everywhere she went, in everything she did. She didn’t accept limitations to spiritual awareness, and her work always seemed to be growing, opening up further doors or channels for the Sacred Powers to reach us. She led such a spiritually vibrant life, so rich in the Gods, and that is her great legacy to all of us.

I believe that Lady Olivia helped save me from my despair and feeling of confinement as a young man. It was such a constricting experience to be raised in the spirit-stifling atmosphere of evangelical Christianity. That kind of environment was a prison for my soul, when all I really wanted was to be with my Gods, to know Them and receive wisdom from Them. I wanted to reconnect with the Netjeru of Kemet, not as some body of mythological, intellectual figures, but as living gods who had the power to shape and transform my life for the better.

Olivia gave that to me, that spark I needed to keep pressing forward in my Sacred Work, even though I felt confined or imprisoned by the faith of my parents. Olivia and Lawrence both had much to offer in regards to how one can live in the midst of close-mindedness, and it was because of their very generous guidance that I was able to maintain my courage to follow my Sacred path, despite the animosity I was eventually subjected to by my parents in their fundamentalist thinking.

What Lady Olivia gave to me, what shaped my work in the past and continues to shape the work I am now engaged in, is this sparkling feeling of joy and devotion for the Gods and Sacred Powers, which really is the foundation of everything Olivia taught. She taught me never to lose my joy, my yearning for sharing with the Gods, my love for the Divine. When you are filled with love and joy, when you are immersed in devotion as an offering of your life and consciousness, then the pull of despair and darkness cannot touch you…it cannot pull you down or destroy you.

When you come open-hearted and sincerely engaged to all of life’s tasks, when you allow the Sacred to breathe through all the things you do, then your life cannot help but be anything other than good. And these are the things Lady Olivia taught me that have shaped my work, past and present. I don’t think I could elaborate on that.

Anna Applegate: You’ve recently launched a business called Icons of Kemet. What prompted you to launch it? What words of advice can you give to people who want to transition to spiritually based entrepreneurship? How has the interaction of business concerns and a spiritual ethos been playing itself out for you?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: My journey with Icons of Kemet began a number of years ago. In 2009 I co-founded Temple of Ptah Nevada as a Kemetic Reconstructionist temple devoted to the restoration of authentic ancient Egyptian spirituality, and part of that work, quite naturally, is the revival of Kemetic iconography or cult images.

As a priest of the God Ptah, I regard it as a vital component of my Sacred Work to revitalize the energetic link that has always existed between the Netjeru and Their historical iconography. Icons or cult images are much more than mere symbols or reminders of a deity’s presence and powers; they are, in fact, physical and living embodiments of that presence and power, open channels through which the Netjer maintains Their activity within the domain of Sacred Space.

Icons of Kemet is first and foremost a tradition and way of life, before it is a “business” in the outer world. What gives Icons of Kemet its legitimacy and mission is its direct link with the Netjeru as living Gods Who maintain contact with the physical world we inhabit. It is through the creation and activation of icons that a gateway remains open for the Netjeru to enter our world, and Icons of Kemet is operating as one of those gateways, perpetuating the physical manifestation of Netjer in our world.

In a “business” sense, the creation of Icons of Kemet is the outcome of two key factors in the continuation of my Sacred Work. The first is the simple fact that devotees of the Netjeru need to have access to Sacred images for use in their worship. It is by way of such images that individuals and temple communities can know they are activating Sacred Spaces for their traditions, and are honoring the Netjeru by maintaining the images of the cult. So, in these regards I wanted to provide the highest quality images of the Netjeru that could continue to serve the Gods and Their devotees in the contemporary world.

Secondly, I realized that the Gods had given me a valuable gift, not only as a means of celebrating Their cults, but also in eventually being able to financially support the temples my husband and I are on a mission to build. You know, DeTraci Regula, Arch Priestess of Temple of Isis California, said something during the 2014 Isis Symposium that has stuck with me every day since. DeTraci was giving a lecture about the continuation of the ancient temples today, and she said that each one of us- as priestesses and priests- came into this world with a unique gift that was ours alone, and that this gift was something that only we could do, and that if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. What we needed to do, she said, was find this gift, develop it, and let that be our path to service. Very wise words!

I think I reached a point in my work a few years ago when it dawned on me that I was sitting on the means to cultivate financial prosperity for our temples, and that was my gift as an iconographer and painter. If I could eventually generate enough interest in my work, I could not only satisfy the needs of the Kemetic community to have special images of its Gods, but at the same time put those images to work in support of our temples. Sure, I could go out and try to find a “normal” day job and try to use that income to fund some of our temple’s goals, or I could use the skills the Gods gave me to celebrate Them and sustain the revival of Their traditions.

The fine art market has opportunities for unique work, and there are patrons out there who will pay huge sums of money for the kind of work I’m offering; and what better way could I find to bring in an income for our Sacred Work, than by using the very images of the Gods to help make Their modern temples a living reality? That is our ultimate goal, as far as a “business” focus is concerned.

I think spiritually based entrepreneurship is a very noble pursuit, but it is also a tremendous risk, and a painfully difficult concept to make feasible in today’s economic climate. The only reason I’ve been able to devote my working life to Icons of Kemet is because we have a full time income from my husband’s career to support our life’s needs; otherwise, there is no possible way I could be maintaining my current vocation. It’s a very difficult trade off, because it means making sacrifices of things we really want in the short run, so that we can manifest the bigger picture.

My advice to others is to first take a good hard look at your goals and priorities, and organize your business plan accordingly. I would also strongly suggest making sure you have some secondary form of income flowing regularly into your household…an income source you can wholly depend on. That way, should something go wrong, or the profitability of your business not manifest, your household will still be secure.

Also, don’t limit the possible financial success of your business by being closed-minded to generating the highest possible income from your endeavors. There seems to be this attitude in the spiritual community at large that making money is a negative activity, and that to be spiritually ethical one must somehow be impoverished, or hand out one’s assets for next to nothing. I face this constantly in my work, where people somehow feel that because I’m an iconographer, and my work is “religious”, that it somehow has less value, and should be just handed out. People have this mindset that if it’s spiritually sound, it should not be given a monetary value. I’m definitely not one of those people!

My experience is that so many people in the Neopagan, spiritual community believe they have this innate right to everything spiritual, and that if someone is asking for financial compensation for their spiritual work, they are doing wrong. I think the moral wrong is actually in the reverse, to actually expect a person to deny their right to make a living and support their household just because their vocation or business has a spiritual focus, which you feel you have some right to.

Everyone has a right to food, clothing, and shelter; to pay their rent or mortgage, support their family and obligations, and pursue their path to personal happiness. We live in a society that requires money for everything, and we can complain about that, throw a tantrum about it and fight it, or we can find ways to make that system work for us and our higher, spiritual goals. That is exactly what I’m doing, and I think it requires a thick skin, a strong vision, and enough personal strength to go against the grain, even of one’s spiritual community.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa, Rev. Anna Applegate

Coming From the Heart: A Conversation With Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa & Anna Applegate~ Part Two

Ptahmassu Portrait

Anna Applegate: Do you feel that polytheism should be incorporated under a broad, encompassing “Paganism,” or should it be its own tradition distinct from Paganism? If distinct, how do you see the communities relating to each other?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: This is a complicated and controversial question. If by “Polytheism” we agree that this refers to all traditions that accept the validity of many gods…that include the worship of many gods as a vital component of their identity…then yes, in these regards we might very well label all Polytheistic traditions as “Pagan”. Academics certainly do, when they are referring to the ancient pre-Christian religions of humankind. Academics almost always refer to all pre-Christian and/ or non-monotheistic beliefs as “pagan”. However, they mean pagan not with a capital p, as is used by modern adherents of Neopaganism, but as in not Christian, before Christianity, or gods and practices falling outside the domain of the Abrahamic faiths.

My personal experience is that many individuals who refer to themselves as Polytheists try to distance what they believe and practice from the labels of Pagan and Paganism, simply because so many people instantly associate these terms with Wicca and Witchcraft, which are in many ways very different paths from, say, Hellenic Reconstructionism or Heathenry. There has also always been a rather negative connotation tacked on- admittedly very unfairly- to the term pagan, as used historically by Christians in order to denote and slander those not belonging to the army of Christ.

This all gets very sticky when you start canvassing today’s spiritual communities for their definition of precisely what Paganism is, and what it means to be Pagan. Is Paganism the practice of Witchcraft? Are Wiccans Pagans? Are all who believe in many gods Pagans, or is Paganism simply another wider term for anyone practicing an earth-centered religion or spirituality? Who, then, has a right to decide who is Pagan and who is not? With a lack of a central authority, as if there could ever be such a thing in today’s spiritual climate, how can we place an absolute division between Paganism and Polytheism?

It seems to me that there are so many grey areas, so many instances where Paganism and Polytheism mesh or intermingle, or at least share some similar components. I honestly feel that this has to be an individual question, left to each practitioner’s discernment and ideals. I know a number of practitioners of various traditions who describe themselves as both Pagan and Polytheist, and plenty of others who like to draw a distinct line between the concepts of Paganism and Polytheism. Each has their own valid argument for the language they use or the terms they invoke.

How about we start with respect? It all comes down to respecting the choices of others to belong or label or identify themselves in the way that is healthy for them as individuals. We may choose a different path or expression from others, but there needs to be a basic respect for the right of others to choose, just as we have our right to choose. This seems to me to be the best way to form healthy spiritual communities; communities that are strong and can accomplish Sacred Work more fully together, as peers and equals.

I think it would be near impossible, and perhaps undesirable, for all who define themselves as Polytheists to be lumped together under one communal umbrella of belief. Even within Reconstructionist communities, such as Kemetic and Hellenic, there is fierce debate concerning use of the term polytheism. Multiply this by the number of groups, communities, and individuals who might identify themselves as Polytheists, then add to that the number of people who subscribe to both Polytheist and Pagan identifications, and the question of one or the other just gets drowned in the hubbub over what Polytheism is; how a belief, group or individual practitioner fits into the dictionary definition of polytheism, as opposed to a less clinical understanding of Polytheism as understood in contemporary spiritual circles.

At the end of the day it all sounds like a bunch of noise to me, truth be told. Once again, I think we can get so caught up in the use of labels, identifications, and definitions of belief that we lose sight of our higher spiritual aims and Sacred Work. In my estimation, both Paganism and Polytheism serve very similar aims, and those are service to the Gods, and service to creation through communion with the Gods, together with our Ancestors. Ultimately the philosophical ramifications and debates must take a back seat to the work of actually engaging and honoring the Sacred Powers. If someone’s idea of spiritual work is sitting in a corner and arguing over “Polytheism” versus “Paganism”, should we or shouldn’t we, then I’ll opt to excuse myself so that I can get busy getting down to the real work of honoring my Gods and Ancestors.

Anna Applegate: A lot of Kemetic Goddesses have been adopted by traditions and philosophies outside of historically informed Kemetic practices. Goddesses like Sekhmet have been co-opted by the women’s spirituality movement/Dianic Wicca and related views as a symbol of female emancipation from patriarchal mores. For example, I recently made the acquaintance of a Hermetic teacher here in Chicago who argues that Sekhmet is a “tantric goddess” like Kali and that “desire, ecstasy, and illumination are interrelated and fundamental to understanding Sekhmet and tantra.” What is your take on that?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: Firstly, I think it’s very important for us to acknowledge how vast the Netjeru are, how vast the deities of all pantheons are. Attempts are often made to constrict deities into the roles we humans have assigned to them. We want a goddess of love to play her role with grace, and we somehow expect that she’ll always show up in that capacity. We want a “mother goddess” to remain a mother, to adhere to those foremost qualities we’ve come to expect from our own biological mothers. We feel most comfortable with deities when we can label them…”god of war”, “fertility god”, “goddess of the household”, et cetera.

People are often attracted to a specific goddess or god because that deity manifests traits or qualities they themselves have. For example, I am an iconographer, painter, sculptor and craftsman, and obviously a great part of my attraction to my patron and namesake Ptah is due to the fact that Lord Ptah is the Divine Artisan, historically venerated as the protector of painters and sculptors. So, it goes without saying that it was a very natural relationship to develop between an artisan and the Father of all artisans.

My experience is that most Polytheists and Pagans share this kind of affinity with the gods they’ve chosen as their own. However, something that also happens is that people fall into a comfort zone with their gods, desiring to see and experience only those aspects that first attracted them to their divine patrons in the first place. The gods wind up being stereotyped, put into neat little boxes that fit comfortably into one’s preconceptions and notions. Sometimes, the gods become almost one dimensional in the way their devotees see them…the old “goddess of love”, “god of war”, “goddess of healing” labels that may or may not have the significance to the deity we think they have. People are often threatened by the dynamic nature of the Gods, when the Gods demonstrate that they aren’t going to operate according to the neat and tidy little labels we’ve tried to paste on them.

In the case of the Netjeru of Kemet, these are gods who each have their own unlimited arsenal of names, forms, epithets, iconographic features, and powers or spheres of influence. The Netjeru cannot be pinned down with limited frameworks or labels such as “goddess of love”, “god of war”, “fertility god”, et cetera. Scholars and academics have always attempted to do this to some extent with the Goddesses and Gods of Egypt, and I think it’s quite futile and grossly inappropriate.

Each deity, each netjer has basic qualities or attributes that demonstrate a prominent aspect of its nature, however, these natures are fluid, changing from circumstance to circumstance of the deity’s manifestation. Each geographic location, town, village, temple and shrine in Egypt has localized forms that are particular to that space, and these local forms each have powers, attributes, and iconography specific to that location, and these may or may not be visible in other locations.

If one makes a true and detailed study of the iconography and names or epithets of any given deity in the Kemetic pantheon, one will recognize very quickly the futility of slapping one overall label on any netjer. Literally hundreds, and sometimes thousands of epithets, names or forms of some deities can be found in a single location source. Magnify this by the number of temples, shrines, papyri and artifacts that may exist in reference to that deity, and you are faced not only with an overwhelmingly complex pantheon of deities, but also individual deities who each have vast quantities of forms and names and attributes. So much for “god of war”, “goddess of love” labels!

The reason I’m going into all of this is because your question touches on a sense of framework, a historical framework, for recognizing and accepting the roles the Netjeru of Kemet have to play in our lives. Reconstructionists are faced with the difficult task of trying to piece back together and recreate authenticity in the systems we develop for engaging our gods. We want to be as faithful as we can be to the way in which our Ancestors honored the Netjeru, and our motivation is meeting the Gods on Their own terms, according to the sights, sounds, tastes, gestures, and modes of worship the Gods have responded to for thousands of years.

These are practices that have maintained the presences of the Gods actively in our world for immense stretches of time, and our goal as Reconstructionists is to strive to maintain that presence as strongly as we can, using the time honored and time tested tools handed down to us by the Ancients within the historical record.

What happens if we disregard this? What happens when we remove the Netjeru from Their Kemetic context, and install Them within another cultural, spiritual framework? What happens when we strip that Kemetic framework away…that legacy of sights, sounds, smells, and gestures through which these deities have engaged humankind for thousands of years? Is anything lost or sacrificed in the process? Is something lost in translation, as it were. My first response is yes.

The Netjeru first made Themselves known to human beings in Kemet, in that specific location, and used that land, and all of the attributes it possessed, in order to communicate Their powers to human beings. One can quite accurately say that the Netjeru as we know Them are the spiritual legacy of the ancient Egyptian land and people. Without these people and their land the Netjeru would still exist, of course, however, the system or technology for engaging Them would not have come down to us in the form it has.

The Gods chose the land of Kemet for a reason, and They chose the people of Kemet as the custodians of that framework, that technology or tradition, through which They could be engaged. A near five-thousand year track record exists that shows us exactly how we can maintain these gods in our world, commune with Them, co-create with Them, maintain creation with Them.

The ancient Egyptians believed that their system of writing, rites, rituals and temple traditions were handed down by the Gods during Zep Tepy, the First Time of the Gods, and that the proper maintenance of creation, Ma’at, depended on these things being continued and preserved. The original names of the Netjeru, the means of invoking Them, and the tools for accomplishing Their work in our world have all been preserved in the historical record. This is the record we have for direct access to these goddesses and gods, and I think we would be quite foolish not to use it.

So, you have Kemetic deities being removed from Their native system of engagement and dropped into another. Do I think that works? Yes and no. I think it works for those who are doing it, otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it, if they felt no response at all…if they could not achieve anything in the spiritual work they were trying to accomplish. Kemetic deities have always been borrowed by non-Kemetic spiritualities, including Wicca, Witchcraft, New Thought/ New Age circles, Golden Dawn…and the list could go on and on.

I think people have always been attracted to certain Kemetic deities, especially Auset/ Isis and Sekhmet. We know the track record of the Goddess Auset throughout history, and have seen how this Goddess transcended geographical and cultural boundaries, language barriers and religions, and became one of the most celebrated cults of the Mediterranean world. This went far beyond the borders of Egypt, speaking to the hearts of people who had never heard of or experienced the ancient rites of Isis in Her native land. Isis became as much a goddess of the Roman world as She had been a goddess of the Egyptian world, in Her name of Auset.

Continue reading “Coming From the Heart: A Conversation With Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa & Anna Applegate~ Part Two”