I walk with the desert;
he is the red land of my sorrow and regret,
clinging to my feet as the sand of ages past;
he stretches out not as a lover,
but as a debtor demanding recompense.
My sky takes me by the hand in the face of those sands,
and on the distant horizon I behold the mirror of water;
she is the mother of my new life, waiting;
so I have come back to the place where my feet began.
I walk with the trees,
remembering the yew of my boyhood,
whose words of the future heralded my past;
to be reborn through memory would be my mountain to climb.
He has boughs of yesterday and leaves of tomorrow,
my yew who keeps our past and remembers our future;
older than the vault of the sky, his prophecies hold our beginning.
Through him I recall the breath of myrrh, the Sacred Ones who travel;
they are the Gods who offered me my lungs, who gave me the Ancestral breath.
He is the father of my new memory, enduring;
so I have come back to the place where my history began.
I walk with the river;
she rushes over my feet to find me my spirit,
who travels along the watery road where life and death mingle.
Has she swallowed the crocodiles that wait in the darkness,
my pains of sharp teeth who surface to remind me;
or has she drowned them, those sorrows of impenetrable scales,
my boyhood and wayward youth who hunger to surface.
But I will not find them, not in the shallows where the lotus rises;
he pushes up his face from the mud to drink the golden light.
This is what spirits do when they find darkness,
and this is what my spirit becomes when first light catches his eyes.
He is the lotus that came from my beginning, opening;
so I have come back to where my spirit began.
I walk with my body,
who carries the scars of my mother and father upon him;
for we all wear our history like clothes,
putting some on with relish and discarding others;
how my wardrobe has ransomed my heart for their promises.
I had the scarf of youth and the boots of pleasure,
now worn out like my hands, who carry my heart in thin fingers.
I will not now count the brilliant fabrics I possessed,
now that my body moves sky-clad beneath a mantle of stars;
for this is where I came from, and where you who read me were born.
My stars take me by the fingers and lead me to sky’s shelter;
she is the lapis womb whose waters receive me, swimming;
so I have come back to where my flesh began.
I walk with my lovers;
they give me their manhood and mine, their skin and consolation.
I have had them by moonlight, where my lips taste ivory beams;
I have had them by daybreak, where the sun strikes naked thighs with gold.
I have heard the promises of sages warning of the flesh;
where are their bones now?
I have listened to the sacral threats of ages;
have their fears ever shown us how?
Now I take you with me, all you lovers from my bed;
in memory you live again, on lips and breath and kisses.
You have taught me how precious a gift life is;
shorter than twilight, and sweeter than vain promises or threats.
You are the thighs my spirit enters, renewing;
so I have come back to where my heart began.
I walk with my heart,
gleaming even after nightfall as a stone of sanguine carnelian;
he holds the sun between his lips even after sundown.
He has been lost in a bramble where my hopes found him,
as all hearts are found even when shade takes them.
Shade, you are a gale in the hands of time,
but you make the heart endure with its fragile light;
it is light that bends like a sapling, yet withstands the gale of experience.
Now I imbibe the wind at my back, tasting what life has given me;
and it is still life as it pours from one vessel to another.
He is the container of the sun in which I set, rising;
so I have come back to where my light began.
I walk with swallows,
those little birds of great flight who soar over seas;
their untiring wings find me wherever I wander.
Give me your cloaks of lapis lazuli, your hood of blood red;
and give me your morning call to summon the potent sun.
Yours is the language of time’s beginning where men are made;
yours is sight of sunbeams upheld by wings of shade.
I open my body to let my spirit fly with you;
and this is where we all travel once our skins are shed.
You are the voices of earth that mingle with heaven, flying;
so I have come back to where my speech began.
I walk with the dead;
they came before me with the rising sun,
and they departed when the song of eventide ended.
They are my mothers and my fathers, my conscience and memory;
I remember we came from many, no matter how the one howls.
It is the Ancestors who keep me in the language of their names;
their names are the warp and weft from which our future weaves.
I make my heart a libation from which my past drinks,
while my future is a stream of memories pouring from history’s bones.
I open my memory to let my body become you;
and this is where we multiply once we set our memory free.
You are the ages past from where I hail, living;
so I have come back to where my future began.
I walk with spirits,
who pass through the doors of flesh and bone,
who know where the earth meets the sky;
they know the caverns in the ever-standing mountains,
the portals of imperishable stars flashing.
Their river is a road in the nether sky, where wings of sparrows tread;
they make of the earth a memory, and from sky they make a bed.
How soft their whisper in half-forgotten words, I hear with open heart;
how our past comes calling when our spirit makes a start.
My shadow takes my fingers and leads me to a door;
the earth becomes my lintel as the sky becomes my floor.
You are the memory of me time keeps, returning;
so I have come back to where my travels began.
I walk with the Gods;
they came before us with the rising waters,
and they have never departed, even as our memory faded.
They are our mothers and fathers, our beginning and our end;
and I remember we came from many, no matter how the one howls.
You found me when I was naked on the other shore;
your doors in the sky you opened, where my feet of the earth could drink.
The desert of my memory becomes a field of turquoise,
where the sycamore and tamarisk hold the florid sky.
I am the memory of leaves and branches glistening in the green;
now the sparrows find me as a home for the weary vault.
Come Gods, you stellar wings of earth and sky;
lift up my bones of memory where stars make bright their doors.
I open up my body to let my memory become you;
and this is where immortality finds us once we set our memory free.
You are creation’s waters where spirits hail, ascending;
so I have come back to where my soul began.
All text copyright © 2016 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Bringers of the sky, open your hands for me;
I receive the Unwearying Stars from your grasp,
and the bolts of the eastern horizon slide back at my command.
I enter your portals with the savor of a god on my skin;
thus the bolts flee before my hand and the doors before my feet.
May your celestial eyes be in the company of my holdings;
your magic of the vault with its Imperishable Stars;
your speech which divides the abyss and upraises the earth;
your fragrance of myrrh which surrounds you in your forthcoming;
your terror on the western horizon which devours souls;
your standards of pure gold flashing in the east, higher than clouds;
your diadem of the Cobra-Goddess whose venom strikes the adversaries;
your Ram-Soul in the west, entering in as flesh and returning as spirit;
your radiant sycamore in whose boughs the Sky uplifts her son to his zenith;
your cavern beneath the waters of the sky, from which the earth flood rises;
your bau-souls traversing the two worlds, alighting on their terrestrial forms;
your two horizons of yesterday and tomorrow,
those Twin Lions who encompass time;
your mound of your beginning from which the Benu-bird of the sky took flight;
and all the secret things held to the breast of the waters on that First Occasion.
Bringers of the sky, open your eyes for me;
I receive the clear vision of the Wedjat Eye from your vertex,
and the door leaves of the sky give up their secrets for me.
My eyebrows are the Two Combatants, reconciled in their two powers;
the north and the south entwined before my feet of black and red.
I take up the undiminished sight of the two papyrus wands,
their Cobra-Goddesses taking residence in my hand of enchantments.
My seat is in the filling of the Wedjat Eye,
whose shade governs heaven in its undefeated time.
I enter your portals with the essence of lotus on my skin;
indistinguishable from a god, I suckle from your breast in the sky.
May your bodies within the hallows of the earth be in my sight line;
O Ptah, Tatenen, Lord to the Limits,
rising from the sky in possession of the flood;
I receive the lotus at your nostrils and its fragrance becomes me.
O Sokar, Lord of the Hidden Shrine, you who are upon your sand,
rising in the Henu-Ark as master of the subterranean cavern;
I receive the ascension of your lofty crown whose sun-disk becomes me.
O Ausir, Wennefer, the goodly ruler of the Two Banks,
rising from your lands as the eternal and everlasting;
I receive the green kernel of your body whose immutability becomes me.
O Wepwawet, Opener of the Ways, whose heavenly strides are immeasurable,
rising high upon your standard in the sky, the sacred portals at your feet;
I receive passage from your two ears through all the doors that become me.
O Anpu, He Who is Upon His Mountain, Lord of the Sacred Land,
rising from your mount as the forerunner of those in the west;
I receive the flame of the secret things from your flank which becomes me.
O Djehuty, Lord of the Divine Speech,
Master of Time whose eye encompasses the sky,
rising from the radiance of your silver disk as governor of what its light encircles;
I receive the whole portion of your time which becomes me.
Bringers of the sky, open your ways before me;
I receive the pathways of the Unwearying Stars from your brow,
and the Two Eyes of the Sun-God grant their cognizance to me.
I have traversed the Two Ways in the entourage of the Sun-folk,
whose shouts of acclamation rend the sky at Ra’s coming.
I am acclaimed together with Ra as the mirror of my countenance
shines over the starry vault;
the proclamations of those Imperishable Stars deafen the ears of time.
Time does not know me nor death hear mention of my name;
for I go up in the eastern sky as the light-body of a star,
and I rise up from the mouth of the west as a ba-soul of lofty reflection.
Bringers of the sky, I have entered your open mansion of millions of years;
I have received unconquerable life from your apex,
delivered by your hands called the Imperishable Stars.
The House of Deities has been opened for me;
the Secret Shrine has been opened for me;
the Sacred Mount has been opened for me;
the eastern horizon has been opened for me;
the western sky has been opened for me;
the Unwearying Stars have been opened for me;
the Wedjat Eye at its moment of filling has been opened for me;
the Entourage of Ra has been opened for me;
the Day-Ark in its rising has been opened for me;
the Night-Ark in its setting has been opened for me;
the Henu-Ark on its sledge has been opened for me;
the very circuits traversed by the eternally coursing sun
have been opened for me.
Bringers of the sky, look, see,
and behold my reflection in the mirror of the heavens!
I have received the Never-setting Stars from your grasp,
and my countenance is now indistinguishable from that of an eternal god.
I ascend, I glimmer, and I rise up to take my place in your House of Deities.
All text copyright © 2016 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
And I found myself confronting the great abyss,
those raging waters that have existed
before the presence of living men;
churning between the lofty banks of the sky,
yet without form or bottom.
I could no longer see the earth and its mountains;
hard spires of stone rising to pierce the delicate flank
of the venerated sky;
her face and naked form now lost to me as I entered the deep.
Am I a child again, lonely and crestfallen beneath the void,
my bare toes finding fear in the taste of water;
where wait all the things I have left behind me.
Mother, Sky, once spread out like a sapphire loom above my brow;
your dazzling fabric with its constellations for thread
has been unraveled before my eyes, no longer seeing your path of light.
Father, Earth, the seed of mountains and the caverns lurking
beneath the tempestuous waves;
I have lost my foothold in your ancient skin, my comfort in your keep.
Having seen the Sun-God swallowed by his mother,
I searched for his trail of fire upon the waters;
seeking the past, security in what has been;
seeking the present, security in what one knows;
seeking the future, security in what one expects will be;
but there is no lamp and no flame, no gilt promise spilling over these waters.
These waters we face alone when our moment comes,
without Mother or Father to guide us;
we are naked in the preeminent abyss where time itself is devoured.
My sparrow found me from his secret nest
hidden in the folds of the clouds;
these I could not see, and yet his little wings brought him to me.
What do you carry with you, he chirped in the ears of my heart;
my heart leaped into my mouth and overcame the prudence of my lips.
I carry with me fear, judgment, and guile.
Sparrow heard these three raptors call out their names
from the echoing jar of my heart;
I heard my transgressions afresh, all waiting to peck and tear at my flesh.
You are a jade, I heard the sky call,
though I could not see the sky’s watery countenance.
You are a broken vessel, I heard the earth murmur,
though I could not see the earth beneath the angry tide.
You have swallowed your heart, I heard the mountains grumble,
though I could not see their indomitable towers rising to meet the sky.
You have let your heart be carried away by other hands,
sparrow said to me as his gentle wings enfolded my heart’s vessels.
But my impetuous heart carried me in its boat
across waters that swam with the serpents of the deep.
Their iron scales broke the surface of the abyss
to send the thunder of their names tearing through the wind.
Void, negligence, and destruction turned through the waters of despair;
who could not allow a single piece of land to rise peacefully in their midst.
How I had tasted them throughout my many travels;
drinking their vigor, I felt myself immune to their inebriation,
and their beds I visited with relish in my loins.
The Sun-God came here at the First Occasion, sparrow said to me.
Bursting through the wet fist of that burgeoning lotus,
his eager member formed a body of golden light;
its radiant beams dividing the waters strangled by serpent’s coils.
Sky was heralded; who parted the dusky veil of her lips
to proclaim the first dawn growing ruddy on the new horizon.
Her pangs of birth shuddered the wind into motion;
the infant earth responded by lifting up into manhood to meet her;
a fresh and new earth hailing a sky in motion with the dancing of stars.
I want to be one of those unsullied and whirling stars,
to make love to a virgin sky;
to find that lotus of the First Occasion as a bud yet unbroken;
to float on water unencumbered by the anchor of the past;
to cut the ties of jaded experience weighing down my naked toes;
to open my eyes with the sun to find the years of my life stretching ahead;
not to have discarded a single moment chasing regret, indecision, or waste.
These are the droplets of sorrow that have filled
the jug of my heart to brimming;
it has no room for hope or conviction or abundance.
Heron with eyes blazing sought me out upon the abyss;
known for wise contemplation and dispelling the shroud of darkness.
His feathers still bore the wet tidings of the flood;
the First Occasion of beginnings when the earth met the sky
in frantic abandon.
I remove you to the Mound
where the history of the world began;
its innocence pushing up from the black soil of Flood’s keep.
This is the Flood who was summoned by the movements
of Sun-God’s hand; his body enthused by the pang of golden loins.
Here lies the secret of the First Beginning,
where spouted the Gods from the language of that sky-blue lotus;
Memory being its name when it first touched the unclad sky
with its petals of sound and word.
Know the Mound and you will know the Waters of Life
which defeat the footfall of death.
After an age I reached the place of the Mound,
cutting up through the twisting abyss;
with flank and lofty crown of gold its beauty dressed my eyes.
Dark water did not know the Mound nor how to pronounce its name;
thus the Mound could push its way through the torrent and remain.
For it is sound that frightens the chaotic abyss which seeks only to strangle;
it finds its hold on any kernel of light to choke out its fragile life.
It is from voice and word that language forms to divide its jealous fingers;
creation flowering from the bud that grows within the gap the waters leave.
Now seen by the Mound and the Gods that stand upon it,
I climb to the place where heron has his gilded nest;
where the reflection of Mother Sky shines across the waters;
where beams of turquoise light strike down through the jagged rocks below;
where water with his wet lips reaches up to kiss the florid cheek of Sky;
where my disassembled form finds consolation in the body of the Sun.
You have carried in your hands the filth a heart swallows,
say the Twin Gods to me;
and I know that filth has names like jaded, ignorance, and forgetfulness.
The first of Twin Gods whose head was a golden falcon declared:
I take from you the weighty drops of scorn that have choked your heart;
I make room for the water of nobility, which floats to the top above rancor.
From a vessel of fine gold he poured over my sky-clad shoulder
the water he had called forth from the Flood.
The second of Twin Gods whose head was a turquoise wading bird declared:
I take from you the stupefying drops of forgetfulness
that have nullified your heart;
I make room for the water of intelligence, which rises to the top
From a vessel of burnished silver he poured over my moon-clad shoulder
the water he had called forth from the flood.
I brought with me the cup of sorrow;
I fill it with joy.
I brought with me the cup of tears;
I fill it with laughter.
I brought with me the cup of spite;
I fill it with tenderness.
I brought with me the cup of hatred;
I fill it with love.
I brought with me the cup of jealousy;
I fill it with compassion.
I brought with me the cup of possession;
I fill it with generosity.
I brought with me the cup of exclusion;
I fill it with openness.
I brought with me the cup of persecution;
I fill it with acceptance.
I brought with me the cup of ignorance;
I fill it with knowledge.
I brought with me the cup of inexperience;
I fill it with wisdom.
I brought with me the cup of silence;
I fill it with language.
I brought with me the cup of indifference;
I fill it with memory.
Having been filthy for ages with the ignorance of the veil,
my unclad eyes saw my glistening new skin with wonder;
so like the skin I inherited from my Mother
when she gave me to the world;
so like the form I received from my Father
when his hands urged me forward.
How purity finds us even after we fall by the wayside;
the dirt of the heart refusing to be shed;
and how we go to the grave long before our body dies.
It is forgetfulness that weaves the warp and the weft of suffering;
we peer at the world through the opaque shroud of our making,
placing at the doorsteps of others the loom our life gave us.
But we are the weavers carrying the hands our Gods made us;
who spoke for us the language of a soul,
and the immortality of memory traveling down through the ages.
It is I who return my body to the Flood from which it came;
shrinking back the small mind from which ignorance is made.
It is I who place the sightless veil over eyes in my own keeping;
and I who wash away the veil from eyes of memory sleeping.
All text copyright © 2016 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
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
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.
O Gods, I come forth
With my heart in my hand;
O Gods receive me!
O Ancestors, I come forth
With Your heart in my hand;
May I follow in Your footsteps!
O Gods, I summon You to receive me;
For I am the kin of my Ancestors
Among You, Whom You in the
Fields of the Blessed have received!
O Gods, I open the Gates!
O Ancestors, wide open are the Doors!
My body, the Doors.
My members, the Gates.
My feet, the Holy Path.
I come forth with my heart in my hand!
– From “The Prayer of Consecration” by Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa.
This week I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the sparkling and gifted Anna Applegate, Executive Editor of Isis-Seshat, the quarterly journal of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis. Our conversation centered around the theme “Dark Nights of the Soul”, to which the current Autumn issue of Isis-Seshat is dedicated; thus I was able to tell, for the very first time, my own harrowing dark nights of the soul, which concluded with my taking formal vows as a hem-netjer or priest of the God Ptah, and the legal adoption of my Kemetic faith name.
My dialogue with Anna came at a very significant stage in the current initiations I am undertaking as part of my spiritual path, and this “looking back” to my dark nights of the soul has given me the chance to reexamine my growth and motives as a Kemetic and spiritual journeyer. Our conversation dug deep into many issues, and some controversial, facing the Neopagan and Reconstructionist Communities today.
How do we choose to label ourselves and our beliefs? Are Pagans and Polytheists part of the same community? What benefit does the framework of Kemetic Reconstructionism provide to today’s Kemetics? Is Kemetic Reconstructionism really necessary, valid? Can the Netjeru of Kemet be approached from outside historically informed practices? How do our Gods lead us through our dark nights of the soul? All of these issues, and much more are explored in this powerful dialogue, which seeks to offer its readers insights into their own relationships with the ancient Gods, and a resonance with others who may be walking the very same path. Enjoy!
About Anna Applegate
Chicago native Rev. Anna Applegate is a pious Polytheist and spirit worker who tends to roll out a welcome mat to chthonic Powers in particular. She became active in the Chicago Fellowship of Isis community in 2002 and has also been initiated into Gardnerian Wicca, the West African religion of Ifa, and Co-Freemasonry (she is a Master Mason in good standing in the Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry, Sirius Lodge, No. 21). In 2012, she was legally ordained as a Fellowship of Isis Priestess dedicated to the Goddesses Nebet-Het (Nephthys), Bast, and Hekate Khthonia by the late Lady Loreon Vigne at the Temple of Isis in Geyserville, California. Anna is the founder of the Iseum of the Rekhet Akhu, whose mission is to highlight the inter-relatedness of the communities of the living and the dead and to cultivate transfigured spirits (Akhu) in human form.
Anna holds an M.A. degree in English Literature and Linguistics from Loyola University Chicago. A wordslinger-for-hire, her devotional poetry appears in the Scarlet Imprint anthologies Datura (2010) and Mandragora (2012). Her nonfiction and photography appears in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthology to Sekhmet entitled Daughter of the Sun (2015). Anna is honored to serve as the Executive Editor of Isis-Seshat, the quarterly journal of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis. Visit her personal blog and share in her adventures in Polytheistic Priestessing: https://amoretmortem.wordpress.com. With her fiance and fellow Hekate devotee, Daniel, she is launching a site dedicated to Hekate Khthonia and Hermes Khthonios: www.hermekate.com
Anna Applegate: I’m always excited to meet fellow devotional polytheists, whether or not they venerate the Powers of the eastern Mediterranean like I do. How did you first come to love the Neteru of Kemet?
Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I find that the label polytheist is pretty loaded these days…charged with a certain amount of controversy in dialogues taking place within various spiritual communities. One hears terms like ‘hard polytheist’ or ‘soft polytheist’, and there are fierce debates going back and forth as to who is who, and what can or can’t be labeled polytheism. I’ve found myself having this discussion fairly frequently in my Kemetic work, with individuals who are very concerned with just how I identify the Netjeru (Gods) and Their relationship to Netjer, deity in general.
Am I, as a self-avowed polytheist, taking the stance that the Gods are wholly unique and distinct from the Creator God…as in Their own individual personalities that are self-determined, self-governing…or do I believe that ultimately the Netjeru are different forms and/ or manifestations of one hidden supreme deity called Netjer?
I have to admit that sometimes I find these isms and debates over labels incredibly constricting, irritating, and distracting from the real work of service to the Sacred Powers. At the end of the day I put my emphasis on action, on cultic service and devotional work, not on philosophical speculation. Ultimately, the precise origins of the Gods- of any god- are beyond the comprehension of human beings. Our place is not to reason why, but to get down to the work of organizing our lives in such a way as to be of service, to the Gods and to creation as a whole.
We can waste a great deal of precious time agonizing over this issue of ism…polytheism, henotheism, is deity really one acting as the All or the many…or we can choose to simply honor the Gods as gods, as our Sacred Powers, and accept the limitations our mortality, our humanity carries in terms of how much we can ever really know deity.
That being said, we as human beings are defined by the language we use to express ourselves. There’s no getting around the significance our culture places on how we choose to label our identity, our beliefs, our lifestyle and manner of connecting with the world around us. I’m somewhat dissatisfied by the application of terms such as polytheism or henotheism to very ancient systems of belief that preexist the advent of such language or modes of thinking. To me it seems a bit out of place. I’m sure that the Ancients would have expressed it as ‘we believe in the Gods. We honor the Gods’, period. To attach a philosophical framework to that…one that comes from another time and culture…seems very misguided to me.
I believe in the Netjeru, the Goddesses and Gods of the ancient Egyptians, and I view the gods I serve as wholly distinct, unique, and individual Sacred Powers, each carrying Their own personalities, manifestations, and spheres of influence. Are They related to the Creator God, absolutely, just as human children carry on the DNA of their biological parents. However, the Gods are not hindered or limited by Their connection to the Creator God, and They are certainly not mere ornaments, names or different sides of the Creator’s personality. I accept that each of the Netjeru is broader in Their forms and powers than I can possibly comprehend, and that each of Them can be and express anything They choose to. Ultimately, the Creator God is not sole or unique or without equal, but shares its creation with the Gods.
I do not believe in god with a capital g, the one, indivisible god of the Abrahamic religions. Even though I was raised in a very traditional and strict Christian family, I have always rejected the idea that there is a single omnipotent “God” fueling and controlling creation.
So just what does this make me? I choose to stand by the terms polytheist and polytheism…and in particular Kemetic polytheism…to describe what I believe within the limitations our language imposes on us, even though terms like polytheist and polytheism are quite obviously not ancient Egyptian in origin.
How did I first come to adore the Netjeru of Kemet? I’d rather put it that They came to me, and not the other way around! My experience is that our Gods, our Sacred Powers come to us. They make Themselves known, through gestures big and small. They flirt with us, play with us…almost in a hide and seek kind of way. And I’m not intending to sound trivial here, to somehow cheapen or lessen the very powerful, life-altering ways in which our Gods make Their presences known in our lives.
But I have always found that the Gods will find a door or a window, or a crack beneath the side door, in order to introduce Themselves and get our attention. It may be through little things at first, like a picture here or a song lyric there, or a ‘coincidence’ that turns out to be nothing of the kind. Our Gods will find Their way into our life in ways They know will get our attention, and each person is different in these regards.
When I was six-years-old I found the ancient Egypt section of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the first thing that arrested my attention were the full color images of Egyptian deities…statues and reliefs…which struck a very deep chord in me. And then there were the temples. These places did not seem foreign to me, mysterious or new, but rather like places I knew, that had once been part of my life. Even at this very young age, long before I heard terms like reincarnation or past lives, I had a definite sense, an instinct or certainty, that I had once lived in this ancient culture and had served its gods. And these gods, too, felt familiar to me, not like mythological beings from a dead religion or defunct civilization, but gods that were present and very much alive, active in the here and now.
My father was a humanities major at San Diego State University, so he maintained a very well-stocked library of books on archaeology, anthropology, ancient Near Eastern civilizations, and Classical history. It was within this armory that I first found the type of books that guided my fascination with ancient Egyptian history and religion…an obsession, really. For the first three years of that relationship with ancient Egypt, I focused my attention on the Egyptian preoccupation with the afterlife and immortality, and how the Goddesses and Gods guided this framework. My father often took me to the Museum of Man in Balboa Park, San Diego, which had a very small Egyptian collection, including two mummies.
I was quite preoccupied with what I perceived as a spiritual technology demonstrated by the mummification process, and in texts like the Pert-em-hru, the Book of Coming Forth By Day…the Book of the Dead. Of course, all I had access to in those days were the books by E.A. Wallis Budge, which even then were quite dated and full of errors; but I used Budge’s Egyptian Book of the Dead as a springboard for developing, through my own intuition, a personal relationship with Egypt’s ancient gods. I always felt guided in that relationship by many pairs of unseen hands, which seemed to always direct me to the right resources at the right time.
The catalyst for my real relationship with the Netjeru of Kemet…the one person of influence I can trace everything back to…is Lady Loreon Vigné, Arch Priestess of Isis and foundress of the California Temple of Isis. I can’t answer your question without telling how she came into my life, without giving her the credit she richly deserves.
It was about six months before my 10th birthday, and my parents and I were spending an afternoon in the shopping district of historic Old Town San Diego. We discovered a fine art atelier by the name of Dergance Sculpture Studio, which specialized in the high quality reproductions of the Tutankhamun treasures produced by Artisans Guild International. These included magnificent statues of Egyptian goddesses and gods. It goes without saying that I was in heaven, but finding this little studio was the single most important event in my life. Everything else that has happened to me in my spiritual life since can be traced back to the relationships I developed by way of Dergance Studio.
The studio was owned jointly by a delightful senior couple, Maxine and Robert Dergance, and Maxine especially was very interested in all things spiritual, being an avid student of the Occult, and a believer in reincarnation and all things esoteric. It was from my conversations with her that I first became cognizant of the deeper meanings behind my ever growing obsession with ancient Egyptian religion and funerary beliefs, and it was through her that I was introduced to Lady Loreon Vigné, who was in those days still called Lora. Maxine and Lora Vigné had apparently been friends for years, and it was through Dergance Sculpture Studio that Lora had acquired her generous collection of Egyptian statuary.
Lora Vigné and her partner Paul Ramses had established the Isis Oasis Sanctuary and Retreat Center in Geyserville, California, which was dedicated to the exploration of ancient Egyptian spirituality and Goddess consciousness. Lora and Paul were legally ordained ministers of the Goddess Isis, and part of their mission was to reintroduce the ancient worship of Isis into the modern age.
Maxine urged me to write to Lora Vigné, and the rest, as they say, is history. Lora and Paul immediately took me under their wings, helping me to develop a serious attitude in my studies of Egyptian history and religion, but also to begin an investigation into broader areas of spirituality and Occultism in general. Something that I always admired about Lady Loreon was her capacity to push the boundaries of her own beliefs and practices, to never grow into a rigid or dogmatic pattern of thinking.
Loreon was a student of all the world’s religions and spiritual customs, and she really dove head first into everything she could get her hands on. Her appetite for research and reading was boundless, and these are attitudes she strove to pass on to me when we first became acquainted. Both she and Paul sent me countless books, not only on ancient Egyptian history and religion, but also in esoteric studies and general spirituality.
Lora had founded the Isis Society For Inspirational Studies, her first non profit educational organization, into which I was inducted around the time of my 10th birthday. Even at that very early stage, I believe that Lora and Paul had it in mind to see me eventually ordained as a minister of the Isian faith. It was certainly due to their generous tutelage that my obsession with the Goddesses and Gods of Egypt developed into a heartfelt devotion and sense of service. The Goddess Auset, or Isis, was guiding me through my close relationship with Lora Vigné and Paul Ramses. I’d say it was inevitable that I took the holy mantle as a Priest of the Goddess.