Listen To Your Gods

Altar Offering

How do we know what our Gods want from us? How do we know what They expect from us? How can we please Them, honor Them? People who are new to Kemeticism often confide in me how much they want to engage the Netjeru, but are afraid of offending the Gods, or making mistakes in the process of trying to connect with Them. What advice do I have for those who have these very legitimate concerns?

Within the Heathen Community (contemporary followers of the Norse Gods), there is a term that I think can apply equally well to the beliefs and activities of Kemeticists, Kemetic Reconstructionists, and to other Recon communities: UPG, otherwise known as unverified personal gnosis. This term is used to describe those personal spiritual experiences that fall outside the realm of authenticated source texts, lore/ mythos or the historical record. These are very personal experiences that many devotees believe are communicated by their gods, but cannot otherwise be traced within the generally accepted literature or historic track record of the tradition.

Throughout the many years I have been in contact with others who profess a belief in Kemeticism, I have encountered a fairly common phenomenon, which I think can best be described as UPG. Individuals subscribing to Kemeticism tend to develop very close relationships with their Netjeru (Gods), so much so that the Gods take on active roles in the lives of Their devotees, becoming almost part of their family. The Gods tend to hold conversations with us in our heart, send us signs in the outer world, and connect with us in ways that truly feel like our relationships with our biological family, closest friends or peers. That is because the Gods want to be part of our life directly.

Unlike the mainstream monotheistic religions, where the deity tends to be viewed as separate from his creation, and removed from the intimate lives of humankind, the Netjeru of Kemet have shown in the track record of history that They are very engaged with the material world, and are active in the daily lives of human beings. In contemporary times, devotees of the Netjeru often find it difficult to access the academic, scholastic resources on the Gods, sacred texts, and religious practices of Kemet, and feel obliged to connect with the Netjeru on their own terms. This can often lead to some very colorful contemporary practices that are not necessarily linked with those of ancient times.

I have corresponded with a devotee of Bastet who swore that the Goddess adored the fruit flavored gummy fish she had been placing on the altar. Okay. Who am I to question personal displays of affection between a Netjer and their admirer? If an offering is truly given out of love and respect for the deity, then I have to accept that this is a good action, even if I question the rightness of offering a candy treat of little nutritional value to a great goddess.

My point is that UPG, unverified personal gnosis, seems to be a strong force amongst those who are trying to reconnect with very ancient faiths that have been broken down by the machine of monotheism. There are gaps in the historical record, or access to that record is more or less limited to those with strong academic tendencies and/ or resources, those for whom Reconstruction is the surest way to reclaim our ancient faiths. But how can the average devotee make such a connection?

What is happening is that individuals are reconnecting with the Netjeru via intuition and instinct, following their own inner guidance as they determine who the Gods are and how They should be approached. UPG comes in the form of little epiphanies or flashes of inspiration, where one just knows that Sekhmet wants that shiny red and gold altar cloth. When one lays the cloth down for the Goddess, one just feels very right about it, and things feel like they’ve fallen perfectly into place.

Of course, the Recon way to approach this situation would be to dig into the appropriate cultic text to check for references to red and red fabrics in the mythos and worship of the Goddess. Does red cloth play a role, however small, in the rituals or festival celebrations of Sekhmet? What about Her titles or epithets? Can we find a link with red cloth there? How has the color red played a role in the mythos of the Goddess as preserved in the historical record? I think the reader has the idea.

The Reconstructionist approach strives to fill in as much as possible from the actual records the Ancients left us, which span an enormous length of time and provide us a road map to recovering our ancient traditions. However, for many people, the Reconstructionist approach can be difficult, if not a little challenging to one’s patience.

One might be forgiven for cursing on the other side of one’s face, when simply wanting to touch base with one’s deities, but feeling instead like it’s a process of jumping through academic hoops in order to do the simplest thing. This kind of experience can remove the joy and spontaneity from one’s connection to the Gods, if one is constantly worried about “getting it right” according to the available record.

UPG, therefore, offers the average aspirant the luxury of allowing instinct- rather than historical necessity- to guide, making the spiritual experience feel readily accessible, instead of the exclusive domain of those in the academic know. These are the feelings I’ve had expressed to me consistently by those who inquire about Kemeticism and Kemetic Reconstructionism, and wish to understand how I approach it.

I think UPG is fine, and it works for many people. It tends to give practitioners a hands-on feeling to the Netjeru, and comes without constraints. One simply “feels” one’s way through it. Far be it from me to disparage a person’s heartfelt experiences with their Gods. If Bastet really wants gummy fish from you, then I suppose that’s between you and the Goddess. I’d probably advise they be of the highest quality possible, and at least served on the most traditional offering vessel you can find. But then that’s just me, as I tend (as a hem-netjer or priest) to be a traditional kind of guy.

My advice to practitioners is to make a sincere effort to get to know your Netjeru before you decide for sure that yes, Bastet loves gummy fish and always has. I feel that getting to know the Gods is kind of similar to how we get to know our human friends. It takes work, effort, sincerity, and a willingness to learn something new.

The Netjeru of Kemet are very ancient deities, Who have operated within a specific cultural framework for thousands of years. These Gods are used to the types of offerings They’ve received in Their cults for the duration of millennia, and, in my experience, They still expect to receive. With only a little effort, one can indeed find all the basic information one needs in order to honor the Netjeru respectfully and traditionally. It is just as easy to pick up a bottle of wine or a bunch of figs as it is to head over to the candy isle for that very dignified bag of gummy fish!

One might be very surprised by the reaction of the Gods when you have put effort into finding the things They’ve loved for thousands of years, and offer them in a respectful manner that extends true reverence. These very reverential experiences are the ones that build the most powerful relationships between us and our Gods. Try it, and you will see how satisfying the results can be. You may even find yourself becoming enchanted by the traditional way of communing with these most ancient Gods.

First and foremost, whichever road you choose, UPG or solid Reconstructionism (and perhaps, if you’re like me, some of both blended happily together), learn to open yourself up fully and respectfully to the Gods you worship. Learn to speak your heart to Them, to meditate on Them, and to ask Them for Their direct guidance. Yes the Netjeru can and do speak directly to Their devotees. It may take quite a while before you really feel that level of communication growing, but through honest effort it will happen.

Lastly, learn to listen, to take the time to follow that inner guidance that you will eventually be able to discern as coming from your Gods. There is no magical formula that can produce these results, but you can rest assured that the Netjeru of Kemet, Who have guided and engaged humanity for countless thousands of years, will guide you as you make the honest effort to know Them.

All text and image copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

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

Ptahmassu Portrait

Anna Applegate: The theme of this Autumn issue is “Dark Nights of the Soul.” Would you be willing to share an anecdote of how the Neteru have helped you through personal challenges or episodes of despair? Are they currently helping you navigate the powerful currents of any life challenges?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I could share so many “dark nights of the soul” with your readers, but I will share just one, which will be quite enough to express how my Netjeru have guided and saved me throughout my life. There is one thing I’d like to say about the Gods in general. I’ve encountered an attitude as I’ve worked with other Kemetics throughout the years that the Netjeru and human beings are something like cats and dogs…they just don’t mix!

There seems to be this undercurrent within a number of Kemetic communities I’ve encountered that seems to reinforce this view that we can worship the Gods, make offerings to Them, fear Them, but not have a close and personal relationship with Them. I have to say that this attitude is ridiculous, and is refuted entirely by the historical record.

Museums around the world are filled with stelae, ex-votos, letters, inscriptions, and votive offerings deposited at both major and minor temple sites throughout Egypt, and these are objects that give testimony to people who have had their most fervent prayers answered by the Gods, and so have dedicated a monument or offering in order to pay thanksgiving to the Gods. Both women and men made petitions for fertility and conception through symbolic offerings at temples, and the textual record from devotional stelae and prayers is immense!

The ancient Egyptians believed that their Netjeru could and did intervene on their behalf, bring healing and relief from suffering, grant requests for material or emotional needs, and deliver Their devotees from death. The massive quantity of devotional figures, amulets, and cult images recovered from town and village sites is proof enough that average Egyptians believed in the immediate presence and power of their Gods, and wanted their Gods close to them!

Honestly, from a very human point of view, what good is a deity who is removed from our daily life and suffering? What need have we for gods that can’t or won’t hear our prayers…who demand worship but refuse to be engaged? What can any such deity or deities possibly offer us? And who would offer prayers or make offerings to such a deity? I’d say the answer is self-evident. Humankind has always responded to deities who are actually involved in human life, needs, sufferings and desires.

Human beings establish ties and relationships with the Sacred Powers because they give us something we need for our physical and emotional survival. More than that, the Gods we worship or call upon actually answer us! We receive a response from Them that creates a bond, and a powerful sense that we are not walking alone. That is the reason religions have survived the test of time. Without a response from the Sacred, religion would cease to exist.

My relationship with my Gods has always been immensely personal. I can’t put my finger on an exact moment and say, oh, there it is, that’s the moment that did it for me! I think I just have a naturally devotional nature, and that nature needs to give and receive love, to feel an intimate exchange between myself and the other. I have never been casual or superficial. If I am going to love, I do it fully and deeply, with abandon; otherwise, I’d rather not be bothered. This is how I love my Gods, and it has never occurred to me that such a relationship was anything other than natural.

I was raised in a very strict, traditional Christian family…a church going family. My siblings and I were trained to memorize bible verses every single day, and attending church services twice a week was compulsory. But for me, there was an emptiness in Christianity, a void because the Christian god and his son were shown to me as aloof, judgmental, vengeful, and completely removed from human affairs. The Christian god I was raised with was an angry god who demanded at all times to be worshiped, but refused to show himself or engage actively with the lives of his followers.

For me, this just never worked. If you want to be my god, if you want me to acknowledge your power and greatness and sacrifices, then you had better answer my prayers, manifest your intervention in my life, and speak to my heart directly. In a manner of speaking, you better bring it to the table, and be ready to throw down…you know what I’m saying?! I don’t want to hear that it’s all there in a book, because words are meaningless to me unless they’re backed up by action.

And I think that’s always been the real difference between Pagans/ Polytheists and monotheists, ancient and contemporary. The Abrahamic religions, the religions of the book, have precisely that, a book. They have faith because they are told to, in books that are the law. Pagans and Polytheists have always asked for, and received, much more than the word from their Gods. Paganism and Polytheism have always been traditions of reciprocity and mutual exchange…I give because You give.

The ancient Gods have always backed up Their end of the deal through direct intervention and demonstration of powers; what I’d call “miracles”. The Gods are anything but removed from the daily lives, cares, and needs of Their devotees. They answer prayers directly, and They show Their living presences throughout the natural, material world They created. They do not demand our worship simply because They’re Gods, but through the immediate demonstration of Their powers, Their ability to govern life’s forces and bend these to Their will. They speak to us directly, and They are willing to prove to us just who They are and how They shape our lives!

My life has been shaped by my Gods, my Netjeru, Who have always answered my prayers directly, even when the answer had to be no, or you’ll have to wait…or you need to rethink what you’re asking for. I have never felt separated from the Netjeru, and no more so than during my “dark nights of the soul”.

Lord Ptah is my namesake, that you know. I also serve Ptah as a hem-netjer or priest, and, as an iconographer or craftsman of cult images, I look to Ptah for His blessing and empowerment in my craft. I could cite all kinds of esoteric or mystical reasons why Ptah called to me, why I answered, and why I honor Him above other gods…above my own life; however, the simple truth is that He saved me. He took me by the hand, quite literally, and led me through a darkness that very nearly claimed my life. And that is His claim on me, this moment of crisis when I trusted in Him and gave my life over into His hands. It is the time that culminated in my life-altering decision to formally receive a Kemetic name from Ptah, but also to belong to Him as His son.

1997 was a turning point in my spiritual life. After years of cultivating a relationship with the Netjeru of Kemet, devoted study, and spiritual guidance from Gods and earthly teachers, I was prepared to take the next and most serious step towards formal ordination as a priest. This was to be a spiritual initiation and transformation, not a legal ordination within an established religious organization. That would come later, and as a formality only. For me, initiation and ordination are not experiences that can be conferred by others. We can go through a physical ceremony performed by others in the name of a religious body, and can receive a piece of legal paperwork that certifies our standing within a religious community, but these things alone do not confer the actual mystical empowerment of initiation or ordination.

My initiation into the Priesthood of Ptah came by ordeal. When I say ordeal, I am talking about a deeply transformative personal experience that- by virtue of the level of emotional or physical pain involved- leads directly to an epiphany that results in one’s spiritual awakening into the mystical knowledge of a deity’s tradition or mythos. Each culture or tradition has its own expression of ordeal, which can take the form of rites of passage, during which those undergoing them are bestowed with a certain kind of knowledge or confirmation, an inner blessing or guidance for their life path.

Many Mystery traditions and cults have this concept as the “dark night of the soul”, when one must undergo a painful self-examination, or a set of experiences whose outcome will determine whether or not an initiate is prepared to be inducted into the Sacred Mysteries proper. Such Mystery traditions or cults, like the Eleusinian and Dionysian Mysteries, use vivid experiences of ecstasy and terror to induce consciousness of the Sacred Powers directly within the minds and hearts of its celebrants. Joy and ecstasy can certainly be powerful tools for engaging the Gods and drawing forth empowerment from Their Mysteries, however, it is my experience that initiation often comes through ordeal, which can be the “dark night of the soul”.

I had recently ended a long term relationship, which had slowly dissolved because of the religious differences between my partner and I. The more I had become immersed in my relationship with my Gods, the more he had felt excluded, threatened, and distanced from me. My partner had not found his own spiritual path, and due to traumatic experiences in his childhood, could not bring himself to accept anything resembling organized religion. What I was doing- being that it was so all-encompassing, so pervasive in my life- was ultimately too “religious” to be reconciled with his life path and direction, and we could no longer see eye to eye. It was the most devastating termination of a relationship I had had. But the situation as it played out have given me an ultimatum: it was follow my Gods, or stay with the man I loved. I chose my Gods.

This was the beginning of my initiation, which I see as the process of me coming into awareness of what my spiritual path really was. It wasn’t the Netjeru who made me choose between my faith or my man; that choice was solely mine, and I had free will to do as I pleased. I could have stayed in the relationship, and accepted that he and I would not harmonize in our spiritual beliefs. However, I wanted to devote each and every aspect of my life to service to my Gods, and that very much included any committed relationship I would invite into my life. If I had human love in my life, that love needed to embrace service to the Netjeru as its foundation; otherwise, there would be only a disharmony that would ultimately hold back the Sacred Work I felt compelled to do for the Netjeru.

At that time I had no job and no savings, only a large line of credit, which I used to secure myself an apartment while I looked around the city for employment. It was then that I shaved my head for the very first time, and donned the white robes that for me signified taking on the Sacred Mantle of priesthood. Shaving my head was a revolutionary step for me, for I had always had a full head of lustrous dark hair, and had been raised with a certain sense of pride that it was the hair that made the man. But for me, the shedding of my hair was part of the sacrifice I was offering my Netjer, Who Himself was smooth of scalp, and Whose ancient priests had shaved their heads during their time of service.

These are the little things we do for our Gods when we decide to make service to Them more important than the ephemeral things of this material world. We can give up our vanity, our sense of self-importance, our innate feeling that we indeed are the center of the universe. We learn through initiation that the Gods are great, that They are alive throughout Their creation, and that our life is the miracle of Their divine hands. We learn to see the bigger picture, that the Sacred Powers are far larger than us, and that we are engaged in an interdependent relationship with Them. When They give, we give…and when we give, They give.

It is in our smallest gestures of love and devotion that are contained the seeds for a larger spiritual awakening, which are bestowed through the fruits of true service, which has nothing to do with the ego, and everything to do with love for its own sake. When one truly loves the Gods, one simply gives, out of instinct; but it is this very instinct, this altruistic instinct, that manifests the most profound rewards. This I have learned only too well.

I seemed not to have found the job I was looking for, my credit ran out, and so did my ability to pay my rent. With the last sum of credit to my name I rented a small self-storage unit, put my shrines, my icons, my books, and my life into storage, and began a strange period of self-imposed homelessness. Most people in my situation would have been desperate at that point, and perhaps not a little spiritually desolate. But something kept me charged and invigorated from within, and perhaps strangely rebellious, too; refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of my situation, or see in it something self-destructive. Instead, I welcomed it, knowing that no matter how painful things became on a skin-deep level, that underneath it all would be the answer to my path in the Netjeru.

I stayed with friends, and friends of friends, sleeping on a couch here or a floor there, scrounging coffee and food from friends at my favorite corner café; and all the while studying the Sacred Texts of the Pert-em-hru or Book of Coming Forth By Day. When a couch or a floor wasn’t on offer for the night, I found relatively safe places to sleep outside, in apartment hallways or beneath shop awnings. I made friends with homeless men who had been forced into their lifestyle through desperate circumstances, and I never felt sorry for myself. I looked for the Gods in everything, continued to shave my head in the sink of a local park restroom, and did absolutely nothing to extricate myself from my ridiculous situation.

One afternoon, I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading the Pert-em-hru when I was approached by a young man carrying a copy of the Corpus Hermeticum (or Hermetica). He was Indian, and I knew by his Dastar or turban that he was a Sikh. He told me that he had been watching me for a little while and felt that I might be the person he was looking for. Apparently it was his birthday, and he had given himself a vacation to San Diego as a birthday present. It was in a used bookstore down the street that he had discovered a copy of the Hermetica, which he believed was a much later manifestation of ideals that had been handed down by the temples of Pharaonic Egypt.

It was a teacher of the ancient Egyptian religion he was looking for, and he told me he believed I was that teacher. I invited him to sit down with me, and for the next several hours we engaged in a very animated conversation concerning the Netjeru of Kemet, and the fundamental points of view that defined the religious traditions of ancient Egypt. Finally, the young man told me he was flying back home to Vancouver, British Columbia the following day, and asked me if I would go back with him in the role of his spiritual teacher.

I look back on this event now and realize that it was one of those crossroads people reach that wind up changing the course of their lives. I did not see myself as a spiritual teacher at that time, but as a priest-initiate, traveling through my own personal demons and experiences in order to come into awareness of my ultimate spiritual path. It was not my devotion to my Gods that I was questioning, but my ability to guide and inspire others; for what right does a man in crisis have to advise others in how to pick up the pieces of their life and serve the Gods? That was how I felt then, but I realize now that I was in exactly the right place at the right time, having been guided by the hand of Ptah to the next stage of my initiation.

I flew with Sukhi to Vancouver the next day, never stopping to ask myself how I would be able to fly back to America if things didn’t work out. I had no money in my pocket, no resources of my own, and I was walking blindly into the unknown…into a country I had never visited, with a young man I hardly knew. What I did have was this certainty that I was being guided and taken care of, that Lord Ptah and my Netjeru were asking me to go on this pilgrimage of sorts, where I would have the opportunity to refine my understanding of the spiritual quest, and my own understanding of myself.

Vancouver was a beautiful city, and Sukhi spent the first few days taking me to all the major landmarks, together with the places he loved. We visited the Sikh Gurdwara or mosque where he and his family attended sacred services, which inspired me greatly through the devotion that seemed to be the fabric of that faith. Throughout the evenings, and long into the nights, Sukhi and I debated religion, and I instructed Him in the myths and sacred texts of the Netjeru of Kemet. I shared with him my own devotional compositions, and chanted for him in the ancient Egyptian language.

I had brought only one icon with me, and that was my first icon of Lord Ptah I had purchased as a birthday present for myself with money I received for my 14th birthday. Marble and gold with blue and black enamel, this Ptah was a reproduction of the famous cult statue of Ptah found by Howard Carter in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Every morning we lit a candle and incense in front of Ptah while I chanted the words from the Daily Ritual, and every night we veiled Ptah and “put Him to bed”.

Sometimes we stayed up until the next morning, as Sukhi urged me to read the Pert-em-hru- the Book of Coming Forth By Day- to him out loud. Sukhi had a voracious appetite for spiritual learning, and my time with him in Vancouver felt like a teacher’s boot-camp, where the Netjeru were refining my abilities to share the Sacred Traditions with others, and giving me the opportunity to expand my learning as I was teaching. It was also in Vancouver where I discovered an emotional and spiritual peace I had not known for quite some time; not since before the breakdown of my long term relationship.

But it was not to last. In the middle of the night one night, Sukhi received a long-distance telephone call from a family member in India. His uncle was gravely ill, and his mother wanted him to come home so that he could be there in the event of death. His mother was purchasing airline tickets for Sukhi, and he would be flying out for India in a matter of days. I was stunned. Sukhi asked me what I was going to do, as I had no money or friends or connections in Vancouver, save him. That great sinking feeling overtook me the moment I realized the true test had come. My days of peace and devotion and philosophical introspection were coming to an end.

I had avoided the inevitable for as long as I could, and it was time to pay the piper. How I would have loved to continue my days in the chilly air of a Vancouver Fall, strolling through parks with Sukhi as we debated the chapters of the Coming Forth By Day. How I longed to spend my evenings in devotion, chanting before my icon of Lord Ptah, sharing the incense and flame of candles with Sukhi as he grew deeper into the Mysteries of the Netjeru. What I knew I wanted from my life was a life of devotion, where I was free to serve the Gods through Their ancient rites, and to restore the traditions of the ancient sanctuaries as fully as possible. I wanted to teach, to learn, to be absorbed in the Netjeru; and the very last thing I wanted was the one thing I feared was going to happen, now that Sukhi would be leaving for India.

This was the beginning of the darkest part of my dark night of the soul. Sukhi asked me about my family, if they could help me fly back to San Diego and get me back on my feet. This was the one thing I feared the most. I think I would have gladly cut one of my fingers off if I could have avoided asking anything, let alone this, from my family. Were there any other options? What did Lord Ptah want me to do? Would the Netjeru reveal any other choices or roads I could take to extricate myself peaceably from this situation?

I performed a divination, which was inconclusive, made an offering to Ptah, and asked Him to give me a straight answer in a dream. Dreams have always been used by the Netjeru to communicate important information to Their devotees, and my relationship with Them was no exception. My experience has always been that the Netjeru will answer my questions through the signs and symbols of a dream experience. That night I left the candle in front of Ptah burning, and the Lord unveiled. We did not “put Him to bed” as we had on other nights, and the golden glow of His face was the last thing I saw before I drifted into an uneasy sleep, my heart aching with a feeling of premonition.

In my dream the Lord Ptah appeared as He always had, but instead of giving me His usual blessing…pulling me into His body with His left hand, while stroking the back of my head with His right hand….He removed the white blessing shawl I often wore around my shoulders for the Daily Ritual, and tossed it into the air. The shawl flew through the air like a bird, gathering speed as it soared closer and closer to the ground. The ground took the shape of California, and my blessing shawl fluttered to the earth in the City of San Diego. Ptah pointed at me in a fierce gesture that seemed to strike me like a dart at the level of my heart, and then backed away.

When I woke up with a start, my heart racing and the lump in my throat rising, I knew what I had to do. I was going home to San Diego, and I was going to have to swallow my pride, my pain, my fear, and the outward practice of my faith, and accept the help of my family. I tried one last time to negotiate with the Gods, bringing my tears and heartache before Ptah, begging Him to open up some other way for me. As soon as I began my prayers, I heard His voice in my heart saying “Swallow your tears, my son, and do what you have to do!”

At this point I began to suffer excruciating dental pain from a couple of teeth I knew were probably abscessed, which made the physical, material aspects of my plight omnipresent. Since breaking up with my partner I had lived in a world of suspended responsibility, refusing to take the serious steps that were needed to make myself self-sufficient and productive in society. What I wanted was to be a spiritual recluse, to live as some kind of Kemetic hermit, considering nothing except for devotional service to my Gods.

But was that really the way to serve the Netjeru, by retiring from my worldly responsibilities so I could chant and read the Pert-em-hru all day? Was refusing to take care of my material needs really the way to teach others how to engage the Gods and develop a personal relationship with Them? I don’t think I wanted to hear the answers to those questions then. I resented time. I resented money and the material world. I resented any form of responsibility that would take me away from my daily devotions to the Netjeru; and now, the Netjeru were sending me back to San Diego to immerse myself in all the things that I had been running away from.

In the end Sukhi wound up taking me to the airport and dropping me off unceremoniously in one of the massive and noisy lobbies. He said his goodbyes very sheepishly, ashamed, I think, of having brought me to Vancouver in the first place, and then leaving me stranded at the airport without food, money, or a sure flight back to San Diego. This left me to try my luck with friends, attempting to call everyone I knew before daring to call my mother’s house and beg for her help. When that eventuality finally came, it was certainly the hardest phone call I have ever made in my life.

My relationship with my mother was a strained one, and she was, as a strong evangelical Christian, anything but welcoming of my faith. She made it painfully clear to me how undesirable my presence in her house would be, and I waited a number of hours in that airport while my mother and stepfather debated and discussed whether or not they were going to help me come home.

Home. That’s a cozy way of putting my return to a place where I was unwelcome. I knew this was going to be difficult, painful, an emotional battle up hill, but I think I had underestimated just how much I was going to have to sacrifice to get myself back on my feet. There I was, standing in my mother’s kitchen, a malnourished and shaven-headed waif, still wearing the white yoga pants and long-sleeve linen shirt I wore beneath my outer priest robe; looking for all the world like a Buddhist monk or a Hare Krishna, my lapis prayer beads with silver Ptah pendant hanging around my neck. It was then that my mother spilled her mind concerning my choice of religious vocation, the direction my personal life, and life in general, had gone, and the gross disappointment I had turned out to be. I listened to her lecture, as she verbally dismantled everything I believed in, sharing no sense of love or sorrow or sympathy with the recent dissolution of my long term relationship.

What she could say about my religion, other than its non existence as a defunct pagan idolatry, was that I had not been raised to shave my head, wear a robe, and wander the streets of Hillcrest without a proper job. I had been raised to wear nice clothes, to drive a nice car, to have nice things and live in a nice house; and “nice” meant having a certain amount of money in the bank, living with a sense of pride in all my “nice” worldly things, and having a “nice” normal job that would eventually land me a six figure salary. What my mother regarded as a “successful” life was a life in which I amounted to something of financial and material value in the eyes of the world.

What would make me a real man, a “successful” man, was working an average of 50 or 60 hours a week, so that I could have all those “nice” things in that “nice” house…that I could come home to after I got done with my 12 hour day at my “nice” and “successful” job. After my mother was finished with her tirade, I listened to more of the same from my stepfather. Needless to say, I was at that point thoroughly demoralized, and probably as emotionally devastated as I have ever been in my life.

That night, I sat on my old futon in the guest bedroom of my parent’s house, my overwhelming sense of desperation growing stronger by the hour. I had been told that the prayer beads would have to come off, the hair would have to grow back, and I would be expected to conform to my parent’s standards of normality for the length of my stay in their house, which was still a subject of intense debate. I think I have rarely been in a place where I have felt such a profound lack of love or empathy, or even humanity, and have wished myself removed from the face of the earth. But there I sat, feeling all at once abandoned and wholly dejected, wondering how such a woman could have given me birth, and how I could have let myself come to this. On top of it all, my abscessed teeth had reached a point of crisis, and I was in nearly unbearable agony. What could I do but pray, begging Lord Ptah to bring me some kind of comfort, however small, and to send me a light from somewhere other than there!

My mother came into the guest bedroom with one of her prescription bottles of Vicodin for my tooth pain, which was about as much as she did to bring me a touch of humane comfort in the midst of my struggles. I sat there staring at that bottle, wondering how many it would take to get rid of the pain. Yes, I said to myself, how many would it take? The thought of taking enough Vicodin to end my life seemed perfectly natural to me at that moment. I wasn’t frightened at the prospect of suicide, only frightened by the thought of not taking enough, and enduring the consequences that could follow. I was perfectly calm as I read the label warning against accidental overdose, and made up my mind that I didn’t want to be here anymore…in this world, in this place, in this “family”.

As soon as I made that decision, I somehow felt better than I had in the past few days, and got up to go to the adjoining bathroom for a glass of water to take the Vicodin. I sat the bottle of pills on the edge of the bedside table, and felt a strange calm settle over my throbbing mouth. I still felt the surreal pain coursing through my jaw and throat, but suddenly felt that it was happening to someone else; like I was a visitor in someone else’s body, without having to feel the effects of their pain for myself.

When I came back into the bedroom, the bottle of Vicodin was nowhere to be seen, and I looked around the foot of the bedside table, figuring that the bottle had fallen off the table after I sat it down. It had. It was there just under the edge of the bed. I felt myself bend over to pick up the bottle, saw my hand reach out to touch it, but somehow I felt once again that these were the movements of someone else, and that I was just a visitor. And then I saw something that stopped me exactly where I was. I saw the feet and legs of Ptah standing in front of me. This was no delusion or hallucination, and, despite the excruciating amount of pain I was in, I was still in my right mind. I felt awake, lucid, though still as if I were a visitor in another man’s body.

I let go of the bottle, but refused to stand up straight. I have seen the feet of Ptah many times in my life, and for those of you who have, you know exactly what I’m talking about. His bandaged feet, swaddled in the purest white linen, were actually there in that room with me, and the air was suddenly heady with His sandalwood scent. This was no vision, but a physical reality that I still choose to believe was the living God Ptah.

My heart beat fast in terror as the realization struck me that this was no projection of my subconscious mind during a state of meditation, but a solid manifestation of my Netjer standing before me. I did not see Him move, though I felt the palpable touch of His hands at the nape of my neck. At once, terror, at once disbelief; at once, the realization that I was back in my body, present and painfully aware of what my actions could result in. The throbbing in my mouth reminded me that this body was mine…or was it?

Within the spiritual view of some members of the Heathen community, there is the concept of being “God-owned”, which means that a devotee, of their own free will, has offered up the entirety of their being into the hands of a specific deity. This is a complete relationship of service, devotion, and worship, where the devotee entrusts the fruits and direction of their human life to the care and use of the deity. This is the strongest possible bond that can exist between a deity and human being, and it is a consummate one, integrating everything in a devotee’s life as part of the vehicle of service for the deity. This in no way means exclusion of other deities as part of a devotee’s spiritual life; however, it does mean that this sacred relationship is the primary relationship in one’s spiritual life, which spills over into every single facet of one’s life to encompass even the tiniest aspect of our mortal life.

I have never heard of the term “God-owned” being used within the Kemetic or Kemetic Reconstructionist communities, and I myself never consciously used it until only a few years ago; but now, looking back on this dark night of the soul, I realize that it was then and there, the very moment I had decided to take my own life, when I became Lord Ptah’s own kin, His “God-owned”, to put it in the way of some of my Heathen peers.

It was then and there that Lord Ptah claimed me, charged me with His sacred blessing, and made my flesh the container of His holy purpose. I was no longer the owner of my own skin, free to dispose of it in any way I saw fit, but was, as an instrument for His Sacred Work, a tool in His hands…clay in the hands of the Sculptor of Life. And I knew this then, with more certainty than I have ever known anything in my life.

It was Lord Ptah Who cut through my self-pity and raging sorrow, allowing me to break free of my personal demons in order to come into the awareness of my spiritual gifts and purpose. I suddenly felt that my physical pain was inconsequential, temporary, and would ultimately fall away to leave a renewed man in its place. I understood, as I stood there at the feet of Lord Ptah, that it was through this purifying fire of Sekhmet, His consort, that I would be healed from my own ignorance and self doubt. These would be burned away, perhaps slowly at first, but would in time give rise to my full purpose as Ptah created it.

I had heard my Kemetic name before, in the back of my mind during meditations, and I had begun to use it in my Kemetic work with peers and colleagues, but I had not formally accepted it from Ptah, nor made the final decision to take it as my legal name until that night. It was there in the presence of Ptah that I took my personal vows as His priest, and the nectar of this experience I recorded in a prayer which I call my “heart prayer” of Ptah. For me, this prayer sums up the innermost nature of being “God-owned” or fully consecrated to a deity. It also speaks to its reader of the living nature of the living God Ptah, Who is the Creator of the Gods, and the Father-Mother of all living things:


Ho
mage to You, Ptah,

And hail to the Gods Who came forth from Your members!

O Ptah of life,
O Ptah of light,
O Ptah of mercy,
Hear my prayer.

O Ear that hears,
O Eyes that see,
O Hands that bless,
Receive my offering.

O Father Ptah,
I give You my heart.
O Father Ptah,
I give You my hands.
O Father Ptah,
I give You my breath,
O Father Ptah,
I give You my ka.
O Father Ptah,
I give You my name.
O Father Ptah,
I receive Yours in return.
O Father Ptah,
I give You my sorrow.
O Father Ptah,
I receive Your power in return.
O Father Ptah,
I become Your own flesh.
O Father Ptah,
You become the Lord of my life.

O Ptah of life,
May Your life be my life.
O Ptah of light,
May Your light be my light.
O Ptah of mercy,
May Your compassion
Liberate me; I who came forth
From Your body!

I am also a priest of the Great Goddess Auset, Who has been with me from the time I was a child. There are a number of “dark nights of the soul” stories I could recount from my many years of walking with the Goddess, but because time is short and space is limited here, I have chosen to tell a story of my darkest night of the soul that I have never written down before, and have told only one person, my husband. However, I wanted to end this segment of the interview with a recitation of two very dear prayers I wrote in response to Auset having rescued me during my dark nights of the soul. These are prayers I have continued to use whenever I feel the pull of darkness in my life, whenever I need to bring forth the Light. May they touch all with the same Sacred illumination.

Great Goddess Isis, I have heard Your call in my heart, and I vow to love and serve You until I take my final breath.

O Isis, I take up the knot of the sacred red thread, and I tie this knot around my heart. My vow to serve You is a vow to serve all living things in creation.

My vow to You is to love all beings, to heal all the afflicted, to save all those in peril, to take the hands of those without a friend.

May my life be the vessel of Your kindness, generosity and abundant love.
I reject none, and take unto myself the needs of all creatures in the world.

Receive my vow, O Isis, and may Your great work flourish in my heart for millions upon millions of years!

O Isis Myrionymous, the Many-Named,
Mother of the World, the Great Enchantress,
Whose nightly footsteps spin the sea
Of stars in the celestial vault!
O Bride, veiled, O Mysterious One,
The throne of the Mysteries.

I enter in silence, I depart in gratitude,
Knowing that not even the primordial gods
Have knowledge of Your true name or
Secret, eternal form.
O Goddess, I come into the bosom of
Your protection and wisdom,
Seeking virtue, and hail You as
Isis the Life-Giver, Isis the Axis of the World,
The Savior Who charts the way for the
Lost upon the waters.

Holy Isis, Your throne is virtue,
And to Your disciples in Egypt You
Are Auset, the Divine Seat, in Whose
Lap the God dwells, in Whose wings
Was reared the Sacred Falcon,
In Whose lotus womb was nurtured
The seed of the Resurrected One!

O Ee-sees, the Traveler, the Lady upon the
Waters! The sea is Your veil, churning,
The mighty roar of the wind Your command,
Ordering the heights and the depths in Your
Feared name of Pelagia!

O Queen of Heaven, circled by light,
Diademed with the riches of constellations,
Hallowed as the alabaster crescent and
Silver disk!
Bring me close to Your starry feet,
To know Your paths traversed through
The realm of the Gods.

May Heaven open and Earth take witness,
And may the Gods rejoice,
For all that was ill is renewed in You,
O Isis the Breath of Life!
All that has passed away is brought back
To life, for You are the Weaver of destinies,
Whose command alone reorders the fates
Dictated by the stars!

O Veiled One, Ast-Amenti, come forward,
Taking my hand, washing my heart, bestowing
Knowledge! For You, O Bride of the West,
Are the countenance of Eternity and Everlasting!
You, O Isis the Queen of Heaven, are the ladder
Upon which Souls are reunited with the celestial beginning,
And in You I take refuge, in You I become a
Disciple of the Sacred Way.

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”

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

Ptahmassu Portrait

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.

Introduction

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

annaChicago 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.

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