Lately, an issue that has been coming up time and again in my work as a Priest is the question of traditions, religion, dogma, belief and what it really means to follow an ancient polytheistic faith in today’s world. I have, for inspiration and observation/ study, often looked to the Sanatana Dharma or Hindu religion as a means of seeing how a people may harmonize in the modern world with such a plethora of goddesses and gods and the ancient traditions that go with them.
Brahmins are the carriers of the most ancient sacred traditions in Hinduism. They are priests whose training, study, and level of devotion maintain an unbroken line of teachings, rituals and philosophies stretching back through thousands of years. Brahmins are expected to maintain the highest degree of ritual purity in order to carry out their responsibilities in the temple, and these responsibilities include the very elaborate rites and rituals through which the Gods are honored and their presences commune with their devotees.
Hinduism contains ritual forms that have been handed down by Brahmins for literally thousands of years in an unbroken chain. Because Brahmins have handed down these ritual treasures, guarding their purity and not changing them just to be “current”, people who need the Gods are able to commune with them through ritual and receive blessings. Brahmins I have spoken to about these rituals have told me that the same ritual gestures, mantras and icons have been used in Sanatana Dharma since time began, and that they have not been changed. Now that is a long time!
I happen to follow a religious and spiritual tradition that has not remained unbroken. The Kemetic or Ancient Egyptian religion lasted historically for at least 3,000 years, though Egyptologists now acknowledge the probability that there was an oral tradition of worship going back well before the first dynasty…before the written record. Texts like the Pert-em-hru or Book of Going Forth By Day retain fragments that can be found in the so called Pyramid Texts, and these contain phrases that some mainstream Egyptologists say point to an oral tradition going back at least 4,000 years or more.
However, unlike the rites and rituals of Hinduism, the ancient Egyptian religion was eventually all but stamped out in its own birth place, where Islam and Christianity became the predominant faiths. In modern Egyptian folk traditions there are still practices and beliefs originating in the ancient faith of Egypt, but as a national religion, the ancient beliefs are no longer mainstream in Egypt as they once were.
Kemetic Reconstructionism is embraced by many contemporary spiritual practitioners who desire to return to the traditionally Egyptian (Kemetic) way of honoring the Netjeru or Deities. Unlike the unbroken line of Brahmins in the Hindu faith, we do not have specially initiated and trained priests who have received the ancient traditions unaltered by time or social/ political circumstances. Kemetic Reconstructionists attempt to replace what has been “lost” by digging into the archives…the vast body of literature and archaeological discoveries produced by Egyptologists, in order to put back together our ancient rites and sacred texts. This is a very challenging task even at the best of times, leading some of us to learn the meduw-netjer (hieroglyphs) and spend years sifting through some of the driest academic studies on the planet!
Why bother? Why can’t we just do whatever comes to heart or mind in order to serve the Gods in the new era. Of course, we can do that, and most people would rather do that, because it’s much easier to just “go with the flow” than dedicate one’s life to the stressful task of piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle, one in which a heck of a lot of pieces are still missing!
But then, what would have happened to the Hindu religion…where would modern Hindus be if they had lost many or most of their ancient rites and teachings? I’m sure their gods would manage to guide Hindus still and send them inspiration. But shouldn’t we be asking whether or not such practices, mantras, prayers and scriptures are worth preserving, having and handing down? I think they are, and I’m sure that millions of Hindus would agree with me.
My idea of dogma is blind faith and blind belief…strictly following an idea because you are told to follow it. Dogma leaves no room for personal inspiration or individualized expression. Dogmatism demands that we obey, adhere, and do not question. Dogma threatens. I have never felt that Kemetic Reconstructionism is being dogmatic. Quite the contrary, I feel it is a spiritual treasure hunt, where the Netjeru are hiding and welcoming us to find Them. As we dig deep into the ancient texts and reconstruct the Daily Temple Ritual, and the many other rites of the Ancients, we are communing with living gods whose presences brought inspiration, healing, life and abundance to millions of the ancients for nearly 5,000 years. The ancient Egyptian religion is a vibrant gathering of prayers, practices and gestures that enhances the experience of divinity within Nature and human nature. The ancient gods are alive and well, and Their presence can be felt as strongly today in the ancient rites and prayers as it was felt thousands of years ago.
Reconstructing an entire ancient religion based on textual sources sounds dogmatic to some, but I would argue that dogmatism is asserting one way of doing things over another. Dogmatism removes freedom of choice and individual conscience. What I follow is a 5,000 year old tradition of speaking directly to the Gods, and inviting Them to receive the very best the heart of humankind has to offer. For me, Kemetic Reconstructionism is a framework for carrying out a relationship between the living Gods and creation, as realized by the ancient Egyptians. Since their way of accomplishing this far outlasted all other civilizations, and existed much longer than our own, I think the ancients proved that their expressions of honoring the Sacred have staying power, and that we have so much to learn from them.
All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa