This post is going to be different from what I usually write about, but I feel it's important. This blog is a journey through my experiences with spirituality so I will from time to time include posts not related to Kemetics or Egypt.
This entry wasn't planned. I was surfing the web when I came upon a Wiccan e-zine. There was an article I read that, well, kind of annoyed me. I'm not going to go into the article itself because no matter how I put it I'll come out sounding like a horrible person. Basically, there's a lot people studying Wicca and magick that are lacking a firm foundation and understanding of how magick itself works. There's a lot of great information out there, but for every good piece of information there's at least five more that are horribly inaccurate. This is my effort to try and correct the balance.
I'll be the first to admit that when I got my first book on Wicca I skipped straight to the section on casting spells. I mean, what preteen girl wouldn't be fascinated by the idea that she could in fact have a say in what goes on around her? I was excited by spell casting; to learn that it wasn't something of the fictional world, but that it was very much real. I found it mysterious, enchanting, and of course, magickal. For a few months after I got my first book I experimented with all sorts of spells from getting a crush to like me to stopping gossip. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. I wanted to know why they didn't always work, so I decided to actually read the whole book from beginning to end. Shocking, I know.
I was particularly excited to read the theory and religion part of Wicca. I mean, wasn't it a religion that I could make my own? Ahhh, religion. Somehow my preteen mind had overlooked the part that Wicca was firstly and most importantly, a religion. I had just begun to move past the idea that Christianity wasn't the only way, so I wasn't really excited to learn another set of rules and doctrines.
I did it anyways. I studied diligently, set on finding out why my spells didn't work 100% of the time. Boy was I in for a surprise.
I realized that I had mistaken Wicca for a title you earned when you worked your first spell and not the beautiful, complex religion it is. There could be a million reasons why those first spells didn't work: timing, intention, misuse of a supply, my desire being the wrong thing for me at that point in time, etc.. Today, I believe that those first failure were a result of a secure and solid foundation of the theory behind the practice and the religion. I understand that not all witches are Wiccan, but to me the two were very closely linked. I believed that it was possible to light a candle, say a few words, and through some strange magic my wish would be granted.
It's been many years since those first lessons. I am now 21 and I can honestly say I almost never use spells. I have nothing against them personally, I just don't have the need for them. Wicca has enabled me to be happy, content, and fulfilled without spell work. I am still learning (you never really stop learning) and every day I gain a new piece of knowledge or understanding that enriches my life further.
How is this accomplished?
Unlike what I had experienced as a child, Wicca is not a "use when needed" religion. I often find among other Pagans that their religion is so closely woven into their "regular" lives that they don't even notice anymore. Wicca isn't something you do once a week for an hour and then forget about until next week; it's something you incorporate into your life for the better good. I rarely cast spells, but I practice Wicca every day.
It varies for each individual, but I think the most important component of my path is having a real and personal relationship with the Divine. I came from a background where God was viewed as distant, impossible, and unreachable. My relationship with the Gods and Goddesses today is the exact opposite. I perform lengthy and detailed rituals to honor Them, but most of the time I just talk with Them. I thank Them for my blessings, speak about my concerns, ask for guidance when I am lost, and meditate on Their names when I need balance. A relationship with your concept of the Divine isn't impossible or difficult, it's as simple as letting Them know you are listening.
The presence of the Goddess and God are everywhere we look in this world. For a long time I had difficulty with this. Wicca is indeed a nature-based religion. I happen to live in a metropolitan area that is home to more than 5 million people and sometimes nature seems very far away. You have to look closely. Nature is found in "city wildlife" (pigeons, cats, dogs, lizards, raccoons, deer, etc..), it is seen in every tree and plant, in the sky above us, the soil underneath us, the wind that blows against our faces, the rain that nourishes the earth.... I could easily go on all day. What I'm trying to say is that nature is wherever you are, including our own bodies. We are composed of water, bones as strong as earth, a heart that beats passionately like fire, lungs that need precious air to survive, and souls that are the essence of our spirits. It's fascinating to think about. Sometimes I've been in situations where there wasn't a tree or shrub in sight. It took me a long time to see that all I had to do was look into myself to see the work of the God and Goddess.
As a Wiccan, I find it important to be aware always. Sometimes this isn't possible, of course. We live in a very real world full of chaos and stress and it's not always easy to just stop and look around us. However, when we do it's a great experience. My religion isn't confined to an altar, a Book of Shadows, a ritual tool, or anything else. To truly live Wicca we must remember that the Divine is with us always, in every place and situation.
What I've written about above forms the foundation of my faith; a relationship with the God and Goddess and the ability to see Nature, the Divine's creation, in any place I look. It seems simple, but it's truly brought a great deal of peace to my life. At first I didn't notice a difference, when I did it was like night and day. My life had improved a great deal simply from including Nature and the Divine in everyday.
Spells can be a beautiful addition to your religion and faith. Spellwork can be empowering, spiritual, and an amazing experience all in one. I'm not saying you should never cast a spell, but you must decide when they are necessary. I imagine one day I'll find a need to do a spell and I know that it will work. I have faith in my own ability and in the love of the God and Goddess. I know that I have an understanding of how magick works and I know that the Divine will help me provide for myself.
The next entry will focus on how magick works, how to cast a successful spell, and how to know when a spell is necessary. My favorite holiday of the Wiccan year is coming up; Samhain. I'm planning on doing a couple posts about Samhain, Samhain rituals, and how this holiday related to Kemetics. Also, you can expect another "Getting to Know the Netjer" post.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Originally, I was just going make a single post discussing the differences between Isis and Aset (Don’t worry, I’m still going to do this) and then leave it at that. However, I decided why not turn it into a series? “Getting to Know the Netjeru” is going to cover some of the Kemetic gods and goddesses (Nerjer and Netjert respectively). I figure I’ll look at some of the mythology along with how the ancient Egyptians saw and worshiped Them. I’ll also cover how modern Kemetics can honor Them today.
Part 1 of Series: Isis or Aset?
Isis is actually the reason I’m writing this blog in the first place. She inspired me to read about Egypt which eventually led me to discover Kemetics. Of course I had heard of Her before, I imagine in school at some point, but I didn’t know anything about Her. Because of that fact I had probably never thought about Her or Egypt, I decided the dream She came to me in was something far more than my subconscious’ creativity. My dream of Isis was the beginning of this journey.
I soon learned that there was more to the story than what appeared on the surface. Isis was not only known in Egypt, but in much of the ancient Greco-Roman world. Isis was not even Her original name. Aset, the Egyptian goddess, is the origin of the more commonly known Roman goddess Isis. Aren’t they the same, though? That’s what I thought at first. Upon further study, I’ve discovered the answer is more complex than I could have imagined.
As I write this, I’m not sure if they are the same goddess with two different aspects or if they are two completely different goddesses. I think in order to come up with a personal opinion, one should know of Her history and mythology.
We can see Aset mentioned as early as the Fifth Dynasty, 2494 - 2345 PCE (pre common are, a.k.a before Christ), in the Pyramid Texts, 4th Utterance:
"Recitation by Nut: O King, I have given to you your sister Aset, that she may lay hold of you and give to you your heart for your body."This is only the first written mention of Aset; the actual origins of Her are uncertain. The research I’ve done suggests Aset has been worshiped as early as 3100 PCE, but I can find no legitimate source for this. If anyone has any documented source of the first appearance of Aset let me know. However, 2494 PCE is still fairly early as far as documented history goes. Moving onward…
Aset, or Uset, is considered to be the actual name Egyptians used. It is uncertain though, of the correct pronunciation. The meaning of Her name is said to mean “She of the throne”. Actually, Aset in hieroglyphics contains the symbol of a chair, or throne.
The mythology surrounding Aset varies, with many different stories and versions of them. However, they have their similarities. The most familiar story is that of Aset and Her brother/consort Osiris (Ausir or Wesir). Aset and Ausir were siblings, along with Nephthys and Set (Nebt-het and Seth respectively). Their parents were Nut and Geb, the sky goddess and the earth god.
One story says that Aset gained her power from learning the secret name of Ra. Egyptians believed that words, both written and spoken, contained immense importance and magic. If you were to know a person’s “secret” name, or real name, you held power over them. Knowing this, Aset fashioned a snake from Ra’s spit and left it in his path so he would be bitten.
After the snake had attacked him, he laid in agony. Aset told him she had the cure, but she would only do it in exchange for his secret name. At first, he refused, but eventually the pain was so excruciating that he had no choice. He finally told her the name and in turn she cured him. Aset became known as great magician after she inherited Ra’s power.
Another story that most people are familiar with is that of Aset and Osiris’ love. There are many versions of the story, but all tend to go like this. Jealous of Osiris’ reign of the kingdom, he was murdered by his own brother, Seth. Seth chopped the body of Osiris into pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Aset was overwhelmed by immense grief for the loss of her brother and husband. Aset set out to search for the pieces of her beloved, some stories say that Nephthys went with her. Eventually she found all the pieces but one, his member. It is said that she fashioned a member out of gold, other say it was clay, and others say that she indeed did find all the pieces of his body. Either way, she managed to make him whole once more, and it was in this way she conceived Horus, her son.
This story has many powerful themes; death, love, magick, rebirth, loss, healing, and new life. When we explore the mythology of Aset one can see the many forms she takes; wife, mother, lover, grief-stricken wife, and magician. It is true that she is one of the most versatile of the Egyptians gods and goddesses. Sometimes she is known as Aset of A Thousand Names.
She is known as a fierce, protective goddess. Yet at the same time, she is benevolent and kind. She answers the prayers of royalty and also of the poor. She is a goddess belonging to no people or group in particular. She is often pictured with wings, protecting all that she surrounds. In one dream I had of Her, my subconscious described Isis as “all-encompassing” and “enfolding”. Indeed, it is comforting to imagine Aset wrapping Her wings around that which She protects, keeping it from all harm.
It was during Alexander’s conquest of Egypt that allowed Aset to become known outside of her home land. Aset then became Isis; Isis being the Greek translation of her Egyptian name. Temples spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. Temples were built in Pompeii, Philae, Byblos, Delos, and more spreading out into the land modernly known as the Middle East.
Even though certain aspects and mythology stayed the same, we can see the differences between Aset and Isis. Does this make Isis a completely different goddess? Or is Isis just the way the Romans saw Aset? Humans perceive things differently and the Roman culture was so different from that of the Egyptians that it would make sense for them to shape Isis to fit in more with their traditions.
In modern day Kemetics, this is still a big question. I’m not sure which way I see Her, but I think it’s important to acknowledge her in all her aspects and versatility. Like humans, god are not just their outside appearance, but instead much more. One of Isis’ Roman titles was “Queen of Heaven” and once can in fact notice the similarities between the Black Madonna and the artwork showing Isis nursing a young Horus. It could even be said that the Catholic Madonna has origins in Egypt. With this information we could say that Aset has three forms instead of two.
Aset compared to the Christian Mary
It can be confusing to try and comprehend this, but that is monolarity. One goddess with many forms, and many goddesses with one form. Perhaps they are all one in the same and completely different at the same time. Would She be offended if you honored Isis and not Aset? Prayed to the Madonna, but not Aset or Isis? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that She is a jealous goddess. Our deities understand our needs. At times we might need a mother and not a magician. Or perhaps at times we need to be strong to deal with our hardships, praying to the independent and ferocious Aset. Then again we have moments where we seek transformation and healing, restoration from loss. It is then that we envoke the qualities of all three.
So where does the answer lie? I honestly believe it comes down to each person’s opinion. Why not try to get to know the Goddess Herself? Talk to her, meditate upon her, honor her in ritual. Modern Kemetics believe it is necessary to build a relationship with the Netjeru, for it is the foundation of our faith, is it not?
If you find yourself still wondering who She really is, ask Her yourself. :)
R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Digireads.com Publishing, 2007
Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Path Llewellyn Publishing, 1999
Image of Isis/Horus and Mary/Jesus from Webster’s Online Dictionary, http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org
I am relatively new to the study of Kemet and its religion. Out of all the incredible confusion and misunderstanding there has been one concept that has, from the beginning, made complete sense to me. Not to be confused with the goddess of the same name, Ma’at is the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, and justice. It has had different variations on its name such as Maat or Mayet, but ultimately it has the same meaning.
On the surface the concept seems simple, but the further we look into it the more we see how deep the subject really is. Ma’at is the divine order in which all things exist. Simply, it is the natural balance in the world, the way things should be. Alternatively, there is also Isfest; the opposite of Ma’at. Isfet is chaos, disarray, imblanace, and destructiveness.
Achieving and maintaining Ma’at was extremely important to the Egyptians. It was not just a religious term, but a concept that affected every aspect of the Egyptian life. In fact, they had no word for ‘religion’. Religion and daily life were so intertwined for the Egyptian people that there was no need for a word to separate them. Ma’at formed the foundation of the legal and cultural systems in Egypt. Ma’at was not bound to rich or poor; no one was above it and all were responsible for upholding it.
Each area and family has it’s own idea of how Ma’at should be obtained and what actions were to be done (or not done) to maintain it. There were Temples of Ma’at erected in different parts of Egypt. Evidence supports the claim that there were temples in Karnak, Memphis, and Deir el-Medina.
We also know that Ma’at was equally as important as death as it was in life. It was important to live according to the ethics of Ma’at in order to pass the “weighing of the heart”. This was thought to occur after the death. When a man passed on, he would face a sort of judgement before the god Osiris and other deities. He would state a list of “Negative Confessions”, or “Principles of Ma’at”. The 42 Principles of Ma’at were basic eithical and moral rules to live by, much like the Ten Commandments that would come about 2,000 years later. Though the principles varied amoung cities and people, they were similar in essence. The confessions ranged from stealing and killing another to cursing or disrespecting the deceased. If the man was found innocent after stating all the Negative Confessions his heart would be weighed against the feather of Ma’at, and if his heart was balanced with the weight of the feather, he could continue on his journey in the afterlife.
Here is one version of the Negative Confessions:
- I have not stolen
- I have not committed sin
- I have not committed robbery with violence
- I have not slain men and women
- I have not stolen food
- I have not swindled offerings
- I have not stolen from God
- I have not told lies
- I have not carried away food
- I have not cursed
- I have not closed my ears to truth
- I have not committed adultery
- I have not made anyone cry
- I have not felt sorrow without reason
- I have not assaulted anyone
- I have not been deceitful
- I have not stolen anyone’s land
- I have not been an eavesdropper
- I have not falsely accused anyone
- I have not been angry without reason
- I have not seduced anyone’s wife
- I have not polluted myself
- I have not terrorized anyone
- I have not disobeyed the law
- I have not been excessively angry
- I have not cursed God
- I have not behaved with violence
- I have not caused disruption of peace
- I have not acted hastily or without thought
- I have not overstepped my boundaries of concern
- I have not exaggerated my words when speaking
- I have not worked evil
- I have not used evil thoughts, words or deeds
- I have not polluted the water
- I have not spoken angrily or arrogantly
- I have not cursed anyone in thought, word or deed
- I have not placed myself on a pedestal
- I have not stolen that which belongs to God
- I have not stolen from or disrespected the deceased
- I have not taken food from a child
- I have not acted with insolence
- I have not destroyed property belonging to God
Both Kemetic Reconstruction and Kemetic Orthodox along with other reformed practices all have in common their belief that living according to Ma’at is essential. Though the wording was different in 2,000 BC it still applies to us today. These are general laws of the universe that apply to all humans regardless of nationality, religion, or race. For example, committing robbery, murder, and destruction of property belonging to another are all considered serious crimes. Disrespecting the deceased, not taking from a child, and not lying are all ethics that most people live by.
Living in Ma’at is not incredibly difficult All it takes to achieve Ma’at is common sense and compassion for mankind is all that is necessary. In today’s world, being mindful of our words and actions is more important than ever. Kemetics strive to live consciously, aware of all that they do. The hardest part of living in Ma’at is to overcome our flaws as humans. At some time or another we have lied, cursed, and been angry or upset for the wrong reasons. It is natural to progress as humans to consciously avoid these things.
The question most people face at one point or another is where to draw the line. Do we tell the truth even if it hurts someone? Is using fowl language really damaging to the spiritual self? Are we not sometimes granted our emotions no matter what the circumstances?
The answers to this will vary among each individual and it is important to live by your own truths and not another. Some things are circumstantial and then it is even more necessary to think about your actions and words. Egyptians believed that words both written and spoken held immense power. It said that words can uplift, encourage, hurt, and damage. The same can be said for actions. Never doubt the impact you have on another.
As I embark on this journey, I realize that it is important to have a strong foundation beneath my feet; a plan of sorts that I can use to pave the way. The concept of Ma’at provides this for me, giving me a place to jump off from.
Through writing this and future entries I hope to gain a better grasp of the concepts and beliefs which have at times, left me confused and frustrated. However, I also want to give others a better understanding of Kemetic belief through my own experiences. I’m not sure where this will lead me, but I trust that I’m going the right way.
I suppose this is the essence of Ma’at itself: trusting myself, having faith in the gods, and knowing that it is right.