Kemetic Round Table: Akhu Basics

[this is my last KRT catch up post, finally up to date!]

Ancestor worship is something many modern kemetics have included (or are in the process of including) into their general practice. It is absolutely fine if you do not want or you do not feel the need to. It’s not an absolute requirement to be ‘a good kemetic’.

In ancient times there were entire rituals and temple grounds dedicated to the cult of the dead, as well as specific classes of clergy which dealt with the dead. This was intimately related to the ancient Egyptian view of the soul – here’s a good link if you’d like to read more.

The dead required the preservation of the body through mummification, numerous chants, prayers and spells to guide and protect them through their journey into the Afterlife, and nourishment for their ka – this was done both through some of the paintings in their tombs with symbolic value (such as the painting of offerings) and through regular offerings of food and drink; there was usually some type of contract between the deceased and the clergy for how much was to be offered after that person’s death and for how long. (on the subject of offerings, I’ve discussed it before here).

For modern practitioners, if you’d like to set up or expand your ancestor worship, here are a few things worth exploring:

Put up a shrine (as small or as big as you wish or your circumstances allow) with their picture or a personal object, a candle, incense and water. The dead are always thirsty so it’s a good idea to maintain fresh water at your ancestor shrine as often as possible.

Tend to their graves if you can. Keep them free of weeds and place fresh flowers. If they were cremated and their ashes scattered somewhere, visit that place and leave some flowers, say a prayer or whatever else you feel it’s appropriate.

Commemorate them on their birthday (or the day they died – whichever you prefer). Have a meal in their honour. Leave a chair empty for them and place a full plate on the table in front of it.

Participate in one of their favourite activities. Wear one of their favourite colours. Think about them. Speak to them in your thoughts.

Write a letter to them (letters to the dead were very common in ancient times). Pray for them. Pray to them if you wish.

~~~

Relevant reading: Kemetic Round Table contributions on the subject and this website.

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Kemetic Round Table: Gods and communication

[This is a KRT catch-up post]

‘Gods and communication’ is and extremely personal topic in my humble opinion, as in how one person communicates with the gods (and how the gods choose to communicate with that person) is unique and very intimate experience. While there can certainly be similarities between various individuals, I don’t believe there are even two people who have the exact kind of communication with the gods – especially the way the gods respond or even how those responses are interpreted.

There are also different levels of communication, from very fuzzy and vague to the more clear and to the point. If your level is ‘fuzzy and vague’ you can certainly work to try to improve it (although it’s not a guaranteed success). But if for whatever reason you don’t feel you’re evolving to something more clear, I’d say the most important thing is not to become frustrated or give up altogether.

Also, there are many ways in which the gods might respond. Dreams, signs, omens, encounters in the astral (for those who nurtured the skill), responses through various divination methods are only a few examples of how the gods might say something back. A lot of times you can miss the signs. A lot of times you can misinterpret the signs. It can happen to anyone.

The ways to communicate to the gods can vary from the easily accessible to the more obscure ones, ore rather the ones you have to work a bit more at. For example, prayers and petitions are easily accessible to most people, while various other ways such as divination or astral projection require study and practice.

If you don’t even know where to begin communicating with the gods, here are a few helpful tips:

Light a candle and some incense and pray. Use and ancient prayer or make up your own. Pray from the heart. Be honest. Pray silently or out loud if you wish. You can even do it without the incense or the candle. While an image of the gods you’re addressing, a candle, some incense and other as such can be useful for you to concentrate on your prayers, they are not essential. You can pray anywhere, any time. Whatever makes you feel comfortable and focused.

You can sit down with pen and paper and write them a letter. Keep it somewhere special or bury it. You can even burn it in a bonfire and the the smoke carry your words to them.

Perform devotional acts for them. Say it in your mind or out loud before you begin your chosen task.

These are just to give you an idea of you you could open up communication.

However, you have to understand that more often than not you will not have a say on how you will be answered and that sometimes the answers will be what you expected or hoped for. Sometimes you have to accept that silence is an answer too. Or you thought there was silence but you missed on all the signs.

Also, you don’t always need communication with the gods to be ‘a good devotee’. Because devotion can take many forms, no one can say your devotion is without value just because you don’t speak to the gods regularly. Some people draw or paint to show their devotion. Some dedicate time to a charity and make that part of their devotionals.

It’s all incredibly unique from person to person and there’s no ‘One True Recipe’.

That’s why no one can give you an exact list of what you have to do to get an exact outcome. Because just by doing what someone else is doing or has done you won’t necessarily get the exact same results. Of course you can always ask for advice but this is something which you ultimately have to explore on your own.

~~~

Further reading: Kemetic Round Table: Gods and Communication

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Kemetic Round Table: Offerings Basics

[This is a catch-up post, as I am a bit behind with my contributions to the Kemetic Round Table project.]

‘Two concepts are linked to the notion of offerings that cover all kinds of offerings and explain the meaning of offerings in the Egyptian worldview. One concept is the ‘Eye of Horus’, one of the most important symbols of ancient Egypt and used about all kinds of gifts. The other concept is maat, which means ‘order, structure, justice, truth, and harmony. [...]

The concept of maat, also used to designate offerings of all kinds, supports the idea that the gifts to the gods were meant to strengthen the established order and to help preserve it.’ (1)

Offerings are often presented in a variety of contexts. They can vary widely by type, number(s) and time (of day, of month, of year – as in the case of festivals or specific days). Their type can influence the amount of time they can be left out. For example a bottle of perfume can be left out for a long period of time, while food stuffs (being perishable) need to be reverted sooner.

In ancient times types of offerings included:

1. Offerings presented during the daily temple cult activities.

2. Offerings for the dead.

3. Offerings for festivals.

4. Offerings presented before/during/after magic workings.

All these could include food stuffs, beverages, jewellery, clothing/fabric, incense, oils, ointments and cosmetics.

Worthy of mention are the offering formulas and lists. These had their origins in the cult for the dead and they had symbolic significance – they were designed to nourish the ka of the deceased.

‘A typical offering formula from the Middle Kingdom [...]:

An offering that the king gives (to) Osiris, lord of Busiris, the great god and lord of Abydos, that he [i.e. Osiris] may give invocation offerings consisting of bread and beer, (cuts of) oxen and fowl, alabaster ([calcite] vessels) and clothing, (in fact) all good and pure things on which a god lives, for the ka-spirit of N.’ (2)

Offerings in a magical setting were often dictated by the type of magic being performed and the god or gods invoked. They were often prescribed in magical instructions (along with purity requirements, ingredients and techniques to be used), such as:

‘[...] If you wish to win a woman who is beautiful, be pure for 3 days, make an offering of frankincense, / and call upon this name over it.[...]‘(3)

For modern practitioners, things are somewhat simpler.

Determining what to offer a deity for example only requires a bit of research or simply asking around. If unsure, as I’ve said before, keep it clean and simple: bread, water, beer, incense are staples and well received.

For those who have ancestor worship included in their practice the above are also appropriate as are, of course, things which the deceased being honoured used to like. Were they big coffee drinkers? Offer up a nice brew. Were they chocovores? Offer up some chocolates or nice bars of chocolate. If you can find their exact favourites, even better.

For a magical setting, if you’re not following an exact prescription, bread, water and incense make a good basic trio of  appropriate offerings. If you prefer something more elaborate, it’s generally a good idea to do your research.

Here’s a simple way to help you determine what offerings to present in a magical setting. Ask yourself (and answer) these questions:

1. What type of magic will you be performing?

2. Will you be invoking a deity during your rite?

3. If so, which one? What does that deity generally prefer being offered?

4. If the rite is to be repeated, do you feel you need to repeat the offerings as well?

5. Can you find examples of similar workings with their proper instructions in ancient texts from which you can draw inspiration?

Reverting offerings is somewhat simpler these days as well and it’s usually down to the individual and his/her circumstances. For those who don’t know what reverting offerings means, here’s a brief and very informative explanation:

‘The reversion of offerings implied that offerings went from the temple out to the necropolis. Offerings presented to the main god of the temple were carried out of the sanctuary, were presented to gods having subsidiary cults in the temple, then to statues of kings and private persons placed in temple courts, and finally to the necropolis. After all those symbolic presentations, the offerings were distributed to the priests and all the staff involved in the rituals as a reward, or salary, for their work. This custom of reverted offerings as early as the Old Kingdom and was continued.'(4)

If you cannot or will not consume the food offerings yourself for whatever reason (you have certain dietary restrictions for example) you can leave them out in the garden for the local wildlife. Liquid offerings can be poured out in the ground, etc.

If you simply prefer to discard the offerings, it’s a nice thought to first put them in a different bag and then bin them, instead of tossing them together with the rest of the household waste.

A way to offer foods without the actual foods is to purchase miniatures (like the ones made for doll houses) and offer those instead. This is reminiscent of tomb paintings of food and beverage offerings which had a symbolic value and would nourish the ka of the deceased perpetually.

Things such as jewellery, beads, cosmetics, perfumes, etc. can usually be reverted by giving them a new purpose or use. That compact mirror you offered to Hathor can easily be reverted by using it for divination purposes. Or those beads you offered to Bast can easily be reverted by turning them into charms or incorporating them into talismans and amulets. You can even donate things to charity shops. Use your discernment, be respectful and you should be just fine.

~~~~

Relevant reading:

Kemetic Round Table: Offering Basics

On Offerings

Words of Power for Offering Incense

~~~

Footnotes:

(1) ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 279, Andrey O. Bolshakov

(2) ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 287, Andrey O. Bolshakov

(3) PGM IV. 1265-74 in ‘The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells’, second edition, Hans Dieter Betz

(4)  ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 281-282, Andrey O. Bolshakov

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Recovery

As many of you may have noticed I have been very quiet lately. For those who keep in contact with me on social media as well it hasn’t been a complete mystery as I managed to post an update a while ago. I have had some medical problems from which I have finally recovered (thank the Gods!).

I will refrain from posting details for two reasons: firstly I believe certain medical issues are best left private, and secondly I don’t want to trigger anyone who may have experienced the same. There is no longer any danger and although still a bit weakened, I am able to get back to the usual.

There have been some spiritual implications as well. I have been completely cut off from the spirit realm, I have not been able to sense the Gods or Spirits, my dreams were almost completely absent, the few ones that I have had I could make no sense of. There have been no devotionals, no rituals, nothing. It was all rather quiet.

I will admit it has been very strange as I’m very used to be continuously connected to my spiritual practices. However, even without the strength to even consider much else other than what was physically going on in the present moment, I have not felt alone or despaired at the lack of the spiritual. I was acutely aware of the fact there is a time for everything and that it was the time to focus wholly on the physical and I was certain it will all  come back in due time.

And it’s already happening, step by step. The dreams are coming back and I’m increasingly aware (again) of the spiritual. There will be a ‘top to bottom’ cleanse as I like to call it and then there will be devotionals and the usual bits – including my online activities. I have missed the deadline for the KRT contribution this month but I will post it very soon and will continue as usual every month. Of course, there will be some other posts as well.

So this is my update for now. Many thanks to everyone who has sent a message, said a prayer, lit a candle or had me in their thoughts wishing for a fast recovery. I really appreciate and cherish it all.

Thank you and be blessed always!

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Kemetic Round Table: Living Kemeticism

This month’s topic of the KRT is:

Living Kemeticism: What does living your faith mean to you? How can others bring their religion into their day to day life or live their religion?

 

Seems like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? And the answers will vary from person to person. We are not all the same and we do not live or practice our spirituality in the same way. There might be similarities here and there but in the end, it’s all extremely personal and depends on the individual.

For myself, living my faith entails many things. First and most importantly it means living at peace with myself, the ones around me and the Gods. It means nurturing fulfilling and harmonious relationships. It means helping out others when possible, trying not to be judgemental, being open minded, being aware of my speech and actions. It means continuously learning and becoming a better person. To me all this (and more) means living in ma’at which means living my faith. A sort of ‘walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk’.

It’s living in a certain spiritual awareness one becomes accustomed with over the years, which to be honest is very hard to put in words.

On a usual day I make offerings, even a simple glass of fresh water, incense and light brings me closer to the Gods. I thank Them for all the blessings they have given us and pray for continued protection and guidance. I go about my usual errands and I mostly try to pay attention to my surroundings. Do I see anyone needing help? Help I could offer? I usually help out. Do I see the garden needing taking care of, the birds needing some food, Mr. Fox looking at me hungry? I take care of that. Am I on the verge of an anxiety attack or feel unwell in any way? I try to handle it as best as possible and pray.  Many times just a gaze towards the shrine calms me down and brings me a smile.  And these are just small examples I can give.

Most times it’s in the little things really. I don’t do elaborate rituals every day or anything like that. Yes, I perform many acts of heka, quite often in fact. But not elaborate, complex rituals on a daily basis. Those are reserved for either special occasions or emergencies and they can be very draining.

The only advice I can give for others is go with the flow and take your time. Even small efforts count and they can make you more aware and yes, even feel more fulfilled.  For some it comes easier than for others but that doesn’t mean it’s a competition. Figure out what it means  for you and do things at your own pace.

 

 

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Kemetic Round Table: Underground Kemeticism

For those who don’t know what the Kemetic Round Table is, I would suggest you check out this link first. This is my first post contributing to the project.

The topic is Underground Kemeticism: How public are you about your beliefs and practices? How has it (or not) impacted your work life, your familial and friendly ties? What advice would you give to uncertain Kemetics about how to approach either telling or not telling others about their beliefs?

 

Personally, I’m public about my beliefs and practices. At the moment, there’s few in my family who don’t know that I’m not Christian and haven’t been for years. It hasn’t always been like this though. My transition from a Christian Orthodox upbringing to a Kemetic belief system was a very smooth one in the sense at one point I knew I didn’t believe in Christian dogma any more, that almost nothing the priest said during sermon made much sense to me or sounded right but that everything I read about the ancient Egyptian  Gods and the ancient Egyptian belief system made sense and it echoed with me very deeply. (and that polytheistic systems in general made much more sense to me)

I had been reading and studying about ancient Egypt since I was about 12, it was always a scholarly interest and not necessarily religious. I wasn’t sure what to call what I believed so I was just happy not calling it anything and just seeing where it all took me. Later in life (early twenties) I became accustomed to the online Pagan blogs and sites and to reading about different religions and beliefs. It all started to take shape and I started calling my path very simply ‘The Egyptian Path’. More study and experience led to what has been for years now, a Kemetic who always tries to learn and experiment. At the beginning I even thought that ‘Kemetic’ meant to be a member of the Kemetic Orthodoxy but I learned that wasn’t the case. I can’t give an exact time frame for all of this because it all went so smooth, almost taking shape on its own accord.

It all hasn’t really impacted my family or social life, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by people who don’t care about your religious beliefs as long as you’re a decent human being. I’m usually met with curiosity because it’s all so different and I’m asked what it’s all about. The usual replies I get are ‘Interesting!’. It has been a bit harder to tell my mother only because I feared she’d be somehow disappointed the religious education she gave me didn’t stick. It was hard for her to accept at first and she still presses with Christian Orthodox traditions some times but it’s not because she’s not accepting of me, it’s because she’s still very much invested in her own practices. I even had a few funny situations with a family member (who is Catholic) and he’d say ‘Thank God’ and I’d ask ‘Which one??’ and he’d reply ‘Hey, there’s only one’ and we’d giggle about it. My father in law was happy when he found out I’m not Christian because he was brought up strict Catholic and he hated it growing up and still hates it now. And I realize how blessed I have been because I know other people with non-Christian beliefs who have been brought up with Christian beliefs and who have been met with negative reactions from their family and friends. And I think it’s sad people mistreat others for having different beliefs.

I’ve had the odd raised eyebrow or the ‘What’s that???’ question but nothing that would affect negatively a relationship. And I’m the sort of person who will accept people for who they are and what they believe in and I expect the same from others. If they start preaching how ‘I’m going to Hell’ and such I just keep a distance. I don’t need that in my life. I respect they believe differently and some times even have a respectful conversation but I won’t put up with abuse from anyone. I’m a firm believer in ‘be nice’. Which at times is misinterpreted or met with snark but I frankly don’t care. That’s how I am and I believe in being kind most of all. Which isn’t to say I won’t stand up for myself if needed.

The only advice I can give is: listen to your instincts and do (or don’t do) what you think it’s right. Tell people if you feel its right or don’t if you don’t want to. If you feel your relationships would be strained you don’t have say anything if you’re not asked and if you are asked directly just say you don’t feel comfortable/want/like to talk about it. Nothing should be forced in my opinion. And, after all, we’re different as individuals and we have different family and social environments. What may have worked for one may not be good for another.

 

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Ritual Eye Make-up

Tomb paintings, statues, documents and various artefacts such as kohl tubes, unguent jars and a myriad of make-up containers attest to the widespread use of cosmetics and make-up in Ancient Egypt. Whole chapters and books (especially Lise Manniche’s Sacred Luxuries, a book I will quote from in this post) have been written about this subject.

However I will focus on the ritual/magical use of make-up in Ancient Egypt, in particular eyepaint.

Eye make-up for ritual and magical use is present both in magic for the living and magic for the dead (funerary magic) – especially in the preparation of the body during mummification, and is mentioned in the Book of the Dead.

The ancient Egyptians had two type of eyepaints available: green and black. (Interestingly enough, these are both colours with heavy symbolism attached to them.)*

Green eyepaint was made from malachite, a green carbonate of copper which is found on the surface of copper deposits in Sinai and the Eastern desert. It was used by the Egyptians in the fourth millenium and until the end of the New Kingdom. (1)

Black eyepaint was usually based on galena, a dark grey ore of lead which could easily be extracted from a number of localities in Upper Egypt between Quseir and the Red Sea as well as near Aswan. (2)

Ritual make-up for magic for the living

This we can split into these categories: ritual purity (both in daily cult temple activities and specific magic preparations), magical protection (due to its connections to the Eye of Horus – which is depicted as a fully made-up eye – returned to full health and the Solar Eye – which is personified by various Goddesses – such as Hathor, Sekhmet and Bast, [magical] medicine and offerings.

For ritual purity:

I have actually mentioned this before in this post on ritual purity, required of priests/magicians before either temple activities or various acts of magic. References to this ritual purity requirement are many and are especially found in magical papyri such as the Greek Magical Papyri.

Applying eyepaint was also required as a magical gesture during certain spells/rituals, such as this one:

PGM V 54-69 *Direct vision spell: 

[...]

In a bronze cup over oil. Anoint / your right eye with water from a shipwreck and the left with Coptic eyepaint, with the same water. If you cannot find water from a shipwreck, then from a sunken skiff.  (3)  (note: eyepaints usually came in powder form, requiring a wet medium such as water, oil or fat to be applied)

For magical protection:

Applying eyepaint was considered to  have more than cosmetic value on a day to day basis. It was believed to ward off eye infections and offer magical protection to the eyes against damage and disease.

For magical medicine:

Eye concoctions containing eyepaint (mostly the black one, but also the green was used) are listed in medical and magical papyri as medicines for eye infections or blindness. Usually a mix of eyepaint and animal fats and plant materials are prescribed, together with specific prayers, chants or spells to cure the condition:

The medical papyri contain numerous prescriptions for combatting a variety of eye ailments. Many are  in the form of ointments, and some are specifically called cosmetics remedies. Both black and green eyepaint enters into the remedies, mixed with fatty matter, honey and minerals. (4)

For offerings:

Eyepaint was an accepted (and expected offering) to the Gods. During the morning temple ritual when the statue of the God or Goddess was tended with clothing, perfume, food and jewels, eyepaint was also present in the form of offering along with the rest:

Applying eyepaint was part of the daily cult ritual, either as virtual make-up or in the form of a symbolic offering. It is less well known that offerings in the form of live cows would also wear make-up. [...] If the deity itself is in the shape of a cow, such as Hathor in one of her manifestations, her eye, too, will be shown as a fully made-up eye. (5)

 

Ritual make-up for magic for the dead (funerary magic)

As stated before, this was both part of the mummification process and is mentioned in the spells and instructions of the Book of the Dead. The mummy had to be ritually pure, of course, and the applying of the eye make-up was to this purpose (obviously along with its aesthetic purpose).

Such eyepaint was an essential tool in the process of justification and resurrection of a deceased person. Before presenting himself at the tribunal in the ‘Hall of Justice’ the candidate must purify himself, dress in white garments, make up his eyes and anoint himself. Only then may he enter the realm of Osiris. (6)

Rubric to spell 1 in the Book of the Dead:

The correct procedure in this Hall of Justice. One shall utter this spell pure and clean and clad in white garments and sandals, painted with black eye-paint and anointed with myrrh. [...], and he shall be in the suite of Osiris. A matter a million times true. (7)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I personally use ritual eye make-up while preparing for certain works of heka, I use mainly black eye pencils or liners. I’m not adept at applying it, in fact I tend to draw very unsure lines but making it look all nice isn’t the point, the point is that I try to keep in line with ritual purity requirements. I’m sure other Kemetics use eye make-up for ritual purposes (leave a comment!), of one I know for sure, because she mentioned it here.

I haven’t made any offerings of eye make-up yet because even if it’s such as good idea and it keeps in line with ancient practices, it hasn’t been required. Which is not to say that in the future it won’t be asked of me.

Thankfully nowadays there’s plenty of choice when it comes to it: liquid eye liners, gel eye liners, eyeshadows, pencils….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* On the symbolism of colour you could read up on it on the Shadows of the Sun blog or in an older blog post of mine.

(1) Lise Manniche Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt pg. 136

(2)Lise Manniche Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt pg. 136

(3) Hans Dieter Betz The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells, second edition, pg. 102

(4) Lise Manniche Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt, pg. 137

(5) Lise Manniche Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt, pg. 137

(6) Lise Manniche Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt, pg. 136-137

(7) R. O. Faulkner The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, British Museum, pg. 33-34

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