Bathtime! (Pagan Blog Project 2012 #4)

The Importance of Ritual Bathing in Kemetic Practice

Wash before doing a ritual. In fact, do a ritual for washing! That’s the usual Kemetic practice. Before giving some specifics, let’s take a look at the reasoning behind it.

Ritual is something that follows a pattern, and it’s done on a regular or semi-regular basis. Perhaps you have a ritual for turning on your computer for the day. You might check a main email first, then another, then check a couple forums and social networks like Facebook, etc. Maybe check what the weather is supposed to be. Do you start up a music player too? If we do things in a certain order it can help us to make sure we don’t leave out any important steps. The same thing’s true for a religious ritual. Prayer, on the other hand, can be more free-form. Asking a deity for something, thanking them, praising them, etc. It’s like phoning them to say hello. In this post we’re talking about rituals, but that’s not the only way to contact the netjer* (gods).

Why wash and purify before a ritual? To understand that, we’ll have to take the path to where Kemetic theology gets mind-bendy! Especially  when we’re used to Christianity and other Abrahamic religions. Humans and gods were created out of the same stuff! We’re not gods, but we’re closely related. There’s no original sin, and we weren’t made out of leftover dirt or spare ribs. The gods aren’t all-powerful either. They’re engaged in a constant struggle to keep this universe from being pulled back into the nothingness-potential of the Nuun and the extinction of all identity. They’re pretty busy, and they could use our help.

To interact with the netjer in ritual, to elevate yourself closer to their level, you purify yourself both physically and mentally. The concept isn’t unique to ancient Egypt. Depending on the sect, it’s found in Judaic, Islamic, Bahá’í, Shinto, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. You even see an echo of it in Roman Catholic practice- people dip their fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross. You could also think of baptism as a ritual purification.

In Kemetic practice, purification takes two forms, mental/magical and physical. The former is done by declaring that you are fit to contact the netjer. Heka, the Egyptian concept of magic, involves Hu, authoritative speech, and Sia, perception and wisdom. You say the words with confidence (the Hu part), knowing that they are true in an otherworldly way (the Sia.) You leave behind pettiness, jealousy,  hatred, whatever would otherwise make you unworthy. In some cases you declare yourself to be one of the gods! This isn’t an ego trip, it connects you to that Zep-Tepi morning-of-the-universe time, and aligns your speech and actions with that reality.

Here’s an example from the Utterance Before the Closed Doors of the Temple, from the Morning Ritual in the Temple of Amun-Ra, given in Richard Reidy’s Eternal Egypt:

“O you Netjeru [gods] of this temple, you guardians of the great portal, great Netjeru of mysterious abode, who sanctify the god in his shrine, who consecrate his oblation, who receive the offerings in his presence in the Hall of the Ennead: I have made my way and I enter into your presence. I am one of you.

I am Shu, the eldest son of his father, the senior wab [pure] priest of Amun-Ra. Do not repulse me on the god’s path. My feet are not impeded. I am not turned back from the court of the great portal so that I may conduct the divine service, that I may present offerings to him that made them, that I may give bread to Amun-Ra.

I have come on the way of the god. I have not shown partiality in judgement. I have not consorted with the strong. I have not reproached the lowly. I have not stolen things. I have not diminished the constituents of the Eye of Ra. I have not disturbed the balance. I have not tampered with the requirements of the Sacred Eye.

O Council of the Great Netjer [god] in this temple, behold, I have come to you to offer Ma’at to the Lord of Ma’at, to content the Sound Eye for its lord. I am Shu; I flood his offering table. I present his offerings, Sekhmet consorting with me, that I may adore Amun-Ra at his festivals, that I may kiss the earth so great is his majesty, that I may endow his image with life. I am pure. I am purified.”

Other examples from Eternal Egypt include the Morning Rite for Bathing:

“I, [name,] am a child of Ra. I am a child of the Lord of Life, Lord to the Limit. I am created from the tears of the Eye of Ra. As Ra bathes in the waters of the Lake of Rushes, so now do I bathe in the waters of the Lake of Rushes. As Ra I am purified and cleansed. As Ra I am renewed and rejuvenated…”

and the Divine Identifications of the Body:

“My hair is the hair of Nun, the Primordial one;

my face is the face of Ra, Lord of Life;

my eyes are the eyes of Hwt-Hrw (Hathor,) Lady of Jubilation;

my ears are the ears of Wepwawet, Opener of the Way; …”

Kemetic Orthodoxy gives a modern rite for members, called Senut, and it also starts out with a ritual purification. It can be found in the Rev. Tamara Siuda’s Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook, and is also given to people who take the Kemetic Orthodox beginners class.

The blessing for the water begins by calling on the goddess Tayet, a goddess of weaving and purification, as well as Ptah, Heru (Horus,) Set, and Nit. It concludes with the words:

“My fetters are untied by Heru, my bonds are undone by Set. I am pure, my Netjer is pure, and I will not succumb to evil.”

You also bless your natron before mixing it into the water. Natron is a salt compound found in Egypt, and it was used in mummification as well as purification. As I mentioned in the “made out of the same stuff” link above, natron and water are two things that connect us to the gods. The natron blessing declares that it is pure (four times, for completion,) assigns the natron to four important gods, and ends with:

“My mouth is the mouth of a milking calf between the thighs of my mother Aset (Isis) on the day that She gave birth to me.”

This last statement is essentially declaring that you are Heru (Horus)!!! I do a daily Senut rite, but I also do occasional rites and projects outside of that context, using Reidy’s book or other sources. Here are some photos of the equipment I use:

Pure water

Here’s the water- I hold it up as I bless it. I use a plastic bowl, even though some might quibble about using plastic since it’s made out of dead plankton or other animal life. That’s a bit illogical because cooked meat is an acceptable offering. Many people also use resin statues on their shrines, and the same thing would be true for resin. Since I shower instead of using a bathtub, I’m concerned about dropping a glass or clay bowl when my feet are bare. Practicality wins out.

Home-made natron
They don’t export natron from Egypt, so you have to make your own. You mix equal parts of salt and baking soda, dissolve it in water and cook it down. All of a sudden it sets up solid, within a second or two. There are a lot of tricks to making natron without making a mess. When I made mine, I saw a recipe that used two cups of salt and two cups of baking soda. I didn’t think of cutting the recipe back to a smaller batch, so I ended up with two quarts! If there is humidity in the air, the salt will deliquesce, or draw water to itself and re-liquify. The canning jars make good airtight containers. As you can see, I’ve almost used half.
Natron for the day.

The Kemetic Orthodox instructions mention using “ten grains” of natron, but how much is that, really? It depends on how finely you grind it up. This is about how much I use.


Adding the natron to the water.

After blessing the natron, I add it to my water. You use a bit of it like mouthwash, swishing it around in your mouth and spitting it out. Then you’d add the rest to your bathwater if you were taking a bath, or touch some to the other openings in your body (nostrils, eyes, ears, navel, genitals, and anus.) You bathe or shower as you regularly would. I shower with soap, then apply the natron and rinse off. While doing this, you should think of all those unworthy thoughts and mental habits being washed away. “I am  pure, I am pure, I am pure, I am pure!”


Basket with my ritual robe.

After drying off, I put on a white cotton galabiya, which I don’t use for any other purpose. Having a white natural-fiber robe or other garment is ideal, but something like that can be hard to find for men, unless you order one online from someplace that sells Muslim clothing. If you can’t find something right away, you can use something clean and basic- don’t let that keep you from doing a ritual. In my case, I got tired of looking and decided to use a dark bathrobe with a graphpaper pattern that I wasn’t using for anything else. Within two days, my wife found the white galabiya in my size for a couple dollars at a rummage sale. I wonder if the netjer said “We’re glad to see him, but for gosh sakes find something decent for him to wear!”

Now I’m ready for ritual!
After the shower I’m ready to set out the offerings and start my daily ritual. I try to keep that feeling of purification and worthiness as I begin my prelude: “I am Shu! I have come to perform this rite for the netjer, mighty of heka power!”
This year I’m participating in the Pagan Blog Project 2012. The object is to write a post every week for it, two for each letter of the alphabet.

Pagan Blog Project 2012

I’ve recently heard that the term “netjer,” meaning god or gods, is both singular and plural. It’s similar to “fish”- “I caught a fish.” “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” (ed. this is wrong!) 😉

Anup01w02/09/2013- I’m also tagging this for The Kemetic RoundTable, a cooperative blog project. Every two weeks we’ll give our answers to a different question to help people to get started. The links for each question will be given in a post on the KRT website, building a beginner-friendly resource.

We hope that the variety of answers and approaches to each question will help dispel some of the fear and anxiety that newbies often feel, and help promote a more harmonious Kemetic community. If you’re interested in helping, you can learn more here.

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  • syncreticmystic

    Helms, what an AMAZING post you have done here. I'm going to share it on my own blog too.Senebty,Zat

  • Banu

    Nice post, Helmsman! I like the layout, too.

    As a student of Middle Egyptian language, I'd like to say that netjer is actually not a collective noun and the word "netjer" is in fact singular and masculine. 🙂 In the Wisdom Literature references were often made about practices performed for "the netjer," however the sense there was that these were things done for Whoever was the primary god of the area; it was still a singular noun, and you were either supposed to know the netjer of Whom the original author was speaking, or insert the name of the primary god of the area in which you found yourself at the moment. The House of Netjer also sometimes uses Netjer as a collective term as an expression of their concept of monolatry–all gods being emanations of one god. I also sometimes use Netjer in a collective sense to parallel the way that Man is sometimes used collectively in English, however this is done taking literary license as it is not the original meaning of the term.

    The plural form of netjer is netjeru, the corresponding feminine nouns are netjeret (singular) and netjerut (plural). My reference is James P. Allen's Middle Egyptian Grammar, but other grammars and dictionaries will confirm this as well.

  • picklewalsh

    amazing post 🙂 love the bowl