Community in the Kemetic World (Pagan Blog Project 2012 #5)

Maat and the Kemetic value of community

Ma'at and Community

“The reward of one who does something lies in something being done for him. This is considered by god as ma’at.”-Pharaoh Neferhotep, c.1300 BCE

“Ma’at, then, is the principle that forms individuals into communities and that gives their actions meaning and direction by ensuring that good is rewarded and evil punished.

The concept of doing something for one another appears over and over in the texts of the Middle Kingdom, and was clearly so well-defined that it had almost terminological status.

By establishing a connection between doing-something-for-one-another and the human capacity for recollection, these texts further emphasize the temporal dimension of the connectivity brought about by ma’at. The wisdom texts contrast the mindful, just individual with the “covetous one,” who thinks only of himself and needs no memory…”-Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt

Jan Assmann calls this ‘connective justice.’ It’s not simply a trade or repaying favors, it’s observing who has done good for anyone, and doing something for them.

The Pharaoh, administrators, and officials were given the task of protecting the weak and the poor against the strong. Inequality among people was not in the original plan of the universe, as I mentioned in the Coffin Text 1130 post. Officials could not allow their judgments to damage the world further. One of the standard ritual speeches given before opening the doors of the temple includes:

“I have not shown partiality in judgement. I have not consorted with the strong. I have not reproached the lowly.” Richard Reidy – Eternal Egypt

The idea of a functioning community was vital for religious as well as civil reasons (if it’s possible to distinguish between the two!) Even during the First and Second Intermediate Periods, when the Pharaonic system broke down, community re-asserted itself on a local level with a system of patronage.

A ‘solitary Kemetic’ would have been almost inconceivable in ancient times. Stories like the Shipwrecked Sailor and the Story of Sinuhe show the protagonists cut off from their community. They weren’t bold adventurers- they were isolated by misfortune. Sinuhe lost no time in abandoning everything he had in foreign lands, including a wife and children, to rush back to Egypt.

Today, modern Kemetics are few in number and spread throughout the globe. Only a few metropolitan areas can support any sort of regular gathering, and even then it seems like they are smaller gatherings than even the tiniest of storefront Christian churches.

Kemetic Orthodoxy

The House of Netjer (Kemetic Orthodoxy) seems to be the largest group of Kemetics (leaving aside any racial identity organizations,) and it’s my guess that there are fewer than 300 active members. Community is considered to be one of the five pillars of the faith (Ma’at is another.) Much of the community takes place online, by necessity, in its forum, occasional fellowship chats, and online rituals conducted over IRC chat.

I’ve been able to attend two in-person events- a “Seven Arrows of Bast” seminar weekend, and a “Wesir Mysteries” ritual/vigil. Both of them were held at Tawy house in Illinois, and had fewer than 12 attendees- that is the maximum number of people who can stay and attend an event there. The Wep Ronpet (New Years) event is held at a conference hotel, and can have as many as 35 attendees, but it’s out of my budget.

Online, a small core of members are active in the forum and IRC rituals and chat seminars. Total attendance at the rituals and seminars sometimes reaches a high of sixty members. The events are repeated at an earlier time on a different day, because an event that takes place at 8pm Illinois time is 3am for many of the European members!

Most of the time, the active members function as a community. If someone needs help, others will give emotional support, advice, and search for local resources. Like any organization that involves humans, there are occasional lapses of community, and there is always room for improvement.

Kemetic Temple of San Jose and the Temple of Ra

Richard Reidy’s two temples in the San Francisco area are in-person, without much of a net presence. I’m not sure how many members there are. Are there any other local groups that are larger than five members?

Online Communities

There are several other online communities. I give a high recommendation to the Kemetic SIG group on eCauldron because it has some of the most knowledgeable people on it, and its read-only archives are a treasure trove of information as well.  They are strict about quoting someone when you reply, and have a strong moderation policy and an active team of moderators to enforce it. I’ve mentioned the Kemetic Interfaith Network in previous posts. It continues to be an interesting meeting place between Kemetic Orthodox and independent Kemetics. There’s an Egyptian Pagans group on Facebook, and a few groups that are specific to a particular netjer.  Following the Sun is a beginner-friendly board run by Sharon Laborde. She’s been an outspoken critic of Kemetic Orthodoxy, so keep that in mind. She also has a series of videos on youtube. Mystic Wicks also has a Kemetic forum, though it doesn’t get a lot of activity. Finally, for those who can read French (or use an internet translator, or a browser like Chrome,) S.E.M.A.T Ankhty is a French Kemetic forum. It’s fascinating to meet some of the members and see what they’re up to. After all, the French have been doing Egyptology since the time of Napoleon!

The Unitarian Universalist option

Unitarian Universalist logo

Unitarian Universalist

Another option for in-person spirituality is your local Unitarian Universalist church. In fact, you might find it more congenial and accepting than a local pagan group might be. (Some UU churches also have a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans chapter that provides more of a pagan identity within UU.)  I’ve been attending one of the local UU churches for a couple months, and I’m pleased with it.There’s a chance to participate in discussions of spirituality in which everyone respects each others beliefs, which is quite rare in the world today. I joke with the atheists in the church that I raise the average number of gods per member into the thousands just by being there. They do a lot of community and social justice projects that you can get involved in as an offering to Ma’at. I’ll give you updates as this progresses, but you might want to check out any local  UU churches in your area and see what they are like.

What do you do?

In some ways, it seems like community is sorely lacking from modern Kemetic practice. Only a handful of the Kemetic Orthodox members seem to participate on their forum or online events, and the people I’ve met at the in-person events were ones I already knew from the internet. Things seem even worse outside of KO, because there’s no organization encouraging community or setting up a framework for it.

It’s an irony that community often doesn’t play a part in modern Kemetic practice, even though it seems to have been so important in the ancient world. It’s something we can reconstruct a lot more easily than  giant temple complexes, taking our icons on processions down the river, or a host of other things.

What do you do to be part of a community? Does it have a value in your spiritual life? Is it something you’d like to do, but haven’t figured out how?

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

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  • I was wondering when there would be a post that catalogues Kemetic groups and this time sir, you have surpassed yourself! I had no idea about the Unitarian Universalists, and whilst I was aware of some of the other groups, having them all outlayed in a post like this has given me great perspective.

    Your discussion about community has provoked some thought. I attempted (through KIN) to see if it was worth establishing some kind of (online, not personal) contact with others in my city, but the response has been a little tepid.

    I love the internet and what it has brought to our world. I have seen and found GREAT things through being online – and some not so great things. I think the internet gives licence to individuals that they may not otherwise enjoy in the real physical world, and this sometimes affects their perspective and ability to be honest and real about who they are and what they do. I think in these instances that "community" is less important than how they get to meet their own needs, which in most cases is about ramming their opinions down your throat and "proving" that they are "right". For this reason, I limit my interaction online beyond polite discussion.

    My practice is very private. I express it through my artistic work and sometimes through wearing jewellery. This usually ends up in my blog but is beginning to find ways outside of it now (for example, I am making sculpture for more people, and recently made a piece for a KO member that likes my work).

    I do have an interest in community (and in some ways envy yours), but part of my modern approach – at this time – is to remain solo and independant.

    Again, thanks for your great posts!

  • I really like your suggestion to try a UU church! I myself often wish for a closer community setting, and while I do enjoy the internet community for the most part, I would enjoy being around others in person. And of course, like you, I simply can't afford the cost to make it to Wep Ronpet. 🙂 Great post, I love reading the things you have to say!

  • Sa Hu-Sia-Heka

    In my last post I failed to flesh out some helpful information about the three temples that I am somewhat familiar with. Each of these temples has strict membership requirements. Any candidate for membership must read a number of books, answer specific questions about those books, meet regularly with that temple's moderator or sponsoring member, successfully complete homework assignments, write a final research paper, and finally be interviewed by the entire membership of the temple. Depending on the applicant's schedule, this may stretch over 4 to 6 months. The temple then votes on the applicant's suitability for membership. The member is formally admitted to membership during a ritual in which the applicant makes a pledge before the gods with a number of assertions/promises. All members are required to attend all monthly rituals unless there is sickness, family emergency, or serious reason for an absence. All members participate fully in all aspects of ritual. There is no single member who does the ritual by him or herself. Every member recites portions of the ritual, does the various ritual actions, helps in setting up (which begins at 10 a.m.) and cleaning up. Responsibility for food and beverage offerings are shared equally by all members. Food and beverage assignments are rotated monthly so everyone eventually get a chance to contribute every sort of food offering. My own temple, that of San Jose, gathers each month at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, shares a small repast. Then after members put on their ritual robes, we have a guided meditation about some aspect of the ritual we are about to enact. This helps us focus on what we are going to do. Then we begin by softly shaking sistra for a few minutes and eventually process into the room set up for the ritual. After ritual, we take the food offerings out of the temple area and enjoy a wonderful feast. We rotate the homes of some members each month who kindly offer their home for the day. While we are enjoying our meal together, we hold a discussion on some book or article we had read in preparation for the day. We also might work on a project together. Typically we adjourn by 5 or 6 o'clock. It's a long day, but a very fulfilling one. As you can see, membership in our San Jose temple requires a real commitment, not solely with regular attendance but also with readings and projects for the temple. We want to make sure that anyone joining our temple will play a consistent and active role in temple activities. Some applicants find that such requirements are not for them. But for those of us in the temple our membership plays a nurturing role in our spiritual lives. Our temple is interested in having as members men and women who are willing to work at the upbuilding of maat thru sacred ritual, study, discussion, and a variety of projects. Our rituals are compiled from ancient source-texts, with no additions from any other spiritual tradition. That is not to say that other traditions are not as good as ours. It is just that we want to revive the rituals and religion of Kemet. I hope this information can help anyone who wants to start a temple group. We have the beginnings of a website at http://www.kemetictemple .org. Please feel free to write to us privately at the email addresses given there. We would be glad to assist anyone who may want to establish their own working temple. By the way, both the temple of Ra and the Colorado temple have more members than I was aware of. For the temple of Ra there are several dozen members who, because they live far away from San Francisco, still participate in the temple's scheduled rituals and projects. If you want more information, you can contact Richard Reidy at rjreidy@hotmail.com.

  • Richard Reidy

    Hi . Thanks for asking about our temples. I will speak a bit about the Temple of Ra. We were founded 14 years ago and have every month since our founding celebrated rituals at least once per month. In the early years we held ritual twice a month but after a couple years we found that busy work schedules required that we meet only once per month. Most of us also do our own rituals, abbreviated ones, every day. Since I am a servant-priest of Ra, I do daily ritual for Him without fail. I feel extremely blessed to have gathered together a fantastic group of members who are very serious about Kemetic Reconstructionist ritual. Although our temple is dedicated to Ra, we do complete rituals for other Netjeru—Amun-Ra, Amun, Ra-Horakhty, Sekhmet, Neith, Aset, Ausir, Khonsu, Heru, Setekh, Djehuty, Sobek, and Wepwawet. This keeps us very busy throughout the year. Our temple uses a standard template for a ritual (based on ancient texts), but we modify it according to the Netjer being served. So we have had to research the mythology of each Netjer, search out His/Her specific epithets, and incorporate ancient hymns or prayers to that Netjer. Since so many ancient temples have been destroyed down to their foundations, with relatively few temples still intact, we have had to recreate rituals for some specific Netjeru in the knowledge that the form used in ancient times in the great temple at Karnak was emulated, but not slavishly copied, for the rituals of other temples. We follow this model.
    In my book Eternal Egypt I present three such rituals: for Sekhmet, Djehuty, and Setekh. The book also has other rituals as well with detailed explanations for each element in a ritual. Typically such a ritual takes a solid hour. We also very frequently work heka at a certain point in the rite. This may extend the ritual by about 30 minutes or more. Since we repeat the format for many of those monthly rituals, members are very familiar with the elements of the rite. For us this helps us really focus on the words and ritual actions. Before ritual we have a guided meditation in order to help us focus on what we are about to do. In ancient times the priests had extensive preparations and were accompanied by chantresses. All this helped create the right mindset in participants. Today we need to improvise in order to help us focus. That’s the intent of our guided meditation.
    After ritual, the food offerings revert and we share a great meal. During this time we hear book reports and discuss spiritual matters concerning the Kemetic path. We also have persons who live too far away to attend our rituals. It’s my job to maintain contact with them, help them with their own studies, and alert them to rituals that the temple will be performing on any given day. Some of those folks actually do the ritual at the same time or at least on the same day. If anybody wants more information, I hope you will drop me a note at rjreidy@hotmail.com.