Dedication (Pagan Blog Project 2012 #8)

The ancient Egyptians went to a lot of trouble for their religion. Herodotus certainly thought so, and said they were “religious to a higher degree than any other people.”

Karnak in 1914, Cornell Library via Wikimedia.

The temple complex at Karnak, dedicated to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, covered 200 acres. It’s one of the largest religious sites in the world. There were other huge temples up and down the Nile. They were built of stone, when the pharaoh’s palace was built of common mud brick. It’s even more amazing when you remember that they weren’t big for the same reasons a cathedral, church or mosque is: housing a large congregation. Only the outer courtyards of the temples were spaces that could be visited by people who weren’t priests. We’re used to the idea of people coming together to pray and engage in communal worship. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the idea that these structures were meant to impress the gods and serve their needs, not those of  man.

Main gate at Karnak. Those dots are people!

It’s said that the Karnak temple complex employed as many as eighty-one thousand people. Of course, most of them were not priests, and very few of the priests would have performed rituals in the main sanctuary. The resources needed to feed and support this many people in the ancient world would have been staggering. And this was just one temple complex!

Ramesses II Temple procession

Inside these temples, rituals were performed every day in the main and subsidiary shrines. Rites to wake up the gods presence in the icons every morning. Rites to curse the enemies of the King and the enemies of Ma’at. Rites of praise, rites of offering, rites to celebrate the holidays. These rituals connected with the eternal gods, so they needed to be unchanging. They were written down and meticulously copied, and chiseled into the temple walls. Some icons were taken in procession to visit distant shrines of other gods, some a hundred miles away, every year. This went on for thousands of years, evolving, growing, weathering the occasional invasion or setback.

…then boom.

After successive takeovers by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans,  the Egyptians saw the rich bounty of their land shipped overseas. An afterlife that promised the continuation of the best things in life didn’t seem as compelling when they were under the conqueror’s thumb. A new religion promised that the hated enemies would suffer eternal torment. Christianity gradually took over, ironically becoming the official religion of the imperial invader. The last, far-flung “outpost” temple at Philae was closed  by the Byzantine emperor in the sixth century. Temples were systematically defaced by the Christians, then the Muslims.

…then not much of anything.

NASA satellite image of Aswan High Dam

NASA satellite image of Aswan High Dam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For almost 1,500 years the Netjeru were ignored. There was the occasional mention of “Thoth, the Hermes of Egypt” or Nuit in Hermetic and other initiatory traditions, but the Greeks who established them couldn’t read hieroglyphs, hieratical texts, or even speak the Egyptian language, apparently. The whole thing became a cosmic game of telephone, becoming more unrecognizable with each telling.

Finally, in 1970, the Aswan Dam was completed, putting an end to the cycle of inundation and rebirth that stretched back to prehistoric times. Was this the final wake-up call for the Netjeru, a signal that something needed to change if they wanted an earthly connection beyond a footnote in an art history text?

Where does that leave you and me?

As Kemetic reconstructionists/revivalists, there’s no way we can match the goodies provided by a state-sponsored religion, fueled by the yearly biomass bounty of the Nile. We adapt what we can of the old texts and rituals, and we’re beginning to piece together some shards of the Onion Hoer religion of the ancient 99.99%.

I’ve heard a few people claim that the temples and rituals were mere window-dressing, that the “true master” can connect directly without the needs of such trappings. This doesn’t ring true when you look at the care that was lavished on the Netjeru and their offerings.

What do we offer? “Every good and pure thing upon which a god lives” is the traditional formula. Most of us stand on our heads to try and think of something original and different to offer the gods. I even helped write the facetious Great Netjer Soda Guide, though the Kemetic Offering Guide written by Devo is a much more useful resource.

But, considering all the trouble Egyptians went to for their religion, one offering comes to mind that we can do, doesn’t take a lot of cash, doesn’t involve lifting stone building blocks, and won’t make us weigh more when we revert and eat it:

Dedication!

If you’re Kemetic Orthodox, do you do Senut every day? Every week? Once a month, even? If you’re independent or from another Kemetic tradition, do you do regular rituals and offerings in that? Sometimes we just can’t do a ritual, but most of the time we get out of the habit, and a missed day turns into a missed week, then a missed month.

Why not break that cycle?

Pagan Blog Project 2012

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  • When I can’t doe ritual for whatever reason, I try and leave an offering or burn some candle for Them or I offer what I sit down for a meal.

    • I was surprised to read that some priests, who were supposed to be doing rituals for over an hour a day, went into long slumps when they weren't doing anything. They were honest enough to admit it, and in at least some of the cases they had asked for a leave of absence from their priestly duties.
      It's not easy. But even doing something small and simple means a lot IMO.

  • RaasAlHayya

    This is a great post! I agree that our dedication is valuable. In serving NTR we aren't just going along with what everyone else is doing…it takes effort to seek Them out.

    • Thanks Raas! In some ways, this is a very new religion, isn't it? Everything hasn't been hashed over for generations.

  • SatSekhem

    This. This. This. This. This. I don't think I can say it enough.

    I get so caught up in the things that I forget that they're just things. While I enjoy the whole act of wracking my head for possible offerings, I really need to stop. It's fine and dandy to hand things over, but really all They want are my attention and my devotion. This is a lesson that I have to relearn, like, every six months. But maybe one day, it'll stick.

    • I've gone though the very same thing. It took forever for me to get started because I couldn't find a white cotton garment to wear. They don't stock things like that for guys in stores, not even a white terry bathrobe.

      It's easy to let the 'things' stop us. And we can look at all the amazing things the ancient Egyptians did and freeze up. There's no way we can match that! Looked at another way, all the things boiled down to dedication. And that IS something we can do, even if it's a candle, incense, and cool water, or a daily prayer.

  • Raincloud

    Great post! The religious Dedication of the Ancient Egyptians is what has really drawn me to the pantheon of Gods. Ever since I encountered a copy of the Book of the Dead in Papyrus. I really like your suggestion about dedication. Blessed Be!

  • This post articulates something I think about often rather concisely: "what happened to the Netjeru and why did they go away?"

    I believe there is a clue to Their remanifestation now in the words you have written here, and I think our modern practice / interpretation is evolving very much toward recognising Them in ourselves. (No italics options available for comments so if there was, the words "Them" and "ourselves" would be italicized for emphasis). The window dressing that you mention (also suggested by the likes of Schwaller de Lubicz) pertains to this.