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