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Already in Salt Lake City we could see that the sun was moving away towards a darker time of the year, even against the dazzling sunset backdrop of mountain peaks in the distance. I had dreamed since 1993 of attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions, not realizing that I would have taken on a whole new religious identity by the time I got to attend my first one this October. So immersed had I become in that path that I was invited to play the role of Isis in a ceremony honoring many of the traditional goddesses who have been worshiped around the world, from Amaterasu to Kali to Oshun and Brigid. Read more about Goddesses Alive here. For each of us costumed as a goddess, including a fabulous mask by noted artist Lauren Raine, there was no script. Our task was to be the goddess while narrators and music set the ambience for an audience sitting in the round.
In the weeks leading up to this performance I was focused on logistics: my first wig (think Donna Summer); jewelry, robe, choreography. I will not in this lifetime ever again resemble the willowy figure of Egyptian paintings, and I had no intention of wearing a tight, transparent sheath, so I opted for a shimmering loose caftan. Then two days before our flight I fell, twisting and breaking my ankle. Choreography would be limited to arm gestures and it was anyone’s guess whether I would be able to perform sans wheelchair....
Africans look to the past with hope for the future. Japanese and Korean musicians come together to heal the rift between their countries. And the U.N. releases its findings from a commission on war crimes in Sri Lanka. Today's Fiery Tuesday, our weekly segment on political and social news from around the world. All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!
An Egyptian student struggles to make her voice heard in a corrupt system. Hindus in America are denied the opportunity to enshrine their religious symbols beside those of Christianity. And a comparison is made between the dystopia depicted in Children of Men and Europe's ongoing refugee crisis. It's Fiery Tuesday, our weekly take on political and social issues from around the world. All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!
Dua, Maat, you who were with Ra from the beginning.
Mistress of the two lands, Lady of truth, dua, hail and welcome....
We traveled up the Nile to visit some of ancient Egypt’s primary cult centers in the last post. Since that time, the star Sopdet (Sirius) has begun to show herself at the horizon just before dawn. This tells us that Isis has been weeping for her murdered husband Osiris, and soon her tears will cause the annual Nile flood.
With the inundation comes the end of Shemu, the dry season. As the flood waters recede we find ourselves in the season of Akhet. We can see the fields full of rich black silt left behind by the flooding river; the farmers sow seed now, knowing crops will flourish as they grow in the fertile black ground....
Spirituality does not have to involve the beings that we call gods, but Egypt left the world a rich legacy of as many as two thousands netjeru to contemplate and with whom we might enjoy relationships. So the gods are a good next step to take when building an Egyptian spiritual practice.
Because there are roughly four thousand years of time and people and history and local deities mushed together under the label “Egyptian,” you can take years and years yourself to study the netjeru, their various manifestations, stories and names. Most of what we know today is about the gods who were once venerated by the ruling dynasties. But with the exception of Akhenaten, the Egyptians never felt the need to eliminate or even denigrate a netjer that they did not follow. In fact, they often, over time, brought together two or more deities in a new combined form which acknowledged the commonalities of the individual gods while recognizing and preserving their distinct identities. Hence emerged Ra-Horakhty, Amun-Ra, Ptah-Sokar, Sekhmet-Bast, etc.
At the risk of vastly oversimplifying, here is a run-down of the primary divine groups. Each has a claim to its antiquity, so I will make no claims about who came first.
Sailing up the Nile, just past the Delta, one first encounters Heliopolis, center of the powerful cult of the sun-god Ra. No one knows when humans began to venerate Ra, but he is vital to and interwoven with the mythology of most other well-known netjeru.
Not far from Heliopolis is Memphis, the cult center of Ptah, creator god associated with the arts, craftsmanship, mining, his consort Sekhmet, and their son Nefertem. Ptah creates with “the heart and the tongue,” rather than with the phallus. We find him mentioned during the 1st Dynasty in the Pyramid Texts. Ptah is much later aligned with the gods Ra and Amun by the 25th Dynasty Nubian ruler Shabaka, who codified what is called the Memphite Theology. At Osireion we connect Ptah with the earth, and with patiently creating the world we wish to live in. Sekhmet is a fiery goddess whose very name means power.
Moving further south along the Nile we pass by the site that would for only a few years be the center of a short-lived cult called Atenism. While Akhenaten tried his best to wipe out the old gods during his reign over Egypt, he became much-hated for it. Ironically, his efforts to establish a cult to an abstract disc which only the pharaoh could touch were replaced after his death by a period of increased personal devotion and piety by rulers. The Egyptians tried to forget Akhenaten and his sterile god; when they did remember, they called him the “Great Heretic.”
Continuing south we reach the ancient city of Abydos, center of the cult of Osiris. Archaeologists continue to find important graves of unknown rulers at this traditional royal necropolis. The temple building called the Osireion is attached to the Temple of Sety at Abydos. Osiris is part of a group of nine netjeru: the primordial Atum who masturbated to produce creation; Shu, god of air, and Tefnut, goddess of moisture; their children, the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut; and their children, Isis, Osiris, Set and Nephthys. We know Osiris as the god of birth, death and rebirth, of fertility and transformation. His sister-wife Isis is one of the world’s great beloved mother goddesses, a skilled magician and consummate mother and wife.
Around the bend in the river still further to the south is Thebes, another ancient capital and the cult home of Amun, the hidden one, and basis for the word “Amen.” Amun created a set of four gods in the form of frogs and snakes (potent symbols of birth and regeneration), plus four more deities, including Djehuti (Thoth) and the all-important Maat. Amun’s consort is the lion-headed Mut, a goddess of death whose name is the word for “mother.” Their son is Khonsu, a lunar god.
Scholars have argued for centuries about whether the Egyptians were monotheistic, seeing one god as many, or polytheistic, seeing the many gods as essentially one, or simply pantheistic (everything is a god). We do know that they were henotheistic, meaning that their worship of Osiris was not threatened by knowing the next village over venerated Khenty-imentiu.
Early European Egyptologists also held a superior attitude to the civilization which, after all, worshiped gods with animal heads! But the visible form of the gods was merely a reflection of their personality and role in the cosmos, not a literal form.
Once you open your life to the possibility of a relationship with the netjeru, they will most likely show themselves to you. More on that in the next Ankh Life post.