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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.
The witches of the world have gathered for their annual meeting, Boss Witch (Martha Ray) presiding. Doesn't she look absolutely hideous in her hornëd hennin?
And who else could belt out the witches' anthem like the incomparable Witch Hazel (Mama Cass Eliot)? Now is that a witch or what?
Über-kitsch, you say? Not quite your cup of hemlock tea, perhaps?
Well, it managed to get this little gay warlock boy through the horrors of junior high, thank you very much.
So you can just go to Heaven.
In my Reclaiming Witch Tradition we have just marked the Solstice, Summer in the Northern Hemisphere where I live, and the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It is now the time when the North turns back toward the sacred dark, and the South toward the sacred light. This cycle in the Earth's annual journey around the Sun gives each hemisphere an opportunity to revel in long days and short nights - a chance to play in the Sun, and see clearly what world work needs to be done by the bright light of day. It gives each hemisphere an opportunity to reflect in long nights and short days - a chance to slow down and "cozy in" and mend and repair and heal.
Last December shortly after the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, I came across a poem by one of my favorite Reclaiming Witch poets/writers, Gerri Ravyn Stanfield, called “bold dark hymn” that made me begin to rethink my own use of the language of “light” and “dark.” It made me begin to examine my own use of image and metaphor through the perspective of what has been going on in my country, The USA, as we continue to struggle with the legacy of slavery and the continued violence of racism. This link will take you to the poem on her blog http://www.gerriravynstanfield.com/a-bold-dark-hymn/...
Some Southern Pagans, have criticized comments I made elsewhere on W&P and on Patheos supporting removing the Confederacy’s battle flag from all public displays in the South. They thought I unfairly maligned Southern culture by saying it was inextricable from racism. Some thought I must not know anything about the South. For the record I was born in Southwest Virginia, raised in the half-Southern state of Kansas with relatives whose views ranged from a relatively benign racism to endorsing Southern slavery. For much of my life I frequently visited my Virginia and Arkansas relatives. I am not a Southerner, but I have fairly substantial experience with Southern culture, usually in a positive context. That experience plus their defense of the Confederacy's battle flag as a symbol of Southern culture has led to this post, dedicated to Southern Pagans....
Oh gods. Yet another ex-Christian wants to tell me who Jesus really was.
(There's no mistaking them. Oh, they may call themselves something else now, but their first and foremost identity is Ex, with a capital X: the Jesus obsession gives them away every time.)
I've seen the scholarship. (It's hard for anyone in the field of religion to avoid seeing it.) The scholars agree on virtually nothing. Over the years, I've drawn three conclusions of my own.