Wednesday, February 15, 2012

B is for - Being Kemetic Ain't Easy

I am a member of one of the most ancient religions in the world. My faith has survived for millennia and still thrives to this day. In other words, I am what is called a “Kemetic.” Kemetics follow the ancient Egyptian religion. We follow Sekhmet, Ptah, Ra, Horus, and the other Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians were known for being ritualistic and very strict about purity, a fact that has carried over into the modern day practices. It is difficult to be committed to being Kemetic due to strict rules about purity, lack of materials locally, and other problems.

Kemetic Orthodoxy is a modern version of the ancient Egyptian faith. Followers of the Kemetic Orthodox faith are simply called “Kemetics.” The word Kemetic is derived from the word “Kemet,” which means Egypt in the ancient Egyptian language. Kemetics are a wide group of people across the world all believing in similar, but different, traditions and following the same God. Kemetic Orthodoxy is a monolatrous faith, meaning that we believe in God as One and Many Beings all at the same time. This concept of monolatry is very similar to Christianity’s concept of the Holy Trinity.

I was raised Christian, but over my childhood years I’d always harbored a not-so-secret and deep fascination with everything involving the culture, country, and language of ancient Egypt. The rituals, the long, mantra-like prayers, the shimmering golden statues with dark obsidian eyes that seem to watch your every move – all these things drew me in like the event horizon of a black hole. Everything involving Egypt fascinated me and still does to this day. From the feeling of scalding sand beneath your feet, to the smell of the sun’s heat on the acrid, dry air as you stare off into the blazing sunset over the western bank of the Nile, my heart was captured at a young age. This deep love led to my conversion to Kemetic Orthodoxy at the age of 16.
Kemetic Orthodoxy is a belief system based on 5 pillars. Those pillars are the Nisut (or King), the community, the Akhu (the ancestors), Ma’at (truth and balance), and Senut. These five pillars make up the core belief system of Kemetic Orthodoxy and are at the heart of Kemetic practice modern day in the United States and across the world. Each of these pillars brings with it rules and guidelines.

In Kemetic Orthodoxy there are very specific rules and rituals that each believer must strive to adhere to as part of our faith. One of the most important rituals required of Kemetics is what is called “Senut.” Senut is specific to Kemetic Orthodoxy and is not widespread amongst the other branches of Kemeticism. Senut is a daily ritual meant to connect the follower more closely with God and the community. It is a solitary practice designed to commence at dawn, as the sun rises and a new day is begun. Part of its purpose is to greet the new day and thank God for the opportunity to experience another chance at life. Like all rituals in the Egyptian tradition, there are very specific materials, steps, and procedures to follow. The most important of which for senut is a material called “natron.”

Natron is a white, grainy substance that naturally washes up on the shore in Egypt near the delta, where the salty ocean waters collide and mingle with the cool, fresh water of the life-bringing Nile. It is illegal to export true natron from the country, and as such, Kemetics must rely on themselves to make their own natron for senut. The process for making natron is fairly simple, or so it would seem on paper. Simply mix one part sea or kosher salt, and one part baking soda, with just enough water to barely cover the mix. Then you boil it down to a thick, mucous like consistency. Spread the opaque concoction across a cookie sheet and let it bake until it is solid and completely dry. Home-made natron turns into a solid white powder when baked properly and broken down. That seems simple enough, right?

As I quickly learned, it is imperative that you watch the natron every few minutes while it bakes. It only takes a few extra moments to burn the natron. Burnt natron looks absolutely horrible. If not careful enough, you will end up with a solid half inch to inch thick mass of what looks like an illicit drug once burnt. Not to mention it’s shaped like a cookie sheet. So, imagine a solid sheet of white rock that is about fourteen inches long by eight inches wide and a solid ½” deep. Now comes the fun part – getting the natron off of the aforementioned cookie sheet. When done right, it should be as simple as smacking the back of the cookie sheet to knock the natron off gently and then snapping the sheet into decently sized bits. About two hours, a hammer, a bent butter knife, and two spoons later, the natron had been beaten, scraped, and scooped off the cookie sheet so that it could be broken down into manageable sized pieces, about 1” square. These bits of natron were prepared ahead of time for the daily ritual known as senut.

Yet another problem with being Kemetic is privacy and space. In order to practice senut, you need a place to perform the ritual. This place that is set aside and designated for space and time for God is most often referred to as a shrine or altar. A shrine is usually covered with a pure, all-natural white linen cloth and decorated with statues of and gifts for the Gods. They range from extremely simple and beautiful to exorbitant and expensive.

Building a shrine is easy - you can use the top of any dresser or bookshelf for a shrine. Having pets and a shrine is not as easy, however. Cats love to sleep wherever they are not allowed, so, of course, it was not a surprise to come home to find at least one cat curled around a brilliant blue, and very delicate, statue of the Goddess Bast – matron of cats and the home. Luckily nothing was broken, but about half the shelf of the shrine had been knocked down, littering the floor with precious statues of Gods and Goddesses of every kind. I had to take time out to re-consecrate and clean all the statues as well as remove the fur, that had been so gleefully shed, from the shrine before senut.

Senut is a strictly pure ritual. Before one can begin senut, one must use the natron that was previously prepared for a process of ritual bathing to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit in preparation for spending time with God. When practicing senut, everything is specifically designed to be the purest it can be. Your clothes must be clean, pressed all-natural white linen, your shoes must be reserved for the shrine only and never used outside, if you wear any. Even the incense and candles must be made of materials deemed pure and free of manufactured chemicals. Within this ritual an adherent must light candles and incense as well as prepare offerings of food and trinkets or sometimes resplendent gifts for the Gods.

During one ritual of senut I was preparing to offer some meat and a blade. My clothes were crisply clean and whispered with my every movement as the fibers rustled together. My nostrils were filled with the heady scent of frankincense and myrrh, the scent of soot from the candles drifted towards me as the smoke clouded around me in wisps. I leaned forward, gently and reverently placed the offering of meat on the shrine, placing it just so. The blade laid in front of me anxiously awaiting its turn, so I picked it up and removed the blade from the scabbard to display its beauty… and noticed a warm, sticky sensation as I slid the blade back into its scabbard with a singing sound of steel on steel. I was bleeding! Blood is strictly forbidden in ritual as it is superstitiously believed to attract negative spirits. I hurriedly grabbed my fresh wound, trying not to bleed on anything, including the very nice tan carpet and my ritual clothing. A few minutes later I was cleaned up enough to go back and put out the candles and incense. Eventually I did end up offering up that blade, but the next time I brought it to shrine I remembered not to open it so quickly and carelessly.

Being Kemetic isn’t easy. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to do, and even more to remember. There’s a challenge at every turn. It is the exotic and intense rituals and richly diverse online community from the world over that keeps me going as a Kemetic, despite the hardships. I will stand strong against the world and stick to being Kemetic. No matter what happens, or how hard it gets, my heart will always reside in the oasis that is my love for Kemet.

6 comments:

  1. I love your last paragraph! It's not a religion where you just sit back and have things dropped in your lap.

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    1. Thanks Seshathotep! :) I was hoping to bring some light to the fact that it's not as easy as it looks.

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  2. Very good post Tabauamunet. As a follower of Canaanite religion I can understand the parts about ritual purity and blood. I think polytheistic, orthopraxic religions in general seem to be quite strict on matters like these.

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    1. Agreed, definitely! Orthopraxic faiths are some of the hardest and also most rewarding faiths in my opinion.

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  3. A very well-written post. I read and liked the post and have also bookmarked you. All the best for future endeavors
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  4. Very well written and nice. You are correct it is not easy to follow the Kemetic path nor is it one to be taken lightly. Thank you for posting this and putting into words what so many can not. Senebty

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