Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Netjer: The One God of Ancient Egypt

Netjer," a Kemetic word meaning "divine power," is the One Self-Created Deity which manifests in myriads of forms, which we call Names (Kemetic Orthodoxy is a monolatry, NOT a polytheism or monotheism. 

Kemetic Orthodoxy is a modern practice of the religious tradition of Ancient Egypt (known to its own people as Kemet). Through the foundation of ancient thought and spiritual structure, devotees of Kemetic Orthodoxy follow the path their forebears first walked more than 4,000 years ago. Kemetic Orthodoxy is an African Traditional Religion and bears similarity to several other African and African Diaspora religions (such as the West African religions of the Yoruba, Akan, and Dahomeyan peoples and the Afro-Caribbean practices of Vodou, Candomble, and Santeria) as well some of the practices known from ancient northeastern Africa and the ancient Near East. Practicing Kemetic Orthodoxy requires a commitment to preserving the cultural heritage established in the past which Kemetic Orthodoxy continues to represent, even in places and times well removed from its original practice. 

The Kemetic Orthodox faith, both in its modern and ancient practice, is a monolatrous religion. 

Monolatry is a different concept than monotheism, where it is believed God manifests in one form and one form only, nor it a full polytheism, where many gods appear in many separate and distinct forms. In some ways, it represents synthesis of the two, in a multi-god structure still providing the possibility of understanding all divine beings as part of one divine source. 

A monolatrous religion professes one divine force (Netjer in the Kemetic language, meaning "divine power") that is in turn comprised of other separate, yet interlinked aspects, like a team can be defined both as one entity (the sum of its parts) and by individual members themselves. The "gods and goddesses" of Ancient Egypt, while clearly differentiated from each other in some respects and not as clearly in others, also each represent an aspect of Netjer, as Its Names (after the practice of recognizing Netjer "in Its Name of..." in ritual invocations). The Names of Netjer are in addition to being individual entities, also representative aspects of the Self-Created One, and are parts of that whole Being. Each Name of Netjer, like the parts of the human body, has differing structure and function, yet each part is required to constitute the entire Person.

How is Kemetic Orthodoxy practiced?
Kemetic Orthodoxy is divided into three main categories of devotion. First is the formal worship service, comprising the "state" ritual. These practices are perhaps the best known from antiquity due to their preservation in source material and upon the very walls of ancient temples. Changed only very slightly over the millennia, these conservative rites are preserved by the Kemetic Orthodox priesthood as closely to their original practice as possible. Illustrative of these formal rites is the Rite of the House of the Morning, a daily greeting of the sunrise along with invocations and praise to Netjer for a new day. Each sunrise is significant, as a physical and symbolic representation of the eternal reassurance that Ma'at (a central concept of the faith, denoting universal order and "truth" in an absolute sense) have been preserved and that life will continue to exist. 

The second category of Kemetic Orthodox worship is "personal piety": the devotional practice of all followers, including priests and laymen. The foundation of the Kemetic Orthodox faith is found in a universal rite called the Senut (Shrine): every devotee, whether congregant or priest, and even the Nisut (AUS) Herself, performs a daily set of prayers in an established household shrine to communicate with and worship Netjer. While this ritual is simple in comparison to the pomp and fanfare of the state rites, it forms the backbone of Kemetic Orthodoxy's entire ritual practice and constitutes its most important sacrament.

The third category of Kemetic Orthodox worship involves ancestral devotion. Akhu, or the blessed dead, are one step closer to Netjer than mortal man. In revering and remembering our ancestors and loved ones who have passed on, they live forever. We leave offerings to our ancestors, and venerate them so that they, in turn, will protect and look kindly upon us.

[Author Note: The spelling of Netjer in English with "tj," rather than "Neter" or "ntr" as sometimes written in Egyptology books, has been adopted by the House of Netjer at my direction after research, as I believe it is the most accurate way to phoneticize the Kemetic word in English. In Kemetic, the word is written with the hieroglyphic symbol of a flag, after the ritual flags hung above temple entrances. I have been very pleased to see the use of this more accurate Romanization in many Websites since our spelling was forwarded - it has been known to the scholarly community for some time and many books not in English already use it, but the spelling "ntr" (neter) had been the standard in English.]

Yinepu (Anpu; G/R Anubis) "The Royal Child" A Name of predynastic origins, depicted either as a full jackal or as a jackal-headed man, Yinepu originally, as Khenty-amenti or "Foremost of Westerners," was both embalmer and caretaker of the deceased, and the guardian of tomb and necropolis. Over time Wesir's popularity would absorb much of Yinepu's nature, causing Him to be written into the myths as Wesir's son by Nebt-het (alternately Set's son or Aset's son) and relegating Him to the role merely of embalmer and overseer of the funerary processes. Masks of Yinepu were routinely worn by the Sem-priest officiating at the funeral and the 70-day mummification process; images of Yinepu wrapping bandages, pouring oils or embracing the coffin are generally not actually images of the Netjer Himself, but of His servants doing His work. In later times Yinepu would be syncretised with Greek Hermes and seen as a "psychopompos"or messenger/guide of the deceased soul; in Kemetic iconography, Yinepu can be seen leading the deceased person into the Hall of Double Truth, where He then weighs the deceased's heart against the feather of Ma'at.
Aten (Aton, Yiten) - "Sun's Disk" Aten is the physically visible sun, the yellow sphere in earth's sky that can fructify or scorch. The Aten-disk is venerated as a form of Shu, Ra, or Heru from the late Middle Kingdom onward and was not, as some have erroneously stated, "invented" by New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten. However, beginning with Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III, Aten enjoyed a higher level of worship, and during Akhenaten's reign, for reasons not entirely clear in the historic record, Akhenaten declared all other Names invalid and Their priests useless, and ordered Kemet to worship him as the "Sole One of Aten," who would then take the people's prayers to His Father (he did not order them to worship Aten; the texts state that only Akhenaten is qualified to do this as the Disk's intermediary). Akhenaten's religious reforms, which did not represent monotheism as has been often suggested (Akhenaten offers Ma'at in friezes, and some of his hymns refer to "Ra-Heru-akhety in His Name of Shu Who is in Aten," indicating Akhenaten's "destruction" of other Names was selective), did not long outlast him; a backlash against the Atenist movement by the priesthood of Amen-Ra after Akhenaten's death resulted in the loss of much of this Name's information.

Set (Sutekh; G/R Seth) - (unknown, derived possibly either from the word "to dazzle" (setken) or "stabilizing staff/pillar" (setes)) In the oldest mythologies, Set is "He Before Whom the Sky Shakes," a sky-Netjer like Heru, and specifically of the storm, with lightning and thunder His heralds. Eventually, because of His natural opposition to His brother/nephew Heru, and also because during the Second Intermediate Period, invading Hyksos forces identified their own chief god with Him, Set's reputation changed. Into the New Kingdom with the rise of the cult of Wesir, which posited Set (as lord of the desert which crept into the arable land at the end of every year) as the "murderer" of the Lord of the Black Land, Set was literally demonized, and in late periods was identified with Apep as a symbol of complete destruction and with later religions' concepts of "the Devil," including both Greek Typhon and Hebraic "Satan." It is important to note that both are non-Kemetic understandings - Set at all times, while not exactly a "nice guy," is a necessary force in the universe - that of strength and violent force - and in Kemetic myth, even Ra acknowledges this, by awarding the post of guardian of the Boat of Millions of Years to Set after the kingship is given to Heru, because Set "is the only one strong enough to do it." Set is symbolized by the ass and the hippopotamus and the pig, and sometimes the jackal (and at least theoretically the hyena); however, His main theophany is an unknown canid with square ears and a forked tail, often called simply the "Set-animal," whose species has been a mystery to Egyptologists. In late 1996, a large mammal with square ears and a forked tail allegedly was caught and killed in Upper Egypt. Called "salawa" by the locals, the animal has been theorized to be part of the family from which the South African Cape Hunting Dog comes; its extreme size and appearance lend credence to the folktales surrounding this newly-discovered desert mammal as "Set."
Hornung, Erik; [translated from German by John Baines]. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and The Many. Cornell University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-8014-1223-4.

A thought-provoking look at the philosophy behind Kemetic religion, Kemetic concepts of Deity, and their contribution to the development of other world religions and philosophies, masterfully translated from the original German by Egyptologist John Baines. Not for beginners. Very highly recommended.

Meeks, Dimitri and Christine Favard; [translated from French by G. M. Goshgarian]. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-801-43115-8.

The next ground-breaking book since Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, Daily Life may well replace Hornung as the most comprehensive study on Kemetic theology. The Meeks take an interesting perspective, which is to present the Names of Netjer as if they were a people and the book were an anthropological study of a living tribe. Covers the philosophical intricacies of ancient Egyptian religion as well as some of the hard facts: rites, temples, priesthood, and the three-tiered calendrical system tied into the festival days of the Names. May not be for beginners, but is more accessible than Hornung. Available both in hardback and paperback. Highly recommended.

Morenz, Siegfried. [translated from German] Egyptian Religion. Cornell Paperbacks. ISBN 0-8014-8029-9.

A wonderful discussion of Kemetic religion from both theological and philosophical perspectives. Not an easy book to read, but a valuable one; I believe it to be superior to Henri Frankfort's book of the same title.

Ritner, Robert Kriech. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization #54, 1993. ISBN 0-918986-756-3.

Perhaps the most ambitious study of ancient Egyptian "magic" to date, Ritner's dissertation is a compendium of source material for the structure and form of rites practiced in Kemet. While materials are limited for periods before the end of the New Kingdom (an issue for all Egyptology), Ritner has done a spectacular job of bringing together diverse symbolic, physical and theological points of interest, from the use of prayer for medicinal purposes to execration, blessing, divination and other ritual as "magic." Not for beginners; as a dissertation it expects readers to be familiar with a number of Kemetic philosophical arguments, and passages are rendered in hieroglyph, hieratic, demotic, Arabic, Coptic and European languages without translation.

Rundle-Clark, R.T. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27112-7.

A concise discussion of the theology of Kemet as well as its differing myth cycles, symbolic language, cosmology, etc.

Schafer, Byron E., ed. Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths and Personal Practice. Cornell University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8014-2550-6.

A collection of scholarly papers on Kemetic religion, sacred kingship and conceptions of Netjer.

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