Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

Ankh

One of the most recognizable ancient Egyptian symbols, the ankh, is one of the few vestiges to survive the decay of the old religions and still be in use today.

What Is the Ankh?

The ankh is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph or symbol known as the cross of life or key of life and dates back to the Early Dynastic period (3150 BC – 2613 BC). The symbol resembles a cross with a loop on the top. The ankh is seen in the hands of almost every deity, carried by the loop or with arms crossed and one in each hand. The symbol was found as far afield as Persia and Mesopotamia in dig sites and was said to connote both mortal existence as well as eternal life.

Origin

Various theories exist about the origin of the symbol, but popular opinion suggests the origin is unknown. In 1869, mythologist Thomas Inman believed the ankh was a sexual symbol, and Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge similarly thought it may symbolize the belt buckle of Isis or Tyet. The ceremonial girdle or Knot of Isis, was alleged to represent female genitalia and fertility. Egyptologist Alan Gardiner posited it represented a sandal strap, as the word sandal and ankh came from the same root word. His theory was further affirmed by the fact that the sandal was a part of daily life in Egypt and the ankh also represented life. In a more recent publication, The Quick and the Dead, the authors claim the ankh ties to ancient cattle culture.

Usage

The symbol was portrayed on amulets, with the Djed (meaning stability) or Was (meaning strength) – symbols which were said to provide the protection of the gods to the wearer. Ptah is also seen making offerings with these three symbols in images representing him. The ankh was associated with the purifying power of water. This was evident on numerous temples where the king was depicted with two gods pouring a stream of ankhs over his head to cleanse him.

Gods and kings are frequently depicted holding the ankh to show their immortality and command over life and death. For those that had passed into the afterlife, the symbol was carried when their souls were weighed or aboard the boat of the Sun God, indicating their desire for immortality like the gods. According to the Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, it also represents the spring of eternal life and divine virtues. When it was held by the loop, usually in funeral rites, it may have been perceived as the key to opening the gateway to the Fields of Aalu, the Egyptian version of the Elysium Fields. Chevalier and Gheerbrant further postulated that when the ankh was placed between the eyes, it symbolized the duty of the person to keep the mystery he was initiated into a secret.

Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Period

In the Early Dynastic period, the symbol became popular through the rise of the cult of Isis and Osiris. Isis is seen holding the ankh more frequently than other deities. Since the cult of Isis promised immortality through personal resurrection, the symbol became imbued with greater meaning and potency.

During the Old Kingdom Period, the ankh was well known as a symbol of eternal life. The dead were called ankhu and the symbol appeared frequently on sarcophagi and caskets.

Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom Period

The word ’nkh became associated with mirrors, from the Middle Kingdom Period onward. The Egyptians believed mirrors were magical and used them in divination. An ankh-shaped gilded mirror was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Egyptians believed the afterlife was a perfect reflection of life on earth – a mirror image. During a particular festival, called the Festival of Lanterns, the Egyptians would light oil lamps to create a night sky of stars on earth to mirror the stars in the sky and the afterlife. When they did this, it was said to help them commune with the dead who had passed on the Fields of Aalu or Field of Reeds.

During the New Kingdom, the ankh was used in ceremonies and became associated with the cult of Amun. During the Amarna period, images of Aten the sun-disk often contained ankhs at the end of the sun’s rays.

Knot of Isis

The Tyet, or Knot of Isis, is very similar to the ankh. The arms of the cross are bent downward, differentiating the Knot of Isis from its counterpart, but it similarly means life or welfare. Sources claim the Tyet combines the concept of life and immortality with the knots which fasten mortal life to earth. To savor immortal life, the knot purportedly needs to be unraveled.

Modern Use

The symbol is used by modern Pagans as a symbol of faith, in healing and to promote psychic communication. It is viewed as a symbol of life by various new age religions. Thelemites, followers of the religion created by Aleister Crowley, also make use of the ankh as a union of opposites, a symbol of advancing one’s destiny or of divinity.

On Anubis

“Anubis was the guardian of all kinds of magical secrets. In the Papyrus Jumilhac, he appears as the leader of the armed followers of Horus. His ferocity is a match for the violence of Seth. In magical texts of a similar date, Anubis is named as ‘Lord of the Bau’. Whole battalions of messenger demons are under his command. In the magical papyri dating to Roman times, Anubis acts as the main enforcer of curses. The gracious deities of the cult temples are scarcely recognizable in the pitiless gods and goddesses encountered in everyday magic. (…) A story in Papyrus Jumilhac (c. 300 BC) explains the custom by relating how Seth once turned himself into a panther after attacking the body of Osiris. Anubis captured and branded the panther, creating the leopard’s spots. The jackal god decreed that leopard skins should be worn by priests in memory of his victory over Seth.”

~ Geraldine Pinch, Egyptologist

Modern European Paganism

Just as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can be grouped together as monotheistic “Abrahamic” religions that believe in a single all-powerful god, polytheistic religions that honor a multitude of deities also form religious “families.” Among them we find the myriad Hindu sects, Buddhism, which is nontheistic in its theology but includes polytheistic elements in its practice, tribal traditions from the Americas and Asia, the African and Afro-diasporic faiths, which include modern Umbanda and Santeria, and European paganism.

Until very recently, the possibility that a Native European polytheistic faith could be a viable option would have been met with incomprehension. Today, however, a linear worldview that includes an inevitable progress toward a cataclysm decreed by a single, all-powerful God is proving dangerously attractive to some, and to the rest of us, simply dangerous. Instead of a worldview in which neither humanity nor nature have intrinsic meaning because all such meaning derives only from God, or polarizes into a conflict between absolute Good and absolute Evil, we need a worldview that sees holiness in everything, recognizes that spirit takes many forms, and believes that history moves in circles, not a straight line.

The first European polytheistic religion to become well known in Europe and North America in the twentieth century was Pagan Witchcraft, or Wicca, which includes a multitude of traditions derived from or inspired by survivals from European folk religion and the work of Gerald Gardner.  However, Wicca is by no means the only kind of European paganism to flourish today. A second, and rapidly growing, branch of the family consists of the “reconstructed” traditions based on the practices and beliefs of specific cultures. These include the Celtic traditions, among them the different kinds of Druids; the Hellenic traditions, which draw from ancient Greece; the Kemetics, who base their practice on the religion of Egypt; Baltic traditionalists, who have revived their native religions in their newly independent nations; and the religions of the Germanic peoples in Scandinavia, on the Continent, and in England.

Sources: Diana L. Paxson from “Essential Asatru”

Kemetism: An Introduction

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Neo-Paganism, also known as Contemporary Paganism and Modern Paganism, is a collective term for new religious movements influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe, North Africa and the Near East. Adherents rely on pre-Christian, folkloric and ethnographic sources to a variety of degrees; many follow a spirituality which they accept as being entirely modern, while others attempt to reconstruct or revive indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources as accurately as possible. Nep-Paganism in the United States is largely a phenomenon of a white college educated demographic with over 90% being whites and 65% having a college degree.

The 2014 Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscapes Survey included a subset of the New Age Spiritual Movement called “Pagan or Wiccan,” reflecting that ¾ of individuals identifying as New Age also identified as Pagan or Wiccan and placing Wiccans and Pagans at 0.3% of the total U.S. population or approximately 956,000 people of just over 1,275,000 individuals in the New Age movement. This is a dramatic increase from the 1990’s when only 200,000 individuals identified themselves as part of a New Age religion. Roughly 10 million Wiccan-related books were sold in 2000, up from 4.5 million in 1990. A division within modern Paganism rests on differing attitudes to the source material surrounding pre-Christian belief systems. “We might say that Reconstructionist Pagans romanticize the past, while Eclectic Pagans idealize the future. In the first case, there is a deeply felt need to connect with the past as a source of spiritual strength and wisdom; in the second case, there is the idealistic hope that a spirituality of nature can be gleaned from ancient sources and shared with all humanity,” according to Religious studies scholar Michael Strmiska.

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Some of the more common Neo-Pagan religions are Wicca, the Goddess movement, Heathenism, Neo-Druidism, Eco-Paganism, and Syncretism. Today I am going to focus on the small, but growing religion of Kemetism. Kemetism also sometimes referred to as Neterism or Egyptian Neopaganism, is the contemporary revival of Ancient Egyptian religion and related expressions of religion in classical and late antiquity, emerging during the 1970s. A Kemetic is one who follows Kemetism. There are several main groups, each of which take a different approach to their beliefs, ranging from eclectic to reconstructionistic. Kemetic Orthodoxy is a modern religious sect based on Kemeticism, which is a reconstruction of Egyptian polytheism. It claims to derive a spiritual lineage from the Ancient Egyptian religion. It was founded in 1988 by Tamara Siuda, who remains its current Nisut or Pharaoh. Siuda’s leadership proved to be extremely successful, and in 1994, Kemetic Orthodoxy had attracted a sufficient number of new adherents to be officially recognized as a religious group by the federal government.

At the heart of the religion is a belief in ma’at: the guiding force of the universe and the principle of divine balance. Kemetics also believe in a supreme being, known as Netjer, and his many incarnations. Ancestor veneration, or Akhu veneration, is a very important aspect of Kemetic Orthodoxy. Adherents believe that their Akhu are their ancestors. As Akhu are believed to have already experienced human life, it is thought that they can give valuable advice and support regarding things related to daily human life. Kemetic Orthodoxy grew out of the personal teachings of Siuda. The temple began in 1988, when she claimed to have experienced a series of visions during her initiation as a Wiccan priestess. She started a small study and worship group at that time, which gradually grew in membership. In 1993, the group was federally recognized as a religious entity and changed its name from the House of Bast to the House of Netjer. The temple was granted tax-exempt status in 1999.

Kemetic Orthodoxy has a strong internet presence with rituals performed online via a chat room. They make the important distinction that they are a religion on the internet and not a internet religion. Members of Kemetic Orthodoxy gather at Tawy House (in Joliet, Illinois) in August for the Kemetic New Year, Wep Ronpet. As the largest gathering, it is the best example of an event held by the Kemetic Orthodox off-line. It includes rituals, fellowship, lectures and workshops. Personal worship is also observed in the form of personal deity-centered shrines in their homes as well as Senut ritual. The Senut ritual is composed of various rites, and is a fully functional ritual for individual use yet containing all of the necessary elements of all Kemetic ritual, whether practiced by one or a thousand.

If you’re interested you can find out more here: http://www.kemet.org/about