The Pagan Blog Project: K is for Kemeticism
Today I want to talk about a path I tried very briefly. While I found that it wasn’t for me, I did learn some lessons from it that have had lasting effects, and because they’ve so influenced where I am now I want to write them down. Apologies in advance for how rambly this is inevitably going to be.
When I was still determined to find a solid pagan group and when heathenry wasn’t really doing it for me as a community, a few things drew me to look into Kemeticism. For starters, some of the most helpful and non-dramatic people can be found in the Kemetic community. They are extremely helpful to new-comers and provide a safe place where you can ask questions without fear. They also provide a lot of resources to those willing to do more research.
Of course, community doesn’t mean much if you lack the common interest that holds everyone in it together. There were other factors that drew me to try Kemeticism as a practice. First, when I was a lot younger I’d been very interested in Egyptian symbolism and stories. I’ve noticed this is a common experience among many Kemetics, most of whom say they were so happy when they found out you could really actually worship those deities and practice that religion.
Another factor was my love of cats. This sounds weird at first, but really – there are a lot of deities and spirits associated with cats, but you can’t get much more cat-like than Bast. Having a few cats in my care, it seemed logical to try and make that connection.
Aside from Bast, other deities I read about and tried to feel out were Sekhmet and Djehuty (though he has always been Thoth to me). By “tried to feel out,” I mean that I made a shrine space where I gave water and incense offerings daily for about a month, and spent some time (a few minutes to fifteen minutes) daily meditating in front of it, or just talking/praying.
One month isn’t really that much time, really, and I acknowledge that fully. However, it was enough time for me to realize that my academic interest in these deities was not translating over to a spiritual one. I quickly realized that I was going through the motions, and while I would occasionally get some sense of presence, that presence usually seemed more like a polite head-tilt of mild curiosity, but always ended in a mutual “this isn’t really working”.
It surprised me, honestly, especially with Bast. I’ve had multiple people with various forms of sight tell me that there is some kind of cat-thing around me almost all the time. I’m very cat-natured, and cats usually really like me. We understand each other. But Bast and I just didn’t mesh.
When I decided to formally thank them and move on (which, I hadn’t made any promises, so this really wasn’t a big deal though I know a lot of people may think it is), I chose to break from most study for a few months. It was near the end of the year and I was very busy with family and friends anyway. I’d gotten the impression multiple times that I needed to nurture myself before I started my pagan searching again. In fact, if it wasn’t for keeping up with PBP each week, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about paganism regularly. I’m glad this project has kept me thinking while not bogging me down. More on all that in another post, I’m sure.
My jaunt with Kemeticism was far from a waste of time, despite not making any lasting connections. I continue to be very interested in studying it academically. I also learned about some concepts that have influenced my thoughts and my work: Ma’at and isfet.
Ma’at if often considered as a goddess, but as I understand it’s really more of a concept that has been deified (and please forgive me if I’m not explaining this correctly – I am NOT an expert). You can find a pretty good explanation of it here. While I don’t understand it fully (and it is probably impossible for a human to do so), what I like about the concept is the fluidity of balance and what the “right thing” is. What may be the right thing to do right now may not be the right thing to do in a slightly different situation. It’s an idea that also seems to mock physical boundaries and instead enjoys freedom from all boundaries, to the point that it is even difficult to confine it with a definition. My favorite image of Ma’at is the weighing of the heart against the feather of Ma’at. To pass the test your heart must not be heavier than the feather. Does this mean you have to have practiced balance and “the right thing” your whole life? Does it mean you must somehow physically make your heart lighter through spells? Does it mean that the feather itself is so complex that the simplicity of a human heart will be lighter anyway? I love this concept because of how dynamic it is.
The other concept which has helped me a lot could be considered Ma’at’s opposite: Isfet. Isfet is commonly defined as “chaos,” but like Ma’at it defies simple definitions. Needless to say, it’s the bad stuff. Every time I think about it, I think of Ashitaka’s demon arm in Princess Mononoke, like a corruption that seeks to bring down the functional whole. While I was going through all of this spiritual change and turmoil, I was also having a recurrence of depression. “Depression” has always seemed like an insignificant word to me. It sounds so mild for something that is literally feeding on your mind and heart. Isfet to me will always be true depression, and in fact once I became familiar with the concept I was able to use the word to get my depression under control. I’ve always been one of those people that thought naming something would give it more power. In this case it was the exact opposite – I had power over it. Even better, I could visualize it, which meant I could get rid of it.
Now I’m not at all saying this would work for everyone or suggesting you try it if you have similar problems. Most Kemetics would probably read that and think I’m pretty far off-base. I’m just writing what it did for me because it ended up being so significant to my life.
Overall, I’m very glad that I stopped off at the Kemetic station for a month and am grateful to the people I met there, many of whom I still follow and respect the opinions of. While the practices aren’t my own, many of the lessons I learned there about community will carry over no matter where my path leads.