Frequently Asked Questions
I've read that ancient Egyptian pharaohs were considered to be living gods. What does that mean for your Nisut?
The idea of god-kings owes more to modern conceptions of kingship and Hollywood movies than ancient reality. Only three pharaohs (from Kemetic per-a'a, or "great house," name of the royal residence) deified themselves during life. These three god-kings were Amenhotep IV (called Akhenaten) and Ramses II of the New Kingdom, and Cleopatra VII of the Ptolemaic-Roman Period. Dead kings were said to take on the identity, and thus the power, of the god Wesir; but so did (and still do) all the dead, royal or not.
Ancient Egyptians and modern Kemetic Orthodox recognize a divine spirit referred to as the kingly ka, the essence of kingship given as a gift from the gods to humanity, as the factor that creates a Kemetic king or Nisut-bity, which can mean "one owning authority." This ka lies dormant in potential kings until actualized via coronation. From coronation onward, the person who becomes a Nisut exists as two persons -- a mortal human and an immortal King. This is not the same as saying a human who bears the kingly ka is him- or herself a god like the gods and goddesses we worship. In fact, in ancient documents, if the word netjer is used to describe a Nisut, it is always prefaced by the word nefer, which sometimes means "good" or "beautiful" but in this context means "lesser" or "younger." Coronated Nisuts are in some ways no longer just human -- but they are not gods, either. Nisuts as a category of being exist somewhere between human and divine, as a servant to both.
Similar to how modern Western monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II are believed to be dual persons (in QEII's case, as Elizabeth Windsor the human and Elizabeth II Regina, holder of the British Crown), we believe our current Nisut (AUS) to be both a human, Rev. Tamara Siuda; and the vessel of the Kemetic institution of kingship, Nisut Hekatawy Alexandros. We do not worship Her as a goddess. The person Who bears the kingly ka, is a mortal human, just as all those who went before Her on the Heru throne (named for the god of kingship Who oversees the throne and the true owner of the kingly ka). We often capitalize our Nisut's pronouns and titles when referring to Her, to remind ourselves that She is the first servant to the deities we do worship. We respect and honor Her as our teacher and the mother of our religion, but we do not give Her worship like the gods and goddesses Whom She worships alongside us and considers Herself a child of just as we do.
Can I take part in your religion but still worship other gods or take part in religious ceremonies that aren't Kemetic Orthodox?
Kemetic Orthodox members are never required to repudiate, denounce, or forego participation or fellowship in any religious practice, whether it also derives from Kemet or not. In antiquity, Kemetic religion had two levels of practice -- a state, formal religious practice and a private, informal religious practice. Kemetic Orthodoxy has this same two-level structure. We provide formal religious instruction and ritual for our members based upon the state rites once practiced by ancient Egyptians via a trained priesthood; but other than providing a template for a daily semi-formal ritual in one's home shrine, we do not dictate members' private religious practices in any way.
The only thing regarding other religions that Kemetic Orthodoxy does not recognize is ordination. Any member who is ordained clergy in another religion, while they are respected for that accomplishment, would not be automatically recognized as Kemetic Orthodox clergy. This is true even if their ordination is in another religion honoring the same deities. We have our own requirements and training that all Kemetic Orthodox clergy undergo. This is common to most religions, and is not to ridicule or negate a member's outside or prior experience in any way. A number of our members practice more than one religion, worship non-Kemetic gods, or honor non-Kemetic spirits and ancestors alongside Kemetic Orthodox practices. Some even serve as clergy, in other religions from Christianity to Wicca. We embrace the diversity of our community, and believe that while what we teach in Kemetic Orthodoxy will always be the formal "state" religion of Kemet's past, the non-formal practices of our collective membership are also worthy, and add to our body of spiritual maturity and knowledge. This interreligious strength enables us to work with all people to further Ma'at in the world, and not just those who follow the same teachings that we do. This was something that was also practiced in antiquity, when Kemet expanded to empire status.
Kemetic Orthodoxy observes a "civil" or celestial calendar of 365 days (12 months of 30 days each, plus five epagomenal days for the births of the Great Netjeru of Iunu (Heliopolis)) with lunar dates from the lunar calendar as they occur. The Kemetic Orthodox civil calendar is calibrated, as was its ancient counterpart, to the rising of the star Sirius (Sopdet in Kemetic) upon the horizon after a 70-day period of invisibility, corresponding to roughly the end of the month of July through the beginning of the month of August in the modern, Gregorian calendar.
Within our festival calendar are a number of holidays dedicated to differing gods and goddesses, along with those celebrated by all Kemet, such as New Year's Day (usually the first week of Gregorian August); the Mysteries of Wesir (last week of November/first week of December); the Raising of the Djed Pillar (early January); the Festival of Purification (mid-May) and the lunar festivals of Opet (September), the Beautiful Feast of the Valley (April or May) and the Beautiful Reunion (May or June). Festivals are celebrated with processions of icons and statues, prayer and liturgy, and sometimes ritual drama, and generally culminate in a communal meal. The House of Netjer sponsors an annual New Year's Retreat that involves all devotees and priests in celebrating the major rituals and renewals of the most important holiday of the festival year.
Since the Kemetic religion was lost for a long time, how is it being reintroduced as Kemetic Orthodoxy?
Reintroducing an ancient religion that was nearly completely lost is somewhat like conducting an archaeological expedition -- through many layers, twists and turns, a patient explorer will uncover vast amounts of information and treasures beyond belief. Through such patient exploration, the Kemetic Orthodox Religion is proud to present the spiritual richness of Kemet to the world once again.
The founder of Kemetic Orthodox practice and the current Nisut, Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS), has a master's degree (2000) in Egyptology from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago. She has a second master's degree in Coptic Studies via Macquarie University (2008), and is currently in doctoral study in the Department of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Our Nisut (AUS) has researched Kemet on her own for nearly three decades. She has served as a professional academic as well: as an assistant registrar in the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum, an assistant archivist in the Oriental Institute Research Archives, an Egyptology docent and Anthropology assistant at the Field Museum of Natural History, a member of public and private Egyptology and Coptology societies, and as a published author and lecturer in the field.
As clergy and as devotees, members of Kemetic Orthodoxy and the House of Netjer have been active in interreligious work on local, national and international levels. The Nisut (AUS) and Rev. Craig Schaefer were representatives for Kemetic religion at the Council for a Parliament of World Religions (CPWR) held in Chicago in 1993. The Nisut (AUS) and Rev. Ryan Jones were Kemetic Orthodox delegates to the CPWR held in Cape Town, South Africa, in December 1999, where the Nisut (AUS) also lectured about Kemetic Orthodox religion; and in 2004, Rev. Stephanie Cass and the Nisut (AUS) traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to take part in the third modern CPWR. At the 2004 Parliament, the Nisut (AUS) was part of a panel of religious leaders discussing ways to approach the important issue of international debt. Our Nisut (AUS) also maintains membership and involvement in other interreligious organizations, and encourages interreligious work and charity at all levels of involvement, including a mandatory requirement for such work from every lay and ordained Kemetic Orthodox priest.
Our Nisut (AUS) works from actual source texts, makes her own translations, and seeks divine guidance in formulating Kemetic Orthodoxy's derivative canon and liturgies. Focus texts include liturgies and hymns extant from the pharaonic period, as well as later works synthesized from earlier pieces. This includes funerary rituals such as those contained the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, and the Pert em Hru or "Coming Forth by Day" (because it is found in tombs, this last set of writings is known to modern scholars as the "Book of the Dead"); various mythological papyri, the Wisdom Literature or moral teachings of various time periods; and ritual and mythological texts preserved from temple and tomb walls. We do not incorporate other religions' practices into our practice. Kemetic Orthodox liturgy for state ritual is presented in the main temple in English and in Kemetic, as not all temple members are necessarily conversant in the Kemetic language.
This question is as old as the modern study of Egyptology, and sadly, many people, past and present, insist on injecting race into questions about Kemet. The theory of a "dynastic race" (i.e., non-Kemetic persons related to modern Europeans) as the creators of Kemetic society, once championed by early European and American Egyptologists, has been laid to rest as unsubstantiated, although those who read older (pre 1970 CE) Egyptology books might not believe that to be true.
Current data from Predynastic history, as well as Kemet's linguistic background, points to multiple origins for Kemetic society, including northern African, Levantine and Sub-Saharan areas. As research continues (though this is by no means a closed book), that ancient Egyptians resembled modern Egyptians in many ways. If you have ever been to Egypt, you know that this means a number of skin colors and multiple ethnic backgrounds, with no one really "white" or "black" as understood in current Western world parlance.
As stated in the Kemetic Orthodoxy pages, the Kemetic people NEVER had a sense of racial distinguishment in the manner that the modern West has embraced since the beginnings of African Triangular-Trade chattel slavery in the 15th century CE. Kemetic people never divided themselves up or judged each other strictly on the basis of skin tone or physical features. What made a person "Kemetic" was not their skin color, hair type or parentage, but whether or not he or she was a member of Kemetic society, religion, and culture. This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Kemet -- that the gods and goddesses are there for all of Their children, no matter what they look like. Kemetic Orthodoxy is a multicultural religion that does not limit membership in the faith for reasons of skin color or ethnicity, nor does it tolerate racial discrimination or prejudice in its members.
Kemetic Orthodox services are held on two levels: formal and informal, corresponding to the state and personal religion practiced in Kemet. Formal services include liturgy and purification rituals three times daily, and liturgies on behalf of the congregation on festival and procession days; namings, dedications, and ordinations; and spiritual consultations and divinations by oracle. Temple rites include liturgical readings, hymns both chanted and sung, music, dance, and ritual drama. Informal practices can be carried out at any member's personal shrine at any time, and often include prayer, offerings and sacrifices, purifications, and meditations.
The reason most people believe Kemet was preoccupied with death is a side effect of the area in which Egypt is located. When Kemet fell to invaders, its temples were co-opted or destroyed, while tombs, hidden in dry, desolate places, were overlooked. Millennia later, while most temples are in ruins and a number of texts have been destroyed, archaeologists find a treasure trove in tombs and cemeteries, and mainly of things one would expect to find in such places: objects associated with death. It is doubtful that Kemetic people were as preoccupied with death as some scholars would have us believe. Extant texts, quite to the contrary, speak of a culture with great respect for life and happiness. For example, the famous collection of papyri referred to as the "Book of the Dead" was known to the people of Kemet as the "Chapters of Coming Forth By Day," and discussed ways in which one could rise from the silence of the grave into glorious rebirth.
Kemetic Orthodoxy, as discussed above and separately on our definition page, is a revived practice of an ancient religion particular to the Nile Valley of north Africa, or "ancient Egypt." Kemetic Orthodoxy focuses on a continuation of the liturgy and rites originally practiced through the end of the pharaonic period (roughly 4500 BCE through 30 BCE). The ancient religion is far from undocumented: there is a wealth of available information surrounding Kemet's traditional practices, and Kemetic Orthodoxy focuses on ancient texts and original rites for its formal or "state" practice, as Kemetic religion by its nature was (and remains) highly traditional and conservative. Personal practices permit a great deal more individualism, but are generally based on traditional models.
Kemetic Orthodoxy in practice is different from other "Egyptian" or "Kemetic" spiritual organizations based on New Age or Neo-Pagan models, most significantly in the areas of interaction with Deity, organization of priesthood, and liturgical practice. While Kemetic Orthodoxy might be understood to be a "Pagan" religion in the context of the Roman Catholic Church (i.e., a religion not of Christian or Biblical origins), we do not currently classify ourselves as Pagan, as we neither follow the spiritual teachings of the Holy See, nor do our spiritual practices derive from the same sources, or even the general structures, of groups that currently refer to themselves as Pagan or Neo-Pagan. We do recognize ourselves as polytheists, as we do acknowledge the existence of, and worship, many gods.
When Netjer interacts with the Kemetic Orthodox within a ritual context, it is very intimate, personal, and face-to-face, more often than not in the form of Saq, or oracular, full trance possessions similar to (but not the same as or borrowed from) those of other African religions. This differs from New Age "channelling" or the "drawing down the moon" of Neo-Pagan religions, where a speaker is regarded as a mouthpiece of Deity but remains fully or semi-conscious during the rite, or speaks pre-planned words "in the name" of Deity.
Additionally, many New Age and Neo-Pagan paths are religions of priests and priestesses, where each member is clergy, and all that is required in many cases to become a priest is to declare oneself so. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, in antiquity as today, not all people are called to priesthood, nor is priesthood crucial to spiritual fulfillment. Clergy ordination in Kemetic Orthodoxy has no accomplishment or degree system; members of the religion, both clergy and devotee, are granted roles according to vocation and spiritual needs, instead of via initiations granted solely for money, knowledge, talent, seniority, or work.
In many ways, especially the manner in which the religion is administered and in its sacerdotal functions, Kemetic Orthodoxy is more similar to other indigenous and ancient polytheistic religions, as well as earlier forms of Judeo-Christian religions, than to Neo-Pagan or New Age ones. Kemetic religion had profound influence on the Greeks and Romans, and as observed in other parts of this FAQ, elements of Kemetic religion are still to be observed within such non-Kemetic contexts as Sufi poetry, Coptic Orthodox liturgy and the Christian conception of "heaven."