unalterable texts and rites, some of which may ill fit the modern situation. I do not speak for all Reconstructionists, but all the Recon temples I am familiar with use the ancient texts as guides, not as rigid, unalterable models.
Reconstructionists have a great deal of respect for the original rites of ancient Egypt, but we do not feel hidebound to duplicate them in every detail. We realize that we cannot duplicate them in all ways because our temple gatherings are relatively small and we do not have a full time priesthood to do the many daily rites carried out in ancient times. Neither do we have the luxury of actual temple edifices, complete with a priesthood and attendants. However, we do try to use as many of the ritual recitations and actions as is possible in the modern world. In our experience the inherent power of rituals enacted for over three thousand years throughout the temples of Egypt is reason enough to place a high value on preserving and repeating those rites. This is not to criticize others who choose to craft their own rites for the gods. For after all, the important point here is that men and woman are loving the gods and trying their best to serve them in ways that speak to them and please the gods.
Reconstructionists are fully aware that we are citizens of the twenty-first century, coming from cultures very different from that of ancient Egypt. It is not our goal to abandon our way of thinking for some imagined ancient way of thinking. Such a feat is neither possible nor desirable. We do know, however, from our personal and group experiences that the gods transcend the limits of any particular time or place. Even in ancient Egypt the men and women of 3,000 BCE no doubt had a more or less different way of viewing things than the inhabitants did three millennia later. Dynasties had come and gone. Invaders had come and gone. Times of abundance and times of famine had come and gone. Emphases had evolved and changed over the centuries. But the gods endured; and the gods endure today.
Most ancient temples have been destroyed. We have little more than the mere foundation outlines of these sites, perhaps with some original blocks from the temple scattered across the landscape. Does that mean we cannot craft rituals for the gods of those temples? We do know that the rituals of the national temple of Amun-Ra in Karnak served as a sort of template for similar rituals in other temples. We know this from the lengthy, detailed inscriptions in temples that are more or less intact—such as the temples at Philae, Dendera, Edfu, Esna, and Kom Ombo among quite a few others. Therefore, we use the Karnak and Abydos rituals as a sort of template so that we can honor various gods whose temples no longer exist. We want our religion to be a living religion, not one rigidly bound by the availability or non-availability of ancient sources.
It was also claimed that we play dress-up—that we like to attire ourselves like the ancient Egyptians in a rather superficial way. In reality we do have ritual robes or just a set of clean clothes set aside for ritual. Most pagan and neo-pagan groups do the same—including the ones in that leader's group. It's a bit like the pot calling the kettle black—as well as throwing a cheap shot at Reconstructionists—this person's implied judgment being that we are being superficial. Having special clothing is a sign of respect for our gods and for the sacred rites. From a psychological viewpoint it is easy to see that wearing ritual garments is not unlike wearing a special uniform such as a doctor's white coat or a fire fighter's uniform—or vestments worn by Christian ministers and priests. If a temple member chooses not to wear a linen or cotton robe, it is their right. He or she is free to simply wear clean street clothes that have been set aside for ritual. This is done as a sign of respect for our gods and helps us set aside the cares of the day so we can focus on the worship at hand.
It is true that unlike some Revivalists we do not want to introduce practices from other paths such as Wicca, Vodou, or other Afro-Caribbean religions. Based on our studies we feel that the rituals of ancient Egypt are adequate and complete, and not in need of importing practices or beliefs from other traditions. We have several members skilled in translating the hieroglyphs found in ancient texts, but we also avail ourselves of scholarly translations available in journals and books by eminent Egyptologists. A leader of one of our affiliated temples has studied hieroglyphs for over twenty years, producing translations worthy of any Egyptologist. We also have members who translate scholarly texts from German and French. Each of them has made inestimable contributions to our knowledge. We have been able to cross-check each other's work. We believe that this is a good way to pinpoint errors and correct translations.
We celebrate our rituals in English. We do not believe that the gods can only be approached in Middle Egyptian—the form of Egyptian that became the norm for temple rites. We also do not believe that a modern-day pharaoh or king is useful or necessary to celebrate the rituals or serve as a “living-Horus,” as in ancient times. Our members are educated, well-read, and each has an equal voice in temple management. No single person claims for him or her self authority over other members. Each of our temples operate independently, but use as a common resource the researched texts shared among the temples. If any one person is not available for a ritual, the whole edifice does not fall apart. At a recent neo-pagan convention the leader of a Revivalist group had to be absent due to illness; as a result the whole ritual of that group ended up being abruptly canceled. Our Reconstructionist temples are organized along a very different, egalitarian model. No single person is absolutely essential for a ritual gathering. This is in accord with our belief that all members share equally in the ritual service of our gods. We do not need a pharoah. We do not need a high-priest. We all serve the gods on an equal footing. We do not hand out ancient honorific titles that would have made sense when the priests and staff of an ancient temple would have numbered in the hundreds if not the thousands. Temples in ancient times were governed by a priestly council. We do the same today. If a new person seeks admission after completing a course of studies and assignments, he or she is interviewed by the entire membership of the temple and a decision is reached. No one person has ultimate authority in this matter. We believe that this form of governance is appropriate for modern times.
The priests of ancient Egypt had over 3,500 years of experience in designing and writing the temple rituals. Is it not a huge waste for us to neglect their study in order to see how those ancient rites can be used and modified when necessary? For example, in the morning ritual in the temple of Amun-Ra, the priest would ritually assemble a sort of grill for meat offerings. The meat would have been placed on the grill—again with ritual words recited—and tended there until adequately cooked. First of all, this rite occurred just at sunrise. The cooking would have been accompanied by the chanting or singing of the attendants. After the meat finished cooking on the grill, it would be placed on the table of offerings. In our temples today we have decided to offer meat that had already been cooked. It seems to us to be non-essential to spend the time to grill the meats during ritual. The grilling was not the key factor in the rite; based on the ancient texts the key factor was the actual offering of the meats and other foods to the gods. This is but one example of our attempt to adapt an ancient practice to the present day.
As for types of offerings our guide is to offer foods and beverages that are healthy and as natural and unprocessed as possible. Such items include bread, beer, wine, milk, vegetables, fruits, honey, and dates. We also offer fresh flowers. We do not offer unhealthy snack foods or sodas. Each of the foods offered has a mystical significance in addition to being natural and healthy. That mystical significance for every food offered can be seen in the offering formulas for various types of food. The interested reader is referred to Offerings to the Gods in Egyptian Temples by Egyptologist Sylvie Cauville (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), 282 pp. The author deals with two hundred offerings, divided into broad categories: purification, beverages, foods, produce of the fields, ointments and adornments among other topics. One leading Revivalist said that Anpu (Anubis) likes Tootsie Rolls. The assertion was made that since Anpu was no doubt offered some very sweet mixtures, he now enjoys Tootsie Rolls. I have not yet seen any reference to sweet concoctions being offered to Anpu or any of the gods in the ancient literature. In Cauville's study (referenced above) the author lists a bread known as 'ta-wer', i.e., the 'Great Bread', made with honey and raisins in the mixture (see Cauville, p. 69-70). This sort of sweet bread is quite different from a Tootsie Roll. The current U.S. ingredients of a chocolate Tootsie Roll are: sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (an unhealthy trans fat) condensed skim milk, cocoa, whey, soy lecithin, and natural and artificial flavors. The recipe for the smaller, individually wrapped Tootsies is this:
In our opinion treating the gods as if they were children or offering them unhealthy foods is not a sound Kemetic practice with any basis in historical fact. In a way offering unhealthy foods trivializes the nature and significance of the offerings. It would be quite a stretch to find a mystical significance for such an offering—and a mystical significance for the various offerings was the norm in ancient times.
One Revivalist, speaking before a group a few years ago, claimed that Reconstructionists were wrong in attempting to do the ancient rituals. That person said in ancient times the offerings amounted to huge quantities of foods and beverages. The logic was that if we cannot offer hundreds of loaves of bread, and large amounts of other foods, then it makes no sense to even try. Our response to this is to point out that not every temple in ancient Egypt was as large as Karnak or other major temples with a great number of priests and their dependents—all of whom relied on the food offerings for their daily sustenance. Today we may offer but one loaf of bread, one bottle of wine, and other relatively modest amounts of food, but the intent is the same: to give back to the gods what they have bestowed upon us, and, in turn, to receive it back from their altars for our own consumption.
It was also claimed by that Revivalist that Kemeticism is about personally encountering the gods, and not about just scholarly research. The clear implication was that Reconstructionists are so preoccupied with scholarly research that we neglect or devalue the personal encounter with the gods. Nothing is further from the truth. This is setting up a false, either-or dichotomy. We value BOTH. We love our gods and seek communion with them in private as well as public worship. We value scholarship but we do not place it above our own personal relationship with the gods. That relationship is the very foundation of our religion.
I have written this article not as a challenge to those Revivalist leaders who disparage our Reconstructionist efforts to serve the gods. I have written it in part to ask them to engage in a meaningful dialogue, face to face. I believe that we have much more in common than we may imagine. On the other hand the adage “silence is consent” compels me to explain our approach to the religion we share, and not merely to remain silent in the face of criticism that I see as way off the mark.
I hope this article lays to rest some of the misconceptions about Kemetic Reconstructionism. Please feel free to contact me.
This material is copyrighted. All rights reserved.
No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permission from the author.
There appears to be some serious misinformation about exactly what Kemetic Reconstructionism is, its practices, and its beliefs. I have recently heard one leader of a Kemetic Revivalist group state in an interview that Reconstructionists misguidedly want to recreate exactly what occurred in the temples of ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, allowing for no change. The speaker expressed the opinion that this effort is off the mark and incorrect. My reply is that the Reconstructionist temples with which I am affiliated directly as well as several other Recon temples use the ancient ritual texts as a guide and source for our rituals – and not as
The Kemetic Temple of San Jose is offering a CD of the General Ritual for Sekhmet recited by temple members and author Richard Reidy. This ritual is based on ancient temple texts & appears in Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World. The ritual is a beautiful, meditative journey into the heart of ancient worship. All proceeds from the CD go for temple expenses.
This beautiful CD costs $15 (price incl. shipping in the U.S.)