“Send Your Eye down as HetHert (Hathor). This goddess indeed went and She slew people upon the desert.
Then said the majesty of this God [Ra], “Welcome in Peace, HetHert. You have done that which I sent You to do.”
Then said this goddess:”As You live for Me, I have been powerful over the people! And it is pleasing to My heart!”
Then said the majesty of Ra,”It is in order to diminish them [humans] that I have sent the power of My kingship.”
Thus did Sekhmet come into being.” (Translation by Tamara L. Siuda)
Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?
My own answer to this question is a rather dependent upon what we are talking about. Surely when the sun rises every day, and the sky is red, I am reminded of the Kemetic myth that it is because Set has slain the Ap/ep serpent and the waters of the Nun are red with its blood so that Ra may rise again. I hold up my hands in the gesture of praise, or henu and say, “Dua Ra, Dua Set!”
Everyone who considers themselves to be Kemetic has heard the myths about Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind. It is one of the most well-known and important myths in all of Kemetic culture and religion. Unlike many practitioners of other religions and spiritual traditions, Kemetics tend to be a bit less dogmatic about those mythologies.
The above passage, was translated by Tamara Siuda. Tamara herself an Egyptologist and the founder of the House of Netjer Kemetic Orthodox Temple, of which I am a member. One of the things that Tamara teaches, is the reason for Sekhmet’s creation by Her Father Ra was fairly clear. In the time when the Netjeru and Humans lived together in the world, mankind got arrogant. They became arrogant in the pride of their own accomplishments, and collectively they decided that they no longer needed the gods. Not only did they plot to overthrow the Netjeru, they plotted to destroy Them. The benign Hathor, when She learned that humanity wanted to harm Her Father, became the rampaging Sekhmet.
But in terms of Kemetic belief, what does this really mean?
This idea is in itself a metaphor for many of the Kemetic myths. The stories serve to teach us things about how we deal with life’s challenges, phenomena in the natural world and other concerns. Few Kemetics take them as an absolute truth. In the case of the myth of Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind, as found on the Golden Shrine of Tutankhamun, it serves as a metaphor for the nature of anger and how destructive it can be justified or not. Anger, even or especially when attached to righteous indignation can become quite volatile and unpredictable. Who in the world would not want to destroy utterly anyone who would dare raise their hand to their loved ones or those whom they care about? In this case, Sekhmet’s anger with its fury and destruction that almost wiped out the whole of humanity is understandable. Humans were plotting to kill Her Father, Ra. Her anger was indiscriminate, without warning, and absolute.
For anyone who has been so angry that they almost seemed as if they were outside of themselves, they can tell you there reaches a point when that anger produces a high of its own. I have been so angry in one particular incident, that I remember distinctly standing outside of my own self and thinking, “Wow…I am really pissed off.” There was that instant of wanting to stop but being unable to. When anger reaches that point, it is as if you are quite literally drunk on it.
A little bit like Sekhmet, perhaps? Maybe. If anything, the mythology teaches that there is always appropriate action. Sekhmet’s anger was initially quite appropriate, but then it reached the point to where it “got good to Her,” and Sekhmet became less than reasonable to the point where She almost destroyed the whole of Mankind. Going overboard is not what one would call appropriate.
I have found that there are those in and around the Kemetic faith sphere who are divined, or consider themselves to be children of Sekhmet who use it as an excuse. Too often I hear too many of them try to flippantly write off their bouts of poorly managed anger, co-dependent flailing, and just general bad behaviour on being a “child of Sekhmet”. There are still other children of various Names of Netjer who try to blame their need to get drunk every other night or on the weekends as how they deal with being a child of X Name of Netjer. Frankly, I think we all know that this is nothing short of a steaming load of bullshit. It may sound logical, but it really is just abdication of responsibility. Ultimately, you and you alone are responsible for your bad behaviour – putting it off on Deity is quite clearly a cop-out; and a weak one at that. Trying to dodge personal responsibility in that manner is pretty ridiculous. So why do it?
What to do? Well, certainly we are not going to wait around till Djehuti fills valleys with beer stained red with ochre and spiked with mandrake so we can get “happy” and forget why it was that we were pissed off about in the first place. We need to take the myths in the context in which they were, as far as we could tell, originally intended.
They were stories, meant to educate masses of people about natural phenomena that they encountered in their lives. Is the sun (Ra) really being pushed across the sky by a giant dung beetle (Kheperi)? Did Atum create All that Exists by self-pleasure and masturbation? (Talk about a “Big Bang Theory”!) Is the whole yearly cycle culminated by the epagomenal days and Djehuty has to beat Ra at a game of dice so that poor Nut can give birth to her children, Heru-Wer, Wasir, Set, Aset and NebetHet? Do we at the end of those five days, in all actuality destroy the Uncreated One when we perform the Rite of Turning Back the Enemies of Ra – or the sun won’t rise and the world will end? I suppose it really all depends upon your point of view. Certainly when someone wants to tout the benefits of teaching Creationism in schools, I pipe up with the one about Atum. That usually puts a kabbash on any further assertions about teaching Creationism in public education. Apparently teaching school aged children about some cultural mythology can potentially open up a whole other set of issues that some folks just aren’t prepared to explain to their kids!
Myths have served as road maps of a kind for man since antiquity. They help us understand what is going on in the world around us and within ourselves and the struggles that we face on a day-to-day basis. They give us pause during annual festivals of the year and when the seasons change or we gather together and remember our ancestors and our collective pasts. Certainly we see this sort of re-membering in almost any faith that you care to name. Of course, for myself, I tend to think of it in terms of my own Kemetic beliefs, which in many ways are quite similar to Hindu beliefs in how we integrate our religion into our lives. The myths and ritual actions that go along with them serve a purpose to get us to stop, to connect deeper with the Unseen. When we do this, it is my experience that we are healthier, calmer, more contemplative and reflective for having done so.
We also tend to be a little less dogmatic than other faiths because in our beliefs we do not feel the need to “prove” our extant liturgical texts. I have talked to many in non-Kemetic faiths who were excited when archaeological bits turned up that ascertained what was contained in their religious scripture was “proven” by what had been found. If you have Faith, why would actually “proving” something be at all necessary? You either believe something as being a truth religiously or philosophically or you don’t. You either find a way to integrate the beliefs and the symbolism into your life or you are oblivious to it. These things are what make up faith. It doesn’t necessarily need to be proven. Ultimately, I think that’s why it’s called ‘faith’.
Kemetic myths are rich and varied. These myths changed over periods of history and many were considered regional. Some of the better books on Kemetic myth are Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, by Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, The three-volume set of Ancient Egyptian Literature by Miriam Lichtheim. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom, and Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period . ANother good standby that is a bit older than the other aforementioned books is R.T. Rundle Clark’s classic book, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. Any of these go over some of the myths that many of we Kemetics hold up as part of our religious heritage.
For me, the most wonderful thing about these myths is that the longer I am around various folks who practice the Kemetic faith, I get exposed to other myths that I had never heard or just wasn’t paying that close attention to. Certainly in a religion where there are over 4,000 different Names for God and the various manifestations of the Divine, it becomes rather difficult to take them all in. That is certainly alright. Kemetic myths have a way of showing up at the time when they are the most relevant to us and in a time that we most need to hear them. There is something about this that is far less dogmatic and far more freeing when you can look at the sunrise and somehow imagine the Barque of Ra traveling across the sky.