“Do not be arrogant because of your knowledge, but confer with the ignorant man as with the learned for the limit of skill (art) has not been attained, and there is no craftsman who has fully acquired his mastery.” – The Maxims of PtahHotep
Sooner or later, we all have to come face to face with the spiritually arrogant. It may very well be, that we ourselves have bouts of spiritual arrogance of our own to contend with. It can be as simple as looking down our noses as to why we are right in our beliefs and the other party or parties are wrong. The whole phrase, “Religious tolerance”, is not the same as religious acceptance. Tolerance infers that we are putting up with something, and yet all the time view our way as being superior. Acceptance means that we can accept the differences in how others do things and how their approach practice without being judgemental about it.
Being Kemetic, I find that this issue often raises its head. The leadership or membership of one Kemetic group disagrees with and/or dislikes another group because of doctrine or practice, or there is just plain jealousy. Accusations of one sect or another being a ‘cult’, or ‘mindlessly dogmatic’ are hurled and understanding is nowhere to be found.
One of the best cures that I have personally found for such an affliction is through interfaith work. It is the choice to leave our own neighborhoods where the spiritual ghettos seem to get constructed without our even realizing it that seems to help the most. For me, it began by doing interfaith work with Kashi Ashram. The experience of having attended Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati’s birthday celebration and fire puja in Sebastian, Florida was a profound one. We were also privileged to have witnessed a ceremony in which several dedicants were committed to priesthood. SenyasiMa taught that her way was not so much a religion but a way of being in the world where the centermost idea is to practice kindness wherever possible. That meeting and that event, however, led me to doing more research into Hinduism and interfaith work with the local Hindu community. I am, of course, no expert. However, I do feel that the experience made me, I believe, a better member of the Kemetic priesthood.
Even with all of this, I realized after a time that I was feeling particularly smug and condescending toward other Kemetics and Neo-Pagans in general. I wanted to get back to my own Zep Tepi – the foundation of spiritual belief and doing ritual work and heka that would make me a better Priestess and representative of Sekhmet.
In recent years, there has been a new resurgence of relgious groups which focus on race and skin color. I have even been around members of one such group that insisted all of its members get DNA tests in order to ensure that they are of the right blood group – all to prove their lineage to certain historical bloodlines that mark them as “superior” to their human counterparts. They claim that this bloodline goes all the way back to either the bloodlines of the Tuatha de Dannan or to the Annunaki. The members of this group, which was once headed by a self-styled prince, fervently believe that rulership, and hereditary nobility sets them apart and entitles them to be a part of a higher caste and class that the rest of humanity. As far as the members of this elitist group are concerned, everyone else who doesn’t share in their bloodline are more or less shuffling herd animals incapable of real thought or any kind of magical or spiritual ability.
Unfortunately, these sorts of ridiculously bigoted nonsensical ideas have migrated their way into Kemetic groups. Afrocentrist philosophies are certainly not new. I am actually in agreement with the assertion that, yes, the world’s greatest civilizations did in fact begin in Africa. Homo sapiens (humans) began in Africa. That means that as humans, we all ultimately have a tie there. This is true whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
In the early days of the internet, the militancy of some afrocentrist groups had reached a fevered pitch. Some of the members of these groups or their fringe followers would troll the newsgroups on Usenet. These groups include ones such as alt.archaeology, sci.archaeology or alt.culture.egyptian. The trolls would start screaming about blackness and racial issues that really had less to do with ancient Egypt at all and more about some sort of bragging rights or never-ending angst over an inaccurate, rendition of history. One of their favorite claims that still persists to this day is that Napoleon or his troops decided to test their canons out on the nose of the Great Sphinx since the obviously African features of the ancient monument offended their Eurocentric sensibilities.
For the record, that particular rendition of what happened to the nose of the Great Sphinx is patently FALSE. Napoleon was very much in love with and in awe of Egypt. So devoted to this ancient civilization, Napoleon enlisted an entire corps of artists, architects and engineers for an expedition to explore and catalogue what they could find there so that they could study it, long after they returned to France. As a result, this expedition produced one of the greatest inventories of the ancient monuments in the form of the multi-volume, le Description de Egypte. That Napoleonic inventory of the riches of Egypt is still the most accurate one that we have to date. Napoleon would have likely put to death anyone who would do something so heinous as to shoot off the nose of the Great Sphinx. In all fairness, some of his men left initials behind on some of the monuments, but such defacements were minor compared to what they are currently accused of having done.
The unconscionable Sphinx defacement was, in fact, done at the behest of a Muslim cleric in the 13th Century AD. That is just a little bit too early for even Emperor Napoleon, I’m afraid. Apparently, this particular Muslim cleric was quite upset that tourists went to the desert to see, or as he saw it, ‘pay homage to’ a graven image. He considered such behavior and reverence to the past to be very ‘Un-Islamic’. He saw it as his personal responsibility to put a stop to it. This is not at all unlike what some within more radical factions of Islam are proposing to either cover the ancient monuments in wax or to completely obliterate them as the Islamic State has done to the city of Palmyra or in the fashion that the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan. One can still see the marks from the pry-bars are still visible on the Sphinx itself as evidence. These marks are still visible if you get close enough while reconstruction crews are at present trying to preserve the ancient beast.
So much for the claim by Afrocentrists that Europeans have tried or are still trying to obliterate the monument because of alleged ‘racist motivations’.
Currently there are even more scores of books and web pages almost everywhere you look that posit the notion that melanin = spiritual enlightenment and along with it, the inherent birthright to the kingdom of the Pharaohs. According to them, people who don’t have sufficient levels of melanin have pineal glands that are pretty much non-functioning. Proponents of this line of thinking propose the idea that if you don’t have enough melanin in your skin, you may admire ancient Kemet, its culture, people, history, etc. However, without the requisite melanin in your skin, you have absolutely no business worshiping the ancient Kemetic Netjeru at all.
I have experienced this myself. When I was in my late teens, a woman noticed the pendant depicting a winged Aset (Isis) and proceeded on a tirade. Pointing at the necklace she screeched, “How dare you worship African gods! You’d best be looking to your heritage and getyour own gods instead of stealing ours!”
As someone who was about 15 years old, I can only say that the experience was devastating to me. I was quite honestly shocked and hurt for having been the recipient of such vitriol that seemingly came out of nowhere. I have been tol that unfortunately my experience is not at all unusual. Many others, even those who have African heritage and yet have lighter skin or are not distinctly African looking, have suffered similar incidents. For my part, I know that I didn’t choose the Netjeru. I believed at that time, and I still firmly believe, that They chose me. They were the ones who decided to show up in dreams and put Themselves in my path wherever and whenever they could. When things looked dire, I was always reassured when I could look to the sky, catch the sight of a hawk or a falcon overhead. It served as a personalized reminder that Aset (Isis) and Heru (Horus) were watching me from overhead and that things were going to change. It gave me the hope I needed to realize that inevitably everything would be alright. How some woman, whom I didn’t even know, inexplicably walks up and tried to tell me that my connection is not mine at all and to wear Egyptian themed jewelry was inappropriate was inexplicable. As far as she was concerned, my notions of this were nothing more than some wishful whitebread, honky, wannabi fantasies and that I should move along and get me back to a church pew at the nearest Christian house of worship.
It was, and still is, beyond belief.
Racism or bigotry of any sort, between one culture or sect of humans against another, is a horrible stain upon humanity. It is becoming sadly, more and more prevalent in the past decade and more specifically since nationalist sentiments have insinuated themselves in governments throughout the world. Political correctness discarded for the moment, I will say that, ‘Yes, we do need to discuss the past.’ The slavery that happened in the Americas from its inception till after the Civil War and beyond as well as the many, many horrific injustices that happened to African-Americans from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights era right up to the present day should never be forgotten. I would never expect anyone who is of African American heritage to ever “get over it” any more than they should expect me and mine to ever “get over” the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee I and II, and the enforced sterilization of American Indian Women. That and scores of other dirty little secrets that were a part of BIA and other government policies. The wounds are fresh for many of us, and we are not likely to forget them. Sometimes even forgiving seems like an impossibility. Yes, we need to acknowledge the pain and the sacrifice of the ancestors on whatever side of whatever equation actually went through. We carry those memories in our DNA. We carry all of the prayers, the horrors, the sacrifice and the tremendous accomplishments deep within ourselves. All of these things are carried within our bones and make up the foundation upon which we build our own lives. The prejudice, the discrimination, the snide arrogance of stereotyping people into groups, unfortunately, still goes on.
Racism and bigotry, especially within spheres such as religion and culture really are about ignorance. Culture is not something that boils down to skin colour or even regionality. I know what is like to have a bigotted person tell me I shouldn’t worship Egyptian deities because my skin isn’t the right colour. I also know what it is like to have been raised Indigenous and know that when you are “claimed” by a People as one of their own and adopt that culture as your own in terms of how you identify, NO ONE (!!!) can gainsay that.
One of my favourite examples of this is in the person of Mr. JDK Chipps, who is a member of the Chipps family of the Lakota Nation. JDK himself was born into a white family. This is not particularly notable excpt that he is in no part Lakota or any other Nation of Indigenous Americans by blood at all. However, because of JDK’s devotion to the Lakota People and to the preservation of lands and his protection of wildlife, especially the buffalo, he was adopted by the Lakota Nation as one of their own. JDK is Lakota now. Period. Anyone who has dared to tell JDK or the Chipps family, or any of the People of his Nation that he is not Lakota because his skin color finds out very, VERY quickly just how wrong they are in the assumption. What’s important is that the Lakota Nation and his community knows who JDK is and vice versa. In the end, that is all that is necessary. Those are the kinds of things that simply don’t fit into neat little boxes of blood quantum or DNA. Racism and bigotry are both complex issues. However, knowing who you are, who your People are, and devotion to that – without trying to hold yourself above others, that’s the point.
Even with all of this acknowledgement, however, it doesn’t take much to realize that we do not solve the issues by screaming at people who are appreciating something beautiful and wonderful throughout the countless civilizations throughout the world, as well as all of the vastly diverse peoples who created them. It does not help anyone to act belligerently toward sincere people who love the gods and love ancient Egypt or any other culture for itself. Telling them to go away, or judging them as some other, or “Them” inevitably ends up being a kind of racism or bigotry itself. What happens, then, when children come from a mixed racial background want to find out who they are? What is considered “African enough”? What is Indian enough or Asian enough or European enough or whatever? What parent, ancestor or heritage should someone eschew in order to fit into these newly constructed ideas of race = culture are? These days, DNA testing can narrow down where certain groups of people were and how they migrated. Humanity has been meeting, mingling throughout history. PBS has had some wonderful specials on just that. It is amazing and awe-inspiring just how far science has come in that it has determined that we truly do carry our akhu (ancestors) within us, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the issues surrounding race or culture.
So what happens, if after the DNA test results come out, and a person is actually presented with the scientific evidence and knowledge that none of their blood ancestors cannot be traced to a specific tribe, area, country or culture? What if certain people of colour have no connection to the spiritual things that resonate most to them? How far does it go when someone finds out that their own bloodline has been “polluted” somewhere along the way, and they are not purely one thing or another? When does it stop and where does it end?
Certainly, our akhu of ancient Kemet would not do that. They had no problem with people worshiping their gods – or allowing them to bring their own into the country just as long as the ideal of Ma’at was adhered to. If faced with such a reality, does that mean that those with no DNA connection would also have to stop paying attention to the Netjeru and go only with what their true ancestors did and how they believed? What about those who are called – though we may not ourselves understand what a specific Name of Netjer may have in mind for that person – and they are still called? Is it ‘cultural appropriation’, then, to love something and want to appreciate it and give thanks for it by murmuring a prayer to Sekhmet or to HetHert or Ptah somehow wrong? Is holding one’s hands up in the gesture of henu or praise at seeing the sunrise and giving thanks to Ra somehow taking away from another culture and ‘stealing’ from it?
I don’t believe that it is.
There is also another disturbing trend within the ranks of Afrocentrists and Afrocentrism and that is the use of materials that are 1) completely out of date, eg. the public domain works of Sir. E.A. Wallis Budge. I have written about this before. Yes they are cheap, sometimes they are even free – but during the time that they were created, the author was clearly a citizen within a large empire, populated by people who did not appreciate the Egyptians for who they were but rather wanted to do as much as they possibly could to make them like themselves. During the Victorian era, expeditions, particularly to Egypt and the ancient world, were more easily funded if it promised to underscore the thoughtform and religious beliefs of the status quo based on some ancient model that it was allegedly derived from. These same people were the very definition of eurocentrism – far more than current Egyptologists who offer more current up to date and affirming works. Many if not nearly all of those early authors were racists. They believed in things such as the heiress theory and the idea that a certain caste and class of people oversaw the darker skinned commoners and did everything that they could to keep those bloodlines pure. One of these authors went as far as to say, “Egypt must never be allowed to partake of Africa’s spirit.”
Budge and his contemporaries were cut very much from the cloth of eurocentricity during that time. Of course, the times have changed and we now have in the ranks of egyptology, those who are not just native born Egyptians – but also Americans, Europeans, Asians, and Africans from all over the continent. In the days that Sir E. A. Wallis Budge was penning his works, there was an underlying idea of an apartheid system with a ruling class made up of a white minority who oversaw all aspects of power. They set themselves up so that they might oversee the majority of darker skinned non-European people. Budge ‘s works do have some good typesetting, however, his translations were completely off in many ways. To the point, we need to not only take the contents of books into account but also the the eras in which those writings were produced and how the cultural mindset of the authors whose views very probably bled over into the thesis and conclusions that were made.
How is this sort of prejudice and racism any different from what the slave masters of the south believed? How is it different from the views that were put forth in Nazi propaganda by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich? How tolerable would it be for those who are not of African-American decent to make the same sort of bigoted claims that many within afrocentrism seem to make today?
My guess is that the public outcry and the flurry of social media backlash would be astounding if not downright deafening. What makes us different in terms of religious beliefs, culture, and out outward appearance is, I believe, what makes us beautiful. There is a beautiful line of dialogue in that wretched film, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, where a little English girl comparing her skin colour to that of the Moor, Hakim (played by Morgan Freeman) asks, “Why did God paint you?” And Hakim smiles at her and gives her the most simple, yet breathtakingly beautiful answer: “Because He loves infinite variety.”
Infinite variety should not instill arrogance in any of us. If anything, it should instill an almost overwhelming feeling of awe.
Furr, Grover. “Fallacies of Afrocentrism.” Fallacies of Afrocentrism. Monclair State University, English Department, n.d. Web. 18 June 2014.
Jaroff, Leon. “Teaching Reverse Racism.” Time. Time Inc., 24 June 2001. Web. 23 June 2014.
Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard, “Melanin, Afrocentricity, and Pseudoscience”, Academia.edu