Heru-Sa-Aset After the Fall of Kemet

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” -Gustav Mahler

I have what some would term an “issue with authority”; because of that, my relationship with Heru is uniquely valuable in that as many things as we have in common, we also differ on several very important things. He challenges my ideas without violating my boundaries, and even when he doesn’t change my mind about something, my ideas become better developed because of these challenges. He introduces different ways of thinking about things I naturally shy away from, like tradition or authority, and helps me to more efficiently and peacefully navigate the deeply hierarchical world I live in. Because of my unique position “between” Heru and his rival Set -a shared devotee and in many cases a middle ground, the “human element”, between divine chaos and order- I also get to see how he is uniquely challenged by his relationship with Set (and vice versa, but I digress). And of course, I get to see how he has come to terms -or attempted to come to terms- with the new, strange world in which he lives. This post is my attempt to put into words the struggles he goes through, as I’ve seen and interpreted them; obviously this is mostly UPG, though I like to think a lot of it is heavily influenced by historical themes.

Here’s an obvious truth modern-day kemetics, particularly reconstructionist kemetics, often shy around talking about: we can never fully reconstruct Ancient Egypt and its religion. We will never know half as much about it as we know about Hellenic polytheism, we will probably never know how regular people (rather than the priests who wrote everything we have to go off of now) worshipped the NTRW. So much of the context and details of this religion have been lost to the sands of time; a once-proud and groundbreaking empire has long since fallen, and we are only doing the best we can to preserve and honor what little we have left. For those of us born in this time, this isn’t something to mourn too much; we have our own culture and society to lean on, and we don’t much envy people who lived in a patriarchal, xenophobic, slave-owning, imperialistic nation where the past was worshipped, law was seen as the human duty for the divine order with infringes on said order punished accordingly harshly, and historical fact was less important than painting the pharaoh in a positive light. But for a god who was the proverbial poster child of the nation believed to be not only the greatest, but the only nation worth talking about (why else would the ancients allow Set, the bitter rival of their beloved king, the title of “Lord of Foreigners” unless they believed that one Egyptian was always better than nameless uncountable people from anywhere else on the planet?); for the god who was held up as the prototype of not only kingship, but all righteous young Egyptian men until they died and became Osiris; for the god who was accustomed to being seen as something between Jesus, Luke Skywalker, and Superman. . .For Heru-Sa-Aset, the fall of Egypt wasn’t just a tragedy, or the loss of his power and status in this realm (although that certainly must have stung as well). It was the death of everything he had and everything he was. It was the loss of the only thing, in his mind, that made him unique and worthy among the netjeru. After all, what’s a king without his kingdom?

Heru as I know him is maybe a bit too likely to stick with tradition and resent change, maybe a bit too unnerved by, or patronizing towards, things that are defiant and strange, liking the phrase “because I said so” a little too much for my taste- but he is no cruel tyrant. He loved Egypt because he loves people. He loved to be the one humanity turned to for help, the one entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the nation and by proxy the universe running smoothly. He isn’t just the Egyptian paragon of superficial desirable traits, he’s exactly what I have in mind when I picture a Lawful Good heroic figure in a position of leadership. He’s the symbol of the part of civilization that protects the weak where nature would allow it to be eaten by the strong. He’s the god who was not born fully formed and ready to rule, but had to grow through childhood and adolescence, who knew the fear of being hunted by someone bigger and stronger than you, who made sacrifices and suffered defeat before he was allowed to claim the throne. In that way, he is the most human of the pantheon -the most relatable to a young person who also had to grow up too quickly. He’s a natural leader, kind, loyal, just, and as willing to be merciful to enemies as he is to be harsh with friends when need be. He’s able to empathize and heal, to approach problems assuming they can be fixed peacefully rather than immediately trying to force things to go his way. He’s so much of what I wish I was, what I aspire to be.

But for some reason, he thinks these things don’t matter next to the fact his crown is now a relic of the past. He thinks the title of king is his single defining, valuable trait -that since other NTRW may be stronger, or more universally kinder, or equally capable of protecting the vulnerable and healing the sick, that he is irrelevant now. That he can only remain himself through clinging to the old order with all his strength, pointedly ignoring Set’s popularity and growing influence in the sphere of modern-day kemetic polytheists and our communities. He is so wounded by losing all he once had that it keeps him from seeing what he has, or could have, today.

I love this god more than I ever thought I could, and I understand why these things are so difficult for him, but I still find it all incredibly frustrating. A crown is, after all, just a fancy hat that symbolizes the ability to command armies that enforce your will. It says nothing about the character of the mind and heart beneath it. Egypt was the first great civilization, but it wasn’t perfect, so why pretend that it was? Why worship the ashes when he could help us build a better civilization today where we could continue to uphold ma’at, continue to keep the flame alive in a new form -and besides we have cool shit that can make fire different colors these days, new campfire songs and stories to tell, new kinds of alcohol, roller coasters and rock bands and movies and comic books. New ways to share our religion over the internet so that average people can understand and honor the gods in perhaps a deeper and more informed way than we once could. And even in this strange new world, we still need kind leaders like him.

A king without a kingdom is no less than he once was. It’s only his methods that have to change, not his character or his good heart.

I don’t know if I have the capacity to change anything about the Heru that I know and love. I don’t know if it’s possible for him to change and adapt to a world where he isn’t the king, but “just” a deity people in need turn to for encouragement and support, a friend to those who need it, a valuable teacher of patience and discipline to rowdy troublemakers like yours truly. But I still really, really hope so. We need him, especially in these chaotic times where it seems nothing means anything and those in power are no longer even pretending to serve all of their people equally. He deserves to help us, just as he always has. He deserves to be happy, now as in antiquity.

Lost in Translation

Too often I realize that I’ve jumped the gun and gone with my own incomplete knowledge of what a non-corporeal entity has said, and it’s often to my detriment. I’ve also noticed that sometimes I don’t communicate my experience with the Unseen adequately, to the point that I may have led some people to the conclusion that all the ‘messages’ I get are loud, clear, and definite, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

In many situations, I don’t receive words directly from beings I communicate with astrally, but rather the feelings and intent behind the words. However, since I have a human brain that has been conditioned to synthesize stimuli in terms of language, my brain will then interpret the message it’s receiving into English -or at least, do its best to do so. I find that the closer I get with an entity, the more comfortable my brain gets with allowing a message from them to remain nonverbal for much longer, allowing more depth and richness to develop with an idea being communicated before I label the idea with words and give my brain a “shortcut” for said idea (as this can often do more to limit my understanding than to help it). In worst case scenarios, this mental shorthand can lead me to interpreting something benign as a threat, or something manipulative or deceptive as benign.

Of course, my own expectations factor heavily into why I receive the messages that I do in the way that I do. I have been in legitimately abusive and traumatizing situations Over There, and for that reason part of my brain is always looking out for a threat from the other side. This causes me to be more discerning in some cases, which is good when a healthy amount of skepticism is required (dealing with trickster or chaos gods or entities in general, or when dealing with someone who wants something from you in general) or when someone is showing the ‘red flags’ of manipulation or control. It helps because it quickly alerts both me and the entity that I’m not okay with something that’s going on, and often it helps us both to adjust our approach to the conversation or relationship so that we can work it out without conflict. However, it can also mean that I default to mistrust and therefore confrontation, which often means an entity trying to communicate with me has to either drop a subject completely, or be more forceful in trying to communicate with me. It also means that sometimes an entity will go along with my assumptions, often to sort of to test me or to find something out about me.

I have, however, found that there are ways to avoid these misunderstandings and give myself a better chance of accurately summarizing the reality of a situation that is so intimately influenced by my expectations. The first step is to ask non-corporeal entities for elaboration and details when they say something I’m uncertain about. For example, if Set tells me “I want you to do a thing”, he won’t send me his perspective on the thing that he wants me to do. Rather, he’ll show me my own memories and thoughts of me doing a thing, or a very similar thing, and I’ll intuitively understand what he’s requesting. (This is where the familiarity comes into play: entities that have spent millennia around humans understand how our brains work and will take advantage of the shortcuts our brains are prone to taking. When an entity knows you well, they’ll also take advantage of the shortcuts your brain holds embedded by your culture, your experiences, your interests and your belief system. For example, Set and Heru will understand that in some contexts I respond to being referred to as someone’s sheep would imply I trust and follow them because I understand they are worthy of my trust, while in other contexts I would take it as an insult to my intelligence and mental strength.) Non-corporeal entities like to use metaphors and parables, as there often isn’t an English word for the concept they’re describing. That’s where you get stuff like “gods are like trees” or “you are my mirror” or “it’s like that movie you like where…” and other statements that sound like nonsense at first, but reveal deeper meaning if you poke at the statement long enough and allow them to tell you what you are right and wrong about as you do so.

One such example can be found in my conversations with Fenrir. When I first began speaking to him, he referred to me several times as “belonging to him”. For obvious reasons, these statements made me bristle, and an argument very nearly broke out because my knee-jerk reaction was to insist that I in fact belonged to myself, thank you very much, and who the hell did he think he was. However, by reigning in my immediate fear and anger response and asking Fenrir to clarify, I learned that he didn’t mean to imply ownership but rather similarity and a sense of familial bond based on that similarity. When I asked specifically about what made me uncomfortable with his statement, the idea that he would behave in some way forcefully or possessively toward me, he clarified that he wasn’t interested in a relationship where I felt obligated or “bound” to him in the slightest. So by resisting my immediate urge to jump to conclusions and choosing instead to give the benefit of the doubt while simultaneously clearly illustrating my boundaries, I was able to walk away from the encounter feeling not threatened, but understood and valued.

This method works for me most of the time, but when confusion and fear still remains after I continuously try to reframe an entity’s statements and requests, I generally follow the discernment strategy that works for me: first, to tell the entity I am frustrated and uncomfortable and would like time to myself, or at least a change of subject. If the entity resists, I use warding techniques or request that another entity “get them away from me”; most of the time, however, the entity will leave before I have to force them out. I believe this is because while I tend to expect entities to push my boundaries for the sake of learning and growth, once I begin taking efforts to force them away from me, they understand they are crossing a line and to continue doing so will compromise my trust and willingness to communicate with them at all. (Entities, including deities, are much like people in that you can determine their trustworthiness by their reaction to being defied or otherwise challenged. If an entity will not respect your boundaries, they are almost always not who they claim to be, or have some sort of ulterior motive.) Once I have the space I need -usually this requires me to do something else altogether to distract myself so that I don’t continuously “call the entity back” with my thoughts and questions on the matter, and then become increasingly annoyed when they respond- I mull over the conversation, talking to people and entities I trust about it. If it’s anything important, I write down my thoughts and suspicions before turning to divination and asking for signs from an entity that I’m interpreting their statements or requests correctly. In almost all situations, this routine yields answers that can be confirmed in some sort of corporeal, scientifically observable pattern.

My particular methods will probably not work for everyone, but I highly encourage anyone with discernment issues to come up with some methods that correspond to the scientific method:

  1. Ask a question (What is entity trying to say?).
  2. Do background research (What experiences have you and others had with the entity that could shed light on the issue? Is there a pattern in their behavior that could explain their actions and words? Is there a historical precedent for a request or statement that seems nonsensical to a modern practitioner?).
  3. Test with an experiment (your preferred divination method).
  4. Continue experimenting, and changing the procedures of your experiments, until a pattern can be identified (alternative divination methods/asking for signs from an entity).
  5. Evaluate data and draw conclusions (interpretation of divination and patterns you have observed).

This method of observation, experimentation, and study is the basis for all humanity’s search for knowledge about the universe because it works. Remember to write down every step and be as self-aware as possible when recording your own biases and assumptions as well; try your best to emotionally distance yourself from the subject of your study in order to evaluate the results of your experiments objectively. Don’t only ask one source, either! Get blind readings to confirm yours. Specify you are asking, say, another trusted entity for their opinion on the matter; I often find that this is the most efficient way to find out if an entity is deceiving you or what assumptions you are making that is contributing to any miscommunication.

It’s worth adding, as a quick disclaimer, that it’s tempting to tell yourself that any issues you have with something an entity is saying or trying to do -particularly when said entity is a deity or someone you trust and respect- is actually just miscommunication, because the entity couldn’t possibly be doing something to hurt you or something ethically wrong. This can be just as destructive as being too ready to believe an entity would mistreat you or do something wrong. It’s usually a good idea to think about your boundaries and openly discuss them with entities you work with, no matter what your paradigm happens to be concerning the level of submission and trust one should have for said entities. If you seem to be running into the same conflicts over and over again with different entities, however, it’s always worth looking at your own assumptions and fears, in case they could be influencing the way you’re interpreting what’s being said.

Sacred Dissobedience 

I can’t recommend this piece highly enough; it’s as if Thenea said something I’ve been thinking for years, but much more eloquently.

Magick From Scratch

Deity: You seem to be in a good situation, with respect to your household. Which of your gods set you up?

Me: I… Actually you can’t credit my gods with this one. Every last one of them told me to stay away from him. I married him anyway. So that’s all me.

I got to thinking about where I’d be today if I had obeyed the gods on this issue.

I never would have finished college. I’d be living in a place isolated from any sort of suitable pagan community. I never would have learned Kabalah, or Ceremonial Magic. I would have been unable to bring those exegetical techniques to Hellenismos.

I would be struggling with poverty. I might not have access to suitable doctors to manage my health conditions. I would be in pain most of the time, and possibly not even know why.

A core tennant of Consent Culture…

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Balance

The ancient Egyptians understood the concept of balance- that two opposing forces must find a way to exist in relative harmony with one another, or risk ceasing to exist at all. Their concept of ma’at is so fundamentally tied to this idea, in fact, that modern kemetic polytheists almost always mention it in their explanation of our religion’s moral ideals. Even if one does not have the time, spoons, and resources to read scholarly articles and books on Egyptology and the ancients’ religion, one can understand the moral and practical implications of the concept of balance (moderation, compromise, movement within equilibrium) that we study and talk and write about in our communities today.

It’s the practical application of the concept of balance in the kemetic community I’m most familiar with on Tumblr that moved me to write today. I’ve alluded to this imbalance in my writing multiple times before: it is the imbalance of power that exists so ubiquitously among people who don’t believe they have any power at all. You won’t see a savvy and capable politician or CEO throwing words and ideas around haphazardly; they reveal their information and intent only to achieve their current goal. You won’t catch them saying something that they believe can come back to bite them later, and that often includes not pissing off large groups of people unnecessarily. You’ll see a politician spew hateful rhetoric about transgender people, for example, if the politician is courting the vote of those that hate transgender people- but a successful politician will not publicly and intentionally say anything offensive to anyone, because doing so would limit their possible future assets and allies. Regular people, however, don’t take this into account and say whatever the hell they want, trusting that their words will have minimal effects on those around them and on themselves. No one cares what a random person says, right? Regular people have a certain freedom from the responsibility that comes with power. When people say what they please without thinking of the consequences, without believing there are any consequences at all, we see the results of centuries of oppression imprinted on our conversations, our behavior, our culture. The backlash against “PC culture” and “social justice warriors” is two-sided; yes, it’s a result of people resisting cultural change (reactionaries), but it’s also an expression of the feeling that one’s words have no real impact and thus are unworthy of being policed, even informally. The idea is that no harm can be done, and the only motivation for such attempts to police one another is to gain power where there previously was none.

However, this collective concept of powerlessness is a complete illusion. We don’t have to speak into a microphone before a crowd of millions for our words to have consequences beyond the scope of what we could possibly imagine as we say or write them. This reminds me once again of the kemetic conception of the universe- the idea that heka, or words and images, being the most volatile form magic and power that humans possess. People are social creatures, and the means through which we communicate with one another -words and symbols- have explosive power over ourselves and those around us. We can hurt and heal one another through words without even intending to do so- and we do just that every time we speak. For this reason, “freedom of speech” fundamentally can not be separated from “responsibility of speech”. For this reason, those of us who choose to use this most potent power we possess must find balance between freedom and responsibility when we use it, as all powerful and successful human beings have throughout history.

What would we change about the things we say and do to one another, I wonder, if we kept these ideas in mind day in and day out, as the ancient writings encourage us to do? Would we cling so desperately to the ideal of freedom, even to the detriment of communal justice, if we knew that freedom was so fundamental that order could not exist without it? Would we be so willing to submit ourselves to the order established by our current governments and cultural ideas if we understood that change is not only inevitable, but healthy? If we truly saw ourselves as those who maintain ma’at on Earth in these strange, dangerous times, would we be so willing to compromise our ethical principles and risk throwing the balance of freedom and justice into the kind of chaos that would take decades to recover from?

I believe that it is this balance, between freedom and justice, in which we can find all hope for a better future. It’s in this balance that I find peace between my two patrons, Set and Heru-Sa-Aset, in a world after the fall of Kemet and its kings. It’s in this balance that we’ll find the solution to our issue with self-policing. It’s in this balance that kemetics and kemeticism will find our place in this strange new world.

The Divine Antagonist

I was so happy to find this post months ago, because it gave historical validity to a pattern I’ve noticed with all my lowercase-g-gods: I relate to them at first through a period (of varying length and intensity) of trash-talking, defiance, and downright resentment. It’s through this very pain-in-the-ass behavior that I learn what is is about said deities that really is deserving of true respect; it’s through this process that I learn to trust them- after all, if they were just looking for an excuse to go all godly terror and smite me, that would be the time to do it. I’m fully aware of my similarities with a toddler testing the limits of their new babysitter’s patience and lenience, but I don’t particularly care. Every time I try to approach deities with the kind of automatic deference I see my peers talking about, it ends up just being lip service, which in my experience deities can smell a mile away and find a hell of a lot more insulting than if I just say “I don’t like you. I wouldn’t respect a human who acted the way you do and I don’t respect gods who do it, either. My genuine respect doesn’t come cheap and you have yet to earn it in my eyes”.

Don’t misunderstand- there are absolutely occasions when lip service and deferential formalities are required, and most often they’re my only buffer between my own obstinence and the very real possibility of godly retribution. I do respect the experience, wisdom, and power that the title of “god” indicates, and when I meet deities I don’t know I do my best to let that be known -even if only because I’ve generally noticed that gods are less likely to bother me if I act demure and in awe of them rather than heckling them. Besides, the more deities I go through this whole song and dance with, the more I learn that even the ones I don’t like are still very much deserving of respect; they’re deities for a reason, after all. In many ways, my stubborn, disrespectful attitude is the most direct route for me learning to truly respect deities; maybe that’s why they overwhelmingly react to it in a surprisingly patient and understanding manner.

I also suspect that some part of most deities enjoy the challenge. Some more than others, of course, but the myths do include instances of gods being petty, after all. In my experience, the begrudging but genuine praise of a human who couldn’t stand them a few weeks ago is sweeter to many deities than a human gritting their teeth and praising them just because they’re afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Some of them seem to enjoy the back-and-forth, some find distinct pleasure in playfully annoying me. All of this behavior, even if it irritates the hell out of me at first, ultimately endears me to them. It’s so frustrating and fun and funny and human that I can’t help but to relate to them. (If only getting close with actual humans was so easy.) The process of divine antagonism teaches me about them, about myself, and eventually leads to a closer relationship with deities than if I tried to skip straight to the “humble praise and service” part. Besides which, I’ve always felt comfortable relating to people through teasing and talking shit, and I find I learn better through debates or when somebody will play “devil’s advocate” so to speak. This manner of relating to deities may not be very popular, but it works for me and I’m gonna keep doing it.

On a deeper, more spiritual level, I’m reminded of this line from the article I linked above: “…An antagonist deity is not a deity who is out to get you or who wants to destroy you. They are a deity with whom you have a reasonably strong connection befuddled by various factors. An antagonist deity represents a part of yourself that needs refinement and work. Not all deities with whom you have a negative relationship qualify…Genuine antagonist deities are facing off not with you, but with a dark facet of your nature which in some way relates to what they stand for.” This makes perfect sense, and gives the antagonistic relationships I’ve had with several deities (Loki and Ares come to mind at the moment) a sort of “greater purpose” than us just not getting along. I bicker with Ares because he represents the things in the world I see as my enemy, the parts of myself that I see as cruel and selfish; I play incessant mind-games and verbally fence with Loki because he reminds me of times I’ve been deceived and betrayed, and of my own capacities and tendencies to lie and manipulate even people that I love. I believe that they’ve dealt with people like me many times before, and they understand what they’re doing better than I do; they aren’t just tormenting me for shits and giggles, they’re using my very real resentment and mistrust for a greater purpose. They’re helping me work through these problems I have -with the world, with my past, and with myself- on my own terms, rather than insist I put aside all baggage I have about them for the sake of respecting the divine. It’s very considerate of them, if you think about it.

 

I’m not completely dismissing the possibility of gods sometimes having completely petty and self-serving motivations for some of their interactions with us; that would be, in my opinion, seeing gods through such rose-colored glasses that I would be ignoring vital parts of their beings. People have multiple facets and motivations for doing things, and so do gods. I also stand by my previous statements that gods can and do sometimes overstep bounds and abuse humans, and that their titles as gods don’t exonerate them of wrongdoing in those situations. What I am saying is that keeping an open mind and being really honest with yourself -as well as having a sense of humor and “being a good sport” when a deity seems to be screwing around with you- can go a long way in trying to understand the actions of a deity that seems to consistently give you nothing but trouble.

I often consider making more frequent posts on this blog detailing my spiritual path, but I always end up deciding against it. For one thing, this is really deep and personal stuff, and the more people know about it, the more they can use it against me. I’ve made enemies -sometimes even gleefully so, as that’s just the kind of motherfucker I am- and the last thing I need is to post something like “right now I’m working on becoming a more patient person” and immediately have people go out of their way to piss me off to get in the way of my achieving that goal. Last year around this time I would’ve thought that was a paranoid and far-fetched thing to worry about, but now I think that it isn’t paranoid enough. 

A second reason I don’t make these kinds of posts is that I keep thinking -who the hell would care? Writing is only enjoyable to consume when it’s been written for an audience. No one wants to read about my seemingly-endless struggles with finding reliable mental health care and tackling shadow work in between avoiding situations that will tempt me to act impulsive, reckless, and destructive. Sometimes it’s encouraging to see someone you look up to go through similar things to you -but anyone who looks up to me now will soon realize I’m not someone who should be looked up to, and I don’t think what I’m going through is relatable enough to be helpful to anyone. Most people I talk to have mental illness issues like anxiety and depression and low self-esteem. What could they learn from me writing about how I feel nothing at all and then am overwhelmed with a desire to break things and verbally tear people to shreds and otherwise burn down every beautiful thing I’ve ever seen or cared about or thought of? What could they gain from reading about how difficult it is for me to understand people’s feelings and give a shit about them, or about me struggling to reign in my pathological self-importance? I’m guessing not all that much.

Maybe I actually avoid writing about this stuff because facing your feelings is difficult, and I’ve become a master at hiding them. But I can’t delve much more into this topic until June, as per a gag order from a god I don’t actually worship or even always particularly like. You understand.

Maybe this is all just the depression talking (I’m pretty sure I’m finally out of Mania Season and into Depression Season, so huzzah for that) and I’m being dumb and self-pitying for refusing to even try to use the one thing I’m actually certain I’m gifted at. I honestly don’t know the particulars of why I’ve procrastinated doing this or whether I actually should begin doing it, but I’m tired of treading water and never actually getting anywhere. A few paragraphs about what I’m dealing with and thinking about every week or so can’t hurt.

The Case for Social Justice in Ma’at

Discussions regarding what is and is not a part of ma’at, the central focus of the ancient Egyptian religion and the modern reconstructions of said religion, have proliferated over the years. The only consensus to be found tends to be merely that ma’at is best translated loosely as balance. However, it is in fact far more than simply a matter of the vague concept “balance” and the maintenance thereof (whatever that ‘maintenance’ could be said to be, since “balance” is such a vague term it all but removes any actual morality from the equation), but an action, or series of actions, that requires us to come to the aid of marginalized and oppressed peoples.

As one researches the basis of this ancient religion, the scholarly sources regarding ancient Egyptian philosophy and culture tell us that equality and equal treatment (x x x x), caring for and protecting the vulnerable (x x x x x x x x x x x), and being mindful and proactive with our speech and actions as well as being considerate to others (x x x x x x x) are all intrinsic parts of ma’at, the kemetic ideal of goodness and justice. A concern for others and for one’s community is so central to the concept of ma’at in antiquity that it’s safe to say that to suggest to the ancients that modern day kemeticism isn’t concerned with other kemetics or society – that “politics have no place in your religion”- would strike them as ludicrous:

Ma’at was not only a concept that affected social, spiritual, and environmental domains, however, but the philosophy that all of these domains were irrevocably linked:

As is the case when humans come together in any setting, there is dispute about what constitutes justice, protecting the vulnerable, moral wisdom, and mindful speech. This post is an attempt to argue the case of social justice being an inherent part of just, fair, and mindful behavior, and thus fundamental to acting in ma’at in our modern age.

Despite its many flaws and many opponents, social justice is just; “social justice” is, in whatever small or large ways we are capable of, a system of tactics aiming to feed the hungry, fix what is broken, and right what is wrong in our society -as well as tactics to oppose prejudice, oppression, inequality, and hatred (in all their forms, large and small)- all of which sources of isfet. The argument that since inequality was part of Ancient Egyptian society, it is therefore part of ma’at, is flawed for two reasons. First, ma’at was clearly meant as a moral ideal one models their actions by, not a portrait of literal reality. When one says “justice”, for example, they don’t mean a literal, existing judicial system; they mean an ideal of fairness, equality, and reciprocity for both wrongdoing and rightful action. To assert that the ancient Egyptians thought their society was a perfect example of ma’at is to willfully ignore the things they actually said about ma’at, and their own ability to recognize that it was not reflected by their material surroundings. Secondly, any real understanding of the reality of oppression allows no illusion as to the fundamental injustice and harm it causes. It is known that the Egyptians considered murder isfetic; why, then, would they not consider the wrongful murder of unarmed black people isfetic? It is known that the Egyptians urged moral sensitivity to the point of “not making another cry”, implying sensitivity to emotional harm; why then would they consider disrespect to another’s culture, ethnicity, race, or gender (and so on) acceptable? The idea that the Egyptians would accept such behavior as ma’at both misunderstands ma’at as “status quo” and silence rather than justice and peace, and disrespects the ancients by suggesting they were too ignorant and cruel to recognize that harming their fellow human being is unacceptable.

Besides the point, while modern kemetic polytheists may be reconstructing a religion and moral ideal from the writings of ancient Egyptians, the fact remains that they are simply not them. Even hard reconstructionists will never fully reconstruct the ancient religion, because to do so would necessitate reconstructing the entire society that first held it. We have the benefit of several thousand years of history, learning, and progress while we come together to create a new Kemetic religion. Let modern kemetics aim not to imitate every tradition from antiquity, but to carry the old traditions into the modern day with more compassion, justice, and righteousness than before, and collectively consider prejudice and oppression as fundamentally unjust and therefore fundamentally isfet. Let it be known that we are obligated to oppose and crush it wherever we see it, as agents of Ma’at.

Having shown that oppression and inequality is isfetic, it is important to also prove that the inequality and oppression social justice tactics oppose exists in the first place. A summary of all the social ills we are currently facing is another post altogether -or rather, another entire book, or several- so I will focus on one of the most topical, anti-blackness (despite the fact that discrimination and oppression also exists against LGBT+ people, non-white people in general, the disabled, and women). Evidence suggests that general institutionalized racism and more casual covert racism go unnoticed unless it is pointed out. The rebirth of the civil rights movement – a movement that only achieved a modicum of the dream that Mr. King once spoke of, the same dream that many non-marginalized groups quote often out of context – (many people think that the civil rights movement from the 60s was fully successful and that people are whining because they just want more instead of actual equality) is simply titled Black Lives Matter, and yet there is significant backlash to even that simple statement. Even other marginalized groups participate in racism (especially towards black people), and the casual appropriation of black culture is commonplace in white America. Economic injustice in the black community is well documented and our justice system, from sentencing to the writing of laws to the actions of police officers, is fundamentally racist. The history of Western culture, especially America, is characterized by white supremacy, and needless to say, its effects are still felt today. (If you only click on one link in this paragraph, make it the last one -it is a gold mine of information.) Suffice to say, there are very deep problems that need addressing.

A wave of reactionary hate, publicly referred to as the “alt-right” but who are in fact Neo-Nazis and the groups of Trump supporters who claim their vote for him was not because of his racist propaganda but due to his “plans” to fix the failing infrastructure, is symptomatic of the way our society conditions people for prejudice by promoting these twisted views; denying that these views (and their champions) exist at all, or that things reinforcing these behaviors and ideas are “actually racist” (rather than “political correctness gone wild”); and finally, when there is no doubt that the white nationalist you’re talking to is indeed a white nationalist, by insisting rational and decent human beings give them the time of day with cries of “free speech” and “tolerance for all creeds”. These groups see their prejudice as their right and to view those who threaten their “right” to act on that prejudice as dismantling their very way of life. They also have ultimately developed a blind spot to institutionalized racism and its proponents by virtue of not being targeted by it, nor knowing intimately anyone who does, and frankly because of the sense of comfort one gets when able to tell themselves they already live in a free and just society for all -no need to fight or struggle or work toward anything, all is well -if only those damn upstarts would quiet down and let us enjoy it, right? This is also known as “social privilege”. Fellow kemetics should not reject social justice and become complacent in these social ills for similar reasons. The documented changes in society, most often seen by those who view social justice in a negative light as everything “suddenly becoming offensive” in recent years is actually due to the fact that oppressed groups are now able to speak more openly and to a wider audience about why certain ideas and statements are harmful to them. Somebody asking you to recognize you are speaking from a place of privilege -and therefore, ignorance to minorities’ lived experiences- isn’t the marginalized people trying to exploit their status as once-oppressed to win an argument.They’re asking you to respect them and their experiences enough not to speak over them. They’re also expecting you to both acknowledge your position of social privilege and do what you can to relinquish that undeserved position of power over others. To privileged people this often feels like “reverse discrimination“, when in fact it is closer to justice. Treating people around you with respect isn’t some superfluous act of “political correctness“. It’s doing your basic duty to them as a fellow human beings.

The appearance within our current community appears to show that there are many kemetics who are willing to accept the existence of such oppression and isfet in our lives, but who do not feel obligated to think about it or act against it. We are all here because of a shared religion, after all, not to discuss politics. The loudest arguments proposing that we should accept isfet as a part of the status quo is most often stated along the lines of: Shouldn’t kemetic spaces be reserved for pictures of altars and of the gods, avoiding all uncomfortable discourse on morality and therefore, politics and political action? However, an analysis of the ancients’ concept of ma’at shows that this is simply not acting within ma’at at all. A responsibility to not only be vigilant and listen and learn about what the right thing is, but to do that right thing once we know of it, is as central to ma’at as not doing the isfetic thing in the first place. Violence in the Service of Order, Muhlenstein, pg. 221-222, reads:

“Hence we can assume that even a failure to act against the Isfet enclave of conspirators was construed to be an attack on Ma ‘at, probably because it could be assumed that a failure to report the conspiracy denoted complicity with its ideas.”  (x)

Another text reads:

This is in line with the social justice concept that “silence is violence”; if you choose to do nothing in times of injustice, you have sided with the oppressor. It is our job as servants of ma’at to stand against isfet wherever we see it, in whatever ways we can.

Having shown the existence of these social illnesses, and after having come to the conclusion that they constitute isfet and kemetics are bound to oppose it, it’s important to point out that although “social justice” as a political concept is flawed and should not be the basis of progressive – or radical – politics, it is grounded in a desire to a) educate about the social ills that constitute oppression and discrimination, and b) protect and empower vulnerable minorities. It is our best practical tool toward living in ma’at on a day-to-day basis (that is, without getting involved in more radical politics such as protesting in the streets or donating to radical causes. Obviously, kemetics should do these things when and if they can, but this essay is concerned with “social justice” in the sense of regular, daily actions and speech). Social justice, in the colloquial sense of the term, is often concerned with things people say and how they say them, which was a big concern of Ma’atian ethics in antiquity:

The ancients also had moral stipulations on inadvertently causing harm, or even harming others emotionally:

There is a common misconception among those who oppose social justice and “identity politics” that the concern of social justice is only to protect people’s “feelings” or to prevent people from being “offended”. The reason that people insist on attention to even the smallest act of prejudice or ignorance is that small, seemingly innocuous actions like misgendering a trans person or telling racist jokes -or, for a kemetic-specific example, culturally appropriating from the Jewish people by talking about a Jewish story as if it were about the ancient Egyptians rather than the Jewish people themselves- play a crucial role in upholding status quo; it implicitly tells people around you that these ideas are socially acceptable for them to hold – and the ideas we hold are precursors to actions that we take.

Therefore, social justice advocates ask that people critically examine the things we do and say and how they may implicitly endorse these unjust social constructs such as sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia, as a crucial step toward a world where these constructs no longer float around in the back of everyone’s mind. Acts such as these can contribute to, say, voting for a candidate that explicitly states things that people have accepted as ‘common sense’ long ago because they’ve heard so many jokes about it and seen the ideas go unchallenged for so long, and seen a whole society shaped around the ideas in almost imperceptible ways:

There’s also a common misconception that if someone isn’t actively hateful toward a group -such as holding overt views that white people are superior – that one isn’t discriminating against them. That’s where we get phrases like “I can’t be racist, I have black friends/spouses/family/etc” or “I’m not racist, I voted for Obama”. This kind of logic is operating on the fundamentally flawed concept of racism and other “isms” as matters of purely personal views and prejudices rather than acknowledging the cultural and institutional power imbalances necessary to create these oppressions and the inherent privilege that are direct results of said oppressions. This kind of logic overlooks the fact that we can hold biases subconsciouslyeven against ourselvesthat we consciously would not endorse:

Social justice as a collection of social practices and ettiquettes -listing one’s pronouns in a blog header or insisting white people not use AAVE are two now-infamous examples that come to mind- aims to keep people conscious of these power dynamics and implicit biases in themselves and others, and aims to require participants to actively challenge these ideas on a day-to-day or even moment-to-moment basis. Since ma’at includes being proactive in our pursuit of justice and righteousness (x x), we are obligated to do our best to abide by these practices under Ma’at. Social justice strategies are faulty, and admittedly more of a step toward day-to-day politeness and refraining from psychologically brutalizing one another in our current society than a step toward liberation; we see from the recent election, for example, that liberal identity politics aren’t enough to guarantee progress. However, I would argue that curating an understanding of the social ills that motivate and shape cultural oppression and privilege, as well as a sensitivity to these ills and a sense of personal responsibility to address and heal these ills where we reasonably can be expected to, is a good first step toward truly progressive thought and politics. Besides, this makes our communities more pleasant, safe, and therefore accessible to minorities who otherwise might not be among us. Isn’t that reason enough?

Opponents of social justice also claim that it’s “too mean” or “too divisive”; that naming specific people and holding them accountable is wrong; that when social justice advocates ask others to reject oppressive behaviors in their fellows, they’re being unreasonable, irrational, unpragmatic, or intolerant of others; that it’s wrong to refuse to listen to every single voice of opposition, no matter how prejudiced. There were a few conversations on the matter over on Tumblr lately that summed up the problems with these views quite nicely:

Certainly, proponents of social justice have their own faults. It can be downright maddening to be well-learned on this topic (despite outward appearances and/or others’ assumptions), to be passionate about the cause of improving life for all involved, and to be doing your best to inform someone that they’ve committed a faux pas and ought to apologize…only to be shot down with condescending retorts about “social justice warriors” or “violating free speech” -and as one may expect, an argument full of name-calling often follows such an interaction. Social justice spaces are prone to become performative or merciless, with people being more concerned with shouting each other down or proving someone they don’t like is “problematic” rather than with the more just cause of making the community more accessible and accepting for all. They’re also likely to hold people of the “one strike and you’re out” policy; not allowing for others to learn and grow, not accepting any later apologies and attempts to reconcile as legitimate or sincere, and focused only on ruining their enemies’ reputations and leaving them feeling isolated and unloved, as revenge for crossing the person involved.

These behaviors are indeed counterproductive, but kemetics ought to face these problems not with “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” so to speak by shunning all social justice, but rather by collectively trying to make their community’s version of social justice better than the flawed ones they’ve already seen. Kemetics need to make social justice mandatory -being racist, anti-Semitic, or any kind of discriminatory (even accidentally) is not acceptable and will never be acceptable- but also create a climate of understanding, forgiveness, and education. Kemetics need to collectively strive to keep their goals in the arena of social justice concentrated on the good they’re trying to do, not on browbeating their opponents with the authority of a widely-accepted social requirement. It will be difficult, to be sure, and there will be mistakes made, but if nothing else, it’s worth a shot; and in all honesty, better than the alternative of becoming a “safe space” (if you will) for racists, anti-Semites, and other fascists. These types of arguments against social justice effectively boil down to respectability politics, which in all honesty need to be left in the past.

Finally, on to the social justice concept that is central both to online political arguments and the bulk of social justice work for those of us who are privileged; for example, the grand majority of the kemetic community (and even the larger pagan community) are white, and therefore we all need to recognize and accept that the fact that we are coming from a place of privilege prevents us from knowing what the oppressed know about their oppression. This is not only a matter of common sense, but a matter of abiding by Ma’atian principles. Humility and a willingness to listen to others is praised as wise and Ma’atian in ancient Kemetic thought:

An aspect of social justice that many people seem to take issue with is the way that activists ask people with privilege -the affluent, white people, straight/cisgender people, abled/neurotypical people, and men are those most commonly involved- be willing to listen to oppressed people about their experiences, and that their voice (as the people negatively affected by the social conditions we’re aiming to change) be prioritized above those without that experience. This includes not “speaking over” them and not arguing about what does and doesn’t constitute prejudice or microaggressions. The definition of ‘microaggressions’ is, put most simply, any unintentional act of discrimination. Explanations on how this is both possible, and harmful, can be seen above in the portion outlining subconscious bias. This is how well-meaning and seemingly innocuous actions and statements can in fact uphold systems of oppression, and why it is so vital that when “called out” for something, one makes learning, understanding, and apologizing for their transgression their priority, rather than protecting one’s reputation or claiming that “this is political correctness gone wild!” All of these things fundamentally involve being humble enough to listen to others, and being considerate of their views and needs, which has already  been shown to be a central part of Ma’at.

So, how can you act with consideration and humility, with kindness and justice, with wisdom and ma’at in this world with so very much wrong with it – particularly when our communities are almost entirely online-based? How can you do your part in the campaign for social justice in our society? It’s not easy.

Being an ally is a constant job. Becoming socially conscious means looking at oneself and realizing one’s biases and ignorance, coming to terms with times we’ve been casually cruel or callous to our fellow human beings. It means admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing. Maybe worst of all, it means learning more and more about how very deeply fucked-up our world is and leading to the sobering realization that even all the effort you are capable of will not be enough to fully solve this world’s problems, and fully end the unjust suffering that makes up so much of so many people’s lives.

This realization is why this piece needed to be written. The community will need every person possible to join this fight for what is, in a word, the soul of the human race – to determine if we as a species will stand for oppression and injustice or for community and love. It is not a job for a few, but for all. One person alone can never heal all the sick and feed all the hungry, but then, ma’at was, and still is, a community effort, not a one-person job.