Sunday, April 29, 2012

A break for a language lesson

Words are always important to studying any culture. I thought I would take a moment to talk about the origins of some words related to Egypt and Egyptology.

Pharaoh.. From the Egyptian per-ao (the great house). It started as the word for palace but eventually came to mean the person who lived in the great house. Pharaoh wasn't used in the modern definition as a word for the king in Egypt until the 20th dynasty, approximately 1185 BC.
Satellite Map of the Nile Delta

Delta... We call the alluvial area of the Nile river and all rivers Deltas due to the Greek relationship between the mapping of Egypt and the Greek letter Delta, both being triangular. 

Hieroglyph.. from Greek hieros (sacred) and glyphe (carvings) because most hieroglyphs were seen on the walls of temples and other sacred places. Egyptians used the word Medu Neter,  words of the gods.

Cartouche ... from the French word for the paper rolls that the French stored their musket gunpowder in.

Ripper... The idea of a ripper being a murder may be directly related to Ancient Egyptian taboo. Cutting a human body was considered the highest offense, especially the body of the dead, so the person who made the cut into the body to remove the internal organs was called the Ripper. The Ripper was chased away after making the cut with curses and stones thrown at him. 

Pyramid... from the Greek pyramis. Pyramis was a triangular shaped wheat cake the Greeks made.

Hyksos... the word we use for the invaders during the Intermediate Periods. This comes from the Ancient Egyptian word heqa-khasut which means "chiefs of foreign lands". 

Sarcophagus... from the Greek sarx (flesh) and phagos (eating) related to the belief of the Greeks that certain kinds of stones could eat flesh.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Woman and the Golden Flies

In Ancient Egypt golden flies we given as awards for valor in battle. You could think of them as a medal of honor or a medal of valor in the American military. They were not only given for valor but also persistence against the Hyksos in battle. The horsefly was used because it harassed beasts, a fitting distinction for warriors who drove out invaders.

The interesting thing about these flies is that one at least one occasion they were awarded to women. In Ancient Egypt women were not part of the military so one must wonder how a woman was awarded a fly of valor. It is thought that perhaps as spies or in other matters of subterfuge. It is also possible that the women spurred rebellion or inspired the people to keep up the battle. While it is not certain why they were awarded to the women there is proof that this was the case.

Ahhotep I, Queen of Egypt and mother of Ahmose I. Her name meant "the Moon is Satisfied". She was buried with three golden flies after dying at more than 90 years of age. It is written in a stela from the time period: "She is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt... She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters, she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels." suggesting that Queen Ahhotep I rallied her troops and  possibly ministered to the wounded herself during the battle at Thebes to drive out the Hyksos according to Dodson and Hilton's "The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt"

Coffin of Queen Ahhotep I

Friday, April 27, 2012

Egyptian view on prayer and ritual requests

I thought we would take a moment to talk about a subject I am often asked. How did Egyptians use prayer and how did they approach it?

The first thing is that Egyptians didn't ask for things when they prayed or performed a ritual. The belief was that if the right offering was given, the right words were spoken and the right name used that the deity would feel compelled to answer. This was more the idea of respect. I will try to put it into more modern terms.

Say you wanted to borrow your mother's favorite earrings. Instead of  asking outright you do the dishes, fold the laundry, compliment her on how beautiful she looks, make her lunch and then comment about how beautiful those earrings would look with your prom dress hoping she will get the hint and lend them to you.

This is sort of how the Egyptians viewed prayer and ritual. The god or goddess was not directly asked but was honored with respect. Then when the time came the person praying would state something to the effect of... "Wow it would be nice if the harvest would be better this year." From there, the Egyptian praying or performing the ritual would have strong belief that those things performed in honor such as providing offerings, devotionals, complimenting the god or goddess and so on would win them the favor to have their desires met.

There is an additional Egyptian belief that if the practitioner has been proper in their delivery of the prayer or ritual that the god would be compelled by honor to give a gift to the person who was praying. This belief does not guarantee the practitioner will get what they ask for but it does show that some blessing will come from the work. If we go back to the farmer asking for a better harvest this year. Maybe the harvest wouldn't be better but fewer crocodiles would be in the fields or maybe his ducks would produce more ducklings or maybe the price of his produce would increase so he made more money. Blessings come in all manners but there was a precedent that the god would give that which would be most helpful, which is not always what we ask for.

Nefertari offering to Isis

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Last 7 Confessions 36-42

Confession 36. O Ihy who came forth from the Primordial Waters, my voice was not loud.
The primordial waters refer to both Nun and the beginning of creation. Ihy is the god of jubilation and the happiness that emanates from the sound of a sacred rattle. I have not made my voice loud refers to raising one's voice when it is not required to be heard, such as yelling during an argument that shows a loss of control.

Confession 37. O Sistrum Bearer coming forth from Nun, I have not made haughty my voice.
The Sistrum Bearer is either Bast, Sekhmet or Hathor. All three goddesses are associated with the sistrum though the instrument is most often named sacred to Bast. Coming forth from Nun means that the goddess came forth from creation without a creator. All three of these goddess have myths with references to this as well but here Hathor is most often the one without a creator. I have not made my voice haughty, I have not boasted or made myself important only through my words. Arrogance is another way some have taken this confession.

Confession 38. O He-Who-Prospers-the-Common-People who came forth from Asyut, I have not cursed a god.
Asyut is Lycopolis in Upper Egypt. This city is sacred to Anubis and Wepwawet. He-Who-Prospers-the-Common-People might refer to Anubis because he brings prosperity, eternal life, to the common people. It is also possible that this could be another funerary god. Cursing a god not only means direct words but also defaming or going against that which the god holds sacred. 

39. O Uniter of Good who came forth from the Cavern, I have not harmed the rations or place of the gods.
The cavern refers to coming from the Duat. Uniter of Good in this refers to Khepera and his place as Ra who united creation, gods and man in the service of Ma'at. This confession is talking about not destroying the offerings or sacred places of the gods.

Min, god of fertility and travel
40.O Upraised of Head who came forth from the Shrine, I have not stolen the Khenef-cakes from the Blessed.
Upraised of Head is likely the god Min given the image used to show the "person" this title is directed toward. Also, the word for shrine in this text is related to the image of the water which is a common location for the shrines of Min.
Khenef cakes are a traditional offering cake that are sweet. These were left for gods, the dead and other beings as a form of thanks or celebration.

41. O He-Who-Brings-His-Portion who came forth from the Hall of Two Truths, I have not stolen the Hefn-cakes of a youth, nor have I sinned against the god of my town.
The Hall of Two Truths is the hall of Ma'at where judgement takes place. He Who Brings His Portion is Thoth who brings many things to the hall including records and the knowledge of what Hathor, Khnum or Anubis has whispered to the soul at the beginning of life. Hefn-cakes are a treat made for children so this means, more or less, to not neglect children or deny them the same you would have for yourself. Sinning against the town god in modern terms would be the equivalent of sinning against your patron deity. Sin is a convenient word here that is used for understanding of the Western reader. The true interpretation would be closer to not acting against the ideals, realms or sacred powers of that deity.

42. O He-Who-Brightened-the-Land who came forth from the Faiyum, I have not slain sacred cattle
He who comes forth from the Faiyum is usually Sobek. With the crocodile seen as the slayer often enough, it would make sense that you would declare to the crocodile god you have not slain. This goes beyond the direct meaning of killing a sacred cow. It also means neglecting a sacred animal or any other action which would harm it unnecessarily.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confessions 31-35

Confession 31. O Captain who came forth from Weten, I have not discussed
I have not discussed likely refers to not revealing private matters to uninvolved parties. Who is not involved in a situation is likely open to interpretation. Is a best friend uninvolved? What about some other confidant? When I read this I take it to mean revealing secrets or revealing personal matters to people who are outside of what those involve consider their confidants. After three days of searching for where or who "Weten" might be I am at a loss. I have yet to find any references to it. I will continue to look and hopefully in the near future there will be an answer for this Captain who came forth from Weten.

Confession 32. O Possessor of the Two Horns who came forth from Asyut, I have not been garrulous about matters. 
Asyut is mentioned here again, Lycopolis. The possessor of two horns is probably either Isis or Hathor. It is hard to tell considering that most of our copies of the Book of the Dead come from time periods where Isis and Hathor were, at times, merged into one goddess. Garrulous is a state of talking in a roundabout way. It also means not talking about trivial matters in ways that blow them out of proportion or make them out to be more important than they are.

Confession 33O Nefertum who came forth from Memphis, I have not done wrong, I have not done evil.
Nefertum is the son of of Sekhmet and Ptah. He is the god of the lotus blossom and Memphis is sacred to him and his family. This is a repetition of not going against Ma'at. Evil and Wrong are general terms that in Egyptian text refer to breaking the Laws of Ma'at.

Confession 34. O He-Who-Does-Not-Allow-Survivors who came forth from Bursiris, I have not disputed/cursed the king.
Bursiris is the birth place of Osiris (and probably the rest of Nut's children as well.) He who does not allow survivors could mean one of two things... either Osiris in his seat at Judgement or Set as the head of the military or just as a nasty character. Disputed the king or cursed the king here refers to more than just bad language. It is more related to destruction of tombs and mummies, disturbing the dead and those things. The other thing this could refer to is "king" could be translated as "king of the gods" which could be Ra or Osiris.This could refer to cursing the gods or going against the order of the universe.

Confession 35. O He-Who-Acts-As-He-Wishes who came forth from Antinaiopolis, I have not waded in the water.
This city (which has the Greco-Roman name here. The Egyptian city is likely Her-Wer.) This location is sacred to Khnum, Bes and Hathor. This is probably Bes because of the title. Bes is known for acting outside the norms of the other deities. Khnum, being a god of creation could also be thought of as a god who acts as he wishes in his role as a creator. I have not waded in the water means entering the sacred water of a temple to which you are not devoted to or a sacred spring, oasis, etc which is sacred to those you are not devoted to. It is a ways of maintaining sacred space which the Egyptians had a very complex protocol for. (It look like I have yet another topic to address after these confessions. Ideas of sacred space in the Egyptian culture.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Confessions 26-30

Confession 26. O Youth who came forth from the Double Scepter Nome, I have not been neglectful of truthful words.

Egyptian Elephantnose fish believed to be the sacred Oxyrhyncus
The Nome of the Double Scepter is the West Bank area around Oxyrhynchus (Per-Medjed in Egyptian). This is not too far south of the Faiyum. This area is sacred to Osiris as it was here that the Oxyrhynchus fish was discovered that had swallowed his penis. The youth could refer to Horus the child. However, Oxyrhynchus is also known for having a temple with many dog mummies which could suggest Anubis as he is also the son of Osiris. While the god may be confusing the confession is not. I have not neglected the truth. This means telling the truth, promoting the truth, seeking the truth and so on. It can also mean remaining ignorant or ignoring teachings, being uneducated, since the Egyptians saw education (provided the teacher was in Ma'at) as a form of truth.
Artifact of the Oxyrhynchus
Confession 27. O Dark One who came forth from the Darkness, I have not caused grief.
The dark one who came forth from the darkness is Nun. He is named with this title in more than one text. Grief has a broad meaning that encompasses distress, sorrow or mental suffering from loss. Basically, it is saying that the person confessing hasn't purposefully caused mental suffering of others. 

Confession 28. O He-Who-Brings-His-Offering who comes forth from Asyut, I have not been violent.
Asyut is Lycopolis in Upper Egypt. A city sacred to Anubis and Wepwawet. He who brings his offerings likely Wepwawet as he is an overseer of funerary offerings among other things. The confession... pretty straightforward, I'm not violent. However, it is important to realize that culturally Ancient Egyptians did not consider self defense or defense of one's home, land or country to be violence.

Confession 29. O Proclaimer of Voice who came forth from Wenis, I have not confounded truth.
Wenis is another name for Unas the deified pharaoh.However, it might mean Saqqara where he is buried as well. If it is Saqqara that is meant then the Proclaimer of Voice is probably one of the death deities. Most likely of them is Sobek who returns the voice of the deceased in the Duat. I have not confounded the truth is a statement of not masking, obscuring or otherwise twisting the truth. This confession is all about claiming to be "a straight shooter" to use an American turn of phrase.

Confession 30.O Possessor of Faces who came forth from Nedjefet, I have not been impatient.
Nedjefet is the nome of Egypt that contains Akhetaten's capitol Amarna.Since historical texts state that Amarna was built on a site where no other cities had been the god referenced must be either Aten or Thoth as they were the only gods sacred to this city. Possessor of Faces could relate Thoth's association with the moon. I have not been impatient means both the act defined by the word but also judging hastily or without information.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Confessions 21-25

Confession 21. O He-Who-Sees-What-He-Has-Brought who came forth from the House of Min, I have not (wrongly) copulated.
The god here is Khnum. He is a companion of the god Min in creation of life and fertility. Khnum is also often worshiped in temples dedicated to Min. The title refers to his formation of human bodies on his potter's wheel. He is the first to see what comes into being.The confession itself is most likely rape. Though with the Egyptian codes being settled in full disclosure and honesty it could also be read as not coercing anyone into sexual activity as well.

Confession 22. O Looker who comes forth from Per-Amsu, I have not polluted myself.
 Again we are talking about the Temple of Min (Per-Amsu). The looker is probably Min himself. I have not polluted myself  references a Egyptian thought on behavior and conduct. When a person acts in a manner that is against Ma'at those actions mar the heart forever. This is the pollution of self most likely referred to in this confession.

Confession 23. O He-Who-is-Over-the-Great-Ones who came forth from Amemt, I have not struck terror.
Amemt is a reference to Ammit or the place in which she lives. He who came forth from Ammit would be Anubis who in some myths cares for or is a companion to Ammit. Who is Over the Great Ones is Anubis' ability to resurrect through mummification.  I have not struck terror is fairly obvious. It means not terrorizing, bullying, harassing or otherwise using fear against others. 
Tomb depictions of the goddess Wadjet (Uadjet)
not to be confused with the Wadjet Eye of Ra/Horus.

Confession 24. O Demolisher who came forth from Kesiu, I have not committed offense.
Kensiu may be the city Per-Wadjet or a city close by. This was the area sacred to Wadjet. She was the serpent goddess who recorded history and decorated the pharaonic crown. Committing offense here is more about forgetting one's manners or etiquette. It is important to remember this is purposeful disregard. Accidentally using the wrong spoon in a formal dinner is not an offense unless of course it was done on purpose.

25. O Proclaimer of Speech who came forth from Weryt, I have not been hot.
Weryt means "The great lady". The Proclaimer of Speech who came forth from the great lady could be any number of gods or goddesses. Though, the title Weryt with the spelling given in glyphs is a name of Hathor. If we define coming forth as birthed by it limits the choices. This narrows down our choices to Ity, god of music or Hat Mehit, goddess/wife of diplomacy. Given that this Confession is about controlling one's temper, to me, Hat Mehit makes the most sense as the goddess who would be the "Proclaimer of Speech" and related to controlling one's temper.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Confessions 16-20

Confession 16.O Eater of Entrails who came forth from the Council of Thirsty. I have not robbed/destroyed a parcel of (crop)land.
This is confession could be seen one of two ways. Literally, not destroying (or possibly wasting) food or as not destroying the work and/or property that allows another to maintain a livelihood. Either way, it has a similar meaning of not being destructive. Eater of Entrails is an interesting title as it is almost exactly the same as a title given to Ammut. She is called Eater of Bodies and Eater of Souls. However, she who gives council to the thirsty is Anqet, goddess of the Aswan area, dispenser of cool water and wife of Khnum. Satis, Anqet's daughter, an archery goddess is also associated with alleviating thirst. I am not aware of any associations between Satis or Anqet and Ammut but it is possible that there is one. All three goddesses have associations to crocodiles. Crocodiles are also associated with croplands.
Confession 17. O Lord of Truth who came forth from the Hall of Two Truths, I have not discussed secrets.
This one is remarkably straightforward compared to others. The Lord of Truth who comes from the Hall of Two Truths is Thoth. This is a title he is given in papyri. I have not discussed secrets refers, in my opinion to two things, eavesdropping and telling to others those things you have been trusted to keep secret. Basically these are about keeping oaths and promises.

Confession 18. O Strayer who came from Bubastis, I have brought no lawsuits.
 The "Strayer" is likely Ptah. Named the ancient one, Ptah was known to be the first of the gods to wander the Earth after it rose from the water. The confession itself has some items that are only understood when we consider the direct translation which is not lawsuit but "Not have I set my mouth in motion against others". This direct reading is about false accusations. I have not falsely accused others. We could think of this confession as also being similar to all the false lawsuits we often see in the news but it is also about our personal claims as well.

Confession 19. O Planter who came forth from Heliopolis, I have not disputed without just cause.
This confession is an addition to the previous one. Not only have I not made false claims but I have also not caused disputes without just cause. Just cause is something that requires a more detailed understanding of Egyptian society and culture than I am going to give here. However, any good book that addressed Egyptian culture would work. The book The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Ancient Egypt by Jon E Lewis would be a good source for a general overview. Planter who came forth from Heliopolis could be either Atum as a god of fertility, since Heliopolis was originally called Per-Atum. It could also refer to Osiris who is known to come forth from Heliopolis and so has Hapi, both are vegetation related gods who come forth on occasion from Heliopolis. Any of these three would make sense though given the confession it might be more likely to be Osiris.

Confession 20. O Doubly Evil One who came forth from Busirite Nome, I have not had intercourse with a married woman.
The Busirite Nome is one of the places that it is believed the children of Nut were born. The doubly evil could refer to Set. Other gods and goddesses are at times listed as being born in this location too. It is hard to say which one this might refer to.  Though this confession says woman it is meant to express not having intercourse with any married individual male or female. It is important to remember that most of the speakers in the copies of the Book of the Dead are males so we must consider gender in defining this one. If it were a woman's tomb it would likely read "I have not had intercourse with a married man."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Interlude on the Confessions

I got asked an important question about how I am working with the Negative Confessions, by not one but two people with the same question. The question was about the gods, i.e. Assessors, and why I was trying to match them up to other gods. It is a good question and one I had not talked about before I started writing so here is my answer.

There are two views on the assessors. The first is that the assessors are a separate set of entities from any of the other gods. The second view, and the one I have followed, is that these are titles of gods that are elsewhere in the pantheon. My reasoning for this is how the "names" of the assessors are written... "He/she who...." which is very similar to how titles are given to people in Egyptian texts. The other is that some of the gods are actually named in the texts, such as Bast. If the assessors were a separate set of entities why list Bast among them when we already know she is a goddess.

Like many things in the study of Kemetic faith it becomes confusing. To try and simplify it I will add the items as a bulleted list.

1. Assessor "names" follow the linguistic formula that is used to give titles to people and gods.
2. Several gods, Bast,  Nefertum and others depending on the version, are listed in the Negative Confessions as assessors.

That being said I don't think one way or the other has more merit. It is in my personal studies that I have found the second method, i.e. assessor names being titles of gods, as more plausible than the other despite having yet to learn all of the gods associated with those titles.

I hope this clears up the confusion some. Tomorrow we will be back to working with more of the confessions. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Confessions 11-15

Confession 11: O He-of-the-Cavern who came forth from the West, I have not fornicated with the fornicator.

In Egypt this was different than we might expect. Marriage was considered not by a service but by declaring love or the intent to be together to the populace/family. This could also be a parent or set of parents setting up an arranged marriage. In Ancient Egyptian terms fornication here refers to what we would call cheating on a marriage, an affair or a similar act. There are many additional laws governing this confession. For example, a woman could nullify a marriage simply by stating that her husband was not providing for her. (In some cases even if the thing he was not providing was sex.) Divorce also did not happen in the long drawn out manner it does in modern times. From the few records I have read on the matter (primary source stuff) apparently speaking it to those involved was enough.

Ok enough on that. I will try to get a coherent post on marriage practices in the future. For now let us move on to who this confession is spoken to. From the west can refer to either one who is rising from the dead(walking out of the Duat) or someone who rules the desert. More than likely this is Set. He hid out in a cavern and he is also associated in some mythology with fornication and/or misdeeds. 

Confession 12: O He-Whose-Face-is-Behind-Him who came forth from his hole, I have not caused anyone to weep.
This is what it sounds like. It means that a follower has not purposefully said or done things with the intention of hurting others.. of making them weep. As to who, this is one that eludes me as well. I have to make a guess because while there have been studies of the Book of the Dead I have yet to find a source that tries to name the assessors. This research has been all mine. Coming forth from the hole is a term I have seen in reference to the mound of creation. The hole could refer to where Nun came from at the beginning of the world. I don't really know what it means that his face is behind him. Another possibility is Hra-f-ha-f a god who steers the boat of Ra who is often depicted looking over his shoulder.

The Gayer-Anderson Cat at the British Museum.

Confession 13: O Bast coming forth from the secret place, I have not eaten my heart.
This time they were nice enough to give us the goddess. Her secret place is likely her temple at Per-Bast. There are two possible translations of eating the heart. The first, and more straightforward one, is that committing offense against Ma'at's law. This is probably not the case after reading the next confession. More likely it refers to being false in appearance, attitude or personality. The heart, ab, is the center of good and evil thoughts and weighed in judgement. Eating your heart would be destroying it in the way Ammut would and that would be infecting it with evil.

Confession 14.O Hot-Legs who came forth at twilight, I have not transgressed.
I am again not sure who "Hot Legs" is aside from some reference to pin-ups that I am sure the Egyptians knew nothing about. However, the description does suggest they come from night time or dusk. It could be Nut or Hathor who are both supposed to be images of beauty and are associated with twilight times. Aside from that I am not sure who "Hot Legs" might be. One who walks in fire at night? Could be. The second part is much more clear. I have not transgressed refers to laws. These could be the laws of Ma'at, the government or the society. It isn't specific in what the transgression is against but the glyph choice suggests it is related to law. 

Confession15. O He-Who-is-Blood who came forth from the place of slaughter, I have not grain-profiteering.

Grain profiteering is gaining monetary profits by cheating others. Again, this is about treating others unfairly for personal gain. This seems to refer directly to cheating people out of money though deceit or unethical practices.In the modern scheme of things I would consider this any sort of cheating others for profit. So, overcharging for a service or product, misrepresenting product or any number of modern schemes that involve getting more money that the sold item or service is worth.

I have always associated "He who is Blood" to either be Horus, where blood is a reference to bloodline, or Set as the one in charge of the military. Either god would be quite appropriate as Horus is a god of vengeance and taking action against wrongs. Set on the other hand is sometimes associated with greed and deceit. Like many of these I need to do much more research on the references before I can be definitive on which god it might be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Confessions 6-10

Confession 6: O Double Lion who came forth from the Sky, I have not reduced the measure.
Reducing the measure refers to ancient trade where things were weighed on scales. This in essences means you have not cheated people in your dealings with them as a seller or a person rendering a service. You have not reduced the measure of what they receive for what they have given. It might also be interpreted as not being greedy but in some versions of the Negative Confessions there is another confession specifically about greed. The Double Lion of the Sky is Aker the double headed lion Tuau and Sef; yesterday(West) and today(East), who guard the mountain pass to the Eastern and Western horizons.
Confession 7: O He-Whose-eyes-are-in-Flames who came forth from Asyut, I have not stolen god's property.
This confession also has two ways to read it. First is the straightforward idea of stealing from a temple. Though, due to how Egyptian society was structured "god's" could be read as "pharaoh's" property. If this is the way we choose to read it then it means not stealing from the government. Asyut is the Egyptian name for what the Greeks called Lycopolis. This is the city sacred to Anubis and Wepwawet, gods of death and dying as well as healing and medicine. There is some awesome mythology about wolves repelling invasions in this area and Osiris coming from the dead in the form of a "wolf shade". I have assumed that this refers to Anubis or Wepwawet. Both these deities are spoken of in reference to wolves with glowing eyes. However, I have not seen any direct evidence that He Whose Eyes are in Flame is one of these gods, merely my suspicions.

Confession 8:O Burning One who came forth backwards, I have not told lies.
An obvious confession. I have not been deceitful or lied. These are the laws of the goddess of truth, it is the one that should be expected. However, I have no idea who "Burning One" is yet. I am still researching it.

Confession 9: O Breaker of Bones who came forth from Heracleopolis, I have not stolen food.
Egypt had a sort of socialist distribution of food so stealing meant someone else would go hungry or have less to eat. I have seen this believed in many ways. Some practitioners associate it with actually stealing others see it as working the system... so something like using food stamps or food banks when you don't truly need it. Still others see it as not being wasteful with food. I think any of these would work for the idea being put forth.  Heracleopolis was known as Hwt-nen-nesu (approximately: Hewet-nen-nye-soo), the house of the royal children. Given the title "Breaker of Bones" and the association with the royal children I have always associated this assessor with one of two goddesses: Sekhmet who is sometimes a protector of the royal children or Tuaret who is associated with protecting all children. Both goddesses are known for being aggressive defenders.

Confession 10: O Ordered of Flame who came forth from Memphis, I have not sullen.
 Sullen in this case can be defined as one of three things: dismal, lacking hope or lazy. All of these can be seen as letting circumstances depress you into inaction. Action and taking action is seen as following the path of honesty and truth. Ordered of Flame is likely a reference to Ptah. He is god of craftsman and crafting and Memphis was his sacred city. Ordered of Flame to me has always brought about the ideas of fire being used in most of the crafts he is associated with including pottery, metal working and creating building materials. It could also be a reference to his wife Sekhmet but it seems that confession 9 may refer to her. It is unlikely that 2 confessions are given to one god.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The First Five Confession

In our discussion of the negative confessions I figured I would take a day and address a few at a time. In these discussions I will talk both about who the confession is said to, what the meaning is for addressing that particular individual and then what the actual confession means to a follower. I admit, they are something I am still studying so there will be spaces where I can not answer all those points. I will be using a set of the Negative Confessions that represents the most common set across the varying existing copies. So without further ado let us get into these.

Confession 1: O Wide-strider who came forth from Heliopolis, I have not done wrong.
This is the opening confession that sets the stage for all the others. "I have not done wrong" is like the opening statement. "I have done nothing against truth and order, let me tell you more." it sends to the accessor. Wide-Strider, i.e. one who travels far, could be two different gods when considering that they come from Heliopolis. One possibility is Atum. A god of the sun, and form of Ra at night, he travels the sky and earth. The other possibility is that it is Benu, the phoenix who flies back to Heliopolis to bury its predecessor. Given that the person is shown as a man with a beard, I am inclined to think of it as Atum.

Confession 2:O Fire-embracer who came forth from Kheraha, I have not despoiled.
 Again we have a generality that brings the concepts of robbing and plundering both material value and spiritual value. In addition, to despoiling referring to others, in this instance it also refers to the self. I have not devalued myself through my actions. Given the nature of the next confession it is likely that this one refers solely to spiritual devaluing. Kheraha is a city just south of modern Cairo's current location. Another important point about Kheraha is that this is reputed to be one of the locations where Horus and Set did battle. It is possible that this confession is spoken to Benu.

Confession 3:O Nosey who came forth from Hermopolis, I have not stolen/robbed.
This can be seen as an extension of the 2nd confession. This is the material counterpart of the second confession. Hermopolis is the city sacred to Thoth. Though it is amusing to call the god who knows everything "Nosey" I have yet to discover which deity this confession is truly spoken to.

Confession 4: O Swallower of Shades who came forth from Kernet, I have not slain people.
This is a pretty clear cut confession. I have not killed. However, this only extends to unnecessary killing. There is an understanding in Egyptian culture that soldiers must kill to defend the country or that a victim might have to kill their assailant. Kernet is an Egyptian word that is comparable to the primordial mound of creation. Swallower of Shades refers to a being that consumes the shade, i.e. the Khabait, in the Duat. This leaves little doubt, when added to the idea of them coming from the mound of creation, that this being is either Ammut (Ammit) or a very similar being charged with destroying those who have not acted in Ma'at.

Confession 5: O Terrible of Face who came forth from Rosetjau, I have not destroyed the food offerings.
The idea of not destroying religious offerings is another pretty easy concept to imagine being important. This is specifically true in Egyptian religion given the belief that the gods actual partook in the offerings for sustenance and strength. Rosetjau is likely Abydos. This place is associated with the healing of Osiris and his resurrection through mummification.Who the "Terrible Face" is that came from Rosetjau is hard to say. It could be Anubis or some other deity. I am still not sure the exact identity of this individual.

"Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century, Proceedings from the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists: Volume II History, Religion" By Zahi A. Hawass, Lyla Pinch Brock
"The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Coming Forth By Day. The First Authentic Presentation of The Complete Papyrus of Ani" - Translated by Raymond Faulkner 
"Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics"  By Maulana Karenga 
Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, Volume 2  By Simson Najovits

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Laws of the Land

I get a lot of questions about the Negative Confessions or the 42 Laws of Ma'at or the Laws of a Balanced Heart or whichever name you prefer for them. More or less these are the moral and ethical codes for the Kemetic faith. You can think of them sort of like the Egyptian 10.. make that 42 commandments except with some twists. I thought I would take some time to discuss the Negative Confessions. (This is the term I prefer and I will get into the reason soon.)

The Negative Confessions are the Laws of Ma'at, goddess of truth and justice. These laws were written in the Book of Thoth and read aloud to man so he might know how to bring about order, unity, harmony and truth in the world. The Negative Confessions are spoken to the 42 assessors who take part in the proceedings in the Halls of Two Truths

The Negative Confessions are the 42 claims a soul makes about what they have not done in life. Unlike many ethic/moral codes the gods do not tell man what he has to do... rather man tells the gods what he has not done in his life. Despite being called Laws they are not laws as the modern mind might define the word. Instead Law is more of a moral guideline to set our compasses to, so to speak.

The most notable place to find the Negative Confessions is in the Book of the Dead. In Egyptian, rw nw prt m hrw (pronounced approximately... Roo Noo Peret Mah-Herwah) The Book of Coming Forth By Day

Mythologically speaking, when is in the Halls of Two Truths. Before the weighing of the heart the deceased stands before the assessors claiming to each a different thing he has not done in his life.
Historically speaking, the earliest complete copy of the Negative Confessions that has been discovered thus far is from the very early time of the New Kingdom. (approximately 1550 BC) However, the mythology of the underworld existed in a very similar manner much earlier so Egyptologists believe that earlier examples could be found.

This is an interesting question. The why is something we will cover in further discussion. For now, it can be seen as a fact of most religions that some moral code exists as part of the faith.

Another quick thing to add... there isn't one specific list for the Negative Confessions. Over time the list is modified slightly. Some things are omitted and others are added though the number still remains at 42. I will endeavor while discussing them to stick to the most common confessions.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Book a Day

It isn't often that a blog like this ventures from adult oriented materials into things for children. As in the last post, which included Cry of the Benu Bird, I want to take some time in between all of this heavy duty stuff to present some information for children, youth and young adults. Being a teacher by profession, I have the unique opportunity to provide these resources where others might not have the training to do so beyond a few books.

Ancient Egypt has a unique place in both fascinating many children as well as providing a good source for a life time love of language. It offers a doorway into seeing what another culture is, what another language is and why we should be interested in learning it. These are all very important concepts in a world where we need more tolerance for those who are different than us. Granted that need for tolerance is just a personal opinion but it doesn't change the ability of this ancient culture to open children up to language.

There are many awesome books on hieroglyphs geared toward children. I am not going to try and cover all of them, rather, I am going to cover one now and then later on, there will be more youth books in other posts.

Today I am going to share a little about The Mystery of the Hieroglyphs: The Story of the Rosetta Stone and the Race to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs. by Carol Donoughue. This book is for 3rd to 6th graders as far as reading independently. Younger children could understand it if it was read to them as the wording is very simplistic and well written. A nice feature about this book particularly is that despite being short, it has a table of contents, glossary, index and related sources. These are important features for students in this age group to start learning, that is, how to use a book's parts. The book also includes most of the vocabulary necessary for reading other, more demanding books about hieroglyphs. All the important vocabulary is bold face throughout with great context clues.

Some content that I find worthwhile in this particular book is that it shows in pictures many concepts in familiar images. For example, describing the difference between hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic by using comparisons to modern type faces or describing Egyptian word structure by comparing it to English compound words. The book also gets into the more complex ideas of phonograms, determinatives and logograms without becoming overwhelming for a younger reader. It also has interludes of history about the men who worked on deciphering the hieroglyphs before it goes on with some simple instructions on how to start deciphering them yourself.

All in all this book covers a lot of very complex topics in very easy to understand terms. I would even suggest this book as a very beginning starting point for an adult who wanted to start learning about hieroglyphs and how to read them.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What Sounds Like a Pterodactyl and Symbolizes the Sun?

A heron. Specifically, Ardea bennuides a heron from Egypt and the Arabian peninsula that is now extinct. Descriptions of the bird, including Egyptian drawings, show the bird to look much like the Great Blue Heron of the Americas. (see picture) The bird, like most herons dwelled in shallow waters and water laden plant beds hunting for fish, frogs and other small animals. It is also believed, that like modern herons that inhabit areas where humans fish, these birds followed fisherman and may even have been tamed by them. (If you're curious about the pterodactyl comment check out the call of the Great Blue Heron on What 

 So what does this all have to do with Ancient Egypt? 

The Benu Bird was a heron (Ardea Bennuides, hence the scientific name containing Bennu) that the Egyptians associated with the sun. It wasn't just the sun but it was the closest thing the Ancient Egyptian mythology has to what we might call a phoenix. Benu served many purposes in the religion. He was the bird whose screaming call started time. He was the bird who set Ra on fire to blaze in the sky. Benu was a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation. In the later periods he was merged with the idea of the Arabian phoenix. He also accompanied Ra in the boat through the Duat. In some myths he lights the way for the boat and in others he is referred to as the Ba (soul) of Ra.

One of the most important myths associated with the Benu Bird is related to creation. This myth is most often recorded in Helopolis (modern Ain Shams .."Eye of the Sun" just north of Cairo) Even Herodotus wrote about the Benu Bird. It is from his retelling that we get the association between Benu and the phoenix.

At the beginning of time (sometimes before Ra exists) Benu rises from the waters of Nun. He brings and creates light to drive away the chaos. Benu, meaning "Brilliant Rising" or "Rising Light" is the name Nun and/or Ra bestow upon him. Benu then cries out and time starts. The bird then leaves Egypt but it is never quite told where he goes. Herodotus claims in his version that he flew off to Arabia. In his version after 500,000 years the Benu returns. Ra does not recognize the bird because he did not create him. The bird informs Ra that it is the child of the first Benu and in a bundle carries the remains of its father. The Benu wishes to bury its father in the mound of creation where he first rose from chaos. Benu then flies off and is supposed to return when Osiris becomes pharoah.

Other examples of the story of the Benu Bird exist in the Book of the Dead (ie the Book of Coming Forth by Day) and some of the various coffin texts. Here he serves the purpose of guiding the gods through the Duat. It was believed since Benu appeared from the darkness as the first light he was best suited to navigating the darkness of the Duat.

Benu's name is related to the Egyptian verb "webenu" (wbn) which means "to shine" or "to radiate light". Some of the titles associated with him were "Lord of Time", "He Who Brought Himself into Being", "The Shining One", "Dispeller of Chaos", and "He Who Keeps Time". Benu is sometimes associated with Thoth because Thoth recorded history and Benu kept track of time.

From the Tomb of Inherkha

Benu was worshiped for many reasons. He was believed to be associated with safe travel, both in the Duat and at night. Benu was a sign of luck and rejuvenation. Many texts associate Benu with the rising of the Nile which might have to do with the heron species migrating to Egypt when the Nile is rising and there is plenty of floodplain to hunt in while raising chicks. 

Books to check out:
**The Egyptian Book of the Dead. (There are many, many, many versions of this book. I personally prefer the version by Faulkner because it is easy to understand and has nice pictures of the complete text.)

Monday, April 02, 2012


As I sit here and try to imagine what I might write about today I find myself staring at my books. A whole wide set of shelves sitting above me, piled high with archeological texts, white bound books that are plain but contain a wealth of information... much more than the flashy, colorful ones beside them with all the pretty pictures. It brought me to the thought I have had many times after talking to people about Ancient Egypt. Everyone asks what books they should read.

I have always been a person who could respond, "Read everything." It is what I do. Everything from books written by people cloistered in desert tents to the conspiracy theorists who claim the pyramids were a death ray. It is important to know what is truth and what is a line of.... well you know. It is also important to know these things for yourself. No one can tell you what to believe. They can only tell you what they believe, the evidence they have for it and try to persuade you. In the end the choice is yours.

It brings me back to my books. I know most people have seen the flashy books up there, or at least something very near to them, but for me the real research has always come from those bland white ones with the newsprint like pages.I have thought often about including book overviews with important points, pros, cons, biases, all the usual thing a book review has. I still contemplate it but now, I think I should start with the ones most people wouldn't pick up off the shelf.

Here we start with a foray into my library. We are going to start with one of the books I treasure very much.

"Old Hieratic Paleography" by Hans Goedocke

This out of print, according to, book may still be available through the publisher, Halgo, Inc. This book doesn't hold much information to read. It is a tool, an essential one I have found over the years. What this book does do is gives the complete Gardiner Hieroglyph list with a companion of how it is used in script (ie Hieratic) form in various areas of Egypt. It addresses in neat columns how those glyphs appear when not carved into monuments and tomb walls. The extra bonus is in places where, say a certain glyph hasn't been encountered yet in say Giza, there is a blank square. In that square, when you find a source, you can add to the list.

Now, this book is not essential for everyone but for people who wish to take a foray into translation or reading or writing then it is worth hunting down a copy of this rather large book.

(ISBN: 0-9613805-4-3)

Once a week or so you can expect to see a review like the one above. Just a snippet so that you can judge if it is a book worth finding for yourself. While I can sit here and blog I can not do it constantly nor can I possibly hope to cover every piece of information. Besides what I see as common information might bring a startling revelation to another. This is the essence of learning and belief. It is personal and it can only be facilitated, never forced.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Nothing but Death and Taxes

I decided to start this post with something iconagraphically American... nothing is certain but death and taxes because it is what started me down the road to a recent realization. (or perhaps it was a realization that had been happening slowly and I only now have words for it.)

We're probably all familiar with the images from Egyptian tombs, like the one to the left from the tomb of Sennedjem, that show daily life as it passes farming, hunting, running errands and performing official duties. The thing is that the Egyptians very firmly believed that in the afterlife things would continue much as they had during life, albeit easier and with less threats of things like famine, drought and disease. An Egyptian farmer would go on to farm the fields of Osiris (The Field of Reeds) though work would be easier and more pleasurable.

This got me to thinking about something very profound in modern culture that seriously impacts a practitioner. Too often in modern society people do jobs they dislike for any number of reasons, money, no desire to look for another, apathy or whatever the issue might be. As a practitioner of the Kemetic faith this could very well mean an eternity doing what you hate (even if it might be easier). This does not sound like a good deal to me.

I need to back track a little now to talk about myself on this journey. When I started studying the 42 Truths of Ma'at or the Negative Confessions or as I affectionately call them the 42 Egyptian Commandments, there was one that stuck with me and that  is about being happy in the duties one must perform. I took this to mean work. Not have I been unhappy in my duties (work). It was that concept about 9 years ago that sent me back to school. Part of my spiritual progression hinged on being happy in the work I do. At the time, I was not very happy.

As life continued I left the study of those 42 comments to look into other things, mostly school work to be honest as it took up much of my time. Slowly, very slowly, I have drifted back to this idea of being happy with your duties... only now I have added "because you will be doing them forever". When those two sentences came together it was the light bulb switching on. There is a current of motivation, discipline and finding, not just a place in society, but your right place in society. The idea that we should just shuffle along until money or retirement gives you other options was just not acceptable any longer. Who wants to spend eternity doing what they hate because they spent a lifetime getting good at it (while still hating it)?

Today, more than others I truly feel the commitment to discipline and action that Kemeticism embraces. It is a good feeling to see that I am on my way to doing those things I love. I truly wouldn't mind having the job I am training for to the ends of time.