Bribing and Threatening the Gods: Can you do it? If you can, how so? And is it somehow ‘blasphemous’ or ‘immoral’ to do so?
For this round of the Kemetic Round Table we are discussing the nature of bribing and/or threatening Netjer and whether it is permissible or not. I’m sure for many people this might sound like a very odd topic to pick, considering that many of us were raised in a Christian mindset and/or religion where threatening god would be a huge no-no, but in truth, it was not entirely unheard of in ancient Egypt.
So that being said, the short answer to the question we are discussing is simply this: Yes, you can bribe and/or threaten netjer, it is not immoral to do so.
Let’s talk about Threats first.
According to Geraldine Pinch, there were a variety of threats that could be used against the gods as a means to ensure that your heka, or your wishes, came to fruition. These threats could be things like offering plates going empty, the temples failing, or even as harsh as bodily harm to the gods themselves. As she states in her book, Myth and Magic in AE:
“A peculiar feature of Egyptian magic was that threats might not be directed only at forces causing the problem, but at the deities who were asked to intervene. Once spell warns that no offerings will be made on the divine altars if the gods don’t make the magic work. A love charm ends with a threat that Busiris … will be burned if the client does not get what he wants.
In myth, Orisis was the most vulnerable of the gods and this is exploited in magic. In the Book for Banishing an Enemy, Osiris is threatened with not being allowed to journey to his two sacred sites (Busiris and Abydos) … The magician even threatens to take on the role of Seth and destroy the body of Osiris. …
The most direct way to influence a god was to interfere with their cult. Deities are sometimes threatened with the pollution and desecration of their temples and the slaughter of their sacred animals. …
The magician usually protects himself by saying ‘it is not me that is saying this but X’ – X being the god whose role he is playing in the rite. This suggests that even though it was only role playing, the Egyptians themselves had doubts about this procedure. Words were powerful, so such formulae might actually damage ma’at.
Possibly these formulae are not so much threats as predictions. The magician is speaking on behalf of humanity; reminding heaven tat if people are not regularly cured and protected that they will lose faith in the gods and cease to make offerings, maintain the temples, and respect sacred animals. The magician is only demanding the enforcement of a kind of divine contract. If the gods do not help mankind, the whole divine order will collapse.” (pg 73-75)
So as you can see, threats were not entirely unheard of. How often threats were used with gods is probably up for debate, but it doesn’t change the fact that they did have a viable place in a hekau’s arsenal of tools.
Why would you threaten a deity?
Threats can be issued for many reasons. I think another way to examine this would be- why does a parent threaten a child? All parents do- “Clean your room or you’re grounded” comes to mind. I personally view devotee/deity relationships very similarly to human relationships. A god is a god- yes. But a god is accountable to their devotees. If a god slacks off on their end of the relationship and the devotee falls into, say, poverty- where does that leave the god? I personally believe that gods should be held accountable for being responsible with their devotees at the very least. Please don’t take this to mean that I believe that the gods should shower us with riches (ha), but if a devotee is seriously doing the best they can for the god in question, I do believe that god should take some time to ensure the devotee’s safety and/or well-being. Truthfully, its in the best interests of the god to do so, and I believe it’s within the “rights” of the devotee to be able to request a god to pull their weight.
When do I know if I want to threaten a deity?
I personally don’t threaten my gods unless I am at a breaking point. The last time I threatened any deity was when Set and I were in the middle of our break down and I told him that he couldn’t ask more of me without doing more on his end. I was so frustrated by the state of my life and that he had the nerve to ask me to do more (ask is probably not the right word) that I told him that he needed to ante up and do more for me, or I would not be willing to do anything more for him until he could pull his weight for our relationship.
Upon his inability to do what needed to be done, I was relieved of doing a few things for him- as a means of compromise.
I personally don’t recommend threatening deities for trivial things. I would certainly reserve threats for larger, more important things. And if you’re going to threaten a deity, you must be sure that you can back your threats up. Empty threats won’t get you anywhere, nor will they do anything to gain respect from said god. You have to be willing and able to put your money where your mouth is.
Now, onto bribing.
I personally think that pretty much everything you do with a god in regards to offerings can be seen as a form of bribery. The ancients knew that sometimes you’d need to put your money where your mouth is in the form of stela, votive offerings or food offerings as a way of placating a god or removing some sort of chip off of the god’s shoulder, as it were. It was not uncommon in the later periods of Egypt for people to believe that misfortune that befell them to be a direct cause of upsetting a deity- and to use votive offerings and stela as a way to placate the deity.
It’s also thought that the pharaoh would put all of his bounty and effort into the temples because it would make the gods happy. And in return for making the gods happy, they would shed more bounty onto the king.
If you scratch my back, I will scratch yours is the name of the game. And the larger the itch, the larger your back scratcher should probably be.
I believe that a lot of people don’t like to consider offerings as a means of bribery, because in this day and age, bribery is considered to be something that only corrupt politicians do. But to bring up the example from above, we also bribe our kids “If you clean your room, I’ll give you a cookie”- surely there is more to bribery than corrupt politicians! For reference, a basic definition of bribe is:
Something serving to influence or persuade. (x)
And in many ways, when you’re praying to the gods, and giving them nice things, its a way of indirectly asking them to pay attention to you and to consider you when they’re doling out their own type of gifts. For me, these types of things tend to work heavily on equivalent exchange- if you want more in return, you should be willing to do some work or provide some of your bounty to get the gods to do things for you (or things that are for your benefit). So to me, bribes are a-okay and really- should be promoted more often. The gods need offerings to survive, so if we gave more offerings (for whatever reason), I think it would benefit them more in the end.
Bribing and threatening gods may not be for everyone. Each relationship is different and each devotee has different needs and wants from a god. However, the option is there for a devotee or Kemetic practitioner to use if they so choose to. It was a common practice in antiquity, and its still a viable option in the modern era.
To see other responses to this question, check out the KRT Master List.