Words. We use them all the time. We read them all the time. They fall from our mouths and help to craft the world that we live in. In Kemetic circles, a common phrase is that “words have power” or “words mean things”. Our primary form of creating change in our world is through the use of heka, which can translate into “authoritative utterance”.
Words are very important.
So, too, are titles and labels.
However, despite the growth that both the Kemetic and Pagan/polytheist communities have undergone in recent years, I feel like our terminology hasn’t kept up. A lot of people seem to struggle with what it is they exactly are or what it is they are technically doing. Because Kemeticism is my main focus, I will be restricting my discussion on terminology to the Kemetic circle. However, I do hope that this post can be a jumping point for other circles to have discussions themselves!
In most Kemetic structures, there are not many labels for people to use. You’ve got priests (Hem(et) Netjer) and laity (sometimes called Shemsu). That’s it. If you want to take it a step further, you’ve got people who use magix, people who use heka (Hekau) and people who do protective magix/heka (called Sau). Our entire community is often rendered into less than five terms:
- Magic user of some variety
Surely there is more than that to our community. Let’s break down some of the problems with the terms above:
Priest is a word I see thrown around all over the place. Priesthood means different things in different traditions, and in modern Kemeticism (of a more recon slant), being a priest means being a Hem(et) NTR, or a God Servant/Slave. In antiquity, a priest was there to serve the gods and temple, not the people (for more information, see here), and that is still largely the case even today. This term usually is only applied in the modern sense to people who have an Open Icon in their shrine at home, and for those who have the time and capacity to provide daily state rites to these Open Icons. This term becomes problematic because priest is a rather loaded term in our modern culture, and in antiquity, rituals were not performed by only one person, but a whole group of people. Does the term Hem(et) NTR even serve us in this day and age (literally and figuratively)? Especially when most of us will never be privy to all of the rites and methods used at a state level?
And then what about those of us who do daily rites, but don’t have an Open Icon in our shrines? Do those people count as priests? Or are they laity?
Laity has become a hot button issue in recent months, and for good reason. There isn’t a whole lot written specifically for people who are considered part of a religion’s laity. In antiquity, laity helped to serve the gods by providing the supplies that allowed the priests to do their jobs every day (to learn more see here). However, in the modern context, being a lay person usually means that you are an average person that subscribes to the faith and nothing more. In Christian terms, you would be part of the congregation as opposed to the person at the front of the room. In Kemetic terms, laity is often referred to as being an onion hoer. These were the poor folks who didn’t have the time or capacity to do a whole lot of religious stuff day in and day out. The requirements to be a layperson are pretty much non-existent by most standards, and in the Kemetic faith, the only real requirement as a layperson is to try and live in ma’at.
However, there is a large grey area between these two groups. Most people would probably look at me and assume I am a priest. However, I am not. I can’t remember the last time I did a formalized rite (hint: it’s been months), I don’t do daily service for the gods, and my icons are not Open. So with our basic terms above, I would be a layperson. However, I certainly do perform religious duties and devotional acts every single day.
So what on earth would I be?
And in this simple example, the problem with our definitions becomes ever apparent. We’ve managed to ignore and wipe out large segments of our own community because they technically don’t have a designated place within our paradigm. We don’t acknowledge the full variety of what it can mean to be Kemetic, and when we do that, we make people believe that you can really only be two things: a priest or a layperson, and that is a crying shame.
It is because of this that I feel like we should work on creating new terms that reflect how Kemeticism has shifted over the ages. We are no longer a State run, King-driven type of religion. We no longer have temples with full time staff to run them. We don’t have the capacity to be full time Hem(et) NTR. We don’t have the capacity to meet each other in real life (generally speaking). Things have changed. If the way Kemeticism existed in antiquity fell under a Horian style, we are officially in Setian Kemeticism: we are in diaspora and have lost our resources in the process. I see no point in holding onto a few handful of terms that don’t suit us.
While I don’t entirely have a list of terms to throw out for everyone to consider (I wish I did, I’ve been mulling on this for months), I decided that I could at least show some groups or areas that we need terms for. If we can at least identify that such things exist within our community, we can become more aware of them, and possibly the terminology for those groups will come in time. I’ve tried to keep them organized in some capacity or another, and if I missed a group, please let me know.
Rites, rituals and shrine status:
- Someone who has an Open Icon and performs daily rites for the gods
- Someone who performs daily rites for the gods (State rite vs non-State rite?)
- Someone who performs rites sometimes.
- Someone who doesn’t perform rites, but performs regular devotional acts to the gods.
- Someone who only participates in holidays, or performs rites occasionally.
- Someone who participates heavily in community, but doesn’t necessarily perform a lot of shrine work.
- Akhu and ancestors.
- Death rites or the dead in general (not necessarily related to the dead by blood).
- Heka or magix.
- Lesser Unseen spirits such as netjeri.
- Living in ma’at
- Gods and deities, NTR
God-phone status and ability to travel between planes:
- People who are involved in working in the Unseen/Duat.
- People are work with spirits both here and in the Duat/Unseen
- People who are able to mediate between the living and the gods or other spirits (for example: a medium).
- People who can perform healing on non-physical bodies and the like.
- Researchers and data collectors.
- Scribes: people who write that data down in a format or location that others can access and use.
- Story tellers and people who create new ways of seeing the religion
- People who work on facilitating group activities within the community. Community organizers.
- Divination services and oracular services for the community
As you can see, there is a lot more to our community and our religion than simply being a priest or not a priest (or a priest that performs magic and a priest that doesn’t perform magic). Our community is wide and diverse, and there are lots of areas where we need people to jump in and help out, and that there are a lot of places where we have absolutely no terms or labels for what these people do.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcoming this problem is trying to ascertain how much of the practices from antiquity we need to keep and how much of these practices need to go. It’s obvious we’ll never have a large, full time set of priests working in temples. It’s possible that we’ll never have large temples ever again as well. And we might not ever have a steady flow of money coming in from temple patrons that allow the priests to do their jobs. The role of priest has to change to accommodate how things have changed in the past few centuries. The role of the layperson has also shifted, and our structure in the modern community needs to reflect this.
To get the ball rolling, I’d love to hear back from the community (regardless of your path) as to what you feel a modern priest is, and what it should be. What is the role of the priest? Do they serve only the gods, or do they serve the community and laypeople as well? What is the role of the lay person? Should they support the priesthood? How would we organize such things? What types of terms do we use to illustrate the grey area that exists between priest and lay person?
Additionally, how would you label some of the roles listed above? Do you feel that we need to create new terminology for our modern religious practices?
While I know that this post is not filled with solutions and lists of terms, I hope that this helps to get the ball rolling!