Ever since I came back to things, I’ve found myself thinking about kingship a lot and what it means for our community and our religion. I think there are several reasons behind this, not the least of which is a seemingly new trend that I’ve noticed, where people will literally find any means to get out of having to critically examine their ideas about ma’at, which includes the common practice of writing off kingship.
To be fair, I more or less admitted a few years back that I involved the king in virtually no capacity in my religious practice, but at the same time, I’m not running around assuming that because a directive of ma’at was aimed at the king, that its somehow not relevant to how ma’at pertains to me or others like me. And I think between this influx, my astral BS, and my direct workings with O this year, kingship and all that it entails has been on my mind.
The Prevalence of a Nisut in AE
It never fails that virtually every single book on ancient Egypt has some amount of information about the king or pharaoh in it, and for good reason — nearly every single bit of relief that we find in temples, and so much of what we even have left to find in the sand to begin with, was inevitably tied back to the office of the king in some capacity or another.
According to most of these books, the king was largely regarded as the primary priest that was supposed to perform the daily rites to the gods to maintain ma’at. But because the king can’t be everywhere all at once, he delegates those responsibilities to the priesthood spread throughout the country. The “Good Shepard” that he is supposed to be, the king was meant to direct the entire “flock” that was Egypt, both in terms of international relationships as well as keeping the gods happy. Because of his stewardship, the land of Egypt would flourish, and the gods would smile down upon everyone.
Or something like that.
Given that the king is the Biggest, Most Important Priest and is supposed to be the main person who knows what the gods want and expect, I feel it could be argued that the king is quite central to the State side of the religious structure of ancient Egypt. Of course, this is really only important if you’re a priest and worried about your practice mirroring what went on in temples, but given that modern practitioners are stuck using mostly state-sponsored materials to recreate their practices, it might be said that the king is actually more central to our modern religious recreations than it appears at first glance. I say this because we have very little left to work with from individual “everyday” practitioners, and most of the information we do have is from temple relief or funerary texts. All of which feature the king heavily.
It’s because of this overt positioning of the king at the center of everything that I honestly feel that we Kemetics do ourselves a disservice by ignoring what Kemeticism meant for the king. We almost never see anything about ethics, morals, or preferred behaviors and practices for anyone except for the king. Even in Sauneron’s book on priesthood, he mentions several times that priests were not held to any known ethical standard beyond what was required to perform the job (aka ritual purity.)
And yet, if we’re trying to figure out how to live in ma’at, who better to reference than the very person who was responsible for maintaining it for the entire nation?
Why a Paradigm Shift?
Study of ancient Egyptian myths and themes may be complicated by their focus on kingship (Diakonoff 1995, 124; Spalinger 2007). Rather than just a distortion, the prominence of kingship can also be read as a story of reception (or democratization), with the gradual adoption across the society of certain models first developed for kingship.
Yet Diakonoff raises the question, whether it is possible for us to see an ancient Egypt outside kingship. Writings tend, then, to obscure any parts of ancient Egypt prior to or, more neutrally, outside kingship.
One of the primary reasons that I feel a paradigm shift is in order is because of the fact that most of what we’re working with focuses on the king and his relationship to not only the gods, but with ma’at in general. I feel that if we were able to develop a better way of interpreting and applying the aspects of kingship that are brought up and referenced time and time again in relief and writing, it would help us to obtain a deeper understanding and usefulness from the materials we’ve got to work with.
I think what’s even more important than giving us a better ability to utilize the materials at our disposal, is that by viewing ourselves as being kings of our own selves, we begin to have a litmus of how to better hold ourselves more responsible to the ethical system we claim to participate in. When ma’at is left as some sort of vague, nebulous “well just do ‘right'” or “doing what is right” it becomes really hard to concretely determine what actually constitutes as “right.”
You can see it in several circles where people will almost purposefully find a way to make it so that no one can be held accountable based off of anything objective. So many interactions where people bring up that something isn’t within ma’at, people will almost do backflips to try and find a way to prove that their behaviour is actually in ma’at. Because “we’re not kings” or “we don’t have anything concrete to base this on.” As they say in business management: you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Shifting the Paradigm
In my mind, I feel that this new paradigm would have each of us viewing each other as being a king or participating in the office that is kingship. A couple of posts ago, I talked about how everyone is their own self-contained pattern or system, and how that system has edges:
For instance, as a person, I am made up of cells, each of which contains several patterns or similarities. I am self-contained, and yet I exist inside of an even larger pattern — a desert. And that desert is made up of its own components, each made up of their own patterns, and all of these entities is constantly interacting with the other entities and patterns around them. To take it a step further, this desert sits inside of a country, which is in many respects its own pattern that interacts with other counties (aka other patterns.)
You notice at the end of this statement, I mention that countries are their own pattern/system, and by extension, that basically means that they are essentially the same as a person in that they are both a semi-self-sufficient pattern/system. The only real difference is that a country is more complex and larger in nature than a person. We are all made up of systems that are stacked and nested inside of one another.
And in the same way that countries need leaders (or kings, for the sake of argument), I think its fair to say that each of us needs to be a leader to ourselves. No one will be with us forever, except for ourselves. And as I’ve mentioned several times over the past year, it’s imperative that we all choose to actively participate in our own lives.
In the way that a leader is supposed to foster growth, improvement, and a healthy environment for people — whether that’s a country or a company, we should all strive to improve ourselves and our lives. If we take it as seriously as the Nisut in antiquity was supposed to, wouldn’t we all end up in better places? Doesn’t it make sense to cultivate those very values in ourselves, especially since ma’at is supposed to be at the core of this religion?
In closing, I would like to post a portion of another post that I rediscovered when flipping through KRT responses. Turns out that this idea isn’t a new one:
And so the call to Kingship is for everyone; we are each to be as much a king as we can be. It is the call to fulfilling your potential. Expanding your own boundaries and ensuring that others respect them. Ambition is as much a part of kingship as altruism. Being a learned person and citizen is as well. Giving back to your community, whether by helping a sick family member, working hard at a career, helping a lost stranger, working on a campaign, or organizing a coat drive, are all ways we can embody kingship, but so is growing your assets, mastering your talents, and making sure you c.y.a. Traditionally, lusting after expertise, discipline, and wisdom are traits of good leaders. Ethics and morality, faith and values should be central as well. Determination is also key, as is a sense of vision.
The call to kingship is similar for us. We have a call, despite our shortcomings, to improve ourselves and our world. To bloom our potential. For some, the call may be more communal than for others. Everyone is different, but we can all be a king.
What do you think of viewing yourself as the king of your own life? Does this change your perspective about how you view yourself, your religion, or your life?
November 15, 2018 at 8:11 am
I think you are quite right regarding the fact that everybody is called to/should share the responsability of kigship in terms of personal improvement and
November 15, 2018 at 10:45 am
(Damn, I pressed the wrong button too soon) and of improving the world according to ma’at.
I was among the people who said that we don’t need a king in modern times, but as I explained before, what I meant is that we don’t need someone to do the thinking, talking, etc… for us, like a Kemetic pope. This is a reconstructed/revived religion, based on academic info on which the academics themselves cannot agree, and formed by people who live in very different contexts, scattered all over the world, so it would be totally counterproductive to impose a rigid authority structure. I believe that kemeticism should be an egalitarian, inclusive, antiauthoritarian community, but that would necessarily mean, as I explained in a post about Ma’at and collective action a couple of years ago, that everybody is called to bear the burden of making ma’at and repelling isfet in the place where they are and act. In short, to take on the mantle of kingship and responsibility.
I know you meant it in a broader sense than exclusively political action, but this reminds me of the concept of cittadinanza attiva (=active citizenship) which is often at the hearth of the discourse of the ANPI (Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’ Italia = National Association on Italian Partisans), one of the principal antifascist, antiracist associations in Italy. Active citizenship is not just turning up and voting, but it is a daily, constant responsibility to make the elected representatives accountable, create community, protest, exercise solidarity, inform oneself and spread awareness.
November 15, 2018 at 10:58 am
(Part #3) That means that everybody needs to share in the responsibility for the good state of society and of the country, which also ties in with my favourite Pericles’ quote about the people who do not engage in politics. IMHO every act is political, especially disengaging for it because it implies that you are fine with whatever other decide for you, that you are OK with being lead, passively, uncritically.
If we all, collectively and individually assume the mantle of kingship, it means that each of us assumes the responsibility of exercising “active spiritual citizenship”, that each of us is Horus and Seth joined, that each of us has to mantain ma’at by preserving what is right and destroying what is wrong, so that something better can be created, that every one of us defeats the enemies of Ra and helps the sun rise every day forever and eternally, that our actions matter and cannot be brushed off as inconsequential or irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It is a great responsibility, but it also empowers us to think for ourselves and act for ma’at in the ways that we are able to, whichever they might be, self-developmental, charitable, political or all three at once.
November 15, 2018 at 11:11 am
Sorry for the comment deluge, this is the post I meant, which kind of explores, in fewer details the same theme