It is said that a lot of Kemeticism is based on reciprocity. For those of you who don’t know what reciprocity is, it’s commonly defined as “the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another.” Or in other words, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. I have worded this before in other posts as “we help keep the NTRW full and focused by giving offerings, and in return, they help keep our existence running smoothly”. We help the gods by fulfilling ma’at so that they can survive, and in return, they help make our lives a bit easier (in whatever fashion that that might entail).
Reciprocity is a really interesting concept, and it’s one of my favorite parts of Kemeticism. I love that it’s less about humans prostrating before gods (though you can do that if that’s your thing, no judgement from me), and more about gods and humans working together to make existence better for everyone.
However, there seems to be a missing part of the discussion about reciprocity: what happens when it seems like the gods aren’t fulfilling their end of the bargain? What happens when a devotee and a god have an agreement about “you do X, and I’ll do Y in return” and the god doesn’t come through? What happens when it feels like the gods are slacking off?
Not too long ago, this very discussion was sparked over on Tumblr. It started with a Kemetic devotee reflecting on their current relationship with the gods, and how they felt that the gods weren’t pulling their weight. I know at least a few Kemetics have been wondering and pondering the same things as of late (though many of us hadn’t been public about this), and I know I at least was excited to engage in this conversation. I feel that this is an important thing to discuss, as it’s come up for at least a few of us, and usually if a few of us are experiencing it, there are many others feeling the same way– they’re just not talking about it.
Unfortunately our discussion was cut short when a bunch of non-Kemetics jumped in and started to derail the conversation with mentions of hubris (something Kemeticism doesn’t have) and a side-note of “how dare you.” The conversation came to a premature close because no one felt safe enough to continue it anymore.
This is frustrating because I think this is an important conversation to have regardless of whether it makes a few people uncomfortable. As it turns out, I had made a mention of my own problem with Set falling through on his promises to me back in 2014 (something I had forgotten I even mentioned until I happened upon the post a week or so ago), but I didn’t really go in-depth about what devotees could or should do in such situations. Given that the response over on Tumblr from fellow Kemetics was relatively positive before things went to hell, I really want to open the discussion over here on WP where I have more control over comments and responses so that those who were interested in discussing this further might be able to do so in a safer space.
The Meat and Potatoes of Reciprocity: Offerings and Blessings
Now blessings is probably not quite the right word for this, but I’m going to use blessings for this post to mean “stuff that the gods give to a devotee”. This stuff could be protection, a new shiny job, a trinket, a windfall of money, etc. Basically anything that the god might give a devotee in return for their devotion and/or offerings. And I’ll be using offerings to mean anything that a devotee does for a god– whether it be food offerings, spirit work or work in the Unseen, community rites or rituals, offerings of time or devotion, art, jewelry, etc.
In many ways, reciprocity is based off of a trade of like for like. I give you offerings of your liking, and in return you give me something that I need or want. Usually, the exchange of offerings and blessings is relatively equal in nature, and sometimes the exchange is done organically because each party wishes to bestow gifts upon the other, and other times it’s officially contracted or predetermined through an oath, promise or something similar. To cite my own experience as an example, Set and I had decided that I would do work for him in the Duat for a period of time, and once that period of time was up, he would assist me with my finances and job situation, as they are not ideal. For those who are curious about what happened, I had fulfilled my term of work in the Duat, only to find out that Set had tried to fulfill his end of the bargain, but couldn’t seem to wrangle up whatever was needed to fulfill his end of our deal.
Based off of what I had seen on Tumblr during this fiasco, I’m fairly certain that many people in other traditions might feel that humans have no basis to request or demand that a god do something for them. The historical precedence for it in Kemeticism aside, if a person feels like standing up to a god and saying “you should be doing more for me because of all that I’ve done for you”, that’s their prerogative and issue, not mine or yours. When many Kemetics tried to explain to people how it was part of a NTR’s job to help the humans that offer to them, it seems that many people shrugged off the notion and continued to be offended despite the fact that there are books that say the exact same thing we were saying. For example:
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)
It doesn’t benefit the gods to ignore their devotees’ needs. It doesn’t benefit the gods to only take and never give. So that begs to ask, why do the gods seem to be falling short for so many devotees?
The Logistics of Blessings:
I think in order to answer that, we have to look at some of the logistics of what it takes to fulfill blessings and requests on the gods’ end. Obviously, I am not a god and I don’t pretend to know all of the aspects of what goes into fulfilling blessings, but I have talked with Set about this several times and watched quite a bit of politicking in the Duat that has given me a big heaping pile of UPG on the subject. So you can take this for whatever it’s worth.
I would hope that most everyone gets that blessings aren’t always easy to fulfill. Our gods aren’t all-powerful, and they have their limitations just like we do. On top of that, the human world isn’t exactly fair in how it doles things out, and I think that can play a role in how easy it is for a blessing to be made manifest. It seems that back in AE, the most common requests for the gods were probably things like “make sure the harvest is good” or “please cure this illness” or “get this person out of my life (or in my life)” or things like that. I feel that in some ways, the jobs were simpler and easier, especially for societies that weren’t run off of currency. In the modern era, I don’t need a good harvest, I need a job that pays well, or I need money to suddenly appear out of nowhere because a big bill came up, etc. Sure, you still have some of the same stuff from yesteryear–cure this illness, hurt or help that person, etc. But unlike back in the day, nearly everything needs to have money in order for it to happen. And for most of us, money doesn’t just come from nowhere. Most of us don’t work in companies that can suddenly give raises, or work for employers that are going to magically give you a bonus just because.
So I think one of the first big hurdles with blessings is that the gods are experiencing a learning curve on how to get blessing to their devotees. While I think the inherent nature of a lot of what devotees ask for is the same, the methods needed to obtain those blessings is not. And this isn’t even getting into the issues of societal limitations that the god has to attempt to work around in order to manifest what is needed. Something that could have been relatively simple once upon a time is likely a lot harder in our current society.
Another factor is the recent influx of devotees. Speaking purely for the NTRW, there have been quite a few Kemetics that have joined the ranks in the past few years, and it’s possible that the NTRW are short-staffed and unable to handle the workload. Pending on what sorts of offerings are coming in, that may dictate how many blessings get addressed or handled (since offerings are supposed to be related to the resources the NTRW have to work with). Not to mention that there are discrepancies between gods (UPG warning) as to who should be given what. Similar to how many managers have to deal with a budget and approval process involving upper management, sometimes I feel like the NTRW have to run some of their stuff through other higher-ranking gods for approval, and things don’t always work out how they want or expect. And if a god is trying to handle requests from multiple devotees at once, it’s possible that things can bottle-neck or get put on hold while the god works through everyone’s needs. In a lot of popular media showing this sort of thing, usually the god has a bunch of helpers to ensure that things run smoothly, but who knows what kind of assistance the NTRW are getting.
And of course, the offerings coming in from devotees certainly aren’t to the same scale as in antiquity. Who knows what sort of effect that has on the gods’ ability to manifest in the physical, or make things happen in the physical. It’s equally possible that the gods are having a hard time handling the difference between what was and what currently is. I imagine it’s a learning curve for everyone- humans and gods alike.
These are obviously not the only considerations, but they are worth noting. I think in order for the conversation about gods fulfilling blessings to be balanced, we need to be considerate of what the gods might be having to deal with as well.
Opening up the dialogue: What exactly is everyone owed?
So given that Kemeticism is largely based on reciprocity, and it’s apparent that there is a disconnect between what the gods are receiving vs. what they’re giving, that begs us to ask–
- What should a devotee expect to receive when they engage in devotional acts for a god (if anything)?
- What should a god expect from their devotees, especially given that most of us don’t have the resources to be priests or give on the same level as a temple would have in antiquity?
- What should be the proper protocol for when a god doesn’t do the work they promised they’d do? If a human were unable to fulfill a contract, you know that all hell would probably break loose because “how dare a human break an oath or promise”, and yet when a god does the same, apparently humans are supposed to just deal with it?
- If a deity can’t keep their contracts in order, should a devotee even bother to do dealings with the god in the first place? What is reasonable in terms of failing to uphold a promise (whether for gods or devotees)? How far is too far?
- Most importantly– how do we handle these situations when they happen, because they are happening.
I don’t think that we’ll all agree on the answers to these questions, but I think they’re worth discussing. I know that a lot of people feel uncomfortable saying that they think their gods aren’t pulling their weight, or that the gods owe humans anything at all. However, for devotees who have gone above and beyond for their gods, or who wrote out contracts with them only to have them fall through would probably disagree with you. I know that when this was discussed on Tumblr, I saw a lot of the same old rhetoric of “if the gods aren’t giving you blessings, then you must not be doing something right.” But I honestly don’t think that’s the case, and it’s not an answer I’m really willing to accept.
They say that it rains on the just and the wicked alike, and it’s important to remember that perceived blessings don’t always equate to doing things right, in the same way that a lack of blessings doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong. We often say that our gods aren’t omniscient or all-powerful, and we have to keep this in mind when it comes to blessings and contracts as well. There are many factors that go into why someone may or may not receive something, and we shouldn’t assume that the quantity of blessings necessarily relates to the devotee’s “inherent” worth.
Now while I don’t expect my answers to be the same as everyone else reading this, I did want to give my two cents regarding how I think handling these kinds of situations could be handled. That way, if someone in a similar situation happens across this post, they have some ideas they can work with.
First off is that I don’t think devotees should go into relationships with the gods purely on the basis of getting blessings out of it. I still think that the best way to start out is simply because you want to get to know them, or because it has a place within your religious practice, etc. I know that I personally didn’t get involved with Set or Osiris because I expected them to bestow lots of blessings on me (and for a long time, I refused to ask them for assistance with anything). I think that going into a relationship with a god with the end goal of getting free stuff is likely going to set you up for heartache and frustration (because my experience with the gods has shown me that they’re pretty bad at fulfilling basic needs of devotees, or in other words, they’re unreliable).
That being said, I do think that the gods should be doing more for those who are in true need of assistance, and for those who are actively doing a lot for their deity. Further, if a god has been under contract to give the devotee something, and they fall through, I think that the devotee is within their rights to be upset about that. Alternatively, if a god says they will fulfill a need, but only does so in the barest sense, I think there is room for some discussion about whether they’ve really done their best to help their devotee. And the bargaining power that the devotee has is probably going to depend upon how much work they’ve put in to their end of things, too. If you were slow to finish the work, or were sloppy in your execution of the work, you’re probably not going to have as much leverage in your negotiating.
To go back to my own situation with Set, when he couldn’t fulfill his end of the contract, we both agreed that I would be allowed to drop the additional work he had asked of me until he could uphold his end of the deal. With each month or attempt that has failed, I have been allowed to withdraw and do less because what I asked of him was crucial to my ability to be able to continue doing the work that he’s been wanting. We also agreed that if I wanted to do more for him, I could, but that that was on me.
If you find yourself in a situation where a god isn’t following through on contract, I think you’re within your ability to null the contract and withhold work or offerings until the god follows through. If your god skimps on their follow through, I would advise sitting down and talking with the deity about your concerns with what they’ve provided, and seeing if you can reach some sort of agreement. Or, learn to write a better contract that doesn’t allow them to skimp on you.
For situations where you’re not under contract, I still believe that it’s in the god’s best interest to take care of you, especially if you are doing good, consistent work. In those cases, I think it’s worth talking with your gods, and being firm in your needs. I would treat it a lot like a conference with your boss, honestly. Have reasons why you feel you deserve whatever you’re asking for. Show how what you’re asking for is important, and how it will ultimately help and benefit the gods as well (I call this “help me help you”). Of course, the god can still say no. And if they do, it’s up to each individual to figure out how they want to handle that situation. It’s not unheard of to flat out threaten the NTRW if they don’t give you what you feel you need, and you could go that route if you wanted. You could also withhold offerings or services if you wanted to as well. Like with any threat to a god, don’t promise or threaten with what you can’t achieve.
As stated above, there is no one right or wrong answer to any of these issues, and how you handle the situation is going to depend on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re prepared to deal with. Some people may not think its in the human’s right to make demands or even requests, and that’s fine so long as you’re not dictating that others can’t attempt to make demands if that’s what they want to do. If negotiating falls apart, there are lots of other options for you to consider ranging from very passive to very aggressive and everything in between. Even though this conversation is likely going to make some people uncomfortable, or even down right angry, I think it’s worth considering how to handle these situations, because as I stated above, they are happening whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
Have you ever felt like a god was slacking in their role? Have you ever felt like the gods weren’t taking care of you despite the work you’re putting in? How do you feel about the concept of gods not taking care of their devotees? How would you go about things if you ever found yourself in such a situation?