So, I asked a question regarding a common practice in KO households that has kind of turned into a debate regarding UPG versus recon practices, specifically the information gathering from public sources that could have both UPG and recon/ancient sources. Maybe debate is too hot-headed of a word, though. It’s more along the lines of an opening up of eyes from a solitary’s perspective (mine) and, hopefully, from a KO perspective (theirs). How I go about things and how they go about things are entirely different. Then again, this isn’t so surprising. They have the background of a solidified religion and temple aiding them while I’m floundering around in my little boat of reeds, looking not just for outsiders’ perspectives (because the differences can be so neat) but also a solid foundation, preferably based on some ancient source.
Now, the basis of this experience in my little Kemetic misfits group centers around the wiki page of KO creation: Wepwawet Wiki. This is a source of information, which seems to be a haven for KO info gatherers. And now, I came to this page prior to knowing as much about KO as I do now. I didn’t use it heavily but I did think the offerings listed, like stones, were pretty nifty. At that point, I was less interested in recon so things that were a little less than historically accurate (such as soda or potato chips) weren’t so unappetizing as they can be for me now. But the ‘debate’ is at my recommendation that UPG based info (such as modern-day foods the ancients did not have) be marked in some way. I mentioned that solitaries, such as myself, may prefer the distinction based on their preference in practice, in affect UPG versus recon.
As a website that pops up in Google searches, there may be people who take it literally (I know of at least one person who has admitted to such) and I know that I fell into that prior to learning more about its inception. But all of this got me thinking about how important sources are and how it is important for those sources to be very clear and very specific about where the information comes from. Is this something that is unverified and personal gnosis, shared and personal gnosis, stems from an Egyptological tome, or is found in ancient sources discussed in an Egyptological tome? These are all aspects that we need to take into consideration because it could make or break a personal practice for solitaries. (I’m sorry, but since I am a solitary and I know quite a few Kemetic solitaries out there, while I appreciate the fact that there are groups of Kemetic Wiccans and other temples out there, this is primarily for people in similar straits as myself.) It could be the very foundation! And how would a solitary feel, discussing this stuff with someone else with like mind, only to learn that their foundation is based on someone else’s UPG?
I would personally be both horrified (because technically, aren’t I stealing?) and disappointed (because seriously, how difficult is it to claim that the information is UPG?) and vastly upset (because everything I had started was based on a lie). And I have to assume that other solitaries in my shoes would feel similarly.
So, let’s get this ball rolling…
I am a huge proponent in telling you to do some research when you start deciding you want to go Kemetic. This isn’t because I’m a bitch and I don’t want to help, but mostly due to the fact that I will not do others’ work for them but also because what I take away from a certain text may not exactly be what you take away from a certain text. I also say this because I feel (and some others like me) that in trying to get to know a new pantheon, a new religion, and a new OTHER™ the best way to go about doing this is to go to the ancient sources.
How we view a deity in today’s terms, such as Sutekh being the equivalent of the Kemetic devil or Loki in similar guise, is probably not how they were viewed in the ancient civilization and myths. While I can’t do much more than comment that it is possible, based on Sutekh’s history, that Loki is misrepresented, I can clearly say (and have) that Sutekh’s current iffy status in Kemetic practices is partially due to the vilification his appearance went through over the centuries. So, in said case with Sutekh, the older the mythos and cult status, the better off you may be in getting a full picture instead of just a slice of the picture. In other words, you could navigate across the globe with a full map of the world instead of just sticking to a map of the waterways around the Mediterranean Sea.
When you start doing research, I’m not telling you that you have to go into this with the end result being a thesis based on the pantheon, the culture, and/or the myths. What I am saying is that the more research, the better off you are. The biggest issue I tend to have when it comes to my personal practice is that there are next to no sources about how the little man, the standard ancient Egyptian John Doe, would have practiced the religion. There are, however, books, tomes, websites, and papyrus dedicated to how the clergy performed their practices. And it is on this, for the most part, that most recons are going to base their practices off of. All you have to do is start looking and take a note of the sources on the website you end up on.
Now, that’s something that you need to pay attention to: the sources. If a website has citations for their sources, you can almost entirely assume that they did at least some of the research and are telling you where else to look. Websites without such citations need to be taken with a large grain of salt. In the above case of WW Wiki, there are absolutely no sources listed whatsoever. Based on this and this alone, I am going to have to assume that most of the things listed here are based off of either unverified personal gnosis or shared personal gnosis. (The difference being that one person claims X happens with no one else claiming that this is true or multiple people claim X happens.)
This is the case in KO when they claim that you cannot offer Sutekh cool water. This is based off of something that happened in their temple or during a ceremony at some point or another and has since become the standard practice (shared personal gnosis). This is also considered, by me, to be similar to those people who claim that you should not give blood as an offering to Sekhmet: this based on their UPG. I read somewhere, I believe it was a Wiccan website actually, that she had come to a priestess or something and said that doing this was a big no-no. She has never come to me with this so I have to assume that since she enjoys my blood donations that this is UPG being claimed as “the norm.”
Now, am I claiming that UPG is an inferior way to begin working with the OTHERS™? No. I am not that kind of person. I do not believe that there is any one right way to doing all of this religion stuff. While I may scoff at someone else’s UPG in regards to how it may or may not (usually not) effect my practice that doesn’t mean I think I’m doing it any better than the person who is claiming the UPG is accurate and true. The only issue I have then is the fact that they want to make it a standard practice. In regards to the cool water offering, how in the world does that make sense? I mean, water is the basis of all life and was one of the most sacred things to give to gods in ancient Egypt, it being surrounded by a desert and dependent upon the life-giving nutrients of the Nile. (That’s pretty much the totality of why I have an issue with this cool water business.) Again, while I believe that everyone can practice however they see fit in their own way, I don’t think we should claim it as an absolute.
To each their own and all of that.
But what if you’re so new to all of this and you don’t know what you want to practice? What happens if you look at others’ blogs and posts in public fora that demonstrate how very time-consuming and occasionally head-desk a recon path can be? And that turns you off? What about all of that? Isn’t it okay to use UPG then?
The thing is that even if you aren’t sure what kind of practice you want to follow, whether it ends up as eclectic or as far from Kemetism as possible or deep in the recon thick of things, you should still do some research. This kind of goes with cultural appropriation (which I’ve discussed and won’t get back into). The thing is that some people read about a practice, think it’s neat, and usurp it for their own purposes. This was, also, common in ancient cultures as well, as clearly shown in the fact that the Egyptian pantheon picked up a few Semitic deities. However, if you just read about doing X and you don’t understand why you’re doing it, something is getting lost. Also, it would help you in future in doing the research because, at some point, someone may accuse you of cultural appropriation, which tends to base the argument that you saw something shiny and decided to add it to your practice. By, at least demonstrating where the practice came from, you could, quite possibly, make your life a little less dramatic in future. Also, in knowing where the practice comes from and how it came to be, you’ll enter a level of appreciation you may not have if you just see it and decide to use it.
Again, I’m not saying that using UPG is “wrong.” While I may point fingers when it comes to my son not picking up his toys, I don’t do that in others’ practices. Some of the parts of my practice are UPG. For example, I can’t tell you where the sudden urge to pick up a cardinal (bird) statue for Hekate came from, but I just had to do it. I’ve found the correlation after I did some research on the symbolism of the bird and whatnot, but I doubt this is something we can consider as widespread belief forms in the relationships and practices of others with Hekate. I can’t tell you if she likes stars or not, but her altar is filled with stars. Not the pentacle or pentagram, but just regular old stars. I consider that UPG, in my practice.
I think each practice should have a basis even just a basic precursor of research. If UPG comes up while you’re working with an OTHER™, then use it. They’re telling you to do it for a reason or you feel like it will make your life easier. (Such as my using Tarot and Oracle decks to communicate with my OTHERS™, I doubt that is historically accurate…) But I still think that in doing research not only will it help you to understand and feel more well-rounded in your practice, but you could surprise yourself be finding that what you thought was UPG was actually something they practiced way back when.
The last thing I want to touch upon is the mistaken belief of some people that newbies should “easily” be able to tell the difference between UPG sources and ancient sources. The statement I’m referring to, I felt, was a little over-the-top and kind of bitchy. I’m not going to represent that statement here, but in effect, the person made a remark that everyone should “be able to use basic intelligence” to differentiate between what is UPG and what is an ancient source. The problem here is that with some aspects, yes it will be very easy. We all know that the ancient world did not have diet Coke, Sun chips, and Red Bull. We can pretty much decide based on what is obvious – such as mordern day comestibles and technology – what is and is not UPG.
However, of course there was a but in there, the thing is that not everything is so obvious. The cool water example I keep using in regards to Sutekh. The blood offering example I keep using in regards to Sekhmet. These are aspects that are UPG but can be easily misconstrued as stemming from ancient sources, especially for people who are new, uncertain, and don’t know where to begin. So, while I can definitely say that using common sense is key when researching via the Internet and blog posts, if you are ever uncertain or are just curious, then ASK SOMEONE.
There are no stupid questions. Remember that when you embark down this path: there will be a lot of questions, but none of them are stupid.