One of the things I’ve noticed is that there aren’t a lot of 101 or guides out there for people looking to venerate some akhu. It’s difficult to try to emulate the rich worship going on in ancient Egypt in modern times – no tombs, no pyramids, no seventy days of mourning, no natron and bitumen, no walls carved and artfully decorated in a tomb, etc. But, when it comes down to brass tacks, really, the worship part is what we need to focus on. I think people at large and some Kemetics in part get caught up in the pretty pictures in all of the books. I’ve been guilty of it, but I’ve decided that just because I am recon-slanted doesn’t necessarily mean I have to lament the things I don’t have that are like ancient Egypt and celebrate the things I do have that are unlike ancient Egypt.
What is akhu veneration?
Specifically, akhu is the special word that Kemetics use to denote their ancestors, which actually translates as “shining ones.” It can also be translated to mean “spirit,” “ghost,” or “transfiguration.” (The last because when an akh is created, then it has been transfigured – passed the weighing of its heart and allowed, in ancient Egyptian belief, the ka and ba to merge to form the akh.) Each Kemetic is more or less specific about what akhu means, but when we are getting together and the word pops up, each of us speaking of our genetic heritage, the ancestors who created us to bring us into being today.
Now, when we venerate our akhu, it can either be intimated that we worship them as one does with the gods or that we revere them. Specifically, “venerate” is defined as to revere while “worship” is defined as reverent honor or homage paid. In a very technical sense, we could go so far as to say that I’m using a pretty fancy word here, veneration, when I could just as easily use worship. However, worship is a dirty word in post polytheist circles, so I tend to refrain from using it on a regular basis. It may, in fact, be what I do with the gods, but I cannot say that I worship my akhu.
My staples for feeding them are a mix of Kemetic staples and some things I’ve picked up in my research from Vodou. Obviously, you don’t need to follow my list exactly, but it’s a good start for anyone freaking the hell out. From the Kemetic side of things, I will leave flowers, bread, water, whole fruits, incense, booze, and candle light. The candles are usually the small tea lights and I will usually light it early on so I can make sure that grass fires don’t happen, but occasionally, I will leave one of those glass enclosed seven-day candles. From the Vodou side of things, I will leave roasted corn in the form of corn nuts – the spicier the better – and tobacco.
Who would be chosen as one’s akhu to venerate?
This is one of those questions that can be problematic and/or inherently personal.
Personally, when it comes to taking care of my Blessed Dead, I associate them with people who are my genetic ancestors, people who have absolutely no bearing on my genetic heritage but are still part of my family in some way, and people who I have never met, but who forged the area where I live into the metropolitan urbane area it is today. While I’m a rarity in choosing to include the graves I tend regularly as a part of my akhu, I’m not so rare in choosing to include those who are part of my genetic heritage and those who married into my family (and did not add to my genetic heritage). To me, all akhu are my akhu in a way – I do not pick and choose people from my family and if I were to research the histories of the people whose graves I tend, I would not pick and choose them, either.
You see, quite often in Kemetic circles, there will be specific people who are part of a person’s akhu who are left out. The reasoning behind why various Kemetics will leave people out is personal. They either will or will not share their reasoning, but I can tell you that the people who they leave out tend to be “assholes.” That’s a rather broad term for some souls who should have been killed off in the Duat with the horrors they inflicted upon their families, but it’s the best. Those people could be muuet (demonic beings) or their souls could have been dispersed. In either case, it is in the living person’s best interest to not interact with them at all.
I completely agree with this. In fact, I heartily support anyone who says that they cannot or will not add X to their akhu because of Y. As I said, these decisions are very personal for each practitioner. Who chooses whom is not an easy question and it really comes up to making the decision after – pardon the pun – a lot of soul-searching. But, all in all, when it comes to determining who you are or are not going to add to the list, you really need to think about it on your own. You need to decide if these are the ones you want to interact with and if not, you should know why so that you can tell that spirit – if they are an akhu and not a muuet – why you’ve made that decision.
Can pets be considered akhu?
I absolutely and one hundred percent believe that my pets are part of my akhu. Pets are a delicate thing for a lot of people, at least in America. There are people who view them as part of the family – as I do – and people who view them as “furniture” or “decorative pieces.” Since my pets have always been a part of my family, a four-footed sister or brother, daughter or son, they are absolutely honored when I venerate my akhu. To each their own, and all of that, but they’re part of my practice. While I don’t leave offerings for them as often as I do my human akhu, they’re included when I do rituals for my akhu.
How do you venerate the akhu?
Each person’s practice is going to be different when it comes to the how. We are no longer limited, in this country, by a heritage universally shared or similar. In ancient Egypt, this was never up for debate because they were all the same: if you were rich, you’d get a place to go to when you died and if you were poor, you may be able to work some fields on behalf of those rich people after you died. How the layman, or the poor man, was honored by their family has not come down to us [like everything else], but how it was done for the upper crust is not something we can emulate. We don’t have pyramids or tomb niches cut out of rock to visit. We can go to graves, but the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings is a far cry from the gravestones we may visit.
So, how? How do you go about this if you’re recon-slanted and trying to rebuild a modern practice?
You do whatever the hell feels accurate to you.
For example, I know a Kemetic, Zenith, who has Philippine ancestry and in honoring them, she tries to emulate veneration of the akhu from a Philippine perspective. When I work with my genetic ancestors, as they are all French and English, I tend to pull items from both sides to coalesce them into a single, cohesive, veneratin’-full unit. Some people who venerate their akhu do not take the racial or genetic history into account and just go to town. But others, such as myself and the Kemetic I mentioned above, will look to the heritage for answers to questions as well as suggestions on how to go about honoring our akhu.
While utilizing the heritage that your akhu stems from is a very simple matter, what it comes down to is a simple what feels right. If you feel it’s right to honor them based on where they come from in the world, then do so. If you’re a full-fledged American who doesn’t really see themselves as anything other than American, then go your own way. In either case, the how isn’t as important as the doing.
What do you offer the akhu?
In all actuality, when it comes to the leaving of offerings, it is highly dependent on where I am and what I am doing. What I offer when I am tending graves is similar to what I may offer when doing ritual to my akhu at home, but it’s not specifically the same. When I’m tending graves of either my genetic ancestors or the graves of my beautiful cemeteries, my first and only real purpose (especially if it is a cemetery where I have not built a connection yet) is to feed their souls. One hundred and thirty percent, my main goal besides cleaning, taking pictures, and telling them all who I am and what my purpose is* then my next goal is to make sure they are fed enough to be active when I come back for a visit.
* If you are entering a cemetery with the intention of grave tending and you have never, ever, ever, ever been there before, you have no connection with that place or those people. You need to announce what you are doing or else. The last time I failed to do that, my camera went to the big Scrap Pile in the sky. So, you absolutely announce to everyone – first thing – who you are, why you are there, and how you are not going to harm anything because you’re only goal is to please them.
Now, as far as leaving offerings, I have quite a few standard staples that I leave. Most of my staples stem from my Kemetic practice, but I have one or two that I leave from the snippets I’ve learned with my vodou practice. From the Kemetic perspective, I will leave flowers, whole fruit, incense, bread, water, booze, and candle light. The candles I usually leave as an offering are tea lights and white, for purity. I will usually try to light my candle earlier in my grave-tending, well before I am ready to feed their souls fully, so that I can be sure I do not cause a grass fire. Occasionally, I will leave the glass-enclosed seven-day candles but rarely. From my vodou practices, I will leave the spiciest damn corn nuts you ever did find – as a replacement for roasted corn, which appears to be a well-loved treat of the Guédé – and some tobacco. The Bawon and many Guédé prefer cigars, but I’m not so perfect and pay attention to the ecosystem, so I’ll leave a few tobacco leaves if I have any.
Where do you venerate them?
Quite often, people will build a shrine or altar space to their akhu, which is where most of the offerings, prayers, and communication happens. It’s easiest, really, to build a general place in your house so that you aren’t forced to use gas and go to graves to venerate. It’s all right there and you don’t have to go anywhere to get what you want done. This is easiest, not just because of the economy, but also because not a lot of people will live in the same area as their akhu. Pagan Pickle has told me that he lives to far away to visit graves on a regular basis and in the case of Zenith, her family members are in the Philippines, which isn’t exactly a hop, skip, or jump away from her in the United States.
All in all, an altar in your home is the easiest and fastest way to get started.
I’m lucky, however. I can go to the graves of my akhu with very little gas money wasted in the process. Literally, my father’s grave is right down the street. My paternal grandparents and paternal step-great grandparents are in the city next door. The myriad of family members on my mother’s side all tend to reside in the largest Catholic cemetery in my city. My maternal grandmother is in the local veteran’s cemetery (which is about a half hour from me) waiting for my grandfather to join her. Not everyone is as lucky as me, though. I can jump in the car on a Saturday (my chosen day for akhu work) and visit any one of them. And if I’m really inclined, I can drive the few hours to New Hampshire, eastern Massachusetts, or New Jersey to finish the larger array of ancestors I have.
However, I don’t just go to the cemeteries where my family members have been left. I also go to all of the older cemeteries in my area and tend those graves. I do this because, as I’ve said, my akhu is a bit more complicated than most in that I also honor the pioneers who cut out our swath of the country. While the things they did to the locals are horrific and unbearable in the eyes of [many] modern Americans, they are still to be honored for the sacrifices they made in creating this country, either for fighting for its independence or merely for creating a township that is still extant today. So, again, I go to the cemeteries and that’s how I get my veneration on.
What would you put on an altar for the akhu?
Altars to the akhu vary from person to person. You can go on to Fuck Yeah Altars on Tumblr and usually see an akhu shrine if you scroll back far enough. I’m uncertain but Shrine Beautiful may also have some akhu shrines thrown in there. All in all, if you look at someone else’s altar porn, then you may be able to get a few thoughts on what to add. If not, here are my recommendations.
If and when I do the altar thing for my akhu, the entire thing will be a shrine of pictures. Be careful that the picture only shows the person who you are honoring and no one living. (I can’t really remember the reason behind why we don’t add living people to our altar except that it’s “bad juju.”) If you don’t have access to pictures without other people in them – as I have found with my father – then get an item that reminds you of that person and place it on the altar as them. For my father, I would place a white-and-black plaid shirt as this was the type of shirt I associated with him. For my grandmother, I would use a replica kitchen table because she “ruled the world from the kitchen table.” (No, seriously.) Aside from that, an offering plate or bowl, a cup for libations, and some candle light should top it off.
When should you venerate the akhu?
As based on the Kemetic lunar calendar, there appears to have been miniature festivals for the akhu once a month. I haven’t integrated the lunar calendar into my Kemetic calendar, as yet, but it may happen in future. Aside from that, there are a few minor festivals of the akhu throughout the solar calendar that can also be celebrated. As my studies in regards to the Kemetic calendar have been put on hold while I get other projects done, I cannot say conclusively if there were larger festivals held in ancient Egypt that were for the akhu. I believe the Wag Festival is associated with the ancestors, but it later became conflated with a festival of Djehuti. The information I have pulled has been mostly based off of the Djehuti association.
I also celebrate Fet Guédé, which is on the second of November every year. My celebrations for this are for my ancestors, obviously, but I mostly go out to a cemetery and do a very private celebration. Not as fun-filled as the Bawon would like, but what to do when you are a solitary Vodouisant? From what I’ve read and from what I’ve seen in videos, this is a very large celebration for Haitians and my, herm, rather sedate celebration is not up to par.
Aside from those minor festivals and Fet Guédé, I actually celebrate my akhu fairly regularly. I go to the cemetery every Saturday when the weather is not snow or oppressive heat to spend time with either my genetic ancestors or the graves that I tend. They are always on my lips, always in my heart, and I spend a good deal of time each week talking to them and honoring them as I see fit. Not everyone can be as obsessive, I suppose, as I can be when it comes to my akhu, so I recommend looking to your calendar and integrating some festivals of the akhu to get into the swing of things.
Why do you venerate the akhu?
I’ve thought about this answer a lot since I began having thoughts that I needed to write this entry. I’ve discussed why we have the relationships we do with our gods, but I’ve never really thought about why we would venerate our akhu. From an outsider’s perspective, it may appear that we spend as much time thinking and discussing and celebrating our akhu because, well, that’s what the ancients did. And since a lot of us are recon-slanted or full-blown reconstructionists, then by golly, we’re going to recon the whole damn thing, ancestor veneration included. And in some circles, this may actually be the case. It may just be that someone has decided that the ancient Egyptians did it, so you know, it should be a part of their practice, whether they feel strongly about it or not.
In my practice, it really wasn’t a huge aspect for the longest time. I would go and visit and I’d think about things I wanted to do for my akhu, but my plans always fell apart or they fell short of the goal I had intended. It wasn’t until I began working with the Bawon and Papa that I began to realize that it wasn’t just about me and what I wanted, but it was about my akhu and what the fuck they wanted. And as silly and ridiculous and trite as it may sound, they just really don’t want to be forgotten. They want someone to tell others stories about them. They want someone to tell others about who they were. They want someone to tell others about what they liked. They want someone to just fucking make them live, however briefly, in stories, anecdotes, and in those people’s thoughts.
And that’s what it comes down to; that’s the why.