When I was a baby Kemetic, I spent a lot of my time on the Internet forum, The Cauldron*. In fact, I spent so much time on the forum because it was the first place where I was able to see other solitary Kemetics interact with one another and it was, really, the best place to get a good jumping off point to start this crazy Kemetic adventure. I can remember sitting in the forum one day while I read someone wax poetic about just what an altar should be to people entering this particular polytheistic path. I can’t recall who the member was who was saying this stuff and I’m going to look for the thread in question. All I remember is that they explained that the point in the altar, in the shrine, in the mix therein was to achieve Zep Tepi. It was the action of trying to attain a replica Zep Tepi – the First Time –that was the ultimate goal to creating sacred space. That particular depiction has stuck with me through the years and while I cannot say if I am always emulating Zep Tepi when I rearrange and reincarnate my various altar set ups, I can tell you that periodically, I at least think about it.
For anyone who may not be aware, Zep Tepi is the period of time when the gods walked upon the earth and ruled the humans that had been created. To put this into a context that Kemetics may understand: This was when we can expect such titillating mythologies as the Distant Goddess, the Destruction of Mankind, Aset Tricks Re, and the Wesirian Myth cycle to have happened. If we were to associate this with a time period in ancient Egypt’s history, as shown in the various periods hammered out by Egyptologists, we would say that this was prior to the period known as the Pre-Dynastic Period. In effect, this is when all of ancient Egypt’s various cosmogonies and mythologies came to pass.
Considering Zep Tepi from a laity perspective, I have to ask myself if it is even remotely important. Does it play even the tiniest role in the reconstructed practice I am aiming for? My entire stance has been entirely devoted to laity, whether I’ve been specifically stating that or not. And I have to ask myself if Zep Tepi played even a minor part in the personal practices of the men and women and children who made up ancient Egypt? If by recreating the religious perspective of a lay person, am I falling into a desire to understand everything when, maybe, I don’t need to?
I have to assume, though I may not be correct here, that the lay people of ancient Egypt would not have known anything about Zep Tepi. They may have had oral traditions relating back to the telling of the myth cycles. It may have been a form of entertainment for the family: they all get together before going to bed and tell the children stories of the netjer. But since this is speculation, I cannot say if it’s even remotely something that was interesting or worth knowing about for the average ancient lay person. I have to assume, without adequate laity based research under my belt, that they really wouldn’t have known of this type of thing and wouldn’t have cared if they had known. It’s not like the First Time would make their daily toil any easier. It wouldn’t help facilitate the growth of their crops, the health of their family, or their relationships with their gods. Looking at this as logically as I can, I have to just go ahead and say that the lay person probably didn’t know or didn’t care.
Of course, from the other side of the coin, it’s possible they would have known. But again, I have to come back to, would it have mattered? The only time when Zep Tepi really becomes something that the ancients would have needed to at least acknowledge is when we are celebrating Wep Ronpet. While Wep Ronpet (from this blogger’s perspective) isn’t quite the same as Zep Tepi, it’s kind of like a cosmic do-over for the previous year. But as Warboar mentions here, “Wep Ronpet itself is a reenactment of Zep-Tepi, also known as ‘The First Occasion,’ when the sun first dawned over the new Creation, when all created things were in their purest state, and the Creator was at His strongest and most youthful.” Or, as the KO website, WW Wiki states, “On Wep Ronpet, Zep Tepi or the ‘First Time’ occurs again, renewing the year and bringing renewal to ma’at and to the world.”
So, from a modern perspective, the two are intertwined. But I keep coming back to the same question I keep asking myself, does this shit matter from a historically informed laity specific religious practice?
I have to admit that I do think the concept of Zep Tepi is important. Not for the comment that I related above, which I’ll get back into momentarily. I have to think that it’s important because we, as Kemetics, are attempting to recreate a religious tradition based off of whatever we have access to. And while Internet searches mostly come up with items about starseeds when I do a Google search for Zep Tepi, it’s still kind of important. I mean, it’s only just the time when the gods ruled the earth and the time when all of our mythologies came to pass. It’s only just the whole foundation, really, for what it is that we do. So, I think, in that context, it is something that we need to pay attention to and attempt to understand whether we are of the laity or of the priesthood.
Now, I don’t think that this concept needs to be something that we need to spend a lot of time on. It’s important, but it doesn’t rank nearly as high as items like heka or ma’at. Both of those concepts should rank higher, in my opinion, on the Kemetic neophyte “think about” list. But, it’s something that should be taken into consideration when one starts recreating this religion.
And here’s the reason we need to pay attention to it: remember that first rambling paragraph about the totally awesome sauce comment on altars that I started this post with? That is why we need to think about this, get in tune with it periodically, and assess its role in our religion. It isn’t just because it’s the foundation of our myths. It’s not just because we should think about it, at least partially, when we celebrate Wep Ronpet. All of that is fleeting, really, when it comes to reconstructing this religious persuasion. However, what isn’t transitory is the fact that many of us will have created altars to our netjer possibly even before delving into the meat and potatoes behind theologies, mythologies, and concepts. And as that commentary from years ago intimates, the creation of our sacred spaces for the netjer needs to hearken back to Zep Tepi.
While I stood over that altar this morning, I thought about what it was that could relate to Zep Tepi on my altar space. While I have other deities to whom I pay daily homage to, it’s to Sekhmet that I attempt to be the most reconstructed in my religious practices. (I don’t know why. I just… that’s just how it is here, I guess.) And while I studied her altar after having lit the cone of incense and setting flame to the candle, I glanced over that sacred space. Was there anything on there that would make her feel like she was back at Zep Tepi? Were the flowers enough? The flame? The incense? The cool water? The intent? Did any of this even remotely add up to what I was hoping to gain by going through this?
And I have to admit that my cursory moment, stumbling along as I normally am, fell short.
I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. I just knew it.
The thing that the original commenter all those years ago failed to mention is that recreating Zep Tepi is a lot more than just items. Hell, maybe they did mention that part of it and I have just forgotten in all the time since then. Whatever – it doesn’t matter. I know that I failed the task of creating Zep Tepi in that moment. There was something off, something missing. So, how does one attempt to recreate a time period that you have absolutely no real context for, but only ideas and half remembered dreams? How does one end up back to the start of it all – not your start, of course, but the start of life, the universe, and everything – without knowing what it was like?
When I find out, I’ll be sure to update you.
* If any of you look for this page after reading this post, please be aware that I do not advocate it for neophytes unless you have very thick skin. They are very acerbic and clique like. As someone once told a friend of mine, “lurk but never post.”