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As a polytheist, one of the easiest ways to get to know the gods to whom you want to devote yourself to is to start looking into the mythology associated with them. While introducing yourself to the deity in question is also a fine example of how best to “get to know” a new god to whom you wish to work with, the mythology surrounding that god is the best non-direct way to learn about the gods. Reading the mythos will grant you a perspective relating to the gods and goddesses that you may not get merely in any one-on-one interactions. It will also give you a better background of information for when you want to begin networking and interacting with other polytheists who work with those gods. As some of those practitioners may be historically informed or recon-oriented in their practices, the mythology relating to the deity could mean a good deal to them and their practices. So, all in all, for any polytheist, it’s a really good idea to at least read the mythology once or ten thousand times.
The problem with Kemeticism is that not all the myths are still extent, if they existed at all. The Kemetic pantheon is made up of numerous deities, some of whom are little more than a name. These deities are associated, usually, with specific nomes in ancient Egypt. And unfortunately, much of the writings relating to them have passed into the realm of mystery. Most of their names are remembered because they were written in Books of the Dead, Coffin Texts, and in some cases, the Pyramid Texts. While this is very well, it doesn’t give us much to go on when it comes to things like how to approach the netjer, what they would have been like, or what all their realm of “expertise” would have been. In cases like that, we can hopefully find things like epithets or look to those surviving sources for more information, but a main source is closed to us, sadly.In other arenas, there are so many variations of a myth that it may be near-on impossible to get an accurate depiction of what the netjer would be like just based entirely on what may be read. Each mythology that was written regarding any of the netjer would have varied from scribe to scribe, as each would have learned specific myths associated with their temples. They may have even added flourishes from possible oral traditions that we are unaware of. In same vein, the myths would have changed over time to include various additional items when one of the netjer usurped aspects from another of the netjer. The ancient Egyptians were also very fond of satire and they had satirical versions of popular mythology, as well. As an example, I believe it is the satirical version of the contending between Set and Heru that infer that Djehuty is the love-child between Set and Heru, as caused when Set ate Heru’s semen that was placed on his lettuces. (For more information regarding this particular myth, please reach out to Devo.)
While the sources themselves may vary, so too can the interpretation of those myths by the modern-day practitioners looking to worship those netjer. While one person may interpret the contending of Set and Heru as allegory, another may literally interpret the mythology as an actual event, recorded for posterity. Another person may only see the contending as a clear indicator of just what a mean netjeru Set is and another may see his actions as maintaining ma’at, even if the way of that maintenance may seem odd to us years later. And yet another person may interpret what they are reading as something that humanity made up an in an attempt to associate with the netjer better. So, while each person may read the exact same version of the mythology, the interpretations are going to vary from devotee to devotee. What makes this even more difficult to find common ground, in some instances, is the simple fact that each version really does vary, as shown above. Without the ability to have a standardized version and without all of us humans practicing this religion being boring, mindless automatons, variations are bound to crop up!
So, mythology is a really excellent jumping off point for getting to know the netjer to whom you may want to devote or to whom you may be interested in. However, you may find that the mythology leaves a sour taste in your mouth. A primary and obvious case in point is Sekhmet’s mythology. The Destruction of Mankind is a pretty basic myth about how Sekhmet went down and killed humanity for seven days before she was pacified by red-dyed beer. It may end up leaving you feeling as though that’s all there is to her and that’s okay! It’s not the be-all, end-all of Sekhmet, of course, but it’s one of the first interactions many people have with her. By reading this myth, we see that she can get pretty mindless at times when it comes to destroying things, but that we can also prevent her from doing so by giving her beer!
Now, as far as the laity that I have seriously begun to cultivate in my practice, I have to admit that after the initial “oh, well that’s interesting” read through, the myths have had little daily interaction in my practice. They can give me good indicators of what type of offerings the gods may want – Sekhmet may want red beer; Aset may want heka; Hetheru may want me to tell her stories – but they’re not items that I interact with, ponder on, or even think of very often. I think that learning them is important, for the very reason I mentioned initially, but I don’t think that, once you get to know those mythologies, that they need to continue to play such an integral part to your practice.
Personally, they work out as interesting tidbits to add as devotional poetry for the netjer. Sometimes, I integrate them into stories that I’m writing. In other instances, they become an addition to the bed time story I will tell my son before bed. But, after having interacted with them heavily in the beginning of my practice, they don’t really figure in as anything more than a solid foundation. And that, above all else, is why I have to advocate why newbies start reading them. They really are an excellent fallback position for where to begin and how best to learn about the netjer. With a concrete historical basis as a foundation, it becomes a little easier, over time, to not only interact with the netjer but also to interact and network with other Kemetics out there.