Kemetic Round Table: Akhu for Beginners.

To the ancient Egyptians, who you were related to was pretty important. This is born out in all of the inscriptions we have identified, which indicates how so-and-so was the son of so-and-so, who was the son of so-and-so. The important part wasn’t so much the genetic aspect of who was descended from who, but who the heir to the family line was and so, therefore, who would be next in line to fulfill their father’s office. While the pharaoh could and occasionally did exercise the right to appoint someone to office – due to bribery, the end of a familial line, just because, etc. – generally speaking, offices were passed down from father to son. It wasn’t so much who you knew as who you were related to since lineal descent bore fruit for the females of the family as well; the priesthoods were filled with nepotism. And it was through a father that a son could become an important political player, such as vizier or mayor of a nomarch. So, while the genetics aspect is pretty important from our modern standpoint, the actual blood line didn’t matter in so much as whether or not that blood line could further your career… or end it should someone from that line piss of anyone more powerful.

Not only was the who’s who of your family important, but so too was seeing them properly taken care of in the afterlife. Considering the wealth of afterlife beliefs in ancient Egyptian religion, this really isn’t so surprising. It was important for the people of ancient Egypt to continue to pay homage to the cult centers of the pharaoh even after they had died. The nobility had similar beliefs after they were granted “access” to the afterlife as akhu (plural form of akh, meaning “transfigured dead”) in the later periods. The laity had absolutely no hopes whatsoever of doing anything other than serving in the afterlife, just as they did in life (the whole concept of the afterlife was, also, filled with nepotism), which was technically taken away from them by the creation of the shabti figurines in the Middle Kingdom. But making sure that the spirits of the dead were remembered was the most important part. The rulers and the nobility could pay “in perpetuity” to have their names spoken aloud, offerings provided, and ensuring that they were not lost to the sands of time. (This didn’t last past the next intermediate period, but with large standing monuments to their death, there was obviously some remembrance of them.) This wasn’t the case with the laity. They had to hope their line would continue and someone would be around to at least speak their names.

Failure to remember them was the worst desecration imaginable to the ancient Egyptians. There’s much discussion about “chiseling out” names, especially when it comes to the Amarna Heresy. This wasn’t simply an attempt of later generations to remove the Heretic King and his direct descendants from the kings’ lists, but a direct attack against their spirit and their attempt to reach the afterlife. If images weren’t available and a body wasn’t available, the ba would have nowhere to regenerate and to feast upon its offerings. If the names weren’t available in texts, then the name would die out and be forgotten. The ancient Egyptian belief in the soul listed the ren (or, the name) as the very essence, the very foundation of the person and by obliterating any memory of that name, then they were effectively killing off the soul. So, remembering the deceased was one of the most important aspects to the ancient Egyptian religious system.

A lot of people, when they start entering Kemeticism, get hung up on the akhu question: should I or shouldn’t I? It’s kind of a personal question, so whether or not people decide to move forward with integrating the akhu into their practice is up to them. Of course, I totally get it. There are a lot of people that many people are related to who are, for lack of a better term, fucking assholes. And who really wants to remember fucking assholes, am I right? It is possible to obliterate, so to speak, those fucking assholes from the akhu thing if you’re interested. I strongly recommend not letting some fucking assholes ruin something that you may end up finding to be really awesome and really useful. It can be nice and almost cathartic to remember the people in your lives – genetic ancestors or inter-marriage relatives or adopted relatives or whomever – who have passed before you.

The in-home akhu altar space is simple, but effective.

The in-home akhu altar space is simple, but effective.


Personally, I do have a relationship with my akhu. It can be very difficult though because I have a lot of family members who have passed on and I want to honor all of them. I honestly can’t have an akhu altar in my house for all of my ancestors. I would always be adding someone new, either because someone in my family has passed or someone in my significant other’s family has passed or because my dad’s family married and divorced so many times that I have a ton of fucking step-grandparents and step-aunts and uncles. So, I mostly have a generic altar space that I use in my home (very rarely, mind) to pay homage to the dead. Usually, on large holidays such as the Festival of Wag, I will set up a temporary altar space in my home so that I can pay my respects to those whom have passed and I leave it at that since I can’t really get to all of their graves in two days’ time.

Something that I have found, and other Kemetics have also found, is that it can be very difficult to integrate the deceased into a religious practice that is not something they are familiar with. Most of my family members who have passed are Christian stock. My daddy was born and raised a Methodist and my mother’s family are all conservative, die-hard Catholics. What I have found with this is that, the closer they are to the time when they passed, the more push back I get from them. I visit my father’s and grandmother’s grave often, but the offerings that I provide to them are grudgingly taken. They appreciate my remembrance of them, but they do not appreciate the trappings that memory is cocooned within: Kemeticism. I have had intense dreams with my father yelling at me about this, in the past, and I’ve felt similar misgivings from other family members as well.

Some people have decided that this means they should not incorporate the akhu veneration into their practice. Others have found that by incorporating religious frameworks that the deceased would understand has made for an easier time with those deceased. Though she is no longer around, I knew a Kemetic of Philippine ancestry who incorporated Philippino ancestor veneration into their practice when her ancestors gave push back on how she was trying to incorporate them. Another Kemetic blogger, also no longer around, found the same issue and incorporated Jewish traditions into their veneration. While there is nothing specific to culture that I have found to ease the process with my family members (their argument is based solely on religious grounds, it seems, as opposed to cultural), I still try to appease them as well as myself when I reach out to them.

What I have also found, though, is that the longer someone has been deceased, the less likely they will care how you remember them. All they seem to really care about is that someone is actually bothering to pay some attention to them. My mother completed a large genealogical project when I was in high school for her family. She included some of my father’s family in this project and so, I have the wherewithal to visit the local graves of many of my longer-deceased family members. My great-grandparents and great-great grandparents seem to not give two shits if I provide them standard offerings as based on a Kemetic framework, so long as I take a little jaunt over periodically, clean off the grave, and let them know that they are remembered. Just as with the netjeru, it seems to be the intent behind the practice for the longer-deceased than it is about how you go about the work.

The theory that those who have been dead for longer care less about the trappings is born out my grave-tending duties. While these duties didn’t start off because of my akhu veneration (it actually all started because I was serving the Bawon Samedi, in all honesty), I do occasionally fall back to a Kemetic standpoint when I decide to visit and leave offerings to the graveyards in my area. All of the graveyards I visit are ignored, passed by, and hardly get any attention from the cities that are supposed to be tending to them. I have found that because I have let them know that I will remember them, take care of their graves, and have photographed them (so that when I die, should no one continue this work after me, there will be a “forever” memory so to speak), they are all for it. They think it’s wonderful. I have gone into graveyards that have been ignored for years and found that they were pleased with what I was doing because at least someone was paying some damned attention to them.

I think, all in all, the practice is very rewarding on numerous levels. How other people decide to move forward, if they decide to do so, when it comes to the akhu is of course going to be dependent on how they feel regarding their ancestors. But I have found that I feel very much more connected with the world, at large, because I do incorporate them into my religious practice.

Further Reading

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One thought on “Kemetic Round Table: Akhu for Beginners.

  1. Pingback: Akhu Basics | Kemetic Round Table

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