The Rusted Hulk.

We all have darkness in our souls. I often wonder if that’s what the ancient Egyptians meant when they talked about the isfet that can infest a person’s heart. Maybe it was the darkness that can infect the soul and overtake it with bitterness, rage, and screams of futility. I don’t know if that’s really what they meant. I probably will never know unless I ask someone more knowledgeable and willing to teach me the tricks of that particular trade. On the days when I am more in tune with that darkness in my soul, I think about isfet and how you’re supposed to correct it so that you’re living in ma’at. I don’t have an answer for that, either.

Maybe one day I will, but today is not that day.

When I started this most recent batch of shadow work, I knew how it would end. Technically, it’s ended and the outcome is what I had predicted. The thing about me is that I’m predictable. I know myself well enough to know what the bottom line is, at least as far as I am concerned. I knew I would come out of it more wounded than I have been in a long time; hurt and alone; angry and sad. I am all of these things. The bitterness that I washed myself in for weeks is over now; it’s simple a mixture of sadness and regret, horror and pain.

Yesterday, when I was looking at the newness of myself after this most recent work, I saw myself as a rusted out hulk. I was like one of those old metal jungle gyms, shaped into a rectangle or square. The bars had broken due to years of disuse and were rusted, daring anyone who touched them with their threat of tetanus. I felt as though someone had taken a melon baller and ripped out my insides, dumping them for someone else to have. Nothing could fill me but sand and the darkness of my own soul. I still feel empty and yet, I also feel as if I’m still bleeding.

I am raw with it.

When I started down this particular brutal path, knowing what the ending would be, I asked others what I should do here. There was talk amongst my most trusted advisers and someone said that I should write about it. I write about it all often enough, but how many entries have I started about this particular batch of pain and suffering only to delete the thousands of words strung together? How many new entries had I written in my head, demanding that I release this all into the atmosphere because if I didn’t, I would end up drowning in the minutiae of the suffering that I had forced myself into? How many times have I heard a keening wail shouting throughout the darkened corner of my mind, unable to release and vent the anguish I was going through?

I bought a journal; I write in it sometimes. Most of my entries are nonsense. I don’t know if they’re particular prose like, but they’re raw… just like me.

In an attempt to wrest control from what’s happening around me, I assure myself that I am simply depressed. It’s just that time of the year and things have been rocketing out of control around me for the last few weeks. It’s only normal to feel like crying because you don’t like what dinner is. It’s only normal to feel as if the world is ending around you, but everyone keeps moving around as though they don’t sense it. It’s normal to feel as if everyone can see deep into your core and know that you are damaged and broken. It’s normal to be depressed because it’s just that time of year and it’s been so long since I’ve really sunk into a deep depressive phase anyway.

But I have to admit that I can tell myself anything I want to; it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.

When the world around me, or rather deep within me, is full of isfet, I try not to look at it. Poking at it will only uncoil the snake that’s roosted itself within me and make it destroy me as thoroughly as Set kills A/poop each morning. Only in my particular case, I won’t be revisited the next morning and the next: it’s a one-time destruction and there will be no attempts; it just would be. Once the flames are out, I will be nothing but the rusted out hulk I’ve metaphorically announced myself as, my insides scooped out with that proverbial melon baller.

Maybe that’s why the ancient Egyptians really feared that particular serpent. It wasn’t so much the unmaking of the world that they feared but the unmaking of the veneer they had slathered over themselves to make it easier to live with the consequences of their realities.

I suppose you could say this particular batch of shadow work has made me a bit maudlin. Understatement of the fucking year.

I was pretty sure that I knew who I was and what things were going to be like before I started this little adventure. I just knew that this and this and this would be my life. I’m a complacent motherfucker; as much as I talk about all the things people need to do in order to stand up for themselves, I am that asshole that will only stand up for myself when I’m backed into a corner and have no choice any longer.

I stayed with my ex-husband for nearly seven years, not out of any other reason than because I always whispered to myself in the dark of the night that I could leave whenever I wanted if I so desired to do it. And it wasn’t until I was backed into a corner, knowing full well how this could and would turn out if I didn’t fucking do something… It was only then that the inner sense of self-preservation kicked in and I burned my house to the motherfucking ground, laughing while I did so.

(Metaphorically speaking. Please, no one think that I’m a pyro or something.)

As I was forced to look at myself form each new discovered angle, I found more within me than I had ever thought possible. And as I looked at myself in that mirror of shadow work, the bit that makes you stare so deeply into yourself that you can memorize the road map of where you’ve been and where you’re heading, I found myself horrified that I didn’t really know myself at all. Everything I thought I knew about who I am and what I wanted was thrown out the window with hardly a second thought. There was no laughter and no self-preservation here. I was forced to look at myself and all I found was a gaping, bleeding wound that just won’t fucking quit.

I don’t know if that’s the worst part or the best part about shadow work: in the aftermath, you only then realize how much you thought you knew and how much you didn’t know at all.

I keep trying to figure out how all of this works out in the end. I knew what the end result of this particular little adventure was going to be: I knew I would come out of it more wounded than I have been in a long time; hurt and alone; angry and sad. I am all of these things. The bitterness that I washed myself in for weeks is over now; it’s simple a mixture of sadness and regret, horror and pain. I am all of these things and I am more because there were parts of myself that I didn’t know and had no clue how they would merit in the end game. I knew I would be all of the above things but I’m more than that.

Chernobyl's Atomic Legacy  Explore #8

Chernobyl's Atomic Legacy # 8 via Flickr

I keep coming back to that image of a rusted out hulk, left forgotten and hollowed out into nothingness. I keep thinking of all those hours I’ve spent, looking at what has since become of Pripyat, the city that housed Chernobyl and its subsequent atomic disaster. I feel like the physical reminder of those images of a place forgotten. There is mystique in that place, something that I don’t have. But the images, the intensity of those images, fills me with something that makes me feel like we are kindred spirits, Pripyat and I. We are both on the same fucking page: lost to the annals of history, a minor footnote in the future that’s to come and the thousands of years that have since past.

I keep trying not to be fucking prosaic with all of this; legit. I keep falling into patterns that end up in that written fucking journal I talked about above. That white notebook that I keep hidden from the world in my purse, waiting for the spare moment when I can jot a few notes down and look them over later. I wrote the truth in that little beauty yesterday and I felt destroyed all over again for the truth of the words I used. I wanted to do nothing more than sit and stare, but the world keeps knocking even when I feel like I’ve been hollowed out and used up.

This week, while I tried to handle all of this with no one to talk to, I kept coming back to this entry that Devo wrote last year, around this time. I have come back to it a few times since she wrote it, but it’s been in the last few weeks that it’s made the most sense. She talks about burning her house down in that entry, something that I can appreciate and understand the reasoning for. While I don’t think burning down my house is particularly what I need to do, I know that I need to do something more than just writing in that white little notebook, hoping that someone will recognize that I am hurting and need help.

Help that, let’s face it, I would probably refuse to take because that’s just who I am: dichotomous and hypocritical, that’s me.

How many times has someone posted somewhere that they’re available if I need to talk and I ignore it? How many times have I received private message from people asking if I’m okay and I brush it off? It’s easy enough because they’re people I only know through the power of the Internet, so I don’t technically have to respond. I can ignore it and then the pain that I am living with isn’t real because no one in my reality actually sees how much I’m hurting.

What’s even worse is that I don’t know if it’s just the shadow work that makes me hurt or if it’s the conscious decisions I’ve made in relation to it. I decided on something clearly – I drew more than just a line in the sand, I fucking blew that sand up like I was the demolitions expert to the stars. There it is, I told myself, after doing it. I made a clear and concise decision. And I’ve been in the middle of my pain-filled world since then. I don’t know if it’s the buried truths of who I am that this shadow work has made me face or if it’s the simple fact that I’ve cut myself off to the point where it feels like half of my soul is missing. I am lost and alone, now, and it’s because I thought I was doing what was in my best interest.

I am so miserable that I want to scream for it. I want to sit in the bathroom, surrounded by the darkness both within my soul and in the room, crying while listening to the most depressing music you can possibly imagine. (I’ve been listening to something by Lana Del Ray on endless repeat for writing this entry. I’m sure she’s one of those singers that I shouldn’t like because she’s done something terrible and ageist or sexist or genderist or whatever, but the song man… The song speaks to that open wound within me and I can’t stop.)

On days like today where I can’t hide how much it hurts, I think about the darkness that festers in my soul and how best to scrub myself from it. Or maybe, the whole point in this is that it is part of the cycle of ma’at with its shades of gray and I have to learn to live with this portion of the isfet in my life. On days like today, I wonder at the isfet that infected my heart and whether or not it will damn me or be my salvation.

But truly, on days like today, I want nothing more than to have someone hold me tenderly as if I’m made of glass and even the hint of a breath in my direction will destroy me utterly and they know this instinctually and they don’t care so long as I’m not alone on a day like today.

Kemetic Round Table: Ma’at & Isfet.

The Kemetic Round Table (KRT) is a blogging project aimed at providing practical, useful information for modern Kemetic religious practitioners. For all the entries relating to this particular topic, take a peek!

When it comes to certain concepts within the ancient Egyptian religious tradition, some of the most popular words bandied about are ma’at and isfet. For many modern Kemetics, these words have quickly entered our daily lexicons in our various and personalized attempts to both find an understanding for words that are difficult to translate in to modern dang lingo as well as provide that knowledge to newbie Kemetics.

As a newbie Kemetic, I wanted the easy way out: I wanted someone else to tell me what the hell these types of concept things were about and I would just go with the flow. While this worked out for a while, after a time, it dawned on me that I could go with someone else’s flow but it didn’t really satisfy me anymore. I often thought that it kind of equates to the quote from Liz in the movie Dogma: “He said that faith is like a glass of water. When you’re young, the glass is small, and it’s easy to fill up. But the older you get, the bigger the glass gets, and the same amount of liquid doesn’t fill it anymore. Periodically, the glass has to be refilled.”

After a few years of listening to what other people were saying, I realized that I actually needed to get up and fill the glass with water from my own damn tap.

While I’ve detailed my repeated attempts on what to quantify ma’at (linked below) as, it was through conversation and positive reinforcement from my Kemetic friends that the basis for my definition of ma’at came about: it is balance. There are a ton of different ways various Egyptologists have defined the concept over the years. But in my opinion the simplest way to look at it would be to simply think of it as shades of gray and balance.

When it comes to determining what ma’at means, those of us who have been around the proverbial block a few times can, of course, tell you what it means. But if you look to the historical record and see what qualified as living in ma’at, then that is when you’ll see what I mean by shades of gray. Some things that were considered living in ma’at were,

  1. Being good to the gods (like giving them offerings and not stealing said offerings)
  2. Warfare (with other countries)*
  3. Not being an intentional jackass to others
  4. Execrations (aka cursing)

* Please note that there was a very big difference between war amidst nome leaders, which was considered isfet, and war with an enemy of the state, such as foreigners.

But how is that even a thing, right? If living in ma’at entailed things like being a pretty stellar human being, but also allowed the whole cursing thing – what the fuck? How is it possible to have a concept that both includes things like blood-letting on a massive scale and possibly blood-letting on a personal scale?

That’s the thing about ma’at – it’s not all roses and sunshine. If things like bloodshed and curses can be considered a part of ma’at, then clearly the phrase “shades of gray” is highly appropriate when defining it. I think another way to describe it as a mix between “be excellent to each other,” (a quote from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) coupled with “but take no fucking shit lying down.” The best thing, in my opinion, about what ma’at is would be that it doesn’t demand that you lie down and take whatever guff you think or know that people are going to throw your way; it demands that you stand up for yourself in any way available, only demanding that your desire to be an intentional ass face be checked at the door.

The thing is that most people have no idea how to integrate this concept into their daily lives. Living in ma’at was the foundation of the ancient Egyptian state and religion (which, technically, went hand in hand). It was this difficulty that brought us those two important rules of Kemeticism that Tumblr Kemetics spout a lot:

  1. Give stuff to the gods.
  2. Don’t be a dick.

Since the belief in the gods was immaterial what with the ancient Egyptian religion being an orthopraxy (correct action; not correct dogma), rule number one could be thrown out the window so long as rule number two is followed.

The thing about “don’t be a dick” is that people tend to think of it as allowing people to walk all over you; they conflate it with some deep-held belief that it means you should be nice all the time. The thing that’s implied, but not emphatically stated with that rule, is that it’s “don’t be an intentional dick” as I stated above. However, as we know, it also means that when it comes to protecting yourself and others, you must do whatever you must do in order to guarantee that protection.

When it comes to living in ma’at, which is of course probably the most important religious thing ever, I have to admit that I still get stuck. I give stuff to the gods; I try not to be an intentional dick to anyone. (Let’s face it – I’ve been a dick for more years than I’ve not been a dick, so I’m going to backslide occasionally.) But is that the be-all, end-all to how this particular concept can infiltrate one’s life? Or is it possible to have it fully incorporated on a grand scale?

How people decide to work on incorporating ma’at into their daily lives is going to vary from person to person. Some people put shopping carts away. Some people are nice to everybody and try not to judge. Some people take those 42 pesky little principles of ma’at and attempt to live by them. Some people don’t change how they behave at all.

Personally, I know that I was successful in having at least achieved living in ma’at when I come home from work. After a long day of being everybody else’s chew toy or reciprocating said chew toy status upon unsuspecting unhelpful carrier representatives, when I step into my house and I can clear my head enough, spend quality time with my family, go online without taking out the day’s frustrations, and settle down to sleep without harping on my perceived mistakes… that’s when I truly feel as if I’ve managed to achieve some semblance of establishing, maintaining, and living in ma’at. I don’t always succeed and I honestly don’t think that it’s possible to succeed every day in living in ma’at especially since I wasn’t raised with the notion.

But on the days where I don’t feel like I’ve been pummeled nearly to death with stress and worry, those are the days where I feel like I’ve been successful.

The opposite of ma’at is known as isfet. Just as with ma’at, defining the term can be a little difficult. Since there are so many different words which are oft-equated with ma’at, so too the opposite of those words can be defined as meaning isfet: harmony, balance, order for ma’at while on the opposite end of the spectrum, disharmony, imbalance, chaos for isfet.

The thing is that, just like with ma’at, isfet can be best determined to be shades of gray as well. The thing about ancient Egyptian trains of thought on religious items like these is that there is nothing pre-defined and easily checked off into a neat little box. Ma’at can incorporate isfet and isfet can incorporate ma’at.

So, for example, living in ma’at, as I stated above, could mean that chaos may be required in order to set that balance into motion. Take the god Set for example: he is a deity of chaos and yet, he is also shown as maintaining and establishing ma’at as well. My day may be shitty and nutty and I may come home feeling like the shit end of the stick, but the next day means that projects are set in motion, my task list is a little lighter, and I can actually feel like I’ve adequately achieved something because I suffered through the chaos or isfet of the day before. Without that day of isfet, hour of isfet, second of isfet then the next day may have been just as shitty but because I did have that crazy day, I was able to establish myself for the rest of the week.

It is through isfet that the entirety of creation was made manifest. The waters of the Nun are equated with that primordial, frightening chaos that is most often seen in a negative light when you start reading really boring Egyptological papers and books on the topic. However, if not for those chaotic waters, we wouldn’t have the world that we live in today. Isfet, however, was also seen as the evil within someone’s heart. (I couldn’t say what sort of evils that were or if it means all evils. Or even how people knew that their hearts were evil before the whole reconfigured for being all dead and whatnot thing, but you know, it was apparently a thing.)

As far as how much or how little isfet has anything to do with my practice, I would like to say that it has very little to do with me. Clearly, that’s not the case. I’ve had days where I’ve come away and said: “Why yes, today was the embodiment of isfet,” as I’ve said above. But I don’t think those types of isfet really are a part of the primordial, terrifying chaos that was the very thing the ancient Egyptians were trying to prevent from gaining territory and from destroying the world at large by the ritual acts of the pharaoh, the correct living of the people, and the ritual acts of the priesthood [in the stead of the pharaoh].

Some days are so hectic and crazed that I need to do a ritual execration (or curse) in order to feel myself being freed from the aftereffects of having been within the hold of isfet all day. Some days, I can shrug it off and know that just spending time with my family will be enough to make me feel better. And other days, I have to wonder – because of how bad shit is – how it’s possible that the sun can rise the next day, thereby alerting me to the fact that ma’at still reigns supreme, when everything sucks so fucking badly. But the sun continues to rise and that renews me as well as the world around me to fight it off in any way both myself and the world are capable of doing.

These concepts are not easy and, frankly, I long for the days where I used to have someone else tell me how to think about this stuff. But to be honest, there’s only so long one can take being spoon fed what other people think. We all need to come to decisions about these things on our own. And there’s no telling how simple or how difficult it will be to come to terms with both what these concepts mean and what, if anything, they mean for each of us. I can assure anyone reading this that even close friends who have had discussions about these concepts, meanings, and share similar thought processes can and will differ on the fine points. And that’s okay. Don’t stress it if what you think ma’at and isfet happen to be don’t exactly correlate with everyone else. We’re all individuals, graced with individual experiences, and those individual experiences will color those definitions and interpretations.

Further Reading

  1. Ma’at
  2. Isfet
  3. Kemeticism is Orthropraxic
  4. Kemeticism is Orthopraxic II
  5. Kemeticism is Orthopraxic III
  6. Violence and Ma’at
  7. Isfet…

Learning in Ma’at, Living in Ma’at, and the Lessons of Ma’at (PBP).

How are we supposed to emulate her after thousands of years, you know? But, we all must strive in that direction because, after all, that is the cornerstone of this path, right?

If you had asked me even a month ago, I would have said that I knew what this entry was going to be out. I would have said that I knew what to write, how to write it, and how to convey my point. I would have said with that smarmy look I can get sometimes, “Oh. I got this.” And now that it’s time to actually write the entry, I realized that I don’t “got” this. I’m sitting here and just staring at the new post screen trying to figure out what to say and how to go about saying it.

You see, a while back, I was accused of not living in ma’at because I refused to stop using a word in what others deemed as an inappropriate context. I, obviously, disagreed and because of that particular issue, I ended up losing people who I thought were friends to me. Be that as it may, I’ve come to a lot of conclusions about words in the past but it was this particular moment, when I was accused of not living in ma’at that I pulled back, pulled away, licked my wounds, and ignored the problem to hand. Now, though, time has passed and whatever pains that this whole thing could have caused are on their way to healing or being forgotten. So, now, it’s time to pull this whole tapestry out and decide what stays, what goes, and what this means for me.

When I was thinking about living in ma’at, I was thinking of it more along the lines of heka. I was thinking more clearly about thinking before I spoke or typed. I was thinking more along the lines of respecting others’ opinions and keeping mine on a tight leash, the reason being because I happen to suffer from Foot-in-Mouth Disease. I tend to say whatever comes into my head, no matter how asinine or mean it could be. I wasn’t actually thinking about living in ma’at inasmuch as I was trying to give heka a more prominent place in my practice. And after the fraças from a few weeks back, I took a step back and had to think about it. Obviously, in censoring myself in one way, I had to start thinking about whether or not I should censor myself in other ways. And while I can respect other people’s feelings about things that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to just stop using a word or a group of words that others find uncomfortable. I can, contrary to popular belief, stop using them in a public venue to keep the peace, but I’d still use them in my personal life, on my blogs, when chatting with friends, etc.

Heka is pretty fucking important to a Kemetic practice. But, I was confusing the whole heka thing with modifying my behavior. I was thinking of it more along the lines of something to put into a practice to keep me from pissing other people off than what it actually is and I was also thinking of it as living in ma’at. It is only an aspect of living in ma’at but the two are not similar. They’re not a pair of twins that we can’t tell apart, which is what I was working with. And that was the problem. That’s where I went wrong and where all the learning that I was doing got stifled. Part of the reason I pulled back from this philosophizing and these abstract thoughts was because, after being accused of not living in ma’at, I sat back and realized that this was the truth of the matter, but not for the reasons the person was doing the accusing. I wasn’t living in ma’at because I was running around with only about a quarter of the information and that information was being put into play improperly.

In effect, I was doing it wrong.

I was forgetting that the whole concept of ma’at is more than its parts; it is the sum total of those parts. I was taking a single aspect to it and just working with it in that way. To me, this was like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. That guy might get passed the first round but there’s no way he’s going to be able to complete the contest or win it. (Unless it’s a bunch of one-legged men. Then, you know, it’s up for debate there.) This is something I’ve had to realize over and over again throughout my life and that’s part of living in ma’at as well.

You see, I was under the mistaken impression that I had it all figured out. I was under the mistaken impression that my learning in that regard was kind of over. And that’s not how this works. Living in ma’at is an ongoing lesson. This whole wandering spiritual turnpike is one giant lesson over and over again. Sometimes, the lesson is one of those things where you think you get it and then have to revamp your basic approach to things. Sometimes, the lesson is years long in the making (something I’m rapidly beginning to believe this may just be). And sometimes, the lesson is one of those minor moments where you just go “huh.” But all in all, this whole path thing, this whole living in ma’at thing is all about how much you learn and change over the years. It’s not just about how you live your life but who you are, why you are, what you are, and whether or not you can handle that. Are you comfortable with who you are and the basic premise your life has taken? Or, are you one of those people who hide in the shadows because you don’t like what you see? These are aspects to living in ma’at

…and it’s only after I was accused of not living in ma’at that I finally realize that.

So, I guess I should say thank you to that person and to the whole hullabaloo that happened. Without it, I could have been years down the road before I began to revise things. Before I remembered that we are always, eternally, learning. And that’s part and parcel to what living in ma’at is.

The Contendings of Isfet in Your Regular Practice (PBP).

Part of the reason this is so difficult for me is two-fold. On the one hand, I’m trying to begin crafting a practice from start to finish. This is easier said than done, unfortunately. I can borrow, I can ask for assistance, and I can look to other examples. But, the path that I walk is not the path that you walk. So, in trying to write these basics of basics for what I’m doing is difficult just to explain it to myself but also to others who may have an interest or are curious to see where I’m heading with this or merely want to biff and borrow at some future point in time. (G’head! Just cite sources, please.) The other problem is that in discussing isfet, you pretty much have to discuss ma’at at some point or another. And to be honest, I want to start with things as [my interpretation of] the beginning suggested, with isfet to come first and ma’at to come later. In this standard, I will then write a “living in ma’at” entry for the Ms of the PBP. And I don’t want to foreshadow too much or encroach on a subject matter that I’m planning on covering later. How else would I draw more people in? Heh.

Now, in the last week, I’ve been dreaming heavily. This actually isn’t as surprising or abnormal as my mentioning it would make it sound. The thing is that what is a little off is that I’m remembering core parts of these dreams upon waking. Last week, I dreamed that I was arguing about the role of the nisut in the House of Netjer and whether I agreed with the role. (This dream argument was with someone I don’t recall clearly and took place above an open dishwasher that we were loading and unloading. Then a zombie came in and I can’t remember anything after that.) Last night, I started dreaming about living in ma’at at two separate points in the night. There’s no clear definition of exactly what the “living in ma’at” aspect to the dream was about. But after some inner reflection, it made me realize that with crafting my own spiritual practice, in putting off this entry, I’ve been stagnating the creative energies that started this whole isfet discussion in the first place. So, there’s that.

In my previous post about isfet, I identified this concept in four separate conditions. 1. The primordial isfet; 2. the agents of isfet; 3. the unknown/undesired being aspects of isfet; and 4. the isfet that can reside in our own hearts. In regards to ancient Egyptian belief in keeping this at bay, it was the primary concern of the high priests and above all, the Pharaoh, to maintain the levels of ma’at the general populace believed necessary to keep life flowing. This was done in ritual and in prayer and in other ways that I’m not adept at discussing at present. In regards to a modern Kemetic practice, this obviously isn’t something that we can do since, you know, we don’t have a Pharaoh to maintain ma’at as seen in ancient sources and those of us who aren’t interested in a practice of high priest status aren’t willing or able to make the type of commitment necessary. But, there were ways for the regular people to battle this concept, as well. It was the little things, the parts about keeping isfet from our hearts, that the regular people utilized to help the ongoing battle with chaos.

(This is where things are going to get a little dicey as I try to decide how much of my crafted “living in ma’at” I’m willing to share at present.)

To me, keeping isfet at bay isn’t quite the same as it was thousands of years. Times have changed, after all, and even though I may be trying to reconstruct an ancient religion, I have to contend with it in modern times. While trying to craft the religion itself in an ancient context is an admirable trait, it’s something that doesn’t work well thousands of years later, in my opinion. In fact, I can say the same thing about most of the current religions out there, specifically those who follow the Christian path. While it’s admirable that there are people out there who still firmly entrench themselves in the belief system that was later turned into the modern-day Bible, we have to sit back and ask ourselves if any of it still applies to what we’ve seen or has happened in the 21st century. And along similar lines, the same is to be said for anyone following an older religion, such as myself. I have to sit here and ask myself, “Are these concepts still applicable now? Can we honestly say that the more intensive, questionable practices are still useful nowadays? How can I apply things like I have ‘not stopped water when it should flow,’ I have ‘not driven away the cattle on the estates of the gods,’ and I have ‘not vilified a slave to his master’ to a more modern context?” (Source: The Confessions.) The problem thus unfolds.

Another aspect that comes to mind stems from a few pointed comments that Kiya had made when I first began researching isfet in earnest. I had mentioned a particular disagreement I felt in regards to statements made about Apep. From this disagreement, I began to think about isfet as more than just a simple concept to battle and destroy. It seemed to me that without the concept of isfet, there would be no ma’at. (And not just in context of my belief that one created the other.) Duality is a very strong and important principle in Kemetic belief systems, and therefore in the ancient variants of those belief systems. This is a concept that I’ve been working with for a while now and it’s come to seem to me that without one there wouldn’t be much of another. Without disorder, how can there be order? Without death, how can there be birth? Without lies, how is there truth? Without injustice, how can there be justice? Without chaos, how can there by cosmic order? The two work hand-in-hand to create a dualistic coexistence that, quite possibly, without that dualistic coexistence, things would be a good deal more topsy-turvy than they already are.

As Kiya mentioned, “the only way to lock the potential for isfet out of the system is to lock the system in place as a static frozen entity, which is itself isfet!” I had a quasi-aHA moment after having read that statement. It goes along with my ideas that to have one concept without the other doesn’t seem likely or possible. While I can understand the desire to keep the “negative forces” at bay from the people who live good, honest lives, unfortunately, no matter what we do it’s always going to be. There isn’t a single way to slay the concept of isfet without forcing the system into a static, sedentary, and possible-Utopia. This in itself means that growth, energetic changing, and vivacious debate do not exist in this state except in THIS ONE WAY ONLY. And as Kiya said, that seems to be, in itself, isfet. Again we come back to the duality of ancient Egypt (and therefore, of Kemetic practice) that is so very important.

Without that dualism in the state of beliefs, there would be no one without the other.

And so, in conclusion to this essay (wait, is this an essay?), I have to say that while the idea of keeping isfet at bay is preferable in various means, we have to take it with a grain of salt. My belief is that without the one there is no other, and so therefore, while we may wish to keep evil out of our lives, we have to also believe that without the bad there is no good. Without the action of evil, we do not learn the lesson of good, so to speak. And while I strive very much (and often, with much difficulty) to keep isfet from my heart, sometimes, we have to sit back and do the wrong thing so that, maybe just maybe, we can learn the lesson inherent therein.

Isfet: Uncreation, Disorder, and Chaos Brought to You.(PBP).

Here’s the thing about this post… I’m under duress to write it, but I’ve been actively trying to figure it out from as many sources as possible (and lots of help from Devo and Kiya). And you know what I’ve learned? Apparently, crafting your own theological path with a Kemetic basis is damn hard. The ancient sources are hard to come by or damaged or phrased to make your head explode. So then, maybe, you ask an expert on FB for some aid or clarification only to have your head explode even further when you realize that there is no dumbing down (as I’d prefer) or simple answers. And it’s at this point that I find myself, pushing my sleeves up, and going at it with rabid desire because for fuck’s sake, I’m getting this shit done.

First things first, what exactly is isfet in the first place? Now, if you ask people, some of them are bound to tell you that it is a concept that is beyond our fragile, tiny brains. Now, I don’t really believe that this is true. If we can describe and understand the concept of ma’at, then why can’t we understand its counterpart? If we can get through the whole ma’at without having to do much, if any, borrowing from the goddess persona, then why in the hell can’t we understand what isfet is? Not to mention (warning: side track rant), how is anything beyond the pale of humanity to understand from a theological standpoint? We all are created in the image of the divinity that we worship. In that image, we should be able to grasp any possible theological concept. The concept itself may be something we can only figure out after years of study or on another plane of existence in the ka‘s journey, but it’s a concept that we will grasp at some point in time. I mean, isn’t that what faith is all about, the eventual grasping of concepts that only show up in a bout of epiphany? So, there’s that.

Let’s get back to isfet though.

Isfet is a multi-meaning word. It is a core concept to the basis of Kemetic religion, but it has many different translations. The most common translations seem to see it as the exact opposite of the concept of ma’at, which is often seen as translated as “order” or “truth.” So, in that regard, we could view isfet as “disorder” or “untruth.” Since the ancient Egyptian word for “lie” was actually gereg, we should probably reconsider what the translation of isfet is. We can’t just look at things in the simplicity of the duality that is common in ancient Egypt. It was necessary in all things, this duality, but we can begin to assume that after three thousand or more years of a religion that things had changed and morphed over time. So, too, can we assume that the definition and translation of the word isfet changed over time. It wasn’t just the simplicity of an “untruth” or “disorder.” It was all things that brought true fear to the heart of the ancient Egyptians: it was dying nameless and alone; it was the act of turning away from the True Religion of the time; it was the act of our bodies being forgotten and unfed; it was the moment of not knowing who the next Pharaoh would be; it was the act of destruction of our bodies so that our spirits could not return; it was the end of the world. To make things easier, as it is shown in the title of this blog entry, I’ve personally come to see isfet as “uncreation,” “disorder,” and “chaos.” The specifics of which I listed above in the fears that (I see) were core fears of the ancient Egyptian populace.

There doesn’t appear to be a single moment when we can clearly say, in ancient Egyptian belief, that isfet began; there is no moment where the Big Isfet Bang happened and isfet flew into the universe. It appears that isfet always was, which I think rings a bell for interest. If I’m not mistaken, it was the goddess Tiamat in Babylonian belief that the world was created out of and she was a monster of chaos. So, if we look into things in that way and in a general view of creation myths, we tend to find that chaos was the beginning, the all-time, the first moments in which everything got its start. This, to me, makes a lot of sense. Without isfet and its chaos and disorder, there is a possibility of nothingness but there, too, also lies a possibility of isfet coming together to bring about a creation of sorts.

What I’m thinking here is that isfet was be-bopping along in its chaotic path and doing its isfet thing, similar to how we view the Big Bang Theory: “According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the Universe to cool and resulted in its present continuously expanding state… After its initial expansion from a singularity, the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. While protons and neutrons combined to form the first atomic nuclei only a few minutes after the Big Bang, it would take thousands of years for electrons to combine with them and create electrically neutral atoms.” (Source: Wiki. Emphasis mine.) So, if we think of isfet in relation to the Big Bang theory, then we can see isfet as be-bopping along and doing its thing before particles of isfet came together to create… the Nun.

The Nun is, what Kiya refers to as, “primordial potential chaos.” It is an aspect of isfet that was from the before time, before creation, before anything at all. The Nun are the primordial waters from which all life sprang in the form of the lotus blossom, the ben-ben, and the Ultimate Creator Deity*. But before the creation, it was nothing more than primordial chaos. We can liken it to more of the Big Bang theory: “Giant clouds of these primordial elements would coalesce through gravity to form stars and galaxies…” (Source: Wiki.) Instead of seeing it in images of star formation, we should look to it as the pre-formation of said stars, a surrounding dark waters so to speak. Actions of isfet throughout the universe prior to the big moment when the UCD finally puts in an appearance.

(* Until I decide on a specific cosmogony, I’ve decided that I’ll refer to all of the creator deities of ancient Egyptian myth as a conglomerate Ultimate Creator Deity, or UCD.)

Then at the moment of UCD’s creation, so too does ma’at come into existence. The action of hu goes into effect and all things begin to form, coalesce, create, organize… But, after this moment, we still have the “primordial potential chaos” in the background: “Nun continued to exist at its margins and would one day return to destroy it and begin the cycle again.” (Source: Egyptian Myths.) It is in this aspect that we can see the Nun as being, almost, an agent of isfet, in this we see Kiya’s referring to the Nun as “primordial potential chaos” again. This is an ancient agent, though, that has seemingly kept itself at a distance. We see his actions in ancient Egyptian myth, as far as I can see, only the once with the whispering in Re’s ears just prior to the Destruction of Mankind. We can, again, liken the Nun to another creator deity: the Christian YHWH. So, too can He make the world, so too can He unmake the world; we should look to the Nun in this way, as well. Only whereas it appears that YHWH would be doing thus in an effort to save as many souls and bring them to Christianity and that religion, the Nun would be doing so as an agent of isfet but instead of saving souls and lives, the Nun would be doing so on the basis of beginning again.

So, we have isfet at the beginning of all things, in the creation of the world and mankind and the gods and all of that. Now, though, we can begin to see isfet developing in the forms of a personification, of sorts. As I equated the Nun as an agent, so to speak, of isfet, we can look and see that while ma’at had a personification aspect in the godly divinity of Ma’at, we don’t have the exact same thing with isfet. Instead, we have another agent that acts on behalf of isfet: Apep. This particular demon or deity was seen as the arch-nemesis of the solar god. In his personification of isfet, it was seen as his job to try to stop the course of the solar bark each night. In effect, his exact duty was to unmake the world. He seems to have been the only deity of ancient Egypt that was considered “all-powerful” since no matter what the gods did or the people did in ritual, he would always come back the next night to try to destroy the solar god on his journey through the Duat.

“Apep led an army of demons that preyed on the living and the dead. To defeat this malevolent force a ritual known as ‘Banishing Apep’ was conducted annually by the priests of Ra. An effigy of Apep was taken into the temple and imbued with all of the evil of the land. The effigy was then beaten, crushed smeared with mud and burned. Other rituals involved the creation of a wax model of the serpent which was ritually dismembered and the burning of a papyrus bearing an image of the snake. The ‘Book of Apophis’ is a collection of magical spells from the New Kingdom which were supposed to repel or contain the evil of the serpent.” (Source: AE Online.) And yet, no matter what was done, he kept coming back again. A sort of serpentine version of the Energizer Bunny, I suppose we could say.

Thus far, we’ve found isfet at the beginning of creation (even before creation, really) as well as in the personification of specific gods. Now, let’s look to the planet that we live on to see what type of isfet we can find… And yes, isfet was in the world, too. It was there, always on the outskirts of the land of Egypt. At first, this was personified with the above-mentioned waters of the Nun, but later seemed merely to refer to as “outsiders.” As long as spells were uttered and performed correctly, rituals were uttered and performed correctly, the Pharaoh held ma’at in his hands and in his heart, and all things were done just this perfectly, then isfet was held at bay. It was only as ancient Egyptians began to identify with “foreigners” in a more positive light (as opposed to the Hyksos period of ancient Egyptian rule) that we see that those foreign countries were no longer viewed as being a part of isfet.

As well as being viewed as all things the ancient Egyptians didn’t understand/want to know/learn about/care about, isfet was also seen as the evil that can take place in a person’s heart. In this regard, we should really consider the translation of isfet as “sin” or “evil” or “wrong.” With each act against ma’at, our heart grows heavier with isfet. The end result of all of this wrong-doing would be at the moment when we are judged by the Feather of Ma’at in the Weighing of the Heart ceremony: our hearts would weigh heavier than the feather and therefore, eaten by the demon, Ammit. This would lead to the dreaded second death, meaning that THE SOUL™ would not move on, there would be no living in the Field of Reeds with Wesir, and we would become uncreated, part of the ultimate isfet instead of merely the isfet we had created within our hearts by our misdeeds.

So, as a Kemetic, when we begin to think about isfet, we have to be weary. We have isfet in regards to acts that we can commit, we have isfet in regards to unknown things or beings, we have isfet in regards to the chaos that gods may or may not commit (which I did not discuss fully as I think I am insufficient in this regards since I am not a follower of Sutekh, though I did my best with the mention of Apep), and we have the ultimate isfet in regards to the creation of the gods and the Nun. When we begin to think about all of these things, we have to consider that each portion of isfet, while related to one another, are incredibly different when placed side-by-side. The portions of isfet that I mentioned and discussed in the start of all of this are concepts that are cosmological in nature, however the portions of isfet that I discussed towards the end of this are in regards to human nature, belief, and our faith. So, when we begin discussing isfet and how to combat it and what to do in regards to it and whether or not we should even talk about it, then we really have to be quite clear about what type of isfet we’re really discussing.

Tune in next week when I try to discuss isfet in my thoughts, in how it works in my theology, and what we can do about it!