Kemtist belief holds that gods can be contacted and invoked for certain things, such as praying to Nepthys for a bountiful harvest. Funerary practices remain regular parts of Egyptian belief systems, with a still firm belief in the importance of preserving the soul for a journey through the afterlife.
The religion holds its roots in prehistoric Egypt, and has survived for over 5000 years, making it the oldest living religion in the world. The exact details of these beliefs changed over time, with certain gods being elevated or demoted to certain positions, the only god playing a consistent role being Ra as the sun and creation god.
Kemetist beliefs have been, and remain, an integral part in Egyptian culture, defining much of its philosophies and laws.
GodsKemetist belief teaches that aspects of nature are in themselves divine forces, some of the most important being Ra, the god of the sun, Horus, the god of kings and vengeance, Isis, goddess of magic and queens, and many others. The gods were generally depicted as animals, or humans with animal traits. The relationships the gods had with each other were complex, and could often vary between specific sects of Kemetism. The gods, as a whole, represent ma'at (order), and stand in opposition to isfet (chaos), which is represented by the serpent, Apep.
An idolatrous religion, Kemetism makes regular use of religious statues and imagery, with depictions of the gods being found in homes or temples. However, it should be noted that Kemetists believe that the true forms of the gods are beyond human comprehension, and these depictions are the gods attempts to appear to humans in more familiar forms. In earlier times, gods were associated with certain regions or cities, where one god may be more popular than others. The god in question could change repeatedly over time as the population changed.
As Egypt became more nationalized, the Kemetist faith became more centralized, as more common belief systems took hold; this would in turn lead to gods taking firm positions in certain roles. For example, Sobek, initially one of multiple river gods, took the place as the single god of the Nile, with other Nile deities either being absorbed, or becoming secondary to him. A more distinct hierarchy also took form, with Ra emerging as the king of the gods. One diety who this had a prominent effect on was Set, who had for a long time been demonized as a god of evil and chaos; however, staring during the reign of the 30th Dynasty, he became more associated as Ra's lieutenant, and ultimately became the god of storms and the desert, representing controlled chaos.
After Egypt conquered much of Africa, it began to absorb local African beliefs, leading to the formation of newer deities that were more fitting to the surrounding lands. One such god was Daakr, the elephant headed god of the untamed wilderness, and the son of Set. Belief in Daakr would take firm root, not just in the southern reaches of the empire, but in Egyptian homeland itself, leading to the building of a shrine to the elephant god in the Karnak temple complex. Another god that was elevated to a position of great importance was Wadj-wer, who became the sea god as Egypt became more maritime.
Kemetism has a firm and incritate belief in the afterlife. There is a belief in the ka, which represents the human life force, and the ba, which represents the human spirit. Initially, it was believed that only the pharaoh possessed a ba, but during the late Old Kingdom, this extended to all Kemetists. It is now held that upon death, the ba travels the Duat, and eventually comes to the Halls of Judgment, where their heart (which represents their soul), is weighed against a feather (which represents ma'at), to see if they acted in accord with ma'at. If the scales balanced out, then they would be allowed to pass to a paradise ruled by Osiris; if the scales tipped, then their soul would be devoured by the beast, Ammit, wherein the person would cease to exist. This belief prevailed for a long time, but later and current, belief systems hold that it is possible for a relative of a deceased person who suffered such a fate to appeal to Osiris for a second chance. If Osiris agrees, he uses the individual's sheut (shadow), which represented the person's legacy and impact, to be reincarnated.
Older belief systems held that the body had to be preserved to prevent the ba from decaying. However, during the early Medieval era, this concept lost popularity, and embalming became more a matter of tradition than one of religious obligation. The only ones who are still regularly mummified are pharaohs, primarily out of custom.
In ancient times, the Pharaoh was considered to be a divine representative of different gods, most commonly Horus and Ra. While acknowledged as a physical man and therefore subject to human weakness, he was still considered to have divine attributes thrust within him. It was believed that it was the pharaoh who was the key to maintain ma'at by delivering justice and harmony upon his empire.
However, starting during the New Kingdom, the pharaoh's religious position declined severely, until completely fading from existence during the 27th Dynasty. The pharaoh is still regarded as the symbolic head of religion, as an incarnation of Horus, but is not considered to be in any way divine.
Kemetism is an animistic religion, with beliefs in animals representing certain gods. In ancient times, there could be temples devoted to a certain animal, and would be mummified so as to be preserved. This belief waned in the Classical period, and temples to animals lost popularity, with occasional exceptions, namely the Temple of Sobek, which kept its crocodiles. However, animal reverence remained a part of traditional Kemetist beliefs.
- Falcon: Associated primarily with the god Horus, and on occasion Ra; falcons are held as proud and honorable and are considered in traditional Kemetism to be the rulers of the animal world. Due to their flight abilities, falcons are held as the paramount power in the sky. There was a period in Ancient times where the falcon was associated with Ra, but as the religion centralized, that position waned, and the falcon became more exclusively an animal of Horus, though occasionally Ra will be depicted as a falcon.
- Snake: Snakes are noted for being both good and evil in Egyptian society. On the one hand, there is Wadjet, the cobra goddess, who is often depicted as the patron of Lower Egypt, and one of the divine guardians of the pharaoh; on the other hand, there is Apep, the incarnation of chaos, who is described as being a snake. Certain snakes hold certain roles in Kemetist folk belief; for example, cobras are regarded as kingly, whereas vipers are considered cowardly.
- Crocodile: Crocodiles are regarded as being soldiers in the army of Sobek, the god of the Nile, who is depicted as either a crocodile, or a man with the head of a crocodile. They protect the river from from potential threats, and its believed that polluting the Nile is liable to offend Sobek enough for him to send a crocodile to kill the offender.
- Cats: In Ancient times, cats were deeply revered, especially amongst the common people, through the goddess Bast. Cats are regarded as protectors, and guardians, and its not uncommon to see a cat statue in front of a house.
- Lion: Sekhemet, the goddess of war, is depicted as having the head of a lioness. Maned lions only occasionally appear in Ancient or Classical period, generally with depictions of the god Maahes. During the Medieval era, this changed, with the lion starting to appears more frequently.
- Elephant: The lack of elephants in Egypt for long time meant they rarely appeared in artistic or religious depictions. However, they started appearing more during the Medieval period, as Egypt expanded farther South. Elephants are now associated with the wild, which is represented by the elephant-headed god, Daaker. Elephants are also occasionally associated with Set.
The defining feature of Kemetist belief, is a dualistic belief in the concept of ma'at, or order. Kemetists believe that there is a constant conflict between order and chaos, and that the ultimate purpose is to uphold order at all costs. The gods were the allies of ma'at, who fought against the serpent Apep, the manifestation of chaos. The pharaoh was regarded as the chief guardian of ma'at on Earth, and it's the people's obligation to follow his will in its preservation. The exact definition of "order" and "chaos" varies, but it is widely regarded that order refers to peace, justice and truth, whereas chaos refers to war, crime and deceit.
Kemetism is a structured religion, with a distinct religious hierarchy. The pharaoh is the head of religion, as the ultimate guardian of Ma'at. Beneath the Pharaoh, are the high priests of respective temples and gods. Certain high priests of certain gods hold higher authority than others; for example, the High Priest of Ra has higher authority than the High Priest of Bes. Beneath the high priests and the larger temples are the local temples and priests, generally existing in smaller communities.
The beginnings of Egyptian religion extend into prehistory, and evidence for them comes only from the sparse and ambiguous archaeological record. Careful burials during the Predynastic period imply that the people of this time believed in some form of an afterlife. At the same time, animals were ritually buried, a practice which may reflect the development of zoomorphic deities like those found in the later religion. The evidence is less clear for gods in human form, and this type of deity may have emerged more slowly than those in animal shape. Each region of Egypt originally had its own patron deity, but it is likely that as these small communities conquered or absorbed each other, the god of the defeated area was either incorporated into the other god's mythology or entirely subsumed by it. This resulted in a complex pantheon in which some deities remained only locally important while others developed more universal significance. As the time changed and the shifting of the empires changed like the middle kingdom, new kingdom, and old kingdom, usually the religion followed stayed within the border of that territory.
The Early Dynastic period began with the unification of Egypt around 3000 BC. This event transformed Egyptian religion, as some deities rose to national importance and the cult of the divine pharaoh became the central focus of religious activity. Horus was identified with the king, and his cult center in the Upper Egyptian city of Nekhen was among the most important religious sites of the period. Another important center was Abydos, where the early rulers built large funerary complexes.
During the Old Kingdom, the priesthoods of the major deities attempted to organize the complicated national pantheon into groups linked by their mythology and worshiped in a single cult center, such as the Ennead of Heliopolis which linked important deities such as Atum, Ra, Osiris, and Set in a single creation myth. Meanwhile, pyramids, accompanied by large mortuary temple complexes, replaced mastabas as the tombs of pharaohs. In contrast with the great size of the pyramid complexes, temples to gods remained comparatively small, suggesting that official religion in this period emphasized the cult of the divine king more than the direct worship of deities. The funerary rituals and architecture of this time greatly influenced the more elaborate temples and rituals used in worshipping the gods in later periods.
Early in the Old Kingdom, Ra grew in influence, and his cult center at Heliopolis became the nation's most important religious site. By the Fifth Dynasty, Ra was the most prominent god in Egypt, and had developed the close links with kingship and the afterlife that he retained for the rest of Egyptian history. Around the same time, Osiris became an important afterlife deity. The Pyramid Texts, first written at this time, reflect the prominence of the solar and Osirian concepts of the afterlife, although they also contain remnants of much older traditions. The texts are an extremely important source for understanding early Egyptian theology.
In the 22nd century BC, the Old Kingdom collapsed into the disorder of the First Intermediate Period, with important consequences for Egyptian religion. Old Kingdom officials had already begun to adopt the funerary rites originally reserved for royalty, but now, less rigid barriers between social classes meant that these practices and the accompanying beliefs gradually extended to all Egyptians, a process called the "democratization of the afterlife". The Osirian view of the afterlife had the greatest appeal to commoners, and thus Osiris became one of the most important gods.
Eventually rulers from Thebes reunified the Egyptian nation in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1650 BC). These Theban pharaohs initially promoted their patron god Monthu to national importance, but during the Middle Kingdom, he was eclipsed by the rising popularity of Amun. In this new Egyptian state, personal piety grew more important and was expressed more freely in writing, a trend which continued in the New Kingdom.
The Middle Kingdom crumbled in the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650–1550 BC), but the country was again reunited by Theban rulers, who became the first pharaohs of the New Kingdom. Under the new regime, Amun became the supreme state god. He was syncretized with Ra, the long-established patron of kingship, and his temple at Karnak in Thebes became Egypt's most important religious center. Amun's elevation was partly due to the great importance of Thebes, but it was also due to the increasingly professional priesthood. Their sophisticated theological discussion produced detailed descriptions of Amun's universal power.
Increased contact with outside peoples in this period led to the adoption of many Near Eastern deities into the pantheon. At the same time, the subjugated Nubians absorbed Egyptian religious beliefs, and in particular, adopted Amun as their own.
The New Kingdom religious order was disrupted when Akhenaten acceded, and replaced Amun with the Aten as the state god. Eventually he eliminated the official worship of most other gods, and moved Egypt's capital to a new city at Amarna. This part of Egyptian history, the Amarna period, is named after this. In doing so, Akhenaten claimed unprecedented status: only he could worship the Aten, and the populace directed their worship toward him. The Atenist system lacked well-developed mythology and afterlife beliefs, and the Aten seemed distant and impersonal, so the new order did not appeal to ordinary Egyptians. Thus, many probably continued to worship the traditional gods in private. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of state support for the other deities severely disrupted Egyptian society. Akhenaten's successors restored the traditional religious system, and eventually they dismantled all Atenist monuments.
Before the Amarna period, popular religion had trended toward more personal relationships between worshipers and their gods. Akhenaten's changes had reversed this trend, but once the traditional religion was restored, there was a backlash. The populace began to believe that the gods were much more directly involved in daily life. Amun, the supreme god, was increasingly seen as the final arbiter of human destiny, the true ruler of Egypt. The pharaoh was correspondingly more human and less divine. The importance of oracles as a means of decision-making grew, as did the wealth and influence of the oracles' interpreters, the priesthood. These trends undermined the traditional structure of society and contributed to the breakdown of the New Kingdom.
The rise of the Saite pharaohs in the aftermath of restoring independence from Assyria marked additional changes in religion. With hopes of centralizing the state, the pharaohs took steps to curb the power of the priests, such as moving the treasuries to royally owned facilities, and installing imperial soldiers as temple guard. The change in capital from Thebes, which was also the center of religion in Egypt, also distanced the priesthood from state affairs, which marked their steady decline in their power, until they became entirely ceremonial.
This era also marked the decrease in worship of Amun, and an increase in that of Ra, who many Saite officials were devotees. In the year 541 a formal statement was declared by pharaoh Necho II saying that Ra was the king of the gods and the all-creator, opposed to Amun. This statement was received with protest by the priesthood, but the protests failed to make any impact. From there, the pharaohs began making attempts to centralize the religion. A clear divine hierarchy was formed, with Ra on the top. Temples were opened for civilians to freely come and worship, which further decreased the power of the priests.
The religious centralization influenced the dualistic ideology that was already present. Isfet and Ma'at became more distinct, but also more intertwined. Ra and Apep were described as siblings, having emerged from the same primal ocean. It became that Ma'at and Isfet existed in a balance, where one could never fully defeat the other. Chaos would always exist in some form, and it was the obligation of both gods and humans to keep it managed.
It was during this time that other religions began to make inroads into Egypt. However, they failed to attain that great of a presence, as Kemetism remained dominant, due to a combination of state endorsement, and similar beliefs. Due to Egyptian policies of religious tolerance, all number of religions managed to flourish in Egypt, though none supplanted Kemetism.
The religion continued to develop thougout the Medieval age, especially as Egypt expanded its borders South. As it encountered foreign religions, Kemetism began adopting new gods, and elevating others. It was in this time that Daaker and Wadj-wer emerged as important gods in the Empire, with the latter assuming the role as the god of the ocean, and becoming a god sailors would regularly invoke. Kemetism also spread to Egyptian neighbors, or conquests.
By this time, the religious establishment had lost almost all of its political power, and was now almost exclusively ceremonial. The pharaoh was also now considered not a literal god, but a divine descendant of Horus, and was the official head of religion.
In the 12th century, the Christian church initiated the Crusades in an attempt to wrest Jerusalem and the surrounding areas from Egyptian control. While at this point, the Egyptian constitution clearly stated policies of religious tolerance, the Imperial government became nervous about Christian groups within the Empire. Hoping to strengthen the state religion, the construction of a multitude if different religious structures were commissioned. Armor would also be redesigned to emulate the profile of Horus, Sekhment, or occasionally Set.
Kemetism has approximately 500 million adherents, and is among the world's largest religions. The majority of the practioners are within the Egyptian Empire, but it also has adherents in the Free African Union, China's southern provinces, Ghana's eastern provinces, and other locations.
The success of Kemetism is noteworthy, as it is does not have any missionary positions (which is to say, it does not call for spreading the faith, though doesn't discourage it). The success has been hypothesized to be the result of cultural osmosis from other
Due to Egypt having a long-standing policy of religious freedom, Kemetism has been exposed to, and influenced by other religions.
Kemetists and Jews have a long history with each other that goes all the way back to the Ancient period, when a number of Jews lived in Egypt. A defining piece of Jewish history was the migration that took place from Egypt into Israel, and the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which would later be absorbed into the Egyptian Empire. Israel remained almost entirely Jewish, and non-Jewish temples were generally prohibited within the walls of Jerusalem. Kemetists rarely, went to Jerusalem, and those that did were either soldiers, or merchants.
Because of this, Kemetism and Judaism co-existed with relative peace, thoguh there would occasionally be outbreaks of violence, generally commited by Jewish radicals.
Kemetism and Christianity have a hostile history, stemming primarily from conflicts between Egypt and Rome, such as the Crusades. In the Gospels, Jesus never mentions Kemetism, though does occasionally mention Egypt, usually in neutral context. Though some later interpretations of the "Kingdom of Heaven", were taken to mean an independent nation to Egypt, Jesus is said to have discouraged his followers from attempting to resist or fight the royal family that served as vassals to the pharaoh. He mentions the pharaoh at least four times in the Gospels, all in relatively neutral light, where he encourages his followers to "lead with the wisdom of a pharaoh, but the compassion of a father".
Later Christian sects were sharply critical of the Kemetist interpretation of the divine, considering it blasphemous, and that Kemetists were devil worshipers. Similarly, many Kemetist officials were harsh in their assessments of Christianity, considering it more along the lines of a cult, with underlying aspects of cannibalism, with one High Priest of Set commenting, "(Romans) hold their one god so high above the others, and yet regularly drink his blood, and eat his flesh".
Not all Christian thinker were so antagonistic of Kemetism, with theologian Dios Melus offering a positive view of religion, and its accessibility. He praised the Kemetists ability to commune with their gods, and their lack of large ceremonies, which Melus though Christianity had lost itself in. Melus was said to have been an acquaintance of a High Priest of Sobek named Semmenkhare.
The relationship between Islam and Kemetism is complicated, and defined by both times of conflict, and cooperation. Muhammed was said to have admired Egypt as a nation and culture, considering it a model for Arabia to follow in terms of government and leadership, and had a neutral opinion Kemetism. During its early years of expansion, the Caliphate attempted to invade Egypt, but was repulsed.
Kemetists that lived in the Caliphate were subject to the same dhimmi system as the followers of other religions, though occasionally, Caliphs would give preferential treatment to Kemetists, to prevent tensions with the Egyptians.
There was an instance in which a Muslim leader, Adheem, ruled Egypt, and attempted to convert Egypt to Islam. However, this policy did not last long after his death, and Kemetism remained the state religion of the empire.
Kemetism has been criticized by other religious groups, particularly among Christians and Muslims, due to its polytheistic, animistic view on the divine. It has also been criticized by other demographics (such as atheists) for its view on order, and what needs to be done to maintain it.
Kemetist ethics are based on the concept of Ma'at (order), and its maintenance. While its ultimately up to the individual how they serve Ma'at, there exist a multitude of baseline tenants on how to go about it. Traditional Kemetism doesn't make a distinction between Ma'at and ethics, and anything done in the name of Ma'at is ethically sound.
Kemetism is one of the few religions that actively permits the performance of violence, insofar as to maintain Ma'at, and restore it.
Slavery is directly referenced by a number of Kemetist thinkers, who offered differing positions on it. High Priest of Ra, Rahotep, is noted for having written that "the defeated are not deserving of anything other than work and subjugation". This has been taken to be an endorsement of slavery, though some argue that Rahotep was specifically referring to soldiers, opposed to non-combatants. A High Priest of Horus, Hisiheru, would later write in a letter to the pharaoh, "Slavery stands in opposition to Ma'at. It is based in conflict, and hatred. To continue the practice would be to serve Isfet".
Egypt, as a nation, did not formerly abolish slavery as an institution until the early medieval period, and it has been noted to be more for political and economic reasons than religious ones.
Nature of the Divine
Kemetism is openly polytheistic and idolatrous, which has caused it to receive varying levels of condemnation by Christians and Muslims.