In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Differences in Religious Practices

Here’s this month’s topic from the Kemetic Round Table:

Differences in practices: How do you deal with them? How do we overlook our differences in practice and UPG? What do we do if our experiences don’t line up with others?

I must reiterate that I’m not exactly a Kemetic and that I don’t claim to speak for Kemetics in any way, shape or form. I worship an ancient Egyptian God, yes, but I interact with Him in a way that isn’t strictly Egyptian. My brothers and I don’t see ourselves as reconstructing an ancient faith, but as practicing an entirely new faith that never existed before our God revealed Himself directly to us. Perhaps if we worshiped a different Egyptian God, we might feel a need to be more consistently Kemetic; but since we’re devoted to Seth-Typhon – the Outsider and Patron of all that was foreign to the ancient Egyptian world – you might say we think it’s important for us to “keep one foot in Kemet and the other in Deshret.”

In the above question, “practices” refers to religious practices, which are the subject of orthopraxy (“correct practice”). I’ve stated elsewhere on this website that polytheist religions tend to be more concerned with orthopraxy than with orthodoxy (“correct belief”). This means that in many cases, you can interpret the religion’s Deities in practically any way you like (e.g., as real spiritual beings, Jungian archetypes or even “ancient astronauts”). What matters most is that you engage Them in the same prescribed manner that everyone else in the religion does. For example, a particular orthopraxy might require that worshipers offer food and drink to statues of the Gods, treating Them as if They were physical house guests at a special dinner party.

Admittedly, the LV-426 orthopraxy would probably not appeal to (or even be recognized by) an ancient Egyptian sem Netjer or priest. We started developing our faith when we were still teenagers, and at the time, we had to engage Big Red in ways that weren’t obvious. We couldn’t have statues, we couldn’t make physical offerings, and sometimes we couldn’t even pray out loud. To compensate for this, we developed a technique involving visualization and silent prayer. We hoped that the offering of our time and appreciation would be enough, and our experiences led us to conclude that they were. We now use statues and red candles whenever feasible, but we still prefer to do things the way we needed to when we were younger. It might not be the proper Egyptian way of doing things, but it just feels more “real” to us that way.

That being said, my attitude about differences in religious practices is shaped by the experiences my brothers and I have shared in LV-426. The way we see it, Deities are like people; They choose to interact with us in different ways, and different people will also react to Them in different ways. I engage people in my family very differently than I do with my friends or my acquaintances at work; why, then, should I assume that it would be any different with Deities? In polytheism, we already accept the existence of several Gods, so why shouldn’t we also accept that there are different ways of interacting with each of Them? For example, my experiences of Seth are quite different from those of Michael Aquino, the founder of the Temple of Set. Aquino’s experiences have led him to do things very differently than I or even most of Seth’s modern followers probably do. Is it really a matter of only one side being correct and the other being wrong? I personally don’t think so; it seems obvious to me, at least, that Big Red expects different things from different people – and I see no reason why the same can’t be true of other Deities too.

(Incidentally, I’ve heard one or two Kemetics argue that the “Seth” followed by Michael Aquino and other “left-hand path” occultists is a different entity from the ancient Egyptian Seth. I think they have every right to that interpretation; as with so many other things in theology, it’s impossible to prove or disprove either way. But I personally disagree; I feel very strongly that we’re all interacting with the same entity, but that He chooses to interact with us in different ways.)

I have some issues with the term “UPG,” which stands for “Unverified Personal Gnosis.” Gnosis is a Greek term that refers to direct personal knowledge of someone or something in the spiritual world (in a non-Platonic context, at least). It’s the difference between believing in a God because you want to (or because someone else tells you to) and actually meeting that God one-on-one for yourself. Now, the tricky part of this is that there’s no way on Earth to prove or disprove that such “knowledge” is accurate or even remotely authentic. Gnosis is, by its very definition, unverifiable and personal; it can’t be directly shared between humans, it can only be experienced for oneself. For this reason, “Unverified Personal Gnosis” is a redundant term. I understand that many polytheists use it to differentiate between gnostic experiences that are shared and agreed upon by a group and individual gnostic experiences that contradict the group. My only problem with this is that there’s no way to prove or disprove that any gnostic experiences are true or false, regardless of whether they’re shared by entire groups or experienced by single contrary individuals. It all comes down to whether you’re having such experiences and whether you choose to put your faith in them or not. If you’ve attained some kind of gnosis, the nature of that experience will influence the particular faith to which you’re drawn. If your gnosis coincides with what’s taught in that faith, you should adopt it as your own; if it deviates from that faith significantly, you should look elsewhere. If your gnosis deviates from what you’re able to find in any faiths, then you should simply create your own faith. And if you aren’t having any gnostic experiences at all, then there’s no reason for you to concern yourself about religion or spirituality in the first place.

The idea of creating one’s own religion is almost always scorned, but I think that if you can’t trust your own gnostic experiences, you can’t trust anyone else’s. I have no way of knowing if Moses ever really spoke with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, but I know that my own gnostic experiences have happened. I can’t definitively explain what they mean anymore than anyone else can, but I’m the person who had these experiences, and I can directly assess their merit in the context of my own life. In fact, they’re the only gnostic experiences I can directly assess with any amount of confidence. (Please note that I did not use the word “certainty.”) I would rather build my faith on these experiences than on anyone else’s. I’m not claiming to be some kind of “prophet,” and I don’t expect anyone else to place the same amount of importance on my experiences. But when considering the claims of others, the bottom line for me has always been: “How does this compare to what I’ve experienced? How can it be useful to me in that context?”

I understand that reconstructionists are trying to reconstruct their religions as faithfully as possible, and I respect them for their academic integrity. All faiths have to draw certain lines and maintain a healthy skepticism toward anything that crosses those lines; it’s just par for the course. Even those of us in LV-426 have to do it; our concept of orthopraxy is just a bit different. Perhaps I’m biased, but I personally think that conforming to the rules or guidelines of a particular group is far less important than being true to yourself. If you truly believe that Khnum wants you to worship Him by offering Him strawberry Pop-Tarts while standing on your head and singing Broadway Showtunes, then more power to you. If it means that you can’t rightfully consider yourself “Kemetic,” then so be it; make up a new term and start your own tradition. What’s more important? Determining whether you fit a label, or determining whether that label fits you?

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3 responses to “Differences in Religious Practices

  1. helmsinepu February 12, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I don’t like the UPG term either. I think there’d be fewer arguments if people trained themselves to say “I believe that…” or “The Seth I get is like this and wants that.”

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  2. Sati March 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I am tired of the “UPG disclaimer”, too. I’d rather only talk interpersonally to people where I do not have to use the term and simply express my personal religious experience as it is and perhaps just point out when i am talking about historical facts (which I mostly do by mentioning the quoted author). But UPG is a big deal in paganism so you’re kind of forced to form an opinion about it.

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