Archives For Kemetic Orthodoxy

We’ve long known that Pagan and polytheist revival and reconstruction movements are a global phenomenon, and that has included, quietly, tentatively, the Middle East. While most countries in the Middle East are culturally, religiously, and demographically dominated by Islam, that hasn’t stopped a few adventurous souls from embracing various forms of modern Pagan religions. This isn’t safe, and in some cases it has led to deadly tragedy, but this thread persists, alongside the sorts of syncretic esotericism that have always existed on the margins of the dominant monotheisms. A recent article in Arab Times, notes that in Kuwait people are buying statues of pre-Islamic gods, much to the outrage of some local officials.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

“MP Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran has recommended banning the sale of statues of the gods followed by idol-worshippers during the pre-Islamic times of paganism, indicating that he had discovered the sale of statues as works of art and gift items by some shops, reports Al-Rai daily. He revealed that statues representing gods believed by non-Muslim pagan worshippers during the primitive era are commonly seen at various shopping malls across the country. He added that the retailer sells these items under the pretext of selling accessories and fashion materials without considering the real meaning behind those artifacts.”

There’s been a school of thought which posits that polytheism is humanity’s default religious setting, which is why religions like Christianity and Islam must constantly be in a process of conversion, re-conversion, and solidifying power to maintain the massive numbers they currently enjoy across the globe. If they don’t, or if they are limited by secular governments, the “old” beliefs start to re-emerge. As scholar Jordan Paper put it in his book, The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, quote:

The goddess Isis.

The goddess Isis.

“Given the history of homo sapiens, it may be that polytheism is inherent in human nature, not so much in the sense that is part of our DNA structure but that it arises from the human experience in conjunction with our nature. For unless we accept the arguments of the ur-monotheists that is contrary to  the above, monotheism is extremely recent, given the sweep of human history; arose in a tiny part of the planet; and is constantly breaking down.”

Of course, that “tiny part of the planet” happens to be the Middle East, and there are immense vested interests within all the monotheisms to ensure that the birthplace of their theology remains solidly in the hands of those who believe in the God of Abraham (though they also struggle amongst themselves for dominance). But, if religious freedoms were really guaranteed, could polytheism, Paganism, truly emerge in the Middle East? Right now, Egypt, which has been rocked by revolution, coup, internal fighting, and unrest this year, is currently trying to write a new constitution for their country that will be accepted by both Islamic hardliners, the military, non-Muslim religious groups (like the Copts), and a large secular-minded minority. A key point of contention is what form religious freedom will take in this new constitution, and by extension, this new government.

“One significant change, says committee head Amr Moussa, is that Article 3 which guarantees Christians and Jews the right to exercise their religious rites will probably be extended to include all non-Muslims. Article 3 currently states that ‘For Egyptian Christians and Jews the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.’ The amended version is expected to state that ‘for all Egyptian non-Muslims the principles of their religious laws will be the main source in regulating their personal status…etc’. The proposed change is opposed by Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, the newly-appointed representative of the ultraconservative Nour Party. In a closed meeting on Monday Mansour issued the melodramatic warning that the term ‘non-Muslims’ would open gates to ‘religious sects like worshippers of the devil’.

Expanding religious freedoms beyond the “People of the Book” is increasingly seen as necessary by religious minorities and secular Egyptians, first, because faiths like Baha’i “cannot legally marry and continue to have trouble with matters such as inheritance because the law does not properly recognize their presence.” In addition, there is a growing number Egyptians who aren’t simply secular, but have embraced atheism, despite the grave social disadvantages inherent in that choice.

“‘Atheists are all around Egypt,’ said Othman Othman, pointing to a group of young people sitting at the table next to us. The number of atheists in Egypt is not less than three million, Othman claimed, but they do not label themselves ‘atheists’ as society would disown them. Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation. Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.”

Once you open the door to Baha’i and atheists, it is only a matter of time before we see a Kemetic/Egyptian polytheist revival (or even Egyptian Wiccans). After all, Egypt is already a global hotspot for seekers, New Agers, and yes, Pagans, wanting to see the many ancient treasures and wonders of the country. Once the chaos abates, Egypt will want the massive tourism revenue to return, and with it will come the exchange of ideas that results from a flood of visitors. In fact, we know that there are already Pagans in Egypt, but a more open society might spark unexpected growth.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

The question remains: can Paganism emerge in the Middle East? Will it be allowed to? If secular governments (or at least pseudo-secular hybrids) start to emerge, it could happen, and if/when it does, what happens next?

Rev. Tamara L. Siuda is the founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy and Nisut of the House of Netjer. The Wild Hunt reported on her successful crowd-funding venture earlier this month, and I caught up with Rev. Tamara to find out more. We talked about her project, the Ancient Egyptian Daybook, and her experiences with using Kickstarter.

Let’s start with the Daybook. It sounds like the ancient Egyptians used multiple calendars. Could you talk about that a little, and how the Daybook will help modern users keep track of important dates? (Also, did I hear that the Daybook will actually be a book and a planner?)

The ancient Egyptians had a minimum of four different calendars in use. They’re all the same length (except for one weirdness in the lunar calendar), with 12 months of 30 days each, and five extra or epagomenal days to round out the 365-day solar cycle.

The Sothic calendar or stellar calendar starts its New Year based on the heliacal rising of the binary star system Sirius (Sopdet to them, Sothis to the Greeks) over a certain geographic location, usually the royal residence. This usually happens in modern Gregorian August today.

Egyptian_calendar_dark

An Egyptian calendar on papyrus

 

The lunar calendar designates New Year as starting on the day of the first New Moon that occurs on or after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Otherwise, it’s identical to the Sothic calendar except that it occasionally adds an intercalary/epagomenal MONTH when there are 13 moons in a year.

The civil calendar designates New Year as starting on an arbitrary date. Once upon a time, the civil year matched the Sothic year, but because of the slippage of time (each of our years is not exactly 365 days long, and ancient Egyptian calendars had no actual leap days until the late period), the New Year kept moving earlier and earlier in the year until it was occurring in completely different seasons than the celestial events it was supposed to match.

The Alexandrian calendar is a fusion calendar, created by decree under Octavian/Caesar Augustus. It is a civil calendar at its base, but it fixes the New Year date to the Sothic rising date. It then adds leap days as necessary once every four years, and some of the lunar-based holidays retain their lunar dating schema.

The Daybook will explain how each of the calendars is created, and then provide the actual holidays matched up to the various days (each calendar has the same days/months/seasons, except that extra month in the lunar year). So anyone who gets the Daybook can choose a new year date and a calendar type, and then go from there. The project will also include an optional perpetual calendar planner, with Egyptian dates only and a space for people to write in which Gregorian dates they correspond to in that person’s chosen format.

Was this your first venture into crowd-funding? How did you choose Kickstarter as your funding platform? How did you decide to present your project the way you did?

This was my first crowdfunding project. I chose Kickstarter after reviewing various platforms and formats, and finding one that I felt provided enough exposure to get the project done, as well as enough protection for potential investors so that they wouldn’t feel like they were taking too much of a risk providing me with funds for a project that isn’t yet completed. I spent more than a year watching similar campaigns, getting to know other content creators/project owners, and learning how crowdfunding really works, before I created a video and jumped in myself. I decided to go with something fairly light-hearted as I have always believed that academic things don’t have to be utterly boring, and that there is a lot of interest in ancient Egypt that could be captured with the right presentation. I wanted to provide something that represents both what I want to do with the Daybook, and would accommodate the particular interests and concerns of anyone who’d be willing to back it.

Now that you’ve seen the Daybook Kickstarter through, is there anything that in hindsight you wish you’d done differently?  Conversely, is there anything you’re really glad you did do?

I wish I’d spent more time before the project went live, to talk it up amongst my friends and family. Having a wide base of people who already support you before you begin is very important, both to build a starting momentum, and to keep people interested in the project as the days go on and on until the goal is met (or not met). I wish I’d not been as uncomfortable with the idea of asking people for money to help with the project earlier. I could’ve started this project years ago! During the campaign, musician Amanda Palmer, who did a very successful Kickstarter herself last year for an album, appeared at TED and gave a talk called “The Art of Asking” that has since gone viral. In it, she talks about how crowdfunding isn’t so much about asking people for money, as giving people permission to help you. It gave me much to consider, and anyone who is considering crowdfunding a creative project should check it out.

More stamina/more understanding that the project was going to require hours and hours each day to keep working on, would also have been helpful. It was really my day job during those 30 days to get the pledges going and keep the publicity happening. It’s grueling, and if you are not employing anybody to help you promote the project, as I was, you’re doing all of that yourself. The last 24 hours of the campaign I don’t think I got more than an hour of sleep, between both the sheer amount of “push” PR that had to be done, and the excitement of watching us meet and exceed stretch goals.

I am very glad that I went through with the campaign, even after I’d been afraid to start it. I’m delighted that there was such a wide interest, even from complete strangers, and enjoyed interacting with the backers and potential backers during the process. It was also exciting and fun to take part in Kickstarter with other projects that went live around the time mine did – we all contacted each other and provided support and advice back and forth, and had little celebrations at every success. I’m glad that I was able to connect to such a diverse group of people for a project that I think will be beneficial to many, and that others seemed to agree it was worth doing and were willing to provide financial support to make it so.

Were you able to tell if any social media platforms were especially helpful in drawing attention to the Daybook?

Luxor_Temple-Egyptian_calendar

Egyptian calendar on the wall of the Temple at Luxor

Kickstarter provides project creators with extensive metrics. More than a third of the attention, in terms of both page views/video views and actual backing, came from Facebook, and at least two thirds of that came from specific promoted posts at a low cost threshhold (specifically, five promoted posts at $10 each, spaced out across the campaign, promoted to “friends of friends”). A significant amount of attention also came from Twitter, where I somehow got the attention of a number of important authors including Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Judith Tarr, who “re-Tweeted” information about the Daybook to their own followers. Smaller responses came from LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Reddit, in that order. It does seem that social media is an important tool in getting one’s message out for a Kickstarter campaign.

Have you got any future projects lined up that you might crowd-fund?

 I have been asked by a number of my backers about whether or not I’d be willing to open a second Kickstarter campaign to meet the final “stretch goal” that we did not achieve in the campaign, which was a fully-interactive calendar app for mobile (iPhone and Android), that was estimated to cost between $36K and $40K to produce. I’m not ruling that out, though I’m certainly going to take a break between campaigns if only because I’m exhausted from the first one! Thirty days of having to be on top of a Kickstarter campaign is a lot of work. I put in between 5-8 hours each day, with no days off. Any day that you don’t promote your campaign is lost backers. You have to stick with it constantly, and continually stir up publicity, to succeed. It’s like running a marathon – you can’t stop until the finish line.

Do you have any advice for Pagans who are considering crowd-funding for their own projects?

 Do your homework before you begin. Decide which of the several crowdfunding sites is appropriate for your project; there are completely different philosophies, acceptable project types, and audiences on each site. Once you decide which site you want to use, start looking up projects that are similar to the one you want to do. Contact the project creators. Most will be very happy to talk to you about their process. I had four Kickstarter mentors, all of whom were successful and who were tremendously helpful to me as I planned and executed my project. Make sure you contact your existing family, friends, and audience – most extremely successful projects are presented by people who already have a following/established brand. And don’t be afraid to ask.