The undeniable emphasis on ritual purity in Kemeticism is something I sort of “accepted” for a while without giving it deeper thought. I had read books, and they had all suggested making sure to “ritually clean” the self (which I interpreted to mean body and mind) before approaching the Kemetic Gods, or attempting to do magic/ritual within a Kemetic setting. I read these words and said to myself, “so you want me to shower before rituals?” Sure, ok. “You want me to clear my mind, make myself ‘pure’ in thought before ritual?” Ok, I can do that too. And then I just did these things, without another thought.
Then I realized one very busy day, after forgetting to shower before my daily offerings and while feeling anxious about the day’s various events while doing said offerings, that there’s a real reason for purifying the self before ritual. There are, in fact, two real reasons: one for physically cleansing the self, the other for mentally cleansing.
The easy answer for why we ought to purify ourselves, before we get to the two mentioned above, is, well, because it’s a ritual. It’s magic. That sort of thing is important. That sort of thing means something. But what does it mean, exactly? In order to understand why ritual purity is necessary, first we need to understand what ritual means in a Kemetic context.
Ritual, is, of course, a way of honoring the Gods, as well as other entities, such as our Akhu, our beloved ancestors. But it is more than merely that, too. It is a way to physically and mentally enter the spiritual realm of the Gods and other spirits. Richard Reidy sums it up perfectly in Eternal Egypt:
“By careful, thoughtful repetition of these rituals you will find the veil more and more transparent. Your efforts will be rewarded, for by emulating divine acts and pronouncing the sacred texts, you will be entering a spiritual realm where gods and goddesses and the blessed dead have a true and priceless communion with those who invoke their blessing and aid.” (Riedy, Kindle version, loc. 207)
Ritual purity was a big deal in Ancient Egypt because it was believed that every time you DID ritual (especially if you were a priest), you were literally moving from one world, the mundane world of every day life, into another, far more powerful world. You were traveling back to the First Time - Zep Tepi – when the world was new, and itself pure. When you invoked Heka, or magic, during ritual in Ancient Egypt, you weren’t merely asking the Gods for power, you became the Gods and Their power(s). These sound like some big responsibilities to take on (entering a spiritual realm, becoming a God, etc.), but in Ancient Egypt, though taken seriously, these things were at the same time looked at as normal occurrences.
So now we can come back to the original question: why do I ritually purify myself?
The first reason: because it’s polite. You’re about to not only communicate with Gods, but, if you believe as strongly as the Ancient Egyptians did, allow Them to inhabit your own body. At the very least, a Kemetic offering involves eating and drinking the offerings given – you’re going to be touching that sacred food and drink, sharing a meal with the Gods, essentially. You wouldn’t share a meal with your family unless you looked or felt clean would you? Ok, well, you certainly wouldn’t go to a party full of strangers or out to dinner with a date without taking a shower first, right? (I would hope not, anyway). The same principal applies here. Showing respect by cleansing the self is something we do all the time without realizing it. We shower before we even go to the grocery store to grab a jug of milk (I do, anyway), because often times, we can’t stand the thought of appearing lazy or unclean to the others in our society. Say all you want about advertising and such (that we’re slaves to a certain ideal in our society, etc. etc.), but I don’t think it really goes that deep. Cleaning ourselves before going out is basic common courtesy to others, or, even if we’re just doing it because we want to feel good or show off a new hair style, then it’s common courtesy to ourselves. When we leave the mundane world to enter the ritual space, it’s the same as leaving our private homes to go shopping publicly. Sure, a ritual should perhaps be approached a little differently than shopping, but being physically clean for both of them stems from the same principles. If I want to look and feel nice in front of the coffee shop lady, well, then of course I’m going to want to look and feel nice in front of my Gods.
Now, though there is nothing wrong with viewing ritual as just another everyday occurrence, with physical cleanliness being only polite, there’s another aspect to ritual purity that I feel sets the ritual landscape apart from the “normal every day one.” When I think about physical cleanliness, I approach the ritual as I would any other time when I may come into contact with people or entities I want to show respect to, or show off the best of myself to. However, I wouldn’t necessary act the same when going to the store and doing a ritual. Sometimes, when I go out to the store, I don’t feel like speaking to anyone, I’m tired, I might even be grumpy or in a bad mood. Sure, I may have showered out of respect for those around me or to not look like a total bum, but I may still act like a total bum emotionally. This varies, of course; I wouldn’t act that way during a date or family dinner, but when it comes to ritual, I’ve found that it’s just not…right to act lazy or distracted or too emotional.
And that brings me to the second part of ritual purity, which is the mental part. Clearing the mind before and during ritual is a key thing for me; I want to focus my attention fully on the Gods I am offering to or the magic I am performing, etc. Focus means you will be more successful anyway, in your ritual endeavors; and in that sense, especially for someone who worries/thinks constantly (like me), it takes some real effort and attention to bring myself into a “ritually pure” mindset. No more worrying about the mundane world, no more thinking about that big sloppy kiss I’m going to get from my boyfriend Jack when he walks in the door after work, no more musing over the weird dream I had last night, etc. When I enter the ritual space, I clear my mind of all of these things. I sometimes do a centering, bringing my energy and thoughts back to “middle-ground”, to the present, to the event at hand. Only then do I feel ready to take a deep breath, and begin the ritual in full. Because it’s one thing to look nice for a God during ritual; it’s entirely another to not give Them our full attention.
So for me, ritual purity has everything to do with what ritual means. Ritual in Kemeticism is a time to fully connect with and give back to the Gods, or blessed dead (or whomever you are offering to). But as Reidy writes, ritual is also incredibly rewarding for us too. It’s rewarding because if we do it right – if we show respect, we state our intentions clearly, and we approach the situation with the right mindset, the Gods will help us. They will become us, and we will become Them. The blessed dead will receive our praise, and bless us back. The magic we are doing will, indeed, work. It comes down to intention, honor, and awareness. Intention to enter a sacred place or communicate with a sacred being, honor for that place and those beings, and awareness of what being in such a place and with such beings means to us.
In Ancient Egypt, purity often involved substances like natron – eating and cleaning the body with it; nowadays, we know natron might not be the best thing for us to ingest/rub all over ourselves (though some might still do it specifically for ritualistic purposes, and that’s a personal choice). For me, showering is enough to feel physically clean. Using modern soap is enough to feel physically clean. I’m ok with what the modern world can provide for me simply because I was born into it. For cleansing the mind, taking a few deep breaths and perhaps meditating for a few minutes helps a lot. Putting on some nice ritual/meditation music (I often use this track) to get me in the right “mood” also helps.
Ritual purity in Kemeticism will mean different things to different people; but that’s the beauty of reconstructing an ancient religion into the modern world. For me, ritual purity involves cleansing the body – to first set ritual on the same level as my everyday life – and then cleansing my mind – to finally set ritual above my everyday life. It’s a process that feels good and works for me.
I’m looking forward to reading the other posts, and seeing how others approach this!
- Reidy, Richard J. Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World. Bloominton, IN: IUniverse, 2010. Print.