Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with Tamika, Kemetic Reconstructionist

Today marks the beginning of an ongoing series which will spotlight individual black pagans, our beliefs, traditions and practices. 
In publishing these interviews once a month (at least), it is my goal to present the full spectrum of the black pagan community from A to Z, from ATR to Wicca -- I couldn’t think of one that started with the letter “z,” but if any of y’all are into Zoroastrianism please let me know! 
Anyone wishing to have their story told please drop me an email at theblackpagan@gmail.com
I’m happy to introduce Tamika, a 28-year-old visual artist living in New York City who practices Kemetic Reconstruction. 


BlackPagan: First, what kind of art do you do?
Tamika: I do a lot of tribal-style abstract work, and after reading about Chaos Magick and its use of sigils (symbols created and used to reprepsent/manifest a need, want or desire), I went on to transform that into the basis for much of my current work. I also paint/draw symbols from Kemet and other traditions, and I do a lot of pen and marker work. (Note: Tamika's work, Kemet Sigilry, can be found on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kemet-Sigilry/193227434041836)
Can you talk a bit about what Kemetic Reconstruction (Orthodoxy) is?
Kemetic Reconstruction--as it's coined by the Neopagan community--is essentially the revival of the original religious beliefs, practices, and interaction with the deities or "Netjeru" of Ancient Egypt. "Kemet" is from the old language, which means "black land", referring to the soil on the banks of the Nile River in opposition to the "red land" or "desert." 
This isn't a "death worshipping" cult or some regurgitated "battle between good and evil" concept. The path embraces BALANCE (cosmic and material), LIFE and its cycles, and connection with the earth. We do not only worship Isis or Auset--there are more than 42 Netjeru including Auset, and ALL have a function or a role in the "grand scheme" (as I call it).
Is Kemetic Orthodoxy the same thing as Ma’at?  
"Ma'at" or "Divine Law" is the backbone of Kemetic Orthodoxy. There are 42 "laws" called "The Declarations of Ma’at" or "Declarations of Innocence," which are said by you after the physical body dies and your spirit is taken before the Netjeru for your heart to be weighed.  Think of it as a sort of moral code, and the individual's job is to live a life in accordance to that code. (Of course, we're not perfect.) Precursor to the Ten Commandents, basically.
What drew you to Kemetic Reconstruction?
I'd always been drawn to Kemet; I loved to look at the pictures of artifacts, pyramids, temples and sarcophagi growing up. As I grew older, I made a point to read about it when I could. So the interest had always been there, just not the accessibility. It wasn't until I was in my early 20s [and] started to find books on Kemet and the religious practices that I started following the old ways.
How long have your been practicing Kemetic Reconstruction? How did you get into it? What has been your experience of it spiritually?
I've been practicing actively for the last four years; I had no idea what I was doing was a "reconstructionist" movement until very recently. I got into it like most would: through a book. The book was written by Kala Trobe (the name of it escapes me) and had several chapters on different Netjeret (goddess/es) from Kemet. While I read the whole book, it was only those chapters I kept going back to. 
For me, it was a matter of resonance. I enjoyed reading about Astarte, Kali, Hera and the others. I even followed the Roman pantheon for a long time since I was studying astrology. But it was with the Kemet deities that I felt a stronger, deeper resonance with. Not merely the whole ancestral trip, but something infinitely more powerful than even that, which is probably why it came naturally to me than other paths. 
The experience has been EPIC for that reason. The layperson tends to think that these deities stopped [and] "died" after the Romans came along and ransacked Alexandria, that they don't "exist" in the same context as they feel that Jesus Christ "exists." That couldn't be farther from the truth, as the Netjeru do live very much in their images and artifacts. They do have power. They do have voices. They CAN interact with you. They are willing to teach and guide you--if you're willing to listen.
I want to note that this path is not for the "armchair" or "fluffybunny" type. This path is very visceral. These people in their time treated magic like a science, and it REALLY DOES WORK. The Netjeru also do not like to be associated with other pantheons (from my experience). 
They are very much an individual collective, and want to be treated as such. They are extremely old, and therefore have a lot of power. A lot of responsibility comes with tapping into this power, and They WILL hold you accountable. In less words and to be blunt, They don’t have time for games or a "glancing interest." Either you're in or you're not and if you're in, you'd better be ready to handle their influence.
Can you describe some of your practices, which gods do you worship?
The Netjeret (goddess) Sekhmet has been my patroness for a very long time. Trite as it might sound, I didn't choose Her--She came to me. Sekhmet is a solar deity, therefore associated with fire. 
The more popular of her myths is the one where she is sent forth by the Netjer Ra to punish humanity for being insolent and disrespectful. However, that's only her destructive aspect. She was venerated by many doctors as a healer, by priests/esses as a powerful sorceress, soldiers to give them strength in battle, and the royal house as a protective deity.
My practices include invocation of Her and of other Netjeru, as I respect and honor them all. I also have an altar dedicated to Sekhmet in my home where I leave offerings--this goes back to the line about maintaining balance earlier on. The altar acts as a focus point for not only the practicioner, but for the deity as well. You give them a place to manifest so they can in turn, manifest to YOU. 
The offerings represent the exchange between human and divine. For general ritual work, I use "hekau": "words of power" from the original temple/tomb inscriptions, as they were written in the context they were written. These passages didn't just tell stories, they were and still are very functional. They DO work. Even so little as reading a hymn to a particular Netjer with emphasis can yield results. 
When I invoke Sekhmet or another Netjeru, I DO NOT "DISMISS" OR "RELEASE" THEM. The practice and belief is that the interaction between the divine and humanity is a balancing act. Just as you are here, so are they. And just as they are divine, so are you. Just you speak, they listen. And if they speak, you had better listen. There is no detachment between the practitioner and the deity: they become intertwined, and the deity is a part of you. Dismissing a part of yourself upsets your own balance. Why do that? 
Tell me, how often do you invoke the Netjeru? Is there a set schedule or just when you feel the need? 
While I do follow a calender (as best as possible--funky work schedules make things difficult) where certain rituals are done at specific times of the year (like the rising of Sirius for instance), I try to refrain from invocations on a whim. If I do invoke the Netjeru, there is always a specific need for it and that need is usually important. However, if I can handle whatever the situation is on my own through material means or general ritual work, then I won't invoke Them at all. 
You mentioned reciting hymns. Where do these come from? Have they been passed down since ancient times? 
Many of the hymns have been passed down, via translations of researchers who in turn publish them or "automatic writing" while doing any kind of ritual work. A popular text is The Book of the Dead which was translated by E.A. Wallis Budge (and many others). Another is the Pyramid Texts (Translated by both R.O. Faulkner and James P. Allen), whose passages date as far back as the 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom period. 
The Leyden Papyrus is more recent in terms of chronology and was written during the Ptolemaic Period. Other texts have been also taken right from pyramid walls, museum exhibits (on placards near the artifacts in question), and from associated text books. I also write my own, and keep a small book with those hymns and invocations on me at all times. 
Do you have ritual in your home or at some other place?
Extensive ritual is done at home, but I've done "minor" work outside of my home as well.
Do you practice with others, or are you solitary? 
I am strictly solitary for the moment, primarily because I'm comfortable working on my own. It can be hard at times, I won't deny it, but one of the most important things I've learned from being solitary is to "take what you need and leave the rest."  Also to check and double-check the author's own references and bibliographies as best as possible. 
There are charlatans (as a good friend calls them) out there, and they have no qualms against taking advantage of general naivete. There are also authors who do get their facts muddled, which for the person starting out can lead to confusion or even misinformation if the material isn't verified against a more reputable source.
What was your upbringing like in terms of religion?
My upbringing wasn't as strict or imposing as most households were. My mother called herself Catholic, but she was hardly devoted. There was no being sent to church on Sunday, no being sat down in front of a Bible (which I did read of my own free will on several occasions), no Hail Mary's for being bad. 
She wasn't fond of Wicca or Witchcraft, but favored Santeria (she's from Panama) and other African spiritual paths including that of Kemet. In less words, she didn't care too much what I did in terms of religion, so long as I wasn't hurting anyone or myself. 
Do your friends and family know about your spiritual path? Do you have a spiritual community?
My mother has always known, I told her outright and she never tried to stop me. Some family members knew back then, but they might have forgotten by now (we don't talk for other reasons). My father didn't know, and still doesn't to this day. 
I have a very supportive fiancee who has a strong inclination/interest in Hermeticism. I have friends and associates who practice various paths, such as Palo, Santeria, Satanism or Voudoun and we all learn something new from each other. Basically, [it’s] our own little community without the monthly dues, by-laws (beyond respect for one another and one's individual practice) or cults of personality. 
I'm infinitely more comfortable with these people, than having to go through the process of "joining" a community to deal with people I may not like or want to be around. (I'm fickle like that.) Ultimately, you should do or join what feels right to you. 
For other people who might want to explore this spiritual tradition, do you have any recommendations for them (websites, temples, any other resources)? 
As for temples, the most popular ones are the House of Netjer as well as the Ausar Auset community (neither of which I'm a member of). Both have sites that can be found easily through Google. One author I found particularly helpful in the beginning was Rosemary Clark: her two books The Sacred Magic of Ancient Egypt and The Sacred Traditions of Ancient Egypt are excellent starting points. 
For those who have some familiarity with the Netjeru and want to explore deeper, I highly recommend the book The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson. He breaks the entire book into sections that make researching the Netjeru easy with a wealth of images. 
Also excellent are the works of Dr. Muata Ashby, Ra Un Nefer Amen (if you can find them), Geraldine Pinch and Normandi Ellis. Begin with an open mind, and an open heart. Even if this may not be your path, there's still a great deal to be learned. 
I have actually heard of the Ausar Auset Society.  I checked out their website and noticed a pan-African emphasis. Do they limit membership to members of the Diaspora or can anybody join? I ask because this is a big topic in the pagan community. There are some traditions that restrict who can join based on ancestry or gender. What are your feelings on this topic?
So far as *I* am aware, they do not limit membership to members of the Diaspora. Judging from what I gleaned from their website and other references, they have chapters internationally and they seem to welcome all and educate all. One would have to contact them directly for the details, though.  
My thoughts on groups that limit based on ancestry and/or gender is that it's purely their decision to be ancestry-exclusive or gender-exclusive. This isn't to say I'm dismissive of groups that use gender/ancestry/ethnicity/race as a grounds to be bias; I'm not. But since those groups tend to be outnumbered by groups that are not bias, then I feel the saying "to each their own" applies here. 
Especially since history has proven that influences from outside can alter or even assimilate entire systems of traditions to the point where they scarcely exist anymore or they're "watered down" from the original. Traditions as old as Kemet (or even older) deserve more than mere "reconstruction." They deserve full on preservation. If any group chooses to limit membership in favor of preservation without bias, then I can respect that.
Do you see or personally experience an ancestral link between black people of the Diaspora and Kemet? 
Personally, I know my direct ancestry is more to the West and had been affected by the slave trading of the Spanish and Portuguese during the 1300s and 1400s. (My mother is from Panama, my father from the Caribbean (Dominica).) 
However, Kemet feels more..."at home" to me. That could be due to life-long familiarity with the history, or due to something more profound. At the end of the day, I just know that this is MY path to be on. 
As for the Diaspora, I'll say this and be blunt about it. Every African spiritual path, be it Voudoun, Palo, Santeria, Candomble, Igbo, Yoruba, Kemeticism. . . it all leads back to a SINGLE SOURCE. That source, as much as society wants to deny it/refute it/distort it/hide it/erase it, has proven to be Africa time and time again. As black people, we are all tied to this source. The link is there, and waiting for us and approaching generations to tap into it. Our ancestors WANT to be acknowledged, they want to hear from us, they want to teach us and they want their due respect. . . Can't get more direct than that.

6 comments:

  1. Ase! I completely agree that Afrikan traditions have one source. Even as I read this I could see the many similarities between Kemetic spirituality and my own path (Yoruba).

    Thanks for sharing and I look forward to more interviews.

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  2. I was wondering if you have a hoodoo practioner to interview? That would be great to see.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview.

    The information provided has given me a wealth of resources for expanding my path to include more African traditions. I thank you for helping to expand my awareness.

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  4. This was a fantastic interview--and very interesting that Tamika spoke of the ATR paths converging on a single point; I'm not involved with the Kemetic path in the slightest, but some of the things she mentioned resonated pretty hard--in particular, the part about invocation without dismissal. She's the first person I know of that has mentioned this. I never used to, and the few times I tried it on the insistence of others, I felt totally screwed up. So to this day, we will sometimes have a cooling off/wrapping up period to cool my head if we're doing something really intense, but I never outright dismiss/banish/send them away anymore.

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  5. I'm glad you all enjoyed the interview. I agree Tamika did a GREAT job in explaining her path and it definitely made me want to learn more.

    @anonymous: I'm trying to chase down a couple (2) of hoodoo practitioners as we speak, so stay tuned!

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  6. Fantastic interview and very informative.. love what Tamika says about the old Ones existing as much as the new Ones. It's all in who you can/do hear and who speaks to you.

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