Foundational Polytheism

Karnak Reversion of Offerings

Over at there is an important article for people seeking support and guidance as they explore their new interest or participation in polytheistic traditions contemporary and historical. I heartily recommend it. Here’s a quote of the included definition of “Foundational Polytheism”:

Foundational Polytheism is a collective starting point, a methodology of approach and procedure, for religious engagement and “entrance” into polytheism, in practice or identity, addressing particular distinct needs of polytheistic religions not adequately provided for elsewhere. It does not replace, or supplant, or override the internal structures of individual polytheistic religions, but rather, it provides a practical bedrock of foundation for those who might not yet have access to, or involvement with, or knowledge of, a given specific religious tradition.”

Also, as part of the comments, a discussion has begun on Kemetic approaches to reversion of offerings and human consumption of offered food and drink that readers here may find interesting. The issue is this: For many polytheistic religions, food offered to the Gods and Goddesses is not consumed by people, since it is seen as a breach of hospitality to the Deities. (I’m sure there are other reasons as well. And I hope I have not mis-characterized any traditions in that brief statement). For Kemetic practice, food and drink _are_ consumed after offering and the Reversion of Offerings is part of formal Egyptian Temple practice in the ancient texts. Now, if there are beginning polytheists who are having some sort of spiritual experience with as-yet unidentified Deities and who are not (yet) following the rules of any specific tradition, should they consume or not consume offerings? Is it some sort of offence with negative consequences _not_ to consume the offerings if the Deities in question turn out to be Egyptian?

In my own practice with the Temple of Ra in San Francisco, we allow for this by offering the reverted food and drink (and natron-infused water, suitably diluted) to plants or animals in the environment. And we don’t advocate that there are negative consequences to doing so. This is of course a specific perspective and there are likely others.
Please go over to the site to see the article and discussion there. (Sometimes the comments icon doesn’t show up. If that happens, try selecting the Featured Voices menu item at the top. It will work until a new article in that category is posted. Hopefully the glitch will be fixed soon.

And please feel free to respond here with your own thoughts and practices, if you’d like.

Image credit: Scene of the Reversion of Offerings in the Hypostyle Hall of Karnak Temple. Scanned from Nikolaus Tacke, Das Opferritual des ägyptischen Neues Reiches, Orientalia Lovanienska Analecta 222, Peeters, 2013. Volume I, Plate 42. 

The image was originally published in Harold Hayden Nelson, Edited by William J. Murnane, The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, Volume 1, Part 1: The Wall Reliefs (OIP 106), Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago 1981. This publication is available for free download here

Say What’s Right, Do What’s Right, #BlackLivesMatter

T-Shirt Pttern corrected 20150707

In the face of the near constant destruction of the lives of Black People and other People of Color in this country by the very forces and institutions whose mission it is to protect us all as citizens, I will speak of my own response as a Kemetic person in this post.
In my personal shrine stand Ptah, Sekhmet, Khonsu, Nefertum, Djahuty (Thoth), Maat, Usit (Isis), and Antinous. Each morning they are greeted, wakened, and offered incense. And each morning I speak a #BlackLivesMatter/#SayTheirNames prayer to Them on behalf of Black People, that they know justice and safety and freedom.
It is a small thing in important ways. I’m not out in the streets every day working as an activist to put pressure on in a physical, physically present way. I do contribute to the cause, do sign the petitions, do educate my white friends and relatives. But, I could do more, and own up to that responsibility to do more as I can. So this post is no beating of the breast of self-righteousness. It is a cry to myself (and to you as reader) that more, so very much more, needs to be done.

That said, it is an important thing spiritually and is a sacred duty for me. After all, Maat is present in my shrine – and She is Truth, and Justice, and Right, and the Right Thing, and the Way Things Should Be, and the Natural Order of All-That-Exists. She is the warp upon which the Creator Gods and Goddesses weave Creation. Or maybe She is the very molecules of the fibers, whose natural order allows threads and fabrics to exist at all. And, since Creation must be maintained each day, each moment, She is the essential Offering in all Kemetic ritual, and the Divine protector of the Gods and Goddesses Themselves and the spirits of the Blessed Dead. She is the core of Kemetic ethics and duty – on personal, social, and sacral levels. So, I feel it is my duty to seek justice for Black People and every other kind of person who is unjustly oppressed or victimized.

Why write today? Because today and yesterday, in anguish, I added new names to my #SayTheirNames litany that is now a requisite part of my morning devotional ritual. They are #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile. May the Gods and Goddesses guide their journeys to the West. May they shine as Transfigured Spirits in the Barque of Millions.

Here is the brief #BlackLivesMatter/#SayTheirNames prayer I use each day. I offer it to all Kemetics (and everyone else) for your use. It may be a small thing, but it is a right thing and a good thing. May you strive to Say What’s Right and Do What’s Right: To Speak Maat and Do Maat.

Words To Say:

Homage to you, Great Gods and Goddesses of this House and Temple.

May you watch over Black People’s Lives. Protect them from unwarranted violence by police, prison officials, vigilantes, politicians, the media, and the culture at large.

Grant them Justice,

Grant them Justification,

Grant them Equality,

Grant them Safety and Peace they have not known in this country for hundred of years.

Black Lives Matter.


I say their names.

The names of some of those who have died in this unwarranted violence,

and recall and pray for those many many more whose names I do not know and cannot say.

Sandra Bland

Michael Brown

Travon Martin

Tamir Rice

Eric Garner

Freddie Gray

Darrien Hunt

William Chapman II

Aiyana Stanley-Jones

Walter Scott

Phillip White

Shawn Bell

Kimani Gray

John Crawford

Miriam Carey

Sharhonda Singleton

Emmit Till

Tommy Yancy

Jordan Baker

Amadou Dialo

Samuel DuBose

Natasha McKenna

Jeremé Reid

Fridoon Rawshan Nehad

Corey Jones

Linwood Lambert

Jamar Clark

Rekia Boyd

Laquan McDonald

Gynnya McMillen

Jessica Nelson

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile.

May you guide them safely to the West.

May they shine in the Barque of Millions of Years

as inspiration to us all to continue the struggle and fight

against this unwarranted violence against Black People’s bodies.

Black Lives Matter.

Homage to you oh Great Gods and Goddesses.



Waking Karnak



Morning Hymns in various forms are found across the entire time-span of Egyptian religious writing – from Old Kingdom pyramids to Roman temples and papyri. Deities, insignia, architectural elements, spirits in the afterlife, and more were awakened using these hymns – sometimes quite briefly and sometimes in elaborately structured litanies. The longevity and diversity of these texts fascinate me and I’ve discussed them here and  even written one here previously.

The focus for this post is a version found in the daily Temple Statue Ritual conducted in Temples (pBerlin 3055, Episode 6. The classic treatment of the Temple Statue Ritual found in Moret, Alexandre Le Rituel du Culte Divin Journalier en Égypte d’Après les Papyrus Berlin et du Temple de Séti Ier, à Abydos, 1902 is now outdated. A more recent treatment is Braun, Nadja, Pharao und Priester – Sakrale Affirmation von Herrschaft durch Kultvollzug: Das Tägliche Kultbildritual im Neuen Reich und der Dritten Zwischenzeit, 2013. I have relied on this text for transliteration and to some extent translation below, while using Moret for his hieroglyphic transcription). It is unique, as far as I know, in that the Deity addressed in the initial stanza (with the pride of place that signifies) is the Goddess who _is_ the Karnak Temple Complex itself (herself!).

We have evidence from the hymn’s position in this papyrus, as well as the locations of examples found in later temples, that the morning hymns were chanted or sung near the beginning of the day’s rituals, close to dawn. We cannot be precisely sure of the sequence of events, which could have varied by circumstance, period, and local custom, but in this case it is placed after “Stepping to the Sacred Place” and before the beginning of the sanctuary entry sequence itself (cutting the papyrus cord of the door seal). Similarly, the elaborate examples at Edfu and Dendera are carved on the outer façade of the Barque Sanctuaries of these temples on either side of the doors, an appropriate place if the hymns were sung before or as the doors of the Sanctuaries were opened in the morning.

In our case the Temple as the Goddess Ipet-Sut (the well-known name of Karnak – “Most Select of Places”) is awakened first, followed by the Shrines and Gods and Goddesses within her. Then widening spheres of deities in various cities, sky, earth, and the four directions follow. Finally, the royal ancestors and their children (presumably the statues of previous Kings and Royal personages who received offerings each day) are wakened.

An interesting aspect of this hymn – in contrast to those at Edfu, Dendara, the Pyramid Texts, and various papyri – is its focus on awakening collectives of Deities. The one individual here is Karnak herself, who is given the epithet “Mistress of the Temples and the Gods and Goddesses within her”. We see the awakening formulas for Amun-Ra (the presiding God of Karnak) as an individual embedded in larger hymns in Episodes 37, 38, and 39 later in the text. (The sequential placement of the episodes in that section of the papyrus is problematic. A number of them are reiterations of earlier episodes while others have titles stating that they were for festival use. Some scholars title this entire section ‘the Re-entry’ but it seems unsatisfying that the sanctuary entry sequence was simply repeated for no special reason. (There is evidence that by Greek times, the entry sequence was repeated twice – once at the doors to the Sanctuary, and once again before the Kar shrine containing the sacred images). Perhaps that was already occurring at Karnak in the 22nd Dynasty, perhaps there were shrines that were only opened during festivals, perhaps parts of the sequence actually occurred simultaneously in two (or more) different sanctuaries – for example in the Barque Sanctuary and in the Per Wer (“Great House”) deeper in the Temple. It is even possible that there could be combination scenarios – where simultaneous opening of the Per Wer and the Barque Shrine was only done during festivals. For the moment though, it is safe to assume these individually addressed wakening hymns for Amun occurred in close contiguity to the opening of the doors of shrines of Amun – and close in time to the initial hymn for the Temple Goddess).

Another interesting tidbit is the sequence of directions in the hymn: South, then North, then West, then East. This is the sequence generally followed in Egypt and is distinctly different from the ‘circular’ listing often seen in other cultures. Here, the directions appear as two complementary pairs creating two axes that all together create the concept of ‘everywhere’. This way of dividing the universe into dynamic complementary (or conflicting) pairs to express totalities is a prevalent method of conceptualizing reality for the Egyptians – be it Djet/Neheh time, Ra/Osiris, Horus/Set, Upper/Lower Egypt, the Black Land/the Red Land, or Hu/Sia. In fact, it appears that the way to express ‘The totality of what is conceivable’ in Egyptian is “The existent (and) the non-existent” (ntt iwtt – see Erik Hornung’s Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many for more on this tendency. The specific quote on ntt iwtt is found on page 176, but the topic is discussed in several places).

So with some background established, here is the hymn in translation, followed by a reconstructed vocalization of the Egyptian version. Next time you are in Luxor, try to visit Karnak early in the morning (it opens quite early – before dawn during the winter) and if you are so moved, say or sing this hymn to Her. She will appreciate at, and so will the many, many Gods and Goddesses of the complex!

Special thanks to Don Frew for the photo accompanying this post. It was taken before dawn at Karnak Temple on Jan 12, 2016.

Translation of Episode 6, pBerlin 3055:

Title: Another Utterance

May you awake beautifully in peace, oh Karnak!

Mistress of the Temples and the Gods and Goddesses within you (lit. ‘her’)!

Gods and Goddesses who are in Karnak,

Gods and Goddesses who are in Thebes,

Gods and Goddesses who are in Heliopolis,

Gods and Goddesses who are in Memphis,

Gods and Goddesses who are in the Sky,

Gods and Goddesses who are in the Earth,

Gods and Goddesses who are in the South, the North, The West (and) the East,

Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt,

Children of a King who have received the White Crown

Makers of monuments for Amun in Karnak:

May you (pl.) awake! May you (pl.) be at peace!

May you (pl.) awake beautifully in peace!


Reconstructed vocalization:

(You can find a key to pronouncing the sounds here)

káy rá’

Rassáṯ náfrat(1) ma ḥátap ’apit-sí:t(2)

ḥanúwat ra’u-pírya:t(3) naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu:s

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu ’apit-sí:t

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu ’awánu

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu ḥwit-ka’-pitáḥ

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu pú’at

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu tá’

naṯúru naṯára:t amí:yu rú:si: maḥí:ti: ’amínti:t ’a’íbti:t

na insí:u-bi’ítiu(4)

masíyu(5) ínsaw šáspu(6) ḥí:ḏat

áriu: ma:nu ni ’amá:nu ma ’apit-sí:t

rassáṯunu(7) ḥatpáṯunu

rassáṯunu náfir ma ḥátap



  1. The text shows the masculine form nfr. Adding the feminine -t
  2. I have not found a reconstruction of ipt-swt so far in the literature. This reconstruction takes ipt as a feminine passive participle vocalized using the pattern CaCíC (per John D. Ray, “The Vocalisation of Middle Egyptian: A Survey”. Lingua Aegyptia 12 (2004), 143-155) and the plural form of s.t (reconstructed as “sít” per Jürgen Osing, Die Nominalbildung des Ägyptischen. Mainz 1976, 324) to be sí:t by vowel lengthening (cf. Werning, Daniel A., “Hypotheses on Glides and Matres Lectionis in Earlier Egyptian Orthographies” in Coping With Obscurity: The Brown Workshop on Earlier Egyptian Grammar. Lockwood Press 2016. 30-44; and Wolfgang Schenkel, Aus der Arbeit an einer Konkordanz zu den altägyptischen Sargtexten. Teil 2. Zur Pluralbildung des Ägyptischen. Göttinger Orientforschungen : Reihe 4, Ägypten ; Band 12. Harrassowitz, 1983, 208-209). The stress is dropped in apít since it is the first element in the compound, by what appears to be the usual rule in Egyptian compound nouns – the stress is retained in the second element (there are exceptions to this, of course).
  3. The reconstruction of this plural compound noun, usually transliterated rꜢ.w-pr.w,  is rather difficult. Osing Nominalbildung shows the singular (rꜢ-pr) to be rá’-pé/iry˘t (which simplified and fleshed out for our purposes becomes rá’-píryat), taking the second member of the compound to be a feminine singular collective noun ‘Houses’ on the basis of the Coptic reflexes, themselves sub-components embedded in larger compound nouns. This etymology however does not seem to match the New Kingdom writings, where the feminine -t ending is not found in either singular or plural writings I am aware of. The New Kingdom scribes write the compound as though it is a simple joining of two masculine nouns, and felt them to be distinct enough to give both nouns plural strokes when referring to more than one temple. Here, with reservations, I am following Osing and reconstructing the plural as “ra’u-pírya:t” with vowel lengthening for the plural of píryat (cf. Werning, Daniel A., “Hypotheses on Glides and Matres Lectionis in Earlier Egyptian Orthographies” in Coping With Obscurity: The Brown Workshop on Earlier Egyptian Grammar. Lockwood Press 2016. 30-44; and Wolfgang Schenkel, Aus der Arbeit an einer Konkordanz zu den altägyptischen Sargtexten. Teil 2. Zur Pluralbildung des Ägyptischen. Göttinger Orientforschungen : Reihe 4, Ägypten ; Band 12. Harrassowitz, 1983, 208-209.
  4. I have found no direct reconstruction of the plural of the compound noun ‘Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt’ in the literature. The singular of nswt (perhaps more properly nsw – see below) ‘King of Upper Egypt’ is reconstructed as ‘jíns˘w or very similar by a number of authors on the basis of Akkadian transcriptions from the New Kingdom. The singular of nswt-bit(i) is also attested in Akkadian as in-si/e-i/eb-ia – corresponding to Egyptian *insí/ebia in the time of Ramses II (cf. Jürgen Osing. Die Nominalbildung des Ägyptischen. Mainz 1976. 370, 478). Osing (op. cit. 313) also gives b˘jí:t˘j for the singular of biti (King of Lower Egypt). Recent work on nswt has apparently been gravitating to amending the transliteration for the word from nswt to simply nsw (see Schenkel, Wolfgang. “Grenzen und Chancen bei der Erschliessung der älteren Ägyptisch” in Coping With Obscurity: The Brown Workshop on Earlier Egyptian Grammar. Lockwood Press 2016, 8). For that reason, I am not reconstructing a „t“ in the compound noun here. For the plural, I am using the standard plural forms -u(:) and -ti:u for the components, with stress shift to the penult for the plural of nsw by Zweisilbengesetz. In this case I am retaining the stress in both elements of the compound noun.
  5. Taking as plural masculine perfective passive participle vocalized using the pattern CaCíC (per John D. Ray, “The Vocalisation of Middle Egyptian: A Survey”. Lingua Aegyptia 12 (2004), 143-155), with the addition of the masculine plural affix -u(:).
  6. Taking as plural perfective active participle.
  7. 2nd person plural subjunctive sḏm.f used optatively. For the vocalization of the stem of this form as CaCCá-, see (among others): Andréas Stauder, “Interpreting written morphology: the sḏm.n=f in the Pyramid Texts”. In: Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73,2 (2014), 253-271.


© Matthew Whealton, 2017