A myth (Greek μῦθος “sound, word, speech, story, fabulous history”) in its original meaning is a story which expresses the worldview, culture and self-understanding of a people. More specifically a traditional religious myth links the existence of men to the sphere of the gods.
According to Platon a myth can contain both true and wrong facts. In a broader sense, a myth can also name people, things or events of great symbolic importance or it can simply be a misconception.
Before I proceed to write about working with and studying the myths in the context of modern Kemeticism there are a few specialities about Egyptian myths that need to be discussed. The problem with the Egyptian myths is that they actually aren’t myths in a strict sense. The historical sources hardly contain mythical stories to express the self-understanding and worldview of the ancient Egyptians as stated above.
What is regarded as “Egyptian myths” today are basically interpretations and summaries of historical sources such aspaintings, pyramid texts and papyri which have first and foremost been made to serve as funerary liturgy and literature (and as such were never meant to be read by any living being again) or had no less than political reasons (the myths of Isis, Osiris and Horus as a justification for the kingship). Actual myths appeared with the Ancient Greeks.
The Egyptian religion is in fact rite-based and not so much myth-based. According to some historians many myths in the ancient Egyptian context have been created a lot later than the rites to replace former meanings of rituals which had been lost in time and translation whereas in other cultures the rites would be a consequence or figurative expression of the myths. So the actual vocabulary of the religious language in Kemeticism are sacred actions and rituals.
Still the meaning of speech and script has been growing steadily throughout the Egyptian history so it may be assumed that all mythological stories do have their meaning as more or less official myths from today’s point of view. They are after all part of this religion and have developed in its context.
What we can learn from myths?
Myths are an important and very typical aspect of primary (=pagan) religions. During the axial age and with increasing human self reflection based on increasingly reported history myths lost their meaning as a source of information and cultural identity. They were mainly replaced by the “logos” which still rules our thinking today. So to pave a way back to something like a “pagan awareness” the myths can actually be a very useful gateway for our modern minds.
Today the term “myth” is highly regarded as a fictional story but this is not quite correct. A myth is actually a multileveled way of thinking and reflecting the interaction of men with the world of gods or the gods with each other and contains several important aspects the plain logical thinking does not offer in such a figurative way.
Myths do not distinguish between various levels of reality and transcends them. A practise that is still common in modern psychology which may be not surprising considering that both Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung where enthusiastic about paganity and ancient religions. Most people don’t know that Freud was a devoted Egyptologist. Myths have evolved from a long term development between the spheres of vision, dream, illusion, ideal, reality, and rites and can therefore serve as timeless inspiration to a deeper understanding of a pagan religion. The might not be provable in a rational sense but it is equally wrong to declare them as completely fictional.
Rites and Myths
For a rites based religion like most pagan traditions and especially the kemetic one the mythological scenery inspirits the rituals which would otherwise seem like empty and meaningless actions. The Kemetic practice takes place on many different levels of the mind and includes physical and mental movements which the myths are an important part of. Rites and myths are closely connected and interact with one another.
A good example for this is the myth of Isis and Osiris which becomes the central theme for the funerary cult and the mummification:
Osiris murdered and hacked into pieces by his brother Seth is being put together again by his sister and wife Isis (together with Anubis and Nephthys) who cries in loud lament over his body and soaks it with her tears. The lament and the tears are both a symbol of her love and the vital quality of water (which refers to the yearly flood that waters the dry earth).
The parallel in the funerary cult is the process of dehydrating the bodies of the dead with natron and anointing them again with oils and resin in order to preserve them for eternity. The lament of Isis appears in the shape of magic speech during the mummification process which is also known as transfiguration and links to the transfiguration of the Ba to the deified ancestor soul Akh. Many texts call the deceased “Osiris (+name)” to declare him justified like or identical with Osiris.
Myths and UPGs
One problem of the neo-pagan scene in my opinion – which includes the Egypt-based pagans – is that dealing with myths easily misleads to regard UPGs on the same level as myths. The fact that myths are not rationally provable makes many people believe they can declare their personal experiences with the world of gods to myths. Encouraged by modern social media such as message boards, blogs and social networks many “modern myths” have evolved at a high speed and spread virally.
Although this may be a natural dynamic for the distribution and development of information and might as such be similar to the historical evolvement of myths I would still recommend to be rather careful with this. Because particularly today in a time where we face a real luxury of information unlike -in former times where information was hard to procure – we should feel a high responsibility to maintain the myths in their original form. Yes, in fact we should no less than protect them from being infiltrated by modern myths. I think many of us know about those various “alien and outer space theories” and all kind of esoteric interpretations of what our sacred places like temples and pyramids are claimed to be. This may satisfy a certain need for mysticism in a highly rational world but it does certainly not do any good to a religion we should respect as it is. And sometimes we actually need to practice some kind of mythological “diet” in order to protect the authentic tradition.
It is still possible to ad UPGs, modern myths and personal experiences with gods to a personal or even collective practice but it should be done with consciousness and responsibility towards the original tradition.
Reconstructionists as apologists?
Protecting the tradition and maintaining a pure form of myths is basically what reconstructionists do when they question and discuss individual opinions of more eclectic pagans which is often regarded as offence or being a smarty-pants. I personally think that is a real shame since the devoted lay and occasionally even scholar historian work of reconstructionist pagans is being totally ignored here.
In fact most of us recons spend a lot of time with hard digestible literature and less entertaining texts and books to filter important information and offer it to a non-scholar audience via blogs, posts, even books and online discussions to create a golden thread of original tradition among the various individual pagan views. In the end this may be considered as our tribute to the maintenance of an authentic Egyptian tradition which after all is an important aspect of Ma’at.