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Author Topic: The Question of Nisut  (Read 11661 times)
Darkhawk
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« Topic Start: March 29, 2007, 02:30:58 am »

Really, the one thing that drives me way the hell into the neo-reconstructionist side of things is the whole Nisut question.  (And this isn't just that as one of Set's little minions I have certain kingmaking and king-challenging tendencies.)

The central problem is this:  the Nisut is pretty much essential to ancient Egyptian theology.  He (and he was always at least iconographically male-gendered, even in the case of female Nisuts), being both of human and divine natures, was the linchpin that straddled the seen and unseen worlds, enabling communication between them.  All ritualists performed their work as delegates of the Nisut, not powers in their own right.  It was the Nisut's responsibility to perform the rites that kept the universe working, and everyone else's responsibility to support him in this.

Thus, a reconstruction of Egyptian thought cannot avoid the question of kingship; it is flatly impossible to come up with a coherent theology that honestly is rooted in ancient thought without at least poking at the question with a stick.

I do not believe that a literal Nisut is functional in a modern world, for a variety of reasons.

The first of these is that Egyptian religion is in diaspora; there is no nation that contains us all.  Even if we wish to go all weirdly neo-tribal (and some groups do this) and nominate our leader as god-king, that does not exempt us from the laws of the jurisdiction in which we live, it does not give us shared land, our Nisut does not have effective title to all real property in our area and support the population on it.

In the ancient world, starting after the First Intermediate Period, rulership was justified by the support that it gave to the people.  (Raw divine right went out of popularity in the Intermediate Period, for some reason.)  We have texts from miscellaneous nomarchs saying, "I am the rightful ruler of this place, the gods smile upon me, because I drove out the bandits, I maintained the granaries so the people didn't starve, I funded the temples, I commissioned these statues ...."  This is a part of the responsibilities of the religio-political heirarchy of which the Nisut is a part, and frankly I don't see many of the Kemetic heirarchy folks even commissioning icons from Ursula Vernon.  (My Hetharu icon was done by a well-known furry-fandom artist.  Whose comment on it was, more or less, "Cow heads!  Woo!")  Patronage of the arts is nigh nonexistent.  And I don't know of a single temple which is positioned to feed the hungry of the faithful, let alone their region or whatever.

And that's without getting into the social dynamics of the thing.  I have personally met two of the Nisuts or Nisut Substitutes for the mainline temples (one is a former Nisut these days).  This level of social access to the Nisut is ridiculous; the only people who would have that sort of ability to make personal contact with the king in the ancient world would be the courts, the nobility.  And you know what happens when you have nothing but courtiers?  Gossip, backstabbing, and nobody doing any damn work in the fields.  The Nisut functioned in the ancient world in significant part because to 99% of the population he was a symbol, performing the actions of ritual and maintaining the world and not getting in the way of hoeing the onions.  Said 99% of the population was entirely unaware of the Nisut's romantic life, for example, all of the human foibles and screwups that ruin the effectiveness of king-as-symbol.  (I am not entirely unaware of several Nisuts' romantic life.  Oy.)

My observations of people dealing with Nisut as a concept is that when there's an actual person set into that role, some level of cult of personality is pretty much inevitable, and from there there's sliding into genuine cultishness in the colloquial sense.  I think it's the court politics thing -- too much 'this person is our god-king' and not enough 'there exists a god-king who is responsible for maintaining all this in theory, but for now I need to go hoe the onions'.

I do not think an individual Nisut is workable in modern life.  Just, period.  It doesn't fly.

So that raises the question of where to go from here, if the reconstruction of this critical concept ranges from "impossible to do properly" to "attempting to do so makes people crazy".

My personal solution runs something like:  if we look at the progression of access to divine power in Egypt itself, it slowly spread.  Divine right and absolute theocracy was the Old Kingdom; it failed (economic collapse), chaos ensued, and in the Middle Kingdom we have divine right proven by support granted to the people, a more feudal construct.  We also have the process known as the Democratisation of the Afterlife, access to the magico-religious texts originally only in the pyramids spreading into the rest of the people, until, in the New Kingdom, anyone who could afford the price could get a badly calligraphed scroll of the basic spells and hymns that were originally written on private walls in the Nisut's last bedroom.  There is a readily established protocol for acting in the role of the Nisut to perform rituals; this is, after all, what we do with every ritual.  The power of the position had spread out a great deal over the span of Egypt's history; it seems logical to me to extrapolate that it would spread more.

It also occurs to me that the belief that an active Nisut was essential to the running of the cosmos has been largely refuted by the last couple thousand years.  The gods did not leave us when there was no longer a Nisut; the universe did not come apart and stop running.  We did not lose ties to our ancestors, and their ka-energies did not stop flowing into their children.  Thus, whatever that essential connective force is that the Nisut represents, it is not necessarily embodied in a single physical Nisut.  (Besides which, who builds a cosmology with only one support tether?  That's stupid, stupid engineering!  Ptah forbid!)

So that leaves us with the democratised Nisut -- either Nisut as an abstract concept, or Nisut as a role that anyone can step into as appropriate, anyone who is capable of stepping into the role of the join between the seen and the unseen.

So.  Gaps in my logic?  Thoughts?  Comments?  What does that mean in practical terms, anyway?
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« Reply #1: March 29, 2007, 03:50:35 am »



So that leaves us with the democratised Nisut -- either Nisut as an abstract concept, or Nisut as a role that anyone can step into as appropriate, anyone who is capable of stepping into the role of the join between the seen and the unseen.

So.  Gaps in my logic?  Thoughts?  Comments?  What does that mean in practical terms, anyway?

I like your logic. 

That's what I meant in the purification thread with that the shower or bath would identifiy the practitioner with the King (Heru) and in ritual be the joiner between the seen and unseen worlds.  I guess this would be a more abstract concept than having a Nisut would. 

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« Reply #2: March 29, 2007, 04:07:46 am »

So that leaves us with the democratised Nisut -- either Nisut as an abstract concept, or Nisut as a role that anyone can step into as appropriate, anyone who is capable of stepping into the role of the join between the seen and the unseen.

So.  Gaps in my logic?  Thoughts?  Comments?  What does that mean in practical terms, anyway?

I've been (re)reading Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods this week. One of the things that come to mind for me are the lists of kings and how every single one of them starts with Netjeru, the last of which being Heru - and how after the Gods removed themselves to the heavens, we came into circular time, where Heru is His own successor. Seen like this, it isn't that the Kingship has changed - Heru still holds that role. It's the representation that  has changed. And I do think that democratising that representation is less problematic that democratizing the Kingship.

As for what that means practically... I'll need to think about that some more.

--Chabas
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« Reply #3: March 29, 2007, 04:11:25 am »



So that leaves us with the democratised Nisut -- either Nisut as an abstract concept, or Nisut as a role that anyone can step into as appropriate, anyone who is capable of stepping into the role of the join between the seen and the unseen.

So.  Gaps in my logic?  Thoughts?  Comments?  What does that mean in practical terms, anyway?

I thought of something else.  If all we're looking for here is a linchpin between this world and the other world, which is what the king did, then can we substitute that with Wepwawet's role as Opener of the Way in ritual processions? 

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« Reply #4: March 29, 2007, 04:16:26 am »

I've been (re)reading Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods this week. One of the things that come to mind for me are the lists of kings and how every single one of them starts with Netjeru, the last of which being Heru - and how after the Gods removed themselves to the heavens, we came into circular time, where Heru is His own successor. Seen like this, it isn't that the Kingship has changed - Heru still holds that role. It's the representation that  has changed. And I do think that democratising that representation is less problematic that democratizing the Kingship.

As for what that means practically... I'll need to think about that some more.

--Chabas

I'm slightly confused by your post, so please tell me if I'm not understanding here, but Heru Ankhu (Heru the Living, ie the Kingly Ka) was passed from King to King upon coronation.  Heru is always king.  The dead king becomes Wesir.  And the cycle continues. 

The vessels ( both male and female Kings) for the Kingly Ka change, but the Kingly Ka, is well, the Kingly Ka. 

Um....did that make sense?  Was I just repeating what you've already said? 

Also, as an aside, Heru was the title given to cheiftains before the institution of kingship.  Which I thought was nifty. 


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I am the Goddess of Who I can Become. I mix the magic of the sorceress with the blade of a warrior. I walk the liminal pathways to see the face of the Goddess, both terrible and kind. As She stares back at me, I tremble in awe and ecstasy.  --Me
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« Reply #5: March 29, 2007, 04:29:31 am »

I'm slightly confused by your post, so please tell me if I'm not understanding here, but Heru Ankhu (Heru the Living, ie the Kingly Ka) was passed from King to King upon coronation.  Heru is always king.  The dead king becomes Wesir.  And the cycle continues. 

The vessels ( both male and female Kings) for the Kingly Ka change, but the Kingly Ka, is well, the Kingly Ka. 

Um....did that make sense?  Was I just repeating what you've already said? 

It's pretty close to what I already said - basically, Heru always was *and still is* King, and if we don't currently have a representation or vessel for Him on this earth, then, well - Heru is still King. I'd assume that Heru holds Himself holds the Kingly Ka at this time.

As for practical meaning... I'm somewhat wondering how this would've been done by people making offerings in their own homes. I do like (or like is that wrong word, but...) what you said about becoming Heru through purification as well.

--Chabas
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« Reply #6: March 29, 2007, 02:18:22 pm »

The vessels ( both male and female Kings) for the Kingly Ka change, but the Kingly Ka, is well, the Kingly Ka. 

And of course, that goes into the question of "What is the nature of the ka?"  Because the Kingly Ka is a specific instance of the ka, and thus understanding what the one is illuminates the other.

(This is the point at which I go get one of my books and start a new thread again.)
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« Reply #7: March 29, 2007, 04:46:14 pm »

So that leaves us with the democratised Nisut -- either Nisut as an abstract concept, or Nisut as a role that anyone can step into as appropriate, anyone who is capable of stepping into the role of the join between the seen and the unseen.

So.  Gaps in my logic?  Thoughts?  Comments?  What does that mean in practical terms, anyway?

I think it could work a lot like say a Feri ritual. The person leading the ritual could do a hym to Heru to take on the Ka of Heru and thus the Kingly Ka. I know it seems kinda silly but the system needs to adapt and it seems like this is best way to adapt it.
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« Reply #8: March 29, 2007, 05:23:53 pm »

I think it could work a lot like say a Feri ritual. The person leading the ritual could do a hym to Heru to take on the Ka of Heru and thus the Kingly Ka. I know it seems kinda silly but the system needs to adapt and it seems like this is best way to adapt it.

One of the things that is significant in my personal practice (as distinguished from the stricter stuff I'm limiting myself to here) is the reference Thorn Coyle made in Evolutionary Witchcraft to referring to the God-Soul or Sacred Dove or Higher Self as ... the Sacred Falcon.
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« Reply #9: March 29, 2007, 06:26:45 pm »

One of the things that is significant in my personal practice (as distinguished from the stricter stuff I'm limiting myself to here) is the reference Thorn Coyle made in Evolutionary Witchcraft to referring to the God-Soul or Sacred Dove or Higher Self as ... the Sacred Falcon.

Ya, so I think the way we could do a lot of these reformed recon religions would be to look at other religions pull what works from there adapt it into here. Sort of like Eclecticism but we adapt it to work under the context of the myths and known rituals of AE.
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« Reply #10: March 29, 2007, 09:05:23 pm »

I think it could work a lot like say a Feri ritual. The person leading the ritual could do a hym to Heru to take on the Ka of Heru and thus the Kingly Ka. I know it seems kinda silly but the system needs to adapt and it seems like this is best way to adapt it.

Hmm. Sounds about like what I was thinking. And saying so specifically would make it more effective, if I understand heka correctly, so that's also consistent.

BTW ... if there's more than one person present, do they all do this or just the leader?
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« Reply #11: March 29, 2007, 09:16:21 pm »

Hmm. Sounds about like what I was thinking. And saying so specifically would make it more effective, if I understand heka correctly, so that's also consistent.

BTW ... if there's more than one person present, do they all do this or just the leader?

I would say if there is more then one present you would do, before the ritual, a little vote for the person who will be the nisuit that night or something like that. So whoever is the nisuit at the time does the invoking but not the rest. That way you have the nisuit, and you hopefully would avoid a lot of the problems.
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« Reply #12: March 29, 2007, 09:24:51 pm »

I would say if there is more then one present you would do, before the ritual, a little vote for the person who will be the nisuit that night or something like that. So whoever is the nisuit at the time does the invoking but not the rest. That way you have the nisuit, and you hopefully would avoid a lot of the problems.

presumably at least some groups would have a permanent leader. Something about drawing straws for it seems wrong, but that could just be me.
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« Reply #13: March 29, 2007, 09:39:51 pm »

presumably at least some groups would have a permanent leader. Something about drawing straws for it seems wrong, but that could just be me.

Well, ya there will be some that want a permanent leader and for others they may just want to take a vote.
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« Reply #14: March 29, 2007, 11:44:51 pm »

Hmm. Sounds about like what I was thinking. And saying so specifically would make it more effective, if I understand heka correctly, so that's also consistent.

It's worth keeping in mind that huge chunks of AE magical/ritual practice were about demonstrating identification via speech and action.  If you read the Book of Going Forth By Day, you'll come across huge numbers of little snippets that go like, "Gatekeeper:  Who are you and why should I let you by?"  "Deceased:  I am Ra, witness my manifestations with this, that, and the other!"  "Gatekeeper:  Oh, okay then."  Repeat with different god at next door.

A ritualist speaking and claiming the Kingly Ka is pretty mundane. Wink
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