Monday, September 29, 2014

The Devotional Domain: Egyptian Divinity

All right, still late but not quite as late, here we are to talk about the Devotional Domain again! This time it's about the Egyptian gods, their Heroes, and what they might be doing, specifically in regards to the Divinity Sphere, which is full of powers designed to allow your Hero to be as much of a uniquely Egyptian figure as possible.

Ancient Egyptian religion has, for the most part, been dead for well over a thousand years, which means that we're looking at a much more reconstructed view of their religious beliefs and practices than we were for the Hindu Devotional powers we talked about last week. There are a few modern-day worshipers of the Egyptian gods, but they are extremely small and reconstructionists themselves; no one has been practicing it consistently since ancient times, as far as we know. So here we're facing a challenge: we have to try to come up with Divinity powers that are as close as possible to the way the ancient Egyptians saw their gods and heroes, but we have to do so by reading the stories of their exploits and looking for common themes and theological underpinnings.

That's okay, though, because as you all know, we love theological underpinnings here. The basic idea of the Egyptian version of the Divinity Sphere, when boiled down to its bones, is the concept in ancient Egyptian religion that the gods and their heroes are highly representative and symbolic; they mean more than one thing, and in fact are more than one thing, and their powers should reflect that multiplicity of ideas and images that they bring with them. All Egyptian gods and heroes are in reality symbols representing something else, and while this is true to some extent of most pantheons, among the Egyptians it is a veritable art form.

So with that in mind, there are three major ideas we are working with for the Egyptian Divinity Sphere; zoomorphism, sycretism, and the pharaoh as the representative of the divine.

The role of the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt is an incredibly complex one, both politically and religiously, and we won't get into all of that here, but one of the most important elements of the office is the idea that the pharaoh was considered to be quite literally the representative of the divine on earth. He (or, in the case of the most baddest of asses Hatshepsut, she) was considered to be a human who was also the literal form of the god or gods who protected and gave life to the kingdoms; he was Ra who gave light to the world, Horus who ruled and defended it, and Osiris who eventually departed it in death. The pharaoh was called all of these gods in turn, depending on their role at the time, as well as being considered the son of any or all of those deities (as well as many of the protector goddesses like Bast or Sekhmet) and the living conduit through which the rest of the mortal world could contact and supplicate themselves to them. In other words, the role of the pharaoh is not one of only king and warrior, but also fundamental priest for the entirety of the kingdoms, linking the human and the divine to act as one.

The idea of gods as symbols is possibly most blatant when it comes to the rampant sycretism among Egyptian gods, which you can see everywhere among their ranks: gods appeared in composite forms like Ra-Horakhty or Atum-Khepri or Isis-Hathor-Mut as single figures but also separately without losing any of their individuality, and were paired with completely different consorts, children and parents in different cult centers without any apparent contradiction. Some of this was certainly because of competing priest-cults and the forces of history, as the religion survived for centuries upon centuries and which gods were most popular or important changed and replaced one another, but it is also because of the way that Egyptian gods are inherently treated as symbols and ideas. They can be combined, separated and substituted for one another as the religion needs because of their ability to act as representatives and symbols for a wide variety of ideas.

(For those wondering about the difference between this and the ideas of deity manifestation we talked about last week among the Hindu gods, it's a fundamental difference of theology. For the Hindu gods, the idea is that all gods, as part of the great divinity Brahman, manifest themselves in different ways and with different powers as their people need. For the Egyptian gods, the gods are all separate individuals, but they are capable of appearing in different ways, although not necessarily with different powers, in order to represent different ideas.)

And finally, everyone's favorite most striking element of Egyptian divine figures: zoomorphism (literally animal shape), or the ever-popular "Yeah, but how do I get an animal head?!" question. Egyptian gods were likely primarily completely zoomorphic in their original forms, appearing as animals and natural features rather than human-like figures for many centuries before they arrived at their now popular forms as mostly humanoid beings with animal-like heads and attributes. Again, these are not always about literal animals (although some gods, like Anubis and Sobek, are related to the animals that are their emblems), but rather symbols: the ram represents Amun as a god of virility and masculinity, the lion represents Sekhmet's role as a warrior goddess of savagery and power, and so on and so forth.

So what will you be doing, as a Hero of the Egyptian pantheon? Well, your powers will have to do with becoming part of this great cosmic game of symbol and sign: they may involve connecting yourself and others more directly to the divine, acting as a human axis mundi (center of worlds, in Greek) between humanity and the gods, finding ways to combine your skills or even self with others to achieve something greater or to borrow symbols and power from others, and creating your own custom set of symbols and animal imagery that suits your role as a hero and later as a god.

We hope that everyone will find all the tools they need to make sure their Hero is able to call upon the unique Egyptian heritage of their patron deity if they so choose. Here's to you, you crazy symbolic kids!

(P.S. - I know I saw people speculating about some things that don't appear in this post, like the Egyptian idea of the manifold soul, on the forums, and that you may be wondering how on earth we could ignore such important ideas. The answer is that we totally aren't ignoring them, and we would like to remind you of the delicious Ritual and Theology Spheres to come in the future. We want to focus on powers that allow Heroes to be as heroic, by the standards of their patron's mythology, as possible for the first set of powers, but we're always planning for the future as well!)