“P” is for Priests and Let’s Drop the HGPSS

I find myself getting more irritated by responses on the subject of priests and how they conducted themselves. The reponses suffer from what I like to call HGPSS. HGPSS stands for “Hidden Glittery Priest Shiny System”. Priesthoods have been popularized as hiding themselves away to do the work for deities/spirits and in their piety (see the Scandal of Elephantine in about the time of Rameses IV-V, in regards to Penanukis and ask what higher-than-thou piety was present there), are a separate unit from their parallel “mundane” counterparts.

I can only speak from what I have studied, which would be the ancient Egyptian system. This post is only going to scratch the surface of the subject.There are records of schedules for shifts, as in, there are people who come and go and don’t stay at the temple. I’m sure the highest priests probably lived there, but all of the other people who assisted in the ritual duties, they went back to their HOMES, as in they didn’t live at the temple they worked at. The work in the temple was carried out by people who didn’t just pray all day/night for the majority of their lives. They had livelihoods outside of their temple. Yes, the “general public” was denied entrance to the temples (interpretation of that mindset: would you want uneducated masses upsetting a pillar of the world and a home of a Netjer?). It’s not like I let everyone walk through my space and touch everything.

In my own opinion of this whole thing (UPG): The statue is a vessel of the Neter it symbolizes. It is kept away in a temple as the link between the seen forces and the unseen forces of the world. On festival/feast days it is paraded in celebration of that connection between the seen world and the unseen world. The priests (ahem carefully picked nobles) have shifts to uphold ma’at as the balance of the universe. They tend to the Netjeru’s connection to ensure they are judged in the unseen world as pious. Then that means their heart is LIGHTER than the feather of Ma’at because they are a facet of Ma’at not below it and not without it. Common people are upholding ma’at because of community, because Ma’at is about community, and they are given different yet similar standards. Nobles have to try harder to get judged because their roles are adminisitrative in origin vs actually doing work for the world.

In this period, the temples were the law, and as such, they were HEAVILY involved in “mundane” dealings. In fact, the dealings were done by the royals and the nobles, moreso the nobles, because royalty eventually had their hands tied by the temples, mostly that of Amun (see political reasons why Akhenaten did what he did. He outlawed the temples, but didn’t deny the existence of other deities, just their importance, so it wasn’t a break-out session for monotheism).

In regards to admittance to the temples, heirs/bloodlines (Herodotus attests to this: “When a priest dies, his son is appointed to succeed him”) and educated people (who in this case were pretty much all nobles) ran the show. They ran the show internally in the temples and externally in the administration of society. The whole hidden away aspect was a Greek interpretation of the priest work after they were initially denied access to any “Mysteries” they thought were occuring (think about how important the Eleusinian Mysteries were in Greek society). Greek philosophers would flock to Egypt to learn the knowledge coveted by the priests (they were the noble/educated class after all). The priests would do the equivalent of frat-boy hazing to try and deter the philosophers from pursuing that knowledge (and they probably did it for shiggles too).

Between how the Greeks interpreted the practice and modern depictions/adapted practices (Ceremonial Magic, I’m looking at you), it’s no wonder there is so much misinterpretation, which happens, and I’m guilty of it at times too. To make a blanket statement and say HGPSS is how ALL of the temple practices are, is aggravating and hand-wringing to say the least (and now above is an example as to how that argument doesn’t hold up).

If people are interested in the subject of the “Priest System” in ancient Egypt, there are tons of books I haven’t even touched yet, but there is one I highly recommend called “The Priests of Ancient Egypt: New Edition” by Serge Sauneron and translated by David Lorton. If anyone has any other recommendations or want to discuss, please comment below. I’m always up for discussions and sources. “P” is for Priests and Let’s Drop the HGPSS,because come-on, if you’re going to make a statement of culturally/historically documented systems, source it beyond ooky-spooky secret stories.

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About Neteruhemta

I am a follower of the Netjeru (Ancient Egyptian Pantheon), a crafter, and a gamer. This blog illustrates and explains my religious experiences attempting to reconcile the ancient information scattered with the modern reality I presently exist in.

Posted on August 22, 2013, in Kemetic, Mythology, Pagan, Pagan Blog Project and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You might find this post I wrote of interest: http://thetwistedrope.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/kemetic-priesthood-then-and-now/

    Priesthood is interesting to me, because so many people don’t really get what it involved for various cultures. I see people make generalized statements about what a “good” priest is (I’m looking at you, specific unnamed BNP) and they don’t really grok that a lot of priesthoods (particularly in AE) didn’t have moral ties to what they did. It was a function, a job. And temples were storehouses and treasuries and goverment buildings before anything else.

    I still personally believe that many priests in antiquity weren’t necessarily doing priestly jobs out of a sense of ma’at and piousness (sure, there had to be some that did it for those reasons, but certainly not all), but more because it was a cushy job. You got to eat the offerings of hte day. You attended a statue. Sure, you had bureaucratic red tape to deal with, and I”m sure festival times were stressful- but on the by and large, it was a much easier job than other roles you could play in society. If you read Sauneron’s book, one of the first things he does is strip away the notion that priests in AE were morally great or upstanding people. Priests broke laws just like anyone else.

    Anywho, I’m rambling now. Sorry about that XDD

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