Sacred Kings Just Ain’t What They Used To Be

It’s not like Kemetic theology is the only world system that has some concept of sacred king, either. (I was reading a couple of articles on the Wild Hunt recently talking about sacral kingship as part of the structure of Theodism, for example.) But the world is different now, and that sort of blend of temporal and spiritual authority isn’t common – and not wide-ranging. (Even if you buy a farm somewhere and make a pact with the local land spirits and all that stuff that’s bound up with sacred kingship – as some have – someone’s still going to come around and demand you pay the real estate taxes. Which means, at minimum, a construction of “kingship” that either is flexible enough to accept being subject to someone else’s laws or deal with the consequences when someone shows up to foreclose or something. Banks don’t listen to land spirits, because land spirits don’t make mortgage payments.)

If you look at Egyptian history and religion, of course, it is very clear that an interregnum was a time of crisis. Much like the Days Upon the Year, the time between the passing of one king and the establishment of the next was unordered time, not kept in place by the rituals and routines of state; it was widely considered perilous to not have the sacred task properly embodied upon the throne. The occasional practice of co-regencies was part of how the dangers of these periods were kept in check: with more than one royal authority available, the mooring-day of one would not throw everything into question, as the other would be trained up and ready to go immediately. The job of the king in the ancient Kemetic world was essential.

That does not mean that the person of the king was particularly sacrosanct. Sure, the average onion-hoer was going to be in total awe of the king, who was the symbol of the connection between seen and unseen worlds, observed from afar at most, and all that jazz. But if you look at the actual world of the courtiers – people who knew each king personally – there are the usual human schemes, the occasional assassination plot, women trying to make sure their offspring were in position to ascend to the throne, and at least one case of semi-scandalous rumours about whether or not the king and one of his senior generals were fooling around on the side. Holiness was in the job description, not the person; several books I’ve read have explicitly stated that royal funerary shrines were built to the Kingly Ka, not the king as a mortal man.

Of course, the king was not the only one who did the job, and some modern organisations duck around the whole sacred king problem by organising in the form of groups of priests. Since the rituals were in large part performed by groups of priests in the ancient world, as delegates of the king, some folks figure on taking up the delegation part and leave the king himself to the role of archetype or symbol where his magical effectiveness is not going to be sullied by knowing too much about his sex life or his drinking habits or whatever else might confuse the space between person and role.

The sanctity of the king role was a matter of fiat, of assertion. The king was the child of the Creator and a mortal woman, and thus – to steal terminology from a completely different system – ran the gamut from Kether to Malkuth. The world of the divine and the world of the human were unified in his person. Why was this so? Because that is how the job was defined; it was simply a given of existence.

To look for an understanding of authority in order to build a concept of kingship that works without command of a nation, we have to go to less stratospheric heights of theology. I am fond of constructing my model of appropriate temporal authority from the sorts of things that nomarchs and officials put in their tombs; of personal authority from the wisdom texts and similar matters. These can tell us what it is to live as a good person, what it is to be a good ruler, in the frameworks of the ancients, so that we can decide best how being a good person – or a good ruler – would look in the modern day, and arrange our lives (and perhaps our votes) accordingly.

But neither of those things touches on theological authority, that thing that the king in particular had; neither is particularly cosmic, touching on things that could disrupt the steady flow of time itself if not in proper place.

I actually just finished reading Kaldera’s Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology, and there is a one-off image in there that’s profoundly useful to this theological authority question. In a section talking about dealing with particularly limited, more human-like visions of a deity vs. the more cosmic, abstract, and impersonal manifestations thereof, Kaldera uses the image of a stalactite – a relationship with the Power in question near the point, as it were, or up closer to the broader and less intimate base. And then he makes a comment in passing:

She pointed out that we humans are the stalagmites, reaching up from the floor of the cave, and sometimes–eventually, in rare cases–we touch the most humanlike end of the divine stalactite that reaches down, and the two join together. In caves, these become pillars of stone from floor to ceiling; …

This is the theological role of the king: to be that pillar. To the ancients, this was accomplished in terms of axioms. The potential to be the pillar was intrinsic in a king’s conception, and brought to fruition by the rituals of the investiture, at which point that pillarness simply was, enabling the king to perform necessary rituals and his delegates to continue to do so in temples around the nation. The connection was made, and thus actions that depended on that connection existing became possible.

So, therefore: where are the columns of the universe in diaspora? Some islands have their kings; some islands have their councils of priests acting in the name of a discarnate and abstracted king, or ritualists who step up to perform in the name of that role. That leaves a number of atolls uncounted, and the worlds still need to be connected.

What brings the worlds closer together, for those who are not happy with axiomatic fiat?

The pat answer, of course, is ma’at. A cosmos in ma’at is one in which the seen and unseen worlds are aligned and interpenetrating properly, and thus any action taken to promote, uphold, demonstrate, or align with ma’at is also an action that unites the worlds.

This lacks a certain practical applicability, in the “What do I actually do now?” kind of way.

We can look to those old nomarchs, who would say that they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, provided boats to the boatless, saw to the provision of public works, and protected the people from bandits, and that by these acts one could see the favor of the gods for their rule. (But really, unless we’re either government officials or the people out there digging ditches, our contributions to public works projects probably boil down to “I paid my taxes, mostly on time.” On the other hand: pay your taxes. Mostly on time.)

We can look to things like the wisdom texts and the Negative Confessions of the Book of Going Forth By Day to find understandings of codes of behaviour that are living in ma’at and figure out ways to put away the shopping carts and other basic oilings of the cogs of society.

But these are too mundane to entirely satisfy spiritually, perhaps.

Plant a garden. One of those fervent wishes that comes up over and over is the desire to return to the garden one rested in in life. Living in an apartment? Got a window box? How about one of those grow-light things you can use to grow kitchen herbs? That’s not feasable? How about donating to tree-planting charities or places that fund gardens (or farms – Heifer International has a few options along these lines, I found on a quick look).

Even if you can’t grow any food for yourself, educate yourself a little on where food comes from. (There is a book titled Food: The Gift of Osiris; while I haven’t read it yet, its existence serves as a reminder. Knowledge about where your food comes from is an appropriate devotional act for Him.) Build good relationship with your food, and with the communities where your food is grown.

For that matter, build good relationship with the realms of any Power you feel a connection with. The better your relationship (and the relationships of others) with Their areas of interest, the more in touch They can be with the world. Figure out which Powers have interest in the work that you do and remember Them as you do it. If you know mythic stories that have resonance, symbols that draw your attention to sanctity in what you do, work on those things.

Learn to make peace with your ancestors with whom you have difficult relationships, as best as you can; healing them is healing yourself and forging a stronger connection between the seen and unseen. Build relationships through your bloodline as well as with other akhu in your social, spiritual, or intellectual communities; the ancestors are a primary vehicle by which life-energy is brought into the seen world, much as Wesir’s governance over food is a similar mechanism for the restoration and rejuvenation of being.

Beyond that, it starts to get really personal. Serve the deities that you serve; act as Their hands. Improve your skills and pursue spiritual growth, so that there is more space in the world for creation. Remember earth reaching for heaven with desire. Learn to recognise the holy. Govern yourself.

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One thought on “Sacred Kings Just Ain’t What They Used To Be

  1. Juni says:

    I am trying to actually comment on posts that are useful to me, so the writers know that their works has been useful to someone. However, putting together actual words on *how* it is useful does not appear to be a strong point of mine.

    At any rate, I love the quote/imagery from Kaldera, and the living ma’at stuff is always useful. As is the reminder to Do the Work.

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