Friday, July 24, 2015

Desert of Desolation

An Egypt themed AD&D adventure path that combines three previously published adventures:

I3: Pharaoh

I4: Oasis of the White Palm

I5: Lost Tomb of Martek

Three of the I-series of AD&D adventures were grouped and published as a single book under the title Desert of Desolation. The combined work includes some reworking of the original modules and adds some additional details - most notably, a campaign level map linking all the adventures and an ancient script for the writings used throughout the adventures. The result is a module that is nearly a campaign in itself.

The module includes a fold-out map of the desert region and several color handouts for players. Dungeon maps are provided in a small accompanying booklet. The module is written as a single story and plays as a large adventure (vs. a series of related modules).

Pharaoh is an Egyptian-styled adventure that includes a pyramid map and a trap-filled maze.[1] In Pharaoh, the player characters (PCs) are driven into the desert for a crime they did not commit.[2] The characters journey to the sunken city of Pazar and from there must travel to the haunted tomb of an ancient pharaoh. While in the desert, the characters encounter the spirit of Amun-Re, a pharaoh cursed to wander the desert until his tomb is robbed. Amun-Re begs the PCs to remove his staff of ruling and Star Gem from his tomb to break his curse. The tomb was built to be thief-proof and has so far lived up to its reputation. While in Amun-Re's pyramid, the characters can use an item called the dome of flight to control or reverse gravity; carelessness can cause them to fall upwards. The palm trees in this room bear exploding fruit. The characters also encounter a maze with numerous traps. The module contains wilderness maps, and a number of smaller adventures as well.

Oasis of the White Palm
In Oasis of the White Palm, the PCs arrive at the Oasis of the White Palm, which is on the brink of turmoil. Shadalah, who is to be the bride of the sheikh's eldest son, has been kidnapped. The sheikh believes her to be held by his enemies somewhere in the oasis. The PCs must solve the mystery before they can progress further. Once the characters make the contacts they need at the oasis, they continue to the temple of Set and the crypt of Badr al-Mosak, and the adventure concludes in the city of Phoenix; there, the PCs must obtain the three Star Gems (the one from Amun-Re's tomb in the previous adventure and two more introduced here) and free the djinni if they plan to move on to the next module. The Oasis of the White Palm module contains wilderness maps, and also includes a number of smaller adventures.

Lost Tomb of Martek
The goal of the PCs is the tomb of the millennium-dead wizard Martek. The tomb lies in the vast Desert of Desolation, and the majority of the adventure takes place within Martek's tomb. The adventurers have to cross a sea of glass on skate-ships, and then pass through the Crystal Prism and the Mobius Tower in order to reach the final crypt. The adventure is organized into seven parts, taking the party from the desert through a number of planes on their way to the Citadel of Martek. They must use the Star Gems to revive the dead wizard. When they have done so, he lets them choose from a variety of magical treasure, and leaves to defeat the Efreet.

Wepwawet - The Wolf God

In late Egyptian mythology, Wepwawet (hieroglyphic wp-w3w.t; also rendered  UpuautWep-wawetWepawet, and Ophois) was originally a war deity, whose cult centre was Asyut in Upper Egypt (Lycopolis in the Greco-Roman period). His name means, opener of the ways and he is often depicted as a wolf standing at the prow of a solar-boat. Some interpret that Wepwawet was seen as a scout, going out to clear routes for the army to proceed forward. One inscription from the Sinai states that Wepwawet "opens the way" to king Sekhemkhet's victory.

Wepwawet originally was seen as a wolf deity, thus the Greek name of Lycopolis, meaning city of wolves, and it is likely the case that Wepwawet was originally just a symbol of the pharaoh, seeking to associate with wolf-like attributes, that later became deified as a mascot to accompany the pharaoh. Likewise, Wepwawet was said to accompany the pharaoh on hunts, in which capacity he was titled(one with) sharp arrow more powerful than the gods.

Over time, the connection to war, and thus to death, led to Wepwawet also being seen as one who opened the ways to, and through, Duat, for the spirits of the dead. Through this, and the similarity of the jackal to the wolf, Wepwawet became associated with Anubis, a deity that was worshiped in Asyut, eventually being considered his son. Seen as a jackal, he also was said to be Set's son. Consequently, Wepwawet often is confused with Anubis. This deity appears in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos.

In later Egyptian art, Wepwawet was depicted as a wolf or a jackal, or as a man with the head of a wolf or a jackal. Even when considered a jackal, Wepwawet usually was shown with grey, or white fur, reflecting his lupine origins. He was depicted dressed as a soldier, as well as carrying other military equipment—a mace and abow.

For what generally is considered to be lauding purposes of the pharaohs, a later myth briefly was circulated claiming that Wepwawet was born at the sanctuary of Wadjet, the sacred site for the oldest goddess of Lower Egypt that is located in the heart of Lower Egypt. Consequently, Wepwawet, who had hitherto been the standard of Upper Egypt alone, formed an integral part of royal rituals, symbolizing the unification of Egypt.

In later pyramid texts, Wepwawet is called "Ra" who has gone up from the horizon, perhaps as the "opener" of the sky. In the later Egyptian funerary context, Wepwawet assists at the Opening of the mouth ceremony and guides the deceased into the netherworld.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Netjer: The One God of Ancient Egypt

Netjer," a Kemetic word meaning "divine power," is the One Self-Created Deity which manifests in myriads of forms, which we call Names (Kemetic Orthodoxy is a monolatry, NOT a polytheism or monotheism. 

Kemetic Orthodoxy is a modern practice of the religious tradition of Ancient Egypt (known to its own people as Kemet). Through the foundation of ancient thought and spiritual structure, devotees of Kemetic Orthodoxy follow the path their forebears first walked more than 4,000 years ago. Kemetic Orthodoxy is an African Traditional Religion and bears similarity to several other African and African Diaspora religions (such as the West African religions of the Yoruba, Akan, and Dahomeyan peoples and the Afro-Caribbean practices of Vodou, Candomble, and Santeria) as well some of the practices known from ancient northeastern Africa and the ancient Near East. Practicing Kemetic Orthodoxy requires a commitment to preserving the cultural heritage established in the past which Kemetic Orthodoxy continues to represent, even in places and times well removed from its original practice. 

The Kemetic Orthodox faith, both in its modern and ancient practice, is a monolatrous religion. 

Monolatry is a different concept than monotheism, where it is believed God manifests in one form and one form only, nor it a full polytheism, where many gods appear in many separate and distinct forms. In some ways, it represents synthesis of the two, in a multi-god structure still providing the possibility of understanding all divine beings as part of one divine source. 

A monolatrous religion professes one divine force (Netjer in the Kemetic language, meaning "divine power") that is in turn comprised of other separate, yet interlinked aspects, like a team can be defined both as one entity (the sum of its parts) and by individual members themselves. The "gods and goddesses" of Ancient Egypt, while clearly differentiated from each other in some respects and not as clearly in others, also each represent an aspect of Netjer, as Its Names (after the practice of recognizing Netjer "in Its Name of..." in ritual invocations). The Names of Netjer are in addition to being individual entities, also representative aspects of the Self-Created One, and are parts of that whole Being. Each Name of Netjer, like the parts of the human body, has differing structure and function, yet each part is required to constitute the entire Person.

How is Kemetic Orthodoxy practiced?
Kemetic Orthodoxy is divided into three main categories of devotion. First is the formal worship service, comprising the "state" ritual. These practices are perhaps the best known from antiquity due to their preservation in source material and upon the very walls of ancient temples. Changed only very slightly over the millennia, these conservative rites are preserved by the Kemetic Orthodox priesthood as closely to their original practice as possible. Illustrative of these formal rites is the Rite of the House of the Morning, a daily greeting of the sunrise along with invocations and praise to Netjer for a new day. Each sunrise is significant, as a physical and symbolic representation of the eternal reassurance that Ma'at (a central concept of the faith, denoting universal order and "truth" in an absolute sense) have been preserved and that life will continue to exist. 

The second category of Kemetic Orthodox worship is "personal piety": the devotional practice of all followers, including priests and laymen. The foundation of the Kemetic Orthodox faith is found in a universal rite called the Senut (Shrine): every devotee, whether congregant or priest, and even the Nisut (AUS) Herself, performs a daily set of prayers in an established household shrine to communicate with and worship Netjer. While this ritual is simple in comparison to the pomp and fanfare of the state rites, it forms the backbone of Kemetic Orthodoxy's entire ritual practice and constitutes its most important sacrament.

The third category of Kemetic Orthodox worship involves ancestral devotion. Akhu, or the blessed dead, are one step closer to Netjer than mortal man. In revering and remembering our ancestors and loved ones who have passed on, they live forever. We leave offerings to our ancestors, and venerate them so that they, in turn, will protect and look kindly upon us.

[Author Note: The spelling of Netjer in English with "tj," rather than "Neter" or "ntr" as sometimes written in Egyptology books, has been adopted by the House of Netjer at my direction after research, as I believe it is the most accurate way to phoneticize the Kemetic word in English. In Kemetic, the word is written with the hieroglyphic symbol of a flag, after the ritual flags hung above temple entrances. I have been very pleased to see the use of this more accurate Romanization in many Websites since our spelling was forwarded - it has been known to the scholarly community for some time and many books not in English already use it, but the spelling "ntr" (neter) had been the standard in English.]

Yinepu (Anpu; G/R Anubis) "The Royal Child" A Name of predynastic origins, depicted either as a full jackal or as a jackal-headed man, Yinepu originally, as Khenty-amenti or "Foremost of Westerners," was both embalmer and caretaker of the deceased, and the guardian of tomb and necropolis. Over time Wesir's popularity would absorb much of Yinepu's nature, causing Him to be written into the myths as Wesir's son by Nebt-het (alternately Set's son or Aset's son) and relegating Him to the role merely of embalmer and overseer of the funerary processes. Masks of Yinepu were routinely worn by the Sem-priest officiating at the funeral and the 70-day mummification process; images of Yinepu wrapping bandages, pouring oils or embracing the coffin are generally not actually images of the Netjer Himself, but of His servants doing His work. In later times Yinepu would be syncretised with Greek Hermes and seen as a "psychopompos"or messenger/guide of the deceased soul; in Kemetic iconography, Yinepu can be seen leading the deceased person into the Hall of Double Truth, where He then weighs the deceased's heart against the feather of Ma'at.
Aten (Aton, Yiten) - "Sun's Disk" Aten is the physically visible sun, the yellow sphere in earth's sky that can fructify or scorch. The Aten-disk is venerated as a form of Shu, Ra, or Heru from the late Middle Kingdom onward and was not, as some have erroneously stated, "invented" by New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten. However, beginning with Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III, Aten enjoyed a higher level of worship, and during Akhenaten's reign, for reasons not entirely clear in the historic record, Akhenaten declared all other Names invalid and Their priests useless, and ordered Kemet to worship him as the "Sole One of Aten," who would then take the people's prayers to His Father (he did not order them to worship Aten; the texts state that only Akhenaten is qualified to do this as the Disk's intermediary). Akhenaten's religious reforms, which did not represent monotheism as has been often suggested (Akhenaten offers Ma'at in friezes, and some of his hymns refer to "Ra-Heru-akhety in His Name of Shu Who is in Aten," indicating Akhenaten's "destruction" of other Names was selective), did not long outlast him; a backlash against the Atenist movement by the priesthood of Amen-Ra after Akhenaten's death resulted in the loss of much of this Name's information.

Set (Sutekh; G/R Seth) - (unknown, derived possibly either from the word "to dazzle" (setken) or "stabilizing staff/pillar" (setes)) In the oldest mythologies, Set is "He Before Whom the Sky Shakes," a sky-Netjer like Heru, and specifically of the storm, with lightning and thunder His heralds. Eventually, because of His natural opposition to His brother/nephew Heru, and also because during the Second Intermediate Period, invading Hyksos forces identified their own chief god with Him, Set's reputation changed. Into the New Kingdom with the rise of the cult of Wesir, which posited Set (as lord of the desert which crept into the arable land at the end of every year) as the "murderer" of the Lord of the Black Land, Set was literally demonized, and in late periods was identified with Apep as a symbol of complete destruction and with later religions' concepts of "the Devil," including both Greek Typhon and Hebraic "Satan." It is important to note that both are non-Kemetic understandings - Set at all times, while not exactly a "nice guy," is a necessary force in the universe - that of strength and violent force - and in Kemetic myth, even Ra acknowledges this, by awarding the post of guardian of the Boat of Millions of Years to Set after the kingship is given to Heru, because Set "is the only one strong enough to do it." Set is symbolized by the ass and the hippopotamus and the pig, and sometimes the jackal (and at least theoretically the hyena); however, His main theophany is an unknown canid with square ears and a forked tail, often called simply the "Set-animal," whose species has been a mystery to Egyptologists. In late 1996, a large mammal with square ears and a forked tail allegedly was caught and killed in Upper Egypt. Called "salawa" by the locals, the animal has been theorized to be part of the family from which the South African Cape Hunting Dog comes; its extreme size and appearance lend credence to the folktales surrounding this newly-discovered desert mammal as "Set."
Hornung, Erik; [translated from German by John Baines]. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and The Many. Cornell University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-8014-1223-4.

A thought-provoking look at the philosophy behind Kemetic religion, Kemetic concepts of Deity, and their contribution to the development of other world religions and philosophies, masterfully translated from the original German by Egyptologist John Baines. Not for beginners. Very highly recommended.

Meeks, Dimitri and Christine Favard; [translated from French by G. M. Goshgarian]. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-801-43115-8.

The next ground-breaking book since Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, Daily Life may well replace Hornung as the most comprehensive study on Kemetic theology. The Meeks take an interesting perspective, which is to present the Names of Netjer as if they were a people and the book were an anthropological study of a living tribe. Covers the philosophical intricacies of ancient Egyptian religion as well as some of the hard facts: rites, temples, priesthood, and the three-tiered calendrical system tied into the festival days of the Names. May not be for beginners, but is more accessible than Hornung. Available both in hardback and paperback. Highly recommended.

Morenz, Siegfried. [translated from German] Egyptian Religion. Cornell Paperbacks. ISBN 0-8014-8029-9.

A wonderful discussion of Kemetic religion from both theological and philosophical perspectives. Not an easy book to read, but a valuable one; I believe it to be superior to Henri Frankfort's book of the same title.

Ritner, Robert Kriech. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization #54, 1993. ISBN 0-918986-756-3.

Perhaps the most ambitious study of ancient Egyptian "magic" to date, Ritner's dissertation is a compendium of source material for the structure and form of rites practiced in Kemet. While materials are limited for periods before the end of the New Kingdom (an issue for all Egyptology), Ritner has done a spectacular job of bringing together diverse symbolic, physical and theological points of interest, from the use of prayer for medicinal purposes to execration, blessing, divination and other ritual as "magic." Not for beginners; as a dissertation it expects readers to be familiar with a number of Kemetic philosophical arguments, and passages are rendered in hieroglyph, hieratic, demotic, Arabic, Coptic and European languages without translation.

Rundle-Clark, R.T. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27112-7.

A concise discussion of the theology of Kemet as well as its differing myth cycles, symbolic language, cosmology, etc.

Schafer, Byron E., ed. Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths and Personal Practice. Cornell University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8014-2550-6.

A collection of scholarly papers on Kemetic religion, sacred kingship and conceptions of Netjer.

Icons and sirens: Egyptian femmes fatales

As if all the above were not enough, the Amarna period has yielded one particular artistic icon that somehow manages to combine the sexual attraction of Marilyn Monroe with the deadly controversy of the Elgin Marbles, and perhaps a little added spice of racism and fascism. This is of course the bust of Nefertiti.

The German excavator Ludwig Borchardt discovered the famous painted limestone bust of Nefertiti in 1912, in the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose, whose house was one of the large sprawling villas in the southern part of the city at Amarna. The sculpture – probably intended as a sculptor’s model rather than a finished piece in itself – is about 50 cm high and fantastically well preserved, its only flaw being the absence of the right eye (although remarkably this does not particularly impair its overall beauty). The circumstances by which the bust ended up in the Berlin museum, however, have been a source of heated debate ever since. According to Nicholas Reeves,

At the formal division of spoils a mere month after the discovery, the Nefertiti bust passed to Dr James Simon, the sponsor of the German excavations. In 1920 Simon made a formal gift of his collection to the state of Prussia; three years after that, the queen was unveiled to an astonished public – an event closely followed by outraged complaints from the Egyptian Government that the queen’s portrait had left Egypt under irregular circumstances. Accusations flew and solutions were proposed in an attempt to resolve this unhappy situation – but to no avail . . .

If the bust arrived in Europe amid controversy, the situation if anything became worse by the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler himself declared that it was his favourite work of art from Egypt, and would therefore remain in Germany.

The link with Hitler is perhaps no accident, since one of the other controversial aspects of the sculpture is the fact that it has such characteristically European, rather than African facial characteristics. This has meant that, for many Afrocentrists, it symbolizes traditional Egyptologists’ supposed determination to present Egyptian culture as non-African and non-black. In the catalogue of the polemical exhibition ‘Egypt in Africa’ in 1996, Asa G. Hilliard III, Professor of Education at Georgia State University, argued,

This exhibit is one of the first to select items that show more typical African phenotypes rather than the atypical and sometimes foreign images that most Europeans like to see, e.g. Nefertiti, the Sheik el Bilad, or Kai the scribe, those ambiguous enough to be regarded as ‘white’.

The bust seems to belong to the later part of the Amarna period, when the new artistic style had settled down, and become much less extreme. In the eyes of some observers it is the most aesthetically pleasing image of a woman’s face ever produced. In an attempt to analyse why this should be the case, Jaromir Malek suggests that

Much of the attraction of the piece stems from its perfect, almost geometrical, regularity which is so appealing to our modern eyes: long straight lines predominate, most conspicuously those connecting the front of the crown and the queen’s forehead on profile, and the side of the crown and her cheeks on front view.

Even by the standards of 18th-Dynasty royal women, such as Ahhotep I and Hatshepsut, the real historical Nefertiti, principal wife of Akhenaten, seems to have achieved unusual power and influence, perhaps building on the achievements of her influential mother-in-law (and perhaps also aunt) Queen Tiye. Camille Paglia paints a lurid Lady-Macbeth-like portrait of Nefertiti:

The proper response to the Nefertiti bust is fear. The queen is an android, a manufactured being. She is a new gorgoneion, a ‘bodiless head of fright’ . . . Art shows Akhenaten half-feminine, his limbs shrunken and belly bulging, possibly from birth defect or disease. This portrait shows his queen half-masculine, a vampire of political will.

Whether we agree with Paglia’s characteristically over-the-top description or not, it shows the continuing power of this bust – and by extension, Nefertiti herself – to evoke passionate responses. There can be few sculptures that are so closely identified with the individual depicted that commentators discuss the bust as if it were in some sense the actual woman, which is after all a very characteristically ancient Egyptian position to take.

The way in which the statue itself is regarded almost as a sacred relic was demonstrated in 2003, when two artists (‘Little Warsaw’) effectively ‘restored’ the whole sculpture, creating a body to support the bust, as part of the Hungarian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In the end, the head was not allowed to travel to Venice to be displayed along with the body, but a curiously evocative photograph was taken, showing the old head and new body joined together and standing upright beside the empty display case in Berlin (as if Nefertiti had come through time to visit her own bust but found it missing). This was a powerful artistic image, but on a museological and Egyptological level it was considered inappropriate to treat the object in this cavalier way, and relations between the Berlin Egyptian Museum and the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Cairo were again somewhat soured – the original plan to display both head and body together in Venice was abandoned. In the booklet accompanying the display of The Body of Nefertiti, the artists point out that,

It became evident that Nefertiti had been studied to death by Egyptologists: the only way to revive her seemed to be by replanting her into the context of contemporary art.

They also have something to say on the racial debate:

This statue is one of the important sources of European cultural history and sculpture, even though it was created outside the continent. Its outsider position adds further meanings to the project of completing: this 3000 year old model of beauty has been contributing, ever since it was found and put on public display, to the European ideal of beauty, even though it is both culturally and historically non-European.