At first glance the town of West Wendover, Nevada may seem as far from the Nile Valley and its ancient deities as it is possible to be. As one enters this small casino resort community, just straddling the border between Nevada and Utah, one encounters the 63-foot-tall neon majesty that is Wendover Will, the cigarette smoking cowboy acting as the town's official greeter and landmark. This is unashamedly a gambling town, dominated by the casinos that are the primary draw for the tourists and travelers who pass through here. One would hardly make a connection between the life of casino-hopping, presided over by a flamboyant neon cowboy, and the milleniums-old spiritual traditions of Egypt.
I have been a follower of the Gods of ancient Egypt for 35 years, and part of the everyday practice of my spirituals beliefs is to recognize the presence of the netjeru (Gods) not only in the experiences brought about by life itself, but also in the physical landscape in which I find myself at any given time. This is very much in keeping with the Kemetic or ancient Egyptian perspective, which sees the natural world, its flora and fauna and geographic features, as the dwelling places of living gods.
The Nile Valley was heavy with natural features through which the powers of the Gods were omnipresent to the ancient Egyptians. The artisans dwelling in the village of set-Ma'at (or Deir el Medina) recognized the limestone cliffs and hills skirting the Valley of the Queens as the residence of the protective cobra Goddess Meritsager, and it was into these cliffs that the devout village craftsmen cut shrines as places for the bestowal of prayers and offerings to the Goddess(1). In fact, the pyramidal mountain dominating the region of western Waset (or Thebes) and its necropolis was believed to be a form of the Goddess Meritsager(2). However, this same mountain was also honored as a place most sacred to the cow-goddess Hwt-Her (Hathor), who was hailed as the "Mistress of the Western Mountain" in Her role as receiver and mother of the blessed dead. In this aspect, the Goddess was envisaged as a cow with lyriform horns emerging from the base of the sacred mountain of western Waset(3).
An important site sacred to the veneration of the God Amun was Gebel Barkal, below the fourth cataract of the Nile, where a number of sanctuaries were established as ritual centers. Scholars have noted that the dominant mountainous sandstone feature of the region, which the ancient Egyptians called 'the pure mountain', resembles the royal cobra goddess wearing either the high white crown or the disk of the sun-god, depending on the direction from which this natural feature is viewed(4). It is almost certain that the Egyptians looked upon this mountain as a dwelling place of divine power, a place where goddesses and gods watched over the landscape below, receiving the honor granted to them by the activities of the temple cults.
My point in citing these examples is that the ancient Egyptians experienced the power of their gods and religion not solely in the man made sanctuaries consecrated to them, but more importantly in the immediate natural environment surrounding them. The river Nile, which flooded annually and sustained Egypt's farming economy, was seen as the efflux of a number of deities, not least of which was Hapy, the spiritual embodiment of the river itself. The Egyptians saw that the netjeru or Gods were actually resident in the land of Egypt itself, and could be recognized as the benefactors of local environments in their aspect as niwty or "local god"(5).
For those of us honoring the netjeru today, there may appear to be a break between the Nilotic roots of our deities and their current role as the focal point of contemporary Kemeticism. If the goddesses and gods of ancient Egypt were in a sense rooted to the physical landscape of Kemet (Egypt), then how do we access them in the current age, when we are no longer resident in the geographic and cultural conditions in which our gods originally operated?
My answer is quite simple: do as the Ancestors did. Wherever we are, wherever we live, we have the opportunity to take a look at our surroundings and see how the Gods operate through them. If we accept that the netjeru are living gods, if we see them as having unbroken power and presence in our world, then we must also see that they are not limited to the geography of the Nile Valley proper, and may in fact be powerfully present in the mountains, rivers, valleys, rocks and vegetation of the earth entire. If the Goddesses Hwt-Her or Meritsager, for example, were believed to be resident in the pyramidal western mountains of ancient Waset (Thebes), couldn't they also choose to be active in any western or pyramidal mountain? Couldn't contemporary devotees of these goddesses establish forms of offering and reverence at local mountain regions that in their appearances echo those of ancient Egypt? My answer to such questions throughout the years has been yes, and no more so than now, where my daily life is surrounded by a dramatic desert landscape that in many ways mimics that of ancient Egypt's natural sacred sites.
Above: Immediately outside the main town of West Wendover stretches a series of pyramidal mountain peaks that to my Kemetic eyes greatly resemble the amber-colored mountains of western Thebes (ancient Waset) in Egypt, where the peak known today as Al-Qurn, "the horn", stands as a natural sentinel over the royal burial ground called the Valley of the Kings. In ancient times this peak was sacred to the Goddesses Hwt-Her (Hathor) and Meritsager. Today it is my practice to say prayers to these two most ancient goddesses whenever I visit this gathering of very pyramid-like peaks, which stand prominently outside the entrance to West Wendover.
|Another view of the range of peaks flanking West Wendover|
Above: I have named this natural rock formation Sokar Rock, after the hawk or falcon-headed deity Sokar, a most ancient funerary deity associated with the Underworld and the necropolis region of western Waset (Thebes). This gathering of rocks just beyond the town of West Wendover may certainly be recognized as a special power spot by those who look at this dramatic desert landscape through Kemetic eyes.
Above: Natural miniature cave-like rock formations in the desert outside West Wendover call to mind the man made rock cut shrines the ancient artisans of set-Ma'at (or Deir el Medina) created for the God Ptah and Goddess Meritsager in the western mountains of Waset (Thebes). These places have a very sacred feeling to me, and in my mind I see them as little shrines to the netjeru, where the Gods appear in order to receive my prayers and offerings in this holy desert landscape.
1) Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. New York, NY, 2011, pp. 84-86.
2) Silverman, David P. "Divinity and Deities in Ancient Egypt", in Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, edited by Byron E. Shafer. Ithaca and London, 1991, pp. 38.
3) Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London, 2003, pp. 141.
4) Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt. London, 2000, pp. 233.
5) Silverman, Ibid.