Book Reviews Community Egyptology

Book Review of Profane Egyptologists: The Modern Revival of Ancient Egyptian Religion by Paul Harrison — Part One

January 31, 2021
Profane Egyptologists by Paul Harrison

Image © 2021 Scott Rose

 

I was introduced to Profane Egyptologists by fellow YouTuber SekhmetRa and was quite excited to learn a book had been written specifically about Kemeticism and Kemetic neo-pagans. If this book sounds like a shoo-in for your personal library, you are correct!

Profane Egyptologists is based on an ethnographic study of self-identified practitioners of ancient Egyptian religion, known as the Kemetic community. This includes Afrocentrists, orthodox reconstructionists, reformed Kemetics, Wiccans and eclectics. While not necessarily a book written for us, this is a book written about us and it does a lot for us, I think, in terms of advocacy. 

Profane Egyptologists highlights the potential contributions of Kemetic neo-pagans to the field of Egyptology. It may be a surprise to learn that Kemetics have valuable insights to offer Egyptologists and other professionals in the Egyptological community. Pagan perspectives can better inform the work of professionals who specialise in ancient Egypt, just they inform us. Consider how much Kemetics learn from Egyptologists — they inform a massive amount of Kemetic practice. What if Kemetics could somehow inform Egyptologists? There’s a revolutionary idea!

Harrison suggests Kemetic practitioners hold a unique position in the Egyptological community, by sharing what we know about the lived experience of ancient Egyptian religion and spirituality. This lived experience is something we can never truly know or access from the historical record, therefore, Kemetic neo-pagans are an asset in understanding the meaning and relevance of ancient Egyptian religion in the lives of its practitioners. Profane Egyptologists affords a high degree of respect to Kemetic neo-pagans and gives our voices the recognition we deserve — but do we really need recognition from others? Maybe it’s time to rethink our position on ‘the other’.

Practitioners in the Kemetic community were sought for consultation in the author’s research for the book, which attracted mixed responses. The title of the book itself, comes from an online work published by the Temple of Set which encourages readers to see the netjeru as they really are and ‘not the two-dimensional, comic-book simpletons cherished by profane Egyptologists.’ (See the 2010 article, The Temple of Set by Michael A. Aquino). Ouch! I feel the burn. It did inspire a pretty cool book title though.

This particular statement above and others like it had an apparent impact on the author as well, which for him, demonstrated a perceived division between us and ‘the other’. This division, the author concedes, can also be found in academia. How such divisions can be overcome (and dare I say, healed) is a topic explored in the book.

Profane Egyptologists is an academic volume in the UCL Institute of Archaeology Critical Cultural Heritage Series. As a word of warning, the book is not exactly geared toward the general public. From my understanding, it also formed part of the author’s PhD. You may have to do some cognitive bench pressing to work your way through it. Anyone with a university level of education should be reasonably comfortable with the profanity. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 

In all seriousness, those who accept the challenge are likely to find it very rewarding. As we know, the benefit of reading works that come to us from rigorous academic disciplines such as Egyptology, archaeology and anthropology would of course, be the accuracy and reliability of the information provided. The manuscript is peer reviewed before it is published. Plus, we are given the high quality source material drawn upon, for our own further reading. The downside of this book would be its limited degree of accessibility to the average reader. I’ll admit, I had to stop reading multiple times and google unfamiliar words but in a way, I suppose that’s a good thing. You will be educated, if you read this book. In fact, I look at Profane Egyptologists as a text book of sorts, for serious Kemetic practitioners.

Because of my busyness, I’m in favour of reviewing books on an as-you-go basis and sharing snippets, thoughts and insights as they pop up before I forget them. 

 

On that note, this review will only focus on Part One of Profane Egyptologists, entitled Why Kemeticism?

 

After reading Part One, I’d say this is a potentially unifying work, which attempts to integrate Kemetic practitioners into the wider Egyptological community. The book addresses a great deal of politics right off the bat, perhaps to get it out of the way, but also to make important assertions about the relevance of Kemetic practitioners. Our insight allows others to gain a better understanding of ancient Egyptian religion, albeit in the context of modern life. Yes, we have that power and someone finally recognises it!

Profane Egyptologists then, follows certain societal trends aimed at inclusivity rather than exclusivity and encourages the establishment to voluntarily de-privilege itself, in favour of a more equal distribution of power among those with a vested interest in ancient Egypt. This approach has given me an instant admiration for Paul Harrison. To me, the author demonstrates he’s a visionary, one who can see beyond the old, crumbling paradigms that are no longer serving anyone. We can further infer, that it’s time to build new and healthier ways of relating and learning from one another. Harrison’s proposal calls for a more horizontal distribution of power, as opposed to vertical, if that makes sense. 

Profane Egyptologists makes a lot of sense to me; it has allowed me to clarify my own ethos and what I believe in concerning the significance and position of Kemetic neo-pagans. It has empowered me to say, “Yes, my voice matters and I do have a place in this community, whether others choose to acknowledge it or not, I won’t let that skewer my vision and I will keep contributing to what we know about ancient Egyptian religion. I will help make this the richest tapestry I possibly can.” 

What do we want? Social justice for Kemetics! When do we want it? Now!

We may not have realised it, but by reconstructing ancient Egyptian religion and by practicing Kemeticism, we are laying claim, in a very real way, to ancient Egypt. Previously, the only people who could lay claim to ancient Egypt were Egyptologists and modern-day Egyptians. On what authority do Kemetics lay claim to ancient Egypt? We have some pretty hefty hegemony to contend with, as Harrison himself points out, if we are going to be considered valid. For we are the perceived ‘other’ by our perceived ‘other’.

 

Toward the end of Part One, Profane Egyptologists began evoking some unexpected personal reactions and I’ve considered whether or not it would be appropriate to include them here. 

 

Without digressing too much nor losing objectivity, I’ve decided to go ahead and include my personal thoughts and reflections. It’s important to shed light on the Kemetic perspective. That’s what Profane Egyptologists is all about. Now, I’d ask readers to be mindful that my perspective as a Kemetic practitioner may be different from the next. I can’t speak for all Kemetics, I can only speak for myself. I’m sure my perspective would be very different, for example, from the Temple of Set!

Profane Egyptologists poses the question, would Egyptologists and modern Egyptians regard Kemetics as ‘marginalised communities’ deserving of inclusion, or as ‘false claimants to Egyptian spiritualism’? This question struck a cord, because it has occurred to me that on the surface, Kemetic neo-pagans must appear rather ridiculous to Egyptologists and modern Egyptians alike. Sure, we’re mostly harmless Egyptophiles with the potential to support tourism and cultural endeavours in Egypt but we’re still ridiculous all the same, to many of those on the outside looking in. That thought left me with feelings of consternation and sadness; the idea that some people out there don’t want to know the Kemetic side of the story and don’t care. So long as those who are benefitting from the status quo continue to do so, it makes sense people wouldn’t want change. Meanwhile, the world is less rich of a place, without these stories.

Harrison recounts the Lindow man exhibition at the Manchester Museum, which in the early 2000’s stirred controversy surrounding the ethics of displaying human remains. Discussion arose as to the most appropriate way to proceed and repatriation was one of the possibilities presented. Included in the discussion were a panel of professionals along with lay people and consisted of archaeologists, students, a member of Manchester City Council and a pagan. All panelists were given the same standing as traditional authority figures. This wider consideration of who constitutes community became a guiding principle for deciding the fate of Lindow Man. It also became a guiding principle for Profane Egyptologists. There are those who would like to see a similar guiding principle adopted by the Egyptological community. Whether or not that reality comes to be, remains to be seen.

Thank you, for reading Kemetic Blog. I hope you enjoyed this review on Part One of Profane Egyptologists. Stay safe and well. I look forward to continuing this review in an upcoming post.

 

Profane Egyptologists: The Modern Revival of Ancient Egyptian Religion

by Paul Harrison

ISBN 9780367891015

Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge

244 pages

Cover art by Setken

 

 𓆸

©  Scott Rose / Kemetic Blog – All Rights Reserved.  

  • Reply
    Do any modern Egyptians practice ancient Egyptian religion?
    April 27, 2021 at 11:01 pm

    […] thought popped into my mind while reading part one of Profane Egyptologists (where Paul Harrison muses over whether or not the Egyptological community and modern Egyptians […]

  • Reply
    Evolution of My Kemetic Altar and Shrine - Part Two
    May 22, 2021 at 2:28 am

    […] So much has been happening, both in the world and in every sphere of my own life. I’ve only been able to blog on about 50% of it, it seems. I’ve been acquiring plenty of Egyptian stuff as I fondly call these items, which are far more sacred than sundry, and have also been building a modest knowledge-base on ancient Egypt and Kemeticism. My reading list faces an incredible barrier due to uni commitments (as I’m embarking on an EN to RN pathway in nursing — part time). As such, I am only aiming to complete one or two Egyptology books per year at this stage. Slow burn, I know, but I promise the book reviews will be thorough! See my latest book review here. […]

  • Reply
    Shape Shifting in Kemetic neo-pagan experience
    June 27, 2021 at 11:15 am

    […] While shape shifting is not abundantly represented in ancient Egyptian literature, The Book of the Dead reveals at least three instances of shape shifting in chapters (or spells) 86-88 with spells to transform into a swallow, a snake and a crocodile, respectively (see the 1990 version of The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead by Raymond O. Faulkner — this is the copy I own — it’s fantastic). The subtle evidence contained in The Book of the Dead tends to support the position of Jeremy Naydler, who reinterprets The Pyramid Texts as an initiation of the living into shamanism and mysticism — not merely a journey of the dead into the afterlife (see the 2004 book, Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt by Jeremy Naydler). This book was originally brought to my attention by author, Paul Harrison. My review of Harrison’s work starts here. […]

Leave a Reply