Incense in Ancient Egypt was seen as something containing the properties of life which could evoke belief and stabilise faith. It was thought by the ancients that incense brings about reverence as well as the manifestation of the Netjer it is being offered to. The Ancient Egyptians even had a god of incense – Nefertum, the lion headed son of Sekhmet who in the creation myth was the lotus rising from the primordial waters. Nefertum’s connection to scent and healing makes him the perfect patron of incense, especially since his symbol – the lotus, dawns every morning like incense smoke wafting towards the rays of the sun.
Incense has been a highly valued and used in Egypt all through its history. This was made evident by its worth and the lengths the Ancient Egyptians would go to, to source it. Incense had a major role in the magickal and spiritual practices of Kemet and many expeditions were sent down to the Land of Punt (modern day Ethiopia or Sudan but scholars are yet to determine its exact location) to source rare and expensive resins used in incense blends. Many pharaohs, noblemen and priests of Ancient Egypt would cultivate and propagate trees to keep up with the demand needed by the temples, tombs and residences of the time.
Various ceremonies in antiquity revolved around fumigation practices and in Ancient Egypt this has been evident in many reliefs and papyri describing these in detail, which has highlighted what a vital function it played. The most common type of fumigation using incense in Ancient Egypt was used in a devotional act before representations of Netjer as well as for the Akhu at ancestor shrines or tombs.
The ancients believed that Netjer embodied the smoke of burning incense, as a romantic manifestation in the omissions of the lit incense they were offered by the priests and populace alike. Like “God” the smoke from incense can permeate all, at times even without being visibly detected. Priests therefore would offer incense as one of the ways to animate and reinvigorate Nejter’s manifest representation on earth, in the form of a ritual called “Opening of the Mouth”. A way the priests could do this was by blowing through the censor containing the lit incense which activated the Heka through the breath whilst directing it. Using incense to fumigate not only cleaned the temple and its possessions but it bestowed Heka through to the priests themselves as the scent activates communion with Netjer through an altered state which is induced.
It’s surprising to know that many recipes and processes for making incense was shrouded in secrecy but it was very well known that they contained specific instructions on how to create them with specific allocated time, ingredients with symbolic connections and Heka. The priests who were responsible for creating incense for their Netjer’s did so with complete respect and devotion as if they were tending to the physical manifestation of the gods themselves – which they were in part, since making incense was seen as creating the body of the Gods. Frankincense and myrrh resin gathered was referred to as “sweat” or “tears” of the Nejters and as such the Ancient Egyptians treated their frankincense and myrrh as emblems of their Gods bodies. The trees themselves were seen as fruitful goddesses who’s resin was divine menstrual blood. So as you can see this emphasizes what great importance incense was to the daily rites of the Ancient Egyptians from their homes, workplaces, palaces and temples.
Today Egypt’s love of incense survives through the perfumery industry, the fragrant filled swinging censer of Coptic orthodox priests as well as the burning braziers found in the common people’s home shrines. Many practicing Kemetics like myself make their own incense blends and one which is used as a staple go to for all Netjers and Heka is a compounded incense called Kyphi. Here is a recipe I’d like to share with you which you can easily make yourself:
3/4 (of a part) Honey
3 (parts) Raisins
1/4 (of a part) Copal
1/4 (of a part) Myrrh
1/4 (of a part) Orris Root Powder
1 (part) Sandalwood
1/4 (of a part) Storax
1/2 (of a part) Frankincense
1/2 (of a part) Cinnamon Powder
1/2 (of a part) Finely Ground Benzoin
Wine (enough to moisten entire mixture)
(c) T. Georgitsis 2015
The latest issue of Isis Seshat (the journal for the Fellowship of Isis and the like) has just come out and I have an article about a summer festival in the southern hemisphere – get your copy now: PDFs are available for purchase at $5 USD each; just email me via PayPal at anna dot applegate at yahoo dot com.
One of my family akhu who is lovingly known as “Thea” has had more of a dominating presence of late (what’s new as she’s always been the dominant one when it comes to family akhu) and yesterday in shrine I got the distinct impression from her that she is waiting for me to put in writing the story of her life I have collated from various family members and those who knew her. I feel this will honor her greatly as well as framing the large portrait of her, which I had made which needs to be placed on the wall backing my Akhu shrine.
Speaking of Thea, an old coven member of mine, who moved, years back, tried to call her to assist her with her personal crisis and all I can say is Thea was NOT impressed. This old coven member said that she’s been trying to connect with Thea for the last couple of years and she’s not been able to. Whilst the old coven member was telling me this over the phone in that instant I felt Thea’s presence come up behind me and I felt her say in Greek in quite an arrogant and pissed off way “who is SHE for her to call favours from me – I don’t owe HER a thing” and the vibe I got from Thea was that she was really put out by being summoned by someone she has no connection to.
If you knew my Thea you knew NEVER to piss her off as not only was she quite a powerful magician in her day she had a wicked temper and was only loyal to her blood relations. So I questioned this old coven member as to why she’s been calling to my Akhu, as after all she has her own and she’s not even practicing the kemetic or witchcraft path anymore. I was told that she needed help and didn’t know who else to call upon. I suggested that she call upon her own Akhu and I had to delicately explain to my old coven member that Thea has been ignoring her and that her call for help will go unheard because she’s not bound to her in anyway and is not going to help her.
Thea has helped this old coven member before on one occasion but that is because I interceded and asked her to help them. Also I feel Thea was annoyed with this old coven member because. 1. no one commands Thea 2. Thea always takes payment for her services and 3. Thea does what she pleases – even in the spirit world.
So moral of the story is – don’t use other people’s Akhu…its disrespectful and might actually annoy your ancestors!
(C) T. Georgitsis 2017
Here is a basic Kemetic ritual for Wep Ronpet I wrote and use yearly:
Here are the dates for the end of the year and Wep Ronpet:
July 28th Last Day of the Year: Feast of Lights at Esna (and Sais)
Epagomenal Day 00 – July 29th: Day Dedicated to Yinepu and Khonsu
Epagomenal Day 0 – July 30th: Day Dedicated to Djehuty
Epagomenal Day 1 – July 31st: Birthday of Wesir
Epagomenal Day 2 – August 1st: Birthday of Heru-wer
Epagomenal Day 3 – August 2nd: Birthday of Set
Epagomenal Day 4 – August 3rd: Birthday of Aset
Epagomenal Day 5 – August 4th: Birthday of Nebt-het
1 August 5th – Wep Ronpet
In this issue of of The Alternative Spirit Magazine, I’m talking about one of my favorite subjects – medicine of the ancients!
You can purchase your copy here:
Unknown to me at the time, I first started working with the blessed dead as a young child. I call them the blessed dead because they have provided me with messages to aid the living, insight or knowledge applicable in life and guided me on my magickal and spiritual path. The blessed dead is a term I use, as it’s a name used for our ancestors and deceased loved ones in the Kemetic tradition I am a follower of.
It all started in the middle of one night when I was woken up by a loud voice talking to me. When I opened my eyes I was at first startled when I saw a tall middle aged man standing at the foot of my bed, but as I focused, I realised he was familiar to me and so I wasn’t afraid. He was talking to me without moving his mouth, was slightly transparent and being so young I didn’t question this aspect. I just accepted that he was there and didn’t want to hurt me as he just wanted me to pass on a message.
He was telling me that I needed to tell his brother that he was gone and that his brother needed to know he was ok and not to worry. I got up and ran into my parents bedroom to tell them what this man had told me, but my mother thinking I had a bad dream, put me back into bed after bestowing upon me a blessing and protection prayer. Some time later, I was woken again by this man who was adamant I pass on a message to his brother and that he wouldn’t leave until I’d done so. Again I raced into my parents bedroom and this time when my mother tried to explain it was just a nightmare and everything was ok. I started to throw a tantrum because I wanted to be heard. Whilst my mother was trying to calm me down I practically screamed out the message I had received which was that “John” was in my bedroom and wanted to tell his brother that he was dead but that he was ok and not to get sad. My mother’s eye’s widened in a quizzical expression and she then asked what he looked like so I carefully described him. When I was done my mother crossed herself and shot my father a worrying glance. I started to cry in panic and she soothed me and put me back to bed whilst telling me everything was going to be fine and thanked me for passing on the message from John.
The next morning I found my father crying at the kitchen table and when I asked him why he was sad he told me that his brother John had died. Uncle John was my father’s favourite brother and best friend who lived interstate and had suffered a stroke and died during the night. I hugged my father and told him not to cry as Uncle John had visited and told me that he was ok. It did give my father comfort and solace. Then in the following days when I attended the funeral with my parents I wasn’t shocked to see Uncle John lying in an open casket and was actually wondering why people gathered were upset since he told me himself, he was fine. When I told this to my mother she explained to me that not everyone talked to people who had passed away and gently warned me not to repeat to anyone what had happened as they wouldn’t understand. She also explained that some people in our family could talk to the dead in order to help those who were left behind with their grieving. Since I had this gift she would teach me how to work with the blessed dead in a safe and helpful way.
That was the beginning of when I started working with the blessed dead and to this day I continue to work with them in one way or another. I predominately work with my own blessed dead as they have guided me on my magical and spiritual path. When I conduct healings and readings I receive messages for clients from their loved ones which I pass on. I find that these messages along with descriptions of their loved ones are appreciated by the living as they help them to move on and accept they are no longer in physical form and we don’t need to worry about them.
Having lost both my parents before I turned 30, working with the blessed dead has allowed me to accept and let go of them with love in my heart as I am completely confident they are in a peaceful place. I had been warned about both my parents passing before it occurred through dreams and other blessed dead who came to me to tell me and in both my parents cases it actually helped them move on.
Over the years I’ve delved deeper into Hellenic and Kemetic magickal and religious practices. I have found this has added value not only to my personal life but also when dealing with the blessed dead. My interest in Hellenic and Kemetic traditions stems from my ancestry and I was also drawn to it through the guidance of my spirit guide who happened to be an ancestor well versed in these traditions.
When I was introduced to the concept of Ancestor Veneration in the Kemetic tradition it felt very familiar. This practice was something which I had always done in some way or another and it was refreshing to see others actively participating in the same practice in this day and age. I came to learn that “Akhu” also known as the “Shining Ones” or “Blessed Dead” and are the spirits of our ancestors who became a star in the heavens in the body of Nuit. Nuit is a sky goddess who is depicted as a naked woman covered in stars who arches over the earth. She is also a goddess of death and swallowed and rebirth the stars and sun. As stars shine their light down upon us, they remind us that they are always with us and watching over us. This brought me great comfort and resonated within me in a most profound way.
Venerating the Ancestors is a practice where you honour (instead of worship) your blessed dead so their Ka (soul) continues to be fed and therefore continuing to exist. Through remembering and speaking their name and by leaving them offerings such as incense, water or things they enjoyed in life , it allows them to have the ability to intercede on our behalf and assist us in our lives. Venerating the Ancestors shows how much you care for your blessed dead even though they are no longer in physical form in this earthly plain. It allows us to thank them for being as our own existence is due to theirs. When Venerating our Ancestors it allows them to bestow blessings and offer insight into our lives. This is because it is believed that they stand in the Duat or underworld/land of the dead and can communicate to us or be go betweens to the Gods themselves if necessary. All that is needed to Venerate the Ancestors is to acknowledge them in the form of prayers or offerings, this includes asking them for assistance and in return thanking them for their assistance when given. Also it is worthy to note that you don’t have to be blood tied to your blessed dead as they can be a person you cared deeply for in life and want to remember them in death.
People in many cultures including Eastern, Native American, Greek and Egyptian have been known to Venerate their Ancestors for many thousands of years. Originally it was part of everyday life for the common man to do this and in the modern day these practices have remained in one form or another. This shows us that many acknowledge that honouring and/or working with the blessed dead gives them comfort or blessings and has a positive impact on us physically and psychologically.
I have an ancestor shrine which I maintain regularly and sits in a part of the house I frequently use to ensure my blessed dead are acknowledged as part of the family. My shrine is an old desk I have covered with a star studded shrine cloth and I have placed various items on it which represent my ancestors and which symbolically feed their soul. Some items on my ancestor shrine include personal possessions of my ancestors, photos of my ancestors, a book containing ancestor’s names and their stories, flowers, a libation bowl, a food offering plate, incense holder with incense and candles which are lit during the reciting of prayers. It is important to note that food offerings are always disposed of in the garbage separately to the household trash and are not to be consumed. Libations are left to evaporate or poured onto the earth outside.
((C) T. Georgitsis Akhu Shrine 2010)
I find an effective way to communicate with my blessed dead other than simply talking to them in shrine is by writing them a letter and reading it to them or leaving it on their shrine. I have a personally amended a Kemetic prayer (A Hotep Di Nisut Prayer) with my own words at the end which has been framed and placed amongst photos of my blessed dead on my shrine which is recited frequently:
“An offering which the King gives to Yinepu-Upon-His-Mountain and to Wesir, Lord of Abydos: a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of oil and alabaster and linen, a thousand of meat and fowl and all things good and pure that heaven gives, the earth produces and the inundation brings; for the ka of _______ ma’a heru.
Your names will live on forever, for you are the stars who watch over me “
If it wasn’t for my ancestors, my blessed dead, I wouldn’t be here and for that I am indebted. I am a part of them and they will always be a part of me as I remind myself how much I love them through devotional veneration where I bestow offerings and prayers as a symbol of this love and remembrance. In return they bless, assist me and remind me of where I came from. Until I see my blessed dead when it is my time to cross over, I will continue to show them respect and be their messenger when needed.
By T. Georgitsis © 2011
This article was the opening piece from the book: Memento Mori – A Collection of Magickal and Mythological Perspectives on Death, Dying, Mortality & Beyond, Edited by Kim Huggens which can be purchased here:
I have an article about Ancient Egyptian “Aromatherapy” in this issue called Fragrance of the Gods – check it out, its free!