Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why I Left Kemetic Orthodoxy

This is by no means a topical essay, but it's something people continue to ask me who know that at one point I used to be Kemetic Orthodox Shemsu*.  The main reason I feel people need to know why I made this cut is because people seem to chronically assume that I left because the House of Netjer is "a cult," and have even been asked to speak on behalf of people who have left cults.  This upsets me because it mischaracterizes why I left and how I feel about the church.

If we're using the common definition of a "cult" as a dangerous, extremist, separatist, fringe religion which keeps a stranglehold on its members' lives... no, the House of Netjer is not a cult.  I never felt under any pressure to become a Shemsu (and was a rather belligerent Remetj** for most of my time there).  And when I left Shemsuhood... there was very little fuss.  Nobody tried to stop me.  There was no guilt trip.  A few friends of mine were sad about it, but we didn't stop being friends.  The House of Netjer is not raking in cash from its members, despite charging for some services (these services are expensive to do, and so charging money for them is not unreasonable).

I'm not going to go into why others consider the religion cultlike.  They all have their own experiences and reasons.  I do not agree with them and so any way I represent them will be slanted, so if you want those opinions you would best seek them from their own sources.

But yes, I did leave.  And it wasn't a painless loss, either, like I found something I happened to like better (for instance, when I left Catholicism it was from a position of not having perceived the church as having hurt me, I simply found a faith that I felt more attuned to).  Friends who were around me at the time I abruptly cut off ties could tell you just how abrupt it was; literally the day before this happened I was telling people how much I loved being a Shemsu and how awesome Kemetic Orthodoxy was for me and how I was interested in looking into the priesthood if I happened to have been accepted into it.  The next day I wasn't Kemetic Orthodox at all.

The reason was the re-organization letter of 2011.  What happened was that Rev. Tamara Siuda, who is the leader and founder of the church, was displeased with the direction it was heading with regard to certain members.  Some of these were quite reasonable; for example she cited having had people go through the obligatory class and then put things like that Apep (who in Kemetic belief is a 100% evil being) is "misunderstood" and that they believe he is their spiritual father.  Some of the other stuff, though, I don't believe was called for.  The two that really stuck out to me were these:
  • People were maintaining or taking on clergy positions in other faiths.
  • People were questioning things based on belief in things like therianthropy, otherkin, and multiple personalities.

On the latter, this was what initially really hurt me.  I have rather sparse connections to these communities on a personal level.  I didn't identify with therianthropy at the time, I don't have multiple personalities, and so forth.  There was no personal conflict there.  I just have a huge aversion to talking about harmless and risk-aware identities and activities as if they're somehow decaying the fabric of your religious community.  And that's what I felt was going on.

What Siuda wrote was essentially that she was not going to accommodate things like multiple personalities in order to give people more than one divination and one Shemsu name.  She believes people have only one soul (well, one of each kind of soul), that it's a human soul, and that's that.  The reason it was angering wasn't because she doesn't believe in therianthropy or multiple souls; it's that aside from some discussions on the forums, it appeared this was not an issue for most of the involved people.  This was extremely hurtful to members of those communities who had no issue with only being given one RPD or with simply respectfully disagreeing with Siuda on the nature of souls, and disagreement with her had never until that point seemed to be an issue to me.  After all, Kemetics are not the kind of people who believe you're going to go to hell--or even be eaten by Ammit--simply for having different beliefs.

After this initial thought process, I went to bed.  When I woke up, I re-read and let the idea of people maintaining non-Kemetic Orthodox clergy positions.  This might seem reasonable at first... the whole idea of being a Shemsu is to put the Gods of your RPD first, in a Kemetic Orthodox manner, and if you're also a High Priest in a Wiccan coven there could be a conflict of interest, there.  The real question was "Is it possible for you to both hold your Gods above all others and maintain a faith community?"  I believe this is a reasonable question.

The problem is that Siuda herself is both the Nisut of the Kemetic Orthodox faith and a Mambo in Haitian Vodou.  When I remembered that, I made the decision to leave.  I like Tamara Siuda as a person, but there is only a certain amount of hypocrisy which can reasonably be considered accidental, and telling your followers that being a Shemsu and clergy in another faith is unacceptable when you are the highest level of clergy in two faiths is dripping with hypocrisy.

After I realized I wasn't going to be able to reconcile that, I also could no longer reconcile things that had bugged me but not enough to make me not want to say, things like the Rite of Parent Divination, cultural appropriation and mixing with African diasporic traditions like Vodou that most people already talk a lot about.

So I left.  I just left.

I still don't view the House of Netjer as a cult, although like I said there are people who have felt extremely hurt by the church who would adamantly proclaim it was.  There are still a lot of good things about this project that I support, just not as a member of the church.

* Shemsu are full members of the Kemetic Orthodox faith.  These are people who pledge to serve their Parent Gods (as divined by the leader of Kemetic Orthodoxy using cowrie shells) in a Kemetic Orthodox manner first and foremost.
** Remetj are sort of "outer court" members of the Kemetic Orthodox faith.  These are people who may or may not have had a divination to figure out their Parent Gods, but are not actually obligated to recognize them, worship them, or place them before other Gods.