Rev. Tamara Siuda
Seals of Her Holiness Hekatawy I,
current Nisut-bityt of the
Kemetic Orthodox Religion
Kemetic Orthodoxy is more than a religion: it is a community, a culture, and a way of life, forged and united under the leadership of one remarkable woman. Her English name is Tamara L. Siuda, though the Kemetic Orthodox also know her as Her Holiness, Sekhenet-Ma'at-Ra Hekatawy, Nisut-Bityt of the Kemetic Orthodox Religion among other names, or simply, affectionately, as Hemet (an ancient word translated either as "majesty" or "sacred incarnation").
Nisut-Bity (or Nisut-bityt in the feminine), sometimes translated as "sovereign" (or ruler), literally "(S)he of the Sedge and Bee," is the ancient title of a person sometimes called Pharaoh: today as in antiquity, the spiritual and cultural leader of the Kemetic nation. Upon coronation, a Nisut is charged with carrying out the will of Netjer (God(s) for the Kemetic people, seen as one divine force that manifests at the same time in many unique, independent forms or Names as the gods and goddesses). A Nisut acts as a physical and spiritual bridge between the people and Netjer. As the current Nisut-bityt (often shortened to "Nisut"), Her Holiness is recognized by the Kemetic Orthodox as the current incarnation of the kingly ka, or invested spirit of Heru, a divine soul co-resident in its spiritual leaders. Upon coronation, our Nisut, believed to be the 196th of the lineage, received Kemetic names charging Her with spiritual responsibility for, and setting the course of Her mission within, the Kemetic Orthodox Religion.
That coronation took place in 1996 in Egypt at the traditional places such rituals are conducted, in ancient ritual forms. However, Her Holiness' coronation was not the beginning, but the next step in a lifelong journey of her personal dedication to the will of the gods. Her involvement with the religion of ancient Egypt began many years before, in 1988, while earning an undergraduate degree from Mundelein College, one of the last remaining all-women's secondary institutions in the United States. She entered graduate study a decade later at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and received her Master's degree in Egyptology from the University in August 2000. To understand the foundations of her spiritual journey, however, one must look even further back.
As a preteen in a nominally Methodist family in the American Midwest, Her Holiness' greatest religious inspiration was a child in the Bible, Samuel, who submitted his life to serving the Divine with the legendary words: "Here I am, Lord, send me!" These were among the words on the Nisut's lips at bedtime prayer, though she could not have imagined then that the gods answering those prayers would prove to be very different from the ones she learned of about in Sunday school! Ancient Egypt called to her imagination, her strong sense of history and tradition, and, finally, to her innermost heart. She was given a challenge: to revive Kemet's long-forgotten ways and bring them to a new generation, helping to return the love and wisdom of ma'at to a modern world sorely in need of it.
Her Holiness encourages the Kemetic Orthodox to be active in local causes, serve in charitable work, and put their principles into concrete action. She feels it is vital for our faith to be a "good neighbor" wherever it finds itself -- and with active members in almost 30 countries, that's a big neighborhood! Her emphasis on service and faith with action is embodied in her own work as well, from actively supporting the Parliament of World Religions, the United Religions Initiative, and other interreligious service projects (such as America Online's Spirituality Forum, and Mary's House, a home for abandoned children with AIDS located at Florida's Kashi Ashram). She has contributed to the world in many ways, from presenting scholarly papers, writing books and offering volunteer assistance, to working with spiritual leaders in polytheist and indigenous traditions worldwide, from the Haudenosaunee (Onondaga) people she belongs to on her mother's side, to the Haitian people she has come to know and join with as an initiate of their own Vodou tradition, to others in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
More than anything else, Her Holiness teaches a simple message that transcends religious boundaries: every human being, great or small, has a vital role to play in the Divine design. "I was taught that the gods don't make junk," she says. "If you accept that, once you believe you are a hand-crafted, deliberate formation of Their will, loved and cherished from the moment of your making, then you can understand why you are important. Once you can believe that everyone else is a divine creation as well - then you understand why they are important, and why you must help them in any way you can."
This stance is the foundation of the challenge Her Holiness sets for those who would accept her as a teacher and for the Kemetic Orthodox Religion she founded: to embrace one's nature as a child of the Divine, and in doing so, to work to spread ma'at throughout the world. Kemetic Orthodoxy, she stresses, is not an easy religion to embrace, nor does it provide simplistic answers: "Following our religion, or any religion, really, requires commitment, along with a willingness to work towards one's goals, rather than expect them to come with no effort. The gods and goddesses do answer prayers, but They also expect us to help answer them, if that's in our power. They want each and every one of us to take the power They have given us for ourselves and our world into our hands, to work with Them to change the world rather than simply wander through life doing what we're told, without being involved on all levels of our journey."
These are potent words from this scholar, teacher, and spiritual leader, as she carries her nation of a religion and its people forward into a new century and a new world.