People of the Distant Sands
Hailing from a distant land in deserts far beyond Almaris, the Ekhash-Nekhen - known also as the Nekheni or the Nekhenites - are a race of humans long forgotten to all but themselves. With a culture steeped in mystical philosophy, and a harsh, complex language, they are often considered alien by many of their fellow descendants. As a people, they take their name from their capital, Nekhen, a great city amidst the dunes built on the shores of an inland sea; a city whose name literally means ‘Victory’. Indulgent and prideful, their kings and commoners alike adorn themselves in gold and decorate their eyes with extravagant makeup, and their gods are honored with gilded temples and lavish offerings. Truly, the Ekhash-Nekhen are a people unlike any other.
The history of Nekhen and her people is long and fraught with strife and bloodshed, but so too is it filled with tales of great heroes and victories. Unlike most cultures, they do not record historical events by the commonly used calendars of chronological year, but by the Pharaoh and Dynasty under which the events occurred, thus giving rise to their dynastic calendar. As of today, the history of Nekhen is divided into three Dynastic Eras, beginning with the First Dynasty, in a semi-mythical time generally considered prehistory, and spanning to the modern day with the Third Dynasty.
First Dynasty - Sek-Uet Parekh
“And so Setekh was bound in chain, and his earthly form cast into the Underworld by Horakh to forever remain, leaving men to flee and spread across the earth by horse and barque.”
~ Excerpt from a Nekheni Myth ~
The longest of the Dynastic Eras, the First Dynasty began in an age so ancient that most records of it have been lost to history, save a scant few scraps and legends. According to myth, the Ekhash-Nekhen of those elden days - rather, their ancestors who had yet to become the Ekhash-Nekhen - were a great seafaring people, and traveled as nomads across the oceans in search of shores to settle following a great cataclysm in their ancestral home. Guided by Ra, the Sun God, it is said they lived and rode upon their barques for a century before landing upon a rocky coast, beyond which lay a seemingly endless expanse of desert sand. Into the desert they traveled until a star fell from a midday sky and landed in the hands of a man named Menkhad, a common but respected warrior. Thought to be an omen from Ra himself, Menkhad was proclaimed Pharaoh, Chosen of the Gods, and under his leadership the foundations of Nekhen were laid, the fallen star adorning his crown forever thereafter.
The truth of the Legend of the Star is a matter of some debate, even among the more devoutly religious, however it is generally accepted that, despite the shroud of fantasy and myth surrounding him, Menkhad was, in fact, the first Pharaoh of Nekhen, later coming to be known as Menkhad the Great. In his reign, and that of his son, Menkhad II, the foundations of the first city of Nekhen were laid. Little is recorded of the time between the reign of Menkhad and the end of his dynasty, records having been lost and destroyed over time, however it is believed that his dynasty lasted for three hundred years, and ended in a civil war that brought about the rise of the Second Dynasty.
Second Dynasty - Sek-Senet Parekh
“With the terrible crashing of thunder, the once-great city of Nekhen, wrought by the hand of Menkhad I centuries past, was brought down in a heavensent storm of flame, its spires returned to the sands.”
~ Mayethotep the Chronicler, The Doom of Nekhen ~
The Second Dynasty is both the shortest and bloodiest era in the annals of Nekhen’s history. This age of crimson, lasting for a single century, began with the reign of Pharaoh Nakhatet, who took the throne by force following his victory in a great civil war. Beginning during Nakhatet’s childhood years, the conflict began with the death of Menkhad IV and the succession crisis that followed. With no heir, chaos reigned for a time with several individuals claiming rulership in a short span of time, until after a decade of fighting a young Nakhetet, raised in blood and war, successfully defeated the other claimants and secured his hold on the title of Pharaoh. Though generally considered an adept, skillful ruler, the common people balked under his harsher policies, and a good many of them came to view him as conqueror and tyrant, rather than king and master. Because of this, he spent much of his reign putting down petty revolts and riots, adding to his infamy.
By the end of Nakhetet’s reign, he had become so feared that many who had once opposed him had given up, weary of the futility of their struggle. He had attained peace, certainly, but all too late as he took ill soon after, and was succeeded by his nephew soon after his untimely death. Ahmoses I, the second Pharaoh of his line, rose to the throne then, and ruled over a subdued populace, and led them into a number of campaigns to expand Nekhen’s domain. In time, he became broadly accepted by his subjects, seen as a benevolent, if iron-fisted, leader. His end, as well as that of his son and heir, came at the point of an assassin’s dagger, however, and he was soon usurped by his second son. This heir, Ahmoses II, was even more reviled than Nakhetet, however, having not half the skill in statesmanship and twice the malice of his predecessors. Very quickly, Ahmoses’ name came to be spoken as a curse, even in his own court, and many accused him of being an agent of Setekh, the Serpent God of Strife and of cavorting with practitioners of forbidden sorcery. Lending credence to the claims that he was an enemy of the gods, famine plagued his reign, and riot and rapine had come to rule the streets of the great city. Then, in a fitting end to such an age, the reign of the usurper was ended in a great cataclysm known as the Doom of Nekhen.
In the fifth year of the reign of Ahmoses II, amid widespread violence and the onset of plague, an event came to pass which many at the time - and many still today - believed to be an act of divine intervention. As if to smite the reviled ruler, a meteor impact struck the palace at midday on the eve of the new year, and the city erupted into flame, buildings collapsing to rubble in the seismic aftermath. Named Esh Wer-sedjet Desek-Renkhet (lit. The Great Fire of the Red Year) by the Nekheni, the catastrophe destroyed the great city near entirely, and those members of the royal household who were not killed by the fires or the tumbling stones were swiftly put to the sword by a cadre of priests who rose from the chaos as the leaders of the surviving citizens. Thus ended the Second Dynasty of Nekhen.
Third Dynasty - Sek-Kumet Parekh
“As our ancestors raised Great Nekhen from the sand at the beginning of history, so shall we do it again with mortar, brick and the blessings of the Netjerash.”
~ Pharaoh Semerkhet I ~
The era of the current day, the Third Dynasty began just over a century ago with the rise of Semerkhet I. Coming to prominence in the aftermath of Nekhen’s destruction, Semerkhet was raised to power by the priests who brought order to the chaos. With his first act as Pharaoh, he decreed that the scorched desert where Nekhen once stood would remain untouched, to act as the eternal grave of Ahmoses the Usurper and a reminder of the wrath of the gods. After leading the Nekhenites to a new site some few miles north of the still-smouldering ruin, he bade the survivors make camp and begin construction of a new Nekhen. Within the month, houses and markets had gone up, and within a year, a new temple and palace. With the completion of the new city of Nekhen, Semerkhet was hailed as Menkhad Reborn, and led a peaceful, prosperous reign, until his death fifty years later. He was then succeeded by his son, Semerkhet II, who himself reigned for thirty years before being slain by a crocodile. His reign, however, carried on the prosperity of his father’s.
Next came a nephew, Arekheses I, who was born with a mysterious defect that ended his life twenty years into his reign. His son, still a child then, inherited after him, with the name Arekheses II, but he too fell to his father’s illness. Now, as of the 117th year of the Third Dynasty - the 88th year of the Second Age by Common reckoning - Nekhen is led by a regency council which has run the kingdom for the past seven years since the death of the Child-Pharaoh Arekheses. Without a definite heir, the population has begun to fear that the Third Dynasty may be in its final days.
APPEARANCE AND FASHION
The Ekhash-Nekhen are, in appearance, typical of a desert people; dusky bronze to dark brown skin, with hawkish, angular features, dark eyes, and black hair that grows in loose curls. Their mode of dress, as well, reflects the environment of their sun-scorched homeland with men and women alike opting to wear tunics of white linen, over which is worn a sheer, draping robe known as a kalasiris and a colored sash which holds the ensemble together. Among upper classes, of course, the options become more varied and extravagant, including the patterned furs of exotic felines, vibrantly colored embroidery, and in some cases even raiment sewn from cloth-of-gold. As far as adornment and cosmetics go, there is something of a society-wide fascination. Most prominently, even the poorest of the Ekhash-Nekhen are seen with eyes outlined in dark black designs drawn with kohl, often making their eyes look wider and more pointed. Then there is the favored fashion accessory, gold.
Born of the belief that divine beings, great and small, have golden skin, the Nekhenites are known to cover themselves in as much gold as they can afford. Bracelets and necklaces are most common among the lower class, and the wealthy often wear jeweled headdresses and ever-popular usekh collars. So beloved are golden adornments that tombs of wealthier individuals practically overflow with jewelry boxes, and the poor go to great lengths to acquire gold or anything that looks like gold, such as polished bronze, brass or copper.
The society of Nekhen is a very structured, hierarchical thing, with all people falling into a system of castes. However, social mobility is much higher than it tends to be in other societies, owing to a long-honored tradition of legal impartiality and meritocracy. The one exception to this is the Royal caste, which can only be attained by birthright or marriage - or by force, in the case of a usurpation.
The royal caste are the top of the top. The Pharaoh foremost, followed by his household, and then his vizier, are a faction with authority unmatched except by the Gods themselves. Only by rare exception does one not born royal ever attain such status, save for by marriage or usurpation.
Priesthood and Nobility
Second only to those of royal blood, priests and nobles form the upper crust of the Ekhash-Nekhen. Priests, who derive their authority from the gods, and nobles, whose coin and influence keep society running, are highly respected by all. Though the barrier to entry is still quite high, particularly ambitious merchants, acolytes and soldiers have been known to carve out a place for themselves among these elite few.
Military service is the most common way in which a person might climb the social ladder. Through service in the Pharaoh’s army, one gains respect from both the ruling class and from one’s peers - and even riches may be gained from plunder, in the event of a campaign in wartime. Particularly distinguished soldiers, as well as those who become officers, also often attain a status similar to nobility. With military service open to all but serviles, it is by far the most efficient means of making a name for oneself.
Scribes and Merchants
Scribes and merchants form the backbone of Nekhen’s society, and so are a class all to themselves. The coin brought in by merchants and the boons of communication and record-keeping provided by scribes are the fuel that keeps the fires of efficiency and prosperity burning, after all. It is not altogether uncommon for nobles, and on occasion even royals, to have their children apprentice in these fields, prestigious as they are considered.
As in any society, the common folk are the foundation upon which all else is built. They are the farmers, artisans and laborers who see to the day-to-day necessities of a functioning civilization. Though often seldom thought of by the elite, commoners possess immense potential for advancement, provided they have a bit of ambition.
Serviles are the lowest of all the classes in Nekhen. Bound by debts they - or in some cases, their families - could not pay, they are bound by law to work as servants to their debtors until such time as the debt is considered paid. These indentured servants have many of the same freedoms as commoners, and are even permitted to hold property but are barred by law from taking up any profession unrelated to their debts. As with many such practices, however, even among the citizens of Nekhen, the practice of keeping servants is a matter of controversy, with a good number of people advocating for the abolishment of the practice.
BELIEFS AND VALUES
As with any society, there are a number of prevailing values and beliefs, religious and otherwise, which define and guide them in their everyday activities. A deeply devout people, many of the beliefs of the Ekhash-Nekhen are driven by faith in their gods. Others are driven by practicality, or have arisen as a result of their environment.
The gods of the Ekhash-Nekhen demand that their followers live virtuously in order to be granted entry to the afterlife, and so has arisen a code of honor which they hold to fervently. Unlike many honor-based societies, they do not necessarily expect martial skill or physical strength as part of their conception of honor, however it is not by any means considered in a negative light. Rather, foremost of their moral strictures is honesty, as acts of deception are believed to, at once, empower Setekh and weaken the bonds between brothers. As such, to be caught in a lie is to be met with no small amount of scorn. Second to honesty, then, is righteous action. To simply speak or to do no more than think about what is right brings about no good and no order in the world, and so great stock is placed in one’s deeds - in doing what is right and in acting with valor and forthrightness.
Religion and Piety
The Ekhash-Nekhen follow a pantheon of gods who govern the various aspects of the world and believe wholeheartedly in a mystical and fundamentally interconnected universe. They hold that the gods, whom they call the Netjerash, have a hand in everything, from the smallest creatures to the largest of world-changing events. With this, it is believed as well that the gods are fickle, easily displeased beings, and as such some portion of a great many tasks in the day will involve a degree of reverence, whether it be a craftsman offering a prayer before doing his work or a scholar writing out an exaltation at the top of any text he begins to transcribe. To the uninitiated, it is often hard to discern whether this deep reverence is born of great respect for the gods or from fear of retribution, but in truth, as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Law and Order
Just as they believe the universe must be set in order, so too do the Ekhash-Nekhen believe society must be kept under the rule of law. And so, pursuant to such a goal, an ancient, time-honored code of common law, known as Maat-sek-Menkhad, has remained in place for centuries, overseen and enforced by the Pharaoh’s Vizier and his appointed judges. The most well known statutes of this code are its prohibitions against vigilantism and revenge feuds and its enumerated list of crimes and punishments.
In Nekhen, it is said that a life lived in sadness or boredom is a life wasted. Spurred by the idea that one is not guaranteed the pleasures of the afterlife, the Ekhash-Nekhen hold to the belief that one should indulge in the pleasures life has to offer, rather than abstaining and dying without having lived happily. As such, they are known to hold lavish parties and celebrations into which they throw themselves with abandon, often drinking until blackout and gorging themselves on great heaps of fruit and desserts. More reserved folk tend to think them hedonistic and wasteful, but among themselves the people of Nekhen hold that such pleasures are simply one of the joys of a life well-lived.
LANGUAGE AND NAMES
The Ekhash-Nekhen speak a complicated and grating language known as Nesh-Seknobek-Eshretash, meaning ‘Tongue of the Golden Sands’. Composed of a number of guttural phonemes, it is often described by the uninitiated as harsh on the ears and difficult to follow. The script in which it is traditionally written is no less confusing, made up of a number of pictorial glyphs as opposed to the more commonly understood use of letters. Because of this, when translated to the letters of the Common alphabet, the spellings very often vary between writers. Below is a table of frequently-used sayings and terms.
Yes (lit. ‘affirmative’ or ‘positive’)
No (lit. ‘negative’)
Em hotep ek(ta/ten)
Hello/Goodbye (lit. ‘Peace to you.’)
The last word of the phrase changes based on the gender and number of the individual(s) being addressed: ek for the masculine, ta for the feminine, and ten for multiple people.
Em neher ek(ta/ten)
Thank you (lit. ‘Gratitude to you.)
Thanks (informal, lit. ‘Blessings’)
Ankh, udja, seneb
Life, prosperity, health
A formal blessing added to partings or said after the name of a greatly honored person (i.e ‘Farewell. Ankh, udja, seneb.’ or ‘Pharaoh Menkhad, ankh udja seneb.’)
The name of the Nekheni god of chaos, used as a curse; akin to ‘damn it’ or ‘shit’.
Em nekhet Nekhen!
‘Victory to Nekhen!’ A common war cry and motto of the Ekhash-Nekhen.
The names of the Ekhash-Nekhen, like many things in their language, make use of portmanteaus of words and phonemes to create new terms with their own meanings. Though it is not always the case, the majority of names among the Nekhenites have some meaning and can be translated. Some names, however, are simply amalgamations of word-parts chosen by the parents in order to create new, distinctive names. Even in words with explicit meaning, though, it is not uncommon for sounds to be added or removed to make the name flow more easily when spoken.
The Nekheni Calendar is, for a rare convenience, quite similar to the more commonly used calendars of the world, consisting of seven months to a year, and twenty-four days to each month. Each year is divided into three seasons, from which the names of the month are derived. The first season, Akhet, marks the time of year when the rivers that feed into Nekhen’s great inland sea begin to flood and prepare the land for the year's crop. Next comes Perhet, the longest season of the year in which seeds are sown and crops grow. Finally is Shemet, the season of harvest at the year's end. The year, or renkhet - the last element of the date - is named according to the dynasty in which it occurs.
Aten-sek-Akhet (Akhet’s Dawn)
Duaket-sek-Akhet (Akhet’s Blessing)
Wadjet-sek-Perhet (Perhet’s Planting)
The First Seed
Usekh-sek-Perhet (Perhet’s Breadth)
The Grand Harvest
Meritet-sek-Perhet (Perhet’s Love)
Nobek-sek-Shemet (Shemet’s Bounty)
The Amber Cold
Kehet-sek-Shemet (Shemet’s Nightfall)
The Deep Cold
To write or state the date, the above-listed elements are combined in the order of day, month and then year.
5th of Snow's Maiden, Year 88 SA
5th of Aten-sek-Akhet, Renkhet 117, Sek-Kumet Parekh
Ranging from common feasts to mark births and weddings all the way up to grand, ebullient festivals held to commemorate the lives of Pharaohs past, the Ekhash-Nekhen are a sort who take great pride in their celebrations. Even beyond those holidays and festivals listed here, they are known to hold regular parties amongst friends and family just for enjoyment’s sake.
Unlike most cultures, the Ekhash-Nekhen do not observe any form of wedding ceremony, be it simple, complex or otherwise. The matter of marriage is rather more straightforward, with partners who agree to be married simply moving in with each other and notifying their families of the decision. Despite the lack of a ceremony, however, families will often host a gathering or party to celebrate the union and offer gifts to the newlywed couple. The matter of weddings among royalty are similar, but on a much grander scale, often seeing heaping banquets and lavish gift exchanges.
Habet-sek-Menkhad - The Feast of Menkhad (January)
By far the largest and most popular of holidays among the Ekhash-Nekhen, the Feast of Menkhad is a celebration held once every half-century to mark the end of the Wer-Renkhet, or the ‘Grand Year’. Twofold in purpose, it celebrates both the beginning of a new Grand Year, as well as the life of Menkhad the Great, as his fifty-year reign is said to be the origin of the Wer-Renkhet as a concept. Often taking place over the course of a few days, feasts are held daily, but the Feast of Menkhad itself, for which the holiday takes its name, is held on the final day of the celebration. At this great banquet, most often hosted by the Pharaoh personally, the finest foods available are served, and a statue of Menkhad is placed at the head of the gathering. Before attendees can begin to eat, prayers and lamentations in the First Pharaoh’s honor are recited with the belief that his spirit will be, then, invited to his own feast and join his people once again. Finally, the festival is concluded in an offering ceremony where gifts are placed before the statue for Menkhad to take back to the afterlife when he departs once more.
Esh Neheht Wadjet - The Time of Planting (March)
This holiday, compared to most Nekheni celebrations, is a relatively dull affair, but is considered to be of great importance. Held at the beginning of the planting season, the event is a religious observance believed to bring health and fertility to the earth, and invite blessings upon the year’s crop. Traditionally, it consists primarily of offerings made to the gods at shrines erected around the fields to be planted in the coming season, though it has also come to include feasts, parties and other such gatherings. The religious aspects are a much more involved affair among the farmers and workers of the land, however, and in the city there is a much greater focus on revelry and celebration.
Habet-sek-Tekhat - The Drunkard’s Festival (October)
Exactly as the name implies, the Drunkard’s Festival is a celebration of all things booze-related. Yet it is more than a simple excuse for bacchanalia. Rather, it is based upon an old legend wherein an invading army is thwarted by Heqenet - a being said to be the daughter of Ra, and the origin of the Nekheni word heqet, meaning beer. According to this legend, the army, which had been undefeated in its campaign up to that point, were tricked by Heqenet in the guise of an old wisewoman. She had offered them a potion which, she claimed, would allow one soldier to fight as well as ten if added to their beer. Instead, the potion imparted a curse on the army and they fell into a drunken slumber, allowing the Nekhenites to take advantage and claim victory. In honor of the legend, it is tradition for men and women alike to drink until blackout, and so beer is prepared in such great volumes for the affair that brewers often begin to prepare for it several weeks in advance.
THE FAITH OF THE NETJERASH
The gods of the Ekhash-Nekhen, known in their tongue as the Netjerash, are a pantheon of beings invariably viewed as fickle and austere in personality. Generally, they are believed to be aloof and wrapped up in the concerns of their godhood rather than in the affairs of mortals. For those mortals who live according to their wishes and their code of morals, however, it is said that they show favor and bestow minor boons and give heed to prayer. Conversely, those who scorn and gain the ire of the Netjerash are said to be afflicted with terrible curses, and often end up outcast from society, lest their curses adversely affect their fellows.
While the Ekhash-Nekhen believe there to be a deity for all things which exist, the majority of these beings are considered lesser to the Six Greater Gods - the Wer-Netjerash Serket. These lesser deities - known as the Netakhash, meaning ‘ghosts’ or ‘spirits’ - are deemed worthy of respect yet they are often not present in the grand temples dedicated to their superiors.
The Wer-Netjerash Serket
The God of the Sun and King of the Heavens
The chief deity of the Netjeri pantheon, Ra is believed to be embodied in the physical world by the sun. In legend, he is credited as the King of the Heavens and the Lord of All Creation. Among the Ekhash-Nekhen, he is worshipped most devoutly of all the Six Greater Gods, as he is believed to be the wellspring from which all life is sourced. The golden scarabs that adorn the tombs and home shrines of the Ekhash-Nekhen are fashioned in his honor, as it is believed that the beetles are his favored creatures, and through them he watches the small affairs of the earth just as he watches over the greater whole through the sun.
The Goddess of Love, Healing, and Motherhood
Eshtanet is the Mother Goddess, and embodies love, fertility and motherhood. The Mother of Ra, she is beloved by farmers, who credit her with the fertility of their fields, as well as by poets and minstrels, who compose romantic verse in her name. Believing the goddess to be the Guardian of Hearts, it is Eshtanet in whose name oaths - especially those pertaining to marriage - are most often taken. To honor Eshtanet, the wealthy often seek to keep menageries populated with white cranes, and are willing to pay high prices for such creatures.
The God of War and Valor and Lord of the Sky
Often considered a being whose power is second only to Ra himself, Horakh is the warrior-god. Brother to the King of the Heavens and He-Who-Guides-The-Arrow, Horakh is revered by soldiers and kings alike. In fact, he is so deeply beloved that in times of war it is not uncommon for the worship of Horakh to overtake that of Ra in popularity.
The God of Wisdom and Learning
An oft-overlooked deity, Zutekh is the god of wisdom whose realm is all things to do with the mind. It is said that it was he who first taught men to write, and it is he who reveals the secrets of innovation to inquisitive minds. Though seldom invoked through direct prayer, his shrines are found in libraries and the homes of scholars.
The Goddess of Magic and Sorcery
Hekhatet is, despite her importance, is thought to be the most uninvolved of the Netjerash. Twin sister to Zutekh, hers is the esoteric realm of magic and sorcery. Myth tells that it was she who first taught mortals how to call on the Gods’ power through prayer, and with intervention from Zutekh, how to call on powers beyond to enact sorcery. As the legend goes, once men mastered her arts, she became content and withdrew from the world to watch from afar, and now only reaches into the world to enlighten mortals with new arts or to take away those which have fallen from memory.
The God of Deception, Chaos and Darkness
Alone among the Six Greater Gods, Setekh is reviled instead of revered. The driving force behind isfet, or chaos, he is believed to have a hand in all things malignant. Generally accepted to be the Ekhash-Nekhen interpretation of the Archdaemon Iblees, legends tell of the mythic past when Setekh made war with men and was chained and imprisoned in the underworld by Horakh. Due to his association with the broader idea of evil, his name is often invoked as a curse.
MAAT AND ISFET
The most directly personal aspect of faith for the Ekhash-Nekhen is the eternal conflict between the opposing forces of Maat, order, and Isfet, disunity. As a follower of the Netjerash, one is charged with maintaining this harmony, which, it is believed, is accomplished through virtuous living and reverence of the Gods. To the Ekhash-Nekhen, all things in creation are inseparably bound in a great cosmic unity. The realm of the Gods, the natural world, the kingdoms that live and die on the earth, and the individuals that inhabit those kingdoms; all are part of the greater weave of the universe, and as such, should one fall out of order, all will suffer. This belief has led to the rise of frequent ceremonies and rituals dedicated to reaffirming the place of order over chaos, and a prevailing moral doctrine centered around honesty and honorable conduct.
The afterlife of the Ekhash-Nekhen, like many others, is thought to be a place of paradise. To reach it, however, it is said the deceased must undergo an arduous journey through the grim expanse of the Underworld. Beginning once the body is interred, legend holds that the soul must then travel to the Place of Judgement, or Niwet-Mekhedj, where the weight of one’s soul is measured upon golden scales. Those who have lived honorably in accordance with the principles of Maat and the wishes of the Netjerash are permitted entry into the afterlife proper; a paradise of flowing waterfalls, joyous song and easy living. Those deemed unworthy, however, are said to be cast into the Underworld again to repeat the journey time and again for all eternity.
TEMPLES, PRIESTS AND RITES
Unlike the houses of worship in most modern religions, temples of the Netjerash are closed to the public. Though many will have an open courtyard with shrines where the faithful may gather and present offerings to their gods, the inner chambers are restricted to men of authority alone. Most of the temple complex’s interior is dedicated to housing, libraries and other such amenities for the priests living there, but in the very center of the temple is a room kept under the most sacred of security; the sanctuary. Held to be the throne room of that temple’s patron, and a place where the temple’s Netakh guardians gather, only high priests and kings may enter such a holy place, and even then only to perform rituals in the Gods’ honor or to maintain the shrine within. There is, however, a second form of temple; the mortuary shrine. Erected as burial places for wealthy and honored individuals, these mausoleums act as shrines to the fallen, and house mummified remains within gilded sarcophagi.
The clergy that oversees these temples is a highly respected caste composed of acolytes and priests. The acolytes, priests-in-training themselves, are tasked with the maintenance of temple grounds and the guiding of visitors to the shrines. The fully fledged priests, meanwhile, spend their days performing rituals and incantations in honor of the gods, providing training to acolytes, and seeing to various needs of the laity, such as conducting funerals. To become a priest is not barred based on class or birth, however it is a difficult and time-spanning affair involving great amounts of training, indoctrination and several trials of aptitude. As such, it can take many years for an acolyte to be raised to the station of priest.
As is true of any faith, the worship of the Netjerash is steeped in ceremony and ritual. The most common rituals, of course, are those pertaining to everyday worship, seen most often in the giving of offerings. In most cases, this is a simple affair, consisting of the offering being placed upon the shrine following a brief prayer. However, when greater interdiction is sought, priests may begin to conduct larger, more complex rituals wherein offerings are heaped upon pyres and burned or otherwise sacrificed alongside a chorus of chanted invocations and hymnals. Such grandiose ceremonies are rare however, and reserved for dire circumstances.
Among the most notable religious affairs of the Ekhash-Nekhen are the rituals associated with death and funerals. It is believed that, before a person may safely pass to the afterlife, the body must first be prepared and preserved. The reasoning for this is twofold. Firstly, the belief is that the deceased will inhabit their body in the afterlife, and so it must be kept whole. Secondly, in order to be reborn into the next life at all, spiritual vitality must be drawn back into the body, allowing the soul to awaken and travel to the gates of the underworld.
The process of preparation begins with an intricate embalming process, which is then followed by a ritualized mummification. First, the blood is drained and the body artificially desiccated, using salt to draw moisture from the corpse. Then, over the course of several time-consuming rituals, priests remove the internal organs - most notably the heart, liver, stomach and lungs, which are then stored in specially prepared jars - and anoint the body with various oils and sacred wines to protect the body from decay. Finally, amidst prayers and burning incense, the preserved corpse is wrapped in several layers of linen, cut into strips and adhered to the skin with gum. Then, with the corpse mummified, burial can occur, though the manner of burial can vary. Less wealthy individuals may simply be buried in the desert, whereas kings often are interred within great mausoleums filled with their worldly possessions, and in some cases even the mummified corpses of their favored servants.
MAGIC AND SORCERY
Somewhat confusing to the outsider, the Ekhash-Nekhen make a firm distinction between magic, which they call hekat, and sorcery, or khotet. Both, they believe, were taught to mortals by the goddess Hekhatet - whose name is a reflection of both terms - however they are very intent on the difference between the two. Hekat is that which is natural to the world and creation. When one invokes the name of a Netjer to effect change upon the world, they are using magic. In this sense, a prayer would be considered to be a spell, and alchemical practice and other such arts are similarly considered to be magic. Khotet, on the other hand, is that which comes from beyond the Netjerash and the physical world. Magic drawn from the void or from other deities, or even dark magics, are considered to be sorcery. As such, sorcery can come with varying degrees of prestige or stigma, depending on circumstance, leading to the rise of the terms hedj-khotet and desek-khotet - ‘white sorcery’ and ‘red sorcery’ respectively. Hedj-khotet, generally, is believed to be sorcery as Hekhatet intended, whereas desek-kotet is sorcery which is believed to have been corrupted by Setekh.