House of Netjer
|Drink the Kool-Aid|
|But you WANT to stay!|
The House of Netjer (HoN) is a Kemetic Orthodox temple and cult located in the metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois. It is the largest (and wealthiest?) Ancient Egyptian based neo-pagan religious group. The "Kemetic Orthodox" religion (KO) and HoN are essentially one and the same, since the only KO temple and priesthood is HoN, and KO theology and rituals require recognition of HoN's self-appointed leader, Tamara Siuda, as "Nisut" (i.e. Pharaoh).
- 1988: First known involvement of Siuda in the Egyptian revival religious scene and eventually "Kemetic Orthodoxy" is formed in the same year
- 1989: Founding of Siuda's first Egyptian revival institution as the Temple of Bast
- 1992: Schaefer (See "Organisational Structure") joins Siuda's organization
- 1993: Temple of Bast re-founded as House of Netjer
- 1996: Siuda is "coronated" in Egypt
- 2000: House of Netjer achieves 501(c)(3) status
HoN is not short of a dollar or ten. The organization's head office and main temple is Tawy House, a sizeable (18 room) former convent with sizeable grounds, purchased for HoN by an anonymous "benefactor" in October 2003. Since HoN is 501(c)(3) registered, such donations are, of course, fully tax-deductible.
According to HoN's own financial statements (Jan 2014-Aug 2015), the organization's yearly income is around $40k, the majority of which comes from donations. Most of this money benefits the Nisut in the form of a salary of $20k, travel expenses, meals and utility bills for Tawy House.
HoN also runs a "benevolent" charity, the Udjat Foundation, which claims to work for child welfare causes, distributing funds to relevant charities directly. However, there is no indication that the Udjat Foundation itself has charitable status, nor is there is any hard and fast information available about how much money is coming in, nor where or whom it is disbursed to. The Udjat Foundation website gives no details of any specific projects it helps towards, nor indeed any information whatsoever beyond revealing the name of the chairman.
Like most not-cults, HoN charges (or sometimes has "recommended donations") for various services offered to members, as well as selling books and music directly. However, HoN does not generally peddle paraphernalia directly/overtly to
punters members but uses storefronts such as "Tears of Isis" to shift goods other than books. Goods available include things such as "Blessed Nile Water" and "Magical Purpose Oils". From the PayPal details given when filling a cart at the site, it appears that "Tears of Isis" is directly controlled by Siuda herself. Furthermore, the shop proudly guarantees that:
“”All items are blessed on a Kemetic Orthodox altar at Tawy House in Illinois before shipping.
Our products, except where otherwise noted, are entirely hand-crafted, blessed and assembled by one of our store's two partners:Inibmutes, a daughter and W'ab priest to the goddess Aset (Isis); or the Rev. Tamara Siuda, Nisut of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith.
|—Tears of Isis Magical Goods - Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) Goods and Supplies|
HoN's structure is, like most not-cults, highly stratified, centralized and autocratic. The organization and all its subsidiaries revolve around two key people, Siuda herself ("Nisut"), and her right-hand man, Craig Schaefer. Schaefer seems to handle most of the business side of the organization, and in other roles is also chairman of the Udjat Foundation, and is also given as the first point of contact on GuideStar, an information directory for non-profit organisations, though as of July 1st, 2011 he has retired from his position in the priesthood. Whether or not this will affect his wider role in HoN is unclear.
The entire board of directors for the House of Netjer include:
- Rev. Tamara Siuda
- Craig Schaefer (retired from the priesthood as of Jul. 2011)
- Rev. Christina Paul (retired from the priesthood as of Jul. 2011)
- Rev. Barbara Richter
- Rev. Marie Parsons
- Rev. Ginette Novello
- Rev. Tania Tieman
- Rev. Deneece Lacey
- David Dean (retired from the priesthood as of Jul. 2011)
Those listed as retired are all, according to HoN, still members of the temple "in good standing", and whether or not this retirement affects their role on the board is unclear. Priests are not paid for their religious services, and GuideStar data indicates that the institution has only one full-time staff member, with others (30) being volunteers, suggesting serving on the board is also a voluntary position. "Full Time" clergy are expected to give about 10 hours per week of their time.
The hierarchy of HoN is not entirely clear, but appears to include several layers of status, not all of which confer any meaningful difference in power. Ranks are named according to a mix of Egyptian and pseudo-Egyptian titles (see "Jargon"). To help give a greater impression of legitimacy in the wider world, some titles also carry an English equivalent.
|Nisut||No fixed title||Reserved for Siuda herself. Often expressed as "spiritual leader".|
|Heri-Tep||No fixed title||Head of the priesthood and right-hand man role. It was held by Schaefer.|
|Kai-Imakhu||Exalted Reverend||Top-level priesthood. Often handle courses for newcomers and lower ranks|
|Imakhu||Reverend||Lesser level ordained priests|
|Sesh||Scribe||Handle administrative or technical work|
|Wab||Lay priest||Lay priests. Not "legally" ordained by HoN. Maintain private chapels at home.|
|Shemsu-Ankh||None||Shemsu who have taken a vow (Weshem-ib) to serve the Nisut, gods, and religion exclusively|
|Shemsu||None||Common member who has taken the RPD initiation.|
|Remetj||None||Member who has not yet taken RPD.|
Along with these ranks, there are also some other titles not commonly seen and/or whose role is unclear. These include:
Heri-sesheta. Essentially a diviner or fortune teller, but mainly concerned with using this to guide other priests rather than the wider membership; their rank in relation to others is unclear. It is likely this title is held in addition to another which actually clarifies rank, whilst this just elaborates on function, or is an honorific given to good Pavlovian followers.
Kher-heb. Essentially a reciter of liturgies. Like Heri-sesheta it is never seen on its own and is likely primarily either descriptive of role rather than rank or just an honorific.
Setem. Used only by priests assigned to worship of Anubis.
In some respects, the modern hierarchy is quite historic in that, just like the Ancient Egyptian religious estate, the bureaucracy is out of all proportion to the amount of work actually carried out. Although membership of HoN is well within three figures (numbers are not made public, but is estimated to be between 300 and 400), the number of Wab priests is given by HoN as being "more than 25", whilst there are 4 professional priests, with a further three in training, plus Siuda herself. 
It is also important to note that Siuda holds complete moral authority within the organization, and resides within the Tawy House complex. In 1996 Siuda traveled to Egypt and performed a "coronation" ceremony, proclaiming herself Pharaoh over her followers, later clarifying that this should be interpreted as being in the spiritual sense only. Nonetheless, such a statement should leave no doubt as to the sort of internal power structure of HoN. Schaefer has been her "right-hand man" since before the re-founding of Siuda's previous venture, Temple of Bast, and between them they hold complete ceremonial and practical control, with all other ranks within the hierarchy being either largely ceremonial roles, or purely honorific in nature.
Much like the Church of Scientology and other cults, HoN utilizes an extensive jargon-laden language of its own. Like similar organizations, this serves to help create an isolated, insular community, detached from wider society. Within HoN, however, it also serves to reinforce the hierarchy, with significant weight put on the titles and signifier of status. Most of the jargon utilized either comes from Egyptian social and religious terms, although a significant portion is also pseudo-Egyptian, new phrases from Egyptian root words, with highly variable degrees of accuracy. This process extends to the names of gods, where original Egyptian rather than the better known Hellenised forms are used (i.e. Aset instead of Isis, Wesir instead of Osiris), again with varying degrees of accuracy, the half-baked approach to linguistics being, somewhat ironically, the HoN's whole approach to reviving the religion.
Key terms essential to decoding HoN literature and operations are given below:
|Nisut||Pharaoh||Title reserved for Siuda herself. 'Nuff said!|
|AUS||---||Abbreviation for Egyptian anx wDa snb "Life, Prosperity, Health", small mini-prayer added after speaking the name or title of the Nisut (AUS).|
|KO||Kemetic Orthodox||The official name of the religion created by Siuda which HoN serves.|
|Kemet/Kemetic||Egypt/Egyptian||From Egyptian kmt, the name given to the land of Egypt.|
|RPD||Rite of Parent Divination||A ritual which one must submit to in order to progress from Shemsu to Shemsu-Ankh status, equivalent to an initiation.|
|Netjer||God/gods||From Egyptian nTr, or "god" in the common noun, though its use in HoN is more equivalent to the proper noun form.|
|Parent||Patron god||Patron gods assigned to an RPD initiate. It is assigned to them by Siuda.|
|Shemsu||Follower||A common follower. Most members are this rank of Shemsu-Ankh, a follower who has undergone RPD.|
|Akhu||Ancestor||Ancestor veneration/worship is a strong theme in HoN|
|Em Hotep||Hello||The common form of greeting between HoN members, from Egyptian m-Htp, a form of greeting.|
|Nekhtet||Yay!||From Egyptian nhtt, "Victory", where it had military connotations not present in the HoN usage.|
|Dua "x"||Praise!||From Egyptian dwA "worship" or "adore". Disturbingly, the usage "Dua Nisut!" does occur on occasion.|
|Weshem-ib||2nd Level Initiation||aka "Washing the heart". An initiation ("ordeal") necessary to progress to Shemsu-Ankh|
|Her Holiness||Tamara Siuda||Another epithet for Siuda.|
RPD and names
After completing the free introductory course to progress from Remetj to Shemsu, the member must submit to an initiation rite (which can be carried out electronically, oddly enough) in which Siuda calls upon
her imagination the gods to identify themselves as a "parent" of the member, i.e. a patron god. The member is then given a new name by Siuda, which incorporates the patron god's name and some quality, e.g. "Merybast" (Beloved of Bast) or something similar. The member has no say in this process, and in addition to having the name and patron god bestowed upon them, are also required to direct their worship to this god, regardless of personal feelings of affiliation. In addition, and somewhat disturbingly, in at least one case the child of a member has had "Nisut" bestowed upon them as their "parent", according to KAKOHON, an online group opposed to HoN / KO.
In order for a member to move from Shemu to Shemsu-Ankh status, they must undertake the Weshem-ib 2nd initiation ritual, including a vow "to serve, honor and protect Netjer, Her Holiness and the people of Kemetic Orthodoxy". Yay, a vow to serve and protect Tamara Siuda personally. HoN also explicitly states that unless one is a Shemsu-Ankh, they cannot progress any further, i.e. to any role in the priesthood or any position of responsibility within the religion. So any of that requires one to take a specific oath to serve Siuda herself.
Problems at the top?
Siuda has traditionally divided her time between her two pet religions, KO / HoN, and her role as a Vodun priestess (see Tamara Siuda for more on that). There have been several signs that perhaps all is not well in the Pharaoh's palace.
In November 2010, the tawyhouse.org website was hacked, forcing HoN to replace it with a temporary archived site, losing all diary and upcoming events information. This site was abandoned and is now a parked domain.
Although Siuda has never been great at keeping the slew of websites that maintain HoN's membership up to date and on-message, things have been slipping more than normal. Several sites have been abandoned and consolidated into a new domain at tamarasiuda.com in April 2011, most importantly the previously highly visible Daily Kemet blog, which dispensed
daily weekly sporadic pearls of wisdom. The new domain significantly plays down Siuda's claims to being a god-king, and indeed her role in HoN overall, and takes on a much more conventional blog format discussing various issues rather than HoN/KO issues. Similarly, Siuda added a lot of information to an academia.edu profile in May and June 2011 that she had held for some time before, but left largely dormant. Siuda's Twitter profile was also given increased prominence on the new site, and again features a large amount of non-religious material.
In 2011, the kemet.org website announced that Schaefer had retired from the priesthood, but remained in good standing in HoN / KO. Combined, these events suggest that the two biggest figures in the institution have lost interest in it, for reasons which are not entirely clear. The LiveJournal group KAKOHON (Kemetics Against Kemetic Orthodoxy / House of Netjer) has been inactive since 2009, so external pressures would not seem to be at hand. Meanwhile, internally things superficially appear reasonably stable. Introductory classes went ahead as planned in May/June, and the September intake has no notice of cancellation, whilst the recently updated details on the priesthood indicated three members were currently "training" for the priesthood, leaving open the possibility of personal or financial issues to explain the seeming paralysis at the top.
Tamara Siuda's personal sites
- Tamara Siuda.com - Set up April 2011 to replace Daily Kemet and LiveJournal accounts
- Tamara Siuda at academia.edu
- Tamara Siuda at Twitter
- Guidestar entry for House of Netjer
- Official biography of Siuda at kemet.org
- About Tawy House - official website
- Exemption Requirements - Section 501(c)(3) Organizations - IRS website
- HoN 2014 Finances
- HoN 2015 Finances thru August
- Udjat Foundation Website
- Magic Nile water at Tears of Isis
- Oils at Tears of Isis
- Tears of Isis Specialties, archived from the original at tearsofisis.com.
- Kemet.org - Official Clergy Directory
- Kemet.org: Kemetic Priesthood FAQ - Part II
- KAKOHON - Some More Interesting Things I've Found
- KAKOHON - Recent Events