So I recently completed a ritual to Aset and Wesir in the style of CES (Church of the Eternal Source). I thought this would be a good opportunity to consider ADF ritual more deeply by comparing and contrasting the two styles.
What is CES?
The Church of the Eternal Source, or CES, is a religious organization following the ways of Ancient Egypt (AE). It has been around since 1970. They can be viewed on the web here: http://www.cesidaho.org/
Respect for History
CES folks are self-professed reconstructionists. Their study program is very particular about historical points. Compared to those who profess romantic or UFO-related beliefs regarding pyramids, mummies, and Ancient Egypt, they are faithful to historical fact. They even go so far as to refer to their devotees as "Egyptians" on some web pages. They are deeply invested in respecting history.
On the other hand, compared to ADF, they do not seem like reconstructionists at all (and ADF is not even trying to be reconstructionist!). For example, they use Wiccan-derived ritual methods, calling the corners, casting a circle, etc. For the four corners, they use Egyptian deities, but the prescribed invocations do not appear to be historically-inspired. Isis fits in the south because her cult originated in the south of the Nile, but Osiris was never historically hailed as "Lord of the North," so far as I know. Many other titles for the deities seem explicitly invented, even though historical titles are known abundance. Further, the sacred banquet (cakes and ale/communion/eucharist) part of the rite hails Osiris in terms of the grape and wine. In Egypt, Osiris was identified with corn and barley, and perhaps also beer, but not wine. Wine is the province of Dionysos, who became identified in Hellenic times with Osiris' successor Sarapis. Thus, there is a lot of confusion in the liturgy, if it is viewed with a reconstructionist eye.
There is also a lot of theological distortion, apparently meant to make AE ways fit modern Pagan preferences. For example, there is the problem of whether burial or cremation is the appropriate way to dispose of a corpse. In light of ancient mummification practices, it would seem that cremation would be a major offense. Yet CES neatly disposes of this problem by claiming that mummies were only used as talismans in rituals for the departed soul. I am no expert by any means, but this sounds suspicious to me.
I actually like many of the CES solutions to such problems. They are clever theological innovations. However, I think they undermine any claims that CES is reconstructionist.
In contrast, ADF honors historical fact without claiming to be reconstructionist. ADF is not shy about making the innovations that are necessary for all religions to make themselves relevant to the present. The difference is, ADF is honest about what it takes from history and what it invents. I think that is the only way to worship with integrity.
Addressing the Outdwellers
CES ritual has the "outdwellers" function built into its prescribed circle-casting formulae. For every direction, the worshiper commands mischeivious, playful, and disruptive spirits to go away in the name of a deity, and follows with a threat: "or suffer the dipleasure of the great gods!"
The difference between ADF and CES addresses to outdwellers is in attitude. ADF may command outdwellers to stay away, but an offering is also offered. CES, in stark contrast, commands and threatens. The one is humble and the other righteous. Furthermore, whereas ADF makes only one address, CES calls out threats in every direction, creating a paranoid sense that evil spirits are everywhere raking at the doors and windows.
Whether or not the CES address is modeled on something historical, I don't know. If it is, it might be justified to use it as such. Otherwise, I prefer ADF style.
Nature of the Ritual Space
ADF is in the minority among Pagan paths insofar as it uses an open grove and not a circle. CES, like Wicca, uses a circle. Furthermore, CES ritual style explicitly visualizes a wall of white light on every side, as well as a roof above. In this way, an astral temple is built every time, and this consecrates the sacred space.
When I performed the CES ritual, I felt this enclosure of white light cut me off to some extent from the powers of nature. For example, although the guardian of the upward direction was Nuit, who is herself the night sky,I was asked to envision a white ceiling blocking my view of the night sky. It didn't seem right. In fact, the whole visualization felt stifling, stuffy, and stale. Perhaps I would get used to it with time. But as it stands, I much prefer an open grove to an enclosed sacred space of this kind.
Detail of the Ritual Outline
While the ADF order of ritual is dauntingly detailed, the CES liturgy is but a bare outline. This contributed to awkwardness and jerkiness in many parts of my ritual.
Ending the Ritual
ADF ritual, when it is not mangled by chainsaw editing and abbreviations, has a significant sense of closure at the end. At Wellspring '06 Ian Corrigan commented that the beginning and ending of a ritual are like the two wheels of a chariot: if they are not equal in size, things aren't going to go right. When I do ADF ritual, I extend the ending even more than standard to ensure all elements are balanced.
In stark contrast, CES ritual begins with lengthy invocations in every direction and laborious visualizations, but ends with nothing but a sweep of the ankh and a declaration that the ritual is ended.
When I did my CES ritual, I found this ending completely unsatisfactory. I felt "out of it" and had a difficult time coming back to mundane time and space.
Ease and Flow of Ritual Texts
One thing I think CES does better than ADF is the style of its ritual speeches. ADF has no standard speeches, and no particularly rhythmic or repetitious pattern for writing them. Most examples are eloquent but difficult to memorize because they do not have repeating elements.
In contrast, the circle invocations used by CES are largely repititious and flow in harmony with each other. This makes it easier for the devotee to memorize them, and the repitition also facilitates a light trance induction in ritual. In this respect, I prefer CES style over ADF.
Central Tenets and Doctrines
I'm not sure if "doctrine" is quite the right word for CES beliefs, but there are certainly some points of common reference which are explicitly outlined on the web site. There are brief statements on the big questions, such as the purpose of life and death, the nature of the gods, rebirth, justice, morality, and so on. This gives CES a feeling of coherence. It feels bound together and possible to come to terms with.
In contrast, ADF has a few central symbols but nothing whatsoever regarding central tenets and "doctrines." I won't comment on whether this is more helpful or harmful in the end. However, I will say that it makes ADF seem very un-centered, sprawling, and difficult to come to terms with. It has taken me a very long time to get the feel for what ADF actually stands for. It hasn't been possible except through hanging out on the listservs and gradually absorbing various opinions of the community.
I do not wish that ADF had a central statement of tenets as CES does, but I do wish that ADF had a better self-presentation. What ADF really needs is a new web site designed under the direction of a single creative genius. The DP manual also needs to be redesigned by a single person. ADF presentation suffers from too many hands and not enough style editing. We need a talented editor to harmonize everything into a creative vision. ADF needs a simple and coherent face to attract new devotees, which will then introduce them to the myriad varieties and complications which we celebrate. As it stands, I think ADF has more substance to offer than many other organizations, but at first glance it is one of the most intimidating and easily dismissed (or at least this is true of the web site, which was my main venue for getting to know ADF).
To sum up, I find that ADF style has more substance and integrity than that of CES. This is especially true regarding the ritual liturgy and respect for history. On the other hand, I think CES has a better overall presentation, and ADF would do well to learn a thing or two from it.