Pepe the Frog, the green character in Matt Furie’s “Boy’s Club” cartoons, is familiar on the internet. The alt-right started to use it to symbolize their battle against political correctness as well as the principles of liberty, equality and justice — the founding values of liberal democracy. The alt-right aims to restore traditional hierarchical society and a racial state. Pepe the Frog landed a role in this task, mainly because of the alt-right’s desire to use memes to spread their message far and wide. From its humble beginning as a cartoon character, Pepe the Frog made a meteoric rise when the alt-right renamed it Kek, establishing the Cult of Kek.
The Cult of Kek appears to offer different things to different people based on what they seek. For those who enjoy creating or following memes, the Cult of Kek is satire. For others, it offers a religion, a deity, even a prayer to advance “meme magic.” However, at the heart of it, the Cult of Kek is neither satire nor religion but an arcane belief system firmly grounded in ancient Egyptian mythology.
Who Is Kek?
The ideology behind the Cult of Kek is explained in a series of eight books published under the pseudonym “Saint Obamas Momjeans” in 2016-17. The satirical pseudonym helps to keep the books from inviting serious analysis. Dan Prisk identifies this as “an ironic and irrelevant mode of communication” that seems to have the best of both worlds: the advantage of using “ironic humour” to attract attention and the ability to “hide true politics while openly promoting them.” “Nothing is as it seems” is the best adage to explain the Cult of Kek; even its “prayer” asks to “twist reality around the memes we make.”
The term “meme magic” seems to have multiple meanings. First, meme magic is a reference to the accessibility and appeal of memes, which can attract followers and create thought movements. Second, the Cult of Kek wants memes to have perceived magical qualities, a pretext to attract followers and enthusiasts. As a 2015 essay published on Daily Stormer explains, “The trve power of skillful memes is to meme the karmic nation into reality, the process of meme magick. By spreading and repeating the meme mantra, it is possible to generate the karma needed for the rebirth of the nation.” But who is Kek, and in what context did the alt-right come to appropriate it?
“The One True Bible of Kek” is the primary source of the cult. This text introduces Kek as a figure who opposed the creation in favor of primordial chaos said to be a myth in the religion of ancient Egypt. Was there a Kek in ancient Egypt? Evidence can be traced back to the Egyptian Old Kingdom during 2575-2134 BC, where primordial Ogdoad was worshipped in Hermopolis on the banks of the Nile. Ogdoad was eight (male and female) personifications of nature, such as water, air, infinity and darkness. Among them, Kek and Keket represented primordial darkness. Kek is the male form with a frog head. The Papirus of Ani, dating back to 1450 BC, which forms a part of the Book of the Dead, mentions four of Ogdoad as humans, having heads of frogs and the other four of serpents.
E.A. Wallis Budge, citing M. Maspero, links these ancient deities to the later forms of famous Egyptian gods: Kek and Keket as the early forms of Osiris and Isis. Such evidence indicates that the mythology of Kek dates back to the Old Kingdom period in Egypt. But what does the current iteration of Kek offer? What is the message behind the Cult of Kek?
The Magic of Memes
Kek is mainly associated with meme magic, which refers to the transferring of “idea viruses” online in order to change the subconscious. Memes are visually and textually appealing thought elements. They can spread like viruses, creating trends or habit-forming thought movements. For example, radical-right memes launch assaults against liberal democracy, and the Cult of Kek and its meme magic are part of this radical-right mobilization.
Meme magic is believed to have started in 4chan and 8chan imageboards around 2015. It is created by an anonymous swarm, the so-called ANONs or anonymous members of the imageboards, producing one-line messages. The first book of the Kek series, “The Divine Word of Kek,” explains how to create and transfer memes. The book recommends further readings, such as Tom Montalk, William Walker Atkinson and Franz Bardon.
Montalk is a German spiritualist interested in metaphysics. His website explains the world as a matrix control system led by the Illuminati. Atkinson is an American author who writes extensively on esoteric subjects and is known to be a theosophist. Bardon is a leading occultist known to be influenced by the likes of Éliphas Lévi and Aleister Crowley. The evidence confirms the initial suggestion that the Cult of Kek is neither satire nor religion but something of an arcane belief system.
One book of the Cult of Kek series, “Intermediate Meme Magic,” explains the story of Kek, citing authors such as E.A. Wallis Budge, an eminent British Egyptologist. This shows that the anonymous author used arcane knowledge to find a mascot for memetics. Their battle is said to be against “the degenerate left.” Ittells the reader to “tear society apart so that you can rebuild it later without undesirable elements.” Another work, “Shadilay, My Brothers: Esoteric Kekism & You!” affirms that “This is truly the beginning of a new age.”
Why did the alt-right apply an ancient deity to brand the modern practice of memetics? It may not be an accident, nor that they needed spiritualism to give their craft strong roots. Instead, the Cult of Kek sits precisely where the radical right connects with the broader new-age belief system. For example, Nouvelle Droite (New Right) thinkers such as Guillaume Faye were firm believers in “the Golden Age of a future humanity.”
It is well known that the Nazis were influenced by messianic and millenarian myths. For example, Savitri Devi, famously referred to as Hitler’s Priestess, entwined the idea of the yuga cycle — the Hindu belief regarding the cyclical evolution of time — to give Germany’s National Socialists a new identity. Devi wanted the Nazis to end the corrupt world, ushering in the traditional and sacred Golden Age.
It appears that the alt-right follows this tradition, borrowing from early extreme-right thinkers but positions the same beliefs in an entirely novel context — the postindustrial realm of cyberspace and memetics, creatively delivering age-old esoteric ideas to the present.
Dr Chamila Liyanage is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and Researcher/Content Developer at Radical-R: Radicalisation Research. See full profile here.
© Chamila Liyanage Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This post is also hosted by our partner organisation, Fair Observer, here.