Ekunyi's Embers

Archive for the ‘Animism’ Category

Frog as a Cultural Keystone

Two weeks ago I spent several days in my childhood home in Maryland, visiting family and taking care of some planning for my upcoming wedding. Each night, after a busy day of visits and organization, I was greeted by the voices of hundreds of native treefrogs. The slow rising, alto creeeeeeeek of the upland chorus frog formed a polyphonic chant with the soprano chirrups of spring peepers. I did not see them on this trip, but recalled with joy being in my early years and finding the little creatures crawling on the sides of my parents house, loving that they were so small and yet had such a tremendous voice.

The return of the chorus frogs was always, for me, the first sign of the return of the warmer months. School would soon draw to a close, and a summer full of adventures would soon begin. So too would my personal new year be arriving, my August birthday arriving only a few months after the frog song began, and even when little the choir of ribbits got me thinking about what it would be like to be another year older, wondering about the year behind me, and the year to come. I would lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the rhythms of amphibian music, dreaming and pondering about new beginnings until eventually sleep took me.

This emphasis on Frog as a representative of new beginnings on the east coast of the United States once reflected fresh starts on another shore: that of the Nile delta. In Ancient Egypt, immediately following the annual flooding of the great river, thousands of frogs would seemingly “emerge” from the soil, as the sodden earth provided a greater expanse of habitat, and the various frog species began to mate and reproduce. Though my research has not yet lead me to which of the following endemic amphibian species to the Nile valley region (egyptian toad and mascarine ridged frog) most likely existed at that time, one or both contributed to the ancients’ understanding of the goddess Heqat: lady of rebirth, midwife to the gods, giver of life to the human bodies that potter Khnum created upon his wheel. When the frogs returned after the flood waters subsided, so too would crops begin to grow, new projects could begin as the silt was once again rich with nutrients and the sky rich with frogsong.

It cheers me that these various species on both sides of the globe remain listed as unthreatened, though the Egyptian frogs have declined substantially in the past 10 years due to overharvesting for university study. Hopefully something can be done to protect them, as the frogs serve not only as a symbol of renewal, a current cultural keystone within the Americas and a historic cultural keystone of the Nile delta, but also as a source of food for other predatory species seeking sustenance as they enter their own breeding seasons, a source of protection from imbalance as they keep insect populations in check.

The frogs are necessary to balance, necessary for new life. Their song must continue to be sung.

Hunting, Habituating and Hibernating

When it comes to my work with animal-based guides, I have mostly found myself drawn to predators. Great-horned owl, red wolf, western green mamba, polar bear, orca… the list goes on. Until recently, my gods have reflected this association: they’re both warriors with predatory theophanies. They are the hunter, not the hunted.

To some extent I think this fascination is cultural: for all that human population seem to feel threatened by predators, there simultaneously tends to be a glorification of predatory species in art and literature that overlooks prey animals. On the other hand, I think there is also a matter of personal compensation. I am not as strong as I would like to be, I have had to teach myself to be independent, to fight, to hunt down the things I need rather than constantly providing for the needs of others as is my first instinct. I look to predators to teach me these things.

So when my Keystones e-course asked me to study a predator: this was easy. Not two days before that lesson arrived I’d been reading about the local coyote population in the newspaper. I could easily admire the adaptable, cunning canines that have worked their way into Pittsburgh city limits, living well off of young deer, rabbits, squirrel, and yes, the occasional small cat or dog left outside during the dark hours. I enjoyed reading more about their flexibility, their ability to hunt as a temporary pack or function alone in equal measure. I found it interesting that the article actually took into account that they were helping with the over population of deer in the area, while also acknowledging that they were proving a threat to the domesticated animals of the city.

Less easy was picking a prey species. After several days of disgruntled failure to choose, I wound up stepping into the patch of woods behind my apartment and sending a silent request for some clue of who would like me to work with them. Over the next three days, I saw three groundhogs in three separate locations, and subsequently became very aware of certain biases.

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Memories reared up of my father complaining about groundhogs tearing up the backyard, my mother twisting her ankle when a tunnel collapsed beneath her. Simultaneously, I recognized that I had never shifted anything remotely like a groundhog in meditation: and the prospect of transforming into something so small and, well, rotund… didn’t sit well. I’d be lunch!

More days passed with little progress made at convincing myself to give it a try. Finally, at Meeting, as I settled myself into quiet meditation and began to visualize the temple in the woods, I was met with an immediate request from Heqat, “You have two visitors.”

Coyote and Groundhog stood at the end of the long temple hall, waiting just beyond the edge of the marble flooring. I followed them hesitantly as they led me deeper and deeper into the winding maze of trees and brush. We finally settled by a small hole in the ground, and I sat, crosslegged, waiting for what was to come next.

In the blink of an eye I *was* groundhog, and could not seem to shift myself to anything else. I panicked, feeling very small, and very aware that a predator was now staring down at me hungrily. I ran instinctively toward the hole, right on the tail of the groundhog who’d led me there. We clambered down, but a sharp pain from one of my hindfeet held me in place and I began to be dragged back out. The groundhog in front of me whirled around, rushing past me, and sunk his very long teeth directly into the coyote’s snout. The predator let go of me, and we both rushed deeper into the den, down into the cool darkness and safety.

The tunnel went on for far longer than I expected, past a small side chamber with some grass-like material, and eventually back up again some indeterminate amount of time later. My guide reared up ahead of me, sniffing cautiously, before wandering out. I was all nerves, body full to brimming with scents and awareness. It was kind of amazing, how much I recognized from the tiniest of vibrations in the earth around me, how much I could smell. We rushed across forest, finding another den to explore. This one was structured the same way, but held a small group of wild rabbits, who’d taken advantage of another groundhog’s efforts. I marveled slightly at how the den could be passed on from one species to the next.

Continuing on to the third den, we were nearly taken by a hawk but made it below ground in time courtesy of the warning cry of another of our kind. It struck me then how skilled my guide was, how challenging he made it for his predators to find him. I was reminded also of how fiercely he fought for me, how much damage those long marmot teeth could do when necessary.

I apologized, and I thanked him.

He stopped his running and turned, amusement in his small eyes.

So I’m not “just a rodent”?

“No, though I may be just a fool.”

Hmm. Perhaps! But this can change, given time, thought, and effort.

“What should I do?”

Dance me. Learn my motions. Read of me. Bring your new knowledge to my dance. Then, once you have done this, rest. Learn of the significance of hibernation, and hibernate yourself. You need time to consider, time just to be, before you will be ready to run to your next destination without being consumed. Rest, and you will make it. Do not rest, and what you fear will eat you. You cannot forever be the hunter.

This will be a difficult lesson for me, having solely defined myself for so long as someone who must constantly be on the hunt for new work to be living a worthwhile life, constantly chasing the next challenge to prove myself worthy. But, having made the realization that this is not healthy, I think I can take the first step towards hibernating for awhile, habituating myself within a new environment, and finally, when ready, emerging and beginning the hunt once again.

Spiritual Places Without and Within

I will not live the live my parents led, and I am fine with this. As musician, artist, and scholar, hopefully someday counselor, my home will not compare with the home of two lawyers that I grew up in: again, I am fine with this. My home is huge in comparison with the homes of many. Three rooms full of instruments and art and books. My home is open to those friends and family who need shelter. My home is full to brimming with the affection between two human-bodied and two feline-bodied people. There is space in my home for the ancestors to visit, if they choose, a small space always left for a father, two grandfathers, and any other relations to drop by in whatever form they might take. There is space in my home for gods and spirits, a Kemetic shrine and animist altar well tended in separate rooms for separate moments of worship.
 
My home exists in the liminality of the mountains and the city. Sturdy brick with nearly 70 years to its name surrounds me, with human neighbors above and below. Yet the deer walk the small patch of woods behind my home, as do chipmunk and squirrel. The robins greet me in the warmer months, the crows laugh when the weather begins to cool. Wild turkeys occasionally posit themselves directly in front of my car, reminding me that nothing is so important that it can’t wait a few more minutes for them to strut on by.

In my mind my “territory” extends about a mile east, to the avenue that holds both my favorite cafe and my nearest big park. I wrote my masters thesis, in its entirety, in the local, family-run coffee shop. I know the people there better than I do the ones in my own building. After working and writing for hours on end, I can walk up the same street to my park, get lost in the trails that during summer are shielded from any roads. I can view the Allegheny river from here, greet a broader range of avian life: mallard ducks, Canadian geese, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, grackle… the list goes on. Only recently, courtesy of the animist course I’ve been taking, have I looked on a smaller scale. Ants, wee spiders hiding in the bark, inch worms, lady bugs… a world I’ve not given nearly enough notice to. The plants as well: a newly acquired Kindle has allowed me to download a guide to the wildflowers and trees. My goal is to know the park that has given me such joy since I claimed Pittsburgh as my new home three years ago. I owe it that much, if not more.

Yet my home extends beyond this physical space. My heart strings are taut. The core, bass strings are drawn out of love and duty to my parents and Maryland; these are also pulled fiercely to Texas where my sister, best friend, and heart-kin lives with zir mate. Higher pitched strands guide my soul to Colorado, North Carolina, Illinois, and West Virginia. These are the homes of friends, family; so many loved ones I cannot ever see nearly enough for my own liking. Pittsburgh remains within driving distance of many of these places, and I am grateful for that. For the places more distant, it grants me compensation: in being near other spaces important to those I love, it gives me the option to see them when they travel. It also provides me both the water I grew up with, albeit three mighty rivers instead of the one great Bay, and gods bless it for the mountains.
 
It is unsurprising to me that the places I travel in my meditative journeying efforts reflect the reality of the physical that feeds my soul. My internal temple, while Kemetic in design, was built within a natural clearing in a vast forest. It is near a great river where I work with Heqat and Hatmehyt, and the forest itself is rolling and wild, a part of some unknown mountainous region in my mind. I run the woods with deer and hound, I soar above the trees and see great valleys and other, unknown tributaries with Great Horned Owl. As my physical self, I seek similar places out in my actual travels. I clean litter from the aforementioned park when I visit, trying to protect what small corner of my ecosystem is within my neighborhood, my little human territory.

I would shrivel up without access to the woods, the water, the birds and the green. It is as much a part of my spiritual life as ritual and prayer.

Finding my spiritual Keystones – Journal 1.2

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I am nineteen and just returned home for my first summer after starting college, an internal mess of new realizations about love, knowledge, and independence that I experienced over the past eight months. I have a few weeks before the summer job at the theatre starts up, and my mind is free to wander through these new ideas, many of which prove intensely uncomfortable. On the first day available to me without a thunderstorm, I wait until both parents have left for their respective jobs, and begin the half hour walk out of our suburban neighborhood to the local park. My feet take me deep into Quiet Waters Park, originally to my little pagoda on the South River which was so well known to me, but then, before I arrive, off the trail. I am uncertain if this is “permitted” by park regulations, but something of that newfound craving for independence granted me in the past year compels me to push aside old fears and before long I’ve lost myself amidst the trees and the cries of insects and the occasional rustle of an eastern grey squirrel or chipmunk who saw me before I them, and ran off.

After walking for an indeterminate amount of time, I find myself tiring, and settle on a fallen log, perching on the rough oaken bark and just watching the world move around me. As the sun continues its march across the sky and begins its descent, boldly plumed male cardinals keep their distance while boldly spirited robins come far closer to eye the stranger in their midst. I mimick the cries of birds singing out above me as evening creeps ever nearer, laughing quietly to myself in sheer joy as we engage in a peculiar sort of call and response. I’ve no idea if they are reacting to this giddy human soprano’s efforts to join in the avian choir, or just continuing in their own standard repetition of melody, but it is absolutely joyous.

Behind me and the log, a sudden crack. I turn, ever so slowly, to see two massive white tailed does looking at me, maybe ten feet away. I blink, they blink, and then they turn and bolt. I don’t know what compels me to follow them, in the grand scheme of things it is not particularly intelligent, given how much larger they were than I, and how much damage a deer can do when frightened. But fortunately they just speed ahead, tawny pelts turned golden in the remaining light of dusk, leading me on for a few seconds that feel like forever before disappearing from my view into a field of thick marsh reeds as high as my shoulders.

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On Science and Sentiment – Journal 1.1

Fisherman’s boy with a bucket of water
goes walking each day on the shore
Looking in tide-pools and crannies
for fish that were stranded
Sure-handed he’d gather them all
Throwing them back to the ocean
Back to the living once more

Soon he was throwing the nets like his father
And hauling them back to the shore
Taking the time to be careful and sort the unneeded
from those he would store in the hold
Throwing them back to the ocean
Back to the living once more

He went down in a storm near the rocks of Point Cleary
They searched ’til the night drove them home
But in the morning they found him, alive and unbattered
Where shattered wood littered the stones
He’d been thrown back from the ocean
Back to the living once more

Fisherman’s boy with a son and a daughter
goes walking each day on the shore
Looking in tide-pools and crannies
for fish that were stranded
Sure-handed they gathered them all
Throwing them back to the ocean
Back to the living once more

***

I find that songs serve as their own form of mythology, balancing the necessity of conveying a story with poetic meter and rhyme before bringing it all together with a vocal line and accompaniment that reflects the information and emotion the song’s crafter seeks to share. Heather Dale is one such songstress, conveying beautiful interpretations of various legends with a fluid, soothing voice and a way with words I could only hope to emulate in my own work.

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Kemeticism, Animism, and Animality

It was a Kemetic goddess who brought me back to animist belief, guiding me to the meditative journeying practice that once formed the bulk of my spiritual life in late high school and early college. She helped me step away from a career path that was not healthy for me, and brought me back to joy in the form of artistic and musical creation.

I call Her grandmother out of love and respect, honor Her as the musician of Hermopolis with eight faces, know Her both as woman and as frog, and continue to move forward in my efforts to honor Her requests that I maintain my ties to that which connects me to my world. At Her insistence, I’ve begun attending a local Quaker meeting as a frequent guest. I find the weekly hour of silent contemplation ideal for maintaining a regular schedule of personal meditation. I’ve also derived a fair amount of satisfaction from participating in the environmental activism and taking the first steps towards a more ecologically-friendly lifestyle, both of which engage with one of the main Quaker testimonies.

It has been immensely gratifying to see how these varying forms of re-connection with the world around me, once completed merely to satisfy Heqat’s requests, have now a developed into an emotionally necessary and regular aspect of my day-to-day life.

Yet, I have still felt the lack of something I couldn’t quite define. A sense that I needed something more tangible, almost something I could run between my fingers. I think this stems in part from this past winter. It’s been a very difficult cold season here in Pittsburgh this year, harsh and unyielding well into what the calendar has claimed to be spring. Living largely at my computer as I wrap up my final semester of graduate study, I’ve felt utterly and constantly human. This is not a healthy thing for me.

It’s a strange thing to explain, given that I am, of course, biologically and physically human. But I can be more, or less, or better yet, I simply exist as an other that need not be quantified in some meaningless hierarchy of species.

What does it mean to be other than human? Sometimes its as constant as sprawling on the floor on a pile of blankets with my cats, murmuring for lack of a purr, enjoying the heat of the sun streaming through the window without actually contemplating such in anything more than the sensation of pleasure. Other times it’s as rare as walking through the park behind my parents’ old home, coming upon a pair of white tailed does, and instinctively running after them as they turn and break, seconds expanding to hours as I just move without knowing, or doubting why just to treasure the sight and power of their forms so poorly mirrored in my own. Other times still it’s wading out into a shallow portion of a bay, feeling the minnows bite at my toes, the seaweed curl around my ankles, swaying with the current as the gentle waves of a distant ocean pulse from far beyond me to carry through my body in salt and sand and life.

I am human, and I am other than human, and I have missed living this.

Kemetic gods, for all that they can bear animal forms, be they symbolic or, as many of the myths describe, acquired through magical means, are not other in that same way, in my experience. They interact with mortal life in all its varying shapes from a different plane.  Even Heqat, who brought me back to animism and saw before I did how vital a place it had long held in my heart, will almost always use words and greet me as the human Shemsu I have vowed to be. The only Netjeru to do otherwise is Set, who will gladly greet me as sha-animal, run with me in the woods of my meditative space, hunting alongside me in His form nearest the deerhound body I often adopt in meditation. We don’t have to speak, instead we just run, move, exist and guard the entities that live in that sacred space.

I wanted to dedicate more time to that sensation, to the tangible things in the world around me that I could both worship and protect. I found myself starting to seek out means of doing so.

In a brilliant coincidence, it was not long after I’d made this decision that Tenu directed me to the Keystones of the Sacred Land e-course being offered by Alison Leigh Lilly. I was immediately intrigued, having at least heard of Ali’s work previously, but opted to dig deeper into her blog before deciding. Ali’s anthropocentrism posts in particular rang true, touching that core place I’d had such trouble defining, but which most certainly reached back to my own childhood, well before I’d had a fancy term like animism to ascribe to my interactions with animals and plants. Then I found her post entitled “When the Frogs Begin to Sing. Having met a grand total of one other person, ever, who defined frogsong as such, who saw these amazing creatures as musicians in their own right, I knew then I needed to take the course.

Part of the class involves journaling our thoughts about each lesson. I’ll be sharing those thoughts here. Please do chime in if you wish, I find discussion to be a vital part of learning, and if anything I share inspires you, even in a small way, you’ll brighten my day immensely for letting me know.

Much love to you all.

Riding the Currents: Enter Heqat, Stage Right

Something about me and stasis: Netjer doesn’t let me dwell there terribly long.

I’ve been quiet. This is in no small part because the past several months have seen me taking some necessary steps to resolve various issues with my health, my personal life, and my career. I’ve had to make some hard decisions, and while there is much more to be done in seeing those choices through to their conclusions, I am doing far, far better for having started the process.

It feels like another cycle to me, similar to the one Set expedited almost three years ago now, coming into my life in a whirl of change and refusing to let me back down from my problems. This new beginning has been gentler, more of a slow rebirth than a swift destruction of who I once was that I might replace her with the me I wanted to be.

Much as I could not have expected Set to be the god to lead my initial charge, I have been equally surprised and grateful at the force with which Heqat has entered my life. She was hardly on my “god radar” before this year’s Wep Ronpet, but at the end of Retreat Maret placed a small handcrafted statue of her Mother in my palm and suddenly I found myself talking about all sorts of creative works I could accomplish in the next year. I babbled on about new projects while Maret and my sibling Tenu, standing nearby, just grinned at each other at the immediate shift in my demeanor.

I placed the tiny frog on my shrine during my first senut back home and have done so ever since. Her voice, sometimes coming in words, but often images or sensations, was almost immediately a presence as readily accessible as the primary gods I worship. She asked me to paint the statue, and I did so, marveling at how it turned out before She gently chastened me for my surprise at creating beauty.

She had me acquire a small protective pouch for the wee frog, and then told me to take Her with me on several of the medical appointments that I had been putting off for months but had finally scheduled, at the urging of several gods (Sekhmet sort of leading the charge.) Only a few days later I received a gorgeous statue of Heqat in the mail from a UK friend. This one’s for the shrine, She said, so do not feel bad about bringing my smaller form with you.

It was a comfort to have Her small, physical incarnation at the subsequent appointments. Holding the little pouch in my hands, I found the courage to stop one medication I’ve been on for over a decade and begin another with possible side effects that terrified me. (Being so unnerved by changing medications may seem a strange thing, but when you have cared for your body and mind in a certain way for so long it can take a big leap of faith to make those shifts. But who better for the “leap” than a frog goddess, ne?)

She wants me to keep creating things, encouraging me to get back into fiction, to try my hand at digital art, and to let it be a joy rather than belittling myself for things not being “good enough.” She also has taken on my issues with anxiety, as every time I enter shrine, She asks me to meditate. It startled me the first time She requested it. My other gods want me to make offerings, read a prayer, or sing a song for Them in shrine. Not Her. She had me take her statue off the shrine, kneel with the statue resting in my palms, and focus on the weight and sensation of it while I settled my breathing.

I had not meditated since my trip to a spiritual retreat in Ohio about two years ago, where one of the panels focused on different Buddhist meditation techniques. It was extremely difficult, trying to remember how to settle my breathing, how to stop thinking in words and just focus on the nothingness, accept the quiet of simply being and not worrying. But it forced me to calm myself, forced me to let go of whatever was bothering me that day, and after about two weeks of doing it, I realized that no matter how badly my anxiety had been triggered that day, the meditation helped. Substantially.

The meditations became more detailed as I progressed, the skill of visualization gradually returning to me. At first I was sitting beside a river, then in later meditations I settled on the river bed itself, resting in a bed of underwater grasses, somehow breathing through my neck as fish swam around and even through me as I let my body drift away and become the water. In further meditations still, around the time I could sit there for a solid ten minutes without needing to “think” or worry, the river slipped away and was replaced by stars. Water and the universe became one and the same, the low thrum of frogsong the only sound I ‘heard’ as I wordlessly admired the cosmos which I was part of and apart from at once. Heqat would appear before me when it was time to go, human bodied and smiling, offering gentle hands to pull me to my feet and out of the calm of the meditation, bringing me back to myself.

She amazes me. She requested that I commission a statue of her in human form to complement her theophany statue, directing me to a particular artist with no small amount of insistence. I had to grin when the artist was thrilled at my request; unbeknownst to me he is apparently a Heqat devotee, and always wishes that there was more interest in Her because He’d love to sculpt Her more frequently. After finalizing the request, She insisted upon my completing senut, telling me that I should look at the Kemetic calendar for the day’s holiday.

“Taking to the River” festival. I just laughed again and went through the standard process with a stupid grin on my face, lighting candle and incense, pouring water, offering bread. After prayers were offered to my Parents and Beloveds, I settled into my now familiar meditation stance, and waited.

To my surprise I was not in the river of stars to which I felt I had “advanced,” but back at the side of the river. Heqat stood before me, offering Her hands out to me.

Do you trust me?

“I… think so?”

Trust me.

I walked into the river, acutely aware of my body, the lack of the tiny gills She’d granted me. I took her hands and together we submerged beneath the waters. It was so much harder to keep walking, to see the water come up over my eyes, my head, than to just “appear” there as I have in the past. I struggled to sink, frustrated with how realistic this felt, how difficult it was to stay below the surface.

You have been a child of Netjer too long now to continue to doubt. Must I keep proving myself to you? Trust me.

I recalled the previous times when I’d let go of the need for worries, recalled the thrum of frog song and clung to that sound so as to release the need to maintain the human body which kept floating to the surface. With some effort, I became the river as I had before, and She nodded Her approval with a wink.

We sat together: She in a human form before me, yet also surrounding me with the vastness of her age and presence, and simultaneously still existing within the tiny weight of her statue. The stars began to reappear, as though in one night I was reminded of my progress over the course of months.

“Lady,” I asked of Her, “How have you come to be so dear to me, in such a short time?”

Think, and you will remember that I have been here far longer.

With a start, I recalled one of the most powerful and insightful moments of my time as an animist, which took place some six or seven years ago. I felt a bit foolish, for I wrote of this on this website some time ago, and indeed this return to meditation is quite close to the “journeys” I used to take as part of that practice. I’ll re-post that moment from an old journal here:

“We landed in a marsh, where Bullfrog was croaking quite loudly. He looked at me, expanded his massive throat and croaked what seemed an invitation. I sat beside him and though I was distinctly myself, my throat bubbled up like a frog and I let out a croak — which suddenly sounded like music. We were singing.

And so were the crickets. I shrunk in size and rubbed my back legs together to try to mimic their song as well, but in an instant I had been swallowed by Bullfrog. I felt no pain, but watched as I was dissolved and spread throughout Bullfrog’s system. Part of me nourished Bullfrog, part of me went to her eggs as she laid them. I grew in many eggs, some of which were eaten by fish, which in turn were eaten by hawks. Other tadpole-mes grew to adulthood in the blink of an eye, and became other Bullfrogs who croaked as well. Frogsong pulsed through me in millions of places, me interconnected throughout the chain of life and death and life again.”

Frog has been an incredibly important teacher for me in the past: how could I have missed this?

You were not yet ready. 

“Why?”

You needed force and  fire to bring you back to belief. Now that you believe, you can accept the more subtle lessons. But I have been here, and here I will remain.

I sincerely hope so. In so few months I have somehow found another Lady to which I find myself utterly devoted. Dua Heqat, Creator of All Things. I am glad to be re-created, reborn in a healthier life.

 

 

Kemetic Round Table – Walking two Paths

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week’s prompt asked: “Can I work with other pantheons? Can I perform rituals that aren’t Kemetic based?

This is going to be brief, as the bulk of my thoughts on these questions are summarized beautifully here at Making Bright, and I find myself unable to add much, conceptually, to what Nellethiel has already eloquently discussed. What I can share is a bit of personal experience, offering one perspective on why those ideas are so important to me.

One of the two primary Kemetic deities I work with transcends multiple spiritual areas of my life. I’ve written about my complex relationship with Bast in greater detail in an earlier post, but suffice it to say, I’ve known Her from childhood and She has transitioned with me through the many spiritual changes I’ve gone through over the years. She was my “invisible friend” as a very young child, my Goddess in an adolescent Wiccan phase, one of my primary spiritual guides in the animist period of my collegiate years, and now is my divined Mother in Kemetic practice.

I still interact with Her in both of Her most recent incarnations. I pray to her in shrine, and on other, separate occasions, I walk with her in meditations. She can be fierce in her expectations for me on both paths. She requires regular devotions and offerings, that I worship her as Netjeru, one of many faces of the divine. She also expects that I will seek her out as one of my guides in journey, her feline form one of many various plants and animals I speak with to learn more about myself, my community, and my world.

While my animist practice is not necessarily what one would consider a separate “pantheon,” it does come with a very different set of ritual expectations. I have a separate altar space for my primary animistic guide at any given time, and this space often includes animal by-products. For example, right now I have a Great Horned Owl’s feather, vertabrae, and talon on this shrine, items that were gifted to me many years back from partial remains a friend found and cleaned. These items, sacred in my animist practice, are extremely impure from a Kemetic standpoint, and thus I actually prefer to keep them in a separate room from my gods’ shrine.

My animistic practice also takes place outside of a set shrine space. Journeying techniques involve astral work: I sit in a dark room, slow my breathing, sometimes play a slow, even, percussive rhythm to assist in the process of moving beyond my body. My Kemetic work is always done before the shrine, eyes open, the candle’s flicker and the glow of incense helping me to transcend the profane and move to sacred experience. The two processes are unique to me, and involve a deliberate choice to interact with one or the other, gods or spirits.

This does not mean that the two do not, on occasion, intertwine. More than once I have been in the midst of a meditation when suddenly a god, or gods, jumped in to mess with me, show me something, or challenge me further. Given that they are gods, I would not presume to box them in to one form of interaction over another,  but in my opinion, it is important that I leave that option to Them. If They want to reach out to me astrally, or if They request that I meet Them in that space rather than shrine, I will. But in the meantime, as someone who does identify as Kemetic, I primarily choose to work with them in a manner based on Kemetic practice: in shrine, with candle, incense and offerings, celebrating Their sacred days, studying Their myths, and doing my best to live in ma’at in all other aspects of my life.  

As Nellethiel wrote, “anything is possible in the realm of polytheism. Just be mindful of what it means to be a part of Kemeticism as the religious movement and practice it is today (as the modern reconstructed/revived ancient religion of Egypt).”

Anything is possible. It is possible that Bast is my goddess and my guide. It is possible that Set might challenge me with a storm right when I’m trying to learn something from the oak tree I’ve climbed. It is possible that the golden hawk I visualized myself flying beside was Heru-wer, teaching me something outside of senut. But it is important to be mindful of the means by which these interactions took place, to know what is faithfully reconstructing ancient practice and what is better described as my own homebrew animist work with a bit of Kemetic flair. It is vitally important to acknowledge the source of things, that we might discuss our multiple paths with others, respecting each method as distinct while not discounting its validity.

 

Bast and the Tree

Note: This may be a little more “woo” than previous posts, which have focused largely on ritual with occasional mention of interaction with the gods. If you do not believe in journeying/traveling/astral projection, that is fine, but I ask that you read this with an open mind, as these experiences are quite real to me.

If you’ve been following this journal at all, you’ll know that Bast has been in my life as long as I’ve had any sort of connection to what I now refer to as the Unseen. I have called her (at least) two other names over the years: Kyana, my imaginary black “panther” friend in childhood, and Black Leopard/Jaguar Woman, one of my main guides through meditative journeying as an adolescent, who took second fiddle only to Great Horned Owl. As Set pushes me to change for the future, Bast calls me to remember and grow from my past, and a substantial portion of what She asks of me necessitates the return to journeying in earnest. I hope to record some of those experiences here, though more personal matters may be relegated to protected posts on my dreamwidth.

For many who journey, having some sort of “base” if you will, a place where you slip between worlds, a safe(r) space to begin your travels, is key. Mine has shifted dramatically from when I first began, when I had the focus to actually “build,” stone by stone, a temple. I carved statues in my mind to honor my primary teachers, shifted the architecture to include impressive columns and a reflective pool in the center. Perhaps my adolescent self had some need of the grandiose, I don’t know.

At a particularly low point in my life, I began a journey in this space and almost immediately the world around me began to shake and groan. The ground ruptured, tearing apart years of work and building. When it finally finished I sat, stunned, amidst the rubble. It was only when two of my guides, twin green mambas, found me that I was able to rise and move away from what had been. I remember walking and walking to the point where I almost lost focus, couldn’t keep the hold any longer, until I found a small round fruit. I picked it up, and it melted in my hand, revealing a seed at the core. The snakes coiled around my neck, a small comfort. The next journey saw me following Great Horned Owl across the ocean until we found a small island. I planted the seed, and the tree that would become my new starting space, my “heart tree” grew, flowered, and thrived.

On September 11th of last year, I tried to go back. The results were… dramatic. I’ll share an excerpt of what I wrote following the experience:

“Almost instantly [after beginning the journey] I saw Great Horned Owl (GHO) over me, an orb of lightning (blackish sphere, with silver lightning bouncing around inside, the way my personal energy usually feels when I do energy work) in her talons. She took off almost immediately into the sky which is when I realized it was raining.

I tried to follow, couldn’t. Tried again, she was going farther away, would not wait. Then I realized there was a golden hawk with me, blazing through the rain, to my other side. He did wait, helped, encouraged, waited for my body to lift out of itself, and flew above me the entire time, holding tight to me as I struggled to focus on something, anything, and we kept up with GHO together, until she landed on a far too familiar tree. My tree, my old heart tree, dead, withered, on its island, water polluted around it. I tried to land on the branch next to her, promptly fell off.  …  I was able to climb the tree. Settling beside her and the golden hawk (I now think, maybe Heru-wer?) I gave thanks as the golden hawk took off and left us behind. I looked to her, expecting something, but she merely looked skywards and I watched as a huge bolt of lightning came from the sky and set my tree on fire.

I freaked out. This was MY TREE, dead though it has been for the past number of years every time I had struggled to visit it in a brief, meditative effort. Now it was burning, and GHO was taking off again, still carrying the lightning orb. The lightning flashed again, only this time in slow motion, and it just sort of stayed, branched out, a writhing, electrified bridge into the heavens.

… The tree is burning from the bottom up, there’s smoke, the rain doesn’t seem to be putting it out, and the only course available to me is to walk on *lightning.*

Booming voice, from a disembodied source above me, which I recognized as my divined father, Set — “Since when is my Daughter afraid of my hand?”

I had to laugh at that, and fighting to stay focused with so much going on in my mental view, stepped out onto the lightning bridge. It solidified at my touch, becoming a glowing white stairwell that eventually sort of vanished from visibility once I passed the cloud cover. Here I had to just keep going, not look down or panic. Fear sent me tumbling towards a now-very-distant earth, confidence kept me walking — literally — on air.

Once I mastered my fear (after a few very near splats) I caught up with GHO again, on top of a cliff. The lightning orb condensed into itself, and became a small seed. I looked at it and her for a moment, briefly confused, then [took the seed]. I dug into the soil on the clifftop until my hands were bleeding, and planted the seed. Almost immediately a new, living, healthy tree sprung forth. GHO took her place amongst the branches, field mouse came springing out from between the roots, a buck nodded his approval as he emerged from sort of a mist that extended farther along the land ahead. Then black leopard woman/Bast came forward, first as a dark-skinned woman, then just *was* a huge black cat, no shifting involved. She raked her claws down the side of the tree, and rubbed her mouth on it, not to hurt it, but to mark it, stake a claim on this new place.

I climbed up into its branches, felt it pulsing with life beneath me. I found GHO and sat with her awhile, struggling greatly now to keep focused. She told me I had not disappointed her, but that I must move forward, must practice, as I was about to lose my ability to stay here.”

Since this experience, I’ve done nothing in journey but practice. Bast has set me to the task of visiting the tree once a week, tending to its needs, nothing more. I show up, I place my hands on the rough bark and give thanks that it is still there.  I root out insects that would eat it from the inside, I trim branches that are dying, and I nourish the earth around its roots with energy. I take note of creatures that have taken up residence, the birds, the rodents, the helpful insects.

Last week, Bast told me that my next task is to identify it. To know the tree, and thus know a little more of myself as it was born of my energy. I’ve not yet accomplished this: my knowledge of flora is extremely limited. Also, quite frankly, it is a struggle for me to stay still. To put so much effort into visualizing a single thing in detail, rather than wandering around a somewhat blurred world on various adventures and lessons. I feel a little like Bast is pulling a Mr. Miyagi, “What does ‘wax on wax off’ have to do with my own skills at journeying?” Indeed, my own doubt makes me wonder if it *is* a tree that exists on this side, but Bast seems to think it is, and so I’ll do my best. Examine the leaves, the bark, the flowering portions. See what the tree has “to say.” Trust that there’s something substantial to be gained from this.