Ekunyi's Embers

Archive for the ‘Bast Within’ Category

Kemetic Round Table – Shrines on the Go

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: “Shrine basics: Setting up your first shrine: How do I do it, what do I need, and what rules are there (if any).

I’ve seen a number of great posts this week which cover the basics of maintaining a shrine, that sacred space that serves not only as a place for performing ritual acts, but also divine temple of sorts where you welcome the gods into your home and into your life. I highly recommend Sobeqsenu’s post here for a concise outline of putting together the basics for your shrine and Satsekhem’s post here which provides a helpful clarification of the distinction between altars and shrines, and why both can be equally valid and important aspects of one’s spiritual life.

Several KRT-authors have also touched on the usefulness of compact or travel shrines. Near the end of her post, Sarduriur offers useful advice for Kemetics or other polytheists living in a space where cohabitants. Devo also suggests wearable shrine options in the form of sacred jewelry, and offers ways to use that jewelry in the same context as an icon.

Given that I am presently visiting my sibling Itenumuti and hir partner in Texas, I thought it might be appropriate to expand a little bit on my personal use of a travel shrine, and provide one take on how one can endeavor to transfer the experience of spiritual work at home to spiritual work on the road.

How do you make a travel shrine?

The sky is the limit when it comes down to how you want to create your travel shrine. Some practitioners choose a box of some kind, often made of wood, ivory, metal, or  even synthetic materials if your gods do not view this as a purity concern. Others wear devotional jewelry on their body, or attached to an important item. Either way, you are welcome to decorate your travel shrine as ornately or discretely as necessary. Go with what strikes a comfortable balance between your relationship with your gods, and the necessity of your current living situation.

If you use a box and intend to place ritual items within it, I recommend finding one with a clasp of some kind, so you can close it securely and lower the risk of spilling items consecrated to spiritual use into a messy location. Of course you can always purify them again, but at least for me, the prospect of accidently dropping an icon into something unmentionable makes me cringe.

What goes into a travel shrine?

There are a few things to keep in mind for what to place within your travel shrine:

1.) What do you need to complete the rituals you will be enacting while you are on the road?

If you are of a path like Kemetic Orthodoxy and hope to continue with the state ritual (senut) — or a ritual with similarly established necessary items —  as you complete it at home, you will want to find a way to fit all of these items for this ritual into your travel shrine. If you have an adapted ritual for travel, perhaps you can bring fewer things. If you are someone who regularly interacts with his or her gods, via meditation, divination, or any other forms, you can always ask Them what They expect of you while you’re off on grand adventures, and “pack” accordingly.

2.) How long will you be gone? 

Packing for two weeks is much different than packing for two months. Try to think ahead for how much of any given ritual item you use at a time. Can you just pack a few small sticks of incense in your travel shrine, or would it be wise to bring an extra box in your suitcase? Unlike the roll of toothpaste you accidentally left on your bathroom sink, you’re probably not going to be able to drive to the nearest drugstore and easily pick up some natron and kyphi. Do your best to think ahead for what you need, and how much of it you need.

3.) Where will you be staying?

Staying in the home of an open-minded friend for the duration of your trip is far different than staying a week in a hotel. Keep in mind what the rules will be for burning candles and incense in your travel location. Tealight LED candles are a cheap and easily-acquired alternative to burning an actual wick, and scented oils can serve as an offering to the gods without the producing the same powerful scent of many incense options, should your host be sensitive to such.

4.) How are you getting there? 

If you’re driving or taking the train, chances are good that you won’t have to worry too much about what you put into your travel shrine. The TSA, however, may find issue with certain items in your shrine. A few important things to note: if you need to pack matches with you, and you are taking them in your carry-on luggage, you must use strike-on-box matches, and you can only bring one box. Strike anywhere matches are not permitted, and neither are torch or micro-lighters. Though perhaps more self-explanatory, if you use a ritual blade of any sort, don’t pack that in your carry-on either.

How do you use your travel shrine once you’ve arrived?

There is no hard and fast rule for ritual use of your travel shrine. Again, take into consideration where you are going, who you are staying with, and how long you are going to be there. Personally, if I am going to be staying in one space for the duration of my trip, a space where I can safely practice without any issue from my cohabitants, I will try to establish a specific spot for my travel shrine early on. Much like my shrine at home, I clean the area before setting up icons, and I purify my body before I enter the sacred space. I welcome my gods to stay in this shrine for the entirety of the time in the new location. I give offerings, usually just cool water while I’m actually in shrine (note my tiny offering cup in the pictures below) but silently offer some of my food before meals. I will then pray, sing, meditate, create art — any and all of the usual activities I would do with, or for, my gods while I was at home.

If I am staying in a hotel, or in a space where my cohabitants would be bothered my spirituality, I take greater precautions. I unpack my shrine, complete my chosen ritual the same way as described above, but after ritual, I pack all icons and ritual implements away in the travel shrine, and tuck it safely back into a bag where I know it will come to no harm. In the case of hotels, I have heard more than one story of cleaning staff accidentally damaging a shrine while they were doing their daily administrations. In the case of a less understanding host, I do this as a sign of respect to whoever has allowed me to stay within their home.

(The caveat here, of course, is if you are going to be living with this person for an extended period of time. In this case, I would suggest a full, free, and frank conversation of your faith before moving in with them, if such a conversation is at all humanly possible. As always, you know your own life better than any other, do what you think is best.)

What does a full travel shrine look like?

You can look at some of the blogs I mentioned above for ideas, but I’ve also included a few photos to show my current travel shrine.

The outside of my travel shrine. I love this box for its compact size, the shining gold caps on the exterior, and of course: the handy clasp.

This gives you a sense of how I pack the shrine, and some of the things I include within it. Please note the strike-on-box matches, as well as one of two lovely icons by Tenu depicting the names of my Parent deities.

Moving one layer down, you can see the incense, a candle, an ankh candle holder, and a small offering cup for fresh water (which is partially blocking a tiny, lotus-shaped incense holder) and two more icons which I made myself from polymer clay. They recently received some touch-ups after their original paint job began coming off.

Finally, here is the full travel shrine when it is set up. I currently place the three-dimensional icons of Set and Bast across from their painted names. This is a visual reminder for me; I was recently tasked in finding the similarities between my parent deities, in an effort to better balance which of Them I more frequently turn to. I enjoy sporadically changing elements of my travel shrine, whether it is the color of the candle I pack, or the type of incense I burn, depending on which Netjeru I am working with, and what I hope to achieve spiritually while I am traveling.

May your own adventures be fulfilling, and your gods near.

 

Fallow Time

It’s funny, that a mere matter of months after writing about “fallow” times — more specifically, that I had yet to experience one since developing the healthiest, and most fulfilling, sense of spirituality in my life to date —  I seem to be experiencing just that. It’s not particularly surprising; wrapping up my masters degree pushed me to the edge of my capabilities as a scholar and functional human being. My body’s doing a bit of recovering after months of sleep deprivation, dodging departmental drama monsters, and generally trying to keep my shit together. Shrine time has been extremely minimal since early April, though Set stayed near throughout the entire experience, an ever-solid presence that provided the occasional verbal kick-in-the-ass to hold the sporadic nights of depression at bay, to forge me into someone capable of finishing the damnedable 70 page paper, and to keep my wits about me even as colleagues turned on each other and professors did nothing.

My partner offered the comfort that balanced Set’s semi-militant commands, and between the two of them, and the voices of other friends and family (I’m looking at you and sending you a lot of love, Tenu) I somehow got through this fucking semester of cancer scares and interpersonal bullshit and self doubt.

I can still sense the gods, but I’m struggling to write anything about Them, and I don’t feel like I can muster the focus to return to shrine just yet. I suspect it won’t be much longer though, just a bit more rest, a bit more genuine down time and then I can be productive again in spiritually meaningful ways.

I’ve started doing grant-writing and newsletter edits for an Ohio no-kill cat shelter run by a friend of mine in Bast’s name. The thesis was officially dedicated to Set, and I’m doing some research into possible local martial arts classes that I might be able to afford again as another physical offering until I feel ready to return to what I was doing before.

I have ideas for what to write when the muse does come back to me.

I still owe a good friend a post on cultural appropriation and what drew me to Kemeticism rather than “my family’s faith.”

I also want to write about Set and my battle with depression, it was originally supposed to my daily life post for KRT, but that ship has sailed, so perhaps it can be converted to something else.

Is there anything else you all would like to read? I welcome the inspiration. I don’t mean to be an attention whore, but honestly just knowing folks still wish to read this and have thoughts on what might be interesting could help in getting me back into the writing flow.

My best to you all.

PBP 2013 – E is for “Eye of Ra”

As this is technically a weekly blogging project, I am perhaps stretching the rules a bit by posting a creative work. But they’re really more “guidelines,” no?

Eye of Ra

I am as waves, shifting and pulsing,
a vibration that once was my visceral cry
quickens from roar to scream to explosion

In that instant I am more than the single strand of belief
which 
held me between your imagined sky and walked earth
Ecstasy holds me taut, faith draws a hand across me,
and those who know both will erupt with my birth
into the vision of humanity’s dawn

I am light and sound in that boundless repetition
My voice slows into the shaking of the sistrum at my right
My Eye rises into the blaze of the wand at my left

Sound in darkness
Light in silence
I am the destroyer of mere sensate dichotomies
And live in the soul of those who would burn
as more

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.

PBP 2013 – D is for Discipline

I struggle with maintaining a sense of discipline in my practice. Picking a day to sit in shrine and sticking to it, constantly meeting the goals set forth by my gods. There’s no mystery to this problematic inability to establish a habit — I don’t make it a priority.

Spiritual time, in my head, feels like a luxury. It’s forced relaxation. I shower, purify, enjoy the feel of tension released at the heat of the water, the pleasant sense of the day’s work washed away, the scent of incense filling me with each breath, the comfort of candles’ glow.

Yet if I haven’t accomplished enough that day for work, if I haven’t met whatever (often unreasonable) scholastic goals I set for myself that day, I genuinely feel like I haven’t earned the pleasure of sitting in shrine, of being with my gods.

This, my friends, is really stupid.

For one, as I’m sure occurred to many (if not most) of you upon reading the above, it’s not just about me! We worship/walk with/study under gods. No matter what way you spin it, no matter which way the balance tilts, it’s a two-way relationship, built on trust, time, and effort.

And, as was pointed out to me this evening, I’m starting to reach the extreme where even purification is tainted by stress and to-do lists, creatures of the mundane. I was washing my mouth out with purified natron-water and Set just rumbles, What are you doing?

I paused, “Purification.”

No, what were you doing. It certainly was not pure.

And the truth of it? I had been thinking about the fact that I’d forgotten to provide extra comments for a student’s essay who’d requested the more detailed response. I then started to mentally berate myself. While I was swishing natron around in my mouth.

I acknowledged this, apologized, began to re-rinse my mouth… and promptly caught myself doing it again. This time making a to-do list in preparation for the meetings I have scheduled tomorrow afternoon. 

I genuinely struggled, the rest of the shower, to not think about work. Instead, I just tried to release those self-accusatory thoughts and shift myself into a more neutral state of mind.

Yet even once in shrine I realized: great job, self. It’s Sunday. You completely forgot to do something dedicated to Bast today as you’d promised.

I sang one of the songs I’d written, but my heart wasn’t in it. This was an afterthought. It was not the journeying She’s asked of me for months, it was not quality time with Sammi, it was not even a new creative work. This was not good enough.

And yet, I received no anger from Her or Set, despite how He had mildly expressed His discontent earlier in the rite. From Set, I was told only to recite my favorite prayer related to Him, to memorize it, to let the words become a mantra of calming and mental clarity when next my worries and self-accusations ran off with my thoughts again.

From Bast, I was shown the tree that I have been instructed to care for while I attempt to regain my skills at “seeing” while meditating. It sprang from where it was rooted my heart, up through my chest and out my head, branching off in countless different directions. She placed a massive black paw on the bark that I visualized filling my chest, and the outline of the tree flared golden-red as Her energy coursed up my chakras, clearing them, and leaving me feeling far more… alert and energized than I have in days.

I didn’t know what to say in the moment beyond thank you.

Looking back, a few hours later, I am beginning to wonder if my mental fog will be cleared by allowing myself to become as disciplined with the spiritual matters, both in shrine and in journey, as I have been with academia.

Balance. Always balance.