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Kemetic Round Table: Living Kemeticism

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.

Due to my free time in March and April being eaten alive by a rabid grad school monster, I’m going to address two topics in one, though it will all go under the guise of “Living Kemeticism.” I will discuss the following: What does living your faith mean to you? How can others bring their religion into their day to day life or live their religion? How public are you about your beliefs and practices? How has it (or not) impacted your work life, your familial and friendly ties? What advice would you give to uncertain Kemetics about how to approach either telling or not telling others about their beliefs?

I think I was living as a Kemetic, in many ways, before I even found Kemeticism. I say this in the sense that I was already trying to live my life in a balanced manner, respecting myself and respecting others, caring for the world around me while caring for myself, seeking knowledge while simultaneously trusting instincts and emotions. I also held the belief in a divine force that could manifest as many individual and distinct gods or spiritual forms, which allowed me to worship and work with the entities that most strongly called to me, while respecting, from a distance, most of the gods and religious practices of others.

Kemeticism sort of wove its way into what was already there, fleshing out the details with a more complex definition of balance in the many questions of living a life in ma’at and giving me Netjer, an entity from within the greater divine force, from which many Netjeru extended into complex individual gods. While I began to establish a set ritual practice, and perhaps did more genuine praying than before, overall my day-to-day existence changed very little.

What did change was having a far more solid concept of the benefits of living my faith and a growing sense of responsibility to, and support from, a diverse range of Kemetic communities. In turn, “Kemetic” added a new layer of self-understanding within my identity, a form of security based upon the framework through which I could now learn more about myself, my relationships, and my world. The ideals I aspired to live somehow acquired greater weight in their manifestation in the revitalization of an ancient tradition. When I lost sight of these goals, there were others to whom I could turn to find my way back, books I could read to revitalize my interest. These were ways to cope with fallow times, rather than simply watching and despairing as my connection to spirituality withered away.

I have been far better off for having this foundation of Kemeticism beneath my longheld beliefs and ideologies. Yet living my faith extends beyond the complexities of the ideas that shape who I am and what I do, often creeping into the simple comforts of day-to-day actions. I always wear the ring that represents my devotion to, and connection with, Set and Bast. I also have a rotation of pendants and earrings depicting various Netjeru, an ankh, a scarab. These become physical reminders, their weight on my chest a reminder of who I am and what I believe. My Set-animal pendant in particular has grown shiny from the amount I’ve rubbed it between my fingers when nervous and seek a small reminder of my own strength.

Given how living my faith has so strongly proven itself to be a positive influence on my life, it is perhaps of little surprise that I guard it fiercely. I share my faith only with those I know I can trust, though have reached a point where I am no longer willing to lie if directly confronted and perceive no actual physical threat.

I am fortunate in that I live in a place where Christianity is not so deeply entrenched in the culture as to result in my potentially being attacked for who I am and what I believe. In my previous academic job, I was under some pressure to keep my spiritual beliefs, any spiritual beliefs, to myself, so as to be taken seriously, but I hope that my next career will be more open in this regard. My family largely does not know, but were I ever to move back in with them, this conversation would need to be broached. I do feel that, again, barring physical repercussions, I would owe it to myself and to them to be entirely open about my spiritual beliefs and practices.

In the meantime, I have made gradual, but significant, steps towards helping my parents understand that I do not identify as Christian, and have a different spiritual worldview. I hope, in time, to reach a point of complete openness with them, but for now, try to keep a balanced perspective on what I need them to know to be personally fulfilled and honest, and what small gaps in their knowledge might be better for their emotional well being overall.

Living as Kemetic requires this sort of balanced approach towards how “Out” you are with your faith. Consider your needs, your safety, and weigh these against how you can best respect the needs of others. Only you can make these decisions, and they are well worth contemplating over time, particularly if your life as a Kemetic has brought you as much joy and positive growth as it has me.

Two Years As Their Daughter

BarquePainting
“Bast and Set Defend the Solar Barque” by A’aqytsekhmet

My Parents are deities of fierceness and beauty. They embody, in fire and strength, who I aspire to be with each new goal and challenge.

They are the defenders of the right to start again, destroyers of the obstacles that would keep a new day, a new chance, from beginning.

They are the passion for another and the passion for self, balanced and in check.

They are the split second decisions of lightning and the long burning blaze of needing to see something to its completion.

They mutually defy the overly simplistic boundaries of gender and species to rewrite what it means to rise up and live as Self rather than assumption.

They will not be defined by mere words, but action.

My Mother is neither woman nor cat. My Father is neither man nor sha. They are both, and neither, and the vast complexities that lie somewhere in between these conflicting extremes.

Today, two years and a day since They claimed me through sacred rite, I reaffirm that I am Their daughter.

I will carry Their standards high.

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.

 

 

A Ritual for the Daily Battle at the Prow of Ra’s Boat

I mostly wrote this for myself as I deal with mental health concerns, but I share it here in case any others would find it useful.

Ritual for the Daily Battle at the Prow of Ra’s Boat

Preparation:

Establish a space, either within your current shrine or in a new (purified) location. Make sure that this place is readily accessible, even near your front door if necessary, so that you will not be able to ignore it before leaving your home.

In this space, place the following:

A red candle.

A box of matches or a lighter.

An image of a spear: the spear may be three dimensional or two dimensional, but make sure that it is wide enough to write on the image.

A writing implement, in a color that you associate with strength.

Offerings for Set.

Optional: an image of Set* (or another god known for protecting the solar barque.)

*I will be naming Set throughout the rest of the ritual description. If you prefer, exchange another god’s name and epithets where appropriate.

On the evening before the first time you intend to complete this daily ritual:

Complete an act of ritual purification in whatever way best suits your personal practice.

Light the red candle, and say the following:

“Hail Set, Chosen of Ra, 
Fierce at the prow of the mesketet.
My light guides your blade in the darkness.
Your spear burns as fire in the flesh of the Uncreated.” 

Lift your image of the spear so that it is illuminated by the flame.

“Mighty One of Twofold Strength, I lend my spear to your battle.
My arm is your strong arm.
My foreleg is your strong foreleg.”

Lower the spear before the flame, and take up your pen or marker.

Write on the spear four components of your identity, personality, or even past accomplishments that make you feel empowered and remind you of how you affect the world around you (powerful voice, intellect, compassion, ferocity, tenacity etc.). Do not write anything negative on your spear, these things should be your strengths, and you should genuinely take pride in them.

After you write each personal strength, state the following before the flame. For example, if you were writing “intellect” as a strength on your spear you would say the following.

“My blade is my intellect; my intellect destroys isfet without and within.”

Repeat with the next three words:

“My blade is my [strength]; my [strength] destroys isfet without and within.” 

Once you have written all four strengths on the spear, hold it in your hand and contemplate what you have written there. Notice how these aspects of who you are have made a difference in the world and think about how they will continue to do so. Give the spear the pride you feel in these positive characteristics, imbue it with intent to rise every morning and use these traits to accomplish your goals for that day.

When you are ready, set the spear down before the flame, and close with the following words.

“Son of Nut, as you wield your spear against the Uncreated each morning,
so shall this blade serve me in my daily battles.
With it, I destroy the thoughts that would destroy me.
With it, I pierce the lies that would have me lie to myself.
I am worthy of a joyful life lived in ma’at
and I am strong enough to attain this life.”

Thank Set and Netjer, giving appropriate offerings in whatever manner suits your practice. Remove the foot before blowing out the candle and reverting offerings.

Daily Ritual

As soon as possible after rising, complete light purification (washing of mouth and hands).

Light the red candle and say the following.

“Hail Set, Great of Strength.
The sky shakes at your return with the dawn,
Victorious at the prow of the mandjet.”

Lift up your spear, and read from it each of the four strengths, using the following text:

“I am victorious this day in [intellect].
I am victorious this day in [strength 2].
I am victorious this day in [strength 3].
I am victorious this day in [strength 4.]

My enemies tremble before me!
I destroy isfet without and within.
The day is renewed, my strength is renewed,
I am worthy of a joyful life lived in ma’at.” 

Feel free to dedicate your spear to a particular cause that day, or even take it with you, if you need an extra boost of self-confidence or purpose. Then, as before, remove the foot, blow out the candle, and then continue on your way.

For members of the Kemetic Orthodox faith: if you are already doing senut at dawn, I have deliberately made this daily component quite short so that you can easily add it to your personal prayers without taking up too much extra time, should you wish to do so.

Also, at any time, if you wish to change the strengths associated with your spear, you may repeat the evening ritual and make a new one. However, try to use the same strengths for at least one month. There is power in repetition.

Dua Set! Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!

 

Returning in a New Year

After a two week jaunt that saw me visiting friends and family in four separate cities, I’ve finally returned home to my apartment and guys? I am worn out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be back in my familiar space, with my familiar cat and partner, my familiar local haunts, and yet it’s simultaneously challenging. I am certainly ready for a bit of rest: that I slept for eleven hours on my first day back was proof enough of this. Yet the past two weeks were full to bursting with lessons and exhilarating moments of confirmation. They raised ten questions for every answer solved, leaving my mind full of ideas and concepts I want to tear into while they’re still fresh. Such is often the way of a good adventure, I think.

Yet all adventures eventually come to an end, our valiant heroes must set down their swords, put away the spell scrolls, and take off the mystic armor to go back to the day to day lives of tending castles, farming fields, and maybe even teaching the next generation to go out and seek a new quest.

I’m struggling to settle back into the normal time, the usual life of daily necessities. I don’t feel ready to go back to the job that eats away at my energy and emotions, nor do I feel ready to give up the summer which granted me time to sit in shrine on a daily basis, to make art in music and clay, and to lose myself in the woods for a few hours at a time. I’m missing the people, some newly met, some known for years, with whom I could shut off the filters of “normalcy” and just be myself. Particularly after sundown, the time of day that has been giving me the greatest emotional difficulty for the better part of a year, I feel the gaping loss of these amazing people from my present reality, and am filled with frustration that I am once again limited to text on a screen when it comes to our interaction.

This is not a good or healthy way to be starting the New Year, my new beginning.

I have returned, but I need to forge it into a joyous homecoming, rather than passively let my life continue on its previous course. I need to sort out what I will achieve in the new year. I am not a creature of habit, I am someone who needs projects to be working on, needs to be affecting the world in some way, needs to have goals to fight for, people to help. My return must be one that, overdramatic though I know it sounds, heralds new beginnings and new triumphs.

So what will I do in this new year?

1.) I will establish relationships with at least four new gods: Heru-sa-Aset, the god of this year in Kemetic Orthodoxy; Heqat, as a goddess of  resurrection should, as I suspect, part of my identity die this year and need to be reborn as something new; Wesir, with whom I have talked of death and who understands those concerns more than any other deity I’ve yet met; and either Khnum or Khonsu, both of whom I have interacted with briefly, but as of yet I remain uncertain as to which would be willing to work with me in the long term.

2.) I will get to know my akhu. There have been signs all over the place (signs enough that even “Bah humbug it’s just coincidence” me can’t ignore them) that my ancestors want to build a better relationship with me, and I have avoided them time and time again largely because of my own discomfort with the idea. It’s time to move past this hurdle and reach out, probably looking beyond my most recent relatives, whose firm Christian beliefs form the biggest concern of mine: that I am disrespecting them in my efforts to honor them in this fashion.

3.) I will find a way to balance my creative needs with my present academic requirements. Sculpting and making music are things that I must have in my life to be happy. I know this now and I will not let them go without a fight. Part of this balance will also include assessing my career path and conclusively making a decision about whether or not academia is right for me, or if another occupation merits exploration.

4.) I will continue to volunteer. I’ve been helping a discounted feline spay and neuter clinic for the past few months in Bast’s name, and I intend to start singing at nursing homes as well. I dearly miss singing for people, and this is a good way to offer something to others while also taking care of myself. There’s also another music project in the works, if all goes well.

5.) I will figure out what I can offer to the community and take pride in it. Sometimes I find it quite difficult, between the depressive episodes and the ongoing battle with self-doubt, to figure out how I could conceivably matter, both within the Kemetic community, with all its variant forms and subgroups, and in the world at large. I’m just not sure what I bring to the table: musicologist-me knows damn well that she has a lot more reading to do before her body of knowledge in egyptology allows her to contribute anything on the scholarly level and artist-me knows that she certainly isn’t ready to play in the big leagues of statuary or song. But best to just keep trying, writing, making things, rather than go on and on about my sensation of uselessness. If nothing else, those words are holding me back, making that “lack of purpose” feeling into my own reality. So no more of that.

To quote Avenue Q: “Purpose, it’s that little flame / that lights a fire under your ass.”

*lights flame*

Let’s do this, new year.

The Days Upon the Year

Following the Kemetic Orthodox calendar, I have just made it to the end of another official Kemetic year. Over the course of five days, starting today, I will be celebrating the birthdays of the five children of Nut, and using this time prepare for the new year or Wep Ronpet. For the few followers of my blog who aren’t familiar with these “Days Upon the Year” or “epagomenal days,” they specifically refer to five days which do not actually take place within one year or the next. To quote my much-respected acquaintance Shefytbast, “In myth, Nut was forbidden from giving birth to her children on any day of the year; feeling sympathy for her, Djehuty gambled with the moon and won five extra days upon which Nut’s children could be born: Wesir, Heru-wer, Set, Aset, and Nebt-het. These days, being outside the year, and further being a time of birth (always fraught with peril), are considered to be both extraordinary and dangerous.”

Other Kemetic friends and acquaintances are on slightly different time tables, depending upon their own calculations, but regardless of the precise dates assigned for each god’s day of birth, many of us are in in the midst of a time where we ready ourselves for a spiritual “reboot” if you will, reflecting on the year past and considering what we might do in the days to come. Occasionally, people find themselves dealing with profound changes, or strange and unexpected trials during these five days. I’ve certainly had my own bumps and surprises in the week leading up to this time outside of the year, but I’ve dealt with them as best I could, and moved forward.

I will spend the epagomenal days in a very different manner than I did last year. Wep Ronpet 2012 saw me in Wisconsin, with substantial amounts of time to myself even while I participated in an intensive study program. I was able to spend time in shrine with each god on their day, write an individual post in their honor, and seek out places or activities around town that reminded me of them.  This year, I am staying with friends in Chicago until tomorrow evening, when I will head to Joliet to celebrate Wep Ronpet with members of the House of Netjer. This is an important step for me. I felt as though I could not, in good conscience, continue forward on this particular Kemetic path without meeting Hemet and more of the House in person. I was very grateful to meet a few of these folks in Pennsylvania a few weeks back, and very much enjoyed the experience. It was sort of like I’d known each of them for far longer than I actually had, given how smoothly conversation went and how quickly the time flew by. It was also kind of amazing for me to be able to openly discuss my spirituality in a group. In my day-to-day life, I generally only get to have full-fledged conversations about it with Itenumuti online, or occasionally with my partner when he wants to learn more.

I do strongly feel as though the gods wanted this of me, so while I am somewhat nervous about meeting so many new people, I am mostly pleased that I have been able to pull this together. I hope to learn a great deal in the coming days, both in terms of Kemetic practice in general and also about this specific community that I have taken vows to uphold, and the woman whom I trusted to divine my primary deities. I am optimistic that my positive impressions online will be verified in person, but it’s still a weirdly unnerving thing, giving the virtual the potential to become a far more intricate, messy reality by stepping away from the screen and into actual, face-to-face interaction.

I will try to do something for Wesir today, small though it may have to be. I suspect I will endeavor to spend some time with my akhu this evening, after my friends have gone to bed. Perhaps write some small bit of poetry in his name.

But yes, as the year is renewed, so am I trying my best to renew my writing efforts. I’d gladly welcome a bit of conversation to help inspire further posts, but also simply to hear from you, as it’s an exciting time for many of us, and there is much to talk about as we consider what is behind us, and what that means for each of us at the new year.

Shefytbast’s Feast of Set Ritual

So this evening I had the opportunity to effectively “beta test” a ritual written for Set by Shefytbast.

By the Kemetic Orthodox Calendar I’m technically a day late to be celebrating Set’s Feast day, but graduate student scheduling often necessitates a bit of flexibility when it comes to holidays. More than once I’ve had to give some small offering and an apology on an actual “Big Day” ™ and promise to properly celebrate a few days down the road, once I’ve made it through the paper, presentation, or what have you.

But that aside, it was quite nice to try a modern-styled ritual written by both a respected acquaintance and priest. The version of Set she presented was somewhat different from how I usually connect with Him, but I enjoyed the opportunity to try to understand Him from a different perspective, and also appreciated the similarities that emerged throughout the course of my reading through and contemplating both story and song.

I generally followed Shefyt’s instructions quite closely, though I did (by virtue of belatedness) combine the celebrations for Day 1 and Day 2 together and read the story silently rather than aloud. I also left Bast on the shrine: She wanted to be there for her role in the pacification, apparently? Who knows! (But one does not argue with an Eye.)

I spent the allotted celebration time in prayer, singing a few of my own songs for the Red Lord, and completing a divination. It was quite nice, having a bit of one-on-one with Set in shrine. Most senut experiences of late have been deliberately evenly split amongst my four primary deities.

I would also note that it was really just a lovely experience to have a brief, tangible connection with another Kemetic person that I’ve only interacted with virtually via blog and forum. I would love to continue this sort of experience with others, when and if you all have personal rituals you wish to share.

At any rate, I’ve included a few photos below:

How about that inadvertent glare placement. <_<

 

The print off to the left arrived today, thus became part of the offering. I find it amusing that it got lost in the mail last month, only to finally arrive on The Day I could fully celebrate its featured deity. Also, the incense burning is a new “Strength” blend I found today in my local Nepalese store while seeking out a red candle. It’s rather epic.

Bagel and clementine, aka: the itty!feast of Set.

Thanks again to Shefytbast for the chance to try a newly authored ritual!

Dua Set!

Kemetic Round Table – Deconstructing UPG

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, members of the Round Table were given the following prompt: “UPG, or Unverified Personal Gnosis, and doxa are a large part of many modern Kemetic practices. For this round, we discuss the nuances of UPG and doxa. What do these terms mean? Are there rules regarding these terms? How important is UPG and doxa in your practice, and how important should others’ UPG and doxa be in my practice?”

—–

My issue with the acronym UPG (used for “Unverified Personal Gnosis”)  largely resides in the first word of the three.

Personal is fine. UPG does relate to a personal idea or belief. It is a term which refers to something that happened in your life, or perhaps something that you alone experienced.

Gnosis is a little more complicated, if only in that it’s a complex, multi-faceted concept being shoved into three word phrase. But for now, let’s call it — extremely roughly, mind — knowledge, or insight.

Back to Unverified. Unverified, by virtue of that lovely prefix at the beginning, seems to suggest that it exists as part of a binary. Something is verified, proven to be true, proven to be real, proven to be authentic, or, quite simply, it is not.

And that’s about as gross an oversimplification of the matter as my awful two word definition for gnosis a few lines back.

Now here’s why:

Language is a tricky little git. It gives the illusion of presenting an honest to gods replica of that which it describes, but it never completely encompasses the genuine essence of the experience. Events do occur in time, bodies move, interact, live, breathe, and die — but as soon as any given moment has passed, it can never fully be experienced again save through representations that attempt to revitalize that moment in art, in text, in speech. But none of these ever truly allow the moment to be as it was again: it will be always be bounded by someone’s choices in how to create that representation. The colors, voices, words that are used to encompass some portion of the moment affect how others interpret it in turn, constructing new interpretations of the moment in variations upon variations.

So it goes for our concepts of history.

When I talk with some of the war re-enactors involved in my research, to a man they all contrast the re-enactment history of their group with the “history history,” placing the unverified traditions of their organization in stark opposition to textbook-verified traditions. The re-enactment history: a modern bugle song, anachronistic to the war they seek to portray, yet used for the past 20 years because that’s the way they’ve always done it, becomes a sort of… UPG to these men. A meaningful experience, and yet viewed as a personal choice, something they’ve brought into their own monthly ritual of the re-created war camp without backing it up with proof. In contrast, a brass arrangement of a mid-19th century broadside ballad provides something from the “verified” history — never mind that the primary source was pulled from an edited collection, and that the performance practice is based on a modern-day scholar’s argument of how it might have once been played.

And that’s the issue here: even the “history history” has a touch of “unverifiability” to it. Historians make choices when they decide what goes into their book and what doesn’t. They present us with certain ideas —  some backing these ideas up with sound logic and sources, others not — but these ideas still shape how the history is conveyed. No one writing about ancient Egypt today lived there to tell us how things truly were, we only have the writings of academics, mediated by background and belief and schooling, to give us possible interpretations. And granted, even in considering the history we have lived? That’s mediated too, by emotion, by memory, by nostalgia.

The question raised at the end of all of this: what is the authentic, real, verifiable “history”?

My response:  There isn’t one.

You’re nuts, Saryt. You might say to this.  Why the heck are you involved in a reconstructionist faith if you don’t think there’s a history to be re-created!?

Well here’s the thing. You’re right in saying I don’t believe there’s a history to be re-created. I believe there are histories: personal, communal, national… and each and every one of them valid to the beholder.

And indeed, the way to deal with this plurality of histories and memories is to shift the questions around. I offer the following:

In her seminal work  In Search of Authenticity, folklorist Regina Bendix wrote this critique of research projects devoted to seeking out the history or tradition which was purportedly “authentic” or “real.”

The crucial questions to be answered are not ‘what is authenticity?’ but ‘who needs authenticity and why?’ and ‘how has authenticity been used?’ (Bendix 1997: 21).

With this in mind, let’s ask the following: (a) Who needs a verifiable, authentic Kemetic faith and why? (b) How have verifiable, authentic concepts of Kemeticism been used?

(a) Who needs a verifiable, authentic Kemetic faith?

In my humble opinion, this applies anyone who wants to be a part of the Kemetic community and claim a Kemetic religious identity. There are certain aspects of an identity that can only be stretched so far before it ceases to serve as a marker of a group. There is room for flexibility here: no two people claiming any sort of identity are going to be exactly alike (as a self-proclaimed Irish-American who barely drinks, boy howdy do I know that!) But certain points, certain tenets, must be mutually valued amongst those claiming the title, why else have a title at all.

Chances are good that if you claim to be Kemetic, you’re going to worship certain gods and not others, but the hard versus soft polytheism may vary. Chances are also good that you’re going to find value in the concept of ma’at, but whether or not that becomes a historically informed interpretation of ethics or a more immediate experience of “balancing” in your interactions with gods will different from person to person.

(b) How have verifiable, authentic concepts of Kemeticism been used?

I would argue that verifiable, authentic ideas in Kemeticism, much like any form of historical re-construction (be it other recon-oriented faiths, re-enactment, or even Early Music Performance), are often — but not always! — viewed as a form of what I’ll call subcultural capital. Sarah Thornton defines subcultural capital as that which:

 ..confers status on its owner in the eyes of the relevant beholder. … Subcultural capital can be objectified or embodied. Just as books and paintings display cultural capital in the family home, so subcultural capital is objectified in the form of fashionable haircuts and well-assembled record collection … Just as cultural capital is personified in ‘good’ manners and urbane conversation, so subcultural capital is embodied in the form of being ‘in the know’, using (but not over-using) current slang and looking as if you were born to perform the latest dance styles. (11)

Many of the individuals  that have garnered a fair amount of esteem in the virtual Kemetic community, be they bloggers or spiritual leaders, have objectified subcultural capital: impressive libraries and even degrees. For example, while Hemet balances her academic background with spiritual and community-service based reasons for leadership, people outside of Kemetic Orthodoxy mainly recognize and respect her work courtesy of the several advanced degrees she holds in topically-relevant fields. These individuals also have embodied subcultural capital: they site academic sources, they know the feast days and esoteric information, they write lengthy, academic blog posts. It has arguably become a point of status in the community, certainly a point of recognition, to be well versed in the academic history of Ancient Egypt.

And don’t get me wrong: all of these folks definitively deserve our respect. They’ve worked hard to know what they know, to produce their extensive writings and share their expansive projects. We need folks like them to continue to share what we know of the past, to maintain representations of what was in as close and accurate a replica, mediated though it must be, as words or art can convey. They maintain the community I discussed in point (a) — if newcomers to the faith don’t have access to the vital ideas that allows us to mutually define ourselves as Kemetic, if we lose sight of the agreed upon essentials, we aren’t going to have a community.

But it’s worth it to remember that in the end, both the verifiable “history history” and the unverifiable experiences that we bring to our own interpretations of history are, in their own ways, constructed. Better to be aware of why you need a particular spiritual idea, what it contributes to your religious experience, and to be aware of where that idea came from, be it a textbook, the gods, or your own creative mind, than to beat yourself up over whether or not you can verify it as genuine. That knowledge, that awareness of how the idea was constructed, will serve you well in adding to our community, keeping the debate going as to how we define ourselves now and in the future, and keeping the Kemetic tradition vibrant, changing, and alive.

 

Procession of Set

Life is a little crazy for the standard bearer at present. Set claimed my masters thesis as an offering: given that I’m looking at the music of American Civil War reenactment as a form of memorial and construction of history, this at least *sort of* makes sense. I wound up getting to his required 50 page mark in the wee hours of the 17th, subsequently baked Irish soda bread as a supplementary offering (and a celebration of the “other holiday” that this Irish-American lady holds dear.) I crashed hard, got up the next day and cleaned out the shrine before deciding that the best take on a Procession I could offer was to get All The Sets out of the cabinet where I keep my Kemetic statuary and art, and give them sunlight and air for the day.

Guys, I have a metric shit tonne of Sets.

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Literally seconds after I lit the incense, I got a call from my partner: his car had broken down halfway between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and he needed rescuing. Thus an epic road trip began which saw us getting home at 3am.

Never a dull moment on a Set day.

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.