Ekunyi's Embers

Archive for the ‘Pagan Blog Project’ Category

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.

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

PBP 2013 – D is for Difference or Division

This past Friday night I had the pleasure of attending a showing of the film “Searching for the Fourth Nail.” American-Romani director George Eli used the film to document a journey of identity and faith, seeking out the reasons as to why the Rom lived under the “Gypsy” stereotype. He began with the story his mother shared with him as a small boy, a story that supposedly all the Rom knew.

As the story goes, when Jesus was to be nailed to the cross, there were originally four nails, not three. Two for his hands, one for his feet, and the last for his heart. A Romani thief took the fourth nail, preventing an immediate death and enacting the events that would lead to Jesus’ resurrection. Because of this, Eli’s mother claimed, God gave the Rom the right to steal from the non-Rom gadje. 

Eli’s journey involved discussions with family members and complete strangers. He visited conferences, videoed a Baptist service which many Rom had adopted as their own faith, and dug through countless historical works to trace Romani history back to India. In a particularly emotional moment, he visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC with his son, where he found a single book in the museum store relating to Rom in the Holocaust. His conclusion was that a history of oppression led the Rom to, in a way, view themselves as the outside world viewed them. In turn, they invented stories that kept the stereotypes alive, but converted them into a source of pride.

After the film, Eli took questions from the audience, and one elderly white woman raised her hand asking: “If you want to be assimilated into our culture, why do you keep making it a case of us versus them? Why do you keep using that term… gadje?”

I don’t think the woman meant to come off as racist and ignorant as she sounded to those of us sitting around her who collectively facepalmed. I think her question was an expression of genuine hope for a future in which, to use a Lennon-ism, “the world will live as one.”

Nevertheless, had Eli been angered by this, I doubt many of us would have blamed him. But to his immense credit, he remained calm, even compassionate.

I’m paraphrasing of course, but he said something along these lines:

I don’t want to be assimilated. I am Rom, my sons are Rom. I am Rom first, a New Yorker second, and an American third. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my country. I was born here, I am a citizen, and after 9/11 my community wanted to reach out and help as much as any others. I just want my country to know why I am Rom. I want them to understand the oppression that shaped me and my community, that forced us to steal. I want them to know where we came from originally, that we do fortune-telling because we believe in it, because it’s a part of our culture. I want my sons to be proud of being Rom.

Maybe we should stop using gadje. But that’s a part of human nature. No matter who you are, there’s going to be an “other.” And you’re going to have a term for that other. I think it’s more important to make sure you respect that other and that he respects you, take pride in your differences but not let them divide you. 

Now let me put it out there from the start that I am an extremely privileged, able-bodied white woman who has known nothing in the way of the genuine discrimination that George Eli and his community have faced. But of course I’ve seen division in my life, in almost all of the communities I’ve participated in. We all have.

We’re not always going to get along and we’re not always going to understand each other. We have different backgrounds, different beliefs, different rituals, different leaders, different ways of writing, different ways of portraying ourselves, different methods of supporting our arguments. This much difference is going to engender debate.

But I keep returning to George Eli’s words.

There’s going to be an “other.” Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me. She or he will exist. We can choose to stick a name on her (or better yet, let the “other” choose her own name) but difference will remain. We can’t possibly merge into one vast monotony of agreement.

And who would want to? I’m proud of who I am, the faith I hold, the research I do. I’m proud to claim my community of friends all walking unique paths of Druidry and Animism and Kemeticism and Atheism and Christianity and Buddhism and more. I respect myself, I respect my acquaintances, and I can only be who I am and hope that me will eventually earn respect in turn. I don’t want our differences to prove divisive.

But, of course, it’s not that simple. Emotions muddy the waters. We build a sense of loyalty to our community, we find individuals who we love so deeply as to want to defend from any perceived attack. The goal of cultural (or perhaps, for the purposes of this blog series, spiritual) relativism, is an ideal, not a reality.

Perhaps that’s what Eli was doing. His argument for difference without division was no less an ideal than the elderly woman’s vision of a unified, culture-blind America. But, at least in this author’s humble opinion, it seems an ideal to which we can more readily aspire, an ideal that, while never fully achievable, is more likely to promote positive change, more likely to make us respect difference even as we debate it.

Just food for thought.

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.

 

PBP 2013 – C is for Cat

This is not going to be a particularly eloquent post, nor will it involve a tremendous amount of insight. This post is not going to detail the history of cats (plural) in Egypt, nor dwell on any examples of the marvelous art that depicts them.

This post is simply to express my love for my cat (the cat here at Chez Ekunyi) and to thank Bast for her continued health and well being.

Sammi (aka: Kittenface, Goober, Bastlet, Samwise Catgee, and Babygirl.)

So the little goober off to the right is Sammi.

She is my furkid. I view her as a dependent and take pride in knowing that I earn enough money to take her to regular check-ups at the veterinarian, to buy her food and toys (…entirely too many toys.) I view it as my duty to care for her teeth and her claws, to carefully watch her body for any changes that might necessitate concern. I find it grounding to brush her out every day when her coat starts to shed like mad in the spring time, to complete the simple daily tasks of changing food, water and litter.

She is my comfort. My partner can attest to the fact that when it reaches a certain hour in the night, she takes it upon herself to yowl and plant herself squarely in front of the television or computer until I get my butt to bed. She somehow knows just where to lay when I could use a heating pad on my chest when I’m dealing with a cold, or some warmth near my lower back when I’m sore. She stayed by me the entire time I was stuck in bed recovering from a surgery two years ago, chasing my roommate’s cat away from me repeatedly after the other cat accidentally walked on my wound.

She is my joy. Her presence in my life necessitates that I put aside my work at least once a day and throw her mouse or wriggle her special “stick” around for her to chase. She makes me laugh when she chases her tail, when she gets so excited about my coming home that she can’t take her eyes off me while running around and eventually just falls over. She wants to be on me, near me, almost all the time that I’m home, to watch what I’m watching, to listen to me sing. (And yes, given that she will snuggle up with me and purr at the sound of my voice, I do indeed sing to my cat.)

Sammi being helpful with research.

She is my inspiration. Though it’s ridiculously anthropomorphizing of me, her background genuinely inspires me. A mother to four kittens at seven months, she kept them alive and well through the “Snowpocalypse” while living under a porch, to the detriment of her own health. Despite this rough start in life, she has come so far from the skittish year old cat I brought home from the rescue center in September of 2010, growing into a snuggle-cat who pretty much wants to convince the world that everyone would be better off with a little more food and a lot more petting.

And yes, in her own way, she is a little connection with Bast. While I don’t view my time with Sammi as an inherently “spiritual” time, all of the things I’ve listed above do make me incredibly grateful that I have her in my life. In our short two and a half years together, she’s been at my side (or more accurately, in my lap!) through career changes, cancer scares, moves, and a break-up. She makes me laugh when I’m crying, and has grabbed onto my heartstrings so firmly that the thought of life without her (hopefully some fifteen odd years from now or more!)  can bring me to tears.

Dua Bast for the brilliance her children can bring in shadowed times, and for the love that we learn to share with them in turn.

And so, so much of that love to my Kittenface.

PBP 2013 – C is for Conversations Over Coffee

Yes, “conversations over coffee,” and no, I swear that the oddball nature of my selected topic is not (*cough* at least not entirely) because I’m currently on pain medications. Bear with me.

In my experience, spiritual space can be found or made. I’ve known mornings wandering through the woods when a group of deer ran past me and I was awed by their fluidity and power, afternoons at the top of mountains in Colorado watching a thunderstorm miles off and recognizing how small I was, evenings by a lake as the sun sets, crickets sing and the world descends into darkness after the brief brilliance of a blood red sky reflected across the water. These are found moments of wonder in my life, lived expressions that I am fortunate enough to see, feel, touch by the grand chance of my being in the right place at the right time.

Yet there are other spaces deliberately created. Preparing for and entering my shrine, of course, is an obvious instance of this. My next post, which I’m happy to say will be a part of the exciting, new Kemetic Roundtable project, will describe the purification process I undertake to fully transfer myself out of the secular and into the sacred. Yet there are other places, other ways, in which moments of spirituality creep into my life. Most notably: cafes.

I adore cafes. I do almost all of my writing in such. I love experiencing the sounds and sensations of people flowing in and out, noting how lives briefly touch other lives, seeing poems written, listening to the murmur of conversations held. There’s an energy in a cafe that is hard to recreate elsewhere, and it’s a vibrant thing, as so many words are put to countless pages or exchanged across tables, yet never really overlap. Each little nook, chair, bench becomes a tiny territory of invention and being, and you can almost sense the power of the place if you really care to look.

When I sit in a cafe by myself I can choose to wall myself away to delve into my own research, pulling up articles to read, finding new facets of the past which I can reshape to suit my spiritual needs in the present. Yet I also have one particular spiritual entity I work with who enjoys, at the very least seems amused by, my time in cafes.

  Set and I have conversations over coffee or chai. I’ll purchase it, leave it out while it cools as an offering, and then revert it while we mentally “chat.” Conversations range the gambit from serious discussions of my recent efforts to meet His requirements, to supportive advice in times when I’m facing some form of adversity, to semi-risque, swear-filled chats about absolutely random nonsense, that often end in me getting “gibbslapped” for taking it over the line before He one-ups me.

Speaking with Set, or any god for that matter, is something I generally don’t bother to over-analyze. I could call it an imagined voice, as I honestly do not, or cannot, hear such things aloud, and the skeptic in me is inclined to say that what I hear of Him is brought about by my own capacity to create a voice within my head. But who is to say where the divine begins and my own creativity ends? Perhaps it is my own voice, but He prompts me to hear His words, or more abstractly guides the conversation I hold “with myself” in the direction I need it go so as to gain something from it.

The walls between what is Netjer and what is human invention are flexible, as are the walls between those of us sitting in the cafe as we write away in our own little worlds but are inspired by what we see around us, the flavor of our drink, the snow falling outside the window, the question asked of us by a curious table-neighbor who wants to know how the novel’s going today. Why worry about the exact technicalities of what inspires us, what guides us? Better to just let it be, to drink coffee, to mentally converse, and to enjoy that little pocket of the sacred in the midst of a fast-paced life.

PBP 2013 – B is for “(Spiritual) Bling”

So I’ve sort of given up on titling these posts PBP Fridays, as I’ve not been terribly good at writing them on the correct day. That said, I do intend to keep going with the allotted schedule, even if it may take a bit of catch up work on my part and patience on yours.

I asked for inspiration regarding my second “B” post, as I was struggling with what I should write. I received one response, with tremendous enthusiasm, that I should write about spiritual and ritual “bling.” This initially made me chuckle; as you may have gathered from previous posts, I’m not really the sort of individual inclined to wear over-the-top jewelry, and I don’t know that I’ve ever actually said the word “bling” aloud.

Next it made me cringe. I’m presently dealing with several health issues, one of which has left me ritually impure and prevented me from completing the Kemetic Orthodox state ritual of senut for months now. My skin is on the war path, my body is holding water like a dam, I can’t take excedrin (which has aspirin) to ward off regular migraines before my biopsy next week, and my issues with SAD are coming back full swing as January creeps softly into the cloud-covered, greyscale days of February.

So I said to myself, no way in hell am I up for writing about the beautiful things I adorn myself with to celebrate my spirituality, and set that idea on the back burner, figuring I’d apologize to my friend for not taking her up on her kind suggestion.

But then this past Wednesday evening  I sat in shrine, making offerings and praying outside of a formal ritual context. Of late it has been too difficult for me to focus to successfully hear my Parents or Beloveds, but it was nevertheless a comfort just to speak aloud my frustrations in the present, my fears for the days ahead, and to find the joys in what good had happened, despite the challenges. I talked to Netjer for a solid thirty minutes, then realized that I really must be quite distressed to be venting at such length to my gods. I also forced myself to acknowledge that I had struggled more than I cared to admit just to make it through the previous day without completely losing it in my workplace. I had the sudden urge for a physical reminder to stay strong, for myself and for my loved ones, and so instinctively opened the cabinet beneath my shrine to seek out my necklace with Set’s image.

As I closed the clasps that held the chain around my neck, it was something of a clue by four. The items I associate with my faith are far more to me than how I’m feeling about my physical appearance at any given time. They’re powerful reminders of the connection I have with Netjer, the lessons I’ve learned from gods and spiritual guides. They are precisely what I need when I’m feeling at my worst, and something to enjoy aesthetically when I’m at my best.

Anecdote shared, I figured I’d share a few photos with you.

The first includes my Set-animal necklace, which I wear fairly often. I connect strongly with Set depicted as sha, as when He first began appearing to me in dreams, before I knew anything of Kemetic gods (and, to be frank, when it felt like my world was crashing around my ears and I assumed the “odd dog” I was visualizing was proof I’d completely gone off my rocker), He appeared to me as a greyhound with strangely squared ears.  This was custom made for me by Kristan of SilverWishes, and I am forever grateful to her for her creativity and craftsmanship.

This photo also shows my Heru-wer necklace, which was made for me by Emky (Ty Barbary) of Mythic Curios. This is more of a ritual wear piece, and presently it resides on my shrine as something of a rosary. I can hold different portions of it, consider the blade/claw, the balance between dark and light, the two brothers, the sun which is Heru-wer in Ra.

Finally, of note, I took this photo while wearing my ritual whites. This garment is made of cotton, and contains no man-made materials for purposes of ritual purity. I generally wear it only for senut, which further helps establish the shift from a secular to spiritual state when I enter shrine for the official ritual. I’ve missed wearing it.

Daily and ritual wear, worn over my cotton, ritual white shirt.

The next photo is of necklaces representing other Names in my line-up, plus Wesir, with whom I have a tentative, but growing relationship. The ones for Bast and Hethert-Nut were again made by Emky. Bast’s is also for ritual use, I have worn it when dancing, and the weight of it keeps its own rhythm against my chest as I move. It also depicts Her as I see Her, which is understandably a bit unique from most.

Hethert-Nut’s was made to be worn out and about. It is small, elegant, but full of sparkle. I tend to wear it on days when I’m feeling vibrant enough to “pull it off,” but it can also bring a little brightness back on days when I’m not as confident about myself. I also love the natural pearls amongst the perfect spheres, a reminder that though beautiful and serene, Hethert most assuredly has horns: and so do I.

Wesir’s necklace has personal meaning that I would rather keep to myself at this time, but I am equally grateful to have it. Many thanks to Brenda of Howling Caterpillars.

From top to bottom, necklaces for Bast, Hethert-Nut, and Wesir.

 

The final photo includes earrings that are actually not Kemetic, but dedicated to Great Horned Owl, my spiritual guide in animist practice. They are from a company that does very detailed jobs painting specific owl and hawk feathers onto bone. I try to remember to wear them to honor her after we have worked together within a meditative journey, but also on days when I hope to embody some aspect of her teachings.

Last but not least, the ring which I wear every day, without fail. This ring symbolizes my Kemetic Parents. The larger, darker red stone at the base is Set, solid and strong, and Bast, the smaller, brighter, fiery stone and Eye of Ra to His right.  I am represented by the small, but dark, red stone at the top of the spiraling gold, a combination of Their traits, and yet something unique entirely, lifted up by Their mutual presence, transformed for the better. It came from the lovely work of Veronika at Vera Nasfa.

Great Horned Owl earring and dailywear ring for Set and Bast.

I hope you enjoyed this.

PBP Fridays 2013 – B is for Bawy

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, many members of the Kemetic Orthodox faith choose to undergo the Rite of Parent Divination. Since the church’s founding in the late 1980s, certain patterns have emerged in which Netjeru frequently appear together in this process. One such link exists between Heru-wer and Set: if someone is divined the Child of one of these gods, the other will generally appear as a secondary Parent or Beloved. Such was the case with me, Set was divined my Father and primary Parent, Heru-wer appeared later in the line-up.

I have struggled to get to know Heru-wer (Horus the Elder) as  I had absolutely no relationship with Him prior to the RPD. His appearance in the ritual was possibly the main factor in my waiting as long as I have to become Shemsu; I could hardly swear my loyalty to a god I knew nothing about, and indeed, greatly disliked for a time due to confusion in my initial, cursory research. Early efforts led me to accidentally mix what I would later learn to be two distinct tales: the struggle of Heru-wer and Set, brothers engaged in political strife as the rulers of the south and the north each vying for control of the whole, and the battle between Heru-sa-Aset and Set, seemingly a prelude to the construction of the Hamlet trope, where vengeance for a father’s untimely murder requires battle with one’s uncle.

Such confusion is common, argues Egyptologist Jan Assman, as these “two mythic circles” overlap. Their separation today remains largely a theoretical construct, for the two streams of tradition freely flowed in and out of each other in varying sources over the ages (Assman 2001, 135). And yet, despite this melding, Assman argues that the occasionally conflicting details matter less than the overarching themes which represent values crucial to Egyptians from all periods: “the overcoming of antagonism, the balancing of opposites, the reconciliation and uniting of contending parties, integration of portions, the achievement of an overarching whole, the consolidation of rule in a single hand” (Ibid., 139).

From p. 65 of “Symbol and the Symbolic” by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, this and other images of the Bawy can be found on Joan Lansberry’s marvelous website.

These values stressing a “united duality” had an embodied form (Ibid., 134). One “body” to hold this combination of opposites as the deity Wilkinson calls Horus-Seth, noting that “despite their inimical characters, the reconciled Seth and Horus may be depicted as a combined deity with the heads of both gods” (Wilkinson 2003, 198). This dual-god was worshiped as Antywey (Antywy/Antewy), whose name means “the two clawed ones,” expressing the violence of combat between two opposed forces (Traunecker, 60). Antywey could also be depicted by a pair of falcons, other times with one human body bearing two heads, one falcon, one Set-animal (Lansberry 2012, 51).  Of the specific image at left, she writes, “Horus-Seth stands on a two-headed sphinx, one head Horus with the White Crown and one a human head wearing the white crown.” (Ibid., 51).

Te Velde argues that this god Antywey  “is not an example of ‘another composite deity’ … but Horus and Seth united and reconciled in one god” (Te Velde 1967, 68). Indeed, the god had his own cult in the city of Tjebu, capital of the 10th nome (roughly, province), for most of the Pharonic period, and would retain a following in the city even during the Ptolemic era as Antaeopolis (after Antaeus, adapted from Antywey) (El-Masry, 193). Yet this deity, for all that He exists as a unified entity, seems to contain two distinct ba. Te Velde notes that in Chapter 17 of the Book of the dead, “the uniting and the reconciling of Horus and Seth are spoken of in the same breath … ‘I am He with the two ba’s'” (Te Velde 1967, 70).

From this description we finally discover the reasoning behind the name used for this entity by most of the online Kemetic Community: Bawy, or literally “ba” with the dual ending, making it “two bau” or “pair of bau.” Defined roughly, one’s ba is the individual soul which contributes to the formation of one’s personality. Thus the meaning behind this particular name is crucial: the brothers Set and Heru-wer, the twins united, brought together in the cause of reconciliation and balance, remain distinct in personality and drive.

Ramesses III crowned by Horus and Seth, from Joan Lansberry

This power inherent to the combination of Set and Heru-were without losing sight of either is frequently referenced in discussions of the power of the pharaoh. On page 39 of his article on Seth [Set] as Trickster, Te Velde writes, “Every pharaoh, that is man in his quintessence, is a Horus reconciled with Seth, or a gentleman in whom the unformed spirit of disorder has been integrated” … but arguably not forgotten! Indeed the pharaonic ideal stems from the use of both without the loss of either.

“Sometimes we see that in the unity two different aspects may yet be distinguished: Hatshepsut rules this country as the son of Isis  (=Horus) and is strong as the son of Nut (=Seth). Ruling, the king is Horus, when he must use force he is Seth. Neither of the two aspects can be dispensed with. It is the co-operation of both gods in the king which guarantees the welfare of the world” (Te Velde 1967, 71).

The two remain distinct, and yet equally important as emblems of how a leader must act, what a leader must do, in order to successfully protect their people and nation.

Sema-tawy image, source unknown


It seems worthwhile to note a few other images reflecting combined aspects of Set and Heru-wer. The first is the Sema-tawy motif, in which Set and Heru-wer, individually bodied and yet mirror reflections of each other, symbolically tie together both halves of the divided land.  A similar concept has been depicted with both deities pictured as sphinxes, simply with their respective falcon and Set-animal heads.

Though a less direct connection, it is also worth noting another deity known to some as Anti (or Anty) and more recently as Nemty, who originally guided the henu boat of the falcon deity Sokar, yet in later texts appeared as ferryman of Ra and the other gods.His association with Heru meant that the god could indirectly be associated with Set. Thus it is no surprise that Nemty was depicted with the head of Set on a stela from the Middle Kingdom found near Mount Sinai (Wilkinson, 205; Te Velde 1967, 113).

Finally, though I acknowledge this as something of a stretch, I am also curious to know if various images of a winged Set, such as those collected here by Setken, also offer further insight into a possible cross over of aspects of the falcon god absorbed into His brother.

Despite the complex nature of the myriad forms and names in which Bawy can be found, His presence is still felt amongst the modern day Kemetic community. Songs and prayers have been written, praising and seeking out the power inherent to His potent combination of justice and strength. Others acknowledge the impact He has already had in their lives.

And for the newbies like me? We discover that there is much of our loved and respected Set in Heru-wer and vice-versa. The stranger seems a little less distant, connected now to His brother to embody a force that empowered pharaohs.

Dua Bawy: the opposing forces are reconciled! May the opposition in our own lives be turned to power, the conflicts within us resolved to become our greatest strengths!

 

PBP Fridays 2013 – A is for Accepting Yourself

I am always curious to learn about how my acquaintances arrived at the place they are now in their spiritual beliefs. For example, when discussing religious background with a Kemetic friend, I find it fascinating to learn if they are coming from a monotheistic religion, if they are new to any sort of faith, or perhaps if they have shifted course from another form of polytheistic practice, nature worship, or any other variant that might be placed within the (occasionally problematic) category of “pagan.” I have discovered that many of us seem to carry bits and pieces of previous practices or beliefs, be those aspects of religious services or rituals, even old semi-secular habits related to concepts of luck or dreams, along with them into their current practice. I find these personal vestiges of old traditions to be fascinating markers of what shaped us in the past. For many, these old habits seem to become reflections of that which defines who we are as individuals, and thus we find ways to adapt these practices and incorporate them into new beliefs.

But it is one thing for me to explain ritual in this manner — for example, I know that my tendency to mark the passing of days with candles stems from my upbringing in the Methodist church, where the lighting of candles counting the weeks to Christmas was one of the few rituals with which I felt any real connection — and quite another to explain my personal experience with a god who has has seemingly traversed these same boundaries.

Art by Cyra R. Cancel

Around age 11, a period in which many of us become more self-aware and start asking questions of who we are and why we function the way we do, I began to have mental conversations with a voice who, when I closed my eyes, appeared to be a black panther with brilliant violet eyes. I knew myself to be “too old” for an imaginary friend, and yet there she was, seemingly a part of me that emerged from my mind at moments of my greatest distress or loneliness. She was there when I began to feel the first cravings for independence in music and dress, and helped me move past my subsequent guilt for these feelings. I dabbled in energy work, newly acquired Metallica album establishing my bedroom as my own, personal territory, with her laughter and encouragement ringing in my ears. She soothed my concerns when I began to experience feelings of longing for boys my age and hadn’t the slightest clue what to do with those emotions, was there again, two or three years later, when these same feelings began to manifest for women as well.

When some of those closest to me turned to Wicca and I followed for a few months, drawn to it mostly through curiosity, it was her face that appeared when I called quarters and invited the goddess in. Never could I really connect with a Celtic or Hellenic Goddess, most of my (few) moments of successful interaction with the unseen involved a dark skinned, amethyst-eyed woman with short black hair, capable of becoming black leopard in a moment, or an anthropomorphic hybrid of both human and feline traits.

By high school I had left the Wiccan path for a much better fit in animism. Though my spiritual teachers grew in number and variety, and I learned from walking with Great Horned Owl, Wasp, Eastern Green Mamba, and countless others, the black leopard woman still came to me in these meditative journeys. Her lessons dealt with continued acceptance of my sexuality, loving my body no matter how it changed over the years, sticking to my passions and never doubting that music was well worth pursuing in college — despite the nay-sayers who claimed I’d never be able to provide for myself. She stayed with me until I left for my undergraduate degree, and then the sheer amount of work and my first exposure to readings which challenged the existence of anything beyond the material world pulled me away from any sort of spiritual belief.

Yet on certain evenings, when I was running on minimal sleep and had been staring at books or the computer for far too many hours, I would catch glimpses of a small black cat in the corner of my gaze. I initially took this for hallucination induced by sleep deprivation, but it happened often enough, particularly during my junior year when I dealt with a particularly rough period of depression, that I started taking it as a sign of, “Accept whatever you have accomplished and go take care of yourself.” The paper would be fine, the project would be acceptable, I needed to put it aside and rest.

Now, a year and a half after turning to Kemetic practice, I am glad to still have this black leopard woman in my life, renamed though she is as my divined mother, Bast. Admittedly, I have had to learn how to work with her again; five years of keeping anyone out of your life, deity or no, does not get patched up overnight. There is a fair amount of crossover in how we interact, while I do give offerings and sing for Her in shrine, She has also asked that I continue to meet with Her and other guides in journey, and through this request She has slowly, painstakingly, helped me to re-incorporate animist practices into my life as balance to the more formal processes of ritual at the altar. Yet she also has a greater request.

Accept myself.

Accept myself as I am, right now, this very minute. Love myself even though I may be out of shape, even though I have not accomplished as much as I wanted to today. Believe in myself, even though I am constantly forced to acknowledge that there will always be someone better, more skilled than I, in my career and in my hobbies.

She has always asked this of me, from the moment she appeared at age 11 and I could barely cope with all the things I felt were “wrong” with my awkward, pre-teen body, my inability to always succeed in school and in performance, my failure to fix the problems in my family that as a child I had always viewed as perfect. She asked this of me again in high school, to accept that I came alive when I listened to metal even if Sunday School said it was the music of Satan, to accept that at that time I loved, with all my heart, a female-bodied person, to accept that Christianity was not the path that suited me, and that exploration was okay. She even asked it of me in college, when I tried to push her away, to accept that sometimes I had to come first, and to accept that sometimes the bravest thing to do was to acknowledge that I had set my goals too high, and should strive for something more manageable.

She asks this of me now, in balance with Set, who would have me change, and burn, and avoid the slow, creeping death of a static life half-lived. She asks this not to have me avoid His challenges; never would She tell me not to rip through the husk of unnecessary things to exist more fiercely and passionately. No, instead She asks me to accept myself in the moment, every moment. To love myself in every second of transition. To charge forward knowing that even if a better me will be born in the future courtesy of the battles I fight in the present, that the present fighter is still worthy of love, still worthy of acceptance.

Is it strange that I find this concept of self-acceptance far more difficult than the efforts I’ve made to actively improve myself?

(Belated!) PBP Fridays 2013: A is for Arranging Sacred Space

Happy to say I’m participating in the Pagan Blog Project 2013 event! Off to a bit of a late start, but I’m sincerely hoping that jumping into this right at the beginning of the year will prove ample inspiration to keep it going.

As a member of the Kemetic Orthodox faith, a major portion of my spiritual practice revolves around my shrine. While kneeling before this space, I perform both the official state ritual of senut (click here for an excellent summary of the rite at Shrine Beautiful) when I can, and various other forms of worship and prayer based on my own inclinations and research on days when my various health concerns preclude the full rite. However I choose to interact with Netjer, my time “in shrine” allows me to remove myself from the worries and concerns of my day-to-day existence. I light a candle, and in the flickering light I am brought into a new day, a new space unto itself. I light incense and the smoke drifts upwards and fades, the scent is wholly unique from that which is secular, and my heart is lifted with it away from the profane. I offer cool water and bread and refresh my gods as well as my own spirit with the eventual reversion of these life-sustaining items. Thus seemingly transported, I can look to the statues, paintings, jewelry and other items laid out in my sacred space and find inspiration for music, poetry, essays, or personal meditation.

In achieving all of this, my Kemetic shrine creates a place which is distinct from the rest of my life, and as such, the space itself deserves to be well planned. Yet it is easy to lose sight of this sort of organization. I find many fascinating things in my travels; in the moment a new icon seems like it will add something unique to my shrine’s collection. Gods know I am guilty of “shiny object” syndrome, and over the course of two years of collecting and creating my shrine was beginning to show the results. Though full of beautiful objects, many of them gifts, my focus was pulled in too many different directions. Gods were represented in several different ways, some contradictory, and though it brought me pleasure, it did not provide me with a specific direction for my creativity or contemplation.

So today, my first day home since the start of the calendrical New Year, I completely reorganized my shrine with the goal of creating a space dedicated to the concept of Balance. This issue has been a constant one in my life: balancing personal happiness with the happiness of others, balancing career with creative activities, balancing health with perfectionism and achievement. I was not surprised when this was the message my akhu brought to the fore during the akhu divination before my RPD, speaking to me through a reading called “ma’a.” It’s something I’ve always struggled with, and only recently have even begun to take the steps, make the necessary changes, to put my health and joy as priorities equal to my work and the needs of those around me.

Here is what I came up with–

First, the Shrine space itself:

The items required for a Kemetic Orthodox shrine include the candle, the incense holder, and something in which to place offerings of food and drink. Granted, my shrine cloth is red, rather than the traditional white, but given that I have two solar deities, a goddess of love and passion, and the Red Lord Himself in my line-up, They would have it no other way!

I have personally chosen to create space for four candles. In part, this is in acknowledgement of the significance of the number four to my faith. My sibling Emky writes, “To the ancient Egyptians, four was the number of completion, and we see it everywhere – the four directions, the four winds, duality x duality; five is four plus one, “perfection plus something to oversee it.” (From “About Kemetic Orthodoxy“). One is often asked to wait four days before making important decisions related to membership, and as a personal ritual act, I sometimes set aside four days for prayer and consideration in shrine before making an important choice, lighting one candle on the first day, two on the second, and so on until coming to a decision on the fourth.

I am currently looking for new items on which to place offerings. The mug and plate, with their shifting, autumnal leaves, once represented change — something my spiritual Father, Set, taught me not to fear in one of our earliest lessons. When I find something more appropriate for the concept of Balance, I will replace them.

Many Kemetic Orthodox choose to place images of their divined Family (to learn a bit more about the Rite of Parent Divination, try this post by Shukheperas’ankhi) in their shrine as well. I was divined the daughter of Set and Bast, beloved of Heru-wer and Hethert-Nut. I have placed matching statues of my Parents on an elevated space in the center of the shrine, with smaller statues of Heru-wer (admittedly represented with an image of Heru-akhety) and Hethert (wearing a Nut shen, a gift from my sibling, purchased from Inibmutes) on either side.

The placement of all four is deliberate: Set and Heru-wer stand beside each other representing the balance of the Bawy. Explaining the dual relationship that defined this entity, Sarduriur writes, “Sutekh [Set] and Heru-Wer are often shown together in Egyptian art, throughout various periods in history. They are complements, not adversaries. They demonstrate the unity of the State, as well as cosmic balance and harmony. Symmetry was not only a concept of aesthetic importance to the  Egyptians; it was a concept which carried profound theological significance” (From “Why do you worship Sutekh?“)

Bast and Hethert-Nut stand beside each other as complements of day and night, Bast as an Eye of Ra, the sun itself, Hethert-Nut as the vastness of the (usually) night sky and its multitude of stars. More generally, there is also a balance of male and female, symmetry in gendered representation.

A few special items I’ve yet to mention. First, Heru-wer carries a necklace made for me by Emky. Each component of the necklace has meaning related to Heru-wer, and His relationship with His brother Set. I want it out and visible because Heru-wer remains the Name I know the least about. Every time I am in shrine, I hold the necklace and consider its structure and form. I use it as an impetus to think about my most enigmatic Beloved, in the hopes that we will grow closer. Second, there is a small, beaded, blue-purple container resting in front of Hethert-Nut. One of the tasks She has charged me to complete is to write a goal for the month on a slip of paper, and place it in that jar. Every time I am in shrine, I unfold it, read it aloud, and then replace it. At the end of the month, I read it one last time, burn it, and while it is being absorbed by the flame I consider how successful I was at achieving said goal. It’s a little bit of positive heka (very roughly: empowered speech) to help encourage me to take on my personal challenges.

Finally, I also have a painting hanging over my shrine, a gift from Emky in celebration of my Rite of Parent Divination.

The symmetry of the central figure, along with the balance amongst the four Names featured in each of the four quadrants, makes this a perfect image to reside above my shrine, mirroring many of the themes I hoped to convey in the physical shrine itself.

And with that, I believe I’ve covered, albeit briefly, everything in my new shrine layout. If you have any questions about certain choices, just let me know. I’d love to go into further detail.

I’ll conclude with a photo of the shrine as it looks when everything is lit: