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Archive for the ‘Personal Reflection’ Category

A Month of Written Devotion #2-3: How and Together

How did you become involved with your devotional topic?

Bast was probably always there, though it would take me nearly two decades to determine that my imaginary cat friend from childhood was something beyond a toddler’s invisible playmate. The Eye of Ra guarded me at different points in my life as what I understood as the Goddess, a spirit guide, a “totem” (before I knew better than to use that terminology), a housecat that appeared in the corner of my eye in the worst nights of collegiate sleep deprivation, and finally as Herself.

Set came next, as a red-furred greyhound with a too-long face and ears that my mind wouldn’t interpret correctly, who showed up in dreams and mental wanderings during the day. He would not let me ignore Him, would not let me continue my life as I was living it, showed me so many things that were too blatant to be coincidence. Within a month of meeting him I ended an abusive relationship of four years, moved out of an unhealthy living environment, and started life fresh in a new city, new graduate program. It hurt like hell while I lived it, but looking back, I remain incredibly grateful.

Hethert-Nut was met in Her component parts, as I initially did not know Her syncretic form existed. Hethert began to appear once I had met Set and Bast as Themselves, and began studying Netjer in earnest, my musical background drawing me to Her, and Her taking an immediate (and so kind, always so kind) interest in turn. Nut was also there in the early days, appearing one night when the skies were clear and the blue at the heart of a candle’s flame drew me into a deeper meditation than I had managed in years. I learned of Hethert-Nut as both Beloved and as a syncretic deity through the Kemetic Orthodox Rite of Parent Divination (RPD), and the pieces fit together perfectly.

Heru-wer and I only began to know each other after the RPD, and our relationship is still a work in progress. I almost feel that in some ways I am not particularly involved with Him, even now, and am not sure if this is something I should be working to rectify, or if He prefers our relationship to remain oriented towards specific tasks, rather than day-to-day interaction. Hopefully time will tell.

Heqat is the most recent addition, having met Her about two years ago now when Her w’abet Maret placed a tiny frog statue in my hands and in my efforts to figure out where I would place the wee votive, a world of artistic ideas just started flying from my lips after months of creative drought. Over the course of the following year, Heqat’s ageless wisdom and inspiration continued to brighten my life, while simultaneously teaching me how to keep some of that energy for my own self-care. A second divination at the next Wep Ronpet gathering revealed Her to be my third Beloved, and She has brought completion to my spiritual family that I did not know was missing.

Your relationship with your devotional topic.

My relationship with my Parents, Set and Bast, has reached a stage of balanced, constant communication, which I am grateful for. For most of the time I’ve identified as Kemetic, I have been closest with Set, both in terms of the ease of our relationship, and the regularity of it. I offer coffee to Him with a small, personal ritual every morning and we chat about the day to come. I can reach out to Him at any time and He will be there, even if the ease of that connection varies based on my health and present mental well being. He will also frequently chuck the “godphone” at my head for attention, which I actually sort of enjoy. It keeps me solid in my beliefs to have a god Who is so constantly LOUD and present and willing to engage with me both in serious ritual and utter ridiculousness (ever attended a metal show with the god of storms? I recommend this thing.)

Only in the last year have I reached something similar with Bast, though it has its own flavor, and took a fair amount of learning on my part to realize that She is highly unlikely to initiate things. The creation of an evening gratitude ritual before bed, something I’m still hammering out the details of but have initiated in a fluid format for the time being, has connected us better on the daily level, outside of formal shrine rites. She and I remain substantially more formal in our interactions than Set and I, but a fierce closeness has developed, which I am grateful for.

As for my Beloveds, Hethert-Nut and Heqat also have strong relationships with me, while Heru-wer remains a god that I approach on occasion. Heqat is perhaps the closest of the three, and that largely in the sense of the familial relationship we share. I call Heqat grandmother because She is so loving and present during our interactions, so willing to share stories, or hear my stories in turn while petting my hair, or leaving a calming hand on my shoulder. She also played a tremendous role in preparing me for, and comforting me following, the loss of my biological grandmother earlier this year. Hethert-Nut is… farther off, in part just because of Her vastness-as-sky, and when She is more embodied, She largely feels like… the encouraging, fun friend who wants you to go out and do more than you’re entirely comfortable with, but know you’ll have a blast if you just give it a shot.

A Month of Written Devotion #1 – Who

So over on tumblr, there has been a project for the month of July to write daily devotionals to gods/spirits of your choice, based on this list of prompts. I’m starting this several days late, but am still determined to give it a shot, and will be posting my responses both on my tumblr and my blog. The prompt works rather perfectly timing-wise in terms of getting back into regular creative offerings right up to the point of my celebration of Wep Ronpet. I’m also hoping it will be a solid way of getting me involved in writing about any sort of spiritual matters again after being eaten by The Weddening (which was lovely, but kind of all-consuming: Italian cultural expectations for weddings – they are a Big Thing!) as well as health stuff, the new job and grad school. It feels like the right time to reconnect with my gods and my spiritual community.

So here goes, prompt #1:

Who - Deity, spirit or chosen devotion for the month

I tried to choose between the five deities who I honor each day in my daily rituals, spending entirely too much time this morning weighing the benefits of focusing on those Who are closest to my heart versus those Who I still wish to come to better understand and connect with. I came to the realization that perhaps a choice was not necessary: I may not write about all five of Them each day, but all five matter deeply to me, and perhaps it would serve me well to write not only about Them as individuals, but the complex ways in which They interact with me and with each other.

With that in mind, a brief introduction the five gods of my spiritual family.

Set: My Father, my strength, my partner in stubborn, unyielding determination and my daily visitor over early morning coffee. He is the fire behind my eyes, my unwillingness to back down from any challenge. He is what keeps me going when my own health fails, He is what inspires me to reach out to others and lend them what of my flame I can. Set shows himself to me as the Set of the North, He wears the Red Crown, makes use of the ideas and gifts of those from outside lands. He knows the benefits that come from those who are different, and He protects Them.

Bast: My Mother, my heart, my teacher in self-care and compassion and my nightly prayer of gratitude at the end of each day for all that is good in my life. My lady of mindfulness, She walks the world with eyes wide open to truly see and experience all that living can reveal. She is the earth in my step, the groundedness that pulls me back to reality. She is the soul to my music, the rhythm of my heart translated into song and dance and beauty. Bast shows herself to me as the Lady of Bubastis, celebrated with sistrum and dance, but also the Defender of Ra, blades in hand to cut down the snake. She is fierce and knowing, wise and full to the brim with life.

Heru-Wer: My general, my instructor, my Beloved reminder of the importance of the physical body in the midst of all else. He is distant from me most days, but appears at the most critical of moments to demand greater care of my physical form when I have neglected it. He is heat that balances Set’s cold anger, when I have been attacked, the conscientious reminder to find my own role in what has gone awry. But He is also the partner and lover of my next Beloved, and it is in this role that I have started to feel safer with Him, more willing to reach out.

Hethert-Nut: My joy, my laughter, my beautiful lady who dances across the night sky and asks me to join Her by abandoning my fear. She is always present, in a vast, all-encompassing way that needs no bodily form, though She can just as easily appear to me as the mind-blowingly beautiful woman with the ears of the cow, naked save for celestial skin, ready to wrap me up in the fiercest, most comforting hug one could ever imagine. Hethert-Nut often leans more towards the first portion of her syncretic nature, joining Heru-wer as consort and lover, counseling me in my own marriage. She teaches me to redefine what the  concept of feminine means for me, and to embrace its power, regardless of how it does or does not align with how others may view that role.

Heqat: My Grandmother, my spirit, my counselor who has asked me to become a counselor for others in turn. She is ancient in a way that extends into concepts of time that my brain cannot wholly fathom, yet so very present and adoring of each tiny, mortal life that comes into Her hands as midwife. She shows herself to me as Khnum’s partner at the potter’s wheel, imbuing life not only to those yet to be born, but to those who have lost the ability to live in their current day-to-day existence. She reaches to them, seeks to help them guide themselves a little closer to that energy of living, loving, and creating ma’at in the world. She tasks me with this in turn, such as I am.

I adore Them all, and look forward to writing more about Them.

Balanced

My spiritual Parents never cease to astound me, even as I watch our months together turn to years. They work so well together, and gradually continue to show me how They accomplish this and even some small sliver of why.

Bast seemingly claimed the month of Miew Khem as Hers, and what a roller coaster of a month it was. Set stayed near, but let the feline goddess run things for those four weeks of soul-searching and self-assessment. I achieved a great deal, much of it having to do with finally getting closer to my emotional side. I allowed myself moments of vulnerability, however brief, that give me hope in my ability to someday trust enough to once again engage in outward expressions of grief.

Yet there was much joy, as well. The middle of the month had me traveling by train for twenty hours round trip, so that I could attend a beautiful ceremony for the Day of Eating Onions for Bast in New Jersey with many members of my Kemetic Orthodox family.

I arrived a night early, and was able to speak with Shefytbast on many engaging and fascinating topics related to the Mistress of the Perfume Jar, before the rest of the group arrived the following day. Further conversations about our gods and lives, catching up on important events both spiritual and secular, was both heartening and grounding. It was exactly what I needed in the midst of so much internal effort, to get out of my house, to visit with a group of trusted friends, and to let go of some of the dredged-up hurt through a powerful execration ritual. It was also just lovely as always to honor my Mother at the home of one of Her priests.

The results of this joyful weekend buoyed me when health problems struck shortly thereafter in the form of a minor, yet still fairly debilitating, neck injury and another severe allergic reaction to the subsequently prescribed pain relievers. I had one bad night grappling with the resultant fears such medical travails can inspire, but even that night proved useful in showing me aspects of my thoughts and behaviors that must change for me to fully accept myself and my emotions. I was able to move past the gut-reaction of panic in a matter of hours, rather than days and acknowledged this growth for myself. That the final days of Miew Khem were spent on the road and in meetings the next state over was a testament to the success of Bast’s lessons in self-care and patience with my body; I was still able to meet all of my obligations.

One of those obligations involved my Father, who about a week from the end of Miew Khem came roaring back into my life with a request. He wanted me to celebrate His Procession day,  IV Peret 17 (celebrated on the Kemetic Orthodox Calendar this year on March 17th) in some major fashion.

I was honestly uncertain that I could pull it off: the Procession fell smack in the middle of my midterms week, and I was traveling both the weekend prior and the weekend after. Fortunately it landed on one of the few days I don’t have an evening obligation for school, and so, still nervous about how this was all going to come together, I contacted local Kemetics and got to work.

With some plan, various icons of Set were successfully processed around Pittsburgh. My statue rode by car, first to my day job, then to a local library to pick up other celebrants. I made a mental note for next year that I need to come more prepared for balancing issues: yet Set seemed to be largely amused by the blue towel that I scrambled to arrange in some semblance of dignity so that He didn’t fall over while being processed. Another Set icon, a hand-made plushie version, went with my friend to all of her tutoring gigs for the day, where He was introduced to her students.

After the two processional parties joined together, all Sets were carried north directly alongside the Ohio river. Their destination: the home of my third Kemetic friend in the area, the recently-named Temseniaset. She had set up an altar for her Beloved, Yinepu, and all Set icons (including a few more statues we’d brought along) were arranged so as to greet the hosting jackal! We celebrated the journey and the gathering with an Irish dinner (my akhu would not have been pleased had I forgotten that *other* holiday on the 17th!) and offered soda bread and an imported Irish cider to our gods. We closed the evening with ritual, and then carried all the various Sets back to their home shrines.

It was a wonderful evening honoring my Father, and wonderful fellowship with good people. As I drove home after dropping off the last guest at his house, I reflected on the fact that I had managed to pull another spiritual event together, despite my initial misgivings. I knew the rest of the week would be difficult for taking the time to fulfill Set’s request, and indeed it was — I averaged three hours of sleep per night that evening and every evening following until Friday — but I did it, and made it through my midterms with flying colors. But more significantly, I kept to the standards I hold myself to. I managed all the things that matter: school, work, and spirit. It would seem that perhaps I am strong enough to keep striving towards all of my goals, but only, as my Mother taught me earlier, if that strength also involves knowing when I can push and when I need to step back and look to my own needs.

Set and Bast are so, incredibly, brilliant together as a team. I want to accomplish so much in their name, as their daughter, for Them, and for Their other children and followers of Netjer. With their guidance, with their knowledge as my map, I think, maybe, I’ll be able to do just that.

A Modern Holy Month: Miew Khem

Two days prior to this past Friday, February 13th, I found myself reading through G.B. Marian’s recent blog update regarding The Holy Month of Miew Khem (or “Black Cat”). It’s well worth reading through his thorough explanation of this time, held sacred by the members of the LV-426 Tradition, which takes place between the rare occurrence of two consecutive Friday the 13ths. Marian’s group considers this time significant for, “…celebrating (1) the positive results of killing Osiris and (2) the marriage of Seth to Ishtar and Anath (as any of our normal Friday the 13th rituals would be); it’s also a time for (3) experiencing some major initiatory event.”

Though personally identifying as Kemetic Orthodox in terms of tradition, my spiritual path has benefited greatly through participation in reconstructionist-based, revivalist and modern rituals, as well as practices specific to my particular branch of Kemeticism and those from the wider Kemetic, polytheist, and general pagan communities. With this in mind, it was surprising, but not uncomfortably so, that the concept of the month of Miew Khem grabbed me almost immediately, with that sort of palpable force that many of you may be familiar with. The one that translated into words would go something along the lines of, “Hold on to your hat, kid, we’re in for a bumpy ride.” I sought permission from G.B. to participate (initially uncertain if this was something other-Set-worshipping folks could join in on) and upon receiving permission continued about my Wednesday, full of thoughts of the past and curiosity towards the future: namely what that impending WHOOMPH feeling was going to translate to come Friday.

Regarding the past, I’ll just share what I wrote in response to the initial blog post about Miew Khem, as it sums it up fairly well:

“[Your post] got me thinking back to what I was doing around this time in 2009, and I admit, I… was somewhat blown away at the realization. I don’t honestly remember all that much of the details of what happened during that month. I was in my junior year of college, I was at the lowest point that depression has yet to take me in my life, but this was… legitimately when it all hit critical mass. I wound up leaving school for a week at the end of February after almost doing something drastic, spontaneously fled … to be with my sibling Tenu, got off all the medications that seemed to have made things so much worse (for me) and in the midst of the vast red mountains, took an oath to whatever gods/spirits may be (I was too low to believe in anyOne specifically at this point) that I would do whatever it took so as to never scare and hurt my family so deeply again, even if I couldn’t see reason enough just yet to take these steps for myself.”

Initiatory? Yes. Messy as hell? Yes, again. Worth acknowledging as an incredibly significant moment in my life?

Absolutely.

With that in mind, I had intended for this Miew Khem to be about celebrating how far I’ve come since the prior occurrence of this month. I wished to honor how Set showed up roughly two years later and helped/forced (either verb would be accurate!) me to make drastic changes in my life that led me to become the healthier, stronger, more independent person I am six years on. I wished to acknowledge how Bast stayed with me through all of it, shifting through various forms that my mind could make sense of from childhood on, guarding and guiding through the turbulence of adolescence and my early twenties, and finally revealing herself as who She truly is once I was ready. Wednesday evening and much of Thursday I started to pull together plans for a personal ritual that would accomplish just this.

The celebration was put on hold come Friday 13th.

A brief note here before I continue: I am about to share some relatively personal information on what I know to be a public blog. I will avoid specific details, but I have made the decision to share the general gist of what occurred because I believe that mental health is something that is not discussed frequently enough in my part of the world and that abuse is not something the victim should be made to feel ashamed of or for. I also believe that sharing some of this is significant for my own well being, part of the process of acknowledging it, making it part of my reality. If this bothers or triggers you, I respect that and do not wish to harm anyone with my words. Please stop reading now.

Friday the 13th, I had scheduled a counseling appointment for myself. As someone who is in training to be a counselor, I had previously recognized that I had some unresolved issues from my past, things that fed into my experiences back in 2009, and knew that I needed to work on these things in order to be an effective helping professional for my clients.

My counselor, after hearing my story regarding this prior relationship, wanted me to admit that I was a survivor of physical and emotional abuse. I denied it. Defended the other party in question. Explained why I deserved much of what had happened, minimized the severity of it, claimed that I had not gone through enough to merit the “title” of abused. My counselor pressed me, kept showing me the truth of it, metaphorically holding the mirror up to my own face and making me took a good, long, look at myself.

I finally relented. Spoke the words that would begin the process of acknowledging that this had indeed happened to me, that it was not merely an unhealthy relationship but something worse, something that had warped my perception of my self-worth, something that had led me to do things, give things, I had not wanted to do or to give.

I made it home, and then I broke. For the next several days I was utterly useless to the friends and family I love. Grieving for something I’d known but had gotten by in not acknowledging. Angry but too exhausted to express that anger. I mostly hid in my apartment with my partner, reaching out only to him and to my sibling. I used Monday to force myself out into the world again, knowing that the evening would see me in class again, the following morning back in the office. I had to function, I had to find a better balance between wallowing in this new reality, the endless repetition of “how could I” and “why did I” needing some relief in the form of self-care and strength, even if that strength was somewhat forced.

Meeting the necessity of various obligations got me moving: class, work, online meetings, and finally — shrine.

I was not up to the festival I’d planned, when I finally managed to light candles and incense. I said the words of the senut ritual and then I just sat there, exhausted and not really wanting to be doing the rite. I felt dirty. I felt stained. I felt… abused.

“Sing.” Came the voices of several gods, “Sing our songs.”

I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if I could. But They kept asking, and so I did, working through the lyrics for Heqat, Hethert-Nut, Heru-wer, Bast, and finally Set. I started in on one of Set’s songs but He abruptly cut me off.

“Not that one. The first one.”

I was surprised — His opinion of my music has always been one largely of mild amusement. He appreciates the gesture but isn’t so… picky as Bast or Hethert-Nut, who’ve more direct associations with that sort of worship. So if He actually had a preference for once, I’d listen. I refocused, shifting my headspace from the fierce “Daughter of the Storm” chant to the low ballad of “Dua Set.” I sang the first verse, the chorus, the second verse, chorus again, then headed into the bridge:

“Tear me apart, challenge my soul. / I must be broken that I might yet be whole.”

I promptly choked back the rush of emotion that flooded me. I was and am so very broken. Less so today than on that initial recognition of the 13th, but still aching, still tender in spaces I’ve not explored for the better part of five years. It hurts in ways I can’t fully express to go delving back into my past, ways I don’t want to express, because I hate the rawness of it, hate the showing of those weak spaces, hate the tears that once earned me such harsh critique. Sekhmet pulled the depths of it from me once in a semi-public setting and oh how I burned with the shame of it. I do not like to cry at all. I absolutely abhor crying in front of damn near anyone else.

I couldn’t even fully cry then, in front of Set. I almost did, I almost am now, remembering the moment. He showed me in the lyrics from my own hand that I need to let it out, probably at some point fairly soon, but it may take a god again to haul it from me. Every time I try to release… whatever this weight at the pit of me is, there’s a wall. If I could just get past that, I think He would be willing to take it from me. I think Bast would too as She was there, less tangible but still present, an external wave of concern and acceptance of the mess that I struggled with and subsequently contained after the initial wave.

How do I do this? Where do I go with this? I’m so… lost again. Lost in a time that I was initially so happy to celebrate for all the good that I’ve found. Perhaps this is the true spirit of the month, the not knowing, the challenge and the change. I am doing my damnedest to honor that spirit, but gods above and below, it is so, so very hard.

On the Significance of Nomes – Part 1

I was recently telling a few friends that I genuinely believe that my gods enjoy the city of Pittsburgh.

I have quite a few reasons for this, many relating to the general culture of the place and the nature of the people who live here. Yet perhaps the point of most significance is this: we know how to appreciate and love a river. In fact, we know how to appreciate three.

duquesne-incline-pittsburgh-pennsylvania-5982962649-800x532

We do, of course, lack a sea into which any of these rivers might flow, creating a notable dearth of anything akin to a delta, but we have our three rivers and by the gods, our city is defined by them. From its industrial past where the rivers served as an ideal means of transport for the steel and other commodities produced within massive factories, to the cleaned up shores of the present day which serve as a rare example of how humanity can reverse the damage inflicted by careless pollution if they set their minds to it. I feel my primary gods as being deeply present here, in this space that appreciates its waterways as part of its livelihood and very spirit, in a way that I never could when I first met them in the purely urban sprawl of downtown D.C. This is not Their land, nor would I try to argue that the gods of Kemet are likely to truly prefer one foreign place over another, but I welcome them to it whole heartedly and take pleasure in finding that they seem pleased to stay for a brief time in this space where Ohio, Monongehela, and Allegheny meet.

This is a highly personal, yet meaningful, interpretation. Unfortunately for my overactive mind, I tend not to be able to just sit with such things; driven by the incessant ping of “Why does this matter so much!?” I found myself looking back across the Atlantic, examining my primary gods more closely, and studying the regions where they were worshiped. This came in part from the general desire to know more about these places, but also due to my understanding of the House of Netjer’s Rite of Parent Divination (RPD). By following that link, you can read through Itenumuti’s excellent, overview of the ritual as well as a few interpretations of the significance of one’s Parent names. Yet I also view it as a replacement for modern Kemetics being unable to live within a specific Nome, or portion of Ancient Egypt where a local god (or gods) would have been primarily worshiped by the majority of the population in that area. With this in mind I set about trying to track down a region where Set and Bast’s worship might have had the potential to overlap in some significant way.

I had a few personal clues, which wound up proving helpful. First, I knew to start my search based on temples functional in the New Kingdom, as Bast, while worshiped earlier, largely rose to popularity in Her cult center of Bubastis during and after this span of time. Second, I recognized that the “Set I get” is a northern version associated with Lower Egypt. He has often appeared to me wearing the deshret (red crown) of the region, standing in stark, proud contrast to Heru-wer wearing the white Hedjet. Finally, I know that my Parents appear to me as gods working in tandem, mutual defenders of Ra, and very willing to appear to me side-by-side rather than taking anything akin to oppositional roles.

Many articles later, and I found myself looking at three cities in the Eastern portion of the Nile delta: Avaris, Tanis, and Bubastis. The former two served as strongholds for the Hyksos during the second intermediate period, who introduced their storm god Ba’al, amongst others, into the Egyptian pantheon. Ba’al was recognized as Set by the Egyptians, and eventually the two became synchronized as one deity. Yet even after the Hyksos were defeated and sent back to the North, there is strongly likelihood of some number of their population remaining, contributing to continued worship of Set in their main towns. While Set’s temples would have been destroyed during the Amarna period, some scholars seem to suggest that they were rebuilt. During the 19th and 20th dynasties, Set worship definitively continued in these spaces, with Ramesside pharaohs incorporating the Avaris populations Set-Ba’al into the Egyptian pantheon through the addition of the epithet “Son of Nut,” honoring Set as the defender of Ra throughout Egypt by reviving His Old Kingdom conceptualization as a god of strength and ferocity, and even taking His name as part of their own.

The 21st and 22nd dynasties of the Third Intermediate Period would see a shift away from the Set revival noted during the middle to late New Kingdom, though power was centralized in the city of Tanis for most of the 21st before shifting to Bubastis near the start of the 22nd. As pharaoh Shoshenq I endeavored to gain power from the city of Bast, so too did the goddess receive greater attention, rising in popularity swiftly and maintaining that popularity through to the Ptolemaic period.

Do my Parent deities ever really geographically/chronologically overlap in a significant manner?  Perhaps not directly. Is this eastern delta region an area in which they would have most likely done so, if such were remotely possible? That is my hope.

It is also my hope that such initial discoveries will lead me to understand what few, baffling connections I had previously found between the two. For example, there has to be some explanation for why a magical spell listed in Bourghouts, describing a tale in which Set must provide Horus with his true name in order to be healed of poison, would show Set taking the false name of “a jug of milk milked from the udder of Bastet,” giving what Edward Butler describes as a reflection of part of His character, but not what encompasses the whole.

As per usual, I am left with more questions than I am answers.

One final realization that I made: a little nudge that perhaps I am focusing on the right span of time (massive though it may be), was a recognition about my Shemsu name. The use of standard-bearers as regimental leaders came about as part of the reorganization of the Egyptian army under Amenhotep III during the 18th Dynasty. The primary information I’ve found regarding Set as an army Standard? Under the reign of Ramses II.

I will be continuing with this, compiling sources, and writing up a far more academic overview of the roles of my Parents in the northern Delta between 1293 BCE and 730 BCE. Again, this is a huge span of time to cover but I just… can’t stop thinking that there’s something to be learned about this. About their relation to each other, their relation to me, and maybe even our mutual relationship to the wonder of rivers.

 

 

Red Week – Days 4 through 7

I needed to sit on this final post for awhile. As I told my friend last night, in so many words, the week brought up a tremendous amount of feelings and insight for me. I’m not entirely certain I’ve come to terms with all of it, even a week after it’s all drawn to a close, and I’m also not sure of how to write about my experiences in a way that doesn’t smack of self-aggrandizement, something I generally aim to avoid. I do want to try to share some of it though, for I got so caught up in the thrill of things, the challenge of balancing prayer, personal ritual, and community efforts along side my day to day wedding planning, graduate school, and day job, that I stopped being able to share when I was actually in the thick of it.  I don’t want to let that become a reason for writing nothing, in part because I want to remember, and use those memories as a foundation for future efforts, future personal growth.

The candles and barque have been put away for some future festival, the red festival shrine cloth folded and waiting to be washed of what incense and wax escaped their holdings. The small bronze hued statue of Set, Lord of so much more than any epithet can capture, has been tucked back into my cabinet where extra icons remain. The table that burned brighter and brighter with the light of six, sacred flames has been returned to a crafting space for music, words and clay, a space of creation, with a small shrine holding images of both Set and Bast, alongside Heqat and Khnum who watch over my efforts. My Father was honored here for six days. Each night as I sat with Him, He tore away obstacles, guided me to confront those things still holding me back, and helped me to see what will make me a better worshiper, counselor, leader. Now this small place of homage has been returned to a space where I can move forward, unbound, free again to add beauty to the world.

On the seventh day, I celebrated Him with seven others. We celebrated all He had done for those who followed Him, be they long time devotees who have known His ways for years, or newcomers, stepping beyond past assumptions to reach out to a god they had not yet greeted in shrine. We sang for Him, we destroyed our fears on clay pots in His name. We crafted ropes to remind us of the threads of His tail which serve as ropes for a sacred barque, and put our strengths into them that we might hold fast to such strengths in darker days. We gave Him many, many offerings; we reverted those offerings in fellowship. We returned to His shrine after night had fallen and naught but candles lit the room. We toasted Him again, and again, and again, each person present Honoring the Lord of the Red lands with strong voice and strong drink.

RedWeekMD

And we had time to sit with Him individually, as the candles burned and He remained so very present. Each had time if they chose to sit and pray by the flicker of the candle light and the passing from shadow to fire’s glow. A few of us sat with Him deep into the night, holding vigil with our thoughts and feelings even as Set held vigil over Ra on their nightly journey below the horizon.

I sat with Him by myself at one point and found it quite difficult to find words adequate to thank Him for everything He’d shown me in those past seven days. How do you thank a god for reminding you how deeply you care for a sister, and in truth, how deeply you care for your whole spiritual community? How do you express gratitude for the necessity of being bluntly shown your flaws, reminded that no matter how much work you do, things can and will go wrong and the best you can do is try to repair them after the fact? How do you find words for the clearest moment of recognition that you’ve had in four years of following a god of why He chose you, and how His influence has lead you to the professional path you’ve chosen to walk?

The answer: you don’t. There’s nothing to encompass the sheer emotional mass of it. In recognizing that, I just endeavored to share with Him the fullness of spirit I felt, the gratitude that was emanating from what felt like every fiber of my being. I believe He accepted that small offering of sorts, and I believe I felt some sense of pleasure in return, that He was proud of everyone who had worked so hard to make these things come to pass, that He enjoyed the extra time so many spent honoring Him, learning about His complex, occasionally even confounding, methods of upholding ma’at.

I know, for myself, it will take many more weeks beyond His festival, beyond even this first effort to share some of my reactions, to fully delve into everything I believe Set shared with me during His week.

…but I very much look forward to the challenge.

Dua Set! Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!

Red Week – Days 2 and 3

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It is Tuesday night, the end of Day Three. I sit beside my Father’s statue and struggle to find words for what I’m feeling, when two days ago I wrote with confidence about my goals for the week, and those words rang true without question.

Tonight, there is a flickering candle, transient between moments of darkness and light, and my several attempts to launch into an in-depth analysis of the past days’ events have all felt hollow.

I focus beyond words.

There is an ache in my back from additional hours spent before a screen, organizing, planning, making foolish mistakes and trying to fix them. There is a tension in my shoulders and neck from nerves relating to a new graduate program, and a particularly trial-by-fire first day of class. There is a weight in my chest for the loved ones near and far whose mental and physical demons I cannot seem to slay, who have had less of me in the past few days than I would normally give. (There is even a tic in my eye from entirely too much caffeine in a 48 hour span!)

There is also a fierce joy beyond measure at the creative works and stories in Set’s name that have spread across my community’s forums and even a few blogs beyond. There is a boundless depth of gratitude that so many continue to lend their time, their presence, their service to this event which honors the Son of Nut. There is a reverbant thrum of excitement that a few individuals who had been gone from my community chose this week to return, perhaps because of Set’s festival, perhaps because of the New Year, perhaps because of a chance.

There is also, admittedly, a growing solidity at the core of me, summoned by the soft, firm voice that says of  my school and work and caretaking, “Yes. You have done well.”

The owner of that voice sits with me and I Him, the incense I’ve lit blowing up against His statue and back to my face.

I breathe and I am so grateful for all that has already occured and what has yet to come.

I breathe and I wish other things had happened differently, that I might have done better by my community members and our gods, both of whom I endeavor to serve.

I breathe and recognize that I cannot control whether the flame casts me in its shadow or holds me aglow.

I breathe and I think that tonight, sitting here with the One who embodies such transformations, I can accept the uncertainty.

Red Week – Day 1

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In late August 2014, I began putting together a series of events for my spiritual community in the House of Netjer, focusing these efforts around the worship and study of the god Set, my primary deity and the Netjeru I view as my spiritual Father. The seven-day festival, given the name “Red Week,” has already been a tremendous learning experience for me in relation to event planning, delegation, personal research for the preparation of lessons and heka, and maintaining an active practice of spiritual discernment in the midst of the malestrom of day-to-day organizational details. The last point was maybe one of the trickiest elements for me: working to maintain the necessary balance between what benefits the celebrating community in question and what benefits the god we wish to honor through our festivities. I’m sure I will continue to have continued insights about all of this as the actual event unfolds in the days to come.

I knew that I very much wanted this first opportunity in learning how to plan a spiritual event, and I knew I needed it at roughly this level/size. I have somewhat grandiose dreams of eventually working on such things both within my primary spiritual community and on an even larger scale, with Kemetics of all paths, or even other polytheists, to promote local gatherings and worship. I have been fortunate to start to find such people in my home town, and have seen how it can function: a recent ceremony held in Pittsburgh on December 21st was a tremendous success.  Two members of Kemetic Orthodoxy, an independent Kemetic/polytheist who follows both Set and Pan, a Druid, and a Ceremonial Magician came together to honor Set’s battle against Ap_p on the longest night of the year. We made our varying backgrounds work together, combining elements from our different traditions for a vibrant evening of spiritual fellowship, storytelling, song, and contemplation. While I can only speak for myself: I found it to be a thoroughly profound night.

Yet even as I look outward and to the future, as is often my inclination, so too am I reminded that the work I’ve put into these next seven days merits a healthy degree of introspection and mindfulness: I want to take time to enjoy the week for myself, to spend time with Set and consider the lessons He may have for me. I can share some of those thoughts here and on Facebook, in the hope that they might inspire discussion both within my temple and beyond, but also just for personal growth. Both, I must remind myself, are meaningful efforts and well worth my while.

I am so very excited by what has been accomplished in the past few months: so many have stepped forward to make these “Red Week” events happen; so many have given their time and creative energy to connect and listen, teach and learn. I sincerely hope that these efforts will provide an opportunity for renewed strength as we head into 2015 and a renewed appreciation for a god who, if already fairly well known, remains so complex in His identity and the role He plays in lives of His followers around the world as to be well worth further discussion, study, and worship. Personally, while I cannot, and do not, claim to be an expert — I’ve only four years to my name as His follower, two and a half of those as His daughter — I hope that what I have learned in that brief span, what I can share through my service and dedication, will still be of benefit to others.

As for my own, individual, goals for the upcoming week? It’s time to take a look within. I have spent so much time with Set as a god of change and transformation, a god who helped me to break the boundaries of the world I previously existed within to find something better for myself. With His aid I broke free of an unhealthy romantic relationship, have since found a partner who supports me and brings balance to my life. With Set’s guidance I fought my way out of the worst of my mental health issues, and have been able to come off of medications, supporting my emotional well being through other methods. Set gave me the backbone I needed to leave an academic graduate program that was pushing me beyond my physical and emotional limits, and guided me to Heqat. With His force and Her boundless patience and love I earned a place in a new graduate program, this time in clinical mental health counseling, within a span of months, and found decent work to financially support my time in school.

I think it is time to figure out what it means to exist as His daughter when I’m standing still, finally living in a healthy space, on a fulfilling path, with supportive people. It’s a strange thing to admit, but I genuinely struggle to define myself when I’m not moving. I can’t seem to understand the edges of this person who calls herself Saryt when I’m not pushing ahead to the next challenge, fighting my way out of the most recent emotional or physical scrape. When I was an adolescent I feared change, but beginning in college, and all the more so once I re-discovered spiritual belief in 2011 with Set leading the way, I have come to use change as a means of self-definition. Now that this transformative element is, at least for the time being, seemingly less necessary on the personal level? I want to work to understand who I am when I’m not fighting to become something else, and maybe, in that understanding, come to appreciate, and care for, that self a bit more.

In so caring for myself, I believe I will then in turn be a better counselor, a better advocate, a better worshiper, and a better friend.

My goals for Red Week: self-respect and self-understanding, that I can sustain my Father’s driving will to break down the bad and make space for something new, a will that I seek to emulate within myself through my words and actions.

Much love to you all. Looking forward to sharing more as the days progress.

Aqualung

“Hey and you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like
Madness in the spring”

– Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”

Winter can be a notoriously brutal time for many of us, wreaking havoc on health both mental and physical. I’ve been following the words of many fellow bloggers and online friends with no small degree of empathy as they fight lengthy battles with illness. I’ve listened to those coping with SAD, trying to hold to stability as the sun gradually returns to a higher place in the sky, the light lasting a bit longer with each day. I’ve read the words of folks like Aubs, who took a genuinely terrible injury after falling on the ice and yet found wisdom from it. I’ve shaken with anger alongside Aine as she described what she lives through on a daily basis as someone who is chronically ill, black, and poor. I read about these experiences with bodies that have been hurt or are constantly hurting, see discussions through various media platforms about the dangers of uncritical positive thinking regarding one’s health, and in turn find myself struggling with a vague, writhing sense of how can I make this better while simultaneously looking at my own body and recognizing things about it that would have been much simpler to let well enough alone.

You see, I really hate caving to limitations. Hate admitting that there are things that I physically cannot do. I’m as stubborn as anyone I’ve ever met when I take on a challenge, and if I say I’ll do something, it will damn well get done, come hell, high water, or hypertension.

I had the realization recently, after talking with Khenne about the trend amongst dual-Parented members of the House of Netjer to connect more with one god over the other, that this relates to why I lean so much more strongly towards Set in my spiritual practice. I take pride in the sheer grit that He represents for me and that I aim to reflect in my active, day-to-day worship of Him. Every single dawn He’s up and fighting the Uncreated One, taking the bites and the poison, largely because someone has to but no one else can. There is no sense of “backing down” in this aspect of Set’s nature, there is no “today I’m going to take a break because I need some time for self-care.” There is only moving forward, getting the job done, and putting that critical necessity, that responsibility, ahead of everything else.

Through this lens did I view my responsibility to family over the past month, cramming five cities worth of travel by bus, car, and train into ten days.  All the while I played marital counselor to aging, angry parents, served as nurse to a relative who handled his illness as maturely as a five year old, and worked as organizer for an extended family who largely seem to have stopped caring about bothering to schedule time with those who travel for hours to be with them. I did this without complaint, keeping the grief I felt contained, and instead charging forward, getting through it, seeing my responsibilities through.

I was not surprised when I became ill half way through the trip, violently so by the time I returned to Pittsburgh, fighting my way through work on Friday through the necessity of keeping my job, and then effectively collapsing after taking the bus home.

But it was not Set whose presence I felt during the days that followed, my lungs rattling from the fluid in my bronchial tube, each breath an exercise in deliberate motion, shallow and controlled, trying to avoid the minutes-long coughing spells that would leave me dizzy and occasionally half-blind from lack of oxygen. It was not Set who watched me with concern and frustration as my right hand blistered over with hot, red welts triggered by a prescribed antibiotic that my body rejected, nor was it His voice that I heard as I reached out to my gods in a panic during my third day largely confined to bed, albuterol shakes and a fever ramping my anxiety to levels that left me irrationally convinced that I was actually going to die at age 26 without some way to fight the infection, some way to help me breathe.

It was Bast who watched me with cool green eyes, Her immense presence surrounding me and then forcibly drawing out the whole of my grief for a family that had hurt me, and a body that had caved, as it so irritatingly and frequently does under such stress and pressure, to bronchitis, anxiety, and allergic response.

I wept, I choked, I gasped, I wailed, and I hated every single minute of being so utterly out of control. I hated it all the more for occurring in my partner’s presence, when he’s had his own health battles to deal with of late. But then the experience was done, the rage and grief largely out of my head and heart, and I slept more fitfully than I had in days. My life predominantly continued to revolve around sleeping for several days following. I made it to work, I did the bare minimum for other obligations, but for almost everything else which I normally hold myself responsible, I just said, “No.”

I hear Bast in that “No.” See Her in the actions of my own black-furred cat who was dealing with a cold at the same time as I fought bronchitis. For all of Sammi’s sweet “nurse-cat” temperament when I am ill, rarely leaving my side when I’m under the weather, she instead took a few days to largely rest beneath my bed by herself, until she was ready to come back and be my loyal familiar once more. Bast is far more than cat goddess alone, yet the feline propensity for self-care, self-focus (a very different beast than self-centeredness, as I would be wise to learn) is something that I believe She would have me better understand. But it keeps me from so readily embracing Her as I do Set. I feel no pride in stepping back, in admitting that my body has been “defeated” or was too weak to continue. I despise the limitations that asthma, cancer scares, and ongoing battles with anxiety and depression place on my life, how they limit what I can physically offer to the world. I struggle to love and accept my body, because I am increasingly aware that there is no amount of will power that’s going to make all of my ailments magically go away. I cannot be Set’s stubborn, get-shit-done, tough-it-out daughter all the time, much as, in my ideal world, I would.

How do I accept my Mother’s lessons, and in turn accept myself? How do I become closer to the Eye who knows how to burn brightly without burning out?

I have no answers as of yet. Only frustrated acknowledgement that this… this needs to be dealt with.

New Year’s Checkpoint

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I have been extremely fortunate that for the past five years, every January 1st between 2011 and 2015, I have woken up in the home of much-loved Chicago friends to this view: sunrise over Lake Michigan. I’ve seen several years onmy own, I’ve watched it with a man I’d leave six months later, and I’ve even shared it with my current partner who I’ll be marrying six months from now.

This year I watched the changing shades of the sky alone, feeling a bit under the weather due to asthma but grateful as always for the past night’s company and the glory of the view, the small space of quiet in such a massive city save for the soft whistle of tea I’d set to boiling some minutes prior. My friends slept, while I gave myself a brief bit of time to contemplate how marvelously different things will be next year: one of my friends is due to have her first child tomorrow, is ready to meet him any day. I will be married and halfway through my counseling program. 365 days of change and growth and hard work and celebration.

Yet this time for me has never felt like a true ending and beginning. January 1st marks the changing of the Gregorian calendar year, but it’s more of a check point, really. I think of video games, where you’ve made it roughly half way through the level and whew, there’s the little flag to pull, the barrel to burst, which means you don’t have to push through all of this again, you’ve made it far enough that there’s no going back to the start if something awful happens, you’ve got a safety net of sorts.

That’s my January 1st. Growing up, it was school that established this sensation for me, and my first career path as an academic maintained it. The year began anew in late August: new classes, new teachers, new friends, new obligations. It ended in June, and then there was this wibbly-wobbly summer bit that felt like something akin to Van Gennep’s description of the liminal, where I was neither in one year or the next, but somehow both, recovering and progressing simultaneously.

That Kemetic beliefs regarding conceptualizations of the year fell in line with this perception was a happy accident. Of course the New Year shifts over in early August, by the Kemetic Orthodox calendar I use! Intercalary days, out of time and out of synch with the year before or the year to come, they too took very little mental adjustment. One mental envisioning of time slid neatly within and so reinforced the other.

But what then is to be done spiritually at the “check point,” the secular New Year, the point between semesters, the date that’s just under half way to the next Wep Ronpet? I might suggest that it’s a good time to take a good look at what you’ve made it through this far, acknowledge in some way that you’ve accomplished much, and simultaneously recognize that there’s no going back.

No one can take away what you’ve achieved in this span of time. Even if the actions you took were not perhaps what you originally set out to complete, you can’t be sent back to who or where you were five or six months ago, for better or worse. You’ve learned something, progressed in some way, so why not take the time to acknowledge it. Maybe even reshape the goals you set when you started this year. Remind yourself of what you wanted to do with your spiritual practice this past August. Does the new you standing at this January checkpoint have a different perspective on things now? Maybe an adjusted view on how to achieve those original goals, or a realization that perhaps the goals themselves look completely different from this angle?

Riding back to Pittsburgh, away from the state that holds so many of my loved ones, away from the state that is home to my temple at Tawy House, I feel like I’m being physically drawn away from my personal January New Years’ check point. But the past ten days have given me a lot of time to think. I’ve had time to recognize what is changing, what I’ve done to enable that change, and how I can continue to worship and learn from my gods as I walk forward with the flow of time into the second half of my spiritual year. Armed with the knowledge granted by reflection, I look forward to the adventure.

There’s no turning back, just making what I will of whatever is to come.

May your own stops at the 2015 check point prove insightful, and your adventures magnificent.