Ekunyi's Embers

Archive for the ‘Personal Reflection’ Category

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.

A “Moo-mas” Reminder

Preparing for senut last night, I reached out to my gods, probing for the now-familiar sense of Who wished for what kind of offering this evening, Who wanted to speak with me and had a particular request for food or drink in turn. I usually hear from a few of Them each evening I manage time in shrine, their responses not necessarily coming in words, but instead more of a small, mental nudge towards a particular form of bread, tea, or fruit. Usually from this I can expect, even before I light candle and incense, Who will require my focus on a given evening, based on what I know of Their preferences, or the general feel to the presence behind the request.

Last night, I was surprised by Set.

Not surprise for Who was asking, of course. As my spiritual Father, the god who all but hauled me straight into polytheism after years of disbelief, the Name who has flipped my life upside down several times over to help me reach necessary, if difficult, goals — Set tends to get the focus of my devotions.

No, it was what He wanted that threw me for a loop.

“Offer the cards.”

While I knew immediately what He was referring to, I couldn’t wrap my head around why He was being so insistent about it. He genuinely seemed to want me to get out the Moo-mas cards and put them on the offering plate!

By way of brief explanation, Moo-mas is a fun nickname for an actual Kemetic holiday, the Establishment of the Celestial Cow.

This day celebrates Hethert-Nut’s lifting of Ra into the sky, carrying Him away from the wars of mankind that had worn Him down, giving Him the opportunity to start anew as he began a new form of leadership, ruling from the sky. The holiday celebrates Her strength, the unwavering love and power required to complete this tremendous act, even though texts specifically reference the difficulty, noting how Her legs shook from the effort until she was granted aid. The Establishment also represents the wonderful opportunity to start fresh, one of countless conceptualizations of Zep Tepi, new dawns, new beginnings, that we have in our religion.

This Kemetic celebration often falls on December 25th, the day on which many of our Christian friends and family celebrate Christmas, and a holiday whose many secular traditions such as caroling, holiday card exchange, and tree decoration may hold some appeal. The name Moo-mas seemed to stick, and new traditions developed.

The Moo-mas card exchange is one such recent practice, and one that I have treasured for the past three years. I have kept every card I’ve received in that time, put them on display as they arrived, and then tucked them away in a small basket near my akhu shrine.

But with Set’s request, I went and retrieved them. I set them on the offering plate, still confused but willing to go with the flow, going through the rest of the formal rite, and then offering them alongside pure water.

I often sing in shrine, having now written a song for each of the five gods I primarily worship, but Set cut me off even before I could begin the first verse. Again, the strong sense of the cards.

I picked them up. I opened the first. I read the message, found myself running my index finger along the ink. This was an old one, from my first year of participation. My friend still addressed me as Ekunyi here, before I’d become Saryt to her. I thought of the small sculpture that had accompanied this card, the many conversations that had followed on art, clay, creative devotion.

I opened another, touched by the small, hand-drawn depiction of both Set and Bast, the blessings offered in a handwritten script.

One of the newest cards, specifically selected for me because of the frogs on the cover, with a written in “Dua Heket!” I laughed aloud at that the first time I’d opened it, just the day before, and laughed again, appreciating the time and thought that had gone into the card’s selection, and the kind message that accompanied it.

I went through more cards, from different years, different friends and acquaintances. Yet my hands kept seeking more, even after I’d closed the last card. I opened up the doors to the storage below my shrine, pulled out beaded necklaces, bottles of sacred oil, paintings and drawings and poetry from the talented hands and hearts of so many acquaintances who had gradually become family over three years of time and shared experience.

My hands rested on a piece of linen, my Father’s outline embroidered in my Mother’s colors, a gift from a friend and spiritual sibling who is even farther away than many of the others. I teared up, just… needing to touch it, in that moment. I needed to hold it, to treasure the tangible reminder that this faith has brought me so many amazing connections, so many incredible moments of shared understanding and compassion.

Without ever having realized that I’d lost sight of it, I suddenly recognized that I had desperately needed this physical reminder of why I do as much as I do, why I give what I can of my time and energy to these incredible people all around the globe. That it counts for something. That despite the difficult times, all the horrible grief and violence and pain in the world right now, there is beauty in these connections that have been established through our mutual faith and belief in our gods.

It is such a small thing, holding a card, a beaded necklace, a piece of embroidered linen in your hand, and yet there is a profound significance to the reality of it. Touching what has been crafted with you in mind, remembering that you matter to someone, and they to you in turn.

A thousand blessings on all of you this holiday season. Thank you, all of you, for being in my life.

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This was a triumph…

…I’m making a note here: huge success.

Which is to say, via Jonathan Coulton lyrics, that I am indeed “Still Alive.”

I find it both disconcerting and yet mildly reassuring to look at my last entry here and consider how much I’ve walked through in the past two months and yet seem to have come out the other side relatively unscathed.

I found a decent job. I applied for and was accepted into a new graduate program in counseling. I made it through a crazy allergic reaction to antibiotics (which then  tried to create a sequel for itself — Scary Lesions Part Two: Son of Scary Lesions! Definitely Rifftrax material.)

I’ve been plugging along on planning my wedding, written new music for and performed with my musical duo, and have mostly kept up with my responsibilities to my two spiritual communities (both the long-distance House of Netjer work and the local Quakers I worship with, though have not formally joined.) Hell, I even learned to crochet recently! In summary: my life is extraordinarily busy and rather quirky in the range of what it contains, but it’s full of interesting people, ideas, and challenges: all in all, I’m pretty lucky.

I do miss writing though. I miss using this space, miss trying to find ways to reach out to all nine of you mysterious followers out there, giving you things to think about that have interested me or spoken to me in my spiritual life. Miss trying to capture those moments when something strikes me from my personal experiences in how it links with my beliefs, my time with the Netjeru.

I’m still having those moments, even though I’ve not made the time to sit down and write about them. I’m still communicating with my gods even if, as anyone who has watched my Offerings Log have probably noticed, my time in shrine has been woefully minimal of late courtesy of all the health stuff.

It always feels good to go back though, to just sit with my gods, light the incense, listen to anything that They might have to share. It feels wonderful to sing, connect my breath with my intent and craft a form of heka through song. It is good to return.

It feels right to come back to this space again as well.  To try to begin writing again. I have no idea if anyone is still reading this, and if not, that’s okay. I think I need to start off this effort of return by writing largely for myself and my gods. I believe there’s a connection between us that I establish here, when I write, that I’d not considered when I allowed myself to wander off for a time. A connection of thought when I just allow ideas to flow, reaching down into my own emotions and concepts, and outward for whatever sort of divine inspiration might be available to me. A creative bit of light that comforts and warms as we enter the darkest, coldest time of the year.

Yes, it is very good to return.

A Short, but Beautiful, Lesson

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Image of Hanny’s Voorwerp, the “Dancing Frog in the Sky,” from Dailymail.uk.

 

I sat in shrine and allowed the incense — a rich blend of tea leaves, sandalwood, clove, vanilla, and spices –to fill each breath. Having offered my daily prayer for the friend who continues her journey West, and sung my standard musical offering for each of my five, primary Names, the rest of ritual was open to whatever Netjer wished to make of it. Heqat and Hethert-Nut approached me as one, each taking a hand and pulling me over into a meditative state, swiftly but gently.

I floated amidst the stars, movement most easily accomplished if I treated the vast darkness as the great ocean and swam. As I righted myself, I became aware that I was some distance above the earth with my Beloved goddesses, their presences intersecting through the starry body of Nut that surrounded me. Hethert-Nut or Heqat-Nut, someOne in between, in that instant I could not tell them fully apart even though their voices remained distinct, comforting and encouraging as I adjusted my orientation to viewing the otherwise Unseen.

Why are we here, was my unasked question, known before I put it to speech.

“Look at the world, grandchild,” came Heqat’s quiet yet profoundly ancient voice.

I did, finding that in simply focusing on it, I could see, with no small amount of alarm, all the hurt and suffering, the wars and pains of the many people below. My mind “zoomed in” to a starving child, an explosion in the Middle East, a dying ebola patient. I had to retreat again to the stars after several more visions in this vein, and was immediately washed in a blanket of peace.

“You cannot stay here with us, not yet,” this was Hethert-Nut, Her presence a forceful wrap of comfort around my body.

Heqat murmured Her agreement, “No, some day, when your life has been lived. But child, you have only the one.”

Hethert-Nut’s agreement came with another emphasis of Her love of and pride in me, “Yes, and you can use it to balance these things you have seen.”

How? I wondered, still gripping to the security of these ladies of the night sky, holding to their unabating love and reassurance like the child in the darkness that I was.

“By living there, living there fully,” Hethert-Nut murmured, turning me back towards the earth which I saw now solely in the beauty of its turning surface, the incredible, mind-boggling majesty of its sheer existence.

Heqat became more tangibly Herself, “The earth is much like your body, my dear.”

I turned in Her direction, giving the glowing outline of woman and frog my attention now that there was a particular place to look.

“It has had its hurts, its hardships. Many challenges it has survived, despite the abuses its known. It is marvelously imperfect, and yet it is yours. Yours to live in, yours to inhabit, yours to claim and care for and love.”

I thought to a conversation I had with my partner earlier in the day, initially just sharing my frustrations with slight physical imperfections, but which later progressed to a traumatic experience that I had not spoken of in several years, nor ever fully dealt with. This had led to my hysterically crying as I drove us West across route 76, my subsequent embarrassment and horror, and finally my retreat into the power of my mind and my work, shifting my focus to to-do lists, planning, and mental games for the rest of our drive together.

Hethert-Nut held me closer as I put two and two together, “You cannot separate yourself from your body forever, child. It is a part of you, as much as the work, the challenges you set for yourself. You have to feel, you have to inhabit what was given to you, even if at times it is broken or hurting.”

“Live on your earth, little one. Live in your body. You have but one body, one life. Claim it, speak well of it, make what you can of it and you will do great things,” Heqat murmured, Her voice a thrum of words melding with the choir of frog song that She knows to be one of my greatest auditory comforts.

At their indication that it was time to go, I pulled myself back down into my body where I sat, kneeling, on the floor. I took a moment to inhabit that body, made myself aware of the sensation of my thighs pressing against my calves, where my hair fell on my neck, the nail that had torn the day prior, the dryness in my mouth. After settling into this state of mindfulness, this return to my physical body which I had been charged to inhabit more fully, I was greeted by another Name.

Aset-Hatmehyt, her crown shifting back and forth between the throne and the fish, approached on my left. She reminded me that part of my ongoing task was not only to inhabit my body, but to love it, and to treat it well. Fluidly joining me on the floor, she knelt and placed what appeared to be a small akhu star within my throat.

“A reminder,” She said, “that when you speak of yourself, you should speak kindly, with words that those who love you would approve of and agree.”

She then dissipated, leaving me alone with my many thoughts, and a profound sense of gratitude to all three Names who had shared this short, beautiful lesson with me.

Farewell

I lost a friend today. I will not write her name here, if only because this is a very public place, and some of our mutual acquaintances may not have yet learned of her passing. I would not want them to learn of it from my blog.

It hit me harder than many previous losses have, though I have lost friends who held a similar place in my life and heart. I wonder if this is because my relationship with the dead has changed: no longer do I simply shove the feelings of loss aside, moving forward because the person is gone and “in a better place,” but instead I find myself sitting with that death, seeing the change inherent to it. I hear the grieving lamentations of Aset and Nebt-het in my mind as I wonder how the family of my friend is mourning in their own way this evening. I mourn for her with them, and I mourn for them as well.

This person shared a spiritual Parent with me. I reached out to that Name tonight and expressed how I was aching at my loss of a sibling, felt Her sadness at the loss of a child and ached further still. We held each other in the way a Name and Her follower might, our conceptualizations of loss quite different, yet our grief perhaps more similar than I ever could have expected. I gave my Mother flowers as a sign of this shared comfort, I gave my Father flowers for offering me His strength throughout the day to do what was necessary: share the news.

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I considered the art that I had made for this friend, the way that she had encouraged me to make more. I played a song from her favorite band during senut (and I sincerely hope, if she could witness this in some way, that she got a good laugh out of my attempt to sing along with Steve Perry and accidentally blowing out the shrine candle when I hit one of his famous high notes.)

Thinking of my friend, I’ll be spoiling my cats rotten tonight once I finish writing this, then donating to a local feline rescue organization in my friend’s name sometime tomorrow.

And I will move forward as I have done in the wake of losing other friends, but always take care to look back, always remember. It feels more complete this way, even if it simultaneously hurts more than it used to. I am grateful to Kemeticism for that, though I suspect it sounds odd. Grateful for teaching me a different way to grieve.

Most importantly, I am grateful to my friend: for her light, for her love, for her bravery.

Travel safely West, my sister.

Performing Musical and Magical Utterance

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Singing isn’t easy. It’s often downright exhausting, depending on the length of my rehearsal or performance, and the space in which I’ve been asked to perform. I generally need some time afterwards to decompress, and use that time to think about how the singing went, what I can do to improve the next time. After one such hour of intensive one-on-one work with my vocal instructor, I sit down in a coffee shop with my tablet and begin to write out some of the important issues that arose during the day’s efforts.

My notes from that lesson look roughly as follows:

1.) E-vowel needs to be adjusted for full, open sound. Start with ah-ooh-ee to get lip positioning, use y to slide through. ”Ah”s need to be brighter, but careful not to go too bright. Avoid the nasal, lift the soft palate, open the mouth fully.

2.)  Significance of pronunciation does not need to be hyper-realized, can be understood even if consonants are not so harsh, don’t cut off your air to over-emphasize the text. Ride the breath, get the sense of up and over the note, place the voice on it, keep it out of the throat, and don’t let it fall down when shifting between vowels.

3.) Too much mental focus on the minute things I’m singing, and how I’m singing them. Intonation stays stable when I stop thinking and just let myself go after establishing the initial intent.

Set is present across the table from me, sipping the coffee I offered as per usual when we go to this cafe. He watches me write, lets me mentally run some of the concepts past Him with the occasional nod, but looks progressively more and more amused as I poke and prod at each idea individually and consider how to improve upon it.

“You do realize you are writing yourself a how-to regarding spoken heka, right?”

I raise a mental eye-brow. “It’s 17th and 18th century opera, Father. I know I’ve written about heka and music before, but this is fairly specific to an Italian, Baroque cultural frame work.”

“Think about it when you next practice.”

“…You’re pulling your ‘Great of Voice’ title on me again.”

“Absolutely.”

So I humored Him, having learned that my Father is not one to be deterred from nearly any matter He brings up, and came back to the list with a fresh eye a few days later. I explored the ideas I’d written out through my vocal practice that day, and realized that maybe there was something to His initial suggestion. In three main areas — pronunciation, breath, and intent — there genuinely seemed to be some significant cross-over. Lessons from my vocal training could, perhaps, also be of use in my study of heka.

Pronunciation

I struggle with pronunciation at times in my voice lessons. My vowels retain traces of my heritage, a “Balmer” Maryland nasality touched with the extra “r”s of Midwesterners who “warsh” their hands. I practice for hours to appropriately open my vowel sounds for romance languages or to fluidly combine them for German vowels with umlauts and schwas. The accuracy of pronunciation matters a great deal to me. It must be correct if I am to effectively convey the language I am trying to sing, if I am going to accurately share with my audience the meaning behind the text, and if I am going to prove myself a knowledgeable and worthwhile singer to those listening who may fluently speak the language I am trying to share.

With this in mind, it was fairly intriguing to me that in her book on Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch writes:

Spells had to be distinguished from everyday speech, so they were usually chanted or sung rather than simply spoken. The exact pronunciation of many of the words was important, particularly cryptically written words that claimed to be the secret names of gods and demons. This knowledge was presumably passed down in oral tradition. The Graeco-Egyptian papyri sometimes mention the tone of voice in which divine names are to be pronounced. In one Hermetic text, the deified Imhotep explains that ‘the very quality of the sounds and the intonation of the Egyptian words contains in itself the force of the things said.’ (68)

I had to laugh as I related this to my own singing experiences: of course intonation and quality of sound conveys a force! On the one hand, careful pronunciation presents the force of the meaning of the words I seek to share with my voice: accurate intonation is key in the transfer of information, the successful portrayal of words and their associated content. On the other hand, that pronunciation extends beyond the words into emotive, connective power.

An impassioned speech or a beautiful song serves as a tool of connection, emotionally asking us to experience sound in a wholly different manner than something that is simply recited aloud. It has a force to it that is difficult to put into words, but which many of us have likely experienced, establishing a connection between performer and audience, or a communal group of singers. This connection has been studied extensively on both socially experiential levels (see Victor Turner’s concept of communitas) and biological manners (note an article relating to the synchronization of heartbeat amongst choral groups.) In my experience, this communion of feeling and power can be experienced between two or more people, but also between us and the divine. I have lost myself as I sang for Netjer before my shrine, connecting to them in a way no words could describe as I sang, enunciated sacred texts and personal prayer in the profound way that melody necessitates.

Breath

When I pronounce my lyrics well, in such a manner that I am able to convey both textual and emotional meaning successfully, I feel incredibly powerful through my singing. Yet over-pronunciation during vocal lessons can result in a serious issue with the success of my performance: cutting off my breath. An over-emphasized consonant closes my throat, keeps my mouth shut for too long. The constant flow of sound comes to a halt as I physically lose the vibrations which previously rode along the air. Falling, the resonance shifts down into my throat where things strain, crack and come to a painful halt. Supported breath, an uninterrupted stream of air maintained through the strength of the diaphragm and stomach, is the vital force behind singing. Without that support there will be little reason to worry about the details of the mouth’s position and the knowledge of pronunciation, as the sound will never come to be. Both are equally necessary in one’s efforts to successfully, and powerfully, sing.

As I wrote about in my prior post about music and heka, I noted that the latter has been described as a “pneumatic exhalation,” an “occult force that infuses the world of things” (Te Velde 1970, 170).  This invisible power, controlled through the breath, and indeed existing as breath itself, was also given a physical, internal aspect. In multiple texts, heka was described as a bodily aspect which could be swallowed or eaten, and thus resided in the abdomen. “When [heka] was transmitted, it was transmitted, as the nature of the information passed on required, from the entrails of the one who possessed it to those of the one receiving it.  Consequently, the malignant forces ranged against the gods preferred to attack their hearts and viscera in order to gain complete mastery over the powers their victims possessed.  To penetrate … the belly of a god was an easy way to establish oneself in the most intimate part of his being and acquire a position of domination there” (Meeks 1996, 96).

If “dominating the belly,” controlling the stomach and the breath the stomach powered, was viewed such a significant way of controlling one’s magical force, so too is control over the stomach a necessary means of controlling vocal power. Air creates the vibrations between the vocal cords, within the mouth, and one’s subsequent control over the air, moving it forward firmly, smoothly, but without pressing too hard, allows for a ringing tone. An unsupported breath becomes a dull, lifeless sound that does not carry. Breathing from the gut and using the stomach to hold that air? The resultant sound rings throughout a room, layered with overtones that the human ear will not perceive as pitch, but which change the timbre of the voice to something undeniably rich, vibrant, and resonant.

Intent

It can be challenging to balance the many critiques of my vocal instructor, shifting back and forth in my mind between the exacting shapes of my lips and tongue while simultaneously trying to breathe appropriately and keep the production of my sound above that ongoing current of air. I have found over time that I am often far more successful in practicing one component at a time, then bringing them together in preparation, and finally just “letting go” and completing trusting the intent behind what, and how, I am going to sing. If I am confident, the many little details of my lessons will come together, my voice is powerful, supported, and accurate in pronunciation and pitch. If I hesitate, something falls awry as my micromanaging one detail leads me to neglect another.

So too does this confidence become vitally necessary when I step from the lesson into performance. I must be self assured before my audience: a nervous performer is recognized as such from the instant they step on stage, their posture and expression give them away and are subsequently contagious. The audience expects those nerves to present issues for the musician, becomes nervous themselves. A confident performer puts an audience at ease, and indeed shares that confidence with them. They are not distracted from anything but the musical utterance, and so that opportunity to communicate, the chance to share the power of song, is not obscured by the obstacle of concern.

Writing of one particular magical utterance, Robert Ritner notes that,  in one particular spell, “…the magician himself acts as the ‘fighter’ and claims to be able to turn the enemy’s head and feet back to front and make all its limbs weak. Concentration of the will must have been an important part of making such assertions. The magician’s confidence would then be passed on to the client” (1993, 72). The magician and the musician must concentrate on their will, their intent, and then fully trust in their intentions, if they are to successfully connect with their client or listener.

Performing Musical and Magical Utterance

Combining pronunciation, breath, and intent requires a careful balance between a deeply embodied, physical awareness and a highly mental and emotional action. I cannot sing if I am physically ill, if my vocal cords are injured, if my attempts to breathe result in a coughing spasm rather than firm, bodily control from my gut. I cannot sing if I am mentally ill, if my mind cannot focus on memory, if my self-confidence has been beleaguered to the point that I cannot trust in my own ability to do what I intend with my music.

Yet singing can become heka unto itself in those moments of illness: I have sung long enough at this point to gain control over my breath when I am sick, having stopped asthmatic spasms in their tracks with a breathing exercise from a vocal lesson. So too have I fought depression off with song: standing erect for an hour, forcing my body upright so as to properly create a strong, powerful, sound, I have turned my mood around for the better. Mind follows body, body follows mind, and in singing, with its natural balance between the two, I can help myself attain better health. It is physiological and psychological. It feels like magic, and in truth: it is.

Robert Ritner writes of Aset (in this case, using the Greek form of Her name: Isis) and what makes Her so powerful, what gives Her such control over the magic that She is known for. He quotes the Metternich Stela where Aset speaks, saying:

I am Isis the goddess, the possessor of magic, who performs magic, effective of speech, excellent of words. (34)

Ritner then notes that, “The preceding statement of Isis is also of value for its clear declaration of the tripartite nature of magic, being viewed as an inherent quality or property to be “possessed,” an activity or rite to be “performed,” and as words or spells to be “spoken” (35).

Aset’s magic, Her heka, is possessed within Her body. She performs it aloud, breathing and then chanting, or perhaps even singing, words of power.  She pronounces, with excellence in confidence and command, the significance of those words. She is the master of magical utterance, and perhaps, in Her own way, a prima donna of musical utterance as well.

Dua Aset in Her year! Great Magician, I greet you, and am glad to find a similarity between us. May it lead to greater understanding. 

Dua Set for leading me to this realization. Thank you for helping me to better know your sister and myself. 

 References

Meeks, Dmitiri and Christine Favard-Meeks. 1996. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Pinch, Geraldine. 1994. Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Ritner, Robert. 1993. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Te Velde, Herman. “The God Heka in Egyptian Theology.” Jaarbericht van het Voorsaiatisch-Egyptish Genootshap. Ex Oriente Lux 21.

 

KRT: Walking with the Ancestors

Do akhu play a role in your practice? How do you work with the akhu (shrines, rites, etc)? How do you set up an akhu practice?

Learning to honor the akhu, or the blessed dead, has been a challenging process for me. I wasn’t someone who came to Kemeticism with any prior experience of ancestral veneration. Those who had passed away were mostly gone from me, or so I believed, either “far away” in some form of afterlife, to be seen again only when I too passed away, or simply gone as I often felt in my moments of pessimism and spiritual doubt. Learning to open my mind to the possibility that maybe I could still connect with them, honor them, even speak with them? It remains an ongoing effort: difficult but rewarding at the best of times, disconcerting at the worst, and altogether strangely more challenging for me to speak about in a public setting than my interactions with the gods.

With that in mind, this post may seem less candid than others, with fewer references to specific individuals than you may notice in other posts where I readily discuss which netjeru I spoke with, how I perceived them, etc. This relates to that discomfort I mentioned: I struggle with the idea that I might be mishearing one of my ancestors, particularly those I knew in life. With the akhu, it’s harder to forgive myself if I feel that I am not accurately discerning what I actually hear from what I’m mentally making up, for reasons that are difficult to explain. I suspect it relates somewhat to ideas that the gods are beyond human error, will not be affected if I misinterpret something now and again. But to mistake the words of one of my family members, someone likely only being reached out to in this context by me and me alone? It sits strangely at my core, and often prevents me from reaching out beyond the recitation of specific prayers, or a quick hello as I walk by.

My akhu thus have a more generalized role for me, for the time being. I do have a dedicated shrine for them in the living room of my apartment, decorated with photos of various individuals from both my family and my partner’s family, and a few family heirlooms. At least once a week (though I am trying to up this to a daily practice) I greet them aloud, formally welcome them to share my home, and offer water. The water offering is later poured into a specific spider plant that I bought as part of a fundraiser at a Race for the Cure event, and thus I view this as a way of honoring the many akhu my partner and I have lost to cancer over the years. I do not revert this water myself, as I follow the Kemetic Orthodox practice of not reverting the offerings given to akhu, but instead give them to nature or, in my case, a small bit of nature that I tend indoors.

I will light a candle or incense on special events and holidays that would have been significant for my known akhu (their birthdays, Father’s day, veterans day, etc.) I also attend sixth day festival chats hosted by the House of Netjer’s Rev. Raheriwesir, speaking my ancestors names aloud and sharing them via chat, so that they are remembered and, as some say, so that they live.

I also engage in certain practices that relate to my ancestor’s culture and spirituality as a way to honor them that falls outside of what might be viewed as specifically Kemetic. I have learned and prepared various recipes from my Italian great-grandmother’s cookbook. I attend a Methodist church when I visit my father at home, to honor the faith that was so important to many, many generations on his side of the family, even if I personally no longer identify with that particular religion. On occasion my partner and I will sing or play songs that his father liked in front of the akhu shrine, or bake biscuits to recognize his southern heritage. It has been good to share this aspect of my practice with my partner, as I think it helps us both to deal with our losses in some small way, and to always remember.

The memory aspect is what touches me most, I think. Even if I struggle to communicate via conversation like I do with my gods, even if I have moments of concern that perhaps some of my particularly devoted Christian akhu would not want to be recognized through formal Kemetic ritual, they all deserve to be remembered and honored. You can be creative with how you choose to go about relating to those memories, what actions you take to recall what they loved, who they were, what they cared about. But whatever you do, it is worth it to spend that time walking with their memories, thinking of how you personally reflect those who came before, and allowing them to live again as you speak their names and remember.

Thoughts for the New Year

“I need help.”

I finally admitted it aloud, my mind begrudgingly aware of the fog of weariness creeping in around the edges of my caffeine-induced consciousness. My hands still on the wheel as I drove south from Illinois to Texas, my shift at the “helm” was a necessary one; my sibling Tenu needed the rest after driving for the better part of twelve hours straight, and we were in the middle of nowhere — not a safe place to stop and mutually snooze. I had promised to wake zir if I got tired. Tired was not an option. Zie needed to keep sleeping, at least for a little while longer, and I needed to keep my promise.

Thus, damn stubborn Set-kid that I am, I reached out to my gods a second time, sheepish about doing so over something seemingly as trivial as a road-trip. “I need help. I have to stay awake. Please.”

We’re here, as we always are. You are not alone.

The mental ping of words came from several gods at once, my mind somehow translating various ideas, colors, images that flooded my headspace into five distinct presences. My spiritual family of Netjeru. The gods I worship each time I perform the rite of senut all giving a little boost in their own way, now also including my newest Beloved, Heqat, who formally joined me at Retreat.

Set suggested shifting the CD to a livelier song with a stronger rhythm. Hethert-Nut, leaning strongly towards Her Hethert side, encouraged me to groove. I did an awkward sitting-in-a-car boogie to the beat as She laughed and cheered, the movement waking me up. Heqat simply settled as a calming presence around my neck and shoulders and I stopped worrying about the weariness and focused on keeping myself mentally present, a much more productive use of my energy. Heru-wer offered His light, and suddenly the headlights of oncoming traffic seemed a little brighter, the night not nearly so oppressive in its magnitude. Bast just talked to me, and this was a wonder in and of itself… we don’t often just speak, She and I.

We talked of many things, including my experiences at Wep Ronpet at Tawy. She noted how I was healthier these days, had focused enough on myself that She felt comfortable making a request that pertained to external matters. It is time to seek balance between Her and Set. I seek my Father daily, speak with Him readily, have done research and written essays for personal use in His name. Some people do not even recognize my associations with Her, so much do they link me with Set. At times, I feel closer to my Beloveds than I do my own divined Mother, and She has been here far, far longer than any of Them, longer than Set as well.

I would have felt guilty for this, but She would not let me. Instead she gave me goals to focus on, goals that will take a fair amount of discernment and effort, and so I may hold them fairly close to the chest for the time being, having already shared them with those who She instructed me to reach out to. But it is worth recording some of what occurred at the House of Netjer’s annual Retreat here, to hold myself accountable in a way.

Upon my arrival at Retreat, Shefyt (an amazing daughter of Bast herself!) was one of the first people to see me, and she came running across the room to greet me with a giant hug. It made me feel so immediately welcomed again, so very Home-with-a-capital-H that I practically teared up. Shortly thereafter I went to greet Hemet, and saw a Bast prayer card with Bast depicted with a green face. Hemet explained Her associations with malachite, in part through Wadjet in later periods, and I made a mental note that I wanted to *know* this and other such important associations in the future. The following day being Aset’s birthday, I wore a green and black dress, mostly because Aset (albeit largely through Hatmehyt) tends to approve of my indulging my feminine side. No less than five people complimented me on it, saying that it looked like I was wearing malachite. Point taken, Lady.

That evening in ritual was a highly emotional experience for me, one that I am still largely processing. What I can note, was that I received tremendous comfort from both Sekhmet and later Zat, who gave a particularly wise point of advice when she mentioned that I was so much my Father’s child right now, it might help if I reached out more to my Mother, remembered that I was Her child too, and allowed Her to help me approach and deal with emotions that I have otherwise worked to repress via throwing myself into five thousand projects.

On Wep Ronpet itself, I stopped by Bast’s shrine after the festivities had been completed. I kneeled, offered full henu, admiring the many gifts that had been left for Her (quietly regretting I’d not brought any of the mint-chocolate offerings She loves.) She gave me the aforementioned instructions then, and told me who I was to share them with.

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Bast shrine at Tawy

I’m still reeling a bit and was certainly startled then. But as the day progressed, and gifts were exchanged (an AGI Bast being *given* to me which was mind-blowing in and of itself) I received another present from Netjer. The ribbons from last year’s Wep Ronpet ceremony, which had been tied around each of the gods, were distributed to those still present. I received Ma’ahes’ ribbon, and just… laughed warmly at the realization, friends sitting next to me looking amused as I seemingly cackled at nothing.

I need to work on remembering that I am a Child of Bast. Who better to help than one of the gods who is, in fact, a Child of Bast?! Main spiritual goal for the year understood, Lady. I realize it took a spiritual clue-by-four, but I’m listening, and I will do right by you.

On the secular side of things, I am moving forward towards finding, applying to, and beginning a counseling program — ideally one with arts/music therapy as part of the counseling degree. As I joked to Tenu, I feel like I’m amassing a Support Squad of gods as I work my way towards this. Set has discussed how His strength, and my personal reflection of that strength, will be necessary as I move forward along this path, both to maintain my own boundaries, and to face on a daily basis the isfet that is eating the hearts of my clients. Heqat and Hatmehyt mutually suggested my creation of a “mindfulness” shrine external to my senut space, somewhere I could go and pray regardless of purity concerns, where I could engage in self-care through meditation and also offer prayers to those who might need my counseling, that they too could find a way to care for themselves and accept what help I might give. Sekhmet has offered Her aid here as well, mostly to me, but also to others.

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Art by A’aqytsekhmet that will be the focus point of my mindfulness shrine

The most surprising addition to this group is Nebt-het. Last night, Tenu and I did senut together at Tenu’s home shrine in Texas. We went through the ritual, made offerings, and then Tenu noted zir mothers were very, very present — did I have any questions for them? I had one for Hethert-Nut, which I asked, and received an encouraging response… but Tenu insisted that the pressure remained.

What could Nebt-het want me to ask Her? I’ve only just barely worked with Her. A ten-day effort to get to know Her culminated in my daily praying for each of the victims of a mass shooting in California, and finally praying for the shooter and his family as well. It was challenging, but I did it, and suddenly I wondered if this was the point. I had the strength to deal with those who were grieving, to look at violence in the world and continue to make space for both the dead and those who mourned them. I asked Tenu to inquire via fedw if Her ten-day request was to show me that I was ready to become a counselor, specifically given my interest in serving communities which have dealt with trauma, and received a firm yes. The presence, Tenu noted, faded abruptly thereafter, but not without a brief message: I am to reach out to Her if I need Her as I move forward along this path. Though still surprised, I am grateful for Her support.

It feels like a lot to wrap my head around, but such seems to be the way of Wep Ronpet. There are many new beginnings, many new challenges to tackle. I hope to be better about writing out my thoughts on these matters, sharing them with those of you who may be reading this blog. I encourage you to reach out to me if you relate to anything I write, if there are any questions I might answer, or ways I might help you on your own journeys this year. As They reminded me on that late night drive that started this whole train of thought: the gods keep us from being alone, yes. However, we, as a greater community of Kemetics, both within the House of Netjer and without, can also fend off loneliness by writing, reading, sharing. Do not be alone. There is no need. I can speak only for myself, but know others out there who feel the same: do not be alone. I am here. I would sit beside you if you’ll have me, no matter the distance.

Di Wep Ronpet Nofret, my friends. My love to all of you.

Hunting, Habituating and Hibernating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I apologized, and I thanked him.

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

So I’m not “just a rodent”?

“No, though I may be just a fool.”

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

“What should I do?”

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

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

Kemetic Round Table: Living Kemeticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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