Ekunyi's Embers

Worshiping fallible gods

I have written elsewhere that part of what draws me to Set is precisely what repels other people I’ve met: He is fallible. Now do not mistake my claim of His imperfection to be synonymous with “human.” He is most assuredly deity. I would never go so far as to claim Him my equal in His choices and actions, but I don’t think it is much of a stretch to note that He is capable of making less than ideal decisions, more than once acting on passions, desires, furies and jealousies. Although He is a god, He deals with the same emotions that often threaten to lead me places I am afraid to go, dare me to make choices that I know would be unwise.

And some of Set’s actions are far more than what one might claim as merely “unwise.” Scholars and followers of Kemetic lore almost assuredly know the two most commonly told tales: Set murders His brother Wesir (with differing accounts of what He does with the body after) and Set battles Heru, stabbing His kinsman in the eye and losing His own testicles mid-fight.

But there are also lesser known accounts depicting Set as one who drinks heavily, rapes other deities, and generally disrespects boundaries of all sorts. The god of Strength in these accounts is most assuredly abusing His power, driven solely by emotive needs. If one were to apply Freudian terms to the gods of Kemet (and in all likelihood it has been done, I’m simply unfamiliar with a particular source) this depiction of Set would set him squarely as the embodiment of the Id: “..the inherited (i.e. biological) components of personality, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido), and aggressive (death) instinct – Thanatos. The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to the instincts.” (simplypsychology.org)

I’m simplifying all of this immensely; there are so many issues tied into these tales relating to what was going on at the time they were originally told, or written. Was the figure of Set being used as a convenient scapegoat in times of cultural need due to military strife? How and why did Set become fused with other, malicious deities over time? What can we see of Set’s motivations from the sources available, do the motivations even matter if one is trying to understand the act?

Whatever the answers to these questions — and indeed, there are many answers here — the heart of what I’m getting at is no matter how you look at Him, no matter what time period your interpretation of Set stems from, no matter what characteristics you sense or choose to respect, Set is not a “gentle, kindly” god. He is violent, He is emotional, He is passion and experience first, critical thinking later.

I am not ashamed of the god I worship, yet I struggle with what He represents when I see it in myself. When I jump to fury over something minor, when harsh words spring from my mouth and wound another before I think better of it, when I let the desires of longing for my partner cloud my judgement or ability to focus. I am a passionate person; and yet I so often see these traits in the ways Set’s characteristics are described — a lack of control, a lack of thought, a lack of judgement.

I have criticized myself largely on things that are missing, focusing on what I am not rather than finding the good in what I am. And interestingly enough, even in my nascent stages of research, I’ve started to see a similar pattern in the way many scholars handle their discussion of Set: a focus on what he is missing in comparison to the other gods, rather than what he is. This goes from the literal (ex: lack of testicles) to the meanings attached to those literal objects (ex: lack of heternormativity, sexual boundaries, etc.) and I have to wonder: is there a cultural reason for this?

The scholars writing these books, providing these translations, are largely people of privilege, academics from European and American backgrounds where emotional expression is frowned upon, viewed as a problem and a lack of restraint. I am of this culture, I was raised to believe that outbursts were inappropriate, harsh or “unpleasant” emotions should be dealt with privately, or not at all. I was not raised to view anger as anything other than the negative alternative to turning the other cheek, sexuality an inability to harness my own “animal” desires.

But what do these things become when they are thought of outside of the box which labels everything “inappropriate” as the absence of “that which is good.” What do the characteristics of Set become if they are viewed not necessarily as good, but simply as present.

They become catalysts for change, destruction that permits the growth of something new. They become balance to the thinking portions of who we are, the energy that drives us forward when we are too tired to do otherwise. They are energy without delegation of ethics, they are life until death when that bit of universal force is transferred elsewhere.

I worship a god of the energy of the Universe. I am, in some small way, a reflection of that energy. I am proud that this is so.

Do you follow a deity or spirit whose actions or temperament might be questioned if considered via a modern societal gaze? How do you tackle these questions?

 

2 Responses to “Worshiping fallible gods”

  • >i>Do you follow a deity or spirit whose actions or temperament might be questioned if considered via a modern societal gaze? How do you tackle these questions?

    I don’t really base my impressions of her upon her myths so much as what she shows me of her nature, but Sekhmet, for sure.

    The majority of “religious” people who surround me seem to regard anything divine as something instantly recognizable as “loving”. I never really got that from her. She is fierce. When she first appeared, she scared me and did not make any attempt to change that. She simply remained as she is, regardless of what strange ideas my mind conjured about her (she was a hostile, alien force sent to enslave me, she was a figment of my imagination, etc).

    I experience no cognitive dissonance with the differences between Netjer and modern expectations of the divine because I don’t see them as being the same thing.

    Netjer reveals itself to be so different from anything that isn’t them that I just don’t put them in the same category with “god/s”. A person could easily come away with a shallow understanding of my spirituality if they asked me if I “believe in god”. My answer would be that if there is an omniscient, omnipotent creator of the Universe, I’ve never met it to my knowledge. So simply, no; and furthermore, it’s totally irrelevant to me.

  • Do you follow a deity or spirit whose actions or temperament might be questioned if considered via a modern societal gaze? How do you tackle these questions?

    I don’t really base my impressions of her upon her myths so much as what she shows me of her nature, but Sekhmet, for sure.

    The majority of “religious” people who surround me seem to regard anything divine as something instantly recognizable as “loving”. I never really got that from her. She is fierce. When she first appeared, she scared me and did not make any attempt to change that. She simply remained as she is, regardless of what strange ideas my mind conjured about her (she was a hostile, alien force sent to enslave me, she was a figment of my imagination, etc).

    I experience no cognitive dissonance with the differences between Netjer and modern expectations of the divine because I don’t see them as being the same thing.

    Netjer reveals itself to be so different from anything that isn’t them that I just don’t put them in the same category with “god/s”. A person could easily come away with a shallow understanding of my spirituality if they asked me if I “believe in god”. My answer would be that if there is an omniscient, omnipotent creator of the Universe, I’ve never met it to my knowledge. So simply, no; and furthermore, it’s totally irrelevant to me.
    jessidora recently posted: ye olde RPD, and places I’ve gone since that…

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