Ekunyi's Embers

PBP Fridays 2013 – A is for Accepting Yourself

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

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

Art by Cyra R. Cancel

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

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

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

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

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

Accept myself.

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

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

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

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

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