Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Bast’

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

Two Years As Their Daughter

BarquePainting
“Bast and Set Defend the Solar Barque” by A’aqytsekhmet

My Parents are deities of fierceness and beauty. They embody, in fire and strength, who I aspire to be with each new goal and challenge.

They are the defenders of the right to start again, destroyers of the obstacles that would keep a new day, a new chance, from beginning.

They are the passion for another and the passion for self, balanced and in check.

They are the split second decisions of lightning and the long burning blaze of needing to see something to its completion.

They mutually defy the overly simplistic boundaries of gender and species to rewrite what it means to rise up and live as Self rather than assumption.

They will not be defined by mere words, but action.

My Mother is neither woman nor cat. My Father is neither man nor sha. They are both, and neither, and the vast complexities that lie somewhere in between these conflicting extremes.

Today, two years and a day since They claimed me through sacred rite, I reaffirm that I am Their daughter.

I will carry Their standards high.

Kemetic Round Table – Walking two Paths

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.

This week’s prompt asked: “Can I work with other pantheons? Can I perform rituals that aren’t Kemetic based?

This is going to be brief, as the bulk of my thoughts on these questions are summarized beautifully here at Making Bright, and I find myself unable to add much, conceptually, to what Nellethiel has already eloquently discussed. What I can share is a bit of personal experience, offering one perspective on why those ideas are so important to me.

One of the two primary Kemetic deities I work with transcends multiple spiritual areas of my life. I’ve written about my complex relationship with Bast in greater detail in an earlier post, but suffice it to say, I’ve known Her from childhood and She has transitioned with me through the many spiritual changes I’ve gone through over the years. She was my “invisible friend” as a very young child, my Goddess in an adolescent Wiccan phase, one of my primary spiritual guides in the animist period of my collegiate years, and now is my divined Mother in Kemetic practice.

I still interact with Her in both of Her most recent incarnations. I pray to her in shrine, and on other, separate occasions, I walk with her in meditations. She can be fierce in her expectations for me on both paths. She requires regular devotions and offerings, that I worship her as Netjeru, one of many faces of the divine. She also expects that I will seek her out as one of my guides in journey, her feline form one of many various plants and animals I speak with to learn more about myself, my community, and my world.

While my animist practice is not necessarily what one would consider a separate “pantheon,” it does come with a very different set of ritual expectations. I have a separate altar space for my primary animistic guide at any given time, and this space often includes animal by-products. For example, right now I have a Great Horned Owl’s feather, vertabrae, and talon on this shrine, items that were gifted to me many years back from partial remains a friend found and cleaned. These items, sacred in my animist practice, are extremely impure from a Kemetic standpoint, and thus I actually prefer to keep them in a separate room from my gods’ shrine.

My animistic practice also takes place outside of a set shrine space. Journeying techniques involve astral work: I sit in a dark room, slow my breathing, sometimes play a slow, even, percussive rhythm to assist in the process of moving beyond my body. My Kemetic work is always done before the shrine, eyes open, the candle’s flicker and the glow of incense helping me to transcend the profane and move to sacred experience. The two processes are unique to me, and involve a deliberate choice to interact with one or the other, gods or spirits.

This does not mean that the two do not, on occasion, intertwine. More than once I have been in the midst of a meditation when suddenly a god, or gods, jumped in to mess with me, show me something, or challenge me further. Given that they are gods, I would not presume to box them in to one form of interaction over another,  but in my opinion, it is important that I leave that option to Them. If They want to reach out to me astrally, or if They request that I meet Them in that space rather than shrine, I will. But in the meantime, as someone who does identify as Kemetic, I primarily choose to work with them in a manner based on Kemetic practice: in shrine, with candle, incense and offerings, celebrating Their sacred days, studying Their myths, and doing my best to live in ma’at in all other aspects of my life.  

As Nellethiel wrote, “anything is possible in the realm of polytheism. Just be mindful of what it means to be a part of Kemeticism as the religious movement and practice it is today (as the modern reconstructed/revived ancient religion of Egypt).”

Anything is possible. It is possible that Bast is my goddess and my guide. It is possible that Set might challenge me with a storm right when I’m trying to learn something from the oak tree I’ve climbed. It is possible that the golden hawk I visualized myself flying beside was Heru-wer, teaching me something outside of senut. But it is important to be mindful of the means by which these interactions took place, to know what is faithfully reconstructing ancient practice and what is better described as my own homebrew animist work with a bit of Kemetic flair. It is vitally important to acknowledge the source of things, that we might discuss our multiple paths with others, respecting each method as distinct while not discounting its validity.

 

Kemetic Round Table – Shrines on the Go

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.

This week’s prompt asked: “Shrine basics: Setting up your first shrine: How do I do it, what do I need, and what rules are there (if any).

I’ve seen a number of great posts this week which cover the basics of maintaining a shrine, that sacred space that serves not only as a place for performing ritual acts, but also divine temple of sorts where you welcome the gods into your home and into your life. I highly recommend Sobeqsenu’s post here for a concise outline of putting together the basics for your shrine and Satsekhem’s post here which provides a helpful clarification of the distinction between altars and shrines, and why both can be equally valid and important aspects of one’s spiritual life.

Several KRT-authors have also touched on the usefulness of compact or travel shrines. Near the end of her post, Sarduriur offers useful advice for Kemetics or other polytheists living in a space where cohabitants. Devo also suggests wearable shrine options in the form of sacred jewelry, and offers ways to use that jewelry in the same context as an icon.

Given that I am presently visiting my sibling Itenumuti and hir partner in Texas, I thought it might be appropriate to expand a little bit on my personal use of a travel shrine, and provide one take on how one can endeavor to transfer the experience of spiritual work at home to spiritual work on the road.

How do you make a travel shrine?

The sky is the limit when it comes down to how you want to create your travel shrine. Some practitioners choose a box of some kind, often made of wood, ivory, metal, or  even synthetic materials if your gods do not view this as a purity concern. Others wear devotional jewelry on their body, or attached to an important item. Either way, you are welcome to decorate your travel shrine as ornately or discretely as necessary. Go with what strikes a comfortable balance between your relationship with your gods, and the necessity of your current living situation.

If you use a box and intend to place ritual items within it, I recommend finding one with a clasp of some kind, so you can close it securely and lower the risk of spilling items consecrated to spiritual use into a messy location. Of course you can always purify them again, but at least for me, the prospect of accidently dropping an icon into something unmentionable makes me cringe.

What goes into a travel shrine?

There are a few things to keep in mind for what to place within your travel shrine:

1.) What do you need to complete the rituals you will be enacting while you are on the road?

If you are of a path like Kemetic Orthodoxy and hope to continue with the state ritual (senut) — or a ritual with similarly established necessary items —  as you complete it at home, you will want to find a way to fit all of these items for this ritual into your travel shrine. If you have an adapted ritual for travel, perhaps you can bring fewer things. If you are someone who regularly interacts with his or her gods, via meditation, divination, or any other forms, you can always ask Them what They expect of you while you’re off on grand adventures, and “pack” accordingly.

2.) How long will you be gone? 

Packing for two weeks is much different than packing for two months. Try to think ahead for how much of any given ritual item you use at a time. Can you just pack a few small sticks of incense in your travel shrine, or would it be wise to bring an extra box in your suitcase? Unlike the roll of toothpaste you accidentally left on your bathroom sink, you’re probably not going to be able to drive to the nearest drugstore and easily pick up some natron and kyphi. Do your best to think ahead for what you need, and how much of it you need.

3.) Where will you be staying?

Staying in the home of an open-minded friend for the duration of your trip is far different than staying a week in a hotel. Keep in mind what the rules will be for burning candles and incense in your travel location. Tealight LED candles are a cheap and easily-acquired alternative to burning an actual wick, and scented oils can serve as an offering to the gods without the producing the same powerful scent of many incense options, should your host be sensitive to such.

4.) How are you getting there? 

If you’re driving or taking the train, chances are good that you won’t have to worry too much about what you put into your travel shrine. The TSA, however, may find issue with certain items in your shrine. A few important things to note: if you need to pack matches with you, and you are taking them in your carry-on luggage, you must use strike-on-box matches, and you can only bring one box. Strike anywhere matches are not permitted, and neither are torch or micro-lighters. Though perhaps more self-explanatory, if you use a ritual blade of any sort, don’t pack that in your carry-on either.

How do you use your travel shrine once you’ve arrived?

There is no hard and fast rule for ritual use of your travel shrine. Again, take into consideration where you are going, who you are staying with, and how long you are going to be there. Personally, if I am going to be staying in one space for the duration of my trip, a space where I can safely practice without any issue from my cohabitants, I will try to establish a specific spot for my travel shrine early on. Much like my shrine at home, I clean the area before setting up icons, and I purify my body before I enter the sacred space. I welcome my gods to stay in this shrine for the entirety of the time in the new location. I give offerings, usually just cool water while I’m actually in shrine (note my tiny offering cup in the pictures below) but silently offer some of my food before meals. I will then pray, sing, meditate, create art — any and all of the usual activities I would do with, or for, my gods while I was at home.

If I am staying in a hotel, or in a space where my cohabitants would be bothered my spirituality, I take greater precautions. I unpack my shrine, complete my chosen ritual the same way as described above, but after ritual, I pack all icons and ritual implements away in the travel shrine, and tuck it safely back into a bag where I know it will come to no harm. In the case of hotels, I have heard more than one story of cleaning staff accidentally damaging a shrine while they were doing their daily administrations. In the case of a less understanding host, I do this as a sign of respect to whoever has allowed me to stay within their home.

(The caveat here, of course, is if you are going to be living with this person for an extended period of time. In this case, I would suggest a full, free, and frank conversation of your faith before moving in with them, if such a conversation is at all humanly possible. As always, you know your own life better than any other, do what you think is best.)

What does a full travel shrine look like?

You can look at some of the blogs I mentioned above for ideas, but I’ve also included a few photos to show my current travel shrine.

The outside of my travel shrine. I love this box for its compact size, the shining gold caps on the exterior, and of course: the handy clasp.

This gives you a sense of how I pack the shrine, and some of the things I include within it. Please note the strike-on-box matches, as well as one of two lovely icons by Tenu depicting the names of my Parent deities.

Moving one layer down, you can see the incense, a candle, an ankh candle holder, and a small offering cup for fresh water (which is partially blocking a tiny, lotus-shaped incense holder) and two more icons which I made myself from polymer clay. They recently received some touch-ups after their original paint job began coming off.

Finally, here is the full travel shrine when it is set up. I currently place the three-dimensional icons of Set and Bast across from their painted names. This is a visual reminder for me; I was recently tasked in finding the similarities between my parent deities, in an effort to better balance which of Them I more frequently turn to. I enjoy sporadically changing elements of my travel shrine, whether it is the color of the candle I pack, or the type of incense I burn, depending on which Netjeru I am working with, and what I hope to achieve spiritually while I am traveling.

May your own adventures be fulfilling, and your gods near.

 

Kemetic Round Table – Heka and the Musical Voice

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.

This week’s prompt asked: “Heka: What is it? How can I work with it?”

What is heka?

There is no one definition that could possibly encompass the entirety of heka‘s meaning, and I have elected not to try. Even the descriptions of Egyptian scholars are often vague or contradictory on this count, providing the hapless reader with less-than-helpful explanations such as, “a power known as heka or hike … was something like, and yet different from, what we understand by ‘spell.’” (Farmer 1957, 258). Far more useful is Hermann TeVelde’s explanation, that heka can imply a magical power, as well as a magical spell or rite, but also that it exists as a “pneumatic exhalation,” an “occult force that infuses the world of things” (Te Velde 1970, 170). This implies that heka exists not only in, and as, the breath, but also in the force that breath produces to “infuse” or be heard in the world: I argue that the voice is one particularly powerful way that this force might be interpreted.

The creative power of the voice is central to much of Kemetic theology, an energetic force that functions because of the connection between what is vocalized, and what is. Ancient egyptians perceived no divide between what a person spoke and what actively occurred in the real world, and indeed creation myths revolve around this concept.  Hornung writes, “In the Cairo hymn to Amun it is said of the sun god Re that he ‘commanded, and the gods came into being’ …  This primeval force not only rendered creation possible but also, in the hands—or rather the mouths—of the most various deities, serves to maintain its existence.  The underworld teems with beings who live from the ‘breath of their own mouths’ or through the repetition of the sun god’s creative word; here again the ‘magic’ of the creative utterance is realized instantly” (Hornung 1996, 209). The gods spoke, and through their breath they created or continued to create the means of their own existence.

Yet heka was not limited to use by the gods. Hornung writes that, “The creator god gave ‘magic’ to human beings as a ‘weapon’ specifically for self-defense – as it is formulated in the Instruction for Merikare around 2060 BC.” (Hornung 1996, 209-210). This invisible power or energy was believed to be a personal, inward form of knowledge, distinct from the knowledge of facts and figures. Unlike that more “academic” knowledge, heka was believed to have a physical 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).

This focus on heka, a power contained within breath, being located in the stomach and abdomen intrigues me both as scholar and vocalist. Speaking from experience, when a trained singer breathes, she does so not from the lungs and chest, but from the diaphragm, expanding the muscle that resides just above her stomach to take in the greatest possible amount of air. The vocalist who masters control over her diaphragm is the vocalist who masters control over her breath, permitting her to meet the challenge of the most difficult of art songs or arias. Indeed, if you are singing well for an extended period of time, your stomach muscles should ache and your throat should feel nothing. A similar technique is used to project chants or monologues on stage, carrying the voice to vast audiences without the use of electronic amplification.

There is no way of knowing whether the hymns and liturgy of Ancient Egypt were chanted or sung in the manner of singing that most Westerners would consider ‘music’ today, though Farmer argues that recitation and chant could very likely have been viewed as equally valid methods of ceremonial utterance, relying on philological evidence that “the Arabic equivalent to the Egyptian sedi (‘to recite’) is shada (‘to sing’)” (259). If this is something of a stretch, perhaps more significant is that production of sound, herw (literally, ‘voice’) is associated with those gods often deemed to be most skilled in forces of ‘magic.’ Farmer notes, “We read of the Egyptian god Thoth who made Osiris ‘true of voice.’ The amulet which Isis hung about her neck was interpreted as ‘a true voice.’” (258). The association with the voice establishes these deities as particularly potent in ‘magical power,’ and possibly links them to having greater command over the heka residing within their stomach.

Ivory clappers – from The British Museum

Yet the “voice” did not only imply the sound which emanated from a human (or deity’s) throat. Farmer describes how some of the earliest Egyptian instruments, wooden or bone clappers, may have been used used to conjure Min, in his aspect as a god of agricultural fertility. Later instruments featured images of gods on the body of the object itself, such as Bast, or more commonly, Hethert, being featured on sistra. Farmer argues that, “These features [images of gods on instruments] were of far deeper significance than mere emblems or symbols.  They were a constant reminder that the voice of deity was ever present in their tones; it was not only ears in tonal appreciation that listened, but rather minds in transcendental anagogue that understood. Music therefore had a twofold influence on man in ancient Egypt; one brought about by a purely physical sensation, and another created or sustained by a power known as heka or hike”(Farmer 1957, 258, emphasis mine). Again we see a connection between the physical, experiential aspects of music-making and the physical aspect of heka. The sound or “voice” of the music helped to connect the musical participant to the invisible force of creation inherent to the gods. As one produced sound, one produced a voice, a voice that unto itself was the power of generation and the power of change.

Sistra with face of Hethert, Late Period (c. 600 BC) – from The British Museum

Christopher Wise has argued that the physicality of heka and the musical voice may have been experienced in part through the aphrodisiac qualities of musical instruments in ancient Egypt. “In numerous images of the Egyptian goddess Hathor,” he writes, “she is shown bestowing a pearl necklace called a menat upon her lover. The menat is not only an ornament worn around the neck, but a musical instrument that inaugurates the resurrection of the dead. Isis similarly brings Osiris from the dead through her sexual healing powers. The sistrum, or sesheshet, which is like a rattle or gourd, serves a similar function: to transmit vital energy to her lover that is necessary to his spiritual rebirth” (Wise 2006, 32). Both of these examples connect the power of music to the transferring of sexual and curative powers. The voice of the instruments enables one of the most profound transformations possible, the transformation of the dead to the living.

What did this unique connection to heka mean for human musicians? Terry G. Wilfong, Assistant Curator at the Kelsey Museum, writes that, “Professional musicians existed on a number of social levels in ancient Egypt. Perhaps the highest status belonged to temple musicians; the office of “musician” (shemayet) to a particular god or goddess was a position of high status frequently held by women.” Some court musicians were considered to be ‘near relations’ of the kings, and in the New Kingdom the religious contributions of some ‘chief of the singers’ were deemed to be so significant as to have their names preserved (Farmer 1957, 260). That these court musicians held substantial, even magical, power over the emotions of others was documented by several Greek visitors. While I acknowledge the words of Herodotus and Strabo offer a “creative take” on history, that both note grand processions led by flute and reed-players, where the growing crowd of pilgrims gladly lose themselves in ecstatic abandon, suggests the perceived power of the instrumental voice, even if the events described never actually occurred (Farmer 1957, 262).

How can I work with it?

Make music!

I’m biased over here, living as I am in operatic soprano-land, but I’ll always suggest singing as a great way of connecting to the energy held in your stomach (see Joan Lansberry’s excellent chart, here). Breathing deeply, feeling the weight of the power you have in your own form, and then releasing it into the world as sound can be a deeply satisfying experience. If you’re not comfortable singing at home when others are around, you can always give it a shot in your car. Blast a favorite song, or find a new one that is particularly meaningful to you and your gods, and sing the hell out of it where no one can hear but you and Netjer.

Creativity is also an important element here. Writing new music with lyrics that are relevant to your goals can be a great way to invoke change in your life. Remember: heka is pretty straight forward. If you sing it, you are helping something become. Write a simple chant about confidence and sing that baby before you go into your next job interview, and you’re going to rock that conversation better than any bozo with a power tie.

Not a singer? That’s okay. As described above, the “voice” of an instrument is just as relevant to heka as the voice coming from your own throat. Have a drum? Speak aloud that the drum is the voice of Wepwawet and beat a quick rhythm in the name of breaking down obstacles to opportunity. It’s all good, all open to whatever interpretation best serves your needs.

The important thing is just to sound a musical voice. You can create powerful change through the power of your own, internal force, embodied in the invisible, yet physical strength of a voice. Sing loudly, place your will into your music, and know that the power of your voice is enough to create great change.  Just as Set’s voice “is appropriated by the magician in a ‘conjuration against scorpions’ … which states ‘The voice of the conjurer is loud while calling for the poison,’ [to leave the body] ‘like the voice of Seth while wrestling with the poison’ ” (Henadology), you too can use the power of the musical voice to great effect.

References

Farmer, Henry George. 1957. “The Music of Ancient Egypt.” In New Oxford History of Music: Ancient and oriental music. Edited by Egon Wellesz. New York: Oxford University Press, 255-312.

Hornung, Erik. 1996. The Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

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

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

Wilfong, Terry G. “Music in Ancient Egypt.” http://www.umich.edu/~kelseydb/Exhibits/MIRE/Introduction/AncientEgypt/AncientEgypt.html

Wise, Christopher. 2006. “Nyama and Heka: African Concepts of the Word.” Comparative Literature Studies 43: 19-38.

“Seth.” http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/seth/

Bast and the Tree

Note: This may be a little more “woo” than previous posts, which have focused largely on ritual with occasional mention of interaction with the gods. If you do not believe in journeying/traveling/astral projection, that is fine, but I ask that you read this with an open mind, as these experiences are quite real to me.

If you’ve been following this journal at all, you’ll know that Bast has been in my life as long as I’ve had any sort of connection to what I now refer to as the Unseen. I have called her (at least) two other names over the years: Kyana, my imaginary black “panther” friend in childhood, and Black Leopard/Jaguar Woman, one of my main guides through meditative journeying as an adolescent, who took second fiddle only to Great Horned Owl. As Set pushes me to change for the future, Bast calls me to remember and grow from my past, and a substantial portion of what She asks of me necessitates the return to journeying in earnest. I hope to record some of those experiences here, though more personal matters may be relegated to protected posts on my dreamwidth.

For many who journey, having some sort of “base” if you will, a place where you slip between worlds, a safe(r) space to begin your travels, is key. Mine has shifted dramatically from when I first began, when I had the focus to actually “build,” stone by stone, a temple. I carved statues in my mind to honor my primary teachers, shifted the architecture to include impressive columns and a reflective pool in the center. Perhaps my adolescent self had some need of the grandiose, I don’t know.

At a particularly low point in my life, I began a journey in this space and almost immediately the world around me began to shake and groan. The ground ruptured, tearing apart years of work and building. When it finally finished I sat, stunned, amidst the rubble. It was only when two of my guides, twin green mambas, found me that I was able to rise and move away from what had been. I remember walking and walking to the point where I almost lost focus, couldn’t keep the hold any longer, until I found a small round fruit. I picked it up, and it melted in my hand, revealing a seed at the core. The snakes coiled around my neck, a small comfort. The next journey saw me following Great Horned Owl across the ocean until we found a small island. I planted the seed, and the tree that would become my new starting space, my “heart tree” grew, flowered, and thrived.

On September 11th of last year, I tried to go back. The results were… dramatic. I’ll share an excerpt of what I wrote following the experience:

“Almost instantly [after beginning the journey] I saw Great Horned Owl (GHO) over me, an orb of lightning (blackish sphere, with silver lightning bouncing around inside, the way my personal energy usually feels when I do energy work) in her talons. She took off almost immediately into the sky which is when I realized it was raining.

I tried to follow, couldn’t. Tried again, she was going farther away, would not wait. Then I realized there was a golden hawk with me, blazing through the rain, to my other side. He did wait, helped, encouraged, waited for my body to lift out of itself, and flew above me the entire time, holding tight to me as I struggled to focus on something, anything, and we kept up with GHO together, until she landed on a far too familiar tree. My tree, my old heart tree, dead, withered, on its island, water polluted around it. I tried to land on the branch next to her, promptly fell off.  …  I was able to climb the tree. Settling beside her and the golden hawk (I now think, maybe Heru-wer?) I gave thanks as the golden hawk took off and left us behind. I looked to her, expecting something, but she merely looked skywards and I watched as a huge bolt of lightning came from the sky and set my tree on fire.

I freaked out. This was MY TREE, dead though it has been for the past number of years every time I had struggled to visit it in a brief, meditative effort. Now it was burning, and GHO was taking off again, still carrying the lightning orb. The lightning flashed again, only this time in slow motion, and it just sort of stayed, branched out, a writhing, electrified bridge into the heavens.

… The tree is burning from the bottom up, there’s smoke, the rain doesn’t seem to be putting it out, and the only course available to me is to walk on *lightning.*

Booming voice, from a disembodied source above me, which I recognized as my divined father, Set — “Since when is my Daughter afraid of my hand?”

I had to laugh at that, and fighting to stay focused with so much going on in my mental view, stepped out onto the lightning bridge. It solidified at my touch, becoming a glowing white stairwell that eventually sort of vanished from visibility once I passed the cloud cover. Here I had to just keep going, not look down or panic. Fear sent me tumbling towards a now-very-distant earth, confidence kept me walking — literally — on air.

Once I mastered my fear (after a few very near splats) I caught up with GHO again, on top of a cliff. The lightning orb condensed into itself, and became a small seed. I looked at it and her for a moment, briefly confused, then [took the seed]. I dug into the soil on the clifftop until my hands were bleeding, and planted the seed. Almost immediately a new, living, healthy tree sprung forth. GHO took her place amongst the branches, field mouse came springing out from between the roots, a buck nodded his approval as he emerged from sort of a mist that extended farther along the land ahead. Then black leopard woman/Bast came forward, first as a dark-skinned woman, then just *was* a huge black cat, no shifting involved. She raked her claws down the side of the tree, and rubbed her mouth on it, not to hurt it, but to mark it, stake a claim on this new place.

I climbed up into its branches, felt it pulsing with life beneath me. I found GHO and sat with her awhile, struggling greatly now to keep focused. She told me I had not disappointed her, but that I must move forward, must practice, as I was about to lose my ability to stay here.”

Since this experience, I’ve done nothing in journey but practice. Bast has set me to the task of visiting the tree once a week, tending to its needs, nothing more. I show up, I place my hands on the rough bark and give thanks that it is still there.  I root out insects that would eat it from the inside, I trim branches that are dying, and I nourish the earth around its roots with energy. I take note of creatures that have taken up residence, the birds, the rodents, the helpful insects.

Last week, Bast told me that my next task is to identify it. To know the tree, and thus know a little more of myself as it was born of my energy. I’ve not yet accomplished this: my knowledge of flora is extremely limited. Also, quite frankly, it is a struggle for me to stay still. To put so much effort into visualizing a single thing in detail, rather than wandering around a somewhat blurred world on various adventures and lessons. I feel a little like Bast is pulling a Mr. Miyagi, “What does ‘wax on wax off’ have to do with my own skills at journeying?” Indeed, my own doubt makes me wonder if it *is* a tree that exists on this side, but Bast seems to think it is, and so I’ll do my best. Examine the leaves, the bark, the flowering portions. See what the tree has “to say.” Trust that there’s something substantial to be gained from this.

Kemetic Round Table – Facing the Prospect of Fallow Times

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. 

I genuinely struggled with writing this. In part, because I think the prospect of a spiritually “fallow” time — a time when, for whatever reason, we cannot hear our gods and lack the energy to complete our usual rituals — can be particularly frightening for those of us who have yet to really experience one.

I am new to faith. I sat in church throughout childhood, but never felt comforted by it, never felt like I needed it, should one day my father decide he no longer wished to go. I have meditated and journeyed, gained much from both, but even this was different from what I would call “faith.” My teachers in that part of the unseen generally only came to me if I reached out first. It was very much a matter of my asking for their help from the start, and spiritual entities of various shapes and sizes offered assistance only after deeming me worthy. I knew, from the get go, how things worked. If I didn’t close my eyes and journey to visit them, I should not expect a response.

But the gods of Kemet found me. Bast during my early adolescence, Set about two years ago. They offered Their comfort, Their strength, without my seeking it out. They have loved me and aided me at my worst, pushed me to try again when I needed a good solid kick in the arse to get moving. They’ve challenged me to do what I didn’t think I could, celebrated my successes, picked me up when I failed. They shoved past my cynical disbelief, gave me the proof my academic’s mind needed to permit myself to believe in something beyond the secular. The prospect of losing that connection, that contact, is horrifying.

My sibling said something to me the other day that I’d like to record here:

“With Set and others in your life full-force, you’re no longer just dealing with embers. You’ve fanned the fire back up to a healthy blaze.”

For the first time in my life, the fire within is fully lit. My fields are vibrant and alive, filled to the brim with healthy crops from my labors. When the seasons of my life shift and the appropriate time comes to take action, I will be ready for a tremendous harvest. I will pick the fluffy ideas off the stalk, shuck the ears off the creative endeavors I’ve grown and start them cooking into fully fledged projects for change and growth, ready to nourish me and my community.

And then, when the work is done, I will stare across a vast, empty field, and I will wonder: what now?

There are other members of the Round Table who have written of the usefulness of a fallow time. The good that can come of letting yourself rest and rejuvenate. They’ve suggested putting your energy into other aspects of your life while you wait for the spiritual field to be ready again, dedicating these new efforts to your gods to stay connected during the time apart.

Yet it can be so difficult to predict what that time will be like. Painful, to imagine what will happen when, for the first time, you hear only silence on your end of the “god-phone” after seemingly having a direct line that got you through so many trials. For me, it’s tantamount to thinking too long on the future of any relationship. Some day, the way things are now will come to an end. Such is the way of things in a world of transience and mortality.

How do I accept this?

For one: Be present. When I am in shrine, when I speak with my gods, I cherish those moments. I try to give Them my full attention. I thank Them when ritual concludes. I fully live in the time with Them that I have.

Two: Trust. They showed up when I needed them. Chances are, if and when They eventually grow distant, my gods are doing so for a reason. Perhaps depression or grief needs my full attention for recovery. Perhaps there is another project that merits greater focus. The gods don’t abandon, but They do give space, if space is needed.

Three: Take heart in cycles. Kemetic faith is a faith of constant return. Consider the concept of Zep Tepi, the first time, which comes with the rising of the sun each morning, bringing new opportunities, new chances. Consider the changing of the year and the seasons, if our spiritual life has dried out, eventually the flood waters will come again. Nothing is static, for good or ill.

Four: Reach out. Talk with your gods and the other members of the Kemetic community about your fears. As you can see from the other posts in this week’s Round Table, plenty of other more experienced Kemetic practitioners have gone through this before, and come out the other end. Perhaps they were changed, but as mentioned above, this is a natural thing, and can often lead to insight.

I hope this proves helpful to you, from one neophyte Kemetic to another. When the fallow time comes, we may not be ready, but we will be okay.

PBP 2013 – D is for Discipline

I struggle with maintaining a sense of discipline in my practice. Picking a day to sit in shrine and sticking to it, constantly meeting the goals set forth by my gods. There’s no mystery to this problematic inability to establish a habit — I don’t make it a priority.

Spiritual time, in my head, feels like a luxury. It’s forced relaxation. I shower, purify, enjoy the feel of tension released at the heat of the water, the pleasant sense of the day’s work washed away, the scent of incense filling me with each breath, the comfort of candles’ glow.

Yet if I haven’t accomplished enough that day for work, if I haven’t met whatever (often unreasonable) scholastic goals I set for myself that day, I genuinely feel like I haven’t earned the pleasure of sitting in shrine, of being with my gods.

This, my friends, is really stupid.

For one, as I’m sure occurred to many (if not most) of you upon reading the above, it’s not just about me! We worship/walk with/study under gods. No matter what way you spin it, no matter which way the balance tilts, it’s a two-way relationship, built on trust, time, and effort.

And, as was pointed out to me this evening, I’m starting to reach the extreme where even purification is tainted by stress and to-do lists, creatures of the mundane. I was washing my mouth out with purified natron-water and Set just rumbles, What are you doing?

I paused, “Purification.”

No, what were you doing. It certainly was not pure.

And the truth of it? I had been thinking about the fact that I’d forgotten to provide extra comments for a student’s essay who’d requested the more detailed response. I then started to mentally berate myself. While I was swishing natron around in my mouth.

I acknowledged this, apologized, began to re-rinse my mouth… and promptly caught myself doing it again. This time making a to-do list in preparation for the meetings I have scheduled tomorrow afternoon. 

I genuinely struggled, the rest of the shower, to not think about work. Instead, I just tried to release those self-accusatory thoughts and shift myself into a more neutral state of mind.

Yet even once in shrine I realized: great job, self. It’s Sunday. You completely forgot to do something dedicated to Bast today as you’d promised.

I sang one of the songs I’d written, but my heart wasn’t in it. This was an afterthought. It was not the journeying She’s asked of me for months, it was not quality time with Sammi, it was not even a new creative work. This was not good enough.

And yet, I received no anger from Her or Set, despite how He had mildly expressed His discontent earlier in the rite. From Set, I was told only to recite my favorite prayer related to Him, to memorize it, to let the words become a mantra of calming and mental clarity when next my worries and self-accusations ran off with my thoughts again.

From Bast, I was shown the tree that I have been instructed to care for while I attempt to regain my skills at “seeing” while meditating. It sprang from where it was rooted my heart, up through my chest and out my head, branching off in countless different directions. She placed a massive black paw on the bark that I visualized filling my chest, and the outline of the tree flared golden-red as Her energy coursed up my chakras, clearing them, and leaving me feeling far more… alert and energized than I have in days.

I didn’t know what to say in the moment beyond thank you.

Looking back, a few hours later, I am beginning to wonder if my mental fog will be cleared by allowing myself to become as disciplined with the spiritual matters, both in shrine and in journey, as I have been with academia.

Balance. Always balance.