Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Kemetic Orthodoxy’

Red Week – Day 1

RedWeekShrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – 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.

 

On the Significance of Names

There is a trope common throughout literature, film, and mythology that if you know the true name of a thing, you have power over it. I have found that the names given to us, as gifts or in moments of ritual, often serve as a starting point in a journey to gain better power over ourselves by means of self-discovery and personal exploration.

For example, the name I use on this blog was given to me (at least) six years ago, during a meditative experience. I received it from a spiritual entity I’d worked with extensively. After a lengthy, fire-based ritual that dealt with matters related to coming-of-age, I was told that I would, from then on, be known within that territory of the unseen as Ekunyi, “little alpha” or “little leader.” It has no equivalent meaning in any human-based language that I’ve encountered, beyond the number “ten” in several Bantu languages. That said, the knowledge of earning the title of a little leader, someone behind the scenes whose efforts nevertheless played a significant role in organizing groups and helping others, led me to take on several challenges in college, and even graduate school, that I might have been too timid to take on before.

On February 6th, I received a new name, an important component of my recent Shemsu (“follower”) vows to serve my parent gods and my Kemetic Orthodox community. With these oaths, and my initiation into the community,  came another charge: to consider the name I was given, and discover the depths of its meaning in my life, my goals, my sense of self.

The name, which Kemetic Orthodox believe to come from their Parent deities through Hemet, is Sarytsenuwi, meaning: “Standard (bearer) of (my) Two,” or “Two Standards (for me).” 

I’ll grant that I had just had a small surgical procedure that morning, and was more than a little emotional from the worries and fears wrapped up in the possibilities of what that biopsy might mean, but I suspect I might have teared up a bit at this name even if I’d been perfectly sound, body and mind, coming into the ritual. You see, the day before had marked the end of a very difficult week. I had struggled to keep my focus despite my health concerns, worked hard to get through a substantial amount of effort required for my thesis, courses, and teaching responsibilities. The final project to complete before I could relax and ready myself for the procedure involved several hours of transcription of an interview where I spoke with a Civil War re-enactor about the significance of regimental banners. When I finally finished it, I got up to get something from the fridge, and as my mind cleared from the haze of listen-type-repeat, I heard the following in the mental voice I associate with Set:

 I will never let you doubt. Your name will have meaning you cannot deny.

Excited as I was, I then proceeded to react in a perfectly rational manner: by scouring the kitchen for anything around me that might relate to a possible name. “Are my Parents going to name me after Water? Food? Nourishment? AAAAAUGH.”

Perhaps not so rational. *wry grin*

But yes, given that I had mentioned this comment to no one, in the moment of Naming there was little question of accurate discernment: this was too much for even skeptical me to take as coincidence. Set had done exactly as He said, as He has from our first meeting, nearly two years ago.

But what, exactly, is a “standard” in the Ancient Egyptian context. I’ve become familiar with flags and banners in American military settings courtesy of my thesis research, but this was new to me. I found the following by amateur Egyptologist André Dollinger (emphasis mine):

  Ancient armies were generally small compared to modern mass armies. The Egyptian army of the New Kingdom was composed of three divisions under Seti I on his Canaan campaign … The overall command lay in the hands of the pharaoh himself or one of his close relatives, generally a son. Similar to the administration of the whole kingdom, the army was divided into a northern and a southern corps overseen by Chief Deputies. The line of command included ranks corresponding to the modern generals, battalion commanders, standard bearers and adjutants at the company level, lieutenants leading the platoons, and non-commissioned officers in charge of squads.

Standards themselves were not the waving flags I am accustomed to, but generally featured the visage of a god, or other important symbol, atop a staff. Included below are photographs of Neb-Re, carrying the standard of Sekhmet and  Khaemwaset, son of Ramses II, carrying the Abydos standard.

Neb-Re and Sekhmet Standard

Khaemwaset and Abydos standard

 

Katherine Griffis-Greenberg of the Oriental Institute offers a bit more insight into these images:

According to the Liverpool website, Neb-Re was indeed of high status, with other texts noting him as the commander of the fortress at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham. Apparently, god Ptah and his wife, the goddess Sekhmet, were the patron deities of the area around Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham.

Carrying a standard of the deity of an area was a high honour, and often imparted that the bearer had religious duties to the deity/ies as part of his duties. A similar statue of prince Khaemwaset, son of Ramses II, now in the British Museum, interprets his bearing of the Abydos standard as “…Khaemwaset displaying his piety before Osiris by holding one of the god’s symbols, the emblem of the nome (province) of Abydos.”

With all of this in mind, carrying a standard (sryt from the Gardiner dictionary), comes with quite a bit of responsibility. If I am to be a standard bearer (t3w-sryt or TAw-sryt) of my two Parents, I have duties to uphold to both of them, goals that must be met. I take this as the second time I have been given a name as a call to leadership, albeit on the small scale: the military standard bearer led the company, not the entire army, but nevertheless made an important difference at that level of command. The religious standard bearer made visible his devotion to a particular, regional Netjeru, and upheld that sacred Name in action and word. 

I am happiest when I have some project that I am helping to guide. I founded the graduate student organization in my department upon discovering the lack, was quite successful in my position as assistant to the head event planner for all important occasions that were held at my undergraduate campus. I enjoy leading in educational environments, and am capable of leading in situations which are less pleasant. I have also become painfully aware that the lack of human interaction in my current lifestyle, as I spend hours each day at the computer,  delving into my research, is becoming increasingly harmful to my emotional well being. This Name’s historical associations were an important reminder of that, and I hope it will continue to assist me in my future challenges as I seek a path that better suits me.

Yet this Name also has several meanings to me beyond what insight ancient history provides:

For one, I feel like Set establishing that direct connection to my thesis work is a gentle reminder of support that I can and will finish this damn project. When I keep thinking of how much more I have to write, how my energy for the topic is waning, the name reminds me of the incredible significance of standards, banners, symbols that communities latch on to in times of trial. It makes me excited about it again, in a way that I never could have expected. It gives that extra bit of “oomph” to keep going so that I can get this degree and move on to the next phase of my life without dragging things out more painfully than necessary.

The Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed exploring the various meanings held within a single word, often in the form of punning. If I look to the Egyptian, sryt, it also means “cough.” As someone who has struggled with her asthma for her entire life, giving up certain opportunities because I so easily become ill, struggling for air in places where a healthier person might thrive, this just made me shake my head. I am “cough.” Or more accurately, I’ve allowed myself to become “cough.” I’ve defined myself around my nebulizer, whined and complained when, yet again, a cold crawls steadily towards pneumonia despite my best efforts. I’ve backed out on opportunities saying, “Oh, no, sorry, I can’t, I have asthma.” The biggest of these was a career in singing: I assumed, because I was so ill, that I would never be able to sing professionally. But I’m not my cough, I’m not my lungs, I am all of me, and I will never know if I can handle singing at that level if I don’t try.

Which leads me to another pun, this one off of the english translation: “standard.” How many times have I had a request to sing a jazz, blues, or pop standard, one of the songs so beloved to people of all generations that they are considered part of the canon? One of my most defining moments was at age 14, stuck in a hotel after being evacuated from the path of hurricane Isabel. We went downstairs to the lobby where the hotel had tried to throw a hurricane party to “lighten everyone’s spirits,” but the room was full of quiet, frightened, albeit mildly intoxicated people. My father pushed me up to the karaoke machine, and asked me to sing something, anything: given the crowd I picked Mary Chapin Carpenter’s relatively well known country hit, ”Down at the Twist and Shout” and by the time I reached the bridge “They got a alligator stew and a crawfish pie / A gulf storm blowin’ into town tonight / Livin on the delta’s quite a show / They got hurricane parties every time it blows”  there were people singing along and we just… forgot about the threat of windows blowing in and whatever the hell was happening to our houses near the coast. I learned the power of singing in that moment, and have never let it go.

There’s also the idea of the “standards” to which we hold ourselves, and there most assuredly are “two standards for me” in that regard. I am much, much harsher on myself in matters of emotional, physical, and academic perfection than I am on anyone else. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, that self equals others, and that I don’t have be so damn cruel to myself when I don’t quite reach the bar I’ve set for myself.

Yet, last but not least, to bring things back to the historical concept, there are “two Standards for me.” Two banners waving, two deities who I must carry and represent, but who support me in turn. They were with me during last week’s medical procedure, They are with me as I’ve struggled to catch up on work this week, They will be with me through the trials ahead. They want me to succeed in my studies, but They want me to remember that I am a “little leader” and a singer and that I should seek these things out, become them again.

I am so, so very grateful.

Dua Set! Dua Bast!

(And much love as well to my sibling Emky/Tenu, for hir love and support during the past week, keeping me excited about our special, shared naming day.)

Kemetic Round Table – Ritual Purity

The Kemetic Round Table (KRT) is a blogging project aimed at providing practical, useful information for modern Kemetic religious practitioners. We noticed that many beginners in the Kemetic community have a lot of the same questions, and that there is currently no solid (and newbie safe) resource for newcomers to gain knowledge about the faith and practice. So we decided that every few weeks, a group of Kemetic bloggers would tackle a common new comer question and answer it as it obtains to their own personal practice. We’d then post our responses where others could read and learn about how other Kemetics are practicing. –  What is the Kemetic Round Table?

As many of us take our first steps into this exciting new blogging project, it seems fitting that we begin with a discussion of the preparations we make before stepping into sacred space, participating in Kemetic ritual. A number of contributors have already written excellent posts on the matter. I highly recommend Sarduriur’s post at Shadows of the Sun for a discussion of the history behind matters of ritual purity, Helmsman of Yinepu’s post at Kemetic Reconnaissance for a definition of “w’ab” or “clean,” and Qednofretaset’s post at Seven Scorpions which provides a clear-cut explanation of ritual purity requirements for the Kemetic Orthodox practice of senut, which I will touch on below.

I do identify as a member of the Kemetic Orthodox faith, having recently taken Shemsu vows to my gods and my community. Many who have found this particular flavor of Kemetic worship to fulfill their spiritual needs will complete the state rite of senut daily, effectively connecting themselves to the the rest of our community through very specific designated recitations, actions, and prayers. Before senut, practitioners are asked to wash their external body and orifices with a combination of natron and water, over which a particular blessing has been given. Once clean, they wear white clothing used solely for ritual made of neither synthetic materials nor animal skin. They are also asked to obstain from senut if they are bleeding (this includes menstruation) or are feeling particularly ill.

I very much enjoy and respect the process of preparing for senut. It provides a sense of connection to other members of my community to go through the steps, to know that many others have gone through these same processes, and may, somewhere, simultaneously be experiencing something similar to what I am experiencing in those moments of bathing, cleaning myself physically and emotionally, speaking sacred words aloud. It counters the loneliness of having no local Kemetic community, builds unseen bonds across the miles to friends and acquaintances.

This said, I generally only do the full state rite of senut once a month.

This is not for lack of faith or loyalty to my community! I sit in shrine several times a week to provide offerings to my gods, to play music for them, to simply sit in the presence of their icons and find comfort in a candle’s glow and the shadows of my Parents and Beloveds as they dance upon the wall. In preparation for all of these varieties of ritual I do purify. However, due to circumstances related to both my reproductive health and my schedule as a graduate student, I can only meet the full requirements of purity for senut on very rare occasions. Through much deliberation, both individually and with my gods, I decided that the best way to honor my commitment to Kemetic Orthodoxy is to make sure that when I prepare myself to purify for senut, I prepare myself for senut as the community proscribed. When I cannot meet those standards, I simply do something other than senut while in shrine, using none of the prayers associated with the rite, and feel neither guilt nor shame for the necessity.

And what does “something else” entail? Showering if I have time, often incorporating a bit of energy work. It’s an old trick I used long before my Kemetic days, where I envision the water rushing through me as well as over me in a stream of silver, breaking up the darkened bits, revitalizing connections between chakras. It takes tremendous focus, and even on days when I’m having a hell of a time pulling myself out the maelstrom of worries whirling around in my skull, if I’m going to be successful at the visualizaton, I must let go of the day-to-day concerns. I generally feel fantastic, inside and out, when I step out and begin the walk down the hall to the room with my shrine.

If I don’t have time, I will at least make an effort to wash my hands, my face, brush my teeth. I think there’s something about the deliberate choice to engage in the process of making myself clean, no matter to what degree, that helps me separate the sacred experiences to come from the secular experiences earlier in the day.

And personally I acknowledge that purity is on a gradient. The instant I step from the shower, whether this was a moment when I spoke the words of senut and washed with natron, or instead completed a visualization exercise, I’m going to need to use the towel I likely used the day before, my cat is going to rub up against my ankles and “share” her fuzz with me while I walk down the hall. As I dry and sweat in the heat of a small apartment mid-winter, I will lose the physical sense of purity gained a minute earlier. Whether I put on ritual whites or another clean outfit, there will be fuzz from the sweater that was hanging next to it, a bit of dust from that closet shelf I’ve been putting off wiping down with a damp cloth.

This doesn’t matter. What matters was the effort, the process of purifying, the deliberate choice to make myself ready — in mind, in body, in emotion — to sit with my gods, to separate myself from that paper that needs to be written, that phone call that needs to be made.

I call Set “Father,” Bast “Mother.” If I were to travel to visit my biological parents, I know that they would want my full attention and love during the period of time I stayed with them. I see the purifying process as a similar display of respect and affection.

For you see, in my acts of purification I am both traveling from a profane state to a numinous one and readying myself to focus solely on my gods for however long I am in shrine. If I intend to do senut, I complete the act through the methods required for senut, and I do so whole-heartedly with great attention to detail. If I am unable to meet those standards, or choose to worship in a way outside of senut, I purify in my own unique way. Out of respect to the community of Kemetic Orthodox to which I belong, I do not mix the two, but I certainly do not see one as more or less valuable and effective than the other.

The purpose, the shift, will happen either way. That, to me, is what counts. Your mileage may vary.

Vows

Today is a festival of Set in the House of Netjer, “The Day Set Kills the Rebel.”

I give thanks to my divined Father for striking down isfet in my life and in the world. In the span of our mere eighteen months together, my emotional, physical and mental health has so drastically changed for the better, that I can genuinely find no words adequate to fully express my gratitude. I only hope that my dedication to continued self-improvement, to wielding my own symbolic sword against the problems and injustice I encounter in the world, and my promise to be the strongest person I can be for my friends and family, will be thanks enough.

And so, I find it fitting that on one of His days I publicly declare my intent to take Shemsu vows. Provided that Hemet receives my message and all goes well, I will receive a name and swear my loyalty to my gods and to my community at 9:30 PM Eastern on the 30th of January, celebrating my thus far successful efforts to bring greater balance into my life, and the start of what looks to be a challenging, but rewarding, journey in this faith.

The timing… feels right. I’ve come so far, albeit it in so little time. I’ve changed so much as an individual, almost entirely for the better, and feel fulfilled for the return of a spiritual facet to my existence. I’ve felt welcomed into the House as a family member, become more involved with rituals, helped with ongoing projects, received and provided support in times of trouble.

Granted, I also know that there are greater challenges still to come. An upcoming scan related to a past health scare looms heavy on my mind, as does a drastic, but necessary, shift in my career. Taking this step feels like I’m grounding myself, planting my feet in a solid stance and digging in to face the oncoming storm, full well knowing that the best way to get through it may be to let myself ride its winds.

I am ready. As the daughter of strength and beauty, as a member of a network of kindred spirits spread across the globe, I am ready.

(Belated!) PBP Fridays 2013: A is for Arranging Sacred Space

Happy to say I’m participating in the Pagan Blog Project 2013 event! Off to a bit of a late start, but I’m sincerely hoping that jumping into this right at the beginning of the year will prove ample inspiration to keep it going.

As a member of the Kemetic Orthodox faith, a major portion of my spiritual practice revolves around my shrine. While kneeling before this space, I perform both the official state ritual of senut (click here for an excellent summary of the rite at Shrine Beautiful) when I can, and various other forms of worship and prayer based on my own inclinations and research on days when my various health concerns preclude the full rite. However I choose to interact with Netjer, my time “in shrine” allows me to remove myself from the worries and concerns of my day-to-day existence. I light a candle, and in the flickering light I am brought into a new day, a new space unto itself. I light incense and the smoke drifts upwards and fades, the scent is wholly unique from that which is secular, and my heart is lifted with it away from the profane. I offer cool water and bread and refresh my gods as well as my own spirit with the eventual reversion of these life-sustaining items. Thus seemingly transported, I can look to the statues, paintings, jewelry and other items laid out in my sacred space and find inspiration for music, poetry, essays, or personal meditation.

In achieving all of this, my Kemetic shrine creates a place which is distinct from the rest of my life, and as such, the space itself deserves to be well planned. Yet it is easy to lose sight of this sort of organization. I find many fascinating things in my travels; in the moment a new icon seems like it will add something unique to my shrine’s collection. Gods know I am guilty of “shiny object” syndrome, and over the course of two years of collecting and creating my shrine was beginning to show the results. Though full of beautiful objects, many of them gifts, my focus was pulled in too many different directions. Gods were represented in several different ways, some contradictory, and though it brought me pleasure, it did not provide me with a specific direction for my creativity or contemplation.

So today, my first day home since the start of the calendrical New Year, I completely reorganized my shrine with the goal of creating a space dedicated to the concept of Balance. This issue has been a constant one in my life: balancing personal happiness with the happiness of others, balancing career with creative activities, balancing health with perfectionism and achievement. I was not surprised when this was the message my akhu brought to the fore during the akhu divination before my RPD, speaking to me through a reading called “ma’a.” It’s something I’ve always struggled with, and only recently have even begun to take the steps, make the necessary changes, to put my health and joy as priorities equal to my work and the needs of those around me.

Here is what I came up with–

First, the Shrine space itself:

The items required for a Kemetic Orthodox shrine include the candle, the incense holder, and something in which to place offerings of food and drink. Granted, my shrine cloth is red, rather than the traditional white, but given that I have two solar deities, a goddess of love and passion, and the Red Lord Himself in my line-up, They would have it no other way!

I have personally chosen to create space for four candles. In part, this is in acknowledgement of the significance of the number four to my faith. My sibling Emky writes, “To the ancient Egyptians, four was the number of completion, and we see it everywhere – the four directions, the four winds, duality x duality; five is four plus one, “perfection plus something to oversee it.” (From “About Kemetic Orthodoxy“). One is often asked to wait four days before making important decisions related to membership, and as a personal ritual act, I sometimes set aside four days for prayer and consideration in shrine before making an important choice, lighting one candle on the first day, two on the second, and so on until coming to a decision on the fourth.

I am currently looking for new items on which to place offerings. The mug and plate, with their shifting, autumnal leaves, once represented change — something my spiritual Father, Set, taught me not to fear in one of our earliest lessons. When I find something more appropriate for the concept of Balance, I will replace them.

Many Kemetic Orthodox choose to place images of their divined Family (to learn a bit more about the Rite of Parent Divination, try this post by Shukheperas’ankhi) in their shrine as well. I was divined the daughter of Set and Bast, beloved of Heru-wer and Hethert-Nut. I have placed matching statues of my Parents on an elevated space in the center of the shrine, with smaller statues of Heru-wer (admittedly represented with an image of Heru-akhety) and Hethert (wearing a Nut shen, a gift from my sibling, purchased from Inibmutes) on either side.

The placement of all four is deliberate: Set and Heru-wer stand beside each other representing the balance of the Bawy. Explaining the dual relationship that defined this entity, Sarduriur writes, “Sutekh [Set] and Heru-Wer are often shown together in Egyptian art, throughout various periods in history. They are complements, not adversaries. They demonstrate the unity of the State, as well as cosmic balance and harmony. Symmetry was not only a concept of aesthetic importance to the  Egyptians; it was a concept which carried profound theological significance” (From “Why do you worship Sutekh?“)

Bast and Hethert-Nut stand beside each other as complements of day and night, Bast as an Eye of Ra, the sun itself, Hethert-Nut as the vastness of the (usually) night sky and its multitude of stars. More generally, there is also a balance of male and female, symmetry in gendered representation.

A few special items I’ve yet to mention. First, Heru-wer carries a necklace made for me by Emky. Each component of the necklace has meaning related to Heru-wer, and His relationship with His brother Set. I want it out and visible because Heru-wer remains the Name I know the least about. Every time I am in shrine, I hold the necklace and consider its structure and form. I use it as an impetus to think about my most enigmatic Beloved, in the hopes that we will grow closer. Second, there is a small, beaded, blue-purple container resting in front of Hethert-Nut. One of the tasks She has charged me to complete is to write a goal for the month on a slip of paper, and place it in that jar. Every time I am in shrine, I unfold it, read it aloud, and then replace it. At the end of the month, I read it one last time, burn it, and while it is being absorbed by the flame I consider how successful I was at achieving said goal. It’s a little bit of positive heka (very roughly: empowered speech) to help encourage me to take on my personal challenges.

Finally, I also have a painting hanging over my shrine, a gift from Emky in celebration of my Rite of Parent Divination.

The symmetry of the central figure, along with the balance amongst the four Names featured in each of the four quadrants, makes this a perfect image to reside above my shrine, mirroring many of the themes I hoped to convey in the physical shrine itself.

And with that, I believe I’ve covered, albeit briefly, everything in my new shrine layout. If you have any questions about certain choices, just let me know. I’d love to go into further detail.

I’ll conclude with a photo of the shrine as it looks when everything is lit:

Craving Community

I had a dream a few nights ago, very simple. I was attending Wep Ronpet at Tawy House, and had just arrived after an excruciatingly long drive cross-country. I walked in the door, weary but energized by my own excitement about finally getting to attend, in person, the biggest festival of the year. As soon as people saw me, they knew me and greeted me.

(Heck, they even asked me if I wanted iced tea, which amuses me to no end on further reflection. Thanks dream-friends, I really wanted that tea!)

Those who were closer with me hugged me in a fierce embrace, and then one person, laughing aloud at how overwhelmed but happy I looked, said “Welcome, daughter of Set and Bast!”

Something about being acknowledged, aloud, as the child of my Parents, and having everyone present believe it without hesitation, warmed me to my core. It was such a pleasant and unique experience to be able to fully express and live that part of my life. Share it with other people. Be known by the Names who claimed me.

And though this is hardly “proof,” I had a growing sense as the dream continued that the imagined experience was something of a gift from Netjer. Because that’s all there was to it: love, acceptance, and speaking aloud (ohai, heka!) that I was my Parents’ Child. I was completely taken aback by the strength of the sheer joy I experienced at finally being able to say such things, confidently,to my family of kindred spirits who recognized the power behind such words of acknowledgement.

I never have dreams this pleasant (almost everything I dream is nightmare-oriented) nor this simple (usually there’s something of a storyline, rather than just a snapshot experience.) However, what this dream does have in common with some of the other experiences I’ve had while sleeping is that it has stayed with me. I find my thoughts returning to it again and again during the day. I crave the opportunity to experience this sort of thing in my waking hours, and have been prowling both the Kemetic Orthodoxy boards and the Kemetic Interfaith Network in an effort to build on what digital connections I have. It ached that I missed the Lamentations for Wesir at Tawy. I’m scrabbling to find a way to attend the Midwestern “Moomas” even though I rationally know that I will be elsewhere with family on the same day it’s being held. A “Moomas” card exchange has lifted my spirits somewhat; even just the prospect of holding a physical object from another Kemetic friend cheers me. I’m also debating getting involved with several artistic projects being run by the House.

All this said, I find myself mildly amused at my own excitement at eventually getting to interact with other Kemetics in person. So much of my social life revolves around the computer, and has since I was in my pre-teens — why this sudden urge to push beyond the screen and speak, face to face, of the gods and faith that has become such a revitalizing force in my life?

We shall see what comes of this.

But what of you all? Have you had the opportunity to attend any gatherings with other Kemetics, be they of Kemetic Orthodoxy or another form of Reconstructionism? What did you do? Was it a worthwhile experience?