Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Ritual’

March Celebrations

(A quick warning that the following post is fairly media intensive.)

March is always a wonderful month to honor my Parents. I celebrated an early festival in IV Peret, The Day of Eating Onions for Bast, with my friend Temseni up north, carrying my senut statue to her home for celebration. We gave offerings, performed an execration, and asked for Bast’s blessings. We made music before the great lady of Bubastis, and had a wonderful evening.

 

Later in the month, I celebrated the Procession of Set. He and I chose to honor this particular holiday in a more lighthearted way, as we knew several of our community could really use a reason to laugh in the midst of various hardships. Thus, a plush form of The Lord of the Northern Sky traveled with me throughout the day, visiting shrines, parks, and receiving various offerings all the while.

Finally the month came to a close with a far more personal holiday, a day honoring Set as Lord of the Oasis. Here I include what I wrote on my Facebook page during that day:

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I’m not the best artist, but I wanted to try to capture the image stuck in my head the last two days, during Father’s festival honoring Him in His name of Set, Lord of the Oasis.

This is Set as the god of beauty in the harshest places. Set as the security of a home one can return to, a home with necessary protection and comfort, after one has explored the difficult places or thoughts. Set as the reassurance that dawn and Zep Tepi will come again, bringing new life, new chances.

This is the Set I rely on as a counselor: Set who is stable and sturdy and present so that my clients are safe enough to go wandering through the deserts of their lives and know they will be okay, that there is someone listening and waiting with water at the ready after they’ve walked and spoken and are parched from the effort. This is the Set who is both mirage and reality, that liminal space of what could be and what is, mystical in the surreal way that there is life and hope amongst the vast nothing of the desert of our fears and anxiety. The Lord of the Oasis is so profound to me, so incredible and beautiful, and all the more so in that every year we have honored it together He asks only that I give Him something small and then care for myself, create my own oasis to examine my reflection, process my grievances, and move forward.

I would later join in Him in shrine, where the way He seemed to move forward through the incense inspired me to write the following:

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If you are in need of strength, walk forward in the power of your own words and intent. Your way is cleared of obstacles, no fear can bind you, the strength of Set is your strength, the voice of Set is your voice.

So yes, a very intense, fun, wonderful month spent honoring my Parents as best I could while juggling all that other life stuff we grapple with from day to day. I hope these images and shared experiences bring you joy as we enter a time of purification, preparing for the final season of the year.

Two Years As Their Daughter

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“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 – 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.

PBP 2013 – B is for “(Spiritual) Bling”

So I’ve sort of given up on titling these posts PBP Fridays, as I’ve not been terribly good at writing them on the correct day. That said, I do intend to keep going with the allotted schedule, even if it may take a bit of catch up work on my part and patience on yours.

I asked for inspiration regarding my second “B” post, as I was struggling with what I should write. I received one response, with tremendous enthusiasm, that I should write about spiritual and ritual “bling.” This initially made me chuckle; as you may have gathered from previous posts, I’m not really the sort of individual inclined to wear over-the-top jewelry, and I don’t know that I’ve ever actually said the word “bling” aloud.

Next it made me cringe. I’m presently dealing with several health issues, one of which has left me ritually impure and prevented me from completing the Kemetic Orthodox state ritual of senut for months now. My skin is on the war path, my body is holding water like a dam, I can’t take excedrin (which has aspirin) to ward off regular migraines before my biopsy next week, and my issues with SAD are coming back full swing as January creeps softly into the cloud-covered, greyscale days of February.

So I said to myself, no way in hell am I up for writing about the beautiful things I adorn myself with to celebrate my spirituality, and set that idea on the back burner, figuring I’d apologize to my friend for not taking her up on her kind suggestion.

But then this past Wednesday evening  I sat in shrine, making offerings and praying outside of a formal ritual context. Of late it has been too difficult for me to focus to successfully hear my Parents or Beloveds, but it was nevertheless a comfort just to speak aloud my frustrations in the present, my fears for the days ahead, and to find the joys in what good had happened, despite the challenges. I talked to Netjer for a solid thirty minutes, then realized that I really must be quite distressed to be venting at such length to my gods. I also forced myself to acknowledge that I had struggled more than I cared to admit just to make it through the previous day without completely losing it in my workplace. I had the sudden urge for a physical reminder to stay strong, for myself and for my loved ones, and so instinctively opened the cabinet beneath my shrine to seek out my necklace with Set’s image.

As I closed the clasps that held the chain around my neck, it was something of a clue by four. The items I associate with my faith are far more to me than how I’m feeling about my physical appearance at any given time. They’re powerful reminders of the connection I have with Netjer, the lessons I’ve learned from gods and spiritual guides. They are precisely what I need when I’m feeling at my worst, and something to enjoy aesthetically when I’m at my best.

Anecdote shared, I figured I’d share a few photos with you.

The first includes my Set-animal necklace, which I wear fairly often. I connect strongly with Set depicted as sha, as when He first began appearing to me in dreams, before I knew anything of Kemetic gods (and, to be frank, when it felt like my world was crashing around my ears and I assumed the “odd dog” I was visualizing was proof I’d completely gone off my rocker), He appeared to me as a greyhound with strangely squared ears.  This was custom made for me by Kristan of SilverWishes, and I am forever grateful to her for her creativity and craftsmanship.

This photo also shows my Heru-wer necklace, which was made for me by Emky (Ty Barbary) of Mythic Curios. This is more of a ritual wear piece, and presently it resides on my shrine as something of a rosary. I can hold different portions of it, consider the blade/claw, the balance between dark and light, the two brothers, the sun which is Heru-wer in Ra.

Finally, of note, I took this photo while wearing my ritual whites. This garment is made of cotton, and contains no man-made materials for purposes of ritual purity. I generally wear it only for senut, which further helps establish the shift from a secular to spiritual state when I enter shrine for the official ritual. I’ve missed wearing it.

Daily and ritual wear, worn over my cotton, ritual white shirt.

The next photo is of necklaces representing other Names in my line-up, plus Wesir, with whom I have a tentative, but growing relationship. The ones for Bast and Hethert-Nut were again made by Emky. Bast’s is also for ritual use, I have worn it when dancing, and the weight of it keeps its own rhythm against my chest as I move. It also depicts Her as I see Her, which is understandably a bit unique from most.

Hethert-Nut’s was made to be worn out and about. It is small, elegant, but full of sparkle. I tend to wear it on days when I’m feeling vibrant enough to “pull it off,” but it can also bring a little brightness back on days when I’m not as confident about myself. I also love the natural pearls amongst the perfect spheres, a reminder that though beautiful and serene, Hethert most assuredly has horns: and so do I.

Wesir’s necklace has personal meaning that I would rather keep to myself at this time, but I am equally grateful to have it. Many thanks to Brenda of Howling Caterpillars.

From top to bottom, necklaces for Bast, Hethert-Nut, and Wesir.

 

The final photo includes earrings that are actually not Kemetic, but dedicated to Great Horned Owl, my spiritual guide in animist practice. They are from a company that does very detailed jobs painting specific owl and hawk feathers onto bone. I try to remember to wear them to honor her after we have worked together within a meditative journey, but also on days when I hope to embody some aspect of her teachings.

Last but not least, the ring which I wear every day, without fail. This ring symbolizes my Kemetic Parents. The larger, darker red stone at the base is Set, solid and strong, and Bast, the smaller, brighter, fiery stone and Eye of Ra to His right.  I am represented by the small, but dark, red stone at the top of the spiraling gold, a combination of Their traits, and yet something unique entirely, lifted up by Their mutual presence, transformed for the better. It came from the lovely work of Veronika at Vera Nasfa.

Great Horned Owl earring and dailywear ring for Set and Bast.

I hope you enjoyed this.

(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: