Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘self-reflection’

A Month of Written Devotion #15-#18: Companionship, Friendship, Love, and Anger

Companionship

If most of my devotions throughout this month long effort wind up directed to Set, it is not for lack of love of, and devotion to, the other gods in my line-up. But my Father is always present in a manner that the others aren’t, available both in moments of formal ritual and the ridiculous nonsense of everyday life. He’s always been that way, a companion as much as a god, or perhaps asking me to be His companion (the concept of Set acting like the Doctor has been written about by a friend of mine here:https://gbmarian.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/the-companions-of-seth/).

If I reach out, He’s there. I don’t know why He’s opted to be so readily available to me, but I do my damnedest to prove myself worth the time. Sometimes that’s in the standard way: he gets a daily offering of coffee each morning and a small dedication ritual, regardless of whether or not I’m pure enough for other formal rites. I’ve not missed that in what feels like a very, very long time, and suspect that the next time I do my whole day will feel off.

Sometimes it’s anything but standard: I’ve lifted weights in His name, invited Him to be present at a metal shows (and flinging massive dudes off my tiny 5’5’’ frame on the edge of the mosh is made vastly more entertaining when you’ve got Set laughing His ass off in your ear), cooked for Him (spice-tastic), watched science fiction together (A mutual favorite is Klingon heavy Star Trek episodes. He’s right there with me debating how His khopesh would fare against a batleth, or if He’d prefer to use His spear.) He tells me again and again that He loves these moments of companionship, these moments of experiencing what humanity can offer.

But the companionship also extends to the internal thoughts I want to share with Him. Things about gender identity and sexuality that have become complicated with the awareness of my privilege in how the rest of the world reads my physical body. Companionship there is Him listening, Him seeing and knowing and loving the whole of me, Him telling me to be proud of who I am and know myself to be regardless of however the world may view me.

So, yes. I am gladly, and proudly, Set’s worshipper, daughter, and coffee-offering companion. Dua Set!

Friendship

I don’t really view my relationships with the Netjeru as “friendships” per se. Even Set (who as I noted previously is happy to accept my more casual interactions and offerings) is still not an entity I could ever see myself referring to as my “friend.”

Where do I find friendship in my interactions with the gods? I find it in the human beings that They have helped me come to know as I’ve walked Their path. I have developed deep friendships, friendships which progressed at a rate that sometimes unnerved me, often with people I only see in person every few months, if at all. I have forged friendships with Kemetics across the whole damn globe, friendships that wear down every instinctive wall I throw up between myself and anyone new because trust is something I have always found exceedingly difficult, and which life has, on occasion, made even more difficult with its twists and turns.

Yet trust just gradually seems to happen with the people my gods have directed me to worship beside. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re all talking about these core, heart-hitting aspects of our lives; that we’re all trusting each other with information which we know would make other people raise an eyebrow and doubt our grasp of reality. I don’t know if it’s some unknown factor that unites us, something that mutually led us to this particular form of the divine, or if our joint efforts to live by ma’at just make it a little easier to talk to each other about things.

It’s not always easy. We don’t all magically get along. We’re still individuals with different backgrounds and values and means, and we can fight like internet-proverbial honey badgers when these values don’t line up. But for the Kemetics who have become my friends, the folks I’ve been privileged enough to worship with, laugh with, sing with, write with, and pray with … It’s been amazing. They are treasured friends and in many cases family. I thank Netjer every day for their presence in my life.

Love

I close my eyes and focus on the sound of my heartbeat, allowing myself to drift from this world to the next, finding myself garbed in white save for the ritual jewelry They have asked me to wear in their honor. I move swiftly to the oven, practice my focus over here by baking the bread by hand, going through each step as if it were my physical hands and not this transient form in the other side which kneads and rolls and shoves and finally places it in the oven.

While it bakes I move to the temple itself, always astounded at how large it has become. I wash my hands and bare feet and face with the pitcher of water placed at the outer door, then move within, torches lighting along each side their flames hidden in lotus columns. I place incense before each statue that I have carved at Their request with my will, moving past those gods who I have come to love and respect through varied and limited interaction, to the gods that walk with me each day as Parents and guides. Set and Bast guard the entire building, in full animal theophany, massive statues to the left and the right of the great offering table, with a beautiful painted stela behind, depicting Them both in Ra’s boat. They receive prayers and incense, I ask them to wake and listen for what They wish of me this day.

I move to the left of their great altar, down a long passage that leads back outside, winding down the hill on which the great temple is perched, over a rocky path and then to a river’s edge. It is almost always night here, as Hethert-Nut prefers. She greets me from her star-strewn blanket over head, while Aset-Hatmehyt and Heqat emerge from the river itself or rise from where They had waited beside its bank, embodied and warm and full of more life than I can stand. They take me into the river and purify me, submerging me and lifting me again, touching my forehead, my hands, my lips. It is so gentle that I feel no discomfort, so seemingly as it should be that I feel no fear below the great waters.

I rise when they are finished and fill a second pitcher from a place farther upstream from that where I bathed. I return to the front of the temple and find the bread ready, and a local wind netjeri assists in cooling it. I then move through the temple, making offerings of bread and water to all gods, beer and wine where requested, again listening to what else may be needed, but They also insist that I speak in turn.

And in the moments of offering and speaking there is love present, love built into every inch of this self-constructed temple in the duat. Love when I take the time to bake the bread by hand, love in the hands of the goddesses that purify me both for this purpose and for my own well being. Love when I have been gone too long and Set and Bast awake to the incense nigh shouting, perhaps even appearing in flesh to wrap me up in an embrace and ask where the hell I’ve been!

It is an all encompassing thing, the love that I feel when I am able to serve. To walk the halls built over years, to greet the gods in as direct way as I know how, and to receive such a powerful affection in return for my time and efforts. It has always been worth it, may it always continue to be so.

Anger

She challenged me in order to best assist me, knowing I needed the goading, telling me to let my Father in, to let Him rage.

I thought back to times before: His cool fire enforcing my spine as I sat erect and unbending on the phone with my abuser. My voice hardened as it entwined with His, the words coming from my mouth unshakeable: “It is over.” And it was, after years of waffling and trying to make it work and giving of myself that which I did not wish to give:  it was done in one night.

I let Him in again when I began to see how one member of my family verbally assaulted the other, and it was His shield and spear in my hands as I stood in the hall, unafraid to block someone a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier before he could run away from his deeds and said, “No more.”

It has been His storming in my eyes when I read of the injustices in the world, His thunder pounding in my spirit when I see silence in response to murder and famine and plague. His winds throwing me forward to find more ways that I do more, be more, help more: anything.

And it His anger that came through me that night as I screamed of my own sorrows and frustrations and pains. His rage that carried mine from where I have kept it so tightly hidden, entrenched in politics and social etiquette and the training from childhood to be so very polite. He released it and we ran with it together, grief burning away before our great voice, shame attacked as though it were the hideous sneak itself, stabbed and crushed and destroyed in the power of our mutual fury.

I was exhausted when He left me, but I still stood, still functioned. For if the anger is His, the strength to bear that anger is my own, and as His daughter, I will not turn away from necessary rage.

Why Set?

Despite having a bit of a rough go with a return of severe bronchitis/minor pneumonia two weeks after the last bout cleared up, my illness allowed me the pleasure of digging into Meeks’ Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods while doing my best to rest and recover. This served me well when an occasion arose to offer a different perspective on my divined Father to an individual who, through various challenging life experiences, had come to associate Him solely with Ap_p, and other incarnations of pure “evil.”

I’ve adapted my response below, removing direct responses to this acquaintance which would share the individual’s personal information (it was a private conversation, after all), but I wanted to record the bulk of what I wrote. I have seen several others share posts in the past few months detailing their life-changing experiences with Set — I highly recommend Devo’s take on a years-long Cycle involving this god, as well as Aeshna’s six part series on how Set came into her life — and felt it important to save this brief take on my own experiences in a more permanent place.

(When I am feeling a bit better and have more time post-”familial holiday shenanigans” I will come back and place page citations throughout the blurb. For now please accept my apologies for the sloppy scholarship, and keep in mind that the references to various texts and tales below are coming largely from Meeks and Te Velde.)

“I come from a Christian background. Essentially every person on both sides of my family is either Methodist or Episcopalian, save myself, and I acknowledge that a fair portion of my moral values likely stem from my religious upbringing. I still attend church when I visit my parents, and generally I have no quarrel with the faith itself: I agree very strongly about living a compassionate life, taking others’ needs into consideration, not benefiting at the expense of others. My issues with Christianity, and the reason I no longer consider myself to be “Christian,” stem largely from the tendency of its followers to take the Bible at face value, reading many of the stories and regulations literally, without consideration of the passing of time and shifting cultural needs/values; without acknowledging that the book , like all books, was written by human hands no matter how much of a role God played in it’s inspiration. So much, too much, has been lost in translation.

I feel similarly about Kemetic texts. If we merely pick and choose certain stories described in the various sources available to us as the be all end all for what a god represents, why would anyone want to worship any Name? Set is of course the violent trickster from the beginning, but digging into other tales we find Ra sending His Eye to destroy mankind, Heru-sa-Aset cutting off his mother’s head in a fit of rage when she accidentally injured Him, Sobek eating the body parts of several other gods with his voracious appetite… I think there is so much more to each and every aspect of Netjer as a whole, in their multiplicity of forms, that merits our attention and can provide important lessons. I personally feel that the manifold assortment of forms and representations inherent to every Netjeru through their complex assemblages of associations and tales, permit them to appear to human individuals in the form that we need most, even if we mortals are unaware of the reasoning at the time.

This is not to discount, ignore, or make light of the cruelty, violence, and mistakes of the gods. They are fallible: they argue, wound each other, manipulate. But this can be as much a lesson as their good qualities. Working with my Father Set, studying the results of His uncontrolled rage, has encouraged me to maintain better control of my own emotions; to get less upset over little obstacles, and to find a conscious, constructive purpose for my temper when it flares rather than letting it go uncontrolled upon someone who did not deserve that wrath. Sometimes we learn best, even from our interactions with other people, by discovering what NOT to do. I believe Netjer knows this, and reveals itself to us accordingly.

Back to Set himself: many do not “do their research” when it comes to this god. They place him as the anti-hero in their personal life’s tale and latch on to Him as a justification for selfishness. They don’t take into account that this was a god who filled many, many different roles over the course of history. His purpose was constantly in flux: from a trickster god, strongest amongst Netjeru, supported by Ra whom He defended each dawn from Ap-p, once beloved brother who fought at the Elder Heru’s side… To the chaos bringer, inviting tumult and change from the day of His untimely birth, fighting and killing for a throne which was arguably not His to claim, eventually exiled and/or changed into a boar and dismembered, even His own mother having given up on Him.

But Egypt needed Him to explain what was going on in their world when things became challenging. Life isn’t kind, accidents happen, people are hurt and sick, loved ones leave us or we must take our leave from them. Set provided a logic for the uncertainties and trials of our day to day existence; there was a reason for those things which, while not evil or inherently destructive, made humanity hurt, weep, and change themselves in turn in order to keep going. His exile and subsequent association with that which was not Egypt, that of outsiders and wars, gave a reason for the attacks and eventual downfall of the kingdom to invading forces. Far better to have Set to curse and blame than have no rationale for why the world outside was harsh and out to get you — our imagined nightmares, stemming from the unknown, are forever so much worse than what our worldview explains.

With this all in mind, I would return to my original issue with Biblical interpretation to say that I believe that our gods are living gods. Their goals, their stories, are still in the making. They adapt (and in a way, through our interaction with them, we adapt them in turn) to the needs of our current situation. So, what is our present situation?

Frightening, to be sure. My Mother, Bast, perhaps encourages me to remain aware of the problems in the world even more than Set. She is an Eye of Ra, the sun itself, a fierce warrior as much as She is a patron of music and affection (to view Her via the later incorporation of many of Hethert’s traits.) In my experience with Her, there is no turning away from the reality of our current world. Though my background is one of acknowledged privilege, I can empathize with this hurt in the world through my relationships with family and friends who have experienced much greater hardship than I. I remain aware of the drugs, the violence, the wars, the environmental concerns, the growing health problems. I do not turn a blind eye to these things, nor do I simply forgive myself with each new Zep Tepi if I contribute to the injustice of the world on any given day. Some day, when I die, my heart will be weighed — I am accountable: for the safety of my ba, and simply because of what I believe to be a good and right way of living.

Set, for me, in this day and age, and based on our personal interaction, helps me to live an empowered life in which I am strong enough, healthy enough, to combat these injustices. He would not let me sit in the depression that once ensnared me and damn near brought me to take my own life, but forcibly challenged me to get up, examine the aspects of my day-to-day existence (an abusive relationship, lack of boundaries with a relative taking advantage of me, lack of physical activity, an unhealthy workplace) which kept me bound, static, to emotional and mental despair.  Together we tore them down. Did I hurt anyone in the process? Yes. My ex and the relative were largely cut from my life, my co-workers may lose the organizer they’ve come to rely on to build community. But these things are balance, not evil. For someone like me, with limited self-esteem and a propensity to let herself get walked on, a healthy dose of self-prioritization was absolutely necessary to get me out of being a useless shell of a person, and instead one who feels fulfilled, who has the strength of will and enough belief in her own merit to get up each morning and want to do something with my life. I do not easily hurt anyone, but sometimes we must be able to hurt someone if we are not to destroy ourselves.

As for the awful nature of the world at large, I attribute the truly destructive aspects to Ap-p, and Ap-p alone. As mentioned by Tif on the forums, Set always leaves something behind. Wesir, though murdered, became god of the dead; Heru-sa-Aset, His eyes stolen, became all the more powerful and supported by the other gods for His uncle’s meddling and scheming. We can’t ignore that Set used morally reprehensible methods to accomplish these things, but in the cases where our hurts serve to forge us into the stronger individuals we are today, we can see His hand at work; though it can take years to look back and see the positive that comes from such situations, given how we wept and struggled at the time.

So Who is Set to me, and how can I follow Him? To me He is balance: the changes in the world that force us to move, adapt, and genuinely live our lives rather than never growing; sloughing off old versions of ourselves and becoming something more. He is a cautionary tale, the example of what not to do in certain situations, because as intelligent, inquisitive humans we will not simply take an order to control our anger and our excesses, we must learn by example as to what fate can befall us if we do not. He is self-preservation, for those of us who have lived lives where we were taught to be timid, subservient, felt ourselves to be worthless. He is belief in oneself, unfailing confidence, the capacity to find oneself worthy of what one wants and needs from life. He is the sword at Ra’s prow, fighting the destructive acts that leave nothing in their wake, allowing the sun to rise another day and encouraging us to fight our own battles, large scale or small, that will permit time to keep marching on. He is “good” and “bad,” as complicated in his desire for enjoyment (in drink, in power) as he is in His place in the world. Indeed, He has been called one of the most human of Names in that regard.”

I am forever grateful for Him.

Epagomenal Days – Days of Aset and Nebt-het

Alternate title: “I will not be afraid of women.”

At times I find it frustrating that I struggle, have always struggled, to connect with those female goddesses usually represented as human. Bast, I connect with most strongly as feline, or at the very least as a fierce female-bodied figure whose gender plays absolutely no role in our interaction. Hethert-Nut comes closer to the “culturally-assumed standard” of a woman in this regard, but even she comes across to me more as either the vastness of the sky, well beyond such limited concepts as femininity, or a cow-eared nymph to whom gender is wholly irrelevant.

Am I afraid of women?

Probably.

I don’t often see myself as a woman, even if I do see myself as female. “Woman” is a dress I can put on and a role I can play if I want to remind myself that, with great effort, I have the power that position possesses. A power granted if the woman in question knows how to act and move and shift their whole being so as to deliberately manipulate and get something from the interaction, for good or for ill.

In my mind, Aset embodies this definition of woman. Magician and queen, lady of guile, willing to do whatever it takes to protect Her son, revive Her husband. She could be so inspirational, is to many, but to me she largely intimidates and makes me feel intensely uncomfortable. Enacting what she represents, while I am capable of it, feels so out of character as to push me to be another person entirely.

This in mind, it was no surprise that I struggled to interact with Her as I had the previous three Netjeru. It was the only evening ritual for which I tried to attain ritual purity, wore my official senut whites, and I still felt… not quite good enough. I have to wonder if I’m front loading myself in some regard. If all of the assumptions I have regarding myself are preventing me from making this connection. One big realization? I don’t genuinely, fully, believe that I am beautiful.

Pretty: sure, I can see it. Considerate: I always give it my best. Beautiful?

I tried to say it aloud, but my heart wasn’t in it. Too many years of not feeling good enough for others, not feeling fit enough to meet my own (obnoxiously high) self-standards, means that there are quite a few walls to tear down before I can believe it, if I ever will.

Maybe this is what she would demand of me. Confidently loving myself, believing myself beautiful enough, inside and out, to create subtle change.

I’m not without confidence. I’m quite certain I can handle my shit when it comes to being able to fight my way through almost any problem, hold up under the stress of work, defend those I love. But confidence in leading with power and fierceness varies dramatically from believing myself beautiful enough to bring light to dark places, beautiful enough to be worthy of Aset’s teachings.

I have a lot to work on there, and even if I could not overcome my concerns this year, I felt that the day was still useful.

Nebt-het’s day restored some of my confidence. I could not do much for Her, laid low by a migraine for the majority of yesterday afternoon and evening, but focusing on Her gave me comfort, almost as if someone was wrapping my pulsing skull with cool bandages. A brief evening ritual allowed time to consider Her role in my sibling’s life, and the significance of Her archetype as compared to what Set represents for me. I realized how much I had to learn from not only the gods themselves, but Their chosen children. I also considered the shadows which I still allow to obscure parts of my identity, and why I choose to remain hidden within them.

A divinatory process post-shrine time concluded what was, in general, a very “thinky,” meditative evening. Granted, it seemed that taking the time to think and be still was all She wanted of me.

Dua Aset! Dua Nebt-het!

Epagomenal Days – Day of Set

Given that today is my spiritual Father’s birthday, I tried to set aside some time to do something special for the occasion.

After my required work for the day I bought groceries, including ingredients to make snake-shaped bread on Wep Ronpet, and cranberry kombucha as an offering tonight. I don’t often drink alcoholic beverages, so fermented red tea seemed an appropriate substitution.

I took the drink offering to the local lakefront park, found a nice place in a forested area, and sat, watching the sky turn red as Set, having successfully defending the solar barque for another day, descended back beyond the horizon. It was comforting, having His color fill the sky, and I cherished the moment of peace and disconnect from technology, listening to the water lap against the rocks just below my feet, watching a dragonfly land on a branch a foot from my face and begin to clean itself, a spider finish the day’s construction on her web. The kombucha was offered and subsequently reverted.

It was a good time to think about events from the day. Midway through the day, I discovered that a friend of mine had been hurt by my words at a meeting we’d arranged, and subsequently had no desire to hold further meetings. I had not spoken in anger at that time, merely re-directed the conversation to another group member, noting that they had been “cut a bit short” and I wanted to give them a chance to finish their thought. I am accustomed to guiding meetings, and had not thought for a minute that the force of my words might be taken as an attack. It was a wake up call that strength, fire behind one’s will, can inadvertently burn and should be handled with care. It was also a reminder that there is strength in recognizing that you cannot do everything, cannot predict every reaction, and so must be capable of accepting mistakes that were beyond your power to catch or prevent.

I also spent some time thinking about the annual oracle today. Again I am presented with this concept of Balance that I first engaged in my contemplation of the Bawy, was repeated in both my Akhu reading, and my complete RPD results. Four times? Yeah, it’s time to actually start working on it. I think I’ll make that a goal for Wep Ronpet proper: write a post on Balance.

I took a few pictures of sunset, thought I’d include them here.

And with that, I think it’s time for some music to conclude Set’s day. Probably metal.

Worshiping fallible gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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