Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Set’

A Month of Written Devotion #1 – Who

So over on tumblr, there has been a project for the month of July to write daily devotionals to gods/spirits of your choice, based on this list of prompts. I’m starting this several days late, but am still determined to give it a shot, and will be posting my responses both on my tumblr and my blog. The prompt works rather perfectly timing-wise in terms of getting back into regular creative offerings right up to the point of my celebration of Wep Ronpet. I’m also hoping it will be a solid way of getting me involved in writing about any sort of spiritual matters again after being eaten by The Weddening (which was lovely, but kind of all-consuming: Italian cultural expectations for weddings – they are a Big Thing!) as well as health stuff, the new job and grad school. It feels like the right time to reconnect with my gods and my spiritual community.

So here goes, prompt #1:

Who - Deity, spirit or chosen devotion for the month

I tried to choose between the five deities who I honor each day in my daily rituals, spending entirely too much time this morning weighing the benefits of focusing on those Who are closest to my heart versus those Who I still wish to come to better understand and connect with. I came to the realization that perhaps a choice was not necessary: I may not write about all five of Them each day, but all five matter deeply to me, and perhaps it would serve me well to write not only about Them as individuals, but the complex ways in which They interact with me and with each other.

With that in mind, a brief introduction the five gods of my spiritual family.

Set: My Father, my strength, my partner in stubborn, unyielding determination and my daily visitor over early morning coffee. He is the fire behind my eyes, my unwillingness to back down from any challenge. He is what keeps me going when my own health fails, He is what inspires me to reach out to others and lend them what of my flame I can. Set shows himself to me as the Set of the North, He wears the Red Crown, makes use of the ideas and gifts of those from outside lands. He knows the benefits that come from those who are different, and He protects Them.

Bast: My Mother, my heart, my teacher in self-care and compassion and my nightly prayer of gratitude at the end of each day for all that is good in my life. My lady of mindfulness, She walks the world with eyes wide open to truly see and experience all that living can reveal. She is the earth in my step, the groundedness that pulls me back to reality. She is the soul to my music, the rhythm of my heart translated into song and dance and beauty. Bast shows herself to me as the Lady of Bubastis, celebrated with sistrum and dance, but also the Defender of Ra, blades in hand to cut down the snake. She is fierce and knowing, wise and full to the brim with life.

Heru-Wer: My general, my instructor, my Beloved reminder of the importance of the physical body in the midst of all else. He is distant from me most days, but appears at the most critical of moments to demand greater care of my physical form when I have neglected it. He is heat that balances Set’s cold anger, when I have been attacked, the conscientious reminder to find my own role in what has gone awry. But He is also the partner and lover of my next Beloved, and it is in this role that I have started to feel safer with Him, more willing to reach out.

Hethert-Nut: My joy, my laughter, my beautiful lady who dances across the night sky and asks me to join Her by abandoning my fear. She is always present, in a vast, all-encompassing way that needs no bodily form, though She can just as easily appear to me as the mind-blowingly beautiful woman with the ears of the cow, naked save for celestial skin, ready to wrap me up in the fiercest, most comforting hug one could ever imagine. Hethert-Nut often leans more towards the first portion of her syncretic nature, joining Heru-wer as consort and lover, counseling me in my own marriage. She teaches me to redefine what the  concept of feminine means for me, and to embrace its power, regardless of how it does or does not align with how others may view that role.

Heqat: My Grandmother, my spirit, my counselor who has asked me to become a counselor for others in turn. She is ancient in a way that extends into concepts of time that my brain cannot wholly fathom, yet so very present and adoring of each tiny, mortal life that comes into Her hands as midwife. She shows herself to me as Khnum’s partner at the potter’s wheel, imbuing life not only to those yet to be born, but to those who have lost the ability to live in their current day-to-day existence. She reaches to them, seeks to help them guide themselves a little closer to that energy of living, loving, and creating ma’at in the world. She tasks me with this in turn, such as I am.

I adore Them all, and look forward to writing more about Them.

A Modern Holy Month: Miew Khem

Two days prior to this past Friday, February 13th, I found myself reading through G.B. Marian’s recent blog update regarding The Holy Month of Miew Khem (or “Black Cat”). It’s well worth reading through his thorough explanation of this time, held sacred by the members of the LV-426 Tradition, which takes place between the rare occurrence of two consecutive Friday the 13ths. Marian’s group considers this time significant for, “…celebrating (1) the positive results of killing Osiris and (2) the marriage of Seth to Ishtar and Anath (as any of our normal Friday the 13th rituals would be); it’s also a time for (3) experiencing some major initiatory event.”

Though personally identifying as Kemetic Orthodox in terms of tradition, my spiritual path has benefited greatly through participation in reconstructionist-based, revivalist and modern rituals, as well as practices specific to my particular branch of Kemeticism and those from the wider Kemetic, polytheist, and general pagan communities. With this in mind, it was surprising, but not uncomfortably so, that the concept of the month of Miew Khem grabbed me almost immediately, with that sort of palpable force that many of you may be familiar with. The one that translated into words would go something along the lines of, “Hold on to your hat, kid, we’re in for a bumpy ride.” I sought permission from G.B. to participate (initially uncertain if this was something other-Set-worshipping folks could join in on) and upon receiving permission continued about my Wednesday, full of thoughts of the past and curiosity towards the future: namely what that impending WHOOMPH feeling was going to translate to come Friday.

Regarding the past, I’ll just share what I wrote in response to the initial blog post about Miew Khem, as it sums it up fairly well:

“[Your post] got me thinking back to what I was doing around this time in 2009, and I admit, I… was somewhat blown away at the realization. I don’t honestly remember all that much of the details of what happened during that month. I was in my junior year of college, I was at the lowest point that depression has yet to take me in my life, but this was… legitimately when it all hit critical mass. I wound up leaving school for a week at the end of February after almost doing something drastic, spontaneously fled … to be with my sibling Tenu, got off all the medications that seemed to have made things so much worse (for me) and in the midst of the vast red mountains, took an oath to whatever gods/spirits may be (I was too low to believe in anyOne specifically at this point) that I would do whatever it took so as to never scare and hurt my family so deeply again, even if I couldn’t see reason enough just yet to take these steps for myself.”

Initiatory? Yes. Messy as hell? Yes, again. Worth acknowledging as an incredibly significant moment in my life?

Absolutely.

With that in mind, I had intended for this Miew Khem to be about celebrating how far I’ve come since the prior occurrence of this month. I wished to honor how Set showed up roughly two years later and helped/forced (either verb would be accurate!) me to make drastic changes in my life that led me to become the healthier, stronger, more independent person I am six years on. I wished to acknowledge how Bast stayed with me through all of it, shifting through various forms that my mind could make sense of from childhood on, guarding and guiding through the turbulence of adolescence and my early twenties, and finally revealing herself as who She truly is once I was ready. Wednesday evening and much of Thursday I started to pull together plans for a personal ritual that would accomplish just this.

The celebration was put on hold come Friday 13th.

A brief note here before I continue: I am about to share some relatively personal information on what I know to be a public blog. I will avoid specific details, but I have made the decision to share the general gist of what occurred because I believe that mental health is something that is not discussed frequently enough in my part of the world and that abuse is not something the victim should be made to feel ashamed of or for. I also believe that sharing some of this is significant for my own well being, part of the process of acknowledging it, making it part of my reality. If this bothers or triggers you, I respect that and do not wish to harm anyone with my words. Please stop reading now.

Friday the 13th, I had scheduled a counseling appointment for myself. As someone who is in training to be a counselor, I had previously recognized that I had some unresolved issues from my past, things that fed into my experiences back in 2009, and knew that I needed to work on these things in order to be an effective helping professional for my clients.

My counselor, after hearing my story regarding this prior relationship, wanted me to admit that I was a survivor of physical and emotional abuse. I denied it. Defended the other party in question. Explained why I deserved much of what had happened, minimized the severity of it, claimed that I had not gone through enough to merit the “title” of abused. My counselor pressed me, kept showing me the truth of it, metaphorically holding the mirror up to my own face and making me took a good, long, look at myself.

I finally relented. Spoke the words that would begin the process of acknowledging that this had indeed happened to me, that it was not merely an unhealthy relationship but something worse, something that had warped my perception of my self-worth, something that had led me to do things, give things, I had not wanted to do or to give.

I made it home, and then I broke. For the next several days I was utterly useless to the friends and family I love. Grieving for something I’d known but had gotten by in not acknowledging. Angry but too exhausted to express that anger. I mostly hid in my apartment with my partner, reaching out only to him and to my sibling. I used Monday to force myself out into the world again, knowing that the evening would see me in class again, the following morning back in the office. I had to function, I had to find a better balance between wallowing in this new reality, the endless repetition of “how could I” and “why did I” needing some relief in the form of self-care and strength, even if that strength was somewhat forced.

Meeting the necessity of various obligations got me moving: class, work, online meetings, and finally — shrine.

I was not up to the festival I’d planned, when I finally managed to light candles and incense. I said the words of the senut ritual and then I just sat there, exhausted and not really wanting to be doing the rite. I felt dirty. I felt stained. I felt… abused.

“Sing.” Came the voices of several gods, “Sing our songs.”

I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if I could. But They kept asking, and so I did, working through the lyrics for Heqat, Hethert-Nut, Heru-wer, Bast, and finally Set. I started in on one of Set’s songs but He abruptly cut me off.

“Not that one. The first one.”

I was surprised — His opinion of my music has always been one largely of mild amusement. He appreciates the gesture but isn’t so… picky as Bast or Hethert-Nut, who’ve more direct associations with that sort of worship. So if He actually had a preference for once, I’d listen. I refocused, shifting my headspace from the fierce “Daughter of the Storm” chant to the low ballad of “Dua Set.” I sang the first verse, the chorus, the second verse, chorus again, then headed into the bridge:

“Tear me apart, challenge my soul. / I must be broken that I might yet be whole.”

I promptly choked back the rush of emotion that flooded me. I was and am so very broken. Less so today than on that initial recognition of the 13th, but still aching, still tender in spaces I’ve not explored for the better part of five years. It hurts in ways I can’t fully express to go delving back into my past, ways I don’t want to express, because I hate the rawness of it, hate the showing of those weak spaces, hate the tears that once earned me such harsh critique. Sekhmet pulled the depths of it from me once in a semi-public setting and oh how I burned with the shame of it. I do not like to cry at all. I absolutely abhor crying in front of damn near anyone else.

I couldn’t even fully cry then, in front of Set. I almost did, I almost am now, remembering the moment. He showed me in the lyrics from my own hand that I need to let it out, probably at some point fairly soon, but it may take a god again to haul it from me. Every time I try to release… whatever this weight at the pit of me is, there’s a wall. If I could just get past that, I think He would be willing to take it from me. I think Bast would too as She was there, less tangible but still present, an external wave of concern and acceptance of the mess that I struggled with and subsequently contained after the initial wave.

How do I do this? Where do I go with this? I’m so… lost again. Lost in a time that I was initially so happy to celebrate for all the good that I’ve found. Perhaps this is the true spirit of the month, the not knowing, the challenge and the change. I am doing my damnedest to honor that spirit, but gods above and below, it is so, so very hard.

On the Significance of Nomes – Part 1

I was recently telling a few friends that I genuinely believe that my gods enjoy the city of Pittsburgh.

I have quite a few reasons for this, many relating to the general culture of the place and the nature of the people who live here. Yet perhaps the point of most significance is this: we know how to appreciate and love a river. In fact, we know how to appreciate three.

duquesne-incline-pittsburgh-pennsylvania-5982962649-800x532

We do, of course, lack a sea into which any of these rivers might flow, creating a notable dearth of anything akin to a delta, but we have our three rivers and by the gods, our city is defined by them. From its industrial past where the rivers served as an ideal means of transport for the steel and other commodities produced within massive factories, to the cleaned up shores of the present day which serve as a rare example of how humanity can reverse the damage inflicted by careless pollution if they set their minds to it. I feel my primary gods as being deeply present here, in this space that appreciates its waterways as part of its livelihood and very spirit, in a way that I never could when I first met them in the purely urban sprawl of downtown D.C. This is not Their land, nor would I try to argue that the gods of Kemet are likely to truly prefer one foreign place over another, but I welcome them to it whole heartedly and take pleasure in finding that they seem pleased to stay for a brief time in this space where Ohio, Monongehela, and Allegheny meet.

This is a highly personal, yet meaningful, interpretation. Unfortunately for my overactive mind, I tend not to be able to just sit with such things; driven by the incessant ping of “Why does this matter so much!?” I found myself looking back across the Atlantic, examining my primary gods more closely, and studying the regions where they were worshiped. This came in part from the general desire to know more about these places, but also due to my understanding of the House of Netjer’s Rite of Parent Divination (RPD). By following that link, you can read through Itenumuti’s excellent, overview of the ritual as well as a few interpretations of the significance of one’s Parent names. Yet I also view it as a replacement for modern Kemetics being unable to live within a specific Nome, or portion of Ancient Egypt where a local god (or gods) would have been primarily worshiped by the majority of the population in that area. With this in mind I set about trying to track down a region where Set and Bast’s worship might have had the potential to overlap in some significant way.

I had a few personal clues, which wound up proving helpful. First, I knew to start my search based on temples functional in the New Kingdom, as Bast, while worshiped earlier, largely rose to popularity in Her cult center of Bubastis during and after this span of time. Second, I recognized that the “Set I get” is a northern version associated with Lower Egypt. He has often appeared to me wearing the deshret (red crown) of the region, standing in stark, proud contrast to Heru-wer wearing the white Hedjet. Finally, I know that my Parents appear to me as gods working in tandem, mutual defenders of Ra, and very willing to appear to me side-by-side rather than taking anything akin to oppositional roles.

Many articles later, and I found myself looking at three cities in the Eastern portion of the Nile delta: Avaris, Tanis, and Bubastis. The former two served as strongholds for the Hyksos during the second intermediate period, who introduced their storm god Ba’al, amongst others, into the Egyptian pantheon. Ba’al was recognized as Set by the Egyptians, and eventually the two became synchronized as one deity. Yet even after the Hyksos were defeated and sent back to the North, there is strongly likelihood of some number of their population remaining, contributing to continued worship of Set in their main towns. While Set’s temples would have been destroyed during the Amarna period, some scholars seem to suggest that they were rebuilt. During the 19th and 20th dynasties, Set worship definitively continued in these spaces, with Ramesside pharaohs incorporating the Avaris populations Set-Ba’al into the Egyptian pantheon through the addition of the epithet “Son of Nut,” honoring Set as the defender of Ra throughout Egypt by reviving His Old Kingdom conceptualization as a god of strength and ferocity, and even taking His name as part of their own.

The 21st and 22nd dynasties of the Third Intermediate Period would see a shift away from the Set revival noted during the middle to late New Kingdom, though power was centralized in the city of Tanis for most of the 21st before shifting to Bubastis near the start of the 22nd. As pharaoh Shoshenq I endeavored to gain power from the city of Bast, so too did the goddess receive greater attention, rising in popularity swiftly and maintaining that popularity through to the Ptolemaic period.

Do my Parent deities ever really geographically/chronologically overlap in a significant manner?  Perhaps not directly. Is this eastern delta region an area in which they would have most likely done so, if such were remotely possible? That is my hope.

It is also my hope that such initial discoveries will lead me to understand what few, baffling connections I had previously found between the two. For example, there has to be some explanation for why a magical spell listed in Bourghouts, describing a tale in which Set must provide Horus with his true name in order to be healed of poison, would show Set taking the false name of “a jug of milk milked from the udder of Bastet,” giving what Edward Butler describes as a reflection of part of His character, but not what encompasses the whole.

As per usual, I am left with more questions than I am answers.

One final realization that I made: a little nudge that perhaps I am focusing on the right span of time (massive though it may be), was a recognition about my Shemsu name. The use of standard-bearers as regimental leaders came about as part of the reorganization of the Egyptian army under Amenhotep III during the 18th Dynasty. The primary information I’ve found regarding Set as an army Standard? Under the reign of Ramses II.

I will be continuing with this, compiling sources, and writing up a far more academic overview of the roles of my Parents in the northern Delta between 1293 BCE and 730 BCE. Again, this is a huge span of time to cover but I just… can’t stop thinking that there’s something to be learned about this. About their relation to each other, their relation to me, and maybe even our mutual relationship to the wonder of rivers.

 

 

Red Week – Days 4 through 7

I needed to sit on this final post for awhile. As I told my friend last night, in so many words, the week brought up a tremendous amount of feelings and insight for me. I’m not entirely certain I’ve come to terms with all of it, even a week after it’s all drawn to a close, and I’m also not sure of how to write about my experiences in a way that doesn’t smack of self-aggrandizement, something I generally aim to avoid. I do want to try to share some of it though, for I got so caught up in the thrill of things, the challenge of balancing prayer, personal ritual, and community efforts along side my day to day wedding planning, graduate school, and day job, that I stopped being able to share when I was actually in the thick of it.  I don’t want to let that become a reason for writing nothing, in part because I want to remember, and use those memories as a foundation for future efforts, future personal growth.

The candles and barque have been put away for some future festival, the red festival shrine cloth folded and waiting to be washed of what incense and wax escaped their holdings. The small bronze hued statue of Set, Lord of so much more than any epithet can capture, has been tucked back into my cabinet where extra icons remain. The table that burned brighter and brighter with the light of six, sacred flames has been returned to a crafting space for music, words and clay, a space of creation, with a small shrine holding images of both Set and Bast, alongside Heqat and Khnum who watch over my efforts. My Father was honored here for six days. Each night as I sat with Him, He tore away obstacles, guided me to confront those things still holding me back, and helped me to see what will make me a better worshiper, counselor, leader. Now this small place of homage has been returned to a space where I can move forward, unbound, free again to add beauty to the world.

On the seventh day, I celebrated Him with seven others. We celebrated all He had done for those who followed Him, be they long time devotees who have known His ways for years, or newcomers, stepping beyond past assumptions to reach out to a god they had not yet greeted in shrine. We sang for Him, we destroyed our fears on clay pots in His name. We crafted ropes to remind us of the threads of His tail which serve as ropes for a sacred barque, and put our strengths into them that we might hold fast to such strengths in darker days. We gave Him many, many offerings; we reverted those offerings in fellowship. We returned to His shrine after night had fallen and naught but candles lit the room. We toasted Him again, and again, and again, each person present Honoring the Lord of the Red lands with strong voice and strong drink.

RedWeekMD

And we had time to sit with Him individually, as the candles burned and He remained so very present. Each had time if they chose to sit and pray by the flicker of the candle light and the passing from shadow to fire’s glow. A few of us sat with Him deep into the night, holding vigil with our thoughts and feelings even as Set held vigil over Ra on their nightly journey below the horizon.

I sat with Him by myself at one point and found it quite difficult to find words adequate to thank Him for everything He’d shown me in those past seven days. How do you thank a god for reminding you how deeply you care for a sister, and in truth, how deeply you care for your whole spiritual community? How do you express gratitude for the necessity of being bluntly shown your flaws, reminded that no matter how much work you do, things can and will go wrong and the best you can do is try to repair them after the fact? How do you find words for the clearest moment of recognition that you’ve had in four years of following a god of why He chose you, and how His influence has lead you to the professional path you’ve chosen to walk?

The answer: you don’t. There’s nothing to encompass the sheer emotional mass of it. In recognizing that, I just endeavored to share with Him the fullness of spirit I felt, the gratitude that was emanating from what felt like every fiber of my being. I believe He accepted that small offering of sorts, and I believe I felt some sense of pleasure in return, that He was proud of everyone who had worked so hard to make these things come to pass, that He enjoyed the extra time so many spent honoring Him, learning about His complex, occasionally even confounding, methods of upholding ma’at.

I know, for myself, it will take many more weeks beyond His festival, beyond even this first effort to share some of my reactions, to fully delve into everything I believe Set shared with me during His week.

…but I very much look forward to the challenge.

Dua Set! Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!

Red Week Round Up

I still owe you all a summary of what occurred during Days 4 through 7 of Red Week, and I promise that I have such a post in the works. However, my brain is still processing a number of things that took place during that span of days, trying to find words for certain emotional reactions and sorting out feelings regarding things that I researched or discussed.

Bling_Set

In the meantime, I wanted to do a quick post that highlights some of the other ways that different followers of Set joined in on Red Week celebrations. I like to think that the week brought some extra attention (and positive “PR!”) for my Father, that He was pleased with our efforts, and that those who celebrated Him learned something about the Red Lord or themselves.

 

 

 

  • G.B. Marian of LV-426 Tradition (priests of Seth-Typhon) shared photos of a new Set statue he recently purchased!

 

  • A child of Nebt-het and Hethert-Nut, Itenumuti shared zir experience learning more about Set during His week and perhaps a bit about zirself!

 

  • Kemetic Orthodox gatherings were held in Massachusetts (with Khenneferitw), Ohio (with A’aqytsekhmet), and Maryland (with myself and Heruakhetymose)!

 

These were just a few examples amongst the sculptures and drawings created, stories shared, and heka enacted in Set’s name over the past week. I remain humbled by how many chose to participate in some way, how many volunteered to pull together and make this festival a reality.

Finally, if you did something for Red Week, I’ve not mentioned it above, and you would like to see it added to this post, just let me know. :)

Dua Set! May the Son of Nut continue to walk with you and lend you His strength.

Red Week – Days 2 and 3

IMG_1446

It is Tuesday night, the end of Day Three. I sit beside my Father’s statue and struggle to find words for what I’m feeling, when two days ago I wrote with confidence about my goals for the week, and those words rang true without question.

Tonight, there is a flickering candle, transient between moments of darkness and light, and my several attempts to launch into an in-depth analysis of the past days’ events have all felt hollow.

I focus beyond words.

There is an ache in my back from additional hours spent before a screen, organizing, planning, making foolish mistakes and trying to fix them. There is a tension in my shoulders and neck from nerves relating to a new graduate program, and a particularly trial-by-fire first day of class. There is a weight in my chest for the loved ones near and far whose mental and physical demons I cannot seem to slay, who have had less of me in the past few days than I would normally give. (There is even a tic in my eye from entirely too much caffeine in a 48 hour span!)

There is also a fierce joy beyond measure at the creative works and stories in Set’s name that have spread across my community’s forums and even a few blogs beyond. There is a boundless depth of gratitude that so many continue to lend their time, their presence, their service to this event which honors the Son of Nut. There is a reverbant thrum of excitement that a few individuals who had been gone from my community chose this week to return, perhaps because of Set’s festival, perhaps because of the New Year, perhaps because of a chance.

There is also, admittedly, a growing solidity at the core of me, summoned by the soft, firm voice that says of  my school and work and caretaking, “Yes. You have done well.”

The owner of that voice sits with me and I Him, the incense I’ve lit blowing up against His statue and back to my face.

I breathe and I am so grateful for all that has already occured and what has yet to come.

I breathe and I wish other things had happened differently, that I might have done better by my community members and our gods, both of whom I endeavor to serve.

I breathe and recognize that I cannot control whether the flame casts me in its shadow or holds me aglow.

I breathe and I think that tonight, sitting here with the One who embodies such transformations, I can accept the uncertainty.

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.

Performing Musical and Magical Utterance

music2

Singing isn’t easy. It’s often downright exhausting, depending on the length of my rehearsal or performance, and the space in which I’ve been asked to perform. I generally need some time afterwards to decompress, and use that time to think about how the singing went, what I can do to improve the next time. After one such hour of intensive one-on-one work with my vocal instructor, I sit down in a coffee shop with my tablet and begin to write out some of the important issues that arose during the day’s efforts.

My notes from that lesson look roughly as follows:

1.) E-vowel needs to be adjusted for full, open sound. Start with ah-ooh-ee to get lip positioning, use y to slide through. ”Ah”s need to be brighter, but careful not to go too bright. Avoid the nasal, lift the soft palate, open the mouth fully.

2.)  Significance of pronunciation does not need to be hyper-realized, can be understood even if consonants are not so harsh, don’t cut off your air to over-emphasize the text. Ride the breath, get the sense of up and over the note, place the voice on it, keep it out of the throat, and don’t let it fall down when shifting between vowels.

3.) Too much mental focus on the minute things I’m singing, and how I’m singing them. Intonation stays stable when I stop thinking and just let myself go after establishing the initial intent.

Set is present across the table from me, sipping the coffee I offered as per usual when we go to this cafe. He watches me write, lets me mentally run some of the concepts past Him with the occasional nod, but looks progressively more and more amused as I poke and prod at each idea individually and consider how to improve upon it.

“You do realize you are writing yourself a how-to regarding spoken heka, right?”

I raise a mental eye-brow. “It’s 17th and 18th century opera, Father. I know I’ve written about heka and music before, but this is fairly specific to an Italian, Baroque cultural frame work.”

“Think about it when you next practice.”

“…You’re pulling your ‘Great of Voice’ title on me again.”

“Absolutely.”

So I humored Him, having learned that my Father is not one to be deterred from nearly any matter He brings up, and came back to the list with a fresh eye a few days later. I explored the ideas I’d written out through my vocal practice that day, and realized that maybe there was something to His initial suggestion. In three main areas — pronunciation, breath, and intent — there genuinely seemed to be some significant cross-over. Lessons from my vocal training could, perhaps, also be of use in my study of heka.

Pronunciation

I struggle with pronunciation at times in my voice lessons. My vowels retain traces of my heritage, a “Balmer” Maryland nasality touched with the extra “r”s of Midwesterners who “warsh” their hands. I practice for hours to appropriately open my vowel sounds for romance languages or to fluidly combine them for German vowels with umlauts and schwas. The accuracy of pronunciation matters a great deal to me. It must be correct if I am to effectively convey the language I am trying to sing, if I am going to accurately share with my audience the meaning behind the text, and if I am going to prove myself a knowledgeable and worthwhile singer to those listening who may fluently speak the language I am trying to share.

With this in mind, it was fairly intriguing to me that in her book on Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch writes:

Spells had to be distinguished from everyday speech, so they were usually chanted or sung rather than simply spoken. The exact pronunciation of many of the words was important, particularly cryptically written words that claimed to be the secret names of gods and demons. This knowledge was presumably passed down in oral tradition. The Graeco-Egyptian papyri sometimes mention the tone of voice in which divine names are to be pronounced. In one Hermetic text, the deified Imhotep explains that ‘the very quality of the sounds and the intonation of the Egyptian words contains in itself the force of the things said.’ (68)

I had to laugh as I related this to my own singing experiences: of course intonation and quality of sound conveys a force! On the one hand, careful pronunciation presents the force of the meaning of the words I seek to share with my voice: accurate intonation is key in the transfer of information, the successful portrayal of words and their associated content. On the other hand, that pronunciation extends beyond the words into emotive, connective power.

An impassioned speech or a beautiful song serves as a tool of connection, emotionally asking us to experience sound in a wholly different manner than something that is simply recited aloud. It has a force to it that is difficult to put into words, but which many of us have likely experienced, establishing a connection between performer and audience, or a communal group of singers. This connection has been studied extensively on both socially experiential levels (see Victor Turner’s concept of communitas) and biological manners (note an article relating to the synchronization of heartbeat amongst choral groups.) In my experience, this communion of feeling and power can be experienced between two or more people, but also between us and the divine. I have lost myself as I sang for Netjer before my shrine, connecting to them in a way no words could describe as I sang, enunciated sacred texts and personal prayer in the profound way that melody necessitates.

Breath

When I pronounce my lyrics well, in such a manner that I am able to convey both textual and emotional meaning successfully, I feel incredibly powerful through my singing. Yet over-pronunciation during vocal lessons can result in a serious issue with the success of my performance: cutting off my breath. An over-emphasized consonant closes my throat, keeps my mouth shut for too long. The constant flow of sound comes to a halt as I physically lose the vibrations which previously rode along the air. Falling, the resonance shifts down into my throat where things strain, crack and come to a painful halt. Supported breath, an uninterrupted stream of air maintained through the strength of the diaphragm and stomach, is the vital force behind singing. Without that support there will be little reason to worry about the details of the mouth’s position and the knowledge of pronunciation, as the sound will never come to be. Both are equally necessary in one’s efforts to successfully, and powerfully, sing.

As I wrote about in my prior post about music and heka, I noted that the latter has been described as a “pneumatic exhalation,” an “occult force that infuses the world of things” (Te Velde 1970, 170).  This invisible power, controlled through the breath, and indeed existing as breath itself, was also given a physical, internal aspect. In multiple texts, heka was described as a bodily aspect which could be swallowed or eaten, and thus resided in the abdomen. “When [heka] was transmitted, it was transmitted, as the nature of the information passed on required, from the entrails of the one who possessed it to those of the one receiving it.  Consequently, the malignant forces ranged against the gods preferred to attack their hearts and viscera in order to gain complete mastery over the powers their victims possessed.  To penetrate … the belly of a god was an easy way to establish oneself in the most intimate part of his being and acquire a position of domination there” (Meeks 1996, 96).

If “dominating the belly,” controlling the stomach and the breath the stomach powered, was viewed such a significant way of controlling one’s magical force, so too is control over the stomach a necessary means of controlling vocal power. Air creates the vibrations between the vocal cords, within the mouth, and one’s subsequent control over the air, moving it forward firmly, smoothly, but without pressing too hard, allows for a ringing tone. An unsupported breath becomes a dull, lifeless sound that does not carry. Breathing from the gut and using the stomach to hold that air? The resultant sound rings throughout a room, layered with overtones that the human ear will not perceive as pitch, but which change the timbre of the voice to something undeniably rich, vibrant, and resonant.

Intent

It can be challenging to balance the many critiques of my vocal instructor, shifting back and forth in my mind between the exacting shapes of my lips and tongue while simultaneously trying to breathe appropriately and keep the production of my sound above that ongoing current of air. I have found over time that I am often far more successful in practicing one component at a time, then bringing them together in preparation, and finally just “letting go” and completing trusting the intent behind what, and how, I am going to sing. If I am confident, the many little details of my lessons will come together, my voice is powerful, supported, and accurate in pronunciation and pitch. If I hesitate, something falls awry as my micromanaging one detail leads me to neglect another.

So too does this confidence become vitally necessary when I step from the lesson into performance. I must be self assured before my audience: a nervous performer is recognized as such from the instant they step on stage, their posture and expression give them away and are subsequently contagious. The audience expects those nerves to present issues for the musician, becomes nervous themselves. A confident performer puts an audience at ease, and indeed shares that confidence with them. They are not distracted from anything but the musical utterance, and so that opportunity to communicate, the chance to share the power of song, is not obscured by the obstacle of concern.

Writing of one particular magical utterance, Robert Ritner notes that,  in one particular spell, “…the magician himself acts as the ‘fighter’ and claims to be able to turn the enemy’s head and feet back to front and make all its limbs weak. Concentration of the will must have been an important part of making such assertions. The magician’s confidence would then be passed on to the client” (1993, 72). The magician and the musician must concentrate on their will, their intent, and then fully trust in their intentions, if they are to successfully connect with their client or listener.

Performing Musical and Magical Utterance

Combining pronunciation, breath, and intent requires a careful balance between a deeply embodied, physical awareness and a highly mental and emotional action. I cannot sing if I am physically ill, if my vocal cords are injured, if my attempts to breathe result in a coughing spasm rather than firm, bodily control from my gut. I cannot sing if I am mentally ill, if my mind cannot focus on memory, if my self-confidence has been beleaguered to the point that I cannot trust in my own ability to do what I intend with my music.

Yet singing can become heka unto itself in those moments of illness: I have sung long enough at this point to gain control over my breath when I am sick, having stopped asthmatic spasms in their tracks with a breathing exercise from a vocal lesson. So too have I fought depression off with song: standing erect for an hour, forcing my body upright so as to properly create a strong, powerful, sound, I have turned my mood around for the better. Mind follows body, body follows mind, and in singing, with its natural balance between the two, I can help myself attain better health. It is physiological and psychological. It feels like magic, and in truth: it is.

Robert Ritner writes of Aset (in this case, using the Greek form of Her name: Isis) and what makes Her so powerful, what gives Her such control over the magic that She is known for. He quotes the Metternich Stela where Aset speaks, saying:

I am Isis the goddess, the possessor of magic, who performs magic, effective of speech, excellent of words. (34)

Ritner then notes that, “The preceding statement of Isis is also of value for its clear declaration of the tripartite nature of magic, being viewed as an inherent quality or property to be “possessed,” an activity or rite to be “performed,” and as words or spells to be “spoken” (35).

Aset’s magic, Her heka, is possessed within Her body. She performs it aloud, breathing and then chanting, or perhaps even singing, words of power.  She pronounces, with excellence in confidence and command, the significance of those words. She is the master of magical utterance, and perhaps, in Her own way, a prima donna of musical utterance as well.

Dua Aset in Her year! Great Magician, I greet you, and am glad to find a similarity between us. May it lead to greater understanding. 

Dua Set for leading me to this realization. Thank you for helping me to better know your sister and myself. 

 References

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

Pinch, Geraldine. 1994. Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Ritner, Robert. 1993. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

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

 

Thoughts for the New Year

“I need help.”

I finally admitted it aloud, my mind begrudgingly aware of the fog of weariness creeping in around the edges of my caffeine-induced consciousness. My hands still on the wheel as I drove south from Illinois to Texas, my shift at the “helm” was a necessary one; my sibling Tenu needed the rest after driving for the better part of twelve hours straight, and we were in the middle of nowhere — not a safe place to stop and mutually snooze. I had promised to wake zir if I got tired. Tired was not an option. Zie needed to keep sleeping, at least for a little while longer, and I needed to keep my promise.

Thus, damn stubborn Set-kid that I am, I reached out to my gods a second time, sheepish about doing so over something seemingly as trivial as a road-trip. “I need help. I have to stay awake. Please.”

We’re here, as we always are. You are not alone.

The mental ping of words came from several gods at once, my mind somehow translating various ideas, colors, images that flooded my headspace into five distinct presences. My spiritual family of Netjeru. The gods I worship each time I perform the rite of senut all giving a little boost in their own way, now also including my newest Beloved, Heqat, who formally joined me at Retreat.

Set suggested shifting the CD to a livelier song with a stronger rhythm. Hethert-Nut, leaning strongly towards Her Hethert side, encouraged me to groove. I did an awkward sitting-in-a-car boogie to the beat as She laughed and cheered, the movement waking me up. Heqat simply settled as a calming presence around my neck and shoulders and I stopped worrying about the weariness and focused on keeping myself mentally present, a much more productive use of my energy. Heru-wer offered His light, and suddenly the headlights of oncoming traffic seemed a little brighter, the night not nearly so oppressive in its magnitude. Bast just talked to me, and this was a wonder in and of itself… we don’t often just speak, She and I.

We talked of many things, including my experiences at Wep Ronpet at Tawy. She noted how I was healthier these days, had focused enough on myself that She felt comfortable making a request that pertained to external matters. It is time to seek balance between Her and Set. I seek my Father daily, speak with Him readily, have done research and written essays for personal use in His name. Some people do not even recognize my associations with Her, so much do they link me with Set. At times, I feel closer to my Beloveds than I do my own divined Mother, and She has been here far, far longer than any of Them, longer than Set as well.

I would have felt guilty for this, but She would not let me. Instead she gave me goals to focus on, goals that will take a fair amount of discernment and effort, and so I may hold them fairly close to the chest for the time being, having already shared them with those who She instructed me to reach out to. But it is worth recording some of what occurred at the House of Netjer’s annual Retreat here, to hold myself accountable in a way.

Upon my arrival at Retreat, Shefyt (an amazing daughter of Bast herself!) was one of the first people to see me, and she came running across the room to greet me with a giant hug. It made me feel so immediately welcomed again, so very Home-with-a-capital-H that I practically teared up. Shortly thereafter I went to greet Hemet, and saw a Bast prayer card with Bast depicted with a green face. Hemet explained Her associations with malachite, in part through Wadjet in later periods, and I made a mental note that I wanted to *know* this and other such important associations in the future. The following day being Aset’s birthday, I wore a green and black dress, mostly because Aset (albeit largely through Hatmehyt) tends to approve of my indulging my feminine side. No less than five people complimented me on it, saying that it looked like I was wearing malachite. Point taken, Lady.

That evening in ritual was a highly emotional experience for me, one that I am still largely processing. What I can note, was that I received tremendous comfort from both Sekhmet and later Zat, who gave a particularly wise point of advice when she mentioned that I was so much my Father’s child right now, it might help if I reached out more to my Mother, remembered that I was Her child too, and allowed Her to help me approach and deal with emotions that I have otherwise worked to repress via throwing myself into five thousand projects.

On Wep Ronpet itself, I stopped by Bast’s shrine after the festivities had been completed. I kneeled, offered full henu, admiring the many gifts that had been left for Her (quietly regretting I’d not brought any of the mint-chocolate offerings She loves.) She gave me the aforementioned instructions then, and told me who I was to share them with.

image

Bast shrine at Tawy

I’m still reeling a bit and was certainly startled then. But as the day progressed, and gifts were exchanged (an AGI Bast being *given* to me which was mind-blowing in and of itself) I received another present from Netjer. The ribbons from last year’s Wep Ronpet ceremony, which had been tied around each of the gods, were distributed to those still present. I received Ma’ahes’ ribbon, and just… laughed warmly at the realization, friends sitting next to me looking amused as I seemingly cackled at nothing.

I need to work on remembering that I am a Child of Bast. Who better to help than one of the gods who is, in fact, a Child of Bast?! Main spiritual goal for the year understood, Lady. I realize it took a spiritual clue-by-four, but I’m listening, and I will do right by you.

On the secular side of things, I am moving forward towards finding, applying to, and beginning a counseling program — ideally one with arts/music therapy as part of the counseling degree. As I joked to Tenu, I feel like I’m amassing a Support Squad of gods as I work my way towards this. Set has discussed how His strength, and my personal reflection of that strength, will be necessary as I move forward along this path, both to maintain my own boundaries, and to face on a daily basis the isfet that is eating the hearts of my clients. Heqat and Hatmehyt mutually suggested my creation of a “mindfulness” shrine external to my senut space, somewhere I could go and pray regardless of purity concerns, where I could engage in self-care through meditation and also offer prayers to those who might need my counseling, that they too could find a way to care for themselves and accept what help I might give. Sekhmet has offered Her aid here as well, mostly to me, but also to others.

image

Art by A’aqytsekhmet that will be the focus point of my mindfulness shrine

The most surprising addition to this group is Nebt-het. Last night, Tenu and I did senut together at Tenu’s home shrine in Texas. We went through the ritual, made offerings, and then Tenu noted zir mothers were very, very present — did I have any questions for them? I had one for Hethert-Nut, which I asked, and received an encouraging response… but Tenu insisted that the pressure remained.

What could Nebt-het want me to ask Her? I’ve only just barely worked with Her. A ten-day effort to get to know Her culminated in my daily praying for each of the victims of a mass shooting in California, and finally praying for the shooter and his family as well. It was challenging, but I did it, and suddenly I wondered if this was the point. I had the strength to deal with those who were grieving, to look at violence in the world and continue to make space for both the dead and those who mourned them. I asked Tenu to inquire via fedw if Her ten-day request was to show me that I was ready to become a counselor, specifically given my interest in serving communities which have dealt with trauma, and received a firm yes. The presence, Tenu noted, faded abruptly thereafter, but not without a brief message: I am to reach out to Her if I need Her as I move forward along this path. Though still surprised, I am grateful for Her support.

It feels like a lot to wrap my head around, but such seems to be the way of Wep Ronpet. There are many new beginnings, many new challenges to tackle. I hope to be better about writing out my thoughts on these matters, sharing them with those of you who may be reading this blog. I encourage you to reach out to me if you relate to anything I write, if there are any questions I might answer, or ways I might help you on your own journeys this year. As They reminded me on that late night drive that started this whole train of thought: the gods keep us from being alone, yes. However, we, as a greater community of Kemetics, both within the House of Netjer and without, can also fend off loneliness by writing, reading, sharing. Do not be alone. There is no need. I can speak only for myself, but know others out there who feel the same: do not be alone. I am here. I would sit beside you if you’ll have me, no matter the distance.

Di Wep Ronpet Nofret, my friends. My love to all of you.

Two Years As Their Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will carry Their standards high.