The Kemetic Round Table (KRT) is a blogging project aimed at providing practical, useful information for modern Kemetic religious practitioners. For all the entries relating to this particular topic, take a peek here.
One of the main issues, I feel, in Kemeticism happens to stem from when you begin thinking about what a practice will be to the the transfer of actual doing. It’s all candy and rainbows when you’re only discussing possibilities, but when the hard work begins of putting your money where your mouth is. In Kemeticism, I can’t tell you if it’s just me or if it really does happen to seem this way, but there seems to be a lot of armchair scholars who don’t seem too hot to discuss what a daily, fulfilling practice may entail. And if you step a single toe out of the reconstruction world into, dare I say it, “woo” then you tend to end up getting the whole fleet jumping down your throat. Armchair polytheism is all fine and good, but it gets to the point where you can either develop religious atrophy or you can actually pull on your big girl/boy panties and do.
When I started actually pulling a daily practice out of my butt, I noticed a lot of changes in how I went about things. I still do avid research – either for fun or because I’m curious – but it became less necessary to constantly have my nose buried in an anthropological text or a book on mythology. It became more important to experience what it is I was looking to make: a religious practice that I can proudly flaunt, that I can use to help newbies looking for that aid, and something that I can, if he’s interested, pass down to my son one day. At the core of it, that is literally the only bits of outside perspective that I keep in mind when I’m working on what it is I’m forging with my daily rites and my festivals and my akhu veneration. Is this something my son will be proud to acknowledge one day? Is this something that a newbie may be interested in mimicking one day?
To me, those two questions, in my religious life, are the only two questions I need to continuously say, yes, to in order to believe that I am truly living in ma’at.
One of the things that I’m actually a little startled in how this daily stuff affects me is my level of confidence is growing as time goes by. I can only equate to how it felt when I was a dancer.
I was a ballerina for many years. I was fast-tracking myself into a company so that, one day, I would be able to go pro if I so desired. (One day, I just stopped dancing, though, which is why I’m a wife, mother, and work in telecommunications now.) In being able to carve out a practice for myself, it’s very much like all the time and energy and practice I put in to dancing so that I would be able to pass any auditions when I wanted to join a professional company. It reminds me of all the days I spent at a wall or a chair in my mother’s house, practicing a forward-facing developpé so that I could hold my leg in the air for five minutes if so instructed. Now, I couldn’t hold my leg up that high for that long if I tried, but you kind of get the idea. The hard work and dedication that went into that practice is very similar to the hard work and dedication I’ve put into my religious practice.
But, really, as exciting as it is to say, “I was able to hold a developpé for five minutes,” it doesn’t even begin to describe the confidence level I gained as a soloist. On top of taking ballet, I also did jazz. In the two or three years prior to quitting, I did a jazz solo routine. It was very cutesy: we used old school music and my dance routines had props like hats and walking sticks. The day I won the third-place medal in a competition for my solo was the day I knew that I had really achieved something. My mom was always telling me how wonderful I was and how good I was – and even though moms are kind of required to tell you that, I believed her – but it was the day I won third place that I knew I had really come far with everything I had been building. I had worked so hard and with so much intent on my expressive face, made sure my costume was perfect for the music choice, and practiced in hallways at school, walking home from school, in my room while counting steps in my head so that I was able to achieve a third place medal.
Not only was that moment so high on my confidence meter, it also showed me that with enough hard work and dedication, I could do whatever I wanted. And that’s kind of like how it feels when I am able to pull a festival rite out of my butt, or when I go to the cemeteries to honor the akhu. It’s not so much that I am doing this because I want to, but as I said above, I want to be able to show people with pride what I have done and what I have achieved. And while there are no medals or competitions in this particular path, there are days where it sure feels like I’ve won a medal.
When I first started practicing, I used to look at pagan altar porn whenever I had an off moment and I was online. I used to look at these beautiful, ornate altars and think, one day, mine will look like that. In looking at all of the stuff I have on my altars and how not-very-clean they are right now, I can tell you that my altars don’t look anything like that link would have you believe. They are dusty (right now) and they are full. They’re a little cramped because of space and things. But if I were to go over there and do a quick clean, they may even be able to compete with the oft-venerated Miss Dirty and her beautiful altars. (Personally, I doubt my altars would ever when if a competition between what she does and what I do ever happens, but it’s a thought!)I used to, as a less knowledgeable polytheist, believe that you had to have an altar because that’s where devotion happened. It’s come to my attention that spontaneous devotion is a thing and it’s something I do fairly regular as time goes by. I’m not just being reverential at my altars – and as much sass as I give all the OTHERS™ I have in my life, yes I can be fucking reverent – any more. I’m going outside and being reverent to the sun, to the storm that may come in. I’m doing spontaneous things to all the various gods in my Kemetic pantheon. It’s not just the overwhelming desire to honor ALL THE GODS or even the need to honor the less known ones. It’s spontaneous devotion on a level that I can’t quite comprehend or explain adequately. It’s the devotional poetry I’ve been putting up on Tumblr the last few weeks; it’s the dropping to my knees and giving thanks to Re for a new day; it’s the thanking Sekhmet for giving me the strength to get through a particularly grueling day at work; it’s all of those things.
But really, what it is are the moments of in-between where I know a particular god is probably listening to what I’m saying and I know that I need to honor them, worship them, show them piety and I do all of those things. I don’t just rely on altars. I don’t just rely on shrines. I don’t just rely on icons made in China. I don’t just rely on offerings of food and water, incense and flame. I give them my words, my thanks, my tears, my joy. These offerings are just as good and just as adequate as all of the physical ones we give, but they’re more spontaneous, from the heart, and less likely to require more planning than a two-by-four to the face.
Yet another aspect that I’ve found changing because of my daily practice is the need and desire to do more ornate rituals. When I first started practicing Kemeticism, I wanted to do rituals and festivals and procession days, but I didn’t dare. I didn’t know enough, I told myself; I wasn’t ready yet. And in the waiting and holding off of working festivals into my calendar, I was able to build up a solid foundation to pull from when I was ready to add festivals to my calendar. Since Wep-Ronpet, I have celebrated a half dozen festivals and each one has been intent, flavorful, pulled out of my butt on a whim, and every single one of them has fucking rocked.
If I had gone into those festivals without the background that four years running as a Kemetic have given me, I know I wouldn’t have been satisfied with what I did. It didn’t matter what festivals I chose or how small they would have been, I would have come away from the experience completely dissatisfied with myself and my religious practice. In waiting until I had a good daily foundation, I was able to build a better pyramid for my religious celebrations. I had the foundation built and created the rest of my triangle with devotion and with ritualistic celebrations, so that I now have an equilateral triangle of religion. And again, I say, if not for my daily practice, I know things would be vastly different, that I wouldn’t be satisfied, and I’m pretty fucking thrilled, in writing this, that Papa Legba showed up when he did to help me get my ass in gear.
There are things, fortunately or otherwise, that have been affected by my practice that aren’t quite so great. As awesome as we all make it seem to be forging a Kemetic practice based on book knowledge and intuition alone, it’s not all so fantastic. I’m the first polytheist to tell you that not everything is rainbow, unicorn farts, and ice cream. There are some pretty shitty things about being a polytheist, a happy polytheist, a functioning polytheist that we don’t ever take into consideration when we start practicing.
You have to be quiet, on the down low, for those of us with jobs that care.
I have a job that would entirely care.
My new boss is an Evangelical Christian. I don’t really know what that means but based on the password she uses to get into our computers, she’s pretty big into her religion. Personally, I don’t feel like it should be in the work place, in any context, but it is there. Everyone is human; all those humans have beliefs. So, when I’m wearing my sacred jewelry pendants to Hetheru or Sekhmet, and someone asks, then I need to make up a lie. I hate lying; I hate hiding. I was out all of last year but because my Facebook profile is in no way connected to who I am on LinkedIn, not a single person who interviewed me in the last month of 2012 and the first month of 2013 had a single idea that I have religion and it sure as hell isn’t mainstream.
There are days where I have to edit my speech because of my religion. I say, “thank the gods,” a lot. I have to amend that statement to “thank God.” I’m not thrilled with that. I have to make up stories about the pendants I wear when asked. I have to quietly give praise to my gods, like Djehuti for helping me write a particular painful E-mail to a client or Sekhmet for letting me have the strength to get my ass reamed out for making a mistake. There are days when I want to shout across the office, “I’m a polytheist and I want everyone to know.” But, you can’t do that in this day and age. You can’t be loud, boisterous. You have to make up lies, you have to be careful of what you say, and you have to very intently steer any religious conversations away from where they are going.
What if you slip?
I’m likely to slip and I need this job, so no thanks.
All in all, though, most of the changes I’ve seen in myself and in my life haven’t been horrible. I’m able to have confidence in my practice and in myself to know that I’m not going to make my gods angry if I deny them in lip-service. I’m pious enough in my practice that I know I can make up a quick snippet of lies regarding my sacred jewelry and there will be no smiting. I’m uncomfortable with it because I’m an asshole that leaves everything in the open, but I know that I need to survive. And we are all creatures that must survive, which includes making the changes necessary to that survival.
But, as time has gone on, as I’ve shown and not shown, there have been quite a few changes in my life that has been brought about by my daily goings-on. I’ve noticed myself becoming more concise in my speech (though I do still mess up, as Devo can attest). I have found myself paying close attention to spoon management and its ongoing association, in the Kemetic hemisphere, with living in ma’at. I’ve found myself more able to pay attention to those quiet moments where devotion is spontaneous and intent. I’ve found myself having more confidence in what I am doing. I have also found that confidence lends its hand to being quiet regarding my religious practices in public. I have also found myself less likely to give a flying fig when people criticize how I go about things. I kind of feel that this daily practice is helping me to shed the quiet, mousy solitary practitioner I used to be in order to become a heka-speakin’, ma’at-driven boat paddler.