As I’ve tried to remain the stalwart island of calm for the last six days amid the grief of TH’s family at the loss of his maternal grandfather, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my veneration of my akhu. As everyone has attempted to handle their grief in the ways that are socially acceptable – most notably, drinking a lot more than usual – I’ve been having those thoughts about how, one day soon, I am going to be the person who requires an island of radiating calm when my maternal grandfather goes into the West. As I sat in the chapel at the veteran’s cemetery, fervently praying that the netjeri in the Duat would grant the deceased a reprieve for not knowing the proper spells and incantations and names, I realized that one day, I will be hoping and praying for that for my grandfather. And it is quite possible that those prayers will be sooner as opposed to later, for me, as my grandfather is older than both of TH’s grandfathers were when they past. I knew, as I prayed and as I thought, that what I’ve been doing for my akhu has no equal to what I will have to do when it is my turn to cry in front of family at the loss of my patriarch.
My akhu veneration has little to do with the intense grief that can impact people when they have a loss. I found this out, acutely, at the loss of Sweet Pea. I was the only one who was really upset with her loss. I was, also, the only person who has grieved for her. No one else has thought of her with fondness or with sadness. No one else has called out to a dog who will not answer me [on this plane of existence] anymore. No one else can even remotely claim that they fell to the floor, wracked with sobs at her loss. When I went through that first touch of grief the week, or so, after her death, I spent a lot of my time on the floor, curled into a ball and sobbing in that ugly way while trying to prevent my current dog from licking my face. (I will give this to Jasmine: she sure knows how to pull you out of ugly sobs.)
With the loss of Sweet Pea, I felt that I had nothing and nowhere to turn to with my grief. I did not have anyone, really, around me who would understand or care how I felt. I didn’t have a god, ready to go, for just such an occasion. I walked around in a daze of pure emotion, being unable to reconcile the overwhelming pains of guilt, grief, and horror at the loss of a dog who had been my closest companion for the last nine years. And I know, deep down, that the loss of my maternal grandfather will elicit about the same amount of emotional gulag as the loss of Sweet Pea had done.
It’s difficult for me, working as heavily as I do with the akhu of this area and remaining in semi-constant contact with my into-the-west family members, to admit that at the actual moment of loss, of grief, I don’t know where to turn. I know exactly who I need to speak with and in regards to what when I’m in the graveyards. I know how to pass honor to and who to leave some offerings for when I’m there. I know what to do and when to do when someone is already dead, but when they’ve only just recently become that way…? When someone you love, whether of the animal or human persuasion, is gone from you… who do you turn to?
I’ve been looking into the mythologies a little bit in an effort to solidify this portion of my practice. While turning to any one deity will not be the totality of akhu veneration for the recently deceased, it’s a good place to begin. Plus, not only would I like to be able to handle my grief willingly and capably and constructively by turning to deities adequate to handle such things, but I’d also like to have this benefit put together if and when my son has to go through loss of this nature. I would like to also be able to give people somewhere to turn when they are going through these losses and feelings. So, as I’ve looked into some of the mythologies, I’ve compiled a sort of go-to list of various deities who would be able to assist us with grief specifically borne out by the loss of a loved one.
I think one of the best deities we, as humans, can turn to in our
hourweeks of grief would be Aset. Of all the deities in the Kemetic pantheon, there are very few deities who have had to contend with grief on the level that she has. Not only did she have to suffer the loss of her husband and the desecration of his corpse, she also had to hide the birth of her son only to finally watch both her son and her brother duke it out, so to speak, over who would rule the land of Kemet. To know grief is to live with that grief and while she is a goddess, and perhaps far more capable of handling her feelings than we, she must have still known such intense emotions at all of the happenings in her life. Aset is a goddess who knew grief and managed to come out of the other side of her grief to become mother to the ruler of Egypt.
In same vein, we could easily turn to her sister, Nebt-het, in our time of grief, as well. While she would also be a good goddess to go to for difficulties with the spouse – as she must have had numerous difficulties, lying to Sutekh while she helped her sister raising Heru without his knowledge – she was also there to aid her sister with her grief over the loss of Wesir and the finding of Wesir. Both she and Aset are depicted on either end of a deceased’s bier, attending to them prior to their resurrection. Professional mourners in ancient Egypt were associated with Nebt-het as she was a goddess of mourning. She knows what it is like to have pain and grief mixed together, and she, along with her sister, would be ample in assisting in the dealing with one’s grief.
Sutekh could be a deity to turn to when the grief is in relation to, possibly, the loss of a brother. Even though he is the reason he lost that brother in the first place, he still had to have felt some grief at the loss, itself. While I’ll not air my thoughts on Sutekh’s role in the Osirian Myth Cycle or the Contendings, he knows grief even if he is the cause of said grief. Not only would he be an appropriate deity while in mourning for the loss of a family member, but many of his followers tend to see him as a deity who oversees the grief-stricken and the lost. In this capacity, he can easily be a deity to turn to while in the thick of things, barely able to function because you’ve lost someone whom you love so very much.
Heru-sa-Aset would also be an appropriate choice to work with in the stages of grief. While he may specialize in the grief one feels over the loss of a parent, he would still be an appropriate choice for any type of grief. And as a deity who lost his father, and yet was able to overcome that grief in order to overtake his uncle and become king, he may be one of the best choices, right along side Aset. While we do not see a constructive and healthy way of maintaining our grief and working through it in relation to Sutekh and Nebht-het, we do see it with both Heru-sa-Aset and his mother. They were both able to feel the deep, ragged hole of loss and overcome it to live their lives as they should have been lived without the loss that triggered the myth cycle.
UPG Alert Sekhmet is, also, a goddess who would be capable of helping to aid one through the grief cycle. While personal experience has shown that she’s not always the type of person who will pat you on the back or curl up around you when you’re having those ugly sobs due to loss, she is capable of helping to teach you how to transmute your pain into a healing experience. There have been, as I’ve said before, numerous times where I have curled up around the base of her altar, crying for the things that I have lost over the years. While these items aren’t necessarily related to death and dying, it is still grief that I have shown her. And even though she hasn’t done the things I’ve requested – made me feel better with attentive pats on the back or curled into a lion pile of pain – she has still assisted me, gladly, in the process of my grief. /UPG
You will notice that I have left out the two gods we oft associate with the Duat and death: Anup and Wesir. Both of these deities are intimately involved in the Duat and the rebirth of the deceased. And while I think it is completely possible and probable that these two deities would be helpful in grief management, I tend to view them in other roles that I will discuss in future posts.
And besides, these five deities are only recommendations and suggestions.
Each Kemetic has a set group of deities that they turn to. And I do not deny that turning to the gods that you work with the most would be another appropriate response when in mourning. However, these suggestions are for those of us who, maybe, freeze up and feel a little lost when it comes to handling grief. These are possibilities for forging new relationships when in need. These are possibilities for that moment when, after you learn that someone has gone into the west, you freeze and are unable to think properly. Even though I work with two out of the five suggestions, I still have felt like I’ve been unable to walk over to the appropriate altars and say, “Help me.”
While that is an issue I’ve discussed in “Grief of an Akhu Venerator” and an issue that I am still working on, personally, it is something to keep in mind for future moments when I will be put into this situation again. I have gods that I work with who are both capable and probably willing to assist me when I call out, in need of some assistance. And there are other deities to turn to, should I feel the need to find a deity who has felt as I do because they have gone through similar circumstances. Freezing up and not reaching out to gods is not a solution – it is a problem. And hopefully, with an arsenal at my disposal, I’ll be less likely to do so in future.