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.
Occasionally, when we begin exploring alternate religious paths, we start off with some of the more complex questions out there. One of these happens to be whether or not following another tradition is feasible, possible, or likely. While I don’t think asking oneself this type of question when you’re first beginning to explore areas of paganism without really knowing what particular subsection holds an interest, it is a question that we all have to answer at some point or another. I think a lot of times these questions get posed to ourselves so early on is because it can be a hot topic of debate.In many instances, we have examples of people who seem to float from one religious tradition to another, jumping from deity to deity, in a personal attempt at finding acceptance or finding something that works for them. In those instances, we see the word “fluffy” thrown around a lot or “Pokemon polytheist.” Since both of these terms tend to have some pretty negative connotations, I think, that many people tend to view multiple pantheons/multiple traditions in a religious practice as deeply frowned upon by the outlying polytheistic and/or pagan communities. In other instances, we have some big name people telling us that flouncing from deity to deity or tradition to tradition is just a bad, bad thing. In those same cases, they may even tell you that you must be this single, miniscule thing for definition purposes and for consistency purposes and and and. The problem there is that you’re letting someone else dictate to you what you should or should not be doing with your religious practice. And if you’re going to go that far, you may as well stick with a tradition that has codified dogma and leaders aplenty.
While I really do not believe in tackling this topic as early on as all of that, I do think it’s something that each person must decide for themselves at some point in their religious life. It’s definitely not an easy task, pleasing various deities with various interests in a single household. It’s, also, not very easy when you feel like you are being pulled in numerous directions by all of these added traditions, beliefs, and gods into a religious tradition that you felt would be this “one thing only.” However, it may be something that you have seeming no choice with: it can be exceedingly difficult telling a deity “thanks, but no thanks” as I am a clear indicator. (Being a deity collector at ten deities and counting – pretty sure I may have picked up number eleven – I am hardly the person to explain how to tell you no.) So, it may come down to setting yourself ground rules early on and being completely aware that whatever early-on ground rules you’ve set can and will be thrown out later.
The real question is about possibilities here. It’s not just a question of “can I” or “will I” but, is it even possible? While I have had many moments where pulling my hair out and/or crying about how difficult shit is, I am a [not so] sterling example that it is possible. In many instances, you may find that the secondary and/or tertiary practices you are interested in flow almost seamlessly with the main branch you started off with.
For example, Devo has often mentioned that there is quite a bit of similarity between beliefs in Shinto and Kemeticism. While it may not be a seamless fit, these two seeming incongruent religious practices can create a cohesive, single-unit practice. Keep in mind that this may not always be the case. As another example, I don’t believe that the voodoo side of my practice meshes very well with the Kemetic side of things (since voodoo tends to make it difficult for a hard polytheist who has always had issues with the single, all-powerful deity dynamic). While there are some items that relate to one another – both Kemeticism and voodoo tend to be heavy in the realm of community, this isn’t always the case, which can make my life difficult as I attempt to create something between the two.
I will say this, though, that if you are going to start working with multiple pantheons, the best advice here is to take your time. Don’t rush into anything. There seems to be a desire by people who have had gods knock on their doors to jump right into it. I’m all for taking a daring leap, however I think in many instances, barreling into a situation such as adding an entirely separate religious tradition requires a lot of work and dedication.
To use myself as an example again, I didn’t just run off into the wide open arms of Papa Legba (even though he kind of wanted me to) when he showed up at my doorstep with his makout in hand and his devil-may-care grin. I have taken a lot of time and put in a lot of effort to work on that relationship. I have also done extensive research, of which I have not even remotely scratched the surface on all of the information, regarding everything I could get my hands on in the area of voodoo. While also working to formulate that relationship and everything that it entails, I have also had to continue to keep my Kemetic practice going. As I indicated above, some items that I do for the voodoo side of things are not reciprocated in my Kemetic practice. Some days, it feels very much like I’m straddling a fence and getting ready to be split in half. On other days, it can be very much like I’m actually working something into a single cohesive unit.
Another common question in this area of meshing multiple religious practices is if it’s okay to take what you have perfected in one tradition and using it on another. While the question for this particular entry is specifically asking if it’s okay to perform rituals that are not Kemetic based, I think this question is a lot more shades of gray than its innocuous phrasing would lead us to believe. In some instances, I absolutely condone the usage of outside elements. However, I also think that some rituals and festivals should be maintained in the tradition that they are a part of. Let’s use some examples to make my point clear.
Let’s take a look at my ancestral practices. Both of my religious traditions focus heavily on this area. Both Kemetics and Vodouisants are always talking about the ancestors in some context or another. However, while I do work heavily with the akhu and I refer to them as such (instead of Guéde), I do not mesh the two types of celebrations that I do. If I am celebrating a festival of the akhu as based on my Kemetic calendar, then all items therein are going to be based off of my Kemetic practice with very little voodoo influence. However, if I am celebrating those very ancestors because of a voodoo holiday (like Fet Guéde in November), then I am going to utilize very little Kemetic influences. It’s not just a simple matter of having different ways and foci when celebrating, but also because the very OTHERS™ that govern this area (Bawon Samedi and Anup, specifically) have asked for this separation of practice.
However, when working in the realm of magical endeavors, I will pull information from both sides of the fence. While I am specifically doing something under the auspices of Aset and her desires in each instance, I will use wanga as blessed by Papa Legba (and other lwa, if the need arise) to create whatever magical item/spell I am looking for. In same vein, I will mix hoodoo items* into a jar spell while also practicing careful heka in creating the words for the spell in question. There is no particular rhyme or reason, no clear delineation between which practices a certain aspect may come from, in this area.
* Hoodoo is not the same as voodoo. At the behest of both Aset and Papa Legba, I began looking into to assist me in future magical endeavors. However, I used this as an example to show how very eclectic my “ritual performance” for magical effects can be.
As far as what items get mixed and what items do not, I think it’s entirely dependent on the OTHERS™ in question. It’s possible that Persephone may want to get added to a holiday that you are celebrating for the netjer of the underworld. However, she may also not want anything to do with Wesir, Anup, and all the rest. In that case, I think it needs to be taken in on a case by case basis. Everyone, not just yourself, but also the deities and spirits in questions need to be given full vote on what does or does not get added in.