I often wonder if my default setting is, “angry.” I know it’s not true; I can list half a dozen instances where I wasn’t actually angry in the last week. But sometimes I think about that trope of a short, angry, petty girl and I think, “wow, that really is me.”
I can remember a friend of mine telling me that the anger was killing me slowly, years before the shadow work and the release. They told me that it lived within me and had molded itself to my soul so much that it would be a long time before I carefully removed it all. I can remember the reaction I had to what they were saying – LIAR! – and I can remember wanting to prove them wrong.
I was protective of my anger. I wanted to keep it. I had lied to myself or it had lied to me, whichever. It gave me a purpose, it fulfilled me, it kept me going when all I wanted to do was keel over. I thought that being angry all the time was an asset, not a setback. I always thought that friend didn’t know anything if they could say that about my anger, which was definitely and obviously integral to my very existence. They wanted me to die because, of course, I would cease to exist if that anger was gone.
Though I didn’t realize it until much later, my precious anger was not a parasite that would kill me upon removal. I wasn’t like the hapless colonists in Aliens whose facehuggers killed them when removed. I thought it was though. I truly believed that if I started getting rid of it, I would be nothing. I wouldn’t be me.
Sometimes I look back and find myself wondering if the anger lied to me or if I was merely inventing out of fear. It doesn’t matter; it’s idle curiosity. I have often come to the conclusion that it was one and the same; the end result was anyway. I sat around and let it grow, feeding it the choicest bits like it was royalty or as hallowed as the gods themselves.
I figured it was best not to look too closely in how I reacted to things or in the knife sharp words I used on stranger and friend alike. None of it was real, none of it was a problem, if I didn’t go looking. I could live in blissful ignorance if I forgot that conversation entirely. The anger continued to grow and the person I was becoming was someone who child-me would have been embarrassed to know.
I can remember the poisonous fury I had when I got fired for no reason. I can remember how I waffled between white-hot heat and inappropriate amusement while I fought for months for unemployment benefits. It fed into the anger just like everything else. But that was the turning point because I began to identify more with my destructive goddess as those months passed. And hadn’t that been why I had been warned away from her in the first place?
I couldn’t see the rest of her through the blinding ball of rage destroying my insides. I’ve gone back to posts written during that time and older ones, and noted how big the blinders I was wearing were where she was concerned. And as the months of my unemployment stretched into a year, the identification with her began to worry me. She had been created from rage and anger and knew not reason. I didn’t want to destroy everything around me, wooed only by strong drink after everything lay in ruins at my feet.
My fear of blowing up my life, as piteous as that life seemed back then, overpowered my fear of not being me if I chipped away at it.
I discovered a lot about myself, mused on that friend and their words, and delved into shadow work. Maybe the Lady of Slaughter recognized herself in me and that’s why she set me onto this task, laying the path open for me to follow straight into the arms of pain-filled healing. Maybe she didn’t want to see me turn out like her either.
It seems like the anger had been an underlying pathology of mine for years. I never really saw it like that before then. I knew I was wrathful, but it had never occurred to me that anger was a default setting for me for years. As I parsed through various shadow work escapades over the years, I’ve determined the cause for it: the starter pack and the subsequent additions over the years. And as each escapade nears an end, I’ve felt a little bit more of it release. I’ve felt more and more calm in my life at least.
It’s been almost peaceful.
The Destruction of Mankind myth has always been a myth cycle that I could relate to. I can’t recall which translated version I read first since it was so long ago, but over the years I’ve found different versions each with their own interpretation. Most of the versions I found identified Hetheru as the avenging goddess in some way, which made sense of course but never quite worked for me.
When Ed Butler wrote this piece about interpreting the myth cycle, I was pretty much sold for a variety of reasons really. But I have to admit that there was something that I could connect with even more when he stated that the creation of Sekhmet took place during a conversation between Hetheru and Ra. It made more sense to me that it was the heka laced within the conversation itself that caused my beloved goddess to be.
As the article indicates, it was the repetition of power that brought Sekhmet into being. Maybe this particular creation circles back to the magical words we find in fairy tales and folk stories. There is a key phrase or a specific word that one must say in order to bring something or someone into creation. As a more modern example, it is the word shazam that allows Billy to become Captain Marvel. There are other key phrases throughout various tales and historical anecdotes that foster the creation of something though.
In this particular case, it was sekhem and the repetition of it that caused Sekhmet to come to life. And frankly, it seems more in keeping with Ra that he would simply create another being to do his dirty work for him since he seemed rather fond of sending various gods out to destroy his enemies. The only thing here is that, maybe, with the depth of his anger at the human populace, he didn’t take the possibility of limitations into account. He seemed to be solely focused on making them pay and thus, the goddess who elicits fear in the hearts of humankind even to this day was born.
It was actually this particular interpretation that felt, in a way, as though it represented me and by extension, the anger that had made itself comfortable within. While the cause of my own rage were actions, so too was Sekhmet’s even if she was created from words. It was the humans plotting against Ra, by their deeds and words, that caused him to bring her into existence. My particular creation was a lot less grandiose, but the end result was the same: a being soaked with layer upon layer of anger.
I saw myself in her actions, too. Upon being unleashed into the world, Sekhmet slaughters the enemies of Ra. I could carefully pinpoint where I had created a facsimile thereof in my own life with my personal experiences. That point right there, I could say, was my version of hunting down and killing the bastards who dared to speak out against the rule of Ra. There was no blood soaking the ground in my particular instance, it was all metaphorical after all, but I could see the wounds I had created in those around me.
And like a shark scenting blood upon the waves, just as Sekhmet turned her unquenchable rage upon the good followers of Ra, I continued to slaughter those around me. I can see my past self, with glee and joy and laughter, bringing destruction upon those who did not deserve it. There’s a phrase about burning bridges; I didn’t just burn them, I nuked the site from orbit every time.
Sometimes I think Sekhmet had it easy. She had Ra to help bring her down from the high of her rampage. While the conversation with my friend could be viewed as such, she wasn’t around when I realized I had to do something. I had no one to do likewise with me. I wound up seeing what I was doing and was appalled by what was happening, thanks to that long ago conversation of course. I internalized my rage instead of drinking myself to sleep. Although perhaps, in a way, internalizing the anger is just the same.
Instead of lashing out, I drank of my rage deeply and let it pass over me. I let it lap at my feet and take root in other ways. But the senseless slaughter that I had been used to doing stopped. I was cognizant of my actions and my words. I patted down my rage and worked on it a little bit at a time. Just as Sekhmet had calmed, I had the semblance of calm.
I had years to go before all that rage wouldn’t impact me as much. I often wonder if it was the same for Sekhmet.
In the myth cycle I discussed above, we are told that after Ra has tricked Sekhmet with the laced beer, her anger recedes and seems to disappear. After this episode, Ra eventually leaves humanity behind.
While I couldn’t be sure, I have often wondered if the rage really did dissipate from her simply because she fell in a drunken stupor. From my own experiences with anger and fury, I have to wonder if that’s even possible. I suppose it could be, of course, as she is a deity who is probably better at controlling this stuff than I, but I somehow doubt it.
The sources are clear: the ancients appeased Sekhmet often so as to prevent the destruction from occurring again. They gave amulets to one another, laced their workings with heka, and provided extravagant offerings to her, ever fearful that a repeat of the myth cycle would take place. This doesn’t say to me that her rage was gone; it was just under leash for a while.
On the other side of this, I could see her priesthood promoting the belief she would rise wrathful again as a form of scare tactic. “Give us all the good treats, or else the Lady of the Slaughter could destroy everyone again.” Maybe parents used the lie to keep their children in line, just like the priests. A cosmic knife held to the throat of a fearful populace.
But no. I think she truly had to keep a lid on all that anger, no matter how much of herself it may have eaten up.
One thing I’ve always wondered was if they had a way to teach her to deal with all that bottled up rage. Did they push her towards shadow work and say “heal thyself” and then wipe their hands of it? Or did they ignore the volcano living beside them, ready to erupt at the slightest provocation, and merely tiptoed around her to prevent the inevitable? I always figured it was the latter, not the former. It makes more sense to keep the indomitable on a leash for possible future use than to fix the underlying pathology.
I know; people used me like that too.
Being angry all the time is simply exhausting. There is always that possibility that you will blow your top like Mount Vesuvius or Mount St Helens and the ensuing destruction will sweep up the innocent and the guilty in one fell swoop. I have often wondered if, after years of rumblings from the volcano she had become, if Sekhmet went on walkabout in an effort to work on her inner demons and found out who she truly was at the end of it all.
Maybe that’s why she tends to push many of us in the direction of shadow work, saying, “heal thyself.” She sees herself in many of us and knows the consequences of living like that.
I have to admit that, years later, I feel less like I’m a pending volcanic explosion puffing ash into the atmosphere and more like a dormant volcano. All the fixings for an explosion are there, but not right now. I couldn’t say if I will ever be able to fully hollow out the magma chamber my friend said is beneath my shoulder blade. Maybe Sekhmet didn’t either; maybe we’re not meant to go into this with the idea that one day we’ll be normal.
Just calm. Just dormant. Just mostly whole.
Excerpt from Spell 83 – For Being Transformed into a Phoenix
As for him who knows this pure spell, it means going out into the day after death and being transformed at will, being in the suite of Wennefer, being content with the food of Osiris, having invocation-offerings, seeing the sun; it means being hale on earth with Re and being vindicated with Osiris, and nothing evil shall have power over him. A matter a million times true.