O Nut, Nut, I have cast my father to the earth, with Horus behind me. My wings have grown into those of a falcon, my plumes are those of a sacred falcon, my soul has brought me and its words have equipped me.
– excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.
It began months ago when I drove by a Catholic church that I have always driven by. The church is a memory staple of my youth. I can remember riding up that long main drag with my family and watching it flee into the distance. I had always wondered who Saint Catherine was and why she was important enough to have a church named after her.
The church looks the same from my childhood. All tans and grays with thick bands of the deepest green grass. The soccer fields are filled with players in spring and autumn, the lone cop obviously sitting idly in his speed trap all year round, and the people happily bonding in their religious community. The place seems, well, friendly. Cheerful and happy; welcoming, I guess. Not all churches feel that way in my experience. This is one of the few in my area. For the church, time hasn’t passed, not really. Another day, another month, another year is immaterial to the friendly building that takes up an entire city block.
This wasn’t the church of my ancestors. Their places of worship were either miles or cities away.
But as I drove by that day, a whisper told me to go inside and check it out. The whisper reminded me that I had always been curious about what Catholic churches were like. That I wanted to know what it would be like to confess to a priest and get told to pay penance with whatever prayer sets an alleged sinner like me needed to get right. The whisper was forceful yet seductive. Don’t you want to know? it seemed to ask.
Not that badly, I decided, and left it alone.
It was a hum after that, no longer a whisper. It was a quiet, near-constant hum in the darkest recesses of my mind. There were no words, just sound. It had a sort of harmony in it, but it was little better than white noise. It would get louder when I drove back by St. Cathy’s church but faded out as I kept on going.
One day as the noise got loud, louder, loudest, I muttered, “man, I got to get right with my akhu.”
I couldn’t say what made that come to mind. I frankly couldn’t even understand what the hell the idea meant. I knew things were a bit tenuous with my grave-tending just about nonexistent and my lack of offerings or care to my ancestors, but what had I done wrong that made it seem like I needed to “get right” with them? Fuck if I knew and they weren’t really saying.
I muzzled the whole thought, the whole damn thing and the white noises faded out when the church popped up on my drives to wherever. I breathed a sigh of relief: no more obsessive desire to step foot in a friendly building that simultaneously repulsed and beguiled me. It was like that wayward thought about the church and the ancestors was dead and gone.
I kept congratulating myself on a job well done. I figured my discernment was fucked ten ways and I needed to figure all that out later. Whenever the fuck later actually was.
I never did pull out my Tarot cards to figure it out. I didn’t need to. The painful bit was over and I was doing fine.
Weeks back now, I woke up from one of those calming dreams that you’re loathe to wake from. The vibe of the dream was the utmost tranquility, soothing, and sweet. It was like finding yourself in a moment so perfectly encapsulated by the word “serenity” that you can only marvel at the perfection of it. I’ve had rare moments like that, typically in the some area outside, surrounded by plant and animal life. It was nice having it in the dream world.
In the dream, I held two things between my hands. The first were a pair of cool beads. When I looked down at them, I realized that I was looking at a mother-of-pearl rosary. At the cross section was a medal of some kind and the crucifix was a sort of tarnished color along with the saint’s medal. The beads had a glint of rose within the confines and handling them added to the overall calm. I could feel my maternal grandmother in them.
In the other hand, I held a scrap of cloth. It was made of flannel and was black-and-white plaid. The fabric was raspy between my fingers. As I clenched my fist around it, I felt a sort of stabilizing influence. I could almost see my father’s face in the whorl of the fabric, though I knew that I couldn’t see anything in reality.
Behind all of this in a sort of blurry after image. I could see what looked like a table lacquered in a dark color like mahogany with curtains on either side. Across the entire surface of the table were golds and ambers, pinpricks that caught the light. It was like I was seeing it all from under water. The picture was kind of clear if I focused on it for a few moments but then the blurriness overshadowed everything else.
Again the peace of the dream kind of caught up with me. Maybe it was the knowledge that I was filled with so much peace that finally woke me up.
When I finally climbed out of the soothing vision of the dream, I sort of pondered the meaning behind it. I could kind of see what it was that was going on here. The symbolism was pretty clear. The rosary was for my grandmother; the plaid flannel for my father. Of all of my ancestors, these are the two that I am the most connected to and the most willing to reach out to when I need them. Though they have been quiet in recent years, it seems like perhaps they have finally come to terms with the fact that I will honor them, but I’ll do it in my own damn way.
On the way to work, I kind of tried to figure out if this had to do with that whole “getting right with the ancestors” thing from before. I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe all the puzzle pieces would fit eventually together and I’d finally get a glimpse of the overall picture. I started working on getting the akhu cabinet up to snuff, to sort of fill it in like the watery images from the dream.
Not long later, I dreamed about my akhu again. I was a little astounded to be honest. I’ve gone for years without hearing much more than a whisper here and there and then, within a month’s time, I had dreamed of them twice. This time the dream was a little soothing and a lot more obvious.
I was working in the closet that I’ve cleared out to make space for my akhu area. The closet is pretty large and the cabinet doesn’t fill it in completely. In the dream, I was moving the cabinet towards the book shelf that I call the Place of Truth and in the cabinet’s place was a sort of console table. It was pretty wide, maybe almost 20″ and fit neatly back against the closet wall. It took up most of the closet to be honest.
After rearranging all of the current imagery that adorns my akhu cabinet, I carefully placed an icon of Anpu across it. It’s the typical icon one sees of him in his couchant jackal pose. I have one, in fact, that sits on my cabinet now. The icon in my dream was far larger and sat crosswise instead of facing outward as my current icon does today. I placed the icon so that he was looking towards the east.
Well, it seemed pretty obvious that if I was to “get right” with my akhu, they wanted a fitting place to reside themselves. I had already compiled a decent sized list of things that I’ve been purchasing piecemeal. It will be a while before everything is situated appropriately – though I am still up in the air about whether the couchant Anpu is a requirement or merely a dream affectation – but I’m getting there.
The talk of one’s ancestors within our community is often a mixed bag. There are people who pay homage to them and those who don’t. All reasoning for why one person does something and another one doesn’t are completely valid. In my world, I have always wanted to connect to them in some way and found it difficult to do so.
The main reason why I found it so hard is because I always felt like my ancestors were an amalgamation of every piece of genetic heritage, or familial heritage (should no genetics play a part), that had come before. As a young Kemetic, I found the amorphous mass of my ancestors confusing. Wasn’t ancestor worship or veneration supposed to be a one-by-one deal? But every time I moved in that direction, I found a hive mind so to speak. I figured I was doing it wrong.
This is partially why grave-tending worked for me. The deceased in my neck of the woods were, like my personal ancestors, a mass of those who had come before. I was comfortable with it when the group mind had no personal bearing on me. It was too strange when it was people who, for all intents and purposes, were supposed to be my people.
Some time ago, I was reading a book by Kemp, which seemed to indicate that the laity only paid homage to the most recently deceased generation. It wasn’t because the other generations weren’t as important but specifically seemed to relate to the fact that, due to a smaller lifespan, it would have only have been the most recently deceased generation that would have had a connection with the living. This, of course, made sense to me: I found it easier to connect with the people whom I had known in life who had gone into the West as opposed to the names and faces from sepia-toned and black-and-white photos.
It wasn’t until I was reading through Society, Morality, and Religious Practice earlier this year that it kind of finally began to take shape. After running across this quote, it made my experiences with my akhu seem far more real than I had previously given credit. I had, as usual, had preconceived notions that impeded my ability to truly connect and by finding a canon source that aligned more fully with my experiences, I was better able to feel comfortable with my experiences.
Sometimes you just need someone else, even a faceless author, to help lend credence to your personal gnosis.
Since reading that quote, I have felt more connected with my ancestors than I have in a long time. The disconnect I was having wasn’t just on my end – I have personally found that your closest relations can and are opinionated even in death especially when it relates to how you honor them in death – but these books and quotes helped exponentially.
It’s possible that this is what was meant all those many moons ago when I found myself saying, “man, I got to get right with my akhu.” Or, perhaps not the totality of it. I can definitely say that by fixing up the space I’ve designated for my ancestors, I’ve also found it easier to turn to them and speak with them and rely on them. But there are other pieces to this puzzle, too: their pieces, their desires.
It’s a balancing act, really, to cause a soul to live.
And sometimes the soul isn’t just those who have predeceased you, left you roaming around on this planet without them there. Sometimes that soul is yours and the burning white-hot need to connect to people who loved you, took care of you, and were there when the shit hit the fan even if they made mistakes along the way. They forget to mention that part, about how you need your soul to live too and sometimes that living part means getting right with the dead.
I guess that’s just a part of the learning curve.
Someone stands behind you, and you have power; you shall neither perish nor be destroyed, but you shall act among men and gods.
– excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.
Your quote speaks to me, too. I was just having this conversation with my SO the other day, how we tell stories to children of only the relatives we knew and not so much the ones we heard of but didn’t know. It only takes two generations for even the kindest, hard-working, generous souls to be nothing more than a name.
My mother’s family tried to keep the memory alive. My great grandfather was named Leo and is your legs are longer than your torso, you have Leo’s legs. It’s little things like that which I try to keep alive but I don’t think I have managed to succeed much.