Lent 2017: Heart with a Gaping Hole

I’m just at the halfway mark and I would love to say that things have changed so very much. I want to say that I’m upbeat and positive, that the mood swings have gone, and that I am floating on a natural high of my own ability. I want to tell everyone that I feel better, healthier and ready to get active again.

But I can’t say any of that. The ancestors promised me despair; Lent has more than delivered.

Depression

Dark twisted fantasy turned to reality; kissing death and losing my breath. – Bones – MS MR

I don’t necessarily feel like a monster anymore, which could be a good thing. Maybe monster is too strong of a word.

Every day tends to have at least one single moment where I am ready to break down and say fuck it, fuck this, I just can’t do it. There is just that given moment in a given day – sometimes more than one and sometimes just the one – that leaves me questioning why I chose this course of action in the first place.

People always remind me then to look to my reasons. They tell me to remind myself with the reasons behind this choice to keep myself on track. To be honest, I can’t actually remember what those reasons were anymore. I stop and ask myself why the hell I’m doing this and I honestly can’t remember.

I always come back with an ambivalent response. There is always a “but…” in there somewhere. I didn’t really want to quit. The ancestors didn’t give a shit what I fore-went during this season. And I could have found something else if I tried hard enough.

But here I am, ambivalence and all, on day 20.

The least expected thing to start cropping up was the depression. I knew that I used this addiction to aid me through my anxiety and that it helped me to cope with all of that. I had figured that part out pretty quickly. It just honestly never occurred to me that I had been using it for my depression as well. I don’t know why I never thought of it.

My depression is usually small, pretty manageable. It’s the anxiety that causes the most trouble.

I’m high functioning so most people don’t realize that I do have mental health issues. The first time I mentioned my anxiety to a coworker at work, they stared at me in shock. I haven’t ever mentioned the depression; I can imagine that I don’t fit into my coworkers’ ideas about what a depressed individual looks or acts like.

My depression is something that sits there on my back like a gray monster. Sometimes it is big enough to smother me, much like it is now; other times it is just a small annoying weight back there. It started to grow around day 13 or so, maybe day 12. It seems to have grown as much as it was going to. I don’t think it’ll get any worse at any rate.

To be honest, I was kind of hoping it would stop of its own accord and start to shrink back down again.

It hasn’t.

It most likely won’t.

health

Lost in the pages of self made cages; life slips away and the ghosts come to play; these are hard times – Bones by MS MR

I’ve noticed that I don’t have a lot of patience anymore. I scream a lot more in the car and while everyone always said that I drove like an asshole before, I definitely do now. I yell a lot at people who can’ t hear me yelling: neighbors, my son, the dog, something that happened last year. I’m angrier than I was before.

Sometimes I can trace out what makes me so angry, what specifically about the quitting that has made me angry enough to overreact to what is happening. Invariably, I am always overreacting. I shouldn’t be so upset that the neighbor put the broken plastic chair on the side of the road; it doesn’t affect me. I shouldn’t be so upset at the car that’s inching forward to merge into the next lane; they’re over there and it doesn’t impact me.

I haven’t noticed any difference in my breathing or the aches in my chest. Everyone always says, with almost a badge of honor, it’s the coughing that let’s you know when you’re over a hump. I haven’t tried to clear out my lungs since I quit. I think I’ve had two coughing fits and nothing that came up with any substance. My chest hurts every day; sometimes it’s a panic attack and sometimes it’s this.

It actually annoys me sometimes because I can’t always tell the difference between the panic attack and my chest just hurting. Sometimes, it’s a muscle ache; sometimes it’s more than that. The ghost pains move around my chest, up near my arm pits one moment and then down near my diaphragm the next. It annoys me every time I stop, every time I am mindful of my body. Somewhere in my chest, it always hurts.

I can’t breathe through my nose still. I suppose I could just assume that I have allergies and that’s why I’m living with a perpetually clogged nose. I think that’s a lot of bullshit. I think my nostrils are probably just fine; they just haven’t caught the memo yet.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel healthier or better.

I kind of assumed I would. I mean, when you give up something that you have been doing for 15 years multiple times a day, aren’t you supposed to just suddenly feel better about, I don’t know, yourself, life? Something? I don’t feel better. I still feel as gross as before, but of course that could just be the depression talking.

I speak every day to the ancestors about all of this. Without fail, I jot a few words down to form a small string of sentences in the morning. I tell them how bleak I feel; what my dreams are filled with and how it relates to how fucking irritating this shit is; how annoyed I am with myself and my surroundings; and what the fuck was I fucking thinking.

Sometimes they respond in whatever way they feel is necessary. Sometimes, they don’t at all but I kind of feel them a little bit. Personally, I think they’re still cheering me on even if I don’t hear it. I guess I’m okay with that.

I just wish the depression would quit already.

laughter

Dig up her bones but leave the soul alone; let her find a way to a better place. – Bones by MS MR

I did notice that while I’m more aggressive and bitchy still, I’m able to laugh more. I don’t know if that makes any sense? It’s like everything is funnier or brighter sometimes and it just makes me laugh for no apparent reason.

I spent hours on the couch with the significant other last week just laughing at stupid shit. None of it was particularly funny, but it all kind of streamed together into a long drawn out laugh. I had a similar experience with my son; it was definitely funny. He made that face he makes that gives me a case of the giggles, only this time it was a paroxysm of barking laughter.

I was thinking just the other day that, honestly, as horrible and annoying and as bitchy as I am about all of this, I haven’t really had to exert willpower during those times when I want to break down. I don’t even really distract myself during those moments. I just ride it through. Sometimes I’ll breathe through it, but mostly I just let it ride.

It hits, it overwhelms, it’s gone.

I guess I’m doing okay. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t gotten into a car crash when I was driving like an asshole. I’ve caused a lot of mayhem in other ways. I don’t know if I’m working through those parts or if I’m just going to let it ride, just like the cravings.

I figure one day I will be safe to be around again.

Lent 2017: Things That Will Bite.

On the final day of February, a mere few hours before Lent was set to start, I went off by myself for a few minutes while I considered what I was getting ready to do. I needed to think about what I was giving up, what I could expect. That card reading I had done for myself kept showing up in my mind’s eye, reminding me that what I was looking forward to was despair.

It honestly seemed like no matter how much I tried to spin how positive this experience was bound to be or was supposed to be at any rate, I kept coming back to the bleakness of despair.

Since the start of Lent, I’ve woken up twice in mimicry of the 9 of Swords. I’ve managed to put down the feeling of anxiety and depression those moments brought with them. Before falling back to sleep in those moments, I turn over the image of the 9 of Swords in my mind and kind of sigh. I mean, what other type of reaction can I really have?

I knew what I was getting into and I honestly thought that I could get through this.

Reclusion

Say your prayers, little one. Don’t forget, my son, to include everyone – Enter Sandman by Metallica

I’ve felt a little bit like a monster since the 1st of March. I’ve also felt a little like a doll made of porcelain, minutes or hours or years away from a cracked face, knowing that the cracked face will occur one day. I have also felt more than a tad like a broken piece of pottery, something perhaps once used in someone’s heka, that has been used up and destroyed.

It’s been 10 days since then and my emotions are all over the place. Everyone tells me that this is normal. I’m kicking an addiction – something that I have been absolutely assured is not done every day or even in a day – so emotional upheaval is part of it, I guess.

I don’t know if I really want to hear it though. All I keep thinking about is why in the fuck I’m doing this and what this is supposed to achieve. Everyone says something different from each other about it and in the end, I’m left more confused and annoyed than I was when the advice first popped up.

Quite obviously evidenced from the above paragraph, I spend a lot of my time complaining, though mostly in my head.

I never realized how much having an addiction could, like, lessen your ability to give a tin shit about outside things. I also never realized that this was the one thing I did regularly to keep my mental health in check – I honestly didn’t understand what a coping mechanism this is or how completely unprepared I was for that fucking despair thing the 9 of Swords talked about.

I am far less entertaining with my ongoing monologue while driving and use a lot more curse words (and I’ve always used a lot of them). I am far more willing to get off the phone with someone who is angry not-with-me or maybe-a-little-with-me over work stuff that isn’t my fault and cry. I don’t typically cry at work so that’s been interesting. I’ve done a lot of yelling in the last ten days and I’m not a quiet person once you get to know me.

It’s been… it’s been a lot for all of us.

The significant other keeps reminding me that this is absolutely a good idea. Sometimes I tell him to fuck off. He smiles and laughs since he’s been in my shoes. Other times I tell him that I want to stab him in the eye and he gives me his telltale smirk and continues on with his day. I feel bad for all the times I thought very uncharitably about him when he was going through this.

But mostly, I feel like a monster. I feel like something dark and rabid, living in the swamp with all the dead things.

Monster

Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon’s fire, and of things that will bite. – Enter Sandman by Metallica

Every single morning, I wake up and think about how much I can’t do this. The push to just give up is overwhelming. I always knew my mind was an enemy of sorts. I am very used to listening to my brain tell me what a complete failure and loser I am about so many things. It’s a daily occurrence, so it’s not like I haven’t gone through this particular song and dance before.

The idea of giving up just pushes at me like a weight on my chest though and it is so strong. Frankly, giving up is louder and more insistent than the voice that has always told me what a horrible human being I actually am. I never really considered the fact that there would come a day where I could honestly say that the voice in my head that is named Anxiety is drowned out by something louder.

And truly, it does get drowned out when the voice of Surrender whispers insidiously and seductively in my ear.

When I open my eyes and I am finally aware of my surroundings, I think about how stupid this is. When I have my second cup of coffee before I wake up my son during the week, I think about how it would be easier to stop this ridiculous exercise. When I drive to work, when I get angry, when I want to cry, when I am reading a book, when I am scrolling through Facebook, when I am going through Duolingo for my French lessons, when I have forgotten to take a lunch break at work again, when I have gotten out of the shower: all the fucking time, I keep thinking about what a farce this is.

The key, or so I have been told, is to distract myself. The funny thing is that I would use my addiction to distract myself from the voice in my head that tells me how much I suck at everything. Everything else I try now seems to pale in comparison or fail miserably. Chores, books, conversations, etc. They all fail to offer the distraction that I have been assured is the key to this.

I write about all of this, thinking about what Alex said in a comment on my last entry about this. He told me that sometimes willpower isn’t the way to go, sometimes asking for help is the way to go. I’m not very good at asking for help, so I write a small paragraph each morning to the ancestors. I think they’re listening.

Last night, a very nice and happy cheerleader appeared in my dreams. She wore an A on her uniform and her skirt went to her knees. She had white sneakers and a peppy little grin. Her eyes were made of the universe; she was my ancestors in a single body. They did a cheer about how I could do this and how I shouldn’t give up because, of course, yesterday’s daily entry was about giving up.

I haven’t given up yet, but I want to.

Day 3 (Barbed Wire)

And never mind that noise you heard. It’s just the beasts under your bed, in your closet, in your head – Enter Sandman by Metallica

It’s not all horrible, I suppose. Part of Lent includes donating more regularly than I already do. If I hadn’t gotten a body modification within the last year, I would have most likely donated blood which is a favored go-to of mine for a myriad of reasons. Instead, I have been having a lot of fun researching various organizations to give to in order to ensure that almsgiving, as requested, is a part of my Lent experience.

I get to donate every 10 days and I get to choose the organization so long as it is not the ACLU. I have a recurring donation set up there and the ancestors requested that the places I donate to be new places. I have determined which two organizations get the first two donations – Planned Parenthood and Hope for Paws – and I have a pretty good idea of what the third will be. I guess I’ll have to look around for the fourth.

When I’m not complaining or hurting or annoyed, I think things are going remarkably well. I’ve managed to ignore my desire to give up on all of this and I’ve managed to keep to the goals I had set for myself. I don’t think I’m doing too badly all things considered.

It could be worse, I keep reminding myself in as cheerful a way as I possibly can. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It just really depends on the day.

Lent 2017.

Recently, I started thinking about that story in Genesis where Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son to God. It’s kind of a weird thing to be focused on, but I woke up one day thinking about how Abraham just got this message one day and instead of fighting back against his deity, he went ahead with a plan to sacrifice his kid.

It’s been a few years since last I heard it spoken of in relation to the Bible, but I can remember wondering why in the world anyone would do that. It just never made a lick of sense why the hell someone would be willing to do that.

I mean, did he cry at the thought? Or did he just go “yeah okay” and get on with the program? I always had to ask myself whether or not the whole story was “yes, I will do this thing” from Abraham or if there was a lot more fear, anxiety, and ranting against what appeared to be a completely unfair request.

I kind of thought, as a kid, that he probably was pretty upset by the whole thing. I mean, can you really just go ahead and willingly sacrifice your child out of blind faith? I personally don’t know the answer to that question, but I have a better understanding about sacrifice and faith as an adult than I ever did as a kid.

As a kid, the sum total of things that I would sacrifice was, well, bullshit. It was stupid things. “Give that to your brother” or “stop doing that because I said so.” I mean that’s what I thought sacrifice was. I just assumed it was being told by someone more powerful than you to stop doing the thing for their own reasons.

It’s not really like that, but it also is. I’ve been told any number of times by my gods that X had to happen in order for Y to occur. And X usually entailed having to surrender and give in to blind faith that they would ensure that Y really did occur.

This is an actually an overarching theme in my religious relationships and it comes around quite often. I don’t trust, therefore I have a hard time foregoing whatever it is they think I need to let go of in order for Y to occur. It’s a cycle or something.

To me, it has always been scary and frightening whenever I’ve had to do that. There’s no stoicism here as shocking as that may be to some people. I have ranted and raved quite a few times because what they wanted just seemed so damn unfair. But even with all of my bitching and moaning, I did the thing and gave into faith…

Eventually.

My gods have never come and told me – either through themselves or through alternative means – that I could stop sacrificing whatever it was because I had proved my faith, proved my fear of them. Maybe Abraham got the better end of the deal because he didn’t have to give up something he loved.

lent 05

I’m a sinner; I’m a liar; Want forgiveness; But I’m tired – Curbstomp by Meg Meyers

The theme of sacrifice has been popping up a lot lately. I kind of expected it. I usually hit this theme around now when Lent is around the corner. Last year, I studiously ignored all of the little neon lights pointing at Lent and kept tooting on my merry little way.

I’m not so lucky this year.

Some weeks back, my ancestors began hemming and hawing about Lent. I kind of assumed they’d be a little outspoken about it since they had asked me, very politely of course, to observe Advent and I had declined for perfectly valid reasons [at the time]. I guess they figured since I wasn’t able to partake of Advent, then it would be perfectly okay to push for Lent.

I kind of went round and round the idea for a bit with them. They were very sure that they wanted me to observe Lent, but had little other advice to offer. It was only after a particularly grueling session with them that I came to the conclusion that this was A Thing and that I should do The Thing.

I figured I know how to go about this and I have a sort of blueprint to follow, it couldn’t be so bad as all that.

Though they were particularly mum when I pushed the point in that grueling session, I have since learned from my ancestors that the original blueprint is a little faded and aged (maybe they had to think about it before getting back to me). I need to revamp the process and start over.

That’s around the time that I started thinking about Abraham and his requirement of sacrifice.

The ancestors made it clear that the sacrifice this year had to be bigger than diet Coke, had to be bigger than chocolate. It had to mean something to me personally. I wasn’t really sure what they were looking for, so I of course asked my son for a few suggestions. He only had one even after my pressing and pushing for more.

When asked, the ancestors agreed that would do.

The funny thing is that I’ve been thinking about giving it up for a while so it’s not really anything that’s come up out of the blue. It’s just unexpected and a little rushed. If I had more time, I’d plan it out. But my ancestors know me of course. They know that’s an excuse; if I don’t go for broke, I’m never going to fucking go.

sacrifice

I’m a shadow; I’m a creeper; Want forgiveness; Getting weaker – Curbstomp by Meg Meyers

The other day, I sat down with them and went through a long list of questions and answers. I asked them what I could expect all of this to look like and wouldn’t you know it? Despair. I got a lot of despair. I kind of had to laugh; you’d expect someone who is sacrificing something pretty big to be going through despair.

In one of those flip moments, they also told me that if I didn’t bother, then I would be much happier. It’s like they just needed to let me know that this isn’t supposed to be a pleasant process. They even came back three separate times and reminded me that sacrifice isn’t supposed to be easy or simple; it’s supposed to hurt.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who has a longer Catholic association than my tangential one, she reminded me that the 40 Days of Lent were related to Jesus’s time in the desert where he’s being constantly harassed by the Devil. If that doesn’t resemble despair, I don’t know what does.

But as with Jesus in the desert, the refusal to give in to temptation is what I’m after here. I can only hope that my will power is enough to see me through.

That, and hopefully my friends and family understand just how completely awful I am going to be while I sort this addiction bullshit out of my system. But at least I can always remind myself (and them) that I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

Some Would Sing and Some Would Scream.

I’ve been purposely quiet lately. The whole last month – last three months really – have been a sort of nightmare that Americans woke up to the day after the election. There is so much going on everywhere that it’s enough to send anyone into a spiral of darkness and depression, myself included.

Every single day, I wake up at 6am and spend a half hour looking through the news reports I missed out on while sleeping. I comb the various social media platforms I am on and reblog, share, and retweet the things that I find need to be shared. I spend much of my breaks at work or periods throughout the weekend doing the same thing. It’s honestly one of the few things that make the darkness a little more bearable.

It also tires me out. I mean, there really is only so much of these horrifying things you can take before you want to hide in a pillow fort for a few days. Life continues though, no matter how scary the real world has become and no matter how your mental illness reacts to it.

I still have to go to work and pay the bills. I still have to get groceries, do laundry, help my kid doing homework, and clean the old homestead. I still have to have the same arguments about fruits and vegetables with my son. I still have to feel miserable when shit starts flying at work. I still have my life to lead amid the nightmare fuel the world has seemingly become.

Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us can get up and greet a new day.

Fleur de Lis - Lily Style

You soon find you have few choices… I learned the voices died with me. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

During all of this, there has been some beacons of light in the darkness. I have turned to comfort from my ancestors. Some of the reason that I have turned to them is because of that old whispering commentary telling me to get right with my ancestors. But that’s not the whole of it.

I know enough about them to know that there were members who fought for freedom in some form or another. I figure they’ll understand all this stuff we’re going through now. My grandfather and his brother joined up during WWII, the time frame that seems to most mirror what we are going through today. I know they probably get it.

I don’t actually know what caused them both to join the air force. I couldn’t say if it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the atrocities committed by the Axis powers, or just a need to be a patriot. My grandfather once told my mother, after learning that I did not vote in the first election that I could have, that he was disappointed because the fight for that freedom to vote was something he had done or something like that. So maybe it was just the need to fight for freedoms.

I don’t know what, if anything, they had to say about the Japanese internment camps. I don’t know what they thought or felt about any of that and I will most likely never know. I have a romanticized dream that both my grandfather and great uncle thought it was just awful. Maybe the rose colored glasses will be ripped from my eyes one day or maybe not. I of course prefer my possibly false characterization.

Whatever their reasoning, I have turned to them, and my akhu as a whole, more and more often. Multiple times a week, I find myself talking to them, thinking about what they would say to me during this trying time if they were alive. Perhaps nothing; perhaps something. It is a comfort to me.

And that is predominantly why I’ve been so quiet.

The Keys to Bokeh

All you have is your fire… And the place you need to reach – Don’t you ever tame your demons. But always keep ’em on a leash. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

One would think that in such dark times, I would turn to my two warrior gods. They would be two whom understand fighting against a sea of swirling isfet, and to be sure, the world certainly seems full of that right now.

But I have found myself unable to do so. Whenever I think of it, I talk myself out of it. Things aren’t so bad for you. Let them focus on those who are in danger, those who truly need advice from two warriors during this trying time. I need comfort and wisdom too, of course, but in my mind, not as much as others.

I can feel them both like distant statues seen in the distance. The image is hazy even when squinting. If I were to move closer, I would no doubt have the image resolve itself. But I can’t seem to make myself move closer.

As I spend more time with my ancestors, I have found that they like being in the limelight less and less often. It seems very much to me that they lived quiet lives and want to continue that practice even in death. They have often asked me to be silent, to keep details back.

I have half a dozen drafts of posts that will never see the light of day simply because they have asked me to keep it quiet.

And to be fair, I often agree because the idea of going full on ancestor veneration under public scrutiny is disturbing to me. A little of that is because it feels lile breeching a previously unknown boundary.

But too it is also the idea that this world of akhu can get a little lonely.

Often it feels like a lonely little island with not so many other people discussing the subject. Since my ancestor veneration looks more like a cross with Kemeticism and Catholicism,  and an occasional pinch of Methodism, it seems like keeping it all to myself makes the most sense from all perspectives.

Lantern on snow

I knew that something would always rule me… I knew the scent was mine alone. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

The akhu have filled a sort of empty niche, willingly placing themselves at my disposal. Maybe this is the road I need to be on while I “get right with them.” I guess I’ll  find out eventually.

Causing a Soul to Live.

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.

Pyrenean Starry Skies

You have opened up your place among the stars of the sky, for you are the Lone Star of the sky… – excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.

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.

Starry Night at the Camp

O, fair are the orders which you give to the spirits, for you are a Power; you will not go hungry… – excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.

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.

The March of Time.

Every year, my mind starts hyper focusing on various dates coming up. In July or August, I’ll note that one of those dates is fast approaching: October 13. It will sit there at the forefront of my mind as I go through my calendar for one reason or another. Sometimes, I’ll scroll over to October and take a look, then I’ll move on. But as each month passes, the date starts building up in the back of my mind, overtaking my present thoughts for a moment, until I’m soaked with the knowledge that it is coming.

This all culminates in September. About a month out from October 13, I putter around a bit and let the knowledge soak through that, like all things regarding time, it is going to come upon me whether I want it to or not. Sometimes, I want to get the day over and done with. Sometimes, I just want the calendar to sit still for a minute while I get my bearings as it inexorably marches on towards the month of October. Once October hits, the pending doom in my chest lessens and some years, I’m able to forget about it. Other years, I’m not.

This is one of those days that will always kind of sit with me.

You know how after a few years of living, you have a few scars that seem irrevocably tied to dates and times? Maybe it’s the way the leaves look in the early spring or maybe it’s a particular date on a calendar, eternally circled in the back of your mind. Whatever the case may be, there will always be parts of yourself left behind at strategic stopping points throughout the year. Sometimes, maybe, you can reconcile yourself to the loss and maybe other times you can’t.

I think October 13 is one of those days that I’ll always just have a love-hate relationship with.

Death is a Bridge - teleidoscope 06

sometimes the loss of you is like an ache
other times, i hate you for it

Twenty-five years ago, my father died.

I remember listening to his death. I was seven. I can remember it. I’m grateful that my memories have faded. I can recall getting zings and pings, overwhelming emotional trauma that I couldn’t process as a child and only processed years after my mom stopped sending us to our child psychologist to deal with the trauma of losing a parent at such a young age. I can remember sometimes sitting, paralyzed with it, playing that night out like a faded movie on the theater screen in my head.

I’m older now and I think I’ve managed to handle most of it okay. I mean, I don’t get paralyzed with it anymore. The memory has faded enough where the grasp it held over me is not so tight. I’m able to breathe through it. And as I stated above, sometimes I even forget the date. My world is mired in dates but sometimes I can divorce myself enough from the battlefield embedded in October 13 that I can get by enough without feeling it in my bones.

Today was one of those days. I was fine for a while. I had work to do and errands to run and I was doing fine. I was perfectly okay until I turned the radio on after work this evening. As the sun played peekaboo with the gray clouds rolling through, lighting fire to the leaves that have changed color, the radio station I happened to turn on played Father of Mine by Everclear. This is a song that I have purposely eschewed as much as I love Everclear since high school. Consider it a trigger, I guess; I just can’t stand it anymore.

It hurts.

So as the pain of the day faded and I began to focus on the errands I had to run, the opening chords began to play and I just kind of got stuck for a while. I could feel it like shades of gray. It was kind of this shimmery background image as I drove and I kept my eyes covered with my dark glasses, trying to just breathe for a few minutes while I tried to drive through the 5 o’clock traffic.

Sometimes, I forget that it hurts still. And other times, it doesn’t hurt at all.

Father of Mine by Everclear

Tell me where have you been
You know I just closed my eyes
My whole world disappeared

I had the idea to do something when I got home. Since I had errands to run anyway, I just added a couple of other items to go with the flow. I didn’t know what kind of flowers to buy. I normally get him roses, but nothing looked good. I finally found a harvest looking bunch of flowers, but I couldn’t settle on which bunch looked the best. I finally made my son tell me which one he liked best and inevitably chose a different bouquet.

I putzed around the in the kitchen after cutting down the flowers, trying to figure out what I could offer. I’ve never gotten the impression that my father liked the Kemetic trappings. I can understand the point-of-view, but I’m not going to trim back just because he has an issue. It wouldn’t really be an issue if… well, I don’t need to finish that sentence probably. I’m trying not to be angry today, even if I probably still have the wherewithal to be.

I stood in my kitchen, feeling lost and a little weird. I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do. How did I akhu? Didn’t I have an idea or three about all of this? I had gone grave-tending across three different cities for years and I had done a spread or six before now. Why was it so hard? Was it just because of my dad? Yes, of course. Nothing seemed appropriate. I wanted perfection and all I got was a few fixings, hoping that I could get through the rest of my night.

As I tried to figure out what would work out best, I felt like I had lost something I never knew I had: I don’t know him. I never really got the chance to know him. I was seven when he died. The things I’ve heard aren’t all stellar. In fact, there are some things that I don’t know how to process at all so I leave them at the back corner of my mind like little shit balls waiting to fuck me up another day. The rest of the things I know I could probably count on one hand: he liked Moxie (my mother says it tastes like Listerine) and he had a thing for spinach.

Well, he got bread and a chocolate cupcake and some diet Coke. Sure, I could have given him beer, but since he was an alcoholic, I’m pretty stubborn about not providing him with alcohol. If he wants to imbibe, he can go elsewhere.

I don’t have any pictures of my dad, not really. I have 2 on my laptop. I have 1 in real life that’s wrapped in 5 layers of bubble wrap in a box in the closet. It’s cracked and the picture is stuck to the glass. I always kind of thought I’d like to be buried with it. That’s it for pictures of my dad and they’re pictures with people. He wasn’t the kind of guy who got his picture taken; he liked to be on the other side of the camera… kind of like me.

sadness

at the end of the day i always miss you
no matter how angry i have become

Today I remembered that my dad died.

I remembered that the sum total of my knowledge could fill a thimble. I remembered that he made bad choices and paid for them. I remembered how small and concave he got towards the end. I remembered playing in the hall of the veteran’s hospital once and the walls were mint green.

I remembered that he killed a bee in the very back of the station wagon, pulling over on the side of the road to do so. I remembered that he and I stayed up all night watching My Little Pony movies because that’s what I wanted to do. I remembered the time my mom let me watch him sleep with his eyes open. Gods, that was so weird.

Today, it hurt.

Tomorrow, it probably won’t.

I don’t know about next year.

Kemetic Round Table: The Afterlife

Coming face-to-face with your own mortality can be hard to handle. I know this myself; just recently, I sat down with a life insurance salesperson and talked numbers. The whole experience was terrifying and not just because I was being forced to put a price on what the hell my life should pay out for should something happen to me. But it was also terrifying because I had to answer questions like, “what will your family do if something unexpected happens to you?” It really puts into perspective that quote by Benjamin Franklin: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

A need to bury the dead goes back pretty far in history. Scientists have reported that Homo neanderthalensis practiced burial culture. Undisputed burial customs for Homo sapiens go back at least 100,000 years. The experts seem to say that the fact that the ancient bipeds of our past buried their dead means that they had a concern for the dead, which is partially why grave goods were a thing, too. I don’t know about all of that, but I can kind of understand, especially in connection with my own recent reminder about my own mortality, why people would feel a need to provide creature comforts to the dead.

When I was an atheist, I was pretty sure the whole point in religion was so that people had something firm to believe in for that moment when they absolutely had to come to grips with the fact that, at the end of it all, they were going to die. That moment of facing your own mortality can really sneak up on you and punch you in the face with a tin can, in case you weren’t aware. So, I understood it all from that perspective. People needed something bigger to focus on in the hopes that there was something that happened after The Moment, not just for themselves but for all the people who had gone on before them. I got it, but back then, it just wasn’t for me.

It’s almost ironic now that the religion I’ve turned to and practice has a firm, strong basis in afterlife mythos and beliefs. It’s almost like I needed to go the complete polar opposite of how it was when I was an atheist. From the unsettling desire to want more as an atheist – thus the disturbing tenacious need to cling to something like reincarnation – to the full-blooded beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. I guess, one might say, I don’t really do anything half-assed.

Afterlife

Afterlife by Cristiano Pelagracci

The ancient Egyptian civilization lasted for over three thousand years. In that time, the beliefs in the afterlife changed and morphed. What we’re often taught in school is a bastardization of the rich beliefs. Teachers can’t even begin to touch the whole of it – three thousand years of belief on a specific subject in a single class? Hell, people go to college for the stuff and they can’t possibly learn the whole of it. I’m going to try and be as succinct as possible here, but I’ll admit that I have a thing for rambling about stuff and tangents may happen.

The ancient Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife get their start pretty early. Most Egyptologists will tell you that it stems from some high roller accidentally finding a body that naturally mummified in the dry climate of the desert after a burial. Maybe – I mean, who really knows? Jackals, specifically, are known to have scavenged around the necropoles that arose out of a need to bury the dead. Experts will tell you that this is why Anup has a jackal head. Maybe – again, who actually knows?

The point being that the reason why the ancient Egyptians went with what they did for their afterlife beliefs is never going to be known. We’ll have suppositions and theories, of course, because that’s kind of what we do. But we’ll never officially know what it was that made them go, “yeah, man. Let’s mummify this guy in some salt and then have a big jackal-faced guy stand guard while we do that!” For all we know, they got the idea because someone had a dream once and it just kind of stuck.

The earliest burials were conducted with who knows how much ceremony – they have one thing in common though, the people were buried with a single pot. We don’t know what the pot was for although popular theories tend to hold that this was a holding vase for food. During later Pre-Dynastic times, the people continued to be buried with a single vase or pot, but the burials grew. Bodies were arranged to face either east or west and in either a crouched or fetal position. The grave goods grew more elaborate with painted imagery on the pots and personal items, such as weapons for men and cosmetic palettes for women, joined the originally very limited burial customs.

The difference between the poor and the rich began to gain momentum even so far back as then. It wasn’t until the Early Dynastic period, though, when people began to have brick-lined tombs. Of course, these tombs lasted until modern Egyptologists could excavate them while those of the poor are lost to us. We have a million different little clues – many of which make no sense to us now – about how the rich and royals were buried. Chances are the beliefs held across the board and a desire to be taken care of after death was just as important as it was for those who could afford a better tomb.

The ancient Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife during the Old Kingdom culminated in the Pyramid Texts and the royal necropoles that litter the landscape: Saqqara, Abusir, Dahshur and Giza being the most well-known. The zenith in all of this belief was the protection and resurrection of the pharaoh to ascend into the heavens. The Duat, as we’ve come to know it, wasn’t fully developed by this point. It was the transcendence from human to star that the pharaoh was aiming for. I often wonder if the lay people wanted to become a star, too, but because of the whole poor be poor and rich be rich thing the ancient Egyptians had going on, they were barred from the practice.

The belief in the afterlife morphed throughout the First Intermediate period. I suspect that the fragmentation of the country and the different factions that arose are the reason why the more common people were allowed access to an afterlife. Since it had become clear with the collapse of the Old Kingdom, anyone who was powerful enough and edgy enough could make a name for themselves. The world of the ancient Egyptians had been built upon the principle that the pharaoh was a god on earth. But the people had to admit that it was possible to fell a good and the politico-religious world that they had crafted.

The Coffin Texts began to show up around the First Intermediate Period. They began as an offshoot of the Pyramid Texts. The difference being that everyday wants and desires were added to the lists, which seems to reflect the commoners were using them as well. The afterlife was no longer a royal monopoly, but open to anyone who had enough wealth to secure a good artist and a coffin.

It is during the Middle Kingdom that the Book of Two Ways gets its beginnings. This book starts to give the geographical details regarding the Duat. This original book insinuated that the Duat was made up of seven gates (which would later be changed to twelve during the New Kingdom) with each gate being guarded by a serpent and two deities. To name each correctly was to allow the deceased passage through to the next gate. The “two ways” seems to indicate that there were two ways to pass through the Duat on the deceased’s way to Rosetjau and the home of Wesir: one by land and one by sea.

This theme is fully explored throughout the New Kingdom. It is from the New Kingdom that we are mostly taught about the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians’ afterlife. This is where you hear about the Book of the Dead, the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, and the Amduat. As long as the person had enough money to pass on to a scribe, they would be guaranteed the correct spells and incantations to pass through the Duat. Only now, instead of just leading towards the abode of Wesir, we have the Field of Offerings, the Field of Reeds, and of course, the ever present judgment chamber where the heart is weighed against the feather of truth.

But all of this is about the soul, to be honest. It was the soul that was important here. The body was going to end up being taken care of by priests with offerings in abundance and temples, or it wasn’t. The body was going to end up, inevitably, forgotten in the sands of time. The body part was pretty fucking important but it wasn’t necessary so long as the memory withstood and there were adequate representations of the deceased for them to inhabit. How they buried the dead tells a lot about them, but it’s the fracturing of the soul after death that is the most important.

The soul fragmented itself after death into eight parts: the body (khat), the mummy (sah), the heart (ib), the name (ren), the ka (ka), the ba (ba), the shadow (shut), and the akh (akh/akhu). Each part was fundamental to the greater good of the resurrection: the body, or a close approximation, was needed in order to perform the magical rites of mummification. It was these two fundamentals that were the first steps which led the deceased on the roller coaster that would lead them through the Duat and into their resurrection.

The ib was the essence of the life of the deceased. It was considered to be the power house for the mind and the seat of one’s emotions. The ib was necessary so that the records of all of the good deeds and bad deeds that the deceased had committed could be written in the Hall of Records and the gods could weigh it against the feather of Ma’at.

The ren was the part that needed to be spoken in order to keep the memory alive. To write one’s name in stone was to give it permanence, which is why the ancient Egyptians would hack out names for those that were deemed in need of punishment.

The ka was the part that seems to have been most like the soul as we know it today. It came into being at the birth of a person and it was the ka that required nourishment. The ka according to the ancient Egyptians was immortal. This is the part of the person that I tend to associate with my belief in reincarnation, but that’s UPG of course.

We don’t know what the point in the shut was, honestly. It could partake of nourishment. It was also needed to pass through the Duat and there were dangers specific only to the shadow.

The ba is most often associated with the personality of the deceased. The ba returned to the body every evening in order to continue the deceased’s existence in the afterlife. The ba required nourishment in the forms of food, drink, and sexual energy.

The akh is the part of the person that transcended and became one with the sky. The akh is not as tied to the rest of the sum total of a human being. It tended to leave the rest behind and quest for immortality by becoming a star.

All of the literature we read about how the ancient Egyptians buried their dead is only part of the whole. The tombs, the books, the texts – it’s all about where the soul was going to go and how it needed to get there. I think that we forget that the whole of it isn’t simply about how expensively and how lavishly they could bury their dead, but that the things left behind were needed in order to ensure the total composite parts of the soul were taken care of.

Personally, I think that’s kind of bad ass. They spent all this money and left a million different types of grave goods, but it wasn’t really about the here and now. It was about whether or not they were remembered and whether or not they would get to live some more in the afterlife. I think, as a modern American, I can understand that. Don’t we have enough of our own monuments all for the very same purpose? We only do it on a smaller scale.

Giza Pyramids shortly after Sunset

Giza Pyramids by More Altitude

As I mentioned above, I believe in reincarnation. I won’t bore people with the details, but honestly, how the ancient Egyptians believe things happened and how I believe things happen don’t actually work against each other. I believe that it’s the ka that is reincarnated in life after life. I’m not alone; I’m not the only Kemetic out there with this belief. We all have our own reasons for it, but it works for us. Just because the ancient Egyptian culture had a rich belief system when it came to life after death… it doesn’t really mean it’s going to negate what we, ourselves, believe. Sometimes, it just adds to it.

Personally, I don’t really think that Duat functions the way it used to. From my excursions over there (UPG, of course), it seems more like a store house or a stopping place. The belief in the place stopped thousands of years ago and I strongly suspect that’s wreaked some havoc. I don’t know if the gates are still all there, although from what I’ve found, there are certain places that do still exist. I know from other spirit workers that they’ve gone to specific places over there, as well. But to be perfectly frank, I don’t think the Duat is set up the way it once was. It’s possibly the landscape has changed, yet again, due to the disbelief or the falling out of belief. But it’s also possible that the energy the netjeru needed to maintain the landscape dissipated when they fell out of favor.

And we can’t really discount others’ beliefs. Many Kemetics who have attempted to honor their ancestors based on the ancient Egyptian belief system of akhu veneration have met with fierce resistance. I, myself, am one of those people. So, perhaps it isn’t simply that the Duat doesn’t function that way anymore but that the soul transfiguration output machine has closed up shop since the last believer has long since died. Maybe with our belief we’re rekindling it a little bit at a time, but mostly, I think, it’s just a place the netjeru go to escape the ravages of time, space, and humanity.

Maybe that’s why reincarnation among many Kemetics seems to be a thing. Or perhaps the ancients got it partially wrong in the first place. As I said above, we’ll never really know the truth. We can only move forward with our own beliefs and hopes and dreams and fear of our own impending mortality. All the more power to those of us who, at least, don’t go towards it with an ever-pressing fear but more with the eye of yet a new adventure eternally on the horizon.

Further Reading

  1. Body and Soul @ Reshafim
  2. Funerary Practices @ Reshafim
  3. What is a Soul? by Satsekhem
  4. Funerary Practices by Satsekhem
  5. Funereal Liturgy by Satsekhem
  6. The Akhu category by Satsekhem

Festival of Wag 2014.

There are days where I realize how much I enjoy festivals that have no relation on my gods. Don’t get me wrong; I like celebrating for my gods and on behalf of my gods. I kind of, though I will deny this later, enjoy where things are headed and the deep fulfillment I get when I create a service to the gods and know, deep inside, that I have done them proud. But it’s also that fulfillment that can leave me feeling tired and shaky afterward; I always feel as though I am on display.

Considering my relationship with my akhu and how deeply I’ve connected with them on so many levels, I have to admit that I don’t feel as though I will be judged wrongly for making a mistake or for being so simple with what it is I intend to do. I hate the fact that, quite often, I’m debating on how ornate my celebrations should be for my gods. But when I saw the notification that the Festival of Wag was this past weekend, I knew that I wouldn’t have to pull something both ornate and shiny out of my butt. I could just do what I do best – grave tend – and everything would be okay.

The thing is that grave-tending was something I started because of my relationship with Bawon. Since the lwa have disappeared, I’ve worried a bit about how to proceed with things regarding my ancestors and the veneration I’ve taken under Bawon’s direction. I knew, of course, that things would change when I realized the lwa had disappeared. I just didn’t know what aspects of that service to Bawon that I would be able or need to continue.

I’ve mentioned before that Anup has been less than pleased with me because my relationship with my akhu began not at his behest but at someone else’s. And in so making his displeasure known, he’s made it incredibly difficult for me to come to terms with what parts of the services I rendered are okay to keep and what parts are not.

But I have to admit: I really enjoy grave-tending. Graveyards are quiet and relaxing to me. I am, again, not on display and all that matters is who or what I am doing in that moment, who I speak with, what I leave, and whether or not I can leave that graveyard knowing that I have done a job well. Besides, I haven’t visited my family’s graves in months and months. I haven’t been maintaining the grave-tending since the lwa left after Lent this year and the idea of going to graves with so few spoons in the last few months has been, well, it hasn’t been a good idea.

I figured if I could pass off the on-call cell phone (because, you know, of course I was on-call this week), then I would go grave-tending.

…I passed off the on-call cell phone Friday night and knew that I had to go tending.

Since the Feast of Wag is a two-day festival, I had enough time to get the things done that I wanted to get done without feeling pressed for time. I have a lot of family members who are buried locally and while I had hoped that I would be able to hit some of the graveyards that have been left untended and forgotten, I knew that my direct ancestors were the main focus here. So, with my son in tow, I went to three cemeteries and was able to connect with the most recently deceased.

We went to the veteran’s cemetery first since there are three people there: my maternal grandmother and my significant other’s two grandfathers. I took pictures of my son with the headstones and beside the wall plaque for his father’s paternal grandfather. I also made sure to let them know that I would be having a little celebration the next night and they were all welcome to join, if they so desired. I couldn’t tell you if they took my invitation to heart; I was off and running to the next cemetery before I had really managed to process my invite.

I’ve mentioned before that I find it harder to connect with the more recently deceased. This is still an issue for me and I still heartily believe it’s a matter of religious disconnect. Whatever the case may be, I had no hope that my grandmother would show up, but I somehow thought that my significant other’s maternal grandfather may show up; he kind of enjoyed parties.

The next cemetery had four graves to visit. I found my [step] grandparents on my father’s side; my [step] great-grandparents, my great uncle and his wife, as well as my [step] great-great grandparents. They all seemed a little overgrown, though, so my son and I spent time playing in the dirt, clearing back as much of the overgrown grass as we could. I also stopped at some maternal relatives’ gravesides who I happened upon accidentally (I know they’re related to me since the last name is rare and I recalled their names on my mother’s genealogical project). Everyone was given an invitation to the feast I was thinking up on their behalf.

I find it easier to connect with this side of the family even though my father has made it clear he is displeased with all of this “hullabaloo.” I think part of the reason why I felt a better reception at my invitation for these relatives is because, outside of myself and one aunt, no one really pays them any heed. It was by accident that I found my great-uncle and his wife and by accident that I found my long-dead great-great grandparents. (Interesting side note: I discovered that my great-grandfather and my great-uncle died the same year, which is really very intriguing especially since no one knew or seems to know anything about either of them.)

The last grave I visited was my father’s. My son and I spent some time there and we cleared back the grass since it was beginning to overtake his grave again. Honestly, if I don’t go to my father’s grave on a regular basis, just like with his family members in the Catholic cemetery, it starts to seriously get out of hand. I find this hilarious since my mom swears up and down that it was years before any grass would willingly grow on his grave. Again, I extended the invitation; received absolutely no positive or negative feelings regarding it; and took my son home.

The first day was pretty damn relaxing, in all honesty. I didn’t feel pushed and prodded to get it done. I didn’t feel like I didn’t have enough time. I didn’t feel like I was going to fuck anything up. I was doing something that I did regularly though so maybe that’s why. Whatever the case may be, I felt like I was really living a dead religion.

The next day, I decided that I had absolutely no need to go over the top with foods. I have a very limited income, anyway, and while I had wanted to make something special for them – I was thinking about the French meat pie recipe – I knew that, financially, I couldn’t. Besides, French meat pie is all well and good but because I don’t make my own pie dough, I would have had to buy that as well as buying ground lamb, which can be pretty pricey in and of itself. So, I decided to just do something really easy and simple.

I think the dancing skeletons really brought out the color in Anup's eyes.

I think the dancing skeletons really brought out the color in Anup’s eyes.

I gave to them a large bunch of grapes, bread, and cool water. I created a small space on my blue cabinet, which I decorated with the lamp and a small statue of Anup. I added two more candles and lit incense for everyone. They probably didn’t show and it probably wasn’t enough by the standards they were used to when they were alive…

…but I often have to remind myself that it is the intent behind what I am doing, not what it is that I am doing.

Hopefully, they felt my intent to honor them and their memories.

Kemetic Round Table: Akhu for Beginners.

To the ancient Egyptians, who you were related to was pretty important. This is born out in all of the inscriptions we have identified, which indicates how so-and-so was the son of so-and-so, who was the son of so-and-so. The important part wasn’t so much the genetic aspect of who was descended from who, but who the heir to the family line was and so, therefore, who would be next in line to fulfill their father’s office. While the pharaoh could and occasionally did exercise the right to appoint someone to office – due to bribery, the end of a familial line, just because, etc. – generally speaking, offices were passed down from father to son. It wasn’t so much who you knew as who you were related to since lineal descent bore fruit for the females of the family as well; the priesthoods were filled with nepotism. And it was through a father that a son could become an important political player, such as vizier or mayor of a nomarch. So, while the genetics aspect is pretty important from our modern standpoint, the actual blood line didn’t matter in so much as whether or not that blood line could further your career… or end it should someone from that line piss of anyone more powerful.

Not only was the who’s who of your family important, but so too was seeing them properly taken care of in the afterlife. Considering the wealth of afterlife beliefs in ancient Egyptian religion, this really isn’t so surprising. It was important for the people of ancient Egypt to continue to pay homage to the cult centers of the pharaoh even after they had died. The nobility had similar beliefs after they were granted “access” to the afterlife as akhu (plural form of akh, meaning “transfigured dead”) in the later periods. The laity had absolutely no hopes whatsoever of doing anything other than serving in the afterlife, just as they did in life (the whole concept of the afterlife was, also, filled with nepotism), which was technically taken away from them by the creation of the shabti figurines in the Middle Kingdom. But making sure that the spirits of the dead were remembered was the most important part. The rulers and the nobility could pay “in perpetuity” to have their names spoken aloud, offerings provided, and ensuring that they were not lost to the sands of time. (This didn’t last past the next intermediate period, but with large standing monuments to their death, there was obviously some remembrance of them.) This wasn’t the case with the laity. They had to hope their line would continue and someone would be around to at least speak their names.

Failure to remember them was the worst desecration imaginable to the ancient Egyptians. There’s much discussion about “chiseling out” names, especially when it comes to the Amarna Heresy. This wasn’t simply an attempt of later generations to remove the Heretic King and his direct descendants from the kings’ lists, but a direct attack against their spirit and their attempt to reach the afterlife. If images weren’t available and a body wasn’t available, the ba would have nowhere to regenerate and to feast upon its offerings. If the names weren’t available in texts, then the name would die out and be forgotten. The ancient Egyptian belief in the soul listed the ren (or, the name) as the very essence, the very foundation of the person and by obliterating any memory of that name, then they were effectively killing off the soul. So, remembering the deceased was one of the most important aspects to the ancient Egyptian religious system.

A lot of people, when they start entering Kemeticism, get hung up on the akhu question: should I or shouldn’t I? It’s kind of a personal question, so whether or not people decide to move forward with integrating the akhu into their practice is up to them. Of course, I totally get it. There are a lot of people that many people are related to who are, for lack of a better term, fucking assholes. And who really wants to remember fucking assholes, am I right? It is possible to obliterate, so to speak, those fucking assholes from the akhu thing if you’re interested. I strongly recommend not letting some fucking assholes ruin something that you may end up finding to be really awesome and really useful. It can be nice and almost cathartic to remember the people in your lives – genetic ancestors or inter-marriage relatives or adopted relatives or whomever – who have passed before you.

The in-home akhu altar space is simple, but effective.

The in-home akhu altar space is simple, but effective.


Personally, I do have a relationship with my akhu. It can be very difficult though because I have a lot of family members who have passed on and I want to honor all of them. I honestly can’t have an akhu altar in my house for all of my ancestors. I would always be adding someone new, either because someone in my family has passed or someone in my significant other’s family has passed or because my dad’s family married and divorced so many times that I have a ton of fucking step-grandparents and step-aunts and uncles. So, I mostly have a generic altar space that I use in my home (very rarely, mind) to pay homage to the dead. Usually, on large holidays such as the Festival of Wag, I will set up a temporary altar space in my home so that I can pay my respects to those whom have passed and I leave it at that since I can’t really get to all of their graves in two days’ time.

Something that I have found, and other Kemetics have also found, is that it can be very difficult to integrate the deceased into a religious practice that is not something they are familiar with. Most of my family members who have passed are Christian stock. My daddy was born and raised a Methodist and my mother’s family are all conservative, die-hard Catholics. What I have found with this is that, the closer they are to the time when they passed, the more push back I get from them. I visit my father’s and grandmother’s grave often, but the offerings that I provide to them are grudgingly taken. They appreciate my remembrance of them, but they do not appreciate the trappings that memory is cocooned within: Kemeticism. I have had intense dreams with my father yelling at me about this, in the past, and I’ve felt similar misgivings from other family members as well.

Some people have decided that this means they should not incorporate the akhu veneration into their practice. Others have found that by incorporating religious frameworks that the deceased would understand has made for an easier time with those deceased. Though she is no longer around, I knew a Kemetic of Philippine ancestry who incorporated Philippino ancestor veneration into their practice when her ancestors gave push back on how she was trying to incorporate them. Another Kemetic blogger, also no longer around, found the same issue and incorporated Jewish traditions into their veneration. While there is nothing specific to culture that I have found to ease the process with my family members (their argument is based solely on religious grounds, it seems, as opposed to cultural), I still try to appease them as well as myself when I reach out to them.

What I have also found, though, is that the longer someone has been deceased, the less likely they will care how you remember them. All they seem to really care about is that someone is actually bothering to pay some attention to them. My mother completed a large genealogical project when I was in high school for her family. She included some of my father’s family in this project and so, I have the wherewithal to visit the local graves of many of my longer-deceased family members. My great-grandparents and great-great grandparents seem to not give two shits if I provide them standard offerings as based on a Kemetic framework, so long as I take a little jaunt over periodically, clean off the grave, and let them know that they are remembered. Just as with the netjeru, it seems to be the intent behind the practice for the longer-deceased than it is about how you go about the work.

The theory that those who have been dead for longer care less about the trappings is born out my grave-tending duties. While these duties didn’t start off because of my akhu veneration (it actually all started because I was serving the Bawon Samedi, in all honesty), I do occasionally fall back to a Kemetic standpoint when I decide to visit and leave offerings to the graveyards in my area. All of the graveyards I visit are ignored, passed by, and hardly get any attention from the cities that are supposed to be tending to them. I have found that because I have let them know that I will remember them, take care of their graves, and have photographed them (so that when I die, should no one continue this work after me, there will be a “forever” memory so to speak), they are all for it. They think it’s wonderful. I have gone into graveyards that have been ignored for years and found that they were pleased with what I was doing because at least someone was paying some damned attention to them.

I think, all in all, the practice is very rewarding on numerous levels. How other people decide to move forward, if they decide to do so, when it comes to the akhu is of course going to be dependent on how they feel regarding their ancestors. But I have found that I feel very much more connected with the world, at large, because I do incorporate them into my religious practice.

Further Reading

Funerals: Saying Goodbye to Non-Kemetics.

I think funerals are, probably, one of the harder things to contend with when it comes to those of us who are from “alternative” religious choices. I mean, many of us are recreating a religion that had an established (if we know it) way in which to honor the dead. In some instances, they had a whole host of things to see to the souls of those who have passed and how to honor those souls after they had finally gone into… well whatever direction they may go into. In a modern context, especially when compared to how the ancient Egyptians went about their business, the amount of things done for the deceased can be rather paltry. Ancient Egyptians had seventy days of mourning, funeral corteges, and spells to see the deceased on while many of the funeral services that I can recall are a two-day affairs that end up with a meal in a restaurant, reminiscing. But I think, honestly, what makes it harder is not knowing whether or not you should ever bother doing anything within your own religious context especially for people who may know not, may not understand, or were staunchly religious in their own rights.

So where do we draw the line? At one point is it okay to do what we want versus what they want? When will it be okay to say a thing or three about them in our religious context, either publicly or privately? How much lip service, if any, must we pay to their religious contexts? As a matter of form, of course, each response to these questions is going to be highly dependent not only on the individual who will be attending said funeral services for people whom they cared for, but also based on what they know about the deceased and how the individual feels that the deceased would react to such things.

This, of course, comes up for me because this week, I had to attend funeral services for the significant other’s grandmother’s boyfriend. He was a well-established member of the family long before I arrived on the scene and everyone loved him. He took very good care of their ailing grandmother, his stories were hilarious, and he knew everyone. He was a very well connected kind of guy and not just because of his Italian background, if you catch my drift. And his stories were fucking awesome.

J will be missed.

Of course, with the announcement that he had passed, I began thinking, as I always do, about how I could or would celebrate his life in my own way. I think, again, this is kind of common for people such as myself with an “alternative” religion, especially in the context of someone that you truly cared about. We want to pay them homage in the best way we know how to, which often tends to be an association from our religious background. There is something within each of us, at the notice of a death, which seems to say, “I need to give respect to this person and I think I should do so within my own religious context.” Just with writers, we each go to what we know, which tends to be based on our individual recreations of ancient religions and how they handled death and the afterlife.

How do you provide for them in your own religious context, though? Is it even okay to do anything for them in your religious context? If they were overly religious in their own way – and J was, as evidenced by the St Anthony and St Christopher’s medals, the rosary, and the Catholic Mass for his funeral rites – do you bother to try to do anything outside of what their final wishes were? Or if they were an atheist, is it okay to do something within your religious observances? Is a[n American-style] wake/viewing and funeral enough to make you feel like you’ve done something effectively for them? Or do you attempt to incorporate them, either in minor or in major, with your own religious practice’s observances?

When I attempted to incorporate my deceased family members into my Kemetic akhu observances, I found myself getting glimmers of strong emotions that were clearly negative: disinterest, dislike, discouragement. I was a little surprised by it. One would assume that they would like to be honored in some way, but the more I ended up trying to Kemetic the practices into a cohesive way that worked for me, I found that I was getting fewer and fewer emotional pings but the ones that I did sense were more and more intense. And they were all incredibly negative. It didn’t take a long time for me to realize [for once] that they didn’t like it.

It didn’t dawn on me until I attempted to try it out that they wouldn’t appreciate what I was doing. I thought that since they cared about me and probably would like to be remembered more than just merely in passing that they would tolerate what I was doing, but I was wrong. I was going into this with a basis that my needs and wants figured more prominently than their needs and wants. I was also dismissing their own religious backgrounds and beliefs. I was thinking that my own, with its rich plethora of akhu veneration was more important than their own. In effect, I was going into this with the belief that I was more important. While I still think I’m pretty important, I don’t think my wants and desires really should overpower them or their desires on the subject matter, whether they are alive and kicking or not.

Since this was the impression I got when it just came to visiting family graves, it dawned on me that I may find the same discouraging emotional pings when it came to funerals. I had thought, a few years back, that I would create some big and encompassing super-rite that had to do with funerals. And then, I scaled it back to something small and minor after having gone to one and then I scaled it back to nothing at all when I realized that, well, maybe the deceased wouldn’t appreciate what I was trying to do. That idea came to me when I was sitting beside TH who was saying goodbye to his paternal grandfather, who was staunchly Catholic. This came to me again, last year, when I was sitting beside my son and TH while they both said goodbye to TH’s maternal grandfather. And by J’s funeral services this week, it had solidified to make me realize that what I may have wanted to do wasn’t necessarily in the deceased’s best interest.

This reminded me that, in many instances, the funeral services aren’t really for the deceased anyway. It’s possible that many of them go into the afterlife, knowing full well what will happen after they depart because they already have it planned. But, I think that, it’s mostly something that is set in place for those who are still alive. It’s a final good-bye for the living to the deceased. It’s the close of the final chapter, but instead of a drawn out ending that leaves the reader hanging, it’s the act of tying up of all the loose ends in the plot devices within the novel before it. The ending may not seem satisfactory to the reader for one reason or another, but that is precisely what the funeral services are for. It’s the act of goodbye for those whom still live, whether they want to say those farewells or not.

And while I, too, need something that will close out the end of the novel, and would prefer it in a frame of reference that makes more sense to me – Kemetic trappings, specifically – I realized that it may be a little presumptuous of me to do so. I’m not the only person looking to say farewell to the deceased, after all, and my religious persuasions are still very much in the minority. Of course, this made me wonder how it would be possible to take something for myself in the final goodbye scene of the deceased as well as to be respectful, not only of their wishes, but of the desires of the people around me. The funeral services that I have attended the last few years didn’t truly impact me on an emotional level, though they obviously impacted people to whom I care about deeply.

What if, though, I was attending a family member’s funeral? Would the idea of keeping my own religious observances and desires to myself still hold? Obviously, I haven’t been able to put this into practice, but I have to keep thinking back to those negative emotional pings I was receiving from my deceased relatives. If they don’t like it after they had already passed, why in the world would they tolerate it when I am saying goodbye? Again, it comes down to a respect for their wishes and the wishes of everyone around me. The hiding of a religious practice that isn’t mainstream and is oft misunderstood by outsiders also plays a part in all of this. While I know that TH’s family would support me if I decided to do something more, my own family wouldn’t. And frankly, the idea of arguing with them or even explaining something that they won’t understand (either purposefully or not) doesn’t really appeal to me, especially in regards to funeral matters and the acts of saying goodbye to someone I care(d) about.

But in this particular case, just like with the funerals in the preceding years that I’ve gone to, I stayed my hand, my lips, and paid attention to the religious observances. I said the Lord’s Prayer, I offered the refrain during the Catholic Mass, I took Communion, and I did the sign of the cross at the appropriate times. I knelt on the prie dieu (when I wasn’t holding on to my nephew to keep him quiet). It seemed to me that, even though these trappings were not my own, it made more sense to do them to honor the deceased. It felt as though it would have been more disrespectful to sit or stand, a blank look upon my face and glazed eyes during the service. And at the very crux of the matter, I thought of that popular saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

I think though, in some instances at least, it may be okay in order to do something that makes sense within our own religious framework. While paying homage to the religious observances of the deceased is very important in my opinion, I also think that we can’t shy away from our own thoughts on the matter, either, especially when it comes to family members whose deaths may severely impact us emotionally and mentally. I think that, in all honesty, denying our religious beliefs in any way, especially when it comes to saying farewell to someone whom we cared for deeply, would be a sin against ourselves and would be against ma’at. So, how in the world do you connect the two separate worlds together, especially if you’re in hiding, so that you are respecting the observances of the family and friends of the deceased, the deceased themselves, but you’re also respecting your own religious observances as well?

On the down low, of course.

My wearing ankh imagery isn’t outside of the norm for me. I wear an ankh necklace daily and I switch into my ankh earrings also rather regularly. So, it wasn’t outside of normal parameters for me to be wearing either. But in my own heart of hearts, I was wearing them in homage to the deceased and his passing from this life into the next. The ankh is one of the most potent and obvious symbols of the ancient Egyptian religion. It is often shown in tomb art in the hands of deities associated with the afterlife, who are conferring the gift of life onto the one who has passed. They are also amulets used to denote strength and health, two things that the person who has saying farewell to the deceased would need in abundance. By wearing these symbols, I was hoping that J would be transformed into the afterlife of his choosing (I would assume it was the Catholic form, but one never really knows) and my wearing that jewelry was my covert way of aiding and abetting.

A few days before the funeral, I mentioned it on my Tumblr and wrote the following deceased offering formula to J:

An offering given by the Daughter of Power to J-Wesir. That she may give a voice offering of bread, beer, oxen, birds, alabaster, clothing, and every good and pure thing upon which a god lives. For the ka of the revered, J, True of Voice.

I was keeping in line with the offerings that the ancient Egyptians would have provided to their deceased by remarking that I was giving a voice offering of all of the super awesome things that the gods really liked back in the day. (And maybe even J’s God would like, too? I mean, I can’t think that the Christian deity would like clothes but maybe He’d like pure things, pretty things, and food?) And I ended it with denoting that J was “true of voice.” This particular aspect is a form of heka all its own so that he will be transfigured into the next life of his choosing, no doubt about it. This was the only thing I did that was overtly and obviously Kemetic in origin. I didn’t want to encroach too much but I also didn’t want to ignore the feeling that I needed to say goodbye with a frame of reference that works for me.

As much as it does suck that we may be unable to do things how we would prefer, we also have to remind ourselves that we’re still very much a minority when it comes to other religions out there. And it will be some time, if any, before we start seeing more Kemetic flavored or styled funeral rites. In the meantime, some of us may feel the need to integrate what we think would be in the deceased’s best interest with the desires of the deceased and their family members, especially in regards to respecting their own religious observances. But above all, being respectful towards the deceased should be foremost in our minds when attempting to figure out how to surreptitiously incorporate our desires and religious leanings into our own farewells.