Nephthys.

In February, I was beginning to despair that things weren’t going to work out the way that I wanted them to. I don’t know if anyone realizes this, but I tend to come down on the side of “never going to work out” because hope is a thing that I don’t really know how to have. It always works out best if I assume the worst because I’ll never truly be disappointed. But this year isn’t about assuming the worst; it’s about moving forward and being reborn. Unfortunately or otherwise, a part of that means that hope is a thing that has to happen.

During a conversation with one of my long-time friends where we were discussing what was going on with me, they mentioned that they had done a reading for me about the whole thing. As part of that reading, the cards seemed to indicate that I should reach out to Nephthys. I kind of laughed and said, “Are you sure?” They confirmed twice and said that I should probably look into it.

After doing the usual research (going to Butler’s entry on Nephthys), I found it interesting that Nephthys’s name is translated into “Mistress of the House.” According to Wikipedia, this could be a misnomer; a citation-less note on that page seems to indicate that her name could mean “Mistress of the [Temple] Enclosure.” Based on further reading I’ve done on her since, I have a tendency to think that it’s all the same; in either case, she’s still a mistress of some closed off space.

As I was going through various pages, trying to catch a glimmer of who this unknown-to-me goddess was, I kept coming back to the translation of her name and the fact that her name, when written in hieroglyphs, looks very much like the traditional house hieroglyph with a bowl plunked down on top. I was apparently not the only one to see this since TTR agreed that they, too, saw the same house image with a bowl placed on the roof.

I couldn’t get this bowl thought out of my head.

Whenever I would sit down to look deeper into this mystery goddess, I couldn’t help but keep coming back to the bowl on top of the house image. I kept picturing a house with a bowl to catch rain water. Sometimes I would picture the bowl filled with the same kind of crap you could expect to see in a gutter around a house, but mostly, I kept coming back to the idea of the bowl catching rainwater, or maybe even snow in the winter.

I assured myself that the bowl was immaterial probably; the important part was that she could help me out. But even with my own false assurances loudly ringing hollow in my own ears, I kept coming back to the hieroglyph of her name, of the square that I’ve seen a hundred times in similar position when I’m looking into Hathor for one reason or another: her name uses that same little box since her name translates to “House of Horus”.

The idea that Nephthys has a relationship to the home makes sense to me, although after doing further research on her, the translation of her name meaning temple enclosure could also fit. But before all of that deeper dig into the source material, the idea that Nephthys was related to the house wouldn’t leave me. And I kept asking myself: Well, why can’t she be a household deity?

We know little about the religion of the laity, a point I’ve made many times over. The bits that we do know seem to indicate that they had idols of gods like Hathor, Djehuty, Bes, and others in enclosures in their home. It’s not quite so different in a very broad way from what most pagans and polytheists are doing now except that we aren’t sure how those household deities were worshiped.

Now, I did look around to see if there was any evidence that a Nephthys idol could have been found in any of the homes that have been excavated and I came up with nothing. In fact, the more I looked into it, the more I began to feel like this was probably not something that was done in antiquity, but I wasn’t getting any negative push back from any of my household gods about it. To be blunt, the more I thought about it, the more I felt like this was A Thing that Should Happen.

To prevent myself from over-thinking it, I went back to the books, back to the research. If I was going to do something that was probably a-historical, then I should at least have a firmer base in history.

Nephthys didn’t have much on her own, all said and done. Her story is often tied with others: Osiris and Isis the most often, Set on occasion. It is the connection between her sister, Isis, and she that is most often discussed in the places I looked. The two of them are the professional mourners par excellence for Osiris and it is the two of them that protect him. There’s more to it than all of that, but I kept seeing that where Isis went, her sister Nephthys was sure to be there, to follow in her sister’s footsteps. But Nephthys was no slouch when she is depicted or discussed on her own though this seems to have not occurred often: she is a deity who can battle, who can heal, who can drink excessively, and who can do many more things besides. As with them all, she is multifaceted.

Nephthys also didn’t appear to have much in the way if a temple at all. There is record of one small place that seems to have been her own, but all other temple mentions indicate that she was included in the reindeer games of other gods’ temples. This brought me back to the idea of her being a household deity; I mean, after all, Bes was a household deity and he didn’t get his own temple either. Why couldn’t Nephthys be like him in that way?

When an idea won’t leave my head, I push back on it in every conceivable way and then, I give up. Sometimes the ideas are good; sometimes the ideas don’t work out. But this one had a feeling to it that made me think this could work out in my favor. I decided that I would at least give it a short, push to include Nephthys as a household deity with the rest of my household deities.

As I began looking over my household altar space, which is amusingly enough, situated on top of a box, I could practically picture a large bowl on top of it. The bowl color is the color of sand and within that bowl was… paper. Little tiny strips of paper that reminded me of the daily angel message strips my MiL was given when one of her good friends died. Those messages are filled with positive and happy messages, feel-good things that you are meant to focus on throughout the day to guide you ever forward.

The difference between those messages and what I was seeing in my head was that the strips of paper included things that I would want to see in my household. Happy and calm vibes; strong maintenance schedule; clear communication between the household members; etc. These were all things that you would, hopefully anyway, like to have occur in your house and amongst the people of your household.

I could see the bowl filled with various semi-precious stones to help attract the very things that you would want to see, but I could also see a giant feather of ma’at, too, because at the very base of it all, you would want ma’at to flourish within your home.

I pulled out the little purple card I had made for Nephthys many years ago when I began honoring the children of Nut and Geb on their birthdays and tried to figure out where to place it on my household altar. The box I have it not very big. It is just large enough for the things I had kept on it up to now, so I had to rearrange and move things around so I could make room for this sand-colored bowl and Nephthys’ name in addition to the pieces of my household altar space that I felt needed to be retained at all costs.

When I was done, I felt like this could work out at any rate. I placed the bowl behind my icon of Bes and his household deities-in-arms, Wenut, Tawaret, and Wadjet. I was actually very proud of the arrangement and felt like I had done the vision in my head proud (which is not always the case). I felt like this was functional enough for daily rituals but also that Nephthys’s specific function was segmented back enough from the other three so that, while they are all technically fulfilling the household deity dynamic, their paths are separated enough for me to focus on the grouping or specifically on Nephthys, depending on what I’m aiming for.

Then it came time to fill the bowl. My feather of ma’at amulet was the first thing to enter. I batted around the idea of including a magnet of some sort. TTR and I had discussed adding a magnet to attract all the things I was putting out there, perhaps with a feather of ma’at drawn upon its sides, but I couldn’t find a magnet that I felt worked for the moment, so instead, I sat down to write down all the things I wanted to see.

I took a small sheet of notebook paper and wrote down various items that I wanted. I wrote them down on one line apiece, if I could, but no bigger than two lines. And once I had filled an entire page of notebook paper, I cut them all down into strips to wrap them into the bowl around my feather of ma’at paper. This was actually harder than I thought it would be because the sandstone bowl I chose for this purpose is actually a lot smaller than the one I pictured in my head.

Once I was done, I stood back and found some remaining things that needed to be added: fake flowers. I love real flowers but I don’t like in a place where those live for very long. So I pulled some of the fake white flowers I have stashed everywhere and placed them all on top and around the bowl to cultivate what I want to see in my home.

I honestly don’t know if this working out so far. This setup hasn’t been up for very long: a little less than a month. But when I walk over to my household altar to do something in the morning, I can feel the difference. It was stagnated before (partially because I needed to clean and rearrange as I do every three months or so) but also because the feeling that I had needed to be fulfilled before the space could open itself back up to me.

It’s been opened up for three weeks or so now and I can feel the hard work that I put into it reflecting back into the walls and the people who live here. It doesn’t feel as if I have done something wrong or that I shouldn’t have done this. It feels right in that way that a polytheist or pagan will get when they know what they’re doing isn’t necessarily historically accurate but at least seems to be working for the time being.

I have another picture in my head of how this will change and evolve over time, but we’re not there yet. All I know is that I can see what the future of this endeavor will look like and it looks kind of awesome.

Thus far, I have had very little communication with Nephthys on the solo front. She has always been a silent goddess to me; she was never truly mine at any rate. I have had no dreams of her as I have had dreams of Bes and Wenut. I have heard not a peep and maybe that means she is quietly working away, diligently pushing forward the things I asked for with my little bowl of messages.

We’ll see at any rate.

The Fourth Hour.

The third hour was an hour of elemental powers: either the powers of the gods and the chaos from the power that emanates from them or an internal struggle of one’s self as the soul moves forward in its attempt to be reborn. Above all else, the point in the previous hour was almost as if we need to battle ourselves or the gods themselves. No matter the outside influences or internal influences of the battle itself, the overall point was to come out the other side of it as a pure form of yourself.

The fourth hour is a mix of elemental power again, but that power is turned inwards.

The Book of the Hidden Chamber [Amduat]

The fourth hour heralds the entry into Rosetjau, or the Land of Sokar, who is upon his sand. The world has shifted from the abundant greenery and fertility of the preceding hour to a barren desert. A primordial darkness pervades the land of Rosetjau, a place filled with monsters. These beings are serpent-like with legs, wings, and several heads.

The waters of the Nun have receded and the netherworld can no longer be navigated upon the Nun. An absolute darkness precedes the solar barque within the sandy domain of this hour and the barque must be towed forward. The barque has turned itself into a double-headed serpent that pulses out a fiery breath that pierces the darkness:

This great god sails by them like this:
It is the flames from the mouth of his barque
That guide him on these mysterious ways,
without his seeing their images.

The registers of this hour are separated by a zigzag path, “full of fire from the mouth of Isis and repeatedly blocked by doors… The doors are called knife since they cut the way in several places.” [p58, Abt & Hornung, Knowledge of the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat.]

Ra, himself, no longer blazes forth with his shining light in this hour. He moves forever with diminished light, incapable of using his own light to wake those in their eternal slumber. He uses his voice, instead, to call out to those in the darkness: “Ra takes care of those who are in (this hour) with his voice without his seeing them.” [p58, Abt & Hornung, Knowledge of the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat.] The silence is absolute throughout this hour until Ra passes through, calling out orders to the beings of the Netherworld. Those who hear his voice cry out in joy when he arrives and weep at his leaving.

Within the center of this scene, the darkened eye has been injured because of the darkness of this hour and requires both Sokar and Djehuty to protect and renew it from the evil beings that inhabit the darkness of this hour. In addition to the work of these two gods, four deities holding the ankh of life out towards the Solar Eye. One of the deities depicted is that of Onuris, the god who brought the Distant Goddess back to the fold. While Ra is given life from these gods, so too are the deceased.

The Book of Gates

Two bodies of water guarded by jackals dominate the imagery of the fourth hour: the Lake of Life and the Lake of Uraei. Hornung posits that these two lakes may be variations of the Lake of Fire espied in the previous hour. As the solar barque moves forward, mummiform bodies lie before him in their journey forward to their own rebirth. As he passes, he brings about their resurrection and provisioning. Beneath the resuscitation of the mummies, Osiris lays enshrined in protective splendor, surrounded by the gods of his entourage. His son, Horus, takes care of him while the enemies of Osiris are punished in the fiery pits at the end of the hour.

The Book of Caverns

The beginning of this next section is shown again in replication of the first portion of the Duat: a solar disk and ram-headed sun god are depicted but this time, between them is an erect serpent. The name of this serpent is Great One on His Belly. As everyone rejoices at the entrance of the sun god, Ra assures promises to Osiris and his followers.

Nephthys and Isis are shown lifting the body of Osiris to initiate his resurrection. In the next scene, he is cared by his two “sons” [sic], Horus and Anubis. And in the last scene in the top register, he is depicted as the Bull of the West beside the god Horus-Mekhentienirty, the mongoose, who has taken the place of his son.

Beneath this section, the sun god is leaning on a staff and is presented with three separate forms of Osiris. In the next scene, Horus and Anubis stand protectively in front of the double corpse of Osiris and again in front of the ba of Osiris.

In the bottom most register, the enemies of Osiris are bound and standing on their heads. “Between them appear the ‘annihilators in the Place of Annihilation,’ with whom the ‘cat-formed one, from whose clutches there is no escape’ is associated as a punishing demon in the first scene.” [p87, Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife.] The enemies, as further punishment for their sins, cannot see or hear the sun god and that their ba-souls have been robbed from them.

The Book of Night

The Fourth Hour gateway leads us to the throat of Nut. The barque is pulled forward now by He Who Divides the Offerings and the gateway itself is called: “Sharp of knives, Mistress of the Two Lands, who destroys the enemies of the Tired Heart (an epithet of Osiris), who arouses trembling before the Sinless One, who removes wrong-doing.” The names of both the guide and the gateway seem to herald a focus more on the protection of Osiris during this hour.

The hour itself is filled with a fertile and hilly region. Trees grow abundant within this hour and the terrain is filled with vegetation that grows and flourishes. The greening of this hour seems to indicate that the solar barque has finally entered into the life-giving, or ka-realm; a place where nourishment is easily obtained. Beings live on the banks and rivers surrounding this green-filled place, nameless and weeping:

To the left of the hill-sign are groups of people called “Those of the Banks”, “Those of the Shores” and “Those of the Riverside”, who all crouch forward with disheveled hair, and hands held to their faces in the gesture of mourning. Like the people of the fields and channel at the close of the previous hour, their names suggest they inhabit a canal-landscape belonging to the inundated land. And obviously, too, this transition to a fertile realm in the fourth hour is a time of some disorder and confusion.

Beyond these beings, fish-headed beings that are nameless appear. They have their arms tied behind their back. The explanation for these beings is not clear, but the prevailing theory is that these are the enemies of Osiris, those who sided with Set during the battle between the two brothers, who are being punished for their crimes. They, too, are shown as weeping.

The bound fish-headed creatures seem to indicate that while this hour is where life can be renewed, it is a constant battle to be able to move forward on the path to rebirth. On all sides, hostile forces roam free and must be fought against. It is, perhaps, because of the enemies of Osiris that the people also are shown weeping upon the banks of the river and canal:

They weep and mourn because of the terror and confusion in their aquatic habitation caused by the struggle with Sethian creatures. And it is along these disorderly ways that each and every human, each and every divine being, must travel in order to reach the fertile nurturing regions.

In the upper register of this hour, four deities are shown.

The first is a mummiform god known as the ‘Veiled One.’ “The ‘Veiled One’ perhaps refers to the concealment of death or wounds of Osiris – only initiates were allowed to see the weariness of Osiris, who must be protected from his enemies.” [p120, Roberts, My Heart, My Mother.]

The second deity is a figure entitled Djed, ‘The One Who is Stable’. “Djed, (the Stable One) is an obvious allusion to the djed pillar and the raising of Osiris from the inertia and inactivity he has fallen into because of Seth’s wicked deeds against him.” [p120, Roberts, My Heart, My Mother.]

The final two deities are “The One-who-is-in-his-Shrine” and an enthroned goddess, “She who is Seated,” which is an obvious allusion to Aset.

Further Reading

  • The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung
  • Knowledge for the Afterlife by Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung
  • My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts

 

The Third Hour.

The second hour of the afterlife journey heralds the moment when the sun god and the journeying soul truly enter into the afterlife. The overall view from this portion of the journey highlights the inertia one can experience within the first true hour of the journey: beings in sarcophagi or mummified litter the various books of the netherworld, highlighting that passiveness within will do nothing to allow beings to move forward.

The third hour comes across as an hour filled with elemental power, as we shall see.

The Book of the Hidden Chamber [Amduat]

The flood waters of the Nun are highlighted again within this hour, now called the Water of Osiris. He is shown again and again within this hour, being seen four times in the White Crown and four more times in the Red Crown. In addition to Osiris within the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, two depictions of the Orion constellation, which was associated with him, are shown as well.

The flood waters of the Nun are a primary focus here, not merely because these waters grant the necessary moisture for crops and food to grow in the underworld. The floods from the Nun are chaotic but necessary, just as the inundation of the Nile was. It is through this hour that the old is dissolved in order to allow a renewal of the necessary fertility to feed the myriad denizens of the Netherworld.

The solar barque dominates the middle register of this hour, showing a total of four boats. Each boat shows Ra within, which “points to a fragmentation of the unity of the Sungod into four” [p49, Abt & Hornung, Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality]. Each boat depicts two oarsman to steer through the flood waters and a serpent for protection against the enemies of the solar deity.

While the seeming fragmenting of the solar god may seem counter-intuitive, Abt & Hornung go on to explain:

This dissociation is counterbalanced by four gods who approach the four barques from the right. Their names are Lord of water, Moor of the earth, He who sets the limits, and He who sees the limits. This points to their order-bringing function.

The overall point being that while this hour is full of chaos, it is a necessary chaos in order to fulfill the needed inundation for the underworld. To counteract this necessary chaos, to ensure that it doesn’t tip over into the realm of true isfet, four deities are brought forth to ensure that ma’at will prevail.

The Book of Gates

Mummiform beings are shown at the top of the register for this hour, however they are shown being awakened from their deaths. They grow animated within their shrine spaces. Within this register, the Lake of Fire is depicted. The Blessed Dead are able to use this Lake to equip themselves for the journey forward, however this very same Lake turn to fire for those who are damned.

The solar god is towed forward through this hour within the “barque of the earth.” He is also outfitted with clean, white clothes to symbolize his renewal. We also catch our first glimpse of A/pep, which is shown in its form of a giant serpent. This s/nake is in front of Atum, who is assisted in his need to overcome the s/nake to move forward.

The Book of Caverns

Ra passes through on his journey and is shown to enter an area where the ithyphallic body of Osiris resides beneath the god, Aker. Aker is depicted in his twinned sphinx form, being able to see both yesterday and tomorrow, while Osiris lays passively beneath him. Aker is surrounded by a myriad of gods of the Ennead. Above this depiction, the pharaoh is associated with Osiris on his journey to become one of the Blessed Dead.

Within the same area as the depiction of Aker, we come into contact with four forms of Osiris, all of whom are indicated to be “lords of the Duat.” Ra, in his form as an old man, addresses each one of them. Behind Aker, another form of Osiris is shown, this time within his sarcophagus. This form of Osiris is also shown with the eye of Ra and a ram’s head, surrounded by an ouroboros “and evidently stressing the unity of Re and Osiris; Osiris is depicted again, atop a serpent, as ‘the one who has become two’.” [p87, Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife].

Beneath these forms, the enemies of the gods are shown in their punishments within the Place of Annihilation and within the primeval darkness. They are further punished when their bau are shown hanging upside down. Within the middle of these enemies, the ithyphallic form of Osiris’s corpse is again shown. He is also within the darkness as their enemies.

The Book of Night

The entrance to the Third Hour brings us to the uvula of Nut, or to the back of the mouth. The barque is guided forward by the “Bull of the Two Lands” through the gateway, which is called: “She who lights the fire, the quencher of embers, with sharp flames, quick in killing without hesitation. She from whom there is no protection. She by whom one cannot pass without harm. The one who rears up towards her lord.” It is in this hour that the deceased announces that he has become one of the Akh, having renewed himself within the previous hour.

Beings are depicted beneath the barque, in various phases of their transformations: the Awakened Ones, the Sleeping Ones, the Silent Ones, the Revived Ones, the Floating Ones, the Transfigured Ones, and the Shadows. In addition, there are beings of three who are named: Those of the Field and Those of the Channels. “Attracted towards waking and sleeping in the maternal arms, all are caught in various phases of the rebirth journey, deep in the inner recesses of the even-tide, just like Ihy” [p117, Roberts, My Heart, My Mother].


Further Reading

  • The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung
  • Knowledge for the Afterlife by Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung
  • My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts

 

The Second Hour.

The first hour of the afterlife journey heralds the moment when liminality has overtaken the sun god and the journeying soul as they move from one form of life to the next. I have personally come to view that first hour as a form of preparation, a sort of time period as brief as it may be, where one must bolster itself for the trip ahead.

The second hour begins as a journey through a named gateway and the journey in truth begins.

The Book of the Hidden Chamber [Amduat]

This hour grants us access to the underworld in truth. The area is a fertile region, watered by the primeval ocean of Nun. The area is known as Wernes in the Amduat. The solar barque is featured with four companion boats, which are filled with provisions for the journey ahead. The primary barque shows Nephthys and Isis as serpents, guarding the barque on its journey forward.

In the fourth boat, Ma’at appears as a feather supported by a god without a name. Beside the oversized feather, a moon is represented as both a lunar disc and lunar crescent. This representation of the moon is atypical of the afterlife. The moon is not usually shown as the sun is replacing the moon on its journey through the hours. The visual of the moon seems to by representative of the rejuvenation of time and of the dead.

Time is further represented with gods holding up the signs for time and season. These grouped gods are separated by a third group baring aloft knives. The gods holding the signs for time and season are ensuring that the timing of the season of the year follows the sequence it should. They are also ensuring that agricultural year of the netherworld provides for the deceased. The knife-wielding deities between protect both groups from anything that would prevent the above from happening.

This shows the cyclical nature of this hour. Ra provides for the gods and deceased of the underworld through his shining sunlight, ensuring the growth of the necessary agriculture to feed the underworld’s inhabitants. He also assigns them the plots of land they require to facilitate the growth of the produce the inhabitants need. In the same vein, the inhabitants are also providing for Ra as he roams through the hour, giving him sustenance in the fruits and vegetables they have grown in their plots of land.

The Book of Gates

The second hour for this book shows a myriad of inhabitants. Those who have spoken Ma’at and live in Ma’at have been transfigured into their forms as the Blessed Dead. Those who have not been transfigured are scolded by Atum. The four cardinal points of the earth are also represented as the “Weary Ones,” seeming to indicate that they too need regeneration.

The Book of Caverns

The guardian serpents of this area restrict access after which one is ushered towards multiple deities within sarcophagi. Further on, multiple forms of Wesir are shown, including his own sarcophagus. Beneath the many bodies of Wesir, we see bound and decapitated enemies, some of whom have had their hearts torn out and their bodies hung upside down. Ra condemns these enemies to non-existence, sending them to the Place of Annihilation.

The Book of Night

The entrance to the Second Hour brings us to Nut’s mouth and is heralded by a named Gateway. This Gateway is titled: “Lady of trembling, high of walls, pre-eminent one, Lady of destruction, who foresees aggression and repels the raging, who saves the robbed from the one who comes from afar. Lady of terror.” The guide through this gateway is known as Bull of Light.

There are nine mummiform figures within this hour, known as The Transfigured Ones, The Mummies, and The Dead. They rest upon lion beds and Sia watches over them, commanding: “Count your hearts, receive your offerings.”

Next to the mummiform figures, there are three more groups of people shown: two men with a woman in between. These beings are known as Inert Ones, Punished Ones, and Those of the Opposite Sky. They are either swimming or lying prone, stuck in various phases of the renewal process. They lie passively within this hour, allowing their lives to be surrendered to whatever fate has in store for them. Sia watches over these beings, commanding, “Measure your banks, lift up your legs.”

This hour is about nudging those who had not continued the rejuvenation process for one reason or another, and forcing them to reawaken themselves from their inert forms. They are being told that they must take command of their bodily functions rather than allow the inertia of this hour to overtake them.

The integration of the body is integral for this hour and the push is that in order to move forward, one must gradually reunite with one’s body parts to become fully rejuvenated. “Initially then, all the faculties of the body have to be renewed and the body gradually reunited with its different members. And this ‘gathering together’ serves as the secure foundation on which the whole journey ultimately rests. For it is only after their bodies have been renewed that the night travellers can proceed further in their journey”  [p116, Roberts, My Heart, My Mother].

The final note for this hour is that the recommendation is that one should embody Ihy as Ihy has experience with inertia and the Inert Ones. Ihy, the son of Hathor, endures as inert in the primal waters before being reborn as the radiant child of Hathor and Heru-Wer.

 

Further Reading

  • The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung
  • Knowledge for the Afterlife by Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung
  • My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts

The First Hour.

The various books of the afterlife are many and varied. While their content are among the same lines, the setup and journey through the underworld varies. What one finds in the Book of Night is not necessarily what one will find in the Book of the Hidden Chamber, or Amduat. The wide range of subject matter, and even the topography of the Duat described therein, hints at the ever changing focus of the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs.

Each book follows the same general layout in that the sun god’s journey lasts for a full twelve hours as the sun god passes through the Netherworld. The Netherworld could be a whole other world or be housed within the body of Nut. The books where the sun god travels through the body of Nut correlates in some way to her body and I will make sure to address which body part we know or we suspect the hour is related to.

The move from one hour to the next heralds a passing through a gateway, most of which we have the names for. The names of these gateways tend to foreshadow what the next hour relates to on the god’s journey to renewal and rebirth. Where I know the name of the gateway, I will make sure to highlight that information.

The first hour doesn’t seem to have a gateway of its own that the god passes through from his journey of daylight into the night. Hornung references regularly to these first hours in his book as “interstitial” places; liminality reigns supreme in these hours. It is the place where the sun god breaks the barrier from one realm to the next so that he can move forward on his journey towards renewal and rebirth.

The Book of the Hidden Chamber [Amduat]

Each book of the Amduat starts with a heading except for the First Hour. This is a common theme in afterlife literature, so it may be that the ancient Egyptians didn’t want to include it as they believed that to write something was to give it permanence. Perhaps, though they didn’t feel that an introduction for the First Hour of the Amduat was a necessity as they open the book with a detailed introduction, indicating that the Amduat stresses knowledge: “it promises knowledge of netherworldly phenomena nine (which is Egyptian stands for “many, many”) times” [p33, Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife].

The first hour describes an ordered list of the important beings that occur in the afterlife. The lists include both the beings that the sun god will come into contact with as well as those in his retinue. The solar barque depicted in the Amduat is overflowing with a variety of gods to help the sun god on his journey. All beings are shown to be filled with joy, except the enemies of the sun god, as they are greeted by the sun god on his nightly journey.

The goddess Ma’at is shown twice in this first hour. In both instances, she is shown standing before the solar barque. This seems to indicate that she is as integral to the solar god’s journey of renewal as the sun god himself.

In the middle register, a scene seems to represent that Ra has already succeeded on his journey through the netherworld: “the sun god is already present in his morning form of the scarab beetle; the beginning of the journey thus already alludes to its successful completion” [p35, Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife].

This first hour is not a true hour of the underworld, or at least is not truly described in such terms. The sun god has yet to truly enter the netherworld, which could also be why there is no heading or gateway indicated in this hour. It is only upon entry into the second hour that the journey truly begins.

The Book of Gates

In this book of the Netherworld, the solar barque has only two gods traveling as companions with the sun god, Sia and Heka. Ma’at is not shown in any capacity during this hour. The boat’s cabin is protected by a Mehen-serpent, as though to keep the sun god safe from all the upcoming dangers.

In the Book of the Amduat, the sun god was greeted upon entry into the netherworld by a multitude of gods. In the Book of Gates, the collective dead witness his entry into the night hours and greet him.

This first hour is also not a true hour of the netherworld. No true description of the hour exists and it only serves as a sort of introduction to the eventual journey of the sun god through the netherworld.

The Book of Caverns

It is this book that focuses more on the journey of the sun god on his way to merge with Osiris. Osiris was depicted in the previous two books discussed, however his imagery almost seemed to be an anecdote or a mention in passing. Here, Ra and Osiris are almost seen as aspects of the same god as the sun god journey to the body of Osiris in his intent to merge and renew himself with Osiris.

The first hour discusses Ra’s journey specifically in its relation to care for Osiris and to send his enemies to their deaths. “Ra turns directly to Osiris and extends his hands to him. Osiris is represented in a shrine that is surrounded protectively by a serpent; those in his following are also protected by serpents inside their sarcophagi.” [p85, Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife] Below this scene, the enemies of Osiris are punished in the “Place of Annihilation.” The ultimate punishment is visited upon them: Ra banishes them to non-existence.

The Book of Night

As with the first hours discussed in the Book of the Amduat and the Book of Caverns, no first hour truly exists. It is not until the sun god enters the second hour that the journey to rebirth/renewal begins. In the Book of Night, the first “hour” is associated with the arms of Nut. The sun god’s solar barque travels within her body and in order to truly enter the Netherworld housed within her, he must travel up her arms on his way to her mouth.

And that is the sum total of information regarding the first hours of the books I have some access to. The first hours are less about the journey itself and more in line with a sort of setup, or along the lines of an introduction to a novel, for the journey through the netherworld.

Further Reading

  • The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung
  • Knowledge for the Afterlife by Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung
  • My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts

Bull of His Mother.

In October of this year, I was handed down a directive to re-read Hathor Rising and My Heart, My Mother. It had been a while since I had been given homework – and by an unknown quarter, no less!, though I suspect I know where it came from – so I didn’t immediately balk at the request.

It was around the same time that I received this directive that I had decided that I would proceed with the cycle of rebirth that I had failed to see through 3 years ago. Considering how thought-provoking and useful I had found both books during the process three years ago, I could see the wisdom in re-reading them by the end of the year.

What I wasn’t expecting as I blew through Hathor Rising was how much of the book I had actually forgotten. There were whole chapters filled with very interesting tidbits that relate in some form to either my relationships with my primary gods or to the regeneration cycle I had agreed to undertake, which were practically brand new to me.

One of the items that I got stuck focusing on for a while as I continued my readathon was about Bull of His Mother, or Kamutef. While this is an epithet that has been associated with other deities, as I will explain further below, in the instance of Hathor Rising, the author is discussing the regenerative properties of the syncretized version of Amun as Amun-Min-Bull-of-His-Mother.

As I researched the name Kamutef further, I found that Amun-Re in the New Kingdom also utilized Kamutef, who has a small shrine space or sanctuary outside of Mut’s Asheru sacred lake at Karnak, in his name as Amenemopet to regenerate himself each year.

While the information I gleaned about Kamutef, and the syncretic Amun-Min-Bull-of-his-Mother all very interesting for what I was going to be undertaking myself, it was the actual epithet “Bull of His Mother” that stayed with me as I researched.

DSC07286 The strong Bull of his Mother

As I mentioned, I was familiar with this epithet to some extent as I had seen it in association with various Horus iterations during one or more of my previous research extravaganzas. It is through this phrase that whichever Horus we are speaking of (both the younger and the elder) assume the role of king from their father. I had also seen it, or dreamed that I had seen it, associated with Geb. (Here’s a link to a conversation about it. Trigger warning for sexual assault.)

The gist of the associations with these gods is that it is through a full assumption of their father’s role – from son to the “fecundator” of their mothers that they take on the role of king. The father and son are the agents of the rebirth cycle while the mother is a seemingly passive vessel in the undertaking. She is providing the necessary environment for the son to be reborn into the role their father has bequeathed to them.

The idea that the womb played a sort of passive role in the rebirth of the king isn’t new to me. Sekhmet plays a similar role in the Pyramid Texts, where it is her womb that allows the deceased pharaoh to be reborn into akh. It is not from her womb that they are born; merely the act of entering the womb that seems to bestow that power unto the pharaoh. (This kind of highlights, in my opinion, the idea that ancient Egyptians knew very little about the bodies of people with wombs.)

The purpose behind this assumption of the father’s role in its entirety is that it is through the mother that the son is to hope for an ever-repeating life. It is this passiveness on the part of the mother in the cycle of rebirth that, I think, is required for the son’s elevation to the role of their father. Their mother must provide a habitable environment for this ability to manifest their own rebirth cycle but she doesn’t actively take part in the act itself.

The fertility that comes through the regenerative properties of one who is a Bull of His Mother is immune to death, so to speak. The person or god in question is capable of renewing himself over and over again and in so doing, also provides the cycle of rebirth over and over again for those who have ruled before. In effect, through the assumption of this role, the deities mentioned above and subsequent human pharaohs, are able to provide ever-lasting life for not only themselves but their forebears as well.

In addition to the hints of a constant and forever sort of rebirth cycle, the incestuous relations between mother and son allowed the sons to fully appropriate the title of ruler from their fathers. It also gave them the ability to deny “linear time”; the role allowed them to change the succession of generations by writing the past and present into a single person unified person. (This concept isn’t so different from the discussions regarding mythic time.)

With the acceptance of this epithet and the role associated with it, there would be continuity without fear of facing chaos like those of the Intermediate periods with the deity or human pharaoh assuming the full role of his father. As mentioned in the entry for Kamutef in The Ancient Gods Speak: “being the father and the son possesses an unquestionable legitimacy.”

So in this way, the epithet lends credence to the legitimacy of the succession. By assuming the role of one’s father in every capacity, the new pharaoh is ensuring continuity and the ongoing rebirth cycle that all pharaohs hoped to achieve.

While this particular epithet seems to be more commonly associated with a variety of gods, there was a specific festival called the Harvest Festival that the human pharaohs would perform so that they could fulfill the role of Bull of His Mother on a country-wide scale.

In this festival, which dates back to the Middle Kingdom, the pharaoh completed a ritual that allowed them to take on this mantle to regenerate the crops of the country. He and the priests would complete a fertility ritual to ensure that the crops for the upcoming year would be abundant.

I suspect that the Bull of His Mother epithet may have in fact had more to do with the consecration of a living pharaoh’s son to take the mantle of kingship upon the death of his predecessor. Based on what I have found during my research into both this epithet and its associated deity, Kamutef, it makes sense that the “Bull of His Mother” function played a larger part than a yearly Harvest Festival.

In effect, the Bull of His Mother epithet is associated with the ability for the sons to fully consecrate themselves in the roles of their fathers. While the epithet can have negative associations (as in the case of the possible association with Geb), it seems that it is more intended as an epithet to engender the vehicle of one’s own ability to renew themselves.

texas longhorn

There can be no doubt as to why I found my exploration of the Bull of His Mother fascinating.

The next year is a year of death and rebirth. I have been asked to die for my gods and I have agreed to go through with this moment of rebirth. Not only will the rebirth cycle I am undertaking benefit myself, but it will also benefit my gods in the long-term. Reading about an epithet and its associative deity that is capable of engendering its own vehicle of rebirth seemed, well, opportune and timely.

It makes sense to me that, in order for me to induce my own rebirth that I should assume the mantle of the Bull of His Mother. This is an epithet, and a deity, associated with the very things that I must undertake. And it would be a benefit to all parties involved if I can use this Bull of His Mother epithet as a sort of blueprint to see through what I need to see through.

As I was discussing the Bull of His Mother with TTR, they mentioned that Mut could also prove useful. “Mut is said to be “the mother who became a daughter,” or “the daughter-mother who made her begetter,” expressing a power of self-creation similar to that expressed for Amun by the epithet kamutef, ‘bull of his mother’, meaning one who is his own father.” (Link.)

While this was an avenue of possibility that I hadn’t considered before, it didn’t feel quite right to me. For some reason, the idea of becoming a god who could help me move forward on my necessary quest for ever-lasting life during my own rebirth cycle just felt wrong. I’ve since come to the realization that for the regenerative properties I am looking for, I need to undertake the epithet of Bull of His Mother to see it through as opposed to becoming either Mut or Kamutef. The assumption of the epithet feels more in tune with what I need to achieve.

So here I am, or there I will be at any rate… Satsekhem-Bull of His Mother. I guess I can only wait and see how far the assumption of this mantle pushes me in the upcoming months as I willingly die for my gods.

Receive the crook of your Father and the flail of Bull-of-His-Mother. You are the seed of the Lord of Abydos. May he give strength entirely.

– p. 95, Hathor Rising

Further Reading

  1. Hathor Rising by Alison Roberts
  2. My Heart, My Mother by Alison Roberts
  3. The Ancient Gods Speak edited by Donald B. Redford
  4. Temples of Ancient Egypt edited by Byron E. Shafer

You Are Not the One You Say You Are.

Years ago, I followed a number of people who were deep into astrology. Sometimes it felt like they were all speaking together in another language when they would get going on their discussions regarding charts and retrograde and returns. I had a passing fancy back then that maybe I would learn what they knew and use it somehow in my own way. That never came to pass and most likely never will, but one thing that stayed with me was the concept of the Saturn Return.

At the time I found out about it, I wondered when I could expect that to happen to me. I never looked into when mine would appear back then but I sometimes found myself wondering when it would hit, when I could expect things to disintegrate so spectacularly as those astrology people described, and how I would look coming out of the other side. I, of course, never bothered to look into when my Saturn return would occur because I didn’t want to confirm that I was already in the middle of it or that it was still some ways off. It was better not knowing.

I have since learned when my first Saturn return occurred. Before I figured it out, I often wondered for a long time after the year 2015 had slowly died as years tend to do if that year was the start or end of my Saturn return. It would have explained so much if it was.

Saturn Return

I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. If you are who you say you are then show me your face. You came out of the ocean like you came out of a dream. Your voice it sounds familiar but you are not what you seem… – The Stranger by Lord Huron

Fear and hopelessness are two words that, when paired together, they form a very distinct image. They elicit a painting of some dark gray and bleak hellscape. When these two words are mated together in this way, the words can convey a certain nuance that the words, when spoken not in tandem, tend to lack. The desolation one can feel when these words are used to describe themselves and their situation is so absolute as to be inescapable. It’s suffocating, worrisome, and above all, horrifying.

I think “fear and hopelessness” does an adequate job of explaining my mindset three years ago.

The year had started off so strong. I had worked diligently for the preceding three or so years to get to where I was. I had gone through a lot of shit both on a personal and spiritual level. I had developed new avenues of insight and networked to a point where I was mostly comfortable with the community I had crafted around myself. I had spent time moving as hard as I could, pushing things into place and reorganizing as I felt the need arose.

I had developed a strong relationship with a handful of gods who I loved and succored. I whispered their names as fervent prayers and I worshiped them truly. I cared for them in a way that I cannot convey verbally, that I cannot write. The emotional connection I had with them and they with me was often intense, often personal, and above all, it made me feel fulfilled in a way that I had never felt in all the years before and all the years since.

I had faith.

I had belief.

I had a lot of things that people talk about every day about their gods, about their spiritual lives, about their religions. I had all of those things and I could wear them like a strong, beautifully rendered blanket around my shoulders. Or a tapestry strung upon the wall, crowing to the world around me that I had love with my gods and they loved me. It protected me against the negatively and nay-saying. It made me feel safe and loved in return. It was security. It was safe.

But the thing about blind faith is that it doesn’t always sustain you. It’s not something that can always fill you the way that a good dinner can. It’s nothing that you can survive on. My blind faith, my blind love, began to fray and the warm, beautiful blanket began to erode around me. I grabbed for the pieces of it and I tried to re-weave it but I had my eyes opened when I died for the first time to be reborn into a useful vessel for my primary goddess. The death was necessary; the manner of it, in my opinion, was not.

It’s hard to get back to loving your gods when they have used you. It’s not impossible, but it can be so very hard to be the bright and shiny youth you once were after going through something as traumatic as all of that. It came to a head, all of my pent-up emotions on the topic, in 2015 because I was being asked to die all over again. I needed to be reborn yet again, not just for myself but for my god as well. I needed to die so that we could both live.

And I was so very angry that after only just dying, only just healing myself, only just coming to terms with all that the original rebirth’s changes had wrought that I was being asked to do it all over again. To be sure, the purpose has always been necessary and I have always been headed in that direction. But I needed to come to terms with what had already happened in conjunction with other changes I was going through; I wasn’t fucking ready.

It never helped that all of this chatter about death and rebirth was always, always couched in terms of Bigger Picture. We always come to this statement, this fucking phrase, and for those of us who do spirit work, we have to ask ourselves what in the ever-loving fuck is the point? Our lives are all supposed to be for this Bigger Fucking Picture but damn if it doesn’t make any fucking sense when paired with what our woo has shown us to be the reality of our gods’ current situation.

Why should I die yet again for this Bigger Picture bullshit when everything else is complete and utter shit?

I never got an answer to this question and I decided that it wasn’t necessary then.

I know this sounds petty. I know this sounds like I was having a temper tantrum. But the one thing I cannot illustrate enough is how much that first death traumatized me. I was passive in that death; I allowed it to happen without a peep, without a cry, without fighting back against it because I wasn’t ready. Even if I was unsuccessful, I often think back and castigate myself for not fighting back.

I should have fought back.

Rebirth

All your words of comfort cannot take away my doubt. I’ve decided if it kills me I’ll find out what you’re about. I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. – The Stranger by Lord Huron

It would be nice to end this entry here, to lay blame in its totality at the feet of the gods. But I, too, must admit to my culpability in what went wrong that year.

The years preceding had been dedicated to the hard work of creating an open forum community, primarily taking place on Tumblr but in other areas (WordPress, FB groups, etc.) of the web as well. The hard work had sort of paid off because we had managed to network a wider arena with more and more people joining our shared tags as time went by. It was nice… for a while.

My primary issue at this time was that there was a lot of growing pains going on for the wider community. I watched and aided as I could in these growing pains – growing pains that occur with every major group – but some of the things I saw, sitting on the sidelines, made me vastly uncomfortable. There was a growing group of voices that seemed to have negative points of view relating to spirit work, god spouses, and various other “woo” related arenas that made me distinctly uncomfortable.

The totality of 2015 for me was, well, “woo.” It had been forged with “woo” and it was supposed to end with “woo.” Spirit work was the name of the game in my world and the constant negative comments coming from wider and wider quarters left me feel disenfranchised with the community at large. I began to feel like I needed to keep my experiences to myself instead of sharing them just so I wouldn’t have to deal with any negative backlash.

You see, I was nay-saying my experiences all my own; I didn’t need to see it coming from some other quarter. I had my own issues related to all of this. How can this be happening? How can this be real? Even with outside divination, intuition, lining up “upg” from other sources, and a variety of other confirmation sources, I doubted heavily what was going on. I didn’t need another negative voice to add alongside my own.

Beyond my personal doubt regarding what was going on with my religious shenanigans and the fear of hearing my very own doubts parroted back to me, the community continued to grow and with it, more and more people with a historically informed background began to show up. The issue I found with some of these people is that they often came across as exceedingly condescending when I would get into both private and public conversations with them.

While I understand that being classically trained in various areas will give you a leg up in certain areas, this doesn’t mean that the people you are communicating with who aren’t classically trained are stupid or unread or unlearned. It just means that they’re coming at it without that background and because of this, they’re probably taking away a completely different perspective because their focus is in other arenas.

I didn’t need to be condescended to. I didn’t need to be talked down to or talked over or shouted at in public group messages because I disagreed about a variety of things. It only lent credence to my belief that I needed to effectively embody the hermit card from Tarot and isolate myself from the community at large.

So I did.

I not only distanced myself from the community at large, but I effectively cut myself off from those who didn’t make me feel like I was some sub-human waste of space with my woo and my different opinions. I compartmentalized so much that I stopped talking to even those of my friends who weren’t part of the community and wouldn’t make me feel like I was losing my mind if I revealed all the stuff that I had gone through earlier in the year.

It was just easier, I told myself. It was simpler to keep to myself and just keep trucking on with my fallow times and my worry that I was probably making up all the woo from earlier in the year. Better to hide away from the wider world than to engage and possibly be judged false.

I should have told myself to fuck off instead.

Bees

But I know what you want and why, Of all the strangers you’re the strangest that I’ve seen. I’m not afraid to die. I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. – The Stranger by Lord Huron

To be fair, the year as a whole wasn’t that bad. I had come to accept that I had woo though I did run away from it later for both of the above reasons listed. I had entered into a marriage with a god, which has been in effect for the last three years and seems to be going well. I had found out who my friends were because we’re still going strong three years later.

I could catalog the good things to counter all the pain and suffering, all of the hopelessness that had been intermixed with it. But at the heart of the matter, the year was not a good one and that was exactly why I disappeared; why I went off the radar. I had taken to heart the idea that I needed to hide, to keep to myself. I no longer trusted, no longer could engage in the reindeer games. I wasn’t safe; nothing was.

I had built up the house and failed to continue the growth I needed. Both my practice and I have become inert and we both suffer for it. After reading this post by TTR, I realized that I have a decision to make much like they realized they had.

Sometimes you have to shit or get off the pot. I’ve been on the pot for three years now so I guess it’s finally time to move on.

You are not the one you say you are
Now that I’ve seen your face, I’m haunted by the letters of your name
– The Stranger by Lord Huron

Be Faithful in Small Things…

The first two weeks of school herald a sort of liminality between good health and illness. You always assume that someone in your household is going to end up with a head cold, or worse, but you’re never quite sure who is going to be unlucky enough to finally come down with whatever illness has been foretold by the smell of back to school sales.

My son came home a week and a half after the first day of school with the obsessive need to blow his nose every five minutes. I side eyed him and muttered about keeping his germs to himself, but it was a foregone conclusion. He was sick and it was only a matter of time before I joined him.

The scratchy feeling in the back of my throat began Friday afternoon and developed into a full head cold a few hours later. As my S.O. tried not to laugh as I ripped open a box of tissues before officially buying them so I could blow my nose as soon as possible, I knew my nice relaxing weekend had gone out the window. I was officially sick.

I spent much of Saturday mumbling in melodramatic cadence about wanting someone to cut off my head at the neck. I felt awful and no matter how faithfully I followed the prescribed DayQuil/NyQuil regimen, nothing was making me feel better. As I looked over the paraphernalia of illness, I realized something key was missing.

I had gotten the tissues and the medication. I had gotten the chapstick and my pillow. I had my stuffed animal (don’t judge) and my dog. I had shows to binge watch on Netflix and a book to pick up when I got bored with all of that, but there was something missing: the chest rub.

As a kid, it was one of the first things my mother pulled out after I came down sick. I can remember her rubbing the camphor-scented grease on my chest when I was young. I remember following the same prescription when I got older. But I hadn’t thought to grab some when we were restocking on illness ware.

I got some that night and immediately applied it. I felt better of course; good enough to eat something besides Ramen. (Don’t talk to me about soup. Ramen is as close as I’ll ever get to soup.) It was probably a psychosomatic feeling of general wellness but it was exactly what I needed to stop being so melodramatic for five minutes.

And the realization that the scent of camphor could do more than the liquid medications, the box of tissues, and even my beloved Professor who has seen me through many illnesses over the years, it got me thinking about the little things.

Maybe everything really does come back down to the little things…

As polytheists, the push of advice from any quarter can typically be summed up by the necessity of doing ritual. We read the posts of those more advanced on their path about larger rituals that they undertake for some reason or another. And in the minutiae, they mention the daily rites that they undertake for their gods, their spirits, and for their ancestors: offerings and libations, dedicated moments of prayer, etc.

We are constantly being shown that it is by the very act of ritual that we will forge the relationships we seek to make. And in turn, we will grow ever further on the paths that we have chosen for ourselves along with those relationships. We will find things that work and things that don’t, but at the very foundation of it all, it is in ritual that we should begin.

We are instructed by our elders, and those of us who have been around long enough have regurgitated the advice, to start off small with daily action and then to work ourselves up to the big. It is the same advice that we give children: baby steps with a few or many stops and starts before the child is walking. This methodology is pushed out into our communities to the neophytes who join us.

But the bond is more than simply built upon ritual. Yes, it is important, but it is not the only thing necessary.

Ritual can be considered the bricks, perhaps, that we use to build up those relationships with our gods/spirits/ancestors. However, any bricklayer can assure you that bricks are only part of the whole which is necessary to create a building. Between the bricks, they lay mortar to bind the blocks together in their efforts to tease the building into the sky.

Ritual cannot be the mortar if it is already the building blocks that we are using. There must be the binding paste that we can lay between each brick, on top of each layer, to add onto our relationships with our gods/ancestors/spirits. And it is through the small things, the tiny things that may not necessarily occur to us in the moment, that we bind the bricks and mortar together.

These small things that we use as the mortar of our relationships are inherently personal. They will never look the same between one individual and another; and they shouldn’t. They should be as individual as the relationships we are building with our ancestors/gods/spirits.

And as the weeks, months, and years pass by, we may find that some of the mortar has rotted away or perhaps been chiseled down over time. It is through yet more smaller moments that you restore the edifice to where it needs to be to continue the process you began when you started to build these relationships with your ritual building blocks and your small moments mortar.

But all of these things are just as integral as the necessity of ritual because without them, you will never get beyond the first few layers before what you have built crumbles around you.

Remember the small things

Though the story I told above about being ill may have come across as a non sequitur, I can assure you it served a two-fold purpose. The first was to give you a little background before I began to discuss mortar. The second was to give you a hint as to what some of my mortar might look like.

A tub of mentholated grease may not seem like a clearly obvious bit of binding I can use to cement my ritual blocks in place, but it is. My mother instilled in me a need for the chest rub as a child, which was in turn instilled in her by her mother who has been in the west for many years. It is through the bond I have with my mother and this family connection that I take my veneration of my grandmother out of my offerings, out of my rituals, and bring it and my love for her into my daily life.

It is through this small act – and many others – that I have forged the bond beyond what is typical, beyond what is often advised, and into the realm of the workable. It is this realm – the mix between ritual and the little things – that we must push ourselves towards if we are to succeed.

And it is these little things that will cement things more firmly in place than merely through the act of ritual.

All Other Ways of Mortification are Vain…

A friend of mine posted a link last month on their Facebook that I found particularly thought provoking. The original author, whom we all know as “the Henadology guy,” has a particular way with words that will make your sluggish brain move whether you want it to or not. I definitely had no intention of falling into a pit, following thought process after thought process as they circled down the endless drain of my internal meat space. Unfortunately, one’s intent is not always the way of things.

After hours spent feeling both irritated and thoughtful, I came to a single conclusion:

Way to call a girl out like that.

Sometimes, my life is little more than an old meme come back to bite me in the ass.

The exploration of the polytheism hemisphere can often start out with almost a lackadaisical sort of defiance. Raised as many of us are nowadays in a stringent monotheism that pollutes the civic world as well as our personal lives or in a laissez-faire environment where a lack of belief can be seen as currency, the profession of belief in the many can be titillating.

We move from a world of seeming absolutes – a single deity or none at all – into a realm which offers up a platter of possibilities. Gods and nymphs, ancestors and demons, guardians and spirit: they are all there for the taking. Not all fruits of the tree are ripe, but they are all there nonetheless for people who have found the status quo of their parents’ religious lives (or lack of) stifling.

At the beginning, it is frustrating or exciting or frightening. In many instances, it is all three at the same time. As we explore religious dynamics hidden from us, we run the gamut of emotions while trying to decide what works best. We try things we shouldn’t and go down rabbit holes that lead to dead ends. But it is oft-times the act of exploration that is the most exciting of it all because we are looking outside of our cultural norms for something that may or may not be missing.

We have all looked elsewhere for answers and sometimes, those answers lay in the shadows of polytheism. Before the Internet truly took off, it was a quiet place peopled in small groups of like-minded individuals looking to find something that felt right. With the Internet surrounding us, we have found more people like us and created virtual communities so that even the misanthropes like me can occasionally feel like we belong. We have found something that feels like it could work.

But in the background, we have basic programming instilled in us that we must recover from. A tag was once used on Tumblr – maybe it still is – for those indoctrinated in their culture’s or family’s staunch monotheism to reprogram themselves from that life. It is a paradigm shift for all of us going from the one to the many, the none to the many, or the possibility of one to the many.

Some shifts are easier to make than others. Some can bounce back from that programming easily. Others find it harder to break the cycle that may in fact be generations old. I’ve always been somewhere in between, but then, I’m hardly an example to live by.

As we de-program ourselves into better devotees, we find what works and what doesn’t. We all give the same advice for new people that worked for the generation preceding them: research as much as you can, find time to introduce yourselves to the gods, develop discernment for both resources and experiences with the gods, give stuff to the gods, and don’t be a dick for fuck’s sake. With various other underpinnings based on religious preference and the like, the advice is much the same (except for maybe the dick part).

But we forget sometimes to stress how hard this will most likely be. Each relationship and path is individual even within a group dynamic. What some found easy to reprogram in themselves may be the breaking point for others. As much advice as we can give, it doesn’t usually matter to the individual burning out the cancer of a religious doctrine, or no religious doctrine, that they always found to be lacking.

We all burn through what came before, building something new out of the leftover pieces of ourselves, or we don’t. We either succeed or we don’t. And sometimes the seeming failure in assimilating ourselves into a polytheistic religion can be enough to do what we wanted all along: to laugh in the face of preconceptions that always annoyed us.

And sometimes my life is a more recent meme, busting through the door and ready to kick me in the face.

As a child, my poorly defined idea of God had metastasized into the idea of a person living in the sky. He looked down on us on Sundays because those were the days that we went to church, but he mostly went about his life doing whatever it was that he wanted to do for the rest of the week without really taking a look to see what was going on. I’m not sure where this particular idea stems from (though I could take a few guesses) but that was what I had worked out on my own.

It was with this general idea in my mind that, as a pre-teen, I decided that I wasn’t interested in appeasing this idea anymore. I didn’t want to go into a very old building (without air conditioning in the summer and not enough heat in the winter) to pray to a being who lived in the sky. A being who didn’t seem overly interested in what I had to say when I did get around to praying. In addition, I had come to finally understand the Methodist sermons and was insulted often to be told that I was a sinner and had to work hard to be saved.

It always seemed to me that if this being had my best interests at heart, in some form anyway, he should reach out to me to tell me what I needed to do to get right with him. Instead, I was being told by a man (or woman) in a pulpit that I had to work hard to be saved. The Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ weren’t sufficient in my opinion to tell me how to go about getting salvation. The whole thing annoyed me and I decided that I was kind of done with it.

The general issue I found was that I had no personalized relationship with the deity in question. I waffled often as a child between belief and disbelief. When I believed, it was a disinterested human-shaped person living in the sky who watched my life with his own disinterest. When I didn’t believe, nothing happened and we were all going to die. I suppose one could say I was a dark kid.

In any case, finding polytheism was exactly what I felt that I needed as a child. It came years later and with it, I was able to develop that personal relationship that had so eluded me as a child. Instead of being told via a book and a man or woman in a pulpit, I could go direct to the source and we could game plan together to figure out what I needed.

But the overall issue was that I needed to like… do stuff… to make this happen. Before, I had sat down in an uncomfortable wooden pew that had probably been there since the church I went to had been built and listened in barely veiled boredom to someone talk for an hour. The idea that there was some quid pro quo that needed to happen was weird, but I went into it.

And I was embarrassed.

As I cleaned off flat surfaces and purchases statues and bowls and cups, I had to like bring food to them. They needed milk or water. They wanted honey. They wanted to hear my voice. They wanted to listen to music. They wanted so many things that I was okay with doing, but there were other people in my house. They could walk in on me doing this and maybe they would make fun of me?

This was another change that I had a hard time with. I had to go about my business, doing what I did, and maybe I would get laughed at or maybe I wouldn’t. I didn’t have to worry about that when I sat with glazed over eyes in church; everyone else was just like me. But now I was entering into a realm where not everyone else is just like me. And there would no doubt be questions.

How do you answer questions that make you feel like an idiot? After going through years and years of semi-belief in a dude in the sky to no belief whatsoever to an idea that maybe reincarnation is a thing to okay so all gods are real and I’m worshiping some of them, how do you speak to what you now believe? How do you adequately explain the changes over the years to someone you care about or a complete stranger? I kept everything closeted and private out of nothing more than the possibility of being embarrassed.

This is no way to go into a new relationship with the gods, but Mr. Butler is correct.

Often, we come into this with our baggage and we find it simply more believable to go through what we think of as a mortification in a large, over-encompassing way. I’m not sure about the vanity part though that makes sense. I can say that I would be more than willing to go through with something large and dramatic than something simple and small.

I can dress it up however I want. I can make it seem like this overwrought thing is more important because it shows the level of my devotion. I can make it seem like it is more important because I need to show the gods that I am all in and the only way to do that is in big, dramatic ways. I can and would dress it up in a way that I was able to feel good about it, to agree that this was the way of it and there was no turning back.

But the smaller mortifications that encompass the profession of belief and the requirements of that belief, I.E. putting out offerings, were too difficult to even by considered. Someone might see. Someone might talk to me about it. Someone might laugh at me. How in the world could I possibly do something so small, so simple, and so less-dramatic than a near death experience especially if someone walks in on what I’m doing and demands to know what’s happening?

Well that seems like a little too much, don’t you think?

How many more times am I going to see my exact thoughts in a popular meme?

The melodrama seemingly inherent in the ecstatic moment of one’s near death experience is a fairy tale we all tell ourselves. We see these posts and comments from others, wondering how we too could have our religious lives broken down and rebuilt in a single night, a single experience, instead of asking ourselves if we cannot achieve the same thing by pouring the libations, offering the food, and playing the requested music.

It is possible to live in a state of ecstasy in the minutiae that one’s religious practice requires. The rapturous joy of those moments are as few and far between as we allow them to be, but they are there. We are too busy looking outside when we should be looking within, listening within to the emotional connection these daily sacrifices foster between the gods and ourselves.

Not everything that we do for the gods will be big, glorious sound bites fit for public consumption. Sometimes it really is as small as placing offerings at the feet of a statue, but that makes it no less important.

(The title for this entry stems from this quote by John Owen.)

God Bothered: A Guide.

I get bothered by gods, well, fairly frequently I suppose. I don’t personally see it as such myself, but that’s what happens when you live in the thick of it. However from an outsider’s perspective looking in on the vague posts I make, it could seem as though my entire life is a giant way station for some new god to appear and go, “hey, hi. I’m here,” or something like that.

I can definitely say that things used to work that way; they don’t anymore. It seemed like once a month or so, some deity was jumping off the train with some baggage and a sign that said, “Satsekhem: look at me!” At first, I tried to accommodate and wound up in that deity collecting phase that drove me up a flipping wall. I would take one look at whoever the new deity was, roll my eyes as theatrically as you please and just mutter, “jfc, not another one of you,” and begrudgingly wound up attempting to do the thing.

But I began to realize that this was partially my fault. I hadn’t set clear boundaries for these gods so when they showed up and without those crystal clear boundaries, I found myself constantly out of my element. I had yet another new god that I had to deal with and learn about and figure out why the hell they were hanging around. It caused a large amount of stress and a long series of headaches that left me floundering.

That is absolutely no way to live a life or attempt to be a devotee. While not everything may turn out badly for both the god and the devotee in question, I can assure everyone that it doesn’t exactly leave the best taste in your mouth. It leaves you feeling bogged down and just generally irritable with the whole kit-n-caboodle. I wound up realizing that if I was going to appear as a sort of beacon into the night that gods would home in on, I needed to be clear with myself and with those gods coming in on the midnight train.

Boundary

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. – Brene Brown

Boundaries can be difficult to set up for yourself. There are a lot of various aspects that you must take into consideration when formulating them. While you may be thinking about how this will benefit you, something we need to keep in mind are the current relationships we have with our gods and what their particular plans for those relationships may entail. There is also the messy business of promises, agreements, contracts, and oaths that may need to be considered before setting a boundary.

In my case, the only promises I had made before setting up the boundaries was to Sekhmet and they had no relation in allowing new gods to stay or not. But this isn’t always the case. Some devotee-deity partnerships include being loaned out to other gods, being sent to other gods for specific reasons, or various other items that may lead to developing relationships with new gods.

The best way to figure out if both you and your existing deities will be okay with these boundaries would be to focus on the primary concern for creating a boundary: why am I setting up this boundary in the first place?

This might sound like one of those “no duh” questions, but asking yourself why you feel you need to do something will open up avenues of thought that you may not have considered. Just deciding that you want to make some space for yourself isn’t going to give you the ability to delve deeply into the matter at hand and determine the best design for you when it comes to the limits you’re setting.

On the other hand, this will aid in presenting the idea to the gods you currently have relationships with. It’s a give and take situation when discussing the possibility of a boundary with your gods and compromise may be a word used often when formulating a game plan.

When I broached the subject matter with my gods, they were all very supportive but there were certain stipulations that needed to be taken into account. While at that particular moment, I was flustered and flummoxed, they let me know that they may need to parcel me out elsewhere on occasion and they would let me know when that was the case. Since I felt that was fair, I told them I would do the thing if it occurred though I wouldn’t necessarily do it with grace or humility.

As I sat around determining what would work best for me, I kept focusing on the idea that my best interests were the heart of the matter. And they were; they are. I was setting up the boundary specifically because I was flustered by this seeming revolving door of deities and needed some peace. If you constantly have an influx, it’s damn hard to do the research you need to do to figure out what’s happening or determine why.

However, there are a million reasons that may come up for yourself when you ask yourself why this is so important now when it may not have been important before. When those reasons begin piling up and after all parties agree to a sort of informal agreement, it gets easier for you to determine the next stage of the process, how closed off do I need to be? Should I limit myself to no new gods? Or should I limit myself to a specific pantheon?

Going back to the gods with what we think would work best for ourselves is also important. I had tentatively put in the idea that I needed no new gods, but I was told that wouldn’t slide. New gods were coming whether I liked it or not; I just had to limit the influx to a number I could handle.

When new gods from outlying pantheons show up, it can be difficult to not just complete the research you may need but to also network with devotees of said deities. While not everyone will take the time and delve into the research with a level of detail as others, I do need to do both research and networking if a deity not-of-my-frame-of-reference shows up. And it can be both tiring and confusing to delve into arenas that often wind up looking an awful lot like gibberish.

From a Kemetic perspective, I know where the source material is and what to pick up if someone just jumped off the train. If a god from another pantheon shows up, I may know where to look generally for information but the question that begs is whether or not it’s worth learning about.

When it came right down to it, knowing as I do regarding resources for various other polytheistic traditions, I figured it was wiser to limit myself from the outset: Kemetic gods were a maybe, depending on situation and the feedback I received from my existing relationships, but gods from other pantheons were a no-go. This left me feeling a little more secure as the months passed; I had a general system in place and it worked.

This isn’t to say that gods from other pantheons stopped showing up. Oh, of course not. This clearly defined border only meant that I had to be firm when they annoyed me, which is why I wrote this entry about saying no. Just because you’ve set a limitation for yourself doesn’t mean that the gods will necessarily respect it or be aware of it.

Setting this boundary benefited me in the long run and also my relationships with my gods. I was able to spend more time on the things they wanted and when new deities appeared, I was better able to handle researching them, networking with existing devotees, and figure out what was going on, if I chose to look into the deity.

Yes/No

The strongest and most effective force in guaranteeing the long-term maintenance of power is not violence in all the forms deployed by the dominant to control the dominated, but consent in all the forms in which the dominated acquiesce in their own domination. – Robert Frost

Just as having your gods put their stamp of approval on boundaries you’re setting for yourself, so too must we put our stamp of approval on a new relationship that we are considering entering into.

Consent is one of those things that can cause pagan drama for days. Some people believe that our ability to say yes or no to a god is immaterial; others believe that ability is a necessity. I am a big proponent of consent, however I have to admit that it doesn’t always look quite like what we would expect it to.

In my experience, gods need some forms of affirmation to begin developing a relationship. A hearty yes is going to be the least ambiguous confirmation however, it seems to be the least common given. Gods have been known to get your approval through shady dealings and may even bug you until, in a fit of pique, you give in. This kind of goes back to the boundary question above: how well defined and high is the boundary?

I’ve noticed that while begrudging cooperation will work in a pinch, willing cooperation will make the experience easier on all parties involved. But again, this isn’t a black and white area; as with all the gods, it’s shades of gray. The point I’m trying to convey is that, out of all of it, while the form of consent may not resemble what we would prefer, some form of it appears to be needed to get the ball rolling.

A recurring theme I’ve picked up on is when people mention that X or Y deity is about, sometimes the advice given neglects to keep in mind that our consent is something that’s required. Often I will see something along the lines of, “you may as well just do it because it’s not like you have a choice.” I grow concerned when I see this out there; it seems to be neglecting the very reality that consent needs to be given in such situations no matter who the deity is or the reason they may or may not be hanging around.

So, let me state this emphatically: no matter what deity is poking around or why they are poking around, you always have the ability and right to say no. It doesn’t mean they won’t keep pestering you. It doesn’t mean that no will automatically filter through and they fly off to bother some other unsuspecting possible future devotee. This only means that you have the right to say no and that you do not have to give in, no matter what you may see floating around the Internet under the guise of advice.

Over the years, my default position for new deities has been to say no. Obviously, this isn’t always the case but it’s pretty much my fall back in any given situation unless directed otherwise by the deities I have relationships with. And even when directed to look into X deity, I always have the choice to tell them that I won’t do it or that now is not a good time.

As an example, Sekhmet pinged me a few months ago and requested I look into Tutu. I was able to do a cursory look but had to admit that, while I found the information available interesting, I did not have the necessary time to look deeper. She let it go and while she does check in to see how I’m doing, she knows that my focus elsewhere is important. In same vein, both Hetheru and Heru-Wer have asked me to look deeper into Ihy than I have and while I would like to, again now is not the time.

They respect my choice and I appreciate the carte blanche they have given me regarding these requests.

On the flip side of this, Sekhmet had mentioned that a certain Hellenic party guy would be beneficial for me some time back. Since I knew enough about him to be weary and because of the boundaries I had set, I was able to tell her that I wasn’t interested and she understood where I was coming from. It took a bit longer than that for that deity to buzz off, but he eventually went on his way.

It’s not always simple. Sometimes a deity is around for a reason and you have to weigh the pros and cons about entering into a relationship with them. When Loki arrived for me, I spent a good few weeks going through the benefits as well as the possible negatives before making a decision always with the knowledge that saying no could make things worse for me. Snap decisions are all well and good now and again, however sometimes more information is needed in order to make the best determination for yourself.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes a deity is persistent and refuses to take no for an answer. That doesn’t reflect on you; it reflects on them.

But at the end of the day, it’s your decision one way or the other. And you don’t have to enter into the relationship no matter who is poking around or why. So long as you have enough information to make a decision – why they’re around, what would happen if you do and do not enter a relationship, etc. – it’s entirely up to you.

Further Reading

  1. Gods, Boundaries, and Consent
  2. The Nuances of Non-Physical Relationships
  3. A Good Horse
  4. Breaking the Narrative
  5. Consent for Spirit Walkers
  6. Setting Boundaries with Your Deity