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.

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The Art of 2D Communication

Recently, my boss took myself and the other supervisors from my job on a field trip. I got to spend two eight-and-a-half hour days in an auditorium with decent acoustics so I, and my coworkers, could listen to important people in leadership positions talk about, well, leadership. The leadership conference was simultaneously boring and thought-provoking. After coming home on day 2 and being asked how it was, all I could really say was that at least I wasn’t in front of my computer all day.

There were some very interesting tidbits, but I didn’t really bother to take too many notes or pay close attention through most of it. I found much of what they discussed all but useless. Or they were things that I already knew so I promptly tuned it all out.

However there was one presenter that had a piece where they discussed, and I quote directly here, “2D Communication in a 3D World.” I found myself sitting up and actually taking an interest. That interest was not because of my job and how I work behind a computer screen every day. The first thought I had after she said that was, “the community.”

Too often, we are communicating with meat suits across the Internet separated by computer screens or tablet/cell phone screens. While this networking can be stimulating and aid us, it can also be frustrating because we live in a world where we are raised to listen to nuance and read subtle body language to determine a person’s emotions relating to a topic. They may be speaking monotonously but you can pick up by their body language or by the way they over enunciate just how they may actually feel about the topic at hand.

Pen pointed neatly above my notebook, I waited for some amazing piece of advice to resolve conflicts that may occur because of our failure to read facial and body cues. And the answer from this amazing presenter was to get up and go have a conversation with someone instead of sending that possibly confusing email.

Well, by golly gee! What wonderful advice… for people who are close enough where that’s feasible.

Since there was no great advice, no great secret ready for me to use the next time I accidentally found myself in some deep shit because of the very 2D communication problem that is very real for all of us, I had a silent fit and then wondered how I could use this. How could this complete lack of a substance from an alleged leader help me, help the community, help anyone for fuck’s sake?

Well…

One of the first pieces of advice we supervisors will give to new or established employees is to “slow down.” Too often, we have emails flying in and out of our inboxes, blowing through our work flow as quickly as possible to open us up for non-client facing work. However the desire to shoot off a quick response can cause trouble:

  1. Strategic words missing
  2. Words misspelled
  3. Run on and confusing sentences
  4. No concrete purpose or substance

Any one of these can cause a world of hurt for us, but all four taken together could potentially lead to disaster.

In an effort to prevent something horrible from happening, we tell everyone to slow down, to re-read what you’re writing, to take a moment before hitting send to make sure that everything in the email is appropriate and what you needed to say. People claim that they do this but I can tell you that the amount of times that I have gone through my employees’ emails, whispering, “what the fuck,” to my computer pays the lie to their assurances.

So the first piece of magical advice I have is: “slow down.”

As exciting and thrilling as it may be to get some word vomit out and into cyberspace, when you are working on building interpersonal relationships with strange meat suits across the world, the more important thing is to make sure that what you’re saying makes a lick of sense. From conversations about our gods to disagreements about word meanings, we all need to take the time to step back and really review what it is we’re trying to convey.

Many of us with blogs already do this, so it’s not as if it’s an impossible exercise. Most of us take the time to be clear, concise, read and re-read what we want to convey in our blog entries. Most of my entries can take a week, or more, before they’re as ready as can be to go out onto the Internet. So it’s not necessarily a difficult thing to begin to add into this step into our inter-community discussions in forums, servers, and Tumblr posts.

If we all took an extra five minutes, or even more, to re-read and think about to the list of four things above before sending out a response, we could prevent a large amount of miscommunication (or auto correct fails).

One of the second pieces of advice we give out to our staff is to have someone else read over what you’re trying to say if the need arises. In our world where our conference call recaps can span a good three pages in a Word document, we have to make sure that we are being as clear and concise about what is being done and what the next steps are for our projects. Any one of the four things listed above can cause trouble on some of our projects, but taken all together, we’re asking for trouble.

We let our staff know that if the email they’re trying to send out is long-winded or convoluted, beyond slowing down and re-reading what they’re writing, it’s always best to have someone else review the emails. I will send my more confusing emails to other staff members – both supervisors like myself or other staff in the office – to have them take a look and make sure that I’ve hit all of the salient points that need to be touched on. Not all of my staff use this either, but they’re learning more and more as I guide them on how best to communicate with our clients that I’m always willing to do a quick email review to make sure nothing gets missed.

So my next piece of magical advice would be: “beta readers.”

We all have friends in the community that we bounce ideas off of or share issues with. These are the people who you can rely on, if they’re around at the time, to review something you’re trying to get out and onto the Internet. Fan fiction writers tend to have beta readers that go through and offer feedback; why not people who are trying to work within a community entirely derived over the Internet?

When the topics at hand can be as personal or impassioned as can be, we need to take the time to find someone to read through what it is that we’re saying just to be sure that nothing gets missed. I have done this for friends’ blog entries as well as response posts when the shit has hit the fan. I have also had my friends do this for me to make sure that what I’m saying is accurate, concise, and as clear as possible. This step may delay the post going live, but sometimes waiting for that person to read through what you’ve written is more important than immediately publishing whatever comments you may have.

If we took the time to have someone review whatever it is that we want to say, it could also cut down dramatically on misunderstanding across the community.

Sometimes, I must have difficult communication with representatives, clients, and vendors that I work with on a regular basis. I am not a person who enjoys having these types of high level conversations, but occasionally we need to have difficult conversations in order to save the relationship, to ensure that the issue that occurred doesn’t happen again, or because whatever process we determined could work here didn’t in fact work and now we need to come up with a new one.

Leading up to those types of conversations, there is usually a flurry of back and forth between myself and whomever I am ultimately going to have this conversation with. And quite often, when someone thinks that their point of view is the only point of view that matters, this can lead people into a state of high dudgeon. This is when it is always best to step back before heading into that conversation.

If I walk into these types of conversations in the midst of a paroxysm of anger, I am not doing myself any favors. And I am not going to be doing anything productive with that conversation because I’m too busy assuming that what they’re telling me is wrong or a lie.

So my next piece of magical advice is: “take a break.”

When it comes to facilitating a community, especially a text-based one, I think this is probably the most important piece of advice that we can give to ourselves and to others. Tempers can snap or fray because the conversation is so close to who you are as a person or to something you deeply believe in. Arguments can stem from an emotional reaction or the reading of tone where none was meant. It is always best to step back and walk away than to give in to the temptation to either defend yourself when no defense is necessary or to think critically about what has happened and how best to respond.

If we can give ourselves even ten minutes of time to walk away from the conversation and focus on something else, you can come back to it a little bit more clearer minded. This can help you to decide how best to respond, if you even feel a response is merited at that point anyway. Taking a break can give you that extra time you need to come down and determine how best to proceed.

Communication

Unlike my job where I have the option for phone communication and in-face meetings, a purely text-based community is going to have its issues with miscommunication. No matter how often we refer to magical advice or do our best to hypothetically put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, it is going to happen; it’s inevitable when other human beings are involved.

The only magical piece of advice for when it finally does happen to you is to be able to be critical enough of the situation and yourself to think about where it went wrong. Instead of doubling down on who is right and who is wrong, figure out where you may have made mistakes when communicating and learn from those mistakes for better communication in the future.

Further Reading

  1. Boat Paddling: The Second Rule of Kemeticism

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.)

I Think About Righteousness and I Live By It.

The phrase stranger danger was coined back in the 60s, but it was something that continued to be used well into my childhood in the 80s. There were cartoon things schools would show kids to make them all aware that strangers could be a danger to you so be wary of them. I don’t remember ever being shown the cartoon or hearing my mom say the phrase, but I learned about stranger danger in other ways.

As a very young child, I lived in a neighborhood that had cheap rents and not a good reputation. I only lived there for maybe 3 years but it cemented the sentiment behind stranger danger to me. If we kids wanted to play outside, multiple adults accompanied us “just in case”. We weren’t sure what “just in case” really was, but they were there “just in case.”

Riding our bikes down the street or in the shared parking lot between my building and the next meant that there should be at least one adult for every child. That didn’t always work out for reasons, but usually there were plenty of adult eyes on us as we played outside.

When we moved to suburbia, the stranger danger mentality followed. We rode our bikes in roving gangs of children, we were to be inside by the time the streetlights came on, and my mom had us in an after school program when babysitters were no longer available to keep us so that we would be safe. We didn’t stay home alone for long when I was young and we made sure doors were locked, that we didn’t answer the door if our mom wasn’t home, and we stayed in the relative safety of our neighborhood when we hung out with our friends.

As a teen, I was a loner and stayed home more often than I had as a kid. My nights home alone were filled with music, books, and writing. I had friends and sometimes we would go out in semblance to the roving gangs of kids on bicycles from my childhood. Only now we had friends who drove where we wanted to go and there were usually at least 5 – 7 of us at a go. We were safer in groups as a kid and we were safer as teenagers because nothing horrible could happen to us.

Stranger danger shaped my childhood in weird ways. But the overall sentiment, no matter how safe we tried to be, did not always work out in everyone’s favor.

It is I who cause Osiris to be a spirit, and I have made content those who are in his suite. I desire that they grant fear of me and create response of me among those who are in their midst for I am lifted aloft on my standard, on my thrown, and on my alloted seat. – Spell 85 from The Book of Going Forth By Day

The disappearance and murder of Molly Anne Bish probably should have rocked my entire world when it hit the presses. Molly was my age and she had probably been taught the same things about stranger danger as I had. Maybe she watched the cartoons in school when I didn’t. In any case, she probably had a general awareness of her surroundings at all times, locked the doors when her parents weren’t at home, and did all the good things people and organizations tell you to do so that you won’t go missing or wind up dead.

But even with all of that, Molly still disappeared from her job as a lifeguard at a local lake. Her mother had been dropping her off each day and paid close attention to Molly’s surroundings before bidding good-bye and “I love you” to her daughter. The day before Molly’s disappearance, her mother noticed a suspicious looking white vehicle with a strange man in the parking lot with her, but she ignored it instead of calling it in.

The next day, June 27, 2000, Molly went missing and her mother remembered that strange car and the strange man sitting in it the day before. She was last seen by her mother wearing a blue bathing suit. At least her mother got to say good-bye, something that doesn’t happen often in these types of cases, even if she didn’t know it was the final good-bye.

For three hours on that day of June 27th, families came and went with their kids to enjoy the cool water on such a beautiful day. They all noticed that the lifeguard was missing, but no one thought to ask themselves why the lifeguard had left their water and bag of things out in the opening – which included their lifeguard whistle – and why the first aid kit was left open by the lifeguard post. Someone even took it upon themselves to pull the whistle out of Molly’s bag and use it as they played fill-in for the missing Molly Bish.

The police were finally contacted and immediately began trying to find Molly. There was no usual story about being a runaway; it was clear that Molly had not left her post willingly. What teenage girl would leave her things behind? A search was immediately organized, purported to be one of the most extensive and expensive searches in Massachusetts history.

They came up empty.

The police cordoned off the lake and turned it into the crime scene it was, but the detectives admitted that the evidence they collected was contaminated. The woman who had taken Molly’s whistle had trampled some of her things. Someone put the first aid kit away. There was evidence taken from the lake, but too many had come through and trampled it for the evidence to be the solid lead the police needed to find out what had happened to Molly.

As usual, the police looked at Molly’s family and friends, hoping to find a jump start on the case there. The police looked into her father’s job – he was a parole officer – wondering if this disappearance was linked to a disgruntled convict under her father’s thumb. But it seemed that her father was well-liked.

There were some thoughts that maybe she had taken off: a friend of hers had been injured badly and there was fear that she wasn’t going to make it. But everyone knew that Molly wouldn’t have left without telling someone. Or if she had left at all, she would have made the journey with other friends and not on her own. They kept coming back to the bag of things she had left behind with this theory too. Why would she have left her things at the lake even if she had gone off to visit with one of her friends?

The one thing that the police and Molly’s mother kept coming back to was the white car with the strange man from the day before. Other locals had seen the vehicle too in various places around the lake: in the parking lot, down the street, and in a campground that was reachable through a path in the woods from the lake. But no one seemed to know who it was who had been driving that white sedan. Flyers asking people if they knew who it was to call in to the tip line went up.

Tips came in, but nothing concrete surfaced.

In late fall of 2002, a local hunter was walking through the woods about 5 miles from Molly’s parents place when they saw something blue in the distance. The something blue looked like a bathing suit. That man didn’t investigate what he was seeing for whatever reason, but when he shared this story with a friend of his almost half a year later, his friend put two-and-two together and notified police.

The police found Molly after an intensive search. Her body had been strewn about the area known as Whiskey Hill due to predation. No cause of death could be determined. All they knew was that a happy, healthy 16-year-old girl had gone missing and her body found three years later, almost to the day, with no understanding as to what had happened in between.

Since the discovery of Molly’s body, no less than four people have been interviewed as persons of interest. In each case, the family is given a modicum of hope only to have those hopes dashed.

It seems like every other year there is talk of some new lead in the case. Two years ago, twenty-six pieces of evidence were submitted for enhanced DNA analysis to a lab in Texas. The police on the case were quoted a year later as saying that there is “cause for optimism based on some of the things we’ve tested.” Last year, detectives began searching the woods where Molly was found after a tip about a buried car – possibly the suspicious white car her mother saw the day prior – in the area. They took ground penetrating radar in the hopes of finding the car, but no new updates have entered the local headlines since last year.

Molly’s family continues to fight, pushing however they can for justice for her. Her sister said that she will keep fighting, a sentiment echoed by Molly’s mother repeatedly over the years. They won’t give up, or give in. They’ve hired private investigators to aid the police in their investigations.

In addition to the above, Molly’s mother and family have humanized her in a way that not many victims with cold cases are able to do. The fact that Molly disappeared and was murdered only 18 years ago gives the case a more humane persona than Danny Croteau’s news articles ever conveyed. The articles are less sensational, more to the point. Molly was a human being and we were able to learn about who Molly actually was versus what the newspapers would like us to believe.

I don’t think Molly was any different than any other 16-year-old girl. She wrote a letter once to a local mother who had lost her daughter in much the same way that Molly’s mother would lose her. She belonged to clubs and had a boyfriend. She had worries and concerns; she had plans and a future. Molly probably could have been one of my friends if we had gone to the same schools.

The only difference between her and I is merely a matter of circumstance. I came home in June 2000 if I went out at all; she never did.

I am Nun, and the doers of wrong cannot hard me. I am the eldest of the primeval gods, the soul of the souls of the eternal gods; my body is everlasting, my shape is eternity, Lord of Years, Ruler of Everlasting. – Spell 85 of the Book of Going Forth by Day

The word justice is a word that seems to have lost a lot of meaning. We hear it thrown around on true crime shows and fast paced drama TV shows. It’s in many headlines nowadays and all over the internet. It is justice that people speak of in situations like Molly’s where, for so long, we have wondered what happened and when someone will face charges.

But it isn’t necessarily justice that the family or those of us who have been heartbroken by the circumstances of this case that we’re looking for. The desire is to have the person responsible for this crime held accountable for their misdeeds and to pay for what they took away from the family when they took Molly from the life she had been cultivating for herself.

It’s been a little over 18 years and the family still holds out hope. They appear in the news about once a year, not always related to the possibility of new evidence or the re-hashing of old evidence. But they continue to spread a message of hope that one day, they will know what happened to their daughter and the person responsible will be held accountable.

We know it’s possible; the murder of a local teacher was solved just last fall and earlier this year, another murder case from the other half of the state was possible. With the changes in technology, it is absolutely feasible that the person who did this will one day be brought up on charges. But that day has been a long time coming and those who have held their breath, waiting for it to finally come, are still waiting.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Spell 85 of The Book of Going Forth by Day

May He Live After Death Like Re Every Day.

As a kid, I loved being terrified and mystified by the television show, Unsolved Mysteries. The theme music, the voice over of Robert Stack, and the 80s visuals were all exactly what a kid like me wanted to scare the ever-loving shit out of myself. And there were plenty of nights where I wondered how the fuck I was going to fall asleep after that nightmare of an episode. Maybe I was just a weird kid.

In 1993, an episode aired that caught my attention because I knew the name of the victim. The year before, she had been murdered and there was no new information about the case so they turned to the public for help. I don’t know if that episode really did help at all because it was only six months ago that the killer was finally arrested.

When I finally read the articles about the arrest, I wondered if this would be just the first in a long line of cold cases to be solved. Earlier that summer, there had been hints of another cold case that had “new developments” though nothing more had been/has been released on the subject.

I was kind of right.

Another cold case was solved in the last month, just not the one I was keeping an eye out for. I only knew about this unsolved crime because of an article done early last year where the victim’s sister was interviewed. I can remember reading that article last year and thinking, how are they going to solve that?

Well they seem to have anyway.

On March 11th, a man was arrested for the 31-year-old crime. Based on the news coverage, it sounds like the suspect has all but confessed what with his story changes and all. Again I began to wonder if the cold case with developments from last summer would get an update finally; I had been following it since I was a teenager and if there were “new developments” then it stood to reason there were new leads.

But so far nothing.

I began to wonder what it must be like for the victims who have to wait so long for justice. Could their souls really move on if that’s their belief system anyway? Or do they wait around their families and around each new police detective assigned to their case, hoping that someone will finally confess or that some clue will blow the case wide open?

What made my questions worse was the knowledge that unsolved murders are a dime a dozen according to the county’s cold case database. It’s a long and depressing list, some recent and others not so much. Some will most likely never be solved; others may still have a chance.

One of them stuck with me after reading the victim’s name. More so even than the case with developments last summer. I can’t stop thinking about it. I remembered the name whispered by the adults when I was a kid and I can’t stop thinking about him.

O Lords of Justice, put an end to the evil harm which is in me. O you companions of the God of Justice, may this god be gracious to me… – Excerpt of Spell 14 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

The murder of Danny Croteau happened a decade before I was born, but all of the adults in my family remember it. This subject matter will be difficult and I have to warn you all here for triggers for sexual abuse and the Catholic scandals. For those not willing to read about this for mental health reasons, skip down further past the second picture below to the third paragraph in that section. (In addition, I have ceremoniously desecrated the name of the priest in this post.)

One of the things that the newspapers like to highlight the most about Danny is that he was an altar boy. Most articles reference this fact either in the title or within the first paragraph. They’re hoping to drag the reader in, to illustrate that a pure-hearted innocent was murdered. They also want to remind as many people as possible the abuse of power from the priest when they begin to pepper the details into their articles.

What they’re forgetting is that Danny was more than this two-dimensional news article image. He was an altar boy – an important position according to other kids who also held the role – but he was also a kid. He was a Boy Scout and maybe, if he had lived, he would have one day become an Eagle Scout. He helped out an elderly neighbor for nothing more than milk and cookies. According to one childhood friend, he was the kind of kid who would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him with no questions on why.

He helped his parents out around the house. He did chores and maybe he complained about the doing of them, but he did what he was asked. His family was big with a total of six kids and his blue-collar worker of a father working two and three jobs at a go to make ends meet.

But beyond all of that, he would go out and play with his friends. They would play pickup games of whatever sport in the street: baseball or wiffle ball. He would go fishing at the local watering holes and talked about, maybe, one day being a priest. He wanted to go to Africa, not as a missionary, but as a scientist. He would stay out late in the dark, hanging out with his friends and doing what kids did back then.

Danny Croteau had hopes and dreams. The articles rarely remind you about the fact that he was a kid and he had his whole life ahead of him to plan out. His life was cut short and the secrets that slowly spilled out after he died would, eventually, lead to one of the biggest scandals in the state of Massachusetts.

When the local parish priest first came to St. Catherine of Sienna church, he made an impression. The older members were discomfited by this youthful priest, who introduced modern music to the choir and preached against the Vietnam War. The phrase “hippy” was sometimes thrown out and around by the elder members of the church, but they couldn’t deny that he was bringing members back to the Church in droves.

Not only was he outspoken about his political views about the illegal war, he also made himself useful. The Croteaus weren’t the only family to receive the priest’s largess. He made himself useful. He would raid the church’s freezer and bring roasts or steak. He would give them money if they needed help to float the bills. He would babysit the kids, giving the parents a break when they needed it. He was helpful and kind and everyone who were helped out by him remarked that it was a status symbol:

The priest was seen eating at so-and-so’s home the other night, they would murmur. It was a mark of favor. It was supposed to show that he was part of the community centered around the church.

All it did was give him more and more access to the victims he had chosen.

The priest, F/ather L/avigne, had had rumors swirling around his name since before he even entered the seminary. He had been in trouble as a youth for “immoral acts” with children. But the Catholic Church didn’t care or never learned of it. They failed the people who F/ather L/avigne would later victimize.

Danny’s secret was the same secret children at the priest’s previous parish kept to themselves. It was the same secret that other kids in Danny’s church kept quiet. F/ather L/avigne had a predilection for little boys. He would coax them with alcohol and Playboys. He would watch them change into their altar boy smocks. He took them camping and had sleepovers both at the rectory and at his parents’ home in the city next door.

Danny’s secret, most likely, led to his murder, but we’ll frankly never know.

On the evening of April 14th, the day before the fishing season was to open, Danny never came home for dinner. It was a Friday night and his parents weren’t worried. Friday nights meant that the Croteau kids could eat whatever they wanted for supper and could stay out late. When Danny still failed to come home after dark, his parents went looking for him but he didn’t turn up at any of his local haunts. No one could confirm when they last saw him.

So they did the next logical thing: they turned to the police to file a missing person’s report. Unfortunately, Danny had to be missing for 12 hours in order for the report to be filed. By the time the official report was entered at 2:11AM, it was too late for Danny.

On the morning of April 15th, a fisherman showed up at a local spot that’s no longer in use. A guard rail has been put up in the name of safety and there’s no easy parking for locals anymore to fish along the Chicopee River. Back then, you could pull right up to the river and stay as long as you wanted. You just had to be careful of the trash leftover from local teenagers using the area as a party space or lover’s lane the night before.

The fisherman found Danny Croteau lying face down in the river about five feet from the river bank. He called it in and the local police, followed by the state police, were on the scene very quickly. They could see impressions from tire tracks, one of which appeared to have been made in the mud by a car getting out of there pretty quickly.

The mud had been kicked up and it was clear that a struggle had happened. Danny Croteau had fought hard for his life, fighting back against his killer with everything he had. By all accounts, Danny was a big kid and he probably tried to use his size to his advantage. But in the end, Danny lost the battle when his killer picked up a rock and killed him. The cops took impressions and found the murder weapon, which had both Danny’s blood and someone else’s on it. They thought it would be an easy case to solve.

The autopsy revealed that Danny was legally drunk at the time of his murder. It wasn’t the first time the 13-year-old had been either. Two weeks before his murder, after a sleepover at F/ather L/avigne’s family home, he came home feeling ill and was sick a few times. His older brother had a similar experience after spending the evening sleeping over at the priest’s family home, but the priest assured the Croteaus their son got into his parents’ liquor cabinet without permission.

The Croteaus never went to identify the body, F/ather L/avigne offering to do that for them. He said that they shouldn’t see him that way. Maybe he really did want to keep them from having the image of their son like that. He also talked them into a closed casket, again citing that they needed to remember their son as he was and not how he had died.

This was just the first of many instances where F/ather L/avigne seemed to do things that would zoom him to the top of the suspect pool. He was found at the murder scene the very next day and when he was interviewed, he asked questions that all true crime readers and police detectives note to be suspicious. They’re the type of questions the murderers ask to check to see how the investigation is going.

But this was Massachusetts and even though the police suspected the priest, there was no way a Catholic priest could do this. Catholicism was the top religion in the state and is still the religion du jour according to the Pew Foundation. They had to tread carefully. Not only was the local DA a Catholic, but no one could believe that a priest would do something so heinous.

F/ather L/avigne lied during his interview, claiming that he hadn’t seen Danny since the sleepover where the child had come home seemingly hung over. A witness came forward to say that Danny had been at their home a week or so before his death and made a call to “his father” to pick them up. It was F/ather L/avigne’s car that came to pick up Danny, not his father.

After the funeral for Danny, presided over by the very man police were beginning to suspect in the homicide, F/ather L/avigne told Danny’s parents he couldn’t be seen with them anymore. Carl remembers being bewildered by the call, which came seemingly out of the blue. They didn’t know that he was a prime suspect or that he had abused their son. All they knew at that point was that the very priest who had helped them over and over again was now claiming he couldn’t help them during the worst moment of their lives.

F/ather L/avigne, with the backing of the Catholic Church, was brought in to pass a polygraph test. He couldn’t have done the horrible deed, of course, if he passed and that would put the whispers floating around the city to rest. For all intents and purposes, it sounds very much like he failed the first test. The newspapers claim it was inconclusive. Two further tests were completed at the backing of the Church and he passed.

F/ather L/avigne was transferred to another local church, St. Mary’s, amid the swirling rumors about his hand in Danny’s death. Most of the kids who had been abused by F/ather L/avigne could believe that he would do it. The priest, apparently, had an explosive temper and they, of course, all secretly knew why the priest would want to do such a thing. The police heard the claims and felt that the motive was not only damning but obvious.

Local opinion is that the police didn’t handle the case well. They seemed to tiptoe around the Catholic Church. This is true, by all accounts. While the police seemed to believe that, along with the local D.A., he had committed this crime, there wasn’t enough evidence to seek an indictment. The Croteaus were not only informed of the abuse their son had suffered, but some of their other sons confirmed they had also been abused. With that, they filed criminal complaints against their priest. But the D.A. said that there was no way they could convict a Catholic priest for the murder…

In the early 90s, when I first heard family members speak about the case, there was new heat on the case. In 1991, F/ather L/avigne was arraigned on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. His congregation was floored by the reports. Men and women and children all picked sides: those who believed the priest could do something so horrific and those who did not. The scandal threatened to destroy parishes – and in fact the parish where the abuse claim stemmed from did in fact break in half – and the first Catholic abuse scandal was born.

I won’t detail the long list of names that came forward, courageous people who spoke out against the priest. I’ll leave this link to the Bishop Accountability page for anyone who wants to explore it.

Suffice to say that the priest who was supposed to finally get his comeuppance for the abuse he had perpetrated, and the murder 20 years before, against the innocent never came. He pleaded guilty, but never spent a day in jail for it. He was never to serve as a priest again, but the Catholic Church paid him every month. He wasn’t defrocked, just retired.

The Croteaus were hopeful that this would do it; they would finally get the justice that their son deserved. The case was reopened by the new D.A. at the time now that victims of F/ather L/avigne’s were coming out of the wood work. They came out in droves, suing the Catholic Church and the priest himself, for the horrors they had suffered at his hands in long-suffering silence.

DNA testing was still in its infancy back then, but evidence collected at the scene was sent to a lab. Blood typing had confirmed that Danny’s blood type and another, Type B, was on the murder weapon and some of that blood was on a piece of rope found at the scene. The lab cleared F/ather L/avigne’s blood from the murder weapon, but couldn’t conclusively do so on the rope found at the scene. It wasn’t enough evidence for the case to go to trial as the D.A. believed they didn’t have enough evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt.” The case went cold again.

In the early 2000s, after I had moved out of state, the case came back under the lime light again. Litigation had been filed by a local lawyer to release the gag order on the documentation surrounding the sex abuse and murder investigation against F/ather L/avigne. The lawyer needed it to determine if the Diocese was complicit for the lawsuits that would eventually be filed. A judge ordered the documentation released to the public even though the D.A. fought hard against it. He claimed it would do more damage than good.

Maybe the D.A. just didn’t want to try or care anymore. After his failure in the early 90s, maybe he couldn’t face another failure or people claiming he had done nothing after claiming he would do something.

But maybe this was all that he needed to try, once again, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that F/ather L/avigne was guilty of murder. DNA testing had come a long way since the early 90s, something the D.A. acknowledged.

He sent the evidence in for testing one more time and the testing failed to link F/ather L/avigne to the crime. Thirty-two years after becoming the only suspect in the murder (as all other suspects had been ruled out concretely), hope for justice finally died.

Around the same time, a local priest began to refuse to give the tithes from his parish church to the Catholic Diocese until they defrocked the sexual abuser in their midst and stopped paying for L/avigne’s retirement. He was threatened by the Diocese but his parishioners agreed with him. Others joined in the fight, but it was Father James Scahill who pushed and pushed. He won his fight and L/avigne was defrocked.

That was the only justice the Croteaus would ever know.

… I shall be aware in my heart, I shall have power in my heart, I shall have power to do whatever I desire… – Excerpt from Spell 26 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

I can remember an aunt of mine saying emphatically, “that priest did it; he killed that boy!” I was at her house and I came into the conversation too late to make sense of it. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It haunted me for a while because I couldn’t fathom – as many who viewed the abuse scandals of the early 2000s against the Catholic Church – that someone would do something like that to one of their parishioners.

She mentioned other names – kids she knew who had been abused by the priest. But it was the murder charge she levied against the priest that stuck in my memory. I didn’t understand it all until I saw Danny Croteau’s name on the cold case database for the county. It was the only time I would hear about it before I began digging into the case myself.

I visited the graves of the Croteaus some weeks back. Danny’s been joined by other family members, including his father. He’s no longer alone at least. The bench pictured above was the only thing I was comfortable photographing while I was there, paying my respects to a family who had survived the most horrific thing that I can imagine a family going through. All reports show that, even at the height of it all, the Croteaus never lost their faith.

As I stood before the stone bench on a cold Sunday morning, I tried to understand what it must have been like, not only for the family but for Danny too. His life had been cut short tragically and brutally. Thinking about it in terms of my own son, I am frozen by the intensity of my own feelings on the matter; I can’t describe the feeling at all. I can’t imagine how the family managed to survive at all.

As I thought about Danny the last few weeks while writing this entry and visiting his grave, I wondered about his soul. Was he resting in the arms of God? Or was he watching his family, waiting for them to join him before he went to wherever it is his soul has gone to? Was he angry that justice would never be served and that the likely murderer still lives?

I can’t answer these questions; maybe I’ll never know the answers but maybe one day I will.

All I can do is honor the boy’s memory and remember him. I can remember him as the wild child who hitchhiked where he wanted to go and wrestled at the YMCA. I can remember him as the prankster who stopped before running off that fateful April 14th evening to help his mom bring a rug inside and setting it back in its place.

I can think that maybe he’s a little at peace, even though justice will have to wait until the alleged murderer has to face his Maker whenever that will be. At least he’s back with his father now and maybe, I think, he probably did wind up in the arms of God. His mother always figured he had become an angel and if he did become one, maybe he’s the angel who watches out for those who need protection the most.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Excerpt from Spell 85 from the Book of Going Forth By Day

The Propitiation of Sekhmet 2017.

July 24 – August 19 The Propitiation ends with a festival of drunkenness. A celebration that harkens back to sweat-slicked bodies, heavy drum beats, an overabundance of alcohol, and a spiritual awakening brought about by the excessiveness of all three. … Continue reading

Chief of the Shambles. 

For the last few months, I’ve been doing nothing but fighting. I’ve been clawing up out of the muck and mire. I have been catching bits of sunlight glinting before my eyes and then, I slide back down in the mud hole. Sometimes it encases me like a body suit and sometimes it’s just a little dirt.

These past four months have been hellacious in comparison to the previous year, year plus.

The previous eighteen months weren’t a cake walk by any means, but it was still … well, easier. It was more like… a well worn groove that I had created by pacing. I could just keep following it. But at some point in the last four months I lost that well worn thread and I can’t find my way back to it any more.

As a kid, my childhood best friend and I would spend hours in the little pool behind her house. We would drift and be mermaids, but a lot of times we would work on creating the most powerful whirlpool we could and then work to break it. No matter how many times we went round and round that pool, we could always break that whirlpool in a matter of minutes.

The last four months have been a little like that whirlpool except that I haven’t been able to break the current. I’m stuck inside that swirl and I can’t find a way out. If I just lie very, very still then I can float along the surface and let it take me wherever it wants me to go. Sometimes, I still fight it because isn’t that what humans are supposed to do? But mostly I just don’t bother.

I know; I know. It’s just depression. I can find a doctor and go back on the anti-depressants that worked the best. I could easily find a solution, but even just finding a doctor is a fight. After over a year of fighting with the state about whether or not I actually had health coverage and then trying to find doctors in network that are actually accepting new patients…

It’s just yet another nail on the coffin.

I’m tired of fighting.

I spoke those words aloud to myself a few days ago and then just kind of stopped. I was a little shocked when they came out of my mouth. It was like a reflex of some sort, though nothing that I could think of really caused the reflex in the first place. I remember looking around as I voiced the sentence out loud again. I don’t know what I was looking for, but whatever it was supposed to be wasn’t there.

After I announced to the empty house that I was so tired of fighting, oddly enough my first thoughts were about Sekhmet. I wasn’t even concerned about what it might mean about my state of mind. I just immediately jumped to thinking about her.

I thought, wow, what a failure of a Sekhmet kid you turned out to be. She hasn’t said anything about it to me though she’s shown up in dreams since then. I have gotten the impression that she doesn’t think I’m a failure, it’s all just my own spin on the situation. But I still can’t quite get it out of my head that, unlike every other fucking Sekhmet kid out there, I’m ready to just fucking give up.

I mean, of all the ancient Egyptian gods to want to emulate, to claim a connection to, I chose the one god who is the most well known for going in fighting. She’s the one everyone turns to when it comes to fighting back, to standing up, for survival of the fittest, and for strength. She is the one that everyone turns to and says, “this is the deity who is going to teach me how to stand with spine straight.”

How many posts have we all seen about people turning to her in their time of need? They reach out when the tide is high and drowning is on the horizon. They turn to emulate her when they need to stand steadfast against the systemic -isms prevalent in this world of ours. They claw at the shit heap that life has thrown their way, spewing the blood and guts of their personal war into the universe.

She is what everyone hopes to one day be.

But here I am, a child of hers, and all I keep thinking is, “I’m just so tired of fighting. I want to stop now.”

Chains

O you who take away hearts and accuse hearts, who re-create a man’s heart in respect of what he has done, he is forgetful of himself through what you have done. – excerpt from Spell 27, The Book of the Dead translated by R.O. Faulkner

With Wep-Ronpet nearly upon us, I’ve been thinking a lot about The Distant Goddess myth. I am most likely not alone in this since this myth heralds the inundation and the renewal of the year itself. It’s just that time of the year for Kemetics, I guess.

There are numerous variations of this myth out there. Some of them are little more than allusions, breaths of a myth cycle that have since been lost to us (the Anhur/Menhyt version). Others tend to more prominence and are more often discussed: the cycle indicating that Tefnut was the Wandering Eye with Shu sent out to lure her home or the cycle where Hetheru is the Wandering Eye and Djehuty is forced to cajole her back to her father.

It should truly come as no surprise that I’ve chosen to align the Wandering Goddess myth within the confluence of the Hetheru/Sekhmet dynamic I’ve created for myself over the years.

According to my findings, it is after the goddess flees into the wilderness that the Destruction of Mankind myth takes place at some later date in time. My research seems to show that Re is not yet well established as the premier ruler over the world when the Eye takes off in anger.

Based on the Hetheru/Sekhmet dynamic I mentioned above, the idea that the Wandering Goddess myth takes place before the Destruction of Mankind never made much sense to me.

While most likely the reason I find it difficult to see the timeline in that way is because I’ve lost something in the translations I’ve read, there’s no telling if that really is the case. I will readily admit that it’s also possible that I prefer my own carefully crafted narrative when it comes to my two goddesses. Whatever the case may be, I’ve found a different timeline that sits better in my mind.

In my head, it always made much more sense that after Re tricked Sekhmet into drinking the red beer that she grew upset with her father and the world he had set her mindlessly upon. In the midst of the emotional upheaval that his trick most likely caused, she chose to flee into the wilderness.

Maybe she just needed time away for perspective or to race off the remains of her bloodlust. Whatever the case, she needed to get away.

Upon her leaving, she was still angry but knew that any acts upon the people he had chosen over her could end badly for her. After all, Re had clearly proved that he could outwit her. Maybe she realized that she wasn’t up for the task of trying to take him on. Or perhaps it wasn’t that she just simply couldn’t handle the idea of a full fledged battle against her father.

Perhaps it was necessary for her to rest after having gone balls to the wall against the world Re had created. After all, she was mid-bloodlust before he forced her to stop. Having the wool pulled over your eyes by the very being that called you into being as a manifestation of its own rage has to be something that throws you for a loop.

As I’ve theorized before, it seems to me that rage is most likely not an emotion that you can just drink away no matter how much booze you ingest.

chained

He himself has power over his members, his heart obeys him, for he is your lord and you are in his body, you shall not turn aside. – excerpt from Spell 27, The Book of the Dead translated by R.O. Faulkner

How often has something happened that forced us to acknowledge a need to get away from it all? It’s not so much running away or giving up, but a need to take some time so that you can sort out all the minutiae that’s gone into whatever it is that’s upset you in the first place.

As I pondered the mythic narrative I’ve felt more and more comfortable with over the years, I’ve often seen Sekhmet’s version of the Wandering Eye myth much like we would see a mental health day. In her case, of course, it took much longer than a simple day and another god had to talk her into returning eventually, which didn’t exactly go well the first few times. But eventually, she returns.

As I thought about how sick I am of fighting, I wondered if that’s what Sekhmet was aiming for when she ran off. I mean, it makes a lot of sense in my opinion. She went from pure rage to being forced to stop with no available outlet for where the anger was supposed to go. I know that we’re just supposed to believe that all that white hot fire went away with a number of jars of red beer. But it makes more sense that she took off for parts unknown to get her head screwed on straight.

It wasn’t that she gave up necessarily; she stopped fighting.

That certainly sounds pretty familiar to me. After so many months of trying to keep my head above the surface or being shown tantalizing glimpses of the hopes and dreams I have that don’t seem to be able to come to fruition no matter how many times I’ve tried, no longer fighting seems like a pretty decent option. It leaves you open and available to pick up and start fighting again at some future point, but it also gives you the time you need to take stock and figure out what the fuck is going on.

I came out the other side of that sentence, “I’m tired of fighting,” thinking that I was just a terrible Sekhmet kid, that I was doing everything to prove that I was all around a very terrible devotee. But maybe I’m just following her myth cycle a little. I’m going from a need to fight and keep my head above the waves to just letting the damn ocean current take me further out to see. I’ll figure out how to get to shore eventually… probably.

O Lion, I am a weneb-flower; the shambles of the god is what I abhor and my heart shall not be taken from me… – Spell 28, The Book of the Dead translated by R.O. Faulkner

I Have Driven Off A / Pep.

This past week, I had a part of my body removed because it stopped functioning properly. I tell people we removed my gallbladder because I’ve been beating it up for the last 18 years and we needed to permanently part ways, which is true. I told my gods I was sorry and I didn’t mean to and couldn’t they fix it so I could keep all parts of my body for the afterlife?

It was a very confusing time leading up to the surgery.

To be fair, it was a very confusing time leading up to the diagnosis.

Confusion

O you who emerge from the waters, who escape from the flood and climb on the stern of your bark, may you indeed climb on the stern of your bark, may you be more hale that you were yesterday. – part of Spell 101 from The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

I don’t know why I let it get as bad as it did. The first few times I had a gallstones attack, the pain wasn’t bad enough to drive me to the ER at 1 in the morning. Google-fu pretty much told me what was happening to me (gallstones) so I cut back on fatty foods to the best of my fatty food loving ability and the attacks were minimal. I had one or two in a 6-month period that first year and swore I’d deal with it next time.

But I just kept putting it off (sometimes with valid reasons and other times with probably not quite so valid ones).

Three years is a long time to deal with an  undiagnosed health issue. But I kept assuring myself that waking up my family in the middle of the night because of the pain that would eventually clear up was not worth it. My body and I were on an uneasy keel, but I was managing pretty well.

My gallbladder had other ideas of course. Maybe it got sick of my shit or maybe three years was too long. After a meal that was not very high in fat content, the pain was bad enough to force me to the ER where the doc said, “oh it’s definitely gallstones. There’s an awful lot in there; how long has this been going on?”

It was kind of nice to get the confirmation of what I already knew, but now I had to deal with it. I read up on different ways to contend with it and found non-surgical alternatives. However they all weren’t permanent solutions; the stones always came back.

I decided to ignore the implication that I would, by necessity, have a part of my body permanently removed. The fear of the surgery itself weighed too heavily on my mind, but I was also completely freaked out by the loss of that body part. I could lie and say just losing a piece of yourself was what was freaking me out, but to be frank, it was trying to figure out how this could impact me in the afterlife that was causing my issues.

It had never occurred to me before I faced this that I had always just assumed I would be fully intact upon my death. But now I had to face the music: my poor nutritional choices had brought me to the point where being fully intact upon my death was no longer an option.

a town of memory loss

Seth … will say to him with magic power: “Get back at the sharp knife which is in my hand! I stand before you, navigating aright and seeing afar. Cover your face, for I ferry across; get back because of me…” – part of Spell 108 from The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

The month of June was completely overwhelming as I faced the news that I needed my gallbladder out. My liver function became less efficient and the doctors were highly concerned because my gallbladder had also begun to harden after 3 years of attacks that I hadn’t dealt with. I found myself crying a lot as I tried to think past my own fears of what was to come.

One night, I cried in the shower, begging the gods to enact a miraculous cure. I knew they couldn’t do such a thing but I was still angry when I woke up with the dull ache around my liver and gallbladder as I had been off and on since the second trip to the ER. I had known the only way to deal with this was removal but the terror that I wouldn’t go to the afterlife because I was missing a piece of me held on and squeezed at me.

That sounds almost ridiculous, I suppose. “I’m terrified of surgery because my beliefs tell me I need all of my body to get to the afterlife.” I don’t want to say that this was a crisis of faith because it wasn’t. It was more like failed attempts to correlate a belief system from early human civilization with the modern era.

This is probably quite common for those of us attempting to create an historically informed practice from an ancient religion. For the most part, I’ve moved beyond these issues and have modernized my beliefs and practices where I needed to. But sometimes, apparently, something comes up that tosses you into a tailspin.

The thing that finally got me over this particular hump was something a coworker of mine said when I mentioned how much the notion was freaking me out. “Maybe they’ll put it in a biohazard jar so you can bury it.” It was said in jest and made me laugh, which was the overall point at the time. And somehow, hearing that set me a bit at ease as far as loss of organs went.

It occurred to me that I was probably being ridiculous. As I came at the fear from another angle, I had to remind myself that people in ancient Egypt probably also lost body parts and may not have been able to keep them for whatever reason. I most likely wasn’t going to be barred from the afterlife because an organ had stopped working properly and needed to be removed before causing me any serious harm.

When I was able to see it from that angle, I felt better. I was still a little weirded out by the whole thing since, aside from canines that didn’t come in correctly, I had never had to have anything removed before. But at least I could turn my anxiety away from what my soul would uncover upon death and focus heartily on my fear of the surgery itself.

Surgery

…expel my evil, grip hold of my falsehood, and I will have no guilt in respect of you. Grant that I may open up the tomb, that I may enter in Rosetjau, and that I may pass by the secret portals of the West. – part of Spell 126 from The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

I knew fear as an intimate companion the days leading up to the surgery. I would hear that phrase from Christian burials, “and yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil,” and I would sit in a haze of terror. I would shake with it and I would hold onto my apotropaic amulet and let fear race through my veins.

I broke down minutes before the surgery, whispering in my mind, I don’t want this; I don’t want to be here. Please let this be a nightmare. But it was reality and forward I went. The SO squeezed my hand and kissed my forehead, but I was still terrified of what was going to happen to me.

The removal of the organ; the death like sleep doctors were going to control while I was out; the unknown pain and recovery of what was to come after. All of it coalesced into a sort of miniature battle where I wasn’t really sure if I would survive as intact as I hoped to be.

This sounds ridiculous but it felt a bit like a battle against that entropy snake we all battle against as Kemetics. It felt like I was going into battle against an unknown and unseen enemy and I could either survive another day or I could die in the attempt. I didn’t step into the battle with courage like you’d expect from a true warrior but with tears on my lashes and a team of ladies in blue injecting something into my IV.

Split seconds before I passed out, I was staring at the ceiling and thinking that this was a bit like being drunk without all the terrible consequences. The grating in the ceiling above me did a full 180 spin and I can remember thinking, it’s like bed spin without the nausea, and then I was waking up in a green room with nurses everywhere.

I’ve felt very fragile since the surgery. It’s kind of made me realize that our bodies can easily break. I mean, I knew this in a sort of abstract way – I had a fractured elbow a few years back and I’ve fractured my ankle before – but it’s like the point had to be made real again. I feel very much like I could break completely, maybe next time it will be in half.

I’m recovering though, no matter how dark my thoughts or how fragile I feel.

The pain is weird; it comes and goes. Sometimes I feel like I could just recover on my own and then the next time I go to get up for something, I have to call for help because I can barely even think of the idea of getting up without someone helping me to my feet. I overdid it yesterday with all my trying to do this on my own and I’m suffering for it now.

My body feels a little foreign because of the pain, a little like it was someone else’s and now I’m trying to make it fit. No. No, it’s honestly like I put on a different skin suit after the surgery sometimes and now I have to figure out all the motor control again.

No. No… maybe a better description would be like being reborn…

I am reborn, I see, I behold, I will be yonder, I am raised up on my side, I make a decree, I hate sleep, I detest limpness, and I who was in Nedit stand up. – part of Spell 174 from The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

 Pacify.

I’m being stalked by the ritual card from the Amethyst Oracle. I mean, I’m pretty much okay with this. After introducing themselves to me as a deck that was going to be a little odd but definitely capable of dragging my ass, I decided I could live with that. So far, so good anyway.

This past week, the card flopped out at me and then showed up in a legitimate reading. I immediately went to my calendar and notes that Friday was the Day of Pacifying Sekhmet. I had no doubt I was going to do something. I just had to figure out how I was going to pacify her.

I mean, a lot of people tend to think of physical restraints when it comes to pacification. Maybe that’s a byproduct of the colonialism mindset most people in the western world are raised in. I don’t know, but I can say that the mere idea of restraining Sekhmet left me completely uncomfortable.

No way could I, a simple human, subdue such a dangerous and ferocious creature. And I don’t believe that the ancient Egyptians would have gone that route either. They feared her alongside revering her; no one would have been fortified enough to even consider such an idea much less going through with it.

According to the dictionary, the definition of the word is:

  1. to bring or restore to a state of peace or tranquillity; quiet; calm:

    to pacify an angry man.

  2. to appease:

    to pacify one’s appetite.

  3. to reduce to a state of submission, especially by military force; subdue.

All right, so appeasing sounded like something plausible. I could do that. Probably.

It wasn’t really that I was going to take her on, but more cajole her. I wanted to lure her to me, to ameliorate the rage that no doubt still simmers beneath her skin, but without having to force the issue. In effect, I needed to seduce her… but with what? How does one seduce a god, so to speak, in an effort to pacify the wrath that created her?

I have some experience here since I do something similar towards the end of her Propitiation each year. But there was a subtle difference. During the Propitiation, I am luring my distant goddess back to me. She tends to be fiery and energetic upon her return. This time, I was luring her in the hopes of keeping her calm and pacified.

I knew I needed to seduce her with ma’at-affirming things. As I have mentioned previously, the ancient Egyptians utilized green to symbolize Sekhmet in a ma’at-affirming frame of mind. In that post, I described that this was also a form of appeasement, a way to show that the Lady of the Flood could be appeased and pacified.

During the Propitiation, I am most often using words to draw her back. It isn’t so different from the Wandering Goddess myth where Djehuty or Shu talk her into returning to the fold. I could have used nothing but words, but the green-faced Sekhmet iconography that I needed to create seemed to say that more than mere word play was needed.

My first step was to find foods that I felt would be most appropriate in the act of pacification.

I knew immediately that I was going to use cucumbers. They’re associated with her and I absolutely love them. (I eat one a day typically.) In their associations with her, it seems more that those who would eat them were doing so for a fertility aspect.

While we often hear people tell of the mercurial and fiery aspects of Sekhmet, her ability to protect, maintain, and live in ma’at has more than just these connotations. In my point of view, it is the coolness (as in temperature) of a cucumber along with the gentle taste of these green veggies that help her to remain calm in the face of her own destructive nature.

But I wanted to give her a full meal, a sort of smorgasbord of deliciousness bent entirely on enticement.

Grapes were another given. I have always had a soft spot for the little orbs so long as they’re green. The red ones taste odd to me. Suffice to say merely that I absolutely love green grapes and as Sard pointed out in their post about colors in ancient Egypt, the color green was associated with ma’at-affirming behavior, just like the cucumbers.

Another reasoning behind grapes is because they are expensive for someone on such a tight budget. A banquet fit for a goddess should include items that are a little beyond the norm and as much as I love green grapes, my budget can typically ill afford them. Sometimes, the gods should get a little more than the usual fair.

For the main course, I chose tilapia because of this epithet of Sekhmet. I couldn’t say definitively if eating tilapia was a taboo or not since food taboos are a hot mess of a topic in relation to ancient Egyptian religious food proscriptions. But I figured that if she didn’t really want me to go that route, she would have made herself clear. Since the fish was on sale, I concluded it was a go.

As with every banquet/meal/food time that I have with my gods, I chose chocolate (totally within ma’at and you can fight me if you say otherwise) and also included some organic kettle corn, which is my latest food obsession, and diet Coke. (Hard stop on anyone interested in disabusing me of my diet Coke loving life.)

I felt, well, moderately successful. I mean, as I placed everything together in front of her partially open shrine, I felt like this was a good meal to lure a goddess. It’s possible that I was just overwhelmed with a feeling of my own peace and contentment but I’d like to think some of those feelings were hers.

The thing about this though is that living in ma’at is far more than just a good meal and some beneficent feelings. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t have as many arguments about what exactly it entails (and everyone would most likely be doing it). Living and maintaining ma’at includes actions as well as words, as well as food, as well as good feelings. It’s all tied together and somehow, I had to figure out how to go beyond.

I had to stop and think really hard about what exactly ma’at entails to me. I wound up breaking it down into two component parts: the public stuff that everyone sees me posting or discussing and the private stuff that is not available for public consumption.

The private stuff was easy to pull up and get in front of her. While I won’t go into the details of what it all is, I can tell you that those items are aspects of my personal devotion to her. We may not always get along or spend quality time together, but there are time honored traditions within our relationship which are specifically associated with various items.

I placed those items within the shrine for her with the intent of showing her my “green” living as it relates to our relationship.

The next bit was a little harder. I had to find physical reminders of daily actions that are, in my head, associated with living in ma’at. It’s one thing to say that X, Y, and Z thing are part of your ma’at-affirming lifestyle; it’s quite another finding physical reminders of those things.

The pieces I chose included items relating to my family, my ancestor veneration, self-care, and my faith. I carefully chose what I did in an effort to personify both myself and the belief that I live in ma’at everyday.

Afterwards, I sat in quiet reflection with her. Just as I felt after the meal we shared, I had the distinct impression that she was appeased, pleased with both my efforts at conducting a ritual for her and my attempts to show what my life-affirming propitiation was like.

Maybe, even if for just a few short hours, she was happy.

Ritual.

Recently, I purchased a gorgeous new oracle deck. This isn’t really surprising news or shouldn’t be. I’m a deck collector and I can’t say no when a deck has eye catching artwork and an exquisite use of color.

I have to say that I truly love the Amethyst Oracle with every fiber of my being. It has been one of the best choices I have made for a new deck in a long time. Beyond how much my heart pitter patters whenever I have that deck in my hand, it’s also helping me a lot through a particularly trying time. One of the regular bits of advice it gives me is Ritual.

This has been something that I have been particularly slacking on for the last two years. When your entire world has stagnated and turned gray, it is particularly difficult to give a tin shit about rituals or holidays. Even though I still give daily offerings, in themselves a form of ritual, it’s so ingrained a thing for me to do that it’s more like background noise than an actual ritual. 

This oracle has thrown this card at me so often that I’ve found myself searching my calendar for ritual type things to complete just to get a new card now and again. There are a number of things coming up this month, particularly the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion, and while I knew I would be celebrating that, it occurred to me that I should get my feet wet with a few smaller things before then. 

Last week, I did a very small celebration for the Day of the Executioners of Sekhmet. This week was the less than descriptive Purifying of Sekhmet. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do but it was going to be something at least.

I tried to remember why I had this on my calendar, hoping to knock loose some idea about what this day was supposed to achieve. I mean, sure the name is pretty clear about the root to the day, but I was thinking along the lines of how in the hell do I purify her? And am I even qualified to anymore?

The last time I spent any time with my gods, Sekhmet included, was during her Propitiation last year. I haven’t felt a desire or need to really do anything heartfelt or expressive. With my days tied up trying like hell just to get through and survive for another 24 hours, the truth is that my relationships with any of my gods is a fairly low priority. With that in mind, I had to ask if I was really the person to do this.

She hadn’t thrown any wrenches in the works. Each new and low impact idea I came up with just kind of unfolded before me. I was in and out of the grocery store in 20 minutes and within budget. I found most other supplies I had in mind tossed behind other junk in my cabinet of religious shit. Even getting the flowers evenly trimmed down for the perfect vase that I had been sure had been tossed out months ago seemed to go smoothly.

Maybe it was the deck spirit or maybe it was Sekhmet or maybe coincidence. It didn’t seem to matter why things were going well just that they were.

As usual, I tried to soak myself in as much symbolism as I could. Sometimes I’m incredibly successful and other times, only moderately so. I looked into creating a sort of quick meal that was generally healthy as well as choosing some foods that have garnered a “purifying persona” according to the magazines.

And then I thought beyond that.

Both incense and flame (candle) are considered purifying in various capacities. So too can colors and scents (aside from incense). I found two leftover ocean scented tealights from last year that I added to the mix since going to the ocean as a kid, for my family, was like a purifying ritual to get away from the drag of the city. The flowers I chose were predominantly yellow and white, colors of life and purity.

I think I did well.

After the simple formalities were out of the way, especially the reversion of offerings, I got a little more serious. 

Most rituals for me tend to be quick affairs. I don’t have the energy or time typically to spend hours in ritual, focusing on whatever needs to be focused on. That doesn’t mean that I am bad at this or that anyone who does likewise is either. It just means that I have a life beyond religion and gods that barges in usually when I’m in the midst of something important. So it was easier for me to just simplify everything down as much as possible.

This meant that I could feel like I had made the time and maybe even felt successful in the attempt while simultaneously making it harder for me to think beyond a 15 minute timeframe. I had more time though this round so I knew I had to go a little further out of my comfort zone.

I ran through a long winded and time consuming ritual. While the ritual has specific aspects and actions described within, I decided to focus instead on myself and my relationship with Sekhmet. After months of ignoring the giant elephant in the room, I was going to face the seeming desert between us head on.

I’d like to say that something clicked and things are already starting to get better. I would like to say that an Arrow came up from the Duat and told me where we go from here. I’d like to say that I did more than get over emotional. I would like to tell you all that the words I wrote in Her journal were received and acknowledged. I would love to believe that everything is back to normal now.

But sometimes relationships are hard. And miracles don’t tend to be the trend. 

I do feel as though I was able to convey my point appropriately. And I think that perhaps I took a right step. I couldn’t say for sure, but maybe this was the right direction.