Zep Tepi is the moment we all know as the First Time, or the First Occasion. It is that single perfect moment in which creation has been created. It signifies when the world is new and whole and perfect. It is that split second in time where the primeval mound has risen from the lifeless waters of the Nun to announce that the world has been made. It is perfection personified in a single yet brief period of time.
It is also an endless moment. It moves across time and space. It is always happening; it has already happened. Mythic time makes this part of the myth difficult for us to fully understand. We can connect to this concept of mythic time when we discuss the number of creation myths found in ancient Egypt (after thousand of years and varying degrees of import associated with specific cult centers, it’s bound to happen). But when we take a look at it without associating it with the cosmogonies, we can sometimes forget that Zep Tepi has already happened, is currently happening, and is going to happen.
In effect, Zep Tepi is more than just a single second in time from eons back; from before humans walked the earth and before gods ruled. It happens every day. And it will happen again and again every second of every day. And it will happen many years in the future after I am buried and have turned to dust.
But Zep Tepi goes beyond the cosmogony of ancient Egyptian creation myth. It goes beyond simply a focal point for us to dither and reinterpret as we speak with our community members. Zep Tepi happens every day, and it happens to all of us every day.
It is the moment the sun peers above the horizon. The second before you step into an important meeting about a raise with your boss. The decision before you start eating right and exercising. The time you roll away from your desk to take a break from work. The moment after you’ve taken your anti-anxiety medication and they begin to take effect. The moment you put your car into drive. The deep breath you take before you make an important phone call.
Zep Tepi happens every day in a thousand little ways.
This is not a new concept for us. We have had this discussion numerous times. In fact, I think we’ve hashed it out to the point where many Kemetics in the group spaces I haunt can all agree that Zep Tepi is an ongoing renewal on a personal and fundamental level in all of our lives. It encapsulates any number of moments in our day-to-day lives and can be as large as a sunrise or as small as taking one’s medication.
But the portion of the conversation that does tend to get glossed over is what leads up to that moment of Zep Tepi. In the examples I’ve listed above, we do not usually discuss what precedes each split second of Zep Tepi in our lives. In many instances the time before that moment of rebirth hits us is a battle unto itself. And the next second it is just like when the primordial mound raises from the watery chaos of the Nun.
There are any number of things that we may have to go through before we can achieve our personal Zep Tepi, no matter what we may consider a personal Zep Tepi. Any single person who has had to have these types of uncomfortable conversations either with themselves or other people can attest that it is not an easy process. Anyone who has had to work on themselves in some form or another can assert that the way forward was fraught with pain and suffering. There are any number of setbacks that may have or probably did occur before that moment of renewal is upon us.
The path leading us to Zep Tepi is not an easy one.
O you who consume your arm, prepare a path for me, for I am Re, I have come forth from the horizon against my foe. – excerpt from Spell 11, The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner
In high school, there were two distinguishing features that people used to tell the difference between my best friend and I. (We did resemble one another.) The first was that I was the shortest one in our friend group, which was true. I was tiny in comparison and there were a good 2 – 3″ between me and the next shortest person. The second was that I was an angry kind of person, which was also true. Being a short, angry ball of energy followed me out of high school and into other adventures in my life.
Both were a constant and, or so I thought, I could do nothing about either. I wore them like badges of honor. I was a little ball of rage that could make grown men cry; and wasn’t it just hilarious that I was so tiny to boot?
I’ve written about it all before, but suffice to say I was perfectly fine with it for a very long time before Sekhmet took me by the face, squeezed my cheeks together, and said, “cut the shit, and fix it.” I argued about it since this seemed like something I really didn’t want to do and I was given a caveat to the first message. “Or else.” I was never sure what the “or else” could entail, but I figured if she was telling me to fix it, and tacking on something as menacing as “or else”, then there was probably a serious problem.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me, of course.
I railed against her.
I told her that she was a hypocrite.
I whined at her.
I cried a lot.
I didn’t want to get rid of it. I wanted it to remain because it was a part of who I was, it was a part of my very identity. If I were to get rid of it, then who would I be? She should have been able to understand my point of view easily since, I felt, she was in similar circumstances. But no matter how many times I tried to get out of it, I came back to Sekhmet’s message to me: “cut the shit, and fix it. Or else.”
It took me a very long time to work on it. I knew that there was no quick fix here, but I had hoped for one.
As the years had past, the primary moment that the rage began had grown. Instead of it having been created at a single fixed moment in my life and remaining the same size it had been at that moment of its own creation, I found that it had been built up over the years by a variety of traumas until it was very large. It was exceedingly painful to work on. I couldn’t go from 0 to 100 on this. I had to take my sweet time as I slowly peeled back the layers to find the very start, the very beginning.
I had always been under the impression that rage was, well, healthy. I thought that having it was a good thing. But something that I had learned as I worked on this was that anger could be healthy; rage was not. I had to work down the ball of rage until I could manage what was left before I could finally turn to Sekhmet and say, “See what I have done? I did it.”
But I had caused another problem in the fixing. Out of fear, I wouldn’t let myself feel angry. I had spent so much time working on this part of myself that I was worried what would happen if I got angry. I kept my emotions locked up tight until I thought I would break from it all. I finally fell apart and realized that I had gone from one extreme to the other; I had gone from razor teeth and claws to a featureless void of no emotion with periodic explosions.
I had to learn hard how to express myself. I had to educate myself on what was and was not healthy. I had to let myself feel my emotions, but instead of bottling them up into a nice little pocket of rage in my chest, I had to express them in a way that would benefit myself and others. I had broken myself down to fix the problem, but I had only done part of the work to build myself back up.
After working down the traumas, working them all down until I had a functional level of anger that was healthy. Then I had to teach myself how to express these emotions in a healthy way, in a way that would benefit myself, the work that I had done, and the people around me. I’m finally at a point where I can say that while I do experience anger at a variety of things, I can finally express it in a healthy way that doesn’t involve broken things or people.
My first true moment of Zep Tepi was after all the rage had been pulled from its pocket and I could breathe again without feeling like I would melt down. My second moment was being able to express my frustrations and anger in a way that benefited myself, my life, and my goddess.
I have flown up like the primeval ones, I have become Khepri, I have grown as a plant, I have clad myself as a tortoise, I am the essence of every god… – excerpt from Spell 83, The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner
After I had realized that I needed to build my house back up, I sent myself on a mission to find something that would benefit me in the long run. I had to find a part of myself that had been missing for a very long time. Another piece of me had hidden that part of myself away in a safe place for later because that piece of me had grown tired of the world, tired of the gods, tired of living.
When I finally found that part of me again, I was reminded a bit of the Book of the Celestial Cow where Ra is mentioned to have become old. As quoted from this piece by Edward Butler:
Re learns that there are humans plotting against him because the furthest limits of his realm are far removed from his living divinity. The myth offers two immediate symbols of this distance or gap between Re and his subjects. The first is Re’s elderliness and, the second, the mineral metaphors used to describe him: his bones like silver, his flesh like gold, his hair like lapis lazuli. Re is elderly, not as an absolute quality, but relative to those of his subjects who are much younger in the scale of being.
I could feel the difference between myself and this part of myself. She was elderly in the context of Ra above: she was older than myself and had seen untold things in the time when she had been active. I referred to her as ancient-me, which seems to amuse as well as irritate. I was doing my job at any rate if I could get amusement out of the seriousness of the situation.
What I found when I discovered this piece was that the hard work I had done to myself at Sekhmet’s push had not been done to this older facet. In fact, I would say that, if I had to associate her with my own path, she looked more like 2012 era me than anything else: always angry, ready to pop at the hint of even the slightest provocation.
I also saw in her the same Sekhmet I have seen over and over again throughout my dealings with her: a volcano that has been dormant for years, but that could explode at any moment. The plume of gases that was constantly being released to make room for yet more rage was a miasma. I had to work on that for her so that we could continue on to the next steps in our journey.
The rage that had fostered in her had similar earmarks to my own and similar earmarks to Sekhmet’s, but at the heart of it all, it was entirely her own. She had made of it, just as I had made of it, a core part of herself. And that core part was necrotic from the years of adding to it.
I had to condense years’ worth of shadow work in a limited amount of time so that we could clear out the heart that had gone stale, first after years of disuse and second after years of fortifying it with white-hot anger. In the working, I discovered that, much as I had found for myself, she had never figured out a healthy and proper way to convey her feelings of anger. She had bottled them up until she was ready to break from it all.
As I worked on this other piece of myself, I began to wonder if this, too, was a core issue for Sekhmet. We know her as the Lady of Rage, of fire and fury, but we often don’t ask her to tell us how she’s feeling. Based on the myth I linked to above, at no point did Ra give her the tools she would need to fix herself, much less to express herself in a healthy and constructive way.
Maybe Ra never wanted to give her those tools or maybe he never knew what they looked like because he, too, suffers from the same thing. The whys and what-fors really don’t matter.
All that I kept coming back to as I worked on that other piece of myself was that this was something that Sekhmet could benefit from, if for no other reason than because then, the dormant volcano wouldn’t constantly be spewing ash and miasma into the air. And maybe the eventual eruption would be healthier than the eventual destroy-’em-all eruption that we all fear.
Perhaps in her directives to us, to me and to other me, to the other devotees out there who have anger issues, Sekhmet is looking for the quick-fix or any fix, really, to work on her own issues. Perhaps in the push to “cut the shit, and fix it; or else” she is asking us to teach her how to turn herself into a better god, to work on her root troubles, and come out of it a little less angry, a little less fear-inducing, a little more than just a lioness ready to slaughter at the request of the god who fathered her.
I think, at the very root of it all, Sekhmet is looking for her own version of Zep Tepi. She is hoping for that single moment of cosmological perfection where the world is new, or perhaps merely the renewal that predisposes the many versions of Zep Tepi that we see and feel every day.
Just as this other part of myself both deserves and needs that Zep Tepi, so too does Sekhmet. And as much as I may be jaded by everything that I’ve seen or done, I’m going to continue to work towards that goal.