Is It Defeat to Choose a Lesser Evil?

Two weeks back, a fellow Kemetic asked if I could do them a solid by reading through and editing an article about ma’at that they were working on. With memories of writing reports for cash in my head, I’ve been helping them with the post in question and have been particularly pleased with the content as I’ve been editing the essay for them. It’s a good post. It will definitely be thought provoking.

Connected to this article is the new round of growing pains the Kemetic community on Tumblr has been going through. I won’t give all the back and forth about what went down to cause this most recent round of discussions (if you’re on Tumblr you have most likely seen some of it or all of it anyway), but it’s been an interesting conversation as well as frustrating in every capacity.

Make Better Choices..

All humans are like God by listening to others.

There has always been disagreements about what is and is not a part of ma’at. Even those of us who get along and are more closely connected tend to disagree on the finer points. But we can all agree on the big nebulous concept in abstract form. It’s just that when it comes to putting it into practice, especially with the way the world has been going lately, the in-fighting come to the fore as seeming factions divide and sub-divide. It can be a little exhausting.

In ancient Egypt, they never had this issue. So long as the pharaoh was ruling and the priesthoods were content, so long as there was law and order, the exact definitions of ma’at were known and maintained. During the intermediate periods, when order turned to lawlessness, the people grew worried that isfet had come to rule the roost. They bemoaned their fate and the fate of their beloved country.

During the periods when pharaoh ruled, inequality of society and the socioeconomic strata that fill society was, well, normal. By its very nature, Baines maintains in his article, Society, Morality, and Religious Practice, that ma’at was fundamentally flawed in this regard, that having the haves on top and the have-nots on the bottom was part of the whole package:

Since in theory the gods provided for all of humanity, and humanity responded with gratitude and praise, the cult could be seen as having universal implications. In practice, however, the gods’ benefits were unequally divided. The privileged received the rewards of divine beneficence and returned gratitude, while the rest suffered misfortune in greater measure and had no official channel for interacting with deities. In this inequality, Egypt was not and is not unique. – P. 127

In the name of ethics, the most immoral things have been done in many places and periods. Morality, which is more local and less grandiose, may bear less blame here. The contrast between the two is important, because ideology and ethics rationalize the basis for social inequality, which Egypt had in great measure, yet the king and the elite who benefit from ideological underpinning of their position cannot ignore morality. – P. 131

The king and the elite appropriate a high proportion of the resources of Egyptian society and rendered society very unequal. Inequality lessened people’s capacity to be self-sufficient in facing life’s problems. – P. 137

But in that very same essay, Baines also shared that it was the top stratum of society’s job to help the poor. He states:

“Autobiographical” texts found increasingly from the later third millennium B.C.E. admit that all is not right with the world. They state that the men they praised “gave bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked,” and so forth. Later royal texts – both instruction texts and “historical” inscriptions – take up this idea. This magnanimous role belongs to the whole elite rather than specifically the king, who has a more cosmic, less centrally moral purpose to fulfill. – P. 140

In the Egyptians’ terms, morality and religion can hardly be separated, and the history of the development of both in Egypt vindicates this view. The association of the general ideals of natural morality with central Egyptian religious values carries with it the implication that loss and deprivation could disturb the proper order of things. This disturbance then is not simply a potential disruptive lack of equity in society; it involves the gods and cosmic order. Loss is one of many things that may threaten the fragile constitution of the cosmos. – P. 141

While inequality was rife in the appropriately maintained ancient Egyptian society, the people who needed aid were provided for because helping others was part of the game. To be sure, I have oft considered the actions of taking care of the less fortunate an attempt on part of the nobility to be seen favorably by the gods and when they are judged in the Hall of Two Truths, but the trend was to provide for those who need provision.

This is partly why the intermediate periods were so feared and why claims of isfet were made: without the clearly defined niches of society inherent in ma’at the necessary aid from the nobility, pharaoh, and priesthoods dried up. The assistance the have-nots relied upon was no longer available and death lurked in every crevasse.

These thoughts are echoed across other resources that have been quoted heavily across the community. The essays and books regarding ma’at all seem to point to the basic inequality of the ancient Egyptian society and the necessity to mitigate that inequality – without doing anything silly like creating a truly equal society, of course – through providing for the have-nots. The evidence is pretty clear: caring for your fellow man is a part of ma’at.

There was no division on this matter when society was at its best in ancient Egypt. And yet, the diasporic recreation of the religion is rife with these debates.

EquAlity

Ma’at, on the other hand, is not the foundation for the inequality of humans but the basis of their equality.

The going concensus among those who do not wish to engage on topics of marginalized people seem to be the following:

  1. No politics in my religion! This is a fallacy. As Baines showed extensively in the above quoted essay, ethics and morality are intertwined with ma’at and cannot be divorced from a religion bent on upholding ma’at.  By stating this and maintaining this view point, people are inferring that oppression of marginalized peoples is okay.
  2. Social justices, and the warriors therein, are isfet! This is again a fallacy. They are not causing disorder by opening one’s eyes to the microaggressions and larger issues at stake. While the tactics of social justice warriors may not be to one’s liking, the point is to give voice and assistance to the oppressed. Oppressed peoples have been dealing with their oppression for generations and are sick of it. They have a right to tell people where to stick their bullshit.
  3. I don’t have to change because this is just who I am. Yet another fallacy, borne out by the idea that their harmful words or actions, or even their silence in the face of issues like antisemitism and racism and cultural appropriation, impact no one. If you’ve included yourself and engaged in a community, then people are going to notice pretty quickly when you partake, or condone by silence, in shitty behavior.
  4. Can’t we all just get along? Everyone has a boiling point, but the “can’t we all get along” trope dismisses the concerns of the oppressed by making it appear that discussions on the subject are anathema. It’s also a silencing tactic.
  5. Everyone should be nice to each other and speak respectfully. This actually ties in to the belief that peaceful protests can change policy. Peaceful protests have been going on for a long while and there’s always naysayers telling the peaceful protesters they’re doing it wrong. Besides it is not the oppressed’s job to be nice when telling others they have a right to exist.

All of this is what I have gathered, at least, from the discussions that keep cropping up on the subject. Those who feel that educating and discussion on the topics of marginalized peoples shouldn’t be so widely included in the community have stated these things or inferred them more than once. It seems ridiculous, their arguments, but then again I believe that social justice has a place in my religion.

It seems to me that the people who make these arguments are under the impression that they shouldn’t behoove themselves to either learn what the issues are or that the issues don’t concern them in the slightest. These issues may not seem to impact them because they come from a place of privilege but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t care or educate themselves on these issues. It also doesn’t mean that the issues won’t or don’t impact them in some way; there are always secondary and tertiary side effects when oppression occurs.

The reasons why we should all keep away from such tricksy sjw shit sounds like a load of pig’s pucky. I mean, in each instance, thinking of one’s fellow man and cohesively working with one’s fellow community members – all of them, not just the yes men that seemingly agree with the above – seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

The disagreements are bound to happen. I fully understand why we are constantly falling into an us vs. them argument about ma’at, piety, and the 42 negative confessions among other things.

There is no central figure here to decree what is and is not appropriate; there is no set priesthood to observe and speak on these things. We are a bunch of individuals who have come together under a very loose umbrella labeled “Kemetic” so disagreements are bound to happen.

That doesn’t make it right.

It just means that the existing divisions are going to grow and become uncrossable if we continue this way. It also means that, most likely, people who are marginalized in some way will begin to stay away from us because we aren’t calling out the people who are “problematic” in our community. There will be continuing and more often disagreements among ourselves and with the wider Neopagan community because we aren’t calling people out on their I-statement laden bullshit.

Scales of Carthian Justice

Certainly, another important category of persons for whom one is instructed to care in Maatian ethics is the stranger

We have examples of what happens when you allow privileged people to talk over, silence, and outright participate in the oppression of marginalized people. How many people have watched the alt-right infiltrate various circles of paganism, most specifically Heathen circles but in others, as well?

We have the examples. We know what happens when we don’t speak up. So why is this so difficult?

I don’t know. I frankly don’t get it. Like I said above, social justice, the awareness of needing it and fighting for it, are a part of ma’at as far as I am concerned. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the conundrum that inevitably gets started whenever this comes up.

I’m going to leave off with examples of what happens when we let this shit go unchecked. Maybe the visibility of what can happen will at least give some people a wake up call:

  1. Example: Tess Dawson
  2. Example 2: Tess Dawson
  3. Example 3: Sannion
  4. Example 4: Galina Krasskova
  5. Example 5: Galina Krasskova
  6. Example 6: Galina Krasskova
  7. Example 7: Racism in The Heathen Community
  8. Example 8: Racism in The Heathen Community

The Foundation. 

It’s been nearly a year since I was told that I had built myself a solid foundation but that I had stopped working when I reached the interior. During that conversation so many months ago now, I was told that the foundation for the metaphor building that I am was solid and strong. I just had to continue that trend when I continued building the rest of the house.

The kind woman who told me all this wasn’t the only one who remarked on the foundation. She was just the only one who said it to my face.

house foundation long abandoned

“Home can be anywhere, for it is a part of one’s self.” – quote from The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

During many divination interludes within the last year, my cards have mentioned “foundation” in some context or another. Every time my cards have brought it up, I assumed that the metaphor was in the same vein as the one used by the nice woman across the state. Too often though, the context didn’t make complete sense to me in relation to the overall reading.

What foundation was so strong? What truly made up this alleged foundation of mine? Why are we so heavily focused on this? Is it simply because someone mentioned it heavily in a private reading done almost a year ago? It seemed a little too odd for it come up this often and for it to not mean Something. It was just a matter of figuring out what that Something was.

Whenever “foundation” would come up in a reading, I usually focused on the traditional image of a foundation for a house, before the rest of the house has been built. Around where I live, they will typically use a concrete base and reinforced concrete blocks to form the base of a house in the shape the plans call for. We have basements here, which form part of the foundation as well, hiding away family mementos and washing machines when a family moves in. That was the image that came to mind when my readings would go off on these tangents.

As the cards came up more and more often, leaving me frustrated with the constant reoccurring yet seemingly oblique message, I couldn’t help but think of that phrase about strong foundations.

People will remark that a house may be in bad shape, but that so long as it has a solid foundation, everything will be okay. From what I’ve been told on the subject of house rehab, this basically means that while the house itself may need an extraordinary amount of work, the very base of the house won’t need work done at all. It’s still solid enough, no matter what was left undone upstairs, to withstand the test of time.

I couldn’t be sure if this was really what all of these readings were about, or even if that was the basis of the message from last December. Was it something as simple as a metaphor? Or was there more to it than all of that? Whenever I asked for clarification, the readings grew hazier than they had already been and I got frustrated more often than not.

What was the point in having this form of communication what the gods, the spirits, the universe, whatever, if it wasn’t going to explain what pet peeve it was on about?

Sometimes, you just want some straight answers when everything’s gone to hell.

A Firm Foundation

“Endurance. Belief. Patience. Hope. These are the key words of our existence.” – quote from The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Not that long ago, I pulled out one of my lesser used decks. This is a deck that I tend to use only for things related to a general spiritual check in. When I pulled out the deck, I was more focused on looking to see what my future would look like since things had, well, strayed a bit in the last few months.

In about August of this year, I felt like everything had just gone to complete shit. I still felt my gods, but because of all of the other things going on related to the stagnation, I was angry and frustrated. I told my gods that I couldn’t do this anymore, that I was running ragged with their needs and my needs and I couldn’t figure out a good way to work it all out.

So, I made up my mind for ill or good. I walked away from my daily offerings, from my altars, and kind of just spent my time winging it. In effect, I did nothing but sit quietly beneath altar spaces and stare moodily at my fingers. Then my gods disappeared and well. It occurred to me that this was probably all related in some form or another.

After nearly two months of doing nothing but languishing in a sort of dark haze, I finally pulled out that spiritual check in deck, thinking about what things are going to look like with my gods in the future. I’ve sort of come to a quasi-plan as to how to proceed in breaking through the lethargy. I wanted to at least get some good feedback as to what I could expect, if nothing else.

What an odd coincidence when one of the “foundation” cards of one’s spiritual practice appeared front and center.

In this particular deck, that card is heralded by an image of an altar. And in fact, that is exactly what the card is listed as, “Altar.” Looking at the image of the card, I glanced at the dusty altars that I had been neglecting for two months. I might have in fact felt some guilt. I didn’t have to read the accompanying text to know what this card meant. It all kind of clicked right then and I wouldn’t even remember the rest of the reading if I hadn’t written it all down for later review.

Here it was.

Here was my foundation.

This was probably what the nice lady across the state meant. And this was most likely what all of those little foundation pings that I had been frustrated with were talking about.

I had finally gotten my straight answer, at least.

DSC_3874

“When others place impossible expectations on a man, he must redefine his goals, and forge his own path. That way at least someone is satisfied.” – quote from The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Looking back over the last year, I can see where this makes sense. In fact, I can even understand to an extent what I was told in December.

Even at the worst of it all, it wasn’t until I stopped tending my altars, until I stopped giving offerings, until I stopped thinking about them in some small way every day when everything felt completely insurmountable. It wasn’t until I stopped all of that with no intention of going back did my gods disappear. It wasn’t until I was spending all of my mornings in a sort of fog with no seeming routine because an integral aspect of my morning routine had been cut from the cloth did I start to feel as though I was truly losing a battle that I could never, ever win.

I don’t know what it is about the stability of tending the altar, about giving the offerings that really helped here. Maybe I’m just one of those physical kind of people who needs that physical reminder and the act of maintaining that physical reminder that keeps things balanced and stable. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that gets caught in your head, a feeling you can’t shake or whatever, and I believe it so heartily that it is in fact true.

Whatever the case, it is true. When I wasn’t tending to those things, I felt like everything was bullshit. When I started back up again, I began to feel a little less like everything was bullshit. Everything isn’t perfect and maybe things are still going to suck for a while yet, but it doesn’t feel like the battle is a lost cause anymore.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course and now, I feel a bit of a fool for not realizing all of this before now.

But maybe it was necessary for me to stop tending the foundations, ensuring that they are strong and maintaining them, for me to see it properly. There’s always the possibility that this isn’t about hindsight in so much as a necessary learning stemming from a necessary, but recoverable loss.

Light Up the Sky.

When I first started exploring Kemeticism, one of the first points on my list of Things Sat Must See To Immediately was to get a symbol of my faith to wear every day. I can remember sitting on the message board over at tC, responding to threads and reading all of the More Knowledgeable Kemetics’ posts while simultaneously surfing the Internet until I found a piece of jewelry that I felt was most appropriate a reflection of both who I am as a person and what my faith was probably going to look like… eventually.

I honestly don’t know why I felt that this was as important as it was. For years, I had been flummoxed by the phenomena as I came across it.

During the years that I was a professed Methodist, I wore no symbol. The closest “symbol” I had was a Bible that my daddy had gotten from the same Methodist church we were attending and that symbolized not the religion, but the love I bore him. Aside from that, I did not give much thought to physical representations of faith. The idea of needing something like that seemed, well, weird to me. Why did you need something on your person or in your hand to maintain your faith? Or to even remember what your faith was supposed to be about?

It just didn’t make sense to me.

I honestly think that my confusion over the desire of people to have crucifixes and medals and dirt from the Holy Land and tripartite moons and everything else stemmed merely from the fact that I had no belief. Or, perhaps not belief, but faith. It didn’t move me to tears to listen to sermons or to go to prayer sessions. I was moved more often by a personal anecdote relating to one’s faith than I was anything else. But the emotions those anecdotes created had little to do with my faith and more to do with the fact that I often find others’ expressions of faith beautiful. So, I think the bafflement I spent in those early years wasn’t anything I was doing wrong, just a mere inability to fully understand.

Besides, sometimes a lesson isn’t apparent until the plan is ready to unfold.

So, of course, as I sat there looking for the perfect symbol out there for me, I couldn’t help but note the irony of what I was doing. Had I not spent much of my life confused by the mere idea?

I think though that because I knew lots of people who had symbols of their faith on their person at any given time, it seemed like a good idea to mimic. They wore their symbols around their necks, on their fingers, around their wrists, and/or permanently affixed to the flesh of their bodies. Their symbols were this sort of lantern or beacon to other people of like faith that they were similar. And though I couldn’t have explained any of this at the time, I wanted the same thing.

As a newbie, I was starry-eyed at the prospect of buying supplies and it is possible that this also went into the idea of needing a symbol of my faith. Unfortunately, or otherwise, the decision making process for that symbol was not made easy. The typical Eye of Horus or Eye of Ra was boring to me. I didn’t want a pyramid and most of the ankhs I found were thin and did not interest me.

I needed something robust.

I needed something shiny.

I needed, well, something.

 

And I can see you starting to break. I’ll keep you alive if you show me the way forever – and ever. – Give Me a Sign by Breaking Benjamin

I wore the ankh every day after receiving it. The chains that held it changed out over time, but the one integral point that I made sure I never left the house without was the oversized ankh that comfortably fit in the palm of my hand. I’m sure people who saw it sitting around my neck, or later when the chain was oversized and left the ankh resting near my navel for heka purposes, assumed I was some emo/goth holdover who hadn’t quite given up on all the trappings. But I honestly didn’t care because that ankh was something that focused me.

With a certain sort of amusement, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what other people felt about the symbols of their faith? Was it so integral a piece that to walk around without it was to feel like half a person? Was it so much a necessity for their peace of mind that they couldn’t go anywhere without it? Maybe that’s the case for some of the people who wear the symbols. It’s probably not the same for everyone.

I was devastated when my ankh broke the first time. I began to worry that I had done something to anger my gods, that I had done something to accidentally waltz off the path of ma’at. I pulled a hundred thousand cards and asked my friends for what they thought about it. I came to realize that I was overreacting. It was at that moment that I realized how integral the pendant had become in the time I had been wearing it.

I hadn’t realize how important the piece of jewelry was for a very long time prior to that point in my life. It was just something that I wore. I made sure that it was around my neck when I left the house. If I happened to step outside or maybe got down the street and forgot to put it on, I turned around. I couldn’t have explained it to anyone to be honest. I couldn’t live without that ankh on my person the second I stepped out of my inner sanctum, out of my home. Without it, I felt like I was only half a person.

When I wrote the KRT entry about living Kemeticism, it really crystallized how important that ankh was. I hadn’t ever been able to put into words why it was so necessary, but somehow I managed to finally get it just right when I wrote that post.

Over the years, the ankh had gone through a veritable metamorphosis itself, just like myself and my path. The starry-eyed child who had bought the oversized ankh had long since died at some point or another. In her stead was a woman who was doing what she possibly could to live in ma’at. Sometimes, living in ma’at just meant to take a step back and breathe. Sometimes, it meant conducting rituals, offering services to other people, or just being there when someone needed to vent. My path had changed; my ankh had changed.

So I wasn’t really surprised when, after nearly a decade of wear and tear, the chain that I had been using for my ankh for most of that time ripped in half in some odd confluence of events that left me more than a little staggered. I couldn’t wear it and I felt naked without it. I tried not to make such a big huge deal about it, but it threw me for a complete loop as I stared at the lost and lonely ankh in my hand, no longer attached to my body. I cried in my office for a few minutes, feeling stupid for being so upset about what this Maybe Meant for the Future and put on my I Don’t Give a Fuck face when I opened my office door again.

I kept the ankh in my purse, tossing out the chain, and wondered if I should finally put to rest the path I had walked with an ankh around my neck.

I could have simply gone out and bought a new chain. I had done that in the past when the robust ring that held the ankh had broken off. It snapped off clean about two years before the chain ripped itself in half. As I felt naked and as I tried to make sense regarding what was probably just a mundane reason, but what felt like a Very Important Religious Moment, I felt the change within me.

For ten years, I had worn the ankh in all its iterations as I moved through my religious experiences and changed into the person I am today.

Maybe a funeral for the ankh was [finally] necessary.

Take this life Empty inside I'm already dead I'll rise to fall again

Take this life, empty inside. I’m already dead. I’ll rise to fall again. – Give Me a Sign by Breaking Benjamin

It took me a few days to come to a decision about what to do, but I kind of had known the moment that the chain broke that I would be moving on from the ankh that had seen me through my shaky first steps into the weirdness that followed: the anger, the rage, the joy, the love, the adoration, the piety, the impetuousness, and everything else that had made up the last ten years of my religious life. The ankh itself was the signal post for those ten years; I wasn’t that person anymore and neither was my religion.

I had found a feather of ma’at pendant by a beautiful silversmith on Etsy months before the ankh pendant fiasco. I had liked the pendant and kept it in the back of my mind. Devotional jewelry is a Very Big Thing for me and I wear rings, necklaces, and earrings every day with some religious significance. I had assumed that I would eventually purchase the feather of ma’at pendant and wear it whenever I felt the need to do so. I hadn’t ever considered the possibility that this possible future necklace would become everyday wear. It was just something here and there that I could wear when I felt the need for it; maybe even it could take up as a representative of Sekhmet, as a defender of ma’at.

But as I added the new pendant to my cart, jettisoning the very lovely ankh that they also had available, I knew that this piece was going to become Very Important to Me. I knew that I would wear it every day with the same sort of religious devotion (ha) that I had worn the ankh.

It is important to me. Just as with the ankh, I cannot leave the house without it. I live and breathe by ma’at just as I once lived and breathed by the ankh. It is a reminder that ma’at is subjective and many things can and do make up ma’at, but it is also a reminder that I have changed very much in the last few years. My practice is less about the gods at this moment and more about me and what I can do to better live in ma’at and perpetuate it into the world around me.

I’m hoping that, eventually, when I have fulfilled those portions of this long arduous spiritual turnpike, I won’t need a change again. I don’t think I will – I think the physical representation of ma’at is here to stay – but one never knows what the future may hold, no matter how many times you pull cards from your favored deck.

I will be honest though… It feels strange to still leave the house without the giant ankh resting just above my naval. It’s been almost two months since the ankh left my neck for its current resting place, but I still go to reach for it. Most days, when I find that it isn’t there, I reach up to the feather of ma’at which lives just below my throat as a reminder that ma’at isn’t just in one’s heart or the inner workings of the body, but also in the words we speak and the actions that accompany those words.

The ankh fit in the palm of my hand; this feather is small and I can clutch it with only two fingers. I’m getting used to it now, but I miss having something large and reassuring in my hand. Something big and tangible in a way that the feather has yet to achieve. It probably will get there some day; I don’t know for sure. It’s just not there yet.

This Is Gospel for the Fallen Ones.

Months ago, I jumped awake from one of those half-asleep dreams. In the dream, I was coursing through my dash when a certain user, who knows who they are, appeared to stare at me in an intense and disconcerting way. It made me uneasy. Upon waking, I immediately demanded to know what they were up to.

Later that night, they were rummaging in my attic, clearing shit out and tsk-ing at me. I neglected to mention this follow up to that person for Reasons. If they didn’t know what mess they were cleaning or that they had started the cleaning, then maybe I could ignore what was happening. I will tell you what, if you don’t want to get called on your shit, don’t dream about said user.

I knew the moment I woke up, based on the sinking feeling in my stomach, that I was slacking. I’ve mentioned it before and I will probably do so again, the stagnation bit is a heavy load and it’s difficult to find a starting place. “I don’t want to, though! It’s always a problem on the horizon, not to be dealt with now,” I said. They told me to cut the shit. I pouted for a bit, but I knew the advice was sound.

That was the second time in the last few months that someone has told me to get my ass in gear. “Do the work, or else,” the nice lady on the other side of the state told me. “It’s no longer a problem on the horizon,” the nice weaver across the country pointed out.

If you know me well enough, you know that I ignore signs and portents with my breath held, fingers in my ears, and a determined “no” glint in my eye. Apparently, I had held my breath long enough.

It wasn’t long after the dream with a certain dream walker friend that Loki appeared. I went back through my blog and was able to confirm that the dream with that weaver seems to have been the catalyst to bring him over to my corner. When I realized this, I was, as I find myself most often nowadays, completely unsurprised.

I supposed claiming that the work is always on the horizon, not to be worried about now, is a pretty big indicator that help is needed. That online friend of mine got it all started; Mr. Trickster came over to keep the momentum going.

Maybe it was all just a coincidence, but I would hate to think my gods missed such a prime opportunity to hit me with a clue-by-four.

I’ll level with everyone here, including that user if they’re reading this, it’s not even the wait that’s the problem. It’s the feeling that if I begin this and find that the stagnation is bigger than I can fight against, then maybe the “inevitable” win isn’t actually how the ending will go. What if the stagnation wins?

I guess that’s what fighting against the A/pep must be like.

Anxiety

Their gnashing teeth and criminal tongues conspire against the odds, but they haven’t seen the best of us yet. This is Gospel by Panic! at the Disco

A few weeks ago, I began noticing that my anxiety was getting worse. I’ve been coping as best I could, but I came to the realization that things have only been getting worse. I mentioned this to a coworker friend, who also has anxiety, and before I knew it, I had an appointment with their psychologist to get the ball rolling.

I asked Loki, at the time, if this was him. It seemed odd that he would help me, not because it’s not something that he would do, but because it seemed to have nothing to do with the contract we had in place. He didn’t answer my question, but I wondered if this experience was a coincidence or something other leading up to the appointment.

The appointment was almost ridiculous in its simplicity. I spent 45 minutes with the professional and came away with two diagnoses: one for depression (well that was unsurprising) and one for panic disorder (that was shocking actually), which I knew nothing about. I met every single one of the symptoms on the little chart except two for panic disorder and the psychologist and I discussed possible treatment options with both weekly appointments and medication.

As I was leaving the office, I asked Loki again if this was on him with silence greeting me. He hasn’t emphatically said it was him that caused the appointment, which finally told me what was wrong with me, but he also hasn’t stated that he had nothing to do with it either. The next dream I had with him in it, he came off as pleased and I’ve tentatively determined that this is, in fact, his fault.

I try to get my gods to be clear when they maneuver things for me. I give them instructions to meet with their messages simply because mundane life messages can be a crap shoot when trying to figure them out after the fact. Was it coincidence? Was it the gods? Who the fuck knows? I dislike not knowing and doubly dislike the implications, but it is what it is I suppose.

It occurred to me that this diagnosis made things much more clear regarding the stagnation I’ve been going through. While I never doubted my mental health had some impact, it occurred to me that the coping mechanism I had been utilizing for my undiagnosed panic disorder and diagnosed depression may have finally failed me when the stagnation began all those months ago. And I’ve been steadily worsening, not knowing the cause, since.

And one of the important items that Loki and I are to work towards was discovering the root cause of my issue before determining the best course of action to eradicate it. Seems like panic disorder and depression are pretty good as far as root causes go.

The only problem is eradication, as I had initially thought, isn’t in the cards, only management. Living with a mental illness, no matter how well we manage the symptoms and take the medication, if necessary, means that there’s no magical cure. It’s not a take these 5 pills and you’re done; it’s a revamp your whole life and make it through as best you can.

I had gone into this, perhaps naïvely, assuming that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. No, no. I went into this with Loki assuming that there was an end that I was going to be working towards. I thought that, eventually, the chasm of my own stagnation would be behind me.

I’ve come to realize that grandiose ideas are well and good, but they don’t necessarily work out.

This sounds more and more like what fighting A/pep must be like.

Depression.

Don’t try to sleep through the end of the world and bury me alive ’cause I won’t give up without a fight. – This Is Gospel by Panic! at the Disco

One of the reoccurring themes in many, though not all, of the books of the afterlife is the ongoing battle between various deities and A/pep. In the books that continue this theme, each evening, Ra goes into the underworld and invariably finds himself locked in battle against A/pep. It doesn’t matter what the gods do or how many times they have won the battle in the past, A/pep comes back every night and tries to prevent creation from continuing.

It seems to me like mental illness is very much the same.

This isn’t the first time the topic has come up, but it’s the first time I’ve felt confident enough to remark on it. My mental illness isn’t necessarily personified by the image of A/pep, the face of the uncreated, but more the battle between creation and uncreation. As I went through the various books of the afterlife discussed by Erik Hornung, the theme became more and more personalized for me.

Every morning I wake up and I tell myself that I am not my anxiety or my depression. Every day, I assure myself that I will manage to best the symptoms and have a good day. I remind myself that the anxiety ridden asshole comments in my brain aren’t true and I’m not what my anxiety makes me think that I am. Sometimes, I manage with flying colors. Other times, I’m scraping by with the skin of my teeth. But I’m always alive and ready the next day at least.

While not everyone would like to view their mental illness in the guise of isfet, which I can definitely understand, I have to admit that it helps a little to know that the same battle I go through every day is something akin to what the gods go through. It makes me feel, sometimes, that I’m more connected to my religion and my gods because, upon waking in the morning and throughout the day, I am undertaking a battle that I will fight daily. No matter how yesterday turned out or the day after tomorrow, the battle will still be there, just like the battle my gods fight nightly.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m not able to view it along similar lines to the maintenance of the cosmic order, I would have to ask myself what the whole point is. If I’m never going to win, technically, why would I even try to manage the symptoms? It makes far more sense to see myself in the mythology, emulating the gods in the solar barque while they wrangle the face of the uncreated away so that the sun can continue its journey.

They fight their battles; I fight mine.

We will never truly know success, but at least we will know tomorrow… and the day after that… and the day after that. Not all of those days will be perfect, but we will all live to see them.

Further Reading

  1. Ma’at Shines Through my Body
  2. Slaying the Demon-Serpent
  3. Is Illness Isfet?
  4. Musings on Isfet and Ma’at
  5. Can Mental Illness be Isfet?

The Burning One.

I often wonder if my default setting is, “angry.” I know it’s not true; I can list half a dozen instances where I wasn’t actually angry in the last week. But sometimes I think about that trope of a short, angry, petty girl and I think, “wow, that really is me.”

I can remember a friend of mine telling me that the anger was killing me slowly, years before the shadow work and the release. They told me that it lived within me and had molded itself to my soul so much that it would be a long time before I carefully removed it all. I can remember the reaction I had to what they were saying – LIAR! – and I can remember wanting to prove them wrong.

I was protective of my anger. I wanted to keep it. I had lied to myself or it had lied to me, whichever. It gave me a purpose, it fulfilled me, it kept me going when all I wanted to do was keel over. I thought that being angry all the time was an asset, not a setback. I always thought that friend didn’t know anything if they could say that about my anger, which was definitely and obviously integral to my very existence. They wanted me to die because, of course, I would cease to exist if that anger was gone.

Though I didn’t realize it until much later, my precious anger was not a parasite that would kill me upon removal. I wasn’t like the hapless colonists in Aliens whose facehuggers killed them when removed. I thought it was though. I truly believed that if I started getting rid of it, I would be nothing. I wouldn’t be me.

Sometimes I look back and find myself wondering if the anger lied to me or if I was merely inventing out of fear. It doesn’t matter; it’s idle curiosity. I have often come to the conclusion that it was one and the same; the end result was anyway. I sat around and let it grow, feeding it the choicest bits like it was royalty or as hallowed as the gods themselves.

I figured it was best not to look too closely in how I reacted to things or in the knife sharp words I used on stranger and friend alike. None of it was real, none of it was a problem, if I didn’t go looking. I could live in blissful ignorance if I forgot that conversation entirely. The anger continued to grow and the person I was becoming was someone who child-me would have been embarrassed to know.

I can remember the poisonous fury I had when I got fired for no reason. I can remember how I waffled between white-hot heat and inappropriate amusement while I fought for months for unemployment benefits. It fed into the anger just like everything else. But that was the turning point because I began to identify more with my destructive goddess as those months passed. And hadn’t that been why I had been warned away from her in the first place?

I couldn’t see the rest of her through the blinding ball of rage destroying my insides. I’ve gone back to posts written during that time and older ones, and noted how big the blinders I was wearing were where she was concerned. And as the months of my unemployment stretched into a year, the identification with her began to worry me. She had been created from rage and anger and knew not reason. I didn’t want to destroy everything around me, wooed only by strong drink after everything lay in ruins at my feet.

My fear of blowing up my life, as piteous as that life seemed back then, overpowered my fear of not being me if I chipped away at it.

I discovered a lot about myself, mused on that friend and their words, and delved into shadow work. Maybe the Lady of Slaughter recognized herself in me and that’s why she set me onto this task, laying the path open for me to follow straight into the arms of pain-filled healing. Maybe she didn’t want to see me turn out like her either.

It seems like the anger had been an underlying pathology of mine for years. I never really saw it like that before then. I knew I was wrathful, but it had never occurred to me that anger was a default setting for me for years. As I parsed through various shadow work escapades over the years, I’ve determined the cause for it: the starter pack and the subsequent additions over the years. And as each escapade nears an end, I’ve felt a little bit more of it release. I’ve felt more and more calm in my life at least.

It’s been almost peaceful.

The Forest Fire

Behold, my word is spoken: so says the god who was angry with me. Wrong is wash away, and it falls immediately. O Lords of Justice, put an end to the evil harm which is in me. – excerpt from Spell 14, The Book of the Dead translated by R.O. Faulkner

The Destruction of Mankind myth has always been a myth cycle that I could relate to. I can’t recall which translated version I read first since it was so long ago, but over the years I’ve found different versions each with their own interpretation. Most of the versions I found identified Hetheru as the avenging goddess in some way, which made sense of course but never quite worked for me.

When Ed Butler wrote this piece about interpreting the myth cycle, I was pretty much sold for a variety of reasons really. But I have to admit that there was something that I could connect with even more when he stated that the creation of Sekhmet took place during a conversation between Hetheru and Ra. It made more sense to me that it was the heka laced within the conversation itself that caused my beloved goddess to be.

As the article indicates, it was the repetition of power that brought Sekhmet into being. Maybe this particular creation circles back to the magical words we find in fairy tales and folk stories. There is a key phrase or a specific word that one must say in order to bring something or someone into creation. As a more modern example, it is the word shazam that allows Billy to become Captain Marvel. There are other key phrases throughout various tales and historical anecdotes that foster the creation of something though.

In this particular case, it was sekhem and the repetition of it that caused Sekhmet to come to life. And frankly, it seems more in keeping with Ra that he would simply create another being to do his dirty work for him since he seemed rather fond of sending various gods out to destroy his enemies. The only thing here is that, maybe, with the depth of his anger at the human populace, he didn’t take the possibility of limitations into account. He seemed to be solely focused on making them pay and thus, the goddess who elicits fear in the hearts of humankind even to this day was born.

It was actually this particular interpretation that felt, in a way, as though it represented me and by extension, the anger that had made itself comfortable within. While the cause of my own rage were actions, so too was Sekhmet’s even if she was created from words. It was the humans plotting against Ra, by their deeds and words, that caused him to bring her into existence. My particular creation was a lot less grandiose, but the end result was the same: a being soaked with layer upon layer of anger.

I saw myself in her actions, too. Upon being unleashed into the world, Sekhmet slaughters the enemies of Ra. I could carefully pinpoint where I had created a facsimile thereof in my own life with my personal experiences. That point right there, I could say, was my version of hunting down and killing the bastards who dared to speak out against the rule of Ra. There was no blood soaking the ground in my particular instance, it was all metaphorical after all, but I could see the wounds I had created in those around me.

And like a shark scenting blood upon the waves, just as Sekhmet turned her unquenchable rage upon the good followers of Ra, I continued to slaughter those around me. I can see my past self, with glee and joy and laughter, bringing destruction upon those who did not deserve it. There’s a phrase about burning bridges; I didn’t just burn them, I nuked the site from orbit every time.

Sometimes I think Sekhmet had it easy. She had Ra to help bring her down from the high of her rampage. While the conversation with my friend could be viewed as such, she wasn’t around when I realized I had to do something. I had no one to do likewise with me. I wound up seeing what I was doing and was appalled by what was happening, thanks to that long ago conversation of course. I internalized my rage instead of drinking myself to sleep. Although perhaps, in a way, internalizing the anger is just the same.

Instead of lashing out, I drank of my rage deeply and let it pass over me. I let it lap at my feet and take root in other ways. But the senseless slaughter that I had been used to doing stopped. I was cognizant of my actions and my words. I patted down my rage and worked on it a little bit at a time. Just as Sekhmet had calmed, I had the semblance of calm.

I had years to go before all that rage wouldn’t impact me as much. I often wonder if it was the same for Sekhmet.

sekhmet

O Egg, O Egg, I am Horus who presides over myriads, my fiery breath is in the faces of those whose hearts would move against me. I rule from my throne, I pass time on the road which I have opened up. I am released from all evil… – excerpt from Spell 42, The Book of the Dead translated by R.O. Faulkner

In the myth cycle I discussed above, we are told that after Ra has tricked Sekhmet with the laced beer, her anger recedes and seems to disappear. After this episode, Ra eventually leaves humanity behind.

While I couldn’t be sure, I have often wondered if the rage really did dissipate from her simply because she fell in a drunken stupor. From my own experiences with anger and fury, I have to wonder if that’s even possible. I suppose it could be, of course, as she is a deity who is probably better at controlling this stuff than I, but I somehow doubt it.

The sources are clear: the ancients appeased Sekhmet often so as to prevent the destruction from occurring again. They gave amulets to one another, laced their workings with heka, and provided extravagant offerings to her, ever fearful that a repeat of the myth cycle would take place. This doesn’t say to me that her rage was gone; it was just under leash for a while.

On the other side of this, I could see her priesthood promoting the belief she would rise wrathful again as a form of scare tactic. “Give us all the good treats, or else the Lady of the Slaughter could destroy everyone again.” Maybe parents used the lie to keep their children in line, just like the priests. A cosmic knife held to the throat of a fearful populace.

But no. I think she truly had to keep a lid on all that anger, no matter how much of herself it may have eaten up.

One thing I’ve always wondered was if they had a way to teach her to deal with all that bottled up rage. Did they push her towards shadow work and say “heal thyself” and then wipe their hands of it? Or did they ignore the volcano living beside them, ready to erupt at the slightest provocation, and merely tiptoed around her to prevent the inevitable? I always figured it was the latter, not the former. It makes more sense to keep the indomitable on a leash for possible future use than to fix the underlying pathology.

I know; people used me like that too.

Being angry all the time is simply exhausting. There is always that possibility that you will blow your top like Mount Vesuvius or Mount St Helens and the ensuing destruction will sweep up the innocent and the guilty in one fell swoop. I have often wondered if, after years of rumblings from the volcano she had become, if Sekhmet went on walkabout in an effort to work on her inner demons and found out who she truly was at the end of it all.

Maybe that’s why she tends to push many of us in the direction of shadow work, saying, “heal thyself.” She sees herself in many of us and knows the consequences of living like that.

I have to admit that, years later, I feel less like I’m a pending volcanic explosion puffing ash into the atmosphere and more like a dormant volcano. All the fixings for an explosion are there, but not right now. I couldn’t say if I will ever be able to fully hollow out the magma chamber my friend said is beneath my shoulder blade. Maybe Sekhmet didn’t either; maybe we’re not meant to go into this with the idea that one day we’ll be normal.

Just calm. Just dormant. Just mostly whole.

Excerpt from Spell 83 – For Being Transformed into a Phoenix

As for him who knows this pure spell, it means going out into the day after death and being transformed at will, being in the suite of Wennefer, being content with the food of Osiris, having invocation-offerings, seeing the sun; it means being hale on earth with Re and being vindicated with Osiris, and nothing evil shall have power over him. A matter a million times true.

Promise Me a Place.

I haven’t been grave-tending in almost two and a half years. It wasn’t for lack of desire; life just managed to get in the way.

It started off for mundane reasons anyway.

Olga, the shiny 2001 behemoth that I had been tooting around in for almost 5 years, decided she was on her last legs. It seemed foolish to go on extraneous side trips to the cemeteries and graveyards that call me by name or to explore news ones far off in the cities around my home. I needed to go 20 miles to and 20 miles from work five days a week; maintaining my and my family’s standard of living was more important than my happiness at any rate.

When Olga was replaced by the slightly newer Karen and had gone to the scrap heap in the sky, it was too hot in the mornings to try. I determined that my comfort had more bearing on the situation and told myself: in the autumn, when the days are cooler. I looked forward to it.

But autumn arrived and I moped inside on Saturday mornings. For some reason, I couldn’t reconcile the job of tending graves without the slick-speaking, top hat-wearing, sunglasses-with-one-piece-of-glass old man who had grabbed me up and told me to get doin’ the good work. He was gone along with all his mates and as much as I wanted to feel the cool, calm release that comes from speaking with the dead as I clear off detritus and feed their souls, I couldn’t do it. So, I moped away my Saturdays and felt abysmal for it.

I tried to talk it up with Anup, asking him to help me figure this all out, but our relationship had boiled down to two growling beasts unable to find or unwilling to find common ground. I gave it all up and moped away Saturday after Saturday, trying to forget that part of my life. It was gone and I was better off without it.

Graveyard

To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches. – Charles Baudelaire

My mom pointed out to me some time last year that I seemed much happier when I went grave-tending on a regular basis. It took me a while to figure iut what the fuck she was talking about. I hadn’t really considered the idea that it was a stress relief to me. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t just about the deceased calling me, but about me as well.

What I found, upon reflection, was that the experience was more than a snappy-dressed old man, telling me to get up and go explore. I found myself reviewing weeks of high stress and the image of graveyards quietly settling me down at the end of the week. I distinctly recall sitting at my desk one day and reminding myself that the bullshit I was dealing with was effluvia; it would be gone from my mind when I finally got to the cemeteries.

As much as I could admit that grave-tending was practically a necessity for me to stay sane, I kept getting caught up in what it had started off for me. It had been with the simple intention of paying homage to the man with the crass entourage that I started all of this and it morphed from there. No matter what though, he still remained st the center of it and I felt his loss more keenly when I considered going back to it.

I guess I was… grieving? I will admit to being surprised by it. I hadn’t considered my relationship with that sex-joke telling party boy to be that important where grief would play a part in our separation but there it was. I was actually grieving and I needed to keep to myself to fully process it all.

The problem was that I let the grief eat me up. I forgot that I needed to walk among the dead, touch their cool stones, read their names, and feed their souls. I forgot that it was a sacrifice of time and money, but it was also a reward for the terrible weeks that made up my work life. It wasn’t as simple as A and B; there were a few extra letters of the alphabet in there and it spelled out, your needs are important bby.

The act of mourning a loss can take as long as it needs, really, but sometimes the act of grieving works against you. It destroys you a little bit at a time and you don’t realize it until it’s too late. It takes pieces of you away from the whole and you’re left over compensating for the giant hole born of that grief.

It may sound a bit melodramatic but I think my not going to graveyards and cemeteries destroyed a fundamental part of who I was becoming, who I was meant to be. I can’t help but wonder now if part of my stagnation problem was because I had stopped going out for that stress relief each week.

Graveyard

When I am dead and buried, on my tombstone I would like to have it written, ‘I have arrived.’ Because when you feel that you have arrived, you are dead. – Yul Brynner

Shortly after the very nice lady told me that I was a house with nothing going on inside, I spent time looking at myself to see what was lacking. As I’ve remarked time and again, she wasn’t wrong; she didn’t tell me anything new. I was like a shadow of a person, or maybe more like a negative image. Everything that made me who I am was remote and distant; I was just a shell really.

During a talk with TTR about all of this, I realized that there were things I could do to get back to my roots. One of the steps was getting my tongue pierced again; I got that settled in January. Another step was cutting off my hip-length hair and keeping it at a manageable length. That was completed last month.

This month, as the warmer weather finally began appearing after the few weeks of solid winter in February, I got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise. I drank my coffee, listening to the birds happily discussing whatever birds discuss and made plans to get back in touch with myself, get down to who I am and visit some cemeteries. I chose the closest ones to tend to, having missed them greatly.

I spent time clearing branches away from graves older than my grandparents. Some of the winter storms had dropped branches straight down into the graves below, burying them deep enough where I left them alone. I cleared back dead flowers, threw away trash, and mourned over the fallen over monuments that had tipped over since last I had been.

I felt a peace and contentment that I haven’t touched in a very long time.

I fed my dead and told them to expect more in future. They seemed cautiously optimistic, not as though they had forgotten me but like they didn’t put faith in what I was saying. It wasn’t just the fact that I had disappeared but the fact that they had all heard that line before. How many others before me had said that they would return with goodies and treats and never did?

I plan on going back and I plan on finding new local places to pay attention to. I had never stopped having the desire to tend graves; I had never said at any point that the job wasn’t for me. I just… got lost a little, maybe. Turned down the wrong cross path when I should have gone straight or something.

But I’m moving in the right direction again. I know I am; I can feel it like a zing in my joints, a pleasant weight against my torso. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I hope that I won’t get lost again.

Local Cultus: Wildlife.

Years ago, I began to try to force connections with local wildlife. After reading a very well written post by Dver, I had a desperate need to feel my gods around me. In that desperation, I tried to force connections that weren’t there and grew upset when I found it difficult to see my gods in the urban sprawl that I call home.

Once I stopped forcing the seeming connections, things got easier for me.

Foggy Marsh

Next to the marshes; The muddy smell fills my nose; The cat tails shutter – Marshes by Jack Pedlow

Common enough in most states, routes are a favored way of getting from one place to another. Unlike the highway, there is, in my opinion, more to see and more to be amazed by. After exiting the tree-lined route, the road opens up on both sides. The road itself has been etched into what had once been a hill, perhaps filled with trees and wildlife years ago, which had been cut back in the name of progress. In the swath of open expanse, there is a marsh to one side and a crisp field of either big bluestem or Indian grass on the other.

Within these fields live a plethora of wildlife, but the most common creature I see are the wild turkeys.

The first time I saw one, it sailed over the road above my car as I drove past. I stared at the legs and wings, aghast at this huge creature above me. I had no clue what it was until much later when I saw an entire troup of them marching about with a Tom and a few ladies. They stop tractor trailers in their tracks and cars alike as they waltz carelessly across the street from one area to the next.

Over the years, I’ve watched them and noticed the quiet majesty of the creatures. I had never recognized turkeys as majestic beings until I saw the wild troupe in the fields I drive by. As I watched a hen with its Tom calmly watching for predators one day, I could see Mut in that lovely lady’s stance as she daintily searched for foodstuffs.

Though turkeys do not, perhaps, resemble the vulture iconography so often associated with Mut, I could see the protective embrace in that female turkey as she opened her wings wide. I could see the tenderness of a mother’s embrace there and before I knew it, wild turkeys as a whole were associated with Mut in a way that I could never undo.

Eagle

Close to the sun in lonely lands; Ring’d with the azure world, he stands. – The Eagle by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Not very far from the first spot I saw a wild turkey, I had my first run in with an eagle. It stood upon the side of the road very near to a large copse of standing trees that had probably been there since the dawn of time. The creature had shaggy feathers and its head bent away from me. I had no clue what it was; I thought it was a very large hawk at first.

There is a lot of local fauna that I had certain beliefs in regards to, specifically that such creatures would never end up near me. As an example, moose are, in my mind, a creature of northern climes like Maine. I can think that all I want but I wouldn’t be dumb enough to tell the moose in the outlying areas that they don’t belong here. I had always assumed I was too far north for the eagles’ migratory habits and I was rather wrong.

Seeing a wild eagle isn’t all freedom and fireworks, no matter what the memes tell you. After a friend helped me figure out what it was that I had seen, I hoped to see it again, less for a reason to associate eagles with one of the netjeru and more because of the exciting prospect that I, me, had been within 50 feet of the nation’s official bird. Albeit I had been driving past the creature at the time, it was still an experience that I wanted to recreate. They were animals seen in videos and television specials; not creatures nearby.

As much as I hoped regularly to see another eagle, it took longer than I had expected. I thought that once the eagle had stalked its claim over the area, it would be a regular feature, but it wasn’t. I have seen the eagle over in those trees since then. The appearances are rare; it’s almost like the sun peeking from behind clouds on a lightly rainy day in April. I want the sunlight to shine down on me, but the instances are few and far between.

When I first saw the eagles by the river on a different route home, it occurred to me that these creatures were akin to Re to me. As the majestic beast swooped over the traffic circle towards the river or its nest, I saw the rare appearances of Re in my life embodied in the rare instances of sighting eagles in the urban sprawl around me.

Cardinal

He shocks us when he flies like a red verb over the snow. – The Cardinal by Henry Carlile

In my family, we have a sort of unofficial tradition where cardinals tend to be associated with the deceased. My mother’s family, where this tradition is strong, is French Catholic. I’m not sure if the cardinal thing relates to that or if it’s something that they picked up over the generations from intermarriage or something. All I know is that it has soaked our familial mythos and become, well… canon.

When we go to the cemeteries to visit the deceased, we often look for cardinals. The desire to see one is like fine tremors beneath the skin; it’s not conscious at all, but the desire exists nonetheless. The cardinal symbol is less a herald and more a vessel for the spirit of the deceased person. Seeing one in the cemetery is considered a sign that the deceased is there while you visit.

Without noticing that I was looking for the little red birds, too, I began looking for cardinals at every stop to both tend graves of those I knew and those I didn’t. I began to notice that cardinals appeared when I was tending to the needs of my personal dead, though not when I was tending a cemetery. It dawned on me that, by chance or by design, cardinals had infiltrated my own relationships with my akhu.

When I stopped marveling at the fact that some things are just ingrained (and don’t necessarily merit a removal by force), I realized how much cardinals had become a part of my akhu adventures. I have limited space for a shrine to my akhu, so to keep space free, I use a small votive of a cardinal as their symbol. It was as I was cleaning off my altar space not that long ago that it finally hit that this votive was doing an admirable job of ensuring that all of my ancestors are honored in such a confined space.

I often wonder if this progression with cardinals would have manifested itself eventually even without my desire to find my gods and my religious practice in the world around me.

I guess the same questions can be born out with any of the local wildlife that has taken up positions within my religious practice. Was it just the need to see my religious practices in a public setting that lead me here today? Or was it always something that would eventually come to be if I waited around long enough?

As I create more and more connections with the natural world, in both local flora and fauna, I’m beginning to think that this is just the natural progression of things. If you live and breathe something as intense as one’s religion can be, why isn’t it possible to have those intense happenings occur across the board?

Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at III.

Three years ago, I sat down and wrote a post that would later define a lot of who I am and how I practice today. I didn’t think the post would become as important as it has become, nor did I think it would garner as many hits. But that’s the thing about blogging: you never really know which post is The Post, the one that everyone will go back to time and time again. I’ve found even myself going back to that first post, looking it over and kind of realizing how much of that original post has defined me today.

Looking back over the last three years, I’ve come to see that post (along with the situations that were occurring at the time) as a very large crossroads in my practice. It didn’t feel like one, of course, but as I look back, I can see that all of the things that came before that post were more newbie flail and everything that came after has been one more step forward on the path I’ve been treading these last few years.

That post, more than the situations that were happening back then, helped to crystallize a lot for me.

With the help of others, I was able to get a working definition together that felt appropriate to me. And together, we were able to come up with a list of things that kind of helped us in the day-to-day:

  • Ma’at was don’t be a dick.
  • Ma’at was give stuff to the gods.
  • Ma’at was take no shit.

This was good stuff and we put the word out there. I don’t think there’s a Kemetic on Tumblr who hasn’t heard the “don’t be a dick” thing. Maybe everyone’s seen the posts from TTR that have been reblogged to death about what ma’at entails and how we’ve simplified it, made it easier to contend with such a large, amorphous concept, and live with it to the best of our abilities.

I’m sure there are times where we all feel like we fail and I’m sure there are times where we can step back, shouting to the rooftops, “fuck yeah, I am totally living in ma’at!” But at the end of the day, we have a workaround that helps us to feel like we know what we’re talking about.

Peacock Feather

This is not to say the person had no need of personal conscience. On the contrary, it simply suggests that conscience (ib or h3ty) is a relational concept and thus depends on both what is thought of one by one’s moral community and what one thinks of oneself based in substantial part on this evaluation by significant others. – p8, Ma’at the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt by Dr. Maulana Karenga

In recent weeks, TTR began reading through Ma’at, the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt by Dr. Maulana Karenga. The text is dense, from what other sources have told me, and as they work their way through the book, they’ve helpfully been posting quotes for public consumption. One of the things that has gotten to me with each reading is just how integral community is within the concept of ma’at.

It almost seems, to me, that without a community at one’s back, then it is very difficult to maintain and live within ma’at. As stressed in the quote above, the concept of one’s conscience depends both on the self and based on the moral community that they are surrounded with. In ancient Egypt, it was simple enough to achieve this goal as the concept was lived and breathed, not only by the gods but by the very people who made up the country.

Nowadays, we are in diaspora and trying like hell to pick up the pieces.

One could assume that the decision of the wider community regarding what is and is not ma’at is fundamental. Well, we have that. We have our little list of things that we tell people when they first get started on this roller coaster. We send them to the various posts we’ve all written about the concept and sometimes, in the responses we provided to those newbies, we re-evaluate the nebulousness of the concept itself, redefining and redetermining whether or not the little list works for us still.

For the most part, it seems to work for people.

But the question becomes what happens if someone or multiple someones within your community infers or outright states that what you are doing is not living in ma’at? What if they state your actions are isfet through and through?

Do you go for arbitration? Do you execrate the shit out of them? Do you sit down and talk about it, one-on-one? And let’s say that you do sit down and talk about it, one-on-one: points of view are highly personalized things and each individual could end up talking past the other person, unable or unwilling to see the other point of view. What do you do then?

Offering Ma'at

In general, the good man is still the silent, self-controlled man, with the emphatic devotion that is now explicit… – p171 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt by Stephen Quirke

I try like hell not to tell anyone whether or not they are living in ma’at. I try very hard not to tell anyone that what they’re doing is isfet. I am not judge, jury, or executioner. I am not the nisut and I have no intention of ever becoming one. I find it morally reprehensible to make that decision on a singular basis. Maybe I’ve always recognized that it was a communal effort that went into the determination.

I can think of a single instance where I’ve made the remark to someone and I felt guilty as all hell afterwards. I broke my very principles in making the statement. Sure, they were a manipulative prick and used their UPG to prey upon the young and impressionable youth in our community, but I still felt like I had no business making that supposition out loud, much less on a public blogging site. But I threw it out there, using our little tenets and I never heard back from anyone, stating that I was doing something wrong when I made the claim.

To this day, it still bothers the fuck out of me.

I don’t feel that any single person has the ability to determine any of that. Based on the quotes, the conversations, the arguments and my own feverish nighttime thinking on the subject, I don’t think anyone knows enough about the concept (and likely, never will) because no definitions were ever left behind. We stumble around and hope that what we are building is enough. Maybe it is for some; maybe it isn’t for others.

Whatever the case, I don’t think anyone can just arbitrarily make the decision about what falls within ma’at and what falls within isfet.

Now, more than ever, it’s become clear that the definition of ma’at is a communal effort. The problem, I think, would be that our list of definitions are too infinitely finite. They narrow the bandwidth on a broad road and forget to take into consideration the social context of our modern-day lives, the shades of gray that we live in day-to-day along with the shades of gray that is very clearly within the realm of ma’at.

What could be someone being a dick to one may not necessarily jive with someone else’s definition. What could be a perceived failing in giving stuff to the gods could simply be a misunderstanding based on posts reblogged a hundred times while the private stuff is kept quietly back or never makes it to the public. What could be seen as a heavy-handed reaction could in fact be a deeper problem within the community.

It is our job to band together and determine those things together, not to listen to a few souls who are louder or are reblogged more than most. It is our job to make determinations as a group, not listening to the people shouting down.

This is a group effort. And that means communicating on both individual and group levels, communicating with people who may take issue with you or may make you feel dumb for existing, and communicating what it is to be a part of the community at large and what you would like to see as it grows.

Thus, the model person is not the warrior or even priest, but the gentle person who serves and is responsible. – p 38, Ma’at the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt by Dr. Maulana Karenga

Relevant Posts

  1. Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at I
  2. Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at II
  3. Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Finding Balance
  4. Life is Orthopraxic

Sekhmet’s Procession With Her Executioners 2016.

January 9, 2016

I have been flailing a bit with regards to holidays lately. Though years into this, I am still rather stuck in the attitude of what and why and how instead of focusing on the doing. I don’t think that’s abnormal, but after a while, both the gods and the devotee get a little winded from the constant questioning.

In the years since I added this holiday to my calendar, I have focused on various aspects of it while trying to celebrate it. I have focused on Sekhmet, then on her executioners. I focused on what a procession could conceivably look like and how best to recreate it. Sometimes these attempts have felt more like a stab in the dark, hoping to hit something.

Looking back on each instance, it has felt as though something has been continuously missing. The holiday was about Sekhmet and her executioners; I paid attention to them as much as I was able and in accordance with what I hoped were her wishes. But it occurred to me this go around that the one thing I’ve glossed over every single time has been me.

Don’t get me wrong: holidays like this were less about the people. But this isn’t ancient Egypt or merely a bastion of recreating a dead religion. This is my home, my relationship with my gods, and if I’m to celebrate these things, I need to do more, in my opinion, than simply orchestrate a bastardized recreation. I need to be as integral as the main deities these holidays are supposed to be about.

S told me the week of the holiday that the stagnation bit was important to focus on. She reminded me that this next year is to be focused more on me and less on everything else. Spoon management; job prospects; relationship building with the family; etc. But in order to really crystallize all of that, I needed to do the work.

I figured she was probably on about something of importance and decided to listen.

Though the motions I've been going through have failed and I'm coasting on potential towards a wall at a hundred miles an hour

Though the motions I’ve been going through have failed and I’m coasting on potential towards a wall at a hundred miles an hour – Saturday by Fall Out Boy

I read a snippet about a holiday in a book that indicated Sekhmet and her executioners went on a sojourn to Letopolis. I didn’t think that the book was referring to this particular holiday (the season, I believe is different), but it did get me thinking. I thought about the traveling bit and realized there was something important here. I got the idea to “lead” a procession to “Letopolis,” also known as my self-care altar.

Popularly referred to as the Place of Truth, my self-care altar has changed dramatically since its first inception. No longer a small bowl of tidbits, it spans three book shelves, a half wall, a small cabinet, and is covered in items that hold varying shades of value to me. The primary focuses are the parts of myself that have remained throughout each transformative experience of my life… similar to the one I’ve been ignoring in my attempts to “passively surrender” to what fate has in store.

While I prepared for what was taking shape in my head, it occurred to me that symbolism has been everywhere lately. It seems to have soaked through from my dreams and has begun to run rampant in my life. Along with my life, it’s also more than simply coated my attempts to celebrate holidays, but has fully enriched it. As I grabbed items together to start the celebration, I kept thinking: Symbolism; symbolism everywhere.

I have three vases that I purchased last year that I snapped up first. They are red, green, and blue vases that I bought to represent places when I was celebrating the Feast of the Beautiful Reunion. Nowadays, these glass vases represent parts of myself with a dried rose help in the mouth of each. Just as with the Beautiful Reunion, I took the three vases to use as symbols of my own procession with Sekhmet and her executioners.

Blue symbolized the inertia of my person. I envision the stagnation or inertia as a river where I have allowed it to determine what course I head down. I placed this back near Sekhmet’s sacred space. The symbolic river bank was the start of the journey. I took the green one and placed it at the base of the bookshelf. This symbolized the “greening of the ib“, basically the sprouting forth of life-affirming, ma’at-affirming action. The red one went on the shelf beside the small cabinet. This one symbolized successful movement forward, embodying my power to break free of the stagnation.

I took seven tea lights and placed them upon the floor between the blue vase and the red vase. The symbolism was two-fold: each candle represented one of Sekhmet’s arrows but it also symbolized the seven steps I was to take to get to my self-care altar. I actually measured out seven footsteps and placed the candles at those points.

Sekhmet, the four arrow pendants that represent her arrows, and myself took the seven steps to my self-care altar to break free of my own inner demons. I moved ahead with eyes focused on my goal, thinking about how I was performing a symbolic act to force myself out of the second hour of the Duat so that I could journey on to the third and fourth. To add to the journey, we listened to Victorious by Panic! at the Disco.

I read about the afterlife but I never really lived more than an hour

I read about the afterlife but I never really lived more than an hour – Saturday by Fall Out Boy

After I had provided the offerings, I sat across from the book shelf and listened to the music. I closed my eyes and let myself leak out in front of my lady and her arrows, explaining why I had let things carry on for so long. It was cathartic; I had spent so much time hiding from my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

I went through a few of the key phrases in Hathor Rising as I sat. I tried to picture what it would look like to embody Ihy, to pull myself from the realm of the Inert Ones with the same force he used to be born into this world. I thought about the dream I had of him – when I had pulled my prayer beads from my dream pocket – and thought about praying.

It’s hard to beseech the gods, even if you know you should, when you’re not used to the process. It’s something I do at my wit’s end, when there is nothing but a wall at my back. I remembered the cool feeling of the beads between my fingers in that dream and the calm that followed. Maybe I was successful; maybe I wasn’t.

I felt calm at least.

S told me that this was the start of the journey. Just as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither am I to pass through the second hour I’ve been in lately. She reminded me that this will take time and the lesson of patience from last year’s Answering Words will be important here. I don’t doubt any of her advice on the matter.

She is the guiding force with her consort and my relationships with Hetheru and Heru-Wer as stabilizing influences on the journey. As I mentioned to her later, it is almost as if I am on a barque with Sekhmet in aegis form at the helm and the other three taking up strategic positions to row the boat with me at the rudder. We may not always get the rhythm right, but we at least try.

I turned to her and smiled that night. I whispered, “I’m on a boat; I’m on a boat.” She got the reference – we listen to a lot of The Lonely Island around here – and said that I wasn’t so far wrong in all that. Hopefully I don’t crash upon any rocks or become overrun by hippo.

Local Cultus: Landmarks.

Where I live, there are numerous landmarks that have always spoken to me.

The river that I live near has always been a feature of my life. Whether I noticed that it was there or not, the number of bridges – both current and those long since run down and no longer used – speaks to the importance of this landmark in our area. There are certain parks and dormant fields, farmed fields and copses of trees that all have had special meaning to me in some form or another since I was a child. There are mountains to the north that create picturesque backdrop to farming communities and major cities alike.

It is these landmarks that I look for as I drive somewhere and over the years, my gods have begun to infiltrate those landmarks.

BMK_6883 m

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish, now are visions ne’er to vanish; from thy spirit shall they pass – Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allen Poe

Across the road from my home, an off-shoot of the main river in my area runs. It was once used for factories and commerce; now it flows idly past in the warmer months and partially frozen in the winter. Since I have moved to where I live now, I can count on two hands the numbers of suicides that have jumped off the bridge near my home. To me, this river serves as a reminder of death, of grief and mourning, of the souls who have departed.

Is it any wonder that when I walk by, when I stop to watch the fallen trees slowly make their way down the water fall and the crags of rocks below, that I think of Wesir?

Wesir has always had river imagery for me, a byproduct of my conversations with TTR. But too, this appearance of Wesir within a river, demanding death and rebirth, has infiltrated my own inner workings. What surprised me recently was the indication that both Ptah and Sokar have similar river imagery and associations for me: it seems that the running of the water, the babbling brooks and the roar of the water fall when the river is over full from winter run off, have all soaked into my conscious and subconscious, illustrating the connection with the deceased over and over again.

In the Old Kingdom, the pharaoh was reborn to become a star. This particular imagery has always spoken to me, as though the bright stars that they would become could formulate a new pattern in the Milky Way, a river-like monstrosity of stars in the sky. While the Milky Way was seen more as a puddle (associated with Bat, before she became syncretized with Hetheru), it seemed more like a river and more like the domain of Wesir, and by extension Ptah and Sokar, to me. The night sky; the river. They are like mirror images of each other and they all relate back to the deceased, to the gods associated with the deceased, and the realms that they oversee.

The river, to me, is not a once majestic aspect of commerce, but a haven for the dead. When I want to whisper to my akhu without traveling to their graves, I whisper to the river. I pour my heart and soul into my akhu, tumbling it into that river. In my mind, I light candles on little boats and watch them go over the falls to crash upon the rocks below.

Change

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. – If by Rudyard Kimpling

For two years of my life, I lived beneath the shelter of the southernmost and highest peak in a nearby mountain range. When I woke in the morning, I could sit upon the back stoop and watch the sun wake the deciduous trees that made the mountain in its home. In the evening, I could be comforted in the knowledge that I would fall asleep in the snug embrace of the mountain that was once the backdrop to many of my dreams. This mountain has always spoken to me of change, of the chaos of those changes, and the wealth and starvation that those changes have wrought.

It has never been any surprise that I see Set in the rock-lined road, the cliff peak that overlooks the valley below, and the sentinel-like trees of the mountain. It was only slightly more shocking that Hetheru had joined him in that place.

Set has always been a being of change in some form or another for me. He has always been the one that has come to me when things have gone through those moments, signaling that an ending was coming but so, too, a beginning was on the horizon. Sometimes his arrival was a signal that it was time to jump off the peaks and see what came; other times, his advice heralded caution as the road was treacherous since it had been washed out ahead.

As I drove over the mountain or passed it by, I could see him running across the mountains in his strange unknown animal-headed form wreaking both havoc in dead falls and feet of snow and bringing new growth and new life. His touch culminated in the way the trees swayed in the breeze, the rich plume of colors in spring, the fiery red and gold of the autumn months, the pure white breath of Father Winter after a snow storm and the icy breath of death that came like a stranger in the night and froze the empty branches in place.

It was with surprise that I found Hetheru there, not in the form of the wild deer that I had seen on the side of the mountain road or in the shadow of the mountain down below, but in the form of the goddess who greeted those after the ultimate change of life had come upon them: the moment after death.

During the New Kingdom period and later periods, she has been depicted in her bovine shape, greeting those who have traveled to the West upon their death. It was almost with amazement and then later with a sort of obviousness that I could see her traversing the western edge of the mountain, greeting the souls who were searching for their afterlife. With her horns adorned with flowers and her big, brown eyes, I can see her softly enchanting those who have passed and entice them towards the realm their souls crave. She is a calming voice in a sea of change.

The mountain, to me, is not a place of geocaching, cross-country skiing, or hiking; it is a bastion of metamorphosis. When I worry for what new things are upon the horizon, I go to the mountain and let me fears soak into the land, letting the tree roots bring my message to Set. I murmur my grief for the departed to the trees and ask that they tell Hetheru that her role as greeter is upon her.

Leica Q - L1100105

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies, and here on earth come emulating flies… – Fireflies in the Garden by Robert Frost

The backyard of my in-laws’ home has been meticulously landscaped with plants in bloom from spring through fall. There are pots filled to the brim with vegetables, terraces of various blooms, and ancestral trees and bushes that baptize the herringbone patterns of the bricked patio. Overhanging the soft scent of blooming flowers are trees of cedar, pitch pine, and maple older than the house itself.

It’s taken time for my gods to soak into this place, but I have found both Ptah and Sekhmet in this place.

For some time now, Ptah has had garden associations for me. A year or so ago, I dreamed that I was in a garden that was very clearly his, roaming through flowers of various types and blooms amid butterflies and bees. Behind me, both Sekhmet and Ptah had been playing a quiet game of Jackals and Hounds. I had spent the time resting and soaking up serenity as I do when I sit in the backyard at my in-laws’ place.

Those stolen moments in the garden, both in life and in dreams, are signal points that I need to take a time out from the constancy of the world to recharge my batteries. It is in this role that Ptah seems most adept, even considering his other associations both historical and personal. He is a quiet bulwark, a symbolic statue in the garden of such intense presence that I can only soak up the calm he emits and carry it with me on my journey.

In his triune associations with Sekhmet, she, too, has come to represent a certain calm among the storm. While our relationship has not always been smooth or easy, it has been months since our last fall out and she has come to radiate the same sort of calm that her consort has in spades.

Perhaps it was that moment in the garden dream from last year, and the subsequent dreams in the last year, or perhaps it was only the necessary change in our relationship which had been steadily gaining on me that caused this. Less has she been the demanding chaotic task master hurricane that I had once seen her as and more the eye of the storm.

The garden, to me, is less about hard work perpetrated by my mother-in-law, but a haven of peace. When I need to step back from the wildness of reality around me, I can stop at my in-law’s home and let myself down the terraced steps of mosaic stones, letting the tingle of serenity tingle through my being. When the weather is too cold and the icy chill of winter is upon us, I can close my eyes and return to those moments in the garden with Ptah and Sekhmet, watching the butterflies proliferate in their calming silence.

It has been a long road of wandering, but over time, I have found my gods in places I had never expected them.

Almost like thieves in the night, I have found my gods in the world around me, in the places that I have always felt close to or amazed by. As I drive down the main roadways of routes and highways, as I stop to admire landscaping and fields, as I drive through town after town, watching the natural world change in each new place, they have waved to me. They have found me in a world that I have inhabited since my youth, calling out to me as a reminder that they are always there, whether I see them or not.