The First Hour.

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

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

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

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

The Book of the Hidden Chamber [Amduat]

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Gates

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

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

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

The Book of Caverns

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

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

The Book of Night

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

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

Further Reading

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

One of my boss’s signature questions when we’re stuck in the minutiae of our work is “what is the bigger picture?” I joke with the other employees in the office that this is her catch phrase, but it’s a good thing to ponder on when you get too lost in the details. Too often, we get so focused on the finer points that we lose sight of the high level goal of what we’re trying to achieve for the client.

On the flip side, I’ve often found myself more focused on the overarching goal of what we want to achieve that I misstep on the day-to-day. It’s easy to take yourself so far out of the particulars that you forget to focus and follow the process that you and the client have cobbled together to get to the end goal.

I got stuck in the mindset of bigger picture in 2015, focusing more on the overarching goal of a rebirth that I didn’t ask for and didn’t want. I’ve given some consideration to the idea that because I didn’t have the baby steps necessary to achieve the bigger picture that this only added to the dog-pile when I finally pulled out and let the rebirth fail. While this is by no mean’s the primary reason why it failed, it’s given me enough food for thought for what I should be working on in 2019 as I go through this again.

Bigger picture is a fine focal point, but the path through the wood isn’t a top-down view when you’re walking it. I need the signposts that I’ll be looking for as the year progresses and I continue this journey forward.

Big?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. And be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could… – The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

In prep for the year ahead, I decided to create a map and placed little arrows on that map where sign posts could conceivably be as I move forward. I looked at the project as if I was trying to recreate the app I use on my daily commute to work. While I know the general route to get to work, the app helps me to navigate through pitfalls like traffic or construction to ensure that I get to work in a timely manner. I wanted something similar when I began trying to come up with the baby steps I need to see through this year of rebirth.

A starting point was a high level exploration of the books of the afterlife. While reading through My Heart, My Mother, I took notes on the various hours of the night that Roberts discusses at length in her book. After reviewing my notes on the various hours, I also read through whatever other books I had to hand that discussed the plethora of afterlife literature popularized in the New Kingdom. This way, I could follow the path through the night just as Ra does each evening and have a general idea of where I was headed, what I might come into contact with, and how to move on when the time comes.

After going through everything that I had written down, read through, and internalized, I decided that I would follow through on an old blogging project that never came to fruition: I would follow the nightly path of Ra through the next 12 months, correlating each month with a particular hour. While the focus will be on the Book of Night that is discussed extensively in Alison Roberts book, I have also found other items of interest from the other afterlife literature I was researching and will include that in the blogging project.

On the first of each month, I will write an historical perspective as best as I can on each individual hour with all of the information I’ve been able to learn. I will then conclude my personal rebirth-oriented exploration of the hour toward the end of the month. (For those not interested in UPG, you can ignore the second post that will go live on the last day of the month.)

This map will, hopefully, help me to continue moving forward instead of getting stuck in the peristalsis of Nut’s body as I go through this next year.

Ritual

Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. – The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Beyond all of the rebirth connotations and the Book of Night, I also recognized that my ritual game has been… non-existent. I can’t remember the last time I gave daily offerings to my gods or my ancestors. While I do honor them on holidays and the like should I get around to it, my offerings and rituals have fallen off dramatically since my failed rebirth three years ago.

I found it difficult to care about providing for them all when I often felt that I was the one doing the lion’s share of the work. Offerings are hard work; not only are their words and gestures necessary to see it through… The sheer act of taking the time out of what can often be an exhausting day to provide for them when I seemed to get next to nothing in the reciprocity game seemed to be asking for too much from me. So I stopped bothering.

But through all of my research, there is one thing that has been hammered home for me over and over again. The act of ritual is just as important as the offerings themselves. It is more than simply plopping a few things down and calling yourself done. Reciprocity is the name of the game, but in order to be a player in the game, certain standards must be met both in the realm of offerings and how those offerings are conveyed, I.E. rituals.

As part of this, I have agreed to do a daily ritual for my gods and ancestors. The purpose of this ritual is two-fold: to wake both the gods and my ancestors up each morning happily and cheerfully and to give them the libations and offerings that I am putting out for them to feed upon that day. I’m not thrilled that I will be effectively doing this 365 days (the last time I gave offerings regularly, I at least took Sundays off) but this was the deal that I agreed to when I was asked for daily rites.

The daily rite will look something like this:

Purification with water, incense, and fire
Procession of offerings
Opening the shrine bolt
Sprinkling of water over shrine/icons
Ritual words to wake up the gods and ancestors
Ritual words as offerings are provided to gods and ancestors
Offering the whole Eye of Horus
Offering the heart
Reversion of offerings
Closing of the shrine

As this will be my first real foray in doing more than the basic good morning ritual in Eternal Egypt by Richard Reidy, I’m simultaneously excited and nervous. I suppose as time goes by, I will eventually get to an established clear point where I feel, if not content with the overall work, then at least comfortable with it.

In addition, I will be partaking in both the Year of Rites and Making Ma’at 2K19 orchestrated by TTR. (Links and explanations below.)

Rebirth

Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—. I took the one less traveled by,and that has made all the difference. – The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

The year ahead is, most likely, not for the faint of heart. I will be undergoing a deep-seated and necessary change. The overall purpose will, hopefully, be for the better. This rebirth cycle is to better myself, better my gods, and better my ancestors. All of us are putting in a concerted effort to achieve the overall goals we have set for ourselves in 2019.

There are other pushes, other irons in the fire that will hopefully make the next year a roller coaster ride of change. It should certainly be interesting, if nothing else.

Further Reading

Bull of His Mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC07286 The strong Bull of his Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

texas longhorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– p. 95, Hathor Rising

Further Reading

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

Lady of Rage.

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.

Here it comes !

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.

Rage

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.

Further Reading

Home & Hearth.

Years ago when I began interacting with other pagans online, I found myself fascinated by their discussions about how they had integrated their religion into their households. I would read their words about household shrines and practices, household deities and their veneration with a feeling of such desire it could choke me sometimes with its depth.

The prospect of including one’s religion in their home life was foreign to me. My childhood was not overly religious and to my mind, including religion in the home meant asking Saint Anthony to find something lost or my mother doing her Hail Marys before a long trip. It was the little moments that meant religion had some foundation in one’s household, not an entire subdivision of a religious practice.

This isn’t to say that the little things like those described above were not enough or integrating one’s ingrained religious beliefs into day-to-day living. They were what I knew as a child and were sufficient at the time. But as I explored myself and the religion I had found, I found such a deep desire in going still further than the little things.

I found myself wanting a household shrine, dedicated specifically to the daily running of the home. I wanted a god, or many, whose specific realm was all the myriad things that make up running an entire household. I wanted what I saw in others’ practice and wanted to make it my own. I found myself longing more and more but couldn’t find what I desired from a Kemetic standpoint.

Household shrines, according to Egyptologists, were most likely in use for the ancient Egyptian laity but how important those spaces may have been is an enigma. Even knowing that it is feasible that they did in fact worship gods in their homes is good information to have, but it didn’t help me over much as I floundered my way on my path.

I kept thinking that I just wanted a space for gods whose sole purpose was, as with Hestia, to be the deity associated with hearth and home.

There were some netjeru who could fulfill the role I was seeking: Hetheru, Bes, Tawaret, and Djehuty to name a few. But I found that my attempts to lure either Hetheru or Djehuty in this way failed. Every time I considered approaching Tawaret, something pushed me off of that line of thinking. At this point, one could assume from this that I then turned to Bes and went that route.

They’d be wrong.

My relationship with Bes had always been a sort of ephemeral thing; there was no substance behind it. It was just little things here and there but nothing beyond that. It didn’t feel appropriate to reach out to him then, so I left him alone while I struggled.

I went through altar porn and blog posts. I looked into how the Romans and Greeks did it in antiquity, trying to cobble something together that would feel right. But every time I looked into what they did, I found myself staring down a dark hole that seemed to have a giant neon NOPE sign blazing down in my face. The information I was learning was interesting, but it wasn’t for me.

I got tired of wanting and tired of not finding. With the sort of stubborn headed foolishness that is my personal knack, I decided I didn’t need gods. I didn’t need to know what other people were doing. I didn’t need any of that nonsense! It obviously wasn’t what I should be focusing on anyway!

So I began moving away from gods and others’ practices. I began looking deep within and all around, trying to find something that I could cobble together so that the want would finally go away.

Adventure seeker on an empty street, just an alley creeper, light on his feet. A young fighter screaming, with no time for doubt… – I Want It All by Queen

If I was asked to describe the one prevalent thing in my practice in a single word, the first thing that would come out of my mouth would be: foundations. I hear this so often from my gods, in my daily Tarot card pulls, and from a variety of other quarters. I am constantly being reminded to go back to the basics, go back to the foundations, go back to the start so that I can either build a new base or work on fixing up the existing building blocks in place.

When I decided that I wasn’t going to force myself into what I saw others crafting for themselves in the realm of their household shrines, I thought about the ongoing message about the basics. I had to build this from the ground up and the only way to really get there was to decide what I was really looking for.

Eyeballing pictures from other peoples’ altars was all fine and well, but that didn’t a practice make. Even reading their blog posts or comments on forums didn’t really help me.

I wanted a space that was about, well, my home. I wanted it focused on the people who inhabited my home, who lived here day in and day out with the good and with the bad. I wanted a place that sort of cried out to everyone about who we are as a family and what this place is as our home.

With whispers of “foundations” in my mind, I began trying to figure out what our home was about. And you know what? That was pretty damn hard. I didn’t know who we were as a family. We’ve been living in a very small place in general agreement that this living situation is temporary. Yeah, well, temporary though it may feel, we’ve been here for eight years now.

Even with all of that, it was still difficult to figure out who we were because we’ve never really put our mark on this place. It’s only been in the last two years that we’ve finally situated ourselves where we’ve come to the determination that we may leave this place at any given moment, but in the mean time, we’ve had to put down roots… roots that we’ll cut if and when we move on.

The transitory sort of feeling to our home made it difficult to figure out what I wanted to achieve for a foundation, so I started color-coding certain portions of the year on my Place of Truth, hoping that I’d get somewhere with this home and hearth altar eventually.

It was actually out of my four-times annual change out of my Place of Truth that I was finally able to come to a certain general idea about who I am as a person. And out of that, I was able to kind of define who my family is and what our home should be like:

  1. We’re in transition.
  2. We’re nerds in every sense of the word (books, video games, random facts, etc).
  3. We’re jokesters.
  4. We prefer comfort and functionality over frills.
  5. Our home is warm (sometimes a little too warm).
  6. Our home is filled with laughter.
  7. Our home is not very well lit, but at least the walls are light-colored so that what natural light is let in, it reflects… in our eyes…
  8. Our home has its problems, but we’ll work through it.

These ideas formed the basis, or foundation, of what I wanted my household altar to look like. I started adding little bits and pieces to my Place of Truth that I felt kind of indicated who we were based on my list.

I added toys from my son and from my significant other. I put bits of crystals and doo-dads that made me think it kind of indicated who we were. With my general color scheme, I was able to tie everything together into a cohesive theme until I felt that, well, I wasn’t doing too bad for all of that.

I made sure to spend time at the space. I would light Reiki-infused candles with a specific purpose in mind, depending on what purpose I wanted to achieve. I would pull daily cards for my son or myself there that had a more general message than anything specific. But above all, I felt that this place was a more than adequate symbol for who we are and what our home is like.

It took years for it to get built up to a point where it stopped feeling like something I had cobbled together on the fly and began to feel more like something established. It began to feel like it was something with… well… a solid foundation.

I gotta get me a game plan, gotta shake you to the ground. Just give me what I know is mine. People do you hear me, just give me the sign… – I Want It All by Queen

Once I felt comfortable, I was thrown another curve ball because Bes began showing up. This was partly my fault. For years, I had assured myself that I would purchase myself a protective amulet of Bes for every day wear. Not long after the amulet came home, I began to feel him haunting my already well-laid foundation at my household altar space.

It took some back and forth before I finally was able to get a straight answer out of him. He wanted to join this realm of my life, but before he could do so, I needed to get a solid… you guessed it… foundation in place. I was not surprised by this answer in the slightest.

Once I had come to terms with this, I realized that I felt comfortable with the idea of adding him into the place. What had first seemed confusing and a little weird, now seemed like a perfectly good idea.

When I began working on my home/hearth altar space, it seemed almost like adding a god or six into the mix would be like forcing them into a niche that wasn’t made for them. But now, I realized that out of all of the building I had been doing, I had still kept a space available for a god… if one decided to show up eventually.

Or maybe I always expected him to show up one day.

I looked around and found an icon that I felt would be appropriate for my small space and inserted him into something that I had worked hard on making on my own. As I set his icon in place for the first time, it felt a little like things were finally coming together in a way that I had always dreamed of but hadn’t really ever expected.

Bes, of course, brought friends with him to add to the space. It was not that long after I had added his icon to my space that he asked me to include Wenut and Tawaret, in whatever capacity I so desired, to the mix. I very quickly found hand-made wooden pieces of hippos, snakes, and bunnies that I felt would fit the bill. He seemed pleased with my selection and I was soon welcoming those two ladies into my home. They have proven to be far more quiet than Bes, who isn’t exactly a chatty type of god.

Now the three of them haunt my home and hearth altar. Periodically, I focus on the gods that haunt this space. And periodically, I focus on the family and home that this space is supposed to symbolize.

Together, we’ve managed to build things into a functional capacity that, years back when reading other peoples’ descriptions of their home and hearth related sojourns, I could only marvel at.

I’m a man with a one track mind, so much to do in one life time… – I Want It All by Queen

Nowadays, Bes and I are focused on a very specific project that I’ve been working on for actually a couple of years. Every few days, I light one of my candles and I give offerings to the gods that inhabit my space so that I can achieve a goal that has been a very long time coming.

I can only hope that once this goal has finally been achieved that the three of them will be coming with me on the next new adventure for my home, for my hearth, and for my family.

 

All Other Ways of Mortification are Vain…

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

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

Way to call a girl out like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was embarrassed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pacify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    to pacify an angry man.

  2. to appease:

    to pacify one’s appetite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.