The Brightest Things.

Before I fall asleep, I tend to take some time to think on my gods. I have always done this as that twilight period before sleep tends to be the quietest moment in my life. Though I can see my gods in my daily life, embodied by actions and words or in the world around me, it is then that I feel closest to them.

When I ponder the Lady of the Red Linen, I can quite often envision her. Sometimes her consort is behind her, stalwart as always, a benben upon which to build, but mostly it is just her and I together in solitude.

Sometimes I use this time to speak on things I am uncomfortable to say aloud and sometimes I use it to merely be in her august presence. Always there is awe and joy, sometimes heartbreak and anger. But I am always amazed by her, no matter how upset I may be.

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It was just the beginning. I think that I was meant to be next to you, to you. On this planet spinning… – Back to Earth by Steve Aoki feat Fall Out Boy

Months ago, I began thinking of her less as a deity and more in her association with various flora and fauna. She is still real to me, as real as her icon and the ba that may inhabit it, but I have begun to see her elsewhere and this changed the nature of our quiet moments before I would fall asleep.

I could see my home and its mountain peaks in the distance, the wild fields where wild turkey and egrets hide. I could see the deer and raccoons, the deciduous trees and blooming bushes. I was home with her and in her while simultaneously being home where I physically live.

When I began seeing her in things around me, I turned to her epithet list in an attempt to rationalize what I was doing or thought I was doing. It seemed… wrong, in a way, to see her around me when she had a home that she truly had helped to make manifest. This is not her home: no sands, no stone built temples, no spine of Osiris to tread upon as the very foundation of the nation.

There were beings here long before my gods came. We would be impudent to ignore them, to forget about them. The Natives who once made my area their home were pushed out and mostly moved west from what I have learned, but this was their place first. And this place embodied their spirits, their gods; never mine.

I was worried that by seeing her here with me (and my other gods) that I was muscling out those who were here first. I was concerned that I was moving into an appropriative no-man’s land where everyone loses. There are no tribes near to me to ask these questions of and I haven’t really figured out who to turn to for help. I mean, shouldn’t someone who has learned extensively about cultural appropriation know the answer to this already?

(The answer is no. If I don’t ask then I don’t know. And if there is a Native American who may read this post and be able to comment in some form or another, I would appreciate it.)

She always understood the fear and anxiety. Maybe that’s because the Lady of the Flame who appears at night before sleep is nothing more than a mental construct. Or maybe it really is because she just gets it. I don’t know and it probably doesn’t really matter.

She told me to look to the stars because no one owns them.

She said to look to the horizon and find her there.

Of course, I found her.

Over the Horizon

This is a crooked path. I think that I was meant to be next to you, to you. We can never come back. – Back to Earth by Steve Aoki feat Fall Out Boy

Beyond terrorizing the populace with her very existence, there were aspects of Sekhmet that were far more affable when compared to the destroyer deity wielding chaotic spirits for later. Some of those aspects hint to a deity who seemed to love just as deeply as human beings. And other aspects seem more remote, as distant as the goddess once was after Ra intervened on humanity’s behalf. But each different area seems to, as always, offer tantalizing hints of the multifaceted goddess that Sekhmet can be and is to this day.

When she told me to look to the stars for her, it was easy to see her in the constellations. While the stories of the constellations we all know today stem from the Greeks, I could still feel her in them to some degree.

The constellation Leo has always been a favorite of mine for many years. My zodiac is a Leo so of course it is special to me. And it was never a surprise to see my Leonine goddess there. Based on my research, it does appear that the ancient Egyptians were aware of this constellation and ascribed some significance to it. While I haven’t been able to delve too deeply in what I’ve found, it would appear that the Leo constellation held some importance to the ancient Egyptians.

And of course, we can’t forget the meteor shower associated with the constellation Leo.

While the Leo constellation makes sense, I admit that I could see her in the constellation of Orion too. Though this constellation is associated with Osiris and known by the name Sah in the realm of ancient Egypt, I could see her in the stars both as the protective womb who aids in the rebirth of Pharaoh as well as in the fierce warrior pose often associated with Orion.

I looked beyond constellations and outward further, searching planets and moons, asteroids and other celestial objects. I could see her, in a way, associated with comets and, of course, meteor showers.

As I looked into deepest space, I kept finding her here and there.

It was like she was speaking, but on a cosmic level.

I looked closer to home, at the horizon, where the earth meets the sky and found her. It felt a little like she was hiding, shy and stand-offish until I narrowed in on her like a lioness on the hunt. Sekhmet doesn’t appear to have much in the way of liminal associations and the horizon – that in between space signifying where Nut and Geb seem to merge – is nothing if not liminal. However, even without an apparent association, I was able to find it.

In the PT, as I stated above, it is the womb of Sekhmet that grants the pharaoh the ability to be reborn into a star upon its passing. This was my primary focus, of course, as I found liminal hints and teasers in my continued relationship building with her. It is this threshold of creation that she is best known for and would appear to be some of the oldest, written commentary on her.

Perhaps it was her association with the sun and its being reborn every morning, just as the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom were, that caused her intermingling with the horizon and the doorway found there. Or perhaps there are other items that I have yet to discover.

It doesn’t matter.

I found her there anyway.

Path to the stars

And you know I’ve found the dust to be resilient. And we’re the dirtiest of the dirt. Every time we fall to pieces, we build something new out of the hurt. – Back to Earth by Steve Aoki feat Fall Out Boy

As I listened to her, I reviewed her epithet lists in an effort to find some correlation that worked, that helped me to see what I was finding. I knew that there was some association with both the night sky and horizons, but I couldn’t remember quite clearly everything that I had found in my random forays across epithet lists.

I found an abundance of epithets that fit in nicely with what I was finding. As a small example:

The Horizon of Ra
She Who is in The Sky
Lady of the Horizon
Lady of Heaven
The Eastern Sky
The Southern Pillar of the Sky
She Who Opens the Doors of Heaven

It was an incredible relief, truly, to find that what I had seen and found wasn’t something entirely made up. This only seemed to reinforce my ongoing belief that nature, as a whole, was far more important than many modern-day Kemetics may give it credit. (Though, to be fair, I can understand the unease that such discussions can cause since, as I stated above, it sometimes feels incredibly wrong or weird to see my gods here in a land that was never theirs.) And gave further credence to my push to include local cultus, in some aspect, in our practices.

We’ve all seen snippets here and there that would suggest that nature was a matter of import, but the more and more that I delve into epithet lists coupled with quotes here and there, it seemed as though the gods did more than simply exist: they were one with nature in a way that I would not be able to adequately express. Again, it makes me wonder just how much local cultus, as it would have been understood in an ancient Egyptian context, was a part of the overall religion and the personal relationships that people crafted with the netjeru.

There was also a certain level of comfort in the knowledge that I had found my goddess where she told me to seek her. As any devotee of the gods can attest, there is always a certain level of doubt when it comes to communication. The idea that, even before I had found substantive proof of her associations within both the realm of the sky and the realm of horizons, she had given me concrete instructions is, of course, seductive.

Maybe this is what “winning” feels like.

All in all, in my fear to muscle out spirits and gods who had come long before, my goddess assured me that I could find her elsewhere if I only looked.

To be clear, I still see her in the area around me. I don’t think I will ever be able to look at the fiery leaves of a maple tree and not see her. Or drive by the reeds and cat tails that seem to proliferate along the sides of the highway without seeing her there.

But I can look up and see her in the night sky or at the thick, dark edge between sky and earth and know that she is there too.

Local Cultus: Wildlife.

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

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

Foggy Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Cultus: Landmarks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Cultus.

Some months ago, I began seeing posts on my dash from some Heathens that I follow. They were talking about a concept that I had previously only seen from a Hellenic point of view: local cultus. Startled, I began combing through the various posts and ended up having to stop because I just kept sitting back and going, “doesn’t everyone already do that? Is that not already a thing?” I began to wonder if I had misinterpreted what local cultus really meant.

I found this post from a Hellenic Tumblr user explaining it from a Hellenic point of view. Based on what I was reading, it seemed that it was a bit more than simply seeing your god locally but also dragging them in to established local or regional customs as well. This post truly explained what the whole concept was about in a way that I could fully understand.

I came away realizing that what I was already doing was similar to local cultus, but maybe the wording was not quite appropriate. Perhaps I should have called it something more like, “Sat sees the netjeru in the world around her?” Or perhaps “nome cultus” for the Kemetic flavoring?

I could see glimpses of what the Hellenics were talking about, but I had to admit that I only partially follow a similar paradigm within my own religious practice. I began trying to think about how I could view it and explain it from a Kemetic perspective.

Field

Let us dig our furrow in the fields of the commonplace. – Jean Henri Fabre

In ancient Egypt, the land was divided up into a number of provinces, which were called nomes. There seems to be some confusion about how many provinces there were. We typically see it stated that there were 42 however I had read recently that the 42 stems from later period sources and that, perhaps, there weren’t actually that many. (I wish I could find where I had read that, but I can’t remember if it was something online or in one of my books honestly.)

Be it as it may, the ancient Egyptians split various sectors of their country into nomes, which were in turn ruled by local nomarchs.  While there was the state sanctioned and run cult of gods – Re, Amun-Re, and the triads associated with them – there were also provincial, or nome, deities. Sometimes the nome deities coincided with the state run cult, but that was not always the case.

Within the nomes themselves, there were also landmarks specific to various gods and smaller temples built in their homage, as well. These were oft the places that the local populace would go to when they felt the need for divine intervention within their lives: perhaps a priest for healing or to divine the meaning behind a deity inspired dream. Whatever the case may have been back then, these nome deities were the very real connections that the gods had with deities who were sponsored, or not, by the politics of the ruling classes.

These relationships to the nome deities are something that we, as a diasporic religion, cannot quite manifest. We no longer live in ancient Egypt and the gods who populated those nomes do not speak to us as they would if we had been born and raised in Egypt. We can only imagine what it may have been like back then. But in my opinion, it is our jobs to do what we can in order to recreate the gods in a similar manner if at all possible.

We clearly wish to feel our gods on an intense level. This is something so often discussed that it can, just about, be perceived as a given. Perhaps the desire isn’t quite the need for a physical touch, but an ache or a longing to feel them in everything that surrounds us.

I can remember looking to the world around me years ago, to the trees that overhang the main road and the glimpses of the river I can just see beyond them, and wondering what it would be like to see my gods within the world I saw and existed in every day.

A similar desire can be found manifesting in the ongoing quests of people looking to their careers or to their current passions, hoping to find the gods within (and often succeeding). It is not, in my opinion, such a far leap to do likewise in the neighborhoods and regions where we live.

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The globe began with sea, so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it? – Jules Verne

In order to create something similar, in order to live and breathe in a world where we desire most to feel and see our gods everywhere, we must each work on creating our own flavor of local cultus… just as both the Hellenics and Heathens have been doing. This is not something that will come to us of its own, but something that we must work towards in an effort to solidify ourselves and the role that religion may take in our lives.

It has been years of hard work, with both successes and failures in my attempts to see the gods around me. It was something that I actively worked on, a concerted effort, in the hope of being able to see something beyond me. I needed that connection, those attempts, the world around me to embody the religion I wanted to craft for myself. And after a lot of hard work, after a lot of false starts, I finally managed to get somewhere with it.

I don’t think I’m alone here honestly. I think this is probably something that many more Kemetics participate in than we realize. It’s just not seemingly discussed within a “local cultus” or “nome cultus” context. It just simply is and perhaps, we all simply assume that it’s something that other Kemetics endeavor to do. Or maybe there are posts out there, in the world of local cultus, that I have merely missed over the years.

Whatever the case may be, I have worked hard to achieve the goal of seeing my gods around me. Sometimes a bird is simply a bird, but that doesn’t necessarily negate its importance within my religious practice. And sometimes it really is something more.