Lent 2018: C’est Fini.

I don’t ever really know what to expect when I observe Lent. I know what I would like to see happen and I know what I would not prefer to happen, but I’ve learned that expectations should be left out of it. In my experience if you go in with even a modicum of expectation, they’ll be fire bombed from orbit. It’s always better to not have them.

I’ve also discovered that, as the Lenten season progresses, I find myself feeling more and more helpless and hopeless. I always start off with some slight hope that my observance will be pleasing – to the gods, to the ancestors, to God, whomever really – but by the end of it all, I feel very much as if I’ve been marooned in the desert with nary a drop to hydrate myself with. It’s simultaneously frustrating and the whole purpose.

Forty whole days of sacrifice is hard. The point is reinforced over and over again through strategic points in those forty days. I’ve often wondered if the reinforcement of that point is something everyone goes through or of it’s something I, myself, go through because of my mental illness. The mind is always tricky and the constant belief that I have failed can be overwhelming.

In every instance, I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. I may not have had my eyes fully opened the first time this happened, and to be fair things were drastically different for me back then, but the constancy of my mind telling me that I’ve fucked it all up is even more draining than I can convey.

I often wonder if Catholics go through the same thing. I don’t have any I can really ask; all the ones I know intimately have long since lasped from that faith. I don’t think that they do to be honest. They have the ability to reach out to a deity who is not mine and feel the comfort therein.

I’ve thought about that too. Beyond asking the ancestors for some succor, what if I were to reach out to that amorphous deity or His son? In every instance, I am always reminded about why I turned away from the monotheism of my youth. I turned away from monotheism on purpose and while I’ve discussed some of those reasons here, not all of them have come up. I can say that the idea of reaching out to a deity who is not my own especially after my many years’ journey since I left is not a viable option.

Thus the hopelessness and helplessness.

It is, to be sure, why I always want to stop observing. But the ancestors are clear: if I am to have my way with venerating them, then compromise is part of that plan. And thus this compromise.

May we have communion with God in the secret of our hearts, and find Him to be to us as a little sanctuary. – Charles Spurgeon

This year, I gave up two remote concepts as opposed to anything realistic. When my mother finally asked me what I had given up, she sounded disappointed in my answer. My coworkers (who have always found it interesting evidently to ask what sacrifice I have planned for Lent) also seemed particularly disappointed in my response. This only made me realize how much outsiders always seem to view Lent as a physical sacrifice of X, Y, and Z thing. They never think of it really as bettering yourself.

But that was the point I was hoping to achieve. I had found my failings in the last few months after Advent and knew that I needed to step back from the obvious and move more towards the ambiguous. I needed things that while expressed in physical representations were more nebulous and vague than what I had done in the past. Besides after last year’s destruction, I felt I was owed, I guess, a little break from those types of things.

Sloth and gluttony are both part and parcel with my depression. Recently, a conversation with my son (who has a tenuous grasp on mental illness at 10 though he is starting to get it) pointed out that he thought my inability to do much after work was a direct result of laziness. I realized then that that was exactly what I thought too. I wasn’t taking into consideration my own limitations due to my mental illness. After a whole day of being on the go from the moment I wake up, I was more than entitled to take time out to rest.

The problem is, as many people know, the work/life mix that seemed easily found years before is no longer viable. But with all the other concerns that come along with working a 9 to 5 that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet, the work/life mix is difficult to achieve. Even with the knowledge that I am very much like most people in my very same circumstances, I did at least try to move beyond sloth and gluttony as much as I was capable.

The end result was less that I was capable of doing more but the realization that there are two other people in this house who consistently do less. After twenty days and an impending burn out, I made it clear to both of them that I needed help not simply because of mental illness but also because my job takes up most of my energy all day, every day. I need help and oddly enough, the call was answered.

Upon thinking about this, I thought back to The Empress card from the ancestors. They had reminded me that I needed to take care of myself too no matter what end game I was hoping to achieve. Self-care isn’t my strong suit in any way to be honest. But I needed to both better myself while simultaneously taking care of myself.

I think they were hoping I would speak out and ask for help.

I did so a few times these past forty days, not just at home but elsewhere too. I had found my limitations and knew that no matter how hard I would prefer to be able to move past them, those limitations were the end game for me. It was either, help me please, or continue to suffer in silence and run headlong towards the inevitable break down.

I can’t say for sure but I would assume that finding your limitations and being vocal in your inability to get past them is a step in the path to bettering yourself. The ancestors, anyway, seemed pleased with it.

While the hopelessness and helplessness of the previous month or more hasn’t completely faded from me, I am hoping that it will continue to lessen as time goes by. I would like to assume that this is a turning point; a moment in time where I remember that human beings, myself included, are not perfect and are not robots. Sometimes we need others to step in and help out.

It is the resurrection that makes Good Friday good. – Ravi Zacharias

I can always see the end coming when I make my yearly appointment to donate blood. This has been something that I have been doing for years, as long time readers of this blog can attest, and it has always seemed very fitting for me to continue the trend though the connotation has much changed.

Originally this was a devotional act. It made sense to me that Sekhmet would like it if I, as her devotee, would donate blood in her name. People who read this often were horrified at the prospect, focusing wholly on her destructive aspect and the blood soaked pre-world where she vamped her way through scores of hapless human beings at Re’s say so.

They always seemed to be forgetting entirely her healing prospect. And to be sure, donating blood is an act of healing. Not only can the blood be used for someone who needs whole blood, but it could also be used in various trials that require whole blood for the testing. Previously, in my experience, people were too focused on the word “blood” and not what the donation is used for. And since the health organizations are horrifically discriminatory against the lgbtq+ community at large, I often go to try to make up for an entire swath of the population who can’t donate due to that discrimination.

The funny thing is that blood donation as slowly morphed to a devotional act for Sekhmet to an act of remembrance for my ancestors.

A little known fact is that my mother used to donate blood before she started on medications that leave her out of the running. An even lesser known fact is that my maternal grandfather did the same thing. It seems appropriate that I continue the family tradition. I even brought my son this time so he could watch and start to think about whether this is something he would do when he’s old enough.

The sacrifice of some blood on Good Friday is a fitting ending to the season of Lent.

Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life. – Janine di Giovanni

In my final homage to both the ancestors and Lent, I spent time with them this morning. I sat in reflection of what the past 40 days were like and gave a very heartfelt thanks that things were easier this year than last year. The specter of my last Lent had stayed with me for about half the forty days before I was finally able to release it.

I asked the ancestors as I always do what I could expect now that I’ve come through this most recent season. They slammed me with The Magician. This card heralds the start of The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana and speaks to the beginning of the path ahead. While standard Rider-Waite iconographic interpretation discusses the fusion of the spiritual and mundane as well as hints at the use of all four alchemical elements present in Tarot, the deck I use for my ancestors is a little different.

The imagery of the Antique Anatomy Tarot is a little less obvious than the standard Rider-Waite imagery. The alchemical symbols for earth, air, fire, and water are present along with the symbol for Mercury, associated with The Magician card. But that is where the similarity ends. There is no overt symbolism related to the fusion of both the spiritual and mundane… except that there is. It’s just a little more intuitive than other decks.

As I sat there, focused on the metaphor of The Fool’s opening salvo for the journey ahead, I couldn’t help but wonder what more could be coming my way. A fusion of mundanity and spirituality has been something that I think many of us hope for but often fall flat of the mark that we set for ourselves.

The ancestors whisper of trust and care, of love and progression. They murmur of intuition and dreams, reminding me that a meat bag like I can achieve what I want most. I guess we’ll have to see.

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Lent 2015.

With Lent on the horizon, I couldn’t help but turn my thoughts to the lwa who had left me without much farewell last year. Oh, there was a bit of a farewell between Papa Legba and I, but the rest of the bunch just kind of disappeared without so much as a wave or by-your-leave. I was angry at the way that everything ended. I guess I’m just so used to beginning, middle, and emphatic ending that no final words of farewell kind of ground on me.

As my thoughts began turning towards Papa Legba, I did a bit of soul-searching. I was really angry when he left. I felt as if I had been, yet again, cast adrift on a sea of torment. He had caught my little dingy in his hands and taught me how to weather the constant storms within that sea. He had told me stories and jokes; he had given me a new appreciate of things that I took for granted, but above all else, he held my hand when I most needed it.

When he left, I was completely miserable. Papa Legba showed up because Sekhmet was at her wit’s end and needed me to be taught a few things about servitude and to get a few other lessons out of the way. I knew this; so why had I been so hurt when he left? I had always thought, somewhere, that with the end of the lessons, he would remain. I thought that he would just always be there. Change to me is something that I have been going through so much in the last two years that I’ve just wanted one thing that remained the same. And I found a good thing, I think, with Papa Legba.

Sometimes, I would dream of the two of us in a garden or in the forest. He was always making something grow. He’s very good at getting things to grow, as I’ve found out. What I didn’t seem to realize until only just recently that each change in the scenery, the overall goal was the same: he was creating a garden and needed to nurture it. We talked a lot about the nature of what nurturing a garden was like and how that relates back to the nurturing one must do for themselves. He told me jokes and he told me stories. He said to me last night that it’s time for me to go back to where I belong; the lesson is over. And it was a lesson and a half. He wasn’t just giving me a way out of the really oppressive atmosphere I was in, but he was also helping me to grow, my core, my soul, and everything in between. He was busy nurturing the fledgling plants and the older plants that had been accidentally pinched out when I became so angry and so embittered.

I’ve been staring at this quote since Ash Wednesday. I went looking through my old entries about Lent and found this sitting there. I found this recreated a second time when I came to the realization that the lwa had truly gone. He had bid me a brief goodbye during Lent of last year, but I had still just believed that he would continue to nurture the garden that I am. I wasn’t taking into context what he was doing or what his plans were; I was only thinking about myself.

I think, though, a certain selfishness is appropriate. I had died in every metaphorical way during our relationship’s tenure and he had always been there to help me pick up the pieces. He found me in all of my inner hiding places and pulled me into the light of the day. It was hard and painful, I think, last year because I didn’t have that person who would force me to look at what I needed to in order to figure out where the chess pieces were on the board.

I still don’t have that. I have a new little filler, to a degree, but Heru-Wer is not Papa Legba. They have a certain obsession about gardening in common and they have both used garden metaphors to get me to latch on to something. But as Heru-Wer told me when we first started being friends, he was not in my life to fill the hole that Papa Legba had created but to create a Heru-Wer sized niche instead.

The niche has been created, but I’ve discovered that the hole in the shape of Papa Legba has cleared up. As I poked around in my ib the last few days, I found that the sore spot that had his name scrawled across it didn’t hurt nearly as much. I continued the poking and prodding with other things, gauging the reactions that I discovered as I worked around what had once been as sharp of a pain as I could fathom. Now, though, it is nothing but a spot that has been scabbed over and healed up… and it seems to have healed up properly.

That’s a relief; I’m kind of tired of hurts healing wrong.

With this year, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t need to pay any attention to Lent or to sacrifice. I had kind of figured that Lent was over with, just as much as my relationship with Papa Legba. But on Ash Wednesday, one of my coworkers asked me with devilish delight, “What have you given up for Lent this year?” I hadn’t, actually, thought about it at all because I was over the hump, wasn’t I? Did I really need to sacrifice anything?

Evidently, my mouth and my mind were on two different wavelengths because what I said immediately was, “Diet Coke.”

It just popped out there.

And now it was out there.

In the world.

Being all thought about and digested.

“Oh, no,” my coworker said to me, “this is going to be terrible.” I don’t believe I was that grouchy without diet Coke last year (although the amount of posts I made about diet Coke on Tumblr would lead me to believe that I was fairly crotchety). The rumor mill ground around the office, which isn’t much of a rumor mill because we have an instant messaging program always running between the 10 of us, and everyone knew I had given up diet Coke.

Again.

I’ve thought about the reason behind this. Why did I say this before I could explain that I wasn’t observing Lent this year? I don’t want to be trite here, but I can’t help but think that there is something purposeful here. On religious matters, I try to be very careful and concise with my speech especially when speaking on them to people who don’t know the intricate woven threads of my path. But in this case, the words were out of my mouth before I could even think to myself, the fuck is wrong with you?

A part of me believes that it’s just an automatic pilot thing. Another part of me believes that this is more than just autopilot.

Out of everything I could sacrifice, there is nothing more significant than diet Coke to me. As some people have mentioned, it’s practically my life’s blood. Fuck, I drink a hell of a lot of soda every fucking day and it’s always diet Coke. (Once in a blue moon, I will have a Sunkist.) And so my automatic pilot mouth went to the first and most painful thing I could sacrifice, something that would hit me right between the eyes about twenty fucking times a day.

Last year, I sacrificed diet Coke because it was the only thing that I could think of that would fall under the category of a true sacrifice. This year, I sacrificed diet Coke without having a reason. This should prove interesting.

Lent 2014 Revisited.

When I first decided to observe Lent this year, I didn’t really think anything would change. I figured, like last year, I would go into this with the intent of giving up something really important to me (diet Coke; diet Coke; diet fucking Coke) and take a much needed break from the craziness that was my relationship with Sekhmet. And then, on top of that, I would get to spend a bunch of extra time with Papa Legba, who is always a treasure to spend time with. It was a lose-win-win, I guessed, because I was giving up something really important to me (diet Coke; diet Coke; diet fucking Coke), but it was also a win because I could take about a trillion steps back from Sekhmet. And of course, Papa Legba. I have to admit, the amount of intensity I had reserved for looking forward to taking a break from Sekhmet was unparalleled by anything save the impending birth of my son. (Let’s face it – any pregnant woman will tell you how very much they are looking forward to the fetus within finally being removed.) I went into this with certain ideas and beliefs about what I was going to get.

The Road Not Taken by dusky-inc via dA

I didn’t expect to actually take the time to discover what Lent was actually about and find ways to apply it to the religious situation I live now. What was so surprising was how easy it was to pull the basic concepts behind Lent out of the dogma related to it and utilize it in a way that better helped me to define and remind myself what my religious life is about. I found that, while there are some aspects to Lent that are intrinsically tied to the Christian background from whence it comes, there are also aspects of it that anyone can use to help them realign and reinterpret what their religious needs should be and what their religious path should look like. I wasn’t expecting the amount of introspection that I delved into in a better attempt to understand why I needed the break, what I needed the break from, and what decisions, if any, I would make when it was time to look back at things.

What I wholly didn’t expect was the fact that as much as I was taking time off from Kemeticism as a whole, and Sekhmet in specific, I found myself thinking about it all too often.

However, it wasn’t as painful as it had been before the break happened. Leading up to Lent, things got incredibly painful for me. Thinking about my religious path ended, more often than not, with me burnt out, crying, and/or overly anxious. Things had been so difficult for me with Sekhmet and the initiatory rites she had me go through that to think about them was to leave me in physical pain from the amount of bullshit I felt I was being inundated with. The intensity with which I looked forward to my break was mostly because I was at my wit’s end, I was at the breaking point. I was seriously considering just giving it all up and shoving it away from me. I couldn’t seem to handle it anymore. I spent so much time, screaming unintelligibly or crying quietly to myself that the thought of even remotely continuing was too much. I knew that if something didn’t break, I was going to.

And then, like magic or more like the turning of the calendar, there was Lent. It was coming up and Papa Legba had said, “I need you to learn about Lent and I need you to not religion, can you do that?” And here I was thinking just to myself about how much I needed to not religion and there was an opening. Papa Legba was giving me a way out, temporarily at least, of the overload of emotions I was having regarding my religious tradition. And I went running to it so very hard and so very fast that I didn’t even stop to consider the nuance, the reason, or even what consequences might occur with what he was asking me. I didn’t stop to consider how this may or may not impact my religious path when I came back to it, if I bothered to go back to it. I was so focused in the idea of taking a break so that I could analyze myself and my feelings before making a, quite possibly, big huge and horrible fucking mistake by leaving everything behind on the spur of the moment. So, I went running ahead and I said, “I will not religion and I will learn about Lent.”

Every day, I would wake up and go through the motions. I still left out offerings and I still put on my religious-related jewelry, but I made a studious effort to ignore whatever emotional upheaval I was going through. With each passing day, the upheaval and turmoil grew less and less insistent. It began to fade. Just like with a wound – it started to scar. Only the healing took a good deal longer than a simple cut on the finger or on the leg. Instead of needing a few days for the wound to knit itself back together, I needed a couple of weeks. And in that time as I distanced myself from the hurt and the pain, I found that I could think more and more clearly about what steps, if any, I was going to take once I came back from the Lenten season. I found myself able to understand better what Sekhmet’s ultimate goals were, whether I knew specifically what they were, and what she was hoping to achieve.

I was becoming far more rational with each passing day and I hardly noticed.

As time went on, I began to look into Lent, as I had promised Papa I would do. When I started reading about baptism, I was shocked at the meaning behind what baptism was. According to what I found, it’s, more or less, an initiatory rite. And hadn’t I gone through one, not that long before? I felt, a little, as though I was being trolled. However, instead of just sighing in disgust and giving up, I kept up the research and ended up turning it back around to my own religious tradition. I had gone through an initiatory rite. Instead of having water placed upon my head, I had been forced to go through a very grueling and painful process, one that my soul has been building up to for many, many lives. And there’s something to be said here about the different types of initiations that one can go through. In Christianity, it is a simple decision. In Kemeticism, or more specifically in Sekhmet’s line of work, it is a death coupled with the re-forging of one’s soul to meet the needs and desires the deity in question has in mind.

I’m not saying, specifically, that this is what can be expected always when it comes to initiatory rites with Sekhmet or even with the NTRW. I’m just saying that in this particular instance, I had to die in order to be reborn into the instrument that Sekhmet wanted me to become. Death is never a pleasant experience and this particular death was not what I wanted. I understand the necessity of it, but that doesn’t mean I had to like it. I also understood and even accepted the necessity of the work I had to do in the pit at her behest, but that doesn’t mean I had to like it. And I didn’t. I was helping people, in many ways of course, but the work was dirty, painful, and hard to stomach day in and day out. The initiatory rite that I went through with her was so fucking painful and so distressing, but it was a necessity.

Just like a baptism is a necessity to enter into Christianity.

When I started looking into The Scrutinies, I found that while I couldn’t celebrate it the way that the Catholics could, I could at least take the message to heart. I found myself scrutinizing myself as deeply as I possibly could and found so much broken inside. Instead of just finding doubt, anxiety, and worry, I also found shards of broken glass in the middle of my heart and in the roots of my soul. I found that amid my very core, I could traverse the wilderness within and found that everything there hurt. It was a hurt borne of angst and anger; a hurt borne of confusion and fear; it was a hurt borne of not understanding and worrying; it was a hurt borne of the shattering of whatever illusions I had carved for myself in regards to Sekhmet. Everything within was a broken, discarded horror story that left me so filled with breathless sadness that I could barely stare at myself in the mirror anymore. What I saw was someone who was insufficient and quite possibly mentally unbalanced. I found someone who I didn’t like looking to.

So, I set about picking up the pieces the best ways I knew how.

I relaxed.

I calmed.

I told myself not to worry.

And when I broke those demands to stop worrying, I did everything in my power to toss myself away from those thoughts. I read heavily. I watched a lot of crap TV. I played games with the family.

I did everything I could to force myself away from all of that so that I could pick and choose what needed to be fixed and what needed to be discarded. The barren wilderness of my core was healing itself. From burnt out husk to partially green pasture in a few days. It seemed that by staying away from it all, I was doing far more work on healing myself and my broken promises. It was almost as if, by leaving it all alone, the mysterious inner workings of my soul were doing whatever the hell they needed to do in order to repair the damage. All I had to do was keep going and continue to make sure that I left that barren wilderness alone. I’ve looked back some since the moment that I walked out of my core and saw that desolation and have been shocked to find so many new things growing and even growth on older things…

With each passing day, as I would put on my heart-shaped ring, I would think about all of the things I wasn’t doing and wasn’t going to think about. With each night, as I would take my heart-shaped ring off, I saw the dark marks around my finger and sometimes, had to massage the feeling back into my finger. I was beginning to associate the heart, the ring, and the relationship with a heavy weight. And I think that the association with a heavy weight is important. By not taking it seriously, I could end up in hotter water than I’ve already been in or I could make things worse for myself. But with each day, instead of feeling angry or embittered about it, I began to feel calmer, cooler, more detached. And then as yet more time passed, I found myself feeling less detached and more intense. I was almost… looking forward to putting the heavy ring back upon my finger. I was beginning to remember why I had started all of this in the first place.

I went into Lent thinking that I was going to take time off, give up some diet Coke, see a whole ton of Papa Legba and learn about Lent.

I did take time off and it was worth it. I was able to remove myself from the emotional situation I was in and discover that I understood the nature in what was needed of me. And while I forgot, for a while, that my religion makes me happy towards the end of the initiatory rites I was going in, I remembered what it was about this religion that makes me happy. I was able to remind myself that while, yes I am in service to a god, I am also in this for me. And that includes doing the things that make me happy and make my feel worthy and remind me that I am living in ma’at. That includes reminding myself that while everything was really shitty for a while, it’s not always going to be that way. Rockiness is a natural part to any relationship, whether it is a relationship in the realm of the living, the realm of the dead, the realm of the astral, or the realm of the gods. Nothing is static and we can’t expect it to be. I needed to remember that everything changes and sometimes, it can be so hard to remember that as hard as the chaos of the initial change may be that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad change.

I did give up some diet Coke. I went the full forty days without having a single sip. I’ve been inundated with ads on Facebook and Tumblr for it. I’ve found myself surfing websites and there would be a diet Coke ad. I thought that perhaps, at the end of this, I could give up diet Coke completely. I found out that without having diet Coke around, I am more of an emotional mess than I was with it in my life. I also found that I have far less patience with work while drinking bottles of water versus diet Coke. It’s possible that the weight less I’ve experienced in the last month was due to giving up diet Coke, but I’ve also found that I am not a very good person without it in my life. It is an addiction and I understand the health risks wrapped up in that addiction. But it is my addiction and for fuck’s sake, I really like diet Coke.

I hardly saw Papa Legba at all this round. I felt his presence, occasionally, in the morning or at random times throughout the day. Sometimes, I would dream of the two of us in a garden or in the forest. He was always making something grow. He’s very good at getting things to grow, as I’ve found out. What I didn’t seem to realize until only just recently that each change in the scenery, the overall goal was the same: he was creating a garden and needed to nurture it. We talked a lot about the nature of what nurturing a garden was like and how that relates back to the nurturing one must do for themselves. He told me jokes and he told me stories. He said to me last night that it’s time for me to go back to where I belong; the lesson is over. And it was a lesson and a half. He wasn’t just giving me a way out of the really oppressive atmosphere I was in, but he was also helping me to grow, my core, my soul, and everything in between. He was busy nurturing the fledgling plants and the older plants that had been accidentally pinched out when I became so angry and so embittered.

I learned a lot about Lent. I learned about how it relates to Catholicism, but I also learned that the overall lessons for Lent can easily be turned back to focus on anyone else’s religious path. I also found out that the goals behind the Lenten season can, also, be brought to bear in any religious tradition. And it was in that lesson that, I think, I was able to really overcome the aggression, the anger, and the bitterness that I had been feeling for the six months or so before Lent started. It was because Papa Legba had asked me to learn about it that I was able to achieve introspective heights and understand, remind myself, and remember what it was I had started this whole path for.

I started on this path, all those years ago, not just because I heard the call of a goddess whose songs have been sung in my heart for hundreds of years, but also because I found a place where I belong, where I am comfortable, and where I am happy.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
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.

Lent 2014.

Last year, just prior to the Lenten season, I began to dream about Gran Bwa. I can remember those dreams – I was searching for him. He was walking ahead of me, wearing a mask, but I knew who it was. He never spoke to me, or if he did, I never remembered what it was he said or those parts of the dream. But I can remember following after him, attempting to catch up with him so that I could ask him what he was doing in my dreams. Around the same time, I began to dream about Papa Legba in that veritable forest-of-my-dreams that I now associate almost exclusively with Gran Bwa. On nights where Papa Legba showed up, we mostly sat in companionable silence around a large bonfire. Sometimes, we would talk, but he never answered my questions about Gran Bwa. All he would ever tell me was that it would be up to me to decide why I was following after him and what it was that was supposed to mean. I back-burnered those dreams because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of them. I figured when it was time for me to figure out what in the world was going on, then I’d figure it out.

On Ash Wednesday last year, I drove by the Catholic Church the way I did every day on my way to work. And I can remember seeing that the parking lot was very full and I remember wondering to myself, what in the world is going on? I did some quick calculations in my head and realized that the Lenten season had begun. I thought about what, to me, Lent meant. In my brain, it meant that you started everything off with ashes upon your brow and then gave things up that meant a lot to you. Most of my experience, to that point, with the whole concept stemmed from conversations I had overheard from my Catholic family members and from Catholic employees. One of my past employees … I remembered, on that drive, she had begged to go to church to get the ashes on her brow during her shift and I covered her shift while she was gone. When she came back, she gave up lottery tickets and swearing – two things that were inherently a part of her – for the next forty days and we all made sure she stuck to it. That moment was a turning point in my life, something I didn’t fully understand and even a year later, I hardly understand it now.

That was my first time attempt to celebrate Lent. In the grand scheme of things, I failed. And with it went a lot of other things that I ended up failing at. I felt, back then, that it was Gran Bwa pushing me to observe the sacrifice. And I still believe that it was him with those dreams and the odd music choices that would come on the radio when I was contemplating those dreams that led me to observe Lent last year. Since I ended up failing at sacrifice, I felt as though I was failing Gran Bwa. Twelve months later, I still feel more than a modicum of guilt at having eaten the chocolate cake. I started over, of course, after that failure but it felt less… pure and less willing. By then, it felt like I was wearing clothes too tight for me and I was uncomfortable. I had fucked up. I had to learn the lesson – I suck at the sacrifice shit – and move on. Gran Bwa stopped visiting me in dreams and I was pretty sure the two more than just a little tied together.

What I failed to understand was that the whole thing – Lenten season and what I saw it as – was incorrect. I had to do more research.

As I said back then, and I’ve commented on since, I wasn’t ever raised as a Catholic. Lent season, in my eyes, tends to be held in a different sort of reverence with Catholics than it does with other sects. I was raised in the Methodist church and I honestly can’t remember doing anything for Lent. I just checked out my childhood church’s website and noted that yes, there are things that they do for the Lenten season. Perhaps the amount of sacrifice or the amount of reverie isn’t as intense as it is with Catholics and that’s why I think Catholics feel it more intently? I honestly don’t know where this feeling stems from. I don’t remember my mother ever giving anything up for Lent when I was a child and whatever conversations I overheard from my maternal family about it are very watery and distant. Looking at all of this, I had to admit that I don’t know shit.

Why is this important to Papa Legba? Why is observing Lent important to the voodoo things that I do? What does all of this mean?

So, I started doing some research. I read this FAQ about it to get me going. I have to admit that a lot of what I was reading made me uncomfortable. I’m not a Catholic, nor do I intend on becoming one. There are bits and pieces of the religious tradition that I always found interesting and something beautiful, but the overall message that it sends out there has always made me uncomfortable. Hell, let’s be frank: organized religion on such a mass scale is the problem. I don’t like it. I think religion should be something personal and individual, but you can’t do that with the Christian traditions that I have taken part in. You have to have the community and the man or woman at the pulpit, telling you what to do and how to do it. That is what bothers me. God, Bondye, Super Nebulous Void Guy, whatever – whatever relationship that is built should be based on the needs and requirements of the soul looking for that connection. But that’s not all that has gotten me while reading up on this stuff.

This quote is something that makes me uncomfortable: “The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism. Preparation for Baptism and for renewing baptismal commitment lies at the heart of the season.” The act of baptism has always baffled me. In many traditions, we put some water over a child’s head and christen them into a set denomination. That, in and of itself, bothers me. My son is not baptized and he won’t be unless he makes a decision to do so. I think, part of the reason why baptism has always bothered me is because it’s a decision, again like the relationship with deity, in which someone should be able to make on their own and not be made by their parents. I think another reason why it baffles me is because, again, I think relationships with deity need to be a personal thing. While I do acknowledge that the laity need priests to act as intermediaries, I don’t think it’s on the same level that priests and reverends are utilized in many Christian traditions. (I’m sorry if this isn’t very clear. It’s all kind of a *speechless in an attempt to explain*.) Back to the quote: my discomfiture mostly stems from someone’s parents making a huge commitment on behalf of a baby and then forcing them to see it through until the end of time or until they’re finally old enough to make their own decisions.

But, let’s go back to that – the parents make a decision for their children. And then the children are expected to follow through on that decision until they are old enough to make their own religious decisions. But the quote doesn’t talk about that. It talks about a renewal of the baptismal commitment. So, in a way, it’s like the Church is openly acknowledging that baptismal commitments need to be reconnected. Okay, but is that because childrens’ parents make a decision for them or is that just because they may be lacking in a few key areas? I don’t know. And because this is all very new and weird territory for me, this is why it makes me very uncomfortable and I feel weird discussing it. But these are things that I have to address because I guess I promised to do this every year. So, I need to stop being uncomfortable and make some decisions.

One day.

Even though the first part of that FAQ had me questioning a million things, I kept reading. I had other things to look into, of course, because Lent is more than just giving things up, right? So, I kept going. And of course, there was a section about giving things up. I read the section on it, brow furrowed. Then I got to this part: “Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.” Well, that actually explained it better than I ever could. And it made me understand things a little bit better. It wasn’t just an act of giving things up because, hey let’s do that! But it was about giving lives over to Christ and to his way of life as well as to give up sins. That didn’t sit well with me, either.

I know this is because, again, I’m coming at all of this from a different perspective than most. The concept of Christian sin has always confused me. It varies from sect to sect, honestly. Some people would see it as a sin to “be a homosexual,” (as if there is a choice involved) while other sects do not find this sinful at all. I mean, sins as they exist according to doctrine are pretty complicated things. It’s more than just breaking the Ten Commandments because there’s so much more in the world that constitutes as a sin. The thing is that some of the things other people give up don’t seem to be sins, in my eyes. Someone I know is giving up potatoes. (She’s not Catholic and this is actually an experiment or something for one of her college classes, but people give up food all the time. I gave up chocolate last year.) Is eating potatoes a sin? Is eating chocolate a sin? No. But there are people out there who give up eating certain foods. They give up drinking a certain drink. They give up all manner of things, but is it really an act of giving up sin?

How many people can really say that they come out of the Lenten season free of sin?

And again, I keep coming back to that word. I don’t like it. It doesn’t sit right with me at all. Maybe it’s because in Kemeticism we don’t really have a concept like that. We have living in ma’at and not living in ma’at. There’s no middle ground. There’s no accidental “sin” in which we may be isfet briefly and then go right back to being in ma’at. The 42 Divine Utterances are hardly even an indicator about what is or is not considered living in ma’at since they changed from person to person – but that’s my overall view on this religion stuff, isn’t it? Whatever constitutes “sin,” whether it be of a religious nature or otherwise, is up to the person who is giving up that sin. Minus the bit about Christ and his way of life, since I don’t follow that in any way, it makes more sense and that bit about sin makes me less uncomfortable.

I kept reading because the next part was very interesting. It talks about “The Scrutinies.” This was whole new territory to me because I had never even heard about that shit before. What was that about? This stood out to me: “To scrutinize something means to examine it closely. The community does not scrutinize the catechumens; the catechumens scrutinize their own lives and allow God to scrutinize them and to heal them.” But who were the catechumens and how come they were the only ones scrutinizing? Why can’t everyone scrutinize? Why can’t they all put everything under a microscope and make some mass decisions about what’s going on deep inside? “There is a danger in celebrating the Scrutinies if the community thinks of the elect as the only sinners in our midst who need conversion. All of us are called to continuing conversion throughout our lives, so we join with the elect in scrutinizing our own lives and praying to God for the grace to overcome the power of sin that still infects our hearts.” Well, that answered that question.

So, scrutinizing one’s life is pretty much a no-brainer, it’s part and parcel. And if you’re not part of the elect because you’ve already been baptized, then you get to go through the Sacrament of Penance.

And that’s when I kind of put it all together. I realized that this wasn’t really an act of sacrifice, although sacrifice is definitely a part of what I’ve been asked to do. But it’s also about Scrutiny and it’s also about Silence. It’s also about Patience and it’s also about Introspection and Reflection. But above all, this time is about me and my needs. This isn’t about Papa Legba. This isn’t about Gran Bwa. This isn’t about Sekhmet. This isn’t about Djehuty, Hetheru, Aset, Wesir, the community, the bigger picture, or anything in between. This entire experience is about me because I am important. My wants and needs are important. What I need to bring to the metaphoric table is absolutely fucking important. And I need to remember that. I need to take time away from the heavy hitters and away from everything that’s been pounding down on my head for the last few months, take a bunch of deep breaths, and reflect, introspect, scrutinize, decide.

This year, I went into Lent with a different perspective. I knew a little bit more about what the basis of Lent was, for starters. I had done what I should have done last year and actually looked things up. While I’ve admitted, here, that a lot of what I read didn’t agree with me or left me feeling uncomfortable, vaguely confused, and generally feeling like the overall message for Catholics didn’t quite fit with me, I’ve come to understand the basic premise in the tradition. I get it. Or at least I am beginning to.

This year, I went into Lent knowing that I would be giving up a major part of my life. I gave up diet Coke. People reading this might laugh at me, but I don’t think you understand how much diet Coke I drink. I drink a lot of it, every day. It’s a staple to me, as much as milk and coffee are. But I knew I had to do something bigger than just chocolate. I can handle not having chocolate for forty days (even if I’m too stupid to remember that I’m eating chocolate cake). Chocolate isn’t as important to me as diet Coke is. So, I knew that I wanted to give up a staple in my life. I gave up diet Coke and I’ll admit, every day, I think about drinking diet Coke. Someone said that it gets better after a while. It’s Saturday, so I haven’t had any diet Coke since Tuesday. There’s a bottle in the fridge and I open that refrigerator up, purse my lips in sadness, and move away. The caffeine headaches are a bitch, but they’re getting a little better each day. If I come out of this never drinking diet Coke ever again, I’ll be surprised. If I stop thinking about diet Coke longer than a few hours at a time, I’ll think it’s a miracle.

I miss diet Coke, damn it.

This year, I went into Lent know that I would be giving up another major part of my life. I gave up my religious side of things. I have rites and services scheduled for Sekhmet, of course, and Papa Legba is big on keeping one’s promises. But I’m not doing anything else. This isn’t about the netjeru anymore. This is about my life. So, I gave up my religion, so to speak, to incorporate a religious tradition that doesn’t sit well with me in an effort to better understand myself, my religious practice, and everything in between. I know that kind of sounds weird, right? But there’s something to that adage about letting birds fly free because if it’s meant to be, it’ll come back to you? I’ve always found that when I request a break from the netjeru, then they don’t live up to their end of the bargain for whatever reason. Things get pushed forward, things about the bigger picture usually, and I end up getting sucked in. But not this year, not for these next forty days.

No religion. No diet Coke.

For someone who was pretty big about faith and stuff just two years ago and for someone who was drinking three 20oz bottles of diet Coke a day, well, that’s a lot.

But this is about reflection, introspection. This is about fleshing out a more solid foundation for me, which includes the lwa.

And that, honestly, is something that I only just realized. Papa Legba, Gran Bwa – whomever – they weren’t really wanting me to pay attention to the religious observance, per se. They wanted me to pay attention to me. They wanted me to take care of myself. And part of that includes them. They always get sent to the backseat because there’s always something important going on with the netjeru. And that’s just no good. I’m supposed to be serving them and too often, I find my services lacking because I’m too caught up in shit for Sekhmet, shit for the community, and other miscellaneous horse shit. Last year, I said that it was all about balance, but the last part of the year and the first two months of this year have been everything-Sekhmet. And while I understand the need to push and get me to where I am today, I’ve kind of had it.

I chose Papa Legba as much as he chose me all those years ago.

The least I can do is remember that and act on it and say, “No,” when I need to.

Right now, I’m saying, “no.” I’m saying it to Sekhmet, my religion, my diet Coke.

And I’m reminding myself that foundations are important.

Foundations are always, always important.

And there is no foundation without me.

Lent 2013 Revisited.

I think I fail at sacrifice.

As a quick recap, on Ash Wednesday, I received the intense desire to sacrifice an item at the bequest of an unknown lwa. I have never ascertained who it was requesting this thing of me – the energy signature was different from my usual brood, which is how I knew it was someone new – but I’ve wondered if it could be Gran Bwa. I had dreamed of him two or three days before and two or three days after my decision to observe this Lenten season. Since then, nary a word, but I’ve kept up my end of the bargain…

…until now, anyway.

On Saturday, we all went to a going away and birthday party for TH’s step sister. She’s going off to some place in Afghanistan in a few weeks and her birthday was this past Wednesday. The birthday cake they served was chocolate on chocolate. I really wasn’t paying attention when I sat down with a piece and began to eat it. I honestly did not make a conscious decision to “fail” at my sacrifice. I really had no fucking clue what I was doing at that moment in time, thinking or otherwise. I definitely know that I didn’t consciously make the decision to fail and that it was only after TH said something like, “HOW IS YOUR CHOCOLATE CAKE, YOU FAILING FAILER FULL OF FAIL,” or along those lines that I realized I had made the mistake.

Now on the one hand, I can take this entirely at face value. I fucked up my sacrifice of chocolate for this Lenten season. This could mean that the lwa in question who had requested this of me is no longer interested. And as someone who is as fearful of making mistakes on this path as I can be (I find it odd how fearful I am with mistakes and the lwa and not nearly as so scared when it comes to my deities), I have a deep suspicion that this is the case. I had the initial belief that Gran Bwa showed up with this request to say, I’m here and if you succeed, we will take it from there. And now that I have failed this means that he will be leaving, no?

But, on the other hand, I can’t help but ponder at the fact that I screwed up without even realizing what I was doing. I don’t want to blame this failure because of an “out of body” experience” or anything like that. I can remember being hyper-focused elsewhere though. I can see myself standing beside the cake, I can see myself grabbing the plate, and I can clearly remember putting it into my mouth. However, I can’t recall being actually there when it happened either. So, does this mean that I’ve legitimately failed or is this something else entirely?

Since I can’t make up my mind in regards to what this failure means – since, you know, omens errywhere – I don’t know if this means if I can eat chocolate again. It would be nice if the lwa that requested it, either Gran Bwa or whomever may have done the requesting, would show up and give me a definitive answer. Hm. As I type this, I’m hearing laughter in my head, so I get the feeling that whomever actually did the requesting will not give me a definitive answer one way or another. I have to rely on intuition here, I suppose, but I’m horrifically lacking in that department at the moment.

The worst part about all of this is that I honestly feel like I’ve failed even though I never consciously made that decision. I may not have been consciously failing at the time, but the gist is that I did indeed fail. And this makes me wonder if I ever wanted to actively sacrifice anything in future – as I had been considering doing continuously in cycles throughout the year, honestly – if I would be able to succeed. Doubt; thy name is Sat.

But what if this failure isn’t my fault? What if it’s the cause of some other being that I ended up eating the chocolate? I honestly can’t remember what it tasted like. It didn’t even hurt my teeth, which is odd since I have bad teeth and sweets in large amounts will always do that. And I had been traipsing through cemeteries earlier in the day as well as mere minutes before the cake eating began. (TH’s step brother’s home is literally thirty feet away from a Catholic cemetery that had three worn headstones from about the 1790s – and a relative of people whose graves I tend regularly.) So, if some other being or OTHER™ caused me to fail at this… then did I?

And of course, it’s not like I’m going to get a definitive response from the lwa in charge on this one. This is definitely between me and Bondye.