I just finished a page trying to vaguely explain my practices. I said I might write a more detailed post about purity one day. Oh, wait, that’s today!
Ancient Egyptian religious practices involved some level of cleanliness. They are not the only ancient culture to do this. For example, around the time of Christ and in that area, washing people’s feet was a common favor for guests. **EDIT: I would like to state that my purposes for ritual purity in my practice revolve around differentiating the time spent in prayer/ritual from the time I spend elsewhere. I am making an effort to be the best that I can be for the Netjeru, and I am helping to create a state of mind conducive to communicating and offering to Them**
We live in a sterile environment. Germ-X is readily available. Our clothes generally smell alright and were washed in filtered water. Most of us can bath at least a few times a week. Soap that works well is cheap and easily found. You can buy anything in an antibacterial form. Our supermarkets sell pre-washed produce with relatively minimal blemishes (we don’t even have to confront the fact that they were ON THE GROUND if we don’t want to). We have deodorant and AC. All of our homes have flooring. Many homes (though certainly not all) are relatively well sealed. Many (but surely not all) public environments are free from stench.
Not so long ago (depending on where you live) you may or may not have had access to water. You may or may not have bathed regularly, washed any clothes, been able to really give your pot a good scrub. Oh and I almost forgot: THERE’S NO AC!! I live in the deep south, where our summers (and springs, and occasionally falls) are hot and humid. If you don’t have central or a window unit with a goodly amount of BTUs, you don’t ever really stop sweating.
So, you’re an ancient. You’ve probably been working somewhere: in the mines, in the fields, teaching young men to shoot arrows or write, selling stuff in the market, building Pharoh’s Next Big Retirement Home. And you stink. You probably have dirt all over you. There are places to get clean, but without AC and well sealed houses and walking everywhere, you are likely to get dirty again. This is all along with normal skin shedding and body odor. This is along with any sicknesses you or others may have from lack of a nutrition or from living near a river. Delightful.
And now you want to pray to the Gods.
Cleanliness didn’t last very long, back then or even today. But my doesn’t it feel wonderful! It is an impermanent bliss. It is something that is progressed past (sort of like Zep Tepi, in my opinion).
There’s a spiritual element to purity, too. In my practice, this means that you are focused. You have settled down from your day. You have put your concerns on hold. You are honest with yourself. You have “opened the ears of your heart”. You are ready to listen to your heart. You are energetically clean.
We could speculate about having a pure heart; a heart that might balance on the scales of Ma’at. To me, this type of purity is an ongoing state and one that doesn’t necessarily mean “perfection” in the traditional sense . I think that by quieting our minds and really “listening”, we reach a level of Ma’at that readies us for ritual. Right your wrongs later. File your taxes later. Polish off the plot of your novel later. Right now, we have to pray.
When I think about purity, it is (a) a state of ”mindfulness” as well as a state of “I feel affirmed and contented with myself, but I’m still humble.”; (b) being energetically clean,and (c) a state of physical cleanliness.
Natron was used in Ancient Egypt to accomplish these spiritual and physical states of purity. However, I feel, personally, that if they had had my St. Ives Refreshing Citrus Body Wash or my Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Bar Soap, they would have used it. It cleans better than Natron did and it smells great.
Do I have Natron? No.
Are there ways to make “imitation” Natron? Yes.
Is imitation Natron real Natron? No.
Does Natron have the same cultural relevance to us as it did to the Ancient Egyptians? Probably not.
This is my “solution”: For regular work, I clean with my normal soaps. I use oils and, if I have time, occasionally salt or a salt/baking soda mix (some feel that salt and baking soda are a rough equivalent. While I don’t exactly agree, its an ok imitation. I sort of like to communicate, in some form, that I respect the cultural origins of the Netjeru. While this is not the only way or the best way, its an option I have choosen to occasionally use). If I am amping up for a big ritual or working, I will use herbs, roots, or stones, too. I ground and center in the tub. I brush my teeth and hair. If I’m strapped for time, I just brush my teeth and wash my hands, and ground and center. I may dry/rebrush my hair.
The oils and soap are physically cleansing. The soap, oil, herbs, stones, and salt(s) are spiritually and energetically cleansing. In case you haven’t noticed, I do have some “hold overs” from my magical practice that bleed into my bathing practices. Salt and Salt + Baking Soda are NOT Natron. But, to ME they produce the desired psychological state: one of feeling spiritually/energetically cleansed.
I’m very pragmatic. What I do in my practice is centered around whether or not it produces the desired effect. In this case, the desired effect is to be “clean”: emotionally calm, confident and self assured, physically clean, reflective, and open. The ancients assigned Natron the role of “that which cleans, physically and spiritually; that which preserves”. To me, soap, salt, and oils hold this role.
Caution: discussion of menses to follow. This makes some people uncomfortable. Be warned.
There are many Kemetic groups who do not advocate doing any work when someone is menstruating. Unless my period is really kicking (which has never happened), I go on with my normal spiritual routines. From what I remember, these “taboos” have to deal with leaking life force in the presence of a Netjer/et (on the KO side of things). Quite frankly, I can understand this. However, if I am feeling fine and am clean, I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t celebrate/honor the Netjeru. Personally, I am not out of sorts when I’m ragging. I’m going through a normal, natural process which does not impact my health or how I feel.
Part of me also feels that this “taboo” is rooted in the tendency to associate menses with being “dirty”. Seeing as it happens on a regular schedule, is beyond my control AND is a reminder that I am a healthy member of my sex, I don’t personally see why it should hinder my spiritual schedule. The ancients may have well stuck to this taboo. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. I feel that my right to participate in spiritual activities is not encumbered by my menstruation. I don’t stink. I’m not bleeding everywhere like a stuck pig.
And what about this conundrum: If you are a transgendered individual, where does this menstruation taboo leave you?? I try to avoid spiritual practices that place others in this predicament when possible, even if they aren’t affected by my personal practices (as they obviously aren’t in this case).
The Gods are aspects of Nature. My cycle is a part of Nature. I don’t think my cycle makes me impure or dirty. You could argue that poop is a part of nature, but that it is ritually unclean. Yes, I would agree. But poop has a higher chance of making us very sick. And honestly, poop is just food which has been broken down into what for our bodies are waste products with a little bacteria added. Yes, we think its gross. Yes, I think its ritually impure too. No, I do not equate blood with poop.
Candles and Incense
Speaking of poop, some incense manufacturers use urea and/or cow dung to manufacture their incense products. Manufacturers are also less open to telling you their manufacturing processes. In general, I try to shy away from using incense that does NOT tell me how their incense is made. I am a fan of Shoyeido and Morning Star, both of which are Japanese. I know exactly what’s in the Shoyeido: it’s on the box. A friend of mine (whose word I put much stock in) told me that Japanese incenses typically have no animal products in them as Japanese ceremonies also have high/similar purity standards? But I’m only *pretty* sure, so you may want to take that with a grain of Natron *snickers*
As far as candles go: I opt for Beeswax. I would allow Soywax on my altar as well, but I like beeswax and it was something that was used in Ancient Egypt (though not as a candle). I also like cotton wicks. Paraffin wax supposedly releases carcinogens into the air and is made from a by product/waste product of the petroleum industry. Some candles may be soy or beeswax, but may also contain some paraffin wax. I just bought some tea lights from Bluecorn Naturals; their candles are 100% beeswax.