Set and Aset: Epagomenal Days 3 & 4

This post will have to be short, but suffice it to say:

Set’s day was one of finding my passion in my work once more, while realizing the things I would have to cut out or away in order to succeed.

Aset is a determined, disciplined Queen who helps the world move through successions. I will need to be determined as ever if I’m to get through the next 6 months. I’ll also need some healing…no sacrifice, cutting away, and intense passion comes without a drain in energy.

This day, Aset’s birthday, felt very special to me. She was the first Netjeru that came to me, and my relationship with her has changed over the year. It is now at its most complex, but also at, what I think, is its most genuine. I see her in myself, in strong women, in rain, and in green plants. Maker of Kings, may we all become Kings.

Dua Aset! Dua Set!

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The (Re)Birth of Heru-Wer: Epogomenal Day 1

My Epogomenal Days have started (I’m celebrating Wep Ronpet on August 5th). Today, I learned a bit more about this Netjer, and how I personally allow myself to “tweak” the gods to fit my own time and space in the universe. *UPG ahead, folks*

I’ve had a great experience with Heru-Wer. Traditionally, I’ve seen Him as the forces of victory, confidence, power, justice, and the sky. But today, I tried something new. I felt the “push” to see Him even more as the sky, as well as diplomacy, a uniter, ambition, and a clever and cunning planner/strategist/thinker. When He arrived in ritual, these were the feelings, thoughts, and wisdom that were shared. I think the role of “uniting/conquering with diplomacy, strategy, and peace” rings particularly true because this is what our society needs most right now (particularly with the systemic racism, unjust justice system, instances of police brutality, the murdering of police, and the general misunderstanding and fear of one another that occurs in general in society). So today, I came to see Heru-Wer as a force to be reckoned with, one of great brute strength and power, but also a Name who knows this type of conquering has a time and place. I came to see him as  a Name of diplomacy, of talking it out, of listening, of understanding, of using wisdom and enlightenment to forward peace and unity. I came to know him as a Name of solidarity, of fraternity, of harmony. I came to know him as a Name of confidence, ambition, will, and discipline. I came to know him as the Uniter of Lands.

Heru-Wer is without a doubt a strong and fierce warrior, but his strength is not limited to the battle ax or the chariot or the sword. If anything, I think I’ve come upon the conception of this King as one who saves these things for when they are needed and first relies upon his brain and words (and the brain and words of others) to pave the path to victory. We’ve already tried brute strength and violence to solve our problems. Sure, sometimes this is the answer…but I don’t think that’s the answer right now.

The sky is limitless, open, and rests above us all…no matter who or what we are, the same sky blankets us. Heru-Wer is the day time sky…the one we all rest beneath, the atmosphere that protects us all from solar flares, the sky that gives us breath and beauty alike – each of us, without exception. We share the earth, whether we want to or not.

I know this isn’t traditional, but I am also of the mind set that (1) the Netjeru can change over time; while the core of what they are remains stable, the fringe can morph…mainly because our understanding morphs. Heru-Wer is primarily a Netjer of victory, kingship, and power to me – a uniter of people. This core is the same, but the understanding has shifted. In ritual, when he comes to me, he is a strong and confident force, but it is tempered with eloquence, logic, and inspiration. (2) The Netjeru can bring us what we need. I feel, right now, in the US, we don’t need war or a great conquerer. We need understanding and boldness without fear. More than anything, we need to cast away our unhealthy relationships with power. (3) I don’t see the Netjeru as “big men and women in the sky” so much as they are forces in the universe/the universe itself. In ritual, they come to me as “people in the sky”, but I feel they are more than this, and that this perception is based on the capacity/attempt of my mind to grasp certain things. These forces speak to me in this manner during ritual – its how I connect to them. Because of the belief that the Netjeru are the forces of and the actual universe itself combined with the ways in which I perceive those forces, I feel free to allow these new, nontraditional associations to become incorporated into my path, especially when I feel they better serve to provide wisdom in our current situations.

Dua O Distant One, King of the Sky, Uniter of Lands! Here is the prayer I wrote during my rite today.

Distant Hawk with bright eyes
who feathers are mottled with cloud and wind
who scales the heights of the airy dome above us
who rests beneath his mother, Nut
Whose wings cover the Earth, from horizon to horizon, and cast a mantle of blue
and white over his father
Eldest of the Five, King of the Sky, You are victorious in all your battles
ambitious and unstoppable, but peaceful enough to unit all people
Your eyes are alight with glory and cunning
what you will is done, Eternal Victor
The heights of your ambitions and ideas pierce the blue above
You bring together what was apart
You join all men in solidarity and seat them at the table of fraternity and peace
O Netjer of unmovable strength and power
Whose discipline and tenacity is a steady gale
whose diplomacy is sweet
who fixates on goals and achieves
I sing to you, O Distant One!
Just King!
I laud your praises, Heru-Wer,
God of the Wild Blue Yonder,
Lord of Heaven
He of Dappled Plummage
Uniter who brings society together

 

Integrating into a community: Bringing Geb and Nut to Beltane

So, back home (roughly 4 hours away), my pagan friends are getting together to celebrate Beltane/May Day. The themes will center around life/rejuvenation/fertility, but there’s also a strong theme around children (we will crown May Queens and Kings and they will dance around a May Pole). Among other themes, the myth of Rhiannon will also be recited/celebrated/reflected upon.

This circle is very inclusive. While the overall feel is pretty “generic pagan”, there are touches of secular, Egyptian, and other influences, however small or brief. The coordinators have gone through some great lengths to make sure people have a sense of ownership with respect to this ritual, should they choose. For example, everyone is invited to bring something sacred to the ritual and place it on the altar to be blessed. The point here is celebrating together. Everyone comes together to celebrate something we all celebrate and could have celebrated on our own (spring). Togetherness is emphasized by allowing for ownership, input, and voice from the community. There is always the danger that you could wind up with something incoherent…a jumble of traditions and mythologies and ideas that never really form a narrative. However, with focus and careful revision, I think those planning this day have created something that allow everyone to get the biggest bang for their buck, balancing the elements allowing for personalisation with those that provide a generic enough experience that most can partake in (considering it is a public ritual).

The ritual was written by a number of people together. Everyone was allowed to comment, suggest, or change the ritual. While a core group of people ensured that there was consistency and a lack of complete juxtaposition among elements in the ritual, anyone could contribute. The core group wrote the draft and revised it over time. As suggestions were made, they incorporated them. They asked others for input (present company included).

This allowed the group to decrease (hopefully)  what I think can be common phenomena in many pagan get-togethers can be. So many pagans do their own thing that when its time to get a diverse group of pagans together for a public ceremony, that public ritual just feels very “generic”, sometimes too generic to be meaningful (not always, but for me, usually). Obviously, there is merit to generic rituals…it means no one is left out or left feeling out of place by something that is said or done. In this way, it actually increases the likelihood that people will find something meaningful when you aren’t sure who is coming to the ritual. Without mentions of specific myths, symbols, deities, or traditions, you lower the chances any participant will encounter something incongruent  with their personal practice.However, sometimes we can feel “left out” by what isn’t said or done.

Obviously, groups that practice together as a circle/temple/coven don’t have this issue nearly as often (because everyone is working from the same paradigm). But many of us in this area (and I suspect others) either (a) don’t feel any coven in the area suits their needs, or (b) do not have many/any covens available to them period. Thus, a diverse group of people must come together to do what they can to feel a sense of community.

Wait a minute though. It sounds like I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth. I mean, finding others to practice with, period, is a luxury. Why whine when you experience a few things that don’t jive with you? I agree. Completely.  But at this time, we were given the chance to be inclusive (given the powers of facebook and our smaller numbers). I’m sharing not because “We will do it better and everyone should do it this way.” I’m sharing because I’m proud of my community, I’m proud to be a part of it, and I want to share the experience in case anyone is able to replicate.

So why does it matter that it speaks to people on a personal level?

Consider, for example, if one person, Peter, believes in invocation but another, Paul, does not. If part of the ritual involves drawing down the moon, Paul may not get much at all out of this rite while Peter is having a profound experience. If the ritual didn’t draw down the moon, Paul might feel as if something is missing while Peter is happy with the ritual. In both instance, someone misses out. But, to really feel the most connected/get the most out of it, the symbols and actions in the ritual have to “jive” with the everyone in the circle. The jive can be aggregated to the group level at this point, and have even better effects. In public ritual where people from all walks attend, that’s hard to do because people think/feel/do so differently from each other. I think this group circumvented this (or tried to) by providing voice.

The guy that orchestrated this really went out of his way to give everyone ample time and opportunity to say their piece. Maybe someone out there thinks letting the kids dance around the May Pole is dumb, but no one has said anything, so hopefully that means that even if it doesn’t “jive” with them, it also won’t kill their buzz. But I can honestly say that he did listen and try to incorporate everyone’s feedback and suggestions.

Granted, we don’t call in many different gods; I suppose for many people, that might allow for the biggest feeling of “jive” that there could be. I’m sure somethings were compromised to some degree. But you have to draw a fence around something. If we put everything into the pot, it goes back to being very generic and feeling as if all the elements are juxtaposed against each other. Instead, we incorporate different symbols, phrases, poems, and songs that pull from different people’s traditions. I certainly don’t deal with Rhiannon, but I do feel close ties to the overall theme, many of the songs used, and pretty much all of the symbols used. There’s a tension to keep between specificity and generality, and that tension is easy when the group is small and voice is used.

One portion of the ritual involves blessing/offering objects everyone brings. They are small trinkets that will soak up and serve as reminders of the energy we drum up and wallow in during May Day. They can be anything, so long as they don’t take up too much real estate, and they will all be placed on the altar with other offerings. This is one of the portions meant to allow people to individualize to their hearts’ content.

Enter the Netjeru.

I’ve already celebrated Heru’s coronation and the marriage of Aset and Wesir earlier at the equinox, so I was thinking of focusing on the love/products of the love of Nut and Geb. Nut and Geb are especially appropriate at there will be a May Pole. Most of us have seen the images of Geb laying beneath Nut, and the idea of seeing the May Pole as Geb’s manhood seems quite appropriate. Also, I think this celebration shifts focus from Aset and Wesir (who, though they are connected to Nature, deal mostly with the intersection of humanity and nature – agriculture and kingship are both examples of how we relate/respond to nature and civilization) to purely “natural” Netjer – the sky and earth, Nut and Geb. I know it’s not totally traditional to do things for Nut and Geb, but I always have incorporated them into my practice, especially Nut. I also like how the “sneakiness” inherent in the story of Nut and Geb (namely, the conception and birth of their kids) ties into the sense of mischievousness and celebration of love/sex inherent in Beltane (I know mischievousness might not be there originally, because its a celebration of sex and thus counter to the “naughtyness” we impose upon it falsely, but I like the playfulness it brings).

Had I thought of this earlier, I would have suggested something to the group. But at this point, I would like to simply (a) dedicate my time to Nut and Geb and (b) bring an item that I use for Nut and Geb/could use in the future when offering to Nut and/or Geb.

Community

Recently, I ventured to an Easter Vigil mass with a friend of mine. It was held by the Episcopalian Church in a small town, and one of the priests leading the service is actually a Celtic Christian who has been invited to use the church for his services whenever he might need. During and after this service, I had a number of reflections about the role community in religion and spirituality. My friend was also a friend of the Celtic Christian priest, and the three of us (along with the Father’s partner) ate dinner together. It was a small community of our own, temporary but sure. And it was at this dinner that I learned how some of the Christian communities within this small town faced similar challenges as the pagan community back home and the pagan community where I am. I suppose this post is my reflection on my own perceptions of a lack of “real life” community, and how I think these sorts of real-life relationships and practice can add to a practice (which is not to say that they are necessary for practice at all, only that they can have perks).

The Episcopalians in this town were few, and those with any interest or identification with my Celtic Christian friend’s denomination were even fewer. And yet, standing in a church that couldn’t have been larger than about 12 X 25, I realized how powerful group belief and practice can be. While the East Vigil is focuses on the Resurrection of Christ, it also focuses on the reintroduction of two very important symbols into the church building: water and light. During Lent, the water is taken from the church (for example, at the entrances, where people generally make the sign of the cross in Catholicism). I’m not entirely sure where the water is taken from at the Episcopalian church (as I’ve forgotten), but I believe they drain the baptismal fount (but I could certainly be wrong). The Pascal candle is also taken away, a symbol of light. On this day, the light and water return. There were many passages read that allude to these symbols – to light and water.

While it is  a stretch to say one could easily use this as a template for Neopagan or Kemetic services at this time of year, there are some parallels to the use of these symbols and my own practice: At the Spring Equinox, the light overtakes the dark. I associate light with Heru, Ra, and Aset.  Water, for me, is a symbol of rebirth and life, ushering in the green of the world (with the help of the sun). Aset, in my practice, brings life-giving rain. I see Wesir in rivers and lakes. Water and light are strong symbols to me. While these services were neither Kemetic nor Neopagan, the use of these symbols made me feel connected to those around me. Further, the use of these symbols to create a space and mark the passage of time was especially powerful. It was ritual at its finest – each symbol had many layers of meaning, and all the participants were transported to a space of reverence and celebration.

We began the service outside, near a bonfire. We lit the Pashal candle from this bonfire, then proceeded in the church. Within the church  was a pall of darkness. Only the flicker of the Pashal candle shone in the little church. From it, every member of the congregation lit another candle, and the warm light lit our faces but little else. When the moment came in the service to signal the resurrection of Christ, the lights came on, revealing the Easter lilies in the windows and the smiles on each others’ faces. It was a powerful use of symbol, even for someone who was not a part of the tradition. But I think what makes it powerful was that this experience is shared.

Before I continue, I feel its important to state that I do NOT think one can’t have a legitimate spiritual practice as a solitary practitioner. However, I do think there is something to be considered about a group experience. There is something that amplifies the space we create when we share the experience with others when done right (in my experience).

Gathered around the bonfire or exchanging “Peace” within the church, I was made aware of the ritual space that shared belief and practice can create. There was a moment when the children would open the doors to go outside in the middle of the service, and for a moment the outside world peered into our affairs: the music from next door, the pedestrians in the street, a woman waiting in a Jeep at the intersection. It felt as if we weren’t apart of that understanding of the world – rushing to supper or home or a party. Instead, we were a part of a different interpretation of that same world,  celebrating its underlying structure. But the passersby didn’t seem particularly interested; they either didn’t notice or simply moved along. Interestingly, we acted the same…the interruption was hardly noticed and not at all legitimized. The priest continued with his reading, everyone remained with heads bowed. It’s as if a boundary had been made by our songs and focus, and when the outside world was let in, it was hardly a distraction. With so many people focused on the same idea or purpose, it was easier to keep that feeling of, “Something special is going on, right now.” When the wooden door closed softly, muffling the music and traffic, it was all the easier to attend, once more, to the things in the church, if one’s attention ever even left it.

I do not get this feeling of “boundary” when I practice on my own, at least not very often. For one thing, if the outside world interrupts what I am doing, my first reaction is to safeguard my privacy. I’m still very closeted, and the last thing I want is for my upstairs neighbor to over hear my prayers or for the land lady to look curiously at my shrine or statues or whatever and ask questions I don’t want to answer. I’ve experienced this at public, group rituals as well. If we are at someone’s house and a new car pulls up in the driveway and we can see it, everyone cranes their necks to see who it is, if they are a friend or an outsider. If we are in an isolated park, though we know its public, there are still some of us (myself included), who feel the onlookers’ gaze and allow it to interrupt our affairs. They notice, and at least some of us notice. The boundary is weaker. I’m sure the fear of being discovered adds to this weakness, and overcoming this fear is still a lesson I’m learning.

Another is that, through these group experiences, I think, our experiences are validated, in a sense…well, I don’t know if validated is the right word. It provides a sense of belonging and a sense of shared reality. It’s one thing to feel and do on your own…it’s another (and sometimes more powerful thing to share this with others) And, I think, the boundary is stronger when its shared…its no longer my focus alone that makes this time and space special, its a shared focus, which is harder to break or penetrate. From practicing together, we can create traditions together, which can be passed from one generation to the next or from one family to the next. Sure, I’ve had great things happen on my own, and there are certainly times when only solitude can gift you certain experiences…but the same can be said for community.

I think this idea can be seen in Pagan meet-ups, public (or web-based) rituals, and pagan festivals – we are widely dispersed and often differ in our labels, opinions, and practice, but even still we find ways to come together and partake of a community. We are social creatures, after all. And we seek, I think, to build these palpable boundaries, shared experiences, and communal realities in safe and accepting places.

***

So this space that’s created…I don’t think it’s just during the rituals or services we do as groups. I think there is also a space created within the group that continues outside of formal ritual. Groups have informal social rituals (for example, Suzy and Arianna always text each other on Friday night) and traditions, either formal or informal. I’ve written about traditions once before, but this seems like another appropriate time to bring it up – I think traditions can be more easily cemented when they are shared with others. There’s something about celebrating with others externally that makes it seem even more concrete. Having others share in the same actions and profess the same commitments or joy makes it feel “real”. While we should never strive for the approval of others and while it is as real as you allow it to be, religion is socially constructed, and so it helps to construct with others. Even those of us who practice a solitary path, we are connected through others and we are practicing with others…via the internet where we share ideas, disagree or agree, and co-create an amalgamation of religions.

But the type of traditions we see in other churches are hard to recreate in the pagan community. We are more orthopraxic while they are orthodoxic. They gather regularly and have a long line of (often) bureaucratic records of their traditions. Some in the pagan community who belong to real life groups do have regular meetings and a long line of well-recorded traditions…but some of us do not. Some of us build our traditions slowly, over time. Some of us practice those celebrations alone. And while we can discuss it online with others, discussing together is not the same as doing together. What’s more is that without time and experience and the help of others, the layering of symbols (which I find, personally, to make ritual all the more rich) can be harder. At least, it has proven to be harder for me. For example, water can mean many different things in any one tradition. It can be tied to many different experiences and stories. However, the more time that passes, the more experiences and resources we can tie back to that symbol. The more people there are to connect to that symbol, the more richness they can provide to the traditions and rituals using it. A single person can certainly reach that level of symbolic depth…but I do think it will take more time and practice usually (two heads are better than one, sometimes).

***

Reflection on my Ma’atian Celebration: The End of Lenctene

This spring, have tried to further tie my Kemeticism to the nature around me and embrace some aspects of my akhu I once paid little attention to.

For forty days, I attempted to give up sweets. I gave myself one “cheat” day on which I could eat one somewhat sweet thing, like jam or a small candy. This went well for the first 4 weeks, but I ended up cheating more than I was supposed to. That being said, I have less sugar cravings than I did when I began, so I feel like I am on a healthier path, and I hope to keep some of this momentum going.

I also attempted to do a small, daily rite, focusing on Ma’at as the natural and human “order” in the world and on a value I have each day. This also went well the first few weeks. I spent some time away from home and was able to maintain the routine about halfway through the trip. It was hard to get back in the swing of things once I returned. The daily practice has its benefits, and the shorter time commitment made the commitment easier to keep. I also hope to continue this practice. I’ve done it before, when my schedule was less hectic. It was nice to see it can be done at this spot in my life.

As for the connection to my akhu, I’m not sure observing the practice of “giving something up” this time of year had the effects I’d hoped. However, my grandmother, who paints icons, has offered to paint an icon for me in the middle of this period. At first, I wasn’t sure. It would be a Catholic saint of my choosing, but I wasn’t sure I could really appreciate the gift, not being Catholic. Certainly I am appreciative, but I wouldn’t feel the same delight or “connection” to the image since it would be something to which I didn’t readily relate. I thought about asking for something with a “pagan” bent or history, but a friend reminded me that she likely puts a lot of thought and energy into these icons, and to try to circumvent those efforts could be disrespectful. My grandmother does pray with the icons once they are done, and she even gets some of them blessed, so I figured this was prudent advice.

In an effort to make the most of the gift, I looked into the patron saint of the Cajuns – Our Lady of the Assumption – and the patron saint of the diocese where I grew up – Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Both of these are visions of the Blessed Mother. She is a force I’d enjoyed and felt close to as a child when I attended Catholic school. She is very gentle and always seemed to evoke a mood of acceptance, mercy, and compassion. So, it was her image I chose.

This process actually got me closer to my akhu than my Lenctene experiment, as I learned about an entity in a new light and had to consider her in new ways. I am thankful for this experience.

At the same time, I have come to better understand and rediscover Aset, a Netjert I have honored since the first day I became Kemetic in any sense of that word. I’ve learned that despite all my trying, sometimes you won’t get it right until you learn to be open to experience and failure. I’ve learned that you just can’t control certain things, like when you discover a deeper meaning or when you will “get it right”.

I think that the whole experience, making sacrifices (not eating sweets), giving more time and effort to my practice this spring (through a daily rite), and trying out new experiences and perspectives (rediscovering Aset and being reintroduced to the Blessed Mother Mary), has made me take a new look at humility and change. There are other experiences I am having in my professional life that are making me question the assertiveness with which I usually approach things.

So I think my take away from this experience is about humility, rest, and rediscovery. Taking a break from the old way of doing things, rediscovering what you thought you knew (and had eschewed), and having enough humility to learn from both.

I think this experience has also allowed me to put a few steps on some new paths – new ways of practicing my spirituality, new ways of relating to others, and new ways of relating to myself. I hope to reformat the rite I used during Lenctene this weekend and make it amenable to daily use. I also hope to take my new found openness and continue to explore myself.

It’s as if there is a spiritual spring as well as a natural one.

Releasing Control: Consulting, Strength in Tarot, Wesir from Kemet

Once upon a time, I stumbled upon a task in a meditation. I was contemplating Wesir, in his silent, eternal wisdom. I asked what lesson I’d need to complete the next stage of my life. “You need  to let go of control.”

I never realized it before, but the card of Strength speaks to this idea. Strength speaks of control and dominance, but not through aggression, exertion of force, or a utilization (or plundering) or resources. More

Rediscovering Aset and “Legitimacy” in the Pagan Community

*Some of the things here will seem odd, illogical, hypocritical. I know. This is my journey in overcoming that ;)*

Aset was the first Nejtert (or Netjer) to  “come to me”. When I took my first steps on this path as an adult, she was the one who came to me when I searched for a deity.

As a result, I did a lot of research on her. This lead me to feel as if I knew so much about her…but sometimes had trouble connecting to her. She was so large and multifaceted, I was very concerned about getting it “right”. There was a lot of discussion online about what she wasn’t: the “Mother Goddess”, Isis, a lunar goddess, etc. While she was connected to the cycles of nature, the cycles to which she was native felt foreign to me. I had trouble seeing her in the natural world around. Anything less than the Nile felt forced.

But my love and awe of the natural world was what brought me to this pagan path in the first place. This made me experience something of a disconnect…I could easily find the other Netjeru in Nature: Shu in the vast space between horizons, Nut in the starry sky, Ra in the sun, Wesir in the trees and near rivers, Hetheru in energy and drunkenness and joy. But Aset, the one to whom I was most devoted, seemed something not found in the natural world, but instead something that brought it about. She wasn’t the life all around me, but she made it possible. This still felt out of place. Others seemed to see her there, in the rain, in the twinkling of Sirius, in the renewal of Spring or the sadness of fall. But I convinced myself this was artificial…I didn’t feel the ancients (or any modern scholars) saw her as such, and thus to do so was just “wrong”. This didn’t mean (and doesn’t mean) that I ever though that those who see her in these places are “wrong”…in fact, I wanted to be someone who saw her in these places. But I feared that it was wrong, which kept me from attempting to connect to her in these places.

To boot, Aset was the ideally devoted wife and mother, two aspects of womanhood of which I was not fond in my youth. These two things felt like entrapment, and I didn’t want them. I struggled against these ideas because I could see no positive aspects in them, only the harm they did to those I saw attempting to fulfill these roles.

Yet there were ways I did connect to Aset. She seemed like a strong, empowering Netjert: she raised her son in swamps with little help, she tricked Ra into giving up his true name (and thus his power), and she was a fair opponent for her brother, Set. She had names like “Fiercely Bright One” and “Maker of Kings”. I was a career-minded young person, and I saw her as a Netjert that bloomed the potential in others. She was a Lady of Ma’at, and I was very concerned with living ethically. She was Effective of Speech, and I was a lover of words. She was Great of Heka, and I liked seeing her as a Netjert who commanded the world around her via words and power. But these things still left me begging for that connection to the natural world. I knew she was a Lady of Green Things and Life, but only for some reason, I felt it was inappropriate to see her in the essence rain, in the fresh green grass, and in blooming plants. I felt it was inappropriate even though others saw her there…other Kemetics, authors I was reading (scholarly and not), other pagans.

I think part of that stemmed from attempting to be “accurate”. I wanted to badly for my perception of her to be “right” that I was reluctant to see her there. I didn’t want my practice to be illegitimate, as I’d seen so many experienced people rail against the misunderstandings so many had of this goddess. I wanted to understand this interesting Netjert properly…I didn’t want to full of fluff and woo. I wanted to have right understanding. Because let’s be honest…the internet is a brutal place. Even though I’ve never been ripped a new one, I didn’t want to allow for it.

But recently, I’ve been learning to set aside how “legitimate” my beliefs or practices might be to others in the pagan and Kemetic community (to be clear, no one has ever told me anything about the legitimacy of my practice…it’s all self-imposed) and have tried to focus more on what I actually want and believe. For a while, I was fighting a great deal with whether I was a theist or atheist…even though I know agnostic is where I have traditionally always stood. I got tired of not knowing, and I got tired of the cognitive dissonance my practice was causing me.

I’m more settled now. I realize how psychological it all really is. I know that my perception of deity is different from others’ perceptions. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I view deity as forces in the natural world, personifications of those forces, archetypes/human experiences, as well as their own forces in the universe. And, recently, I’ve come to accept that they do “speak” to me, in a sense, I feel them as cognizant presences in my life and my world. They are both external and internal to me. They are real, and whether that’s objective or simply subjective…doesn’t matter. It feels objective, and the feeling is what I’m working with. I’m not claiming it as absolute truth, but I am claiming it as my truth. I told a friend that even though I know it suspends logic, I allow myself that pleasure in the name of peace and growth.

In conjunction with this new understanding, I have also embraced the part of me that sees the divine in Nature. When I started exploring atheopaganism, I realized I wasn’t celebrating my place in the universe the way I once did. My practice was always very Netjeru-centered, and I think I’ve done well to close the gap between the natural cycles of Egypt and my own niche in the world. That being said, there were certainly cycles in my home I wasn’t celebrating because I couldn’t legitimize it via Kemeticism, and doing it separate from my Kemeticism seemed “off”. I feel it was that way because, again, I didn’t want to “do it wrong”. I wanted to be legitimate…even though I know and respect many other Kemetics that hold completely separate religious practices from their Kemeticism and, in fact, felt that, in part, it was these people forming the community in whose eyes I must appear legitimate (yes, I am silly).

As I mature, I come to care less about what is formally “right” and what gets results. Other Kemetics were make their Kemeticism relevant to their practice, rather than making their practice relevant to Kemeticism. Why wasn’t I doing that?

So, I started to look at my calendar. I incorporated other (nonKemetic) elements into my Kemetic celebrations, and I started celebrating things that aren’t Kemetic while often still focusing on or connecting to the Netjeru during these exercises. I think my approach to Lent/Lenctene is a good example, but so is my celebration of All Souls Day, combining the solstice with “Moomas”, having something of a second, Southern Wep Ronpet on January 1st, and celebrating Ma’at at the two Equinoxes. I also celebrated when the flooding stopped here, and I enjoyed the first spring flowers, the first bites of winter, or the changing of the leaves in the fall in spiritual and ritual ways that were not really connected to my Kemeticism, save my finding the Netjeru in these instances.

I think this change in perception helped me when I read “Lady of Praise, Lady of Power” by Bolton this weekend. There were names and titles and prayers to Aset I may (and have not) seen before, but because I am more open to my own experiences, I have come to finally see as “legitimate” some of her titles. I see her in the rain, now. I see her in the warmth of the sun, and the renewal of water. I feel her in the forest and near the river, there with Wesir, reunited in my Psyche, finally.

Oddly, I felt guilty for ignoring these parts of her identity for so long. No guilty in a “sinful” way, but rather in a “Why did I deny myself this experience?” sort of way. My desire to be legitimate was hurting me. To feel her now, not only when I am hard at work but also when I am in awe of aspects of the world around me…it’s what I’ve been missing. It is truly invigorating.

As I enter new phases in my life, I also come to see other things differently…and some similarly but more maturely. I have a much more positive view of marriage, though I still think it takes work and effort. The same could be said of raising children, and honoring those who have made such efforts, whether willingly or accidentally.

But I do reflect on why I wanted to be so legitimate in the first place. I don’t speak openly of my faith, save for this blog and with a few pagan friends. I don’t get into very many conversations regarding personal beliefs in forums or online communities…so I was only attempting to be “legit” to myself. While I am grateful to have been exposed to articles and information detailing how UPG differs from ancient perceptions, and how fluff differs from historically accurate theories, I do feel that my desire to be “right” stifled my growth a bit. What’s more, I think I’ve realized I’m not really all that reconstructionist…but I’ve come to terms with that.

In the end, I think any religion should be about the fulfillment of one’s potential and an aid to peace. In all honesty, recreating history is full of conjecture in the first place (though, I do think, it is not ill-informed conjecture, and historians place a great deal of time and effort into their thoughts). What’s more, I am not living at that point in history, I am living in this one.

But people get very upset when you misuse labels…and that is something I respect. I think this fear of illegitimacy was born of this second parent – a hesitancy to disrespect or misuse others’ labels. But it appears that I am not the only person to see Aset in these places.

I do wonder, however, if I am the only person who has every allowed herself to be “shut out” from certain experiences out of fear of being legitimate. Authors all over the web and pagan community say to “Do what feels right”, but there is another loud (and honestly, accurate) group of authors stating that we should aspire to accuracy, in both definitions (in this case, of reconstruction, or Kemeticism, or of a particular goddess) and understanding of historical and cultural practices. I think both are right…openness is key, but you can’t spout your experience without a caveat that it is just that…your experience.

Would you agree to that last bit? Or do you, as practitioners of anything (atheopaganism, Kemeticism, other forms of paganism) see it differently? Do you also feel that we, as pagans, have a need to assert our “legitimacy”? I think some do, and I see it when people are asked for or display (even humbly) their lineage, historical knowledge, or other bases for authority. I think acceptance is something many of us need, and this is one way some get it.

 

Piety, Relationships, and What-if-I-make-it-all-up

Yesterday, I posted about whether the rewards of religion extend past what the gods can give us. 

And while I answered my own question…some things still weighed on my mind.

The one thing I am thinking of at the moment is whether piety/devotion puts you in the favor of a particular god. I said that I didn’t think this was fair. But. But.

In many ways, I see the relationships others have with their deities to be very reflective of human relationships. They wax and wane. There are times of distance and times of intimacy. Some deities take time to “get to know”; they want to see serious commitment before they really reach out. Others seem to embrace anyone at any time. There are those that are in your “inner circle”, and those that are periphery (like the girl at work you only ever see when you go to pick up your paycheck because neither of you have direct deposit yet).

In human relationships, people vary with respect to how readily they offer help. Some will give more freely of their resources, others are very selfish. And yet, unless people are at one extreme (Siddhartha Gautama, who gave away all of his possessions to mark the start of his journey to enlightenment) or another (Ebenezer Scrooge), I don’t really bat an eye over their decisions. They have their reasons for giving or withholding, and though I might not agree, their aid is theirs alone to distribute. Wouldn’t this same kindness, the right to distribute one’s possessions as one sees fit, be due to the Netjeru as well?

A pivotal question at this point is: Do human-netjer relationships have the aforementioned variations because this is the way the Netjeru actually operate, or because humans merely perceive them that way? In other words, Do humans influence the perception of the relationship so much that we actually dictate how hard-to-know/generous/interactive deities are? Or are the Netjeru really as “human” as we are?

For example…Let’s say John is a very passive, conflict-avoidant guy with low self-esteem and a reserved (but still healthy) libido. John is the antithesis of Set in a couple ways, and thus this lack of “commonality” may make it hard for John to establish a relationship with Set, even if he wants to. Set (or any deity) may (hypothetically) kick off every relationship with the same amount of openness…but the roadblocks stopping John from cultivating a relationship with Set dictate how easily this openness is perceived (much like if John met a super-sexual, confident, in-your-face human in real life).  (Forgive me if the example isn’t perfect).

A different example may be: there is a “cultural understanding” in some forums that Aset is a “tough love” kinda gal. Jarrel, who is coming to know Aset, becomes aware of this collective mental model. He also begins to notice that his relationship with Aset is of the “tough-love” sort (confirmation bias, yo).  In both cases, our human tendencies set the tone for our relationships with the Netjeru. The traits we give the gods shape our perceptions of and relationships with the Netjeru (one could take a very atheistic/agnostic view and assert that the Netjeru are entirely manufactured by us, anyway, and thus have very few if any characteristics we don’t give them).

In these cases, human-netjeru relationships mirror human-human relationships because its all we know how to do…humans can only go so far out of the “human box”, and the Netjeru may have to meet us half-way.

But what if this ISN’T the case? What is the gods really DO vary in how they interact with people (i.e. different Netjeru behave differently from each other, and Netjeru behave differently towards humans)? What if we aren’t perceiving these differences, but they actually exist? But most importantly…Does this absolute truth really matter, since all we can ever know is what we can perceive? In which case, the Netjeru interact differently with different people.

From these thoughts, the following key points arise:
(1) People have different relationships to different deities, and vice versa.
(2) Human-netjer relationships can mirror human-human relationships
(3) Humans vary in how selective they are in sharing their resources.
(4) The relationship a human has with the would-be recipient influences if and how much they will give.

**EDIT: I have to stop here to clarify something. When I say that someone is a recipient, I do not mean they receive physical things. I personally don’t think the gods can do much on that front. I’m speaking more to psychological things…awareness, insight, that sort of stuff. **

So, if human-netjer relationships mirror human-human relationships, wouldn’t the Netjeru be selective in their giving?

Which takes us back to piety (finally, right?). Those who have a more “devout” relationship may be more likely to to have more intimate relationships with the Netjeru, which would, for one reason or another, afford them a stronger connection and possibly more resources (whatever they may be) from that Netjeru.  The intimacy of the relationship may afford some the same benefits the intimacies of human relationships affords us. This could be because the Netjeru act (or are perceived to act) as humans in these relationships. But that’s not the biggest reason why this intimacy affords more devout practitioners more “benefits”.  From our end (the human end), a greater intimacy can allow us to more quickly “connect” to our Netjeru.

Following this logic, the “pious” are favored, but perhaps not because the Netjeru play favorites. Maybe its just because they have more practice connecting to those things which bring them peace, wisdom, and joy? Maybe its because devotion hones certain abilities or thought patterns so that we can manifest positive changes ourselves.

Reaping What You Sow: Does Religion Reward (Even If It Doesn’t)?

*CAUTION*: As I look back over this, it seems very Christian. I come from a Catholic place and a Catholic school system and a (mostly) Catholic family…and I’m fine that my practice still has some roots in this tradition (so long as the roots nourish). I think the theme here is, “Humans seek control in a chaotic world….religion helps humans achieve this to some degree.” I think this theme can be found in many religious or spiritual paths, including paganism. But if you feel this type of content might be triggering for you, please tread with care 😀

I was thinking of a church camp I attended as a kid. They taught us that by putting God first, you actually put yourself first (because you get grace and eternal life and all that jazz). In this light, piety seemed selfish: put God first, get good prizes!

So I wondered, “Would I still practice my faith (pray, meditate, give offerings) if I didn’t think I would get anything from it?”

I try not to think of offerings/piety as a bartering system. I don’t think the gods play favorites, and I don’t think it would be fair if a large amount of piety and devotion got one person into a more persuasive/lucrative position with the Netjeru as compared to someone without that relationship. I sometimes do acts of devotion to cultivate some spiritual virtue, but I don’t think I’m showered with more privileges because of that. I am not so ignorant as to fail to admit that some portion of my success stems from the many privileges I am afforded, which stem from being white and “educated” and living in a “first-world” country that allows me many freedoms and priveleges. There are definitely aspects of my life that I cannot control that contributed to my success. There are also aspects of my success that I can control. There are many things that I did (perhaps unknowingly at times) that contributed to my success. There are both things I do and do not control, things that I did or things that are simply products of society, that contributed to “how my life is turning out”.And while I am very blessed, I have bad luck, too… the Fortuna Rota always turns.

My opinion is that we do have control over our own futures…actions have consequences, and hard work, awareness, and responsibility can pay off. Even still, sometimes good or bad circumstances can happen to people regardless of the work ethic, level of awareness, or level of responsibility. Fortune or misfortune aren’t always black and white indicators of the correctness of someone’s choices. Even when they are, I don’t think its wise to live by the maxim that good or bad circumstances are a product of that person’s piety. Full transparency: Aside from the fact that I htink this maxim goes against Ma’at, I often struggle with whether or not the Netjeru can affect things outside of my own psyche (i.e. things in the world around me). Though two separate issues, they affect each other.

That being said, I am only human. There are moments when I experience such duress (or such joy) that all I can do in these moments of either fear or ecstasy is cry out to my Netjeru and ask for aid, mercy, health, laughter, their presence OR thank them for allowing me the pleasure (because even when it is of my own doing, as my accomplishments certainly are products of my own hard work, I still feel appreciation is warranted). Yet I’ve noticed that I do (unintentionally?) have a tendency to think (whether this is logical, ethical, or correct) that serving the gods, in whatever small ways I might do so, does allow me certain benefits.

I grew up in a very Catholic place, where novenas and rosaries and candles and prayers and fasting are given in an effort to win grace…and perhaps divine aid. And there’s a part of me, as illogical as it is, as unfair as it is, that feels that maybe if I do selfless acts of piety or charity, with the intention of helping someone else or myself on a particular, articulated issue…I can. That maybe these relationships (with my Netjeru) I’ve cultivated might afford me some benefit when dealing with stress or poor judgement or bad luck. That prayer and offerings and devotions over the years offer me something that can directly help in times of need. In times of true duress, I wish that this “something” is direct divine intervention… that the hand of the Netjeru can touch my situation and change it.

In times when I am more level headed and philosophical, I doubt that such a thing would occur…because in essence, it conflicts with my own belief: I don’t think the gods play favorites, and I think outcomes are the result of a myriad of causes.

Offerings, prayers, devotions…are these acts of both piety and magic? Do they direct energy and will in and of themselves? Are they a mix of spellwork and persuasion, convincing the Netjeru that a deed is worth doing while also psychologically preparing us to do mundane actions towards the same goal? Could a human even convince a Netjer of anything? (The 42 confessions and various stelae seem to say so…but that’s a tangent).

I don’t know. Part of me does feel that prayers and devotions send out energy. And part of me also feels that the Netjeru are often merciful, and that under the right circumstances, if you have cultivated a relationship with them over time, they might help you out in in whatever way they might be able. Maybe they can offer something when you show you really need it and are ready for it. Now, whether this mercy and compassion from the gods is substantiated in formal Ancient Egyptian belief…I still need to look into that. But honestly, while I don’t think they “live” to do us “small kindnesses”, I would like to think that Netjeru have some place in their hearts for us, if only because I feel they care for all of creation and we are a part of that. If anything, I feel that when we cultivate relationships with the Netjeru, we awaken a part of us (a part of our ka) that allows us to be…more aware?…which in turn allows us to gain wisdom from hardship and carry on with resolve. (*teaser alert*)

So…my Vulcan Mind tells you all that I don’t barter, but my Human Heart (or perhaps more accurately, my Freudian Id) obviously does.

So back to the original question: If the Netjeru don’t go around interfering on our behalves, would I still cultivate a relationship with them? If they couldn’t offer me anything other than the stories surrounding them and the practice I do for them, would I still practice?

…..Yea.

The biggest thing I get out of my practice is a sense of peace which allows me to better cope with all the shit that comes my way. It’s that “awakening” or that “connection to the Netjeru” I was talking about earlier.

And that’s the bottom line for me. That’s one of the biggest goals of religion (for me). Spirituality, for me, serves the purpose of allowing me to meet my potential, be “happy” (whatever that means), and experience a sense of calm. Keeping me mindful and aware of what’s important and CALM to deal with things that are stomach-churning or anxiety-producing…that’s a huge payout. And, frankly, its probably the most important, because it affects how I can change my own situations. Even in circumstances when I am powerless, it gives me a little bit of control over the only thing I can actually ever really control…myself.

Days Upon the Year: Game plan & Attempting to cultivate wisdom

I’ve been waking early in order to celebrate the epagomenal days. Yesterday was Heru-wer’s celebration, and today was Wesir’s. I think I may post a picture on the day of Wep Ronpet. I may also type up some of my reflections from each day and post them as small “mini-posts” (compared to the diatribes I usually post). I am pretty psyched. This is the first year I have a full and planned calendar beyond Wep Ronpet, and I have an awfully nice structure going as well.

Each day consists of offerings, praise, a short song for the occasion (no…its not “Happy Birthday”…not the traditional American “Happy Birthday” anyway), and a contemplation.

Recipe for Celebration: The process for creating and completing the contemplation/meditation is as follows:
– I looked at the myths, epithets, and themes surrounding each Netjer. I came up with 4 to 6 words embodying those themes for each epagomenal day.

-Using those themes, I wrote 4 to 5 questions for each day to guide my reflections on that day. The questions invite personal development. For example, two of the themes for Heru-wer’s day were “victory” and “courage”. From these, the questions, “What do I fear?”, “What are my goals?” and “Why I will succeed anyway(what are my strengths)?” were born. These overlap with the other two themes as well. Making sure questions address multiple themes ensures that I had only 4 to 5 questions, and not 50.

-For each celebration, before eating the offerings, I meditate. I contemplate the themes. Then, I read the questions, think about them, and write the answers on small strips of paper. I placed the paper in a jar I painted a sickly green (in my head, Apep/uncreation is a sickly yellow-green and/or blueish black).

-On Wep Ronpet, I will write the “positive” things and things that give me direction (e.g. plans to overcome any negatives) on card stock. I’ll refer to them regularly during the year. I’ll rewrite the “negative” things on paper strips and put them back in the jar.

– I’ll soak the papers in a little wine in that jar, screw the lid on tight, and write the major themes from the “negatives” with a black sharpie on the outside of the jar while the paper soaks up the wine.

– The jar goes in a ziplock bag with the air squeezed out (and placed inside another bag in case any rips happen). I’ll smash the jar and its contents with a hammer. Finally, I’ll throw the whole mess away. Execration complete. Enjoy cake.

Thoughts on cultivating wisdom. Today, some of things I thought about were “How can I cultivate my own wisdom?” and “How can I be more just/live Ma’at?” I came to the conclusion that wisdom is largely a product of (a) having experiences (which may mean actively seeking out experiences), (b) being self-aware and observant during those experiences, and (c) reflecting on the experience afterwards. I don’t think its a failsafe plan, but I think its a good place to start.  After some reflection, I also concluded that a large part of justice often entails kindness. I want to collect these thoughts and make a separate post on them later, but I figured they were worth mentioning now.

Self-awareness. During both today’s and yesterday’s meditations, I realized how much the experiences in the past year have changed me and made me aware of the full extent of some of my traits (good and bad). A different environment highlights different aspects of the self that were before unseen or peripheral. While we all grow and change constantly, the next year or so of my life will possibly expedite this process, painful as it may be. And yet, I’ve come to find that this painful pushing often lends itself to an overall well-being and sense of happiness, accomplishment, and confidence.

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