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!

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.

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.

Creating a Calendar: One Possible Method

I’ve gone quite a while (7 years) celebrating just a few, sparse holidays: Wep Ronpet, an Akhu festival, and a moment of reflection at the two solstices (while not inherently Kemetic, I am a nature lover at heart and always incorporate a few natural cycles into my practice). Needless to say, my religious year is a quiet one. During the year, when secular or Christian holidays were celebrated, I had always thought it would be nice if they had some religious meaning for me. Without holidays that are religiously meaningful, its up to the holidays of my country and/or culture to celebrate and remind me of my religious values or events via their own themes (which may or may not be directly important to me).

The idea of creating my own calendar was daunting, for the reasons outlined in this post. If you don’t know too much about the Kemetic calendar, I recommend you read that post before continuing to this one; it will give you a reference point. This morning, I FINALLY sat down and created my own calendar. For those of you hoping to do this yourselves, I’d like to share with you how I did it, just as one possible approach you might have at your disposal. For those of you have who have already created their calendar, if you have any input, I would really love to get it. My method uses some UPG and less strictly-reconstructionist methods, but I’ll tell you when that occurs and you can decide what you think. More

Love is patient, Love is kind

***This is a post almost entirely supported by UPG (unverified personal gnosis). Also, I am using this post to explore a UPG I received. I don’t normally attempt to stretch other faiths’ texts to fit my practice. I am doing so here to think through and possibly get feed back from other Kemetics regarding an experience. Please keep this in mind as you read 😀 ***

I celebrated Wesir’s birthday today. On the day of the Lord of Eternity’s birth, I tend to focus on the concepts  of Ma’at and wholeness (which relates strongly to enlightenment to me). I find Him to be a gentle god in many ways, a somewhat affectionate Netjer–deserving of the epithet Lord of Love.

Birthday Cake by WIll Clayton; from Flickr

Birthday Cake by WIll Clayton; from Flickr

I often pray that He teach me Ma’at. And for some reason, today, I also asked that He teach me love. It came up spontaneously, unexpectedly, as prayers often do. More

Trimming the Measure

In the Hall of Wesir, we are asked to defend ourselves before a tribunal of gods and even our own hearts in order to prove that we have lived within the confines of Ma’at. There are many lists of the 42 Virtues and Negative confessions. The declarations center around similar themes, but each list can be unique unto itself. Not all lists are mutually exclusive.

Even still, they give us a good idea about what the perfect man or woman could do to uphold Ma’at. No one is perfect, but we should have some set of values and codes of conduct which we strive to manifest. Many of these lists give the same virtue more than once in the same list, emphasizing its importance. Some virtues are present across many lists.

It is to one of the virtues that I turn my attention, particularly because it can be harder to uphold the further we get in life.

“I shall not trim the measure.” More

The Gods of the Land

As a native to the south eastern United States, it can be difficult to comprehend some of the deities or concepts the Ancient Egyptians conceived or founded. Where I live, rain comes year round. Floods may occur at any time, and the is no stark contrast between abundant greenery and red desert. The humidity is constant, and there are rivers, canals, bayous, and swamps wherever you go. Of course, the are plenty of other examples of environmental and even cultural differences between the ancients and my self, but I digress. When my aunt and uncle generously asked me to accompany them on a trip to the Grand Canyon and other places in the American Southwest, I agreed enthusiastically, partly due to my love of the natural world, but partly due to the opportunity to experience a climate and landscape something similar to my spiritual ancestors.

The first Netjeu I realized I had never really understood were Geb and Shu.

Everywhere are these mammoth canyons dipping and gigantic mesas protruding from the earth, monuments of nearly surreal size. I have visited the Appalachians and the Rockies, but these are blanketed in snow and foliage. Here, the bare rock of the mountains and mesas are naked in the thin air, born to the world and unashamed. The feeling of barren solidity is overwhelming–a secure stability that comes with shouldering the winds and suns of the ages. These mountains and mesas and petrified sand dunes and forests change, but it takes millennia. We do not see their transformations in our life times. There are areas here that have no greenery, and the pale golds and limey greens are scraped away by heat and dryness and stone. In their place beautiful grays and periwinkles are cultivated amongst the ancient sandstone and granite and jasper and sand. This is Geb.

And between these monoliths are only silence and space and air. Air that asks your chest and lungs to expand and stretch as you climbs the rugged rocks and sink into the sand. The horizon is blown open and dry – 50 degrees Fahrenheit is comfortable! There is so little on the ground, save Geb Himself arching up to reach His lover, that I am made aware of how large the world is. When you gaze across the vast openness from the top of a pile of rock (and they do have a natural tendency to clamber upon each other) the dust in the atmosphere creates a haze. Even still, you can see miles and miles through the light. And dear gods is there light!! Never have I seen Ra shine in such glory! Never have I seen rock sparkle (and it does so due to the quartz within it). The light encompasses the ground much as I am swallowed by the presence of Shu! For it is Shu in the light and space and air. Looking across the red and green desert, I finally understand how it is Shu that holds Geb and Nut apart. I understand how that vision came to the ancients. Here where the world is so spacious and only rocks are tall, all that lays between earth and sky is air and light and space! Never have I known Shu until this day.

And Set. I knew Set in some respects before today, but upon entering this red desert and feeling the soft and rocky sands slip through my fingers do I understand this Lord Who bears red hair. There is a seductive emptiness that begs to be kept company while retaining a lonesome ferocity.
And yet, still life prevails here. I feel Aset in its power to overcome, and Wesir in its death and rebirth when water comes. I feel Het-Heru in the joy people have, their laughter. I feel Her in the power of the Sun, and I feel Aset there too.

But I did not feel Them at first, because I have tried so hard to see them in my humid, green world that my heart was closed to Them. I had to stop and open my heart in the belly of silence, on the shore of Lake Powell, across from purple and white and gray and pink mesas and still, blue green waters.

You cannot understand this silence until it eats you. And it does eat you. You are in the belly of Shu, at the bottom of a vast dome of air. You are sitting on the cold, hard, certainty of Geb, the wind whipping away the heat of Ra. And there is NOTHING to hear save the wind. Nothing. Nothing but the voice of the rocks, and the heavy emptiness that secures your soul to this place.

Strangely enough…I know that even here, the Netjeru are present but not in Their “home”. I feel that. It is the Holy People/deities of the Navajo and/or Hopi which live here. And these gods are still well and alive and honored and worshipped by the people Who They came to. So while I feel my Netjeru are with me, I also feel these other, more overbearing presences which are native to the people and land. This is Their place. If this trip has taught me any spiritual lessons, its just how strongly land and people are tied to the gods. The Netjeru live in Ancient Egypt. They are born of that land and universe. It is a testament to Their love and power that They reach out to me, so many miles away in a land so foreign from Their own. The Holy People have allowed me to learn my Netjeru’s lessons on Their land, and I am honored for this. However, I feel I will never know my gods inTheir entirety until I visit the Nile. So, I must visit the Nile.

KRT: To live Ma’at

How does being a Kemetic affect your daily life? Do you do things differently than you used to because of your faith

How could my faith not cause me to do things differently? More

A Reflection on Nature’s Cycles

The environmental timetables of Ancient Egypt don’t always align with my own.

I do not live along a river in the desert. Canals engorged with a scarce and sacred liquid do not slather their revitalizing refuse upon my baked fields. The crops which herald from the banks of the Nile are alien to our land. Yet, one garden in my life mimic’s the habits of old Kemet’s farmlands. It is concerned not with the vegetation we grow in soil, but with the blooms and buds of society and intellect. Despite our differences in latitude, the routine of the garden of my work mirrors the march of Ancient Egypt’s agricultural calendar.

Like the Kemetic calendar, the school year begins in August. With each Wep Ronpet (New Year), with each Zep Tepi (First Time), there is a fresh spattering of students. Though it may not be my first time, it will most likely be theirs. Each new class comes with its own obstacles to overcome and victories to herald. Past mistakes can be fodder for an improved performance on my part.

Compliments of the USDA

Compliments of the USDA

Just as a farmer readies the fields, so must you ready the learning environment: make last minute revisions in light of the classroom population, teach the procedures for daily routines, and set expectations. The start of the school year can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to document or discover: pre-tests to administer, reading levels to find, groups and materials to organize, IEPs to consider. Furthermore, students must have a sense of “ownership” in the classroom. This means introducing, discussing, and creating together those visual displays (e.g., a poster of class rules) and regular activities which will serve as tools throughout the year. It also means establishing community resource centers and areas for the display of student work.  The first few weeks set the tone for the year. Students learn how to behave so that transitions are seamless and lessons are productive later. The first two weeks of school are largely for teaching procedure (from the teachings of the well respected Wongs (and this Wong, too!)). Easier said than done, but critical to success.

Akhet is the season of appearance. The fields are submerged beneath waters which forget their treasures upon the ground: black, fertile silt . In the first month or so in the classroom, you manifest your classroom community and environment. Your children’s most clearly observed needs, interests, strengths, and deficiencies come to light (which is not to say that they ALL come to light, but stay with me). You model how to act, speak, and feel. You attempt to make everyone feel included. BUT, you can’t take too long to drain the flood: time is valuable and there is NEVER enough of it.

The next season is one of emergence: Peret.  Once you have deposited your silt and the waters recede, you slowly sow the first seeds with the first lessons, assuming little and explaining much. Then, when we know where we are headed and how to get there, we are on a roll. The seeds you plant will sprout; if they don’t, you have to decide what is inhibiting growth and resow. You must tend to your students as the delicate heirlooms they are: unique but also similar, fragile in some ways, resilient in others. Yea, things can get cray cray. But by now, you are really in the swing of things (ideally…hopefully…ok maybe).You diligently monitor the progress, keep parents involved (again…ideally), assess your own performance, and constantly remediate, enrich, inspire, and validate your students. Grow, my babies, grow!

And then, there’s the harvest. The Shemu of the school year is any point when you realize how far your students have come, but the end all be all is whether they have grown by May. Did they improve in the targeted areas? Did they meet your objectives? Did they pass? What did they learn, and what did YOU learn? Did your methods pay off? Come summer, there is a need for celebration and enjoying the fruits of your labor. You use last year’s reflections to revise your methods, and in the sweltering heat of the sun, you can bask in the shine of your achievements (or shrivel from the lack thereof). It is my nature to get restless when I’m not kept busy; by mid to late summer, I start to get restless. I ache for some sort of work, some nourishment. I wait for Sodpet’s promise of those waters to dump another load of silt upon my banks so that I can begin again.

Obviously, the analogy isn’t perfect. There are differences in the school year and the Ancient Egyptian agricultural year, but the spiritual journey is similar. It is true that during Akhet, the flood waters brought the hope of renewal, but the mixture of heat and water could also bring disease. We have to be flexible with this symbolism in some instances. However, the crop (or classroom) renews itself each year with a fresh batch of fruits and seeds, which may well go on to produce more seeds (i.e. have their own children). How you grow the parent crop influences the hardiness of their own offspring. Secondly, a large part of my identity is composed of the success of my career, and I learn a great deal of life lessons in reflecting on my attitudes and actions in that domain of my life. As Ma’at is reflected in the cycles of the year, I hope to manifest Ma’at in my classroom.

In closing, I must confess that in August (hopefully), I will have my first classroom. I have experience teaching–though it is minimal and largely academic or vicarious.  Thus, the implications of this August are HUGE. Not only is it the start of a school year, it will be my own first official year as an educator where I am wholly and singly responsible for the failures and successes in my classroom. It is the Zep Tepi to begin all other Zep Tepis. It is the first beginning in a long cycle of beginnings.

511px-Hops_page_1371This calls for beer: for celebrating the accomplishment of such a dream, and for assuaging the anxiety that is sure to ensue.

****It should be noted that we can relive myths on the spiritual plane (and thus influence the physical world) when we enact myths through ritual. Thus, when we celebrate the creation of the universe at Zep Tepi, it is a literal start over–heralded by the rising of Sirius (aka Sodpet) and the (at the time) usually coinciding inundation of the Nile****