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 Birth of Wesir: Epogomenal Day 2 + Lammas

If yesterday’s theme was that of confidence, strategy, and diplomacy, today’s theme, for me, was that of sacrifice.

Today is also Lammas, and I did something of a slight “combo” – capitalizing on Wesir’s role as Lord of Grain to celebrate Wesir’s birth and Lammas together. It was a little odd to celebrate his birth on one hand while acknowledging the fact that he dies and is established as King in the Duat eventually in the same day…but for this moment in my life, it works. Especially given the fact that in my neck of the woods, it still is and feels very much like late summer. Its unfathomably hot and humid. Everything is crazy green…but my cucumbers are coming along swell, and other people have already harvested plenty of tomatoes. Its the peak of life for many critters and plants, and the harvests have been arriving for a while in this temperate zone.

But, the days are shortening, and the summer fruits will soon give way to their autumnal cousins. Wesir is the certainly the god of life, but there’s also a foreboding reminder playing in the background…the memory that life and death are cycles, not static states. The process of one giving way to the other. The promise of bread in a field of ripening wheat. 

I am a few months away from a huge comprehensive exam, one that requires memories numerous citations and article summaries in order to create a handful of essays over the span of 6, 8-hour days. If Heru-Wer pressed me to believe in my ability to do it, Wesir pressed me to sacrifice. Specifically, the sacrifice in my time (and, honestly, at least a little bit if not more of my well-being) and efforts to studying is due. On top of everything else I have, I am to spend about 5 hours a day, each day, until mid-November studying for this exam. Its a tall order on top of a 40+ hour work week, but its got to be done.

Year in and year out, as I see it, Wesir sacrifices himself for all of us. Plants and crops are planted, sprout, bloom, and ripen their fruits, simply to sacrifice those fruits, seemingly, to other animals for food, or the ground. But that sacrifice is not for naught, because it perpetuates the species or feeds other species. Wesir was established as King of the Duat, and in the mythology, this meant “a place for the Akhu”. It meant the King (and eventually, anyone else) could live like him. I don’t necessarily believe that verbatim, but the metaphor is endearing – the old gives birth to the new; without sacrifice, little survives.

O Wesir, you who sacrifice for others, teach me to sacrifice for myself.

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

 

An offering to the pine

The past two days have been days of realization.

We have a very big test coming up, and I have the next 7 months to study for it. While this seems like more than enough time, the task is large and my career (and everything I’ve put into it for the past year and a half, including my savings account) rests upon its outcome. Starting to focus on this task has been difficult, as the other things on my plate are not leaving. I still have obligations at school and at work. Other people are are affected by the decisions and efforts I put forth…people who are in the same boat as me.

My adviser discussed with me my ability to take some things off of the plate today. I know it has to be done, but it’s hard to let go. I don’t want to let others down, and I want to amass as much experience as I can. But, I know he’s right. I have to finish a research paper (which is akin to a thesis which replaces the proposal and defense with an open and continuous dialogue [which can feel like a continuous proposal and defense at times]) in order to qualify to take the exam (whose date is not movable). This paper takes a lot of time and is included in the school obligations.

I sat outside today to polish off my literature review and refine my methods section. And I was reminded of something else entirely about mid-way. The smell of grass and sun and shade mingling with the sounds of AC units and traffic reminded me of the summers and springs of my childhood. I remembered sitting and playing in the grass, letting the shade grow deeper and darker until the grass looked blue in the twilight. I remember my mother calling from the porch that it was either time for supper (when I was at home) or time to go home (when we were visiting my grandmother).

It made me  nostalgic. It gave me a sense of comfort, a sense of joy. It made me happy. But why was that? Was I running from the work I aimed to do (totally possible – when I’m not doing things a week in advance I am procrastinating with the best of them)? Was I longing for a simplicity that I since lost? I don’t think so.

So I put my work aside and sat in the grass, a grass which was much less uniform and much more diverse when you are out among its blades. There were different types of plants and flowers which from afar all seem a bright green homogeneous blanket of foliage. But from the intimacy afforded by my new proximity, it was revealed that this blanket was really a host of clover, toadstools, butter cups yet to bloom, “yard grass”, and lots of things I couldn’t identify. And it reminded me of the grass I used to play with as a girl. So that’s what I did.

I took a pine cone from the tree near my house and started to decorate it with the leaves and clovers nearby. I plucked a buttercup from a plant that had another to spare and then realized that it wasn’t the most ecologically-conscious thing to do, so I made it the last addition. This started a spiral of thoughts about how connected we all our in our ecosystems, how much the land gives to us, how much we take (either benevolently or by force) and how the ripples of our actions chisel out our futures in the passage of time. For example, the tree near my home gives me shade, which lowers my (sometimes obnoxiously high despite all my efforts) electricity bill, gives me oxygen, and drops the pine cones I use for fall decorations and fires.

And I think of how lovely it is in the world, and how nice it is to have a space to work outside. Which starts to bring me back to my nostalgia. It is then that I realize that my memories of childhood summers and my momma’s voice remind me of a time when I was very happy. While I cherish that happiness (and everyone that aided in the creation of that happiness), I also have happiness now. It’s the sun and grass and world around me that connects the happiness that founded me to the happiness I am currently building, with my own efforts (after having “escaped” a time and mindset of being unhappy).

A happiness I am building…which reminds me again of the work I had temporarily forsaken to reminisce. It reminded me of the present, of which I should be mindful. At the moment, I found myself needing to work but also a blip in a beautiful world, sitting near the tree shadowing my home. When I was “back home”, I used to connect to the trees there, thinking of their age and strength and function. So I connected to this one. I let it be a god in my world.

It is older than I am. It stands stationary, guarding my home, not intentional, but as a byproduct of its life. It waits. It watches the time pass. Day by day, it grows a little. It may stand a good 40-50 feet tall now, but once upon a time it was only a seed from the cone I held. It got there over time. It is patient. And while it probably doesn’t look forward to or anticipate the future in any of the ways I do, that’s a good lesson to learn…to wait.  To grow incrementally. To make strides each day, small as they are, to reach a goal. I wonder, I ask, “Has anyone every prayed to you? Cause I think I might. You have a lot to say.” It doesn’t need to say anything though. Its speech is its standing. It answers my prayers with its sway and its sap and its stance.

I have to know when to get rid of things that aren’t so useful at the moment (like the pine sheds its cones), and then just do a portion of the work, each day, a little at a time (like the pine grows a little each day).

I left my decorated pine cone at the bottom of the tree. I thanked it for its lesson and its shade and beauty. And I left it towering over the hill, looming over the road, peering over my roof, to return to my work. But its roots are near (and likely beneath) the foundation of my apartment. Its branches are over my head, and its teaching is in my heart. Its smell, the piney musk, it’s still on my clothes and feet. It gives and gives, with its leaves and its stance and its metaphors and spirit. So today I tried to give a little bit back; I offered to it that pine cone which it dropped so casually in its efforts to reproduce. But, even in attempting to be generous, I think I still took home more than what I offered.

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.

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.

 

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.