He Before Whom The Sky Shakes

Where is the point at which you say “No”?

Where is the place at which you say “Not another step”?

When will you stop and say that you will not tolerate the universe taking another piece of you, you will not accept being held back, you will not stand for this any longer?

When have you had enough?

When will you stop accepting being diminished and stand up? Where are your borders, your boundaries, the places past which you will not be pushed?

When do you stop being accommodating and start standing up for yourself, for what is right, for what you need to do, and start doing your work instead of everyone else’s, looking after your needs rather than trailing after someone who can give you approval, and having your life rather than waiting for someone to deliver it to you?

What does it take for you to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?

What will make you break the patterns that bind you, the routines that hold you back, and the illusions that show you there is no other way?

Think.

Now answer this:

Do you need it to get that bad before you start to move?

“My Path”

Someone posted elsewhere asking for information about “my path” for as many people who wanted to contribute. If this were “a short essay about your religion(s)” it would get a very different answer.

Do you know who you are?

This is one of the primordial questions. There is no other with your identity, your true essence, what we might call your ren: you are a name in the process of speaking itself. When you speak, is your voice clear and steady? Do you sing your life or declaim it, are you a skald, a garret-bound poet, an orator, a beatnik, a street-corner rapper with plastic bucket drums? Are you afraid to speak up, even though it means that this word, this name, in the poetry that God Herself has written will never be heard?

The Creator said “I did not put it in their hearts to do evil” in His name of Ra. You are not born in sin; you do not need redemption. If you need reconciliation it is only because you – like so many – have forgotten that you are kin. You are the tears of the Creator, like all humans; you may choose whether or not your are a tear shed in sadness or in joy.

You are wounded; within you is the power to heal and become whole. You suffer shame, you are burdened with fear, and you need to forgive yourself for both. You are one of the tears of God, and thus have the power of rebirth. As the tears of the Peacock put out the fires of Hell, so too can you. It is your birthright; nobody gave it to you and nobody has the power to withhold it from you. You are worth investing in. You are worth healing.

The Divine has many faces and forms, and can present itself so that you will hear. But you are obligated to listen. Listen not just in prayers and hymns and the lighting of candles. Listen in the flights of birds, in the chance meeting with a stranger, to the wind in the trees, to the passing sound of a truck on the road: all these are the voice of God. All these are the Presence. You, too, are the Presence, if you can only remember how to remember. There is a God with your name, waiting for you to learn to cry it out.

You are not alone. You are in community within yourself and beyond yourself. Learn the ways of your heart, yes, but also learn the ways of your liver. Learn to hear your own God, and learn to see the face of God in others. We cannot see alone; before there were two things, there was nothing at all, just the infinite, formless, hidden dark waters.

What came out of the waters of the Nun has form, has duration, can be seen, can be known… and has an end. To be is to die. A word has silence before and after, and so it also is with names. If you do not speak now you will never be spoken. If you do not heal now your voice will never rise above a whisper. If you do not reach out now you will never know the Gods around you, whether they appear in the form of a child, a tree, a sparrow, or your pocket handkerchief.

You are a whole being, if you can put together your pieces. You desire; desire is a force that draws the universe together. Love is another form of gravity. Hunger is another form of magnetism. The joy you feel when you witness beauty is another form of lust. It compels relationship, it draws us together: this power of wanting. From this we build larger things, not just the communities of our parts, but the communities of the cosmos. You build right relationship with yourself, with others, with the Powers of the Divine, with whatever you know enough to sing back a tiny piece of that name.

And if you don’t know what you want, you can’t have it. Who you are manifests complete with desire; that is a nature of being. What do you want? A baby, a job that feeds your spirit as well as your pocketbook, a new book to read, a chocolate sundae? Embrace the power of desire along with the power of respect for the divinity that suffuses what you desire. If there is tension between them, let it hum and learn the notes.

You are the temple of the god who is yourself. The praises sung here echo to heaven. You are holy ground.

If you think back you can remember.

If you remember tomorrow you will become.

Shrines: Beginning Thoughts

Okay, I’ve been pounding my head against more food theology all week and I’m not done yet, so I’m going to take a jaunt into a totally different subject. Shrine spaces and similar matters.

I’m expecting that I’ll be doing bits on and off about this over time, but since I’m not up for dragging a camera around (and honestly half my stuff isn’t set up because we’re still slowly moving in to this house anyway), I want to poke a bit at some principles.

One of the sets of working definitions that I’ve seen people use a great deal is that an altar is a ritual working space, while a shrine is a set location for devotional stuff. One can combine them, separate them, both, neither. (It is traditional in a lot of Craft lines to only set up altars when they are in use, but many people in those lines also keep shrines.)

My first shrine space was the top shelf of a bookcase. I put my icons there and draped a white scarf over the top so that the cloth hung down in front of them. I knew a little about the kar-shrine tradition from ancient Egypt at the time – enough to know that the statues of the Powers did appreciate their privacy, at least some of the time.

At the moment, I have a number of shrines set up (or partially set up):

Djehwty has the center shelf in a tiny shelving unit on the wall, under my current research books and over a shelf that contains, among other things, my current fiction reading and the notebook with my ritual texts in it. The concatenations of writings there were not intentional, but I realised that it was pretty clever of me after I did it. I don’t have an icon there yet; I know precisely what it needs, so it’s on my list of things to make when I have my studio set up. Currently it has a tea set, my pocketwatch, and a string of Mardi Gras beads from the Thoth wagon in New Orleans, given to me by friends.

Set has half the bedside table, separated from the other half by a knife (ritually related to Himself) in a red case. His icon sits on a piece of red velvet. It has amused me greatly that basically He sits on top of the sex supplies stash for quite some time, and I do get the impression that He finds it entertaining too. My pagan husband has suggested that I get one of the wooden boxes for really high-end whisky to use as a kar-shrine for Set. Unfortunately, none of us drinks whisky, let alone expensive whisky, so this hilarious and awesome idea will have to wait.

I don’t have a space for Wepwawet, so His icon and the sand-timer that will go in the shrine are tucked safely into a cubby.

I just got a flat surface to set up my Hetharu shrine, which means I need to unpack things until I find Her icon and the other shrine kipple that went there at the old house. (Been living here five months and finally I have a dresser. My underwear rejoices in finally having a place to live again.) Currently the stuff that’s in that space is my hookah, a small pile of scarves and floppy velvet hats, and the original art for the cover to the Traveller’s Guide. I know my Hetharu shrine needs some restructuring, and I have the space for doing that now, so I’m going to let my intuition guide me a bit on that front and take it as it comes. (I have a carafe that is associated with Her, but it lives on my desk to remind me to drink more water when I’m working, so it won’t likely become a shrine piece.) (ETA: I found and set up the commissioned art piece of Hetharu that I got from Ursula Vernon. So that’s a little more something.)

I do not have a shrine for Khnum. When I have a studio, my first project will be making Him an icon, which will live in my studio. I’m sure that will accrete more shrine objects once I have a focal point.

My office desk has two shrines: a little one to Ganesha, Who I don’t have a particular relationship with but want to honor, and my ancestor shrine. Ganesha basically sits with some books in one of the cubbies over the desk and guards my emergency chocolate. The ancestor shrine is based around an antique double-doored cabinet and currently has an assortment of ancestor-related minor artifacts in its vicinity. I need to hang a few things up on the wall at some point to make it less cluttered. (It is in the closest thing the room has to a western corner.)

I also have what I refer to as a working shrine – not dedicated to any particular Power or function (though it does include some feng shui eggs in a bowl of water), but as a place to put ritual items that need time to complete. For example, part of my formal training includes sometimes doing rituals in which I need to leave a candle until it burns out, or incense, or something similar; if the active ritual concludes before this happens, I put them on the working shrine. This used to be the base for the household shrine, which is no longer large enough to accomodate its contents, so now it’s Ritual Stuff Storage and that workspace, bridging space between ‘shrine’ and ‘altar’.

I also have the pieces of the old house shrine, basically dedicated to Powers who looked over my household and family and seeking their blessings and protection. It began as a shrine for Bast and Brighid; when I got pregnant, it acquired a blue hippo for Taweret, and eventually a Bes mask. When it gets set up at the new place, in addition to all of these, it will have a short Jewish prayer in a beautiful art piece we picked up in a visit to a really awesome Judaica store, which will mean that all the primary household devotions will be represented. These pieces are, alas, in a box, but the fact that they’re all in a box means that all of my current shrines exist in my combination bedroom/office space….

I don’t have altar space right now. Frankly I have been so completely pants at doing formal ritual since I got pregnant I don’t feel the loss, though I do at least intend to remedy this someday.

More later. With images, probably, and discussions of why. Why matters.

This is not as simple as it seems

I wrote “what does that mean about breakfast?”

I mentioned, in passing, the cognate relationship between ka and food.

Stop.

Clear your heart.

Think.

Ka is your life-energy, your vital power, the root of your magic, the thrum of your sexuality, your bond with your ancestors and the Creator Itself.

Think about this font of holiness that you carry, your double, your twin. Think about the ka of the Creator, passed on through generations of children until it places its arms about you. Think about life received from your parents, and nurtured through the gifts that they and others bestowed upon you with the silent whisper “For your ka.” Think about this sacredness, this intrinsic, fundamental sanctity that is the raw basis of life.

Now.

Think about kau.

Think about food.

What is your relationship with food?

Do you divide food into the holy and unholy, and say that you will be “good” and eat your vegetables to make up for being “bad” and having cake? This food is saved, this food is damned, as if the holiness of ka is not present in all food as proved by the simple fact that it sustains life.

Nutrition is itself holy. It sustains life. Those overcounted calories, each of them is holy. They sustain life. These carbohydrates, these fats, these trace minerals: holy. They sustain life. Those animals have ka power, which enables them to become kau; those plants have ka power, which enables them to become kau.

If you wish to love life, how can you hate food?

This is not simple.

(We are, quite often, thoroughly trained otherwise.)

(And now, for something completely different.)

In the unseen world, the Powers keep their many mansions. Perhaps you have visited one while you sleep, or seated in meditation, or chanced there when you happened to strike the perfect balance across the boundary.

Perhaps you have visited this one.


The path up the bluff is a crevice of steep rockiness, a fracture that broke the cliff’s worn, red-gold face without destroying it. Pebbles roll down every so often, rattling rock against rock on their vanishing way into what is too broad and expansive to be called a gorge.

The plateau above is a vast emptiness, alone with the hugeness of the sky. The wind talks to itself among the rocks and occasional desert plants, and sends dust and sand dancing when it is bored. There is no light but the distant stars, but the desert seems almost to glow, or perhaps it needs no luminescence to be seen by the soul.

Creep to the edge, feel the places where the rocks may crumble with your hands. Sprawl out on your belly like a well-fed hunting dog if that is what you need to not fear the height and the fall. Look down.

There are lights in the valley. There are hundreds of tiny fires, sailing on the river, spinning on the currents, dancing, the tiny life of a lamp set afloat on the water, drifting, clumping together, spinning apart. They are so far away, but from here every one is visible, for a huge length of the river, the way continents are limned in the lights of cities when viewed from space.

Each fierce little light, fighting out a little space of its own. Each beloved light carving out its space, held so gently by the shadows, cradled in the darkness as if it is resting in the arms of a lover. Each doomed little light, with night mantled over it like a hawk over its prey.

Shine brightly.

Becoming Tribal

I was having a discussion about priest roles, reconstruction of ancient ways, and so on, and commented that I think that people coming from a tribal-religion background in many ways have some of this easier. Their historical record doesn’t include entire cities participating in festivals, and stuff that’s built at village and family scale is a lot easier to put together the resources to approximate.

Which of course raises the question of how one might adapt a state-level religious practice to something that is more like a tribal one. And I commented to that, too, noting that I steal ideas from rabbinic Judaism.

And while that may be a hilarious thing to say, especially during Pesach, I actually think it’s a very informative one. Because you really, genuinely could not create modern Judaism from the Torah. Too much has changed in the world, and Talmud, midrash, halacha, all these things have grown up to navigate and comment upon those changes.

In the time of the Temple, Judaism was the religion of a nation. It was governed by people who also carried religious authority. (And the architectural symbology of the Temple itself bears no small resemblance to the architectural symbology of temples as constructed in Egypt!) The understanding of that religion had to evolve – through various periods of exile (“How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?”) and the eventual destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

I find that evolution profoundly fascinating. The priests could no longer do temple service in the absence of the Temples, and in the end lost power. The religious authorities were no longer priests, but rabbis – a word meaning teacher. Instead of having divinely appointed status and a particular holiness code, a rabbi had put in the word of doing extensive textual study, both of the holy texts themselves and the commentaries of previous rabbis who attempted to make sense of those texts and the changing world, making extrapolations and judgements about them. Schools of thought and consensus of interpretation arose over time, as well as dissenting schools of thought and dissenting consensusesesuses. (Seriously, the heck is the plural of consensus?)

So in modern Judaism, there are rabbis, scholars of the religion, who are not more authoritative by some sacrament (as a Catholic priest might be) but rather because they have dedicated the time and study to learn the ins and outs of these ongoing discussions about the nature of Adonai and Adonai’s Law. They are like lawyers, that way, differing from ordinary folks more by educational focus than anything else. They are, to my understanding, not more qualified to perform religious rituals in any way other than knowledge, as the rituals themselves may actually be performed by any adult (male, in some branches of the argument) Jew of appropriate standing. (However, the sacramental-division assumption-based culture would balk at anyone being able to, say, perform a marriage, for some reason … see also the decline of common-law marriage, which is a moderate peeve of mine.)

But this is actually important: there is survival here, even if there is no nation. There is not only survival, there is flexibility, there is meaning, and there is tradition. And it is built, not on the dictates of holiness, but interpretation and discussion among people who come together on equal terms and wrestle with God. The priest caste may no longer rule the roost by default (though you will run into rather a few Rabbi Cohens), but that didn’t kill Judaism.

This is what I want to do. Rather than having Torah to wrestle with and interpret, I have surviving ritual texts, notes, letters to the dead, and the surviving laundry lists of an ancient empire. I have the interpretations of scholars as grist to the mill. I wrestle with them. I argue with them, and with others. I wrestle, too, with the Powers.

And this is one of the reasons I’m big on my footnoting and trying to make clear where things are coming from. It’s not just a Know Your Mortar thing, but fundamentally that I do not have a superior position of authority. I’m not in on any secrets that you can’t be in on too. If you agree with me, fantastic: we’re building a school of thought and a consensus towards something functional, adaptable, surviving. If you disagree with me, also fantastic: the gods I know are gods not of two things, but of millions. We can fruitfully explore the differences in our interpretations, trade source texts, and work from there, making each of our lines stronger for the exploration.

The point is not settling the argument. The Jewish people have been wrestling with God since Israel won his name. It is continuing, and challenging, and learning more about the ancient ways – and ourselves – and how both persist in this time, transformed. And it is knowing that the way one group of us resolves this puzzle will not be satisfactory to another group, and that this is part of the wealth that we have now, now that we have lost the temples and won the space to build our own tribes out in the vast span of all the world.

The Ka and Etymology

There is one thing that I keep circling back to in all of my work, and that’s the theology of the ka. This is fundamental, perhaps the most fundamental thing to understand, so I always find it when I’m looking for important things.

You spat out Shu, you expectorated Tefnut, and you put your arms about them as the arms of a ka, that your ka might be in them.

– Pyramid Texts 600

So you see? The ka is there from the beginning.

ka hieroglyphThe glyph of the ka is a pair of upraised arms. Some have suggested that this is hands lifted in praise; others, and I tend to align with this perspective (not just because of the PT reference) to an embrace – whether of love or of protection – and thus a view as if from above.

The ka is threaded all through traditional liturgy and symbology. The entire cult of kings is built around veneration of the royal ka. We see Khnum at His wheel, shaping the forms of body and ka. We present offerings with “May your ka be fed” and gifts with “For your ka.” An ancient euphemism for death was “to go to [his/her] ka”.

To understand the ka, first consider word relationships. Etymology can reveal a lot about concepts that are considered related in the host language. (Further, the ancients placed a lot of value on wordplay and word similarities, even in cases where the words are not actually related etymologically.)

So the ka relates to, perhaps most blatantly, matters of fertility and reproduction: k3.t (vagina), bk3.tj (testicles), nkj (copulate), nkjkj (fertilise), bk3 (be pregnant, impregnate). This is also related to the ‘ka’ that is the bull, as in Kamutef, a divine title meaning Bull of His Mother. The ka is the soul of life, of vitality, of erotic power, and one can see this expressed further in nk3k3 (good condition of flesh).

The ka also relates to matters of magic. Consider ḥḳ3, ḥḳ3.w (magic, magic spells, yes this is that familiar word “heka”), ḥḳ3 (presumably a slightly different spelling or determinant, this one meaning enchant or be enchanted), ḥḳ3j (sorceror), and ḥḳ3(w) (the god Heka). Wikipedia translates “heka” as “activating the ka”, meanwhile.

The ka also has relationships with the process of cognition, with its related words k3j (think about, intend), k3.t (thought), nk3j (think about). It is perhaps here as much as under magic that k3j (speak) goes, given that one of the fundamental conceptions of Egyptian magic involves speech which evokes that which is intended and thus gives it form and being. Here, the understanding of the ka can get murky, as it is usually a different soul – the ba – which is usually associated with the mind. (Another word, ḫmt, gets the translation “think” or “to act three together” in Redford, perhaps suggesting a trilateral process of cognition, consisting of ba, presumably ka, and I would bet the heart.) But life has its own intelligence, its own process, and I suspect the ka’s thoughts are the primal ones rooted in life and magic, as the ka is rooted in life and magic.

But this gives rise to the ka being translated in times as one’s character, temperament, or even, with a little extrapolation from those, destiny and luck. But if we go too far in this direction, we start getting vague, and away from the ka that’s as concrete as your genitalia.

Another word resembling the ka is kau. Victuals. Here the equation is simple and strong: our life energy is fed with, well, food. This seems to be too obvious to state, but really, it isn’t; the holiness of nourishment is fundamental. We offer food, we receive food, we eat food, this is all about nourishing and sustaining our ka and the ka of others.

I will return to the ka over and over again. I wanted to be sure the basics were available before I started to go into greater depth.

Egyptian words and their meanings are mostly drawn from Donald B. Redford’s The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, specifically the entry on the ka.

Yes, I did spend time scouring the bloody internet to find the HTML codes for the funky transliteration letters. You’re welcome.

Purification and Birthgiving of Hetharu

So in my draft calendar for this month I have marked that the full moon is the Feast of the Purification and Birthgiving of Hetharu. This is of course a giant tangle of things, but. That would be … tomorrow. Woops. The full-up calendar notes include:

  • Large Edfu Calendar: Purification of Hathor on the full moon
  • Hathor Edfu Calendar: Fifteenth-day feast, full moon, great feast, birthgiving of Hathor
  • Hathor Edfu Calendar: Starting on 1 Shomu 11: Birth-giving of Iusaas, aka Hathor; Feast until the 21st
  • Dendera Hathor Calendar: Fifteenth Day/Full Moon: Great Festival, procession, union with sun-disc, three days
  • Dendera Hathor Calendar: 1 Shomu 11: Procession of Hathor, union with Father

Additionally, the feast for the first of the month at Edfu is the Festival of the Hand of God. (Kom Ombo has an Appearance of Heru and the Cairo Calendar has a Feast for Heru; Esna has a feast of many gods including Khnum of course; Medinet Habu heads the month with a Renenutet feast.) Large Edfu has a Procession of Khons on 1 Shomu 19. The Ebers Papyrus (modified to align its Wep Renpet with my Wep Renpet) has a Renutet (Renenutet) feast slightly earlier in the month, and it is worth noting that while her primary role is as a harvest goddess she was also considered a child-protector.

(Unfortunately, my calendar notes include a bunch of ‘look this up in the book’ for this month, and since I have to run off to the dentist real soon now I just don’t have the time to figure out what the heck I was talking about there.)

So. We have a birth happening at the full moon, with associated festivities. Since the primary sources for this are Edfu and Dendera, we can happily assume that the happy parents are Hetharu of Dendera and Heru of Edfu, and the resulting child is therefore Ihy. The full moon timing with the Heru association strikes me as an evocation of the power of the restored lunar eye, and thus a matter of wholeness and completion (perhaps resonating on the way two things bring forth a third, and from thence, millions). None of which is terribly informative about how to go about celebrating, though it does provide useful theological background.

The fact that there is a specific reference to the purification of Hetharu in the Edfu calendars draws my attention to the liminality of the moment. The ancients hedged childbirth with many, many spells and protections, because it was a dangerous time for mother and childhood (the Cairo calendar notes about half again as many unlucky days to give birth as lucky ones). We assume midwives and the community of women attended most births, and we have evidence of treatments to speed labor and treat pain and wands carved with protective deities, as well as the possibility of ritual unbinding of knots and loosening of hair to release the child from the womb. There are portrayals of women in pavilions with drapes of columbine or byrony flowers, which may be associated with the post-partum period and the seclusion and purification that follows it. One of my books noted that modern (or ‘until recently’) Egyptian women might take a post-partum bath in water infused with acacia seeds; the acacia has both astringent and antibacterial properties, and thus would serve to reduce haemhorraging and the risk of infection.

(Given the suggestion that menarche is referred to as a girl’s “time of purification”, I wonder if the post-birth seclusion is for the duration of lochia. It varies from fourteen or fifteen days up to forty.)

In any case, the festival suggests not only the birth of Ihy but Hetharu’s seclusion thereafter, possibly in a flower-garlanded bower, possibly after bathing in acacia water. (Note: the acacia has powerful ritual properties in addition to being medically useful in this context.)

Further, there was a custom of musical and dance troupes, called khener, performing for women in labor (which certainly provides context for how the Westcar Papyrus could have goddesses sneak into a birthing room by posing as dancers). Presumably poorer people did not hire professionals, but performed for their kin. Here again we see evidence of Ihy the musician, his presence outside the mother evoking the child through birth.

So: music and performance for Hetharu. If a Hetharu icon is present in the household, bathe her (with acacia infusions if possible) and give her a floral pavilion to take her purification rest within. (I would suspect that the pavilion should probably have been sorted out a few days ago, given the 11th through the 21st of the longest festival, but hey. I’m working this out as I go….)

Festival scheduling as always primarily based on Temple Festival Calendars of Ancient Egypt, Sherif El-Sabban. Notes on Egyptian childbirth rituals and practices drawn from Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt by Carolyn Graves-Brown, Women in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Watterson, and Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt by Lynn Meskell.

Shopping Cart Theology

Over time I’ve built up a fair amount of shorthand. This isn’t useful when starting up a new blog, as people don’t necessarily know what the heck I’m on about. But since I’ve done a post covering the hoeing of the onions, now: shopping carts.

You know how shopping carts work, of course. Racks of them stacked up around the entrances of stores, and you can take one and go do your shopping without having to carry everything in your hands, and then when you’re done, the shopping cart goes back in the rack.

And if everyone does it that way, it goes great. The system is self-sustaining with a minimum of effort. There are always carts available at the front, everyone gets what they need, and it’s all generally good.

But the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t always get done that way.

The shopping carts don’t always get put back in the rack.

Sometimes, they get shoved in the vague direction of the rack, leading to heaps of disorganised carts spilling every which way. Or the inefficiently stacked carts spilling out into the traffic ways because things weren’t all pushed together.

Sometimes it’s not even that good, and carts are left in parking spaces, drift into traffic, are shoved up in among the bushes, or are wedged between cars and make it difficult to open doors or otherwise do things.

I’m not saying that there isn’t sufficient reason for this to happen sometimes. I live in New England, and here is a truth of living in New England: the cart-put-away racks don’t get plowed. Even if the snow gets partially cleared out, there’s often a lot of ice around there that makes it a bit iffy. Sometimes people are running late. Sometimes it’s inappropriate to leave the kids unsupervised in the car for even the minute it takes to get the cart put away. These things happen, right?

And different places have different ways of moderating how frequently those things happen. A lot of grocery stores around here have a worker running around and collecting the shopping carts every so often and bringing them back to the return. Some have a setup where to get a shopping cart you have to insert a coin into the locking mechanism, and then when you return it, pop, out comes the coin. (But that is certainly not foolproof; I’ve heard of people making enough money for a meal finding and returning coin-locked shopping carts.)

But the system really works best with the ideal: each person who uses a cart returns the cart. This is a comparatively small amount of effort for each person, after all. And when all carts are returned, then there are no carts in parking spaces; there are no carts drifting into traffic; there are no problems finding a cart rather than discovering that they are all in use or in the back distant reaches of the parking lot instead. In short, that one little bit of effort not only keeps the entire system running smoothly, but saves, in the grand scheme of things, a much larger cost in aggravation and annoyance, especially since that cart in the parking space is going to annoy everyone who comes by until someone is there who has a passenger who can go move the thing or is willing to put their hazards on and move it themselves so they can park there.

We acknowledge the ideal system: each person puts their cart away.

We also acknowledge that the system is not ideal. We return our cart anyway. We may also grab an abandoned cart and pop it into the return on the way back with our own. We may straighten a mass of carts so that we can get our own in place. We may find that there are subsidiary cart returns in the far reaches of the parking lot where we can return ours (or find one to pop the kids into when we’re parked in the back end of beyond) rather than having to schlep all the way back to the storefront. We may support the hiring of a cart-fetching worker who collects abandons and occasionally empties out the subsidiary returns back to the front of the store to maintain the proper cart balance. We may choose to use carts that reward proper returns. All of these choices and actions bring the system closer to the ideal state, in which all carts are either in use or put away, causing peril and aggravation to none.

In short: we may follow many paths towards upholding ma’at. We get our choice.

Cart. Horse.

There is an interesting thing that happens with new converts to pagan religions, at least within my observation. They often get very, very fixated on the basics of esoteric stuff.

And I wonder if this is a legacy of the mind-body dualism of Western culture, in which there is the world of spirit and the world of muck. Or if it’s a leftover of that whole You Must Have A Personal Relationship With God thing.

But the questions, regardless of which religion they wind up in, are almost always the same: How do I find my patron? What if the Powers don’t like me? What should I do for this festival? How do I do ritual? What should I believe?

Not a one of them comes in and asks a question like, “Okay, now that I’m converting to this new religion, what does that mean about breakfast?”

Or “What does that mean about how to drive to work?”

Or any “what does that mean about…” something that is practical, present, tangible, and ordinary. Because religion is not about the ordinary. Religion is about the special. Right?

Wrong. It’s not what you do when you’ve gotten into your fancy-assed festival pants and are sure the gods are watching. It’s what you do when it’s just you, your life, your problems, that jerk who cut you off, that shopping cart left in the lane in the parking lot, that decision about whether or not to skip breakfast again, that moment when everything drops away and the work just flows like it could go on forever, the sudden hug from a child taking a moment’s break from dancing the day away.

But people get deeply hung up on questions like whether or not their favorite deity likes them back. As if those were questions that mattered. And that’s the thing: those questions don’t matter all that much. Those questions are diversions from the actual art of living.

Personal piety is just that, personal. Your relationships with the Powers are going to be between you and the Powers, and, like most relationships, will be effectively invisible. If you have a specific relationship with one or more Powers, it seems to me far more relevant to consider what that inspires you to manifest in the world than whether or not that particular Power likes chocolate.

And the thing about manifesting in the world is that you can do it even if you don’t have a relationship with a Power. That’s the foundation. It’s been the foundation of Egyptian religion at least since the First Intermediate Period, in which people re-evaluated the absolute Divine Right of Kings philosophy and started to write more like, “I was a nomarch blessed by the Powers. You can tell that I had divine favor because…” and that because included their works, their care for the people of their region, their building of infrastructure, all of those things that were actually doing in the world. Basking in the grace of a Power is meaningless if it does not manifest in the world – and I would suspect that if the Power’s work is not actually done by the follower, that grace will not last. Ancient religion is and always has been a matter of reciprocal gifts (and occasionally reciprocal threats), after all.

If you fuck up your relationship with a particular Power because of the wrong chocolate, after all, that’s just between you and the Power.

If you fuck up your relationship with the world because you are more concerned with soliciting the goodwill of a Power than feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, emboatening the boatless, and all of that kind of thing, well, your piety isn’t doing anyone any damn good, is it? If you can’t hug your children so they have souls, if you can’t manage the connective justice of right relationship with others, if you can’t put your shopping carts back in the cart return, if you can’t leave your job at work when you go home, then you have a problem with your religion even if you perform your formal rituals perfectly and lay out the offerings on clean white linen every day.

What you do in shrine is a relationship, and you need to do right by it.

But it’s just one relationship, or at most a few.

You have a lot more relationships than that, and they are all holy.