Building a Household Practice I

I’m labelling this 1 because I’m sure I’m going to come back to the subject, as it’s one of my primary goals.

In my post about how the Beautiful Festival played out in practice, I mentioned that building household-level stuff was important, that having the family involved and engaged was essential to me. So now I’m talking about ways of approaching the material to do that.

First of all, a recon note. I love ancient liturgy. (I wish modern liturgy weren’t so often crap poetry.) But for all that it is beautiful and central to the temple-oriented religion, it cannot be how household-based practice was conducted. Even if one assumes that off-duty priests were doing priesting. Because the simple matter is that ancient liturgy was always read, not memorised – that’s why there’s the term ‘lector priest’ – and most people were not literate. Religious practices that depend on being able to read would not have been practices shared by the overwhelming majority of ancient Egyptians, who nonetheless were well-known for devoutness.

One can look to personal piety as inspiration – that quote I’m fond of and have yet to properly source about how every Egyptian woman doing her eye makeup did so as an act of devotion to (or even manifestation of) Hetharu, for example. These things which are appearances of the gods can sanctify our everyday.

But. Back to building household-oriented practices.

I think I’m actually kind of at a disadvantage in this process, because I grew up in a culture dominated by (largely Protestant) semi-to-mostly secularised Christianity. That world in which religion is for Sundays and maybe grace and bedtime prayers, and maybe if you’re good at it you live the ideals during the week, but aside from that there’s nothing to do outside of presents in December and candy in the spring. This isn’t actually something that’s highly comprehensible to children. (Back when I first started attending church, I had options – I was introduced to formal religion explicitly in a context of comparison shopping – and the Catholic service was so incomprehensible as to be terrifying to me, with all the standing and sitting and kneeling at arbitrary times, and then everyone goes up to the front but YOU STAY HERE and… yeah. I wound up going to the notably more kid-accessible church.)

This means that trying to figure out how to mark festivals I have to go back to first principles. I could do the churchy thing and go lector-priest up some texts and recite them, but that – like all the standing and sitting and kneeling at arbitrary times – doesn’t convey either meaning or understanding. I actually feel that working out something my child can understand encourages me to find a deeper and more integrative understanding of each festival we celebrate.

The other thing I do returns, once again, to Judaism. My housemate is Jewish. This means, among other things, that in addition to my draft Kemetic calendar, I have the Jewish calendar set up in my Google calendar page. And whenever I see a Jewish festival upcoming, I look it up on Wikipedia and go to my housemate and say (as I did last week): “Hey, your parents will be visiting over Shavuot. Let’s get cheesecake.” Or whatever is appropriate.

Judaism has a lot of food-related holidays – not so much “this holiday is about food” as “this holiday is marked by traditional food types”, and I think that is an excellent place to start with kids. One of my defaults for major things I mark is to make bread, and that’s something that kids can help with. (A friend once commented to me “It’s so great you’re teaching her to cook so young”. I’m not sure what else I’d do with her if I wanted to also get dinner on the table!) I would put bread high up especially on festivals of Wesir and the ancestors (given His affiliation with the growing grain). I think for occasional victory and triumph feast days I would go for roast beef by preference, given that meat offerings are symbolic of defeated enemies.

Over time, we can build our own food traditions. This is one of my side projects (someday, the recipes will come), actually. The logic can come from festivals (cook or eat something with onions on the Day of Chewing Onions for Bast!) or their offering lists, from the underlying symbolism of the festival itself, from things appropriate to the Powers being honored (I made a cream-based soup for Aset’s birthday once), and so on.

Rituals can be made comprehensible and accessible to children as well. The Festival of the Lights of Nit has lighting of lamps and telling of a sacred story mentioned as ancient practice. And I can tell you: the older kidlet loves to participate in light kindling rituals. She is vehemently enthused by the shrine that has a huge candle throughput, and loves helping maintain it. She was the one who remembered to light candles for Hanukkah most reliably, and I put together a children’s menorah for her using LED lights. Light a lamp and tell a story? Totally accessible to a two-year-old. (Just need to figure out the story and we are good to go.) The ancient Mysteries of Wesir involved, in part, making a corn dolly and letting it sprout in the dark; does anyone think that a kid can’t be involved with and excited by this sort of thing?

Meshing readings and more generally accessible practices strikes me as a good way to bring up children in awareness of religious traditions – once we have come up with appropriate readings for, say, a particular festal meal. This is, again, pondering Jewish practices, such as the seder; there are readings and songs interspersed with food traditions. A major family meal could be conducted this way, interspersing ancient texts with things that kids would understand.

Some things take a lot more pondering. Opet, for example, is a festival that orbits heavily around the power of the state and maintaining and rejuvenating the king. Superficially, one might say that in the absence of a religious dictatorship we can chuck this. But I’m not comfortable getting rid of something this major, and did some research into the actual practices and fundamentals of the festival. I came to the conclusion that Opet is a time for affirming and re-making vows, reconnecting to and upholding functional communities, and doing charitable works; children can be raised in practices that reflect these values.

It’s a work in progress; everything is a work in progress. Sometimes it’s a process of making connections – does ‘raising the djed’ connect to ‘raising the teret’? Both are raising wooden objects linked with Wesir. Can that be turned into something like a maypole celebration? And so on. Sometimes it’s a process of finding ways of interlacing liturgy and more hands-on stuff. Sometimes it’s not enough to do with the kidlet, and I go read liturgy by candlelight, but that always parses to me as something of a failure – not because I’m not doing all of the bells and smells and circumambulating altars and asperging and raising and lowering of trays, because I’m not doing temple-oriented procedure in the first place – but because I haven’t found a way of doing something that a child can comprehend.

If we are really reconstructionists, we are building something that the children are a part of. Neglecting them is neglecting the continuity of life from generation to generation, just as neglecting the ancestors would be.


6 thoughts on “Building a Household Practice I

  1. von186 says:

    It’s interesting that Jewish festivals/holidays have food associations to them. So do Shinto festivals. Food, and trinkets/items that you put up.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of these posts, and see if I can leech off of your ideas to come up with some that me and my SO can do.

    • kiya_nicoll says:

      I think that living, culturally-integrated religions wind up orbiting around food. Food is a primal thing, and so it’s the sort of thing that picks up religious significance almost by default. And it’s intrinsic to the flow of the web of life in much the same way that reproduction is (something else that accrues religious trappings!).

      • von186 says:

        I’m learning that more and more. I’m actually considering writing about how to work with the whole food/offering thing when your diet is restricted, since it’s not something that’s covered very often.

    • kiya_nicoll says:

      I think that’s a great idea. It’s something I should also be sure to touch on when I write future food theology posts…. (Pardon sequencing please.)

  2. Bastemhet says:

    Please tell me your next book will be about raising Kemetic children. :p

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