Blood Wounds

It’s not just mysticism that has me thinking about the Blessed Dead, not just the transformational cycle of Nut that leaves me pondering the mysteries of the Midnight Sun.

It’s other things, too.

One of my favorite bits of the Pyramid Texts is the bit where the Creator puts his arms around Shu and Tefnut “like the arms of a ka”, “that his ka might be in them”. Hug your children so they have souls. This embrace, this essential thing, passing life-energy and beingness from parent to child, is fundamental. (There are other ways we feed and nurture the ka, of course, but that’s not the point here.)

The point is this: this ability to live, to thrive, to taste and eat and love and fuck and work magic and all these things that are ka-driven – it’s an inherited thing. It comes from our parents, that bloodline, and the bloodline goes back and back and back. So many incarnations of a ka.

And that makes for complicated inheritance.

I went to the lab today to get blood drawn. I have an autoimmune disease – easily treatable, not a great worry – and we’re still getting my medication sorted out, so we’re testing my levels and all that fine medical stuff. But the thing is, this is something that is twined in with my DNA on some level; one of the primary risk factors is “does it run in your family”?

My grandmother had it. (Or something like it; she was on fundamentally the same medication I’m on, except mine is synthetic.)

And when I got my diagnosis, I called my blood kin – all of whom have issues that are comorbid with this particular thing – to say “Hey, I have this thing. You may want to keep an eye on that. Just in case.”

Because we come from the same source.

Genetic glitches aren’t the only thing we can inherit, though. And really, this is the easiest stuff to accept – the thing that can be looked at under a microscope, teased out of a blood sample, sequenced in the magic of our amino acids.

Wounds to the soul, spiritual wounds, mental wounds, those are heritable too. But that’s something that feels embarrassing, at times, or shameful, or irrational, or blaming one’s parents for one’s own flaws, or something else.

But.

I wound up in a conversation about “white nationalism” recently. And I learned something about myself there. I learned of places where my ka bleeds – not for my own sake, not for the sake of the world and my loved ones who have to live here now. It is an old wound, inflicted upon this soul before it was mine.

I don’t even know how to talk about it here, with its bloodiness and its scarring. The pain is not mine, but it is mine to heal, because I am numbered among the living. I have worked with this pain before – done magic, done heka, done witchcraft, done therapy, to try to pass on a ka with less suffering to my children. There is more to it than I had faced, and I am left with the strange awkwardness of it, the knowledge that this pain was part of why I feel I have so little from that line of family, because some was actively destroyed, and other parts hurt too much to touch. (When I first went chasing reconstructionist paganism, I went looking up that bloodline, trying to find the thing I was missing – and missing that what I needed was far more personal, entirely.)

It is not enough to put Death on trial, to condemn it for its act of murder and pay reparations to the Dead by giving them the life they lost in the new venue of the hereafter. That is only a beginning, a ritual declaration that wholeness will happen, not the actual process of becoming whole. Death itself, even in this most judicial of models, is only the last thing, and many people’s lives have more than one thing unmended. And sometimes the Holy Mother Death can mend more than just the transition – it is not uncommon for people who deal with the ancestors to comment that the Dead are much more reasonable people than the Living, having as they do a different perspective on life and its priorities.

There are other wounds than the fatal ones, wounds that need to be healed. They left their marks on our ancestors, and those marks have, some of them, in some form, passed on to us.

To heal myself is to heal my ancestors, and it is also to heal my children. If I am established, Wesir is established, this is the old chant, the old ways. If I am hale, he is hale. We learn over time how to mend ourselves, and perhaps we also learn how to offer the cup of that grace to those on the other side, who might find some peace in it.

If I can sacrifice two vials of blood on a regular basis to heal the physical legacy my ancestor gave me, can I not also offer space to stop the bleeding of our shared ka? To let my ancestors open to joys they may have been denied, to have forgiveness even for the things that wounded the living, to become whole?

I did magic to stanch the bleeding once. It is only a beginning. (And I think there is probably a chapter on this in the book I’m not currently reading. Among other things, other traditions, other ways of seeing these lines and the inheritance that comes of sharing the soul.)

We can heal. We must heal. And as we heal our ancestors, there is more opening to life.

I Lose Things (Holy Mother Death and Other Thoughts)

Last week or so I knew that I had big thinky thoughts about death and I wanted to talk about them. About fear and death, mostly, and there was something in there about change and transformation and probably the nature of initiatory experience (to become something new is to die as what was old).

Unfortunately, the whole coherent thing kind of vanished while I was asleep and I’m left with scraps.

Scraps, and Mother Death.

This is part of the Nut cycle, the Sow who Eats her Piglets. Her husband Geb is horrified by the way she swallows stars, her many children, devouring them, dissolving them within her, her many nameless children, until they are re-formed and born again, new stars once again named and visible and brilliant in the night sky. This happens over and over, and still Geb is horrified, even knowing that this process, star-eating, star-birthing, is always ongoing.

(Maybe that’s where I got to thinking about Holy Mother Death. Thinking about Nut, about the approaching gate of her teeth, that crushing and awful visceral image of death. But this death, also, is a nourishment; it feeds Heaven herself. A thing to think about.)

There are addresses to Nut in various texts. “In your name of Coffin”, some say. That coffin is allegorised, metaphorised, syncretically bound to the womb. When I wrote the concluding hymn for the Guide I referenced this:

Let me be a star within you
Held safe within your belly’s span.
Bind me together
As my mother bound me together
Hold me for millions of years
As her ten months held me.

What does it mean to die? The earliest Egyptian judgement day was putting Death itself on trial, hearing the evidence, convicting, and condemning Death for the act of murder that created a rift in communities, which slew the innocent. Death – subjected to proper judicial processes – was cast back into its place. Even if its depredations could not be prevented, justice could be had for them, the victim could be enshrined safely in the community of the other side as recompense.

And at the same time, Nut is there in her name of Coffin, in texts that were collected in the same places, written on the same walls, decorated with her body painted arched over the dead. Because this is the transformation moment, the Death card of the Tarot, the place where the old thing passes away and the new thing comes into being.

I wrote this sonnet – “Jackal at the Gates” – a number of years ago, and it is still one of my favorite pieces.

You fear to speak what rests upon your heart
As if the past is root to some decay
A feather’s condemnation of the part
Unborne, unwritten, never forth by day.
What was has been, what is is yet to come
That was must pass is cause enough for grief
But morning’s voices will be ever dumb
If morrow’s burnt to buy today’s relief.
They say such endings come but once a life —
They say, though those who say are wrong —
In every transformation lies the strife
Of Phoenix flaming out to renew song.
You live through ending with each taken breath.
Come, take my hand, and have no fear of death.

The thing about these transformational cycles, these bennu moments, is that we don’t know what we’re going to lose, I think. We know that something is lost, something is discarded, but it’s not exactly easy to say what dies and lies inert and what lives on, in any given ending. And the bigger ones, well, that’s a thing to shy away from, because the risks are larger.

Of course, there are risks in not changing, too. Of not taking Anpu’s hand and accepting Holy Mother Death. The stars get swallowed whether we wish it or not. The stars are reborn, again … whether we wish it or not.

These are initiation cycles. These are also the cycles of living, the rhythms of being. My sister prays for the lives that feed her life, for the deaths that feed her death, and here is that space again. The iron in my blood was the death of a star once, but it feeds me the air I need to breathe. What star died some five billion years ago that I could live? Swallowed up, swallowed up. Swallowed up and born again.

Another prayer, neither ancient nor my own:

“Holy Mother, in whom we live, move, and have our being, from you all things emerge. Unto you, all things return.” – Victor Anderson

Great Festival of Djehwty

I have been reading Revolutions in Time: Studies in Ancient Egyptian Calendrics by Spalinger, which I found while trying to get some information about the Wagy. This is a refinement of Parker’s famous The Calendars of Ancient Egypt, which simplifies Parker’s theories by discarding the second lunar-cycling calendar, but adds whole new and exciting headaches.

Usefully, the book also has some discussion of the Great Festival of Djehwty, which falls right after the Wagy, so I was hoping to find a little information about that as well. It suggests that this festival is linked to Djehwty’s governance of time and status as a moon god, which is something useful to go with as a beginning, and then it notes that there is no evidence of it ever appearing on a lunar-based calendar, but specifically and always from earliest attestation on a specific civil calendar date.

Some folks reading along were around for my little mental meltdown about that this afternoon.

In any case, I commented to several people this evening that I was half-tempted to, for the Great Festival of Djehwty, simply write a little prayer-verse that went something like:

O Djehwty
Governor of Time
Lord of Wisdom
On this your greatest of festival days
Grant me the fucking wisdom
To understand Your calendar.

And I went back and reread the section and…

… okay. Y’all are probably familiar enough with mainline genero-paganism to recognise the phrase “a year and a day”. Now, the mystical significance of a year and a day is this: it implies an ongoing cycle. It is not, for example, ‘summer solstice to summer solstice’, it is ‘summer solstice to summer solstice and beyond.” It’s the hook into the next cycle. You don’t do your year and then be done, you do your year and take a step forward, because time is a continuous thing.

So. Consider Egypt, where the 365-day civil calendar and the twelve-or-thirteen-lunar-month calendars danced with each other. A quick primer on how this works, for those people who aren’t all nerd-prepared for it: twelve lunar months averages to 354 days, which is obviously something that falls a bit short. Some lunar calendars just run with a twelve-month year (this is why Ramadan drifts in the Gregorian calendar); some run with ordinary years and what’s often referred to as ‘great years’, thirteen-month years, to keep things more or less in place. The Egyptian lunar calendar, like the Jewish calendar, is one of these.

(This is a little bit untidy, but things having to do with the real world often are.)

What does this have to do with the Great Feast of Djehwty?

Well.

Twelve lunar months is an incomplete year. That would be inappropriate to mark, enshrining a deficiency, a shortage.

Thirteen lunar months?

Well.

365 – 354 = 11. (This is why, if you see calendar talk about Egyptiana, they say ‘if Wep Renpet falls in the last eleven days of the lunar year, there is an intercalary month’ – that’s the size of the gap.)

The lunar month is a little more than twenty-nine and a half days. Call it thirty, because we’re all about the generous calculations here.

Eleven days short of thirty is nineteen.

Which puts us at 1 Akhet 19: The Great Festival of Djehwty.

This is the festival that closes the great year of the moon; upon this day the moon will be in the same phase that it was on Wep Renpet the previous year. While Wep Renpet itself marks the celestial cycle of the stars, returning Nut’s sky to the same position, this is the point at which the moon is, having completed the full year and driven forward into the next cycle, again as it was at that time.

The fact that the stars and the moon keep different times demands that step forward, not a year and a day but a year and nineteen days, a year and a return to the moon of our beginning. I checked my calendar; this upcoming Thursday, the moon will be a day before first quarter, as it was last Wep Renpet. The cycle of these seasons is completed.

As I commented elsewise, this is why I make irreverent prayers. They get me answers.

But they also give me obligations. As I have directed my irreverent reverence to the ears of Djehwty the Acute, I have been mocked in return, with the granting of the wisdom I so lightly requested.

Djehwty, Twice-Great, reckoner of years,
Who reconciles the balance and the scale,
Beautiful one, night’s Aten, silver-pale,
Who knows all things that lie in heaven’s sphere,
Star-counter, singing praise as dawn appears,
Who, hearing prayers, in wisdom does prevail,
This hidden knowledge chooses to unveil
The measuring of time is rendered clear.
The wedjat eye is filled by your command,
Its seasons set in keeping with your will,
The lunar horns and disk become your crown.
Your calculations define heaven’s span,
Your knowledge bounds the earth with unmatched skill,
And by your numbers, year to year is bound.

A Problem of Reconstruction: A Short Fictional Illustration

Let us imagine, for the nonce, that someone decided to reconstruct the religion of a certain group of my ancestors: the Puritans.

Now, this is a more recent period of history than most reconstructions, and there’s a lot of information to be had. One can dig into the efforts to reform the Church of England, associated anti-Catholicism, persecution of Quakers, Calvinism, threads of congregational thought, debates over scriptural interpretation, the importance of preaching, the nature of the family, the embrace of marital sexuality in opposition to the value of virginity as primary, the significance of education, and all these things in the record. One can read the actual works of John Calvin, of William Bradshaw (who adopted the term as self-identification and wrote English Puritanisme containeung the maine opinions of the rigidest of those called Puritanes in the realme of England), William Ames, or Cotton Mather. One can, in short, imagine constructing that “city on the hill” in proper accord with Puritan principles.

There is, of course, a fly in this ointment, with this vision of perfect reconstruction.

Puritan religion didn’t die out in New England. So there is a continuous tradition of descent from the separatists who built all those little white churches to, often, the current occupants of those self-same little white churches, with their plain glass windows and steeples with clock towers.

Those churches are currently, for the most part, inhabited by these most popular theological descendants of the Puritans:

The Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

– L. P. Hartley

Wag Festival

Look at me, cranking out a post for a festival over a week before it’s supposed to happen. It’s almost like I’m trying to actually be prepared for things!

On my calendar, the Wag Festival (Feast of Wagy, pick your variant spelling and syntax) falls next Tuesday, 21 August. There is not a whole heck of a lot about this festival kicking around, from what I can tell (and one of my references explicitly said there wasn’t much), despite the fact that it is mentioned several times in the Pyramid Texts.

The Wag festival is frequently linked in texts to the appearance of Sah, the constellation of Orion. Sah has reappeared from his seventy-day disappearance behind the sun already when Sopdet informs us of the arrival of the new year; he is now reliably visible in the eastern sky before sunrise. Utterance 442 in the Pyramid Texts (Faulkner translation) includes the lines, “Behold, he has come as Orion, behold, Osiris has come as Orion, Lord of Wine in the W3g-festival. ‘My beautiful one!’ said his mother; ‘My heir!’ said his father (of) him whom the sky conceived and the dawn-light bore. O King, the sky conceives you with Orion, the dawn-light bears you with Orion.” (It is likely that the reference to Wesir as Lord of Wine refers to the ripening of the vines that depended on the yearly flood, and that the appearance of green leaves on the “dead” vines was proof of Wesir’s resurrection. This has strong parallels in the Greek cultus of Dionysos, of course, who was also reborn with the vine – and the Greeks considered the star Sirius to bring the vine and wine. Reference, Mu-Chou Poo, Wine and Wine Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt.)

While Wesir may be the Lord of Wine in the W3g-Festival, I think it is fair to say that (in my whimsical declaration that there are Wine Festivals and Beer Festivals in the Egyptian calendar) this is a beer festival. The calendar at Medinet Habu has a total of 25 jars of beer on the docket for Wag Eve, and only two jars and four bowls of wine; for the Wag Festival proper, the wine offering drops to just the two jars, while the beer remains the same. This is supported by the contracts of Hepzefi, which arranged for procedures and offerings for the nomarch Hepzefi’s funerary cult; these offerings include a substantial amount of bread and beer for Wag Eve and the Wag festival. A First Intermediate Period letter to the dead, the Louvre Bowl, also has that association: “May one make the Wag-feast (wAg) for you, may one give you bread and beer from the altar of Khentamenti. You will travel downstream in the Bark-of-the-Evening (msk.tt) and sail upstream in the Bark-of-the-Morning (manD.t).”

In Hepzefi’s contracts, we find reference to loaves of white bread:

A white loaf per each individual among them, for his statue, which is in the temple, in the first month of the first season, on the eighteenth day, the day of the Wag-feast.

This is not the only white bread that we find associated with the Wag-festival, or, indeed, with priests of jackal gods; Utterance 667 contains this passage:

I have reaped barley for your w3g-festival and … to be your annual supply, your white bread of Anubis, your p3k-bread, dough(?)-cakes, and fnnt-cakes, O Foremost of the Westerners; your bread is warm, O King, in front of the gods.

Each lay-priest of Anpu (on the Wag Eve) or Wepwawet (at the Wag feast itself) that participates in the procession to Hepzefi’s tomb under his agreement brings that loaf of white bread, presumably – since it must be the same bread as the “white bread of Anubis” mentioned in the Utterance – as part of the role of Anpu in restoring and guiding the dead.

In addition to barley and that white bread, there are several references to the slaughtering of cattle to feast at the Wag-festival, including in Utterance 408 of the Pyramid Texts: “…the festal meal of the sixth day of the month is for my breakfast, the festal meal of the seventh day is for my supper, cows in suck are slaughtered for me at the W3g-festival.” The sixth-day festival is mentioned in a variety of texts, and appears a monthly festival for the akhu.

The priests attending Hepzefi can provide us with guidance for what we might also provide to our akhu on this day. They bring loaves of bread, cakes, and beer; they bring torches and glorification. The word translated ‘glorification’ can be literally rendered ‘to make an akh’, and ‘akh’ is a word with powerful relationships with shining light. As we kindle the torches – and to strike a fire is an act reminiscent of Zep Tepi, in which light emerged from darkness, that most potent moment in the First Moment – we illuminate our ancestors, bringing them light, bringing them to light, driving back that which lurks in the darkness, and enabling them to become akh. (See also Bleeker, Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal.) Bleeker also mentions that model ships were offered at gravesides at this festival, somewhat in passing.

Dieter Arnold, in the anthology Temples of Ancient Egypt, edited by Byron Shafer, mentions that new clothes are given to the icons of the gods at the Wag Festival, and the sanctified old clothes revert to the dead. This has resonances with the issuing of new clothes to the company of the sun in the Amduat, which happens as the night bark, after its victory over the enemy, is approaching dawn and the Field of Reeds. Transformation and renewal come with the kindling of light and the offering of white bread.

All of which gives me a model for celebrating the Wagy:

First of all, it is a good time to clean any and all shrines. This is renewal and light-bringing. If you robe your icons, it is appropriate to provide entirely new robes at this time.

Make bread! Bring bread and beer offerings to the ancestors. If you can do a processional with light, that would be awesome (the kids will love it). Regardless of anything else, set up lights in the evening of the Wag Eve and keep lights going on the ancestor shrine through the Wag Festival proper as much as is feasible and safe. If you have a small boat to present, it is a good offering to make in this context.

Glorify the dead! Make sure that your ancestors are renewed as akh! Make formal recitations and prayers!

I think I will base mine on Utterance 690 of the Pyramid Texts and Spell 83 of the Book of Going Forth By Day. Both of these verses are mildly adapted slightly from Faulkner’s translations of these texts.

PT 690:

O Wesir, the inundation comes, the flood hastens, Geb engenders. I have mourned you at the tomb, I have smitten him who harmed you with scourges. May you come to life, may you raise yourself because of your strength.

O my akhu, the inundation comes, the flood hastens, Geb engenders, provide the efflux of the god which is in you, that your heart may live, that your body may be revived, O god, and that your sinews may be loosed.

Heru comes to you, o my akhu, that he may do for you what he did for his father Wesir, so that you may live as those who are in the sky live, that you may be more extant than those who exist on earth. Raise yourself because of your strength, may you ascend to the sky, may the sky give birth to you like Sah, may you have power in your body, and may you protect yourself from your foe.

Oh my akhu, I have wept for you. I have mourned you, and I will not forget you. May you have your yearly sustenance, which you fashioned for your monthly festivals that you may live as gods. O my akhu, may your bodies be clothed so that you may come to me.

Spell 83, for being transformed into a phoenix:

You have flown up like the primeval ones, you have become Khepri, you have grown as a plant, you have clad yourselves as a tortoise, you are the essence of every god. You are the seventh of those seven uraei who come into being in the West, Heru who makes brightness with his person, that god who was against Set, Djehwty who was among you in that judgement of Him who presides over Ausim together with the Souls of Iunu, the flood which was between them. You have come on the day when you appear in glory with the strides of the gods, for you are Khons who subdued the lords.

Guide Artwork: The Map

(I highly recommend clicking the map image to embiggen it.)

Map of the Seen and Unseen Worlds

I think it’s very important that travel books should have maps. This, of course, is the map of the world, showing the location of the Duat in relation to more familiar territory.

The familiar definers of the Seen World, Geb and Nut, dominate the top half of the map, separated by the figure of Shu who creates space between them for, you know, everything else. Though they are held apart, their fingers still twine together affectionately. In front of them, the double lion Aker (whose halves are Yesterday and Tomorrow) governs the horizon, the place where the Seen and the Unseen meet.

Since the Guide is of course primarily interested in the Duat, that portion of the map below is notably more detailed. The regions are based in the travel portrayed in the Amduat; the solar bark departs in the west, on the left side of the map, and travels around the circle the long way to reappear in the east. (This also corresponds to the other conceptualisation of the night journey, as I’m exploring in the posts on the Nut Cycle, in which she swallows the traveller at sunset and gives birth to them again at dawn. You can see that Nut is oriented appropriately.)

I noticed when I was trying to build a mental map of the Duat from the perspective of what was written in the Amduat, the regions closest to the “surface”, lying adjacent to the horizon in the lands of dusk and dawn, were rich and fertile. Wernes, on the sunset side of things, is largely filed with the rejuvenating flood; the baboons praise the sun as it goes by. (The baboon, one of the sacred animals of Djehwty, is observed in the wild to raise its hands and cry out at dawn.) On the dawn side, the Fields of Hetep (that famous Field of Reeds to which the deceased aspires) are closer to harvest-time. You can see in the map all four of the races of man as conceived by the Egyptians hanging out and having a good time: Nubian, Egyptian, Libyan, and Asiatic. (As four was a number with a significance of completion, portrayals of the “four races” represented “all of humanity”; there is artwork with four each of the four races, so all of all of everyone.) On the eastern edge of Hetep, the turquoise sycamores that are the gates of dawn are visible.

It seems to me that most dream travelling probably remains within these closest regions of the Duat – Wernes and Hetep. This is, after all, where most of the folks that someone dreamwalking would want to visit hang out, as well as most of the productive and generative form. These lands are the most familiar and similar to the Seen World.

Similarly, further away from the seen world, there is a broad span of desert – much like further away from the heart of Egyptian civilisation, the shielding and perilous desert lies. To the sunset side, the snake and nightmare-filled land of Sokar, who is upon his sand, Rosetjau, where the sunboat must become a fire-breathing serpent to have a hope of piercing through the darkness. To the side of dawn, the perilous hour in which the newly rejuvenated sun and entourage must face A/pep and destroy it, which is desert because the great serpent has swallowed up all the water and must be forced to relinquish it.

Here be monsters – whether personal and intimate ones, as in Rosetjau, or cosmic horrors which must be faced as part of the community of gods. Various spiritual disciplines require crossing these deserts, of course, and I suspect everyone has some experience with being thrown into the desert – the dark night of the soul, the haunting nightmare, or whatever else – at some point in life, regardless of seeking out passage. Dreams can go here, but not usually pleasant ones.

These more accessible portions of the Duat are divided into the sunset and sunrise halves on the map by a djed pillar. The djed, a symbol of stability, is sometimes referred to as the spine of Wesir; it is Wesir’s governance that keeps this entire space in order. I don’t actually think that the regions are as distinct as this might imply, but there is a difference in perspective that changes how one experiences Wernes/Hetep and Rosetjau.

In the deepest part of the Duat, where it rides the border of Nun, is the cavern where the mystery of the midnight sun occurs. It is drawn in the charts of the Amduat as happening within a space shaped like a shen symbol, the looped sign for the eternal that gives its form to the cartouche that surrounds the names of kings. Here, the mystery within the shen is embraced by the ka symbol, suffusing it with life and magical potency.

These are abstract symbols, because the transformational experience of the midnight sun, the union of Ra and Wesir, is a mystery, difficult to comprehend without experience. This is the room of initiation, the heart of the journey to mystical enlightenment. I for sure haven’t been there yet.

The Guide is now available in ebook version!

You can get it from Smashwords.

You can get it for your Kindle.

You can get it on your phone.

You can get it … uh … pardon, I’m a little punchy and now I want to turn everything into a Dr. Seuss riff.

I will note: the print version is going to be superior to the ebook version, because the print version has Michaele Harrington’s awesome interior artwork. However, I will be (with her permission) doing some blog posts about some of the interior art pieces in the future, so those people who want ebook versions will not be entirely deprived of the illustrations.

(It is worth noting that The Book of Going Forth By Day, upon which the Guide was very loosely based, was Lavishly illustrated, and in fact the quality of the illustrations often exceeds the quality of the handwriting. If you look at, for example, Ani’s scroll – which is reproduced fairly regularly – you can see amazing detail work in the art, but if you look at the glyphs a lot of them are kind of scribbled.)