If I look to the left, I see the candle at the shrine. The room is still mostly empty – everything had to come out for some semi-emergency house repairs and it has not been put right yet – but the ancestor shrine is there, tucked up in the corner up against the west wall, occupying the leftmost third of my desk.

Photo of ancestor shrine in the darknessThe pewter cup filled with cool water casts its shadow on the wall.

The candle burns securely in the old glass ashtray that, as a child, I never associated with cigarettes, thinking of it mostly that it was a fine thing to add to marble runs.

I reflect, as I set out the offerings, how little I have from one side of my family compared to the other, and how I need to fix that: to go through my things and find the little pieces of jewelry my grandmother gave me, scattered on the kitchen table as we sorted through them and she looked at me with delight when I shared her taste in baubles.

I reflect on this as I reflect on healing our blood wounds, think about her notable absence from this space as it currently is. (I do not even have a photograph. I do not have a photograph of my grandfather her husband either – or rather, the one I have is of him and also of me, and thus not to go on the shrine proper. I may put it on the wall next to the shrine.)

In the darkness on top of the cabinet, in the boat-shaped incense burner that I have, a thick resinous stick burns, frankincense and myrrh slowly filling the space, spilling even as far as where I sit on the bed.

Incense is my favorite Egyptian pun*: senetjer and sen netjer. Incense and the brother of the god.

“May this sweet smell come to you, o netjer, as your sweet smell comes to me” goes the prayer that so many Kemetics make in their shrines as they light the incense. The presence of the gods is a sweet, rich scent, a holy scent. This is the promise of numinous presence.

Perhaps the smell of incense can penetrate the boundaries between worlds.

Perhaps my Catholic grandmother can smell the frankincense and myrrh and – though my rites are not her rites – know the familiarity of it, the suffusion of holiness.


(* Yes, it even beats out Khnum’s title as “the ba of Ra”. Baaaaaaaaa. Sheep heads sheep heads roly poly sheep heads.)


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