So some folks have started up a thing called the Kemetic Roundtable, to discuss some basic ideas and give people a sense of the breadth of the religious community that actually exists out there and let new folks orient themselves accordingly. And this is a fantastic idea, so I am joining in, though – as usual – I’m running late. The first topic for the roundtable is ritual purity, and that link should take you back to the compilation with everyone’s contributions.
Ritual purity is hard to talk about, actually, in significant part because a lot of people don’t have a context for the concept of purity that is actually healthy. (I think it was a post on the Slacktivist blog I read recently for my time-addled value of “recently” that noted that in common discourse, just about the only thing people mean when they say “purity” is some value of “sex, abstinence from”.) The use of purity as a bludgeon is pretty widespread – along with the treatment of various aspects of humanness as a contagion or innately broken. It’s easy to beat ourselves up with purity.
Which means the first thing, and the most important thing, that I would say boils down to: purity is not about self-abuse, about sinfulness, or about shame.
(As I was getting ready to do some work this evening, whether it was writing this post or prepping my talks for Paganicon, I found a pile of cat vomit in my bedroom in one of the less pleasant ways one can make such a discovery. And when I shoved my leg into the shower to hose down my foot, it was not about self-abuse, sinfulness, or shame; it was about cleaning off my foot. You know?)
When I was fairly new to Kemeticism, I was a lot more formal and literalistic about purity than I am currently, in part because I was much more likely to be doing formal rituals. (I made a commitment to do formal ritual at new and full moons and kept it up for several years, in fact.) I spent time wrangling with questions of menstrual taboo and what I could do within that context (my eventual decision was to do my formal ritual without “opening” the space, since the concern about blood taboo was primarily focused on ritual actions in front of “open” statues, and while I didn’t have that responsibility, I felt that the opened space carried some of the same weight).
As I’ve gotten to be a more competent mystic, and as I’ve gained training in a Craft tradition, my sense of purity has gotten a lot more internal. (“Endless purification!” as my teacher is wont to quote.) Purity of heart, of mind, of the souls, those are the things that occupy me, and they are a perpetual quest. Purity is a matter of aspiration, of transformative work.
Consider the First Time, Zep Tepi, the holy spark of being at the center of time and space. Here, ma’at was established: all things came forth from ma’at. The Powers are the sweat of creation, as humans are the tears of the eye of creation, and this is as it should be. The central core, the essential nature of all being is by definition pure, for the simple fact that it exists at all. This is your true self, your inner holiness, that resonance that brings you closer to divinity and in communion with all things. So many of the ancient texts say “I am pure, I am pure, I am pure”: the fundamental cry of beingness, of existence drawn out of chaos.
And at the same time that the heart is the seat of ma’at, other things can interfere. I don’t know about you all, but I have places where I’m folded around pain and old wounds, and these are matters of impurity. (I’m currently in the process of going through therapy for active PTSD, and this is as much a purification ritual as any washing with natron could ever be.) I seek health, I seek the capacity to act, the actions that support the holiness of my inner nature, and these are acts that seek purity.
There have been times when I have been full of turmoil or pain, when trying to heal myself has left me feeling covered in filth of some kind, as if I was sweating out the last of a disease. In those times, I go to the ritual bath, I cleanse myself with soap and water, or if I’m feeling really formal and wanting to go deep into the symbolism, with natron and water. The act of cleaning the physical can also act to purify the souls, and it is a comfort.
When I do formal ritual, I do formal bathing, formal cleansing: this is part of the symbol-set that I have chosen to work with, and it not only serves the function of creating the mental difference, but doing the spiritual work of cleansing.
In the past, when I had an ecumenical ritual group, one of our shared practices involved washing the mouth with natron and water as we entered the ritual space, and I prepared that. I do not know if my new ritual group will wind up doing something similar, but it will be the case that before major rituals, I will do cleansings, because that is what I do when I act formally. It’s important to me to follow correct procedures when correct procedures exist, y’know?
But most of my practice is not formal. And most of my cleansing is with Craft techniques, these days, working at cleansing away the pains and troubles that lie between myself and my heart.