Problems of Evil, Problems of War

I read a moderate assortment of blogs of various sorts, including some more mainstream religious ones. In one of those, I’ve been moderately interested in a series of posts titled “On Warfare and Weakness”, attempting to construct a progressive Christian understanding of a war against evil.

It was the eighth post, On Warfare and Weakness: Part 8, the Quotidian, that made me realise that Kemetic theologies already have this model for approaching the universe. (I suspect it was this post that tipped me off because of my personal constant harping on the theologies of a sustainable daily life.)

Most forms of polytheism do not suffer from the commonly framed concerns about how, if a god is benevolent and powerful, there is evil in the world; our gods rather tend to have limits to their benevolence and to their power and knowledge as well. We don’t have to go through the work of “limiting” our gods that Richard Beck was talking about in earlier posts in this series, as our gods are already limited in scope. (Not all polytheisms get around this problem; certain forms of emanationist polytheism, henotheism, and other theologies have a perceived all-good creative force acting ex nihilo, and thus wind up with the question of whether all-good creative forces acting ex nihilo had a bad hair day or something in order to invent suffering.)

And it struck me while reading that post that Kemetic theology is fundamentally rooted in what Beck calls a warfare model and which is at the same time fundamentally quotidian. The forces that would stall regeneration and regrowth rise up every day, in literally read mythology; in easy extrapolation their presence is mundane and persistent, and to be opposed diligently in more than the mystical experience of the midnight sun.

“You see a wile, and you thwart, am I right?”

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

This upwelling of the enemies of life cannot be put off into a posited mythologically compelled disaster area of the future; like Beck is arguing for in his warfare model, this is not a theology of apocalypse. This is a theology of struggle against that which opposes being, as part of the daily circuit of the sun, as part of the daily conduct of a life.

This struggle against the enemies of life is on my mind lately, because of ritual combat – ritual struggle – ritual naming and destruction of those enemies that I did in a recent gathering of my circle. The framework of the work I did there was largely not Kemetic, though I snagged a bit of Kemetic ritual magic for some of what I was doing, so I didn’t post about it here, but I keep coming back to it, coming back to: these are the enemies of life. Now what?

I sometimes feel that taking up the blade, taking up the wax figurine, preparing to bite, is a model that a lot of people, not just in modern paganism, are very uncomfortable with. The knife that comes to ritual has dull edges. The act of cursing and execration is eyed sidelong as something that surely we don’t need in these more civilised times. Spiritual warfare is for those people who cause problems, the one who divide humanity into the saved and the damned.

But the outer walls of ancient temple complexes were decorated with illustrations of hunting and illustrations of war.

Announcing “Hills of the Horizon”

So my big news for today is that I am now joining Patheos Pagan Channel’s “Agora” blog with a semi-regular column, “Hills of the Horizon”. The first post, which is basically a thematic introduction, went up this morning.

I attempt to keep my work here on Peaceful Awakenings pretty tightly focused on matters Egyptian-reconstructiony, with the research and theology that I explore in that segment of my life and my practice. Aside from limiting my primary topics to things that touch upon that area, I have chosen to limit my discussion of personal matters of religion here: the work I do here does not depend on which gods I do or do not honor and my personal standing with them, the relationships I have with other spirits and Powers, and so on; it does not depend on my training in the Craft and other fields, my work as a poet and storyteller, my sex life, my studies of various crafts, and a variety of other things that matter to me religiously but not to Egyptian reconstruction.

Hills of the Horizon will be a bit less specialised, and a bit more personal. Which means that, while I remain a Kemetic mystic and that will be important to my posts there, I will also be talking about other things that are relevant to my practice, potentially including such things as dealing with my local land spirits, fairy faith, exploring European liminalist survivals, building small community ritual practices, magical work, and so on.

So. I’m kinda tickled to be doing this, and if you’re interested in that subject material too, link’s up top!

Bone Stories

Teo Bishop is leaving ADF, which is likely not a matter of great importance to the primarily-Kemetic audience of my work.

And yet.

He writes:

The things that cut deeply for me, that are real and sometimes really difficult for me — things like compassion, despair, forgiveness, hope, kindness, patience, honesty — I don’t feel like we spend any time talking about these things. I think we experience these things, but they always feel secondary to “right relationship.”

It was some years ago that I was at a gathering at PantheaCon. I don’t remember what the explicit topic of the conversation was, but we wound up talking about the response of the pagan community to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia on 11 September, 2001.

Or rather, the complete lack of any such response. The fact that, when pagans wanted to find community and support in response to tragedy, they went to ecumenical gatherings, interfaith gatherings, churches, and other places that were not pagan because there were no pagan groups able to support them, help them find context within something akin to their religious context.

Dozens of times I have seen people asking for help designing their perfect pagan wedding, but I have never seen someone ask for help designing their perfect pagan funeral.

Oh, there’s talking a good line at times about accepting that the world is not divided up into good and evil, about accepting the necessity and place of death, and so on, but in the end, we have, as the Biblical phrase goes, whited sepulchres.

A while back I developed the habit of offering a Kemetic prayer for the dead to deaths I saw mentioned in community. Sometimes I posted it: A thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of every good thing. May they ascend!

Now I see other people – not Kemetic – doing the same thing, the same words, the same ritual offering to the mourning and the departed. Because having a prayer for the dead to offer matters in the end, and it matters in a deep and human way. To offer proper mourning is an obligation and a gift of the living, and it is a way that we become human, in community, that we acknowledge each other’s wounds and in that acknowledgement act to heal them.

Teo writes:

I can try to do well and I often fall short, but — amazingly enough — when that happens I experience a deep, profound, spiritual understanding that, in spite of what any ancient person said…

I am not at the center of the cosmos.

I cannot will things into happening exactly as I would like. My life, at times, feels really broken, and I don’t know how to proceed, and I need to own up to that.

Religion must answer grief. Religion must answer the broken places. Religion must answer pain, must answer failure, must answer inadequacy, must answer insufficiency, because even in a world so abundant and glorious as this one, these things will come, and in the end they will go.

When our religions do not hold this space for us, they will fail us in the end, and no amount of feeling obligated to them will hold that place. We may not, as polytheists, have the Problem Of Evil, in which a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent power still allows for great and horrible suffering, but we still have suffering, and we allow for the likelihood that the gods do not have the power, the knowledge, or the desire to prevent it.

It was under a full moon in August of 2005 that I threw furious prayers out, I cried “Wesir, Wesir, I feel I have been pulled to pieces, I do not know how to survive this, but you do.” And I did the devotional work, and I survived this.

It was in a February in 2007 that I stood before the seidhkona with tears streaming down my cheeks and asked my grandfather, twenty years gone to the West, for his blessing, and asked him how to honor him; I got the answer that I must live well and strong, with courage. And the devotional work is in the living, not in the candles lit in shrines.

Sometimes I know that candles lit in shrines are cowardice, for me, and do not give him enough honor: because this is a world of doing, and I am still one with hands to do. I can say “Oh, grandfather, I love you, I pour water, I light incense”, but if I have not built anything I am hollow, all pretty words and no doing. There are reasons I make a point of doing charitable donations for Opet, of putting up a sample of bread for the domovoi when I bake which requires that sometimes I bake, of all the things that require action that moves in the world. I make a prayer, I write a poem, and these are all fine things to do, but I am not at the center of the cosmos and if I have not done more than make a devotional tie between myself and the Powers then I have done nothing.

I am not good at grand gestures and displays, at running for office or indeed anything that requires that I talk to a lot of people and encourage them to like me, at Causes and Activisms and all these things. But I will pray for your dead. I will offer people resources they need to fix their boat, or their roof, or buy lunch, or some other things, as I can, because if ma’at is the force that gathers people into communities, it is at least as present at a barn-raising as it is in solitary prayer.

There has to be an answer to the questions posed by humanness, and if that answer is not that we are all human together, each wrestling with questions of pain and reaching for glory, then the answer is not good enough to satisfy me. We are good at the glory, sometimes, but we are so very bad at pain.

These Are The Quiet Moments

The day has so few of them, the places to catch a breath, that one has to cultivate a sort of mindfulness, an ability to find the quiet even when the baby is howling her outrage at the perfidies of naptime.

These are the quiet moments, the one-thing moments, the places where doing and being are in union, no matter how the chaos might be swirling around. These are the quiet moments.

In the quiet moments, the gods come, the gods of those moments. Big gods, little gods, named gods, forgotten gods, it doesn’t matter. They cluster around to hear the poetry read over the bonfire; they raise a glass of wine with the toast; they run free and wild as the children run around and around the driveway, laughing their freedom songs; they come with the thunder’s moment of stillness and they come with the persistence of the rain; they come in the moment of breakthrough that wreaks that written line in and among the laundry and the cleaning and the shrieking of tiny disputes, that instant where there is clarity in the confusion. In the quiet moments, the pure moments.

The baby tucked up against my chest, sprawled and working at her bottle with grand concentration, was quiet, and I cradled her, encouraging her to sleep, resting in the quiet moments.

And, as always in the quiet moments, the god came. Long-legged, heavy with milk, unhuman form enveloping my human one in a shared moment, a shared recognition: this is the quiet space where we are, together.

These are the moments of the gods.

These are the gods of the moments.

(For what woman of Egypt, when painting her eyes, does not see the face of Hetharu in her mirror?)

(What makes a devout polytheist?)

Today it is Pouring

There are many effects of it pouring on my life. My garden doesn’t need watering, for example. My first-Friday burnt offerings were a pain in the ass to get going and I got a bit of a chill lighting match after match in the rain.

And so on.

Here’s another one:

Since it was my night to make dinner, we went to the grocery store. The parking lot there was a nightmare – not only was everyone trying to go to the store at once (not a frequent occurrence), but they all wanted to park right by the door, and were swerving, cutting people off, and being a menace to other people by doing so. (Walking with the older kid, who wanted to trudge meaningfully through every puddle because she was wearing her rain boots, left me with a significant fear of being run the hell down.)

There were minor things – wiping the puddles out of the car cart, say – that weren’t more than minor matters.

And then we finished and were heading out to the car and…

… not just one, but two fuckwits had left their shopping carts where they were all but blocking the door out of the grocery store. Presumably they abandoned them there to carry their stuff to the car when they saw how rainy it was, or ran and shoved them in the vague direction of the store rather than put them away, or some damn thing. We had to shove one of them a bit to leave the store by that route.

On the way to return our cart, I picked up one of them and put it away too. It was only an extra half-minute or so (the thing wouldn’t stack smoothly so it took a little extra standing in the downpour to joggle it straight), and at least the way out of the store was a bit easier afterwards.

Made my soggy day a little soggier, but people were going to keep drowning in inconvenience until someone did it, and there wasn’t really a good reason for someone not to be me.