Patron/Parent Deities

(For the Kemetic Roundtable project.)

First: don’t worry about it. People spend too many cycles on this question and other, similar things.

(If you came to this religion through devotion to a particular Power, then you already have a relationship in mind, and you don’t need to worry about this.)

If you feel a need for a specific focus of devotion, there are a variety of tacks you can take: venerate Powers who are associated with your work in some way (Ptah the craftsman, Amun the patron of laborers, Sekhmet for medical personnel, Djehwty for wordsmiths or people who work with math or computer programmers who are both, and so on). Venerate Powers that feel related to your personality, who share a kinship you perceive, or who has a trait that you feel will help balance something that you need help with. Venerate Powers who seem to have relevance to yourself (as I mentioned setting up a Wesir shrine when dealing with feeling pulled apart, or for another example adding Taweret to household rituals during a pregnancy). If a particular Power’s symbols and resonances strike you as meaningful for reasons that you don’t entirely grasp just yet, it’s fine to pursue that. If your heart tells you “I want to honor Nefertem because I just do”, then honor Nefertem already, what’s holding you back? Your heart holds wisdom.

Your personal devotions are just that: personal. I’ve actually gotten a lot more uncomfortable over time with the pagan habit of god-name-swapping as a form of introduction; I’ve come to feel that it trivialises the gods and makes of personal relationship a sort of public show. (Or, at worst, an excuse for poor behaviour: “Oh, I couldn’t possibly curb my temper, I’m a Set/Sekhmet/Heru/Montu/Pakhet/whoever devotee”.) And any Power deserves their share of honor, deserves to be mentioned in their place, whether that place is as one to whose ways one has pledged one’s life or as one who is relevant in this day, or this month, or for the duration of this festival. And in that, there is another route to finding a god to swear to, by, or at, if you’re so inclined: celebrate the festivals, get to know the rhythms of the year, and find out what inspires you, speaks to you, where the meanings lie. Find the Powers that guide those festivals and give them specific thanks.

My gut response to questions of “What do I need to know about my gods?” is “Enough to have something that works”. I would start with “knowing what is pop culture and what is historically accurate” as a minimum: Bast the loveyfluff kittycat and Anpu the ooky-spook doom and death, for example, lack a certain something, but they’re very common in superficial takes derived more from Hollywood-Egypt than the actual Two Lands. (I have a habit of, when picking up a popular paganism book about Egypt that includes god portfolios, flipping to the section about Set and seeing if it has “GOD OF EVIL!” in it; a depressing number of them do. Other possible checks include “does this mention that Wesir is an agricultural deity, whether the moon is misfiled as an attribute of an Eye of Ra goddess, and similar basic material.)

As you get more familiar with things, you will learn more things. That’s just the way reality works. So again, back to “Don’t worry about it.” And as your understanding of the whole system grows, your private practice will also deepen.

Regarding whether or not you have to form a relationship with any entity that appears to show up to you: just because it doesn’t have a body doesn’t mean it knows what’s best for you. Just because it doesn’t have a body doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth. Just because it doesn’t have a body doesn’t mean that you have to do what it says. Those who would encourage nonconsensual relationships of any form are doing things that I, personally, would avoid like the plague. You don’t have to be friends with everyone who knocks on your door. You don’t have to have sex with everyone who hits on you. You don’t have to worship everyone who asks. Remember: a relationship with a denizen of the unseen world is still a relationship, and all of your skills and principles for dealing with relationships are going to be pretty good there.

I genuinely fret about the way people get wound up about this subject, actually. It feels to me like a leftover of coming out of Personal Relationship With Jesus territory, more often than not, the sense that one must have Personal Relationship With Deity Of Some Sort in order to be doing religion right. In the worst cases it turns into a substitution of personal inner relationship for social relationship, a sense that so long as we are ‘right with God’ it doesn’t matter what we do to or with others. But ancient sources all confirm: the gods are fed by ma’at. And as ma’at is an ethos of community, heaping loaves upon the altar is not the point. Relationship with the divine is not a substitute for relationship with other people; it is an enhancement.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

This post is in response to the Kemetic roundtable prompt for “Fallow Time”. Since there are so many different ways of interpreting this question, I think I’m going to do a couple of little pieces.

There was a time I thought my world was falling apart. I felt ripped to pieces, emotionally drained. Things were, in short, very hard.

And I said, “I know who to talk to.”

I am pretty sure it was a full moon in August I went out and just talked to him about it. About the pain, about the despair, about the fighting to keep things working in my life, about the needing to relinquish my hold on things that I was losing anyway. I talked for a long time.

And I said something like, “Okay. I’m going to go out and I’m going to get a plant. I will tend it as your shrine. I will trust that I will get through this.”

I bought the plant; I tended it. There was no answer from the god, except survival through being torn apart, unless the sweet smell of the jasmine blooms counts as an answer.

I am willing to trust that I was heard, is all.

Sometimes when people talk about their dark times, it sounds like they’re talking about quiet times.

And I’m … being a mystic means talking to the Powers and sometimes they talk back.

But that doesn’t mean they have anything to say to me right now. Sometimes, getting wound up about it is a sign that I’m getting too self-absorbed, too caught up in ‘what is being done for me’ and ‘am I getting reassurance that it’s all okay’ and all these things that aren’t actually things that everyone gets, certainly not all the time.

Sometimes there’s nothing to say because I have things I need to do and I ought to get doing them. So I do that.

I think the power of “you know what you need to be doing, so get off your butt and do it already” is underrated. And it’s a lesson I keep tripping over in my Craft training, particularly lately, so it seems fresh in my mind.

Sometimes the gods stop talking because it’s our turn to contribute.

Amongst my medical concerns is a tendency towards clinical depression. (Chronic, moderately severe, et cetera.) And one of the effects of depression is that it cuts me off from joy; the technical term is anhedonia, I believe.

And even if one has established patterns of being aware of divinity in ongoing life, anhedonia can leave one feeling actively severed from the divine. At least if “one” is “me”.

For a long time, I had a commitment: new moons and full moons, I would do formal ritual. And one of the things that I discovered was interesting to me: ritual alleviates my depression. Showing up, doing the prayers, pouring the libations, it actually made a difference.

I actually experimented with this on and off. I spent a week taking care of my father after he had surgery on his knee, and did that formal ritual every day. That didn’t work out so well; I burned out about midway through the week and wound up with a sense of doing it out of duty rather than because it worked, rather than because it upheld me. When I went back home, I went back to my every two weeks schedule, because that worked out pretty well. (It also worked out that if I went more than about three weeks between rituals, the effects really wore off, so two weeks was a good safe space to be in.)

Sometimes what matters is showing up.

It seems to me now that I’ve written it that what bridges these gaps, whatever flavor they might be, is made of trust and patterns, and actually following through.

So that’s what I would offer to someone dealing with these times: find something or someone or a Power or a practice to place trust in, show up, be there, let the cycles move.

Ritual Purity

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.