It is apparently not actually factual that the Egyptians used portions of the Eye of Heru to represent major fractions, at least according to Wikipedia.

the Eye of Heru

Eye of Heru artwork from the Guide

No matter.

One doesn’t have to literally take the eyebrow as an eighth, the pupil as a quarter, the trailing tear as a sixty-fourth to learn the truth.

The eye of Heru used as a sacred amulet, the protective udjat, is the one which was wounded, that which was torn out in conflict with Set, which was (along with Set’s testicles, which suffered similar injury) restored by the powers of Djehwty. This is the eye which was broken, the moon eye which fades and comes back into wholeness.

The fractions add up to sixty-three out of sixty-four.

The eye is whole.

It is greater than its visible portions, its undamaged parts considered separately.

This is the secret of the udjat eye, the eye of Heru: that the greater wholeness is the one that emerges from incompletion, the greater health is that which has shown itself greater than the damage it has suffered. This is the symbol of a perfected imperfection, its mathematical suggestiveness of incompletion no more than a guidepost to that which is within.

It is not unbrokenness that is most mighty; it is restoration. That which has been remade is greater than that which was never wounded.

Relevant links:

Short, Philosophical Ponder on the Mysteries

One of the assignments I was given as part of my Craft training was to study my seasons of the year. This is an interesting project and I recommend it to others (I had to develop a six-beat cycle rather than follow a four-season or eight-sabbat model in order to get something that both made sense and was functional, myself). When do you tend to fall in love? When do you tend to fall apart? When are your uptimes, your high-energy high-creation powerhouse moments? When are you quiet?

Winter is a quiet time, an incubatory time, for me. When my various illnesses are particularly bad, I mostly become torpid and want to sleep through the whole damn thing; the rest of the time I am nurturing the quiet until – come the warmth again – everything pops free and I have a tendency to engage, engage, engage, making everything grow until I crash in late summer.

So here we are, in the quiet conclusions of the Mysteries, with Nehebkau gathering the souls together and binding them in transformed state.

The seed is planted. I come back to that – I come back to the one communication I have ever received from Wesir: “All things must grow in the dark until their [time of emergence/spring].” (The word for the season of growing, which we are now entering in the Egyptian calendar, is ‘Peret’, which literally translates ’emergence’.)

The seed is planted. As Wesir goes into the Duat, as the grain is concealed under the Nile silt, as the sun spends more of the day in darkness, the seed is planted. It goes to spend its time in the dark – and as these things are given into the dark places and the quiet ones, the entombing that is the planting time – they are given their space to grow, until their Peret does come.

What are you planting now? What is being given its chance to incubate?

A worthwhile ponder to be having.

(This portrait of Wesir is from the interior art for the Traveller’s Guide to the Duat. By Michaele Harrington.)

Working on a New Book

As an attempt to make up a little for my complete absence this last month or so, here’s a little bit I just wrote – a bit of introduction to my new book project, dealing with the theology of the ka in what I hope will be practical and accessible terms.

(Unlike the Guide, I do not expect this one to be more full of jokes than my ordinary conversation.)

Sometime when I was a child – I do not know where or when – I saw a particular bit of line art somewhere in a book. The large figure was a seated man with the head of an animal I did not recognise, with wavy horns extending straight out on either side of his head. He stretched his hands out over a pair of human figures that appeared to be standing on a low table. I loved that drawing with the uncomplicated affection of a child: the gentle smile on the animal muzzle seemed so kind, so gracious, so benevolent. He seemed to me to care deeply for the little naked people standing on the table.

I did not really know – at any meaningful level – that this was a drawing of a god. I just knew, with that profound and clear simplicity, that the strange man seemed like a nice man. Gods, when I thought of them, were the lavishly illustrated humanoids of my D’Aulaires, whose stories were detailed by Edith Hamilton in her Mythology, or the mysterious figure that was explained to me in church sermons, who didn’t appear to have any particular interest in me, and thus lost my interest in return.

I got older. I learned things. I forgot things.

Somewhere along the line I learned that the two naked figures were standing on the potter’s wheel, and they were a human body and that body’s double or ka. I didn’t have the theology for what that meant, really, or a lot of interest in taking it deeper; I filed it away in the packrat-nest of information in my skull and carried on with my life.

When I stumbled into Kemetic religion, I turned back towards that friendly man with the strange head, which I had learned belonged to an extinct species of ram.

I returned in the end to Khnum, the first god I had ever loved, the craftsman of the ka.

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.)

Another Book Review for the Guide!

I am sure that many people in the extended pagan community are familiar with the prolific reviewer of pagan books and pagan-friendly material, Mike Gleason. He is, I believe, a high priest in the Alexandrian line of Wicca, and I have been reading his reviews for something like ten years, since back when I was lurking on alt.religion.wicca.moderated on usenet. (I currently see them primarily through a local mailing list, though they also get reposted on the Cauldron with permission at irregular intervals.)

In any case, I promptly broke out the search engine to see if I could find the review somewhere linkable, and here we go, in the archives of his reviewer’s mailing list: Mike Gleason’s review of the Traveller’s Guide to the Duat.

Reclaiming the Commons : Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town, by Brian Donahue

I wrote this book review in 2005, and I am reproducing it here straight-up. In part because the “essential pagan books” lists that have been kicking around the pagan blogosphere have made me kind of want to compile one of my own, and it would be nice to have a detailed review or two to link when I do.

But also, this book was really quite subtly and powerfully influential on my religious approach and practice.

    Reclaiming the Commons : Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town, by Brian Donahue. Published by Yale University Press, ISBN 0300076738 (Hardcover), 0300089120 (Paperback).

One of the reviewers of this book on describes it as “radically conservative”, and I think they struck the heart of it in a weird sort of way. Reclaiming the Commons deals with the layers of history and the ways “the old days” actually worked — and in which they worked better than the present day. Donahue portrays himself as a radical environmentalist who was, to put it bluntly, shocked into actually dealing with the needs to adapt modern life to ecological responsibility realistically, addressing the needs of modern humans and the consequences and responsibilities of modern technology.

Like many environmentalists, I learned to hate chainsaws young. They epitomized everything that was wrong with our approach to nature, brought down to the personal level: the snarling machine, obnoxiously noisy and dangerous, all too easily and thoughtlessly used to destroy noble living things. I wanted to have a woodsman’s connection to the forest, one that relied on mastery of hand tools and the healthy limitations that such tools impose. This principle sounded good, and it seemed to hold up perfectly in the case of the splitting maul. I set out to fell trees and buck firewood with a sharp ax and a well-filed crosscut saw and to enjoy my work. After all, these simple tools were sufficient to all but wipe out the forests of North America before chainsaws were even dreamed of–surely they should be adequate for more restrained, selective cutting. I soon reached a conclusion: splitting wood by hand is reasonably fast and efficient, felling trees and cutting wood by hand is unremittingly slow, grueling toil. After watching Nat in action for a year, I conceded that the chainsaw is a good hand tool. –page 220, “The Town Forest”

He begins, as any good reconstructionist would appreciate, by learning his subject. He is writing about the land of New England, and learning how to treat it well; this requires delving through history to see how it developed, what its influences were, and how various ways of treating the land failed — and why. He deals with this subject without romanticising New England before the arrival of European colonists — he is firm on the fact that the local tribes were engaged in resource management in the area from approximately the end of the last glacial period.

Our task, then, is not to try to restore the forest to its original condition–that is impossible. Our task is to come to grips with our part in this ongoing drama of natural and human interaction, to determine where our ecological responsibilities lie and how we can finally become culturally mature enough to face up to them, to learn from our predecessors and do better if we can. The point of studying the history of the forest is not to rediscover the state of nature we have lost–it is to come to a better understanding of the world that has been created by nature and people before us. It is to develop a deeper affinity and aptitude for the land we inhabit. –page 231, “The Town Forest”

Knowing the land is not merely a labor of love for him (though it is clearly, from his writing, also that), but a matter of basic human survival. He is deeply concerned with the effects of extensive fossil fuel burning on the environment, and considers the transportation system built on that backbone doomed to fail in the long run. Running through the work is a deep distrust of the effects of market capitalism left unchecked (“The restoration of active farmland should be a matter of broad community values, not narrow economics. Left to its own sharp logic, the market will always skin the land.” –page 137, “Livestock and Grass”), and a feeling that the prices we currently pay for food and materials do not truly reflect the environmental and other costs of our lifestyles.

His solution is to delve into knowledge of the land, to learn what it is naturally suited for, to learn how people lived there historically, and, having done so, to resurrect the best practices and integrate them into the local community. He did this in the town of Weston, on publically owned land (hence his focus on the commons) and with largely volunteer labor. The results are, today, a farm that produces, in addition to flower crops for sale, fresh locally grown vegetables, maple syrup, and fresh-pressed cider, as well as sending some of its crop to inner-city Boston; a forestry program that maintains Weston’s publically held woodlands and supplies firewood to the town; and an extensive education program that has produced other small farmers and brought a generation and a half or so of Weston’s children into a greater awareness of the cycles of the seasons, the origins of their food, and the value of their labor. He writes also about his failures — such as his inability to maintain a flock of sheep long-term, though with useful tips about raising sheep in suburbia (like “if they run away, herd them into a tennis court”); his inabiltiy to successfully start an apple orchard due to various blights and the loss of adapted local apple stocklines; other attempts by the organisation to reach beyond its grasp, some of which they returned to, others not.

It was this couple of sentences that really struck me, had me start reading the book as a pagan rather than just as someone who thought the subject looked interesting:

Is this aspiration just syrupy nostalgia for a bygone agrarian age? Every age has its golden moments, its dark despair. What I wanted to restore as far as possible was not the admittedly imperfect flesh of the past, but something of the physical skeleton, the hard bones of it. The automotive-driven residential and commercial sprawl of suburbia is monstrous compared to the human-scale order that once prevailed. –page 49, “Green Power and Land’s Sake”

This sense of restoring the skeleton strikes me as my approach to reconstructionism. He has the same impulse to want look at what has been done and find the critical bones that make it work that I think make for the best of reconstructionism, and the same queerly conservative streak that I think is fairly common among that branch of paganism — see the above quoted paragraph about adapting to the chainsaw as an acceptable hand tool. The stuff that rots away with time, the “admittedly imperfect flesh”, he acknowledges on occasion, and then goes about trying to figure out, often through trial and error, what muscles he needs to make those old bones move now.

At the same time, his work with the commons brings in some of the best components of many ancient societies: the sense of some sort of commonality, some sort of community, of mutual support and interlacing. I can see in his primary dedication to education (he left work on the community farm to start teaching at Brandeis) a dedication to the sense of underlying ma’at, that social urge that binds people together into communities, a hope of bringing the unifying structure of the polis in to combat the dissociation and depersonalisation of suburbia. His hope that other New England towns will take his work and run with it hearkens to the interlacings of neighbouring tribes. And at the same time, it recalls the early European settlers in the region, who brought the idea of the commons with them and traded skills and labor within their communities–and before them the native tribes with their slowly cycling agriculture and controlled burns, likewise shaping the land.

He says, “When we go to work in a community we make ourselves responsible for things we may not even have been aware of when we started.” (page 280, “Reclaiming the Commons”) I get the impression that his work is as much a response to this ancient truth as anything else — that he thinks that the distancing and not-knowing-one’s-neighbours and similar things is a way of ducking that responsibility. And he is not shy about declarations of responsibility — he holds that those people who flee the cities to live places with “rural character” have an obligation to take actions to preserve that character. In other words, to farm and support farming.

While having no patience for unbridled capitalism and no trust for the market depending on fossil fuels, he also has little tolerance for environmental hypocrisy. He devotes essentially an entire chapter to tackling a sacred cow of environmentalism — the question of forestry and whether it is ever acceptable to cut down a tree. While acknowledging that there is essentially no history of responsible forestry in the modern world, and that logging companies are prone to using the same facts to suit their cultivation of fast-growing monocultures for maximum profit, he lays out an argument, rooted in historical usage, for responsible use of local forest resources. He holds that the trick to responsible forest usage is to look at the patterns that nature would produce naturally and imitate them, creating a variegated woodland with a variety of species and ages of tree — something that strikes me as an eminently reasonable notion.

At the same time as he lays out his autobiography as an environmentalist and a loving biography of the New England land, with occasional references to and quotations of Thoreau, the work is full of little hints of whimsy:

We could plant the best-yielding varieties of these species and eat more nuts. We would presumably need to eat more squirrels, too–if our Disneyfied society can stomach it. We currently kill these creatures profligately with Jeep Cherokees, why not kill them judiciously for meat? I understand they are delicious stewed. –page 207, “Tree Crops”

There is certainly meat to be had here for your “earth-centered” pagan types as well, especially those who live in the New England area and can thus take advantage of the depth of knowledge of the intimate intricacies of this land. One of his major desires in this work is to bring people into an awareness of the rhythms of the year and the land, and he makes occasional comments that make it clear that he is at least familiar with the existence of neopagans and their concerns. To a New England pagan who wants to incorporate the local seasons into their practices, this book will be an invaluable portrait of the land they live in; I think that applies to neopagan and reconstructionist who is interested in adapting to their locale alike. To someone who wants to seek that knowledge but is in a different area, the book will be less directly useful, but its appendix includes a step by step introduction to the sorts of resources that are readily available for doing the same sorts of developing in-depth knowledge, from geological surveys to local history.

I am a semi-urban pagan; I grew up on the fringes of a city, and I am a servant of urban gods. At the same time, though, the cities that my gods watched over were integrated with the surrounding land, and there were none of these strange suburb things dominating the landscape. I think most of us are, these days, and many are at a loss as to how to bring that sense of the city growing in and among the natural world back into play in reality, no matter how spiritually meaningful or ecologically necessary it may be. I think that this book may give ideas on where to start with that, and for that reason I value my chance decision to pick it up quite highly.

Even if my husband is worried by the fact that reading it seems to have inspired in me a strange urge to raise goats.

Wilderness was beautiful but misleading. The idea of going to the wilderness to get back in touch with nature was all wrong. The places where we needed to form close connections with nature were not in the wilderness but where we grew our food, heated our hourses, took our daily pleasures. That was the place for me. The cities and suburbs, and the farms and forests that supported them, were the heart of the matter. Deal with that, and wild nature would more or less look after itself. Fail to deal with that, and wilderness would be left the long task of reestablishing itself over our ruins. –page 8, “Introduction: Wilderness and Suburbia”

Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community by Malidoma Patrice Somé

This slender little book – Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community was one of the first books I read after becoming Kemetic. It was on the required reading list for the introductory course offered by the first temple that I studied with, and I read it, I recall, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in one great gulp of contemplation.

I am doing an evening workshop with the author, Malidoma Somé, this week, and because of that I once again have brought out the slender little book, and am steadily swallowing it in a great gulp.

I recall, the first time I read it, being torn: that, well, yes, this was a point, but could the rest of it really be so? Truly? I fought it even as I read it, trying to come up with ways of denying. It is a difficult book to face, in so many ways, as someone born white and Western with all that comes of those things, in what Somé refers to as a machine world, a world regulated, hurried, compelled to acquisition, raising the seen world as paramount, constantly making displays of power.

It is some nine years since I read it the first time, if I do my estimates correctly.

And it is easier, now, to not fight, though I recognise that I do not live up to the lessons that I already know. I do better than I did, once; everything is a process of raising up.

We are not always raised with the expectation that ritual matters; that this symbolic translation is the cry of our spirit to be heard in the world of spirits. And so I see people who mock rituals and ceremonies, but who build a little world of their own traditions and superstitions to scratch that same itch, to have some sense of internal order. (My favorite baseball player, for a time, was one well-known for having an immense catalogue of routines and rhythms, for whom every part of the game was a ritual. I think of this now and wonder if I was recognising that grasping for sanctity. It’s a thing.) We do not think that someone else might die if we do not properly grieve, that our errors might have consequences, that there is something to do to not only correct what we have done wrong in this moment, but the underlying thing which created that situation.

We hurry, all the time, without taking the moments for ceremonialising our actions. Somé mentions it being safe to talk to someone on the road – because one knows that that someone has done the rituals of leaving the house and taking a journey. But we in the West do not consistently have such rituals, or if we do, we call them superstition and laugh them off, awkwardly. (And, these days, I have built a minor ritual for going out. Not one from Dagara culture, of course, but from my own, and perhaps that too is a thing. Perhaps I will keep it beyond its original purpose.) Without the deliberation that ritual brings, we become superficial, unpresent, almost disembodied, not actually living so much as going through the motions of the machine.

But to accept that is to become countercultural, subversive: rather than living to work and working to live, keeping our nine-to-fives, there is something else there, and it is an urgent, deep need. Not only is it a hunger that we are ill-equipped to feed, but it is one that, culturally speaking, we are encouraged to deny, because it would mean less pursuit of More Stuff or less diligent loyalty to The Company or whatever else. The rituals that make our lives sacred pull us away from common values, which do not want sanctity in our profanity, which – if they recognise the holy at all – want it neatly compartmentalised, a thing to do on Sunday at most.

And at the same time as attempts to bring holiness forward make us different, make us remarkable, make us a quiet insurrection, Somé says that the power of ritual is secrecy, is silence, is concealment. That ritual creates a sealed capsule, that breaking that space is bursting the bubble, inviting an explosive decompression. Here is that Witch’s Pyramid line: to keep silent. Or, Kemetically speaking, I put it once: silence is a crocodile. We – like the crocodile – do not want to go about displaying our power, revealing it, draping it across our fancy sports cars like an advertisement. The protective power – and the threat – of the crocodile lie as much in stealth as in the strength of his jaws. We do not often speak of taboos, and the concept of “oathbound” knowledge is mocked by even many pagans, but yet I made a prayer today and knew I could not call my God by His name when I wrote it. I know why in the place behind words, but if you do not know I cannot tell you.

And at the same time as he speaks of secrets, he speaks of communities, of the necessity of the support of the many to be oneself. No cult of the deified individual here, so common to the Western mind. No bootstraps to be had. (And here is a place that it is hard to face a Kemetic theology of kings: where Somé says “What one acknowledges in the formation of the community is the possibility of doing together what is impossible to do alone” (p. 49), he speaks to me of Heru – but I fear that the machine world has poisoned our ability to relate to Heru, unless we first effectively raise “an objection against the isolation of individuals and individualism by a society in service of the Machine” (again, 49).)

He writes “A functioning community is one that is its own protection (p. 51),” and it catches my attention. Many people build intentional community – networks of family (by blood or choice), friends, others who can be counted upon, to provide the protection and security that we need as people, to support ourselves and to grow. Some find this within religious communities – and religious communities, being concerned with the holy, have need of being or becoming that. Some find it other ways. But I am caught, again, with not knowing how to even begin to address the question of how to make the communities I know beyond those little bubbles meet that basic standard of functionality. I want to become political, at times, but I cannot know where to begin, so I return to what I know: a healthy priest makes all things sound. It is only a beginning, but at least it begins something.

I do not know how to deal with the vampiric construct that is that which is out of ma’at. I can only work ma’at as best I can, build something that is strong enough and secure enough to establish ma’at in Her shrine. I can only do the rituals that I am required to do – and the Beautiful Festival was one such, very clearly to me, in a way that I have not felt before, and I am glad of it, because it means that I am more than I was.

Somé writes of humility and of inspiration. Of admitting to weakness in order to seek strength. Of prayer and honesty and involvement. Of giving credit to the Powers rather than seeking to display it as our own prowess. Of alignment. Of being the hands of the divine in the world, and acknowledging that place.

I look forward to reading this book again in another nine years.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Traveller’s Guide is now available!

Traveller's Guide front cover artwork

I am tickled not merely pink but a wide variety of amusing colours to announce that my first book, The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat: Amenti on Two Deben a Week, has now been released by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press.

The new release announcement can be found on Immanion’s blog.

Thanks to my first readers, my editor Taylor Ellwood, and my mother Michaele Harrington, who did the fantastic artwork.

The book is available for purchase directly from Immanion.