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?)

Kintsugi

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:
Frauenkirche
Kintsugi

The Accidental Syncretist

I have a deep yearning for artificial simplicity.

Back when I converted to Kemeticism, it was like coming home. It was like falling in love. It was this intense experience, an actual genuine conversion experience, and it was a big damn deal for me. I went out, I found a group to join, and I settled down to do the thing. I did regular ritual, and it fed me like no other ritual had before; I found language and framework to articulate theological and philosophical concepts I had been kicking around for years but couldn’t talk about coherently because I didn’t have a structure for them; I had a lovely honeymoon.

And then I had one of those Experiences, which told me “This isn’t enough for you.”

And I didn’t like that. I didn’t want it to be not enough.

And I chewed on it for a long time, and I did research, and I started exploring in the direction I had been shoved, and it turned out, several years later, that it was indeed not enough for me.

So I started doing other stuff too. And I built an artificial simplicity: I will do this, and I will do that too, and there is this illusion of multiplicity to work with, and I do not cross the streams.

There was a fascinating thing about doing other stuff more deeply, more thoroughly, and with more devotion: the more other stuff I did, the more it all looked like the same stuff. Here, this symbol matches that symbol, with similar resonances; here, this goal looks like that goal viewed from a different angle. And that was okay, that was a thing where I did the work and suddenly I was building a deeper framework because I was doing two things.

I’m okay with it when it feels like work.

And then …

… and then it gets different …

… and the artificial simplicities, the this-and-that, they break down, they fall away, there is this gaping chasm, and after the fall there is …

actual simplicity.

And the parts of me that crave the neat and tidy boundaries scream. (But if you’re not being scared by something, you’re probably not doing something deep? People ask me how to make it safe, and I wonder what they’re looking for.) I do believe the Powers of Egypt can reveal themselves in the rest of the world (because otherwise what would be the damn point?), and yet having a Power present herself in symbology and structure from another part of the world makes me panic.

And I talk to people about it, and they say, “Yeah, that makes sense. I can see it.” I can see it too! I just … there are parts of me that don’t want to. That don’t want this additional tie-together of all the things I do as one thing, as a coherent thing of all sorts, that doesn’t want it to be that easy, because the ease of it feels like the moment when the audience shouts, “Don’t go in there! It’s a trap!” (It’s quiet. Too quiet.)

I don’t have Sannion’s holy-unholy glee about it. It scares me too much.

To lose the artificiality. The neat lines, the tidy categories that I never really believed in but clung to nonetheless.

So I go with it, of course. Because otherwise, what would be the damn point?

In That Sleep Of Teeth What Dreams May Come?

I spent an hour trying to get a screaming baby to take a nap today. Usually things are not that hard, but sometimes we get a bad day.

I spent a lot of the time holding her thinking about teeth.

One of the things that’s hard about working with the Nut Cycle, as has been noted recently (and as came up when I was doing my Digging Up The Mysteries talk at Paganicon) is that second hour, the gateway of teeth: knowing that in order to go through the divine rebirth process, one must submit to having the Great Mother bite off one’s head.

It’s hard to get to the point that one can trust that She’ll put the bits back together. Teeth are scary.

(Yes, I am way behind on Nut Cycle summary posts. I am aware of this.)

It is not uncommon for various cultures to connect the process of sleep with the process of death, or to treat sleep as a time when one or more souls is absent from the body (and have taboos about waking sleepers and so on); certainly that is part of the cultural heritage of English-speakers, if for no other reason than Hamlet.

And anyone with experience of small children can recognise that kids don’t want to go through that first gate, maybe missing something in the material world, maybe experiencing terror in dreamland, and perhaps going to sleep is itself frightening – loss of consciousness, loss of time continuity, not knowing who or what will be there after sleep, not necessarily knowing in the body that there is a road back to waking.

That screaming baby who is kicking and clawing rather than go down for a much-needed nap, she’s afraid of the teeth too.

So I wonder: what back in pre-memory teaches us that sleep is an acceptable risk?

Well, Smack Me With A Dead Fish

Okay, so. Some folks I know were talking about this knitting pattern, titled “Osiris”, which is described as “A stole with 13 full moons and a fish.” The fish, in this case, being the bottom-feeding beastie that consumed Wesir’s penis and thus meant that his reconstitution required a bit more magic than would have been the case had all fourteen pieces been recoverable. (For more of my ramblings about Wesir’s amber wave of grain, please refer to this post.)

And the conversation turned, as such a conversation might, to whether or not it would be inappropriate or perhaps tacky to wear a fish stole in a devotional context for Wesir, especially when the fish was explicitly there was THE ONE THAT ATE YOUR PENIS, YO.

Which turned into the usual side conversations about taboos and appropriate behaviour, and what one does about fish and Wesir, and I made an offhanded comment about execrating them by eating them. (Which may not be an ancient practice – I don’t know off the top of my head – but I do know off the top of my head that there was a stomping on fish execration and that meat offerings were reliably also treated with the symbolism of conquered enemies. So it’s not farfetched and I would not be surprised by some nome or other doing it. And some other nome being horrified. And fistfights.)

Anyway.

I got one of those funky revelatory moments.

One of the things that I think is important for people to do is look for underlying systems in their environments. I don’t live near the Nile, after all, and the intuitive rhythms and balances of that place are not mine (even if they still existed in the same form after the construction of the Aswan Dam). And one of my standard illustrations of that for my local environment is the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters are maize, beans, and squash. They are a traditional planting method used by the Native inhabitants of this and other areas of the North American continent. Roughly speaking, one plants the maize, lets it grow a little, and then plants beans and squash around it. Maize is a heavy feeder, but beans are a nitrogen fixer; beans like to climb, and they can use the maize stalks to do so. The squash leaves spread to discourage invading leaves, and create a sheltered microclimate that keeps moisture available to all three plants. Further, the combination of maize/beans/squash produces reasonably balanced nutrition and thus can supply the needs of a human community.

This strikes me as an elegant illustration of ma’at, one tuned to my local environment.

And – if I want to get mythical – one of the traditional things done in this area when soil was poor is to throw a fish in the hole when starting the planting.

And thus I find Wesir and his fertile power of vegetative growth hanging out a few thousand miles from home.

Dua Wesir!

Teach Yourself How To Have A Mystical Practice

Just a few ideas to get you started.

Start training your brain to respond. If you smudge or burn juniper as a purification, do it every time, let your spirit learn that this is a cue; like the dog drools when Pavlov rings the bell, let the smoke teach your soul that this is a cleansing time. Use ritual baths or ritual clothing to train yourself to think of the divine in a ritual-appropriate way when you do that bathing, wear that outfit. Associate ways of doing your hair or pieces of jewelry with particular magical tasks or particular relationships to Powers, so that when you put it up or put it on you are already halfway to completing that alignment.

Steep yourself in symbolism like a good cup of tea. Know a hundred names for your gods so that you can call on the right path at the right time. Learn how to see runes in arrangements of fallen twigs. Stop looking up correspondences and live them: blue is heaven, gold is eternal, black is the fertile earth. Do things four times if you’re Kemetic and three times if you’re a Celt, and know why those numbers matter. Read relevant art books for the pictures. Learn the language of pose and gesture. Draw as a devotional practice (or sculpt, or dance, or…) and use what you know. Stop thinking about this stuff and know it.

Pray often. Add prayers to your cleansing, to your cooking, to your awareness of the world. Cultivate wonder. Yell at the gods when that’s what matters. Sit and sink roots deep into the earth, sometimes, and hold the stars with your hands. Use perfumes to cultivate particular states of mind. Collect music that reminds you of your gods, or which puts you in particular frames of mind, and use that music to go deeper into your knowledge. Meditate. Don’t fall into the trap where the only form of meditation you will accept or acknowledge is the no-mind stillness kind; learn to meditate when you’re washing the dishes. If you listen to Enya or something when you’re meditating, don’t play that when you’re driving, it’s not safe.

Get to know yourself. Figure out how long you can go between meals without turning into an asshole before you do a fasting ritual with company over. Figure out how long you can go between meals without making yourself sick before you do a fasting ritual at all. Learn what kinds of foods open you up and what kinds of foods snuggle you down, and eat appropriately for the work you want to do. Try having a glass of wine at dinner if you can safely and see what it does for how your mind works and your energy flows. If you can’t eat a pasta dish without becoming ravenously, crankily hungry an hour or two later, don’t eat pasta before a major ritual. Get enough sleep. Record your dreams in a notebook by the bed, or in private Livejournal entries, or somewhere. Get to know the recurring cast members of your personal inner drama and how many different faces each of them typically has. Find what brings you joy and get to know it better.

Cultivate a regular space for spirit. Burn incense for the dead. Give the first slice of bread to the domovoi. Give presents to your landwights. Pour milk on white stones. Light candles. Sing. Watch the children play, and smile. Make a quiet space when you take your evening medication and be sure to spend some time there every day. Build cairns out of fieldstone. Watch the stars. Dedicate your houseplants as shrines and make watering them a devotional. Paint your entire face with your eyeliner. Be creative.

Lifting the Boat

I pray for the dead.

People throw out random prayer requests all the times in pagan circles, and whether or not I respond varies widely. But I pray for the dead. Always.

I forget who said it Рif it was Som̩ or an Ifa priest or someone else Рbut our tears make the water that lifts the boats of those crossing to the other side. The dead need the love and support of the community to reach the far shore. Our emotions offer power, offer guidance, offer strength.

And here is a thing: this is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the first moral obligations that a Kemetic has. Pray for the dead. For all of the dead. Especially in those first seventy days, the time of transition between living and the imperishable stars.

The spirits in transition exist in a place of confusion. The systematic ordering of souls and members has been snapped and the unifying force unravelled. Without help, those parts will drift away and be lost, a breath on the wind and a fading memory – or, perhaps worse, be trapped in fragmented ruins, a clutching wreck trying to seize wholeness from the living. Grief provides a structure, a system, a format around which the one who has been separated from the familiar can start to re-forge the connections between souls. We, the living, are the light that holds steady so that the Westerners can find the West.

When we give that gift, our tears, our wails, the candles we light, our murmured prayers, we breathe a little unity back into the system. We reach across the rift, we affirm that the dead are whole and the dead are with us, and that we are with them, in mutual support. We address the breach in our community, even as we see them on their way and acknowledge that this is a change of address for which mail forwarding gets a little complicated.

It is the nature of the energy of life to flow. We know this – trivially – from the cycles of ecosystems, of eating and being eaten. This holds true in broader terms; we know this mystically from the dance between the Beautiful Festival and the Mysteries, or – if more neo in our paganism – Beltaine and Samhain. We bring this knowledge when we pray for the dead, giving life, life, life, offering up life and love to the dead that they may be filled with life (for millions of years, a matter so many times true) and that we, being givers of life, may be filled with life.

It is sometimes tempting to hold back the prayers for the dead, when the dead are not our own, or when they have crossed some moral line of which we do not approve. In fact, one of my first experiences in Kemetic community was with such a person – difficult at best, widely hated – whose mooring day came by his own hand, and who many people declared should not be mourned. (I will note: a suicide almost certainly has major dissention among their souls, and needs our help to find integration far more than the peaceful dead.) But the unmourned dead, the unprayed-for, they do not find peace, they do not make the transformation, they do not go away, and that, if nothing else, should be good for a mumbled thousand of bread and thousand of beer.

Ancient tombs would have stelae set out before them, with demands of the traveller and passerby: read out this stone. If you cannot read, pour out water over the glyphs, that they might be fed and thereby activated. Speak the name of the dead, remember the dead, give life to the dead. A thousand of every good thing.

Pray for the dead.

(Temporal note…. I was writing this before I heard the news.)

Nut Cycle: Fifth Hour, the Heart

When we left our intrepid night travellers we were struggling through the fourth hour, the place of implied strife transitioning between the outer regions of Nut’s embrace and head and into her body. Now we approach the goddess’s heart, the fifth hour.

(And for the gods’ sakes, my brain is puttering along singing Survivor’s “The Moment of Truth” at me. Make of that what you will.)

Here we enter the darkest hours of the night, the ones in the Amduat in which the Mysteries of the Midnight Sun occur, the night union of the sun with Sokar-Wesir in the hidden cavern of Rosetjau. Here in the heart of the mother, the gate becomes a benevolent royal lady: “Lady of the sky, Mistress of the Two Lands, the Relishing One, Lady of the Entire Land, Great of Awesomeness.” Much as the Contendings give way to the Mysteries of Wesir and the crowning of Heru, we see here the strife (and implied relationship with the Contendings) starting to give way to the kingdom, and that kingdom is the kingdom of life. (While there are still “followers of Seth” found headless here in the lower registers, there is little sign of active strife.)

This is the nefer-region – “nefer” that familiar symbol of goodness, beauty, or, as Roberts puts it, “vitality”. This hieroglyph is the trachea and heart – from the throat into the breast. (In the sixth hour, we will reach the zema-region, the trachea-and-lungs glyph meaning “unite” and seen commonly in such phrases as “Union of the Two Lands”.) We are guided here by “True of Face” (or “True of Heart”), and this is a region of space intimately entwined with Ma’at herself, who is worn by Ra like an amulet about the neck, resting upon his breast. Nefer, nefer, nefer (and now the internal jukebox is trying to set that to the Christian hymn that goes “Holy, Holy, Holy”, but not getting anywhere ‘cos I remember neither tune nor words beyond that bit).

Here the traveller starts to rise up again, sprouting like a plant from the dead “seed” bequeathed by the harsh and scorching opening hours of the night. Power starts to flow once more, feeding the soul on this path, and restoring the heart to its central place. The heart, of course, is the unifying power of the body: the pulse which can be felt in all members is proof of its work to make the disparate organs and parts into a unified and functioning whole. The heart awakens in the heart regions, sensically enough. As Heru comes into possession of the heart-power of his father (in the Ancestor Ritual Roberts links to the Book of Night) with his coronation, creating a continuity across generations, now that governing and generative organ is restored to the traveller.

In the Amduat, the process is approaching Zep Tepi, the first time; the totality of creation implicit in that first moment is delicate and restorative. This is the singularity from which all things come, the first moment, the heart of the mother; it holds the mysteries of creation, rebirth, and union, as if these were separate processes. This is the Underworld of the Underworld, the most secret and precious space in the land of spirit, and yet – when framed as the body of Nut – open and expansive to encompass all things.

Yet, this is only the beginning of the transformation of the process. Simple resurrection and awakening to life is insufficient. Life and power are what must be brought forward, not the endpoint and goal of this process.

Nut Cycle: Hour Four, the Throat

(I see that hour three got cut off mid-sentence somehow and I’m not sure how – a good month after I wrote it – to fix that. I could probably reconstruct the train of thought but yikes.)

(I also see that I’m well into the middle of the Mysteries of Wesir and I have not done jack for research on that. I am hoping to get a post on that subject up Real Soon Now. Until then, last month’s work will have to suffice.)

There’s something interesting about the throat that I think is worth noting explicitly: it is a transitional space. Here, we connect the head to the body. Air from the outside is taken in by the nose and mouth (symbolically speaking in Egyptian magic, strictly the nose) and passes through the throat to the lungs; food (and would-be initiates, as noted last month) passes through the mouth and also to the throat on the way to the stomach. So the throat is the fundamental gateway to the body, and the horrors of the teeth were a part of the necessary preparation to get here.

That rendering into pieces, the exposure of anything that might be corrupt to purifying flames, places the traveller (as you may recall, the Bull King or a related epithet) in a role quite similar to that of Wesir, who is not only felled but broken into pieces as part of the framing of the Contendings. And thus it is unsurprising that the transition here is from the outside realm to the inner realm governed by Wesir, following the same route that he took to get there.

Tracking that path takes its perilous course through the Contendings, and the gate of this hour has certainly taken sides in that conflict: her name is “Sharp of Knives, Mistress of the Two Lands, who destroys the enemies of the Tired Heart, who arouses trembling before the Sinless One, who removes wrong-doing”. This is a warrior gate, prepared to shield Wesir and those who are following in his footsteps from the Sethian forces that might do further harm or interfere with the process of regeneration. The guide through this region is “He who divides the offerings”, and indeed at this phase of the ritual Alison Roberts associates with the Nut journey, the offerings are presented to Amun-Ra – the priest, a manifestation of Heru, draws back the doorbolt on the naos shrine, a manifestation of the phallus of Set, the instantiation of his chaotic and divisive power.

(While in the Nut journey this area is aquatic – filled with fish-headed figures and signs of watery life, the fertile fields of Wernes – in the Amduat this hour enters Rosetjau, entering the nightmare fields governed by darkness and silence and divided by passages marked with knives. “Sharp of knives” manifests as well in the dry-land vision of the hour, it would seem, the symbolism of the conflicts through which one must pass in search of regeneration.)

This hour is filled with fish-headed captives. These may be the chthonic and half-formed allies of Sethian forces, that which will move dismemberment into dissolution or halt the process of regeneration into endless conflict and final death. They may also be the ever-swallowed decanal stars, which take the forms of fish, bound in silence and stillness in the places where they have no names, awaiting rebirth in the pools of tears shed in the Contendings. The conflict exists here, regardless, the confrontation of destruction in its last throes that is necessary before passing through to the mysteries of life and rebirth.

On a whim, I had a look at the wikipedia entry on the throat chakra, and it noted that the resonance of the throat is purification. If the teeth were purification by fire, this is closer to a moral test, to see whether the traveller is allied with the forces that promote life or those which oppose it, the removal, as the gate is named, of wrong-doing. If the teeth expose the potential for infection by dormant seeds of dangerous chaos to the parching flame of the fire serpents, in the throat the actual fruits of rebellion are cut down. The primordial is bound and set on a path to redemption, and the pure is permitted to pass.

Nut Cycle: Hour Three, A Month Late; The Teeth

Okay, trying to pick up threads of thought again.

Teeth. Teeth are an alarming thing. (One of the times I was discussing the Nut cycle with people, months ago, one of them commented that of all the forms of death symbolism, teeth were perhaps among the most alarming.) There is a certain brutality to being eaten, a certain visceral something, which for all I know is what some people like about zombie stories.

Nonetheless, like the Death card in the Tarot, this is not an annihilation; it is a transformation, of which death itself is simply the most complete. Like the shamanistic death, dismemberment, and rehabilitation, crossing this gateway renders the traveller into pieces so that they may be reconstituted anew. (And many, many funereal texts will explicitly say: You have your head. You have your limbs. You have your heart. You have your name. Each member is named, invoked, put into place, and re-bound from the dissociated state which is death, or maybe dream, or of course initiation.)

The gate’s name is “She who lights the fire, the quencher of embers, with sharp flames, quick in killing without hesitation. She from whom there is no protection. She by whom one cannot pass without harm. The one who rears up towards her lord.” The uraeus is here, guardian of Ra, manifestation of the Eye of Ra, whose flame (which always strikes me as a way of referring to the poison of the cobra) is turned against his enemies.

What is the enemy of Ra? That which would dissolve ma’at, that which would put the cosmos out of order and send it spinning into nothingness. That which is not in its appropriate place, and threatens to put other things out of place.

Existence demands the risk of isfet. So long as the creative potential that allows things to change – and stasis is another form of unbeing – flows through all beingness, there remains the possibility that that change will be for the worse. And that potential for change for the worse resides in all things. Nothing can pass by the uraeus without harm, because everything contains these seeds, these possibilities, and she will strike, as the name says, without hesitation.

This is why, to reach the Mysteries, one must face the teeth – one must have these seeds exposed and scorched, to keep them from sprouting. The Mysteries must be protected. The teeth separate the parts, the gate herself purifies them with fire, and then – beyond – this physical cleansing can be healed.

The long title for the traveller from the second hour – the shining bull who is with the Unwearying Stars – is now simply the Bull King. whose guide is the Bull of the Two Lands. The powerful, virile king figure seeking