Not a Quote of the Week

Today, I am listening to this sermon and thinking about the night battle against the Uncreated One.

That’s the thing about it, you see, that there is no escaping this struggle, its inevitability; there is so much to do, and the great serpent is overwhelming. If its jaws are capable of unhinging wide enough to swallow the sun, what can we do? If it has the capacity to drink the river of heaven, what can we do?

But like I quoted last week, the ancients saw that there was no moment that could not be improved, could not be brought into better alignment with the first moment, nothing that could not be made purer and better. They did not say “I had no part in making that serpent,” but made their wax images and trampled them underfoot, and measured their time, in part, in widows and orphans fed, clothing given, boatless emboatened.

It is not about putting down the serpent once and for all; there is no space in this cosmology for final cataclysmic battles of that sort, after which there is only the celebration of triumph for all eternity. There is putting down the serpent in his time, so that there will be tomorrow – knowing, again, that the battle will be rejoined tomorrow as well, so there can be the day after. It is a long-term commitment, not to attaining some perfection and laying our burdens down afterwards, but to acknowledging the burden – the responsibility – the glory that is our reciprocal duty to creation.

We are building the world, we and the Powers; what are we building, right now, by our choices?

Give the sermon a listen. It’s a bit more of a commitment than the quote of the week, but hey. I like going to church every so often, to listen to other people talking about ma’at.

And it’s this brave honesty that gives us at least a chance. It reminds us that part of how we face the enormity of the work is together; we help each other to see the truth, and to bear the pain of really feeling it. We help each other to speak the truth. We protect each other when we are punished for it. We feed each other’s hopes.

– Elena Rose Vera, preaching at The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples on 15 November, 2015

(There’s your quote, if you must have one.)

Returning to Calendar Gnawing

I’m thinking about calendars again. (I am certain that sentence will make at least three people laugh.)

A lot of my calendrical work has been Unfortunately Generic. I’d been trying to assemble some sorts of broad resources from what was available, and the results are, well. Kind of a mess. It’s not just that I’ve got a heap of cross-referenced stuff from basically every period and a wide variety of temples in Egypt in my notes; that’s just what the data heap is. But there’s very little there in a way of making a coherent calendar out of it.

And that’s the thing: an actual ritual calendar is something of a coherent whole. It has rhythms, it has internal logic, it’s not just an accretion of Stuff. The calendars the ancients used were not only tied to their particular locations and the seasons thereof, but often focused on a specific narrow set of gods, for the most part, the particular guardians of their specific region. Thus, the calendar had a rhythm within that context.

There are people out there who are doing brilliant work with ritual calendars focused on particular powers; jewelofaset at Fiercely Bright One, for example, has done amazing work collecting festivals of Aset. (I also have somewhere in the blogs I read an awareness of someone doing similar work for Sobek, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who. If you read this, hi!)

I’m thinking about how I want to organise my year, my thoughts, my rhythms. What I would do if I were building something. And I think what I’m going to shift to doing is start working on how I perceive the rhythms of the year, the way it breathes, and draw on the festivals first that reach that pattern. I’ll continue compiling All The Notes, of course, because I’m just like that, but what I want is a festival calendar for the year, into which additional celebrations can be added, for example for those who have particular devotions to particular Powers.

I am, of course, partly thinking of this because of the approach of Samhain, and the whole generalised swelling of festival chatter that comes up around that particular holiday in the broader pagan community. And because I’ve thought of it before, connecting it to the Mysteries somewhat even though the Mysteries fall roughly a month later. But there is a rhythm, a space, that I feel in the year, that I get familiar with through my Craft practices, and I want to find that rhythm and space in my Kemetic work too. Rather than have a haphazard assemblage of holidays.

(And what I’ve got is fairly haphazard.)

But time breathes. The calendar, as a means of entwining human life with time, must also breathe.

We breathe.

Ecumenical

I went to Paganicon again this year, though I did not present because – as you can probably tell from the fact that this is my first post since the autumn – it has been a rough couple of seasons.

I actually went to fewer rituals this year than last – just the one – but I wound up leaving that one and pondering the nature of the skillset required to attend other people’s rituals. I don’t know that a lot of people have actually thought much about that one, though it’s been relevant to some of the conversations I’ve seen going around.

It’s pretty much a given for me that if I’m attending a public ritual, I’m going to have to adapt on the fly in order for it to be meaningful for me. There are very few public rituals out there that are conducted in my symbolic idiom, just to start with, and of those, I’ve not encountered many that are actually done by coreligionists; sometimes, actually, it’s even more jarring to deal with ritual to the Powers I honor or using symbols I recognise, because if it’s being done in a way totally alien to how I conduct myself the cognitive dissonance can get really bad.

So when I’m considering attending a public ritual, I have to not only judge whether I want to participate in the purpose and perhaps whether or not I can honour the relevant Powers (if any) or usefully associate them with my own Powers, but figure out whether or not I can manage the relevant translations. The odds are good that most public ritual will be in a Wiccish format in most places, for example, or at least some kind of open-source Craft, and I can do that if need be – I’ve had to learn. But I’m unlikely to get much out of it, in the grand scheme of things.

I wound up thinking about this because of the Golden Calf ritual, where there was a part of me appreciating the spectacle of the staging, part of me dealing with the fact that I’ve researched enough Judaism to get some of the juxtapositions, a part of me dealing with my own Powers’ bleedthrough as I translated idiom and actually got something out of it. But it was a very complex and cerebral experience for me.

There are times I don’t want cerebral. I just want the thing that works. And I’m dealing with a lot of liturgically heavy stuff – which is pretty brain-oriented rather than gut-oriented – but.

I don’t know. I’m stoned to the gills on Sudafed and not at my most coherent, but I was reminded of this thought.

Perils of Overintellectualisation

I am at the moment working on a manuscript for work (which I am enjoying immensely, and if I ever get my shit together and make a Recommended Book List For The Stuff I Do I will probably put this on it, because for a book about Shinto it is brilliantly Kemetically-relevant – though I’ve long thought Shinto had a lot to reveal to Kemetics).

One of the things the author keeps talking about is a resistance to theologising, to thinking too much about religious matters, rather than performing the recitations and rituals appropriately.

Which is a thing that I think is worth keeping in mind – that the idea that religious thought must be tightly systematised is likely not entirely native to practices that we are reconstructing, regardless of the culture of origin of those practices.

Too much thinking about it gets in the way of doing it, as I commented before. Too much being bound up in being Right about the way to do things rather than doing them, likewise. “Here are three ways of interpreting this word in context” is not something that sits easily with a lot of theologies, that are all about trying to make things tidy and clean and clear, rather than the ways that three different things layer to create a complicated nuanced thing which is all and one and none of these things.

A message I can take from what I’ve read so far goes something like, “Out there, there is the world; relate to it with clean senses and a pure heart. That is the natural and divine way of being.”

Not bad, for Kemetic ponders, is it?

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.

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?)

Other People’s Religions’ Words

Our personal relationships are intimately connected to our larger communities and society as a whole. The changes we make at a smaller, relational level affect the whole. Recent studies show that it is not a constant, harmonious connection with someone that is seen as most important but the repair of disconnection, or resolving of conflict that helps us to feel intimate, seen and healed in relationship.

From All my Relations! The Yoga of Relationship, which is reminding me of the implications of my post on Kintsugi.

More things about the ‘ethics’ subdividion of the Eightfold Path, sometimes described as ‘right relationship‘.

The great thinkers of the Axial Age laid down universal foundations of right relationship that have lived on through the ages. Their messages of compassion, mutual aid, community service, human well-being, and respect for life provide the basis for people of all cultural and religious traditions to lead a life respectful of the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the entire commonwealth of life.

Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, Peter Brown and Geoffrey Garver

These are my thinky thoughts of the day.

“Ma’at is the force that gathers people into communities.”

– Jan Assmann, from memory so probably slightly off

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?

The Ritual Bath

The doors of the sky are opened
The doors for the firmament are thrown open at dawn….

As people who might recall my marking of the Days Upon the Year with a fiveday of ritual bathing might guess, I am kind of a fan of the ritual bath.

This isn’t for ritual purity reasons, particularly (though the priests performing temple rituals would bathe in the temple’s sacred pools beforehand); it can serve that function, of course, but that isn’t why I find them a useful tool or technique.

A ritual bath is a consciousness-altering tool. If used to prepare for other forms of ritual, it can soothe and center the mind in order to create a useful ritual mindset, cultivate openness to sanctity and/or the Powers, or create a breathing space between the day-job mindset and everything else. The idea of washing up may be a fairly mundane task, but accompanying it with intention, with a set of ritual actions, with deliberate additions of particular substances, with prayers or recitations, transforms it into something else, a meditation perhaps, or a work of magic.

This kind of thing can be done with many other tasks, but I think that the bath is pretty much ideally suited for it. Culturally speaking, after all, there is an expectation of separateness for Bathroom Activities, which can make it easier to construct and maintain the sort of structure that lends itself well to changes of state of mind. The use of water, itself, provides multiple layers of transformative properties, whether the magical associations of transformation, emotion, or the primordial, the mental constructions of cleanliness that are thereby evoked, the use of temperature to construct emotional responses or soothe physical discomforts, and so on.

(And all of this can be done in the shower, too, though I’ve found that it takes a little more effort to construct the transformative mental state. It’s a bit more brisk and businesslike, which also has its uses.)

I don’t actually do the ritual bathing thing all that often. (I have need of it now, so it’s on my mind.) It would probably do me some good, really.

I go up into the Field of Rushes,
I bathe in the Field of Rushes.

– quotations adapted from Pyramid Text 325

The Problem of Time and Place

I’ve been doing another round of calendar-crunching. (Which is, as before noted, not an easy problem.)

One of the reasons for the lack of easiness is that of the scattered and fragmentary calendars and calendar references we have, most are from different times and places from each other, which means that they come from different periods and different localisations of religious development.

Egyptian religion is not like Hinduism, a set of related practices and beliefs viewed from the outside by a colonising power and declared to be one monolithic entity. There was, at most times through antiquity, some level of unifying force in the state cult practices and the conceptualisation of Egypt itself as a nation.

But it is more like Hinduism than I think most people process. Each city had its own preferred gods, with its own stories and its own essential festivals. Some grand enough to attract national-level attention, others less significant, all wound through with the personal tie each location had to its particular powers.

This is not Greece, with its defined city-states each with its own calendar and politics and different things, giving grounds for declaring – as a local Hellenic group did, much to my delight – that the local civic holidays are clearly the holidays of our civic gods and heroes. Those localities, the nomes, were still part of a unified nation.

But yet. But yet.

When I put together the public version of the lepidopterist’s calendar it was using dates which appeared in more than one calendar, trying to work primarily with stuff that seemed persistent over time and perhaps nation. (Though given that there were a number of calendars surviving at Edfu and essentially nothing from the Old Kingdom, that may be a bit of a stretch, wot?) But the more I work with this, the more I feel the need to build the underlying nature of the flow of the year, to find how it works.

It’s actually easier for me to imagine this with the Egyptian calendar than many others, as my own personal rhythms of the year – perhaps in part set by following an academic schedule through childhood – match it pretty well. But the more I delve into this, the more I need to return to what was actually an ancient practice: each month themed with a particular power, focused around a particular festival (usually one which gave the month its name), making the shape of the year a matter of moving through the mythological universe and being aware of its significances.

Of course, the end result of such an interpretative lens is that I create something that is more specifically tuned to a particular “place”, a particular way of being and interacting with the gods. Which means that it will be less generally useful to all people with an interest, but I think that’s inescapable; as soon as a choice-set starts to include accessibility and living within the context of a religion, the more subjective factors start to become much more relevant.

It’s an interesting ponder, and the hope of getting something that flows out the far side will probably get me through the tedious bits until then, heh.