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.

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.

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

Coronation of Heru: This Festival is for the Birds

Every so often one comes across a festival that is just plain not easy to reframe for the modern day. And thus, we come to the Coronation of Heru, also called the Installation of the Sacred Falcon.

It is inevitable and essential that this festival follow immediately upon the heels of the Mysteries of Wesir, so I’m hesitant to neglect it entirely. It seems to me that it is a part of Wesir’s reign over the Duat that the Sacred Falcon is installed properly, and that the arc of mythological action is incomplete if we do not appropriately turn to address Heru.

This is not a festival that can be addressed and translated simply by having a modern king, either. For all that ancient kings would time their coronations to fall in this period, the better to partake of the appropriate ritual and mythological resonances, this is not a festival of human governance.

Allow me to summarise:

The statue of Heru of Behdet comes from his shrine and rests on a litter of the sort used in the coronation of a human king. He is carried by the ancestors (priests dressed as same), masked as jackals and falcons – the Souls of Pe and Nekhen. This is a silent procession, and it is led by the human king, who faces the god and censes the passage with incense. The god performs an oracle to select the next Sacred Falcon, and he first rejects ‘the high priests, the priests and the great officials’. When all human candidates have been refused, a parade of falcons is presented to the gods (raised on the temple grounds in order to be presented as candidates for the office), and one of those is chosen as the god’s heir, brought inside, set on a stone carved as a serekh, and presented with a ceremonial collar and four bouquets with varying patron deities and significances. Then the falcon sits atop a seat, is entertained with recitations, is given royal regalia, and is anointed with milk. Invocations for protection were made, equating the bird with the living king and Heru of Behdet. Finally, meat offerings were made to the bird (who was by this point perhaps a little tired of all this nonsense and thus enthusiastic at falling upon the symbolic enemies of Egypt and devouring them) accompanied by incense burning, the Heru icon withdrew to his kar-shrine, and the bird was left in charge.

Watterson quotes another Egyptologist suggesting that the care and attention given to the Installation of the Sacred Falcon in Edfu may have been a form of protest against the government by foreigners. It might well be more appealing to raise a bird to the religious throne than a human king considered a usurper of the political throne. However, given the existence of other sacred animals in Egypt, and the fact that the beginning of the first month of Peret was long-established as the appropriate time to install a king, who would be carrying the inevitable weight of the conclusion of the Mysteries with him to the throne, one cannot use the late date of the Edfu temple to dismiss the festival. (And I certainly wouldn’t discard the possibility that earlier falcon coronations might have been held to provide a backup Heru incarnation in case something happened to the human king – and vice versa.)

So there’s a lot of “so what does this mean” to be had here.

Let us assume, as the ancients did, that Heru was present in the Falcon, much as they found Montu in Bakha or Ptah in Hap. The animal could offer oracles and omens, and lived as an honored guest in human spaces. Humans are amazing egotists, able to make everything all about us, all about the things we made and the things we do, but a god explicitly in the body of an animal has to break those boundaries a little. Sure, one can escort that animal into human spaces and build human rituals around it, but a god incarnating as an animal is a god that is willing to touch something alien to human thought, willing to bring that alienness forward as a part of a presence. It is a reminder: the world is larger than you, the world is larger than your human issues.

One may live aware of the possibility that an animal or plant might be the temporary manifestation of a god, a sign or omen (but there is that human egotism again) or the god going about divine business in that moment, but formally committing to the recognition of that particular other is a different thing. It is not momentary, it is not transitory: not only is there a god indwelling that animal, but we can name that god and honor him. What other gods might be lurking in other places, in other forms? It warrants attention.

Further, as the Mysteries of Wesir serve as the mythological template of the funeral, the atemporal/cyclical model upon which our occurrences in linear time, the Installation of the Sacred Falcon serves as the mythological template of the recognition of the leader and unifier of a community. This is something that we revisit every year, even if we have no stated leader, even if we have the same leader we did last year at that time, affirming the presence of this continuity, of the resonance between the mortal world and that of the unseen.

And this is not something that comes of titles and honors – Heru rejects all the high officials presented to him as candidates for this office. Status is not the same as leadership. (And anyone who has had experience in the sort of office where being on good terms with the right janitor or secretary makes a world of difference for how well things can be arranged knows that power-status is also not the same as effective power that gets things done.) One may have a title, but that does not grant special access to the ineffable.

Regardless of what this festival meant to the ancients, I’m going to contemplate it with these two musings – that the gods are not limited to humanocentric models, but have a broader view than human eyes and forms might grant; that power, including holy power, is not the same as status and titles. Both of these have interesting magical weight to them.

I conclude with a relevant note from an entirely different religious tradition. Consider inner divinity, the personal god which is the perfected self, unbound by limitations, able to communicate freely between all worlds. One might call this soul the God-Self, the Sacred Dove, the Holy Guardian Angel, or – as Thorn Coyle suggests in a footnote for her book Evolutionary Witchcraft, “One may also call it the Sacred Falcon, using Egyptian imagery if that is more comfortable for you.” What might it mean, I ask you, to install the Sacred Falcon upon the throne of your life?

Reference: The House of Horus at Edfu: Ritual in an Ancient Egyptian Temple, Barbara Watterson.

Public Faces and Private Faces

I was away this past weekend at a gathering, and it gave me a whole hell of a lot to think about in many ways.

One of those things: people have public and private faces. I am, perhaps, more prone than most people to think of that private face as the “real” me, the one that I don’t show to everyone, the one that feels more in tune with my genuineness. What comes out in public is much more controlled, much more filtered, much more passing through layers of what is and what is not likely to cause conflict that I do not want (or, for that matter, fail to produce conflict I do want; “Let’s do some good,” said Granny Weatherwax in Maskerade, sporting a savage grin as she drew out a sharp hatpin). I am pretty attached to my illusions, including my illusions of privacy.

This blog deals almost entirely with what I think of as public religion. This is a deliberate choice: to address models of and possible implementations for a rebirth of some form of ancient Egyptian religion or another. Yes, it dips into mystical practice on more than a few occasions, but these are all things that are, for lack of a better phrasing, unthreatening. (At least as unthreatening as being devoured might be considered!)

When I write about sex (and I will, it’s on the list of things that go under the ka posts, and I will probably be doing posts on that subject as I work on the ka book to help sort my brain out on the matter), it will be theoretical, thought-based – more a deconstruction of the meaning and significance of sexual acts and activity than a rumination on a good fuck. I leave it to you, the reader, to think about implementing that. When I write about food, I will leave an obligatory link to the amazing Fat Nutritionist if it’s a general conversation, or maybe talk about the specific recipe I prepared for a festival if that’s relevant without suggesting how it might fit into your meal plan for next week. That’s not my job here. (I will, however, be doing some semi-reconstructiony work around recipes at some point. I need to test the theories in the kitchen first.) That kind of thing.

The personal may be too much to show in one place, because it is, after all, personal. It may be something that has a higher risk than average of provoking a negative reaction – there are plenty of people who do heavy-duty spirit work or mysticism who don’t tell anyone, because there is a list as long as your arm of people and reasons who will suggest that direct engagement with the gods does not happen, or does not happen like that. People who use socially controversial matters in the context of their personal rituals know how the backlash could be – that many pagans fancy themselves more enlightened socially than a prudish mainstream, there are plenty who would be horrified by, say, sex magic, even though sex is a thread of metaphor running straight through the middle of mainstream generic paganism.

One can make excuses: private religion doesn’t survive well in the archaeological record. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The facts on the ground are that the personal religion and the social religion are – or at least ought to be – in a state of communication. There is no ‘this is the real me’ and ‘this is the public face’ in an ideal state; there is one person, who modulates by situation. We, like the gods, have the potential for many appearances, which does not change that the same force is the one manifesting in each.

It is a difficult thing to imagine, that kind of unity. And there is a lot of stuff going on in deciding what and where to show something usually hidden.

I am thinking, the last few days, a great deal about Aset – specifically the master shapeshifter. (For many and complicated reasons; one of them being that the Tree Goddess is a manifestation of Nut, of Hwt-hrw, and of Aset, primarily, and to think of that appearance, I ought not neglect its third Lady.) I am also a shapeshifter, an illusionist, bringing forward and pulling back information as suits my ends, knowing how to lie with the truth – even and perhaps especially to myself (a lesson that I had driven home rather painfully this weekend).

And the shape I have shown here has been one of a researcher, a writer; a mother, a devotee of the netjeru. None of these are a lie; they are a truth and a mask. I have mentioned that there is more to my practice, that my production here is informed by other things, as well, so the mask is a tiny one, hopefully holding back nothing relevant. To me, the threads are one and the same, in so many ways; that does not mean that someone else with the same textual information would reach the same conclusions as I do, using, as they may well be, very different threads.

I had a lot of assumptions about what of the private practice would show up in discussions of public practice when I started writing. I think I need to revisit those – not just now, but regularly – to keep me honest.

May Aset guide me in my transformations, so that I may know when the trick of changing shape is warranted and will serve me. May I use it as she won her son’s throne in court, may I use it as she turned spit into skill and wrested the name of power from its owner.

Dua Aset!
Kheperu.

The Second Wag Festival

So while I was doing research for the Wag Festival previously, I learned that there are in fact two Wag Festivals in the Egyptian calendar. It was not only celebrated on 1 Akhet 18 in the civil calendar, but also 2 Akhet 18 in the lunar calendar.

Which would be today, woops. Unless I counted wrong. (Two days after the full moon in 2 Akhet, for the record, which is a day of the lunar month called ‘the day of the moon’. In this context I would explicitly note that Wesir has affiliation with the moon, as it seems relevant.)

Why the festivals fall in different months I don’t know, though it does mean that they won’t ever fall on the same date, which is something? Perhaps it allows us space to do some differentiation between how we mark them, if we so desire.

I will certainly be marking this festival with the formal commencement of some ancestor rituals that I have been gathering resources for; it seems a good and auspicious time to formally begin. I do not have the wherewithal to do the baking that I did for the fixed Wagy, however. (Anyone who is more adept with the Egyptian language than I am: is the ‘Wagy’ reference perhaps the dual form, such that the Wag Festival was often referred to in a way that indicated its paired nature?)

Relating to my other practices, I have been on and off reading a fair amount of Orion Foxwood’s work of late. And one of the things that he mentioned in The Faery Teachings is that the fairy folk are, in folklore, associated with both the mighty dead and the spirits in and of the land. My particular thought for the moveable Wag was to do honor to the changeable peoples of the spirit world, as a result. It seems to me to be a slightly different angle on much the same thing, and one with relevance to my own personal practices. I’m sure others will have different thoughts for the difference in feel between the fixed and moveable Wag festivals.

(The next hour of the Nut cycle should be up in a day or two. I hope to get my shit together soon and get back to regular posting.)