March 9, 2013

Pieces of Kemet

Posted in Being Kemetic, Festivals, Home and Temple, Netjeru, Thoughts and Reflections at 10:15 pm by

A collection of bits on variously honoring the Gods….
 

It was snowing fairly heavily on Friday, so I wore red for His Redness, the Lord of Storms. I’ve posted before about the incongruous-but-not-ness of seeing the master of the desert as the master of winter too. It just occurred to me yesterday that that makes Him lord of the Red Land and also of the White land, and thus He embodies in Himself the traditional unity of red and white. Set-sematawy. Hmm.

* * * * *

I spent much of this morning trying to sketch out and/or list all the interrelationships of Bast with various Gods, and to put some kind of system to it. When my head started hurting and I was on the verge of falling asleep, I pried myself off the couch and went out to run some errands. After that I did some yard work, reclaiming odd corners from the wild raspberry bushes that, in alliance with the multiflora roses, are trying to take over the property. This was a much better use of my time — it fed all my soul/bodies and did service to my Mother and Her shrine. I always have to watch out for getting too abstract and up in my head.

And when I was done and had showered, I sat on the moss on the southern slope, put my face down among the early spring crocuses, and spent a while in their tiny, low-to-the-ground world.

* * * * *

Great festivals with extensive offerings are wonderful, but it’s also a real pleasure to give the Gods small, simple things, things that are easy to give when the Gods suddenly up and request them, that make the Gods happy. On Thursday night, Wadjet really wanted dried cranberries (Craisins!!). Last weekend, Wenut got a very soft, salmon-peachy scarf, which spent most of the week snuggled around Her metal rabbit candle holder. I wouldn’t have thought it was Her color, but She was very passionate about it, in Her quiet way. Both Ladies might be piping up because last weekend was the Feast of Ra and the Eye of Ra, and this weekend is the Feast of the Udjat, and both of them are Eyes of Ra.

Today, in fact, is the second and last day of the Feast of the Udjat, which I’ve been using this year to honor Wenut. I set up my temporary shrine with a white cloth and Her scarf; last night I offered warm milk with honey and spices, and tonight She got salad, at Her request. This afternoon, I gave Her four crocuses afloat in a bowl of water, first of the spring flowers. (The snowdrops don’t count; they’re more like late-winter flowers.) They’re on Her festival shrine right now, but earlier I put them and Her rabbit in the sun for a little while to enjoy their beauty.

Working on my personal festival calendar and rituals would also be a better use of brain space than abstract theology. The new moon is coming up, and I haven’t got anything for it yet. This festival, too — I don’t have a specific prayer or reading for it, so it’s mainly just various offerings, and a little bit of singing.

* * * * *

And speaking of getting out of the abstract, I am long overdue to link to this entry by Kiya on teaching yourself how to have a mystical practice. Go, read, live.

(And don’t forget the sunscreen.)

March 7, 2013

KRT: The Gods and you

Posted in Being Kemetic, Kemetic Roundtable, Netjeru, Thoughts and Reflections at 4:11 pm by

 
– Do I need a main deity to practice Kemeticism? If so, how do I get a main deity?
– Am I able to say no to a deity that shows up at my shrine?
– Am I obligated to learn everything I can about my main deity?

 

What do you actually need to do to be Kemetic? I would say: you need to do your best to live in ma’at, to acknowledge and honor the Gods and your ancestors, and to support your community, in whatever form that community takes for you. (If you’re Kemetic Orthodox, add in “acknowledge and respect the Nisut’s role as spiritual teacher and leader.”) Does any of that necessarily involve a close interaction with a singular deity? No.

Do you personally need to have a primary deity? I think that’s the question people coming to the religion ought to be asking themselves. Does that kind of relationship feed something in you, a hunger that nothing else can satisfy? (And is it a real hunger, or just a “junk-food hunger”?) Are you looking for very specific help or support with a particular task or career, or just to get on the better side of life? Or are you hearing a direct call from Someone, whether you know who it is or not? In those cases, or others like them, the answer is more like: Maybe.

You can love more than one God. (Though equitable time-sharing can be tricky.)

You can look for help in more than one aspect of your life at once.

You can have more than one God ask for (or demand) your service.

You can, but you might or might not. There are so many ways to have relationships. There are so many ways to love.

And you can always say no, but He or She (or They) might very well keep trying. And you might change your mind given further persuasion, but it’s always your mind to change.

As for learning, if you love your God deeply, completely, truly, you’ll probably want to know everything about Him or Her. Love inspires the desire for knowledge, knowledge brings power, and I believe that the Gods want us to be powerful, each in our own way. We best serve with knowledge; we best become ourselves with knowledge; and our service is our becoming, our becoming our service.

Even if you see your relationship with a God more as a business transaction, wouldn’t you research your business partner? Look for strengths that can help you, or quirks (or worse than quirks) that could trip you up? Knowledge is never wasted.

(And I laugh, because just last night I was reading a manga in which a character, who happens to be a demon, ennumerates the three strongest drives that motivate humans: physical needs, such as for food, clothing, shelter; the propagation of the species; and — not love — but knowledge. Specifically, the lust for the advantage that knowledge gives. Was he right or wrong? I wonder.)

For me, Bast is my center, but in my perception of Her, She also lies at the center of a web comprising relationships with other Gods, entities, and elements. So She is not just the primary focus of my love and devotion, She orients my conception of the Divine, my cosmology; She is the spindle that gathers all the threads of my interest, study, poetry, mythology, the hands that cup the world. Other non- or less-related Gods pass through, and I have relationships of varying strength with them as well, but I find that, while those other Gods are not diminished, the Gods that are connected with Her are magnified by that connection.

Of course, I’m all about hunting down obscure bits and pieces and stringing them together into sentences and chains of meaning, and I do my best work when I’m monofocused. So your experience almost certainly will vary.

(Links to other Kemetic Roundtable posts on relationships with primary deities can be found here.)

January 26, 2013

Practicalities

Posted in Being Kemetic at 9:22 pm by

A classic conversation between Bast and me:

I was doing the Rite later than usual, and since I was offering my dinner, I hadn’t eaten yet. I was so hungry that I actually started to feel nauseated.

Eat a cookie.

“Oh no, it’s part of Your offerings, and we’re still in the middle of the Rite; I’ll wait until afterward, when they revert.”

Eat a cookie.

“But I — ”

Eat a cookie.

I ate a cookie. And felt much better.

From the sublime to the ridiculous practical…. Thanks for Your patience, Mama.

April 13, 2012

G is for graciousness

Posted in Being Kemetic, Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 2:33 pm by

For the Pagan Blog Project:

Ra in the sky is gracious to you, and he conciliates the Two Lords for you. “Night” is gracious to you, the Two Ladies are gracious to you. Graciousness is what has been brought to you, graciousness is what you see, graciousness is what you hear, graciousness is in front of you, graciousness is behind you, graciousness is your portion — a fresh p3t-cake [offering-cake].

— Utterance 44, Pyramid Texts, Faulkner translation

I have my marching orders again: this time, Bast wants me to write about “graciousness.” And as with “desire,” my first reaction was, “…What?” I thought I was mishearing, but it kept coming up. So.

According to Webster’s, to be gracious is to have the qualities of kindness and courtesy, tact and delicacy, mercy and compassion. It can also refer to having charm, a pleasing appropriateness, the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding — and a generous spirit that shares those blessings with others. These qualities were highly honored in ancient Kemet and often featured in burial inscriptions listing the accomplishments of the deceased:

I am one who was gracious to all who reached him.
I am one without deficiency who loved excellence and took time
      for every son.
I am one without destructiveness who loved foundation,
      gracious before the one who encountered him.

— Declaration of Virtue by Horemheb (quoted in Karenga, Maat, p. 128)

Graciousness is also a quality that belongs to Bast — or at any rate, to Bast as I experience Her. I don’t get “blood and perfume” Bast, or wrathful Bast, or playful kitten Bast, at least not primarily, although those aspects are part of Her nature. The Bast who comes to me is regal but not distant, giving and forgiving, wise and subtle and calm (and She certainly does appreciate the finer things in life!) And above all, She is kind. So very kind.

The word for “to be gracious” in Kemetic is hotep, which also has many other meanings. As a verb it can mean to pardon or forgive; to be pleased, happy, or satisfied; to be at peace or to be calm; or to rest, go down, or set as the sun does. (Perhaps this is why “my” Bast is also a sunset Bast.) As a noun, it can mean a boon, favor, or gift; pleasure, happiness, or satisfaction; grace, pardon, or forgiveness; or peace, calm, or safety. It can also mean either an offering table or the offerings themselves.The Pyramid Text utterance quoted above (which appears on offering tables from the Third Intermediate and Late Periods), equates graciousness with the p3t-cake, or offering cake, itself associated with the sound Eye of Heru. The offering, divinized, closes the circuit between humans and Gods — it stands for a great wholeness, just as the Eye, restored, is whole.


Sem priest with p3t cake
(Budge,
The Liturgy of Funeral Offerings)

And so graciousness is connected with offerings, and thus with the reversion of offerings: the gift given by the Gods that is returned and returned again, around and around, in and out, like breathing. In graciousness the Two Lords (Heru and Set) come together, the Two Lands come together, the cobra and the vulture bestow their protection, day and night are kindly and at peace.

Graciously we receive, and graciously we give, and graciously we live.

May we learn to be gracious with each other every day.

O Peaceful One who turns to peace, as You are gracious, may I be gracious too.

Dua Bast!


Some sources:
Jan Assman, The Mind of Egypt (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002). [Google Books preview]
Edward P. Butler, “Horus,” http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/horus/.
R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Stilwell, Kansas: Digireads, 2007). [Google Books preview]
Harold M. Hays, “A New Offering Table for Shepenwepet,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 40 (2003), pp. 47-60. Accessed at: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/16164.
Maulana Karenga, Maat, the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 2006). [Google Books preview]
Tamara Siuda, “Kemetic Word of the Day 3: Hotep,” Daily Devotions, May 27, 2003.

March 7, 2012

D is for desire

Posted in Being Kemetic, Pagan Blog Project 2012, Thoughts and Reflections at 9:02 am by

Follow your desires as long as you live and do not perform more than is ordered; do not lessen the time of following your desires, for wasting time is an abomination to your ka.

— from the Maxims of Ptahhotep
(translation from one of the wehemu of Hekatawy I)

Bast keeps wanting me to write about desire. In fact, that’s part of why it’s taken me so long to get around to beginning the “D”s — I couldn’t quite figure out what to say. But let’s see what I can make of this.

One thing about the culture of ancient Kemet is that it was very life-affirming, very much about enjoying the gifts of the here and now. The popular conception is that it was a culture obsessed with death, but the truth is that they loved life so much that they wanted to ensure its continuance after the khat went still and the Unseen bodies departed into the Duat. And on the other side, in the Field of Reeds, life was imagined to continue much as it did in this world, with work and play, food and drink, beauty and love.

In general, there’s no tendency toward renouncing worldly desires in favor of spiritual enlightenment — moderation is certainly recommended in the wisdom texts, but not a rejection of the impulse to have, to experience, to enjoy. In the quote at the top of this entry, Ptahhotep instructs us not to work too hard, so as to have enough time in each day to pursue the things we long for. Quite different from the Protestant work ethic! He goes on to say that riches have worth only in that they give us the means to achieve our desires.

So what do I desire? This is the tricky part, and probably what held me up for so long. There are so many things I want to do, to accomplish or experience, but they flicker past, here and gone in an instant, to be replaced by something new. There’s so much I want to revel in, to celebrate, but the days pass by in a whirl, and that window of time for appreciation is often gone before I know it.

But desire is not necessarily whatever catches me in the moment. Merriam-Webster’s notes that “desire,” in distinction from its synonyms, “stresses strength of feeling and often implies a strong intention or aim.” Desire is the deep current of the river pushing toward the sea, pulling the boats along the trail of its shining wake. And if I look through the surface glitter of bright attractions and distractions, I can find the steady underlying flows that unite them.

So my desire is:

    – to create beauty; to be still and drink in beauty; to live in beauty
    – to be near my Mother, to serve Her, to dwell in Her presence
    – to dance with words, and to draw others into that dance
    – to nurture our community’s space in the midst of the culture-at-large
    – to enjoy my days, filled with all the things that feed my ka

None of these desires are out of reach; none require wealth or power or fame. All they need is a little slowing down, a little focusing in to hear the call and to be with it. All they need is the good use of my time.

Georgia O’Keeffe once wrote, “Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small it takes time — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

Like to love takes time. Like the fulfillment of desire takes time.

In one of my favorite quotes, which I keep on my desk at work, Megegi of Thebes shares a sentiment very much like that of Ptahhotep. “I have not taken time away from the day,” he says; “I have done no damage to a beautiful hour.”

In each beautiful hour, may I remember to follow the desires of my heart.

What do you desire?

June 25, 2011

The year’s end and the power of heka

Posted in Being Kemetic, Doing Heka at 10:11 am by

In a previous post, I mentioned the chaos of the end of the year. The idea is that as the year winds down, things everywhere begin to unravel, including in our personal lives. This disarray reaches its peak in the five epagomenal days, the Days upon the Year that stand outside the rest of the Kemetic calendar. In myth, Nut was forbidden from giving birth to her children on any day of the year; feeling sympathy for her, Djehuty gambled with the moon and won five extra days upon which Nut’s children could be born: Wesir, Heru-wer, Set, Aset, and Nebt-het. These days, being outside the year, and further being a time of birth (always fraught with peril), are considered to be both extraordinary and dangerous. Typically we make amulets at each New Year’s retreat, to help protect us from the demons of plague, ill luck, and despair that haunt the year’s end.

In any case, after making that other post, I found myself regretting it. How am I staying in the moment when I’m pining for the next season? Far better to remain present and to deal with what is. So the other night I asked Bast for some heka that I could use to protect myself. I wanted to exercise my own strength against any threat to my well-being, especially to my inner, spiritual well-being, so that I can better live in the now, without fear or sadness.

She granted my desire, and I wish I could share what she gave me, because it was awesome, and I can already feel its effectiveness. And I think a large part of the experience’s power came from the fact that instead of asking for Her to step in and help me, to save me, I asked for the means to help myself. Clearly I need to do more heka.

Dua Bast! Your words are Your heka, and Your magic is great! May You bless me with Your wisdom, now and always.

June 23, 2011

Waiting for the Inundation

Posted in Being Kemetic, Thoughts and Reflections at 5:48 pm by

In the Kemetic calendar, we’re currently in the third season, Shomu, the time of greatest heat and dryness. Only a little over a month remains until the turning of the year and the beginning of the season of Inundation, but for that time the chaotic energy of the year’s end holds sway. Here in the northeastern United States, the heat of summer has already begun, though it’s a humid heat for the most part, not the parched and desiccated barrenness of Egypt in the centuries before the great dam ended the river’s seasonal rise and retreat.

Already I’m longing for the time of flood, for the changing of the year, the fire of autumn leaves as the Goddess goes south to the land of gold. I’m longing for the breath of transformation, like the perfume of lotuses rising from living pools. I love the early summer well enough, but not the dragging, sweltering days in the middle of the season. And even though this year has been relatively cool and rainy so far, I feel as though I’m laboring to renew an inner life that has been sere of late — trying to nurture my seedlings through a difficult period. Maybe when the waters rise I’ll feel that renewal in my heart, and the gardens that I want to plant in my life will prosper in their time.

Dua Sekhet, Lady of the Fens, You who awaken to Hapy’s touch — hail and praise to You! May I live; may You give me life!

June 19, 2011

Thoughts before the solstice

Posted in Being Kemetic, Netjeru, Tending the Shrine, Thoughts and Reflections at 8:37 pm by

I spent a little time outside today, enjoying the dappled sunlight under the trees, the gentle wind, the sweet, green smell of early summer. It’s nearly the solstice, the peak of the Eye of Ra’s presence before She turns toward the south. And although my Mother isn’t the face of the Eye who departs for other regions, Her presence was strong today as well.

As I sat outside, I was thinking and writing in my journal on what my work for Her truly is. My train of thought was inspired by reading Dver’s blog post on mysticism as vocation. I’m one of those who struggle to balance priest work with the demands of being a home owner and having a full-time job. (I don’t have family commitments to further complicate the issue, fortunately, but I do have four rather demanding furry children, in the persons of my cats.) And I often wonder, should I be making other choices? Is it possible to be a real and proper priest under these conditions, when in ancient times being a priest was a full-time vocation? On top of that, I’ve been badly off-kilter the last few months, wrestling with galloping anxiety that’s affected all aspects of my life, to the point where I was barely functional on any level and was seriously considering leaving the priesthood. But somehow I’ve hung on, and with a new therapy program and medication I’m slowly beginning to regain that precarious balance, and to be able to think again about where and how to best put my energy and attention.

What I hold onto is that Bast seems to be satisfied with my service. There are things that She would like me to do, but as far as the more complicated ones are concerned, She appears content to wait until I get other parts of my life sorted out. And as I’m getting better, my ability to hear Her directives has been improving once more — and this time, so has my will and focus to actually follow them! At least this is some progress on the path.

Speaking of the path, what is it, then, that I need to be doing in order to be Her priest? Trance work, spirit work, oracles and prophecy don’t seem to be my primary tasks. I’ve been through an ordeal of late, which has taught me lasting lessons, but my work isn’t the work of ordeals. I’m not the edgewalker, bridging the liminal gap between worlds. I read the blogs of other people, who do perform such functions, and I sigh with relief: This is someone else’s task, not mine. It’s a good feeling to realize that I don’t have to do everything, that there are many ways to serve as there are practitioners, as many as there are Gods.

So what work does Bast desire of me? Tending this place, my home and Her temple. Making my offerings. Blogging for Her. Lighting candles — bringing the flame into my life, and the sweetness of perfume. Praying for the benefit of others. Bringing Her Name before the ears and eyes of all the people.

The last couple of days, Bast has wanted me to dance in shrine, to be present there in movement and in great joy. This is the most important thing, I think — to move, to live, to love life, to dance to Netjer’s song of creation. And this, I think, I can do — I only have to remember, to open the space in the midst of all the other commitments and complications in my life. If I am truly living, alight with my love for Her and my appreciation of all Her gifts, then I am indeed serving as Her priest. In fact, I can do nothing else.

O Bast, may I live, may I dance for You, may I serve as Your priest in Your temple, now and always!

October 6, 2010

Welcome to my jungle

Posted in Being Kemetic at 6:50 pm by

Welcome to my jungle

It seems as though a lot of my posts relate either to my commute or to being at the gym, so let’s have a change of scenery today. The picture above is of my desk at work (click photos for larger versions). Although the picture was taken back in the spring, the space still looks largely the same, even though the work, reading material, and some of the plants have changed.

The old joke says that “a clean desk is a sure sign of a sick mind,” but for me, it’s very important that my personal spaces are both well ordered and soul-nourishing — and considering that I spend more time at work than I do anyplace else except my bed, I definitely consider my cubicle/office to be an essential personal space. The plants help to clean the air and bring their living colors, textures, and energy to my work area; the empty desk spaces give a tired, overscheduled mind a sense of quiet and calm, a place to rest. It’s always a clear signal of overwhelm when the clutter begins to take over. Yesterday I finally managed to get my desk back into order after a long struggle with stress and inertia, and everything feels so much better. I’m blessed as well with a large light-filled window that helps the plants to thrive, that lets me revel in the warmth and golden beauty of the sun, and that provides a view of the ever-changing sky.

Of course, Bast is present at my desk as well. The space next to my computer speaker houses a small cat statue to honor Her, a photo of a stream to give Her a home, and my collection of assorted rocks and semi-precious stones, found jewelry, and other objects. (This was recently cleaned up a bit as well.)

Shrine to Bast

And finally what would a jungle be without a resident big cat? Meet Milo, the Very Helpful Smilodon:

Milo

The Gods are never far, and beauty can be found or made anywhere; thus we live, thus we breathe, thus we possess our lives.

Hail to You, O Beautiful Ones, in Your coming and Your going! Nekhtet!

June 16, 2010

Bathrooms for Bast

Posted in Being Kemetic, Home and Temple at 11:07 pm by

Yesterday morning, I heard my Mother’s voice for the first time.

Usually when I “hear” Bast, what comes through is an impulse or a knowing that immediately is translated into words inside my head by what I call the “Bast voice,” which is not unlike the inner voices that belong to my various fiction characters. While this translation certainly helps my understanding, it can also be deceptive — sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether something is really Bast or is instead some part of myself.

On Tuesday I finally took a genuine first step toward getting some major home repairs and maintenance issues taken care of. The impression I got in shrine that night was that Bast was extremely pleased by this; in fact, She wanted some sistrum shaking to celebrate it. Later I also had a very striking dream that featured some powerful household protection imagery.

Yesterday morning, I was reflecting again on tending my home as part of my service to my Mother — on the true significance of it, when the shrine itself is considered to be the house of God. And a voice rolled through my head that was emphatically not mine:

I am there.

I wish I could describe that voice to you, but the memory of it has already blurred. I only remember that it was beautiful and resonant, that it was nothing like I would have imagined Bast to sound like, but at the same time it was utterly perfect for Her.

It’s funny — I’m so drawn to the mystical, the mythical, the poetic, and what does Bast want from me? A bathroom remodel. Well, to be more serious, there are a number of potential health and environmental issues that we’ll also be addressing: critters in the attic, potential mold inside the walls, an aging underground oil tank. On a level of practicing purity and living in ma’at, Bast’s engagement in all of this makes total sense. I still never quite expect God to be so pragmatic, though. And it was just as unexpected to hear Her speak at last, a moment of astonishment and wonder that I think will linger with me for a long time.

Dua Netjer! Dua Bast! Nekhtet!