May 27, 2010

After the Beautiful Feast

Posted in Being Kemetic, Festivals at 1:24 pm by

The Beautiful Feast of the Valley has just ended, the great twelve-day festival during which the holy triad of Gods from Uaset, the city of Thebes — Amun, Mut, and Khonsu — sail to the western bank of the river to pay Their respects to Hethert and Wesir, and during which the people of Kemet would honor their Akhu, their beloved dead, with picnic feasts among the tombs. I think this is one of the festivals that loses a lot in the modern day — even if we could take a twelve-day holiday from work or other responsibilities, most of us would still be missing out on the processions, the revelry, the sheer emotional force of an entire populace joined in rituals of celebration and remembrance.

That said, it’s still worth celebrating. Last weekend, I enjoyed a lunchtime feast before my Akhu shrine, during which I talked with them about the past and also about my life right now. I actually spent quite a bit of time talking to my mother; and I was finally able to express my regrets that we probably had never understood each other very well, and to work through some of the ambivalence that I’ve been feeling toward her lately. At the end of the feast, I played my sistrum for the Akhu, which she seemed to think was a fun idea — I had the sudden mental impression of her shaking her own sistrum and doing the funny, awkward little bobbing dance that she used to do. It made me laugh. I’m not particularly adept at communicating with the dead, but I feel that we made a connection there, or perhaps cleared up a connection that was in danger of growing occluded.

Last night there was an online celebration in the House of Netjer chatroom, during which we named all of our Akhu and made offerings to them. Not quite the same as a live ritual, but powerful nonetheless to see that list of names scroll upward, to speak aloud the names of my own Akhu as I typed them in, the ripples of single drops falling into that great river. This year, unfortunately, daily life caught up with the Northeast region and we weren’t able to organize a get-together for the festival, but I hope we’ll be able to manage it again next year. The more that we can share in the great festivals of our religion, the better.

I’m also planning a personal Kemetic Memorial Day observance for this coming Monday, as a sort of addendum to the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. I’ll post about it here afterward.

May you and your dead be at peace, and may they bless you with good fortune and the everlasting comfort of their love.

Dua Akhu! Nekhtet!

Feast of the Beautiful Valley shrine

A shrine for the online Beautiful Feast of the Valley ritual, featuring offerings of peonies from the garden, cool water (three glasses for the Theban triad, and a shot glass for the Akhu), and white chocolate (divided as well between the Gods and the Akhu). Note too the modern appurtenances: a binder serving as a windbreak to keep the air conditioner from blowing out the candles and a squirt bottle to chase away the cats.

March 23, 2010

Making ready the Door of the Sun

Posted in Being Kemetic, Festivals, Home and Temple at 9:35 pm by

Last weekend was the spring equinox, and the weather was absolutely beautiful, so I spent a large chunk of time outside…doing yard work. (Which I actually do enjoy, although right now I have more tasks than I do energy.) At any rate, my plan on Saturday was to begin by picking up some pine cones out the back, and then move on to clearing up around the driveway. So I picked up cones and raked up pine needles and raked out a lot of old, dead grass, and over an hour later, I found myself asking, “Why am I still working on this one slope at the back of the house, instead of giving more attention to the front areas?”

And a few minutes later, I realized, “…oh. It’s because this is ‘the Door of the Sun,’ where I sometimes stand to salute Bast and Atum at sunset, especially during the lighter months of the year.” And thus reminded, on Sunday evening I did just that, acknowledging the next tick of the year’s clock and the ending of the Feast of Zep Tepi, to the trills of spring peepers and evening bird songs — adding in Heru-hekenu for the first time, to honor the full holy triad of per-Bast.

The Gods have a way of reordering one’s priorities.

December 27, 2009

Bast guards the Two Lands

Posted in Being Kemetic, Festivals, Ten Days of Joy, Thoughts and Reflections at 9:59 pm by

Candle in sand

A major part of the process of settling and growing in Kemetic religion is figuring out one’s calendar. With some hundreds of known festivals filling almost every day of the year, it can be entirely overwhelming! Most people seem to prune it down to a handful of focused observances, with at best a quick candle lighting or a moment of prayer to acknowledge some of the other days.

The festival known as Bast Guards the Two Lands (sometimes called Bast Guides the Two Lands) is one of my big ones, and this year it was even more of a production than usual, with the Northeast gathering on one weekend, my own personal observance on the following Friday, and the Ten Days of Joy meditations spanning both. It included fellowship, singing, the decoration and shaking of sistra, the lighting of candles, offerings of chocolate and flowers and cookies and oranges and roast duck (among other things), long bouts of contemplation, a renewed sense of purity and the beginnings of a shift in spiritual focus, and through it all, the overpowering warmth and presence of my Mother’s love.

Six years ago, I celebrated this festival for the very first time, although I didn’t realize it then. It was a time of deep reflection, as it still is today, a time of sitting in darkness and opening to the light, a time of stillness and profound listening. And yet it’s also a festival of song and rejoicing, of group celebration and festivity, of laughter. It was interesting to me that the Ten Days of Joy also seemed to swing between stillness and exuberance, inward and outward, contemplation and action. Perhaps one could say that joy and love both reconcile all opposites.

Praise to You, Bast, pre-eminent in the field of the god! Mistress of Heaven, O Peerless One, Firstborn of Tem! May You guide us, may You guard us, in every day and every hour, as You guide and guard the Two Lands! Nekhtet!

(The picture above is from after the group celebration, when everyone else had left and our burned-down celebrant candles were removed from the bowl of sand, leaving just Bast’s central candle in place.)

October 13, 2009

Seeing anew

Posted in Being Kemetic, Stalking Beauty, Thoughts and Reflections at 9:31 pm by

It was a good weekend — a friend and fellow Kemetic priest came to visit, and we went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and also simply spent time together talking about our practices. On Sunday, after the grocery shopping, I usually make offerings to my Beloveds, the God of the Year (currently Djehuty), and my Akhu; he sat in on that with me, and we added an offering for his Mothers, Nebt-het and Serqet. I’m used to doing offerings by myself, and it was an interesting and pleasant experience to be able to share that with someone. I think that there’s a lot we can learn, too, from watching and participating in each other’s rituals. Even if we’re working within the same basic framework, everyone brings their own touch, their own emphasis, their own poetry of gestures, words, and silences.

Another gray, cool day, a chill in the air that says autumn is here in earnest. It occurred to me just the other day that the colors of my state shrine — flame orange for the naos cabinet, shades of green and brown-gold for the curtained backdrop — echo the colors of this transition time, when the trees are just starting to catch fire. If you had asked me, once upon a time, what my least favorite color combination was, the answer would have been orange and green. It made me think of lurid fashion, of acidic day-glo and neon. And yet at Bast’s inspiration it’s become a thing of beauty for me. Now I see it with new eyes, a vision of fire and life and burning; now I associate it with the season that I love.

Tomorrow the House of Netjer will be holding an online oracle of Amun for its membership. I’ve been trying to think if I have anything to ask the God. Everything that’s unresolved for me right now is internal, not a question of “what should I do” or “what do I need to know” but of learning to be still with who I am and to see what’s truly around me. The secret of learning patience is to be patient.

O Amun, O Hidden One, may You help me to see what’s hidden from my view.

Dua Amun! Dua Bast! Nekhtet!

June 30, 2009

Time and abundance, satisfaction and peace

Posted in Being Kemetic, Thoughts and Reflections at 3:18 pm by

A lot of yard work this weekend, since the weather was cooperating. Actually, the weather has been quite cooperative in general over the last week or so: rain when I need to be indoors working on a freelance assignment, sun when it’s time to work outside. (And rain again when I’ve worked more than enough and just don’t want to admit it.) Almost four hours of leaf-raking, weed-pulling, and mowing on Sunday might have been a little much, but I’m starting to feel as though order is being restored to the place, bit by bit. And I still had time enough to visit the farmers’ market, and also to stop at one of the local farms and self-pick a pint of raspberries — offering the joy of harvesting abundance on such a beautiful day to Bast, and offering the berries themselves to Her later, in shrine.

Time enough — that’s abundance too. For years, I’ve struggled under the anguish of never having enough time to accomplish everything that I want to do. I don’t suddenly have more time than I used to — more like the opposite! And in fact I didn’t get to everything on my to-do list last weekend. But I did…enough. I filled the days well, with solid work interspersed with moments of calm and rest, and had no regrets at the end of it. What I didn’t get to, I’ll get to eventually, if it’s truly important. It’s a shift in perception brings relief, at last, from anxiety: satisfaction as the focus, and with that satisfaction comes peace.

Time spent in shrine is an offering. And the way we spend our time in general — not merely what we spend it on, but how we spend it — is an offering too, one that reverts to us, just as the reversion of food and drink offerings returns their benefit to the ones who offered them. The Kemetic word hotep means “offering” — and it also means “rest,” “satisfaction,” and “peace.” The more I ran around looking for peace, the less I found it. So let peace become my offering, and my offering becomes peace in its turn.

Em hotep, Bast, em hotep.

June 18, 2009

Following the heart

Posted in Being Kemetic, Netjeru, Stalking Beauty, Thoughts and Reflections at 8:01 am by

Some time ago, in the throes of one of my periodic attacks of “What should I do with my life?!” I was sitting before Amun-Ra’s shrine. And I asked Him, “What is ma’at?” (i.e., what would be the right path for me to follow).

Go and ask your Mother, He said, adding, almost as an afterthought, Ma’at is to follow the heart.

Last weekend, I was reading from Miriam Lichtheim’s Ancient Egyptian Literature: The Late Period, and I came across the following lines, in the statue inscription of Nebneteru:

Happy is he who spends his life
In following his heart with the blessings of Amun!

In the footnotes, Lichtheim comments:

This sentence sums up the Egyptian concept of the good and blessed life. “Following the heart” (shemsu-ib) is to make the best and fullest use of what life holds: it is being active, generous, and joyful.

And I realized that I had completely misunderstood what Amun-Ra had meant by following the heart. I had thought that I should listen to the aches and pangs, that I should take the prickings of anxiety as a message, a warning, a prod to get me moving toward some other, “better” life…when instead ma’at is to listen to and to dwell in the heart’s joy in each moment. To live, to give, to create, to be open to all the good that is.

And of course, my Mother, Bast, is the Mistress of Joy.

May Bast guide my heart in its dance; may She open my eyes to the beauty everywhere around me; may She bless all that I touch and every word I speak.

Dua Netjer! Dua Bast!

January 28, 2009

Putting words on the page

Posted in Being Kemetic, Thoughts and Reflections at 12:28 pm by

Bit of a lull there, as in the wake of finishing up a couple of freelance assignments I finally had the time and mental space to really delve into a personal creative writing project, so I plunged headlong into it. It’s kind of funny that I would have more time for posting in this weblog when I’m under deadline for paying work than when I’m messing about on a piece of fanfiction, but there you go. I suppose it’s because I can dip in and out of the freelancing more easily, whereas I need to build up momentum in order to make substantial progress on the fiction, and lately I’ve been feeling a lot of internal pressure to make that progress, to finish at last the giant project that I’ve been working on for years so I can finally set it aside and go on to other things.

Lately my thoughts have been circling around the idea of what I can contribute, of how to make a difference in the world. Possibly this is inspired at least in part by the idealism of the new Obama administration, although I think, too, that I’m just getting to a point in life where I’m running up against the limits of living inside my own head. One of my current projects at work is a book about how Muslims in France form new institutions within the framework of secular French society and carve out spaces for community participation in religion, and as I read it I think, “I want that” — I want to be part of building something that’s both shared and substantive. I want to be part of the growth of the House and of Kemetic faith in general, and I want to see the beautiful results of that growth — I want us to have sacred spaces, artworks, libraries, classes, a record of artifacts, a thriving social network beyond the online forums. I want processions, damn it. We’re starting to develop some of these things, and where we have them, they’re truly precious; but as a religion we’re geographically scattered and still few, and the work is slow, and this cat gets impatient sometimes. Some days on my lunch break I sit in the university chapel to meditate, and I wonder if our hands will ever make something so large and lasting, or if the age of Kemetic monuments is past — if there will never again be the resources nor a true need for such things.

But large-scale works aside, there’s still a lot that we can do. Last weekend the HoN’s Northeast region had a New York-area get-together, the first in a series of “God of the month” discussions, and it was fantastic — not only as a social and educational gathering in and of itself, but as a chance to make plans for future events, and even more than that as a source of inspiration. One of the high points was a ritual of meditation on Sokar, Who was the focus of discussion, and Whom I had never really met before, but gazing into the eyes of His statue, I suddenly realized that I knew Him after all — the terror of the empty page waiting to be written upon, and also the wonder of it, the endless ground of potentiality. And so it is with every endeavor on the brink of its beginning. (It reminds me once more of New Year’s Eve, white on white beside the river.) It’s time to take a deep breath and step forward into life, into motion, into the projects that need to be brought out of thought and dream and into this world.

Hail, Sokar, Lord of Time, Still-heart, mighty Hidden One! Dua Netjer, nekhtet!

January 8, 2009

Life and the river

Posted in Being Kemetic, Netjeru, Parks and Rivers, Thoughts and Reflections at 8:15 am by

So as you might be able to guess from the last two posts (if the name of the blog hasn’t already given it away), rivers are almost certainly going to feature prominently here. Part of it is that I tend to experience Bast in an extremely riparian aspect. She’s not only the Lady of Fire but Lady of the Waters — Huntress among the reeds, flash of sunlight dazzling from the ripples, the breath of cool, green life lifting a scattering of waterfowl toward the sky. Some of my earliest — and still most profoundly moving — conversations with Her took place at the mouth of the Long Slip Canal in Hoboken, gazing out over the Hudson as I waited for my train to arrive, watching the intermittent birds and the sunset’s reflection burning across the glass-windowed face of Manhattan and the slow wavelets lapping at the abandoned pilings, and asking, “Why Egypt?”

Because everywhere is Egypt, She said to me. Everywhere the ducks fly, everywhere the water flows, everywhere the sun’s light falls.

I’ve been trying to think of a word for what the river means to me. Metaphor isn’t quite it, although it does partake of metaphor. I’ve used the river before as an image to describe my conception of Netjer, the fluid, often arbitrarily demarcated boundaries that on another level blend into unity, not just tributaries flowing into a larger watercourse but the entirety of the river basin and all that it contains. (A shift in perception: Is the slow, weed-choked widening in the stream separate from the satin-slick surge of current where the channel suddenly narrows? Where does one state transition into the next? And would the river be the same without the shape of the hillsides that funnel runoff into it, or the species that live within and around it, or the wind patterns that bring the rain? And yet you can point at the river, naming it as a singular entity, and doing so is both informative and useful.) The river is connection, like the image of the world-and-heavens-spanning Tree that it’s branching structure reflects; it’s journey, and in that it’s also life in the sense of arising, passing through different states and environments, and merging at last into an unfathomable depth, or else evaporating into the sky. It’s life as well in that its waters sustain the life around it, life in that it cradles and contains life within it.

I live now — and have lived for nearly all of my life — in a watershed valley. The brook that cuts across my property flows into a stream that feeds the North Branch of the Raritan and thus the Raritan itself, and ultimately ends in Raritan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, if it can be said to ever truly end. I grew up playing by streamsides, and so I guess the sound and movement of the water got into me early. And the colors — fierce green of the tender new grass around a tiny spring-fed trickle, early in the year before the fields have really come back; mellow amber of the sun’s light on the rounded, leaf-shrouded stones of the river bottom; slatey or silvery or midnight blue flashes where the water’s surface captures the sky. So to me the centrality of the river to the world of Kemet, the way that Egypt and the Nile define each other, is an important point of personal congruence, a resonance that makes me feel at home.

One of Bast’s more obscure epithets is Shet, She of the Pool, and that’s one of the many faces of Her joy: the coolness, the lightness, the vivid sensation, the liquid shiver of delight. And I could probably go on and on at great length about where and how this aspect merges into some of Her other ones — Eye of Ra, Lady of the Perfume Jar, nurse and protector of the King, Firstborn of Tem — but that’s probably better suited for a book (someday!) than for the blog.

What lifts me up? I echoed in my last post.

She does.