March 22, 2010
Last Friday I went back up to the library to renew a book (The Role of the Chantress in Ancient Egypt, if you’re curious). By the corner where I was overwhelmed by fragrance, the magnolias had come out, their flowers flaring white and dazzling in the sun. And I found myself glad that I’d been there just a few days earlier, before the magnolias were actually in bloom, because, like a number of other passersby I overheard, I probably would have assumed that heart-catching perfume had to be coming from those great, glorious, shining flowers. I might never have guessed that it wasn’t the magnolias at all, but the low, dark green shrubs around their feet. Because obviously it’s the showy and beautiful flowers that have the sweetest scent, right?
But sometimes it’s the smallest, most ordinary, least remarkable of things that hold the perfume of the Gods.
A whisper on the wind, a glimmer in the dust, the small, comfortably smooth weight of a pebble, a nubbly little flower no bigger than a dime. You never know where (or in whom) you might glimpse something wonderful, an astonishing instant of beauty, a spark of light from the creator Gods’ zep tepi.
Maybe, if you look closely enough, in everything.
I brought a sprig of the sweet box back to work to share it with my office mate and told her the story above about the magnolias. Magic, we agreed –
January 20, 2010
I finally went to see James Cameron’s Avatar last weekend. It was splendidly done, no question, a visual spectacular, showing a satisfying triumph of beauty and spirituality over corporate greed and blindness. I enjoyed it greatly, and yet I came away from it not feeling profoundly moved. My reaction may have been colored by the issues of romanticized racism that have been raised elsewhere — the idealized and pure native peoples needing to be saved by the Great White Soldier-Hero — but it wasn’t only that. It may have been that the characters didn’t hit any of my particular triggers (aside from being felinoid, which is always an attraction, blue or not), but it seemed that there was something more. And as I thought of the luminous, otherworldly forest that the movie depicted, the vivid and brilliant wings of the irkan and the toruk flashing against the sky, the perfect union of the bond, the realization came, sudden, startling, and sure:
Beautiful, yes. But not as beautiful as my Mother’s eyes.
The green-tinged gold of the winter hillsides; the moss of my lawn, lush in the brief, damp thaw; the flawless, living clarity of the brook — the caress of the sun; the wind’s sweet, subtle stirring; the leap of my heart, the sense of presence like an embrace; Her warm and endless regard holding me, always. The kinship of those who care for me and whom I care for, of those who hear echoes of the same callings, a silver, flickering music.
I feel a little sad for the people who come out of the movie theater pining for a place that they’ll never get to. The connection to something larger, to the universal web of beauty of which the self is one part, isn’t out there, on Pandora. It’s right here, right now, in the eyes that see, in the heart that opens itself in exhilarated joy and welcome like the outstretched wings of a bird.
The day after Avatar, I went for a walk to the local nature preserve and sang an offering to the stream’s spirit; at home, I raked leaves, cut back perennials, and hauled firewood, alive to the contours of the land beneath my feet, to the fall of the light. Whatever its flaws or its virtues, I’m grateful to Avatar for this: for reminding me of what beauty truly is and where it lives.
I see you, the Na’vi greet each other.
What do you see?
December 16, 2009
[From today, the new moon, through the Feast of Bast Guards the Two Lands on December 25, I'll be doing posts for Ten Days of Joy. This was an exercise for the Shemsu and Remetj of the House of Netjer, a couple of years back, which honored Bast by sharing with each other daily that which brings us joy. It seemed like a good thing to revive.]
Today’s joy was in contrasts: sun and shadows sliding beneath bare branches as the chill wind blew, tiny pillows of intensely emerald moss nestling amidst the brown winter grasses. It feels so good to walk outside, even in winter — especially in winter, perhaps, when everything is stark and clean, and the smallest traces of life and movement stand out so vividly.
Dua Netjer! Dua Bast! Nekhtet!
December 8, 2009
After yesterday’s post on the gifts of Set’s storms, a thought occurred to me, although it’s actually rooted in a realization from the day of the snowfall itself: from standing in the shrine room, having just offered candle flame and rum-flavored iced tea to Set, gazing out the window at the darkening afternoon, and being struck with the sudden beauty of it, the gentle and relentless descent of the snow, the world beneath the clouds possessed of a profound stillness and yet also of a dynamic energy, a subtly electric tension.
There’s a danger in constructing a false dichotomy where Set is all wildness and chaotic upheaval and Heru is all beauty and transformed, purified order. Like the Taoist yin-yang symbol, even though They’re opposites, They also contain the seeds of each other. Heru has His wildness too, in the tearing claws, in the battering power of unfettered wings, in the unleashed might of the King as warrior, like a lion in the carnage of battle. And Set is beautiful in and of Himself, not merely for what He gives way to. “You are beautiful,” I told Him in the shrine room that afternoon, awed. It seemed to amuse Him. So here are a few more words on the beauty of Set.
Praising the Beauty of Set
O Set, I praise Your great and implacable beauty:
in the looming majesty of the thunderhead,
in the shivery hush of snow falling at twilight,
in the lightning-edged whorls of the fractal,
in the wind-carved austerity of the desert at high noon,
in the fierce and subtle glitter of its sands.
Your ecstasy is in the howl of passion, of exertion,
in the stretch of the body driven beyond all rational limits,
in the hot, animal confusion of desire and of war.
Your rage is in the cold, burning weight of the iron blade,
perfect in balance, the shuddering slip of the faultline,
the swift-swelling wave that rises, curling and smooth, to block out the sky.
In all of Your wonder and Your terror, You are beautiful:
You are all things exotic and rare and deeply strange.
Your hands are scented with myrrh, with frankincense,
with perfumes from far-off lands that have not yet been named.
Son of Nut, Your smile is the nuclear flare of an exploding star,
expending its light and heat without limit into the black void of space.
You are the crocodile-jawed storm of destruction,
You are the raw shout of defiance snatched away by the teeth of the gale,
and You are the defiance that remains sealed within the heart, silent and pure.
In Your two hands, You hold despair and hope.
In all things, O Set, You are beautiful.
Dua Set! Nekhtet!
December 7, 2009
In my last post I was talking about the darkness of winter — and then the day after that was dazzling, brilliant with sun on the half-melted, lacy snow crust and on the jewels of ice and wet snow clinging to the trees, the road shining white with salt and the sky a crystalline, piercing blue. Winter is the darkest time, but in some moments it can also be the brightest as Set, the Lord of Storms, passes through and then departs, trailing a glorious, transfigured beauty in His wake. Without the storm, we’d never see this radiant and transformed world; without His rivalry with Set, Heru would never be a true king, tested and tempered. So honor Set for His wild strength that shakes the sky; honor Heru Who arises in splendor.
Dua Set! Dua Heru! Nekhtet!
October 15, 2009
Today on the drive to work my eye was caught by one of those maples that turn palest peach in the fall — just a glimpse, its leaves in the early morning half light like faint candle flames, luminous and hazy in the shadows beneath the taller trees. Soon their color will shift, soon the mornings will get darker, soon the leaves will fall entirely. It’s a reminder to treasure every moment of beauty as it comes.
October 13, 2009
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!
October 7, 2009
I went out for a walk along the canal today — a perfect windy autumn day, leaves flying, the sunlight glittering from a thousand ripples on the riffling water, a day that was made for joy. And as I walked, I began to pray to Heru-hekenu: “May You lift me up. May You lift me above fear, above depression, above anxiety, above anger — may You lift me on Your shining wings as You soar toward the sky, singing the praises of Netjer, Your beautiful fragrance pouring down onto the world.”
Netjer praising Netjer? came the response, soft and subtle.
“Everything,” a pause as the thought unfolds, “…praises itself.”
And then an impression like a slow, quiet smile. True.
So praise yourself today, as the tree revels in the arch of its branches, as the drifting clouds sing the glory of water and air, as Netjer loves and honors Itself — praise yourself as a child of God, beautiful and beloved. Even if something within you refuses believe it, say the words anyway. Words have power — what you speak moves that much closer to reality.
I praise myself as a singer of songs for Netjer, as a dreamer, as a good friend, as a lover of cats, as one who serves with joy. I praise the legs that carry me, the hands that do Netjer’s work, the senses that perceive, and the mind that remembers, draws connections, and invents. I praise the lungs that breathe and the heart that beats, giving me life. I praise all my hopes and longings, all my strivings and surrenders, and all the possibilities hidden within me that are yet to be born.
Dua Heru of Praises! Nekhtet!
September 17, 2009
Wep Ronpet is well past, and the season of the Inundation is underway. The golden rain trees around the fountain plaza are starting to turn, shedding their first delicate yellow leaves, living up to their name. This morning was wrapped in gray, a promise of drizzle, a heavy overcast that intensified even the smallest spots of color: blue chicory by the roadside, a fiery clump of tickseed sunflowers, one prematurely red maple branch. The rumor of autumn is in the wind, breath of coolness and change, ready to sweep everything clean before it, opening the way for all possibility.
Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time caught up in a looping pattern of anxiety, one of the most frequent manifestations of which has been a circular inner monologue: “I want something. What do I want? I don’t know what I want! But I want something….” This week I was finally able to put on the brakes by means of a very simple, basic affirmation technique: taking the negative statement at the heart of that distress, turning it into a positive one, and repeating it with intention, like a mantra.
I know what I want.
I know what I want.
I know what I want.
And the answers came.
I want to be strong.
What does it mean to be strong?
To be whole and sound. To be effective in the world.
I want to move through life with grace.
What does it mean to be graceful?
To be centered in myself. To be conscious, as I move, of my relationship with all that’s around me.
I want to live in beauty.
What does it mean to live in beauty?
To be aware. To discover richness and sweetness with all of my senses, every day, everywhere. To choose always the beautiful and the true.
I want to create beauty.
What does it mean to create beauty?
To use all my talents to write, to sing, to make things that are lovely and satisfying. To “share your lapis,” as I was told once in an inner journey. To make the world a little brighter, to make life a little easier and happier for everyone around me. To reflect all of the beauty that I see and experience and imagine.
Everything else? All the passing flickers of interests, obsessions, the one-true-goals, the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-times? It’s all window dressing, all veils and curtains, all outward forms that come and go. The essence is what’s deep and true. So if I can stay with and follow that essence, and worry less about the particulars, then I’ll find my way out of that endless loop at last.
And then, having realized that, today I went out for a walk at lunchtime and sat for a while on a set of abandoned steps, watching the cloud-blown sky. And all at once the next key came to me: part of the urgency that lies behind my anxiety is this feeling I sometimes get of being filled with a tremendous energy and having no idea what to do with it. There’s a desperation to find something big and important and most of all right, the perfect thing that I’m “meant” to do, at which I can hurl all of this gathered tension and force. (Thus the almost frantic need to answer that question of “what do I want,” to find some kind — any kind — of direction and purpose.) And what the wind and my Mother told me is — that it’s all right to hold this energy. To contain it, as the bas jar contains the secret of its perfume. And to let it find its own expression when it’s needed, when I can see what it’s really good for — as not a single outpouring flood but a thousand subtle uses, the virtue of a thousand different resins and flowers.
Two hawks swept by overhead, flying against the wind, and the sun came out.
Dua Bast! Dua Heru-hekenu! Nekhtet!
July 31, 2009
Driving through the tail end of rain storms, the last couple of days — the road was silver, and the delicate veils of water thrown up by the passing cars, and the light-struck sky, and the trees were like shadows, half seen in the mist. The Kemetic year is ending in stress, but also in beauty.
The flood time is coming; may it wash away all sorrow; may we be renewed.
Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!