February 23, 2012

C is for crocuses

Posted in Pagan Blog Project 2012, Stalking Beauty at 8:41 pm by

For the Pagan Blog Project:

At first I was going to write this second C post on community, but I just couldn’t seem to do it. I tried three times, and each attempt came out flat and dull. Then I thought about doing an entry on crash and burn, since that’s sort of how the last week has been for me, but that wasn’t right either. So finally I decided to write about my favorite harbingers of spring: the crocuses.

On my lunchtime walk today, I chose my route to pass a house that I knew had yellow crocuses in its yard; I wanted to see if they were out already. They were, in all their cheerful sungold glory. Further down the street, there were clumps of tiny, icy-blue crocuses clustered along the sidewalk. And then I turned the corner, and every house had them: vivid yellow, white striped with lavender, deep purple with their saffron throats aswarm with honeybees (already! in February!).

Crocuses make any day a happy one.

(I also took a detour to bring me past the sweet box, because: mmmm. And that was out as well. Delight!)

Dua Bast! Dua Heryshef! You bless us all with Your powers of life.

February 3, 2012

C is for creativity

Posted in Creative Fire, On Writing, Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 10:34 pm by

(I wasn’t sure I would be able to squeeze out this Pagan Blog Project post. Because the songs just wouldn’t stop coming….)

Kemet is rife with creator Gods, and we, their children, are creators too. Our words take on life, the breath of our mouths as we speak or sing or laugh; our hands with their skill give form, color, and texture; our bodies are eloquent in movement, tracing the shapes of our emotions, our patterns of our relationship to the space around us. Even if we don’t necessarily consider ourselves “artists” or “talented” — we write, we draw, we do crafts, we sing alone in the car, we arrange our homes or our rooms or our shrines, we collect things and put them together in ways that speak to us, we weave magic and rituals, we build, code, problem-solve, design, embellish, and adorn. And so much more. In so many ways, we shape worlds, and we fill them with what’s in our hearts.

Writing is my own main form of creativity, although I also dabble in various others. Whatever form it takes, though, my creativity tends to be compulsive, cyclical, and all-consuming. I get swept up by what I’ve taken to calling “enthusiasms,” which feel very much like what I imagine the Celtic experience of “fire in the head” must be. (“Fire of the sun” in a Kemetic context, I suppose. Or maybe “fire of Sia.”) Once I’m struck, there’s no letting go until the energy has burned through me. And then it passes, and I don’t quite know what to do with myself until the next round begins.

Sometimes it can be exhausting. Especially when I’m working on a song and I end up singing a tune over and over and over waiting for the words to come — my voice gives out, my brain feels hot and raw, scraped by the repetition of half-finished lines, and I just want to whimper, “Please, God, make it stop!” But I don’t really want it to stop. Because then I would miss the extraordinary joy and triumph of accomplishment when the work is finally done and ready for me to let it go. That feeling never dims, never gets old. Each creation is unique in its process, its challenges, its significance. Each one shines with its own light.

The work is part of my service, too, to my Mother Bast and all the Gods. Whether it be songs or poetry, fiction or blog posts, plays or rituals, it’s one of the gifts that I have to offer. I always hope that some reader finds pleasure in it, or insight, or fellowship, or even a moment’s distraction. But even if no one ever read me at all, I think I would still have to dance with the words. For the sake of connecting with and telling the story of whatever it is that inspires me. For the sake of the worlds that want to be born.

A glowing ball of pulsating light
that fills up the space before the dark night,
the thing that shines on the world below
and on me and you, wherever we go.

— my first poem, written at age seven

All You Creator Gods, may You bless the work of our hands and hearts! Dua Netjer!

January 31, 2012

The Feast of Heryshef

Posted in Festivals, Netjeru, Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 1:09 pm by

For the Pagan Blog Project‘s Imbolc prompt:

Imbolc was one of my favorite Sabbats, back when I was kinda-sorta Wiccan. Although the beginning of February was generally still cold and wintery, it was the point at which I could always see the lengthening of the days, the hint of a shift in the wind, the very first stirrings of the coming spring. It lifted my heart with the promise of sun and warming earth and flowers.

Happily, there’s a Kemetic festival at just about the same time that ties into that theme well enough that I’ve been able to shift my affections over. This is the Feast of Heryshef, the ram-headed God of Hnes. You could think of Him as something like a syncretism of Atum, Ra, and Wesir, as well as, or alternately, Heru. He’s rather large. He’s also sometimes a son of Bast, and in my own reconstruction He’s included as one of the Seven Arrows of Bast. My personal mythology is that with the sun’s return, Bast awakens/arouses/causes to come into being Heryshef, who is embodied by the freshening spring wind and the kindling energy of the first new growth.

For the His festival, which was yesterday, I got up early to sing and pray and to offer Him incense and cool water, apples and bread. Not at all coincidentally, I’d been hit with the beginning of a new song for Him the day before, so I finished writing that during my commute to work. At lunch I went for a long walk to enjoy the day, and at dinner I offered Him our spinach and artichoke pie. And yesterday morning the sun rose before the end of my commute for the first time this year, the first pale purple snow crocuses were in bloom (unusually early due to the mild winter), and the wind breathed promises through the still-leafless trees, all reminders of His presence. Simple connections — not a day of pomp and ceremony and high ritual, but nonetheless one that was intimately entwined with the God and His mystery.

Dua Heryshef! Nekhtet!

January 27, 2012

B is for Bes

Posted in Netjeru, Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 9:47 pm by

I was all set to write about baths for my second B entry. Between the purity requirements for my daily rite, the Seven Arrows of Sekhmet baths at Retreat, and experiences of ritual bathing in general, I figured I would have plenty to say. But then, as I was sitting in shrine the other day (as is usually the case when these things happen), I was informed that I was to do this entry on Bes.

At first this seemed entirely random. Bes? What on earth am I going to write about Bes, who has yet to really show up in any part of my devotions? But then I realized that it wasn’t actually random at all. I’m in the midst of floating a new addition to my practices: the idea of having Gods who are over various parts of my house, to guard and bless it. This was triggered by, of all things, FlyLady‘s housework zones, which I had been contemplating as a way to focus and improve my overall care of my home. And I’d thought, if I’m going to to be concentrating my practical attentions on different parts of the house, why not bring the Gods into it and blend in a religious element as well? So I pondered and came up with a personal set of household Gods to call upon, as part of a week-by-week routine of house cleaning and blessing.

What room are we on this week? The bedroom. And which God did I select for the bedroom? Bes, who traditionally watches over sleepers, who was depicted in bedrooms and on the head- and footboards of beds, as on the bed of Queen Tiye, shown below.

Ah, Bes, the apotropaic lion-dwarf: holy dancer, mighty laugher, fierce and tender protector. It is Bes who appeases the angry Eye of Ra with merriment and music; who watches over the heedless — the child, the dreamer, the lovers, the woman in the throes of labor; whose image decorates cosmetic items such as mirrors and kohl tubes, the tools that highlight and enhance beauty so as to awaken desire, bringing forth new love and new life.

As I lit my candle for Bes tonight, offering him spicy chocolate and a coffee-flavored frappuchino, I found myself laughing almost involuntarily, struck by humor when I least expected it.

Welcome, Bes, into my home!

Dua Bes — nekhtet!

January 22, 2012

B is for Bast

Posted in Netjeru, Pagan Blog Project 2012, Thoughts and Reflections at 9:00 pm by

I debated whether I should do a PBP post on Bast. For one thing, this blog is already largely about my relationship with Her and my experiences as Her priest. For another, Bast is so multifaceted for me that I could probably write a whole book just on Her. But since She is so central to my religious practice, it seemed inescapable that I should write something about Her. So last night, while I was in the shrine, I asked for Her guidance on how to focus this piece.

Bast who lives in the heart.

So. Picture the heart as a flower, a rose, fragrant and lovely. Trace the inner curves of its petals, winding deeper into their labyrinth, traveling in your mind toward its center as the flower slowly unfolds and unfolds, opening ever further, layer after layer of sensuous richness, seemingly endless. Until at last you find, at the very center, the darkness of the deepest night, velvet black, a place of perfect peace and stillness. And as you rest in that darkness, eventually there is a flicker of gold, of flame, two golden eyes growing larger, coming closer, the gold of the Great Lioness emerging from the night like sunrise. Until you are washed in gold, the light of the sun filling you, widening your heart until that light spills over and shines out from you. Breathe out the golden light of the sun, illuminating the world. Breathe out the fragrance of the heart, delighting the Gods. Breathe in the love of Bast that makes the soul tremble and sing. Breathe in the beauty that feeds the ka.

For Bast is the Mistress of Joy, and joy dwells within the heart. The ancient Kemetic word for joy was in fact awt-ib, “the widening of the heart”; a close friend was called “one who has entered the heart.” For the people of Kemet, the heart was the seat of intelligence, emotion, inner mind, and soul. It is in the heart that we remember, that we feel love and loss and delight — and the pricking claws of conscience when we step outside ma’at. In all of these, Bast is there.

O Bast, Beautiful Lady, may You open our hearts to joy. Your perfume comes to me, O Bast. May my perfume go to You.

Dua Bast — nekhtet!

Awt-ib

An amulet composed of the hieroglyphs for awt-ib, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

January 21, 2012

A is for Amun-Ra

Posted in Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 11:02 am by

How do I see Amun-Ra?

He is both the Hidden Wind and the Manifest Sun, and also their meeting place, where unseen power infuses the visible appearance. For me, He embodies the process of creation itself — whether the creation of a world, or a single being, or a work of art. He is the indrawn breath of inspiration, of light and life, and the passage from that inspiration to existence, the shattering exhalation, the call of the wild goose, the cry of birth. If the Eye of Ra is raw energy — “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” to quote Dylan Thomas — then Amun-Ra is the idea of the seed and the order of the plant’s development, the flower that issues forth and the influence of that flower on the heart that perceives it. He is the power that is greater than power, the matrix that contains force, giving it direction, shape, and limit.

People tend to experience Amun-Ra as very formal, very kingly; He favors ritual and commands obedience. Perhaps it’s because that kingly role provides a certain structure, a vessel to contain his immensity and abstractness, to translate it into human terms. To the common people, there would have been something ineffable about the king, who was rarely seen yet whose influence was everywhere. But Amun-Ra is not just remote; he is also the compassionate friend and benefactor of the people, prayed to for help in all sorts of matters. Perhaps in ancient Kemet there was a political angle to this, promoting an image of the ruler’s beneficence toward the people by drawing connections between him and the King of Gods, but it’s true of Amun-Ra nonetheless. He is the divine ear that hears all prayers. And while his responses to a seeker’s questions may be unexpected and often challenging, they strike to the heart.

As I was lying on the couch last weekend, thinking about what to write for this post, I suddenly heard, Get up and go into the shrine room. Oh, but I was comfortable, and the cats had just snuggled up to me….

Go to the shrine.

…and I really wanted to fall asleep….

Get up now.

I got up. I went to Amun-Ra’s shrine, lit sandalwood incense for Him, and knelt before the shrine in prayer. And I felt that connection at once, even though in all honesty I haven’t been paying much attention to Him or serving Him lately, felt His care and close involvement, His hand upon my own creative work.

How can I get closer to You? I asked in sudden love and longing, and the realization came to me:

He is everywhere — how can you get closer than that?

A Sufi master once assigned his disciples the task of killing a chicken where no one could witness the act. One took his chicken out into a cave in the wilderness, another took his down a deep well, a third shut himself in a dark closet and tied a blindfold around his own eyes. When the disciples all returned to the master, one of them still carried a living chicken. When asked why it was still alive, he replied that he had not been able to find any place where the eyes of God could not see him.

Amun-Ra is guide and commander, both subtle and inexorable — He is everywhere, watching and hearing. As He hears, He is also speaking; listen for Him.

Dua Amun-Ra! Nekhtet!


I’m running a bit behind at the moment, but hopefully I’ll have my first “B” post out sometime this weekend.

January 16, 2012

A is for Akhu

Posted in Pagan Blog Project 2012 at 8:32 pm by

This post is the first in a series, written as part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012. The idea of the Project is to make one post a week on some topic related to your spiritual or magical path; the first two weeks are for topics beginning with “A,” the next two for topics beginning with “B,” and so on. I got a late start, so I’m just posting for “A” now, even though the last “A” post was supposed to be last Friday. I may squeeze in a second “A” this week or just move on to “B”; I haven’t decided yet.

The Akhu are the Shining Ones, the ancestors, those who came before us. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, we honor them first during the daily ritual of Senut; we also give the offerings on the sixth day of the Kemetic month, as well as at various festivals throughout the year, such as the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. I have a personal ritual that I observe each Sunday, in which I make offerings to the Gods of my RPD, the Gods of the month and the year, the Seven Arrows of Bast, and finally my Akhu. I usually do a brief check-in with them, telling them what’s going on in my life, asking for their protection and guidance, and wishing them well in their ongoing lives in the West.

The Akhu are supposed to be our first go-to when we need help, even before the Gods — the premise being that they were human once, they better understand our trials and tribulations (the Gods have never had to find a job, for instance, or deal with a plumbing emergency), and they have a vested interest in us as their kin. This is something I have difficulty with, though. I tend to default to the Gods, perhaps because I grew up in a culture where nobody ever talked to the dead, and I’m not one of those people who readily sees and hears them. Praying to the Gods just seems to come more naturally to me. This is something I’d like to work on, though, developing that relationship with my Akhu.

I do actually have one close-to-home example of an Akhu relationship. Late in his life, my dad, a staunch Old-World Catholic, started practicing his own form of ancestor veneration. Every morning he would light a candle and incense in the little shrine on top of his dresser, before the pictures of his parents and his brother. He would sit in the old recliner, the cat would get into his lap, and he would pet her as he talked to his departed family. I never discussed the Kemetic religion with Dad before he died, but I think he would have understood my Akhu shrine, at least. And I think it must make him happy that now I offer flame and incense to him.

Dua Akhu, shining as gold in the vault of Nut! May you live forever, true of voice.