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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

RedWeekShrine

In late August 2014, I began putting together a series of events for my spiritual community in the House of Netjer, focusing these efforts around the worship and study of the god Set, my primary deity and the Netjeru I view as my spiritual Father. The seven-day festival, given the name “Red Week,” has already been a tremendous learning experience for me in relation to event planning, delegation, personal research for the preparation of lessons and heka, and maintaining an active practice of spiritual discernment in the midst of the malestrom of day-to-day organizational details. The last point was maybe one of the trickiest elements for me: working to maintain the necessary balance between what benefits the celebrating community in question and what benefits the god we wish to honor through our festivities. I’m sure I will continue to have continued insights about all of this as the actual event unfolds in the days to come.

I knew that I very much wanted this first opportunity in learning how to plan a spiritual event, and I knew I needed it at roughly this level/size. I have somewhat grandiose dreams of eventually working on such things both within my primary spiritual community and on an even larger scale, with Kemetics of all paths, or even other polytheists, to promote local gatherings and worship. I have been fortunate to start to find such people in my home town, and have seen how it can function: a recent ceremony held in Pittsburgh on December 21st was a tremendous success.  Two members of Kemetic Orthodoxy, an independent Kemetic/polytheist who follows both Set and Pan, a Druid, and a Ceremonial Magician came together to honor Set’s battle against Ap_p on the longest night of the year. We made our varying backgrounds work together, combining elements from our different traditions for a vibrant evening of spiritual fellowship, storytelling, song, and contemplation. While I can only speak for myself: I found it to be a thoroughly profound night.

Yet even as I look outward and to the future, as is often my inclination, so too am I reminded that the work I’ve put into these next seven days merits a healthy degree of introspection and mindfulness: I want to take time to enjoy the week for myself, to spend time with Set and consider the lessons He may have for me. I can share some of those thoughts here and on Facebook, in the hope that they might inspire discussion both within my temple and beyond, but also just for personal growth. Both, I must remind myself, are meaningful efforts and well worth my while.

I am so very excited by what has been accomplished in the past few months: so many have stepped forward to make these “Red Week” events happen; so many have given their time and creative energy to connect and listen, teach and learn. I sincerely hope that these efforts will provide an opportunity for renewed strength as we head into 2015 and a renewed appreciation for a god who, if already fairly well known, remains so complex in His identity and the role He plays in lives of His followers around the world as to be well worth further discussion, study, and worship. Personally, while I cannot, and do not, claim to be an expert — I’ve only four years to my name as His follower, two and a half of those as His daughter — I hope that what I have learned in that brief span, what I can share through my service and dedication, will still be of benefit to others.

As for my own, individual, goals for the upcoming week? It’s time to take a look within. I have spent so much time with Set as a god of change and transformation, a god who helped me to break the boundaries of the world I previously existed within to find something better for myself. With His aid I broke free of an unhealthy romantic relationship, have since found a partner who supports me and brings balance to my life. With Set’s guidance I fought my way out of the worst of my mental health issues, and have been able to come off of medications, supporting my emotional well being through other methods. Set gave me the backbone I needed to leave an academic graduate program that was pushing me beyond my physical and emotional limits, and guided me to Heqat. With His force and Her boundless patience and love I earned a place in a new graduate program, this time in clinical mental health counseling, within a span of months, and found decent work to financially support my time in school.

I think it is time to figure out what it means to exist as His daughter when I’m standing still, finally living in a healthy space, on a fulfilling path, with supportive people. It’s a strange thing to admit, but I genuinely struggle to define myself when I’m not moving. I can’t seem to understand the edges of this person who calls herself Saryt when I’m not pushing ahead to the next challenge, fighting my way out of the most recent emotional or physical scrape. When I was an adolescent I feared change, but beginning in college, and all the more so once I re-discovered spiritual belief in 2011 with Set leading the way, I have come to use change as a means of self-definition. Now that this transformative element is, at least for the time being, seemingly less necessary on the personal level? I want to work to understand who I am when I’m not fighting to become something else, and maybe, in that understanding, come to appreciate, and care for, that self a bit more.

In so caring for myself, I believe I will then in turn be a better counselor, a better advocate, a better worshiper, and a better friend.

My goals for Red Week: self-respect and self-understanding, that I can sustain my Father’s driving will to break down the bad and make space for something new, a will that I seek to emulate within myself through my words and actions.

Much love to you all. Looking forward to sharing more as the days progress.

Aqualung

Jan. 10th, 2015 09:44 am
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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

“Hey and you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like
Madness in the spring”

– Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”

Winter can be a notoriously brutal time for many of us, wreaking havoc on health both mental and physical. I’ve been following the words of many fellow bloggers and online friends with no small degree of empathy as they fight lengthy battles with illness. I’ve listened to those coping with SAD, trying to hold to stability as the sun gradually returns to a higher place in the sky, the light lasting a bit longer with each day. I’ve read the words of folks like Aubs, who took a genuinely terrible injury after falling on the ice and yet found wisdom from it. I’ve shaken with anger alongside Aine as she described what she lives through on a daily basis as someone who is chronically ill, black, and poor. I read about these experiences with bodies that have been hurt or are constantly hurting, see discussions through various media platforms about the dangers of uncritical positive thinking regarding one’s health, and in turn find myself struggling with a vague, writhing sense of how can I make this better while simultaneously looking at my own body and recognizing things about it that would have been much simpler to let well enough alone.

You see, I really hate caving to limitations. Hate admitting that there are things that I physically cannot do. I’m as stubborn as anyone I’ve ever met when I take on a challenge, and if I say I’ll do something, it will damn well get done, come hell, high water, or hypertension.

I had the realization recently, after talking with Khenne about the trend amongst dual-Parented members of the House of Netjer to connect more with one god over the other, that this relates to why I lean so much more strongly towards Set in my spiritual practice. I take pride in the sheer grit that He represents for me and that I aim to reflect in my active, day-to-day worship of Him. Every single dawn He’s up and fighting the Uncreated One, taking the bites and the poison, largely because someone has to but no one else can. There is no sense of “backing down” in this aspect of Set’s nature, there is no “today I’m going to take a break because I need some time for self-care.” There is only moving forward, getting the job done, and putting that critical necessity, that responsibility, ahead of everything else.

Through this lens did I view my responsibility to family over the past month, cramming five cities worth of travel by bus, car, and train into ten days.  All the while I played marital counselor to aging, angry parents, served as nurse to a relative who handled his illness as maturely as a five year old, and worked as organizer for an extended family who largely seem to have stopped caring about bothering to schedule time with those who travel for hours to be with them. I did this without complaint, keeping the grief I felt contained, and instead charging forward, getting through it, seeing my responsibilities through.

I was not surprised when I became ill half way through the trip, violently so by the time I returned to Pittsburgh, fighting my way through work on Friday through the necessity of keeping my job, and then effectively collapsing after taking the bus home.

But it was not Set whose presence I felt during the days that followed, my lungs rattling from the fluid in my bronchial tube, each breath an exercise in deliberate motion, shallow and controlled, trying to avoid the minutes-long coughing spells that would leave me dizzy and occasionally half-blind from lack of oxygen. It was not Set who watched me with concern and frustration as my right hand blistered over with hot, red welts triggered by a prescribed antibiotic that my body rejected, nor was it His voice that I heard as I reached out to my gods in a panic during my third day largely confined to bed, albuterol shakes and a fever ramping my anxiety to levels that left me irrationally convinced that I was actually going to die at age 26 without some way to fight the infection, some way to help me breathe.

It was Bast who watched me with cool green eyes, Her immense presence surrounding me and then forcibly drawing out the whole of my grief for a family that had hurt me, and a body that had caved, as it so irritatingly and frequently does under such stress and pressure, to bronchitis, anxiety, and allergic response.

I wept, I choked, I gasped, I wailed, and I hated every single minute of being so utterly out of control. I hated it all the more for occurring in my partner’s presence, when he’s had his own health battles to deal with of late. But then the experience was done, the rage and grief largely out of my head and heart, and I slept more fitfully than I had in days. My life predominantly continued to revolve around sleeping for several days following. I made it to work, I did the bare minimum for other obligations, but for almost everything else which I normally hold myself responsible, I just said, “No.”

I hear Bast in that “No.” See Her in the actions of my own black-furred cat who was dealing with a cold at the same time as I fought bronchitis. For all of Sammi’s sweet “nurse-cat” temperament when I am ill, rarely leaving my side when I’m under the weather, she instead took a few days to largely rest beneath my bed by herself, until she was ready to come back and be my loyal familiar once more. Bast is far more than cat goddess alone, yet the feline propensity for self-care, self-focus (a very different beast than self-centeredness, as I would be wise to learn) is something that I believe She would have me better understand. But it keeps me from so readily embracing Her as I do Set. I feel no pride in stepping back, in admitting that my body has been “defeated” or was too weak to continue. I despise the limitations that asthma, cancer scares, and ongoing battles with anxiety and depression place on my life, how they limit what I can physically offer to the world. I struggle to love and accept my body, because I am increasingly aware that there is no amount of will power that’s going to make all of my ailments magically go away. I cannot be Set’s stubborn, get-shit-done, tough-it-out daughter all the time, much as, in my ideal world, I would.

How do I accept my Mother’s lessons, and in turn accept myself? How do I become closer to the Eye who knows how to burn brightly without burning out?

I have no answers as of yet. Only frustrated acknowledgement that this… this needs to be dealt with.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

Preparing for senut last night, I reached out to my gods, probing for the now-familiar sense of Who wished for what kind of offering this evening, Who wanted to speak with me and had a particular request for food or drink in turn. I usually hear from a few of Them each evening I manage time in shrine, their responses not necessarily coming in words, but instead more of a small, mental nudge towards a particular form of bread, tea, or fruit. Usually from this I can expect, even before I light candle and incense, Who will require my focus on a given evening, based on what I know of Their preferences, or the general feel to the presence behind the request.

Last night, I was surprised by Set.

Not surprise for Who was asking, of course. As my spiritual Father, the god who all but hauled me straight into polytheism after years of disbelief, the Name who has flipped my life upside down several times over to help me reach necessary, if difficult, goals — Set tends to get the focus of my devotions.

No, it was what He wanted that threw me for a loop.

“Offer the cards.”

While I knew immediately what He was referring to, I couldn’t wrap my head around why He was being so insistent about it. He genuinely seemed to want me to get out the Moo-mas cards and put them on the offering plate!

By way of brief explanation, Moo-mas is a fun nickname for an actual Kemetic holiday, the Establishment of the Celestial Cow.

This day celebrates Hethert-Nut’s lifting of Ra into the sky, carrying Him away from the wars of mankind that had worn Him down, giving Him the opportunity to start anew as he began a new form of leadership, ruling from the sky. The holiday celebrates Her strength, the unwavering love and power required to complete this tremendous act, even though texts specifically reference the difficulty, noting how Her legs shook from the effort until she was granted aid. The Establishment also represents the wonderful opportunity to start fresh, one of countless conceptualizations of Zep Tepi, new dawns, new beginnings, that we have in our religion.

This Kemetic celebration often falls on December 25th, the day on which many of our Christian friends and family celebrate Christmas, and a holiday whose many secular traditions such as caroling, holiday card exchange, and tree decoration may hold some appeal. The name Moo-mas seemed to stick, and new traditions developed.

The Moo-mas card exchange is one such recent practice, and one that I have treasured for the past three years. I have kept every card I’ve received in that time, put them on display as they arrived, and then tucked them away in a small basket near my akhu shrine.

But with Set’s request, I went and retrieved them. I set them on the offering plate, still confused but willing to go with the flow, going through the rest of the formal rite, and then offering them alongside pure water.

I often sing in shrine, having now written a song for each of the five gods I primarily worship, but Set cut me off even before I could begin the first verse. Again, the strong sense of the cards.

I picked them up. I opened the first. I read the message, found myself running my index finger along the ink. This was an old one, from my first year of participation. My friend still addressed me as Ekunyi here, before I’d become Saryt to her. I thought of the small sculpture that had accompanied this card, the many conversations that had followed on art, clay, creative devotion.

I opened another, touched by the small, hand-drawn depiction of both Set and Bast, the blessings offered in a handwritten script.

One of the newest cards, specifically selected for me because of the frogs on the cover, with a written in “Dua Heket!” I laughed aloud at that the first time I’d opened it, just the day before, and laughed again, appreciating the time and thought that had gone into the card’s selection, and the kind message that accompanied it.

I went through more cards, from different years, different friends and acquaintances. Yet my hands kept seeking more, even after I’d closed the last card. I opened up the doors to the storage below my shrine, pulled out beaded necklaces, bottles of sacred oil, paintings and drawings and poetry from the talented hands and hearts of so many acquaintances who had gradually become family over three years of time and shared experience.

My hands rested on a piece of linen, my Father’s outline embroidered in my Mother’s colors, a gift from a friend and spiritual sibling who is even farther away than many of the others. I teared up, just… needing to touch it, in that moment. I needed to hold it, to treasure the tangible reminder that this faith has brought me so many amazing connections, so many incredible moments of shared understanding and compassion.

Without ever having realized that I’d lost sight of it, I suddenly recognized that I had desperately needed this physical reminder of why I do as much as I do, why I give what I can of my time and energy to these incredible people all around the globe. That it counts for something. That despite the difficult times, all the horrible grief and violence and pain in the world right now, there is beauty in these connections that have been established through our mutual faith and belief in our gods.

It is such a small thing, holding a card, a beaded necklace, a piece of embroidered linen in your hand, and yet there is a profound significance to the reality of it. Touching what has been crafted with you in mind, remembering that you matter to someone, and they to you in turn.

A thousand blessings on all of you this holiday season. Thank you, all of you, for being in my life.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

music2

Singing isn’t easy. It’s often downright exhausting, depending on the length of my rehearsal or performance, and the space in which I’ve been asked to perform. I generally need some time afterwards to decompress, and use that time to think about how the singing went, what I can do to improve the next time. After one such hour of intensive one-on-one work with my vocal instructor, I sit down in a coffee shop with my tablet and begin to write out some of the important issues that arose during the day’s efforts.

My notes from that lesson look roughly as follows:

1.) E-vowel needs to be adjusted for full, open sound. Start with ah-ooh-ee to get lip positioning, use y to slide through. ”Ah”s need to be brighter, but careful not to go too bright. Avoid the nasal, lift the soft palate, open the mouth fully.

2.)  Significance of pronunciation does not need to be hyper-realized, can be understood even if consonants are not so harsh, don’t cut off your air to over-emphasize the text. Ride the breath, get the sense of up and over the note, place the voice on it, keep it out of the throat, and don’t let it fall down when shifting between vowels.

3.) Too much mental focus on the minute things I’m singing, and how I’m singing them. Intonation stays stable when I stop thinking and just let myself go after establishing the initial intent.

Set is present across the table from me, sipping the coffee I offered as per usual when we go to this cafe. He watches me write, lets me mentally run some of the concepts past Him with the occasional nod, but looks progressively more and more amused as I poke and prod at each idea individually and consider how to improve upon it.

“You do realize you are writing yourself a how-to regarding spoken heka, right?”

I raise a mental eye-brow. “It’s 17th and 18th century opera, Father. I know I’ve written about heka and music before, but this is fairly specific to an Italian, Baroque cultural frame work.”

“Think about it when you next practice.”

“…You’re pulling your ‘Great of Voice’ title on me again.”

“Absolutely.”

So I humored Him, having learned that my Father is not one to be deterred from nearly any matter He brings up, and came back to the list with a fresh eye a few days later. I explored the ideas I’d written out through my vocal practice that day, and realized that maybe there was something to His initial suggestion. In three main areas — pronunciation, breath, and intent — there genuinely seemed to be some significant cross-over. Lessons from my vocal training could, perhaps, also be of use in my study of heka.

Pronunciation

I struggle with pronunciation at times in my voice lessons. My vowels retain traces of my heritage, a “Balmer” Maryland nasality touched with the extra “r”s of Midwesterners who “warsh” their hands. I practice for hours to appropriately open my vowel sounds for romance languages or to fluidly combine them for German vowels with umlauts and schwas. The accuracy of pronunciation matters a great deal to me. It must be correct if I am to effectively convey the language I am trying to sing, if I am going to accurately share with my audience the meaning behind the text, and if I am going to prove myself a knowledgeable and worthwhile singer to those listening who may fluently speak the language I am trying to share.

With this in mind, it was fairly intriguing to me that in her book on Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch writes:

Spells had to be distinguished from everyday speech, so they were usually chanted or sung rather than simply spoken. The exact pronunciation of many of the words was important, particularly cryptically written words that claimed to be the secret names of gods and demons. This knowledge was presumably passed down in oral tradition. The Graeco-Egyptian papyri sometimes mention the tone of voice in which divine names are to be pronounced. In one Hermetic text, the deified Imhotep explains that ‘the very quality of the sounds and the intonation of the Egyptian words contains in itself the force of the things said.’ (68)

I had to laugh as I related this to my own singing experiences: of course intonation and quality of sound conveys a force! On the one hand, careful pronunciation presents the force of the meaning of the words I seek to share with my voice: accurate intonation is key in the transfer of information, the successful portrayal of words and their associated content. On the other hand, that pronunciation extends beyond the words into emotive, connective power.

An impassioned speech or a beautiful song serves as a tool of connection, emotionally asking us to experience sound in a wholly different manner than something that is simply recited aloud. It has a force to it that is difficult to put into words, but which many of us have likely experienced, establishing a connection between performer and audience, or a communal group of singers. This connection has been studied extensively on both socially experiential levels (see Victor Turner’s concept of communitas) and biological manners (note an article relating to the synchronization of heartbeat amongst choral groups.) In my experience, this communion of feeling and power can be experienced between two or more people, but also between us and the divine. I have lost myself as I sang for Netjer before my shrine, connecting to them in a way no words could describe as I sang, enunciated sacred texts and personal prayer in the profound way that melody necessitates.

Breath

When I pronounce my lyrics well, in such a manner that I am able to convey both textual and emotional meaning successfully, I feel incredibly powerful through my singing. Yet over-pronunciation during vocal lessons can result in a serious issue with the success of my performance: cutting off my breath. An over-emphasized consonant closes my throat, keeps my mouth shut for too long. The constant flow of sound comes to a halt as I physically lose the vibrations which previously rode along the air. Falling, the resonance shifts down into my throat where things strain, crack and come to a painful halt. Supported breath, an uninterrupted stream of air maintained through the strength of the diaphragm and stomach, is the vital force behind singing. Without that support there will be little reason to worry about the details of the mouth’s position and the knowledge of pronunciation, as the sound will never come to be. Both are equally necessary in one’s efforts to successfully, and powerfully, sing.

As I wrote about in my prior post about music and heka, I noted that the latter has been described as a “pneumatic exhalation,” an “occult force that infuses the world of things” (Te Velde 1970, 170).  This invisible power, controlled through the breath, and indeed existing as breath itself, was also given a physical, internal aspect. In multiple texts, heka was described as a bodily aspect which could be swallowed or eaten, and thus resided in the abdomen. “When [heka] was transmitted, it was transmitted, as the nature of the information passed on required, from the entrails of the one who possessed it to those of the one receiving it.  Consequently, the malignant forces ranged against the gods preferred to attack their hearts and viscera in order to gain complete mastery over the powers their victims possessed.  To penetrate … the belly of a god was an easy way to establish oneself in the most intimate part of his being and acquire a position of domination there” (Meeks 1996, 96).

If “dominating the belly,” controlling the stomach and the breath the stomach powered, was viewed such a significant way of controlling one’s magical force, so too is control over the stomach a necessary means of controlling vocal power. Air creates the vibrations between the vocal cords, within the mouth, and one’s subsequent control over the air, moving it forward firmly, smoothly, but without pressing too hard, allows for a ringing tone. An unsupported breath becomes a dull, lifeless sound that does not carry. Breathing from the gut and using the stomach to hold that air? The resultant sound rings throughout a room, layered with overtones that the human ear will not perceive as pitch, but which change the timbre of the voice to something undeniably rich, vibrant, and resonant.

Intent

It can be challenging to balance the many critiques of my vocal instructor, shifting back and forth in my mind between the exacting shapes of my lips and tongue while simultaneously trying to breathe appropriately and keep the production of my sound above that ongoing current of air. I have found over time that I am often far more successful in practicing one component at a time, then bringing them together in preparation, and finally just “letting go” and completing trusting the intent behind what, and how, I am going to sing. If I am confident, the many little details of my lessons will come together, my voice is powerful, supported, and accurate in pronunciation and pitch. If I hesitate, something falls awry as my micromanaging one detail leads me to neglect another.

So too does this confidence become vitally necessary when I step from the lesson into performance. I must be self assured before my audience: a nervous performer is recognized as such from the instant they step on stage, their posture and expression give them away and are subsequently contagious. The audience expects those nerves to present issues for the musician, becomes nervous themselves. A confident performer puts an audience at ease, and indeed shares that confidence with them. They are not distracted from anything but the musical utterance, and so that opportunity to communicate, the chance to share the power of song, is not obscured by the obstacle of concern.

Writing of one particular magical utterance, Robert Ritner notes that,  in one particular spell, “…the magician himself acts as the ‘fighter’ and claims to be able to turn the enemy’s head and feet back to front and make all its limbs weak. Concentration of the will must have been an important part of making such assertions. The magician’s confidence would then be passed on to the client” (1993, 72). The magician and the musician must concentrate on their will, their intent, and then fully trust in their intentions, if they are to successfully connect with their client or listener.

Performing Musical and Magical Utterance

Combining pronunciation, breath, and intent requires a careful balance between a deeply embodied, physical awareness and a highly mental and emotional action. I cannot sing if I am physically ill, if my vocal cords are injured, if my attempts to breathe result in a coughing spasm rather than firm, bodily control from my gut. I cannot sing if I am mentally ill, if my mind cannot focus on memory, if my self-confidence has been beleaguered to the point that I cannot trust in my own ability to do what I intend with my music.

Yet singing can become heka unto itself in those moments of illness: I have sung long enough at this point to gain control over my breath when I am sick, having stopped asthmatic spasms in their tracks with a breathing exercise from a vocal lesson. So too have I fought depression off with song: standing erect for an hour, forcing my body upright so as to properly create a strong, powerful, sound, I have turned my mood around for the better. Mind follows body, body follows mind, and in singing, with its natural balance between the two, I can help myself attain better health. It is physiological and psychological. It feels like magic, and in truth: it is.

Robert Ritner writes of Aset (in this case, using the Greek form of Her name: Isis) and what makes Her so powerful, what gives Her such control over the magic that She is known for. He quotes the Metternich Stela where Aset speaks, saying:

I am Isis the goddess, the possessor of magic, who performs magic, effective of speech, excellent of words. (34)

Ritner then notes that, “The preceding statement of Isis is also of value for its clear declaration of the tripartite nature of magic, being viewed as an inherent quality or property to be “possessed,” an activity or rite to be “performed,” and as words or spells to be “spoken” (35).

Aset’s magic, Her heka, is possessed within Her body. She performs it aloud, breathing and then chanting, or perhaps even singing, words of power.  She pronounces, with excellence in confidence and command, the significance of those words. She is the master of magical utterance, and perhaps, in Her own way, a prima donna of musical utterance as well.

Dua Aset in Her year! Great Magician, I greet you, and am glad to find a similarity between us. May it lead to greater understanding. 

Dua Set for leading me to this realization. Thank you for helping me to better know your sister and myself. 

 References

Meeks, Dmitiri and Christine Favard-Meeks. 1996. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Pinch, Geraldine. 1994. Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Ritner, Robert. 1993. The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Te Velde, Herman. “The God Heka in Egyptian Theology.” Jaarbericht van het Voorsaiatisch-Egyptish Genootshap. Ex Oriente Lux 21.

 

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

“I need help.”

I finally admitted it aloud, my mind begrudgingly aware of the fog of weariness creeping in around the edges of my caffeine-induced consciousness. My hands still on the wheel as I drove south from Illinois to Texas, my shift at the “helm” was a necessary one; my sibling Tenu needed the rest after driving for the better part of twelve hours straight, and we were in the middle of nowhere — not a safe place to stop and mutually snooze. I had promised to wake zir if I got tired. Tired was not an option. Zie needed to keep sleeping, at least for a little while longer, and I needed to keep my promise.

Thus, damn stubborn Set-kid that I am, I reached out to my gods a second time, sheepish about doing so over something seemingly as trivial as a road-trip. “I need help. I have to stay awake. Please.”

We’re here, as we always are. You are not alone.

The mental ping of words came from several gods at once, my mind somehow translating various ideas, colors, images that flooded my headspace into five distinct presences. My spiritual family of Netjeru. The gods I worship each time I perform the rite of senut all giving a little boost in their own way, now also including my newest Beloved, Heqat, who formally joined me at Retreat.

Set suggested shifting the CD to a livelier song with a stronger rhythm. Hethert-Nut, leaning strongly towards Her Hethert side, encouraged me to groove. I did an awkward sitting-in-a-car boogie to the beat as She laughed and cheered, the movement waking me up. Heqat simply settled as a calming presence around my neck and shoulders and I stopped worrying about the weariness and focused on keeping myself mentally present, a much more productive use of my energy. Heru-wer offered His light, and suddenly the headlights of oncoming traffic seemed a little brighter, the night not nearly so oppressive in its magnitude. Bast just talked to me, and this was a wonder in and of itself… we don’t often just speak, She and I.

We talked of many things, including my experiences at Wep Ronpet at Tawy. She noted how I was healthier these days, had focused enough on myself that She felt comfortable making a request that pertained to external matters. It is time to seek balance between Her and Set. I seek my Father daily, speak with Him readily, have done research and written essays for personal use in His name. Some people do not even recognize my associations with Her, so much do they link me with Set. At times, I feel closer to my Beloveds than I do my own divined Mother, and She has been here far, far longer than any of Them, longer than Set as well.

I would have felt guilty for this, but She would not let me. Instead she gave me goals to focus on, goals that will take a fair amount of discernment and effort, and so I may hold them fairly close to the chest for the time being, having already shared them with those who She instructed me to reach out to. But it is worth recording some of what occurred at the House of Netjer’s annual Retreat here, to hold myself accountable in a way.

Upon my arrival at Retreat, Shefyt (an amazing daughter of Bast herself!) was one of the first people to see me, and she came running across the room to greet me with a giant hug. It made me feel so immediately welcomed again, so very Home-with-a-capital-H that I practically teared up. Shortly thereafter I went to greet Hemet, and saw a Bast prayer card with Bast depicted with a green face. Hemet explained Her associations with malachite, in part through Wadjet in later periods, and I made a mental note that I wanted to *know* this and other such important associations in the future. The following day being Aset’s birthday, I wore a green and black dress, mostly because Aset (albeit largely through Hatmehyt) tends to approve of my indulging my feminine side. No less than five people complimented me on it, saying that it looked like I was wearing malachite. Point taken, Lady.

That evening in ritual was a highly emotional experience for me, one that I am still largely processing. What I can note, was that I received tremendous comfort from both Sekhmet and later Zat, who gave a particularly wise point of advice when she mentioned that I was so much my Father’s child right now, it might help if I reached out more to my Mother, remembered that I was Her child too, and allowed Her to help me approach and deal with emotions that I have otherwise worked to repress via throwing myself into five thousand projects.

On Wep Ronpet itself, I stopped by Bast’s shrine after the festivities had been completed. I kneeled, offered full henu, admiring the many gifts that had been left for Her (quietly regretting I’d not brought any of the mint-chocolate offerings She loves.) She gave me the aforementioned instructions then, and told me who I was to share them with.

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Bast shrine at Tawy

I’m still reeling a bit and was certainly startled then. But as the day progressed, and gifts were exchanged (an AGI Bast being *given* to me which was mind-blowing in and of itself) I received another present from Netjer. The ribbons from last year’s Wep Ronpet ceremony, which had been tied around each of the gods, were distributed to those still present. I received Ma’ahes’ ribbon, and just… laughed warmly at the realization, friends sitting next to me looking amused as I seemingly cackled at nothing.

I need to work on remembering that I am a Child of Bast. Who better to help than one of the gods who is, in fact, a Child of Bast?! Main spiritual goal for the year understood, Lady. I realize it took a spiritual clue-by-four, but I’m listening, and I will do right by you.

On the secular side of things, I am moving forward towards finding, applying to, and beginning a counseling program — ideally one with arts/music therapy as part of the counseling degree. As I joked to Tenu, I feel like I’m amassing a Support Squad of gods as I work my way towards this. Set has discussed how His strength, and my personal reflection of that strength, will be necessary as I move forward along this path, both to maintain my own boundaries, and to face on a daily basis the isfet that is eating the hearts of my clients. Heqat and Hatmehyt mutually suggested my creation of a “mindfulness” shrine external to my senut space, somewhere I could go and pray regardless of purity concerns, where I could engage in self-care through meditation and also offer prayers to those who might need my counseling, that they too could find a way to care for themselves and accept what help I might give. Sekhmet has offered Her aid here as well, mostly to me, but also to others.

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Art by A’aqytsekhmet that will be the focus point of my mindfulness shrine

The most surprising addition to this group is Nebt-het. Last night, Tenu and I did senut together at Tenu’s home shrine in Texas. We went through the ritual, made offerings, and then Tenu noted zir mothers were very, very present — did I have any questions for them? I had one for Hethert-Nut, which I asked, and received an encouraging response… but Tenu insisted that the pressure remained.

What could Nebt-het want me to ask Her? I’ve only just barely worked with Her. A ten-day effort to get to know Her culminated in my daily praying for each of the victims of a mass shooting in California, and finally praying for the shooter and his family as well. It was challenging, but I did it, and suddenly I wondered if this was the point. I had the strength to deal with those who were grieving, to look at violence in the world and continue to make space for both the dead and those who mourned them. I asked Tenu to inquire via fedw if Her ten-day request was to show me that I was ready to become a counselor, specifically given my interest in serving communities which have dealt with trauma, and received a firm yes. The presence, Tenu noted, faded abruptly thereafter, but not without a brief message: I am to reach out to Her if I need Her as I move forward along this path. Though still surprised, I am grateful for Her support.

It feels like a lot to wrap my head around, but such seems to be the way of Wep Ronpet. There are many new beginnings, many new challenges to tackle. I hope to be better about writing out my thoughts on these matters, sharing them with those of you who may be reading this blog. I encourage you to reach out to me if you relate to anything I write, if there are any questions I might answer, or ways I might help you on your own journeys this year. As They reminded me on that late night drive that started this whole train of thought: the gods keep us from being alone, yes. However, we, as a greater community of Kemetics, both within the House of Netjer and without, can also fend off loneliness by writing, reading, sharing. Do not be alone. There is no need. I can speak only for myself, but know others out there who feel the same: do not be alone. I am here. I would sit beside you if you’ll have me, no matter the distance.

Di Wep Ronpet Nofret, my friends. My love to all of you.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

It has been good for me to focus on animism for a time, and to forge a solid connection with Heqat, who seems to easily traverse both my Kemetic practice and my workings with the natural world. She has given me a certain serenity, encouraged me to stop and recover from my previous project, helped me to overcome the anxiety which had nearly overcome me in my final months of my graduate program. She is still here with me, and I suspect She will be for quite some time. I’ve made certain promises to Her as regards my future career in counseling, and She will see that I hold to those promises.

But She is not, in my experiences with Her, a god to push me forward, to send me into the next period of transition. No, the times of change, the times of necessary strength to make things happen? That is my Father Set’s domain, and He has made this very clear.

Fellowship with other Kemetics, the celebration of the festival for the Beautiful Reunion that celebrates Hethert and Heru-wer’s wedding, drew me joyfully back into purely Kemetic practice and efforts. During the conversation that followed ritual proper, I threw out the idea that my Father had few group rituals done in His name… would anyone be interested if I were to attempt to plan something. A strong, positive response was given, and I made a note to inquire of Set what day He might prefer.

During senut the following night, He made it very plain that He would hold me to this, and also made it clear what Day He preferred me to plan for. This is all, of course, in nascent stages, but I will write more about the process as things progress.

(And they will progress. I get the sense there’s no backing out of this, now that I’ve offered.)

My usual informal coffee with Set the following morning was met with a surprisingly in depth conversation about another aspect of Future Things, this time my career.

“Heqat is not the only one supporting you in this, daughter.”

I raised an eyebrow, as Set, for all that I view Him as a Parent deity, is rare to make a big show of the father/child, master/padawan distinction.

“No? Who else should I be working with?”

“Do you think that being a counselor will be easy?”

“Of course not.”

“Do you think that someone weak of will and courage could withstand the daily onslaught of isfet within people’s lives?”

“No, but I’m seeing your point.”

“You are the daughter of the god of change, of the necessary stripping away of that which is toxic, the removal of the great snake as it has taken hold in others’ minds and actions. Remember that, and do not forget what I am, and also what you are in bearing my standard in your name.”

He left then, and I was left to add milk to the coffee I always offer him black, sipping quietly as I considered why I had never considered this before.

I felt compelled to make good on another issue sooner rather than later: my devotional ring for Him and Bast had broken while I was at the Beautiful Reunion gathering. With a bit of extra time yesterday, I went to the local Tibetan Buddhist store where I generally buy my incense. I asked to see the rings they had available, and was immediately drawn to a garnet piece and initially assumed the mental push was just because garnet has always been, for me, His stone and color.

Asking the shop keeper about the symbolism (as I prefer not to wear things I don’t know the meaning of!) I was told that it was a dorje, the “thunderbolt of wisdom.” Stronger god-pinging ensued, and I realized I wasn’t going to be leaving the store without it. I went through my subsequent singing lesson feeling particularly “Great of Voice” with the ring perfectly snug on the middle finger of my left hand.

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Upon arriving home, I did more reading — and will continue to do more in the day’s ahead. The dorje was masculine associated, and the “thunderbolt of wisdom” could be perceived literally as a weapon of certain aggressive gods (Indra) or more symbolically, as the determination to apply “skillful means” in the effort of reaching enlightenment. Skillful means is a concept that is going to take me a heck of a lot longer than two days to understand, but seems to somehow relate to methods or techniques that fit a situation to reach enlightenment, even if those may be difficult, painful, or rely on bending the truth. (Horribly over-simplified, but again, give me five years with the concept and I’ll get back to you with something that isn’t terrible.)

Regardless of the shoddy summation above, the symbol, for all my initial, “Set wants a Buddhist ring. Right-o, color me confused,” actually… rather fits.

And then I remembered another matter that I had not thought of in months. Last August, a few weeks after Wep Ronpet, I had a dream where I was given a message, both aloud and then written down. As I thought I recognized a few words from said message as some form of Egyptian, I ran it by Rev. Tamara Siuda, and was shocked to learn that it… actually could be interpreted as Middle Egyptian.

She wrote me back that, “It could be an epithet: s3i m3′ wn-hr(w) Sth (sai ma’a wen-heru Set(ekh), which would mean “True wisdom (and) skillfulness/clear vision (of) Set.”

If you took the sai as a command (bare infinitive verb), it would be something like “be true in wisdom and clear (of vision), Set” “

True wisdom and skillfulness/clear vision of Set. Be true in wisdom and clear of vision, Set.

What is the true wisdom of my Father? Add that to the grand list of Things I’ll Be Pondering for Decades. That said, His recent reminder stood clear in my mind. The wisdom required to be a successful counselor relates much more closely to some of His knowledge than I initially realized: the wisdom of how to stand strong when faced with so much pain and hurt, the wisdom of how to use skillful means to direct your client in a mutual effort towards necessary change, even if it may be painful. The ring on my finger suddenly became my own little miniature “thunderbolt of enlightenment” relating to *why* Set stepped forward as my Father.

He always knew I was strong enough to do this. I’ve only discovered that strength for myself in the past year. I’ve wondered, off and on, why me? How could I possibly earn the god of strength’s interest? Why has he continued to work with me, push me, train me, improve me?

Finally, at least in one regard, I get it.

Dua Set.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

Due to my free time in March and April being eaten alive by a rabid grad school monster, I’m going to address two topics in one, though it will all go under the guise of “Living Kemeticism.” I will discuss the following: What does living your faith mean to you? How can others bring their religion into their day to day life or live their religion? How public are you about your beliefs and practices? How has it (or not) impacted your work life, your familial and friendly ties? What advice would you give to uncertain Kemetics about how to approach either telling or not telling others about their beliefs?

I think I was living as a Kemetic, in many ways, before I even found Kemeticism. I say this in the sense that I was already trying to live my life in a balanced manner, respecting myself and respecting others, caring for the world around me while caring for myself, seeking knowledge while simultaneously trusting instincts and emotions. I also held the belief in a divine force that could manifest as many individual and distinct gods or spiritual forms, which allowed me to worship and work with the entities that most strongly called to me, while respecting, from a distance, most of the gods and religious practices of others.

Kemeticism sort of wove its way into what was already there, fleshing out the details with a more complex definition of balance in the many questions of living a life in ma’at and giving me Netjer, an entity from within the greater divine force, from which many Netjeru extended into complex individual gods. While I began to establish a set ritual practice, and perhaps did more genuine praying than before, overall my day-to-day existence changed very little.

What did change was having a far more solid concept of the benefits of living my faith and a growing sense of responsibility to, and support from, a diverse range of Kemetic communities. In turn, “Kemetic” added a new layer of self-understanding within my identity, a form of security based upon the framework through which I could now learn more about myself, my relationships, and my world. The ideals I aspired to live somehow acquired greater weight in their manifestation in the revitalization of an ancient tradition. When I lost sight of these goals, there were others to whom I could turn to find my way back, books I could read to revitalize my interest. These were ways to cope with fallow times, rather than simply watching and despairing as my connection to spirituality withered away.

I have been far better off for having this foundation of Kemeticism beneath my longheld beliefs and ideologies. Yet living my faith extends beyond the complexities of the ideas that shape who I am and what I do, often creeping into the simple comforts of day-to-day actions. I always wear the ring that represents my devotion to, and connection with, Set and Bast. I also have a rotation of pendants and earrings depicting various Netjeru, an ankh, a scarab. These become physical reminders, their weight on my chest a reminder of who I am and what I believe. My Set-animal pendant in particular has grown shiny from the amount I’ve rubbed it between my fingers when nervous and seek a small reminder of my own strength.

Given how living my faith has so strongly proven itself to be a positive influence on my life, it is perhaps of little surprise that I guard it fiercely. I share my faith only with those I know I can trust, though have reached a point where I am no longer willing to lie if directly confronted and perceive no actual physical threat.

I am fortunate in that I live in a place where Christianity is not so deeply entrenched in the culture as to result in my potentially being attacked for who I am and what I believe. In my previous academic job, I was under some pressure to keep my spiritual beliefs, any spiritual beliefs, to myself, so as to be taken seriously, but I hope that my next career will be more open in this regard. My family largely does not know, but were I ever to move back in with them, this conversation would need to be broached. I do feel that, again, barring physical repercussions, I would owe it to myself and to them to be entirely open about my spiritual beliefs and practices.

In the meantime, I have made gradual, but significant, steps towards helping my parents understand that I do not identify as Christian, and have a different spiritual worldview. I hope, in time, to reach a point of complete openness with them, but for now, try to keep a balanced perspective on what I need them to know to be personally fulfilled and honest, and what small gaps in their knowledge might be better for their emotional well being overall.

Living as Kemetic requires this sort of balanced approach towards how “Out” you are with your faith. Consider your needs, your safety, and weigh these against how you can best respect the needs of others. Only you can make these decisions, and they are well worth contemplating over time, particularly if your life as a Kemetic has brought you as much joy and positive growth as it has me.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

BarquePainting
“Bast and Set Defend the Solar Barque” by A’aqytsekhmet

My Parents are deities of fierceness and beauty. They embody, in fire and strength, who I aspire to be with each new goal and challenge.

They are the defenders of the right to start again, destroyers of the obstacles that would keep a new day, a new chance, from beginning.

They are the passion for another and the passion for self, balanced and in check.

They are the split second decisions of lightning and the long burning blaze of needing to see something to its completion.

They mutually defy the overly simplistic boundaries of gender and species to rewrite what it means to rise up and live as Self rather than assumption.

They will not be defined by mere words, but action.

My Mother is neither woman nor cat. My Father is neither man nor sha. They are both, and neither, and the vast complexities that lie somewhere in between these conflicting extremes.

Today, two years and a day since They claimed me through sacred rite, I reaffirm that I am Their daughter.

I will carry Their standards high.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

After a long hiatus, I have returned to writing for The Kemetic Round Table. The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This post will address the following prompt: Differences in Practices: How do you deal with them? How do we overlook our differences in practice and UPG? What do we do if our experiences don’t line up with others?

This is a tale of three Sets.

Below, I’ve offered broadly paraphrased quotes, pulled from no particular source or sources, to represent each of these Sets. Full stories and works of art are highly personal representations, and this is not meant to be a calling out of any specific individual’s interpretation of Set. Each serves as only a brief depiction and analysis of three possible ways that one might see my spiritual Father.

Meet Stereotypical Sets 1-3:

“Set is a demon.”

“Set is an asshole.”

“Set is a vital guardian.”

I’ve heard variations on all three of these at one point or another; I’m sure many of you have too. I struggled with them in various ways at various times. Initially, the negative depictions kept me from accepting Set’s presence, even as He refused to be ignored. It took Him a solid month of earning my trust to so much as get me to talk with Him about the stuff in my life that He was bound and determined to change.  It took Him longer than that to get me to act on it without being convinced I was being manipulated.

He seemed accustomed to this sort of reticence (whether from many others initially reacting towards Him with fear, or sheer cussedness, I don’t know.) I think I needed that sort of patience and lack of offense at my extreme hesitation. I suspect many gods wouldn’t have kept coming back. Many gods would never have tolerated that level of “this isn’t real” argumentativeness and general disbelief.

But He did stick around, and in time (and with more than a few adaptations) He set my life on an altogether different course for the better. I found the House of Netjer, I went through the Rite of Parent Divination, and to no one’s surprise (except maybe my own) He, alongside Bast, was declared to be my spiritual Parent.

Enter the next phase of my relationship with the Negative Set-isms: extreme overprotectiveness and overreaction to those descriptions and depictions which I perceived to be unfair. Set had “saved” me. How could I stand by and tolerate it when people mocked Him, described Him with profanity? I owed him my allegiance.

Admittedly this gut reaction still happens on occasion, and has led to my apologizing more than once when I jumped the gun. A few of you reading this have probably received an apology from me after I was overly hasty in coming to my god’s defense.

…that last bit actually proved the point that helped me turn the next corner in our relationship. Set is a god. He doesn’t need my protection. If He’s genuinely annoyed by something someone says about Him (and more often than not, He simply seems not to give a damn one way or the other) He is far, far more equipped than I to handle it. So I did my best to stop worrying about external influences, and focused on solidifying our relationship. I discovered that Set’s role as guardian of the boat of Ra was an intensely powerful one for me. It came to stand as an emblem of all He’d done for me in my life, represented the power found in fighting isfet [in my case, often embodied in depression and anxiety] to cherish each new day. I also found tremendous self-confidence in my singing voice by reading about the heka in Set’s powerful shout. For Him I sang, and His own great voice rang in my head like the storms He’s known for. I stopped worrying about the criticisms of others, and developed a much stronger connection with Set as my vital guardian and guardian of Kemet. Set as the power in vocality.

Set as my Father.

Now by this point I’d been working with Him for almost two years, two years in which I’d  started sending out little feelers into the different corners of the Kemetic and pagan online communit(ies). It was impossible to both reach out and remain entirely removed from others’ takes on Set. Granted, I also had no desire to permanently detach myself from others views, research, and experience! I just needed the space to become more confident in the nuts (no pun intended) and bolts of how He and I worked together, before I could hear other takes on Set, for good or for ill, without being emotionally thrown.

So I began to read, and read, and read more. I met people who worked with Him in syncretizations with other gods and syncretizations with demons. I discovered those who followed Him as part of the Left Hand Path. I found Set working with chaos magicians and artists, saw Him banished in some rituals and hailed in others. I heard people understandably complain about how He had manipulated them, hurt someone they loved. I heard some praise His strength in their moments of greatest weakness, while others criticized Him for pushing them entirely too far past what they felt strong enough to manage. Others still engaged in romantic relations with Him, via godspousery or ritual kink. It seemed as though nearly anything I could imagine, He was capable of fulfilling in someone’s life somewhere.

And my Father, so wonderful and strong to me before, was not diminished for this. He just… became complete. Fleshed out. He was made far more complex than He had been before: not three Sets, but thousands. Set as a rhizome of constantly changing intersections and interruptions, clashes and combinations of historical documentation and modern-day experience, individual forms of Him no longer bound by a single interpretation. He truly became god to me in that instant of understanding, capable of holding far more forms and identities than any mortal being could possibly embody.

Granted, this understanding did not mean that I had to agree with everything I read, but neither did I find myself becoming so frequently defensive over that with which I did not agree. I could learn, consider the source of the information, incorporate what I understood and felt benefited my relationship with Set, respectfully ask questions and express my opinion regarding that with which I didn’t agree.

 Three Sets Applied to Differences in Practice

I think, for some of us, my tale of three Sets reflects an experience that many of us grapple with. It can be excruciatingly difficult enough parsing through the various identities and personalities ascribed to a given Netjeru, let alone how we are supposed to interact with and worship Them. Is this partial application of cultural relativism to one’s spirituality even remotely viable? Surely, I’ve wondered, one has to draw the line somewhere.

Well, yes. You do. You’ll lose your mind otherwise, not knowing where you stand and what you believe.

But my suggestion is as follows: Provided the ideas you’re seeing are not harming anyone (in which case, hell yes, tear that racist/sexist/classist/ableist nonsense apart) give them some thought. Consider your own beliefs, vows that you may have taken to yourself, your gods, or a particular spiritual community. Draw the lines for yourself, establish what you believe, and what you’ve sworn to uphold based on your associations. Be confident in where you stand, and know that being tolerant of the ideas and practices of others does not translate to “I must believe this thing/worship this way.” Be aware of where your ideas come from, and ask respectful questions to learn where others are getting their interpretations.

It is possible to co-exist in difference. It is possible to worship the same god viewed in three, or three thousand, different ways.

But know yourself, your practices, and your gods first. Be confident in what matters to you, and you’ll find it far easier to understand what matters to others. 

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

I mostly wrote this for myself as I deal with mental health concerns, but I share it here in case any others would find it useful.

Ritual for the Daily Battle at the Prow of Ra’s Boat

Preparation:

Establish a space, either within your current shrine or in a new (purified) location. Make sure that this place is readily accessible, even near your front door if necessary, so that you will not be able to ignore it before leaving your home.

In this space, place the following:

A red candle.

A box of matches or a lighter.

An image of a spear: the spear may be three dimensional or two dimensional, but make sure that it is wide enough to write on the image.

A writing implement, in a color that you associate with strength.

Offerings for Set.

Optional: an image of Set* (or another god known for protecting the solar barque.)

*I will be naming Set throughout the rest of the ritual description. If you prefer, exchange another god’s name and epithets where appropriate.

On the evening before the first time you intend to complete this daily ritual:

Complete an act of ritual purification in whatever way best suits your personal practice.

Light the red candle, and say the following:

“Hail Set, Chosen of Ra, 
Fierce at the prow of the mesketet.
My light guides your blade in the darkness.
Your spear burns as fire in the flesh of the Uncreated.” 

Lift your image of the spear so that it is illuminated by the flame.

“Mighty One of Twofold Strength, I lend my spear to your battle.
My arm is your strong arm.
My foreleg is your strong foreleg.”

Lower the spear before the flame, and take up your pen or marker.

Write on the spear four components of your identity, personality, or even past accomplishments that make you feel empowered and remind you of how you affect the world around you (powerful voice, intellect, compassion, ferocity, tenacity etc.). Do not write anything negative on your spear, these things should be your strengths, and you should genuinely take pride in them.

After you write each personal strength, state the following before the flame. For example, if you were writing “intellect” as a strength on your spear you would say the following.

“My blade is my intellect; my intellect destroys isfet without and within.”

Repeat with the next three words:

“My blade is my [strength]; my [strength] destroys isfet without and within.” 

Once you have written all four strengths on the spear, hold it in your hand and contemplate what you have written there. Notice how these aspects of who you are have made a difference in the world and think about how they will continue to do so. Give the spear the pride you feel in these positive characteristics, imbue it with intent to rise every morning and use these traits to accomplish your goals for that day.

When you are ready, set the spear down before the flame, and close with the following words.

“Son of Nut, as you wield your spear against the Uncreated each morning,
so shall this blade serve me in my daily battles.
With it, I destroy the thoughts that would destroy me.
With it, I pierce the lies that would have me lie to myself.
I am worthy of a joyful life lived in ma’at
and I am strong enough to attain this life.”

Thank Set and Netjer, giving appropriate offerings in whatever manner suits your practice. Remove the foot before blowing out the candle and reverting offerings.

Daily Ritual

As soon as possible after rising, complete light purification (washing of mouth and hands).

Light the red candle and say the following.

“Hail Set, Great of Strength.
The sky shakes at your return with the dawn,
Victorious at the prow of the mandjet.”

Lift up your spear, and read from it each of the four strengths, using the following text:

“I am victorious this day in [intellect].
I am victorious this day in [strength 2].
I am victorious this day in [strength 3].
I am victorious this day in [strength 4.]

My enemies tremble before me!
I destroy isfet without and within.
The day is renewed, my strength is renewed,
I am worthy of a joyful life lived in ma’at.” 

Feel free to dedicate your spear to a particular cause that day, or even take it with you, if you need an extra boost of self-confidence or purpose. Then, as before, remove the foot, blow out the candle, and then continue on your way.

For members of the Kemetic Orthodox faith: if you are already doing senut at dawn, I have deliberately made this daily component quite short so that you can easily add it to your personal prayers without taking up too much extra time, should you wish to do so.

Also, at any time, if you wish to change the strengths associated with your spear, you may repeat the evening ritual and make a new one. However, try to use the same strengths for at least one month. There is power in repetition.

Dua Set! Dua Netjer! Nekhtet!

 

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week’s prompt asked: “Shrine basics: Setting up your first shrine: How do I do it, what do I need, and what rules are there (if any).

I’ve seen a number of great posts this week which cover the basics of maintaining a shrine, that sacred space that serves not only as a place for performing ritual acts, but also divine temple of sorts where you welcome the gods into your home and into your life. I highly recommend Sobeqsenu’s post here for a concise outline of putting together the basics for your shrine and Satsekhem’s post here which provides a helpful clarification of the distinction between altars and shrines, and why both can be equally valid and important aspects of one’s spiritual life.

Several KRT-authors have also touched on the usefulness of compact or travel shrines. Near the end of her post, Sarduriur offers useful advice for Kemetics or other polytheists living in a space where cohabitants. Devo also suggests wearable shrine options in the form of sacred jewelry, and offers ways to use that jewelry in the same context as an icon.

Given that I am presently visiting my sibling Itenumuti and hir partner in Texas, I thought it might be appropriate to expand a little bit on my personal use of a travel shrine, and provide one take on how one can endeavor to transfer the experience of spiritual work at home to spiritual work on the road.

How do you make a travel shrine?

The sky is the limit when it comes down to how you want to create your travel shrine. Some practitioners choose a box of some kind, often made of wood, ivory, metal, or  even synthetic materials if your gods do not view this as a purity concern. Others wear devotional jewelry on their body, or attached to an important item. Either way, you are welcome to decorate your travel shrine as ornately or discretely as necessary. Go with what strikes a comfortable balance between your relationship with your gods, and the necessity of your current living situation.

If you use a box and intend to place ritual items within it, I recommend finding one with a clasp of some kind, so you can close it securely and lower the risk of spilling items consecrated to spiritual use into a messy location. Of course you can always purify them again, but at least for me, the prospect of accidently dropping an icon into something unmentionable makes me cringe.

What goes into a travel shrine?

There are a few things to keep in mind for what to place within your travel shrine:

1.) What do you need to complete the rituals you will be enacting while you are on the road?

If you are of a path like Kemetic Orthodoxy and hope to continue with the state ritual (senut) — or a ritual with similarly established necessary items —  as you complete it at home, you will want to find a way to fit all of these items for this ritual into your travel shrine. If you have an adapted ritual for travel, perhaps you can bring fewer things. If you are someone who regularly interacts with his or her gods, via meditation, divination, or any other forms, you can always ask Them what They expect of you while you’re off on grand adventures, and “pack” accordingly.

2.) How long will you be gone? 

Packing for two weeks is much different than packing for two months. Try to think ahead for how much of any given ritual item you use at a time. Can you just pack a few small sticks of incense in your travel shrine, or would it be wise to bring an extra box in your suitcase? Unlike the roll of toothpaste you accidentally left on your bathroom sink, you’re probably not going to be able to drive to the nearest drugstore and easily pick up some natron and kyphi. Do your best to think ahead for what you need, and how much of it you need.

3.) Where will you be staying?

Staying in the home of an open-minded friend for the duration of your trip is far different than staying a week in a hotel. Keep in mind what the rules will be for burning candles and incense in your travel location. Tealight LED candles are a cheap and easily-acquired alternative to burning an actual wick, and scented oils can serve as an offering to the gods without the producing the same powerful scent of many incense options, should your host be sensitive to such.

4.) How are you getting there? 

If you’re driving or taking the train, chances are good that you won’t have to worry too much about what you put into your travel shrine. The TSA, however, may find issue with certain items in your shrine. A few important things to note: if you need to pack matches with you, and you are taking them in your carry-on luggage, you must use strike-on-box matches, and you can only bring one box. Strike anywhere matches are not permitted, and neither are torch or micro-lighters. Though perhaps more self-explanatory, if you use a ritual blade of any sort, don’t pack that in your carry-on either.

How do you use your travel shrine once you’ve arrived?

There is no hard and fast rule for ritual use of your travel shrine. Again, take into consideration where you are going, who you are staying with, and how long you are going to be there. Personally, if I am going to be staying in one space for the duration of my trip, a space where I can safely practice without any issue from my cohabitants, I will try to establish a specific spot for my travel shrine early on. Much like my shrine at home, I clean the area before setting up icons, and I purify my body before I enter the sacred space. I welcome my gods to stay in this shrine for the entirety of the time in the new location. I give offerings, usually just cool water while I’m actually in shrine (note my tiny offering cup in the pictures below) but silently offer some of my food before meals. I will then pray, sing, meditate, create art — any and all of the usual activities I would do with, or for, my gods while I was at home.

If I am staying in a hotel, or in a space where my cohabitants would be bothered my spirituality, I take greater precautions. I unpack my shrine, complete my chosen ritual the same way as described above, but after ritual, I pack all icons and ritual implements away in the travel shrine, and tuck it safely back into a bag where I know it will come to no harm. In the case of hotels, I have heard more than one story of cleaning staff accidentally damaging a shrine while they were doing their daily administrations. In the case of a less understanding host, I do this as a sign of respect to whoever has allowed me to stay within their home.

(The caveat here, of course, is if you are going to be living with this person for an extended period of time. In this case, I would suggest a full, free, and frank conversation of your faith before moving in with them, if such a conversation is at all humanly possible. As always, you know your own life better than any other, do what you think is best.)

What does a full travel shrine look like?

You can look at some of the blogs I mentioned above for ideas, but I’ve also included a few photos to show my current travel shrine.

The outside of my travel shrine. I love this box for its compact size, the shining gold caps on the exterior, and of course: the handy clasp.

This gives you a sense of how I pack the shrine, and some of the things I include within it. Please note the strike-on-box matches, as well as one of two lovely icons by Tenu depicting the names of my Parent deities.

Moving one layer down, you can see the incense, a candle, an ankh candle holder, and a small offering cup for fresh water (which is partially blocking a tiny, lotus-shaped incense holder) and two more icons which I made myself from polymer clay. They recently received some touch-ups after their original paint job began coming off.

Finally, here is the full travel shrine when it is set up. I currently place the three-dimensional icons of Set and Bast across from their painted names. This is a visual reminder for me; I was recently tasked in finding the similarities between my parent deities, in an effort to better balance which of Them I more frequently turn to. I enjoy sporadically changing elements of my travel shrine, whether it is the color of the candle I pack, or the type of incense I burn, depending on which Netjeru I am working with, and what I hope to achieve spiritually while I am traveling.

May your own adventures be fulfilling, and your gods near.

 

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

Members of the Round Table were given the following prompt: “How does being a Kemetic effect your daily life? Does it? Do you do things differently than you used to because of your faith/religion?”

This post is highly personal, but I share it in the hopes that perhaps it may be of use to others. The follow trigger warnings should be noted: discussion of depression, suicide, and self-harm.

I believe I was seven when I made my first threat of suicide, telling another young friend that I was going to throw myself off a bridge because I had started to recognize the cruelty of other human beings and the unfortunate futility of my own existence. My mother’s conversation with me that evening, minutes after my friend’s father called home to report my announcement, taught me to hide those feelings when they recurred in the years to come. I did my best not to make her, or anyone else, ever have to weep again over my strange, existential angst, and channeled the feelings into a daily ritual I referred to as “watching cars.” To most it would appear that I was zoning out, watching local traffic go by. Only in my head did I visualize throwing myself in front of them and only in the privacy of my bedroom, during the winter when long sleeves covered any damage, did I ever take a small blade to my forearms.

In college, finally living apart from the parents I protected by never speaking of my feelings, I finally found the nerve to seek counseling. Medications and a few less-than-stellar counselors generally made the situation worse, not better, and in my junior year I made a noose from a belt, attached it to a ceiling pipe, stared at it for awhile, and eventually walked outside to inform my roommate that I was committing myself to the college’s mental health services for the subsequent 48 hours.

While things have recently improved a great deal, I still don’t know what it is to go through an entire day without being aware of the presence of depressive thoughts. I have described the sensation in the past as a bottomless pit, a gaping hole in my peripheral vision that tempts me. I want to turn to face it and toe the edge, full well knowing what would occur if I allowed myself to actually jump in. On the best days I am too busy, too fulfilled with the tasks I’m working towards, to think of it much. On the worst days, the days when I have nothing to do, nothing to strive for, it is as if that pit is the only thing I can think about, and the longer I dwell on it, the harder it is to look away. Depression is experienced differently by every individual, but for me it has always been something of a mind game. The past year or so of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT), the first “therapeutic regimens” to genuinely seem to improve things for me, has made this all the more apparent.

In my personal experience, my daily Kemetic practices solidly align with and enforce these strategies. To oversimplify the matter a fair bit, much of CBT relates to a sort of re-programming of your thoughts, cutting off the panic or mental self-abuse before it spirals out of control, re-directing your thoughts elsewhere. There is a prayer to Set from Rev. Tamara Siuda’s Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook which I haven taken to using in these situations. If my anxiety begins to rise and I recognize that I am beginning to slip back towards that “pit” of disproportionate reaction, I do my best to pray rather than simply lose myself in the self-abuse.

Storm Lord,
Pilot Who sails over evil Ap-p’s Back
Captain of the secret Boat!
You Who bind Ap-p, bring me a Boat,
Make me a strong rope so I can sail forth. 

I repeat this four times, focusing on the visual imagery of the boat carrying me away from the emotions, the strength in my own body becoming a rope, holding me taut, keeping me from falling into the current of irrational thoughts and emotions. I also recite this prayer preventatively, any time that I sit in shrine, as a reminder of my goal to keep Ap-p bound, to keep my mental tendencies of self-hatred and self-destruction caged.

A less structured aspect of my daily practice that also contributes to my mental health is simply the sense of awareness (“mindfulness” could also apply here) that I have developed over the past two years. I am more open to receiving communication from my gods, be it through speech, visualization, or even what is going on in the physical world around me. As I have grown more accustomed to tuning in to Their words, so have I become more accustomed to tuning in to myself. I am more conscious of when I begin to feel a certain way, where those emotions are coming from. In developing this consciousness, so have I also developed a means of accepting those emotions and moving forwards. Sometimes I can do this of my own volition, other times I seek Netjer’s aid. Set in particular is quite, ah, “skilled” at telling me to get my ass out of bed when I’m feeling lower than dirt, to physically move and get the endorphins flowing, to work my way to the shower to purify physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Finally, there is the significance of heka in a more general sense. The power of the spoken word cannot be overstated, and there has been more than one occasion where, in the midst of an anxiety attack, repetitively speaking aloud “I breathe. I stand. I walk.” has gotten me up and functioning when little else could. Shaping these positive statements into something more, something magickal, something intended not only as self-help but also praise and prayer, only strengthens their intent: “Serqet makes me breathe. I stand in Set’s strength. I walk at Bast’s side.” Here is my own will reinforced by my verbal supplication and devotion to the divine, and in this, I have found that I am able to overcome even the bad days.

So yes, in this sense (and indeed, in many others as well) being Kemetic has changed my daily life. It has provided me with a means of overcoming my own mental health concerns, and I remain incredibly grateful for this. Dua Netjer!

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

It’s funny, that a mere matter of months after writing about “fallow” times — more specifically, that I had yet to experience one since developing the healthiest, and most fulfilling, sense of spirituality in my life to date —  I seem to be experiencing just that. It’s not particularly surprising; wrapping up my masters degree pushed me to the edge of my capabilities as a scholar and functional human being. My body’s doing a bit of recovering after months of sleep deprivation, dodging departmental drama monsters, and generally trying to keep my shit together. Shrine time has been extremely minimal since early April, though Set stayed near throughout the entire experience, an ever-solid presence that provided the occasional verbal kick-in-the-ass to hold the sporadic nights of depression at bay, to forge me into someone capable of finishing the damnedable 70 page paper, and to keep my wits about me even as colleagues turned on each other and professors did nothing.

My partner offered the comfort that balanced Set’s semi-militant commands, and between the two of them, and the voices of other friends and family (I’m looking at you and sending you a lot of love, Tenu) I somehow got through this fucking semester of cancer scares and interpersonal bullshit and self doubt.

I can still sense the gods, but I’m struggling to write anything about Them, and I don’t feel like I can muster the focus to return to shrine just yet. I suspect it won’t be much longer though, just a bit more rest, a bit more genuine down time and then I can be productive again in spiritually meaningful ways.

I’ve started doing grant-writing and newsletter edits for an Ohio no-kill cat shelter run by a friend of mine in Bast’s name. The thesis was officially dedicated to Set, and I’m doing some research into possible local martial arts classes that I might be able to afford again as another physical offering until I feel ready to return to what I was doing before.

I have ideas for what to write when the muse does come back to me.

I still owe a good friend a post on cultural appropriation and what drew me to Kemeticism rather than “my family’s faith.”

I also want to write about Set and my battle with depression, it was originally supposed to my daily life post for KRT, but that ship has sailed, so perhaps it can be converted to something else.

Is there anything else you all would like to read? I welcome the inspiration. I don’t mean to be an attention whore, but honestly just knowing folks still wish to read this and have thoughts on what might be interesting could help in getting me back into the writing flow.

My best to you all.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

So this evening I had the opportunity to effectively “beta test” a ritual written for Set by Shefytbast.

By the Kemetic Orthodox Calendar I’m technically a day late to be celebrating Set’s Feast day, but graduate student scheduling often necessitates a bit of flexibility when it comes to holidays. More than once I’ve had to give some small offering and an apology on an actual “Big Day” ™ and promise to properly celebrate a few days down the road, once I’ve made it through the paper, presentation, or what have you.

But that aside, it was quite nice to try a modern-styled ritual written by both a respected acquaintance and priest. The version of Set she presented was somewhat different from how I usually connect with Him, but I enjoyed the opportunity to try to understand Him from a different perspective, and also appreciated the similarities that emerged throughout the course of my reading through and contemplating both story and song.

I generally followed Shefyt’s instructions quite closely, though I did (by virtue of belatedness) combine the celebrations for Day 1 and Day 2 together and read the story silently rather than aloud. I also left Bast on the shrine: She wanted to be there for her role in the pacification, apparently? Who knows! (But one does not argue with an Eye.)

I spent the allotted celebration time in prayer, singing a few of my own songs for the Red Lord, and completing a divination. It was quite nice, having a bit of one-on-one with Set in shrine. Most senut experiences of late have been deliberately evenly split amongst my four primary deities.

I would also note that it was really just a lovely experience to have a brief, tangible connection with another Kemetic person that I’ve only interacted with virtually via blog and forum. I would love to continue this sort of experience with others, when and if you all have personal rituals you wish to share.

At any rate, I’ve included a few photos below:

How about that inadvertent glare placement. <_<

 

The print off to the left arrived today, thus became part of the offering. I find it amusing that it got lost in the mail last month, only to finally arrive on The Day I could fully celebrate its featured deity. Also, the incense burning is a new “Strength” blend I found today in my local Nepalese store while seeking out a red candle. It’s rather epic.

Bagel and clementine, aka: the itty!feast of Set.

Thanks again to Shefytbast for the chance to try a newly authored ritual!

Dua Set!

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

Life is a little crazy for the standard bearer at present. Set claimed my masters thesis as an offering: given that I’m looking at the music of American Civil War reenactment as a form of memorial and construction of history, this at least *sort of* makes sense. I wound up getting to his required 50 page mark in the wee hours of the 17th, subsequently baked Irish soda bread as a supplementary offering (and a celebration of the “other holiday” that this Irish-American lady holds dear.) I crashed hard, got up the next day and cleaned out the shrine before deciding that the best take on a Procession I could offer was to get All The Sets out of the cabinet where I keep my Kemetic statuary and art, and give them sunlight and air for the day.

Guys, I have a metric shit tonne of Sets.

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Literally seconds after I lit the incense, I got a call from my partner: his car had broken down halfway between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and he needed rescuing. Thus an epic road trip began which saw us getting home at 3am.

Never a dull moment on a Set day.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

The Kemetic Round Table works to connect Kemetic bloggers of various practices and paths in order to provide helpful information for those new to Kemeticism. More information about the project can be found here.

This week, members of the Round Table chose to ponder the following questions: “Do I need a main deity to practice Kemeticism? If so, how do I get a main deity? Am I obligated to learn everything I can about my main deity? Am I able to say no to a deity that shows up at my shrine?”

Many of the other posts  on this topic have done a very thorough job of exploring each of the above questions, offering suggestions to the fledgling Kemetic on how they might begin a relationship with a particular Name of Netjer. I’m going to offer a more generic example — hopefully not too anecdotal for the goals of the group — in the form of a reversal.

You see, for me? The desire to practice Kemeticism didn’t lead me to seek out a main deity. In my case, a primary deity grabbed me by the metaphorical scruff and dragged me, kicking and screaming, into Kemeticism.

If I were to tell you how I “got” my main deity, the honest answer would be, I sat in a swivel chair staring blearily at an excel spreadsheet, pondering various waking dreams about some sort of anthropomorphic canine (I initially thought one of the Jackals) I’d had the week prior.

No reaching out, no research, just sitting in the aforementioned swivel chair when a firm mental voice did the imagined equivalent of a Gibbs slap: “Do not doubt me.”

 Alright, I think to myself, I’m officially losing my mind. Best course of action? Go to wikipedia to distract myself from the fact that I am hearing voices until they go away.

I click random: “Mozart operas” — in which I have performed and dearly loved.

Click again: “Rajasthan musicians” — the ethnic group my advisor studied.

Click again: “French pop” — what was playing on Pandora at that moment.

Click again: A Canadian comedy show my Newfie friend had shared with me the night before.

Now, to the best of my knowledge, Wikipedia doesn’t do “random” based on any sense of your interests (a la Facebook) so I was well and duly boggled. The mental voice turned into mental laughter as I closed out of the Firefox window, and attempt to “think at” the entity.

“Who are you?”
“Meet me.”
 ”Please, who are you?”
 ”You won’t trust my words. Meet me.”
“When?”
“Now. Ten minutes ago. When you saw me before.”
Time: apparently not such a big deal to a god.

So I awkwardly took my 10 minute break and scurried to the bathroom, where we had a less-than-pleasant chat about my lack of personal boundaries, not living up to my potential, and a host of issues related to my ex. Some folks wrote about seeking a god through a ritual? Welp, that’s perfectly fine and more than likely a bit more respectful, but I’m afraid I met my future Parent deity standing in the largest, accessible stall in the loo.

 What’s the point of my recounting my first experience with Set?  

Yes, of course you have personal agency in terms of the gods you worship. You can always reach out yourself, or politely decline a god that approaches you. You can perform a ritual to seek someOne out, you can read books until you find a Name that seems best, or perhaps you can choose to worship Netjer more generally, without specifically devoting yourself to a few unique gods.

But sometimes it’s worth it to just let a god in. What began as an awkward, doubtful, “have I lost my bloody mind” conversation in the ladies’ room developed into something I never could have predicted. Chats over coffee, hikes in the woods, martial arts practice, even practicing electric guitar: all of it has enriched my life in my efforts to honor the one Name Who wouldn’t take “No” for answer. In return, I try to understand His role in history, to balance the personal belief and experience with a solid grounding in how He is represented in various texts, to recite the old prayers even as I create new music in His name.

He claimed me, after all. The least I can do is claim Him as one of my main deities in kind, through my actions, my efforts, and my faith.

Your mileage may vary.

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

I struggle with maintaining a sense of discipline in my practice. Picking a day to sit in shrine and sticking to it, constantly meeting the goals set forth by my gods. There’s no mystery to this problematic inability to establish a habit — I don’t make it a priority.

Spiritual time, in my head, feels like a luxury. It’s forced relaxation. I shower, purify, enjoy the feel of tension released at the heat of the water, the pleasant sense of the day’s work washed away, the scent of incense filling me with each breath, the comfort of candles’ glow.

Yet if I haven’t accomplished enough that day for work, if I haven’t met whatever (often unreasonable) scholastic goals I set for myself that day, I genuinely feel like I haven’t earned the pleasure of sitting in shrine, of being with my gods.

This, my friends, is really stupid.

For one, as I’m sure occurred to many (if not most) of you upon reading the above, it’s not just about me! We worship/walk with/study under gods. No matter what way you spin it, no matter which way the balance tilts, it’s a two-way relationship, built on trust, time, and effort.

And, as was pointed out to me this evening, I’m starting to reach the extreme where even purification is tainted by stress and to-do lists, creatures of the mundane. I was washing my mouth out with purified natron-water and Set just rumbles, What are you doing?

I paused, “Purification.”

No, what were you doing. It certainly was not pure.

And the truth of it? I had been thinking about the fact that I’d forgotten to provide extra comments for a student’s essay who’d requested the more detailed response. I then started to mentally berate myself. While I was swishing natron around in my mouth.

I acknowledged this, apologized, began to re-rinse my mouth… and promptly caught myself doing it again. This time making a to-do list in preparation for the meetings I have scheduled tomorrow afternoon. 

I genuinely struggled, the rest of the shower, to not think about work. Instead, I just tried to release those self-accusatory thoughts and shift myself into a more neutral state of mind.

Yet even once in shrine I realized: great job, self. It’s Sunday. You completely forgot to do something dedicated to Bast today as you’d promised.

I sang one of the songs I’d written, but my heart wasn’t in it. This was an afterthought. It was not the journeying She’s asked of me for months, it was not quality time with Sammi, it was not even a new creative work. This was not good enough.

And yet, I received no anger from Her or Set, despite how He had mildly expressed His discontent earlier in the rite. From Set, I was told only to recite my favorite prayer related to Him, to memorize it, to let the words become a mantra of calming and mental clarity when next my worries and self-accusations ran off with my thoughts again.

From Bast, I was shown the tree that I have been instructed to care for while I attempt to regain my skills at “seeing” while meditating. It sprang from where it was rooted my heart, up through my chest and out my head, branching off in countless different directions. She placed a massive black paw on the bark that I visualized filling my chest, and the outline of the tree flared golden-red as Her energy coursed up my chakras, clearing them, and leaving me feeling far more… alert and energized than I have in days.

I didn’t know what to say in the moment beyond thank you.

Looking back, a few hours later, I am beginning to wonder if my mental fog will be cleared by allowing myself to become as disciplined with the spiritual matters, both in shrine and in journey, as I have been with academia.

Balance. Always balance.

 

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

There is a trope common throughout literature, film, and mythology that if you know the true name of a thing, you have power over it. I have found that the names given to us, as gifts or in moments of ritual, often serve as a starting point in a journey to gain better power over ourselves by means of self-discovery and personal exploration.

For example, the name I use on this blog was given to me (at least) six years ago, during a meditative experience. I received it from a spiritual entity I’d worked with extensively. After a lengthy, fire-based ritual that dealt with matters related to coming-of-age, I was told that I would, from then on, be known within that territory of the unseen as Ekunyi, “little alpha” or “little leader.” It has no equivalent meaning in any human-based language that I’ve encountered, beyond the number “ten” in several Bantu languages. That said, the knowledge of earning the title of a little leader, someone behind the scenes whose efforts nevertheless played a significant role in organizing groups and helping others, led me to take on several challenges in college, and even graduate school, that I might have been too timid to take on before.

On February 6th, I received a new name, an important component of my recent Shemsu (“follower”) vows to serve my parent gods and my Kemetic Orthodox community. With these oaths, and my initiation into the community,  came another charge: to consider the name I was given, and discover the depths of its meaning in my life, my goals, my sense of self.

The name, which Kemetic Orthodox believe to come from their Parent deities through Hemet, is Sarytsenuwi, meaning: “Standard (bearer) of (my) Two,” or “Two Standards (for me).” 

I’ll grant that I had just had a small surgical procedure that morning, and was more than a little emotional from the worries and fears wrapped up in the possibilities of what that biopsy might mean, but I suspect I might have teared up a bit at this name even if I’d been perfectly sound, body and mind, coming into the ritual. You see, the day before had marked the end of a very difficult week. I had struggled to keep my focus despite my health concerns, worked hard to get through a substantial amount of effort required for my thesis, courses, and teaching responsibilities. The final project to complete before I could relax and ready myself for the procedure involved several hours of transcription of an interview where I spoke with a Civil War re-enactor about the significance of regimental banners. When I finally finished it, I got up to get something from the fridge, and as my mind cleared from the haze of listen-type-repeat, I heard the following in the mental voice I associate with Set:

 I will never let you doubt. Your name will have meaning you cannot deny.

Excited as I was, I then proceeded to react in a perfectly rational manner: by scouring the kitchen for anything around me that might relate to a possible name. “Are my Parents going to name me after Water? Food? Nourishment? AAAAAUGH.”

Perhaps not so rational. *wry grin*

But yes, given that I had mentioned this comment to no one, in the moment of Naming there was little question of accurate discernment: this was too much for even skeptical me to take as coincidence. Set had done exactly as He said, as He has from our first meeting, nearly two years ago.

But what, exactly, is a “standard” in the Ancient Egyptian context. I’ve become familiar with flags and banners in American military settings courtesy of my thesis research, but this was new to me. I found the following by amateur Egyptologist André Dollinger (emphasis mine):

  Ancient armies were generally small compared to modern mass armies. The Egyptian army of the New Kingdom was composed of three divisions under Seti I on his Canaan campaign … The overall command lay in the hands of the pharaoh himself or one of his close relatives, generally a son. Similar to the administration of the whole kingdom, the army was divided into a northern and a southern corps overseen by Chief Deputies. The line of command included ranks corresponding to the modern generals, battalion commanders, standard bearers and adjutants at the company level, lieutenants leading the platoons, and non-commissioned officers in charge of squads.

Standards themselves were not the waving flags I am accustomed to, but generally featured the visage of a god, or other important symbol, atop a staff. Included below are photographs of Neb-Re, carrying the standard of Sekhmet and  Khaemwaset, son of Ramses II, carrying the Abydos standard.

Neb-Re and Sekhmet Standard

Khaemwaset and Abydos standard

 

Katherine Griffis-Greenberg of the Oriental Institute offers a bit more insight into these images:

According to the Liverpool website, Neb-Re was indeed of high status, with other texts noting him as the commander of the fortress at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham. Apparently, god Ptah and his wife, the goddess Sekhmet, were the patron deities of the area around Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham.

Carrying a standard of the deity of an area was a high honour, and often imparted that the bearer had religious duties to the deity/ies as part of his duties. A similar statue of prince Khaemwaset, son of Ramses II, now in the British Museum, interprets his bearing of the Abydos standard as “…Khaemwaset displaying his piety before Osiris by holding one of the god’s symbols, the emblem of the nome (province) of Abydos.”

With all of this in mind, carrying a standard (sryt from the Gardiner dictionary), comes with quite a bit of responsibility. If I am to be a standard bearer (t3w-sryt or TAw-sryt) of my two Parents, I have duties to uphold to both of them, goals that must be met. I take this as the second time I have been given a name as a call to leadership, albeit on the small scale: the military standard bearer led the company, not the entire army, but nevertheless made an important difference at that level of command. The religious standard bearer made visible his devotion to a particular, regional Netjeru, and upheld that sacred Name in action and word. 

I am happiest when I have some project that I am helping to guide. I founded the graduate student organization in my department upon discovering the lack, was quite successful in my position as assistant to the head event planner for all important occasions that were held at my undergraduate campus. I enjoy leading in educational environments, and am capable of leading in situations which are less pleasant. I have also become painfully aware that the lack of human interaction in my current lifestyle, as I spend hours each day at the computer,  delving into my research, is becoming increasingly harmful to my emotional well being. This Name’s historical associations were an important reminder of that, and I hope it will continue to assist me in my future challenges as I seek a path that better suits me.

Yet this Name also has several meanings to me beyond what insight ancient history provides:

For one, I feel like Set establishing that direct connection to my thesis work is a gentle reminder of support that I can and will finish this damn project. When I keep thinking of how much more I have to write, how my energy for the topic is waning, the name reminds me of the incredible significance of standards, banners, symbols that communities latch on to in times of trial. It makes me excited about it again, in a way that I never could have expected. It gives that extra bit of “oomph” to keep going so that I can get this degree and move on to the next phase of my life without dragging things out more painfully than necessary.

The Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed exploring the various meanings held within a single word, often in the form of punning. If I look to the Egyptian, sryt, it also means “cough.” As someone who has struggled with her asthma for her entire life, giving up certain opportunities because I so easily become ill, struggling for air in places where a healthier person might thrive, this just made me shake my head. I am “cough.” Or more accurately, I’ve allowed myself to become “cough.” I’ve defined myself around my nebulizer, whined and complained when, yet again, a cold crawls steadily towards pneumonia despite my best efforts. I’ve backed out on opportunities saying, “Oh, no, sorry, I can’t, I have asthma.” The biggest of these was a career in singing: I assumed, because I was so ill, that I would never be able to sing professionally. But I’m not my cough, I’m not my lungs, I am all of me, and I will never know if I can handle singing at that level if I don’t try.

Which leads me to another pun, this one off of the english translation: “standard.” How many times have I had a request to sing a jazz, blues, or pop standard, one of the songs so beloved to people of all generations that they are considered part of the canon? One of my most defining moments was at age 14, stuck in a hotel after being evacuated from the path of hurricane Isabel. We went downstairs to the lobby where the hotel had tried to throw a hurricane party to “lighten everyone’s spirits,” but the room was full of quiet, frightened, albeit mildly intoxicated people. My father pushed me up to the karaoke machine, and asked me to sing something, anything: given the crowd I picked Mary Chapin Carpenter’s relatively well known country hit, ”Down at the Twist and Shout” and by the time I reached the bridge “They got a alligator stew and a crawfish pie / A gulf storm blowin’ into town tonight / Livin on the delta’s quite a show / They got hurricane parties every time it blows”  there were people singing along and we just… forgot about the threat of windows blowing in and whatever the hell was happening to our houses near the coast. I learned the power of singing in that moment, and have never let it go.

There’s also the idea of the “standards” to which we hold ourselves, and there most assuredly are “two standards for me” in that regard. I am much, much harsher on myself in matters of emotional, physical, and academic perfection than I am on anyone else. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, that self equals others, and that I don’t have be so damn cruel to myself when I don’t quite reach the bar I’ve set for myself.

Yet, last but not least, to bring things back to the historical concept, there are “two Standards for me.” Two banners waving, two deities who I must carry and represent, but who support me in turn. They were with me during last week’s medical procedure, They are with me as I’ve struggled to catch up on work this week, They will be with me through the trials ahead. They want me to succeed in my studies, but They want me to remember that I am a “little leader” and a singer and that I should seek these things out, become them again.

I am so, so very grateful.

Dua Set! Dua Bast!

(And much love as well to my sibling Emky/Tenu, for hir love and support during the past week, keeping me excited about our special, shared naming day.)

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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

Yes, “conversations over coffee,” and no, I swear that the oddball nature of my selected topic is not (*cough* at least not entirely) because I’m currently on pain medications. Bear with me.

In my experience, spiritual space can be found or made. I’ve known mornings wandering through the woods when a group of deer ran past me and I was awed by their fluidity and power, afternoons at the top of mountains in Colorado watching a thunderstorm miles off and recognizing how small I was, evenings by a lake as the sun sets, crickets sing and the world descends into darkness after the brief brilliance of a blood red sky reflected across the water. These are found moments of wonder in my life, lived expressions that I am fortunate enough to see, feel, touch by the grand chance of my being in the right place at the right time.

Yet there are other spaces deliberately created. Preparing for and entering my shrine, of course, is an obvious instance of this. My next post, which I’m happy to say will be a part of the exciting, new Kemetic Roundtable project, will describe the purification process I undertake to fully transfer myself out of the secular and into the sacred. Yet there are other places, other ways, in which moments of spirituality creep into my life. Most notably: cafes.

I adore cafes. I do almost all of my writing in such. I love experiencing the sounds and sensations of people flowing in and out, noting how lives briefly touch other lives, seeing poems written, listening to the murmur of conversations held. There’s an energy in a cafe that is hard to recreate elsewhere, and it’s a vibrant thing, as so many words are put to countless pages or exchanged across tables, yet never really overlap. Each little nook, chair, bench becomes a tiny territory of invention and being, and you can almost sense the power of the place if you really care to look.

When I sit in a cafe by myself I can choose to wall myself away to delve into my own research, pulling up articles to read, finding new facets of the past which I can reshape to suit my spiritual needs in the present. Yet I also have one particular spiritual entity I work with who enjoys, at the very least seems amused by, my time in cafes.

  Set and I have conversations over coffee or chai. I’ll purchase it, leave it out while it cools as an offering, and then revert it while we mentally “chat.” Conversations range the gambit from serious discussions of my recent efforts to meet His requirements, to supportive advice in times when I’m facing some form of adversity, to semi-risque, swear-filled chats about absolutely random nonsense, that often end in me getting “gibbslapped” for taking it over the line before He one-ups me.

Speaking with Set, or any god for that matter, is something I generally don’t bother to over-analyze. I could call it an imagined voice, as I honestly do not, or cannot, hear such things aloud, and the skeptic in me is inclined to say that what I hear of Him is brought about by my own capacity to create a voice within my head. But who is to say where the divine begins and my own creativity ends? Perhaps it is my own voice, but He prompts me to hear His words, or more abstractly guides the conversation I hold “with myself” in the direction I need it go so as to gain something from it.

The walls between what is Netjer and what is human invention are flexible, as are the walls between those of us sitting in the cafe as we write away in our own little worlds but are inspired by what we see around us, the flavor of our drink, the snow falling outside the window, the question asked of us by a curious table-neighbor who wants to know how the novel’s going today. Why worry about the exact technicalities of what inspires us, what guides us? Better to just let it be, to drink coffee, to mentally converse, and to enjoy that little pocket of the sacred in the midst of a fast-paced life.
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Originally published at Ekunyi's Embers. You can comment here or there.

So I’ve sort of given up on titling these posts PBP Fridays, as I’ve not been terribly good at writing them on the correct day. That said, I do intend to keep going with the allotted schedule, even if it may take a bit of catch up work on my part and patience on yours.

I asked for inspiration regarding my second “B” post, as I was struggling with what I should write. I received one response, with tremendous enthusiasm, that I should write about spiritual and ritual “bling.” This initially made me chuckle; as you may have gathered from previous posts, I’m not really the sort of individual inclined to wear over-the-top jewelry, and I don’t know that I’ve ever actually said the word “bling” aloud.

Next it made me cringe. I’m presently dealing with several health issues, one of which has left me ritually impure and prevented me from completing the Kemetic Orthodox state ritual of senut for months now. My skin is on the war path, my body is holding water like a dam, I can’t take excedrin (which has aspirin) to ward off regular migraines before my biopsy next week, and my issues with SAD are coming back full swing as January creeps softly into the cloud-covered, greyscale days of February.

So I said to myself, no way in hell am I up for writing about the beautiful things I adorn myself with to celebrate my spirituality, and set that idea on the back burner, figuring I’d apologize to my friend for not taking her up on her kind suggestion.

But then this past Wednesday evening  I sat in shrine, making offerings and praying outside of a formal ritual context. Of late it has been too difficult for me to focus to successfully hear my Parents or Beloveds, but it was nevertheless a comfort just to speak aloud my frustrations in the present, my fears for the days ahead, and to find the joys in what good had happened, despite the challenges. I talked to Netjer for a solid thirty minutes, then realized that I really must be quite distressed to be venting at such length to my gods. I also forced myself to acknowledge that I had struggled more than I cared to admit just to make it through the previous day without completely losing it in my workplace. I had the sudden urge for a physical reminder to stay strong, for myself and for my loved ones, and so instinctively opened the cabinet beneath my shrine to seek out my necklace with Set’s image.

As I closed the clasps that held the chain around my neck, it was something of a clue by four. The items I associate with my faith are far more to me than how I’m feeling about my physical appearance at any given time. They’re powerful reminders of the connection I have with Netjer, the lessons I’ve learned from gods and spiritual guides. They are precisely what I need when I’m feeling at my worst, and something to enjoy aesthetically when I’m at my best.

Anecdote shared, I figured I’d share a few photos with you.

The first includes my Set-animal necklace, which I wear fairly often. I connect strongly with Set depicted as sha, as when He first began appearing to me in dreams, before I knew anything of Kemetic gods (and, to be frank, when it felt like my world was crashing around my ears and I assumed the “odd dog” I was visualizing was proof I’d completely gone off my rocker), He appeared to me as a greyhound with strangely squared ears.  This was custom made for me by Kristan of SilverWishes, and I am forever grateful to her for her creativity and craftsmanship.

This photo also shows my Heru-wer necklace, which was made for me by Emky (Ty Barbary) of Mythic Curios. This is more of a ritual wear piece, and presently it resides on my shrine as something of a rosary. I can hold different portions of it, consider the blade/claw, the balance between dark and light, the two brothers, the sun which is Heru-wer in Ra.

Finally, of note, I took this photo while wearing my ritual whites. This garment is made of cotton, and contains no man-made materials for purposes of ritual purity. I generally wear it only for senut, which further helps establish the shift from a secular to spiritual state when I enter shrine for the official ritual. I’ve missed wearing it.

Daily and ritual wear, worn over my cotton, ritual white shirt.

The next photo is of necklaces representing other Names in my line-up, plus Wesir, with whom I have a tentative, but growing relationship. The ones for Bast and Hethert-Nut were again made by Emky. Bast’s is also for ritual use, I have worn it when dancing, and the weight of it keeps its own rhythm against my chest as I move. It also depicts Her as I see Her, which is understandably a bit unique from most.

Hethert-Nut’s was made to be worn out and about. It is small, elegant, but full of sparkle. I tend to wear it on days when I’m feeling vibrant enough to “pull it off,” but it can also bring a little brightness back on days when I’m not as confident about myself. I also love the natural pearls amongst the perfect spheres, a reminder that though beautiful and serene, Hethert most assuredly has horns: and so do I.

Wesir’s necklace has personal meaning that I would rather keep to myself at this time, but I am equally grateful to have it. Many thanks to Brenda of Howling Caterpillars.

From top to bottom, necklaces for Bast, Hethert-Nut, and Wesir.

 

The final photo includes earrings that are actually not Kemetic, but dedicated to Great Horned Owl, my spiritual guide in animist practice. They are from a company that does very detailed jobs painting specific owl and hawk feathers onto bone. I try to remember to wear them to honor her after we have worked together within a meditative journey, but also on days when I hope to embody some aspect of her teachings.

Last but not least, the ring which I wear every day, without fail. This ring symbolizes my Kemetic Parents. The larger, darker red stone at the base is Set, solid and strong, and Bast, the smaller, brighter, fiery stone and Eye of Ra to His right.  I am represented by the small, but dark, red stone at the top of the spiraling gold, a combination of Their traits, and yet something unique entirely, lifted up by Their mutual presence, transformed for the better. It came from the lovely work of Veronika at Vera Nasfa.

Great Horned Owl earring and dailywear ring for Set and Bast.

I hope you enjoyed this.