The Purity Rant

Author’s Note: This was written early last year, in response to a question I got regarding my feelings on ritual purity. To make up for my relatively sporadic blogging, my dear readers, I present you with this gem.

In [Kemetic Orthodoxy], it is a requirement that one be “ritually pure” before performing ritual activities such as Senut (daily ritual), attending a public ritual in person, or touching one’s proper Senut shrine. This is often confusing for many people, as few people actually understand ritual purity. So let us examine it. What does being ritually pure mean?

To be ritually pure, one must:

  • Be in good health (relative to one’s usual condition)

  • Not have open or infected wounds (again, relative to one’s usual condition)

  • Be in a proper state of mind (not distracted by TV, work, or children)

  • Not be menstruating or bleeding

  • Have bathed in a ritually prepared bath using natron

Now you might be thinking, “Wow, that’s an awful lot of restrictions”, but think about it. How focused on a ritual will you be if you are sick and sneezing all over the place? How effective will it be fore you to try and perform a ritual if you have the TV running, or are trying to do your homework (in the case of rituals simulcast online, which we do have in Kemetic Orthodoxy), or trying to deal with your children? How clean and pure is a bleeding wound, anyways? There are simple answers to these issues, despite the intimidating number of them. If you are sick, you can wait until you are well again before you do your rituals, and they will be more effective. Turn the TV off, finish your homework before the ritual (or simply do not attend if your workload is so heavy), and wait until your child goes to sleep before attempting to perform a ritual. God understands if your child wakes up while you are doing it, and if this happens, simply put out any flames you have lit and tend to your child, returning to your shrine to finish up after the child is pacified. Wait until your wound stops bleeding or, should it be infected, wait until it heals before re-purifying with natron and attempting your ritual again.

But the biggest sticking point of ritual purity is always the issue of menstrual impurity. “Why no menstruating”, you might ask? “Isn’t a woman tied deeply to her cycle, and shouldn’t it duly be a good time for her to perform ritual?” One might think so, but I ask you to think about this. When a woman is on her period, she is usually cramping. She is usually cranky. Her emotions are out of whack. This is bad enough, and makes Senut or any ritual challenging enough as it is. Now remember that the Netjeru (Gods) do not really appreciate human blood. It makes Them sad that we are bleeding. It is offensive to Their noses. This goes for open wounds on men as well as menstruating women. Is it unfair that a woman’s menstruation should be considered unclean? I don’t think so at all. In fact, one would think that, by its nature, menstrual blood is more impure than regular blood. It contains shed uterine lining, the discarded female egg, dried blood and all sorts of things that are not “just blood”. Menstrual impurity is not unfair in the slightest. Additionally, blood is considered to attract negative spirits in many different cultures. The Egyptian religious culture is no exception. Blood is said to attract both muuet, the dead who have refused to go through the Weighing of the Heart and have become malevolent, and unpleasant netjeri, or Unseen spirits from the Duat who are not quite Netjeru but can wield great and even destructive power against humans. This is regarded, almost universally, as a Bad Thing™.

“But why use the word impure,” you ask. “It has such negative connotations.” Not really, if you think about it. Impurity is considered bad because of the Western concept of impurity as sin. Sin, as we all know, is bad. If impurity is considered a sin, then of course it is going to develop negative connotations. But this isn’t impurity as a sin. This is impurity in the way that dirt, sweat and grime build up on the human body over the course of a day or two. After a day or two, you shower. You don’t leave all that grime and grossness on your body when you go out to interact with people. You wouldn’t go to a Christian service dressed in dingy old sweatpants with no deodorant on, with your hair unwashed and your face smudged with dirt, would you? Why, then, would you bring the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual gunk with you to Senut or to your personal ritual? Why would you risk bringing muuet, wicked netjeri, bad spirits, or just general dirt into your shrine where your Gods sit when They visit with you during Senut or ritual? Think about it from this mindset. You want to open a gate to the Unseen so that your Gods can visit with you. Coded into the rite you are using is powerful heka, or powerful protective words to drive away evil and ensure that only the right beings can get through when you are performing the rite, but they depend on your use of a substance with purifying properties, used even by the ancients to purify for their temple rites. They depend on your personal physical, spiritual, mental and emotional cleanliness to be effective. Why would you half pay attention to important heka?

You can always pray to Netjer. Netjer is always there and will always hear your prayers. There is nothing so immediately important that you cannot wait to perform a ritual. If you are depressed and in desperate need of divine intervention – Netjer hears to most spontaneous prayer. Netjer doesn’t just live in your shrine, It lives everywhere. You don’t have to be pure to interact with your Gods. They are always, always there.

One thought on “The Purity Rant

  1. The question of purity is one that I’ve been kind of musing over for awhile, since I got my Prayerbook and started reading about Senut.

    I read Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott when I was trying to look into Wicca in high school, and she has a whole section about affirming your womanhood and not taking painkillers during menstruation and just letting nature take its course–apparently it was really liberating for her and helped her feel closer to the Goddess. But… I am generally ambivalent about my “womanhood” and cramps are not one of the things that make me happy with my ladybits. I’m just not really in a reverent mood when I’m bleeding, anywhere really.

    I know Meritaset has talked about her amazing Senut experiences during menstruation, but I guess that’s part of her relationship with herself and her Mother, and I don’t think it would really be similar for me.

    I was thinking the other day about it… We take a bath and put on special clothes and say special words. It’s not that dirt or sweat or the marks of our toil are displeasing to Netjer across the board. I mean: Geb, for goodness’ sake; rocks and dirt are divine. But the preparation itself is ritual, and helps us get into a reverent mood, so that for these specific formal rituals we are prepared to explicitly invite Netjer into our physical presence. They accept us and love us the rest of the time too, and it’s not an edict that menstruating is sinful and therefore women are evil. It’s just a line in the sand for ritual’s sake between everyday interactions and the respect of formality.

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