Before I get to the meat of this post, I need to write a disclaimer: this post is in no way meant to be advice, counsel, or a suggestion for anyone’s practices. This is only my story, shared in support. I actually don’t recommend following my path, here. I chose it, and I know deeply how much it has helped me – but it is by far not going to be the best path for many. Please accept this post in the spirit of its writing: know that I have been there too, I still find that place sometimes, and I am standing with you.
[trigger warnings: self harm]
The first time I wanted to do Senut, during my Beginners class, I was kicked out of shrine. My eagerness was met only with disappointment. The Jackal, even then the lord of my heart, folded His arms before me.
I told you the consequences, came His quiet reproach. My stomach ached with regret. I did know the consequences. I knew my agreement with Him. And yet, somehow I had hoped that the gods would be more lenient; maybe They would let it slide the first time, because it was supposed to be my first time.
I tried again, ending with disaster: I spilled the natron water all over my ritual script. I dropped the water bowl and shattered it in the shower. Company came by early, which put that day’s efforts to a complete end. All the while I felt Sekhmet shaking Her head gently.
Not now, not yet. You made a promise.
Eleven years ago, I hurt myself for the first time, more out of curiosity than anything. There were an infinite number of reasons: I felt alone, I felt unwanted, I felt scared, like I could never succeed or be good enough — and on and on. By the time I found my gods (or They found me), I was feeling more stable, more healthy, and I desperately didn’t want to hurt myself anymore. But self-harm is hard to shake; it clings and nestles in the mind, directing thoughts and actions. So while I wanted to be well, I wasn’t, yet.
As my relationship with the gods of Kemet deepened, They began to gently nudge me about my habits. It hurt Them to see me hurting. When we had forged a strong and constant relationship, They offered me a challenge: if I hurt myself, They would consider me in the same state as though I were menstruating until any wounds healed. That was what They offered, to help me achieve my goal – and I accepted.
When I went to approach Senut for the first time, I had hurt myself the day before. They would not let me even try. It was not a punishment, just a fact. It is what They asked, and I freely accepted. I wanted Them to pat me on the back and let it slide. I wanted to be told, “We’ll let it go this time.” It didn’t happen. I learned that if I wanted to serve my gods, I needed to take care of myself.
It is never about shunning me, or putting me down for what I’ve done. It is an agreement, as clinical as a legal contract: If x, then y. It is Their intervention, Their method of teaching me a better way. As I’m typing this, it sounds harsh, and I wish I could find a way to make it sound less so. Believe me when I say, it never felt harsh. They never turn me away or fall silent for my mistakes; often They are most present in these moments. Even now, when I forget myself and reach for old habits, the rules have not changed.
And I do forget myself, and I do slip back into old cycles. I am human, and I have learned a behavior that is, unfortunately, very effective — and so I turn back to it, now and then. I have skills in place to help me choose better ways to cope with the things that would have broken me in the past, but even so: I still feel those urges, still feel the nagging at my heels that says, “this is easier.”
And then I struggle with myself, because I am a priest, and this affects more than just my purity. It affects my work, it affects my responsibilities. It is a part of what I need to consider in my personal purity assessment, before I do any rite requiring purity.
Under no circumstances is my approach appropriate for everyone. I have been actively working to break these habits for years, and abstaining from formal ritual was Their practical solution. I firmly believe, and repeat often, that purity is between you and your gods. Care for yourself however makes the most sense. Connecting with the gods is foremost how so many of us find grounding and healing when we are feeling fractured and worn, myself included. Never deny yourself the company of the gods simply because you are hurting. If that means handling purity differently than I do, good. No one else can dictate what you do in your personal shrine unless you want them to.
Why am I writing this now? Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. I know there are other Kemetics who struggle with the same urges. Self-harm is a unique purity issue for me, and I’m sure there are other Kemetics who feel uncomfortable or impure dealing with this themselves. I am a priest in my community; I know there are people who read my blog and look up to it. I need the community to know that it is okay to struggle, that the gods will not abandon you for hurting yourself, that you can feel hurt and impure and yet zep tepi will come, the wounds will heal, and so will you.
We are given the opportunity, every dawn, to recreate ourselves. Every dawn is a new universe. If you are actively working to stop hurting yourself, remember this: that from the beginning of this creation, from the moment today’s new world came into being, you have not hurt yourself. You are made, today, as someone who has not hurt themselves at all. I find so much power in this, and I hope you can too.