After my last post, things perked up in my shrine life. I hit a good four-day stride leading up to the civil new year’s day — and then I woke up on January 1st with that unfortunate, familiar tickle in my throat. By evening, I had settled into a very sneezy cold. I had been so determined to go to shrine that evening, motivated more than a little by the superstition that what you do on new year’s day will set the tone for the rest of the year. I began to question: was this a sign? Do the gods not want me as their priest? Are They trying to push me away?
I admit, I get a little paranoid sometimes. I wrestle with anxiety on a daily basis. “No, that crow isn’t trying to tell you someone is dying. No, those pennies on the ground didn’t come from your Father. NO, the song playing on the radio isn’t trying to warn you about an impending car accident.” And so on. The struggle is ongoing, because sometimes, those random events do have meaning. Like the time I was ending a relationship, and kept finding collectible pennies and heard nothing but breakup songs on the radio. The catch there: I had asked for a signal, a warning, something to tell me where to go next. These random mishaps and events tend to be just that: random. But the fear in my head tells me otherwise. I have often thought that my life would be simpler if I didn’t believe in omens, signs, or divine messages at all, but that’s not the kind of thing I can change on a whim. I believe in the gods, in spirits, in the ancestors and in the Unseen world they inhabit. I can’t just un-believe.
So I remind myself. I don’t get too invested unless I’ve been asking for a sign. Even then, I ask myself: is this characteristic of my gods? If not, I take it with a grain of salt. The gods have ways of communicating that can often serve to verify Their identity. If They aren’t identifying Themselves, I won’t trust the memo. The popular word for this is “discernment” – identifying your gods and spirits as your own, not impostors or imagination. How do your gods and spirits communicate with you? How do they communicate with others? Does this match your experience?
A regular, consistent relationship with the gods helps too. If I am regularly meeting Them in shrine, and regularly divining with Them, I am much less likely to find myself panicking about random happenstance. I already know where They stand and I know our relationship is strong, therefore I don’t question the little things as often. When I am feeling distant, I may grasp at straws to feel like I am communicating with the gods. Perhaps normally I would not feel that a situation was divinely influenced, but I have not been to shrine in several weeks. I may be looking for the gods to start showing up elsewhere in my life. At least for me, They rarely do; They wait for me to come back to shrine, rather than chasing me down in my mundane life.
Above all of that, the world is a flawed and unpredictable place, from the Kemetic perspective. Ma’at may be conceived of as universal equilibrium, but She is not immune to attack. And even in Kemetic thought, there is a Badness, a disorder that can creep into the world and upset our usually carefully balanced lives. The aptly timed illness, the accidents and the bad news – sometimes, it’s isfet. Sometimes, bad things just happen. We can protect ourselves with our relationship with the gods, and with our Akhu – but even that will never protect us from isfet completely. Sometimes, things just happen.
Often I can never know if something is random, or part of a larger orchestration. Was the devastation of my home during Sandy isfet? A divine message? The consequence of something greater? And an even better question: does it matter? I cannot and do not believe that every misfortune or strange coincidence is an omen or the result of some Unseen machinations. When my gods want to send a message, They will tell me it is Their doing. For me, at least, They rarely test my perception or devotion. When I am doubtful, I divine. I can only believe in the randomness of the Universe for the rest.
(There’s a lot of great writing about discernment out there right now. This is a pretty good place to start, but it’s been coming up more and more frequently these days.)