Episode 30: My aspirations and goals.

My aspirations and goals have changed so drastically since I started doing this meme. I had some thoughts – “to become an Imakhu”, “to open a temple to my gods”, “to dedicate my life to Their service”.

I hope that some day, I will have a space for the gods, where I can serve Them and Their people. I hope that I will be able to carry Their work through the world, as a healer, as a diviner, and as a conduit for Their love.

I hope that some day, I will be able to say to someone “I am Kemetic Orthodox”, and be treated with respect and equal fellowship – without the baggage of suspicion and disdain.

I hope that some day, I will be confident in my spiritual identity, unafraid of criticism or rebuke for the path I follow. I hope that I will be able to participate in interfaith dialogue, in Pagan Pride events, in pluralistic rituals and prayers. I hope that my faith will become a source of wisdom and hope in my daily doings, rather than something I struggle to conceal.

I hope that some day, I will speak for the ancestors, the Akhu, the Blessed Dead shining in the arms of Nut. I will give them recognition among the living, and call the living to remember them often with love. I hope I can bring their needs – the need to be remembered, the need to be cared for and spoken to – to the attention of their children.

Some day, I will honor the gods by making all of these things come into being.

Thus concludes the 30 Episodes of Spirituality meme, which I started last year in October. I’ll be writing up a page with all of the episodes and linking to it up top as I have time. This has been an awesome exercise in writing about my beliefs, and an awesome exercise in writing often. Thanks to all who have been reading! Now to find even more awesome things to post about…

Episodes 29: My spiritual advantages.

Last episode was about what blocks me from being completely effective in my spiritual life. As with anything, everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. In my life, I think my greatest advantage is my persistence.

It is persistence that keeps me in shrine whenever I am able. It is persistence that gets me back into shrine, when I have not been able to get there.

It is persistence that keeps me worshiping and serving the gods, when I find myself too unsettled by the idea that religion is just a security blanket that we hold.

Without persistence, I would have given up on the gods long ago. I would have given in to my fears that I am making everything up, without giving the gods a chance to surprise me – as They do, again and again. When They go silent, or I feel cut off, my persistence is what keeps me from feeling completely abandoned. I have lived through “dead months”, when everything Unseen around me seems to shut down. But that persistence is what keeps me moving, keeps me believing that there is a light on the other side.

This is probably also the best advice I could ever give anyone setting out on a path that requires personal interaction with the gods: don’t stop moving. Just keep going, until the clouds lift.

That’s also why this song is on my playlist of songs with religious significance. 😉

Episode 28: My Spiritual Obstacles.

What stands in my way of being the “perfect” Shemsu – of being the “perfect” priest – of being the “perfect” devotee?

Probably that p-word right there.

Since I was in middle school, I have been striving for an ideal of perfection that probably doesn’t exist. I have this persistent need to improve, to do more, to know more. It’s a hunger that gnaws at me when I am idle, pushing me. “Why aren’t you moving? Why aren’t you doing more?”

In some ways, this is a blessing. I have drive, I have determination. When I find a goal that I am truly invested in, I will stop at nothing until I get it. When I find a subject I am truly curious about, I will consume books and articles and summaries and websites like a starving person; I will have endless conversations, badgering everyone I love until their exasperation shows when they roll their eyes as I open my mouth. This is good.

The problem comes when I am faced with a goal that doesn’t have a concrete “finished product”. Devotion to the gods. Priesthood. Worship. I find myself straining to refine my practices further and further. I stress about candle positioning (should it be an inch to the left?) and about shrine cloths (should I use a thinner fabric?) and about incense (should I start using resin incense rather than stick?). I let my desire to do even better than the day before take over, instead of listening to the gods Themselves.

Inevitably, I find that when I let these things go, I am more connected. I living more gracefully – more full of the grace of the gods. When I stopped angsting about the candle and moved it, it was as though a door was unlocked. When I stopped worrying about the shrine cloth and went with my instincts, I had fewer almost-spills. When I tried to use resin incense, it was a horrible mess and not worth the effort – so I went back to sticks.

And as if to prove myself right, I got side-tracked while writing this post. I went and started hunting once again for the perfect stick incense – frankincense, with no wooden center, like Morning Star.

My advice to anyone else struggling with perfectionism in their spiritual practice is simply this: slow down and stay mindful. If I check in with myself about what I’m doing periodically, I find I can make a better judgement as to whether what I’m stressing about is really worth the anxiety. Once I’m able to sort out what really needs my attention and what I can ignore, then I find that comfortable – though never complacent – space in which I can move in harmony with the gods in my life.

Episode 27: Divination

For a large portion of my life as a pagan, I considered myself utterly unable to engage in divination. I didn’t believe that I had the capability to memorize enough information, and certainly didn’t believe that anyone would want to get a reading from someone who was messing with the book in the middle of the whole thing. I’ve come quite a way since then; I am slowly learning Tarot, I am trained in Fedw divination, and I use my own personal dice oracle at times as well. Here’s a rundown of what my experiences have been with the divination tools I’m experienced with.

Tarot: My experience with Tarot was initially very lackluster. I got a deck for Christmas one year, which was what introduced me to paganism at all. I never did very well with it, though; the Minor Arcana were all pip cards and I was just a little too inexperienced to have the patience for that. Later I picked up a Rider-Waite deck, but just couldn’t comprehend the symbolism.  I am starting to understand it better, though it still doesn’t click at first glance.

I did stumble across a deck early on in my journeys, which was a work in progress. I bookmarked the page, and hoped that I would find the deck finished sooner, rather than later. I forgot about the deck for the most part, checking on it when I was reminded. It wasn’t until several years later that the deck was finished and published, and a year after that when I finally picked it up for myself. It is the only deck I have run across that feels quite right to me; and it is the only deck with which I have gotten consistently useful readings. I am speaking of the Shadowscapes Tarot, which I have been meaning to write about in more detail. I may yet do so – I love this deck and would love to tell everyone just how much I love it. 😉

Dice: My experience with divination by dice came as I was beginning to realize just how little luck I was having learning Tarot. I felt called to learn some way to divine, as a child of Wepwawet, so I worked out my own method, using four dice and a coin. I was not satisfied with the existing modalities, so I worked out my own system based loosely on Kemetic numbers, and interpreted intuitively. People seemed to love this. I ran a number of practice readings, asking people to ask questions about things that happened in the past, which I would then read about. I used this extensively as a member of the Pagan Student Union in my university. I haven’t read with dice in quite some time, to be honest, as it was something that only seemed to work for others.

Fedw: I was trained in Fedw divination in August 2008, at the year 16 Wep Ronpet Retreat. Fedw is the form of divination taught within the House of Netjer, using four sticks to convey messages directly from the Netjeru. I was actually quite terrible at Fedw initially. Fedw can be quite delicate to use, requiring deliberation and tact, as it is a direct questioning of the gods Themselves. In the beginning, I made the mistake of asking a lot of thick-headed questions and earned myself the irritation of the gods. I’ve gotten quite a lot better, but it seems I was determined to learn the hard way. I have now learned how to navigate Their requirements and haven’t had any trouble, but I was almost convinced that I just wasn’t meant to divine at all.

Episode 26: Religion and daily life.

This is another one of those prompts that seemed like it would be more interesting when I originally devised this 30 episode series. As a priest, part of the work I do requires that I go and tend my shrine at least once a day – thus, religious ritual is a huge part of my daily life. It feels almost redundant to write anything about religion and daily life – because it just is. But then again – it bleeds into everything I do in ways I never anticipated:

  • When I go to the grocery store, I am not only shopping for foodstuffs and necessities, but also keeping an eye out for things that I can use as offerings – foods that are easily portioned and stored, but also appropriate for my gods and enjoyable. The food that I buy for myself is often influenced by the preferences of the gods as well.
  • When I go to a department store, home goods store, or craft store, I am not only shopping for whatever goods are on my list, but keeping an eye out for dishes, bowls, cloths and other tools that would be appropriate for use in shrine.
  • When I am driving, my mind often turns to my gods, to Their nature, and to contemplating the mysteries I am constantly discovering. Not in a distracted way, of course – but as a peaceful background to the task at hand.

They kind of wove Their way into everything I do. I have tiny mini-shrines popping up all over my living space – pretty collections of kitsch that gradually become “themed” for one god or another. There is an ankh hanging from my rearview mirror where others would hang a rosary. There is a silver udjat on the back of my car, where others would have a small fish (or a noodly monster).

I honestly can’t remember if there ever was a time when my life was totally mundane and ordinary. All I know is that now, I find myself stopping to check out tiny glass dishes because they’d be great in shrine, and buying “myself” bouquets of flowers in the grocery store.