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.

Episode 25: Other Paths I Have Explored

I have to admit, my story of spiritual wandering reads more like a sprint than a wander. I have been blessed enough to have found a home base at a young age, after only a few years of poking around the pagan community. Even after my introduction to Kemetic Orthodoxy, I’ve still nosed curiously at other paths, trying to see the Divine from various perspectives.

I was raised Roman Catholic, and while I disagree with some of the dogma and the draconian regulations, I will say easily that Catholic ritual and devotion is absolutely beautiful. I still retain something of a relationship with some of the saints I venerated as a Catholic; now they are not just saints to me, but akhu alongside the rest of my blessed dead. I have also kept my love of song in ritual, so that I sing with and for my gods in Their shrines.

My stepdad’s religion, Eckankar, is what led me to explore non-Christian paths. I was questioning my Catholic roots pretty deeply, and since he was the first non-Christian I ever really knew with any depth, I wound up finding his books and his insight valuable. The hardest struggle for me was learning that there are other truths, other paths to the Divine, and his confidence in his path helped me find my own, in the end.

My first wholly independent step towards paganism came with a deck of Tarot cards I got as a gift, one Christmas. Ironically, I had vowed the night before to dedicate myself to God as I’d never been before – I had just been dumped by one of my high school boyfriends and was turning to God for comfort. In exploring the Tarot, I learned about Wicca, and the idea that the Divine could be both male and female – that there was duality in all things. It was during this time that I stumbled across the idea of ma’at, though I didn’t know it. I began to contemplate cosmic balance, and order – living a kind of middle path.

I never really latched on to most of the principles of Wicca that I read about, and I wasn’t so thrilled at the thought of being a solitary “Wiccan”, since that seemed somehow counterproductive. Instead, I considered myself a solitary eclectic pagan – the most generic label I could come up with. During this time I explored my relationship with the world and with the gods; I encountered Brighid, an Morrighan, Aphrodite, Venus, Apollo, Juno and Hestia during this time. I learned that Divine messages and conversation were not only possible, but powerful and common.

It was during this eclectic period that I came across the House of Netjer and Kemetic Orthodoxy. I continued (and still continue) exploring other religions as a syncretic and academic practice – and as a way to remain a participant in my local community of faith.

Before I started the Beginners class, I attended a few meetings of the local ADF grove, the Grove of the Other Gods. This was my first exposure to a group pagan ritual, and I had no idea what to expect. It was also my first face-to-face experience with pagan community. In short, it was awesome. I would still gladly participate, if life hadn’t had other plans. I learned the power of group worship there; the joy of community celebration.

I even recently explored a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, thinking that having a centering space nearby would be helpful during my crisis of faith this Winter. While the congregation didn’t prove to be something I was interested in joining long term, I found my faith bolstered at the local church, and found myself slowly warming to the Gods again during the well-spoken sermons and services.

I consider myself blessed to have walked among so many different paths, whether I was exploring or just visiting for a time. I think that even in paths that I would never follow, I have found a good deal of valuable wisdom that I will continue to honor and keep.

Episode 24: Reconstructionism vs. Revivalism vs. ???

This topic seemed more pressing when I initially dreamt up my list of 30 posts. I don’t really feel the need to pin down myself as being reconstructionist or revivalist or anything in particular anymore. If you asked me now, I’d say I’m a modern pluralist semi-solid polytheist who is devoted to the ancient Egyptian gods. I am Kemetic Orthodox, but even that isn’t really accurate. That’s not what I believe, it’s how I express my beliefs. It’s how I render my love for the Divine.

I used to be really intensely focused on hard-line reconstructionism. I wanted citations under everything before I would allow it into my practices. Not entirely coincidentally, this attitude sprang up around the time I started my college education. It was also the first time I’d really declared I was anything, or had any sort of real discussions about religion with my family. I wanted something iron-clad to defend myself against any possible snark that could be flung at me. Unfortunately, I took this as license to totally shred any path that did not include in-depth research of its own history. I had a few conversations that to this day leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Revivalism is a little better of a term, but still lacks something. To say that you are reviving the Kemetic religion means bringing back the practices of the ancients – which is nearly impossible with the environment we live in. Our world is vastly different from the world of ancient Egypt. Saying that I am reviving the religion of ancient Egypt has incredible implications. It also isn’t at all what I’m doing. If I were reviving the religion of ancient Egypt, I wouldn’t be quite as eclectic as I am now. I wouldn’t be so interested in the Temple of the Twelve, or any of the other distinctly non-Kemetic, personal practices that I have.

I’m not really any of those. I’m myself, as far as I can tell. I am a spiritual creature by nature, and I am working with that the only way that feels right. I love my gods, and I do what They ask, how They ask. Their ancient worshippers serve as honored guides and instructors, through the literature I am able to access. I am not a scholar, or a reconstructionist, or a revivalist. I am Kemetic Orthodox, I am a follower of Wepwawet and Sekhmet-Mut. I guess I’m the ???? part of the Kemetic collection.