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.

Episode 23: Initiations: W’ab priesthood

Last summer, I became a priest. Not ordained clergy as most would understand it, but a servant of the Gods in the ritual sense; kind of like a deacon.

This was the first rite of passage that really filled me with apprehension. Leading up to my training I was excited, I was anxious. I wanted to fully serve the gods with all my heart, all my mind and all my body. I wanted to be a priest the way a gosling wants to be a goose or a kitten a cat. There was no doubt – I just was. Then I stood in the thick of my initiation and something in me froze. The vows became heavy as I spoke them. The truth that this was no longer hypothetical – that I was now beholden to all the things I had quietly longed for – became frightening.

I carried that worry through my public consecration, when I picked up my W’ab tools. What if I was in over my head? How could I let the Gods down? What if I just wasn’t good enough? I felt like I was destined to fail. It took until December for me to be cleared to open my State shrine and start the ritual portion of my job. That in and of itself felt strange. I opened the Shrine and then the next day, proceeded to become ill and unable to do anything in shrine for a week.

I have had tremendous successes. I have served my gods daily and diligently. I have had messages come through; I have been given instructions by the Gods that are baffling and esoteric. I have also had spectacular failures. I have been unfit for shrine thanks to either physical or mental impurity, and I have beaten myself up over it. I have allowed duty to overwhelm love in what I do.

It’s a mystery, the priesthood. I am still learning to synthesize my service to the gods with my mundane life. I am learning not to beat myself up when life keeps me away from ritual. I was unable to be in shrine for most of this month, thanks to work, health, travel and family. I worried how I would adjust, but I found it a kind of blessing – being given the opportunity to re-work the love I have had for the Gods into the duty I am obligated to uphold. It’s a blessed burden, and a joyful duty.

Episode 22: Initiations: Weshem-ib and becoming Shemsu-Ankh

Writing about being a Shemsu-Ankh is hard, because it means so many different things to so many different people. I can only write about my own experiences, and the work that I do that is part of my role as a Shemsu-Ankh.

Just to clear up any misconception: Shemsu-Ankh doesn’t mean ‘shemsu for life’ (necessarily). Ankh can also mean ‘vow’ – and it does, in this context. Shemsu-Ankh are Shemsu who have taken a particular set of vows. The process by which one becomes a Shemsu-Ankh is not public besides that.

I went into that process knowing little but the fact that I wanted to go through it. I wanted to be a Shemsu-Ankh, based on my interactions with other Shemsu-Ankh and their discussion of what it meant to them.

It means responsibility. It means examining myself carefully to bring my life more fully into balance, into Ma’at. It means guardianship of my community. It means making Netjer and Its children a priority in my life.

I became more accountable. The gods hold me to a higher standard now – if I make a promise or am asked to do something, I’d damn well better do it. Ma’at is my responsibility, as a role model for other Shemsu. So is self-awareness and self-control.

It is hard to describe, not because I am afraid to give away secrets, but because I have a hard time remembering what it felt like not being Shemsu-Ankh. I became more purposed, more devoted to a life of truth and balance, and more connected to the group of people surrounding me in faith.

How do I guard and support that community? I welcome newly divined Shemsu. I work as a new member imy-ra, as a contact point for those joining the community. I am friendly to fellow Shemsu, I pray for their intentions, and offer advice and support when necessary. And – because it is impossible to have interpersonal interactions without friction – I stay cool when people argue, and encourage others to do the same. It’s simple work, but it feels terribly important. To me it is – it is how I fulfill my vows.

Episode 21: Initiations: Divination and Shemsu Naming

Remember: the stuff I write about my faith is my own experience and my own opinion. If you are curious about our rituals, beliefs and practices, please go to netjer.org to learn more. 🙂

I’ve been thinking about what I could say about the Rite of Parent Divination and Shemsu Naming that isn’t just the same old ‘define the rite and then talk about my experiences’ schtick. It’s hard, because it is such an emotional experience, and I really do love talking about it. It’s been done to death, however, so I’ll just save it and give you the synopsis.

About four years ago, I underwent the Kemetic Orthodox ritual of the Rite of Parent Divination. This ritual is a divination meant to determine the deity (or deities) who are the spiritual Parent(s) and Beloved(s) of a person. The role of the Parent and Beloved deities varies from person to person, but the majority of people honor their Parent(s) as patron(s) and their Beloved(s) as some kind of auxiliary patron(s).

My RPD validated in a huge way many of the experiences I’d had. I was divined as a child of Wepwawet and Sekhmet-Mut, beloved of Bast and Nut, and got a strong but neutral message from my ancestors. Then, a few weeks later, my Shemsu Name was publicly revealed to be Sobeqsenu.

So much emphasis is put on learning one’s ‘lineup’ (a very silly word to use) and one’s name that the rite of passage aspect of these rituals is pretty well ignored, in my opinion. At their heart, I think the function of the RPD and Naming ritual is not just to spit out data, but to connect the candidate with three previously unlinked worlds: the ancestors, the gods, and the living Kemetic Orthodox community. The RPD provides a framework for communication with the dead and with the Divine, while Naming provides a formal welcome amongst the Shemsu, the followers of Netjer. Some people who have gone through these rites remark that they feel more ‘tuned in’ to the Unseen world afterwards, and I think that on many levels that’s what the RPD does. It is like installing a three way phone line in your head.

I placed an enormous amount of weight on the information gained during the RPD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important. For me, it revealed the framework underneath my identity – explained parts of me that I never understood or explored. But at the time I never considered the implications beyond that. Now as I was ruminating on my experiences with the initiatory process, I have come to the realization that I was given much, much more than just Gods to worship or a new nickname to use.