Back to Reality

Once again the year has reached its end and then its beginning, and I am returning from the House of Netjer’s annual Wep Ronpet Retreat. This year was different. Rather than being held near the House’s temple building in Illinois, the retreat was held in Portland — Oregon, not Maine, as I found I would have to clarify multiple times when talking with family and friends.

I was worried that holding our celebrations outside of a formal temple environment would diminish them, somehow. Instead, I found that it reinvigorated them. First: the Kennedy School, where we held our celebrations, was absolutely delightful. The accommodations were well-furnished and pleasant, the conference spaces were comfortable and beautiful, and the staff were respectful and even curious about our activities. In past years, we were asked to make our own arrangements for dining. This year we were served multiple meals and ate together as a group, sharing breakfast and having comfortable, easy conversation in the bright light filtering through the windows. The room where we held our pre-Retreat priests’ meeting was furnished with soft couches for everyone, for goodness’ sake!

More to the point — the gods and ancestors were present. From the moment we opened with amulet-making to the dawn rites of New Year’s morning, They made Themselves known. Sekhmet was present in Saq at Her ceremony — made even more special because it is Her year. The gods were pleased with our morning celebrations, with Ra appearing and blessing our rites. And the Ordeal of Weshem-ib went smoothly, bringing four more children of Netjer into the order of the Shemsu-Ankh.

Change is good, it would seem. And also inevitable. Change is part of being human, being mortal. Even the gods Themselves have been known to change, temporarily and permanently. I am looking forward to sharing some changes here, and making changes in my personal life and religious life. It will be good.

#teamsekhmet

I’m going to put it straight to you: The House of Netjer needs donations. The only way for the temple to survive is if temple members donate — and only a small number of members actually do so.

I’m putting a call out to my siblings in Sekhmet to change that, this month. I don’t care how you do it — if you donate yourself, if you offer to sell services in exchange for donations, if you pester everyone else until they donate — but the children of Sekhmet are going to smash that donation goal this month. #teamsekhmet, are you ready? We have 31 days to get it done. Let’s do it!

Hand Crafted (1)

Welcome back to W’ab Wednesday

Note: this post contains opinion, not doctrine of any kind, and is intended as thought-provoking contemplation rather than instructional writing.

W’ab Wednesday is a series I started for writing about purity. To recap, in brief: I am a lay priest, or w’ab priest, in Kemetic Orthodoxy. In this context, the word w’ab translates to “pure”, “purity”, or “to be pure”. My job is to be a ritual technician, and a large portion of that means maintaining something called “ritual purity” — meaning, a state of spiritual and physical cleanliness in which the highest rituals may be performed.

Ritual purity isn’t a requirement for worship of the gods. Prayer and offerings made without ritual purity still count. So why bother?

To state the obvious — the gods don’t live where we do. They live in the Duat, while we live in the physical world. When we pray or make offerings, we are trying to communicate from one world into the next. The more ritually pure we are, the more effective our interactions with the gods and the Duat will be. Impurity — things like physical dirt, Unseen dirt, distractions, etc. — is the static that interferes with our communication.

This is partly why I believe so strongly in the concept of purity as a continuum. We will never have 100% effective communication to the Duat as living humans. The more we can shed the dirt of everyday living, the closer we can scoot to operating at full capacity (which will vary from person to person).

When doing State rituals, like the priests’ rite or certain holiday rituals, we want to be sure there is as little “static” as possible — hence the requirement for more purity. There is bigger heka here, so it’s easier for the static to get in the way. Informal offerings and casual candle-lightings are harder to mess up, so the purity requirement is much lower.

The Return of the King

I felt completely lost when it came to the Mysteries of Wesir when I first became Kemetic. Wesir was hard for me to grasp, having quite a bit in common with the gods of the faith I had just left — died, resurrected, ruling in the place where dead people go — so maybe I steered clear of Him “accidentally-on-purpose”.

I tried to wrestle with the holiday when I was in the midst of my existential crisis. I wanted to understand it so badly. I felt like if I understood it, maybe I wouldn’t be so scared of it. I threw myself at it, and didn’t have much luck — trying to understand a god by force doesn’t work all that well, I discovered.

This year, somehow, celebrating the festival felt right for the first time. I traveled down to Virginia for a vigil ritual hosted by one of the temple’s ordained clergy, Reverend Heruakhetymose. As myself and fellow w’ab Shefytbast headed south, the landscape became more and more rural, and we noticed how the changing of the leaves mirrored the season of the death of Wesir.

The vigil itself felt like an ordeal we undertook with Wesir, standing at His side as He underwent the mysterious journey from death to life in the Duat1. Each hour, on the hour, we entered the shrine room in silence. The room was variously lit in a dim purple glow or by candle light, and I took up a drum to count the minutes until the hour struck. At the second of the hour I let the drum fall silent, and myself and fellow priests performed the ritual while the rest of those gathered offered henu. After the ritual concluded and we spent a few moments in silent contemplation, I took up the drum again, and we left as silently as we came.

And then we passed the hour until the next one.

We played games, we had snacks, we watched silly videos and talked about everything and nothing. We sat curled under blankets and watched parts of The Mummy. We shared our time and our kindness together — until our alarms chimed that it was time to prep for the next hour’s ritual, and we took up the mantle of silence for Wesir again.

By dawn, we were exhausted. Many of us had napped at least once, but we were pretty punchy. And yet, as we entered the shrine room in silence for the final ritual of resurrection, an unexpected lightness carried us onward. The gods felt… not joyful, but at peace, where the previous hours felt heavy with mourning and transformation. Wesir assumed His throne in the Duat, caring for our ancestors, and providing a home for us after our lives are done.

We made our final offerings of the day to Wesir after we had all had an opportunity to rest and sleep some. We celebrated His re-establishment to life in the Duat, we thanked Him for His sacrifice to create a home for us after death, and we thanked Him for being with us. And then — we snacked on offerings during the day. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and watched cartoons, shared stories, and laughed quite a bit. We watched a wintery storm roll in and ate leftovers. It felt like being with family. And in the end, I think that’s what He wanted: for us to be together, to honor His journey together, and to rise together after the ordeal of the vigil and come together again.

I won’t say I properly understand His mysteries now; but I will say I feel much closer to Him, and that I’m grateful for the opportunity His mysteries gave me to grow closer with my community.


Footnotes:

  1. Underworld, or afterlife, or “Unseen World”. Generally, where gods and ancestors live.

What the heck-a is heka?

I am often asked to write about heka1. The problem with me writing about heka is that I really don’t do much heka. My heka work is limited to prayers, offerings, and the occasional execration. I ignored these requests for a long time, until I remembered that I happen to be good friends with one of the most powerful hekau2 I know: Abby (secular name) aka Ubenet (Shemsu name). She was more than willing to talk shop with me for my blog, and so we spent a while talking about her experiences and her advice for new hekau.

If you like what you read, Ubenet offers charms and more at her Etsy shop, Wire and Roses. I can personally attest that her charms and heka are both beautiful and effective!

Sobeq: So first of all – what would you call your kind of heka/magic, if you had to label it?

Ubenet: Hmm, that’s a good question. Bricolage, maybe. Bricolage is a word we stole from the French that basically means “putting stuff together from whatever’s available”. I mix together stuff I’ve learned from all kinds of things with intuition and just sort of… do stuff.

S: Where do you draw your techniques from?

U: I’ve learned a lot from books on ancient Egyptian stuff, hoodoo/rootwork, and modern witchcraft. Those are probably my main influences, plus whatever I run across on the Internet that resonates.

S: If you had to break it down into percentages (which could be difficult) what would it be?

U: [Laughing] That is indeed difficult! I feel like my sensibility is always Kemetic — I’m always deciding that I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it. But the actual mechanics vary – yesterday I was more on the modern witchcraft side, when I made a charm for myself out of gemstones, for example.

S: What do you mean by “I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it”?

U: It’s like, I realize this thing needs doing, and I’m going to step up. I’m my Parents’ daughter, so I can use the power They gave me.

S: Gotcha. How do you decide which approach is going to work best?

U: That’s a good question! Intuition, I guess. Sometimes it’s just like, “This needs to be a bottle spell,” or “This needs to be embroidered,” or “This needs to be a charm”.

S: Do you think there’s any tendency for certain kinds of magic to trend towards certain kinds of spells?

U: If it’s something short-term that I think needs to be near the person, it’s likely to be a charm, and if it’s something long-term that doesn’t, it’s likely to be a spell bottle. If it’s short-term and doesn’t need to be near the person, usually it’s a candle spell, and if it’s long-term and does need to be nearby, it’s embroidered. Actually, I hadn’t really put that together before!

S: It sounds like those are your go-to spells! Bottles, charms, candle magic, and embroidery.

U: Yup! Oh, and I forgot the dragons I make – those are like a combination of bottle spell, embroidery, and charm. I put a wad of herbs wrapped tightly in duct tape (for washability) in the stuffing.

S: Nice! What’s the process of prepping for a spell like for you?

U: I figure out what I want to happen, and then it depends on which direction I’m going. If it’s an embroidery spell, I make it into a sigil and pick colors; if it’s a charm, I pick stones that either have associations that match what I want, or I look at the stones I have and see which ones are going “pick me, pick me!” If it’s a candle I’m dressing myself, I find herbs with the right associations or that are going “pick me, pick me!” and make a list and putter around finding where I put them.

S: Do you do any sort of ritual work or purification beforehand?

U: Sometimes, if I feel like I need to, but usually it’s more like the energy is building up in my hands and I need to use it or lose it.

S: Timing is everything!

U: [Laughing] Yup!

S: Have you ever had something go awry while working a spell — either with the execution of the spell (i.e., spills, things on fire) or with the magical results?

U: Sometimes when things go “wrong,” it’s actually telling you something. I lit a crucible of courage candle for my friend when her son was dying. The label burst, and the glass broke, and that night he died. When I saw that it had gone kaboom, my first thought was “none of the pieces hit Fritz3, did they?” (they did not), and my second thought was “it’s going to be tonight”.

S: Are there any indicators that tell you a spell is going to go well or be particularly effective?

U: Sometimes it just feels good! Like, there’s usually a sort of “yes, I have done a thing” satisfaction, but sometimes it’s more like “yes, I have Done A Thing”.

S: Do you ever find yourself going “against the book” so to speak, because it’s what your gut tells you?

U: Sometimes! I have a habit of using nutmeg to represent myself, which is not in any book, but I’m from Connecticut4. In hoodoo, nutmeg is used for luck, especially for gamblers. Most people wouldn’t be like, “ah yes, a nutmeg, this symbolizes My People”.

S: Was there a point in your magical practice where you realized “yes, this is thing I am skilled at?” For example, there’s people who can cook, and then there’s chefs, and I feel like as far as heka goes you’re the latter.

U: Oh wow, thank you! I don’t know, I think I realized I was competent when somebody told me that something I made them made them feel better, and then it’s been sort of steadily increasing.

S: If you had to give advice to someone who was just starting out, what would you say?

U: I would say, do things! Try different things, read about different things, and see what makes your heart go “yes, that’s right” or “no, that’s not right, it should be like this instead”, and then do something with it.


Footnotes:

1. magic
2. magician
3. Ubenet’s hedgehog familiar
4. See this link for background on the connection here.