How not to demand answers.

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

A question was posed to me by a good friend of mine. He’s Catholic, so his religion does not condone the use of divination, and he asked me how I resist the temptation to turn to divination constantly for answers — which is a darn good question!

I think everyone comes to their own understanding of their boundaries with divination. I hardly ever use divination for myself, as the result of an agreement between me and my gods; but plenty of others consult it regularly for their own guidance. The thing I’ve noticed is that most people who use divination regularly aren’t looking for concrete answers. They aren’t asking questions like, “Will I get a job this month?” or “Should I invest my money in the stock market?” They’re asking things like, “Will this job be a good fit for me?” or “What changes do I need to make to achieve success?”

The prevailing opinion that I’ve encountered is that divination isn’t capable of providing concrete answers, so turning to divination for everything would be meaningless. Even fedw, which offers yes/no responses, doesn’t give definite answers — only a glimpse at what may be if all things remain as they are currently. The future is too malleable, under the influence of the consequences of our actions and those of others. What is the point of asking for constant reassurance if the answers could change soon anyway?

Divination is also not something that passively provides answers. Most diviners I know find that things get funky after a while. Maybe they start getting meaningless answers. Maybe there’s a reading that means “knock it off”. Either way — many say that it is nearly impossible to chain reading after reading without getting garbled answers.

In my own experience divination simply fails if I get too persistent, so perhaps my experience isn’t very informative here. How do you all resist the temptation to constantly seek divination for reassurance?

On Offerings.

I recently had a fantastic conversation with my husband. We were doing our weekly grocery shopping, and I was browsing the candy aisle for something to offer in shrine while idly discussing the options with hubby. Our conversation prompted him to ask why I choose to offer foods I enjoy to the gods, over things that They like, but I don’t.

From my husband’s understanding, it makes more sense for a priest to sacrifice their own enjoyment and make offerings that the gods prefer. For example: I don’t particularly care for red wine, but I know Sekhmet Herself likes it very much. For the sake of my husband’s argument, let’s say that it is Her favorite offering, above all other things1. Her enjoyment of red wine would therefore take precedence over my preference for other offerings She enjoys less, such as pomegranate juice or beer. The fundamental assumption here is that the purpose of making an offering is to provide the gods with something They like, to make Them happy. It’s a reasonable assumption, but it oversimplifies what an offering actually is.

Offerings do more than just satisfy the gods with the things They like; they create an exchange between devotee and deity. Making an offering requires the expense of time, effort, and energy. The devotee chooses the offering, prepares it, engages in the offering ritual (however simple or complex it may be), then partakes of the offering, thus sharing it with the deity. All of these steps are as much an offering as the food or drink itself. The deity partakes not only of the Unseen essence of what is offered, but also the energy and time spent in making the offering. The devotee not only receives the blessing of the deity by partaking of the offering, but develops their relationship with the deity through this exchange.

If the purpose of making offerings was purely to give the gods Their favorite stuff, then it would make sense to prioritize what the gods like rather than trying to compromise. Making an offering is more than just giving a god something They want. In reality, negotiating what will be offered is a part of the process, and contributes to the meaningfulness and appropriateness of the offerings. It is an exchange of time, thought, devotion, and effort (and sometimes money, though I find the gods often include that under effort already).

Time is spent choosing the offerings, preparing them in advance of the ritual. Thought goes into choosing an appropriate offering to share, which both god and devotee can enjoy — as well as the logistics of making the offering. (Will I offer loose tea leaves, or brewed tea? Raw meat, or a cooked meal?) Devotion prompts the desire to make offerings and spend time in ritual with the god, to show appreciation or ask for help. Effort goes into finding, preparing, and purchasing the offerings. Our work provides the money we spend; our research the knowledge of where to find what we are looking for; our physical energy the act of getting up and going out to get it.2

Next time you make an offering, consider these four factors. I have often made “simple” offerings and felt guilty for not doing more. When you consider the offering from a holistic perspective and acknowledge the time, thought, devotion, and effort it takes to arrange, even the simplest offering can feel elaborate.


1. I have no reason to believe that Sekhmet prefers red wine over any other red beverage — but in my husband’s example, there would be a “favorite offering” which would take precedence over all other offerings. So we will pretend for a moment.

2. This is why I find that what I call “macaroni art for the gods” is so well-received — that is, rough or clumsy-looking offerings made in earnest, like a piece of macaroni art made by a small child lovingly hung on the refrigerator door by their family. It takes time, thought, devotion, and effort to make these kinds of offerings. A first attempt at baking bread or a simple devotional necklace can be as effective as store-bought, if done sincerely.

Celebrations, great and small.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

How do you celebrate Festivals and Holidays the Kemetic way?

My style of celebration is best described as “casual”. 😅 What I do will depend on what festival I’m celebrating and how important it is in my personal practice (or the State religion).

For your average holiday, my go-to is making a special offering in Senut to the gods in festival. For instance: we have the solstice festival of She-is-led-back, or Intues, this season. I celebrated with the House of Netjer through the simulcast ritual led via IRC; I offered Hethert a glass of milk and a raspberry chocolate cookie. That’s all! For something more elaborate, like a festival of one of my Parents, I will spend more time in shrine, and will make more elaborate offerings. One festival I offered a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, and a plate of gourmet chocolates. Even though the offerings are more elaborate, it still fits the same format: offerings and shrine time.

Occasionally, when I am able, I will celebrate with other Kemetics. When this happens, the celebrations vary depending on the festival. I’ve participated in overnight vigils for the Mysteries of Wesir, sunrise rituals for Wep Ronpet, paper-boat-making and candle-lighting for Aset Webenut, and more.

Even non-Kemetic holidays can take on a Kemetic spirit. For example: my ancestors would have celebrated Christmas, and I spend the 25th of December celebrating with family who still observe the holiday. I spend the day reflecting on family and my Akhu, and make offerings to my ancestors in honor of their traditions. If I have to go to church, or engage with any non-Kemetic religious practice, I take the opportunity to reflect on my Akhu and meditate on their role in my life.

I’ve learned that celebrations don’t need to be elaborate to be satisfying — especially when celebrating on my own. A little quality time and a special gift for the gods goes a long way.

Nebt-het, Consoler and Comforter.

[content warning: suicide; death]

One of Nebt-het’s many roles is as the mourning Sister of Wesir. She feels the sharp pang of His loss, and grieves his death with Aset. As such, She is often called upon to comfort those who mourn. In this role, She stands beside those who are grieving their own losses, serving as an example that loss can be endured–even overcome. I have felt Her presence near another kind of grief, in the course of my work in the mental health field. I have felt Her standing with those who are suicidal.

Nearly a year ago, I started working as a clinician for emergency psychiatric services in a hospital emergency room. It’s hard and humbling work. When I started working, I noticed I felt Her with me as I sat with people struggling with suicide. A quiet, tearfully tender presence, She filled the background space of my days as I stepped in and out of people’s lives during their most painful moments.

To be suicidal is to feel a kind of grief. Both grief and suicidal ideation can be overwhelming, suffocating, and feel inescapable. Both tell the lie that there can be no return to happiness or peace. As Comforter and Consoler, Nebt-het walks with those who suffer. She offers Her love and reassurance that pain is survivable. She offers a quiet plea to all those who suffer: “no pain will last forever.” She has also greeted those who have come to Her by suicide, and seen their pain as they mourn their own loss.

Suicide is one of the most painful experiences, be it loss of a loved one to suicide or recovery from a survived attempt. Nebthet the Mourner is with all of us as we grieve and as we struggle.

O Nebthet, Great Consoler,
may You watch over and protect all those who suffer.
You, who endured the loss of Your brother,
Who stood by Your sister as She wept
and felt Her heart breaking, as our hearts break too–
may You help them hold steady;
may You stand by their sides;
may You embrace them and their pain
and may You bring them peace of mind. 

[NB: this prayer may be used for oneself, for a loved one, or for those who suffer in general. To use for oneself, the first line will end with “protect me, who suffers,” and in all other lines  the third person pronoun changes to first person. To use for a specific person, the first line will end with “protect [name], who suffers,”, and all other pronouns will change to third person singular.]

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, I urge you to seek support from a mental health professional. Reach out to a friend or loved one. You are loved, and you are not alone.

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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.

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.

Milestones

Well, I did it. I finished my master’s degree in counseling. I also passed my licensing exam. Now the only thing standing between me and my dream job is a boatload of paperwork — and hopefully not too many job applications.

I’ve been longing to do this work since before I even knew what it was. My youthful drive to be a teacher was spurred by my desire to be a source of support and an open ear to my students. It wasn’t until I had already sent applications to get my bachelor’s degree in music education that I realized that what I really wanted was to become a therapist.

I didn’t know what that meant when I started my undergraduate work in psychology. I figured I’d learn what I needed to know by the time I got to the end of my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t. I took a year off to get my ducks in a row, and took up a master’s program in mental health counseling.

Through it all, I knew that the work I was learning to do is the work that I was meant to do. Even as an undergraduate, I felt driven towards this goal. It feels like a service to my gods, to heal and to serve. I walk with my clients as their guide through their troubles, and I show them compassion and help them to heal. I see this as the greatest offering I could make – to give my daily work in service to my gods. And now here I am.