Locus of Control — Then and Now

How has your practice changed since you started out? How did you find your place within the Kemetic sphere? Are there things you do now that you didn’t then? Things you weren’t expecting? What have you learned through trial and error that newbs may find helpful or useful?

This week’s Kemetic Roundtable is about our journeys from beginning Kemetics to where we are now. I’ve written pretty extensively about how things have changed since coming to the House of Netjer. I’ve been blogging since early on in my journey, too, so a lot of these changes are chronicled in this blog. I don’t feel like I really have anything meaningful to add to what I’ve already written right now, so if you’d like to read about where I’ve been and where I’ve gone, you can read my posts tagged “My Journey“. There’s a lot of material there – please feel free to browse through it and learn from my mistakes. I’d much rather focus on the part of the topic that asks about what I have learned through trial and error — and what I do differently now.

When I think of the way my path has changed over the last eight or nine years, there is one thing that jumps out at me immediately: locus of control.

locus of control n.
A theoretical construct designed to assess a person’s perceived control over his or her own behavior. The classification internal locus indicates that the person feels in control of events; external locus indicates that others are perceived to have that control. (source:

Basically, locus of control is a fancy way of talking about perceived responsibility in a situation. Is it me who creates my own circumstances, or is someone else in charge?

When I first became Kemetic, my religious locus of control was way external. The gods were in charge of everything. Did I want to offer Them a fancy stone? No, They wanted me to offer it to Them. Did I feel like I should read about Wepwawet? No, He wanted me to read about Him. Everything was Netjer-directed and I bore little to no responsibility for what I sought from my relationships with the gods.

The problem with external locus of control is that it can become extreme – and that can be a problem. If your locus of control becomes so external that you dismiss every occurrence in your life as “it’s just what the gods want”…. it becomes easy to see how that can lead to ignoring personal responsibility in any number

For example: when someone feels “drawn” to purchase an expensive, pretty offering in spite of having significant bills – how much of that is the will of the gods, and how much of that is the devotees desire to have a shiny offering on their shrine? Even if the gods do truly want that offering – do we really believe that the gods are selfish enough to demand that Their devotees go bankrupt for Them? What purpose would that serve?

That kind of thinking can spread to practical actions, the kinds of offerings you give – it can completely rob devotees of their personal agency in their Kemetic practices. And yet we sort of encourage it by valuing a deep connection with the gods. Make no mistake – you can have a deep connection with the gods, and still be in control of your relationship with the gods.

Back when I was new, I was all about the gods being in charge. The greatest thing I have learned in the last 9 years is that while the gods might be huge, powerful, demanding, and guiding my life in mysterious ways — They also don’t control me, and I am allowed to work on Their requests within my own boundaries and my own limitations. The biggest thing I wish for any new Kemetic is for them to find that balance between listening to their gods, and being in control of their own practice.

KRT: On Priesthood.

I wrote this really long post about priesthood for the Kemetic Roundtable, and then WordPress cruelly devoured it. I’m going to try to re-create it, but honestly? I was so damn proud of that post. Anything I write about it now is just not going to be as good.

What about modern priesthood? What does being a priest mean in the modern era?

The way I see it, priesthood is about service. It’s about doing something – heka, ritual, whatever – on behalf of a deity, for the benefit of someone besides yourself. If a god is asking you to do something of the sort – congratulations, you’re more or less doing the work of a priest.

I try to be fairly transparent about being a Kemetic Orthodox w’ab priest, though I don’t always blog about my experiences as such. Within Kemetic Orthodoxy, you are not only working for the gods, but you are backed up by your training – your knowledge is supported and verified by another group of people, and you are held accountable for what you know and do. A modern priest, therefore, is someone who performs rituals and heka on behalf of their deity or deities, and who is supported in their work by their community.

Being a priest is not about:

  • Getting it right all the time
  • Knowing what you are doing all the time
  • Having a clear and infallible connection to the gods
  • Feeling constantly competent
  • Being universally acknowledged for your service

As a priest, I spend a considerable amount of time running around going “Is this what You want? Am I doing what You’re asking me to do?” all the while trying not to act too much like I am flailing around in confusion. I don’t always understand what They want, or how to do what They are asking me to do. I can’t even always fulfill Their requests for practical reasons. Sometimes I sit before the shrine feeling no different than I would if I were sitting at my computer. And in spite of all the confusion, I do it anyway, because serving Them is what I do; and that’s really what it means to be a priest in modern times.

KRT: The Road Less Travelled (and Red Jellybeans)

When your practice leaves the beaten path: what happens when the gods throw you for a loop? What do you do when the gods present you with a situation that doesn’t seem “normal” for a Kemetic? How do you handle things when your practice wanders off the map?

I feel like “off the beaten path” is where I live my religious life. So what if I’m a priest in an organized group of Kemetics — my gods spend an awful lot of time insisting that interacting with Them is more important than reading about Them, which means I get most of my information from personal experiences. If you have faith in the system and believe that the rituals I’ve been taught safeguard against the presence of other spirits hijacking the spotlight (which I do believe), then the only thing to be careful of when interpreting what the gods have to say is my own subconscious influence — which is admittedly tough. When in doubt I Think, Divine, and Talk about it.

Think about it: Question what’s being said. Does it sound like wish-fulfillment? Are there any red flags?

Wish-fulfillment would be something that meets our exact wants and needs; it may therefore be coming from our subconscious, rather than from the gods Themselves.

Red flags would be suspicious requests — ones that ask us to harm ourselves or others. Sekhmet does not want you to offer alcohol if it is a trigger for you; if you feel She is asking you to give Her beer and you have a history with alcoholism, it may not really be Her asking.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference; the gods can ask us to inconvenience ourselves, or to take actions that may feel like they will hurt us but will lead to growth in the end. If you’ve thought it over and you still feel uncertain — that’s okay! There are other ways to confirm or validate experiences.

Divine about it: Use Tarot cards. Use fedw. Use some mode of non-verbal, deity-to-person communication to see what the bigger picture is. Be direct and specific when you divine. Ask, “Am I right in hearing You say you want me to offer You pumpkin pie?” Using a binary form of divination is really helpful here. Tarot can be really broad, and sometimes you just want a yes or a no. (Disclaimer: many binary forms of divination are more complicated than they appear at first glance — you may not actually get a clear answer here. It can help, however, and if you feel too conflicted about trusting your own instincts, it is worth a try.)

Talk about it: Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. Talk to someone else who honors the same gods, or who is trying the same things as you. They may be going through a similar situation. They may be able to tell you whether it sounds like you’re doing something dangerous or inappropriate. Even if they can’t confirm whether your experience holds any legitimacy, they can at very least let you know whether you are about to hurt yourself or someone else. And sometimes, just voicing concerns can help sort them out.

When all else fails: If you think about it, divine about it, and talk about it, and you’re just not sure what to do — go with your gut, but proceed with caution.

In most things we do, it isn’t going to matter whether what we are doing is 100% historically informed. I don’t believe the gods are going to be violently offended if we create beautiful rites to honor Them that deviate from antiquity. I don’t believe there’s much we can do to screw up the balance of ma’at, if our heka is a little bit funky; it might not be as effective, is all.

I do, however, believe that the power of our religion comes from our connection with the gods.

If offering red jellybeans to Sekhmet connects you both — do it. The gods have many forms and many manifestations. They have more kau and bau than we can imagine. Perhaps the form of Sekhmet Who manifests to you prefers red jellybeans; perhaps She will use them later on to help you learn or figure something out. But if we spend all our time trying to decide whether that’s what She really wants, we are missing out on the chance to build a connection with Her. Even if that connection begins with offering red jellybeans and finding out that She really hates them.

Once upon a time, when I was a wee baby Kemetic making my first offerings, Tumblr was a gleam in someone’s eye and LiveJournal reigned supreme. I offered Sekhmet orange juice, based on my own gut feelings. It seemed to make sense – She’s a solar goddess, oranges and citrus fruit are associated with the sun, so obviously She would want orange juice. I went with my gut. She hated it. I could feel the Divine side-eye bearing down on me from my dorm room altar. Next time, make it something stronger, She mused loudly in my head. Did I die? Did She smite me? Nope. She helped me. And after that, I did not offer Her orange juice.

Obviously that wasn’t very far off the beaten path — in fact, since I wasn’t even really on a path at the time, I don’t think it really counts as off the path at all. The point I want to make is that it isn’t deadly to make mistakes. Going off of our own instinct can lead to some really beautiful experiences. Some of the best religious experiences I have ever had have come from nothing else besides trust in the messages from the gods. We are, after all, only human. Being wrong once in a while won’t kill us, but missing out on something great because we are afraid to be wrong can make us miserable.

Can You hear me now?

Tonight, the shrines are lovely. Kneeling before the gods, the candles are flickering and the shrine is beautiful beyond belief. And yet – I feel nothing. Silence surrounds me. I press my forehead to the floor, as though bowing more deeply before Their altar can recharge my god-phone. Only the echoes of my own prayers fill my head. There is no warm, luminous presence; only the cold eyes of Their Icons, draped in lazy curls of incense and the glow of candlelight. 

I came into Kemetic Orthodoxy with a powerful god-phone (aka god-radio). I had begun to hear the gods in the subtle yet irresistible voice of Sekhmet-Mut, quietly calling me to Her worship. I mistook Her voice for Aphrodite, and made Her the first deity I conversed with. When I came to Kemet, I found Yinepu and Wepwawet more than willing to become near-constant presences in my head. They spoke in warm and velvety voices, singing hymns and embracing me in quiet moments. Sometimes Their voices shook me to the core, and I found myself curled up and weeping from the power of Their words.

But Their voices were the only ones I felt constantly. Mother’s voice was never more than a low hum tugging at the periphery of my senses. The other gods came and went, Their presences a tide that swelled and washed away. And as I grew, the Jackals’ voices gradually ebbed too. I struggled, and lost my way; Their voices became fainter. I was so caught up in each crisis that came that I didn’t realize they were driving wedges between me and my gods. By the time I realized I wasn’t hearing the gods the way I used to, I was in complete radio silence. Dead air.

I’ve been in both places. I’ve been the follower wishing for earplugs because the gods just won’t shut up; I’ve been desperate for connection, shaking down my Tarot cards and staring in to the faces of my Icons hunting for some sign of life. Have I learned anything from being in both places?

If you have a strong connection with the gods:

  • Enjoy it, but be cautious. There’s a word that gets thrown around a lot regarding interactions with spirits: discernment. Don’t take everything you experience at face value. There are spirits who will pretend to be the gods. Be sure to establish means of verifying identity.
  • Sometimes your own head can play tricks on you; sometimes what you think is the gods is actually only a subconscious interpretation of what the gods might be saying, if They were speaking at that moment. Did the gods actually tell you to get that coffee? Well, maybe that’s something They would do, and you are interpreting your knowledge of that as the voice of a deity. Sometimes, They will push you to make a certain offering — other times, you will be making a leap of logic.
  • Set boundaries. If you feel overwhelmed, make it clear to the gods that you need some space. Ignore Them when you have to. Answer Them when you have the time. Like any relationship, if They become too demanding, you have the right to ask for space.

If your connection is weaker:

  • Fake it until you make it. I am completely serious here. Do Senut (or whatever rite makes you feel good). Stand, sit, or kneel before the shrine. Talk to the gods. Don’t give up. You may not get a dramatic answer. You may never notice an answer at all. Don’t make that the focus of your worship. Rest in the stillness of the shrine. Center yourself. Breathe the sweet incense and watch the flames flicker. We get much more than just a connection with the gods from honoring Them. We get Their blessings, the reversion of offerings, purification… we are centered, realigned, cleaned up and sent back into the world a little better for the time we have spent with the gods.
  • Watch for other ways the gods will communicate with you. Other people may bring Their messages, or other events in your life may serve as signs. Don’t over-think these, but don’t second guess your instincts either. If something feels like a sign, it may be one. Be mindful of the influence of anxiety on these interpretations. If you are like me, some things will feel like a sign not because of divine influence, but because you’re frequently afraid of absolutely everything. Don’t let anxiety control your god-phone.
  • Use divination sparingly. Do not run to the Tarot every time you want an answer. Sometimes divination can confirm what we think we are hearing, but sometimes it serves as a crutch. Try to work things out on your own first. Remember that the cards are just a tool. They make life easier sometimes, and sometimes they make it harder.

Above all, whether you’re swamped with divine messages or you’re feeling like there’s cotton in your metaphysical ears, remember that this communication is not the total sum of your worth as a Kemetic. The heart of our practice is ma’at – the rest is window dressing.