On sabbaticals.

Taking time off from serving as a priest of my deities has been one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. When I made the decision to temporarily suspend my service, I grieved a little. I felt like I was giving up, like I was losing a piece of myself, like I was a failure. My inability to remain committed to my worship felt like a personal fault, rather than the natural consequence of increased academic and professional requirements.

In response, I withdrew from everything. I stopped doing Senut and stopped tending my shrines. Everything came to a halt, until I slowly picked up one thread at a time. I briefly engaged with other pantheons. I worked at connecting with the most basic forces that drew me to polytheist — the spirits of the land and the Divine Itself. I began to feel enthusiastic about engaging with the Divine again. By Wep Ronpet, I felt like engaging with the gods again — and engage I did, worshipping with fervor during Retreat.

Senut began to feel fulfilling again. As I was doing my priest work, it had started to feel meaningless, like a lot of vague hand-waving that didn’t do anything.

More than that, my desire to serve the gods rose in me again. It had dwindled over the past four years, to become vaguely burdensome. I found myself planning research, sketching out festival rites, envisioning my reconstructed shrine.

I dropped everything, and then picked up one piece at a time, and it has been restorative in a way I never imagined it would. I am patiently waiting for my internship to end to consider returning to service with renewed purpose.

Ten years.

2016 will be the tenth year since I was first called by my gods. I remember being new to Their worship and thinking ten years felt like an impossibly long time to be anything, let alone a devotee of a deity.

Part of that probably had to do with my age at the time. I was 17 and just out of high school when I “met” the gods of Kemet. I had identified as pagan for several years at that point, but had been aimless and disorganized in what I believed and practiced. It felt impossible that I would ever be able to spend ten years with these gods. Ten years was more than half of my life.

Each time a year ticked by with my gods, I would feel a giddy rush of glee. One year closer to a decade. One year closer to a lifetime. With each year that passed I felt myself inching closer to some invisible goal marker. I never felt like I’d been Kemetic “long enough” to have experience or be worthy of engaging in intelligent dialogue with others, and I believed that eventually, after long enough, I would reach some invisible goal and become enough. Even now, having been in practice for 9 years, I question whether I have anything of value to offer. (Which is why this blog is so quiet.)

Perhaps it’s time to stop questioning when I will be experienced enough to have anything of value to say, and just start talking. If ten years hasn’t done it, I doubt eleven will, or twelve, or twenty.

Have confidence, fledgling devotees. Do your research and start your devotions. Honor your gods in small ways or large. Remember: you have value too.


A reminder.

Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. A few years ago, I wrote a long post about my own experiences, which I won’t rehash; you can read that post here. Instead, let me offer a brief meditation on the subject.

The gods don’t want us to be hurting. Sometimes we will feel sore, or pained, as we learn lessons and grow from them; but the depth of pain that comes from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is not productive. We may be able to learn something from it, but that is our own doing. The gods do not hand these things to us as challenges, nor do They require us to be completely free from pain to serve Them. The difficulties we face are just that: difficulties. And the gods will stand by us as we meet them head on.

Self-care can be a form of purification; releasing anxiety, fear, grief, guilt, and shame lighten our hearts and allow us to connect better with the gods. Sometimes, the process of letting go is terrifying. Sometimes it is lengthy. Sometimes, we cannot do it on our own. We lean on the gods, our loved ones, or on the help of professionals — and that in no way lessens the worth of the work we do.

Self-care is the antithesis of self-harm. Self-harm devalues the body and the self; the body becomes a tool for offering relief, rather than a part of oneself to be valued. Self-care includes self-soothing and relaxation, but also taking action to better ourselves and our lives. Self-harm allows us to sink deeper into the grief and shame that we feel; self-care helps us rise above it and become stronger.

Take good care of yourself. Know that it does not make you any less to seek help from a friend, loved one, or professional. If you are struggling with self-harm, there are resources out there to help. Above all else — be well.

Not there yet.

Crises of faith can be funny. You can declare they’re over, and that you believe in God again with your whole heart. Your friends will pat you on the back (maybe metaphorically, if you’re long-distance). You feel accomplished, and somehow more adult – maybe surviving a Dark Night of the Soul with your faith intact is a sign of maturity. And when you smile about it and make plans to get back to work on all of your projects because that whole mess is behind you —

the crippling fear returns and takes you down a few pegs. The gnawing in your belly rises up, coiling around your neck. It’s a primal terror. It makes you sick to your stomach and you spend days barely able to eat, unable to sleep on your own, constantly squirming and trembling in your seat as you try to work.

Anxiety is a bitch, folks — if you’ll pardon my French.

It wasn’t necessarily that dramatic, but yes, I dipped back below the surface of my sea of doubt. I thought I was starting to reach its end, but I was wrong. I think I’ve learned my lesson – I am not done doubting even now. I still have no idea what I believe, if anything; I am simply working from the time-honored tactic of “fake it ’til you make it”. If I keep acting as if I have 100% faith in what I am doing, then I will (theoretically) slowly get back to having 100% faith in what I am doing. Or, I’ll decide it’s all baloney and move on with my secular life — hopefully I’ll have shed the existential terror by then, one way or another.

I used to pride myself on feeling secure enough in my beliefs to be able to guide others to the gods. Now I realize that my own security really has nothing to do with it – in a way, maybe it’s better that I’m struggling too. There’s some wisdom to having your own trials when you’re trying to help others. Sure, you can’t help someone when you’re in crisis — then you have to help yourself, put your own oxygen mask on before you put someone else’s on, yadda yadda — but knowing the territory of doubt and uncertainty can give you a leg up on getting out. It’s like going in with a map, instead of going in totally clueless.

I guess my goal is to just keep moving, without pretending things are back to normal. Things are not back to normal. In fact, I think I’m so far from where normal used to be that it’s not even an option anymore. My unquestioning devotion is no longer available. But maybe – just maybe – I can make my way back to something wiser, a little less naive.

No, really: don’t mind the little things.

After my last post, things perked up in my shrine life. I hit a good four-day stride leading up to the civil new year’s day — and then I woke up on January 1st with that unfortunate, familiar tickle in my throat. By evening, I had settled into a very sneezy cold. I had been so determined to go to shrine that evening, motivated more than a little by the superstition that what you do on new year’s day will set the tone for the rest of the year. I began to question: was this a sign? Do the gods not want me as their priest? Are They trying to push me away?

I admit, I get a little paranoid sometimes. I wrestle with anxiety on a daily basis. “No, that crow isn’t trying to tell you someone is dying. No, those pennies on the ground didn’t come from your Father. NO, the song playing on the radio isn’t trying to warn you about an impending car accident.” And so on. The struggle is ongoing, because sometimes, those random events do have meaning. Like the time I was ending a relationship, and kept finding collectible pennies and heard nothing but breakup songs on the radio. The catch there: I had asked for a signal, a warning, something to tell me where to go next. These random mishaps and events tend to be just that: random. But the fear in my head tells me otherwise. I have often thought that my life would be simpler if I didn’t believe in omens, signs, or divine messages at all, but that’s not the kind of thing I can change on a whim. I believe in the gods, in spirits, in the ancestors and in the Unseen world they inhabit. I can’t just un-believe.

So I remind myself. I don’t get too invested unless I’ve been asking for a sign. Even then, I ask myself: is this characteristic of my gods? If not, I take it with a grain of salt. The gods have ways of communicating that can often serve to verify Their identity. If They aren’t identifying Themselves, I won’t trust the memo. The popular word for this is “discernment” – identifying your gods and spirits as your own, not impostors or imagination. How do your gods and spirits communicate with you? How do they communicate with others? Does this match your experience?

A regular, consistent relationship with the gods helps too. If I am regularly meeting Them in shrine, and regularly divining with Them, I am much less likely to find myself panicking about random happenstance. I already know where They stand and I know our relationship is strong, therefore I don’t question the little things as often. When I am feeling distant, I may grasp at straws to feel like I am communicating with the gods. Perhaps normally I would not feel that a situation was divinely influenced, but I have not been to shrine in several weeks. I may be looking for the gods to start showing up elsewhere in my life. At least for me, They rarely do; They wait for me to come back to shrine, rather than chasing me down in my mundane life.

Above all of that, the world is a flawed and unpredictable place, from the Kemetic perspective. Ma’at may be conceived of as universal equilibrium, but She is not immune to attack. And even in Kemetic thought, there is a Badness, a disorder that can creep into the world and upset our usually carefully balanced lives. The aptly timed illness, the accidents and the bad news – sometimes, it’s isfet. Sometimes, bad things just happen. We can protect ourselves with our relationship with the gods, and with our Akhu – but even that will never protect us from isfet completely. Sometimes, things just happen.

Often I can never know if something is random, or part of a larger orchestration. Was the devastation of my home during Sandy isfet? A divine message? The consequence of something greater? And an even better question: does it matter? I cannot and do not believe that every misfortune or strange coincidence is an omen or the result of some Unseen machinations. When my gods want to send a message, They will tell me it is Their doing. For me, at least, They rarely test my perception or devotion. When I am doubtful, I divine. I can only believe in the randomness of the Universe for the rest.

(There’s a lot of great writing about discernment out there right now. This is a pretty good place to start, but it’s been coming up more and more frequently these days.)