Carrying Their Light, Every Day

I’ve known for years that I was meant to work in a service-oriented position. In elementary school I thought that meant being a teacher. In high school, I waffled between psychology and music education. As an undergraduate student, I landed squarely on the side of psychology, in a tiny corner called “counseling”.

The funny thing about counseling is that you don’t really get to experience it until you’ve already expended significant effort training in it. The work of counseling is so delicate that you have to be carefully trained – and even then, it takes years of supervised practice in most states before you’re permitted to launch your own counseling practice. So for years, I was chasing a goal that felt as alien as the moon — and yet as dear as the grass beneath my feet. How could I love this field so deeply without experiencing it? Real talk — I have no freaking idea. I loved counseling wildly for all four years of my undergraduate training and for all five, laborious, snail-slow years of my graduate training, and I have no idea how.

Now I have the luxury of sitting in my office, embracing the trials of the clients who come through my door. I love every minute of the chaos, of the heartbreak, of the frustration, of the anxiety. I love seeing the face of someone who hears “I’m in your corner” from another person for the first time. I even love the hard stuff. I love sitting with someone in the depths of psychosis, sick and scared and a world apart, compassionately assessing their needs, and advocating for their treatment. I love extending my hands to hold someone’s grief with them for a short space of time.

I first met my gods when I sought out gods for the work that I wanted to do. Sekhmet was the first deity of healing I encountered; Wepwawet just felt right, for reasons I have difficulty articulating. Wepwawet opens the door to healing, creates the space of safety I try to create in my office. Sekhmet illuminates the space with Her light, chasing away the darkness. My Beloveds, too: Bast brings music and joy, the compassion needed to embrace sorrow; Nut brings patience, endurance, wisdom; Khonsu, the surgical precision that carves out pain and exposes bitter truths; and Nebthet, most recently come to my shrine, brings quiet comfort, a gentle mirror to gaze into and reflect.

Even on the hardest days — the days when I’m leaving job #2 at 11 PM after starting job #1 at 5:30 AM, after I’ve been yelled at, told off, had my training questioned, written and re-written assessments, made mistakes and cleaned them up — I still walk out full of joy, with my chin up, feeling like I am finally in the right place.

My goal since becoming Kemetic has been to carry the light of my gods wherever I go. Through the work I’m doing now, I believe I can.

Money – it’s a drag.

Thanks to Pink Floyd for the title inspiration. 😉

Money is a fraught subject, especially when it comes to donations to religious organizations. Most polytheists and pagans are converts from “mainstream” religions, where collection plates are passed around during services each week, and tithing from one’s paycheck is to be expected.

We are also taught by concerned friends and family that we need to beware of groups that seek our financial contributions. We are warned away from religions that require numerous financial donations, because they could be dangerous cults.

And culturally (at least in the West) we are taught that one should never spend money without getting something in return.

A request for donations from a religious group, therefore, can feel like a major affront. What will I get in exchange for my donation? Is this the start of a sinister series of attempts to drain my bank account? This is just like my Christian church, isn’t it.

Let’s be real. Any organization incurs operational costs. If the organization has a website, that’s a cost right there — for web-hosting and domain registration and general upkeep and maintenance. Does the group have insurance? That’s a cost. Does the group own property? That’s another cost. Is the group tax exempt? Does the group employ an accountant or any other external vendors to help manage operations? Does the group pay any full-time clergy or staff?

It adds up fast.

So what do you get in exchange for your donation? You get all the services and resources that you enjoy as a member of your organization. Sure, nobody is going to turn you away if you don’t make a contribution, but the costs are still going to be there.

How can you tell if a donation request is genuine or an attempt to steal all your money? Well, is the group pushing you to go beyond your means, or are they asking for a donation of “whatever you can contribute”? Is the group trying to sell you on expensive retreats or equipment that you can’t afford, and then questioning your dedication if you don’t buy in? Is the group open to you whether you donate or not? A dangerous cult will push you beyond your means, and ridicule you or shun you when you can’t exceed them. A group that is asking for donations in earnest will encourage you to give what you can on a regular basis, and be understanding when you can’t.

Is this just like your Christian church? Maybe. Part of the reason Christian churches do so well is that there is an expectation that members will make contributions to the operations of the church. Many churches and parishes have financial support from a central leadership — and many pagan or polytheist groups are the only one of their kind, so they lack that support.

Don’t be hasty to judge a group for asking for money. If you participate in a group, and you have some cash to spare, consider making a donation towards the services you receive as a member. It’s not rude, or money-grubbing, or sinister to ask your members for money. It’s reality!

The House of Netjer is asking for money. We are asking our members to make whatever contributions they can to the operations of our temple. If you are a member, and you can make a contribution of even $5, it can go a long way. (Does anyone else remember that commercial with Roma Downey for some children’s charity — “With your $5 and your $5…” — just me? Right, then.) And if you can’t spare $5, then don’t.

Even if you aren’t a member, if you believe in supporting organized polytheist religion, you are invited to contribute. We may not honor the same gods, but we do well when we support each other.

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Click here to make a donation.

Everything is falling apart and it sucks.

Drama. Chaos. Upheaval.

We struggle with these issues in our life every day. We see our friends bickering, our co-workers cheating, our superiors ignoring their duties. We see laws broken and justice ignored.

No matter what we do, we always seem to see some disruption around us. Sometimes it nudges its way into our personal life, and it feels absolutely awful. Even when we’re not directly involved, seeing the people we love hurting or feeling lost hurts us too. We ask ourselves the perennial question: how did things get so bad? Why can’t things be like they were before?

Chaos has always been a part of the human condition, and it most likely always will. There is a class of literature in Ancient Egypt often simply called “Lamentations”. I am not talking about the ritual text where Aset and Nebthet seek and mourn Wesir. I am talking about texts where JoeHotep sits down and writes the equivalent of a blog post about how miserable everything is getting. Everything is falling apart and it sucks.

And yet – Egypt endured for thousands more years after the writing of these texts. Consider The Dialogue of a Man and His Soul. It was written around the Twelfth Dynasty — and yet the world did not end. Other similar dialogues were also written long before the end of Ancient Egypt as we conceive of it today.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the present and feel like there is no solution to our suffering. It’s easy to dismiss solutions and think nothing will ever change. In times of grief and chaos I turn to these lamentations and take comfort in knowing that if these ancestors could feel so lost and yet have their words endure through the millennia, I can make it to next Tuesday without being lost in the chaos.

Happy Last Day of the Year!

Happy last day of the year! The final day of the year of Heru-sa-Aset. I’ll be heading off to Retreat again as of Friday. I probably won’t be posting much here, but I’ll try to share snippets on Instagram and Twitter.

To celebrate the last day of the year, I’d like to share a playlist of some of my favorite songs for the end of the year and the beginning of the next one. Enjoy!

Wep Ronpet 2016:

  1. The Violet Hour – the Civil Wars
  2. The New Year – Death Cab for Cutie
  3. The Earth Isn’t Humming – Thrice
  4. This Year – The Mountain Goats
  5. Morning Has Broken – Cat Stevens
  6. Silent in the Morning – Phish
  7. Here Comes the Flood – Peter Gabriel
  8. Shrine – Beats Antique
  9. Empty Hearts – Josh Ritter
  10. Benedictus – Strawbs
  11. Get Lucky – Daft Punk
  12. It’s the End of the World – R.E.M.

An affirmation for all the working devotees.

You are allowed to be busy.
You are allowed to have days when you glance at the shrine and realize you won’t have a chance to revert the offerings you left to sit overnight.

You are allowed to make your worship time a few quick prayers on the way to work in the morning.

You are no less for being distant because life has other demands. Remember that even the priests in antiquity could work part-time. 

I firmly believe that if Netjer wanted us to spend every waking moment in worship and devotion, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be in the Seen world. 

Remember your shrine. Remember to go to work, to make dinner, and to do your laundry, too. It’s all about balance. 

It’s okay to be different.

When we talk about Ancient Egypt, we’re really talking about a society that spanned thousands of years. The culture varied, social norms varied — while the ancient people valued ma’at, tradition, and consistency, there is evidence in surviving art and literature of an evolving people.

I’ll be honest – I don’t really follow what’s going on with the larger polytheist community. Even though I have a tumblr, I don’t really use it to socialize. I haven’t had that kind of time (though now that I’m about to finish my master’s degree, that might change). But I’ve seen some talk about people feeling unwelcome — or being unwelcome — because of how they worship.

Here’s the thing: if Kemet itself varied over time, and we are basing what we do off of Kemet, doesn’t it stand to reason that there’s room for all of us under the umbrella? I might not agree with how some people choose to honor the gods, but I certainly won’t tell them not to do it that way. And if someone tells me I’m worshiping wrong, I don’t immediately assume I’m in the wrong.

I can’t tell anyone what to do. I will suggest that anyone who is thinking of telling someone they’re wrong in their relationship with the gods, should take a step back and question why they are so concerned with what other people are doing, and not what they are doing. I will also suggest that anyone who hears that what they are doing is wrong should remember that Kemet itself contained a variety of attitudes toward the gods.

I’m told that even the ancients were making complaints about each other – see “The Admonitions of Ipu-wer” or “The Discourse of a Man and his Ba”. And somehow, they survived thousands of years. If they can do it, so can we.

Doubt, existential crises, and choosing faith.

I suck at having faith. I joke to myself that I am one step away from being an atheist; if it’s not the gods of Egypt, it’s no gods at all. I disguise the seriousness of that feeling by calling it a joke — but it’s 100% truth.

I don’t know how I got to this point, honestly. One day I went to bed full of wonder at the Unseen world that surrounded me;  in the night I was gripped with terrifying doubt that left me disturbed for days straight. I shook it off, only to face it again a few years later, this time so intensely that I became physically ill for weeks, unable to eat or sleep as I grappled with the question of what happens after death.

Eventually I became distracted enough with the demands of daily life that my angst faded into a quiet hum of “what if” in the background — but it never dissipated, and I doubt it ever will. I consider myself a scientist at heart, and I am constantly trying to break my beliefs against what can be measured and tested in the lab. The evidence for atheism is strong. The chemicals released in the brain at death are the right ones to induce the feeling of religious ecstasy reported by so many people who have near-death experiences. All signs point to no. And yet I still practice. Why?

It’s a choice. If I live my life serving the gods and there are none, what have I lost? Perhaps time spent kneeling before Their shrines — but is time spent in peaceful reflection really wasted? If there are no gods, then the purpose of life is what we make of it, and I have chosen to dedicate my life to seeking moments of peace and awe, and to helping others. I have chosen to do something that makes me feel better now, instead of dwelling on what might come later.