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.

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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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.

Seasons and Gods

My gods seem to have an arrangement. In the summer, when the air is thick and humid and the sun is an unforgettable presence in the sky, my Mother comes forward. She teaches me about healing, about mercy, about justice. I feel Her wrap Her arms around me as the heat presses against my skin and the sun beats down on my shoulders. It feels like a dance, spun with red linen and turquoise, gold and lapis.

Slowly, as the heat wanes, She retreats and my Father comes forward. As the trees turn burning red and shed their leaves, He starts to whisper in my ear. He teaches me about magic, and authority, and the power to move effortlessly between any two places or roles. He is as crystal clear as the frigid air that starts to show my breath; strong and steadfast, the silence space between the mountains.

I am always my Mother’s child, and I am always my Father’s child — but as the seasons shift, so do They. Perhaps my Mother follows the Wandering Eye myth cycle, being distant at the winter solstice. Perhaps They just want to make things easy on me. Perhaps I’m the one making the division. Who knows? There are some things I just… don’t question, when it comes to the gods. 😉