My gratitude for my religion is vast and complicated. I am grateful for the relationships I have forged; for the experiences I have had; for the opportunity to honor the gods and serve as Their priest.
I am thankful, because I came to this religion as an adolescent, still developing my sense of self, my moral code, and my way of thinking about the world. Growing into adulthood in this religion has helped to shape who I am and how I approach the world.
Above all else, though, I think I am grateful for the attitude towards gratitude that I have learned through this community. Hemet (AUS) places a great deal of emphasis on gratitude in her teachings – gratitude to the gods, to the ancestors, to our teachers. The first prayer I offer to my gods each time I enter my shrine is “thank You”.
(Forgive the slightly disjointed ramble; I am trying to exercise the philosophy that it’s better to write poorly than not to write at all.)
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.
The lights in the conference room were dimmed, and in my memory candles are flickering on Her altar, though no candles were lit besides the fake ones that the venue permitted. She had come before Her people embodied; Sekhmet the Great sat before us, enthroned.
I knelt before Her, offering gestures of praise before She bade me to rise and sit with Her. We spoke together of my fears; of the things that have been holding me back. She listened. She offered quiet reassurance. And suddenly, She took up a bottle of frankincense oil, wet Her fingers with it, and placed Her hand on my head. She smiled, and I wondered what She would do.
“You are My priest,” She said, “and you are His priest.”
I smiled and sighed deeply as I realized what She had done.
Earlier in the week, myself and the other lay priests who were present at Retreat were offered the opportunity to take on legal ordination. The distinction between the two priesthoods is muddy, but the main difference is that ordained priests are responsible for pastoral duties as well as liturgical duties. We had planned to announce this formally on Nebt-het’s day, or Wep Ronpet Eve, as is typical for elevations during Retreat.
It would seem Sekhmet had other ideas. The ordination blessing is conferred via anointing with sacred oil–just as She had done. After the ceremony, a fellow priest told me that she knew what Sekhmet was doing the moment She reached for the oil. She knew I was being ordained before I did.
And here we are–I am legal clergy of the House of Netjer and Kemetic Orthodoxy. This does not, and will not change the fact that nothing written at this blog constitutes an official statement from the House of Netjer or Kemetic Orthodoxy. I will continue to share my experiences and my thoughts as they happen, without any sort of authority or official meaning. It has always brought me great joy to do so, as has serving the gods as Their priest.
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.
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.
I’m going to put it straight to you: The House of Netjer needs donations. The only way for the temple to survive is if temple members donate — and only a small number of members actually do so.
I’m putting a call out to my siblings in Sekhmet to change that, this month. I don’t care how you do it — if you donate yourself, if you offer to sell services in exchange for donations, if you pester everyone else until they donate — but the children of Sekhmet are going to smash that donation goal this month. #teamsekhmet, are you ready? We have 31 days to get it done. Let’s do it!
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.