“You are My priest.”

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.

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.

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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The Return of the King

I felt completely lost when it came to the Mysteries of Wesir when I first became Kemetic. Wesir was hard for me to grasp, having quite a bit in common with the gods of the faith I had just left — died, resurrected, ruling in the place where dead people go — so maybe I steered clear of Him “accidentally-on-purpose”.

I tried to wrestle with the holiday when I was in the midst of my existential crisis. I wanted to understand it so badly. I felt like if I understood it, maybe I wouldn’t be so scared of it. I threw myself at it, and didn’t have much luck — trying to understand a god by force doesn’t work all that well, I discovered.

This year, somehow, celebrating the festival felt right for the first time. I traveled down to Virginia for a vigil ritual hosted by one of the temple’s ordained clergy, Reverend Heruakhetymose. As myself and fellow w’ab Shefytbast headed south, the landscape became more and more rural, and we noticed how the changing of the leaves mirrored the season of the death of Wesir.

The vigil itself felt like an ordeal we undertook with Wesir, standing at His side as He underwent the mysterious journey from death to life in the Duat1. Each hour, on the hour, we entered the shrine room in silence. The room was variously lit in a dim purple glow or by candle light, and I took up a drum to count the minutes until the hour struck. At the second of the hour I let the drum fall silent, and myself and fellow priests performed the ritual while the rest of those gathered offered henu. After the ritual concluded and we spent a few moments in silent contemplation, I took up the drum again, and we left as silently as we came.

And then we passed the hour until the next one.

We played games, we had snacks, we watched silly videos and talked about everything and nothing. We sat curled under blankets and watched parts of The Mummy. We shared our time and our kindness together — until our alarms chimed that it was time to prep for the next hour’s ritual, and we took up the mantle of silence for Wesir again.

By dawn, we were exhausted. Many of us had napped at least once, but we were pretty punchy. And yet, as we entered the shrine room in silence for the final ritual of resurrection, an unexpected lightness carried us onward. The gods felt… not joyful, but at peace, where the previous hours felt heavy with mourning and transformation. Wesir assumed His throne in the Duat, caring for our ancestors, and providing a home for us after our lives are done.

We made our final offerings of the day to Wesir after we had all had an opportunity to rest and sleep some. We celebrated His re-establishment to life in the Duat, we thanked Him for His sacrifice to create a home for us after death, and we thanked Him for being with us. And then — we snacked on offerings during the day. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and watched cartoons, shared stories, and laughed quite a bit. We watched a wintery storm roll in and ate leftovers. It felt like being with family. And in the end, I think that’s what He wanted: for us to be together, to honor His journey together, and to rise together after the ordeal of the vigil and come together again.

I won’t say I properly understand His mysteries now; but I will say I feel much closer to Him, and that I’m grateful for the opportunity His mysteries gave me to grow closer with my community.


Footnotes:

  1. Underworld, or afterlife, or “Unseen World”. Generally, where gods and ancestors live.

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.