How not to demand answers.

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

A question was posed to me by a good friend of mine. He’s Catholic, so his religion does not condone the use of divination, and he asked me how I resist the temptation to turn to divination constantly for answers — which is a darn good question!

I think everyone comes to their own understanding of their boundaries with divination. I hardly ever use divination for myself, as the result of an agreement between me and my gods; but plenty of others consult it regularly for their own guidance. The thing I’ve noticed is that most people who use divination regularly aren’t looking for concrete answers. They aren’t asking questions like, “Will I get a job this month?” or “Should I invest my money in the stock market?” They’re asking things like, “Will this job be a good fit for me?” or “What changes do I need to make to achieve success?”

The prevailing opinion that I’ve encountered is that divination isn’t capable of providing concrete answers, so turning to divination for everything would be meaningless. Even fedw, which offers yes/no responses, doesn’t give definite answers — only a glimpse at what may be if all things remain as they are currently. The future is too malleable, under the influence of the consequences of our actions and those of others. What is the point of asking for constant reassurance if the answers could change soon anyway?

Divination is also not something that passively provides answers. Most diviners I know find that things get funky after a while. Maybe they start getting meaningless answers. Maybe there’s a reading that means “knock it off”. Either way — many say that it is nearly impossible to chain reading after reading without getting garbled answers.

In my own experience divination simply fails if I get too persistent, so perhaps my experience isn’t very informative here. How do you all resist the temptation to constantly seek divination for reassurance?

A is for Asking.

I thought I would embark on a series of meditations on ritual purity. I’m going to run through the alphabet and choose a prompt for each letter, and write up my thoughts on those prompts.

Ritual purity can be defined as the act of being clean and prepared enough to participate in or perform a particular ritual. The problem with this definition is that there is no clear boundary set for “clean and prepared enough”. What is clean enough? Is washing my hands enough? Do I need to wear certain clothes? Can they just be a fresh set of clothes, or should they be white? Can I participate if I’m menstruating, but have been ritually purified with natron and water? Can I participate if I have music playing in the background? Can I participate if my roommate is two seats over? (All questions I have myself asked, at one point in time.)

The biggest source of confusion with ritual purity is that different rituals have different requirements. A Kemetic Orthodox online simulcast worship service has totally different requirements from a w’ab priest’s state rite. The answer to the question “am I pure enough?” will have different answers in different contexts. This is where asking is useful.

When purity is a question, ask someone. Ask a priest, ask a fellow participant, ask the god you are honoring. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, w’ab priests can answer questions about formal, group ritual requirements. We can also help sort out what kind of purity you might want or need in your own personal practice, though no w’ab is an absolute expert outside of their own circumstances. If you’re doing something on your own, you can ask your god directly. The clearest way to do this is divination, but if you have a clear line of communication with your god you can just ask and listen for an answer.

Guessing is an option, but it doesn’t guarantee success. If you guess right, you don’t gain any understanding of why purity is necessary; if you guess wrong, you can offend the god, or introduce dirt and other unwanted ick into your rites. In my own experience, the gods prefer being asked. I have asked if I am pure enough for shrine on multiple occasions, and most of the time the answer has surprised me.

I think the only time you actually wouldn’t want to ask about purity is if you’re working directly with your god, and They’ve already given you the requirements. In that case, I don’t advise asking over and over again. 😉

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.)

Pennies and purity

W’ab Wednesday has been delayed once more (my backlog of posts has been eaten up during Back-to-School season, where I’m required to be at roughly 6 different meetings, plus class & therapist appointments). I have some thoughts sketched out that I will post in full tonight (I hope!)

In the meantime, have a pic of the pennies the Jackal has been sending me. Thanks, Dad, I’m listening!


When to Stay Out of Shrine…

Sometimes I am stubborn. I get set on doing something, and when it becomes apparent that perhaps my plans should change, I simply refuse to acknowledge it. I do this with shrine a lot. I will get focused on going to shrine on a particular evening, and then when something happens that would stop me – I develop a splitting headache, my knee or back starts to stiffen and ache, or I am washed with overwhelming fatigue – I don’t acknowledge it.

Instead, I try to go to shrine anyway. I start to purify myself, spilling the water, dropping things and stumbling over words I’ve spoken flawlessly hundreds of times before. That’s usually my first clue that maybe I shouldn’t go to shrine. Unfortunately, I usually ignore it. Then things get progressively stranger – tools for shrine go missing. I forget to bring the offerings into the shrine room repeatedly. It’s usually around the third time that I’m going back downstairs to get the crackers that are sitting in the kitchen that I start to wonder if maybe I should just skip shrine for the evening.

Usually I’ll confirm my suspicions via divination, just to be sure. Without fail, I am told to stay out of shrine. I want so badly to be in shrine whenever I am physically present and theoretically able (read: not bleeding and not suffering from acute illness). It’s hard for me to then admit that there could be other obstacles to being in shrine, but when my gods say no, I have to listen. How do you know when to stay away from ritual? What are your “warning signs” that you probably aren’t in the right mindset for heka or worship?