Can You hear me now?

Tonight, the shrines are lovely. Kneeling before the gods, the candles are flickering and the shrine is beautiful beyond belief. And yet – I feel nothing. Silence surrounds me. I press my forehead to the floor, as though bowing more deeply before Their altar can recharge my god-phone. Only the echoes of my own prayers fill my head. There is no warm, luminous presence; only the cold eyes of Their Icons, draped in lazy curls of incense and the glow of candlelight. 

I came into Kemetic Orthodoxy with a powerful god-phone (aka god-radio). I had begun to hear the gods in the subtle yet irresistible voice of Sekhmet-Mut, quietly calling me to Her worship. I mistook Her voice for Aphrodite, and made Her the first deity I conversed with. When I came to Kemet, I found Yinepu and Wepwawet more than willing to become near-constant presences in my head. They spoke in warm and velvety voices, singing hymns and embracing me in quiet moments. Sometimes Their voices shook me to the core, and I found myself curled up and weeping from the power of Their words.

But Their voices were the only ones I felt constantly. Mother’s voice was never more than a low hum tugging at the periphery of my senses. The other gods came and went, Their presences a tide that swelled and washed away. And as I grew, the Jackals’ voices gradually ebbed too. I struggled, and lost my way; Their voices became fainter. I was so caught up in each crisis that came that I didn’t realize they were driving wedges between me and my gods. By the time I realized I wasn’t hearing the gods the way I used to, I was in complete radio silence. Dead air.

I’ve been in both places. I’ve been the follower wishing for earplugs because the gods just won’t shut up; I’ve been desperate for connection, shaking down my Tarot cards and staring in to the faces of my Icons hunting for some sign of life. Have I learned anything from being in both places?

If you have a strong connection with the gods:

  • Enjoy it, but be cautious. There’s a word that gets thrown around a lot regarding interactions with spirits: discernment. Don’t take everything you experience at face value. There are spirits who will pretend to be the gods. Be sure to establish means of verifying identity.
  • Sometimes your own head can play tricks on you; sometimes what you think is the gods is actually only a subconscious interpretation of what the gods might be saying, if They were speaking at that moment. Did the gods actually tell you to get that coffee? Well, maybe that’s something They would do, and you are interpreting your knowledge of that as the voice of a deity. Sometimes, They will push you to make a certain offering — other times, you will be making a leap of logic.
  • Set boundaries. If you feel overwhelmed, make it clear to the gods that you need some space. Ignore Them when you have to. Answer Them when you have the time. Like any relationship, if They become too demanding, you have the right to ask for space.

If your connection is weaker:

  • Fake it until you make it. I am completely serious here. Do Senut (or whatever rite makes you feel good). Stand, sit, or kneel before the shrine. Talk to the gods. Don’t give up. You may not get a dramatic answer. You may never notice an answer at all. Don’t make that the focus of your worship. Rest in the stillness of the shrine. Center yourself. Breathe the sweet incense and watch the flames flicker. We get much more than just a connection with the gods from honoring Them. We get Their blessings, the reversion of offerings, purification… we are centered, realigned, cleaned up and sent back into the world a little better for the time we have spent with the gods.
  • Watch for other ways the gods will communicate with you. Other people may bring Their messages, or other events in your life may serve as signs. Don’t over-think these, but don’t second guess your instincts either. If something feels like a sign, it may be one. Be mindful of the influence of anxiety on these interpretations. If you are like me, some things will feel like a sign not because of divine influence, but because you’re frequently afraid of absolutely everything. Don’t let anxiety control your god-phone.
  • Use divination sparingly. Do not run to the Tarot every time you want an answer. Sometimes divination can confirm what we think we are hearing, but sometimes it serves as a crutch. Try to work things out on your own first. Remember that the cards are just a tool. They make life easier sometimes, and sometimes they make it harder.

Above all, whether you’re swamped with divine messages or you’re feeling like there’s cotton in your metaphysical ears, remember that this communication is not the total sum of your worth as a Kemetic. The heart of our practice is ma’at – the rest is window dressing.

Not there yet.

Crises of faith can be funny. You can declare they’re over, and that you believe in God again with your whole heart. Your friends will pat you on the back (maybe metaphorically, if you’re long-distance). You feel accomplished, and somehow more adult – maybe surviving a Dark Night of the Soul with your faith intact is a sign of maturity. And when you smile about it and make plans to get back to work on all of your projects because that whole mess is behind you —

the crippling fear returns and takes you down a few pegs. The gnawing in your belly rises up, coiling around your neck. It’s a primal terror. It makes you sick to your stomach and you spend days barely able to eat, unable to sleep on your own, constantly squirming and trembling in your seat as you try to work.

Anxiety is a bitch, folks — if you’ll pardon my French.

It wasn’t necessarily that dramatic, but yes, I dipped back below the surface of my sea of doubt. I thought I was starting to reach its end, but I was wrong. I think I’ve learned my lesson – I am not done doubting even now. I still have no idea what I believe, if anything; I am simply working from the time-honored tactic of “fake it ’til you make it”. If I keep acting as if I have 100% faith in what I am doing, then I will (theoretically) slowly get back to having 100% faith in what I am doing. Or, I’ll decide it’s all baloney and move on with my secular life — hopefully I’ll have shed the existential terror by then, one way or another.

I used to pride myself on feeling secure enough in my beliefs to be able to guide others to the gods. Now I realize that my own security really has nothing to do with it – in a way, maybe it’s better that I’m struggling too. There’s some wisdom to having your own trials when you’re trying to help others. Sure, you can’t help someone when you’re in crisis — then you have to help yourself, put your own oxygen mask on before you put someone else’s on, yadda yadda — but knowing the territory of doubt and uncertainty can give you a leg up on getting out. It’s like going in with a map, instead of going in totally clueless.

I guess my goal is to just keep moving, without pretending things are back to normal. Things are not back to normal. In fact, I think I’m so far from where normal used to be that it’s not even an option anymore. My unquestioning devotion is no longer available. But maybe – just maybe – I can make my way back to something wiser, a little less naive.

Settling Back In (or, Starting from Scratch).

Things are starting to come together into a comfortable routine in Sobeq-land. It’s been a hell of a journey here. This time last year, I was just settling into a hotel suite to wait for my childhood home to be raised ten feet, and rebuilt from a total disaster zone. I’d spent two months living in a gutted structure where only two rooms had electricity, no hot water, no shower, no kitchen, no bathroom walls. Now, I have a place of my own with a loving fiancé; I am planning a wedding, my sister is having a baby, my family is mostly healthy (or at least, physically stable) — things are good. It is time to rebuild everything else, take steps back to stability in my personal and spiritual life.

It honestly feels like I am starting from scratch. I have lost the momentum I had before the storm. Psychologically, there is motivation simply in having had a consistent practice. It is harder to break a streak than it is to continue it. Now, it has been so long since I was able to maintain a daily ritual practice that inertia is keeping me down. A priest in motion tends to stay in motion; a priest at rest tends to stay at rest. I suppose.

Building that momentum is harder too, now. As I prepared to become a priest, I built my momentum with excitement and anticipation. I did Senut every day, knowing that soon I would open my shrine for the priesthood’s daily rite. I was proud, my gods were proud — it felt new, joyful, full of promise.

Now I feel guilty. It is true, when we came back from the hotel suite our house still had no shower. It is true, I could not do the Rite while I had contractors milling in and out of my rooms, leaving screwdrivers on shrines and tracking dirt and debris. It is true, that not long after that ended, I got engaged and my life became a flurry of activity; and then I made plans to move, and the semester started, and the holidays came upon us… and now here we are. It is true that all of these things make it difficult to come back to shrine, and that I could never have anticipated any one of them until they happened. And yet I still  feel guilty, I like I should slink back to my shrine with my tail between my legs. Every time inertia gets the better of me, I feel worse.

I think that’s what makes it harder to get back up when we fall — that wave of guilt that comes with having stepped back. Not only are we trying to battle inertia, but our own internal monologue of shame. If each time we tried to rebuild we could access that flurry of excitement and anticipation, would it be easier to come back from hiatus? I think so. It’s that guilt and shame that can lead people to give up on their goals; we consider even the rebuilding process a failure, because it feels so uncomfortable. What if we could see it for what it is? What if we recognized that this is the same process we went through once before with joy?

The Christian New Testament has that lovely parable of the prodigal son. Kemetic thinking has Zep Tepi, the world made new each dawn. Weeks ago, my Father said something to the effect of, “don’t worry about what you were doing yesterday; do it today like you’d always been doing it this way.” In other words, forget how many times you went to sleep instead of going to shrine. Forget how many times you could only bring your prayers, not your purity. Forget all the times you knelt before the shrine emptyhanded, because you could not bring offerings. Come as though you’d always come, pure and eager, with arms full of incense and flowers for the gods. And so I go, each day that I can, as though the last day were the same as the present one.

Fear, moving, and stability – where I am today.

I’ll be honest – my life has been pretty great lately. I’m engaged, I just moved in with my fiancé, I’ve got a good job, good friends who live even closer now, and I’m in a great Masters program pursuing my dream degree.

Unfortunately, all that doesn’t necessarily add up to a fulfilling spiritual life. I dipped into a desperate existential terror just before I got engaged, and I still struggle with mortality and the inevitability of my own death.

This past weekend I was able to spend some time with my local Kemetic Orthodox community, in honor of Nebthet. In Her presence and the presence of our ancestors, I felt deeply comforted. Her words to me touched that fear – and while they couldn’t dismiss it, they lessened it enough that I feel renewed pull toward my shrine and my priestly duties – which were greatly lessened during my move last month and the crisis of the summer.

Of course, this has largely coincided with a purity issue keeping me out of shrine – but such is life. I will keep the faith and keep moving.

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Nebthet on Her altar

Back to life…

… although I haven’t quite been dead.

Some background on why this blog has been mostly dormant for the last 6 months:

In October, the town I live in was devastated by “Superstorm” Sandy. Since then, my life has been simultaneously a whirlwind, and completely stagnant. My family’s house was partially destroyed and rendered unsafe for living. (Point of Information: I am still under 30 and still living with my parents; our household includes three adults, one child and a dog.) We lived in the broken structure for two months before we could find accommodation at a hotel even slightly nearby. At that point, we were told that our home would be repaired by February. We waited, and waded through endless red tape and confused town policy. Errors and other delays held up the work on our house.

We finally moved back in roughly a month ago. We lifted the house 10 feet higher, and replaced the entire first floor. Because we started our repairs so early, we are locked out of most of the grants and funding being made available through the government, but we ate getting too tired to fight. Our flooring is currently being replaced, as is our siding. We have a bathroom again, and furniture in the living room. It isn’t a finished home, but it’s something we can live with.

Through all of this, my practices have languished. The very act of living has taken up every ounce of energy I have. I have lived in a fragmented space, feeling frayed and fractured myself. Now that we are settling back in, I find myself rebuilding my practices slowly. I say prayers, offer cool water, light candles and incense.

My priestly work has been suspended, but next month I will return to my duties. That, for me, feels like the greatest triumph. Kneeling before the State shrine again, speaking the words that nourish the gods – I live for that. I crave the space to serve again.

With the return of my priestly work will come the return of regular posts here. I am slowly stepping back into the real world. For a time I was carried off by the flood, but no longer. I miss the real world and all it contains.