Death Gods and Living

The Mysteries of Wesir snuck up on me this year. I had wanted to celebrate them deeply this year. In fact, I’d wanted to take an entire month to contemplate the gods of the West. After the hurricane, having no home and no space (in my home or head) to contemplate the depth of mortality, that got set aside. I am still pretty bummed that I didn’t prepare even for the Mysteries, though.

This morning I spent some time listening to Important Songs on my way to work, and I let myself think about what the gods of death might have to say. I’d lamented my scattered celebration on my personal Twitter account last night, and gotten a response that the Mysteries, though dealing with death, are about life.

That’s not hugely revolutionary for me; my Father’s message has long been “Life is short, so indulge”. I’ve never spent enough time with other “death gods” to get Their perspective on that, though. This morning, I asked.

Life is short, so live with purpose.
Life is short, so live joyfully.
Life is short, so live compassionately.
Life is short, so live fully.

The answer, whatever the rationale: Life is short, so live.

My meditation today: how can I live to celebrate the sacredness of my own life?

D is for Death

This has been a hard post to meditate on.

Last fall, late at night as I was talking to my boyfriend on the phone about growing old together, I recognized mortality for the first time, and it scared the hell out of me. The conversation was not particularly deep; he was only telling me about an elderly woman whose home he did electrical work in that day. And in that moment, I suddenly realized all the truths of humanity – that we would both get old, and one day, there’d only be one of us. That started a long and torturous existential crisis into which I still slide from time to time. I remain uncertain and full of doubt, even when I go through astonishing spiritual experiences and life-changing moments.

In the midst of that intense anxiety, a local W’ab priest celebrated a feast for Nebthet and the Akhu. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate. Like an icy pond in the midst of a heatwave, Nebthet’s presence in that moment cooled my fears. Not completely – ice melts around a source of heat, after all – but slowly, little by little, as I spent more time with Her and the other deities of the West (Yinepu, Hethert-Amenti, Nut) I found myself calming and centering once more.

Death is not a part of life. Death is something we all face as mortal human beings, but it is the end of life, the final transformation from which no one has returned. I can never fully understand what it means to die, but I can face that eventuality with peace knowing that – even if there is nothing waiting for me – I will go to it with the love and support of the gods of the Duat.

The God Who Died

We are quickly approaching the Mysteries of Wesir, according to the Kemetic Orthodox calendar. The air is full of frost, the ground is cold and all around me, the trees are bare. The Lord of the Greenery will join them soon.

This holiday is bittersweet. The King of the Gods gives His life to be the King of the Dead, so that the children of the Gods who have stepped into the Duat may be protected. But to do this, He must die. He must pass through the same Mystery we all must pass through. And so His brother will take Him and kill Him.

I have to imagine that even Wesir did not know what to expect of death. Death is foreign to the Gods. It is transformative, without any hint of what will come out on the other side. That alone would be enough to terrify.

What does it mean, then, to have a God Who has died? It’s different than in Christianity, where Jesus died and then rose again. Wesir died, and established Himself as the King of the dead, rather than a resurrected God.

I will be thinking about this quite a lot, as Wesir’s festival approaches. Each year I feel a stronger pull to honor Him this time of year, so I’m very glad that

Seeking Autumn, Seeking Wesir.

Autumn has begun here. This is the season when I feel the closest to Wesir, my Akhu, and the gods of the West. By the Kemetic Orthodox calendar, the mysteries of Wesir’s death and ascent as King of the Duat will be celebrated soon.

While I know Wesir is truly a god of green things, the rejuvenation of the earth from dirt, I connect strongly with Him as Lord of the Duat. He is the god who dies to care for the dead; the only god Who passes through the tranformative trial that every mortal passes through.

Autumn is His time with me. While I watch the leaves turn crisp, and see His green things wither for winter, I am reminded of His own gift to the people. I am reminded of my own Akhu, and their transformation through the Duat to become shining ones above.

Episode 4: Death and the Afterlife

I think death is an interesting subject, because it’s incredibly complex, and it’s one of the things in my life that I really can’t say I have full faith in. I don’t 100% believe in an Afterlife – more like 85%. 85% is enough to keep me saying I believe in it, though, and keep talking like I do.

Here’s what I believe happens.
Step one: the physical body dies. Upon dying, all of the souls exit the body, and are greeted by a psychopomp (guide for the dead) – I personally believe that I would be met by Wepwawet, and that He would meet many people, being Opener of the Ways, but I do believe it’s possible that any number of deities or spirits could take this role. This spirit or deity will sit with the deceased for a time and give them a ‘Your Life In Review’ tour, allowing them to understand things they couldn’t in life, and to get a wider perspective on what they did and what was done to them than mortal vision allows. This is a part of a 70-day ‘journey’, culminating in the trial of the Weighing of the Heart.

In the Weighing of the Heart, the deceased’s life is judged and weighed against the feather of Ma’at. That phrase is kind of ambiguous, in my opinion. Ma’at is a principle of universal justice and accountability, which I’ll get to in a few episodes – but what would it mean to have your life weighed against it? In my understanding, it means to have your life measured for what you did, but also for your intent in all actions, and for remorse for the hurtful things. It’s far more complicated than a simple checklist of pros and cons. It isn’t the “Weighing of the Laundry List of Things Person X Has Done”, but the Weighing of the Heart. I firmly believe that even the most wicked living person can pass this judgment and be justified if, during that 70-day period, they found remorse or understanding that was not available in life.

It’s hard to say exactly what things will cause one to fail the Weighing of the Heart. Keeping with Ma’at, however, and living a just life are pretty good ways to pass. How to keep with Ma’at is another kind of complicated topic but effectively: being kind, compassionate, merciful and just, while taking responsibility for your own actions and the consequences thereof will bring you to a pleasant judgment. There’s a set of 42 purifications that get tossed around as the precursor to the 10 commandments, though while they’re similar in nature they’re intended for a different audience – but they DO give a good picture of what was believed to be just and right in antiquity.

Upon passing judgment, the many parts of the soul disband, I believe. (This is where literature gets really weird, since different things were believed in antiquity – here’s a heavy dose of What Sobeq Believes.) The Ka – the soul that carries our actions, our personality, our family, everything about this life – separates, and becomes an Akh, residing in the Beautiful West with the rest of the dead. It’s a lot like this world, only without a physical body. You work, you rest, you watch out for your living relatives. The Akhu (plural of Akh) hear us honoring them, and do help us out when they can. We can pray to them, and they’ll either personally help us, or get another Akh to help. The Ba – the fundamental part of who we are, which carries most of our power and the very deepest parts of our identity – goes forth into the Unseen, to dwell with the gods, to reincarnate, to hang out in the Beautiful West – who knows. The Ba is the part I’m a little shaky on – it’s in that 15% that I’m really not so certain about, heh.

But what if the deceased fails judgment? They are given over to Ammit, the Soul-Swallower, and they cease to exist. All that they were is devoured, purged from existence. Personally, I believe this means that even the memories of their existence are erased – that any trace of their life is taken away from reality. This is because I believe that the only way to really fail the Weighing of the Heart is to have absolutely no remorse for anything. To rape, kill, steal and believe it is honestly a just and right thing – without finding any remorse on the 70-day journey. People like this  are people the Universe can be purged of. Think of the worst person you can think of. THAT person would probably have passed the Weighing of the Heart (or they’re hanging around as an angry muuet [ghost] but hey, that’s fairly unusual) – because in dying, a lot of things change.

It is the Akhu that we honor when venerating our ancestors; the parts of our beloved dead that live on in the Beautiful West. In a way, I believe that these acts of veneration are food for our ancestors. We give them love, small amounts of food and cool water, and they in return are nourished by our attention and are well in the afterlife. I don’t think that ancestor veneration always needs to be done specifically; I think that respecting your dead and speaking about family who are no longer living with living family members is how most people will participate in ancestor veneration, having not been raised in a tradition where it is considered appropriate. Sharing stories and family history brings the names and lives of the dead in to the hearts of the living, and speaking their names will feed them too. To completely ignore one’s ancestors and one’s history is to starve them, though. Respect and love will keep them well-fed in the Beautiful West.

That’s kind of a really quick glossing over of death, but it’s a good start. The Ancient Egyptians did a lot with death, I think – they weren’t DEATH OBSESSED like some people think, but they did have a pretty good perspective, so there’s a lot to say about it. I’ll save it for later, though, since this episode has become a bit of a wall o’ text.