A reminder.

Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. A few years ago, I wrote a long post about my own experiences, which I won’t rehash; you can read that post here. Instead, let me offer a brief meditation on the subject.

The gods don’t want us to be hurting. Sometimes we will feel sore, or pained, as we learn lessons and grow from them; but the depth of pain that comes from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is not productive. We may be able to learn something from it, but that is our own doing. The gods do not hand these things to us as challenges, nor do They require us to be completely free from pain to serve Them. The difficulties we face are just that: difficulties. And the gods will stand by us as we meet them head on.

Self-care can be a form of purification; releasing anxiety, fear, grief, guilt, and shame lighten our hearts and allow us to connect better with the gods. Sometimes, the process of letting go is terrifying. Sometimes it is lengthy. Sometimes, we cannot do it on our own. We lean on the gods, our loved ones, or on the help of professionals — and that in no way lessens the worth of the work we do.

Self-care is the antithesis of self-harm. Self-harm devalues the body and the self; the body becomes a tool for offering relief, rather than a part of oneself to be valued. Self-care includes self-soothing and relaxation, but also taking action to better ourselves and our lives. Self-harm allows us to sink deeper into the grief and shame that we feel; self-care helps us rise above it and become stronger.

Take good care of yourself. Know that it does not make you any less to seek help from a friend, loved one, or professional. If you are struggling with self-harm, there are resources out there to help. Above all else — be well.

C is for Change.

[This is part of a series of loose meditations on ma’at, purity, and the role of both in my life. All anecdotes are personal and the reflections may not be relevant for all. However, I hope there’s something to be gained from reading — as I have enjoyed sharing.]

There’s an old cliché that says “the only constant is change”. There’s also a cliché that says “all clichés exist for good reason” — and I’d argue that at least in this case, that’s true. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that the greatest thing my life has in common with two or three years ago is change. Where I was a year ago is much different from where I am today. All of my relationships have grown and shifted. I am married now. I live with my husband and two cats. A year ago today, I lived with my then-fiancé alone. A year ago from that, I lived in a hotel room with my parents, youngest sister, and a miniature schnauzer, while we waited for our storm-ravaged home to be repaired. A year before that, I lived at home with my recently injured father, my mother, and my youngest sister. And only one year before that, I lived in a college dormitory with three other lovely people.

When I put it that way, it seems like such a short time for so many drastic changes. The list of things that are different now than they were five years ago goes on and on. It sounds like chaos. And yet, through all the changes I have become a better person; I have grown and learned and now find myself in a more stable, better place.

Ma’at is a balancing act. To “act in ma’at”, we have to find the right mix of being careful and bold, demure and outspoken, forceful and mild. It does not do to bow and scrape all our days, but we also can’t act superior all the time, either. Wisdom literature is filled with exhortations to be neither too meek nor too strong. We should neither be too stagnant, nor too shifting. I imagine this has to do with our need for growth. If all things stay the same, we can never grow. We grow by changing. We grow by observing in ourselves a need to become something else, to take the way we act or think and alter it — and then by reconfiguring our lives or actions to meet that need. It is growth that brings us to better understand ourselves, our world, and how to better serve Netjer and Ma’at.

I’ve been thinking about the role of change in purity and ma’at this week. The “Red Week” festival for Set ended yesterday evening. It was a beautiful celebration of the Lord of Storms. My relationship with Him has been fraught for some time; I have been reluctant to re-examine it for fear that I might be inviting unwelcome chaos into my life. Having this week to spend meditating on His role — one far more complex than transforming my own personal life, to be sure —  has helped me see that it is better to invite change than to live undisturbed and never improve myself. I would not want things to be the same as they were a year ago, or even five years ago, back in college again. Maybe it’s the newlywed in me talking, but I am so very grateful that my life has changed. What’s more, I feel excited for and not scared of what changes might happen in the future. Dua Set! May I endure the changes of the future with the strength You have shown me that I possess — and may those changes be as smooth and as pleasant as they can be… if possible. 😉

Offerings.

This is my (very belated) contribution to the last Kemetic Round-table discussion on offerings. Since I’ve been a little bit out of commission, I’m going to try and answer a few old topics, just to get back into the swing of writing. Hopefully I’ll come up with something useful. 

Offerings 101: What do I offer the gods? How do I determine what to offer? Can I offer without a patron? Do I need to revert my offerings? How do I do that? What if I can’t?

I’d argue that offerings are a staple in any pagan or polytheistic practice. We build relationships with the gods we wish to know by giving them gifts; in return, They give us Their attention. Thus we build our relationships. It’s a bit like having someone you’d like to get to know over your place for a while, in a way. Generally, you wouldn’t invite someone over without at least having some kind of refreshment to offer, even if it’s just a glass of water. There’s always argument over what is best to offer; people question the validity of offering things like chocolate or cookies, since those didn’t exist in antiquity. Before I even get into the questions here, I want to make my opinion on what to offer abundantly clear: we live thousands of years after the last ancient temple closed. Since then, we have had tremendous innovations in what we eat and how we eat it. There is no reason that, by this time, Djehuty wouldn’t have a taste for saltines, or Bast wouldn’t enjoy Thin Mints. I can’t find a single compelling argument for why the gods wouldn’t want to try new things, several millenia in the future. Tradition is beautiful, but I think it’s critical to avoid stagnating or getting caught up in putting on ancient airs.

That said: how do you make offerings? Like pretty much everything else in Kemetic worship: it depends. I’m coming from a Kemetic Orthodox perspective, so bear that in mind as I contribute my experiences.

What do I offer the gods? Whatever the hell you want, really. Some things are better than others. Water, bread and incense are pretty good staples if you’re really stumped. Pour a glass of water, get a slice of toast, light a candle and some incense and sit down and say hello. Offer Them your favorite dinner – They often appreciate the gesture. Offer Them your daily cup of tea; as long as you have your morning routine, you have an offering. Offer Them a new recipe you are trying (as long as you haven’t totally messed it up). Offer Them the cookie or sweet you always grab when you walk past the pantry. Really — offer Them whatever makes sense in your life.

How do I determine what to offer? There’s a few ways. If you are the kind of person who can pick up on divine messages pretty well: ask. They’ll nudge you. If you feel lost, ask other people you know who honor the same deity. Heck, ask anyone, even if they don’t. Maybe they know someone who knows someone who can give you more information. Google can be your friend, but be careful: there is always the kind of site that tells you Bast is the goddess of marijuana, which might lead you in really bizarre directions. If it seems really weird, I suggest double checking. Divination is also great. If you know someone who knows fedw (or you know it yourself) you can always ask them to check for you, particularly when you’re concerned about a particularly elaborate offering. If you don’t have access to fedw, try the next best thing – ask Them and then flip a coin.

You can also go the route of research, but that tends to be more difficult these days. The offerings of antiquity were clearly given in a culture where offerings were a daily routine in temples maintained by teams of priests. The offering lists include bread, beer, oxen, geese… bread and beer is one thing, but I’m not going to dig up a whole ox. Maybe a nice steak once in a while, but even then, not daily. We live in a different world, we need to be realistic about what we offer.

Can I offer without a patron? Yes. If you don’t have a patron deity (or Parent deity, or favorite god, or whatever) – you can offer to any god you want. There’s no rules saying you can only make offerings to your one single god. In fact, if you don’t want to offer to any deity in particular, offer to all the gods and goddesses, or the collective Netjer. That’s more a Kemetic Orthodox convention of offering, to be quite honest, but I think it is truly helpful. Sometimes I don’t want to offer to a god, I just want to make a general offering of my meal. So I announce to Netjer–the Divine, or the sacredness that is the different gods, all rolled into one collective noun–that I’m making an offering, and the Divine partakes of the offering.

Reversion of offerings, etc… This is one thing I’ve always felt a little funny about. The reversion of offerings is theoretically the process by which Netjer partakes of the offerings, and then passes their essence back to you. I’ve always believed this is intrinsic to the offering process. You offer the food, and in that process there is an exchange; Netjer takes Its portion, and leaves behind the traces of Its presence. In some rituals, there is a formal declaration that Netjer has taken Its portion. I think that is a little more work than most people really need to put forth; it also strikes me as a little arrogant, that we would say “yup, God is done eating now, my turn”. By that argument I sort of put my own thoughts on offerings in jeopardy, though. We can’t ever really know when Netjer is “done” with the offerings. We just have to kind of go with our gut, be reverent, and assume that Netjer generally understands (which It generally does. Generally).

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.

Musings on “Ordinary Time”

I was raised Catholic. As a little girl, I would sit in church with my grandmother or my mother, and at some point during the Mass, the priest would announce that it was something like “the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time”. As a child, I found this announcement amusing and bewildering. Ordinary time — as opposed to extraordinary time? I eventually made it through enough years of Catholic school to understand that this designation simply meant the church wasn’t in one of its periods of celebration or preparation (such as Easter, Advent, or Lent). I am sure that this is a gross oversimplification of the concept, but I’m not much of a practicing Catholic anymore, so I think it’s forgivable. 😉

I caught that phrase drifting through my mind earlier, apropos of nothing. It meandered in as I was going through my day. Ordinary time is still such a strange turn of phrase to me. How is time ordinary? So much happens. Right now, I am planning a wedding, I’m working on moving, I’m preparing to return to school as both a teacher and a student. All of that has its own uniqueness, it’s own particular extraordinariness. And yet – ordinary time.

If extraordinary time is time spent celebrating and honoring spiritual pursuits, then I suppose ordinary time is the space in between – for breathing, living, and our mundane experiences. Looking at the Kemetic calendar, it looks hard to find ordinary time. I haven’t counted, but I’d hazard a guess that there are less than thirty days without any officially notated festival – and even those days were remarked upon in some calendar, to be sure. How do we get ordinary time, the space to breathe and step away from the sacredness of ritual? Do we necessarily need to step away?

I think we do, and how we find that space is ultimately up to us. There are some who prefer to make a part of each day sacred, with daily prayer and ritual, simple offerings and quiet meditation. Then there are some who prefer to make their celebrations more widely spaced and elaborate, spending the time in between orchestrating and coordinating their worship. In those intervals, however, there is time for living — time for reading books, cooking dinner, laying in the sun, and vacuuming.