B is for Beautiful.

(Forgive me for the sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness ramble that this is — I have lots of complicated thoughts about beauty and purity and ma’at, and this is my best attempt at getting them out in a readable, coherent stream.)

When I think of ritual purity, I always think first of the beauty of ritual: the candlelight, the curls of incense in the air, the hushed illumination of the gods’ images.

Ma’at and purity aren’t always beautiful, though. Sometimes purity means getting your hands dirty to get them clean again. Sometimes ma’at means pain.

When my family home was flooded after Superstorm Sandy, we spent two weeks cleaning mud out of every room. The mud clung to everything. It was like a thick slime that coated the wood floors of our living room and dining room. It made it difficult to walk. It smelled. It left stains on our clothes that have never come out. I sacrificed a good pair of boots to that mud, wanting to keep it from finding its way between my toes. (It did anyway.) In spite of wearing gloves to keep the majority of the muck away from my skin, it found its way all over me. I would absent-mindedly brush hair out of my face, only to find I’d left swipes of mud all along my cheek.

Purification can be big. It can encompass numerous aspects of our lives. It is sometimes bigger than the preparations we make for ritual. Sometimes, when we do ritual in a state of purity for a long time, that purity begins to creep into our secular lives and slowly drag us into a greater state of balance. Sometimes that stings. We’re creatures of habit, us humans, and the process of realigning our priorities and our routines can be terrifying. In the process of cleaning up our lives, the “muck” sticks to us. We try to wash away the things that cause us grief, but they cling to us stubbornly; clinging to our toes despite our best attempts to keep them away. It’s not beautiful. It’s messy, and gross, and uncomfortable.

And yet: we do it anyway. Ma’at is not about being pretty all the time. Ma’at is about balance, action and reaction. Ma’at is about movement, the constant subtle shift of the scales in either direction. Ma’at is about conscious awareness of ourselves and the consequences of our actions. Whether we know it or not, we feel the subtle shifts in the scales we rest upon.

More on Perfection

I have to admit: a huge part of why this blog fell silent for so long had to do with perfectionism, and equating purity with perfection. Things in my life did not go according to plan. In October 2012, Sandy came through the New Jersey shore and put my family and I in a hotel suite for months. Even when we moved back in, we were living without a shower, without heat, without fully functioning electricity. And then my dad was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. And then it was finals for graduate school. And then it was time for my students their spring performances. Engagement, moving into my own apartment, holidays — it all snowballed, and my life became something I’d never expected. My faith took a hiatus, my priest work went to the minimum.

Through all of that, I was scared to write here. In my head, I heard endless criticism: You’re a priest, why aren’t you doing more? If you were a good priest, you wouldn’t be so focused on other things. If you aren’t going above and beyond, you don’t deserve to be called a priest. In my anxiety I felt that if I were to write something revealing my flaws and my struggles, then my audience would lose confidence in the community of priests, perceiving all priests as flawed. My suitability for the priesthood would be questioned. I’d be demoted. The gods would hate me.

I despise anxiety.

It’s all ridiculous, and I know that now. While I am held accountable for my writings and for my actions as a member of an organized priesthood, the likelihood that anyone is going to lose faith in priests and in the House of Netjer as a result of my writing? That’s probably pretty low.

Thus, my drive to strive for purity, not perfection: my words may be pure, but I am not perfect. I can speak truth, I can uphold ma’at, but I can’t be perfect. I am facing new battles, both large and small. I did not come to this point in my life without getting dinged up around my edges. I think it’s time to stop being so afraid to let the dings and scratches show.


Where did Sobeq go?

I… seem to have disappeared temporarily. Now that we’re about to head into the epagomenal days of year 20, I am slowly dipping my toes back into the blog-water. I had a veritable whirlwind of mundane life stuff that completely caught me up — coupled with a crippling crisis of faith that left me barely able to function, thanks to the severe anxiety it brought with it. I’ve never known anxiety that debilitating until then – I’d gotten it badly, but this was the first time I’d ever made it to “physically incabable of eating or leaving my bed” levels. Needless to say, there wasn’t much Sobeq to go around for those three weeks.

I did recently make the hard decision to scale back my priestly work to part-time long-term. Following Hurricane/”Superstorm” Sandy, it’s taken me a lot more time to get back to normal than I’d hoped. This is partly because our house is STILL not finished courtesy of incompetent contractors, and partly because of the aforementioned whirlwind of real life stuff. I’m moving out of my parents’ house very soon, for the first time since I moved into college. This time it’s for keeps though, with my fiancé.

Er – that’s rather new, too. In my absence, I got engaged! I said yes, of course, to a long time friend of mine (and comparatively short-time romantic partner, but hey, I don’t care). Then I was dunked headfirst into the strange and totally incomprehensible world of wedding planning. I have wisely assembled a shrine for the three goddesses who “volunteered” to involve Themselves in my planning process: Aset, Hethert, and Bast. More on Them in a separate post.

On the whole, I am feeling much recovered from my anxiety and crisis of faith. I still feel a jolt of oncoming terror now and then, but I am able to keep the levels low, thank goodness. My engagement is likely to come up again. I can only hope that in between all of my mundane, secular responsibilities, I’ll be able to ramp up my blogging attentions too. I miss it.

Back to Normal.

Life continues to slowly return back to normal. I re-opened my State shrine on Sunday. I am still only working a part-time priest’s schedule, as I ease myself back into normal life.

Having been away for so long, I expected I would have forgotten how to do the Rite; I expected I would have been awkward, stumbling through the ritual haltingly, like it was my first time. I was surprised to find tht it was as though I hadn’t spent a day away — much less more than half a year. There were some things that were more clumsy than they had been, but I suspect that had more to do with the changes I made to the shrine in reopening it.

As a gift to the gods, in gratitude for the ability to serve them, I was able to get Them the Icons they have been wanting to use; I also commissioned a pair of paintings for Them. I am absolutely thrilled with the paintings, and so are They. The paintings were done by another Kemetic Orthodox Shemsu, whose work can be found at her Etsy shop, Fall to Earth.

Paintings of Wepwawet and Sekhmet-Mut, and the Artisan's Guild statue of Wepwawet-Yinepu.
Paintings of Wepwawet and Sekhmet-Mut, and the Artisan’s Guild statue of Wepwawet-Yinepu.


Part of me feels guilty only returning part-time; the other part knows that I would burn out way too fast if I dove right back in. I worked my way up to a daily rite when I first applied to the priesthood. I started with weekly Senut, and eventually shifted to daily Senut, in preparation for the daily Rite. So I pace myself. I look forward to sharing more of my experiences here, as I have them with the gods.

And what was Their reaction to my return? It was quieter than I expected. We spent time together, and the candlelight was brighter than I remember. And that was good.

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.