I found ma’at between my couch cushions.

My ma’at feather necklace had been missing for a few weeks. I couldn’t quite recall where I had taken it off; normally I would have laid it on the nightstand with my wedding ring, after taking off my jewelry for the day. At some point I had deviated from the norm, and it was missing. I muddled through in spite of its disappearance.

I didn’t have much time to think about it. I worked 10 days without a break, sometimes 18 hours a day. I pushed myself into socializing, into taking on responsibilities, into sneaking into my work email to check on things even when I was supposed to be relaxing. I pushed and pushed myself. I spent my one day off doing chores and cleaning, and I hurt my back cleaning the cat litter. I kept working. I kept pushing.

I had fallen into a pattern of neglecting my own needs. It went beyond trampling my own boundaries at work — I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t giving myself the space to breathe in my daily life.

Finally, on a Sunday, I caught a cold. Just a cold, complete with runny nose, scratchy throat, and fatigue. I worked Monday, and pushed through feeling run-down and crummy. That night I fought with myself. Would I push through and go to work, or would I pull back, rest, and allow myself to do better the rest of the week? Finally, I put my own foot down. I would rest.

On my sick day, I was fluffing the couch cushions to prepare for some extra-strength Doing Absolutely Nothing when something caught my eye between the cushions — a silver chain. I picked it up and there it was — my ma’at feather.

All at once the symbolism of the moment struck me. This was my life. My priorities were all mixed up. I was working too hard and ignoring my needs. My self-care was in the toilet, and ma’at was shoved in between the couch cushions. Pulling my life back into ma’at by taking care of myself allowed me to pull my pendant back out from hiding.

This is my new commitment: to focus back in on what is important and necessary to live according to ma’at. To balance my work–which very much feeds my heart and soul, but is also emotionally draining–with my religious practice and social needs, but also with basic self-care: making time to eat right, sleep well, and care for my physical and mental health.

Everything is falling apart and it sucks.

Drama. Chaos. Upheaval.

We struggle with these issues in our life every day. We see our friends bickering, our co-workers cheating, our superiors ignoring their duties. We see laws broken and justice ignored.

No matter what we do, we always seem to see some disruption around us. Sometimes it nudges its way into our personal life, and it feels absolutely awful. Even when we’re not directly involved, seeing the people we love hurting or feeling lost hurts us too. We ask ourselves the perennial question: how did things get so bad? Why can’t things be like they were before?

Chaos has always been a part of the human condition, and it most likely always will. There is a class of literature in Ancient Egypt often simply called “Lamentations”. I am not talking about the ritual text where Aset and Nebthet seek and mourn Wesir. I am talking about texts where JoeHotep sits down and writes the equivalent of a blog post about how miserable everything is getting. Everything is falling apart and it sucks.

And yet – Egypt endured for thousands more years after the writing of these texts. Consider The Dialogue of a Man and His Soul. It was written around the Twelfth Dynasty — and yet the world did not end. Other similar dialogues were also written long before the end of Ancient Egypt as we conceive of it today.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the present and feel like there is no solution to our suffering. It’s easy to dismiss solutions and think nothing will ever change. In times of grief and chaos I turn to these lamentations and take comfort in knowing that if these ancestors could feel so lost and yet have their words endure through the millennia, I can make it to next Tuesday without being lost in the chaos.

It’s okay to be different.

When we talk about Ancient Egypt, we’re really talking about a society that spanned thousands of years. The culture varied, social norms varied — while the ancient people valued ma’at, tradition, and consistency, there is evidence in surviving art and literature of an evolving people.

I’ll be honest – I don’t really follow what’s going on with the larger polytheist community. Even though I have a tumblr, I don’t really use it to socialize. I haven’t had that kind of time (though now that I’m about to finish my master’s degree, that might change). But I’ve seen some talk about people feeling unwelcome — or being unwelcome — because of how they worship.

Here’s the thing: if Kemet itself varied over time, and we are basing what we do off of Kemet, doesn’t it stand to reason that there’s room for all of us under the umbrella? I might not agree with how some people choose to honor the gods, but I certainly won’t tell them not to do it that way. And if someone tells me I’m worshiping wrong, I don’t immediately assume I’m in the wrong.

I can’t tell anyone what to do. I will suggest that anyone who is thinking of telling someone they’re wrong in their relationship with the gods, should take a step back and question why they are so concerned with what other people are doing, and not what they are doing. I will also suggest that anyone who hears that what they are doing is wrong should remember that Kemet itself contained a variety of attitudes toward the gods.

I’m told that even the ancients were making complaints about each other – see “The Admonitions of Ipu-wer” or “The Discourse of a Man and his Ba”. And somehow, they survived thousands of years. If they can do it, so can we.

Fighting for Her

Presently, I find myself in a position where I need to assert myself rather strongly in order to receive the professional respect I deserve, as well as resources and opportunities that were agreed upon at the outset of a professional undertaking. I am being necessarily vague. The details are not important, but the subsequent result is: I need to fight for myself.

This is not a battle of human rights; I have not been oppressed or abused (although there may be some questionable gender and age dynamics at play). I am a successful, professional woman, and I am not being afforded the respect, honesty, or ethical treatment I deserve by my professional superiors. And so I will fight for it.

I offer this fight to my Mother. I offer my righteous indignation to Her. I offer the straightness of my spine when I walk into a superior’s office; I offer the friendly smile I flash at those who I know have tried to stab me in the back. I offer the carefully constructed cadence of my speech and every contact I make in trying to make this right. I wear Her colors, Her sacred jewelry, the cosmetics and perfumes I have offered to Her in the past.

You do not mess with a child of Sekhmet the Queen.

Featured image: “Lioness with bloody muzzle” by Tambako the Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0

I’m a Bad Kemetic.

I have been a bad Kemetic.

I have been a lazy priest. I have rushed my rituals and gone through the half-assed motions. I have made skimpy offerings of bread and cool water rather than digging through my kitchen to put together the food and tea I set aside earlier in the week. I have been tired, and distracted, and angry, and bored at the feet of my gods.

I have used heka to feed my anxiety. I have nervously chewed my nails, speaking and re-speaking my intention into glasses of water, into mirrors, into burning flames. I have yelled at the gods when I did not get my way. I have greedily grabbed whatever tools on hand, demanding they effect change right now. I have refused to plan my heka, taking my chances on whatever I could throw together.

I have ignored ma’at in favor of getting what I want. I have talked about others behind their backs. I have omitted the truth because it was easier that way. I have lied because it was convenient. I have been self-important, and dishonest, and arrogant. I have complained when Her scales swung me back into order.

I have let my shrines get dusty. I have shrugged off the call of my gods, whispering under my breath to come listen to Them. I have let the cool water of the akhu run dry. I have let flowers die on my altar, withering and becoming smelly. I have let ants get into the offering bread and let mice chew on the candles. I have let the home of the gods in my home become stale. I have been a bad Kemetic.

I have been a good Kemetic, too. I have closed my eyes and felt the gods calling and let myself drift in Their presence. I have recorded the names of my akhu, I have spoken their names, and I have encouraged my family to speak their names too. I have spoken for ma’at when Her words were not easy. I have given of myself to improve the world, and honored the gods in doing so.

I have brought my gods wine, beer, flowers, incense, spices, chocolates, gemstones and jewelry, tea and coffee, red meat and cool, refreshing water–and They have been satisfied. I have done heka earnestly with the skill granted to me by the gods, and I have changed my world. I have been Their diviner, Their priest, Their shemsu and Their child. I have served Them daily, bringing Them ma’at and bread and water, letting love and adoration wash over Them every day like zep tepi.  I have been devoted with my heart and with my hands.

I have been a good Kemetic.

I have been a good Kemetic, and I have been a bad one. I have done right by the gods, and I have done wrong. No matter what I write in this blog–no matter how much I may share about how deeply I love my gods and how deeply I want to live in Their service–I have screwed up as much as I have done right. Sometimes I screwed up in my inexperience, clumsily fumbling until I knocked over candles, or spilled the libations, or called one god by another’s name. Sometimes it was circumstance–the mice that got into the shrine were certainly uninvited, as were the ants.

And sometimes? Sometimes I just dropped the ball. I got lazy. I wanted to sleep in instead of greet zep tepi. I thought I knew better. And it’s okay. I’m human, and you’re human, and we’re all just doing the best that we can in the presence of beings who can be terrifyingly, awe-inspiringly magnificent.

I intend to keep screwing up, too–because as long as I am doing this, I’m going to screw it up too. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not trying. If I’m not dropping the ball, I’m probably not carrying it either.

I will be a good Kemetic, so I will have to be a bad one too.

The more things change…

"Sage Advice" by Randy Helnitz is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I am no longer serving as a w’ab priest in Kemetic Orthodoxy.

I made the decision to end my service after reflecting on the changes that are coming up for me in my secular life. My career is shifting, my academic pursuits are reaching culmination, my married life still needs my attention. (Let me make it clear, in case the following paragraphs do not: I have no bad feelings toward Kemetic Orthodoxy and the House of Netjer, nor am I withdrawing my membership. I remain a Shemsu-Ankh, as devoted as ever to the community and the gods.)

When I asked about serving as a priest, I felt like starting my service before these changes came up would allow me to integrate w’ab service into my life, so that when I got busy, I would already be used to prioritizing the gods. I never could have predicted that after one year of service, my father would become seriously injured and then ill, causing my brother to move into the room that housed my shrine. I never would have imagined that the ground floor of our house would be swept by flooding, displacing me and my family for months. I never dreamed I would be getting married, nor did I have any clue that getting married would be the overwhelming, over-saturating event that it would turn out to be. Now I am finishing my Masters degree, which requires three semesters of practical training and two comprehensive exams.

Finally, a challenge I expected.

Because I had the luxury of knowing what was coming, I took some time to think about whether this would become a roadblock to my service. And the answer was yes. Spending even more time away from home, with no less need for things like laundry, food, sleep, social interaction, etc. was going to cut into the time I could devote to actually doing the work of a priest — something I had already begun to feel too cramped to accommodate.

In fact, ever since coming back after the storm, I’ve felt disorganized and aimless in my priest work. I’ve been unmotivated. I’ve loved serving the gods, but something wasn’t right. It is my hope that if it is appropriate for me to return to serving as a priest, this time to serve and honor myself will help me find direction again. While I do feel a sense of loss having given up my service, I also feel excited at the opportunity to know my gods in a freer, less business-like setting. To explore myself and my relationship with Kemet again. To simply light candles and sit in Their presence and feel like it is enough. My life is changing dramatically in so many other arenas that I cannot imagine that my relationship with the gods would not change too.

Here’s to letting change change me.

Featured image is “Sage Advice” by Randy Heinitz, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Locus of Control — Then and Now

How has your practice changed since you started out? How did you find your place within the Kemetic sphere? Are there things you do now that you didn’t then? Things you weren’t expecting? What have you learned through trial and error that newbs may find helpful or useful?

This week’s Kemetic Roundtable is about our journeys from beginning Kemetics to where we are now. I’ve written pretty extensively about how things have changed since coming to the House of Netjer. I’ve been blogging since early on in my journey, too, so a lot of these changes are chronicled in this blog. I don’t feel like I really have anything meaningful to add to what I’ve already written right now, so if you’d like to read about where I’ve been and where I’ve gone, you can read my posts tagged “My Journey“. There’s a lot of material there – please feel free to browse through it and learn from my mistakes. I’d much rather focus on the part of the topic that asks about what I have learned through trial and error — and what I do differently now.

When I think of the way my path has changed over the last eight or nine years, there is one thing that jumps out at me immediately: locus of control.

locus of control n.
A theoretical construct designed to assess a person’s perceived control over his or her own behavior. The classification internal locus indicates that the person feels in control of events; external locus indicates that others are perceived to have that control. (source: Dictionary.com)

Basically, locus of control is a fancy way of talking about perceived responsibility in a situation. Is it me who creates my own circumstances, or is someone else in charge?

When I first became Kemetic, my religious locus of control was way external. The gods were in charge of everything. Did I want to offer Them a fancy stone? No, They wanted me to offer it to Them. Did I feel like I should read about Wepwawet? No, He wanted me to read about Him. Everything was Netjer-directed and I bore little to no responsibility for what I sought from my relationships with the gods.

The problem with external locus of control is that it can become extreme – and that can be a problem. If your locus of control becomes so external that you dismiss every occurrence in your life as “it’s just what the gods want”…. it becomes easy to see how that can lead to ignoring personal responsibility in any number

For example: when someone feels “drawn” to purchase an expensive, pretty offering in spite of having significant bills – how much of that is the will of the gods, and how much of that is the devotees desire to have a shiny offering on their shrine? Even if the gods do truly want that offering – do we really believe that the gods are selfish enough to demand that Their devotees go bankrupt for Them? What purpose would that serve?

That kind of thinking can spread to practical actions, the kinds of offerings you give – it can completely rob devotees of their personal agency in their Kemetic practices. And yet we sort of encourage it by valuing a deep connection with the gods. Make no mistake – you can have a deep connection with the gods, and still be in control of your relationship with the gods.

Back when I was new, I was all about the gods being in charge. The greatest thing I have learned in the last 9 years is that while the gods might be huge, powerful, demanding, and guiding my life in mysterious ways — They also don’t control me, and I am allowed to work on Their requests within my own boundaries and my own limitations. The biggest thing I wish for any new Kemetic is for them to find that balance between listening to their gods, and being in control of their own practice.