The more things change…

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.

On Not Learning Lessons.

In ancient Egypt, there’s this funny thing called ma’at. Ma’at is a complicated topic. It can be defined as “universal order”, or “balance”; it can be conceived of as “justice” or “right action”; it can even be seen as a kind of law of returns in it’s own way. I admit I’ve never had a consistent grasp on what ma’at means. Whenever I think I really get it, it starts to slip between my fingers, and I have to adjust my perception. Right now, ma’at looks a lot like one of Newton’s laws to me. Everything has a consequence. A real, immediate, tangible consequence will follow any action you take. If you eat, you won’t be hungry anymore. If you put your hand in a fire, you will get burned. If someone stabs you, you’re going to start bleeding. Simple.

Of course it’s not simple. Because life will eternally present us with difficult and unexpected challenges, making us question what we’ve done to deserve them. It’s human nature to wonder what’s making us hurt, I suppose. An example: I have managed to pick up some kind of virus or cold roughly every three weeks for the last five months. My instinct is to shake my fist at the sky and wonder what I did to bring this upon myself. Did the gods decide I needed to learn something by being sick? Did I piss off a doctor in a past life? Did I give some poor old lady the flu by not getting my flu shot? Is this a message that I’m doing something wrong?

First: the gods don’t want to hurt us. I’m using a fairly innocuous example here, so maaaybe the gods are trying to teach me something by guiding me into situations where I’m likely to pick up some kind of fairly benign bug — but this vein of thinking gets dangerous when we start to wonder about deaths, or serious injuries, or chronic illnesses. The gods really don’t want you to go through the world-rending pain that major trauma invokes. Do the gods want you to learn from your experiences and grow? Yes. Did they send an eighteen-wheeler to cut you off so you’d spin out on the highway, break your leg and wind up unable to work for several months? The likelihood is so low it might as well be impossible.

Second: ma’at exists in the present. There’s very little evidence in antiquity for the concept of accountable reincarnation. There is some evidence for reincarnation, I hear (I don’t exactly know the details so don’t quote me) but the general attitude is always that you are held accountable for your accumulated goodness or badness at the time of death. This makes a lot of sense if you consider the complex structure of the soul and its multiple parts; different pieces of the soul do different things after death, so if only part of you is going to reincarnate, how can that piece be held accountable for something that happened while it was just working as a piece of a whole? That’s like punishing someone’s lung for giving them kidney stones.

Third: ma’at is generally direct and straightforward. If you eat, you won’t be hungry. If you drop a vase, it will break. If you curse someone out, they won’t want to spend time with you again and your relationship will deteriorate. If you offer to the gods, they’ll be more present in your life. Ma’at rarely operates in enigmatic ways.

So then why did I get sick so many times? Well, I work with children. I was stressed about planning a wedding, and finishing the winter semester for both work and grad school. I was spending more time with people in general to get ready for my own wedding and to celebrate other weddings. It was also the beginning of cold weather. All those things add up to heightened probability of illness. That’s where ma’at is in all of this; not pulling some invisible strings that I could never hope to understand, but woven through the circumstances that lead to very sniffly results. Is there a lesson to be learned from all my minor illnesses? Maybe, but it probably doesn’t have much to do with the gods.

Sometimes, things just happen. Just because we live in a world that is touched by gods and spirits doesn’t mean we don’t also follow natural laws and processes; it also doesn’t mean that those gods and spirits touch every single thing in the world. When life gets you down and you’re cursing the gods for putting you in a bad position, just remember — ma’at doesn’t punish, it reacts. Take steps to bring goodness into your life, even if it is small, and goodness will come into your life, to be multiplied and cherished.

(NB: ma’at can also be conceived of as the natural order of things (sunrises, seasonal changes, the annual flood, etc). In this case, following the natural order of things, or doing what is right, is also ma’at. The concept of ma’at as right action is interconnected with ma’at as reaction. When you do things “in ma’at” the reaction is a magnification of natural and moral order. And since it is natural for there to be a reaction for every action… ma’at magnifies itself. I could write any number of blog posts on the subject and probably not come close to explaining ma’at in its entirety, but that’s the simplest thorough explanation I can give.)

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.

W’ab Wednesday: Ritual purity or ridiculous purity?

AKA “Yes, Netjer wants you to wear deodorant.”

When I first became Kemetic, I was obsessed with ritual purity. I was dedicated to being as ritually pure in all things as possible. I was more than a little misguided. I read somewhere that the processed chemicals present in my body washes and shampoos were technically ritually impure. I ditched my cheap grocery store products and sprung for goat’s milk soap and all-natural shampoos and conditioners. I entirely changed my daily bathing routine and offered it to the gods. I felt wonderful; I felt as though I carried some kind of purity with me wherever I went. And in the event that I had to put something on my body that included something deemed ritually impure (read: synthetic or derived from a waste product), I waited until after all rituals were finished.

This unfortunately included deodorant.

Thanks to the magic of air conditioning and cold winter climate, I never had a problem going without deodorant in shrine. Senut isn’t a particularly lengthy ritual, and my shrine never got particularly hot. I found myself feeling not-so-fresh during a few online ritual simulcasts, but since those were attended at a distance, I didn’t mind. Then I went to the House of Netjer’s annual Wep Ronpet Retreat for the first time. In August. Where many rituals took place without air conditioning.

Let me just apologize now to anyone who sat next to me during those rituals.

Eventually I took up the priesthood as a full-time w’ab priest, which meant I spent more time in shrine, more frequently. I started working full time, and also enrolled in graduate school. The time I had to spend washing up for shrine, doing the rites, and then attending to my own physical self-care, became limited. I started to skip moisturizing because I couldn’t fit it into my routine. I ignored my skincare routines. Effectively, I was avoiding anything that I would have to postpone until after shrine, because my time and energy were more limited.

I started feeling stressed out and neglected, and I wondered whether the gods really cared if I put body lotion on in between finishing my purification in the shower, and starting Their rituals. It would keep my legs from itching, and being distracted by constant dry skin sounded like a detriment to purity to me. I tried it out. When the gods didn’t come screaming from Their shrines, I wondered out loud at Them whether They would mind if I fit my missing self-care in between purification and ritual. Their answer surprised me.

To summarize what They said: attending to oneself is a kind of purification too. It doesn’t do the gods any good if you walk around feeling crappy because you spent so much time in shrine that you didn’t get to pluck your eyebrows, or if your skin dries out and you spend so much time scratching your shins furiously that you start bleeding. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary. Sometimes, giving something up or making serious changes to our routine can bring us closer to the gods. And sometimes, it’s just a roadblock to doing real, important work. Or it makes us smelly and our neighbors uncomfortable.

The moral of the story is that the point of ritual purity is to avoid carrying unnecessary dirt and ickiness into the presence of the gods, both physically and metaphysically. Obsessing over ritual purity to the point where you start directly bringing these things into the presence of the gods is entirely counterproductive. Wash up before shrine, but don’t let it get in the way of living or being presentable for the ritual. Learn from my mistakes.