Seasons and Gods

My gods seem to have an arrangement. In the summer, when the air is thick and humid and the sun is an unforgettable presence in the sky, my Mother comes forward. She teaches me about healing, about mercy, about justice. I feel Her wrap Her arms around me as the heat presses against my skin and the sun beats down on my shoulders. It feels like a dance, spun with red linen and turquoise, gold and lapis.

Slowly, as the heat wanes, She retreats and my Father comes forward. As the trees turn burning red and shed their leaves, He starts to whisper in my ear. He teaches me about magic, and authority, and the power to move effortlessly between any two places or roles. He is as crystal clear as the frigid air that starts to show my breath; strong and steadfast, the silence space between the mountains.

I am always my Mother’s child, and I am always my Father’s child — but as the seasons shift, so do They. Perhaps my Mother follows the Wandering Eye myth cycle, being distant at the winter solstice. Perhaps They just want to make things easy on me. Perhaps I’m the one making the division. Who knows? There are some things I just… don’t question, when it comes to the gods. 😉

An affirmation for all the working devotees.

You are allowed to be busy.
You are allowed to have days when you glance at the shrine and realize you won’t have a chance to revert the offerings you left to sit overnight.

You are allowed to make your worship time a few quick prayers on the way to work in the morning.

You are no less for being distant because life has other demands. Remember that even the priests in antiquity could work part-time. 

I firmly believe that if Netjer wanted us to spend every waking moment in worship and devotion, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be in the Seen world. 

Remember your shrine. Remember to go to work, to make dinner, and to do your laundry, too. It’s all about balance. 

Beware the Pigeon-Hole!

I recently had lunch with a handful of friends for the sake of discussing Wepwawet. It felt good to really dig into a conversation about Him with others who were interested in really engaging — something I’ve missed. I’ve held back from writing about all but my most outstanding experiences with Him over the past few years. I haven’t felt like my perspective was worth sharing, nor did I feel it would be well-received. So I kept quiet. In sharing at lunch, however, I was reminded that even those I consider well-versed in Jackal lore enjoy a good conversation — so I’ll give it a go.

I think we are coming dangerously close to pigeon-holing Wepwawet as “God of Opening the Way”.

Yes, that’s what His name literally translates to — but there’s much more than that. He is connected with the legitimization of the rule of the King; with transforming the King into a royal akh after death; with guiding the dead and opening the mouth; with war and victory; and more. He can be called the First Son and is often associated with Heru-sa-Aset, especially as Heru-Nedjitef, or Avenger of His Father.

It’s important to acknowledge that our gods are multifaceted and complex. Hethert, for example, is a goddess of love and women, but also of the dead and the afterlife. Set is the storm and the Outsider, but also the champion of Ra. Bast is a goddess of creativity and joy, but also a fierce protector and a powerful Eye of Ra. Even if we never need Wepwawet to connect us with the royal ancestors, or to authorize the King to rule*, or to guide us into war, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a part of His work. We don’t pigeon-hole our friends and family, and it would serve us not to do the same to the gods.

* if you’re Kemetic Orthodox like I am, you do need this part of Him!

 

Why all the photos of altars?

I had a bit of a run-away train of thought this afternoon while I was buying a set of lenses to enhance my iPhone photography skills. One of the brief stops was to wonder just why it is that during every Kemetic Orthodox group ritual I’ve attended, we pause to take photos of the altar — and not just one or two quick snapshots, either. There’s a good ten minute chunk of time devoted to making sure that each assemblage of candles, offerings, and images of Netjer is properly documented. We very occasionally take pictures of our fellowship before and after, and almost never take any photos during the ritual. It’s become something of a good-natured joke, now, that for every 20 photos of an altar, you’ll find one or two from the rest of the day.

I can see some sense in not taking pictures of each other relaxing and socializing. For one, not everyone is open about being Kemetic, and it can be hard to know who might be concerned about privacy and keeping their identity under wraps. For another, many people just don’t like being photographed, and don’t particularly want to be in front of the camera lens no matter how nice it would be to share photos of the event later.

I can see quite a bit of sense in not taking photos during the ritual. Taking photos during a sacred experience is distracting both to the photographer and the participants. These rituals are meant to be experienced in the moment. Even though having images to share with those who are unable to be physically present could be an asset, it would detract from the overall experience so greatly that we might lose more than we gain.

Still, I think a part of us wants to capture the closeness of community and the beauty of ritual without transgressing either of these boundaries — and what better to capture the spirit and essence of group worship than the altar around which we all gather? The ritual revolves around this focal point, and our fellowship revolves around the ritual. An altar is a carefully constructed place of devotion, and often for group worship we build it as a group. In lieu of photos of each other or of the actual ritual, therefore, we take pictures of the center point that draws us all in.

What we really seek to share, after all, is something intangible. The feeling of grace kneeling before the gods. The closeness in sharing laughter with others who believe as we do. These things can’t be captured on camera. From that perspective, why not take dozens of photos of the same altar? It is the nearest thing that can represent what we truly share when we worship together.

Love of the gods.

I’ll be the first one to admit that my perspective on all things Kemetic is fairly insular. I don’t look too far beyond the Kemetic Orthodox community. I browse Tumblr but don’t really engage much. So anything I speak about is going to come either from what I’ve learned in the House of Netjer, or what I’ve learned through my own interaction with the gods. All this is to say: I’m not the most informed on what other people believe, so I’m speaking purely from ignorance here and nothing more. (It’s possible that, given my ignorance, I should just keep my mouth shut — but where’s the fun in that?)

I’ve noticed huge diversity in how people describe their divine relationships. There’s some who almost give off a sense of distrust for the gods, as though They were so capricious that they might turn and bite their devotees on a whim. There’s some who seem to have a very casual relationship, coining cheeky nicknames and describing drinking matches. There’s god-spousery, which I have such trouble grasping for myself that I can only say “you do you” (and I mean that earnestly, not dismissively). There’s the business relationships, where devotees give offerings and are given heka in return. What I don’t see much is sacred love.

My love for my gods is massive. It swells up inside me so vast that my breath catches, and I want to lay at Their feet and sing Their praises every day. I believe in Their fallibility, and that sometimes They’re going to try to protect me and fail. I believe in Their beneficence, Their positive intent and good will. When They challenge me, I thrill inwardly that I am strong enough to be challenged. When I kneel in Their presence I feel Their brilliance renewing me, and I am overwhelmed with happiness to know Their grace.

I know there’s not a lot of emphasis on this kind of ecstatic love in antiquity. There’s enough, to be sure, in the stelae and inscriptions that carry messages from ancient devotees. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when discussing the distinguishing qualities of ancient Egyptian religious practices, however. The precision, the purity, the constancy with which the priests attended to their gods all get much more attention, and rightfully so. The ancient priests had honoring the gods down to a science.

Maybe it’s just my quirk. Maybe it’s a holdover from my Catholic days (which are soon to be less than half my life, somehow). Or maybe it’s just not a topic of interest to other writers right now. I’d love to see more of it though. I have my casual days too. I sing along to “Back in Black” for the Jackal and offer my Mother the first sips of beer when I’m relaxing. But it’s that love that moves me to Their shrine again and again; it’s the warmth and light They radiate, and the way my heart swells when I am in Their presence.

All this is meant not as criticism, but as a call to share. If you feel the same ecstatic love I feel, wax poetic. If you don’t… well, what do you feel? What keeps you coming back to the gods?

Featured image from https://unsplash.com/grakozy .