On Offerings.

I recently had a fantastic conversation with my husband. We were doing our weekly grocery shopping, and I was browsing the candy aisle for something to offer in shrine while idly discussing the options with hubby. Our conversation prompted him to ask why I choose to offer foods I enjoy to the gods, over things that They like, but I don’t.

From my husband’s understanding, it makes more sense for a priest to sacrifice their own enjoyment and make offerings that the gods prefer. For example: I don’t particularly care for red wine, but I know Sekhmet Herself likes it very much. For the sake of my husband’s argument, let’s say that it is Her favorite offering, above all other things1. Her enjoyment of red wine would therefore take precedence over my preference for other offerings She enjoys less, such as pomegranate juice or beer. The fundamental assumption here is that the purpose of making an offering is to provide the gods with something They like, to make Them happy. It’s a reasonable assumption, but it oversimplifies what an offering actually is.

Offerings do more than just satisfy the gods with the things They like; they create an exchange between devotee and deity. Making an offering requires the expense of time, effort, and energy. The devotee chooses the offering, prepares it, engages in the offering ritual (however simple or complex it may be), then partakes of the offering, thus sharing it with the deity. All of these steps are as much an offering as the food or drink itself. The deity partakes not only of the Unseen essence of what is offered, but also the energy and time spent in making the offering. The devotee not only receives the blessing of the deity by partaking of the offering, but develops their relationship with the deity through this exchange.

If the purpose of making offerings was purely to give the gods Their favorite stuff, then it would make sense to prioritize what the gods like rather than trying to compromise. Making an offering is more than just giving a god something They want. In reality, negotiating what will be offered is a part of the process, and contributes to the meaningfulness and appropriateness of the offerings. It is an exchange of time, thought, devotion, and effort (and sometimes money, though I find the gods often include that under effort already).

Time is spent choosing the offerings, preparing them in advance of the ritual. Thought goes into choosing an appropriate offering to share, which both god and devotee can enjoy — as well as the logistics of making the offering. (Will I offer loose tea leaves, or brewed tea? Raw meat, or a cooked meal?) Devotion prompts the desire to make offerings and spend time in ritual with the god, to show appreciation or ask for help. Effort goes into finding, preparing, and purchasing the offerings. Our work provides the money we spend; our research the knowledge of where to find what we are looking for; our physical energy the act of getting up and going out to get it.2

Next time you make an offering, consider these four factors. I have often made “simple” offerings and felt guilty for not doing more. When you consider the offering from a holistic perspective and acknowledge the time, thought, devotion, and effort it takes to arrange, even the simplest offering can feel elaborate.


1. I have no reason to believe that Sekhmet prefers red wine over any other red beverage — but in my husband’s example, there would be a “favorite offering” which would take precedence over all other offerings. So we will pretend for a moment.

2. This is why I find that what I call “macaroni art for the gods” is so well-received — that is, rough or clumsy-looking offerings made in earnest, like a piece of macaroni art made by a small child lovingly hung on the refrigerator door by their family. It takes time, thought, devotion, and effort to make these kinds of offerings. A first attempt at baking bread or a simple devotional necklace can be as effective as store-bought, if done sincerely.

Gratitude

What are you thankful for in this religion? How are you blessed?

My gratitude for my religion is vast and complicated. I am grateful for the relationships I have forged; for the experiences I have had; for the opportunity to honor the gods and serve as Their priest.

I am thankful, because I came to this religion as an adolescent, still developing my sense of self, my moral code, and my way of thinking about the world. Growing into adulthood in this religion has helped to shape who I am and how I approach the world.

Above all else, though, I think I am grateful for the attitude towards gratitude that I have learned through this community. Hemet (AUS) places a great deal of emphasis on gratitude in her teachings – gratitude to the gods, to the ancestors, to our teachers. The first prayer I offer to my gods each time I enter my shrine is “thank You”.

(Forgive the slightly disjointed ramble; I am trying to exercise the philosophy that it’s better to write poorly than not to write at all.)

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Nebt-het, Consoler and Comforter.

[content warning: suicide; death]

One of Nebt-het’s many roles is as the mourning Sister of Wesir. She feels the sharp pang of His loss, and grieves his death with Aset. As such, She is often called upon to comfort those who mourn. In this role, She stands beside those who are grieving their own losses, serving as an example that loss can be endured–even overcome. I have felt Her presence near another kind of grief, in the course of my work in the mental health field. I have felt Her standing with those who are suicidal.

Nearly a year ago, I started working as a clinician for emergency psychiatric services in a hospital emergency room. It’s hard and humbling work. When I started working, I noticed I felt Her with me as I sat with people struggling with suicide. A quiet, tearfully tender presence, She filled the background space of my days as I stepped in and out of people’s lives during their most painful moments.

To be suicidal is to feel a kind of grief. Both grief and suicidal ideation can be overwhelming, suffocating, and feel inescapable. Both tell the lie that there can be no return to happiness or peace. As Comforter and Consoler, Nebt-het walks with those who suffer. She offers Her love and reassurance that pain is survivable. She offers a quiet plea to all those who suffer: “no pain will last forever.” She has also greeted those who have come to Her by suicide, and seen their pain as they mourn their own loss.

Suicide is one of the most painful experiences, be it loss of a loved one to suicide or recovery from a survived attempt. Nebthet the Mourner is with all of us as we grieve and as we struggle.

O Nebthet, Great Consoler,
may You watch over and protect all those who suffer.
You, who endured the loss of Your brother,
Who stood by Your sister as She wept
and felt Her heart breaking, as our hearts break too–
may You help them hold steady;
may You stand by their sides;
may You embrace them and their pain
and may You bring them peace of mind. 

[NB: this prayer may be used for oneself, for a loved one, or for those who suffer in general. To use for oneself, the first line will end with “protect me, who suffers,” and in all other lines  the third person pronoun changes to first person. To use for a specific person, the first line will end with “protect [name], who suffers,”, and all other pronouns will change to third person singular.]

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, I urge you to seek support from a mental health professional. Reach out to a friend or loved one. You are loved, and you are not alone.

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Money – it’s a drag.

Thanks to Pink Floyd for the title inspiration. 😉

Money is a fraught subject, especially when it comes to donations to religious organizations. Most polytheists and pagans are converts from “mainstream” religions, where collection plates are passed around during services each week, and tithing from one’s paycheck is to be expected.

We are also taught by concerned friends and family that we need to beware of groups that seek our financial contributions. We are warned away from religions that require numerous financial donations, because they could be dangerous cults.

And culturally (at least in the West) we are taught that one should never spend money without getting something in return.

A request for donations from a religious group, therefore, can feel like a major affront. What will I get in exchange for my donation? Is this the start of a sinister series of attempts to drain my bank account? This is just like my Christian church, isn’t it.

Let’s be real. Any organization incurs operational costs. If the organization has a website, that’s a cost right there — for web-hosting and domain registration and general upkeep and maintenance. Does the group have insurance? That’s a cost. Does the group own property? That’s another cost. Is the group tax exempt? Does the group employ an accountant or any other external vendors to help manage operations? Does the group pay any full-time clergy or staff?

It adds up fast.

So what do you get in exchange for your donation? You get all the services and resources that you enjoy as a member of your organization. Sure, nobody is going to turn you away if you don’t make a contribution, but the costs are still going to be there.

How can you tell if a donation request is genuine or an attempt to steal all your money? Well, is the group pushing you to go beyond your means, or are they asking for a donation of “whatever you can contribute”? Is the group trying to sell you on expensive retreats or equipment that you can’t afford, and then questioning your dedication if you don’t buy in? Is the group open to you whether you donate or not? A dangerous cult will push you beyond your means, and ridicule you or shun you when you can’t exceed them. A group that is asking for donations in earnest will encourage you to give what you can on a regular basis, and be understanding when you can’t.

Is this just like your Christian church? Maybe. Part of the reason Christian churches do so well is that there is an expectation that members will make contributions to the operations of the church. Many churches and parishes have financial support from a central leadership — and many pagan or polytheist groups are the only one of their kind, so they lack that support.

Don’t be hasty to judge a group for asking for money. If you participate in a group, and you have some cash to spare, consider making a donation towards the services you receive as a member. It’s not rude, or money-grubbing, or sinister to ask your members for money. It’s reality!

The House of Netjer is asking for money. We are asking our members to make whatever contributions they can to the operations of our temple. If you are a member, and you can make a contribution of even $5, it can go a long way. (Does anyone else remember that commercial with Roma Downey for some children’s charity — “With your $5 and your $5…” — just me? Right, then.) And if you can’t spare $5, then don’t.

Even if you aren’t a member, if you believe in supporting organized polytheist religion, you are invited to contribute. We may not honor the same gods, but we do well when we support each other.

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Welcome back to W’ab Wednesday

Note: this post contains opinion, not doctrine of any kind, and is intended as thought-provoking contemplation rather than instructional writing.

W’ab Wednesday is a series I started for writing about purity. To recap, in brief: I am a lay priest, or w’ab priest, in Kemetic Orthodoxy. In this context, the word w’ab translates to “pure”, “purity”, or “to be pure”. My job is to be a ritual technician, and a large portion of that means maintaining something called “ritual purity” — meaning, a state of spiritual and physical cleanliness in which the highest rituals may be performed.

Ritual purity isn’t a requirement for worship of the gods. Prayer and offerings made without ritual purity still count. So why bother?

To state the obvious — the gods don’t live where we do. They live in the Duat, while we live in the physical world. When we pray or make offerings, we are trying to communicate from one world into the next. The more ritually pure we are, the more effective our interactions with the gods and the Duat will be. Impurity — things like physical dirt, Unseen dirt, distractions, etc. — is the static that interferes with our communication.

This is partly why I believe so strongly in the concept of purity as a continuum. We will never have 100% effective communication to the Duat as living humans. The more we can shed the dirt of everyday living, the closer we can scoot to operating at full capacity (which will vary from person to person).

When doing State rituals, like the priests’ rite or certain holiday rituals, we want to be sure there is as little “static” as possible — hence the requirement for more purity. There is bigger heka here, so it’s easier for the static to get in the way. Informal offerings and casual candle-lightings are harder to mess up, so the purity requirement is much lower.

The Return of the King

I felt completely lost when it came to the Mysteries of Wesir when I first became Kemetic. Wesir was hard for me to grasp, having quite a bit in common with the gods of the faith I had just left — died, resurrected, ruling in the place where dead people go — so maybe I steered clear of Him “accidentally-on-purpose”.

I tried to wrestle with the holiday when I was in the midst of my existential crisis. I wanted to understand it so badly. I felt like if I understood it, maybe I wouldn’t be so scared of it. I threw myself at it, and didn’t have much luck — trying to understand a god by force doesn’t work all that well, I discovered.

This year, somehow, celebrating the festival felt right for the first time. I traveled down to Virginia for a vigil ritual hosted by one of the temple’s ordained clergy, Reverend Heruakhetymose. As myself and fellow w’ab Shefytbast headed south, the landscape became more and more rural, and we noticed how the changing of the leaves mirrored the season of the death of Wesir.

The vigil itself felt like an ordeal we undertook with Wesir, standing at His side as He underwent the mysterious journey from death to life in the Duat1. Each hour, on the hour, we entered the shrine room in silence. The room was variously lit in a dim purple glow or by candle light, and I took up a drum to count the minutes until the hour struck. At the second of the hour I let the drum fall silent, and myself and fellow priests performed the ritual while the rest of those gathered offered henu. After the ritual concluded and we spent a few moments in silent contemplation, I took up the drum again, and we left as silently as we came.

And then we passed the hour until the next one.

We played games, we had snacks, we watched silly videos and talked about everything and nothing. We sat curled under blankets and watched parts of The Mummy. We shared our time and our kindness together — until our alarms chimed that it was time to prep for the next hour’s ritual, and we took up the mantle of silence for Wesir again.

By dawn, we were exhausted. Many of us had napped at least once, but we were pretty punchy. And yet, as we entered the shrine room in silence for the final ritual of resurrection, an unexpected lightness carried us onward. The gods felt… not joyful, but at peace, where the previous hours felt heavy with mourning and transformation. Wesir assumed His throne in the Duat, caring for our ancestors, and providing a home for us after our lives are done.

We made our final offerings of the day to Wesir after we had all had an opportunity to rest and sleep some. We celebrated His re-establishment to life in the Duat, we thanked Him for His sacrifice to create a home for us after death, and we thanked Him for being with us. And then — we snacked on offerings during the day. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and watched cartoons, shared stories, and laughed quite a bit. We watched a wintery storm roll in and ate leftovers. It felt like being with family. And in the end, I think that’s what He wanted: for us to be together, to honor His journey together, and to rise together after the ordeal of the vigil and come together again.

I won’t say I properly understand His mysteries now; but I will say I feel much closer to Him, and that I’m grateful for the opportunity His mysteries gave me to grow closer with my community.


Footnotes:

  1. Underworld, or afterlife, or “Unseen World”. Generally, where gods and ancestors live.

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.