On sabbaticals.

Taking time off from serving as a priest of my deities has been one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. When I made the decision to temporarily suspend my service, I grieved a little. I felt like I was giving up, like I was losing a piece of myself, like I was a failure. My inability to remain committed to my worship felt like a personal fault, rather than the natural consequence of increased academic and professional requirements.

In response, I withdrew from everything. I stopped doing Senut and stopped tending my shrines. Everything came to a halt, until I slowly picked up one thread at a time. I briefly engaged with other pantheons. I worked at connecting with the most basic forces that drew me to polytheist — the spirits of the land and the Divine Itself. I began to feel enthusiastic about engaging with the Divine again. By Wep Ronpet, I felt like engaging with the gods again — and engage I did, worshipping with fervor during Retreat.

Senut began to feel fulfilling again. As I was doing my priest work, it had started to feel meaningless, like a lot of vague hand-waving that didn’t do anything.

More than that, my desire to serve the gods rose in me again. It had dwindled over the past four years, to become vaguely burdensome. I found myself planning research, sketching out festival rites, envisioning my reconstructed shrine.

I dropped everything, and then picked up one piece at a time, and it has been restorative in a way I never imagined it would. I am patiently waiting for my internship to end to consider returning to service with renewed purpose.

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…

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.

KRT: On Priesthood.

I wrote this really long post about priesthood for the Kemetic Roundtable, and then WordPress cruelly devoured it. I’m going to try to re-create it, but honestly? I was so damn proud of that post. Anything I write about it now is just not going to be as good.

What about modern priesthood? What does being a priest mean in the modern era?

The way I see it, priesthood is about service. It’s about doing something – heka, ritual, whatever – on behalf of a deity, for the benefit of someone besides yourself. If a god is asking you to do something of the sort – congratulations, you’re more or less doing the work of a priest.

I try to be fairly transparent about being a Kemetic Orthodox w’ab priest, though I don’t always blog about my experiences as such. Within Kemetic Orthodoxy, you are not only working for the gods, but you are backed up by your training – your knowledge is supported and verified by another group of people, and you are held accountable for what you know and do. A modern priest, therefore, is someone who performs rituals and heka on behalf of their deity or deities, and who is supported in their work by their community.

Being a priest is not about:

  • Getting it right all the time
  • Knowing what you are doing all the time
  • Having a clear and infallible connection to the gods
  • Feeling constantly competent
  • Being universally acknowledged for your service

As a priest, I spend a considerable amount of time running around going “Is this what You want? Am I doing what You’re asking me to do?” all the while trying not to act too much like I am flailing around in confusion. I don’t always understand what They want, or how to do what They are asking me to do. I can’t even always fulfill Their requests for practical reasons. Sometimes I sit before the shrine feeling no different than I would if I were sitting at my computer. And in spite of all the confusion, I do it anyway, because serving Them is what I do; and that’s really what it means to be a priest in modern times.