Why I Like to Keep Politics Out of My Religion

So, this is something we go round and round with in paganism in general, and I recently saw something going around about keeping politics out of religion.  There were some very thoughtful comments about why some people like to mix the two, and I thought that explaining why I like to keep them separate might make for a good blog post.

I’d like to start with the disclaimer that this is not intended as a persuasive post; we all have our own practices, and if yours work for you, by all means continue doing what you’re doing.  This is merely a peek into my noggin, and perhaps a chance for those who feel similarly to see things put into words.

First off,I think one of the biggest things we forget on the internet is that not everyone is American.  Politics are very different in the US from other countries, and what applies here does not necessarily apply everywhere else.  We have different cultures and different problems, and if nothing else, I think this is a good enough reason to keep things relatively separate online, at least.  Many of our communities are small and international, and you can’t reasonably expect folks from other parts of the world to care about American politics.  Keeping the politics out of religion helps us all to better focus on and share our experiences with the gods.  It keeps discussion relevant to all.

That said, I think for most of us, our religion does inform our politics.  Most religions have moral codes practitioners are expected to adhere to.  This plays out in culture in a wide variety of ways, and rarely good ones.  While in antiquity, my own religion was inseparable from the state, in modern times, the merging of religion and state invariably leads to rather a lot of oppression for anyone who doesn’t practice the state religion.  This was a major factor in the formation of the US (where I live), and is part of the reason why our country was set up to have a strict separation between church and state.  It’s to ensure everyone has the freedom to practice their religion in any way they choose.  Growing up with this has had a strong effect on me, and it’s only gotten more important to me as I’ve left Christianity.  We can see in various Middle Eastern countries the effect that Sharia law has had on the population–we’ve all seen the pictures of Iran in the seventies, where the women dressed like westerners.  Now, in many places, they must be fully covered and cannot leave their homes alone–they have much less freedom in that respect.  We can see the disastrous effects in our own country of merging religion and politics.  My home state has multiple examples of this, such as Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to sign marriage certificates for gay couples, Matt Bevin, the governor who had the policy for how certificates are issued altered to accommodate her (we taxpayers are now paying her legal fees), and the debacle with the Ark Park.  We see this with the way Planned Parenthood and any clinic that offers abortion amongst their services comes under attack.  We see this in how in Texas, you must have a certain number of children or your husband’s permission to get your tubes tied (a friend of mine had to deal with that).

Arguably, this is all mixing religion with politics, which, frankly, is just a semantic difference. And many who argue for including politics in their religious practices would say they’re fighting against things like what I’ve listed, which is quite valid.  That said, and perhaps this is extremely naive of me, I think things like fighting for gay rights, fighting unfair racial profiling, and protecting reproductive rights–these are things that to me, that’s just doing the right thing.  There shouldn’t be anything political about it, and the only reason there is is because a bunch of asshats can’t keep their religion out of politics.  Are these hot button political issues?  Yes.  Should they be?  No.  People are people, and deserve to be treated equally.  Black men are unfairly profiled by police–we should be looking at why and how we can stop it because a healthy society protects everyone and treats them equally.  There is literally no reason why gay people should not be allowed to marry in the eyes of the state that is not a religious one.  While I can understand some of the concerns regarding abortion and it’s not a path I would choose for myself, there are cases where it’s medically necessary.  Not every pregnancy can safely be carried to term, nor should it be.  Should a child be brought into a world where its mother doesn’t want them?  How cruel.  Equally cruel is forcing a woman to risk her body and her life to carry a child they don’t want, especially in cases of rape.  If people didn’t mix their religion and their politics, issues like these (mostly the gay and reproductive rights stuff, I don’t think anyone hates black people on account of their religion anymore) would not be issues.  It would be a simple case of doing what’s best for society and the individuals involved.

And while doing the right and just thing is a part of my religion, as a polytheist, my religion is first and foremost about the gods.  By keeping my political views separate from my religion, it is easier to focus on those gods.  I am just one person, and a rather tired working person at that.  I can spend my energies promoting political agendas, or I can spend them communing with the gods and trying to become a better person myself.  I know which of those is healthier for me, and it doesn’t involve political agendas.  When I worship my gods, I want to focus on them, so I can get to know them better.  When I do ritual, I want to focus on my spiritual health and well being.  I’m not saying there’s no place for political views and whatnot in my life in general, but that place is not at my shrine or altar.

Dealing With Negative Entities

So, still working on a few requests I had, and this is the last one (sorry for taking so long, it’s been an excessively exciting month).  Anyway, I want to include the entire ask itself because it’s a good question:

“This will sound weird: What would a Kemeticist do for things like dealing with negative spirits? From cleansing a house to even something like an exorcism.”

From what I was able to find, in antiquity, they mostly seemed to depend on the gods for this sort of thing.  They would use protective amulets in the form of certain gods, or they might carry a small written spell of protection.  If you’ve seen the apotropaic wands/magic knives (I’ve seen them called both, they are usually curved pieces of ivory with drawings/carvings), those were also used for protective purposes, although we’re not really sure how they were used.  The most common gods called upon for this sort of work were Tawaret and Bes, although Tutu, Shed, Anubis and Set could also be called upon for protective purposes.  Basically, the idea was to call upon entities more powerful and frightening than whatever was attacking you.  It’s also worth noting that in ancient Egypt, negative entities (the word used in most historical texts is demons) could include all sorts of things, from spirits, to even pissed off gods.

Fast forwarding to modern day, most kemetics will probably use a mix of calling on the gods and various new age methods to deal with negative entities.  Exactly what they might do would depend on the outside traditions that have influenced their practice, but I would expect burning sage or other aromatic herbs to be a common addition.  Personally, my own approach will depend on exactly what’s going on and how powerful the entity is.  For relatively minor things, I would just tell it to GTFO.  For bigger things, I might burn sage or incense throughout the house and call upon the gods for protection and to cleanse things.  I might also sprinkle natron water throughout the house as a part of that.  For more portable and discreet protections, an eye of horus amulet could be handy, or other jewelry with  protective symbols (I have a small bracelet with an ankh and an anubis charm that I wear to invoke protection from Anpu himself).  Generally speaking though, you can’t go wrong with calling upon the gods if you’ve got a negative entity problem.  It’s simple, but surprisingly effective in pretty much all religious traditions.


My research came entirely from Geraldine Pinch’s Magic in Ancient Egypt, which is a fantastic read, very educational.

Rethinking Ghosts in World Religions edited by Mu-Chou Poo looks like it has an interesting section on the subject as well, although I haven’t read it yet.





Thoughts on Respecting the Gods

I’ve seen people get accused of being disrespectful towards the gods, and they always seem to get very defensive about it.  On one hand, I completely understand that reaction.  Being told that you’re disrespecting the gods would feel very judgemental, and it might feel like being told your personal practice is crap.  That would make me rather angry and defensive, too.  I can also understand that reaction because what if you think you are being respectful?  What if you have a kind of lighthearted jokey relationship with the gods?  It might seem disrespectful to someone else, but the gods haven’t told you to stop, so why should you?  These are completely valid reactions.

That said, I can also understand the other side of the matter.  I love my gods.  They are amazing, and I want everyone else to love them, too.  Watching someone say nasty things about them evokes the same sort of protective instinct that someone attacking a family member or close friend would.  And sometimes people think they’re just having fun and being casual when they’re actually being really rude.  So I get this side, too.

But what’s the truth of the matter?  What level of respect is appropriate in kemeticism?

I think any healthy relationship, whether it’s between humans, gods, spirits, animals, or whatever you like, any healthy relationship is based on mutual respect.  If one or both parties don’t respect the other, it’s not a healthy relationship and it’s probably going to end badly.  I also think that different people have different definitions for what constitutes respect.  A good and simple example would be small talk.  In the U.S., it’s considered polite to engage in small talk.  How are you, I’m fine, this weather, I know, right?  But in other countries, like India, small talk is not okay because it’s viewed as wasting the other person’s time–it’s disrespectful.  So, immigrants to the U.S. may come off rude when they’re actually being polite according to their own customs.  This concept is really important when we talk about respecting the gods, because I think it does affect how some people relate to them.

That said, how much respect should one show the gods?  Personally, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution.  I’m not one to piss off and antagonize powerful spiritual entities.  It seems imprudent.  I think the best template to follow for determining how to respect the gods would be to compare a human relationship with a large power gap, such as that between a parent and child or a worker and their boss.  Again, we also want to compare a healthy relationship where both parties respect one another.  You may have the kind of relationship with your boss where you can joke around, even go out for beers together after work.  It’s okay to have a relationship with the gods like that.  But if you’re going to ask your boss for a favor, you’re generally not going to walk up to him and say, “Hey asshole, I need this.”  (you might, I’ve seen people that worked with, but it’s generally a horrible idea, even if they’re okay with it).  You’re certainly not going to go around telling all your coworkers that your boss is an asshole and then ask him for a favor.  That’s probably going to really piss them off, and they probably won’t give you what you want.  Same thing with the gods.  Ask politely, don’t badmouth them.  Would you help someone who always said nasty things about you?  I know I wouldn’t.  This is why sometimes it’s better to maintain a slightly more formal relationship with the gods (or your boss).  It makes it easier to find that fine line.  That’s not to say you can’t be casual and joke around with the gods–I think we’ve all seen that the Kemetic pantheon in particular has a wicked sense of humor–but there is a fine line between humor and disrespect.

Additionally, respecting the gods can also involve respecting their followers (which is really going to lead into another post, but I still want to touch on it here).  A lot of us don’t always choose our gods–sometimes they choose us.  And when you disrespect someone a god has picked, you’re basically saying the god has terrible taste, which is not the most respectful thing to say (plus, if the human in question is a favorite, you could potentially bring some wrath down upon yourself).  On a more general note, disrespecting the gods can also be interpreted as disrespecting the religion surrounding them, which is an incredibly rude thing to do (and again, I’m getting into a topic I plan to address in another post, so I’ll stop).

So yeah, those are just some general thoughts on the matter.  I think we lose nothing by showing the gods respect, and that doing so could actually serve us well.

Kemetic Burials and Body Disposal

I had a request for a post about proper modern Kemetic burials, and that’s a toughie, mostly because every kemetic is going to have different thoughts on it.  So, what I’m going to do is try to look at some of the practices from antiquity and how the ideas behind them might translate, and then discuss my own personal views on the matter.

First off, as with any study of antiquity, we have to remember that the culture of Ancient Egypt spanned several thousand years, and obviously changed over that course.  The original practice of mummification started fairly early on, especially as the exceptionally dry burial conditions sort of created natural mummies.  The mummification process was largely to purify and preserve to body, and, honestly, it was expensive.  Not everyone could afford it–this was largely something for the rich.  Your average Egyptian may have still been embalmed, but they probably didn’t get the full service 70 day ritual.  That said, the more important aspect of funerary culture (without doing enough research to write a paper), is that the memory of the deceased be preserved.  One of the biggest threats found in tombs was that the desecrator would have their name and memory wiped from existence.  There’s also evidence for this in antiquity where names would be scratched off statues and carvings to destroy a person even in the afterlife.  Now this is just the high points–the funerary culture and philosphy of AE is vast, and there have been many books written about it.  I’ll put a couple titles for further reading at the end if you want to go into more depth (and that rabbit hole will go as deep as you like).

So, a modern kemetic would probably want to hit these two points if they could: 1) purify and preserve the body 2) have something in play to preserve their memory.

This actually isn’t as hard as it sounds.  You can actually be mummified if you can get your body to this place in Utah.  Alternatively, a combination of modern embalming, a sealed casket, and a concrete burial vault can preserve your corpse for a surprisingly long time, although not for all eternity.  Also, if you’re buried in a very dry or very cold climate, that can also preserve your remains.

As for preserving your memory, which is arguably more important, well, there are many ways to do that.  We can argue that photographs serve this purpose as well as your gravemarker, for the simpler end.  On a more complex scale, if you’re wealthy, you might get a library or something named after you.  I would even argue that artists and writers who have died have their memory preserved in their work.  Even your Facebook or blog could serve this purpose, as long as the internet survives.  The key is to make sure the living remember you.

Personally speaking, my own preferences are really not very kemetic at all.  I would much prefer to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in a nice spot.  I can also get behind the burial urn that lets your grow a tree from your ashes.  I’m mostly not very keen on spending a fortune to dispose of something I don’t believe I’ll be needing again.  As an artist, I hope my work is preserved and enjoyed, and I like to think I’ve touched enough lives to have made an impression.  But from my own experiences, I don’t think it matters much once you’ve left this place.

Further reading (disclaimer: I have read none of these)

Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, by Jan Assman

My Heart My Mother; Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt, by Alison Roberts

Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt: Life in Death for Rich and Poor, by Wolfram Grajetzki


Hello and Welcome!

Hi, there!  So, I’ve been futzing around on tumblr for a while and decided that I kinda needed a separate place to put my more serious posts so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.  So, yay, Helvetica is now on WordPress, too!  Anywho, I went ahead and copypasta’d my more serious posts over to here.  Everything prior to this post was previously published at The Meandering Path over on tumblr (link included if you’re finding this from somewhere other than tumblr and want to see the clusterduck that is my tumblr).  So yeah, look here for serious stuff (which I’ll still link to on tumblr) and look over there for daily shenanigans.

Judging Source Quality

So, today I want to talk about how to judge whether a potential source of information is reliable. I’m primarily going to approach this from an academic perspective, as sources used for academic purposes generally require the strictest standards. For my qualifications on this subject, I would like to submit ten years of higher education, two associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree, and enough additional course work that I’m 21 credit hours away from a second bachelor’s and a year long thesis away from a master’s degree. I spent a lot of time in academia, guys, so I feel qualified to talk on this subject.

Anywho, judging sources can be a bit of an art, depending on what subject you’re researching, and what the purpose is.  For example, if you’re just looking for your own personal curiosity, you can get by with less scholarly sources.  Additionally, there are some subjects that have a very limited amount of sources available, and you may have to use a lesser source because that’s all that exists.  So what I’m about to say is more of a general guideline than hard and fast rules, because there’s always an exception.

Here are the things you want to look at when judging a source for reliability.


I’m listing this one first because if you physically have the book or journal in your hands, it’s the easiest one to judge.  The publisher’s logo is generally somewhere on the cover or spine, so you don’t even have to open a book to judge it by its publisher.  Not all publishers are created equal, and some are more reliable than others.  Some publishers will put out anything to make a buck (Llewellyn, I’m looking at you), while others are more about serious research and information.  Generally speaking, books from a university press will be more reliable for academic purposes.  Good examples of these would be Cambridge or Oxford University Press.  Other publishers may be hit or miss.  Self published works are generally not recommended because they require absolutely no vetting or peer reviews.  For Kemetic sources specifically, watch out for various new age publishers.  As I mentioned, Llewellyn is notoriously unpicky (although I do like a couple of their for beginners books for basic introductions to various subjects).  Weiser is a little better, but not much.  Especially look out for Bear and Co–they do a lot of conspiracy theories, so they are the most likely publisher to put out books about how the pyramids were made by aliens, and that sort of thing.  Entertaining, but not useful for research purposes.  Also, watch out for Dover, who generally publishes books and materials that are public domain, which leads us to our next thing to watch out for:


Generally speaking, you want the most recent sources you can get your hands on.  Our knowledge is constantly expanding, and we know a lot more about the world today than we did 100 years ago.  Anything that’s public domain is almost certainly going to be outdated, as the copyrights have run out on it.  That said, this is one area where the subject you’re researching may affect the reliability of your sources.  If you’re researching something medical, you’ll likely be able to find sources dated within the year, and you wouldn’t dream of using a source from the 1970s.  If you’re researching Sumer, you might be grateful to find a source from the 1970s because there hasn’t been much research done in the field recently (what with all the ruins and relics being in Iraq) and what research there is largely focuses on archaeological methods.  Luckily for Kemetics, Egyptology is a field that hasn’t fallen out of favor, so we do have more recent sources, many of which correct misconceptions from the past.  This is part of the reason why Budge is so problematic–most of his work is like 100 years old (no seriously, he died in 1934, and most of his work was originally published between 1900 and 1920).  We’ve learned a lot in that time span, and the world is very different, which brings us to our next point.


You don’t want biased sources.  A biased source will almost always put a spin on the subject that favors their own viewpoint, and will usually throw out any data that disagrees.  This is why so many of the very old sources are bad–they tend to approach things from a strongly Christian worldview, as well as an imperialistic one that focuses on the superiority of the culture of the writer.  In Egyptology, this results in the ancient Egyptian people being looked at as ignorant savages, and filters their philosophies through a Christian lens.  For example, older sources will look at the Egyptian gods and say, well, they didn’t really believe they were separate gods, they believed they were just facets of one god.  Or, they’ll look down on them because they worship gods with animal forms.  Their own religious views prevent them from seeing things objectively.  Most modern sources account for their own biases, and try to present their findings in a neutral manner.  That said, you still need to watch out for religious bias, especially with internet sources.  I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve seen that demonized Heqet because they were coming at things from an extremely conservative Christian angle.  I’m not trying to bash Christian sources, mind you, but there is a strong tendency towards bias with Christian publishers and authors. Speaking of which….


This one pretty much goes without saying.  A good source is written by someone who is an expert in the field.  That’s not to say that Joe Schmoe from Minnesota hasn’t done his research, but the professor with a doctorate and several degrees in Egyptology who has actually worked on digs and translated directly from tablets probably knows more.  That’s not to say all professors know their shit, but it’s more likely.  (I have known some really terrible professors in my time.)

And finally, you want to look for

Reliable Sourcing

Yes, that’s right, we’ve come full circle.  Let’s say you’ve verified that it comes from a good publisher, it’s recent, unbiased, and the author is an expert in their field.  Or, let’s say you’re unsure about something, like the publisher and author–maybe they aren’t bad, but maybe they aren’t the best either.  The final thing you want to check for is what sources they used, if any.  Are there footnotes or in text citations?  What’s the bibliography read like?  Is there a bibliography at all?  Unless you’re reading someone’s findings on an original dig they performed themselves, there should be a bibliography, and it should generally include decent sources.  If the only thing in it is Budge, it may not be a good a source.  That said, many even scholarly sources will still include Budge in their list (I’ve heard that while his translations are inaccurate, the reprints of hieroglyphs are quite good, actually), so don’t freak out if you see one title of his amongst 30-40 other sources.  Also don’t freak out if half the sources are in French or German–a lot of historical research is done in these languages, and there often aren’t translations.


Hopefully this will be useful for new kemetics in search of info (or college students working on papers, even).  I do want to reiterate that these are not hard and fast rules.  There may be exceptions–I’ve seen a book or two on Egyptian mythology that had no sourcing and was pretty dated, but still accurate.  There are also some subjects where you might have to use sketchy sources.  For example, if you were doing a paper on ancient aliens, Bear and Co would have several things that would be essential for your research.  But generally speaking, academic and scholarly sources are going to be your best bet, especially if you’re trying to do scholarly research. Also worth noting is that your local librarian can also help you find and vet sources, particularly in a university library.  Don’t expect them to do all your work, but they can be helpful if you’re not sure.

Shrine Building With Helvetica!

Or, So You Want to Build a Shrine

From time to time, I see questions go by about how to build a shrine to honor the gods, and I thought it would make for a nice light piece to give my take on shrines.

First off, I want to start by saying that you don’t have to have a shrine in order to worship.  I’m speaking from a Kemetic standpoint as usual, but this is probably going to apply in the majority of religions.  Not everyone can afford a shrine, and as in any spiritual practice, the physical objects are not nearly as important as the acts of worship and prayer.  So if you cannot afford to buy statues, or your living circumstances won’t allow for a shrine, that’s okay.  You can make your heart a shrine, and still spend time with the Gods.

But if you do want a physical shrine, and your circumstances allow for it, here’s what I would recommend based on my own practice.

Super Basic Shrine

You will need:

1) an icon of the god of your choice

Yeah, that’s it.  Find a good spot for them in your home, somewhere you can see them regularly.  I find the Netjeru like their privacy, so you may want a quiet corner, or in your bedroom.  You can present offerings of food and drink on regular dishes.  As for finding your icon, ebay is going to be your best bet for finding statues.  The Hachette figurines are decent, if you can find a seller who won’t charge an arm and a leg on shipping (seems to be mostly a US issue there, as they were originally released everywhere but here).  There are also a variety of historically based statues, in a wide variety of sizes.  The Summit Collection has some small black and gold statues of the more popular gods if you’re tight on space, and these are the ones that are the easiest to find.  You can also check your local metaphysical shop for icons as well.  For Netjeru statues, there are also two etsy shops I would recommend: Shadow of the Sphinx and ValueARTifacts.  The former makes lovely statues and is a member of our community (haven’t ordered from them, personally, but would like to some day).  The latter sells a wide variety of tiny porcelain figures, and usually has a good selection of Egyptian ones.  These are tiny, like one inch tall, so they’re great if you’re really tight on space.  I have ordered from her, and she is a fantastic seller–very quick, and good to work with.  On the DIY front, you can even use gaming miniatures (got two links there for you–one goes to minis for an Egypt themed game, the other is to Reaper, who does a little bit of everything).  My nicest Thoth statue is actually a gaming miniature.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to have a statue–any image will work.  You can pull up a public domain pic if you want, or you can get prints, or even commission artwork.  Within our own community here on tumblr, we have many talented artists; Noumenon offers prints here; @the-typhonian does fantastic custom work, and @zooophagous also does some lovely work.  (Feel free to add anyone I missed in the comments.)  If you don’t mind doing a little work, there’s the Egyptian Gods coloring book, too.

And of course, if you’re the artsy type, you can always make your own icons.

Basic Shrine

You will need:

1) an icon of the god of your choice

2) an offering dish/cup

Same as before, only now you have dedicated dishes for your offerings.  I have not had any complaints about using dishwasher safe dishes for this purpose, so go crazy!  You can often find single dishes well, anywhere that sells dishes.  You’d also be surprised at what you can find at Dollar Tree, so this doesn’t have to break the bank.  My dedicated offering plate is a colorful ceramic one I found at Walmart for a dollar, and my cup, well, I’ve got two cups–one is a fancy teacup from Teavana, and the other is one I actually made myself in art school.

Standard Shrine

You will need:

1) an icon of the god of your choice

2) an offering dish/cup

3) a candle (you can opt for an LED candle if need be, and Gods permitting)

4) an incense burner/holder and incense

Make sure you practice good fire safety habits, and don’t leave burning things unattended near flammables.

Fancy Shrine

You will need:

1) an icon of the god of your choice

2) an offering dish/cup

3) a candle (you can opt for an LED candle if need be, and Gods permitting)

4) an incense burner/holder and incense

5) an altar cloth

6) Decorative things, e.g. flowers, crystals, votive offerings

Once you’ve got your standard shrine, you’re probably going to want to start sprucing things up a little.  I would recommend a linen or cotton cloth to put under everything if you can find it; avoid animal based fabrics like wool for purity reasons.

Super Fancy Shrine

1) an icon of the god of your choice

2) an offering dish/cup

3) a candle (you can opt for an LED candle if need be, and Gods permitting)

4) an incense burner/holder and incense

5) an altar cloth

6) Decorative things, e.g. flowers, crystals, votive offerings

7) a dedicated shelf, cabinet, or other piece of furniture used exclusively to house the shrine

8) a cover/curtain/or closing mechanism that will allow the gods total privacy

This is about as far as most of us will go, seeing as it can be cost prohibitive to set aside an entire room or outbuilding for your life size statue of Anpu. Even this option can still be done on a small scale if you’re tight on space (I keep mentioning space constraints because it’s an issue for me).

General Shrine Notes

You can locate your shrine almost anywhere you like, although I would avoid the bathroom or anywhere dirty.  You want to be respectful–after all, this is a space you’re inviting the gods to visit in.  I have a shrine on a windowsill, even!  Just try to keep it clean.  Also, consider pets if you have them.  You don’t want Fluffy trying to eat your statues or votive offerings.  If you decide to keep a plant in your shrine, make sure it’s nontoxic to your pets or completely out of reach (for example, the Nephthytis is toxic to cats).

It’s also worth noting that you can create a travel shrine with a box and small icons, as well.  This can be especially useful for those who can’t openly display a shrine all the time.  On that note, many shrine items are very common, and you can always set them on a shelf and claim you like the aesthetic (Gods permitting, of course).

Happy shrine building!


(originally published Apr 29, 2017 on my tumblr)


So, this is a subject I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while but it keeps not happening for some reason. That said, I think this is hands down THE most important skill you can have when dealing with paganism, polytheism, magic, witchcraft, or anything else that involves woo. It’s also extremely handy in muggle matters, too. We often hear about its importance, but we rarely get much more than that. I’m going to attempt to talk about what discernment is, why it’s important, and might even succeed in coming up with a couple ways to hone it.

What is discernment?

Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions for discernment (the last is from their English learner’s dictionary, and included for its clarity):

1 :  the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure :  skill in discerning
2 :  an act of perceiving or discerning something
3 :  the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently

So in a nutshell, discernment is the ability to know what’s what.

Why is discernment so important?

Discernment is a vastly underrated skill, and we often only see it talked about in spiritual contexts.  That said, it also has more practical applications.  It can help you tell if you’re actually getting a bargain at that sale or if they’ve really just lowered their prices to market value.  It’s what lets you know that that guy really isn’t a Nigerian prince, and he’s never going to give you money.  It’s what let’s you know that maybe Timmy isn’t such a good influence on you and if you keep hanging out with him you’re going to get arrested. Basically, in real life applications, it’s the skill that keeps you from getting scammed or conned.

The same applies in a spiritual context.  Your ability to discern can help you find more reliable sources of information, whether it’s telling which spiritual leader/guru is legit and which is not, or even which books and print sources are reliable and which not to waste your time on.  Most importantly, good discernment skills can help you differentiate between various thought and entities in a spiritual context.  Without discernment, you will not be able to tell the difference between the gods (or god–I’m approaching this from a Kemetic standpoint, but it’s pretty universal), other spirits, and your own thoughts.  If you can’t tell that difference, your spiritual experiences will be questionable at best, and, frankly, downright unreliable.  The honest seeker must be able to perceive things clearly in order to grow spiritually, and in order to develop a healthy relationship with their deities.

Discernment is especially important for those in leadership positions.  If a leader is unclear, they may tell their followers that God/the Gods want them to act in a particular manner, when in reality, it’s really just their own opinion and desire.  The truly dangerous aspect is that a leader may do this and be completely unaware of it–they may truly mistake their own thoughts for the words of the gods.  This is one of the reasons you see the phrase UPG (unverified personal gnosis) tossed around a lot–it’s a way to say, hey, my discernment might be off.  I don’t think it is, but it’s possible.  Also worth noting is that the spiritual realm has many beings in it, not just gods.  A lot of these entities are just like you and me–they’re just people.  Others are much more powerful, and may enjoy messing with people.  Good discernment skills are what lets you tell the difference between a god and a powerful entity pretending to be one.  And when you’re able to tell that difference, a lot of those entities will back off, because they realize you’re not going to fall for their tricks.

So yeah, on the woo front, good discernment skills will protect you from unhealthy leadership, groups, and spirits.

How do I hone my discernment skills?

This is the hard part.  While some are naturally gifted in this area, some of the rest of us have to work at it.  I would suggest a two prong approach.  Firstly, gain as much knowledge and information on whatever you’re trying to discern.  For your mundane world application, this might include doing research and finding out more about Nigerian princes (and discovering the well known scam).  For woo, this might involve researching the gods you think you’re talking with.  While books won’t give the full picture, often you can get enough details to get a feel for what a given god stands for, and how they typically react to people.  In this case, you want to make sure you’re using good sources (and we’re back to real world discernment).  Don’t just use wikipedia, but make a serious effort.  If you don’t care enough to do it right, you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you’re trying to do.

The second prong is to use your own intuition.  Intuition is highly linked to discernment, and sometimes it’s the only thing you have to rely on.  So you need to get to a point where you can trust your instincts and gut reactions.  The way you do this is to start by noticing your instinctive reactions, and then seeing what happens next.  For example, I have found that time and again, when I strongly and instinctively dislike someone, there’s almost always something really wrong with them (i.e. they turn out to be a really horrible person).  And because I’ve experienced that over and over, when I meet someone new and that voice in the back of my brain recoils from them, well, let’s just say I politely keep my distance.  But it took a lot of time and experience to get to that point.  It didn’t happen overnight.  You are going to have to be patient.  In the meantime, be a skeptic.  The best way to keep yourself safe when you’re still honing your discernment skills is to take everything with a large grain of salt (and doing so will actually help you hone those skills, so it’s a win-win).

In Conclusion

Hopefully I’ve done a good job here of looking at discernment and some of it’s applications.  It really is an essential skill when doing any sort of woo, whether it’s religious, witchcraft, or dealing with spiritual entities of any sort.  Discernment is the strongest protection and ward you can have, short of divine intervention.  It is not an easy skill to develop, but you can hone it over time–the trick is to have as much information as you can, be it print or experiential.

As with most of my serious posts, this is largely based on my own experiences.  What works for me may not work for you.

(originally published Apr 26, 2017 on my tumblr)

Is Your Religion Right For You?

A lot of us around here have been through the experience of leaving the religion we grew up with, or are in the process of doing so.  It tends to be a very messy life event, and can even be dangerous, depending on your family and the particular religion you’re leaving.  I think a change in religion can be an eye opening experience, and has the potential to be a wonderful thing.  I know in my own case, the switch from Catholicism to Kemeticism has opened some pretty massive doors in terms of spiritual growth and health.

But changing your religion can be really hard.  It’s not an overnight thing, even if you feel like it is, and sometimes we are ready to move on quite some time before we admit it to ourselves.  Letting go can be really hard–often we find ourselves embedded in communities, and find people we really love, but who we only connect with through that religion.  It can require rethinking your entire worldview, and admitting that some of your once treasured beliefs may be wrong.  In some cases, you may even literally have to start your life over from scratch (I’m thinking of some of the cases where girls have left fundamentalist Christianity and not even had a birth certificate because their parents refused to register their birth).  At the same time, sometimes those risks are worth it to become the people we are meant to be, and to actually live our lives.

How, though, do you know if you should change your religion?

This is a very personal choice, and I can’t really come up with a list of signs for you.  But generally, speaking, if you aren’t getting anything out of it, it may be time to admit that you need a change in your religious life.  Now, that’s not to say you can’t go through times of questioning, sorrow, or doubt.  Those are a part of any religious path, and I would argue that a certain level of questioning is not just healthy, but essential to a good practice.  Based on my own experiences, I would say that if your worship time (whether it’s in a church or at a shrine in your own home) brings you more sorrow than peace, that’s a red flag.  If you find yourself saying, “I don’t think I believe in the Gods/God” that’s a red flag.  If you find yourself alienating other people within your faith because they don’t believe the way you do, that might be a red flag.  If even thinking about your current religion makes you cry (or want to cry), that might be a red flag.

It is my firm belief that a healthy spiritual practice will encourage you to better yourself.  It will encourage you to take care of yourself and others.  It will encourage you to grow and explore the wondrous world around us. It will provide you with hope when you are lost, and it will give you a firm foundation to stand on when things get rough.

If that’s not what you’re getting, it may be time for a change.  Now, that’s not to say you should just give up your religion–only you can know for sure if its the right thing to do.  It may be that you just need to change things up a bit, and find a new way to practice.  In that case, talk with others on your path, and see if you can get any ideas that will liven things up and help you reconnect.  But if you try this over and over with no or little success, it may be time.

And this is okay.

I want to say that again.  It’s okay.  If you need to leave your religion because that’s what’s best for you, that is completely okay.  Even you left another religion for the one you’re leaving now, that’s okay.  And it’s okay to feel sad and upset about it.  It’s okay to leave your religion even if you’re not leaving it for another.  It’s even okay to leave your lack of religion to take up a new one.

Now, I’m not saying that you should just up and change religions whenever things get hard.  And it’s probably not a good idea to change religions every couple of years or so.  But well, part of the reason I named my blog The Meandering Path is because sometimes we may have to try several different things to find what works best for us.  I know I’ve meandered a fair bit in my time, that’s for sure.  It’s okay to explore.  It’s okay to say, this worked really well in the past, but it’s kind of screwing up my life now.  And when you hit that point, it’s okay to let it go.  Your religion is your choice–unless you are a minor still living with your parents, no one is forcing you to believe anything. It’s scary, and not a little painful, but it can open your life back up to new opportunities, and allow you to become the person you are meant to be.

(And of course it’s okay to love, be happy with, and stay in your religion, too. And it’s okay to have a nonstandard relationship with your religion as well.  But if you don’t believe in it, and it makes you miserable, for the love of all that is holy, do what’s best for yourself and find the next stop on your path.)

(originally published Apr 21, 2017 on my tumblr)

Divine Abuse, Punishment, and the Nature of Gods

Normally this is a topic I avoid, but I had a request for it, and it’s a good challenge, so I’m going to try and tackle it as diplomatically as possible.  I don’t usually do trigger warnings, but I know a lot of people who have been abused irl, and I take abuse very seriously, so consider this your trigger warning.  If you aren’t in a good place on this or the related subject of abuse, you may want to come back later.  Anywho, let’s go behind a cut.

Divine abuse is a topic that pops up in pagan circles from time to time, and I don’t think it’s one that anyone enjoys talking about.  No one like the idea of their gods being abusive, and for victims, well, very few victims enjoy seeing people worship their abusers, whether divine or human.  I will be addressing this subject from a kemetic standpoint–I’m not overly familiar with most other pantheons, and cannot speak to experiences with gods other than my own.  This is a big subject, so I’m going to try and break it down into manageable pieces.

What is divine abuse?

I actually did do a little bit of research on the subject, and to be honest, I had trouble finding anything about pagan divine abuse.  My search brought up a lot of Christian resources, which spun it variously as God abusing humans, humans abusing humans in a religious setting, and, my personal favorite, humans abusing God.  I haven’t seen anything about divine abuse in kemeticism, and what I’ve seen in other paganism is mostly just one or two people.  So, it looks like it’s pretty uncommon.  When we do see divine abuse in paganism, it’s almost always the deity abusing the human, so that’s the definition we’re going to use.  So, divine abuse is when a god abuses a human.

In that case, what counts as abuse?

Now we’re starting to get into some really hairy territory.  In order to claim divine abuse, we must first establish what constitutes abuse in the first place, and abuse can be really tricky to nail down.  There are many different kinds of abuse, but the most common types are physical, emotional, and psychological.  As to specific actions that are abusive, well, every site has a different list, and many of the things on those lists are not necessarily abuse as an isolated incident.  After some research and much debate, here’s the definition for abuse that I’ve been able to come up with:

Abuse is a pattern of behaviors committed in order to exert control and gain power over another person without that person’s consent.  These behaviors demean, devalue, dehumanize, and harm the victim, causing them to fear for their physical and psychological well being.  Abusive behaviors do not have to be performed consciously, nor does the victim have to be consciously aware of their effect in order to be considered abused.

Your keywords there are pattern, control, consent, and harm.  So, for example, if you punch your spouse once, that’s not abuse (it’s definitely assault and battery, and not something you should do).  But once you start punching them regularly, then it becomes abuse.  In the case of control, victims of abuse will work hard to figure out what triggers it and avoid those behaviors, which ultimately leaves the abuser in control of their decisions–this can also be seen more directly in cases of abuse where the abuser issues demands like, if you don’t do this, I’ll leave you (or kill you).  Ultimately, whether the abuser knows it or not, they are doing it to exert control over another’s life in an unhealthy manner.  Consent I’m including because there are relationships that may seem abusive, but aren’t.  BDSM community, I’m looking at you–everyone has consented and enjoys what’s going on there, so you’re fine.  As for harm, well, that’s pretty obvious, and I don’t think we need to go over that, other than to say that harm isn’t always physical.

What’s the difference between abuse and punishment?

There’s a fine line here, a very fine line.  Punishment is generally a negative correction to prevent unwanted/inappropriate behavior.  For example, if a child is acting out, they may be sent to their room or have privileges taken away until they realize what they did was wrong.  The time, culture, and circumstances determine what the appropriate punishment is.  For example, when my parents were kids, it was not unusual for a child to be hit with a belt or stick if they misbehaved.  Now, of course, that’s considered child abuse. Basically, punishment is a learning opportunity and deserved, whereas abuse is completely unwarranted with no rhyme or reason to it.

So, what’s this nature of the gods stuff, then?

This is where we start looking at how to determine if something is divine abuse or not.  It’s important to keep in mind how we relate to the gods, because our relationships can determine whether something is abusive or not as well.  For example, if you don’t let your five year old buy a candy bar with their allowance, that’s teaching them fiscal responsibility and good parenting (also, encouraging good eating habits).  If you don’t let your spouse buy a candy bar with their own money…uh, yeah, you get my point.  Abusive behaviors can vary based on the existing power structure in the relationship.  If one party is significantly wiser and more experienced, then you could almost make the argument that they actually have a responsibility to teach and take care of the other party.  This is the case of the gods–they are vastly more powerful than we are.  When you relate to the gods, they are not your equal, they are your superior, which means they already have a certain amount of control over you, just like your parents did when you were a kid.  This is the nature of gods–they are powerful beings larger and wiser than us.  They have a bigger frame of reference and operate on a different scale.  We cannot hold them to human standards because they are not human.  That said, it’s not unreasonable to expect a certain level of kindness and decency from them–we are larger and wiser than children, but it’s still wrong to be cruel to them.

How do I know if what I’m experiencing is divine abuse?

Well, there are several factors you have to look at before you can say, yes this abuse (which is true in real life as well, although the factors you look at are a bit different).  Firstly, and most importantly, discernment is key.  I have plans for a post all about discernment at a later point, but for right now, you’ve got to be certain it actually is a god you’re dealing with.  There’s a lot of fuzziness when communicating with gods–a booming divine voice from nowhere is a rare thing.  Mostly we communicate via thoughts in our head or through various divination tools, all of which have a pretty high margin for error.  This is where discernment comes in.  Discernment is what lets you tell the difference between your own thoughts, a god’s words, and the words of other spiritual entities.  I’m going to be honest here, there are a lot of things out there that aren’t gods, and many of them love to mess with people.  Many of them are also strong, and if you lack discernment skills, you can easily mistake these entities for a god.  Additionally, a great many of us also struggle with mental illness.  This can make it very difficult to hear the gods at all, and in the throes of a depressive episode, our own thoughts can be extremely harmful.  So if you feel like it might be divine abuse, you have to narrow it down.  I can’t tell you the best way to tell which is which–that’s going to vary from person to person.  I can tell you that in my own experience, the Netjeru have a presence that’s lacking in other entities and my own thoughts.  They feel bigger, and there’s a certain…aura?… I guess, to them.  It’s unmistakable once you’ve felt it.  I would also add that I’ve usually found the Netjeru to act and speak for my best interests, so if that’s not what I’m hearing, that throws up a red flag.

If you have determined that you are, indeed, dealing with a god, the next thing you have to do is determine that what’s going on is abuse, and not punishment.  The hard part here is that fine line we talked about between abuse and punishment, and the nature of gods is key here.  Like our parents when we were children, the gods will punish us if we step out of line, and sometimes their punishments may be severe.  A lot of that depends on the individual god.  It’s been my experience that the Netjeru are insanely patient, although some have a shorter fuse than others.  Before you cry abuse, you must ask yourself if you’ve done something that would warrant punishment.  Have you disrespected the gods?  Have you committed acts of isfet?  Have you straight up disobeyed instructions they gave you?  These are all things that might warrant punishment.

If you have determined that you have not done anything that would warrant discipline, then we need to make sure it’s not an isolated incident.  Remember, one time is just inappropriate behavior–we need repeated cases to call abuse.  So, if it’s a one time thing, well, they were just being a jerk.

Continuing with our criteria for abuse, the gods already have a certain measure of control due to the power dynamic.  Personally, I don’t see why they would feel the need to exert more, but we do see cases of abusive bosses and what not on the human scale, so we can’t rule it out.  Consent is a bit trickier, as many of us have had gods just sort of come into our lives, but I’ve found that the Netjeru do insist that any serious vows are your own choice.  That leaves us with harm, and there are some clarifications I want to make on that one.  If you ask a god for something and they ignore you or say no, that’s not harmful, any more than your parents saying, “No, you can’t have this Power Rangers figure.”  The gods can be strict, and sometimes they have other definitions of things like harm, but saying no to requests is not harmful.  Additionally, the gods have the right to chose their followers, just as we chose who we follow.  The Netjeru are pretty chill, but if a god decides that you would be better off worshiping someone else instead of them, that’s not harmful, either.  The gods do talk to each other, and they will work out among themselves who can help and put up with you the best.  This may mean you wind up with a different god than you expect or want.  Trust me, I get that.  When I started, Heqet was the last goddess I would’ve picked because of her fertility associations.  But now, I wouldn’t leave her for anything, because I’ve realized how good a match she is for me.  To a point, you have to trust that the gods know what they’re doing.  They know more than we do.

I’ve looked through your criteria, I’m definitely being abused by a god.  Help me!

Okay.  Generally speaking, you’re going to want to approach this in much the same way that you would a human abuser.  Get away, get help, keep away, and get help to recover.  It is not going to be easy.  You’re going to run into a lot of people who don’t believe you.  I know I’m extremely skeptical of it myself, mostly because of my own experiences with the divine.  I’ve seen very few cases where they did something that wasn’t deserved, and I’ve seen a lot of discernment issues in paganism.  Personally, I think most of this is other entities pretending to be gods.  That said, my disbelief or skepticism doesn’t make what happened to you any less real, and even if you are being abused by an imposter, a lot of what follows is still going to be your solution.

Like if you were being abused by a human, the first thing you need to do (after admitting what’s going on and deciding to do something about it) is to get away.  This isn’t easy in real life, and it’s certainly not easy with a non corporeal entity that can go anywhere.  That said, you need to start cutting ties.  If something is abusing you, stop worshiping it.  Take steps to prevent it from coming near you.  Wards can be helpful (if you don’t know how to make them, there are many resources out there to teach you).  You may need to ask another god you trust to intervene, just like if you were a child being abused by your parents, you might ask a teacher for help.  You might find other survivors and ask them for help, or others from your community.  Additionally, a certain measure of confidence is essential for dealing with spirits of various types, and can offer a small measure of protection.  Once you’ve successfully cut ties, don’t go back.  How many of us know someone who has broken up with an abusive partner only to go back to them over and over?  Don’t be that person.  Burn the bridge.  Once you’ve managed all that (and it’s is much easier said than done, I know), you will need to deal with what happened to you.  In the case of human on human abuse, you would go to a therapist when you were ready (it can take a lifetime to recover from abuse).  A little trickier with divine abuse, because most therapists are not going to believe you.  That said, you might still find it helpful, even if you have to dance around the subject.  You might also talk with others who have experienced divine abuse, sort of like a support group.  And, of course, you can talk with the gods, too.  The Netjeru are very good about self care, and can really help you work through things.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful, and maybe clarified things a little.  As always, this is mostly just my opinions and you are free to disagree.

(originally published Apr 14, 2017 on my tumblr)