Pagan Leadership

So, last fall I found myself in a leadership role in my local group.  We’d gotten quite small, and the previous chair was unable to continue, so another member and I stepped up, and, well, now we’re co-chairs of the group.  It’s been an experience thus far, and while I’d love to step down after the year is up, I have a feeling I’m going to be dragged into another year of service.

I did not want to take on a leadership role, but I took one for the team because I felt like it was more important that the group continue.  It’s an open, multi tradition group, where any and all pagans are welcome, and the only such group in the region.

That said, we don’t often talk about leadership in pagan circles.  We can generally agree that leaders are needed, and we’re quite good at criticizing them.  But here are a few of the observations I’ve been able to make from my brief time in the trenches.  I thought it might make for a good post, and it’ll also be a nice record to refer to if I wind up doing this longer than planned (I’d say longer than I want to, but we’re already past that point).

  • Something will go wrong with every ritual, no exceptions.  As a solitary practitioner, it doesn’t matter if I stumble over my words, or get something out of order.  If my incense goes out, it’s no big deal to relight it, and if I forget something, I can run back inside for it.  Not so much when your ritual is across town.  Sometimes it’s small, and easy to improvise.  Other times, the person who agreed to do the ritual flakes out and you have to step up and take their place.  As a leader, you have to be prepared for the worst so you can cover and still have things go well.
  • You can’t do it all on your own.  It’s so tempting to just lead everything so you can have control over it, but you have to delegate.  Not only will it save your own sanity, but allowing others to be involved encourages them to be more invested in the group and helps them on their own path.
  • Sometimes you have to let people fail.  So and so says they’ll bring the whatever, and you know they won’t.  Go ahead and let them, but pack the thing in your own kit.  At best, they actually follow through, at worst, they don’t.  It makes for a valuable learning experience for all involved.
  • I was talking to my mom and she made the comment that leading a church group is like herding cats.  Well, leading a pagan group is like herding feral cats.  Some will be more agreeable than others, some will think they know better than you do, and somehow you’ve got to figure out the right combination of cat treats to keep them healthy and from killing each other.  Okay, that got a little away from me at the end there, but you get my point.
  • Pick your battles.  People are going to disagree, and you might get some infighting.  Your job is to keep the group functioning and healthy.  Sometimes that means stepping in,  but generally it’s best to let members sort it out between themselves if that’s possible.  Sometimes this means certain members will hate each other.  Don’t let that stress you out, just make sure they’re civil if they both show up to events.  Not everyone is going to be friends.  That said, if someone is actively threatening another member, you have every right to ask them to leave.  Knowing when you need to step in is a vital skill.
  • Expect to spend money.  I live in a relatively poor part of the country.  Our members are at all income levels and in varying levels of health.  Some activities cannot be done without money.  But only doing free things severely limits your options, which means your regular meetings get really boring, really fast.  You can always take donations from the group, but if the group doesn’t have enough money to cover the main dish for the sabbat feast, you’re going to have to pony up to cover it.
  • You will have to moderate not only your physical group, but any online forums they have, too.  I’ve had to step in when members got into on our facebook group, and where we’re an open group, I get to field inquiries from potential members.
  • You represent your group.  Whenever I get an email asking about the group, I have to keep in mind that my response is their first impression.  What I say, how I word it, that matters.  Same thing for when a new member comes out to a meeting.  How the other members act is a factor, but how leadership is perceived to run things can make or break a group.  Much as we hate to admit, appearances do matter.
  • I feel like a faker, and probably always will.  I’ve spent my life avoiding responsibility, and feel wholly inadequate to lead a pagan group of any size.  This is compounded with a mixed path group.  I’m fairly well read, but there are paths I know nothing about.  I feel like as a leader I should be able to serve everyone, but I have large gaps.
  • A mixed path group means celebrating holidays that mean nothing to you.  My group celebrates the wheel of the year. Previously, I had skipped these rituals because they’re completely irrelevant in Kemeticism.  Now I’m having to learn real fast.  What’s Beltane about?  When is Imbolc?  Wait, Lughnassa and Lammas are the same thing?  These things don’t matter to me, but they do to the group.
  • You’re the first one in and the last one out.  I’m lucky in that I have a co-chair who runs early, so she usually opens up the meeting space and I usually lock back up.  But one of the other of us has to take care of that.
  • If one person gets something out of any meeting or ritual that helps them on their spiritual path, it’s all worth it.

And this isn’t everything.  I’m sure I’ll learn more as this gig continues.  But the point here is, when you are a community leader, you are responsible for taking care of that community.  You will have to make personal sacrifices.  When the people in your group fail, you have to pick up the slack without resentment.  You also have to give people the freedom to explore and disagree.  There is nothing simple or easy about being even vaguely competent when it comes to leadership, especially when it comes to paganism.  But if you can manage to deal with the less pleasant parts, there is nothing like being able to help people on their spiritual paths and to provide them with a place where they can be free from judgement about those paths.


Thoughts on Offerings

As a kemetic, offerings are a pretty standard part of my practice, and I think that goes for most polytheists.  We have a long historical tradition of people giving offerings to the gods, and it’s an easy way to show gratitude.  But what are appropriate offerings?  Are there things that shouldn’t be given?  Are some offerings better than others?

Well to start, historical offerings were largely pretty simple.  Bread, water, frankincense and myrhh, and candles are pretty much your staples.  Fruits and meats also would have been offered, although the exact type of meat would vary based on the god (you wouldn’t offer beef to a cow deity, after all).  There were also votive offerings, which usually consisted of small trinkets shaped like the gods or their sacred animals.  I’m sure there were also variations in the incense or scent used as well, I want to say the scent of water lilies was also used in the temples.

Modern offerings tend to be pretty similar–food, drink, incense, and candles are usually your basics.  We just have a wider selection of all those things than they did in antiquity.  Ditto for votives.  Modern practitioners may also devote certain activities to their gods, such a weaver devoting their work to Neith, or a student devoting their work to Thoth.

Personally, I’ve found that the offerings that work best in my own practice are usually simple and relatively healthy–fruit, bread or crackers, pastries from the bakery, water or lemonade (and sometimes wine), chocolate, cheese, and even lunch meats seem to work well.  This may just be their way of sneakily making me eat better, but that’s my experience at any rate.  Junk food seems to be the least desirable–an offering of potato chips would earn me a disapproving stare from Heqet.

Now is this to say you shouldn’t offer potato chips?  Not necessarily.  I think if you rarely get them and they’re a special treat, that might be a good offering.  An often overlooked offering is that of something which is precious to you.  And this is just my experience, so yours may differ.

It’s also worth noting that presentation can also make a huge difference in your offerings.  All you have to offer is some crackers?  Arrange them on a nice plate.  Ramen noodles?  Add some frozen veggies and use a nice bowl.  Pretty offering dishes can be acquired super cheap at thrift shops, and if you look, you can often get dishwasher safe ones to make cleanup easier.

Offerings don’t have to break the bank.  A simple glass of water or a lit candle work quite well if that’s all you can do.  And where offerings revert in kemeticism, you can even offer up your meals without anything going to waste.  Elaborate offerings are nice and can be really fun especially for festivals and holidays, but if you don’t have the funds for a big spread, you aren’t obligated to do that.  But it’s worth noting that even if you’re on a very tight budget, there are many good offerings you can get on the cheap.  A box of saltine crackers?  Maybe two bucks.  A small baguette from Walmart’s bakery?  Not even that. (prices may vary depending on your area.)  Heck, I’ve used those fancy adult lunchables with the nicer crackers and meat (those usually run about $2.50) and if you take it out of the plastic tray and out it on a plate it actually looks surprisingly classy. Tap water?  Covered by your water bill.  Have bad tap water?  Well, you gotta drink something, offer that.

And of course, votives are valid, although in my experience, they can kinda start to clutter up the shrine if you do them too often.  Devotional acts like drawing and writing poems and hymns are also an excellent way to focus on the gods.  Some people like to devote a particular activity to a specific god.  Personally, I’ve tried that but I get distracted really easily, so for me it doesn’t work quite as well, but many have great success with that, and I think it’s a cool thing to do if you can pull it off.  Other people go so far as to get tattoos or otherwise alter their appearance–some like to do veiling (not so much in the kemetic circles, but it’s a valid choice), and others may wear or color their hair in a particular way to honor a specific deity (I currently have green hair in honor of Heqet, for example).

The important thing to remember is that small offerings, big offerings, all are valid in the gods’ eyes.  What is most important is the devotion and intent behind it.  Personally, I like to give as much as I can because I love my gods and want them to have it.  I’ve seen some posts that seem to imply that minimal offerings are better than big fancy ones, and that’s simply not true.  Nor are big fancy ones better than small ones.  The best offerings are the ones given within your means and with the most love.  If your offering is given with resentment, it is going to be a terrible offering, regardless of what it is.  While to a degree, offerings are obligatory, I would say work out an offering schedule that is manageable for you.  If you can’t keep up with daily offerings, try once a week.  Even once a month is better if you can come to it with devotion.  Trying to maintain a practice you can’t keep up with will only stress you out and build that resentment.  I’m not saying don’t try, but give yourself attainable goals and work up to the bigger, more frequent stuff.  Religion is not always going to be easy, but it shouldn’t bring you so much stress you begin to hate it.  If anything, time spent giving offerings should give you time to relax and center yourself.  It’s a chance to think about your gods, and about your spiritual practice.  Will the gods always show up to every offering you give? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of polytheistic practice.  This might be controversial, but the act of giving offerings is as much for us as it is the gods.  It helps us to build discipline, lets us show our appreciation of the gods, and encourages us to create healthy religious habits.

Finding Your Path

So, one thing we don’t often talk about is finding your spiritual path.  I’ve touched on it before here, but I’d like to go a little more in depth now, if I can. It’s a tricky topic, filled with what ifs and UPG.  It’s hard to give advice for something that pretty much just boils down to, “Well, you just sort of know when you’ve found it.”  Generally, we just try a bunch of different things to see what works best.  It’s honestly why I named my blog, “The Meandering Path.”  Like any other pagan who’s been doing this for more than a couple years, my own path has meandered through quite a few different areas, and while I’m quite happy and settled in with Kemeticism at the moment, I know there’s a chance it may continue to meander further down the road.

But how do you know when you’re going in the right direction?  It can be hard, although, personally, if it’s improving your life, I think you’re on the right path.  Sometimes, though, it can be easier to tell when a particular direction is the wrong one.  There are a lot of things that can be a red flag, although any one of them on its own might not mean anything.  Indeed, a certain degree of struggle can be beneficial when learning about a new path.  But some things I would say are signs that you might want to reconsider the direction you’re going include:

  • Difficulty following the tenets/rules.  Are there rules that make no sense to you?  That are actively counter to what you feel you should be doing? Maybe this isn’t the right path.  A good example might be if your path taught that women should stay in the home, but you’re a woman who very much enjoys her career.  Alternatively, if you just can’t be bothered to follow what the path is teaching, it may also not be right.  Your example for that would be if you were trying out a polytheistic path, but never bothered to do offerings, or resented having to do them.
  • Difficulty with the teachings/principles.  This is similar to the last point, but less direct and more philosophical.  An example here might be if you were attending a church that taught young earth creationism and you believe in the mountains of evidence supporting evolution.  Alternatively, if you felt like ma’at was too vague and unclear, kemeticism probably wouldn’t be right for you.
  • Difficulty with the mythology.  This is going to be more specific to  reconstructionist faiths, such as hellenic polytheism, kemeticism, or even asatru.  Many of these faiths are based largely off of myths from antiquity that may have content that disagrees with modern sensibilities.  Modern day practitioners are generally able to consider these in their original cultural context, and remember that the myths are not sacred scripture, but written by men.  If you are unable to take the mythology at more than face value and see, for example, the power struggles shown by the domination of Horus by Set, or that some of the less flattering stories about Zeus contradict his role as a loving husband, well, those might not be the paths for you.
  • Disbelief in the deity(s).  It goes without saying, but if you don’t believe in whatever higher power or powers the path you’re exploring revolves around, that path is probably not for you.  It seems silly to include this, but I’ve seen it happen.
  • Difficulty with the deities.  Most polytheistic traditions encourage worshiping the pantheon as a whole.  While you may still work with just a couple deities on a daily basis, and you are by no means required to work closely with all of them (I’m not even sure that’s possible in some traditions, there are a lot of gods out there), you are still generally expected to respect and honor them all.  This can overlap with having difficulty with the mythology, as many people read certain myths and have rather visceral reactions to them.  That said, this can also be more direct–if, for example, you have managed to somehow offend the gods of whatever path you’re exploring and they will not accept your apologies, you may do best to move on.

These are probably the biggest red flags I can think of, and I think it’s important to note that some of them can be opportunities for growth in addition to red flags.  You may start out being uncomfortable with the mythology, but continued study shows you a bigger picture and gives you a better understanding not only of that god, but also how they were viewed throughout antiquity.  You might initially have trouble following new religious rules and practices, but soldiering through that could build a solid and responsible practice.  Other things on this list, well, I would say are dealbreakers, like straight up disbelief, or not being okay with the fundamental principles of a given path.  And I think one of the most important things when exploring and trying to find your path is to acknowledge when something isn’t right for you.  There is no shame in moving on from a path that doesn’t serve you.  Indeed, I would say there’s more shame in staying on a path that you get nothing out of or that actively harms you.

But I don’t want to leave things on a negative note, so let’s talk about some of the possible signs that a path is right for you.

  • It feels natural.  Often (but not always) if a path is right for you, things will fall into place.  You may find that the teachings and moral values  line up with your own beliefs, or that longtime interests turn out to have more meaning.
  • Things click into place faster than they should.  Sometimes when you find the right path, you may find the resources you need practically falling in your lap.  Especially with polytheistic paths, you may find the gods willing to help make sure you have what you need.
  • Pretty much the opposite of the previous list.  I’m not going to say the right path is always easy–far from it.  There will be times you’ll doubt, and there will times you’ll struggle and question things.  But it won’t be all the time, and you’ll generally be able to deal with those questions and doubts.
  • It just feels right.  I know.  That’s singularly unhelpful.  But like many other things in life, when you find the right path, you know it’s the right path.  It is worth noting that you may find yourself on many paths throughout your life–some may be the right one for only a short time.  Think of it like a road trip–you often find yourself on many roads to get to your destination.  Some you may only travel a mile or two on, others you may stay on for hundreds of miles.  And remember, everyone has different paths.  Some may travel down only a couple of roads to reach their destination, others may travel many.  No path is inherently better or worse; it is only better or worse for the specific traveler.

This is not an absolute list, and not experiencing something on it doesn’t mean your path isn’t right for you.  We don’t all have the same experiences, and some people find their path differently, and have a different relationship to it and their gods.  So if you feel like you are on the right path, but haven’t experienced some of these things, that’s okay.  This is not something that happens overnight, and building a fulfilling practice takes time.  Be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to explore and experience things, and don’t force yourself down a particular road because you feel like it’s one you have to take.

My hope is that this can be a rough guide to helping people find out what does and doesn’t work for them.  It’s not a hard and fast list of rules, but things to consider when you’re having trouble.  Some things may hit home right away, others may never apply to you.  Both are okay.  What’s important is being honest with yourself in your spiritual journey.


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)