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)

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21 Day Kemetic Challenge!

Hello and welcome to the 21 day Kemetic Challenge! Feel free to do as much or as little of it as you wish! And if any questions don’t quite apply to you, you can always answer them hypothetically and say what you would do if it did apply! Most importantly though, have fun!

(My answers to this are mostly really short, so I’m going to post them all at once.)

Day 1: What drew you to kemeticism? When did you realize that it was for you?

Well, I sort of bumbled around a lot of the various new age concepts while I was still Christian, looking for answers the Church didn’t really have. Anyway, I was still praying, but God started to feel increasingly distant.  I could tell someone or something was still listening though, so I asked, “If God’s not answering my prayers, who is?”  The answer I got back was, “Neith.”  I was like, WTF is that?  Then I did my research, found out who Neith was, and well, the rest is history.

Day 2: Are you a reconstructionist, revivalist, or more modern kemetic, and why?

Practically speaking probably more of a revivalist?  I like to be as historically informed as possible, but a lot of it’s not really possible to reconstruct, partially due to things that have been lost to time and partially due to cultural differences between Ancient Egypt and where I live today.  Sadly, I can’t just take a month or two off from my job to go serve in the temple.  But I do what I can in my daily life.

Day 3: Are you practicing independently or with a group or community? Why did you choose this? Do you think it would ever change?

Largely independent, although I’m active with my local CUUPS group (I’m the only kemetic, though), and relatively active here and a couple other places online. My actual worship and ritual practices are entirely a solo affair.  There’s not really any other kemetics in my area, and, to be honest, I really enjoy my quiet ritual time with the gods.  It would take a lot for me to switch to a group practice with other kemetics.

Day 4: Which gods are you devoted to or worship? And which other ones are you interested in in any way?

I worship the Netjeru as a whole—the entirety of the pantheon is welcome in my home. Heqet, Neith, and Thoth are probably my top three that I work with the most.  Also worth mentioning: Mehet Weret, Anpu, Bast, Sokar, and Set.  I also really like Nephthys and Hatmehit, and keep meaning to look into Khnum more, since he’s often associated with Heqet. Sobek and Tawaret are also cool.

Day 5: How do you communicate with your gods? Can you hear their voices in your head as thoughts, do you get feelings or emotions, or anything else?

Head voices and feels, mostly.

Day 6: Talk about your relationships with your gods. How do you build these relationships? What are they like to you?

I pray a lot, and make an effort to spend time with the gods when I can.  I also do research and read about them to find out what they were like in antiquity.  Each god is different, but I’ve generally found the pantheon as a whole to be very kind and caring.  To know the Netjeru is to love them.

Day 7: What kinds of things do you offer to your gods? What do they like? Do you give universal offerings, or something for each one separately?

Food and drink mostly—I usually go with bread or these little fruit filled pastries, but will also use fresh fruit.  I do juice or lemonade when I have it, but will also do water.  The various Netjeru are welcome to make special requests (e.g meat for Bast) and I do what I can.  I have a couple different incenses, but usually default to frankincense and myrrh.  Generally I just put out a plate and invite any netjer who wishes to partake, although on occasion I may tailor it a little more specifically.  Currently, where I’ve been working with Heqet a lot, I’ve been giving her daily offerings in the form of sharing my lunch—I’ll prepare my fruit and vegetables, and set them out for her while I eat the rest of my food. It’s stealthy.

I also pick up small devotional gifts from time to time, like small statuary, jewelry, that sort of thing.

Day 8: Are there any activities that you devote to your gods?

I have a purely professional relationship with Sokar, and devote the parts I run at work to him.  I also weave for Neith.  Other projects come and go.

Day 9: Do you devote music or playlists to your gods? What kind of music do you play for them?

Not really.  I recently experimented with playing like rainforest sounds during a ritual for Heqet, and that went really well.

Day 10: Are there any gods you work with or talk to that you’re not devoted to or worship?

Not that I can talk about at this time.  Like I said, I worship the entire pantheon, so they all get their honors.

Day 11: Talk about your shrine. Is it digital or physical, or both? What kinds of things are on it? Do you make any of it yourself?

Physical.  I’ve got a few small shrines scattered through the house.  The basic setup is a statue (or statues) and an offering bowl. That’s usually where I put like votive offerings, devotional jewelry, and other gifts.  I dyed the altar cloth for the main shrine, and wove the one for Heqet’s windowsill shrine.  I also made Thoth’s offering bowl.  I’m pretty handy with making stuff.  That said, the only representation I’ve made is the small polymer clay frog I keep in my toolbox for Heqet. Sculpting is not my strong suit.

Day 12: Have you set up any other devotional items or spaces around your room or house?

I mentioned this in the last question, but here’s what I’ve currently got: one main shrine, one shrine for Neith, one shrine for Thoth, a shrine on a windowsill for Heqet (where I put all the froggy presents), and a second shrine for Heqet on my nightstand, which is where her offering bowl is—that’s the fanciest one.  I also have an altar I set up for ritual needs as needed.

Day 13: Are there any jewelry or objects you wear or carry?

I love jewelry, and have several necklaces, pairs of earrings, and bracelets that I wear.  Unfortunately, I can’t wear any of it to work due to safety reasons, but I always wear something in my off time.

Day 14: Do you own any kemetic or egyptian books? Are they digital or physical or both?

Yes, and yes.

Day 15: How important to you is correct terminology?

Relatively.  Words mean things, and it’s important to use them correctly.  That said, the written form of ancient Egyptian didn’t use vowels, so there’s a pretty big margin of error.  As long as you are respectful and making an effort, I’m pretty understanding.

Day 16: Are there any rituals that you regularly perform?

Everything’s on an as needed basis at this time.

Day 17: Do you honor your ancestors or the dead in general, or no?

I have a healthy respect for the dead, but I’m really disconnected from my ancestors.  I mean, my extended family has always lived really far away, so I’ve never really gotten to know them.  Growing up it was just my parents, my sibling, and myself.  Trying to honor people I never knew who have passed on from this world just doesn’t quite feel right to me personally.

Day 18: Are there any holidays you celebrate? Which ones?

Still working on my calendar, but I’m trying to do Wep Ronpet and The Establishment of the Celestial Cow.  I’d like to add others, but it’s a really daunting task.  I will also confess to still celebrating Christmas and Easter because my family is Catholic and they all celebrate it.

Day 19: Do you use heka in any way? How do you utilize it?

Heka is complicated, where it’s got a couple different translations.  I do try to be very careful with my words, at least in writing, so I think that sort of counts.  I’m not averse to using magic in general, but in most cases the muggle approach is easier.

Day 20: Do you keep a journal for your journey and experiences?

I try, but often fail miserably.

Day 21: And to top it all off with a bang, how do you live in Ma’at? What kinds of things do you do or say or believe that help you with this? Talk a little about your lifestyle and what you do to live in Ma’at.

I interpret Ma’at as balance, and work hard to keep balance in my life and provide balance to the people around me.  Balance is a double edged sword, though, so sometimes my actions are not what you’d expect.  Still, I try to be kind to others, avoid violence, and generally do my best to be a good person.

And that’s it! Thanks for participating!

(originally published Apr 15, 2017 on my tumblr)

In Support of Small Ma’at

Or, Ma’at; It’s More Than That

So, there’s been a rather vocal contingent of Kemetic Tumblr strongly supporting the idea that social justice is ma’at.  This post is prompted by that voice, but not necessarily a rebuttal.  Rather, I’d like to talk about a different aspect of ma’at that we haven’t seen going around much.  Indeed, a newcomer to the community might think that in order to keep ma’at, they must also support the social justice movement.  That’s not only rather off putting to more moderate minds, but also flat out untrue.  Ma’at is a complicated idea, and there are many ways of putting it into action.  There is no one way to do ma’at.

If you pick up any even vaguely scholarly book about Egyptian mythology, one of the first things it’ll say about ma’at is that it’s not a term that translates well.  It gets translated variously as balance, justice, righteousness, order, and maybe even a couple other things, too. It will also point out that ma’at isn’t just a moral ideal, but a goddess as well.  Additionally, there even appear to be different levels of ma’at, with the gods keeping it by fighting Apep, the pharaoh doing ma’at by taking care of the people, and the people keeping it by, well, most books don’t talk about what the ordinary people did to keep ma’at.  Bit of a niche subject there.  The priests kept it by serving the gods, though, so there’s that. And when you delve deeper into the texts, it gets more complex.  We all know about Set, a god of chaos (among other things), who serves ma’at even though for most practical purposes chaos is the enemy of ma’at.   There are numerous examples of wars fought in the name of ma’at, and a surprising number of other stories where actions taken for ma’at are not what you would expect.

This is not a simple concept, and I applaud the ancient Egyptians for packing so much meaning into such a little word.  But, and this is the million dollar question, what does this mean for us?  Do we use the Negative Confessions as our guide?  Do we pick a translation and roll with it?  Or do we somehow try to reconcile thousands of years of changing culture and resurrect ma’at as it was originally meant to be?  Well, the last isn’t possible without a time machine, and the negative confessions seem to be more of a testimony to give before the gods in the Hall of Judgement than an actual moral code.  Which, leaves us with the third option of picking a translation and rolling with it.  I think that’s what most of us do.

Personally, I use the translation that equates ma’at to balance.  I think of our options, balance is the most nuanced one, and best encapsulates the concept.  Like ma’at, balance seems simple and straightforward, until you really start delving into it.  Balance means keeping opposing forces in check; making sure neither force is more powerful.  This can get very tricky very fast, and going into detail on keeping things in balance would make this post much longer than I like, so I’ll leave that for ya’ll to ponder on.  Instead, I’d like to talk about what keeping ma’at means to me in this context.

By taking ma’at to mean balance, I do what I can to maintain a balance in all I do.  There is a limit to how much I can do, though–I’m only one, very non confrontational person with some irksome health problems.  And this is where small ma’at comes in (I know you were wondering when I would get to that).  While it’s all well and good to fight for justice on a grand scale, a lot of us aren’t equipped for that.  Keeping a balance on a smaller scale, in our own lives, is much more manageable, and can still make a difference.  Being kind to others, being honest in your transactions, taking care of those around you; these things are all ma’at.  If you have energy to do more, you can balance out the isfet in the world by doing community service, whether that’s helping at your local soup kitchen, or helping to to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.  But if you’ve not got the spoons for such things, it’s okay.  The Netjeru understand our limitations, and value our contributions no matter how small.  Something as small as a kind word in the right place at the right time can make a big difference in someone else’s life.  And, it may be hopelessly naive of me, but I truly believe that if everyone could perform these small acts of ma’at in their everyday life, well, there would be no need of grand gestures, of protests and activists.

Ma’at begins in the heart, in the small things.  It is my belief that it is better to begin small, with yourself–get your own house in order, as it were–and then move on to bigger acts.  After all, it’s hard to help others when you need that help yourself.  Consider how many of us here have had the Gods encourage us in the area of self-care.  There’s a reason for that–it’s so that we can live in ma’at.  Once we are living in ma’at ourselves, it will be much easier to spread that to others.

This is not to say that large acts of ma’at have no place–they certainly do.  But if we can break some of those large acts up, if each of us can do a small portion of it, maintaining ma’at becomes much easier.

(originally published on Apr 2, 2017 on my tumblr)

Prayer to Heqet

Oh Great Mother,
Mistress of Joy,
Fill our hearts with your love and compassion.
As you breathed life into us,
let us breathe life into each other
through support and understanding.
Let us not squander your gifts,
but share and appreciate them to their utmost.

(originally published on Mar 14, 2017 on my tumblr)

Lullaby For Heqet

This has been rolling around in my head for months.  I was thinking it would make a great kids book, and I may get around to it someday, but I’m surprisingly bad at drawing for someone with a fine arts degree.  Anywho, here’s something calming for you and your wee ones.  (if ya’ll ask really nice, I might be willing to whip up an audio recording if you want the melody that goes with it in my head.)

“Goodnight, Heqet” (by Helvetica 12Point)

The moon rises high o’er the Nile
The frogs are asleep in the mud
Goodnight, Heqet, goodnight.
Somewhere in town, a babe cries
She’s safely arrived in this world
Goodnight, Heqet, goodnight.
The farmer rests well in his bed
His harvest is larger than planned
Goodnight, Heqet, goodnight.
Now, it’s your turn, my dear, to rest easy
She’ll keep you safe in her arms
Goodnight, Heqet, goodnight.
Goodnight, Heqet, goodnight.

(originally published on Dec 3, 2016 on my tumblr)

The Road So Far

It’s been a little more than a year since I found myself on the kemetic path.  I don’t remember exactly when it started, other than it was around April, and I have a convenient anniversary of a major life event today, actually, so the two things will forever be associated in my mind.

After the initial discovery and figuring out of things, I did rituals on a regular basis.  It was easy at first, because I was off work recovering from surgery (that life changing event).  But as I got back to work, it was harder and harder to find the energy for fancy offerings (my formal altar is stealth, so it has to be set up and broken down each time).

And that’s okay, because as the formality faded out, the gods became more and more a part of my daily life.  My regular meals and snacks have become my offerings, and they have an open invitation to help themselves to anything in the fridge.  I keep a little candy in the bowl in their shrine as a standing offering.  Heqet has her offering bowl by my bedside, which has slowly been filling with shiny things I wear in her honor.  Neith has finally gotten her own offering bowl and shrine.  I pray frequently, getting to know my gods and goddesses.  Heqet is happy and bubbly, full of love and optimism.  Neith is bigger, but quieter, calm and soothing.  The others come and go as we have things to work on together.  Thoth has kindly been working on some astral stuff with me, and has been a stern and patient teacher for an eager pupil.  Sokar has turned out to be a huge help at work–I make good parts for him, and he helps me with the less controllable aspects of my work.

It’s been a strange journey, and I still find myself incredulous at the fact that I’m worshiping Ancient Egyptian deities.  It still sounds crazy when I say it out loud.  But it works.  And they’re more responsive and active, less distant than God was when I was still a Christian.  And to a degree I think the various powers that be may have shuffled me around until I found my current gods, because the Netjeru are a better fit.

At this point, I’ve read a heap of books, and every new thing I learn just makes me love my gods more.  They’re so full of life and accessible.  If a year has brought this much change, I wonder what another year will bring?

(originally posted on May 20, 2016 on my tumblr)

How Long Have You Been Here?

Or, how long are the gods in our lives before we notice them, and other thoughts on the existence and nature of deity.

It’s a thought that’s been on my mind for some time now, and I think it’s relevant to pretty much everyone who has religious beliefs, and perhaps especially to converts.  It deals largely with how I came to Kemeticism, and just some of the things I wonder about sometimes.

I may get a little rambly, so the meat is behind the break.

Now, I think most of us can agree that, generally speaking, the gods are there whether we believe in them or not.  That is, a Christian’s disbelief in Odin affects the existence of Odin about as much as an atheist’s disbelief affects the Christian god.  But, that’s not to say our beliefs don’t affect their existence at all–I’m very much in the school of thought that says with sufficient belief, we create our gods.  For example, many traditions have deities that originally started off as land spirits, or even men.  When these beings get treated like gods, it gives them power, and eventually they come to fill the god shoes.  (Yes, that means that if it’s not already, I do believe that the FSM will become an actual deity, given the growth and popularity of pastafarianism, in spite of its original design as a parody).  In the same vein, when gods fall out of fashion or are forgotten, they will lose power.  Most gods are old enough and strong enough to survive a drop off in belief, and I believe many adapt in order to keep their strength up and survive.  I think this is why you have so many different legends about each of the gods, and why so many of them are similar across pantheons.  I think this is also why legends persist, even though many deities are no longer widely worshiped.  While some of us do believe in and worship the old gods, they’re still able to maintain a foothold when we’re weak because they live on in the history and myths of our cultures.  So, for example, that power company may not actually believe in Ra, but their commercials using him help perpetuate his existence.  They’re doing something for him, even though they may not actually believe in him.

One could say, Ra is in their life, even though they don’t know it.

And that’s kind of where I’m going with this.  Some of it may be influenced by years of Christian upbringing and indoctrination–the old, “Well, God believes in you,” schtick.  But are the gods in our lives before we notice them?  How long are they there, waiting for us to wise up?

I think the answer is yes (and it depends on the god).  While some of us choose our paths more consciously (”I’ve always like Egyptian mythology, so I’m going to start worshiping the Netjeru,”) others of us are sort of pulled in, and sometimes find ourselves on a very different path with no idea quite how it happened.  My own experience fell into the latter.  In hindsight, it’s a lot clearer, but at the time it really blind sided me.  I claimed to be a Christian for most of my life, but, to be honest, the last few years, that was a heck of a stretch.  Seriously, what sort of Christian studies chaos magick?  I was kind of a terrible Christian.  I pretty much boiled all of the teachings down to, “Don’t be a dick.” (Fellow kemetics should find that amusing.)  And I started having a lot of questions, and seeing a lot of the holes in the narrative.  I still prayed regularly, but I started feeling this distance, like God was getting further and further away.  Finally, I realized that my idea of “God” really didn’t line up with the actual description of the Abrahamic god.  But I could still feel something/someone there when I prayed.  And if it wasn’t God, who was it?

I asked.  The answer I got was Neith.

At the time, I’d never heard of Neith.  I was like, WTF is that?  But I’d had other…experiences…before, so I went ahead and looked it up.  I half expected it to be something cryptic and unfindable, so I was quite surprised to discover that Neith was an actual goddess.  I’d always had some problems with Christianity, and, like I said, I was a terrible Christian, so I decided to roll with it.  I started doing my research on the netjeru and egyptian religion.  It was easy to get the idea of ma’at, since much of my own philosophy was pretty much the same thing–for a good 6-7 years, balance has been my holy grail  (I know ma’at is more complicated than that, but balance is a big part of it).  I get more out of making offerings and talking with the netjeru than I ever got out of going to church.  I’m where I’m supposed to be, at least for now.

But I still wonder…that presence when I was praying, it changed quite some time before I asked that question.  How long was Neith there, waiting for me to wise up and realize who I was talking to? (And there’s always the question of why, but whenever I’ve tried to ask that one, I just get, “Because you were there,” or, “Why not you?”  Thanks, that makes me feel so special, guys.)  How long are the gods there before we take notice of their presence?  I mean, I don’t think Neith was always there, but I know she was definitely there before I asked who I’d been talking to.

Just something I’ve been pondering.  What about you guys?  Any of you feel like or realize that your deity/deities were hanging around before you knew them?

(originally published on Nov 18, 2015 on my tumblr)

Words Are Power, Use Them Wisely

So, I saw some stuff go cross my feed this morning that kind of got me thinking and I was talking with the husband about it and he was all, “This is a post,” and I was like, “I know, I know.”  So here we go.   It’s kind of long, so I’m going to put it behind a cut and there’s a lot of words, so please read them all before you respond or whatever. (I wouldn’t add that last bit, except I’ve noticed a tendency on the internet and especially here to skim and take offense at phrases taken out of context.)

The kemetic community here on Tumblr is one of the most active and accessible ones on the internet–trust me, as a relatively recent convert I looked.  This is a fantastic thing.  New kemetics join up and are promptly greeted with a friendliness and welcome that I honestly haven’t seen outside of the brony fandom.  Welcome to the herd, indeed! Everyone is forthcoming with FAQs to help newbies get started (occasionally a little too forthcoming–I actually read them all before I joined up, but I’m not going to complain about people wanting to put me at ease about my nontraditional religious choices), and we are quick to correct common misconceptions about our gods so that people don’t confuse the the Netjeru with other entities.  As in any religion, it’s important that we have a good handle on who our gods are.  I mean, we wouldn’t want to have people worshiping Thoth as a god of chaos or Anpu as a god of weaving, and we certainly don’t want anybody worshiping a/pep at all.

That said, our gods are old.  Really old.  Like, 5000 years old.  As reconstructionists, our practices and beliefs have a hefty basis in historical fact.  But with a history going back that far, a lot of what we know comes to us in fragments.  There are some complete texts, of course, which provide a lot of information, but there are many deities we only have bits and pieces on.  Some we barely have a name for.  And then we have the fact that Ancient Egypt was a culture that spanned millennia–even while our gods were actively being worshiped, their roles changed.  Deities got merged with with other deities,  others rose in popularity while others fell.  There was a lot of rebranding, even then.  Now fast forward to now.  If there were that many changes during the most active period when these gods were worshiped, how many more changes have happened since then as the gods sought to hold onto what power and strength they had?  I’ve seen evidence that in AE, they believed that if you were forgotten here, you would actually cease to exist.  While that generally applies to humans, it seems logical that that would apply to the gods as well.  That’s why we avoid writing out a/pep’s name properly–to do so would give him power.  So it stands to reason that many of our gods have changed at least a little since antiquity, if only to survive.  Combine that with the simple fact that they are 5000 years old–yes, they’re gods, but I’m pretty sure any entity is going to change over that long of a time period.  In short, our knowledge of our gods is fragmented and spotty at best.  We simply don’t have enough data to be able to definitively give the whole picture of who our gods are.  We can get a good idea, of course, and there are some things we can be certain of, but there’s still a lot that we just don’t know.  There’s a lot of personal gnosis that we can’t verify.  For example, who’s to say that Neith didn’t embrace her association with Athena and decide, hey, I think I’m going to steal this whole spider thing.  These guys are cool, and I think I’m going to inundate some of my followers with them.  I’m not saying that’s happened, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.  We can’t know 100% for certain.

And so, keeping all of this in mind, there has been one thing I’ve seen in the community here that’s really bothered me.  Everyone is so careful to use to correct terminology to not be ableist, transphobic, sexist, racist, and to basically not step on anybody’s toes socially.

But we don’t use that same care when we correct other people about our religion.

We are one of the faces of our religion, guys.  How we act affects how other people perceive our religious practices and our gods.  Human beings generally judge gods by their worshipers.  That’s a big reason why people are leaving Christianity in droves (not the only reason, but that’s an entirely different post, so let me have this one for the example).  I’m not saying that logical, rational people stop worshiping a deity because their followers are jerks, but it happens.  At best, people keep their worship to themselves because they don’t want to be associated with those guys over there.

Our gods are important.   Maybe it’s a holdover from when I was a still a Christian, but I kind of feel like if we’re going to take care in our language to not hurt other people’s feelings, how we discuss our gods should probably be one of the first places we adjust our language, not the last.  Are feelings going to get hurt?  Absolutely.  We aren’t perfect, and everybody slips up.  But we’re communicating by text here, which means we don’t hear the tone things are said in, we don’t get the body language with them, we don’t get the facial expressions.  When we make corrections, we may not intend them to come across as harsh or mean, but a lot of the time they do.   When that happens, people stop wanting to talk about their experiences, people stop wanting to talk about their gods.  They don’t want to get verbally attacked again.  And, frankly, that’s a damned shame, because the best thing about this community is being able to talk about your adventures with your gods, and how much you love them.  We all have different experiences, and we all see different aspects of our gods, and that’s a wonderful, amazing thing, not just for us, but for anyone who’s still looking for their spiritual home.  It gives us an opportunity to show off how delightfully complex our gods are, to show that Set isn’t *just* a god of chaos, that Thoth isn’t *just* a god of scribes, that Heqet isn’t *just* a goddess of fertility, that Isis isn’t *just* the mother of Horus.  It also gives us an opportunity to compare notes, and realize, “Wait, you’ve had this experience, too?  Holy crap, I’m not crazy after all!” That’s invaluable–we all know how horrible it is to feel like you’re the only one having a given experience, and nobody likes feeling like they’ve gone insane.

But when we correct misconceptions about our deities and our practices–which should be done, don’t get me wrong–and we don’t choose our words carefully, we run the risk of shutting people down because they’re afraid of being attacked.  We run the risk of losing this amazing community.  Now, nobody’s perfect, and even the most considered response can occasionally be taken wrong (in fact, I’m fairly certain this will probably be taken wrong by some people–please note that this is not directed at anyone specifically and it is certainly not meant as an attack).  But when you go to correct someone’s incredibly wrong statement, take a moment and consider how your correction is likely to be taken.  Try to be nice about it, even if you’ve pretty much shouted from the rooftops for the last six years that it’s not correct.  The person you’re correcting may have only stumbled onto the community yesterday, and they haven’t had time to read through your entire blog.  They may not even be a part of our community at all.  Is it highly annoying?  Yes.  Do you want to punch them for perpetuating incorrect information?  Maybe a little.  But they don’t know what you do.  They don’t have your frame of reference and they may not have had a chance to do as much research as you have.  If you can’t calm down and address your concerns in a polite manner, maybe consider letting it go this once.  After all, outside of Kemetic Orthodoxy, most of us are solo practicioners–what someone else is doing literally doesn’t affect your personal practice at all.  Now, if you’ve made oaths or agreements with any of your deities, you may have a responsibility to ensure that a given deity is perceived correctly, but that’s honestly all the more reason to be polite in your corrections–you are representing that deity’s interests, so make them look good.  If you do inadvertently come across wrong, apologize.  I don’t think any of us are or want to be jerks, so let’s try not to come across that way.

(originally published on Oct 25, 2015 on my tumblr)

Transitions

So, what with my blog being called the meandering path and all, I thought I might give a little history of one of the previous stops on it. Plus, I’ve seen a few posts go by on this particular subject, so it might be relevant to a few of you. I originally started out as a Catholic. It’s the religion I was raised in, and while I had many questions that never seemed to get answered and there were a few things I didn’t much care for (I felt very forced into it, although that turned out to be my parents more than the church), an active prayer life and being involved in the community mostly made up for it. Until I decided to get married. My parish priest was very old fashioned, and insisted that I agree to raise any potential kids as catholics. My then Baptist fiance had to agree to not interfere with that. Now, even though we didn’t really plan on having kids (“If God wills it, okay, but he’s going to have to make that birth control fail to do it. ”), we both took the subject very seriously, and neither of us could make that promise. We got married in a local wedding chapel instead, and my relationship with the church hasn’t been the same since, mostly because the church doesn’t recognize marriages it didn’t perform. No one has ever judged me, but knowing that the official doctrine says I’m living in sin really rankles. I’ve drifted significantly since (more on that later) and it was only this year that I realized that the god I’ve been praying to didn’t really meet the description of the Abrahamic god. I asked who I’d been praying to, and the name came back, “Neith.” I had no idea what that even was. Obviously I did some research and one thing led to another, as it often does. But one of the more difficult things had been wrapping my head around going from a monotheistic religion to a polytheistic one. I do have the advantage that while I’ve only recently realized I’m not a Christian any more, when I look back, I really haven’t been one for probably for four or five years. But a lot of the ideas are still in my head, and I’ve still got a lot of the religious paraphernalia around. So one of the things I’ve been trying to work out is how I’m going to relate to where I’ve been. Where I’ve slowly drifted away, it’s more difficult than if I’d openly rejected (or been rejected by) Christianity. I was never really burned by the church like many have been. It just doesn’t work for me anymore. The conclusion I’ve come to at this point is that whatever else, Catholicism is a part of my history. It informed my childhood, and influenced my early adulthood. To try to pretend otherwise would be dishonest and disrespectful to myself. So I think I’ll leave my crucifix up, and keep carrying that St. Christopher’s medal a while longer. I’ll work on my thought patterns and verbal habits first. (You don’t realize how much of your language and ideas are based on monotheism until you leave it.) and I’m sure one day I’ll leave behind those trappings of the religion of my birth. Today just isn’t that day. And while I still respect Jesus, I honestly never prayed to him, anyway (the holy trinity was something I could never quite get a handle on, so I just prayed to God and let him sort it out).

(originally published Sept 12, 2015 on my tumblr)