Kemetic

So, what does it mean to be Kemetic? I’m sure there are varying opinions on that topic, but basically we’re the folks who have made Ancient Egypt part of our spiritual lives. I’m trying to stick to general, and hopefully noncontroversial information, but if something doesn’t seem right, or if you think something needs clarification, go ahead and leave a comment so that the readers can see what other views are out there. I’m not a scholar. I’m just someone who the gods dragged in.

A Kemetic may follow the deities of Ancient Egypt in one way or another. The names of the Names can get confusing here. Most of the names you probably learned in school are the Greek versions. Heru became Horus, and Aset became Isis, but Sekhmet is still Sekhmet. So what are the real names? That can vary depending on who you ask. I go with the spellings used in the Kemetic Orthodoxy, because those are the ones that I’ve learned. I’ve seen other variations used here and there, and I still know who they’re talking about without blinking an eye. I know that Anubis is Yinepu is Anpu, for example. Why all the variation? The ancients had this thing about not writing down all the vowels, so a best guess is simply a best guess. There is also a huge time span to look at and a lot of geography for ancient people to cover. That results in changes to the language itself. Not to worry though. It is generally understood that the names the humans know are not the gods’ true names anyway. They still answer to the various nicknames that they’ve accumulated over the years, no matter how badly we may be pronouncing them now.

One thing you notice right away is that the gods are not human. They can appear human. They can appear animal. They can be somewhere in between. Do my divined fathers literally have falcon heads and human bodies? No, I don’t believe so, unless they just decide that’s what they want to look like on that particular day. Animals are an easy shorthand to remind us that our gods are beyond human. They are something other. They can look like us and talk like us, but only because they choose to do so. Your interpretation of “beyond human” may vary. If the animal thing wasn’t enough, the gods also aspect and syncretize. Sometimes they blend together. Sometimes one may change into another, or simply take up another’s role under a different name. The variations can give you headaches at times. Kemetic gods are very difficult to pin down. It reminds us to be a little cautious in case we start getting too comfortable in thinking we know everything there is to know about Them.

Another thing that Kemetics all seem to have in common is ma’at, the concept, and Ma’at, the goddess. There are different ways of describing ma’at. Most non Kemetics may recognize her as the feather on the scales that is weighed against a human heart in the afterlife. She is most recognizably a symbol of justice, and the scales are still a symbol of justice in our courtrooms today. We do have that weighing of the heart thing going on. We do know that someday we will have to answer for the way that we have lived. Some pagans may rail against the similarities to Christianity, but hey, the Kemetics were there first. But there’s more to ma’at than simply “justice.” It is also the balance that keeps life, and the universe itself, running smoothly. Ma’at can range from societal laws, to the laws of instinct and survival, to the actual physical laws of the universe. We can’t really go through life without breaking some of these here or there. We’re not perfect. Ma’at is more concerned with the overall balance that evens the scales over time, action and reaction, cause and effect. Maybe even karma, in the various meanings of the word.

And then there’s the opposite of ma’at, Apep. Every morning at dawn, the giant serpent tries to devour the sun. The forces of existence and nonexistence are perpetually at war. We have no end of the world thing to “look forward to.” Our “end of the world” threatens every single day, and every single day, our gods fight to keep us all going. We have no talk of the End Times, or Final Judgement. My gods’ response to end of the world talk? “Not on MY watch!” The end of the world isn’t a glorious thing. It isn’t a game. It is something to be fought every day and forever. I don’t know about other Kemetics, but I don’t make jokes about nuking anyone, ever.

Then there are the principles of family and community. The gods are all family to each other. Egypt, or Kemet, was one of the first great civilizations, sporting a centralized government. It may be hard to come to terms with those ideas in the current situation where Kemetics often live many miles apart. Many of us are converts who do not have family backing in our spiritual pursuits. Still, the themes of community and family, including departed family members, come up repeatedly in our texts. It is a big deal. It is something we must strive toward as being a manifestation of ma’at. We are stronger when we work together. We can build wonders.

Dream: Freeing the Gods

Mommas, don’t let your temples grow up to be cages…

I was supposed to be posting about shrines today, but that post would not come together. Last week, before my vacation, I kept thinking about an old dream. The dream was years ago, before I was consciously Kemetic. I didn’t have time to write about it last week, so here it is.

I was walking outside in the country. There were fields on all sides, and I could see people working in them. I carried a hawk on my arm, but the hawk seemed weak. It could barely hold itself upright. I worried about it. I placed the hawk on a perch next to the front door of a church and I went inside.

The church was made of stone. It was cool and dark. I looked around and saw that it was full of gods of all kinds. A magician-priest had trapped them all inside. I knew this was why my hawk was faltering. I felt this was very wrong. The gods needed to be outside with the people who worked in the fields.

I knew that the magic that sealed the gods inside might be broken if I brought down the chandelier. I looked up and saw the four screws holding it up to the ceiling. Using telekinesis, I unscrewed one of them, and then started on the second one. One of the goddesses spoke up and said that what I was doing was unnatural. It seemed like she objected not to what I was doing, but to how I was doing it. I explained to her that it was already partly done, and if I left it like that, the whole thing could crash down on someone’s head without warning. If I kept going, we might get it done safely. Hearing no other objections, I turned my gaze back up to the remaining screws. Then I woke up.

When I first had the dream, I thought it was a commentary about Christianity stifling the pagan gods. Now I’m not so sure. Magician-priest? That sounds a little too familiar for comfort, doesn’t it? Separating the gods from the common people, that sounds familiar too. The “bad guy” in the dream may have been Kemetic. I say I’m not a Reconstructionist, because there are some things that really should not be reconstructed. The gods need to be out there, among the people who need them, not locked up where only the privileged few may interact with them. It’s not good for the people, and it’s not good for the gods either.

Whenever I see people today, building walls between the “aristocracy” and the commoners, it does make me angry. It is the height of arrogance to try to dictate to others what the gods will or won’t do. That’s only the barest step away from claiming to control the gods, to putting them in a cage. How could that even happen? It can happen by convincing the people that your way is the only way, by shutting them out, building a wall with them outside, and you and the gods on the inside. It cuts off the conduit. Can people and gods work around that? Sure they can, but it becomes harder and harder to do over time. The priests grabbed way too much control. They elevated the gods to the point where they were “too important” which raised the importance of priests by association. Let’s not do that again, shall we? The gods are for everyone who hears them, and who are we to tell the gods what they can say or who they can talk to?

Then this weekend, there was another dream. I was talking to a young woman, but I don’t think she could hear me. I told her I was sorry, but I just couldn’t do this. I did feel genuinely sorry. I was wearing an expensive suit. Around me on all sides were animals in cages. I remember seeing a crocodile. I turned away from the woman and started walking. I had to leave the zoo. I looked around and saw other people walking towards the exit too. We walked away from the animals and their cages.

I was supposed to write a post about shrines today. I have nothing against shrines. I have one, but I don’t use it often. My statues are not “open” and they probably never will be. I recently made the decision to keep the curtains open all the time. I like having the family portraits out where I can see them. Maybe I’ll get to the shrine post later when I’m in a better mood to write one.

Kiln Update

Ok, enough playing around, I must pack, but first, Ankh Udjat Scarab! The Udjat makes me go Squee!!!, but it still looks like sugar candy. Raising the temperature to 900C didn’t work to make it glossy. That means it’s definitely the mix and not the temperature. I will have to play with that next week after I get back.

Faience Ankh, Udjat, and Scarab

Correctness

The only people who are objectively correct in their beliefs are agnostics. They freely admit that they don’t know.

Personally, I think that’s a wussy way to go through life. It takes a certain amount of courage to be wrong.

Also, don’t be a dick.

That’s all I have to say about this, and every other pagan debate, that comes around, ever. It seems to apply across the board.

Opinion. I haz one.

Kiln! A.K.A Improving the Art of Art

(I’m posting early this week because I will be out of town on Friday.)

I’m really lucky that K just rolled around on the Pagan Blog Project. I got to fire up my new kiln for the first time on Sunday! So, what does my shiny new toy have to do with paganism? Actually, a lot. My reasons for wanting one are both pagan and kemetic in origin.

When I look around to other religions, I see gorgeous works of art. Despite the abundance of pagan artists around, honestly, how much of what we make can live up to what older, more established, religions have produced? Everyone seems to be an amateur artist, with a few scattered exceptions here and there. Your Deviant Art page may have a few nice things in it, but when do we as pagans make it into the big leagues? I hear Kemetics complaining about resin statues, but who is carving or casting real ones? If we don’t want to have to buy them from a factory in China, we need more people to step up to the plate.

The problem is that professional looking art is really hard to make, and often expensive too. I got my rather small kiln for $400, and that’s just the beginning. I’m lucky enough to have a place to run it, after we rewired the shed, which cost more than the kiln. (For those who may be considering the options, the kiln manual says that a covered porch, protected from rain and humidity, is an acceptable place to keep one. You don’t need a workshop like mine.) Then there’s safety equipment and materials. It took me this long to get one for exactly that reason. I’m still cringing over the cost, and I know the likelihood of me somehow making that money back is probably less than half. I know that many pagans tend to the poor side of the scale, and I’m lucky to get this far. Though, sitting where I am now, I would have told my younger self to start being a little more “selfish” and proactive and start putting that money away a little bit at a time. “Big” is not the same thing as “can never have.”

My first goal is to learn the art. I’ll worry about Etsy later. My first goal should be to learn the art anyway. If I put the money first, I may get discouraged if things don’t sell, and then slack off on making beautiful things. I have to get my head in the right place. I want to make something my people and my gods can be proud of. I want to make something that has the potential to survive for centuries so that if the dark ages come again, there will be something left that will tell our stories, just as we inherited such things from those who came before us. I want to be a link in the chain.

That is the goal, and it’s a big one, and it makes me nervous and excited all at once. Can I do it? I don’t consider myself especially talented, but practice can make up for that. I made my first faience pieces today, a scarab and a jackal amulet. They’re far from professional. The mix isn’t right yet. It doesn’t mold well (Probably a binder problem.), and it didn’t turn glassy like it should (That could either be not enough flux or not enough heat.). I expect I will go through many batches before I get the recipe right. But the color came out as a bright and beautiful sky blue (Looks like the right amount of oxide!). I feel encouraged.

Jackal and Scarab Faience Amulets

Journeywork: Here There Be Dragons

Journeywork is my primary method of getting in touch spiritually. It’s usually paired with energy work. Journeywork is where you mentally, spiritually, or astrally travel elsewhere for various reasons. It might be all in my head, and it might not. Some people say that it’s dangerous, and I agree, but not as much as riding in a car. Whether you believe you’re traveling to the spirit world, or just exploring the inside of your own mind, here there be dragons. You have to decide what to do with those dragons. Do you fight them? Slay them? Run screaming in the opposite direction? Learn to negotiate and invite them over for tea? Turn them into friends or even lovers? Do they seduce you with lies, or do they hold up a glaring mirror of truth? It can become anything that you make of it, for better or worse. It can become a disease, or a cure. Dragons, I’m telling you, beautiful, terrifying, exotic, magical, dangerous, dragons.

In the Kemetic Othrodox forums I do this thing where I link music videos to each of my gods. It’s sort of a musical offering attached to my signature. Sometimes I go through and change them as the mood strikes. For awhile, I dedicated the song above, a cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) from the movie Sucker Punch, to Sobek, the Kemetic crocodile god of the river. His ability to navigate the chaotic waters of the Nun makes him a good deity to associate with journeywork. He’s also not a gentle god. He can protect you and keep you safe, if you earn his favor. He can also chew you up if you’re not careful. He brings the flood, the inundation, but you better know how to swim. I remember fighting the dragon, right after I graduated from college. I was at war with myself. Was all this magic and spirit stuff really helping? Did I really have anything to show for it? Wouldn’t I be better off without it? The struggle went on for weeks. I didn’t want to kill the dragon, and I didn’t want it to kill me. Finally we came to a truce, and it settled in peacefully and protectively at my side. I believe this “dragon” was Sobek in disguise. Show some courage, and maybe the dragon will come to respect you, and even like you.

If that still sounds like a good idea to you, you’re probably crazy. But I would be the biggest hypocrite ever if I told anyone not to go. Just be careful out there. If something feels like a runaway train, then it probably is. Remember, that you’re not only allowed, but expected, to fight back when the going gets weird.  Double and triple check everything, internally and externally, to try to keep it from getting away from you. If the road seems too easy, and all the answers are laid neatly on your plate without struggle, chances are good that somebody is faking it. The dragons guard treasure, but they don’t just hand it over most of the time. Change is difficult, and if you’re not there to make changes, then why bother? I’ve seen people wander down rose strewn paths, bleeding away their energy the whole way. Don’t let that be you. Keep yourself whole. Step away from it when you need to rest. Eat right, sleep right, wash behind your ears. Come back to earth and move your body. Take care of the daily grind. That’s how you keep your balance.

That said, I’ll tell you how I got there. Mine is far from the only way.

I started by learning to meditate. I took fifteen minutes every day to practice. I repeated a mantra over and over, in my head but tied to my breath. Most of the time nothing happened except for feeling kind of relaxed. Some days went more smoothly than others. I didn’t do anything fancy. I simply repeated the mantra for fifteen minutes, daily. I was training myself to relax into an altered state of consciousness. There are many different ways to do this. You don’t have to use my method. Some people listen to music. Some people listen to, or play, a drum. Some dance, some walk, some spin in endless circles. I’ve even heard of people getting into a meditative state while doing boring daily chores, like the dishes. For the purpose of journeywork, I’d think that one of the less active methods would be easier on you when you’re elsewhere, but to each their own. If you choose a mantra or a piece of music, pay attention to the words or the tone. You don’t want to program yourself with something negative or potentially stressful. That can set the tone of the entire experience.

As I said, most of the time when I was learning, nothing much happened. Be patient. It can take months to learn how to “go under.” The state of mind works on a sliding scale too, and the scale can be deceptive. You might be only lightly tranced, mostly aware of your surroundings. You may go heavily under and forget where you are. You may think you’re wide awake and then find yourself unwilling to physically move. I’m always at least a little bit aware of my physical surroundings, but there are times when time passes more quickly than I would imagine, and nothing short of a fire alarm would get me to move. Some people do have complete out-of-body experiences, but that is not necessary for journeywork. What you’re aiming for is basically a daydream with more focus and power behind it.

A daydream? Is that it? Well, yes, though it’s also a thing of degree. When you start to Journey, try not to consciously control every action. You have to let it flow. Go with the current and see where it leads. If it starts to feel forced, backtrack and try something else. Don’t automatically believe everything you see as if it was the literal truth. There’s a lot of symbolism to be had out there. Something that doesn’t make sense now might become more clear later. Writing down the session after you get done is a good practice, because it’s easy to forget or discount what you’re seen. You may find yourself going back to those notes months later and suddenly have something fall into place.

Journeying is a good platform for magic. Again, don’t take everything literally. It’s also a good tool for self-development. By facing your fears, you can lessen them. By practicing control over your environment, you can teach yourself confidence. It doesn’t have to all be hard and scary though. By spending time among friendly spirits in nice surroundings you can learn to calm yourself and relieve stress. That can be just as important, and sometimes more important, than shadow work. If you need the indulgent fantasy, then go ahead and take it. You may need something else later. When in doubt, look to the yardstick. If it is all in your head, how is it affecting your life? Are you making progress over time? Or do you find yourself on a treadmill, doing variations on the same thing constantly? If you have been changing, is that change for the better? Again, it’s good to keep a journal to help you answer those questions. Real change can take months or even years to achieve.

(Note: Some people call this shamanism. That word has so much cultural baggage attached that I think it’s best to not use it. I’m not a shaman. I’m a person who does journeywork.)

Heka

The Kemetic Round Table Question of the half month is, “Heka: What is it? How can I work with it?”

Heka is the kemetic version of magic. It is based on speech and the written word. Having things written down was a special thing in ancient Egypt because only a few people actually knew how to write. If you wanted a written spell, you’d have to pay a professional to make or sell you one. The spells varied in subject from medical treatments, to love, protection, revenge, and spells for the dead to find their way to a happy and comfortable afterlife.

There’s probably not a whole lot I can add that won’t be repeated by other bloggers. There is the idea that words represent real things, on a deeper level than that which we take for granted. The Kemetic idea of Names is related to that idea. If you know someone’s Name you have power over them. I believe that is because then you have inside knowledge as to what motivates them, their strengths and their weaknesses. You have to reach behind the surface and “read between the lines” to find the hidden meaning of the words.

In the Kemetic Orthodoxy, each person who takes shemsu vows is given a name. Part of the vow is to explore the meaning of that name. Mine is no secret. It’s also the name of this blog. I’m not particularly worried about it being used against me. What you have up there is just a surface level translation, pretty much stripped of its original nuances. It’s meant to be a public name. I have other names that I don’t tell, and none of those are THE name. They are like satellites orbiting the center. They give clues, they get close, but the center remains hidden. It’s helpful for me to know them, because that gives me a way to know if I’m staying true to myself, or if I’m starting to drift. If something doesn’t seem right, I can check with my names to see if I am contradicting myself. (Note: I said I have other names. One does not have to become a shemsu in order to have a name. How do you find out your name? Pure dumb luck, mostly.) Knowing my names, even if they’re not the main one, helps me to gain power over myself. That’s some pretty good heka there since most of my problems can be traced back to that person who looks at me through the mirror.

In the practice of heka, the general idea is that you say the thing you want to occur. Writing it down also helps and can be considered magical in itself. After the Boston bombing I did a little bit of heka here. I won’t take credit for the excellent work done by so many others, but this one did have a successful outcome. In writing your own, your words need to be confident and authoritative. It helps if they align with existing archetypal patterns. Myths were often mentioned with the speaker adopting the role of one of the participants, even that of a god, so that the same pattern established in the myth would be established in their situation. It also helps if you can dive into the deeper and multiple meanings of the words. Ancient Egyptians were fond of puns, not just for humor value, but for the additional meanings supplied to the words. The scales in the example above can apply either to the scales of Ma’at in the duat, or to the scales of justice in court. I admit, I wasn’t that picky. As for the harshness of the spell, that’s actually pretty tame compared to some of the historical spells I’ve read. The ancients didn’t mess around in life or death situations.