KRT: Ring-ring-ring Godphone!

God radios: How to live with one, how to live without one. What happens if the reception is bad, or the gods quit responding?

I wrote about this one recently in The Voices In My Head which talks about how to balance deific communications versus natural skepticism, and how to try to tease out important communications from idle chatter. In other words, having a godphone doesn’t instantly make you a pope. There’s more gray area involved here than you’d find on an overweight circus elephant.

I’ve talked to gods for about as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what it’s like not to at this point. There is no such thing as honing it until it’s perfect and static free. It just is what it is, static and all. I often go to secondary divination methods to make sure I’ve got the message straight and ask for clarification. Most of the time I just do a quick online tarot read from here or here. Sometimes an answer can come from a random music shuffle. I’m often amused by what the “shuffle demons” come up with. I’ve gotten messages from feathers found in a parking lot and from unusual animals showing up. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a gut feeling where you are drawn toward, or pushed away, from something.

The main requirement for getting these things to work is allowing them to work. Give yourself permission to be wrong. Lighten up. Play with it. I think that the fear of being wrong is the number one reason why people claim that they can’t talk to, or listen to, gods. There’s a fear of making things up, or playing with imaginary friends or sock puppets. You know what? It’s exactly like playing with imaginary friends. The big, deep, dark secret is that this is simply how it works. If you’re expecting something more profound, you probably won’t hear anything at all because you’re too worried about messing it up.

Be open to receive first. You can interpret and pick it apart later. Don’t make it into a huge important thing. Don’t crush it under the weight of expectations. Most people find it easier to talk with the gods about subjects that don’t really make any difference. What kind of offering does the god prefer? Chocolate or cinnamon? That kind of answer has no real importance, so there’s no need to stress over it. Once you get used to talking about nothing, you may find that the god will start to slip bigger things into the conversation when you’re not paying attention. When this happens, remember to take all information under advisement. Think about it. Research it. Weigh it against ma’at. Don’t go looking for that stone chisel just yet.

What if that still doesn’t work and you’re just not cut out for the godphone idea? Then don’t worry about it. On the most basic level, you probably have some idea about the difference between right and wrong, however subjective that idea may be. Follow your ethics and morals. If you need to make a decision, then do your homework, but don’t forget to take personal feelings into account. Those do matter. There are also various methods of divination, as I mentioned earlier. Pay attention to dreams and random occurrences. Talk to your friends and family. All of these methods require interpretation and thought.

A godphone is no different. It also requires interpretation and thought. Mostly I use mine because I like the companionship. I don’t really expect to learn the great unknowable secrets of the universe. What good would those do me anyway? It doesn’t make me better or more holy than anyone else. It just means I’m more of a pain in the gods’s butts with my constant questions and complaints. It makes it easier for them to tell me what to do and annoy me too. Our conversations aren’t particularly holy to tell the truth.

KRT: (How not to do) Offerings

Offerings 101: What do I offer the gods? How do I determine what to offer? Can I offer without a patron?
Do I need to revert my offerings? How do I do that? What if I can’t?

Right now, I’m full of “don’t really care” on this topic. Maybe I can come up with a good post by exploring why I’m not really into the subject matter right now. It is a central point in Kemeticism. So, why the blahs?

Maybe because the offering mindset has a dark side that I rarely see addressed. That does not mean you should stop giving offerings. That’s not it at all! But maybe just be aware of how the offering mindset can warp over time into something it wasn’t really meant to become. I’m going to go on a tangent here and discuss the pitfalls inherent in the offering mindset so that maybe people can recognize when they stray into that territory.

Pitfall 1: “The Vending Machine”

This is probably the first thing people think about when it comes to offering pitfalls. The gods are not vending machines. They’re not obligated to answer your request even if you blow way too much money on vintage Scotch on Their behalf. Even if you create a trial for yourself, and dedicate 100 hours of community service, they’re not required to do what you’ve asked.

It’s possible that the thing you’ve asked for was a really bad idea and they’re doing you a favor by not giving it to you. Maybe what you’ve asked just isn’t possible without breaking some major rules of ma’at. Maybe they just don’t like being bought. (Who does?)

Pitfall 2: “What have you given me lately?”

Yes, the deities like offerings. I’m not arguing against that, but I’ve run across this underlying current of thought that a follower is only as good as what they offer and how they offer it. It’s as if the gods don’t care about people at all except as a source of offerings. Some gods may be like that. They do have widely varying personalities. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to have a relationship with a god (or anyone else) who acted that way. If a human only likes you for your stuff, we call them a “fair weather friend.” If I called my gods that, they would feel insulted and possibly hurt by the accusation.

In my own experiences, my gods do genuinely care about me, offerings or no offerings. The stuff is nice, but it’s not everything, or even the most important thing. The gods love you. If you don’t honestly believe that, then what are you doing here? Go take up a more fulfilling hobby like Pokemon card trading.

Pitfall 3: “Shrine Envy”

This is not a contest. If you can afford nice things without causing undue harm to your bank account, then by all means, have fun with it! If Jane Hotep blogs about an elaborate shrine, ritual, or offering, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s more devoted or that the gods love her more than you.

You don’t need to get shrine envy. In fact, shrine envy is a distraction that may cause you to lose confidence in your own practice. If you lose confidence, your practice will suffer for it, causing you shrine guilt to go along with your shrine envy. Try not to do that. Remember pitfall 2 while you’re at it, the gods love you anyway, and be patient with yourself. Do what you can, when you can, as measured by your own lifestyle, ability and limitations, not in comparison to someone else.

Pitfall 4: “Shrine Guilt”

So, maybe things haven’t been going according to plan. Maybe you got busy. Maybe your depression has flared up leading to some fallow times. Maybe you had a sudden loss of income or time or space. For whatever reason, you haven’t been able to meet your offering goals. This is when shrine guilt sets in.

Stop that. The gods don’t want you to be miserable. (If they do, you need different gods.) You’re not doing anyone any favors by beating yourself up. The way to tackle this is not to make a new resolution to shrine twice as hard starting tomorrow. The best way is to go back to doing small things today to ease your way back into it. (Remember pitfall 2 again! The gods love you, dangit!)

I’m sure there are others, or variations on the ones above that I haven’t thought of. This list will get you started in recognizing the difference between a healthy practice, and one that is fraught with poor relationship values.

I will go back and answer one question from above though. What do I offer the gods? Offer your heart. Offer your friendship. Offer your time and thoughts. Offer your compassion. Offer yourself, as you hope to be, and as you really are. Offer your honesty. Offer your hopes and fears. Offer your efforts to make the world a better place. And yes, offer your chocolate. They like that.

KRT: Kemeticism, Public or Private?

Underground Kemeticism: How public are you about your beliefs and practices? How has it (or not) impacted your work life, your familial and friendly ties? What advice would you give to uncertain Kemetics about how to approach either telling or not telling others about their beliefs?

If someone asks, I tell, but no one ever asks. The closest I’ve gotten was when someone who worked at the zoo complimented me on my Horus necklace, but there was no real opening for conversation at the time. Ankhs are common enough as a fashion accessory that they’re practically invisible.

I’ve taught a tai chi class for a few years. That’s where I “work” though it’s just part time. I go in, teach the class and leave. The students never ask. Religion doesn’t really have anything to do with tai chi, beyond the fact that Heru enjoys it. We get into slightly mystical territory with the chi, but that’s Chinese, not Kemetic anyway. As a professional, I don’t really feel that it’s my place to bring religion into the classroom. (I wish others in this country would feel the same way!)

At home, my family does know. My daughter likes Bast, but beyond keeping her statue around to scare away the monsters at night, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s still a bit young. My spouse is not Kemetic, but we met at a pagan gathering, so all is good there. My mom and my sister know, but they pretty much ignore it. The rest of the family doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care. The mother in law would care, which is why my spouse routinely tells her nothing.

Telling or not telling used to be a bigger deal when I was a younger pagan and all excited about the shiny and new. At this point though, it’s not something I think about very often.

Internally, I feel like I’m on more solid ground as a Kemetic than I was as a generic pagan. Everyone has seen the statues and art. If someone did ask, I could talk about ma’at. I could talk about the well-defined roles of various deities and how they contribute to a stable society. I am proud of my religion, even if it is a quiet kind of proud.

KRT: Kingship

Does the concept of Kingship/Pharaoh impact your practice, and if so, how?

With Heru-sa-Aset and Ra as my primary deities, it’s really hard to ignore the concept. I like to present myself as an easy-going dude, but scratch the surface and you’ll find that I really do watch everyone and everything around me very closely.

That started when I was in school. I watched my teachers very closely. I was a challenge to them. Some of them met the challenge very professionally. Some did not. A very few went beyond the strict guidelines of the job to make sure I was cared for despite, or maybe because of, the challenges I presented. I got a lot of ideas about what makes a good leader and what does not. I respected professionalism, but I loved those who went the extra mile. They’re the ones who put their snap judgements aside and really tried to see the situation clearly. They saw me not as an opponent that needed to be pounded into submission, but as a child who needed extra care. Those kinds of people are rare in the world, and I appreciate them whenever I see them.

I try to be one of those people, and it’s hard. It’s so much easier to get frustrated and angry. It’s easier to be dismissive. It’s easier to toss people aside or ignore them because they don’t quite fit your expectations.

It’s even harder with a group of people who have varying wants and needs. I’m not saying I was ever a king, but you’ll run into certain types of things in any leadership position. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. People expect you to take sides and give special treatment to friends. They get mad if you don’t, but then you’ll be running afoul of Ma’at if you do. The needs of the whole must always come first. It’s not personal. It can’t be. A good leader is not “The one who calls the shots.” A good leader is “The one who serves the whole.” Every action and every word must be weighed carefully. It’s a horrible job. I wouldn’t want it.

A farmer cultivates the land. A King, a good leader, cultivates people. You can get by with professionalism. In fact, if you can maintain that kind of order then you are a huge step ahead of the majority of people who can’t follow their own rules. Fairness, Ma’at, is the cornerstone of good leadership. But if you want to go from good to great, you need Ankh, you need to cultivate life. You must actively help those around you to grow strong and vibrant. Measure a king not by their own greatness, but by the greatness they inspire around them.

If you want to be royalty, then act like royalty. Be the better person. Live in Ma’at. Strengthen and care for your brothers and sisters.

Holidays Kemetic Style (KRT)

How do we negotiate Western secular and/or popular religious holidays? Do we ignore them? Do we co-opt them? Do we have celebrations with our non-Kemetic friends/family and then hold our own celebrations, if we have any Kemetic festivals around that particular time?

In just a little while, I’m going over to my Mom’s house to celebrate Christmas. I don’t think there are going to be any actual Christians at that gathering. My Mom is agnostic who would claim to be Christian if asked, just in case. I don’t think that really counts. So, if you take Christ out of Christmas, which real Christians naturally object to, but can’t seem to stop, what is left? Like most secularized holidays, it becomes a celebration of family and feasting. We give the little one gifts because unlike the adults, she can’t just go out and buy herself what she wants. We give the adults gifts too, but we all know darn well that the kid gets more out of that tradition than we do.

I’ve been a pagan since high school, which is longer ago than you might think, and I still call it Christmas. I’ve had friends who have insisted on changing the name to Yule, but it didn’t really stick with me. I grew up with Christmas, even if I didn’t exactly grow up with Christianity. My Dad wasn’t Christian either. He was a Deist.

There are Kemetic holidays around this time of year that can be co-opted. There are Kemetic holidays at any time of year. Part of that is because different cities celebrated different ones. If you were to celebrate all of the Kemetic holidays, you’d never go to work again! The majority of us live in regions other than the Nile valley, so it would make sense for us to have our own holidays too. I’ve seen a few people co-opt Christmas for the birth of Heru-sa-Aset. The symbols sure look a lot alike, and Jesus wasn’t actually born in the winter either. The Kemetic Orthodoxy celebrates “Moomas,” or the Return of the Celestial Cow. I see the time around the solstice as being the turning of Ra’s boat. I’m seasonally affective, so this is a big deal to me. There’s no reason why you have to celebrate the same thing as everyone else, unless you want to get in on the community vibes.

I don’t see any reason to stop celebrating your local holidays either. Family and community are both very important cornerstones of Kemeticism. It’s far better to celebrate a meal with your family, or to attend an event in your city, than to light candles all by yourself. In other words, don’t get snobby about Christmas, or whatever holidays your family or community celebrates. Have fun and celebrate while you can! You can still light candles later.

KRT: Threats and Bribery

Bribing and Threatening the Gods: Can you do it? If you can, how so? And is it somehow ‘blasphemous’ or ‘immoral’ to do so?

The first question that comes to mind is “With what?” What do you have to offer that’s good enough to make a god change their mind? What can you do that’s bad enough? And either way, would they be willing to encourage such behavior even if they were tempted? Would you not just continue to offer bribes and threats in an effort to manipulate them against their better judgement?

From a historical perspective, threats and bribes can be found multiple times in the coffin texts, and probably in other places too. (Despite my many claims of not being scholarly, I did get a copy of Faulkner’s Coffin Texts. I haven’t properly studied the entire thing yet because it’s huuuge.)  If they did it in ancient times, is it ok for you to do it now? Was it really ok for them to do it back then? Frankly, those passages always make me wince.

I think of the Netjeru as family, not every Kemetic does, but I do. Sometimes bribes and threats are part of family life, I do admit, but not on the level that the Texts talk about. Come to think of it, bribery works pretty well with family. My mother bribes me with dinner out for doing yardwork. My daughter has made a deal to get money for her online game. Those are friendly bribes. Threats happen too, but they tend to be mild, like no ice cream until you eat your vegetables. These threats and bribes have a basis in an already established and stable relationship. My mother would not bribe me to do something against my better judgement. I would not threaten actual serious harm to my daughter. We know that there are things that simply would not be done.

Given those examples, it appears that the morality of the question has a lot to do with degree, and with the status of the relationship that already exists. If a random stranger offered to take me to dinner for working in their yard, I would turn them down and wonder what they were thinking. Context is important. Do you only speak to the gods when you want something? Or do you have an established relationship where you just enjoy their company even when everything is fine? Do you offer to do things with no strings attached? You have to build up a bank of good will before you can start making withdrawals.

…or you can run your relationship like a credit card, always securing and paying off debt. If you do that, then they’ll probably think of you with about as much fondness as your credit card company does. I’ve heard a few pagans say that the gods are not friends. If that’s their attitude, then they’re probably right.

A familial relationship is, or should be, based on love. All negotiations are built within and constrained by that principle. Ultimately the give and take is centered around what is best for the family as a whole, not what is best for each individual separately. The game is not about “I win,” or “you win,” it’s about “we win.”

I guess what it comes down to it that yes, you could try threats or bribery, but be aware of what effect it may have on the relationship. Do you have a relationship? What kind of relationship? What kind do you want it to be? The old saying “To have a friend, you have to be a friend,” applies to deities too.

KRT: Mythology

Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?

I think mythology is very important. It is the framework that shows what the gods are like in action. It establishes patterns, and those patterns are often referenced in ritual and spellwork. For example, there are many instances in the Coffin Texts that use mythic parallels. As Heru saved his father, may he also save this person who has also died. As Thoth defeated the enemies of Ra, may he also defeat my enemies. Sometimes the spell work goes a step further where the speaker claims to be a deity who is taking a specific action mentioned in myth, something like saying “You scary thing can’t hurt me because I am Shu and all gods tremble before me!” These are all paraphrased, of course. The texts are full of many variations on those themes. It helps to know enough about the myths to get an understanding of what they’re referring to in the spells.

Besides all that, myths are fun. They’re stories. They’re entertainment. The common people probably didn’t have much involvement with actual spellwork or ritual. If they needed something like that, to treat an ailment, for example, they would go to a professional. The myths, on the other hand, were much more accessible. They were told and retold countless times. Variations did crop up from one city to another, or from one century to another, but they still maintained the basic character of of the deities who took part in them.

The myths show us that our gods are fallible, which I think is an important thing to know. It shows how they overcome adversity and restore Ma’at. It makes Them relatable to us. We’re not perfect either. We face problems too, and we can also work to restore Ma’at in our own lives. Different deities approach their problems in different ways. This shows us that there is more than one way to approach a situation. Do you use reason? Brute force? Trickery? Flattery? If the first thing doesn’t work, do you come back and try again?

Sometimes the stories do seem a bit overblown and ridiculous. That’s a good way to get us to remember them! You might think that you’d never send out a dangerous animal (a Lion Goddess!) to devour all humans, but wouldn’t that be a good lesson for anyone to not get carried away when things go wrong? Those enemies of yours are people too, and maybe you shouldn’t just try to wipe them off the map. Maybe you need to think about what you start, because it might not be so easy to put a stop to it once it gets going.

Mythology is not so much about my “practice,” it’s more about my life. How can I apply the things that went on in myth to what is going on now? Do I give up when adversity strikes? Or do I keep trying different ways to achieve my goal? What do I need to do to restore Ma’at in my life?