Why Believe?

At my core is this feeling that I need the gods and spirits around me to feel whole. I discovered this when the Lady of the Mountain told me she was going away and I panicked. It was confirmed while traveling and finding a place where no spirits answered my greetings. It made me want to curl up and hide. I could blame it on the chunk of Heru I’ve got inside me, but those memories aren’t mine. I know why he feels that way, but why do I feel that way?

It is my belief that humans need gods and spirits. We’ve been interacting with the unseen from the earliest times. Evidence of spiritual thinking is practically a marker for the development of human consciousness. The scientist in me might suggest that it’s directly tied to our capacity for abstract thought. A lot of modern scientists might argue that we’ve grown past that and have no more need for “imaginary friends,” but I disagree, obviously.

Like most modern Kemetics, I wasn’t born into the religion. I’m a convert. Like many other converts, I still have baggage from my previous belief system to contend with. I don’t believe that I’m going to hell when I die, because I’m not sure that there even is a hell, or a heaven, or a duat. Is it all in my head? Is it just a random firing of nerves and a mixing of chemicals? The comfort is, that if the atheists are right, I won’t have any time to worry over it when I’m gone. So I might as well live the kind of life that feels right to me now.

If the atheists are right, then that means that my worst nightmare is already true. That still doesn’t explain why I see it as my worst nightmare. Ok, second worst nightmare, the first would be the end of the world and everyone in it, but I wouldn’t have much time to mourn that one either. My gut reaction is that the world would be a much emptier place without them.

On a personal level, they sort of fill in the gaps. They’re around when I’m tired or depressed or lonely. They’re like a second family. They’re not just for my comfort, however. They challenge me to see other perspectives. They push me to be a better person. They remind me to care. I tell my skeptical brain that those are all very good effects whether their existence is literally true or not.

Atheists like to harp on the evils of belief, as if that is what has caused all the problems in the world. (Belief is often the excuse, but rarely the cause.) They don’t like to recognize the good that it does. I have this construct in my head that makes me act like a better person. It’s a sounding board for developing ideas and organizing priorities. Sure, I don’t have to call it a god. I could call it a mental exercise, but honestly, it wouldn’t be as effective if I did that. If I didn’t believe in this inner counselor, then why would I bother listening to it? There are plenty of psychological exercises that do something similar, role playing, visualization, dream interpretation. But if your visions have no life breathed into them, they’re not going to be as powerful. I’m more likely to follow through if a living, loving, god tells me to do something than if my own mental construct says to do so. Yes, I do sometimes tell the god to eff off, but I always listen first.

I hear arguments about the virtue of objective truth, but to me, they are self-defeating. If death simply means Game Over, then why should I care about the virtuousness of objectivity? There are no cookies in it for me. If my subjectivity offers me advantages, then there’s no reason not to use it. So, that is basically how I tell the skeptical side of my brain to shut the hell up. This is how a rational, intelligent person can believe in gods. I haven’t even gotten into my arguments about symbolic and metaphorical truths that help explain the human condition. I’ve got a bunch of those too. In short, it works, so I use it. Experience has shown that I am not better off without it. I’ve tried.

It is my belief that belief itself is a basic human need. When people want to control others, they hijack their belief systems and hold them hostage. The wealthy and the powerful demonize those aspects of spirituality that are accessible to all in order to put their priests in charge. Why do people not simply abandon belief itself? I don’t think it is that easy. Every culture that I know of has had some kind of spiritual belief system. (The Soviet Union was an experiment that didn’t actually work so well, and there were plenty of people still practicing their beliefs underground.) That indicates to me that it does fill a need of some kind. It is a thing of value. Why else would the wealthy hijack it? Why else does it actually work when that happens? Not every person believes, but within a population, it persists. It’s built in, much like our capacity for mathematics or language. And it is the hijacking of belief that everyone points to when things go wrong. Belief isn’t the enemy. Taking it away from the people in order to control them is.

And that begs the question. How do we do it right this time? Is it even possible to prevent it from being screwed up? Screwing up also seems to be a built in part of human nature.

False Mirror

Oh, is this thing still on?

One of the most visible attributes of monkhood is seclusion. I seem to be doing a good job of that. I still read my Dreamwidth account, but I rarely post. I still check in on Facebook, but my friend count is deliberately low, and it’s a more informal atmosphere. Tumblr was, fun, but overwhelming.

I started getting the message to back off, from everything. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been told. That advice is easier to follow in the winter. I started writing less.

This morning I went to the gym with my mother. This is a thing we’re trying to get into three times a week, though one of those times is when I teach tai chi. Tai chi is not really cardio or weight training. I’m not too large, but I definitely could be in better shape. My mom is in her seventies. I want her to go and it’s easier if we both go together.

I teach tai chi at a gym. It’s not the best arrangement. I can’t promise any sort of a beach body unless you happen to already have one. I can teach you how to knock down those who do have beach bodies, but if you were that kind of person I probably wouldn’t want you as a student anyway.

As I waited for my mom to get done with the bike, I did a few tai chi exercises. I felt horribly self-conscious while doing my tan tien exercises. I’m sure they do look weird. I stand still and my midsection moves just a little bit. My mom said something about dancing. I agreed that yes, there were some similarities to belly dancing.

Surely everyone thought I looked weird. Surely they had no idea what the heck I was doing. I was tempted not to do the exercise at all. But how do I know what they’re thinking? I don’t. Does it matter anyway? I knew what I was doing and why.

This would be the point at which a person might start explaining or getting defensive or getting into an argument with no one at all. I’ve had many imaginary discussions in my lifetime. They’re a complete waste of energy. That jerk you’re arguing with, yourself, will never let you win. You may even feel so silly arguing with yourself that you’ll look for a fight with a real person in order to prove that the argument is worth having. You have all those great comebacks saved up. It would be a shame to let them go to waste.

If you look at yourself in the mirror and imagine what someone else sees, that image is almost certainly false. Even if someone agrees with your distortion that doesn’t make the imagined vision true. They make assumptions, and you make assumptions about their assumptions. How does anyone ever get anything done?

How do you throw out the false mirror?

Seclusion does have one thing going for it. If I’m not seen as often, the mirror doesn’t have as much influence. It takes the pressure off. I know that’s only a temporary fix. I’m not here to escape. I’m here to learn. I have to do no less than change my thought habits in order to defeat these various snares. Where is the trap? What can I do differently so that I no longer fall for it?

What would it be like to go to the gym or hang out in a community without constantly checking myself in the mirror? It sounds a lot more relaxing and productive.

Where has the peace gone?

Hotep is one of the first, maybe only, words that people learn in ancient Egyptian. Most don’t know what it means, but they’ve heard of it. Hotep is peace, satisfaction. Imhotep does not mean “killer magic zombie mummy” it means “one who comes in peace.”

So why is there so little of it in Kemeticism these days?

The symptoms of its lack have appeared from several places in my follow list. If it was just one person, it wouldn’t mean much. What does it mean when it keeps coming up again and again? It means that something isn’t right. All is not well in modern day Kemet.

Is it a community thing where so-called leaders pretend to offer nourishment, but instead are serving poisoned bread? “This is the right way, and you’re an uneducated idiot if you don’t do XYZ.” I don’t mind reading pointers here and there that give me thoughts to consider. I really do enjoy seeing what people find out in their research, but I’d rather not have to duck when the backhand comes around.  No wonder Kemetics are so twitchy. Use one hand to cover your rear and the other hand to point at others? And if I mention it then I’m doing the exact same thing, of course.  My New Year’s resolution might be to put my hands to better use.

Is that really the cause though? Could it be the gods themselves? Even before I came to the community, my interactions with Them were not exactly peaceful. They have Expectations. They also seem a little fuzzy on the difference between asking and telling. Or they just skip over the telling part altogether.

All that said, I do believe that they love me on a personal level. I was distant from them. Not the other way around…except for him. It’s complicated, and I’ve asked Sekhmet to kick his ass if he tries that again. Or to kick mine. Is ass kicking the only language I know? No wonder peace and I are off to a rocky start.

I’m working on it though. Heru is trying to teach me. He’s been trying for a long time, but I’m a thick-headed student. Wonder where I got that trait from, eh?

It’s a problem and I don’t know the answer. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Got any ideas?

Mindtrap

I remember when I was a baby shaman. I joined a list. I talked to others who were in the same boat as I was. I championed my causes. I acted like a fool, and I played with fools who were foolish enough to play with me. I hadn’t thought much about that time in awhile. At the end of my Journeywork post, I made a statement that I’m not a shaman. I’m a person who does journeywork. I’m a different person now than I was then. The cause of the dysfunction revealed itself with that statement. I even remember a few scattered people telling me, in their own words, what the problem was, but I didn’t understand. I thought they were just being elitist jerks, and some of them actually were, so the confusion was somewhat natural. Perhaps the elitists were repeating something they heard someone else say that sounded good to them, and thereby muddling the message because they didn’t get it either.

I thought that I should be a shaman. I did the things that theoretically define what a shaman is, so why couldn’t I be one? I did this thing, and people who do that thing are shamans. Oh, but shamans do these other things too! You need to do X,Y and Z. Oh, so if I do those things I will be a shaman! I need to, uh, open a business where people will come to me for help, and I’ll help! I’ll be sooo good at helping! I’ll be the best shaman ever and everyone will respect me!

Did you notice the mindtrap in the previous paragraph? I would have to bend over backwards to fit someone else’s idea of what I thought I should be, in order to gain respect. But it would never come from those whose respect I craved. The gatekeepers are not amused. Some of the gatekeepers truly are elitest jerks. They are the ones who also believe in the trap, of course. However, some gatekeepers actually have some idea of what they’re talking about. They know that trying to be someone other than yourself can never amount to anything good. It can be hard to tell the difference between them. Sometimes they use the exact same words.

No matter how hard I try, I will never be a ritual magician from Siberia. Why did I want to be one of those again? It sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

Now, go back and play the word replace game. I’ve seen the exact same thing played out in a number of different communities. Any place where people spend endless hours talking about who is “real” and who isn’t is subject to the trap. Are you a real witch, priest, priestess, master, magician, otherkin, reconstructionist, LGBT (pick one, or more)? Then you must XYZ! And if you do try for XYZ you’ll become a caricature of the real thing, a caricature of your real self. You know that you’re a real person who does real things. So you want to fight back and grab that honorific with both hands while defiantly sticking out your tongue. Nice try, but the trap has you.

The people who take part of those debates have also been taken in by the trap. The rational people who are no longer part of it tend to sit on the sidelines and silently roll their eyes. You are a real person who does real things. You are a person who does your things. That really is enough, because if you dive deeply into it, you will find a sense of purpose that goes beyond the cookie cutter definitions that you’ve spent so much time trying to squeeze yourself into.

Prayer to Heru

Our enemies are circled by the hunters

They are marked by their deeds and cannot hide

They do not escape our talons

Their hands are bound

They are brought before the scales and meet their fate

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Is it bad that when it comes time for prayer, this is the one that comes to mind first?