Don’t Be A Dick

This is the official unofficial Kemetic motto. We should embroider it on doilies and carve it in stone. If nothing else, write it on a note with a marker and stick it on the edge of your computer monitor. Go ahead and draw a dick on it to go along with the message. You know you want to.

“Don’t be a dick” is a modern interpretation of the idea of living in ma’at. There are many interpretations of what exactly ma’at entails, but I see it as the balance that holds the world, as we know it, together. It keeps us alive and healthy. It keeps our communities strong. It makes for a well-tuned ecosystem, among other things. We rarely achieve perfect balance, because the world isn’t perfect, but as long as we live, we can keep working on improvement.

One of the central images of Kemeticism is the image of the deities, most often Set, but sometimes others are shown, fighting against a giant snake Apep. We strike out its name because we never want to add to its power. It is an embodiment of isfet, the force that goes against ma’at. If the snake wins, the sun is devoured and we can kiss our rear ends goodbye. Ma’at nourishes our gods, while isfet, makes the snake stronger. We REALLY don’t want it to win, not even once.

So, live in ma’at, or else. What is the or else? The gods will punish you? Maybe, depending on how badly you’ve screwed up. But no, the “or else” is that when you don’t, you are picking at the threads that hold the world together. (You know that place where you live where you keep all your stuff?) It doesn’t take a belief in gods to get behind that reasoning.

Let’s bring it back to “Don’t Be a Dick.” There is a lot more to ma’at than whether or not you’re a jerk to others, but it’s a good place to start. It’s simple. The “or else” here might not mean the end of the world, but when you act like a dick, especially in public, either outside or online, you are picking at the threads that hold your community together. You know, that place where you like to hang out? That second family? The place where you post your stuff?

Try to speak within ma’at. Tell the truth, as you understand it, but don’t use it as a weapon to cut others. You win nothing by “winning” arguments on the internet. Building a community is a win. Helping others is a win. Making people feel welcome and safe is a win. Teaching those who want to learn is a win. Listening and learning are huge wins.

And if someone tries your patience so badly that you’re just not feeling the ma’at, then execrate them as we execrate the snake. That’s what the block/delete/ignore button is for. Don’t let anyone drag you down to their level. You don’t owe them anything.

Back to Zero

Last year, I decided I wanted to be a monk. One year later, and I’m still a bit fuzzy on what that means.

The first part seems to be about reducing distractions and recognizing the patterns that send me in the wrong direction. Some monks take a vow of silence, poverty, or celibacy. This year, I’ve mostly been getting nudges about stepping away from the community. This is a hard thing to do. I think community is important. I admire people who go out there and wade through the trenches to keep it going. I feel guilty that I’m not one of those people. However, I say “trenches” because a lot of the time, such work feels like a never ending battle. There has to be a better way, just don’t ask me what that way might be.

I tried joining groups and following their rules. I kept waiting for it all to make sense. I waited for that sense of peace to settle in while knowing that I was doing it right. That never happened. I claimed that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, when in fact, my spirit did have an idea of what it wanted. What it truly wanted wasn’t found there. No group or person that I’ve seen has what I’m looking for. All these advertisements for this path or that one, and none of them satisfy.

I feel like Jack Sparrow staring at his wildly spinning compass. All I can think is, “Get your damned magnets away from me.”

What of your “community” then? Fuck the community.

But, I do like people. Community is a big ugly brush that smears across a canvas and blurs all the interesting details into a glob. I like people. I like stories, personal stories. I like experiences. I don’t give a shit about your judgments or advice. Tell me about your day. Tell me about the little thing that happened that made you smile, or cry. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me about something real that happened. I like those.

I came to WordPress for the Pagan Blog Project. I spent a year doing that, and then a year not doing that. WordPress is more formal than other places. It makes you feel like you should dress up a little. Like being at a party, sipping at drinks and nibbling hors d’oevres, making the kind of conversation that you would expect to find at such a venue. It shows others that you can clean up nicely and speak in complete sentences. You can even make mention of that charity work you’ve been doing, and you probably will at some point. Then the “likes” show up in the email, or not, and you think about why, or why not.

I turned the email thing off. The “likes” still happen. I can see them when I log in, but they won’t intrude on my day outside of here. I’m sure we’ve all had that experience of getting lots of likes on some little fluff piece, and a definite lack of them when we write something of personal value. What will I write more of next time? What will I keep to myself next time? Magnets.

It’s not that the generalized pieces are better, they’re not. It’s not that people are stupid, they’re not. Generalized pieces are simply more relatable to a larger segment of the population. Everybody eats food. Not as many people have conversations with gods. Sometimes it also happens that a story touches deeply, but is difficult to “like.” The reader might have thoughts, but can’t quite make the next step of turning those thoughts into words, and turning those words into a comment. Feedback on the internet is misleading. It’s also irrelevant if I’m writing because I like to write, if I simply feel like these thoughts need expression in some way. Maybe one person who I’ll never meet or talk to will find some meaning in it.

Maybe these ones and zeroes are like writing in sand. Sand painting has a nice tradition among Tibetan monks. I watched them make one once. All that skill and artistry, then it blows away. But I was there, and I saw it.

I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, and I kinda like it.

Compassion and Unification

372px-NarmerPalettedetail

Back in the day, Unification rode in on the back of a chariot accompanied by blunt instruments and a lot of yelling. I believe that there are still a few traditionalists around today who would like to maintain that ancient ritual. However, I think it’s safe to say that those days are over. These days, the locals can see you coming from miles away and they will happily flip you the bird. (In ancient Kemet, the bird flips you!)

Blunt instruments and lots of yelling are no longer effective tools for creating or maintaining order.

Without that old standby, it may seem that unification in the modern era is an impossible task. Everyone has a different idea about what they should do and how they should do it. Everyone thinks that their way is the best. They think it is the best, because it works for them. All those varying practices fill various needs. I assure you that if I’m doing something that works that also fulfills my needs, you would need a strong, blunt instrument to get me to stop using it! And then you’d need to keep one eye open while you sleep.

Unification of practice probably isn’t attainable under the current freedoms we all enjoy. However, a unification of spirit is possible. All Kemetics have something in common. They either chose, or were chosen by, the Kemetic deities. These people obviously have good taste! On the other side of the coin, who are we to tell the gods who they can and can’t speak to? They tend to get cranky over that kind of thing. Maybe that newbie, who couldn’t tell a hieroglyph from a wingding if it bit them, has something unique to bring to the table that we know nothing about. We need to have some faith in Netjer’s judgement.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but we’re not exactly an overpopulated faith. Every Kemetic is precious. Even that one. Each one of them speaks the Names. Each one of them gives life and breath to our gods. Every person who expends time and energy, in whatever form, in service to Netjer, netjeri, or akhu is filling a vital role in the greater Kemetic sphere. They deserve our respect.

That’s all fine and good, until the next time you read something that makes you facepalm so hard that you think you will see the handprint every time you look in the mirror for the next week. This is where the learned skill of compassion comes into play.

What, did you think you were born with all the compassion you will ever have or ever need? Did you think that this was going to be easy? Kemetics love assigning each other homework, so here’s mine.

I’m not really a Kemetic purist, which means that I have no shame when it comes to ripping off ideas that work. Luckily, the Dalai Lama loves it when people steal this idea. Here’s a Wiki about Compassion Meditation. Feel free to appropriate those ideas and reframe them in a Kemetic setting. They have lotuses. We have lotuses. It’s all good!

“Even as a mother
protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish
all living beings.” Sutta Nipata

(We wouldn’t know anything about that, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to transform our majestic lions into bleating lambs. It is possible to be compassionate and firm at the same time. My sifu is fond of saying things like “And then you snap their elbow with all the loving-kindness in your Taoist heart.” Now, read that sentence again without the sarcasm. A snapped elbow might be a good alternative to death, or allowing them to use the gun they’re carrying. I’m a follower of Heru. Of course I expect you to defend yourself! Just don’t forget the consequences. A victory won at the cost of a loved one is a bitter one. A compassionate person’s list of loved ones is very long.

Teachers of Compassion Meditation often recommend starting with the self and moving outward. Eventually, you learn compassion even for your enemies. It is better to progress slowly than it is to rush and bring a sense of falseness to your practice. If you really can’t muster up compassionate feelings for someone, then forcing the issue won’t help. Compassion can be learned, developed and strengthened with practice. It is not something you acquire overnight. Be wary of pitfalls such as pity and superiority.

An example of a Kemetic themed verse for compassion practice is given below.

(Name) is a child of Ma’at
May (he/she/they) be free from isfet
May (he/she/they) enjoy all good things
A blessing for (his/her/their) ka!

If you were to start with yourself, you could say:

I am a child of Ma’at
May I be free from isfet
May I enjoy all good things
A blessing for my ka!

You may find that even this first one gives you trouble. You may find that it’s easier to say those words about someone other than yourself. If that’s the case, you could try inserting your name as if you were someone else. Or, if you have a hard time getting through the entire verse, you can stick with the first line for awhile and say, “I am a child of Ma’at.” Eventually, you may recognize that any child of Ma’at deserves to be free from isfet and to enjoy good things.

You can also use this for groups of people such as:

All Kemetics are children of Ma’at
May they be free from isfet
May they enjoy all good things
A blessing for their kau!

Let’s increase the difficulty level, shall we?

All politicians are children of Ma’at
May they be free from isfet
May they enjoy all good things
A blessing for their kau!

That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Remember, don’t say it if you can’t mean it! However, realize that if others are free from isfet, they are less likely to do the things that will land them on your unlikeable list. Just remember that warning earlier about falling into the superiority trap. The verse listed above is probably only suitable for advanced practitioners.

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.

Little Fish, Big Pond

Little People Can Change the World, Too.
You Don’t Have to be a “Big-Name Pagan” to be a Trend-Setter and Enact Greater Change in the Kemetic community. When you look at the Kemetic community as a whole, what flaws, hindrances, and negative trends do you see at work? Where would you like to see improvement most? What are some common, everyday things we as individuals can do to improve the current state of affairs? What suggestions do you have regarding bridging divides between different Kemetic factions and encouraging cooperation toward common goals? What methods and tactics should we employ to improve Kemetic presence on a local level; to encourage Kemetics to network not just online, but also in “the real world”?”

Wow, that’s a really long lead-in.

I’ll go back to my regular soapbox. DO your thing, also, do YOUR thing. That, by itself, I think would solve countless headaches.

You probably have more than one thing, but, that list of things will probably serve you better if it is short, maybe two or three things. That way you have the time, energy, and focus to make each of them really good.

This year, I’ve been stepping back from a lot of stuff I used to do and finding out what my things are, and then practicing them. I’ve decided that structured blogging is now one of my things. I do the Pagan Blog Project and the Kemetic Round Table. Am I a big fish at it? No. I just started in January. Will I become a big fish? Maybe, if I keep it up in a consistent manner. Everything takes practice and patience. If I don’t become a big fish, what then? Then, it’s ok. Consistency and practice brings experience and skill, and I learn something by simply getting my thoughts organized in a readable fashion.

At the same time, I’ve decided that jumping on to every forum I see is no longer my thing. It used to be. I used to live on forums. They’re full of tiny little soundbyte posts that don’t take much attention span to read or to write. Sometimes they’re a valuable source of community feeling. Sometimes they make you go to bed ranting in your own mind at people you’ve never met. As the lovely Tank Girl once said, “Look, it’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down.”

By saying “No” to some things, I have more energy to devote to the things I want to say “Yes” to. If forums are your thing, then I applaud your community efforts. I’ll still be over here. The thing is, back when I was a forum rat, I really didn’t have the focus to do the consistent kind of blogging that I’m doing now. When I started the PBP this time, I really didn’t have any expectations of sticking to it. I didn’t think I could. It turns out that I can, after clearing out a great deal of the mind clutter in my life.

Do your own thing means “eyes on your own work.” If you’re truly focused on your art, you don’t have as much focus space to spend worrying about what other people are doing. You should be too busy with your own passions and dreams to berate others for not doing enough or for doing it wrong. It’s a waste of time and energy to be such a busybody. You’re doing your thing, and they are doing their thing. There’s no need to think they should do the same thing that you’re doing. There’s also no need to feel threatened if they are doing the same thing that you are. Do your thing, period.

If everyone is off doing their thing, then where does that leave community? Well, it is good if at least one of your things intersects with community in some way.  If you make beautiful devotional paintings and no one ever sees them, it doesn’t really do the community any good. You need to find a way to get your work out there where it can benefit others. Then all that focus and skill and practice will will become apparent. It will raise the standard and bring respect to the community as a whole because we are able to produce such wonderful things. If you see someone else making something wonderful, give them a nod, or link to them, or even buy their stuff. We need to support our own. That’s how it keeps getting better.

Goodness

Goodness is a rather underrated idea. Like our health, it is something we tend to take for granted, until we lose it, or have to try living without it. It is much maligned, and sometimes reported not to exist. Anti-heroes bring in more money at the box office these days than white hat heroes. I’m not sure we even believe in white hats anymore. We identify with the less than perfect rogues a bit more than with the defenders of truth and justice. We’ve grown weary of seeing those who supposedly promote Truth and Justice act like overgrown children. Real goodness seems like an unattainable pipe dream. Why bother anyway? Don’t nice guys finish last?

Somebody has to bother. Even if it does mean finishing last. What kind of world do we want our next generation to be raised in? Do we want to tell them not to bother? That it’s too hard? Should we tell them that the world is hard, and they need to be just as hard to survive?

What would Fred Rogers do? Mr. Rogers should be canonized as a saint. I don’t care what religion does it. It’s not about religion. It’s about goodness. He grew up with a new technology entering his household, and he wasn’t happy with what it brought. Instead of ranting and protesting, he decided to offer something positive to the new medium. He told the children that they were special and they were loved. He told them they had value. He addressed the problems they might face in their everyday lives in a positive way. He gave them the subtle ammunition needed to fight back against the hardness. The Taoists would say that the soft overcomes the hard. Every time he put on his sweater, he was fighting a war of the heart with soft words and friendly smiles. A look into his private life revealed that he was still Mr.Rogers even off the set. There were no dirty secrets hidden out of view. Mr. Rogers was a white hat hero. They do exist.

So what does it take to become one? As with most things in life, that’s easier said than done. First, you need to decide that it’s a worthwhile thing to be. As I mentioned above, these days it’s practically fashionable to devalue goodness. Who even wants to be called a goody-two-shoes? Or a fluffy white-lighter? No, it’s not fashionable at all. The cool kids are out having fun being jerks and even getting praised for it, usually by other jerks. They even tell each other that being a jerk is a good thing because it teaches people a lesson. Usually the lesson involves how to be a better jerk.

Once upon a time, I was an active member of a forum. It wasn’t even a pagan forum. The general culture was one of jerkitude. Newcomers were interrogated by seasoned veterans. Any weakness displayed was subject for further attack. Only those who could get past the hazing stuck around in the community. The veterans thought it was a good thing to drive away those who were not “mature” enough to be associated with them. They treated new people like unwanted trash, not like potentially valuable contributors. No one was willing to take new people by the hand and help them. I eventually left that community, not because I couldn’t handle the hazing. Quite frankly, my net-fu is strong. No, I left because I realized that I was starting to become one of the jerks. I could smell blood in the water from a mile away. Simply being in that environment was changing me and not for the better. I wanted to be a good person, but I couldn’t do it as long as I stayed there. It really doesn’t matter what forum this was, because I’ve seen the same story repeated all over the internet, in many different types of communities. Fighting with the jerks is not the answer. I’ve tried that. I turned into one of them.

WWFRD? He followed the idea of doing good things, and continuing to do them, over and over. He did them consistently and repeatedly, like water wearing away a stone. None of those things individually amounted to much, but over the years, his cumulative efforts meant a lot to children who needed to hear his message, that they were loved, and they were worthy of love. If you truly have a sense of your value, you don’t need to go all “special snowflake” and brag about it. The “special snowflakes” actually need more love, not less. Even the jerks need love. They need to be told that they’re strong on the inside too, like the little boy mentioned in the Esquire article linked above.

There is a better way of talking to people. I’d like to learn about what that way is. I’ve gotten it wrong many times. I’d like to wear a white hat too. I’m still working on it. Changing your ways doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistent effort.

If you have more ideas about what being a good person means, please do post them in the comments.

Edit: Fixed the article link.

What is a mystic’s role in the Kemetic community?

The idea of various roles in the Kemetic community has surfaced recently. I fully support the idea of each person contributing to the whole by their own talent and skill set. There are scholars, artists, crafts people, performers, storytellers, administrators, technicians, ambassadors, priests, mystics, the list could go on as people find their various places. I am a mystic. My work is often solitary and intangible. What offering can I bring to the communal table?

I seek knowledge and experience. It is a different kind of knowledge than that of the scholar. It is more of the heart than of the head. Or, in the older way of thinking, more of the gut than of the heart. My seeking of such knowledge tends to be self-serving. It is a desperate search for answers to problems that plague me from day to day. I do serve the Names, but, I have reasons for doing so.

So again, how does this serve the community? Community is a shared thing where all are strengthened by interaction with the whole. Knowledge, whether of the heart or of the gut, does no one any good unless it is shared with those who may benefit. So, I will make an effort to get over my nervousness at being that strange person who walks in strange places. I will try to drag knowledge from under the waters, dry it off and present it, hopefully without too much river mud stuck to it. Yes, I will clean it up a bit, because you really don’t want to know where I’ve been!

But I’ve been known to pull up a few treasures, things like community, loyalty, family, ma’at, compassion, and other things like ruthlessness, creative conflict, impartiality, mourning and the end to mourning. I seek the wholeness of Heru’s eye, and I’ve wandered through many places in my search. But what good is it unless it is shared?

Standard disclaimers apply. What I write is simply my own belief or opinion at the time it is written. It might change as I go along. It might not even be my only opinion. These are merely intended as thinking points, examinations of ideas as I turn them over in my head. You may take them, leave them, or grab the ball and run off in another direction. Right up front, I will admit a bias in favor of community and making a community work, and yes, I mean the greater Kemetic whole, not just one tiny corner of it. We serve the same deities. We are stronger together than we are by ourselves. Let’s do the things that make community work and avoid the things that tear it apart.

These types of posts will be sorted in their own category as Kemetic Mysticism.