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.

In Gods We Trust (?)

Lately it seems that trust in deities has become a hot topic. Should you trust your gods completely? Should you work on your negotiating skills and (try to) read the fine print? Should you not trust at all because they’ll probably screw you over no matter what you do? These are not easy questions to answer.

Most of us carry on with the belief that deities both care about us and know more than we do. Like parents, they may ask us to do things that we don’t like, but they do so with a greater understanding of the world we live in and the possible consequences of our action or inaction.

Then we must wonder if our assumptions are true. Do they really know what is best? Do they really have our best interests at heart, or only their own? Even if both of these are thought to be true, the way in which the gods present the relevant information, or no information at all can try the patience of a saint.

What is a mortal follower to do?

I’ve heard plenty of stories about followers being tricked by their deities into one thing or another. I also hear that most, but not all, of these stories work out for the best in the end. Maybe the deity really did know what they were doing. Maybe they really did have the followers best interests at heart as they led them across the metaphorical hot coals. I also hear that communication is a huge issue, that if the deity had actually explained and asked nicely first, things would have been different and less bitter. “Perfect love and perfect trust” sounded like a nice idea back when I was starting out, but in actual practice it doesn’t seem very practical.

I have been all around the map on this issue with my experiences with Ra. He hurt me badly years ago, without asking first, without any explanation, and while I was actively screaming at him to stop. I hurt myself while trying to fight him off. And yet, to this day, without a direct explanation from him, I go back and forth between calling it abuse of the worst sort, and thinking that maybe he had a good and justifiable reason for it. It actually is possible that he thought he was helping. Maybe he actually was helping. The only thing he has ever said on the subject was, “The Thunder Beings made you strong enough to accept my gift.” Frying me from the inside out was a gift? Maybe it was, but damn it hurt.

Needless to say, this led to a huge ball of trust issues. He kept asking me if I trusted him. He wanted me to trust him. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I could work with him. I felt obligated to because I swore an oath sooner than I should have and without fully thinking it through. Well actually, I went ahead with the oath because it felt like he already owned me so what difference could it make? The difference is that I didn’t feel comfortable just walking out when I really wanted to.

In the process of working with him, I learned more about him. I understood him more. I understood both his strengths and his failings. He really believed that I could do good and amazing things and he wanted to help me do them. I realized that he did not have a good grasp of what my limitations were. I also realized that I really wanted someone to follow who validated me, and I was slower to say no than I should have been. What good is a safeword if you don’t know when to say it? Not that we had one of those. The god did care about me, but he didn’t understand me as well as I thought. Still I opened up to him. I let him in more and more. I tried to overcome my misgivings. That didn’t end well.

Now I’m giving it another try. He knows that if he screws up again I will leave. Heru will back me up. Djehuty will back me up. It’s good to have powerful friends in these circumstances. Certain things are not his to touch. I had to decide what those things were. I had to stick to them even when I wanted to surrender again like I used to, because doing that would not help either of us.

And now, after the lines have been drawn, now that I know he will be held to those lines, now that I feel confident enough in my own judgement to defend those lines, now I trust him. You see, it wasn’t just about him behaving himself. It was also about me not giving away more than I could afford to give. It also helps that there are others who can step in if something goes wrong. I trust him more now than I did before, because I’ve made a decision about what he can have and what he can’t. I’m not going to offer everything and then feel betrayed when he takes it.

Relationships like these are complicated. I’m not judging anyone for how theirs has turned out. I’m not saying that drawing lines in the sand will solve everything. It probably won’t. My solution was a bit more complex than I’ve laid out here, and I have no idea what it will look like a year from now. Will it actually work? I don’t know. He does have the power to screw me over again if he so chooses, lines or no lines. The difference is that now, I’m more likely to trust that he won’t.

I’m actually pretty excited about working with him again, because despite our past issues, I still think he’s pretty awesome.

Sunset

I followed Heru down the winding stairs. He brought me to a room where the other gods waited and watched. He handed me a blindfold. Did I trust him? Of course. I put it on. He told me to follow him. I could feel his presence leading me as I put one foot ahead of the other. I couldn’t see with my eyes, but I knew where we were going. I crossed the chasm on a narrow plank. Honestly, if my eyes had been open, that crossing would have been much harder to handle.

In the next room, he removed the blindfold. I saw my heart set out on a platform. Then it was sliced in two. He handed half of it to someone I couldn’t see at the time. He kept the other half. He and I couldn’t do it alone. That other person I couldn’t see was part of this too.

That’s why I was not surprised when another name, Ra, followed Heru’s during my Rite of Parent Divination. I hesitated a moment because I had a history with him, and not exactly a good history. Still, I could not deny that he’d had a major role in my life. It seemed inevitable. So I went along with it. I made the promise to serve them both.

I tried hard to keep that promise. I worked to get past my anger and my lack of trust. At first it was duty, nothing more. Then I started opening up to him. Then I loved him. I wanted his approval. I wanted to serve. He got me through a difficult time and made me stronger. I became dependent on him.

A couple days ago, he asked me to use that strength. I didn’t think about what I was doing. I only thought about serving him, gaining his approval. I was proud to be able to do this for him, but the usual safeguards and worries and concerns were absent. It seemed ok to put those aside for him. Not just set aside, because that assumes I thought about them at all. I didn’t. I was just following orders, nothing more than an extension of his will. Isn’t that what all servants are after? Erasure of self for the greater good?

Yeah, Heru was pissed. He said it was time to leave. Djehuty explained to me that it was a breach of contract. Heru’s claim came first, and what happened tried to negate that. No worries about repercussions from the promise made. I did my best. My legal backside is covered.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that I loved him, or I think I did. Our relationship was never very clear. It was wrapped up in a tangle of duty, and service, and being angry for what he took, and being grateful for what he gave. And being ashamed of requiring what he gave. How did I get to the point where his approval meant more to me than my own values? Because that’s where we ended up.

I was addicted in a way. Heru and the others threw me a cold turkey party. I wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch. I felt cold. They hung around, offering comfort, reminding me they would still be there for me. I looked over at Sekhmet and I saw it. I wasn’t the first, or the only, or probably even the last. He just does that to people without even realizing it. I hope he doesn’t realize it. I don’t think he meant for this to happen. He actually apologized for a change. He is the sun, a star, a giant gravity well that turns us in circles. Not one of them blamed me for getting sucked in.

So, what now? A name change might be in order. Shezep is still just as true as ever. The dawn is still part of me. The bright white light is like the white fire I wield in the astral. The white fire deserves more respect. It is a tool for purification and healing. It is not for indiscriminately rooting out the source of paranoia. The white fire deserves more respect. Shezep deserves more respect. I deserve more respect. But the Shuty part is no longer valid. It’s not Two Feathers anymore.

Why am I telling you all this? Is it a cautionary tale about blind faith? No, I still trust Heru that way. He’s never given me any reason to doubt him. Ra gave me plenty of reasons and I tried to work around them. I succeeded, and that was a bad idea. It’s not a cautionary tale at all, because those don’t work. I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping my promise. Maybe I shouldn’t have made the promise? I wouldn’t say that either. The struggle itself taught me a lot that I wouldn’t have learned any other way. I think I’m just writing to say that there are no easy answers. Life happens.

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.

The King and the Land

(Land work is not PC, or rated G, or safe.. But here it is.)

I stood in Heru’s temple. He sat on his throne, watching me. I picked up the cup of clear water and drank. Over there, you are what you eat, or drink. I became clear again. I don’t know how long it’s been since I could just relax, get myself out of the way, and let his power flow through without obstruction from my errant thoughts, motivations and “shoulds.” No, let them stand aside, be nothing, be myself for a change. The power and clarity descended, filling my body, flowing through the spaces in between. It hurt. So free, so pure, suddenly restrained, contained, forced into a shape I didn’t choose. It felt…good, like something else. Divine energy entering the material, two worlds joining together to make something new, like sex.

I went to see Ra. His golden light poured into me too. I basked in his golden glow. I drank it in. I…wanted. Too bright. Too full.

I landed back in my world, on the mountain. My mountain, my Lady, my goddess. My gods given power flowed into Her. Millions of roots spread outward, veins, arteries. My essence spread out for miles, touching exploring, sinking into the earth. I went as far as I could go, pushed as hard as I could. Climax means you’re done. It means you have to let go. I slumped next to her altar, dim in the darkness. I gave it all away. I told her I loved her. I prayed for her strength. I prayed for the strength of her children as the dark winter night had them slumbering, waiting for the spring. I…

Back in my bed, Heru sat near. I groaned. I looked to him. My eyes said it all. So weak. So tired. It hurts.

He half-grinned. “You know what you did,” he said gently.

I nodded. Gave away part of my soul. Don’t worry, it will grow back. …still hurts. So tired.

Ra came by. He warmed me up, made me feel stronger. Still hurts.

Djehuty dropped in. He smoothed out the imbalance in my energy body. Then I slept.

The next day, dark clouds hid the sky. It felt like time outside of time. I hated it. So tired.

I drove across town today. I could feel Her pressing in on me, like a giant invisible bear hug. Love you so much. Lady, I’m driving. I have to pay attention to the road. Love you too.

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.

The Voices in My Head

Or, How To Godphone

I am a skeptic. I’m also a wooist with a godphone. I don’t particularly like calling it a godphone, but the word gets us in the same ballpark quickly. This makes for some strange goings on in my head. How do I make peace between these two seemingly opposing viewpoints? If I were to answer that question as a simple how-to you might believe that I have solved the problem once and for all. It’s more like standing on a see-saw. Sometimes it tips one way and sometimes it tips the other. Sometimes I stand precariously in the middle with my arms waving around in the air. This is balance?

A reasonable person might say that I’d be better off abandoning one side or the other. I often think that reasonable people are wrong. Both sides serve a purpose. Both sides fulfill a need. I need to be grounded. I need to hold up a mirror, yardstick, or measuring tool of choice, to make sure I don’t get too lost in my wanderings. I also need magic. I don’t know why that is true, but it is. It has been true since I was little, and it is still true. Without the having the magical press in at the edges of my daily life, everything feels flat, I feel flat. Either way, I feel lost.

Do I believe in the gods? Yes. Also no. And yes. I talk to Them nearly every day, but I’m not always sure that I’m hearing correctly. I know that they don’t naturally speak English and everything is passing through my own filters. Most of the time I’m assigning words to vague impressions, feelings, images, and energy flows. How much of that is me and how much is them? Occasionally I get the “wrong note” vibe if I mess up terribly, but most of the time the subject matter is not important enough for them to bother correcting my faulty translations.

If anyone claims to have a 100% static-free godphone, my inner skeptic will raise an eyebrow and go “Uh-huh, riiight.” Maybe someone out there does have such a thing. They would truly be a rare unicorn if they did. I still probably wouldn’t believe them.

Am I making it up? Possibly. Maybe. I’m not sure. (Why should I believe you’re any different?)

For this reason, any godly messages that come through are judged based on their own merits, rather than by their source. Heck, gods can say stupid things too. Kemetics don’t believe in omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, beings. The gods might have a perspective that we lack, but even then, they’re not perfect. If it sounds like good advice, take it. If it sounds totally stupid, don’t be afraid to say so, to yourself anyway. Don’t be a dick to others. If the gods really do mean it, they will probably repeat the message, or hit you over the head for ignoring them. This is normal. I believe that the very best spirit-workers are those who are the biggest pains in the gods’ asses. At least I hope so. I know that I’m a big PITA.

For your own use, it may be helpful to try to discern which messages are important, and which are just fooling around. I give idle chatter with deities a low confidence rating. I like idle chatter because it forms more of a social bond and makes me feel more comfortable in their presence. However, it’s not really a good medium for life changing epiphanies to come through. Most of the random chatter does come from my own filters and is not important enough for them to correct any mistakes I might have made in understanding.

Other communications feel different. They hit harder and are more clear. They have an intensity to them that normal chatter doesn’t have. Occasionally, they bypass the filters and use actual English words. For me, these words come through very clearly and reverberate a little. They do this very rarely, and when they do it, there are few words. Too many words and you won’t remember later.

Most of the time, actual communications are somewhere in between those extremes. There are feelings behind the words, but the words are still run through my filters. We may go back and forth on various concepts to make sure I’m getting the right idea. Even then, I might just be getting a simplified version that is close enough for their purposes. They seem to like using analogies to explain more complicated ideas. I have to understand that it is an analogy, or a symbol, and try to get at the meaning behind it. I also understand that the more I know, the better chance they have to utilize symbols that I can comprehend. Having a godphone doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know your stuff. The more educated you are, not just in the relevant history but in many different subjects, the better your chances of getting a good interpretation.

In other words, when it comes to godphones, your own or anyone else’s, you can’t take everything literally. Questioning does not mean you lack faith in the gods themselves. It means you recognize that communications with deities isn’t perfect. Humans aren’t perfect, and neither are gods. Translation errors can, and do, creep in. Common sense is still required.