Days Upon the Year – Hymn to Set

Neb.y:
As your Wind blows, grains of sand scour my skin clean.
I have no need for natron; I am pure, I am pure, I am pure.
As the Lands turn Red with the setting sun,
I am afire with your purpose.

Neb.y, Who Is in the Heart of the Great Houses:
I am Larger than I used to be.
I would Support the Sky for all the Gods,
I would stand at the Tip of the Barque, and
My hair is Red.

Neb.y:
I hold my head High.
Son of Nut, Son of Geb, on This day and
On all days, you are the Beautiful Child.
And I am Hem(t)adpmt.

I am most fortunate.

Susurrus

You were in the dream I had, all heat and shifting sands;
I could hear each grain move against the others with your steps.
Your breath was the burning wind, even as your face was hidden from me
In the gathering clouds.

If I could paint you, in all your glory, my strokes would stripe the canvas,
My colors would convey radiance and movement, awe and change;
Eyes seeing it would fall into an awful depth of vision.

If I could write you, in endless phrase and stanza, my notes would fall like pounding rain,
My phrases would be building crescendo on crescendo, agonizing fermata after fermata;
Ears hearing it would fall into an awful depth of resonance.

Awful is an agonizing state, though it has its benefits.

Zero Hour

What am I waiting for?

The more I grow in my religious practice, the further I walk along this path, the more I realize that there’s a time to consider carefully and a time to jump off the cliff.  I wrote about it in another post: overcoming my caution enough to be able to leap into the abyss and know I’ll be caught is not an easy thing.  I’ve been able to do it from time to time; I’ve allowed myself to be broken down so I could be rebuilt.  Hell, I’ve even helped with the rebuilding in the past and not just because Neb.y Set required it, but because I needed to see where the pieces went.  I made that decision, and I jumped in without testing the waters.

But this latest work…these latest tasks are strange to me.  I know they fit the whole, and I know once all of the pieces are together I’ll probably have an “a-ha!” moment but now…now?  Now I am hesitant and terrified, and I need to get past it.

So, what am I waiting for?

The Sow Who Eats Her Piglets has been immensely patient with me as I dip my foot into the space between the stars and try to get used to it before submerging my whole self.  She knew, she knew this would be difficult, and she’s as encouraging as she can be…which means encouragement in a way I can’t quite fathom and the feeling of “YOU have things you’re not doing.  I can wait.”

She Who Spins has been showing me a way forward that I cannot comprehend.  I ask questions, and she shows me again.  “There are holes,” she says.  And I know there are holes, and I can see them and feel them, and I think I’m supposed to go through them but my gatekeeper god isn’t helping because it isn’t his work, and I know I have to fix them but I don’t know how, and I cannot figure it out.  AUGH!

(Anyone feel like making a call on my behalf?)

So.  I have difficult things in front of me.  Some I know, and some I don’t.  I can’t see what will happen when I jump, but I know I need to.  Dithering and twittering and running in circles isn’t helping anything at all.  I need to do this.  So, what am I waiting for?  No one is going to tell me when to start.  No one is going to say, “Follow these steps and all will be well.”  No one is going to talk about team efforts in this case, or synchronizing watches, or rendezvous points.  It’s just me, and my two deities, and endless patience and repetition until I leap.

Now is the time.  Time to move.

Now is my zero hour.

(Xiphoid) Religious Process

In a previous life (not a past life), I worked as an instructor for lifeguards.  Part of this job was the teaching and certifying of potential candidates in CPR, and before we had AEDs (automatic external defibrillators – they make CPR so much easier) we taught the manual process.  This required much emphasis of proper hand position because (1) CPR is very likely to result in broken bones (ribs, usually) if it is done correctly, and (2) the one bone you do not want to break during CPR is the xiphoid process.

For those who don’t know, the xiphoid process is this little extension at the bottom of the sternum that starts out as cartilage but, between ages 15 and 30, turns to bony tissue.  Here’s a diagram:

rib-cageThe problem with the xiphoid process and CPR is that incorrect hand positioning can break it off the sternum…and then you have this chunk of bone floating loosely inside the body and all sorts of wonderfully horrible things can happen.  It’s not something you want to do to someone, nor is it something you want to have yourself.  So, with CPR, caution is paramount.

The fact that caution is so important in something I used to teach on a routine basis, and something I’ve (unfortunately) had to do for people more than once actually made it easier for me to embrace the precision and caution needed for my religious work for several of my gods.  Their work involves so much shaking up and core-wrenching that it has become impossible for me to to approach it without making  sure I understand exactly what I’m supposed to do and what the outcome is likely to be, and while doing it I aim to be meticulous.  My gods approve of this – anything worth doing is, after all, worth doing well.

On the other hand, I’m a lot less likely to jump when told to – hell, I ended up in a religious cul-de-sac for quite some time because I wasn’t able to trust the outcome of what I was being asked to do.  Even when I gave in, I worried about the work for two months prior to the start date I’d accepted…and I still worry about it now.  This is not approved worrying, and although so far I’ve gotten nothing but responses of amusement and affectionate exasperation when I hedge and try to delay, I know that a day is coming when I’m going to be told to take my finger out and do X already.

The more I think about this, the more I wonder if there’s a way to break whatever religious xiphoid process I still have.  If I break it, detach it from the rest of my religious self, then I won’t have to be as cautious because it will be done.  And unlike breaking the physical one, which has all kinds of awful consequences, breaking the religious one could mean being free.  Free, finally, to take the leaps I need to take without checking to see what I’ll land on.

Free to do.  Free to be.

The Work – Kemetic

I promised, in my previous post, that I’d do a series on my religious work and it seemed only right to start with my Kemetic things, since I’ve been practicing them the longest.

The main part of my Kemetic work is to promote ma’at, which doesn’t really have a direct translation – it can be considered a combination of order, justice, truth, and balance.  I’ve written about ma’at at length in the past, so I won’t do a full recap here but I will mention this: ma’at is a force that promotes community through connection and is not diametrically opposed to chaos.

When one’s ultimate goal is to promote ma’at, it is amazing to see what daily acts become religious work…and most of my Kemetic religious work is all wrapped up in my daily acts.  Remembering to return my shopping basket to the basket bin, or my shopping cart to the cart corral so no one else is inconvenienced?  Ma’at.  Donating clothing to Goodwill or cans of food to a food drive or loaning money through micro-finance?  Ma’at.  Helping my parents with their business by re-organizing their office files, or helping a friend organize her craft room so she can find everything?  Ma’at.  It is in the mindset as well as the acts themselves, and once I got the mindset down, the rest because significantly easier.

Another part of my Kemetic work includes the honoring of my ancestors, or akhu.  Again, I’ve written about the akhu before and I don’t want to do a full recap here, but I will mention that my belief system includes the fact that I am here because of my ancestors, and their ka flows to me and through me.  Without the akhu, I would not be here, and so it behooves me to honor them.  I keep a shrine for my akhu at which I give offerings to refresh the ka of my ancestors and so, also my own.  The shrine is in my living room, on the mantel, which means I pass it multiple times per day and I try to take a moment each time to remember how much I’ve been given, through them.  I clean it and reset it on a routine basis, depending on the time of year.  In fact, this past weekend, I cleaned and reset my akhu shrine for the “holiday” season.

I put holiday in quotation marks because the only religious holiday I’ll be celebrating in December is a Jubilee of Nut on the 30th.  Ausir’s Mysteries ended before December began, and while I do mark the solstice, Christmas, and the turning of the civil year, I mark them as secular holidays rather than religious ones.  The solstice will be spent  with friends during an annual celebration, Christmas will include gathering and a meal with family and friends, and the turning of the civil year will most likely involve movies and a glass of champagne with my husband at midnight.

But, since most of my Beloved Dead celebrated religious holidays this time of year, and since the iconography and symbols meant something to them, I decorate my akhu shrine to take that into account.  What does this mean?  Well, it means cleaning off the shrine itself (my living room mantelpiece), cleaning the icons, and rearranging them to include symbols of the season that represent how they lived.  This includes two Christmas tree decorations (one ceramic that holds a tea light, and one collapsible wooden one brought back from a Christmas market in Prague), and a creche.  After redecoration, I shared a beer with my akhu to refresh their ka.  (And I mean shared – offerings are meant to revert once their essence is consumed, and so I drank the remaining beer once my akhu were finished.

After these two things comes deity-specific work.  This can be divided into two pieces – work done as general honor or worship of the netjeru, and work done by request from a specific ntjr(t).  Piece one includes prayers and offerings, celebration of religious holidays, ritual, and heka.  Waking the gods falls into this category, as does petitioning for aid, reading aloud from Eternal Egypt when a section applies, and giving cool water or beer to refresh the ka of the netjeru.

Piece two includes things like following the Nut Cycle (not an easy task, given the TEETH involved), acting as a health advocate for those who need help (and ask for it), writing (this blog, and others), and learning to tear myself apart and then put things together again, piece by piece.

Now, I’m sure there are people out there who will read this post and go, “That’s it?  What about <insert random thing they do here>?”  I’m expecting that, actually – as we’re all individuals it would be odd if we all did exactly the same thing in exactly the same way all the time.  If your work is different than mine, but it works for you and your gods, there’s no reason to stop and switch to doing the things I do.  Sure, there are basic concepts that pertain to Kemeticism (like ma’at, for instance) but the manner in which it is upheld is an individual choice.

Wouldn’t things be pointless and boring if we all did exactly the same thing?

Red Land

Sandpaper skin, brushed by wind.
Sit and wait; meditate on desiccation and preservation even as transformation overcomes.
Things change the need; the choices made are not what they seem.

Looking down no green is seen.
Act is measured by action. Moving from east to to west, West seems best.
Shadow and light interplay, intertwine, for what are they if not two sides of the same coin?

Ripples on the surface are another kind of wave.
Move with the wind – bend if you can, break if you must.
When time comes, all will be put right.  Ordeal is just another kind of being.

When I See, I am set Free.

Hymn to Set

Lord of the Red Lands, He Who Harbors Outsiders, Separated God!  As rocks reflect heat after the sun is swallowed, Your gaze pierces me.  I present myself!  Your presence engulfs me and I bask in Your warmth.

Eye of the Tempest, Storm that Drives the People Home, God of Confusion!  As the waters grow then recede when time has come, Your purpose fills me.  I will not falter; I will be your hands and eyes.  I am Your strong tool!

Master of Ordeals, Great One of Tribulation, Keeper of my Heart!  As wind moves sands across the Western Desert, Your Work never ceases.  Foundations may fade as I stand at the crossroads…but I journey on.

July

I find it difficult to concentrate on my religious path in the month of July because it is so fucking hot…with one exception.

I hate summer, with a passion.  Some of my friends find this incredibly amusing since, you know, I worship desert gods.  I assume that, due to the glorious Nile river, the places in Egypt that aren’t oven-hot in summer are, in fact, dog’s-mouth-hot instead.

(Yes, I said dog’s-mouth-hot.  If you live in Southeastern PA like I do, you’re well aware of this summer phenomenon.  If you live further South, well, I am sorry.)

Summer makes me lethargic.  It makes me want to sit in a dark room with the A/C on.  As our house was built in the late ’20s, we don’t have central air so I have to crank up a window unit air conditioner.  This, in turn, makes me cranky because the house is never uniformly cold.  In fact, the only thing uniform about my summer experience each year is the size of the PECO bill.  Oh, and my wish for thunderstorms.

Massive thunderstorms are one of the summer phenomena that I’ve enjoyed since I was a child.  I don’t mind the closeness that comes before them because I know it will soon dissipate.  The whiff of ozone that comes with the first flash of lightning is exhilarating and the first rumble of thunder always causes goosebumps.  And then, the smell when the rain hits – steam coming up from the ground and being trampled by the pure, fresh scent of water.

As a child, I would go outside with my father when the heat lightning started and we’d stand in the wind while he tried to photograph the strikes.  As an adult, I’ve been known to open the door or even go out onto the porch to watch the storm roll through.  Hearing them after I’ve gone to bed helps me sleep more deeply – there’s a feeling of connection with something there and I feel content.  It’s a religious experience for me.

My attraction to thunderstorms feels like a Thing. It feels important.

Not so coincidentally, the God Who Owns My Ass is embodied in the Storm.

The Lettuce Incident

My Lord (Neb.y) and His nephew have a relationship best described (in true Facebook fashion) as “It’s Complicated”.

This shouldn’t be a surprise when one thinks about it.  Take a familial relationship (in this case, Uncle/Nephew), add in a sexual relationship that eventually results in offspring, an argument over power before the other gods, and some epic physical confrontations and who would expect smooth sailing?  The netjeru are known for turbulent relations; why would interactions between Set and Heru be any different?

And yet, the translations of the Contendings of Heru and Set can be interpreted in dozens of ways…and have, depending on whom you read.  Sometimes, readers interpret them as EVIL SET out to steal from GOOD HERU.  Sometimes, readers interpret them as battles between two equals with one being helped by His mother.  Other times, readers see the Contendings as a commentary on what was going on politically with the Ennead while Set and Heru acted as pawns.

Until recently, I read the Contendings as a continuous story that were only captured on one papyrus, Chester-Beatty Papyrus I, and that were meant as a tale about inheritance and respect for one’s relatives.  Then, an amazingly intelligent friend (and member of my religious community) pointed out that the Contendings, like most mythic stories from Ancient Egypt, were cobbled together during the Greek period from literary references.  Now, I look at them as vignettes comprising centuries of interactions between Neb.y and Heru, including a sexual relationship that was consensual.  I take pleasure in the fact that te Velde agrees with this point.

This brings me to the Lettuces.

(The following  is a translation of part of ‘The Contendings of Horus and Seth’ from Chester-Beatty Papyrus I, as edited by W.K. Simpson)

…Said the Ennead: “Let Horus and Seth be summoned in order that they may be judged.”
Then they were brought before the Ennead. Said the Universal Lord before the Great Ennead to Horus and Seth: “Go and obey what I tell you. You should eat and drink so that we may have (some) peace. Stop quarreling so every day on end.”

Then Seth told Horus: “Come, let’s make holiday in my house.”
Horus told him: “I’ll do so, surely, I’ll do so, I’ll do so.”

Now afterward, (at) evening time, bed was prepared for them, and they both lay down. But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’s thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen.

Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.” And he opened his hand(s) and let her see Seth’s semen. She let out a loud shriek, seized the copper (knife), cut off his hand(s) that were equivalent. Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’s phallus. She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.

Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth’s gardener: “What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?”  So the gardener told her: “He doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.” And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus.  So Seth went to tell Horus: “Come, let’s go and I may contend with you in the tribunal.”
Horus told him: “I’ll do so, surely, I’ll do so, I’ll do so.”

They both went to the tribunal and stood in the presence of the Great Ennead. They were told: “Speak concerning yourselves.”
Said Seth: “Let me be awarded the office of Ruler, l.p.h., for as to Horus, the one who is standing (trial), I have performed the labor of a male against him.”
The Ennead let out a loud cry. They spewed and spat at Horus’s face. Horus laughed at them. Horus then took an oath by god as follows: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”

Then Thoth, lord of script and scribe of truth for the Ennead, put his hand on Horus’s shoulder and said: “Come out, you semen of Seth.”
And it answered him from the water in the interior of the marsh. Thoth put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said: “Come out, you semen of Horus.”
Then it said to him: “Where shall I come from?”
Thoth said to it: “Come out from his ear.”
Thereupon it said to him: “Is it from his ear that I should issue forth, seeing that I am divine seed?”
Then Thoth said to it:”Come out from the top of his head.”
And it emerged as a golden solar disk upon Seth’s head. Seth became exceeding furious and extended his hand(s) to seize the golden solar disk. Thoth took it away from him and placed it as a crown upon his (own) head. Then the Ennead said: “Horus is right, and Seth is wrong.

(It’s this part of the Contendings that has me growing lettuces for Neb.y in my AeroGarden.  When I eat them, I use a creamy dressing.  He finds it amusing.)

Even before I was handed the light bulb about continuous stories, the story of the lettuces didn’t ring as  part of a continuing story.  It seems, to me, more of a manipulation of an ongoing relationship.  My relationship with Neb.y Set draws me in this direction; knowing His virility and power He could only have been overcome by a trick.

Try this on for size: Heru and Set have a consensual sexual relationship spanning many centuries.  As part of the ongoing debate over who should take the place of Ausir, His son Heru decides to use the relationship to His own advantage.  Rather than accepting the seed of Set as usual, He instead catches it to save and use later to “prove” that Set is not the dominant <insert your preferred word here> partner in the relationship.  Heru puts it on the lettuces that Set eats, causing Neb.y to ingest His own seed.  With Set’s known and proclaimed virility, it would be thought of as out of the norm for Set to submit to anyone…but Heru’s “proof” demonstrates how powerful He is to cause Set to submit…thereby making Heru the logical choice to take His father’s place.  It’s an ingenious ploy when one thinks about it.