There was a recurring theme during 2013, and it appeared in numerous blog posts and statements by Big Name Pagans (BNPs).  That theme was one of absolutism in paganism.  In other words, this thing is correct; everyone who is pagan must do this thing, regardless of the path you follow.

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you likely know I do not fall into this camp.  Oh, I’ve been known to dip into it once or twice (or a hundred times) when writing SOPs, or creating tip sheets, or training someone to do something specific within a system or when there are regulations that, if not followed, might land someone in prison for a very long time.  However, my religious practices don’t fall into this category.  I do what I do, when I do it, because it works for me and for my gods.  I’ve been known to add things, or delete things, from my practice based on ideas from others but, ultimately, I don’t do things just because other people think I should.

Some of my firm position on this issue comes from my beliefs about the fluidity of morality and the “situationality” of ethics.  For me, there are no hard and fast actions that can be ruled out as never-to-be-done-under-any-circumstances.  There are things I choose not to do because they repulse me, or they make me uncomfortable, but that’s both a personal thing and a situational thing.   There are things I choose to do that others might find repulsive or creepy, and so be it.  My life isn’t lived for their pleasure, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

Although, really, they should.  All the time.  Seriously.  No, I’m not joking.  Well, okay.  I guess I am, but I hope you see where I’m going.

There is no one-size-fits-all in religion; hell, there’s no one-size-fits-all in clothing (no matter what anyone claims) so why would religious practice be any different?  It is too nebulous and personal a thing – there’s no prayer that works for everyone, no position in which everyone should be when approaching deity, no offerings everyone should give.  Those who stand on a box, or in a pulpit, or naked in the middle of a forest clearing and spout such nonsense are doing themselves a disservice, not to mention the people who have genuine questions.  Is it so hard to add “this is how I do it” to a statement without saying everyone else should do it too?

Given the number of people who do just that, apparently so.

An Assessment – Where Am I Now?

(I couldn’t resist yoinking this topic from Fier over at And Through the WoodIt’s the perfect start to this year’s PBP.)

I’ve started and deleted and rewritten this post about a dozen times now, and each time I begin again I think of something new to add.  It’s getting a little ridiculous, honestly.  It’s the start of the new civil year, and assessing where I am on my religious path is something that should be relatively simple.  I should be able to take a look at where I am and what I’m doing…and then make goals and plans from there.

Yes, I’m shoulding all over myself again, and it is something that is on the list to remove from my life this year.  Should doesn’t change what is, and the reality is that I’m finding it difficult to pin myself down in order to do a proper assessment.  Who am I, right now?  Where am I on my religious path?  Where am I trying to go?  Will I get there?  I am finding it difficult, and that means that it no longer matters how the experience should be.

Let’s try this again, shall we?

2014 started two days ago, and I think taking stock of my religious life in the same way I take stock of other things at this time of year is a good practice…or, it would be, if I could nail down who I am, where I am, and where I’m trying to head.  So, I’m going to look at those questions as writing prompts, like the ones at the end of so many FlameKeeping essays, and not worry about what comes out in response.  What matters is a response at all, right?

Who am I, right now?

  • I am a FlameKeeper.
  • I am a Kemetic.
  • I am a (self-proclaimed) arbiter of Words Mean Things.
  • I am a (very) reluctant mystic.
  • I am a pantheistic over-hard polytheist.

What does this all mean?  Well, it means I’m forging a religious torque to wear that involves Ancient Egyptian religious practices, principles of FlameKeeping, the integral use of language, odd religious journeys and tasks, and deities that are both within the Divine and separate and unique…unless they state otherwise.  Looking at it from outside, well, there’s no wonder I’m having such a difficult time writing this post.  Sheesh.  I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to be able to put anything down – I seem to keep adding on, and on, and ON.

Where am I on my religious path?

I’m here, writing this post, and thinking about religious work, and realizing that rather than being in a cul-de-sac, I’m at yet another crossroads.  I have all sorts of work that I’m doing – Kemetic, FlameKeeping, mystery-based, Deity-given.  I’ve written about some of it, and need to write about more of it, and somehow it all fits together but I’m not sure how.  I’m looking forward in the direction I think I need to go, but I’m constantly pounding the ground with my walking stick at the same time to make sure I’m really still on a path at all, let alone the right one.  There are siren songs in all directions, and the way I choose to move forward will mean something.

Fuck – I’m all out of eggs.

Where am I trying to go?

Well, if I knew the answer to this question, I’d be ahead of the game!

In all seriousness, I’d like to get to the point where I can answer questions from experience and with confidence rather than having to look everything up, or get a second opinion.  I’d like to understand what my gods are asking of me (holes, anyone?).  I’d like to be in a position to teach, perhaps, or at least be a resource for people on certain topics.  I’d like to have my festival calendar memorized, too.  😉

So, somewhere solid.  I’m trying to get somewhere solid.

Will I get there?

I think I will, eventually.  I need to slow down, and take one thing at a time.  I need to go back to baby steps in some instances – Dark Flame work, for instance, and honoring Nut on her Jubilees.  I need to stop freaking out when I don’t know how to do something and ask for help (Divine or otherwise).  I need to remember to breathe.

So, I guess these are my religious goals for 2014:

  • Remember baby steps
  • Slow down
  • Breathe

And, of course, continue to write about it.

Action, Action, we want ACTION!

One common element among many religions/philosophies out there is the requirement for action.  This requirement comes in many forms – some note actions from which one must abstain and others list actions one must specifically perform.  Aside from Taoism, which espouses the concept of wu-wei (simplified – action through non-action), I don’t know of any other paths that encourage people not to act.

(If anyone does, please, speak up!  I’d love to learn something new!)

There’s a colloquial definition of insanity that equates to doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  I think this is true of inaction as well – people rail against the world and want it to be a better place, or cry out about bad things happening to good people, or say that we’re becoming more callow, or more self-centered, or whatever…but they don’t DO anything about it.   They sit and complain…and complain…and complain.  It makes me wonder who actually is closer to fitting that definition of insanity – the people that ACT in the same way over and over expecting different results, or the people that DON’T ACT but expect things to magically get better.

Most of you know this, but it bears repeating from time to time: there is no magic pill, no silver bullet, no particular swish-and-flick of a wand topped with a crystal (which I’ve actually never understood anyway, but that is a topic for another post) that will change anything without being accompanied by action.  By acting, we put forth our desire to shape events, to modify our surroundings.  By acting, we say to the world “This is what I want to happen, and I am willing to do something about it.”  By acting, we no longer pay lip service; we show that we mean what we believe.

Stagnancy is not an option if we want to improve.  To change the world, to push the Universe, we must act.

Writing Prompts/Food for Thought:

  1. What action does your religious/philosophical path require of you?
  2. Are there situations in which you are compelled to act in a particular way?  Why or why not?

Oh Akhu, My Akhu

(It is ironic that the most complicated (in my mind, anyway) segment of the soul, the akh, begins with A.  Every fiber of my mind is straining to start with the ka, then move to the ba, and then (and only then) tackle the akh.  Unfortunately, this is an alphabetic challenge…and so, we’re going to tackle the difficult first.)

We have a ka, the source of our vital energy that is passed to us from our ancestors.  When we die, we return to our ka and become part of our ancestral group.  We have a ba, our spiritual manifestation that seeks to return to the Duat even as it is tied to return to our physical body (as can be seen in many examples in tomb art and writing).  When our ba is made Divine, it becomes an akh – a self-renewing spirit completely released from the physical body.  The akhu (plural) are ascended and unified with the source of spiritual radiance.  It is this very thing we ask for when praying for the dead:

A Thousand of bread, a Thousand of beer, a Thousand of every good thing.  May N. Ascend!

Honoring our akhu (Blessed Dead) is something many of us do without even knowing it.  I go through family albums periodically when I am at my parents’ house and try to say the names of the dead out loud when I note their photographs.  I tell stories about things I did with my grandparents, or the family stories that have passed down from them.  (Example – my paternal great-grandmother, Florence, used to give all the kids American flags for Christmas and birthdays.  Why this happened remains a mystery even to my father and his siblings.)  I visit graves, bringing offerings of flowers and cool water, and I recite prayers for the dead.  I talk to my maternal grandmother on a constant basis and every day I miss her.  I’m willing to bet many of you do the same.

I wanted to set up something more formal for years before I did so.  I wanted, like so many other Kemetics, a shrine at which I could honor my dead – something official and sacred and special.  I thought about it for years (3, to be exact) before I did it.  And then, just last year I finally managed to set up a shrine for my akhu.  It’s on my mantelpiece and manages to come across (to most people) as a happy little monument to family…which, after all, it is.

Currently, in these post-holiday hours, it holds the following items, each of which has some connection to my Blessed Dead:

  • A photo of my maternal grandmother
  • My maternal grandfather’s Living Bible
  • A glass paperweight and a carousel horse music box, to represent my paternal grandparents
  • A collapsible yak
  • A wooden creche
  • A footed offering bowl
  • A hand-blown perfume bottle filled with cool water
  • Two LED candles, one pillar and one tealight
  • A Moroccan-style tea light lantern
  • A wooden, collapsible Christmas tree with ornaments
  • A ceramic Christmas tree tea light holder
  • A figurine of Jack Skellington in his Santa Claus costume
  • A handcrafted leather rose in a bud vase

Look at how formal it is!

At some point this week the shrine will get an overhaul since my “ancestral” winter holidays are over.  Some pieces will be put into storage until December, and others will be wiped clean and repositioned.  The water in the perfume bottle will be refreshed, and I will add some handmade flowers as a perpetual offering.  As always, during the cleaning, I will say the names of the dead aloud for anyone listening to hear.

Attitude: it’s what’s for dinner

Entering sacred space to commune with the Divine requires a mind-shift, and this shift is unique to every individual.  For some, ritual tools and clothing are essential; for others, little is needed other than a deep breath and a clearing of the mind.  Some work in groups, some in solitude.  Some use words passed down orally, or chants from texts; others say nothing aloud.

For me, the mind-shift is all about attitude.

Attitude is not solely conveyed through speech and thought; it is in one’s stance, the positioning of shoulders, the speed and depth of breathing, the flick of an eyebrow, the raising and lowering of arms.  It can be seen in the straightening of one’s spine, or the bend of a knee.  The ritual of positioning my body to greet my gods,the quieting of my mind, the slowing of my breath, results in ecstasy when ritual is complete.

Attitude is not a construct; it is tangible and palpable, and needed.  For some, that means humility – prostrating oneself before Deity and declaring its might.  For others, it means pride and self-worth – we brag of deeds done and bargains made, of enemies overcome.  For still others, it means embodying the Divine – we declare ourselves gods, our strength and will the strength and will of the Divine itself.

Attitude is what the Divine seeks in us, a declaring of ourselves to be what is needed and wanted.

I approach the shrine with shoulders squared and head held high.   I have not polluted myself. I have not stolen cultivated land.  I have not stopped water.  I have not stolen the bread of the Gods.   I greet, and offer, and pray from a place of strength and my stance reflects this.  I am worthy.

I’m an aardvark (worshipper), and I’m proud

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Deity came to me as a singing aardvark.

As a rule, I tend to be skeptical about “signs” and “omens”.  Seeing squirrels everywhere isn’t a sign of anything…except that I live in perfect squirrel habitat.  Black vultures in a tree that hangs over the road?  They’ve lived there since I was a child.  Weird weather?  Let’s discuss climate change! So, a Sesame Street song on repeat in my head was just another ear-worm.

(Aardvark Song – in case you don’t know it.)

For 2+ weeks, the song infiltrated my brain and sang itself hoarse at varying levels of volume every time I wasn’t actively thinking about something else.  It was maddening.  And, every time the song went off, I thought more about visiting the zoo.

(Aardvarks – yes, they’re adorable)

And then, I had a dream while napping.

I should probably explain here that I am a very lucid dreamer.  I remember my dreams most of the time, in vivid detail.  My nap dreams tend to have more significance than others; that’s when the touch of precog hits, for example.

In this dream, an aardvark appeared wearing a glittery tiara.  It looked at me and asked, “What are you waiting for?”  It then disappeared in a whirl of sand and wind.

I spent some time talking about it with some friends and posting about the dream online but expecting it to be just another random construct of a random brain.  Then, three days later, as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard, “Oh, so you’ll ask other people who I am but NOT ME???”

I know my mental voice well – I’ve spent too much time in my own head not to know it.  I’d previously communicated with Deity – in fact, I’ve been a follower of a particular netjeret for years and can tell when She is speaking to me.  Her “voice” very different from my own inner monologue; timbre, pitch, and intonation are all distinct and unlike me.  This speaker had yet another “voice”, unlike mine and unlike Hers.

So, cue the clue-by-four.  This wasn’t a mental construct.  This was real.

There’s a hand-blown glass aardvark in my shrine now to represent My Lord.