Braiding

Lately, each time I’ve had my hair done (read – all the grey covered over for another four weeks) I’ve asked my hairdresser to put it in some kind of braid.  She’s done a single French braid and in two French braids, and I rather like how it looks – it keeps my hair back from my face but doesn’t detract from how long it is.  I’ve asked if she’d consider coming to my house every morning to braid it for me, and this is because…I can’t do anything with it.

I’ve thought since I started growing my hair long that I ought to be able to do something with it, but all I can do neatly is put it in a pony tail, or twist it behind my head and clip it with one of those piranha clip things. I can’t use bobby pins, or barrettes, or make a bun, or a chignon, or a plait. It kills me not to be able to do these things, and the only reason I can nail down is that, when I was at the age to do my hair on my own (too old for my mother to do it for me), I kept it short.

I’ve been told that I’m now too old to learn. Whether that’s actually true or not I don’t know, but I’m an amazingly stubborn person and I’ll periodically try to wrangle it into some sort of single French braid. It always starts out okay, but somewhere in the middle of my head I twist something the wrong way and it turns into a big lumpy mess that I end up slapping an elastic band on. From the front, it looks fine. From the back, it’s a disaster.

So when I started looking for topics for my second B post for the Pagan Blog Project, can occur to me that there are similarities between the wrangling I do with my hair and the wrangling required to put together, and follow, a cohesive religious path.

Stay with me here: to make a French braid, you have to part the hair just so, pick up three strands of equal size from the crown of the head, and start weaving them: over and under, back and forth. Then, as the strands begin to thin out, you feed in additional hair from each side of the head. This continues until you reach the nape of the neck, at which point you should be able to to weave the three strands together simply and finish it with an elastic band.

Sounds easy enough, right?

The problem is sometimes the starting strands aren’t of equal size. Sometimes the additional hair won’t feed in properly, or your fingers get twisted, or you forget which strand goes over and which strand goes under. And sometimes, it just feels like you need more hands to be able to juggle everything. All of these things can lead to an uneven, lumpy, unattractive braid that’s functional, in that it pulls your hair back from your face, but that isn’t pretty enough to wear out of the house. The intent and general shape are there, but they aren’t cohesive.

The same kind of thing happens to so many people trying to put together a pagan path. They find things that interest them (reverence for nature, fairies, dragons) and they start putting them together into some sort of a conglomeration but the pieces just don’t quite fit with each other. They end up with a mishmash of Dragon Fairy Pantheistic animism with a side of ancient matriarchies and “The Old Ways”, and then naturally get a little frustrated when someone starts to break down what they’re doing. Who wants to be told that their efforts didn’t come out quite right? So, much like me with my lumpy, ugly braid, they stay in the house, they get frustrated, and they feel that they’ve got nowhere to turn.

My braids are not twisted and lumpy because I want them to be. They’re twisted and lumpy and odd because I don’t know how to make them any other way. I’ve yet to find a good resource that I could follow that will teach me how to fix my hair…and I’m willing to bet the same is true of those pagans whose paths seem twisted, or lumpy, or odd to us. Most people don’t want to remain ignorant. Most people are eager to learn new things, and to have those things shape their point of view.

Most people want to be able to walk out of the house with a braid, or a path, that is even and neat and shiny. And, if we can help someone do that, shouldn’t we?

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Baby Steps

Everything begins with a single step.

Everything begins with a single step.  A human child has to learn that it has control over its arms and legs before being able to roll over; a joey has to make a long crawl, wiggle by wiggle, to its mother’s pouch before it can feed; a plant has to break forth from its seed before it can breach the soil.  Before we can apply algebraic concepts, we need to learn to count, and add, and subtract, and multiply, and divide, and many other things that are small in and of themselves but, put together, create something larger and more profound.

In order to complete the puzzle that is laid out in front of us when we first become aware that we exist, we have to find the pieces, lay them out, and figure out how they go together.  Dumping the entire thing on the floor and hoping it will magically knit itself into a whole isn’t realistic…and yet, I see people doing this very thing all the time.   The relationship will fix itself if only they wish hard enough; the chore will be done by someone else if ignored long enough; bad things won’t happen if we bury our heads in the sand and wait them out.  After all,  if we can’t see them, they can’t see us, right?  Right?

Little of import can be done without first learning the steps requiredThis includes religious work, and it perhaps explains why I sometimes get annoyed with people who think they can leap in without any preparation and everything will be fine.  In order to get the most out of a religious path, there are steps that must be taken, homework that must be done, and facts that must be learned.  This is not to say that every religious path is a highly academic one, and of course there are places for onion hoers (laypeople), but to practice a religion one must do something.  I know of no religious path that advocates absorption through osmosis rather than acting.

(If you do, please let me know.  I love facts for my mind.)

Religion requires work of one sort or another.  This work can be broken down into steps of varying size; an amazing example of how small a set of steps can become is over at But You Don’t Look SickThe Spoon Theory.  While it was written to address the difficulty people with chronic illness sometimes have in dealing with daily tasks, I think it can be applied to a number of other things, including religious work.  The steps someone takes are often in direct proportion to what they’re able to do, and that’s okay.  The point is to act, not to do ALL THE THINGS at once, and this is why I’m fond of the idea of baby steps.

Baby Steps, when applied to religious work, or self-care, or anything really, are small, simple things that can be done even when one doesn’t have the spoons for a large amount of work.  For example, in the case of self-care (which, for FlameKeeping, is religious work), I might have a day where I just don’t feel like I can get out of my pajamas, but I am able to brush my teeth and my hair.  Those two small things are Baby Steps – little things I can do while still fulfilling the spirit of caring for myself and, thus, nurturing my Dark Flame.    Or, let’s say I go to the pharmacy and use one of the shopping basket to hold the things I want to purchase.  When I am finished, I put the basket back in the rack so someone else can use it.  It is a small thing, and one most of us do, but it removes any inconvenience from people who come after me and use that basket – it is exactly where it is expected to be, and thus no one has to hunt for it.  This Baby Step upholds ma’at (the thing that binds us together as community) and nurtures my Bright Flame.

What is considered to be a Baby Step depends on the needs and wants of the individual, rather than on an outside source.  The little things I do each day may seem trivial to you and, considering that your path is different from mine, I’d expect that to happen from time to time.  The Baby Steps you take might seem too big to me, and that’s also fine.  The point, really, in all of this, is for people to be able to find a level that works for them, and then stick to it whenever possible.

The rest is just so much gravy, really.

 

Bumbling Along

We are all Divine…and we’re still human. This means we often don’t know in which way to go or where to turn and we find ourselves in that Dark Night of the Soul written about by St. John of the Cross.

When this happens to me, I end up doing what I call “bumbling along”.  That is, I do the minimal things which, for me, involve trying to uphold the concept of ma’at (Kemetic concept)/improvement (FlameKeeping concept) in my daily life.  I stop most prayers, most offerings, and all formal ritual.  Hell, sometimes I even end up stopping things that most people consider activities of daily living (ADLs) – purposefully exercising, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, getting dressed beyond throwing on sweats.  I never stop completely, even though the baby steps I end up taking can be so small and so slow that it appears I’m not moving at all.

(I always shower or bathe every day – but that’s more of a comforting thing for me.  What’s better than lovely hot water?  It also means that, even in my sweats, I smell nicely.)

FlameKeeping is big on baby steps, especially when it comes to looking at how overwhelming it can be to nourish our Flames.  Those of us with chronic spoon shortage can have trouble doing this; the Bright Flame goes by the wayside as we’re unable to interact with other people and we’re left staring into our Dark Flame and wondering if we can leave things alone…

But, we can’t.  (Or, rather, I can’t. Some people may have a different response.)  I can get down to the bumbling along stage where I put one foot in front of the other and keep moving inch by inch…but I don’t go completely stagnant because I truly believe that stagnancy is death.  I make myself do something and, if nothing else, I can concentrate on those tiny things to ensure that, even if they appear to be happening by rote, there’s some thought and intent behind them.

It may seem ridiculous to some to think of there being intent behind the brushing of teeth, or the combing of hair, or the making sure a cardboard container from lunch goes into the recycle bin.  It may seem like rote action with no purpose, no meaning, and no movement…and that’s fine, for them.  For me, there’s meaning in all of my actions and whether anyone else sees it isn’t my problem.

That, to me, is the essence of my life as a FlameKeeper: even while bumbling along, what I do has meaning.  What I do has purpose.  And, I daresay, if you cannot find the purpose and meaning in the things you’re doing, well, you may not be looking in the right places.

The ba goes to the place it knows

“…As watercourse is replaced by watercourse, So no river allows itself to be concealed, It breaks the channel in which it was hidden.  So also the ba goes to the place it knows, And strays not from its former path.”-  Instruction to King Merekare, as noted in Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I, Part II, Section 3.

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).   While the ka contains the life force , the ba contains the essence of what we, as individuals, are. It is our personality; combined with our ren, it is our name. It is our ba that embodies our knowledge and personal abilities.

The most common image of the ba is a bird’s body with the head of a particular individual, which makes sense when we consider the fact that the ba is so personalized and also highly maneuverable.  It is this way even with the netjeru – the ba comes down to impart its substance to inanimate images of deity.  An example of this that is sometimes noted is the ba of Re as a bird with a ram’s head when depicting the journey of the sun barque across the sky.

(Interestingly, when we consider the duality of Re and Ausir, Ausir is sometimes considered to be the ba of Re at night during journey through the body of Nut…which makes complete sense if you have my brain.)

The ba should not be considered as lesser when examining what makes us us.  In fact, according to Morenz, “…great gods are readily referred to as ba and for a king contemplating the hereafter the desire to become a ba outweighs even that to become a god…”  It might do us well to consider our ba as frequently as we do our other parts as our ba is able to reach places our physical selves cannot.  If we hold our ba close and clutch it to us even as we embrace its ability to travel, the possibilities are endless.

Sources:

The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat – Kiya Nicoll

Egyptian ReligionSiegfried Morenz

The Twelve GatesJohn A. Rush

Beer – Divine Happy Hour

I drink for the joy of my gods.

I’ve gotten out of the habit in recent months, but when sharing a beer with the gods was the norm it was brilliant.  A glass bottle of craft beer, a beer opener, and a long tall glass.  The crack of the opening, the sound of liquid pouring into the glass, and the yeasty, hoppy smell in the air all served to remind me to take a moment to contemplate that which sustains life.

In an offering of beer, I give it freely, an offering to the gods to refresh and restore.  The glass sits on the shrine so the gods may partake.  During this time, I contemplate the beer and its connection to life.

Water refreshes the heart, a libation from Abu and Khebu.  Grain, the staff of life, restores health and vitality.  Beer is both water and bread; it encompasses both perfect offerings that so many give to their gods each day.

Beer was used to trick “She Who Dances on Blood” into stopping her slaughter of men.  A river of red beer mimicked blood closely enough that She gladly drank to excess.  Her drunkenness, still celebrated today, allows us to live.

At the end of contemplation, the offering reverts.  The glass is removed from the shrine, and a sip is taken.  That first sip renews our connection – we eat and drink.  Our cycles are the same.

Tonight, I will drink for the joy of my gods.

Bongo, bongo, bongo – a Divine ear-worm

The Divine communicates in mysterious ways…

(Okay, that’s an understatement.  Probably the understatement of the century.  Let’s try this again.)

It is clearly the mission of the Divine to drive me crazy until I get up off my ass and actually do something.

(There.  That’s better.)

Since the “Aardvark Incident” was such a success, my brain is now filled with random nonsense songs at the whim of the Divine.  Yes, you’ve read it here folks – I’m apparently Pandora for the netjeru (one in particular, anyway).

The current gem is Civilization.

This phenomenon doesn’t occur all the time; it only happens when there’s something-serious-I need-to-be-doing-and-doing-now-THANK-YOU!  Since I’ve clearly got something I need to be doing it’s been happening for over a month straight.  Every time I try to quiet my mind, in it pops…to remind me I’ve something I need to be doing.

The trouble is, I know I have something I need to be doing, but it’s mystic in nature.  This means I’m running in circles trying to make sense of the flashes of inspiration and sheer overload and running into walls while my own personal soundtrack plays in the background.  Somehow, this is NOT conducive to focus.  Go figure.

Who says the gods don’t have a sense of humor?