Loxotic

Catch the view with a side-light;
A ghost of a thought in a never-ending story
Can make me think that I’m not here, though
My feet are on the ground.

Hear a voice from behind me;
Turn to comment but it’s gone, gone, down in the gloaming.
I set my wandering mind to a
Riddle without answer.

I think that I can be;
I know that I can be;
I know that I will be
More than the sum of my parts.

Can I taste in the mirror
All of the possibilities of my dreaming self?
Bury my toes in the loam, and feel
My essence flow down, deep.

Can I know what my job is?
What kind of tool I am meant to be for your pleasure?
Don’t lose myself in the tiresome
Tribulation. I know.

I think that I can be;
I know that I can be;
I know that I will be
More than the sum of my parts.

When the dewdrops catch
On your glistening strands,
I lock my trust in a box and hand it over.

Careless toss of a whisper,
In a phrase that’s not meant for complex understanding;
Carry myself to each endless hole,
To somehow mend the tears.

From a glimpse, I see shadow,
And I hear as you caution me in your silent way.
But there’s pride in the endless gazing;
I cannot run and hide.

I think that I can be;
I know that I can be;
I know that I will be
More than the sum of my parts.

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Lepidine Musings – Mass Effect’s Effect on a Modern Pagan

I am blown away by Thane Krios, but not necessarily for the reason(s) you might think.

Yes, Thane is handsome and has that other thing going on. Yes, he’s an amazing match for fem!Shep, and yes, I cried bitterly at the denouement. But the thing that really gets to me about Thane is not his charisma, or his tortured acceptance of where his life will end up; it’s his religious practice that continually rocks my world.

Amonkira, Lord of Hunters,
Grant that my hands be steady, my aim be true, and my feet swift.
And should the worst come to pass, grant me forgiveness.
– Thane Krios, Mass Effect 2.

While it is the relationship between fem!Shep and Garrus Vakarian (GARRUS!) that keeps me playing Mass Effect 2 and 3 over and over again, Thane’s storyline and interactions with fem!Shep are a close second.

I’m not new to religion in video games (not by a long shot!), and I’ve written before about using gaming to work through aspects of my personal religious practice. The Divines and Daedra; Yevon; Andraste and the Chantry – I’ve happily mulled them over and applied their concepts to my own practice without crossing the line that so many people have between “fantasy” and “reality”. And yet, when Thane came along and spoke of Amonkira, and Arashu, and Kalahira, I paused to reconsider. These three deities have weight behind them, and I found myself going through Thane’s prayers and dialogue and the codex entries for drell religion over and over again. And the more I went over it, and the more I thought about them, the more I wondered about whether Thane’s beliefs had anything for me.

“You still haven’t told me what a siha is.”
“One of the warrior-angels of the goddess Arashu. Fierce in wrath. A tenacious protector.”

fem!Shep and Thane Krios – Mass Effect 2

If we take what is in the codex at face value, Thane is polytheistic, as were the drell as a people before being exposed to other ways of thinking about their place in the universe. Three gods are named by Thane in Mass Effect 2 – Amonkira, Lord of Hunters, Arashu, Goddess of Motherhood and Protection, and Kalahira, Goddess of Oceans and Afterlife. There’s a hint of more in the way he speaks, though…at least, to me. Thane also believes, as do the drell (again, according to the codex), that body and soul are separate entities but act in concert in a Whole Person, and that death is a departure from the body.

Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, I ask forgiveness.
Kalahira, whose waves wear down stone and sand –
Kalahira, wash the sins from this one,
And set him on the distant shore of the infinite spirit.
– Thane Krios, Mass Effect 3.

There are a couple of things that strike me about the religious system. First, it is clearly only partially described and while I am sure this is because the writers/creators of the universe didn’t want to delve any deeper it feels like documentation was lost rather than never present. This feeling of mine appears to be corroborated in a couple of ways: (1) the drell home world was destroyed by over-industrialization and is now a cemetery planet; the population that did not die out was mostly evacuated; (2) reference is made to a drell speaking as the priests do when he prays, which reminds me of the lack of non-priestly documentation available for modern Kemetics.

Kalahira, this one’s heart is pure,
But beset by wickedness and contention.
Guide this one to where the traveler never tires,
The lover never leaves, the hungry never starve.
Guide this one, Kalahira,
And she will be a companion to you as she was to me.

– Kolyat Krios and fem!Shep – Mass Effect 3

Second, the way that Thane invokes the names of his deities leads me to believe that they were gods of the people, despite the apparent lack of documentation. Lord of Hunters; Goddess of Motherhood and Protection; Goddess of Oceans and Afterlife – all are epithets that (to me) connect deity to daily life. To a people on a desert planet, pre-industrialization, what makes more sense than to ask the Divine for aid with the tasks of daily life? What could be more inscrutable than the depths of the ocean to the same people?

Third, no matter the lack of hard documentation and the (apparent) reliance on UPG, Thane’s gods have evolved and remain relevant. Amonkira can be invoked in the name of a different kind of hunt; Arashu continues to oversee parenting and protection of the weak; Kalahira can be extrapolated to not only encompass the oceans, but space – she is the Space Between and it is this particular thing that draws me to her. Oceans/Space as Afterlife rings true for me – primeval waters from which we are born and to which we return. In fact, if I can get past the hurdle in my brain, it is likely I’m going to start exploring Kalahira as Lady of the Stars.

“Kolyat? Why did the last verse say “she”?”
“The prayer was not for him, Commander. He has already asked forgiveness for the lives he has taken. His wish…was for you.”

fem!Shep and Kolyat Krios – Mass Effect 3

I am forever changed…and this can only be a good thing.

Lost Odyssey – working out religion through video games

(So…this is where a lot of you read the title of this post and go, “Okay.  You lost me.”)

I had the honor of participating in a podcast of Divine Community, where I touched on the concept of working out my religious sticking points through the use of video games. Since that podcast, a number of people have asked me to explain myself.

Trying to put this in some kind of order, I find it necessary to go back to my history as a gamer. I begin playing video games when I was very young; my parents were always into gadjets, and we had a Magnavox Odyssey back before I started 1st grade. From there, I went on to use the Atari 2600, then the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), then the Super Nintendo (SNES). We were not a Genesis household, although I have tons of friends who had these systems and so I pretty much gamed all the way through from early childhood until I graduated from high school.

In the 90’s, I discovered the joy of PC gaming. I most enjoyed the Lucas Arts games… especially the ones that can now be played on the S.C.U.M.M. engine: Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, etc. To this day, and early PC game remains my top favorite: Quest for Glory-So You Want to be a Hero.  I then branched out into MUDs before returning to my beloved console gaming with the Playstation and Nintendo 64…which then branched out to include all new consoles as they came out.  My current collection stands at well over 1,000 games and (I think) almost every console that has come out in the US…along with some from Japan.  Oh, and a working arcade cabinet in the dining room.

(Yes, I also have a NeoGeo console and yes, I allow people to play it when they visit.  No, I don’t think I have a gaming problem.)

Now, I do play video games for fun, for relaxation, for stress relief, and other traditional reasons.  I don’t want anyone to think that gaming is solely a religious activity for me.  However, when I’m wrestling with an issue I find gaming to be an excellent way to work through my own mental roadblocks.  It works for me, regardless of the origin of the issue; I can as easily work through a religious sticking point in a game as I can a work-related problem, or an ethical dilemma.  The genre I use may differ – Action/RPG for religious quandaries; FPS for work (especially colleague) issues; Puzzles for ethical wrangling – but the act of putting the item into the universe of the game and thereby being able to “physically” wrestle with it helps enormously.

My go-to games for religious and/or magical wrangling are those in the Elder Scrolls series; typically, I use either Oblivion or Skyrim, although Morrowind also has its benefits.  I then find a quest line that has a religious component (going on a pilgrimage to different temples, for example, or completing quests for Daedra) or I retire to a mage tower to work on creating enchantments or spells.  I put my player character (PC) through the paces of what I’m going through in my mind and, by watching “myself” go through the motions on screen, I can take what I see and learn and apply it out of game.

(Think of it as “hands-on” practice in a safe environment, of sorts.)

Now, granted, I’m not firing lightning bolts at anyone, or setting off on hajj or anything in real life.  I might, however, decide to take a pilgrimage (of sorts) to visit my buried ancestors…or use gesture and movement similar to that in whatever magical engine the games use to bring myself into a meditative state…or speak aloud language from the game universe to focus my intent on a problem.  Whatever I bring over from the game world helps me work out what I need to…and consequently, I can usually count on things being productive when I try them on the outside.

I’m not sure if this truly answers the questions I’ve been asked, or if it helps anyone understand what I do, but I’m happy to answer questions as (if) they come in.

The Lies We Tell

I am a liar.

This sounds horrible, I know, but I am a human and humans lie. We all do it. We lie to others; we lie to ourselves. In fact, I bet that you, dear reader, have told a number of lies on the very day that you’re reading this entry.

I’m told that there was once a reporter who decided to spend 30 days without telling any lies at all. No big lies; no little lies. No white lies; no whoppers. The trouble was, he elected to do this knowing a friend of his was lying to his girlfriend. So, when she asked, he told. Naturally, he lost his friend.

Now I’m not going to get into a whole thing about whether he should have included lies that belonged to other people. That’s something he has to think about for the rest of his life. But, it’s an interesting thought experiment. Could I go 30 days without telling any lies at all? Should I?

It’s a complicated question. And so, to figure out whether this is something I could or should do, I decided to take a look at how and why we lie.

People lie for a number of reasons. Sometimes, telling lies the polite thing to do. It’s a social convention, and one that as long as it doesn’t hit some arbitrary marker of what is and isn’t appropriate, its fine. Its almost expected of us in many situations.

“Do you like my hat?  I bought it specifically for X ritual!”

“I do!  It’s really neat.”

Sometimes, we lie because were frustrated. We simply can’t deal with something anymore and so we tell a lie in order to make it stop. This happens a lot in pagan communities: how many times have you heard someone go on about something that makes absolutely no sense, and so you say, “Oh yeah, I understand,” as a way to get them to shut up? I’ll bet it’s happened more than once.

“Did you know that aliens built the pyramids and we need to wait for them to return with wisdom for us?”

“I didn’t know that!  Fascinating!”

Sometimes, we lie to protect ourselves. You would think that this means protect ourselves from others, but it’s amazing how many people are walking around trying to protect themselves from, well, themselves. And yes, self-delusion falls into this category.  What do I mean by self delusion? Well, I mean the things we tell ourselves to feel better. I mean the things that we say to ourselves to avoid bigger issues. For example, I might tell myself that I am the perfect example of someone who upholds ma’at and remembers to put my shopping carts away…because I don’t want to deal with the fact that I had that little incident with the van in the parking space a couple weeks ago.

“How do you uphold ma’at?”

“Well, I always remember to look ahead to the potential consequences of my actions.”

(See the lies there?)

When I look at the lies I tell, I figure that as long as they don’t impede on someone’s consent or ability to act of their own free will, there’s no harm involved.  Once the things I say start taking away someone’s choices, then I’ve crossed the line.  Then again, isn’t that point-of-view expected from someone like me?  Really, I keep coming back to the fact that, as individuals, we need to decide for ourselves when lying is acceptable and when it isn’t.  Where your line is may be different from mine…in fact, I am almost certain it is.

So, how do you decide where the lying line is?

Life, in a daily sort of way

Many of us, upon deciding to become pagans of one stripe or another, left behind religions that provided excellent guidelines for conduct of daily life.  This is something that most pagan religions seem to be really, really bad at doing – we’re given ideas for rituals, and offerings, and holidays, and festivals, and colors to use but little to nothing on going about our normal business of living.

(A disclaimer here – some pagan religious paths may provide this and do it well, but I’ve yet to come into contact with one that was as comprehensive as Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam.  I’m writing from that point of view – note that this post is filed under “Opinion”.)

I left Christianity, with its Commandments, and Beatitudes, and parables, and found myself in the desert of daily life.  I learned how to celebrate holidays, how to do daily prayers and offerings, and the mythic stories behind my gods, but not how to live.  I floundered for years, and changed paths half a dozen times until Sekhmet finally smacked me in the head about following a Kemetic path.  Soon after that, I found The Cauldron and, through it, FlameKeeping.

Kemeticism and FlameKeeping intersect in interesting ways and in practicing both I’ve been able to put solidify my own set of guidelines for daily life that both help me improve and uphold ma’at without being too “white-lightey” or “super special fluffy bunny”.  They may not work for everyone, and they’re not written in stone as part of either of my paths, but they keep me sane and moving forward (which is what we all want, right?).

1) Bring order to what can be ordered.

This can be as complex or simple as one wants it to be.  When I leave the grocery store, I remember to put my cart back in the rack.  If I pass others on the way to the rack that aren’t put away, I grab those too.  I write tip sheets for my colleagues to reinforce training I provide.  I go through our mail once a week to separate things into Pay, Save, and Recycle categories.

2) Give people the benefit of the doubt until they do something to cause a change of mind.

Pretty self-explanatory, really.  It allows for the notion that someone might do something that causes one to want to bash hir over the head but notes that interactions with people really shouldn’t start from that point.

3) Don’t make shit weird.

The wording’s been used over and over in different contexts, but here’s how I use it – Remember that everyone is different and those differences are what make everyone unique and interesting.  Communicate honestly and openly as it will prevent problems later on.  At the same time, recognize that tact may be needed when someone is extra stupid. 😉  Stay true to yourself and, if you don’t know how to do this, figure out who YOU are before criticizing others.

4) Send out what is needed; sticking to positivity is dreadfully limiting.

Basically, this acknowledges that there are times when the only thing to do to order what can be ordered is to kick some fucking ass.

5) Make conscious choices.

For this, I’ll use a quote:

“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that’s clear-
I will choose Free Will.” – Rush, “Free Will”, Permanent Waves

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.