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Category: Pagan Blog Project 2014

PBP Fridays: G is for Green Fronds

PBP Fridays: G is for Green Fronds

Along the side of the house I grew up in, we had a row of ferns. They have so thoroughly ingrained in me my definition of “fern” that seeing the more common Christmas fern, with its gloss and its simple fronds, makes me recoil with the sense that something is subtly but definitely Not Right.

This is my fern, I think, after some searching: the marginal shield fern, Dryopteris marginalis, soft to the touch and not a stark, shining green.

They are not impossible to kill, but they are far from fragile, natives of my Appalachian forests and prone to becoming shin-high carpet between trees. They love the shelter of other plants and rocky ledges, happy in the shade and the damp soil.

They are not blooming plants, nor are they quick-lived plants. They are patient, hardy enough to outlast temporary extremities in temperature and moisture, able to survive even snow-dumping winters with aplomb.

From these ferns, as a child, I learned how to seek the shade for relief and how to unfurl all my many limbs into whatever shapes and strengths they could take. With these ferns, as a child, I rolled and played and dug and grew.

And from these ferns now, as an adult, I relearn the importance of patience, of hardiness, of receptivity to sun and shadow, to water and soil. With these ferns, as an adult, I am rooting and stretching, unfurling anew, and welcoming the slow nourishment freely given by the world.

This post inspired by Alison Leigh Lilly’s Sacred Keystones e-course.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s first G post was Grace.
2012’s first G post was Genderqueer and GLBTQ Netjeru.

PBP Fridays: F is for Fear

PBP Fridays: F is for Fear

I have a curious relationship with fear. On one hand, I have a strong flinch reaction to certain things, often inconsequential ones; on the other hand, working with Sekhmet for so long as numbed me to certain kinds of fear, like the fear one might normally feel in the face of dangerous gods.

I am not afraid of any god. I am wary of many, and I will flinch away from many, and I have a healthy respect and avoidance of many, but I am not afraid of Them. If put in a room with only me and a god that would otherwise terrify me, I’ll stand openly and await Their first move. Maybe I never lost that adolescent feeling of invulnerability when it comes to spiritual matters. Maybe my faith in “my” gods outweighs the concern that gods Who may not care as much will toss me around; I’ve got backup, after all. Throughout all the twists in our relationship, I’ve never had any doubt that Sekhmet would step in if I were in a tight corner—and now I know other Netjeru would intervene, too. It’s a very good feeling to have that safety net.

But that doesn’t mean fear plays no role in my practice. I am afraid of unpredictable tragedies, like losing my partner or my animals or my friends to random and sudden accidents or illnesses. I am afraid of people with lethal amounts of venom at their disposal and a willingness to use it indiscriminately. I am afraid of the destruction of my body, in whole or in part.

I think those are probably relatively common, or at least understandable, fears. I’ve seen an awful lot of prayers and hekau and rituals designed to protect our loved ones, to protect ourselves, and to preserve or restore our health. I’ve seen some of those prayers, hekau, and rituals actively go forth to remove or destroy enemies and illnesses. Most people don’t want to lose anyone or be wounded, so it makes sense to have those common themes of protect-and-heal through our religions and our magic.

But there are more subtle ways fear can manifest. Turns out that my fear of venomous people is linked to feeling vulnerable in someone’s presence, which can show up even when I’m interacting with (or thinking about interacting with) deities. It’s hard not to feel vulnerable around entities Who are much more vast and powerful than I am, and sometimes I just want to curl up like a pillbug until They look the other way.

Similarly, I give certain deities a wide berth if They remind me of venomous people—Aset (Isis) is a great example for this, because of the enormous power She wields and the extents to which She will go to serve Herself and Her son, Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger). I mean, She poisoned Her own father, Ra, in order to learn His true name and have access to that power, which She shared with Her son. I have no illusions about Aset’s cunning and resourcefulness, so I give Her a healthy respect and do not engage with Her unless I know I’m on sure ground. (Please note: I don’t dislike Aset; I’m just cautious with Her.)

And yet, I’ve still had the pillbug-urge around deities Who are not threatening to me. Gods Who look at me closely often receive that flinch-away response; I am uncomfortable when seen in too clear a light, because I am afraid I’ll be found unworthy. Deities of judgment or royalty (man, Aset again makes a great example) often evoke this reaction, as I’m pretty convinced my informal appearance and attitude are not up to snuff for any court, let alone a court of the gods. Not to mention all the internal imperfections that loom so large when I look at myself (but probably aren’t nearly so obnoxious from the outside looking in).

It can be a challenge to balance reasonable wariness born of mindfulness (that stuff that tells me maybe I ought to dress up and purify more than usual before greeting Aset) with flinching fear (that stuff that tells me maybe I ought to hide in a corner until She moves on). It’s worthwhile work, but such effort is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve seen a lot of people have to fight with their own flinches in order to approach the gods, and let me tell you, my friends, your courage is amazing and inspiring.

Please keep shining and pushing away the darkness of fear. You are not alone in the work you do, and the harvest you reap will be even more bountiful for the toil you undergo now.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s second F post was Feeding the Ka.
2012’s second F post was Feral.

PBP Fridays: F is for Fedw

PBP Fridays: F is for Fedw

Fedw is the official divination system of Kemetic Orthodoxy, restricted to those who have undertaken the Shemsu oaths. The name “fedw” means “four” in Kemetic, as it uses four sticks for divination. (Note: While sticks are the most common fedw tools, anything two-sided can work, including coins. Some Kemetics have even made dice work.)

While I am oathbound about the mechanics of fedw, I wanted to share a brief overview of what it is and isn’t, and what it can and can’t do.

Fedw is not interpretive. It’s not similar to Tarot, where I can draw a combination of cards and interpret and/or intuit their individual and combined meanings. Fedw is much more direct, with very limited room for interpretation.

Fedw is primarily for yes/no questions, not for subtle or complex situations. In addition to that simplicity, there are certain topics and types of questions that are not suitable for fedw, including medical questions (ask a doctor, not an oracle!), legal questions (ask a lawyer, not an oracle!), and any question with the word “should.” (If a querent asks “should I…?”, the diviner will recommend the querent rethink and rephrase the question to be more specific and clear. “Is it in my best interests to…?” is an example of acceptable rephrasing.)

Fedw only asks questions of the diviner’s Parent deities. Since all Shemsu have undergone the Rite of Parent Divination, we all have one or two Parent deities, and we can only ask questions of Them. For myself, this means I can only query Nebt-het (Nephthys) or Hethert-Nut (Hathor-Nuit)—though, in certain instances, I can ask Them about another deity.

Fedw will not answer loaded questions. If the querent already knows the answer, or if the querent is trying to phrase the question in order to get a certain answer they want to hear, fedw will not work.

Fedw will not permit repeated questions. This is true of more than just fedw, in my experience, but it must be clearly stated that asking a fedw diviner the same question twice will not work. Asking a question of one diviner, then going to a different diviner with the same question, also will not work.

Fedw is not a party trick. While fedw will not answer serious medical or legal questions, it is still a system that is not to be used for frivolous questions or to “test” the accuracy or the divination (see loaded questions above).

Fedw is always free to everyone. Fedw is, at its heart, a community service, provided by diviners to let querents and Netjer communicate in a simple, pre-determined structure. Shemsu are not permitted to charge money for divining with fedw, though they may charge a fee for non-fedw divinations. Relatedly, anyone may ask for a fedw divination—one does not have to be Kemetic Orthodoxy, or even Kemetic, as far as I know.

(To answer the likely question that follows that statement: Yes, if you are interested in a fedw divination, I can help. Email me at itenumuti at gmail dot com and we can discuss.)

To sum up, fedw is a non-interpretive divination system using four sticks to ask the diviner’s Parent(s) on behalf of the querent. It’s great for straightforward yes/no questions and will not work with complex or loaded questions.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s first F post was Father Gods.
2012’s first F post was the Five Pillars of Kemetic Orthodoxy.

PBP Fridays: E is for Elation

PBP Fridays: E is for Elation

When I first came across Kemeticism, it looked full of dry ceremonialism to me. I tiptoed around the boundaries of a ritual structure I didn’t understand, pulled from a culture I’d never been called to nor studied in any depth. I didn’t understand the salt, the sand, the cool water, the heavy emphasis on purity, or the importance of exacting speech.

I was a child of the mountains and sea, grown from black soil and torrential rains; my gods were distant and unknowable and wild. Hoofprints led me into tangled forests, and only luck preserved me against the fickle whim of the creatures and fey living there. I reveled in the blood-and-sweat existence of my body, of the natural world when I rolled in fields and rubbed up against craggy tree bark. I was a little bit Celtic and a lotta bit eclectic, and the thought of restraining that inner and outer wilderness made me balk.

I did not think I could find that kind of unabashed joy and freedom within the trappings of any ceremonial rite. My feral, embodied heart wanted no limitations, no enforced purity, no denial of the physical things I’d painstakingly learned could be sacred instead of shameful. So I compromised for my Lady’s sake and learned from a distance, reluctantly opening books that held little interest for me, where each turn of the page was like chewing dust.

Years later, I am Kemetic, and I still find my wildness outside of the rituals that I now understand and deeply appreciate. Where my untamed nature is still rooted in the world around me, now my civilized and genteel side has a home as well, and as I wrote once, both are necessary to my well-being.

I was wrong about one crucial, deal-breaking thing, back when I shied away from Kemeticism’s guidelines and restrictions. I had thought there was no freedom for joy.

But there is elation here. I never could have imagined how much, but some days, whether within ritual or outside of it, I tune in to the essence of my gods and simply thrum with joy. Elation is not a complicated emotion, nor is it a restrained one, yet within this revivalist faith and these nuanced structures, it billows outwards like a plume of incense smoke, the breath of life.

It feels like I focus mostly on the positive aspects of my spiritual life on this blog. This is both deliberate choice and coincidental; while some of my struggles are personal and private, in turn, many of the things that drive me to write are the joyous ones. Feeling communion with Netjer is one such thing, and it is not an impossible feat – it requires no particular ability to sense the gods, nor a flawless ritual, nor an extravagant altar, nor an active community, nor a sense of personal perfection or purity.

It is simply a connection from my heart to my god’s heart—and on this path of subtlety and effort, it makes all the difference to feel attuned and beloved.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s second E post was (My Experience of) Empathy.
2012’s second E post was Eating Your Heart.

PBP Fridays: E is for the Earth Father

PBP Fridays: E is for the Earth Father

Geb (left) and Heru (Horus, right)Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!
Black as fertile soil,
the world is Your body
and the green growing things which sustain us
are Your gifts to all life.

Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!
Husband of the Sky,
You reach ever upwards to Her
with Your mountain peaks jutting
into Her lowest whorls of clouds.

Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!
Goose-crowned Great Cackler,
You laughed creation alive
and strewed Your joy into every living creature
that moves within Your embrace.

Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!
First king of mankind,
You passed to us Your sovereignty
and all the weight and power of authority
so that Your seeds might bloom in Your image.

Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!
Source of all offerings,
Your bounty surpasses all wealth,
flowering with richness and growth
as You bless mortals and gods alike.

Hail to You, Geb, Earth Father!

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s first E post was Enoughness.
2012’s first E post was Extinct Totems.

PBP Fridays: D is for Doing the Work (Redux)

PBP Fridays: D is for Doing the Work (Redux)

I’d like to elaborate on last week’s PBP post on finding delight while doing the Work, because I feel it’s worth taking the time. Please read with the understanding that everything here is an opinion, and your thoughts may differ from mine. Diversity is good. :)

One’s Work is fiercely, deeply personal. Last Friday, I gave the example of art and/or spirituality being the Work, but it can be anything. Animal rescue. Charity work. Political campaigning. Education. Reviving a dead language. Model vehicles. Fashion design. Microbrewing. Origami. Blacksmithing. Travel. Adopting a child. Computer engineering.

The Work does not have to be selfless to be vital to one’s happiness and fulfillment, though it often positively affects others to some extent. The Work does not have to be huge, thick with morals, and/or a lifelong project. It is simply the thing(s) that one feels one must do in order to be fully grounded in oneself and one’s perceived purpose(s).

Because it is so variable and so subjective, the Work is one’s own. There can be no comparison, no judgment, no social weight. The Work is the height of individuality—in doing it, the individual is the most them that they can be. We do not do our Work because we “should” or at the commands or demands of other people. We do the Work for ourselves, and for the sake of the Work.

The most important characteristic of the Work is its suitability to its person. I have an enormous respect for people engaged in hands-on charity work, and I highly value their contributions to our society and to the people they help, but charity is not my Work. If I volunteer at a soup kitchen, I am doing a good thing, but I must also do my Work if I am to feel well-balanced and soul-sated. The Work is not a replacement for good acts in the world, nor are good acts to be mistaken for a person’s particular Work.

I grew up in a culture in which I do not currently live, so I can say with moderate confidence that doing the Work is not really a consistent concept across geographic and economic regions. Being able to pursue one’s own deepest passions and interests is a privilege usually only found where time or money can be spared from the task of surviving each day. In the culture in which I was raised, doing work was simply getting a job done efficiently and well. I take pride and satisfaction in that, but it’s not the deep satiation that I get from doing my Work. It’s important to acknowledge the privilege of being able to find and do one’s Work; if you can, be grateful for the opportunity that so many lack.

Many say that it’s our duty to do our Work, be it artistic or spiritual or otherwise. While I hesitate to put the weight of such obligation on it, I understand the emotion behind the words: that those of us who can do the Work take advantage of our situation, because to waste such a gift belittles the opportunity that grants us an open door. But that is yet a social judgment, and I still can’t support it, so I’ll leave you with this:

If you know and can do your Work, you are kindred to everyone else who can and does, regardless of the specifics of the Work. Don’t sweat the small stuff; you are shoulder-to-shoulder with people performing their own brands of magic, and that is a precious thing.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s second D post was Darkness.
2012’s second D post was Deity.

PBP Fridays: D is for Delight in Doing The Work

PBP Fridays: D is for Delight in Doing The Work

Delight is a noun, sure—it’s a feeling of joy, often unexpected pleasure—but it’s also a verb, and that’s my favorite use of it. To be delighted is to be happily surprised (or simply to be happy); to delight is to bring that sort of unanticipated joy to someone else. The word delight evokes an image of splashing gleefully in water (a puddle, a pool, a lake, a child’s bubblebath, you name it) in my head. It’s laugh-out-loud jollity.

Doing the Work is a common phrase used to indicate doing the hands-on, occasionally tedious work that is related to or directly causes a sense of personal and/or spiritual fulfillment. I’ve seen it used by creative individuals in regards to their chosen art; I’ve seen it used by pagans in regards to their chosen deities and spirits which they serve. I use it here in both ways, where the Work is capitalized because it is vital, life-giving, and of utmost import on an individual basis. My art is my Work. Walking my spiritual path is also my Work.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that doing the Work can often seem joyless. Some days the magic and novelty are nowhere to be seen, leaving me going through the motions. There can be a personal satisfaction in pushing through the doldrums, and sometimes, quite frankly, my goals require that I trudge through in order to walk the full length of my path. But there’s little benefit in going beyond that enduring doggedness into outright self-draining blindness. As with everything, here we need balance, too.

I was raised on the value of hard work and of enduring hardship, but I taught myself the value of joy and of self-fulfillment. They are complementary, and when well-married, they are far stronger together than either can be apart. Yes, sometimes, doing the Work is not particularly fun or enlivening or enlightening. Yes, sometimes, experiencing delight means setting aside the Work in order to free oneself up and make space for joy.

But I think the common belief that one can only have delight or productivity, but never both, is a fallacy. I believe that one can find delight in the everyday actions that often constitute doing the Work. Perhaps delight is not so near the surface when the furrows are deeply ingrained with the repetition of the Work, but I am not afraid to dig for those gems any more than I’m afraid to do the Work itself.

At the end of the day, I want to have accomplished something, and I want to have enjoyed the accomplishing. For myself, I see little point in doing all the things without any joy—or enjoying myself to the exclusion of my own chosen goals.

Ptah is the god Who embodies this concept for me. He is the Maker, the Builder, the Creator Who spoke the world into existence—and He is the one Who crafts with His hands and is patron to artisans, craftsmen, and other hands-on makers. He does not toil; He works, and He exudes quiet joy in the rhythm of His exertions.

If I can manifest even a fraction of that patience-and-delight while I do my own work, I will be satisfied.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s first D post was the Djed Pillar.
2012’s first D post was the Desert.

PBP Fridays: C is for Convection

PBP Fridays: C is for Convection

convection, n. 1) the transfer of heat by movement; 2) the act of conveying or transmitting.

She doesn’t just radiate indiscriminately. I am not the cat who sleeps in Her sunbeam and passively soaks up the warmth. It is only in the midst of movement that I can borrow some of Her heat; it is only chasing after Her flame-tufted tail and the sunset of Her haunches that I can grasp even a wisp of fire.

I am and have always been a Water-child. Striving to keep up with a goddess of the sun, Whose color is hearth-red and ember-burning, is a lovely irony. Her light glints off my rippling skin and pierces my depths, rays into a river, stirring the shadows with streaks of purer blue.

I am a moon, silver-faced and cold without Her, but gladly sharing what light She passes me with anyone who can see Her reflection in me. I may never flush golden like She does, never drip scarlet from my clawed fingers, but echoes of Her memories swim the blackness and filter into my hollow craters like coils of incense smoke. I am the barest sliver of Her brilliance, but amid darkness, even that is enough to illuminate the sleeping world.

Sometimes paganism is slam poetry and fingerpaint, carefully smeared across the canvas to capture a fleeting moment, impressionistically. Blots of crimson, roses like pawprints, and an endless road to walk in Her warming wake.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

2013’s second C post was Consistency.
2012’s second C post was Chaos Magic.