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Category: Pagan Blog Project 2012

PBP Fridays: E is for Eating Your Heart

PBP Fridays: E is for Eating Your Heart

Hail Bast, coming forth from the shrine, I do not eat my heart.

~ Purification 13 from the Papyrus of Ani

Eating one’s heart is a distinctly Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) phrase. It comes from the Papyrus of Ani, which has a list of 42 “negative confessions” or “declarations of purity”, all with references to various Netjeru (gods) or netjeri (spirits). It’s a list meant to convey that the person speaking (who is dead and preparing for his/her heart to be weighed against Ma’at’s feather) is pure and has not commited isfet.

Isfet is a word that does not directly translate to evil, but that’s a pretty close approximation; to do isfet is to do bad, to create negativity, to harm, to act or speak maliciously, to lie. Where ma’at is the force of balance, rightness, and harmony, isfet is the force of uncreation, imbalance, and badness. (Ma’at capitalized is the goddess embodying the concept; ma’at lowercase is the concept itself.)

As Rev. Tamara Siuda, founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy, states in her booklet The 42 Purifications:

The heart (ib), being the symbolic place of emotions, memories and conscience for a person, is a very important body center …

To eat one’s heart is to starve oneself of ma’at, to turn in upon the self until there is nothing left but an empty, worthless husk.

Heart-eating is a concept that I’ve been wanting to explore. With that, please understand that this post is mostly my inferring and extrapolating upon the idea, rather than citing the interpretation(s) of modern Kemetics. If you have your own insight to add, please do!

To eat one’s heart is to damage oneself and so create isfet. Self-harming actions and thoughts, self-deprecating words and thoughts, and deliberate neglect of one’s wellness of any level are all things that I would consider as eating one’s heart. I would not consider disorders or physiological imbalances, like clinical depression, to be eating one’s heart; skewed brain chemicals are not a choice, and I believe the creation of isfet is a choice, not a consequence of mistakes or ignorance. However, what you do with your situation – be it an unexpected negative event or having to deal with something like depression – is where you can promote ma’at or create isfet. While we cannot control the fact that a shitty situation exists, we can control how we respond to it, however hard that may be.

Condemning oneself, kicking oneself for being imperfect or making mistakes, self-hatred, self-harm, self-deprecating– these are all actions that create isfet, all examples of eating one’s heart. But acts of self-care, compassion, understanding, tolerance, gentleness, self-strength, and patience? These promote ma’at and go a long way towards nourishing one’s heart and feeding one’s spirit.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: E is for Extinct Totems

PBP Fridays: E is for Extinct Totems

Terminology Note: In this post, I will refer to “totemism” instead of “shamanism.” I want to talk specifically about totemism as a practice of learning from and studying the archetypal and mundane properties of animals – this includes an animal’s mythological characteristics, as well as the lessons it can teach us by virtue of understanding its real-life behaviors and physiology. If I reference source material or an author with whom you do not agree, please know that all learning is a process, and we do go through some less-useful things on our way to finding the more-useful. :)

When I was younger, digging into Wicca and gradually learning more about earth-based spiritualities, I stumbled into totemism. I was absolutely enthusiastic, having spent my entire not-that-long-yet life loving and learning about animals. I devoured Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak and quickly hopped into more traditional totemism through Michael Harner’s The Way of The Shaman. I swam from AnimalSpirits.com to Wildspeak.com, and I dove into practicing totemism happily and heartily. I discovered the value of studying the original myths to garner my own meanings, rather than just using someone else’s bulleted list, and learning the zoology of each animal to come to my own conclusions about what it could teach and, in turn, what I might learn from it. I combined interacting with that species in spirit and, where possible, in person, with hard research and personal shapeshifting practices, and it was (and is!) a wonderful thing for me.

But this post isn’t about totemism in general.

At some point, my exuberant love for dinosaurs overlapped with my fascination with totemism. I wondered: Would it be possible to know an extinct animal as a totem? Not just recently extinct, like the Barbary lion who is gone from the wild or the thylacine who is gone from everywhere, not even like the cave hyena that died out some 11,000 years ago. But extinct for millions of years, well beyond any possibility of recovering myth or behavioral records that can give us some base from which to leap in studying them.

For, in my methodry, without myth or fact, what could I learn that would help me understand the species and its spirit?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I wanted to bring these long-dead animals that so intrigued and thrilled me back to life. And that urge is still strong with me, even after spawning the related urge to create diverse, believable, fictional alien/fantasy creatures. The idea of being able to, somehow, access the spirit of these animals and learn from it, even just a little bit, is incredibly enthralling. For a brief moment in my past self’s excitement, I entertained the idea of trying to make this A Project – to devote years of myself to approaching and studying dinosaurs and other extinct species in hopes of developing a totem-like relationship with them. I thought that I might be able to learn enough, research enough, to write a book on it. At the time (and at the present, to my knowledge), no one had done that. I wanted to.

I did not. I figured it was scientifically futile and metaphysically laughable. Who was I, some well-meaning kid, to try to become a scholar and a spiritual ambassador? When I was thinking about dinosaurs as totems, the idea that they weren’t cold-blooded was still a new and crazy thing among paleontologists.

But things have come a very long way since then, in a relatively short amount of time. We know more about dinosaurs than ever before. We’ve found records of pigment and impressions of feathers. We’re rebuilding better and more solid theories about their behaviors, rooted in recent finds and extrapolations based on living species’ patterns. We’re constantly discovering new things and adapting what we thought we knew.

So, I wonder: With more accurate dinobiology and a growing body of modern dinosaur mythology, would it be possible to…?

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: D is for Deity (/Deism/Divinity/The Divine)

PBP Fridays: D is for Deity (/Deism/Divinity/The Divine)

I was fishing for ideas for the second letter-D post when my partner suggested the concept of Deity as the subject. “What are your thoughts on the godhood of the gods?” he asked.

Good damn question. It’s taken me two weeks to answer.

I don’t know if there’s a god or many gods or no gods. I don’t know if gods are psychological archetypes that we use as windows into the mysteries–or to try to make sense of a nonsensical universe. I don’t know if gods are very real, totally separate individuals who exist whether or not we humans do, let alone whether or not we humans worship them, or if our love and attention feed and fuel them. I don’t know if gods and humans are symbiotic and one cannot survive without the other. I don’t know if humans created gods or if gods created humans or if we evolved together.

Since I don’t know, and I’m pretty sure I can’t know, I’m free to believe whatever makes the most sense to me. I can choose the belief, the framework of Divinity, that jives with me and supports the experiences I’ve had in my life. Ironically, it was Sekhmet, the most individual of all the gods I’d known at that point, Who insisted I drop my attempts at being polytheistic and revert to what felt natural and right to me – which, as I discovered years later, is called monolatry.

I’ve experienced gods as essences, collections of feelings and stories and energies, personal but not people. I’ve experienced gods as individuals, with Their own personalities and agendas. And I experience gods now as both individuals and parts of a greater whole; the Kemetic terms for this are Netjeru, the gods, and Netjer, the whole. Before I knew the word ‘monolatry’ existed and that it was a concept that extended beyond my own patchworked paradigm, I talked to the Universe and hailed it as the spark of divinity that animated and united all living, incarnate things. The Tao is a close approximation of how I feel about the Universe; it is flow, it is the way, it is a state of rightness and harmony. The Kemetic concept of ma’at is similar to the Tao, with a little less “flow” and a little more “rightness.”

I’m not sure what makes the gods godly, but I really do feel that the same spark that animates them animates us as well. To me, the Universal Soul is the force of life, and it’s part of everything that’s alive, whether it’s physical or not. So maybe I’m saying that the godhood of the gods is also the humanity of humans and the catness of cats and the fishness of fish. Same spark, different lamp shade.

Yeah. I think I’m happy with that answer.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: D is for the Desert

PBP Fridays: D is for the Desert

The desert compels me, and I can’t really say why.

I grew up in lushly forested rolling mountains. Piles of snow in the winter, thunderstorms in the summer, trees everywhere, and brambles and brush so thick between them that straying off the beaten path simply wasn’t plausible. The soil was rich and dark, the plants abundant, and wildlife common and healthy.

When I was a teenager, exploring the new world wide web, I started a message-board role-playing game set on a desert world called Terole. At one point, it had over 500 characters playing around in the tiny strip of habitable land on that planet, with dozens of species and cultures – all user-created. Terole was a harsh, dry, dusty, hot environment. It was nothing like the home I loved.

A few years ago, I fell in love with another desert planet – Ryarna. A far cry from sci-fi Terole, Ryarna featured technomagic, a singular native alien race, and bestial machines powered by animal souls from across the universe. It was, again, dry and dusty and hot, and the metal beasts had replaced much of the native “fleshie” life, eroding the ecosystems even more. I’ve written several short stories and three novels in that setting. It captivates me.

Shortly after that, I moved to Nevada, a high-altitude desert. Despite not planning to stay for very long, I wound up being there for almost two years. I bonded with the land in unexpected, unplanned ways. It’s a far cry from my ideal environment in which to live, but I do miss it. There is an emptiness to the air and a texture to the land that is unmistakable.

Last year, I wanted to retell the myths of the Destruction of Mankin and the Distant Goddess in fictional form, so I created a parallel to ancient Egypt, populated by animal-people tribes instead of humans for my novella. Despite the richness of the Nile-equivalent area in the setting, the entire story takes place in the red-sanded desert outside the river valley.

And of course, there’s my study of Egypt itself and my love of its gods and Their theophanies (animal symbols), like the deathstalker scorpion, which has invaded my dreams half a dozen times. I have gone into the desert in the day and in the night, both physically and spiritually. It is the stark opposite of my home environment, my favorite environment, but there is, nonetheless, something inexorably compelling about the desert that holds my fascination through fiction and myth.

Perhaps it’s the same complementary attraction that draws the Water-child to the flame, but this Appalachian native can’t seem to stop staring, transfixed, towards the empty dunes and burning winds.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

Bonus PBP: C is for Creating With God

Bonus PBP: C is for Creating With God

Disclaimer #1: Where I say “God”, substitute your preferred term. God, Goddess, the Divine, the Great Spirit, Netjer, an individual deity’s name, etc. This is shorthand, not exclusion. :)

Disclaimer #2: This post will make me sound pretty crazy. That’s okay. Creation is a weird, intense thing.

If you’ve seen this blog’s past entries at all, you know I like to create things. I’ve made paintings for my four primary Egyptian gods (and one more is planned for the Red Lady), a sculpey pendant for one of those four (and planning another as a gift, plus a sculpey-ture), and several songs or mini-songs for all of the above. I’ve also been writing a re-imagined Egyptian fairytale, combining the myth of the Destruction of Mankind with the myth of the Distant Goddess.

And, since I keep inundating this journal will the results of such creativity, I figured now is not a bad time to talk about the process of creation, especially when there’s one or more gods involved.

When I write “regular” fiction, my characters drive the story. I may have the vaguest seed of an idea or a well-planned plot and setting, but once I start writing, the characters take the wheel, and I wind up being a side-seat driver or, at best, a navigator. “No, no, turn left up here, trust me.” It’s an incredibly enjoyable process, but it’s not exactly an exercise of logic and intellect for me. I’m just along for the ride, taking notes as I go.

Working on a project for or with God is even weirder more out of my hands. I’m not imagining the end result and working towards it; I’m stating my intention to create X for/with Y and then listening. It’s a full-body listen, like my mind cracks open and stretches out, no longer a self-contained sphere. I’m receptive and open and subconsciously, intuitively aware.

Writing a song, I’m not analyzing the words or carefully structuring a rhyming pattern. (I’m bad at rhymes, anyways.) I’m relaying a story that’s slowly coalescing in my head. I’m asking the song what chords or notes it wants, what tempo, what texture of voice. I’m asking God, “is this okay? is this part right?” and I can always feel, quite strongly, if it’s right or not. There may be a point in the song where any of three chords will work musically, but there’s always one right chord and two wrong ones. I have editorial license – I can rearrange verses or choose synonyms or use a capo sometimes – but the core always comes from outside of me when I’m making spiritual music.

Same with paintings. I’ll have a vague idea of the overall layout of objects/figures in the painting, but God picks the colors. I have argued, on two different paintings, about the colors God has chosen, but I used the preferred colors, and God was proven right both times. (I have since stopped arguing, although I still express my incredulousness sometimes.) By the time the painting is done, I may be exhausted and not very impressed with my limited skills, but by gum, the painting feels right. The god I’ve made it for likes it, because that god had a hand in the whole creation process.

In the end, when I’m creating something for God, it’s always co-creation. I always have the god in question leaning in, a presence in the space around me, giving me wordless nudges towards this color or this chord. And that’s magic, right there. That’s my interactive prayer. The times when I am co-creating with my gods are when I am the closest I get to Them, and as challenging as it can be, I love it and appreciate it immensely.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: C is for Chaos Magic

PBP Fridays: C is for Chaos Magic

I have a couple of chaos magic books, highly recommended to me by some of my energy-working friends. I got them and, as many of my books do, they incubated on my bookshelf for a little while before I picked up Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic by Phil Hine. I read the first third or so of the book before I needed to sleep for the night, and in reading that chunk of text, I realized something.

I’ve been a chaos magician for years without ever knowing it had a name.

It was an approach I’d developed from my own observations and experiences, my own theories and studies into various paths. If I had to name it, before I knew other people had already named it and also practiced it, I probably would have referenced the archetype of Shapeshifter in some way. Chaos magic is all about shapeshifting – being fluid and changing your skin to suit your needs, your preferences, and your situation. But, instead of just changing your behavioral patterns and strength/weakness attributes, which is more of a personal self-shifting practice, and instead of a long-term paradigm-shift, where you uproot and revamp how you view the world and its people and your own self, chaos magic is action-shifting.

In other words, chaos magic lets you grab any tool from any toolbox. It doesn’t matter if this tool is “real” when viewed through the lens of your usual paradigm; it matters if the tool is useful. Does it work? Does it bring about the desired effect for you, in your wonderfully subjective experience?

Because everything is subjective. Psychology backs me up on this; if you ever want to realize how amazingly fluid and flexible our brains are, read A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives by Cordelia Fine. Even our “factual” memories get edited and adjusted over time. We do have objective truths in our present world – gravity works, yes – but our experiences are so very subjective that our personal realities become far more subjective than objective. And so, if, as chaos magic maintains, “nothing is true – everything is permitted,” well, then. We have no need to limit ourselves.

If nothing is true, then anything can be true. You can put on any set of glasses through which to see the world. You can move through different magical traditions as you need. You can use different spiritual techniques as you need. You can interact with any Unseen entity (that’s willing to interact with you). You can even engage with fiction if it works for you! (And it does for many of us. What is fiction but newly-created mythologies in the modern day?) There’s nothing holding you back but how far your mind can expand to hold these varying paradigms within it. Chaos magic is all about personal experience and gnosis, not dogma.

“Rather than trying to recover and maintain a tradition that links back to the past (and former glory), Chaos Magick is an approach that enables the individual to use anything that s/he thinks is suitable as a temporary belief or symbol system. What matters is the results you get, not the ‘authenticity’ of the system used.” – Phil Hine, author of the aforementioned Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.

Important Note: Chaos magic is not an excuse for mistreating your Unseen contacts or for cultural appropriation – all the usual guidelines of working magic responsibly still do apply. Do your research into this method/those entities so that you can be smart and courteous and effective in your work. In fact, chaos magic puts a strong emphasis on practice and putting in the work to any given magical endeavor that you want to fully learn or that you want to succeed. Chaos magic means that you have many roads that you can choose to walk – not that you get a flying car!

Interestingly, I tie chaos magic into compassion, especially in the zen sense. If I practice chaos magic, if I can set foot in the Celtic deep-soil-and-old-bones tradition and also set foot in the hot-sands-and-dry-winds of Kemetic Orthodoxy, then can I not understand how easy it is to change paradigms? Can I not understand how it is that another person lives a different paradigm than I – and can I not extend to them my ability to listen and learn about that paradigm in the same way that I learn other magical paradigms? If I can understand them, even if I may not like all aspects of their paradigm, can I not offer them my compassion and my fellowship as another living creature of this world? If I can shift my shape, can I not imagine how the shape of another person would feel to wear?

Chaos magic is about tools. But not all tools are magical – plenty are perfectly mundane, the ones we use in constructing and deconstructing our interpersonal relationships. And chaos magic can apply there, too, like it can just about everywhere. It’s flexible like that.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: C is for Cernunnos

PBP Fridays: C is for Cernunnos

Cernunnos is the name usually used to describe the Horned God of Celtic traditions. In terms of artifacts, very little is attested to that name specifically, and even the etymology isn’t entire sussed out. In terms of modern-day pagan worship, Cernunnos is seen as a god of the Wild Hunt, a god of fertility and sexuality, a god of nature and wild animals, and much more.

To me, Cernunnos is

the darkness beneath the trees
hoofprints left in loamy soil
an endless trail to follow
a god so far ahead he’s never seen
signals left on the path
blood pumping through veins
cool air, warm skin
muscles flexing and contracting
sweat
sex
night-time wind
the smell of damp earth and greens
shadows under leaves
stars in the sky
the forerunner of the path I’m on
not a person, only a presence
not a person, only a concept
not a person, only a feeling

April 21, 2010, personal journal:

I hadn’t realized the bedroom window was open. After I took my hot shower, I came back into the bedroom with Vas’s Unbecome playing… and just stopped.

The smell. Cool warmth. Enough moisture in the air to turn shadows into dark, waxy green leaves. The sound of passing cars intimate and grittily real, underlaid with haunting music. The touch of the wind on my warm, bare skin and how it slipped into my lungs like pure oxygen, a prayer of flesh.

I thought of the Horned God; it was His smell, His taste, His touch, His dark forest overlaying my pedestrian reality.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: B is for Brigid

PBP Fridays: B is for Brigid

Before I encountered Sekhmet, nigh six years ago, I was an avid lover of Celtic mythology (even if I wasn’t a very good student of it). The two gods Who stood out to me then were Lugh and Brigid, and I want to talk about Them both as part of the Pagan Blog Project… both to remember my time with Them and to do some more thorough research that I hadn’t done when I was younger.

In fact, I think I’m going to cover the research portion with the same Cliffs Notes format as I’ve used for Nit and Nebt-het so far.

attributes

– poetry
– healing
– smithing
– fire
– all high things
— high-rising flames, highlands, hill forts, upland areas
— wisdom, excellence, perfection, intelligence, druidic knowledge
— skill in warfare, craftsmanship, medicine
—— goddess of warriors without status
– home and hearth
— protection thereof
—— protects livestock
— fertility and prosperity
—— aids women, especially in conception and childbirth
– holy wells and rivers
– goddess of the land (who would be married to the king)
— bringer of spring

relationships

– daughter of the Dagda + one of the Tuatha De Danann, a poet
– wife of Bres of the Formorians
– mother of Ruadan
– had two sisters of the same name: one was a goddess of healing, one a goddess of poetry, one a goddess of smithing
– half-sister to Cermait, Aengus, Midir, Bobd Derg
– owns two oxen, Fe and Men
– owns the “king of boars,” Torc Triath
– owns the “king of sheep,” Cirb
– equated to Minerva and Athena
– related to St. Brigid

names

– “Brigid” means “exalted one.”
– “Breo-saighit” means “a fiery arrow.”
– Other names/spellings: Brigit, Brighid, Brid, Bridget, Brighde/Bride, Fraid, Brigindu, Brigantia, Braga, Braganca, Brigantis, Bregenz, Bidang

notes

– Invented keening when mourning for Her son, who was killed in battle.
– Invented a whistle used for night travel.
– Her day is February 2, both St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc/Imbolg.
– “At Luxeuil in the Saône valley of eastern France, … Bricta is specifically identified as the consort of Luxovius, a god of healing and light which may be cognate with Lug.”

Lady Augusta Gregory (Gods and Fighting Men, 1904):

[She is] a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith’s work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night. And the one side of her face was ugly, but the other side was very comely. And the meaning of her name was Breo-saighit, a fiery arrow.

The Second Battle of Magh Turedh:

Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)

And now for some personal recollection.

When I worshipped Brigid, I did not comprehend or interact with gods as I do now. It’s a strikingly strong difference; today, I have very tangible, palpable experiences with my gods. Some 8-10 years ago, I didn’t – I just aimed my devotion, my love, and my prayers at Them and hoped They heard me. I would occasionally feel the presence of a god, but that was usually Cernunnos, not Brigid or Lugh.

Yet Brigid remained incredibly important to me, however little I studied Her, however little I directly experienced Her. I started calling February 2 the Day of Fire and looked to it as the first hope of spring, the first landmark that winter’s hold would begin to loosen over the snow-dowsed mountains. The time between my personal new year on Jan 15 and the Day of Fire on Feb 2 was a period of incubation and preparation for steering the new year, a time of imagining and planning how I would continue to build my own self.

Brigid, first and foremost to me, was the Lady of the Forge. Hearth-fire was well and good; it protected, it gave life through its warmth and light, but it was the heat and deep color of the forge that stood out the most to me. I was, and still am, ever-changing; the forge became a way to rebuild myself. When terrible things happened and stripped away parts of me, I knew I was only being melted down, the dross removed, in order to be reforged into a stronger, different person. I found comfort and security through radical changes and hard times by knowing that I was in Brigid’s forge, being improved time and time again.

I am still very fond of Brigid and Her Day of Fire, which is coming up rather quickly. Maybe I’ll reach out to Her once more.

This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.