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a Kemetic Halloween?

a Kemetic Halloween?

Although I’m not huge on most of the mainstream holidays, my earlier years as a Celtic neopagan have cemented the solstices and equinoxes into my mental calendar. October 31st is a big deal to many of my friends and chosen family, whether they celebrate it spiritually as Samhain or culturally as Halloween. So I decided to contemplate how I could celebrate Samhain in a Kemetic fashion, because hey, why not?

Warning: Some spiritual blending ahead. Proceed with caution and a grin.

According to the Kemetic Orthodox calendar, October 31st this year features several gods in festival: Nebtu, Behdety (Heru-behdety, the Winged Disk), Heru-wer (Horus the Elder), Hethert (Hathor), Anuket, and Heka. That’s a whole lotta gods! Abundance of the land, victory, rightful action, joy, the river and its blessings, and magical speech, all in one day.

Add to that the non-Kemetic associations of Halloween with the dead and the veil between Seen and Unseen worlds being very thin, and we’ve got the makings for a very complex and powerful holiday.

I admit, my first thought on celebrating October 31st was to honor my Mother Nebt-het (Nephthys) and my akhu and leave it at that. I find it challenging to try to incorporate all the gods in festival on that day to that original idea… but it’s no different than drawing a sigil from several very different letters that are all part of an overall meaning. So let’s see.

Nebt-het is the Lady of the dead, the one Who guides the deceased through the Duat, one of the goddesses waiting in the West to welcome the newly-arrived kau (souls). Honoring the blessed dead, our ancestors, our akhu, honors Her. But what of the others?

Nebtu and Anuket are both goddesses related to provisions and abundance, Nebtu from the growing lands and Anuket from the river. Sounds like a rich offering of food and drink is in order!

Behdety and Heru-wer are both warrior Names Who uphold ma’at and protect the living; perhaps those of us residing in the Seen world owe Them special thanks, since we’re still on this side of the veil. A hearty respect and gratitude is due both of Them (and perhaps mead or rum, for those who drink it!).

Hethert, Who is joyous, the beautiful and powerful Gold of the Gods, reminds us to enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve got it and to celebrate life–including the lives of those who are now among the stars as the blessed dead. A gladsome partying atmosphere should go along with all that food, then!

And lastly, but far from least, Heka, the god Who embodies the power of authoritative speech. With the veil so thin, Heka makes an appearance and lends extra weight to our own utterances, be they spoken or written; it’s a day to take especial care of what we say… and to use that power well, to thank the gods for our lives, and to celebrate with our ancestors to remember their good lives.

Yeah, I think that’ll do quite nicely. :) What will you be doing on October 31st?

Traveling with Gods

Traveling with Gods

Next month, my partner and I will make our yearly roadtrip to visit my family; we’ll stay with my mom and her fiancé in the Appalachian Mountains where I grew up and spend a weekend in Ocean City with my sister and her family. It is one of the high points of my year to see the people I love and be in the places that crack my heart open and let the sun in. The mountains I come from and the sea I pilgrimage to are both beloved places for me, and they nourish my ka like few other areas can.

I live in Texas, and it was not until I was living here that I really encountered any Kemetic gods outside of Sekhmet. I will not always live in Texas, and I’ve thought many times on how the change of land will affect my spirituality and my relationship with the Netjeru in my life. Traveling to see my family – in the Appalachians, in Ocean City, in Seattle, in Nevada – gives me a glimpse of how my gods manifest in vastly different places.

Ma’ahes, in particular, is intensely associated with aspects of Texas: the sweltering summer heat and the long, orange sunsets. When I go to the mountains that I love, be they the Appalachians or the Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas, I don’t see His orange light in the west at the close of every day. In most of these places, the particular combination of humidity and 100+ degrees doesn’t occur. When I walk outside in the summer in Texas, the first breath I take is His, and He thaws me from the ice of the overwhelming air-conditioning that most public buildings provide.

But when I leave Texas, Ma’ahes changes subtly, and I find Him in other summers, other sunsets, other flashes of His vivid, liquid orange. In the Appalachians, He is the autumn leaves; in Nevada, He is the stretching, dry desert; in Colorado, He is the red rocks of the mountains.

And Ma’ahes is not the only one to adapt to His shifting surroundings. Nebt-het touched my face with snow last winter in Nevada, and I stood breathing Her chill until I was covered in slow-motion flakes; I had never before realized She was snow, but in that moment, in that place, She stood with me outside a warm house and wrapped me in Her calm, cold presence like a cloak against the wind.

So I take my gods with me where I go, and it is both a challenge and a delight to spot Them in Their other skins, the bodies They form out of the land around me.

akhu work

akhu work

When I asked if I should explore my genealogy in service to my akhu, Nebt-het answered with a firm yes.

So, two weeks ago, I picked up a 14-day free trial to Ancestry.com, which seemed like a good place to start. At the time, I only knew two names of my akhu, my ancestors: my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom, both of whom passed when I was a teenager.

My research exploded. In a single night, I found some 40+ new names of my akhu. Some I had heard in passing from family members but hadn’t memorized; others were entirely new. I found out that my great-great-grandmother’s nickname was the same as the one I bestowed upon my sister when she was 12ish and still use to this very day, which was a delight. I discovered that my great-grandfather is buried three hours away; I had no idea any of my bloodline had been in Texas.

Ironically, my ability to find older generations along either of my “named” lines (that is, my parents’ last names, rather than those who married in) stymied me until my mom sent me a tiny family tree that filled in a couple crucial names… and, last Sunday, I put in more hours following those leads. Determined to make the most of my free trial, I was up until 3 am (thank gods for a holiday weekend!) that Sunday, going through records and tracing the ever-widening web of my akhu.

I found out that my great-aunt was an artist… and an amateur drag-racer in the sixties. I saw pictures of her husband as a child. I came across my great-grandmother, whose name grabbed and held my attention like a punch every time I saw it, and despite having zero personal information for her or photos of her, I realized I had a strong and persistent mental image in my head, unbidden. I found out that an akh-by-marriage had served in the First Special Service Force in WWII, and that his unit’s name was almost identical with the name of the elite unit of a military fantasy novel I’ve been writing. I found pictures of that akh’s sister, whose personality and badassery shone brightly through those photos.

I have been, throughout this entire process, utterly floored by not only what I’m discovering, but at my own reactions to the process. I have never been attached to or overly interested in my blood family outside of my very direct relatives (parents, three grandparents, and my mom’s sister). My own emotional responses as I’m finding photos, obituaries, and just raw names of my akhu are strange and new and strong. This is definitely work I need to do, work that is worth doing, but it is sobering and exciting all at once. One of my akhu lived to 101; one of them died at 15. There are stories here that I can sense under the surface, but that I will probably never know, except possibly by personal gnosis.

This is hard, and good, and worthwhile, and I am grateful to Nebt-het for pushing me to do it, and I am grateful to my akhu for being my akhu.

PBP Fridays: Q is for Qebshenef

PBP Fridays: Q is for Qebshenef

Qebshenef is one of the Four Sons of Heru (Horus), a group of netjeri (spirits) associated with the canopic jars that hold the organs of the mummified deceased. The Four Sons also protect the throne of Wesir (Osiris) in the Unseen and assist the deceased through the Duat. Each of the Sons is protected by one of the funerary goddesses and associated with one of the cardinal directions.

Qebshenef, whose name means “cooling his brother (with water),” is hawk-headed and holds the intestines. He is guarded by Serqet (Selkis), the scorpion goddess, and associated with the south.

Imset, whose name means “the kindly one,” is human-headed and wears the nemes headcloth. He holds the liver, is guarded by Aset (Isis), and is associated with the west.

Duamutef, whose name means “praising his mother,” is jackal-headed and holds the stomach. He is guarded by Nit (Neith), the Great He-She, and associated with the north.

Hapy (not Hapi, god of the Nile), whose name means “runner,” is baboon-headed and holds the lungs. He is guarded by Nebt-het (Nephthys) and associated with the east.

While the Four Sons have the above associations in regards to their canopic jars, they also assist the deceased in different ways, including carrying or lifting up the deceased, preparing a ladder into the sky, protecting against attacks and decay, preventing hunger and thirst, bringing the deceased a boat “which Khnum built,” and steering that boat.

The Sons themselves are alternatingly stated to be sons of Aset (Isis) and Heru-wer (Horus the Elder) or Khenty-irty (Horus of Khem), but were also implied to be sons of Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger) by virtue of being the grandchildren of Wesir (Osiris). They’ve also been described as the bau (souls) of Pe (a city in Lower Egypt) and Nekhen (a city in Upper Egypt), along with Heru Himself. In various texts, they’re identified as stars near Ursa Major, as emanations of Heru or as Heru’s bau (souls), and as the king’s “children’s children” (the king being as Wesir, Heru’s own father). They’ve also been identified in spells as the hands, arms, fingernails, and/or feet of the deceased or described accompanying the deceased through the Duat.

Sources:

  • http://kemet.org/names-of-netjer
  • http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/religion/sons_of_horus.htm
  • http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/horus-sons-of/

Henadology’s article is particularly well-fleshed-out and worth further reading, as my entry here merely summarizes the basics of the Four Sons.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

on Nebt-het’s day

on Nebt-het’s day

From Bourghouts’ Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, words spoken by Nebt-het (Nephthys). These words “are useful … as the devouring of a falcon, as the striking of an `hy-bird, as the listening of the Sea to the voice of Seth.”

May you awake in a good manner! Endure until eternity! Every ailment that confronts you will be dispelled. Your mouth will be opened up by Ptah, your mouth will be disclosed by Sokar with that chisel of bronze of his.

Dua Nebt-het, Who secures health and the efficacy of medicine!

subtle gods

subtle gods

I gather the usual supplies: incense, candle, cool liquid. I resist the urge to get the I’m-sorry-it’s-been-so-long wine from the fridge, choosing instead Nebt-het’s other favorite, blackberry-grape water. I pour some for Her, then savor the rest—the taste takes me back to the first summer-soaked days in Texas, when our house was yet empty and I was only beginning to know Her.

I make the offerings, kneel before the shrine, and call on my Mothers. There is no tangible response, and wise words ring through my head, remembered: Most of the gods are subtle. That is one thing They can be said to be, overall. We tend to miss Them, rather than Their not being around.

When I shift my own perceptions to a finer grain, looking for the hints of grey that fill the gaps in the primary spectrum, I find a sense of Her. Nebt-het is subtlety squared, soft and velvet like shadows, and if I shine the light of my attention too hard towards Her, I’ll never see Her.

She likes the drink, and I think She likes the necklace I made for Her; it’s enough of a response, at least, for me to wear it around my neck. It loops twice and is heavy.

Hethert-Nut is more palpable, but I have to stretch to reach Her, and I do not have enough of a stable root system threading through the hard clay soil that I can extend myself beyond the atmosphere without wavering, unbalanced. I feel like a sea fern, all lace and undulation, but at least I glimpse Her nebulae and can feel Her radiant, suffusive love.

I ask two questions of each of Them, and the answers They give are what I had expected, save one which is humbling. For the umpteenth time, I wonder how I could do this better, how I could perceive my Mothers more clearly and strongly; I know I’m capable of sensing more, given my interactions with Ma’ahes, Who can paint the insides of my eyes His sunset-orange.

But I already know the answer. It’s the way I initially approached Serqet: heart-felt action with zero expectations. Going into shrine with high hopes of a mind-blowing, visceral experience with the Netjeru will frequently prevent me from being open enough to feel what actually happens—which is often more subtle and quieter than I might wish.

Thank You, Nebt-het, for showing me how to look for the subtle nature of Netjer, just by being Who You are. I love You.

PBP Fridays: K is for Holy Kites

PBP Fridays: K is for Holy Kites

Birds served a variety of roles in Egyptian mythology; the Nile valley was rife with all sizes and shapes of wings. Flocks of migratory birds could lay waste to fields and orchards, consuming the crops, so netting swarms of birds in art or act could be symbolic of ma’at (rightness) conquering isfet (uncreation) or of ancient Egyptians defeating foreign invaders. Depictions of imprisoned enemies at Kom Ombo included captured flocks, and the swallow was a hieroglyph frequently used to write the names of undesirable things.

But Kemetic myths are also populated with solar hawks, maternal vultures, a wise ibis, and a great goose Who brought the world into being. The eternal soul, the ba, is shown as a human-headed bird. And, far from least, is the subject of today’s post: kites and the goddesses Who took on their form, Nebt-het (Nephthys) and Aset (Isis).


Nebt-het (left) and Aset (right)

Red kites, which are my best guess at the particular species of kite that Nebt-het and Aset are depicted as, are medium-sized raptors with forked tails and an amiability to both live prey (from rabbits to earthworms) and carrion. They have a high, thin cry, which relate them neatly to Nebt-het and Aset when They were mourning Wesir (Osiris), the dead god. In searching out Wesir’s body after He was killed, Aset was the one Who sought, and Nebt-het was the one Who found, aloft on swift wings with long-reaching eyes.

So kites became symbols of grief, of loss—and of finding again. Wesir rose up when Nebt-het and Aset recovered His body and restored His limbs, and though He was never “alive” again, not like the rest of the Netjeru, He was not wholly undone and vanquished. Kites, with their shrill calls, took in both living and dead sustenance to survive, and so Nebt-het and Aset are Netjeru with a hand extended towards Their dead lord and the blessed dead that He caretakes… and a hand extended towards the living gods and we living mortals.

Sources:

  • Egyptian Mythology (Geraldine Pinch)
  • Nebt-het: Lady of the House (Tamara Siuda)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first K post was on Khepri, Khepera, Kheperu.

PBP Fridays: G is for Grace

PBP Fridays: G is for Grace

Disclaimer: This post is heavy on my personal opinions and interpretations, including some impressions of my spiritual Mother, Nebt-het (Nephthys). Others may have entirely different views of and experiences with Her, and that is a-okay. I speak only for myself.

Every weekday morning, on the drive to work, I say my morning prayers. In that short litany, I thank Nebt-het for Her compassion and grace; by that I mean not only the grace She bestows upon me, but also the grace I enact, which I consider to stem from Her in the same way a child inherits certain characteristics from its parents.

To clarify, the grace of which I speak is not physical coordination and smoothness of motion, though that can indeed play a part. This grace is an elegance of the spirit, a composure of the intangible self. My kind of grace, overlapping with zen and individual sovereignty, states simply that we each are responsible for our own selves, our actions, our reactions, our baggage, and our projections, and that we cannot and should not try to take responsibility for someone else’s stuff. Grace states that someone else’s distress is not about us and should not be taken personally. Grace states that sometimes, shit happens, but we can at least control how we react to the sudden manure in our way. And, of course, grace describes the way one acts and reacts: smoothly, self-controlled, benignly, gently, along the positive-to-neutral spectrum.

Sometimes I get the sense that grace is a lost art, especially among some men. (I really hate generalizing based on sex, but unfortunately, this is experiential and not blindly stereotyped; however, I know it’s not true for everyone.) I find myself wondering how often my own grace gets shrugged off as effeminate, or how often it’s mistaken for deference when it is only courtesy. I wonder if a tactful tongue and a compassionate heart are really heard and felt, or if the gentleness and the subtleties just make it easier for others to override it with noise and force.

Nebt-het, as a goddess who welcomes the newly dead, Who guides them through the Duat, and Who comforts those who mourn the deceased, is very composed and self-contained. She has experienced loss—Her brother Wesir (Osiris) died, the only god to experience death—and so She understands more than most Netjeru what humans feel when other humans die. She has keened Her grief and torn Her hair and stood guard over Her brother’s corpse after seeking it on the wings of a kite, but in the face of others wailing, She is quiet and still. She holds the space and makes it safe for us to scream and sob; in Her arms, we do not fear, and in not fearing, we can express our grief and begin to release it.

When I thank Her for Her grace, I am thanking Her for holding the space—not for me, but for every person who has ever wept, for every person who has been afraid and felt weak or vulnerable—and I am thanking Her for showing me by example how to act with such impeccable grace in service to others. Those who come to me distraught will see my Mother’s child first and foremost, a fallible and oft-emotional human animal second.

If this grace looks like weakness from the outside, I couldn’t care less; it is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and being a conduit for grace has demanded more strength and stability from me than almost anything else. And in that, I am glad to know Nebt-het as my role-model, and I am glad to walk in Her footsteps as best I may.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first G post was on genderqueer and GLBTQ Netjeru.