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Red Week 2015

Red Week 2015

Last week, Kemetic Orthodoxy celebrated “Red Week,” a modern festival honoring Set, strongest of the gods. People got together in person to enjoy fellowship and perform heka; people came together online to do the same. Individuals wrote, sang, and made art for Set. He was studied, explored, discussed, and, ultimately, better understood by the end of His week. We even pulled together a devotional anthology for Him.

Set, also known as Seth or Sutekh, is an easily-misunderstood god. His reputation changes throughout ancient Egypt’s history, going from a warrior to a rebellious god to, in some eras and areas, being downright villainized. Some have equated Him to Typhon, the most deadly of all Greek monsters; others have blatantly equated Him to Satan. Set’s myths and stories are as varied as His reputations, showing Him in diverse lights: the proud contestant for the throne, the killer of His brother so that Wesir (Osiris) can become king of the dead who have no king, the protective warrior who shouts down the sea demon, the lusty god who has no qualms about chasing after skirts or trousers both, the mighty guardian of Ra’s barque who kills the Uncreated One every dawn so that the sun may rise again.

Likewise, modern Kemetics and polytheists have had a melting pot of experiences with Set. Some know His strength and draw on that strength to help survive their challenges; some feel Him in the very whirlwind of challenges that they are tasked with surviving. Some use His brazen fearlessness and loudness to help themselves learn to be bold and speak up; some feel themselves on the receiving end of that relentlessness and volume. Some embrace change, and some fear it. Some hail Him as god of foreigners and outcasts; some are unsettled by His strangeness and liminality.

During Red Week, we all had an opportunity to explore more of Set. For those of us who knew Him fairly well, we got to know Him better; those who didn’t know Him at all could make an introduction. For those who felt Set left a bad taste in their mouths, they had an opportunity to hear from those who loved and respected Him and to see His other sides—to see all the good He does in the world, for gods and people alike. He brings the sunrise and brings us strength.

For myself, I’ve known Set as long as my sister, Saryt, has known Him. But I’ve always known Him through her, and every interaction I’ve had with Him has been informed by and colored by the lens through which she views Him as her Father. I am very fond of Set and respect Him immensely, and He is always welcome in my shrine, but He and I do not have a one-on-one relationship outside of the occasional hello and offering of jerky.

I see Set as a master of the Kemetic version of drunken kung fu. At any moment, He may appear to be out of control, lost to rage, stumblingly drunk, caught up in lust, distracted by emotions—but at all times, He is aware and canny. Set is never stupid. He is intelligent, and His metaphorical strikes are always well-planned and well-aimed. What He does, He does intentionally. Not to say He doesn’t feel the emotions He displays, but that He doesn’t lose Himself to them. He is still capable of doing what needs be done, even when it’s hard. (Again, this is only my personal view; your mileage may vary.)

Last week, as I poured all of my available time and energy into the layout and editing of the Red Week anthology, I was slapped with a minor epiphany. Even as I’ve been struggling with the worst depression this fall and winter in recent years, I’ve been doing my best to take care of projects and people—both at my job and at home—as best I possibly can. And when asked why I’m doing what I’m doing, or why I’m the one who has to do it, my answer is often, “Because I can.” Or because I’m the best available person for that particular job.

It hit me, then, that I’ve been living by a Set-ism.

Set kills the Uncreated One every morning because He’s the strongest of the gods—because He’s the only one Who’s strong enough to do it. And I, unconsciously, have been mirroring that conviction by putting myself forth, whenever I’m able, to do what needs done when I am suited to do it. By no means am I always the best one for the job, but when my efficiency, or endurance, or speed happen to be the highest stats in the current party… well. I step up, no matter my weariness or other concerns. It is a character trait, for better or for worse. And I’d never realized it before now.

Thanks, Set. Looks like You and I have something to talk about one-on-one after all.

Dua Set!

offerings for Set, Lord of the Oasis

offerings for Set, Lord of the Oasis

Yesterday and today were one of Set’s rare feasts from historical calendars, so I’d like to compile a few links to offerings created by others, then add one of my own.

From my multitalented sister Saryt (Ekunyi) come two songs for Set, her Father: Dua Set and Walk Forth In Strength.

From amazing beadworker Mortira comes a stunning Set-inspired piece called Desert Fringe, which is part of a whole series of beadwork inspired by the Netjeru.

From noted sculptor Nicolas of Shadow of the Sphinx is a lovely Set votive (scroll down to see the photos).

(Please note that I don’t mean to imply that either Mortira or Nicolas are Kemetic; I simply wish to share their gorgeous work here.)

In the past, I’ve wound up making quite a few little things for Set, including god dice, mini-hieroglyph paintings, a larger painting with Him and Bast, and most recently, a necklace with a double-sided woodburned tagua pendant. My partner J even made Set-inspired guitar dangles. (This is what happens when artists have siblings who like Set…)

Lastly, from myself comes a new offering for the Lord of the Oasis on this, His feasting day:

Dua Set, mighty in the prow of Ra’s barque!
Strike down the bastard snake and spill the blood of dawn.
Whet your blade on Uncreation’s glittering scales
until only ma’at is left, pure and proven.
Tear down the broken pieces in a maelstrom,
and we will grow anew on ash-fertile fields.
Isfet will not stop us, nor challenge, nor scars.
Your legacy burns in strong shoulders and steady eyes.
Dua Set, strongest of the gods, lord of storms!

PBP Fridays: X is for Xeric Gods

PBP Fridays: X is for Xeric Gods

Xeric is an adjective meaning “adapted to a dry environment” (thanks, Dictionary.com!). Just as each pantheon is adapted to the environment in which its culture lives and dies, so too are the Egyptian gods well-adapted to the dance of desert-and-flood of the Nile river valley. In other words, the Netjeru are xeric deities.

I’ve always found it intriguing to compare the Netjeru I’ve come to love with other, often more popular, pantheons. While it’s certainly true that we human devotees have a tendency to categorize deities across cultures – the “mother goddess” or the “young king” or the “magician” are deity archetypes that persist around the world – the gods of ancient Egypt are often strangers to their pantheonic counterparts.

For example, Kemetics lack an explicit god of the sea… or of snow (outside of a blizzard)… or of forests… because Kemet lacks snow and forests, and the sea was the realm of outside-Kemet, of foreigners. We must then extrapolate and infer: Well, Set is a god of foreigners and foreign lands, and there is a myth where He tamed the angry sea, so perhaps Him—or gods associated with the Nun, the primordial waters, such as Nit. Set is also hailed as a god of all kinds of storms, so blizzards are His – but what of gentle, restful snowfall? I found myself associating winter with Nebt-het not too long ago. And for forests, ancient Egypt had deities of papyrus marshes and tree goddesses, but neither of those truly matches the sum of what a forest is.

Coming from the northern Appalachians with a grounding basis in Celtic mythology, I still struggle sometimes to relate the land in which I live to the gods that I worship. I’ve certainly gotten better over the past couple years, having pondered how to match the Kemetic yearly cycle with my local region’s cycle and how I travel with Egyptian gods on American soil. However, given that the tree-furred mountains of my home state and the endless tides of the sea command so much of my heart and ka, it’s still a little strange to lack a Name to put to those natural forces, short of the ones I can intuit or logic-leap to.

On the other hand, I find it fascinating and an enjoyable intellectual exercise to figure out how to fill the “gaps,” so to speak. Need a god that suits the alpine tundra of Nevada and Colorado? Well, it’s a harsh and dry and often-cold place outside of civilization, which makes Set an appropriate choice. Need a god of waterfalls? Given the abundance of water and the force as it falls, Hapy as god of the Nile might suit—or one of the deities of the inundation specifically, like Anuket. Need a god of, say, computer languages and software or website coding? Well, Seshat created the system of writing and all written symbols, and She’s the Lady of Builders to boot, so if you’re making a digital “house” with a particular language, She might fit!

Even though it’s occasionally a challenge to relate to gods so well-adapted to a vastly different environment than the one I live in, I still love the challenge of exploring Them and Their nuances to find where the borders touch and the lands overlap in Them.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

PBP Fridays: T is for Theophany

PBP Fridays: T is for Theophany

A theophany is a god’s appearance: Their visual representation in mortal eyes. One of the most well-known hallmarks of the ancient Egyptian pantheon is the prevalence of gods Who have animal aspects in Their images. Even to non-Kemetics—even to non-polytheists—the phrase “animal-headed god” brings to mind the variety of Kemetic gods sporting hawk and lioness faces, even though there are plenty of other deities in other pantheons and cultures that have powerful animal associations or forms.

It’s easy to assume that the Netjeru were considered in antiquity to be partially animals because of Their widespread animal theophanies, but this is not exactly the case. As gods, the Netjeru can take on any appearance They wish (even if They do often have preferences and thus more common appearances), but a theophany is just that: an appearance. Animal theophanies did not indicate that the Netjeru in question was that animal, but simply that the god could (and did!) use that animal’s appearance. A lioness-headed goddess could also be seen as fully human, or fully lioness, or perhaps even as a woman-headed lioness at times—theophanies were nearly a form of language in and of themselves, allowing humans to more fully understand the nature of the Netjeru. It could even help interpret a Netjeru’s “mood” or state of being: Hethert (Hathor) could be a dancing woman, a maternal wild cow, or a vengeful lioness, and while She always had the capacity for all three within Her, Her visual appearance could give a strong clue to which aspect(s) of Her were at the forefront.

In further example, a jackal Netjeru was not bound to the physical realities of a flesh-and-bone jackal, but instead wore the symbolism and mythology of the jackal like a suit: jackals were beautiful and swift creatures, but they also lived in the same areas where ancient Egyptians buried their dead, so jackal Netjeru were often associated with the dead and/or the process of embalming and preserving. The shriek of a kite was like the wail of a woman mourning, so Aset (Isis) and Nebt-het (Nephthys) were kites when They were wrought with grief over Wesir’s (Osiris’) death—or when They needed quick wings and long vision to find Wesir’s body.

Ancient Egyptian gods are rife with symbolism and rich in layered meanings; it’s important not to assume that a god with a particular theophany will only appear in that singular way, or that a god is chained to the physical realities of that animal if They do choose a theophany. I made that mistake myself when I laughed over the idea that Set could ever be seen as a spotted hyena, given all I know about hyenas and how mismatched their embodied qualities are with Set’s mythical attributes. Months later, I got a glimpse of how Set could, in fact, take a hyena as a theophany (which is a modern/theoretical theophany, by the way; it’s not historically-attested to my knowledge). From my personal journal:

Set-as-hyena, the one Who challenges and purifies. Set-as-hyena, the strength in the night, the sovereign, the bone-breaker, He Who removes corpses and the sickness they hold. Set-as-hyena, male but not hyena-masculine, the male that is too dominant to appease the females and stay with the clan, set off alone and powerful. Set-as-hyena, wearing a red pelt, male but built like a female and acting as one— which is masculine in other animals— so ungendered, genderfree, mixing male and female into His own particular blend of sex: yes, the shadow of the form of a spotted hyena.

In other words: think of theophanies like clothing that a god chooses to darn—not like a skin that a mortal is born with and cannot change.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

on Set’s day

on Set’s day

From Bourghouts’ Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, part of a conjuration against a demon:

. . . See, I have lots of words against you! From the big pitcher of Seth I have drunk them; from his jug I have drained them. Listen, samana-demon, listen! The voice of Seth is roaring … listen to his roaring! … Seth will lift you up with his hand. … he will throw you onto the solid stone … the deserts drink you up, you who are submerged! . . .

Treading the Fishes

Treading the Fishes

I took a bit of catfish from my partner’s dinner plate and squirreled it away with a piece of crabcake from my own meal, wrapping them both in a napkin and tucking it into my shirt pocket. When he didn’t bat an eye or remark on my seafood hoarding, I laughed. “It’s for Treading the Fishes,” I told him, and he made the ohhh of recognition. For a non-Kemetic, he’s pretty savvy.

Treading the Fishes is a multi-day festival that celebrates recurring fertility and kingship; lasting from III Shomu 19 (Monday) to III Shomu 23 (Friday), it involves the king treading on dried fish, hence the name. Stomping the fish is symbolic of conquering isfet (uncreation), but also ties into the cyclical fertility of the land, as the fish are buried to provide nutrients to the soil for the next growing season. The king would also re-dedicate herself to her nation of Kemet and offer the Heqa sceptor, a symbol of rulership, to Khnum, the Netjeru Who makes the each human on His potter’s wheel.

So I took my tiny bit of fishes out to our little garden-like section near the front door and dug a shallow pit, then tucked the food, now wrapped inside a folded paper, into the soil. I covered the packet with fresh dirt, watered it with pure water (to help the paper start decomposing), and gave it a good couple stomps; I am certainly no king or representative of one, but I am happy to participate in symbolically refertilizing the earth and helping ensure the next good growing season. The act of setting aside some bounty to fuel and welcome the next surge of abundance feels very important to me, not to mention useful and applicable in many different areas of life.

On the paper that held the now-dried fish, I had written a little heka:

As the land provides for me,
so I provide for the land in what ways I can;
as Netjer provides for me,
so I offer to Netjer in what ways I can.
I give back part of what I receive
to open the way for abundance.
Dua Wesir and Set, Who dance the cycle
of green growth and fallow rest,
both equal in the eyes of Ma’at!
Dua Geb, Who encompasses both crest and trough,
Who makes us mortals live with His gifts!

Dua Set on His day!

Dua Set on His day!

Today is Set’s birthday, the third of the epagomenal days, five days that fall between the end of the Kemetic year and Wep Ronpet, the Kemetic New Year on August 3rd.

Hail to the Progenitor of Chaos,
standing fearless at the sun’s prow
and forever slaying the Uncreated One.

May You bless this coming year
and guard it as You guard Ma’at
in brilliant, crackling, blazing fierceness.

Red as a firestorm behind dark smoke,
as powerful as the inexorable turning of the world,
Dua Set, Great of Strength!

In Set’s honor, a sigil for ferocity.