Archive for September, 2013
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.
Nebt-het comes in a cloud of lavender, pale grey-toned amethyst fog against a dark background of shadow-black. Hethert-Nut is a royal purple nebulae, glistening with silver stars like a full-color page out of National Geographic: full of wonder and heart-wrenching potential and staggering beauty.
Ma’ahes is thick, opaque paint, still shining wet and fresh, the deep orange color of a long sunset. Serqet is desert sunlight shining off a matte sand-yellow carapace.
Sekhmet is hearth-red, ember-red, the red you see when you close your eyes, the color of blood in the bellies of thunderclouds.
I perceive the gods with such specific, visceral colors because I’m synesthetic; every sound, physical sensation, and scent internally translates to a visual color, shape, and/or motion. This is a constant, consistent, and involuntary process for me; other synesthetes may associate colors with numbers and/or letters or personalities with numbers and/or months, to name some common types of synesthesia. For myself, I suspect my other senses barged in on my visual cortex when my vision began deteriorating badly enough to need the assistance; if I couldn’t wear contacts or glasses, I’d be legally blind. Sight is an interestingly propped-up sense to me, full of supplements and quirks.
Turns out that my sensory crossed wires affect my spiritual perceptions, as well, which is why my gods are not faces or voices or even shapes to me, but floods of rich, textured color. The first time I ever heard Hethert-Nut’s name, well before I knew Who She was, let alone that She was my spiritual Mother, I saw Her color; that’s what spurred me to learn about Her in the first place. Every time I call upon Ma’ahes, He appears in color, and that color feels like Him more than anything in the world. Gods with Whom I only occasionally interact also have strong colors: Set, Wepwawet, Yinepu, Heru-wer, Ptah, and now Bast and Sepa as well.
This is how I paint. This is how I design, how I dress, how I work heka, and how I mix scented oils. Everything translates into color, and every single color has a wealth of meaning that can include symbolism, character, and pure feeling. It’s all a loop, a spiral, a fractal sensory experience that can drown me in an ocean of colored inks.
This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?
I consider mythology one of the primary ways to learn about and understand our gods, and I will turn to myths before I look for historical documentation on how ancient Egyptians performed rituals or made offerings, so I consider it absolutely necessary for me. Myths have a huge impact on my practice, from informing my relationships with various Netjeru to helping me grok the purpose and importance of the festivals throughout the year. I do distinguish between earlier Kemetic mythology and myths that originated or were changed during the Greco-Roman period of ancient Egypt; it’s a personal preference of mine to avoid Hellenized Egyptian mythology.
However, I’m a god-centric Kemetic. My relationship with the five Netjeru central to my life is one of the biggest components of my spirituality. That isn’t the only way to be, or the best way to be; it’s just an option. You can be a wonderful, fulfilled Kemetic without having anything to do with a single Netjeru, or even with the immanent divinity of Netjer. You can work solely with your akhu, your ancestors who number among the blessed dead. Or you can simply uphold ma’at in your own life and strive to contribute positively to your community and this world.
For those who don’t heavily weight their work with Netjeru, mythology may not matter as much. It can still reflect and shed light upon the beliefs and culture of ancient Egypt, but if you’re not engaging with a god, you may look less to myth and more to ancient wisdom writings, like the Maxims of Ptahhotep. Funerary texts, like the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, also contain a wealth of information on ancient Egyptian beliefs and gods; they can be extraordinarily useful by themselves or paired with the myths that give the gods in those texts Their backstories and essences.
In essence, mythology is optional, and its usefulness can vary depending on how god-centric a given Kemetic chooses to be. It’s certainly vital for my own practice, but I would never say anyone “should” or “should not” make use of mythology to enhance or influence their own practice – that’s a completely personal choice for the individual.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on the importance of mythology by my fellow Round Table bloggers!
I stayed up until 3 AM reading a novel that I simply could not put down, even though I had to wake up at 7h30 for work. It was a concession I made to my infatuation with the book, which was an urban fantasy featuring libriomancers–people who used books to power their magic. A libriomancer could reach a hand through the pages of a well-loved paperback, using the power of the collective belief of those who’d read it, and draw out anything that would fit between the pages.
The main character is, in part, so likable and enjoyable because he’s a lot like me and many of my friends: geeky, excitable, and prone to feeling awe at figuring out how things work, especially magically. And although I can’t sink my fingers into Tolkien and draw out the One Ring, I can certainly relate to the love and passion that character has for the stories he uses–which he adored before he learned how to do magic with the books.
In many ways, the concepts offered up by that fictional story aren’t so far from the truth for many of us. Reconstructionists, neopagans, and chaos magicians can all draw magic out of the book in their hands, even if it’s not physically manifest. Our subjective reality changes when we read, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction or a little of both. The world shifts around us as our minds project the scenery we read onto our own surroundings, creating our own little holodeck for as long as our eyes are on the page–and often long afterwards.
I finally put the book down, 70% finished, because I knew sleep had to happen for me to function the next day at work. I was buzzing with energy, unhinged through a combination of tiredness and excitement over the story. I didn’t drift off until 4, and I tossed and turned until 5 before I finally settled down for a couple of hours of more restful sleep.
Especially for those who do any kind of energywork, reading can feel like unlocking oneself. In losing myself to the book, in the act of fully imagining everything I was reading, I created an energetic echo of the fiction and put myself in the center of the hologram. The illusion faded when I closed the book, but my body didn’t automatically re-seal and re-shield itself; it remained loose, stimulated, tendrils of half-directed intent swirling about and seeking to paint with invisible colors.
That’s pretty “woo” for a reconstructionist, but I have a decade or more of history working with energy and color, and my imagination is well- and fully-formed from being a writer and artist since I was a child. A fictional story about magic being drawn from fiction has let me draw magic into my world, this very real and strange and wonderful world where I worship ancient gods and work magic with the power of my words and with colors that only I can see.
Like the character in those books, I’ve always wished magic was real–and like that character, I found out that it is, in many ways, as real as breath and sparking synapses. And with all the consequences, with all the challenges, with all the “am I nutters?” self-sanity checks, I still love that my reality is a magical one.
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.