Can You hear me now?

radio debian
by Alosh Bennett
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Tonight, the shrines are lovely. Kneeling before the gods, the candles are flickering and the shrine is beautiful beyond belief. And yet – I feel nothing. Silence surrounds me. I press my forehead to the floor, as though bowing more deeply before Their altar can recharge my god-phone. Only the echoes of my own prayers fill my head. There is no warm, luminous presence; only the cold eyes of Their Icons, draped in lazy curls of incense and the glow of candlelight. 

I came into Kemetic Orthodoxy with a powerful god-phone (aka god-radio). I had begun to hear the gods in the subtle yet irresistible voice of Sekhmet-Mut, quietly calling me to Her worship. I mistook Her voice for Aphrodite, and made Her the first deity I conversed with. When I came to Kemet, I found Yinepu and Wepwawet more than willing to become near-constant presences in my head. They spoke in warm and velvety voices, singing hymns and embracing me in quiet moments. Sometimes Their voices shook me to the core, and I found myself curled up and weeping from the power of Their words.

But Their voices were the only ones I felt constantly. Mother’s voice was never more than a low hum tugging at the periphery of my senses. The other gods came and went, Their presences a tide that swelled and washed away. And as I grew, the Jackals’ voices gradually ebbed too. I struggled, and lost my way; Their voices became fainter. I was so caught up in each crisis that came that I didn’t realize they were driving wedges between me and my gods. By the time I realized I wasn’t hearing the gods the way I used to, I was in complete radio silence. Dead air.

I’ve been in both places. I’ve been the follower wishing for earplugs because the gods just won’t shut up; I’ve been desperate for connection, shaking down my Tarot cards and staring in to the faces of my Icons hunting for some sign of life. Have I learned anything from being in both places?

If you have a strong connection with the gods:

  • Enjoy it, but be cautious. There’s a word that gets thrown around a lot regarding interactions with spirits: discernment. Don’t take everything you experience at face value. There are spirits who will pretend to be the gods. Be sure to establish means of verifying identity.
  • Sometimes your own head can play tricks on you; sometimes what you think is the gods is actually only a subconscious interpretation of what the gods might be saying, if They were speaking at that moment. Did the gods actually tell you to get that coffee? Well, maybe that’s something They would do, and you are interpreting your knowledge of that as the voice of a deity. Sometimes, They will push you to make a certain offering — other times, you will be making a leap of logic.
  • Set boundaries. If you feel overwhelmed, make it clear to the gods that you need some space. Ignore Them when you have to. Answer Them when you have the time. Like any relationship, if They become too demanding, you have the right to ask for space.

If your connection is weaker:

  • Fake it until you make it. I am completely serious here. Do Senut (or whatever rite makes you feel good). Stand, sit, or kneel before the shrine. Talk to the gods. Don’t give up. You may not get a dramatic answer. You may never notice an answer at all. Don’t make that the focus of your worship. Rest in the stillness of the shrine. Center yourself. Breathe the sweet incense and watch the flames flicker. We get much more than just a connection with the gods from honoring Them. We get Their blessings, the reversion of offerings, purification… we are centered, realigned, cleaned up and sent back into the world a little better for the time we have spent with the gods.
  • Watch for other ways the gods will communicate with you. Other people may bring Their messages, or other events in your life may serve as signs. Don’t over-think these, but don’t second guess your instincts either. If something feels like a sign, it may be one. Be mindful of the influence of anxiety on these interpretations. If you are like me, some things will feel like a sign not because of divine influence, but because you’re frequently afraid of absolutely everything. Don’t let anxiety control your god-phone.
  • Use divination sparingly. Do not run to the Tarot every time you want an answer. Sometimes divination can confirm what we think we are hearing, but sometimes it serves as a crutch. Try to work things out on your own first. Remember that the cards are just a tool. They make life easier sometimes, and sometimes they make it harder.

Above all, whether you’re swamped with divine messages or you’re feeling like there’s cotton in your metaphysical ears, remember that this communication is not the total sum of your worth as a Kemetic. The heart of our practice is ma’at – the rest is window dressing.

Offerings.

Some offerings I've made in my own shrine, on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of my Rite of Parent Divination.
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This is my (very belated) contribution to the last Kemetic Round-table discussion on offerings. Since I’ve been a little bit out of commission, I’m going to try and answer a few old topics, just to get back into the swing of writing. Hopefully I’ll come up with something useful. 

Offerings 101: What do I offer the gods? How do I determine what to offer? Can I offer without a patron? Do I need to revert my offerings? How do I do that? What if I can’t?

I’d argue that offerings are a staple in any pagan or polytheistic practice. We build relationships with the gods we wish to know by giving them gifts; in return, They give us Their attention. Thus we build our relationships. It’s a bit like having someone you’d like to get to know over your place for a while, in a way. Generally, you wouldn’t invite someone over without at least having some kind of refreshment to offer, even if it’s just a glass of water. There’s always argument over what is best to offer; people question the validity of offering things like chocolate or cookies, since those didn’t exist in antiquity. Before I even get into the questions here, I want to make my opinion on what to offer abundantly clear: we live thousands of years after the last ancient temple closed. Since then, we have had tremendous innovations in what we eat and how we eat it. There is no reason that, by this time, Djehuty wouldn’t have a taste for saltines, or Bast wouldn’t enjoy Thin Mints. I can’t find a single compelling argument for why the gods wouldn’t want to try new things, several millenia in the future. Tradition is beautiful, but I think it’s critical to avoid stagnating or getting caught up in putting on ancient airs.

That said: how do you make offerings? Like pretty much everything else in Kemetic worship: it depends. I’m coming from a Kemetic Orthodox perspective, so bear that in mind as I contribute my experiences.

What do I offer the gods? Whatever the hell you want, really. Some things are better than others. Water, bread and incense are pretty good staples if you’re really stumped. Pour a glass of water, get a slice of toast, light a candle and some incense and sit down and say hello. Offer Them your favorite dinner – They often appreciate the gesture. Offer Them your daily cup of tea; as long as you have your morning routine, you have an offering. Offer Them a new recipe you are trying (as long as you haven’t totally messed it up). Offer Them the cookie or sweet you always grab when you walk past the pantry. Really — offer Them whatever makes sense in your life.

How do I determine what to offer? There’s a few ways. If you are the kind of person who can pick up on divine messages pretty well: ask. They’ll nudge you. If you feel lost, ask other people you know who honor the same deity. Heck, ask anyone, even if they don’t. Maybe they know someone who knows someone who can give you more information. Google can be your friend, but be careful: there is always the kind of site that tells you Bast is the goddess of marijuana, which might lead you in really bizarre directions. If it seems really weird, I suggest double checking. Divination is also great. If you know someone who knows fedw (or you know it yourself) you can always ask them to check for you, particularly when you’re concerned about a particularly elaborate offering. If you don’t have access to fedw, try the next best thing – ask Them and then flip a coin.

You can also go the route of research, but that tends to be more difficult these days. The offerings of antiquity were clearly given in a culture where offerings were a daily routine in temples maintained by teams of priests. The offering lists include bread, beer, oxen, geese… bread and beer is one thing, but I’m not going to dig up a whole ox. Maybe a nice steak once in a while, but even then, not daily. We live in a different world, we need to be realistic about what we offer.

Can I offer without a patron? Yes. If you don’t have a patron deity (or Parent deity, or favorite god, or whatever) – you can offer to any god you want. There’s no rules saying you can only make offerings to your one single god. In fact, if you don’t want to offer to any deity in particular, offer to all the gods and goddesses, or the collective Netjer. That’s more a Kemetic Orthodox convention of offering, to be quite honest, but I think it is truly helpful. Sometimes I don’t want to offer to a god, I just want to make a general offering of my meal. So I announce to Netjer–the Divine, or the sacredness that is the different gods, all rolled into one collective noun–that I’m making an offering, and the Divine partakes of the offering.

Reversion of offerings, etc… This is one thing I’ve always felt a little funny about. The reversion of offerings is theoretically the process by which Netjer partakes of the offerings, and then passes their essence back to you. I’ve always believed this is intrinsic to the offering process. You offer the food, and in that process there is an exchange; Netjer takes Its portion, and leaves behind the traces of Its presence. In some rituals, there is a formal declaration that Netjer has taken Its portion. I think that is a little more work than most people really need to put forth; it also strikes me as a little arrogant, that we would say “yup, God is done eating now, my turn”. By that argument I sort of put my own thoughts on offerings in jeopardy, though. We can’t ever really know when Netjer is “done” with the offerings. We just have to kind of go with our gut, be reverent, and assume that Netjer generally understands (which It generally does. Generally).

Return to Center

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I miss the sense of you beneath my skin,
fur and teeth and tail,
speaking with your language
braced against my tongue.

I pace on pavement,
squint my eyes against the sun–
Her Eye peering into mine.
Stubbornly I stow Your roads,
Mother’s fire, the feather,
the light of Your heart.

I can bear the mantle
of the Queen of Heaven’s daughter,
because I am.
I can trace Your dust-shod footprints,
King of the Highway,
because I am Yours.

Lord of my life, come to me again;
remind me of the wealth and pleasure
in drawing near to You –
in lowering myself before You,
at Your feet, candles and incense –
in filling myself with Your love.

Not there yet.

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Crises of faith can be funny. You can declare they’re over, and that you believe in God again with your whole heart. Your friends will pat you on the back (maybe metaphorically, if you’re long-distance). You feel accomplished, and somehow more adult – maybe surviving a Dark Night of the Soul with your faith intact is a sign of maturity. And when you smile about it and make plans to get back to work on all of your projects because that whole mess is behind you –

the crippling fear returns and takes you down a few pegs. The gnawing in your belly rises up, coiling around your neck. It’s a primal terror. It makes you sick to your stomach and you spend days barely able to eat, unable to sleep on your own, constantly squirming and trembling in your seat as you try to work.

Anxiety is a bitch, folks — if you’ll pardon my French.

It wasn’t necessarily that dramatic, but yes, I dipped back below the surface of my sea of doubt. I thought I was starting to reach its end, but I was wrong. I think I’ve learned my lesson – I am not done doubting even now. I still have no idea what I believe, if anything; I am simply working from the time-honored tactic of “fake it ’til you make it”. If I keep acting as if I have 100% faith in what I am doing, then I will (theoretically) slowly get back to having 100% faith in what I am doing. Or, I’ll decide it’s all baloney and move on with my secular life — hopefully I’ll have shed the existential terror by then, one way or another.

I used to pride myself on feeling secure enough in my beliefs to be able to guide others to the gods. Now I realize that my own security really has nothing to do with it – in a way, maybe it’s better that I’m struggling too. There’s some wisdom to having your own trials when you’re trying to help others. Sure, you can’t help someone when you’re in crisis — then you have to help yourself, put your own oxygen mask on before you put someone else’s on, yadda yadda — but knowing the territory of doubt and uncertainty can give you a leg up on getting out. It’s like going in with a map, instead of going in totally clueless.

I guess my goal is to just keep moving, without pretending things are back to normal. Things are not back to normal. In fact, I think I’m so far from where normal used to be that it’s not even an option anymore. My unquestioning devotion is no longer available. But maybe – just maybe – I can make my way back to something wiser, a little less naive.