W’ab Wednesday: In Defense of Ritual Purity

I’ve written about purity before. I think about purity a lot. I’m a w’ab priest — the word w’ab means pure, or purity. So, I’m a purity priest. I have been presented before my community as pure in the service of the gods. The purity thing is kind of my job, so I feel like it makes sense for me to think and write about it often.

Lately I’ve been poking my head out of my own community bubble. I made an auxiliary tumblr, which carries on the original name of this blog, and through that platform I’ve seen more of what independent Kemetics do with their practices. There’s some really awesome things happening for the gods. I’ve seen some truly beautiful altars, inspired rituals, powerful hekau — it’s good stuff. One thing I do notice is that purity is given far less importance. It’s fascinating, to me, to see how others conceptualize purity and preparedness for ritual. (When I say I think about this stuff a lot, I truly mean a lot.)

I will say this, as a disclaimer: when it comes to personal piety, I don’t know that ritual purity is always necessary. I’m not here to control what anyone does — even more so for those who are not within the community I serve. I can only speak to ritual purity in the context of Kemetic Orthodox state (or formal, standardized) rituals. Those are things like Senut, or the daily priest rite, or certain festival celebrations. Even further, I can only really provide insight into my own experiences, which take place in my own shrine, with my gods, in the particular manifestations They choose to reveal to me. In other words: it’s all context-specific.

That said, here is where I stand. I absolutely believe purity is necessary for state and formal rituals. I absolutely believe that purity is necessary in the presence of an open Icon of the gods. Furthermore: I absolutely believe purity can be helpful and have a positive impact on practicing personal piety.

In ritual contexts, being ritually pure puts you on something like an even playing field with the gods. The gods exist outside of the physical world. They are free from things like dirt, mud, sweat, or blood. They don’t deal with the daily frustration of commuting to work, having restful sleep interrupted by an alarm clock, or coming home to find a stack of bills in the mailbox. They aren’t bombarded by mindless advertisements, terrifying news reports, or anything else the media offers. They exist entirely outside of this paradigm.*

Purification takes all of those things away for a time. Even if I don’t physically feel different after a purification rite, I know I have been set apart from that mundane static. When ritually pure, I am meeting the gods closer to Their level, thereby strengthening our connection and my closeness to Them. In a state rite, that’s kind of the point; we come as close to the gods as we can. The benefit we get from Senut, for example, comes as much from our proximity to Them as it does our offerings and obsequies. In the case of personal piety (meaning any non-standardized, non-formal rite), it’s not a necessity, but the benefit of being closer to Their level still remains.

On the gods side: I think it makes Them a little more comfortable to deal with us when we’re coming from more common ground. It makes it easier for Them to get Their jobs done, because there’s less static getting in the way. They don’t have to use as much force to make Themselves known to us.

Some of the pushback against ritual purity comes from the idea that if you are struggling with a chronic condition, you sometimes can’t be pain-free, or anxiety-free, or dismiss the manifestation of your condition entirely. To some degree, being ritually pure requires one to be uninjured and able to focus on the rites at hand. However, purification gives us the opportunity to lessen the amount of physiological and psychological crud that we carry. It’s not something that will cure our anxiety or get rid of our chronic headaches, but I think that it lessens the amount that these things will get in the way when we try to connect with the gods — and it will lessen the amount that the gods notice the chronic conditions we carry with us as a result of living in imperfect bodies.

Ritual purity is often likened to physical cleanliness, and the motivation behind purification is likened to the need for physical cleanliness in the presence of those we respect. I’ve written about it that way before, and that will always be a part of why I think purification is important. It is worthwhile for more than just its face value, however.

And that’s my abbreviated defense of ritual purity. I cannot and I will not ever try to convince others to do things according to what I believe, but as a purity priest who has lots of thoughts about purity, I figured it couldn’t hurt to share.

* = I do believe the gods get annoyed, and frustrated, and have Their own distractions from what They are trying to accomplish. I just think it’s coming from a different place than all of our own frustrations and distractions. I also think the gods will take care of Their own business when They need to come be with us; though, I have had the experience of trying to sit in ritual with Them and being told “not now, We’re busy”. Take that as you will.