Locus of Control — Then and Now

How has your practice changed since you started out? How did you find your place within the Kemetic sphere? Are there things you do now that you didn’t then? Things you weren’t expecting? What have you learned through trial and error that newbs may find helpful or useful?

This week’s Kemetic Roundtable is about our journeys from beginning Kemetics to where we are now. I’ve written pretty extensively about how things have changed since coming to the House of Netjer. I’ve been blogging since early on in my journey, too, so a lot of these changes are chronicled in this blog. I don’t feel like I really have anything meaningful to add to what I’ve already written right now, so if you’d like to read about where I’ve been and where I’ve gone, you can read my posts tagged “My Journey“. There’s a lot of material there – please feel free to browse through it and learn from my mistakes. I’d much rather focus on the part of the topic that asks about what I have learned through trial and error — and what I do differently now.

When I think of the way my path has changed over the last eight or nine years, there is one thing that jumps out at me immediately: locus of control.

locus of control n.
A theoretical construct designed to assess a person’s perceived control over his or her own behavior. The classification internal locus indicates that the person feels in control of events; external locus indicates that others are perceived to have that control. (source: Dictionary.com)

Basically, locus of control is a fancy way of talking about perceived responsibility in a situation. Is it me who creates my own circumstances, or is someone else in charge?

When I first became Kemetic, my religious locus of control was way external. The gods were in charge of everything. Did I want to offer Them a fancy stone? No, They wanted me to offer it to Them. Did I feel like I should read about Wepwawet? No, He wanted me to read about Him. Everything was Netjer-directed and I bore little to no responsibility for what I sought from my relationships with the gods.

The problem with external locus of control is that it can become extreme – and that can be a problem. If your locus of control becomes so external that you dismiss every occurrence in your life as “it’s just what the gods want”…. it becomes easy to see how that can lead to ignoring personal responsibility in any number

For example: when someone feels “drawn” to purchase an expensive, pretty offering in spite of having significant bills – how much of that is the will of the gods, and how much of that is the devotees desire to have a shiny offering on their shrine? Even if the gods do truly want that offering – do we really believe that the gods are selfish enough to demand that Their devotees go bankrupt for Them? What purpose would that serve?

That kind of thinking can spread to practical actions, the kinds of offerings you give – it can completely rob devotees of their personal agency in their Kemetic practices. And yet we sort of encourage it by valuing a deep connection with the gods. Make no mistake – you can have a deep connection with the gods, and still be in control of your relationship with the gods.

Back when I was new, I was all about the gods being in charge. The greatest thing I have learned in the last 9 years is that while the gods might be huge, powerful, demanding, and guiding my life in mysterious ways — They also don’t control me, and I am allowed to work on Their requests within my own boundaries and my own limitations. The biggest thing I wish for any new Kemetic is for them to find that balance between listening to their gods, and being in control of their own practice.

KRT: On Priesthood.

I wrote this really long post about priesthood for the Kemetic Roundtable, and then WordPress cruelly devoured it. I’m going to try to re-create it, but honestly? I was so damn proud of that post. Anything I write about it now is just not going to be as good.

What about modern priesthood? What does being a priest mean in the modern era?

The way I see it, priesthood is about service. It’s about doing something – heka, ritual, whatever – on behalf of a deity, for the benefit of someone besides yourself. If a god is asking you to do something of the sort – congratulations, you’re more or less doing the work of a priest.

I try to be fairly transparent about being a Kemetic Orthodox w’ab priest, though I don’t always blog about my experiences as such. Within Kemetic Orthodoxy, you are not only working for the gods, but you are backed up by your training – your knowledge is supported and verified by another group of people, and you are held accountable for what you know and do. A modern priest, therefore, is someone who performs rituals and heka on behalf of their deity or deities, and who is supported in their work by their community.

Being a priest is not about:

  • Getting it right all the time
  • Knowing what you are doing all the time
  • Having a clear and infallible connection to the gods
  • Feeling constantly competent
  • Being universally acknowledged for your service

As a priest, I spend a considerable amount of time running around going “Is this what You want? Am I doing what You’re asking me to do?” all the while trying not to act too much like I am flailing around in confusion. I don’t always understand what They want, or how to do what They are asking me to do. I can’t even always fulfill Their requests for practical reasons. Sometimes I sit before the shrine feeling no different than I would if I were sitting at my computer. And in spite of all the confusion, I do it anyway, because serving Them is what I do; and that’s really what it means to be a priest in modern times.

On Not Learning Lessons.

In ancient Egypt, there’s this funny thing called ma’at. Ma’at is a complicated topic. It can be defined as “universal order”, or “balance”; it can be conceived of as “justice” or “right action”; it can even be seen as a kind of law of returns in it’s own way. I admit I’ve never had a consistent grasp on what ma’at means. Whenever I think I really get it, it starts to slip between my fingers, and I have to adjust my perception. Right now, ma’at looks a lot like one of Newton’s laws to me. Everything has a consequence. A real, immediate, tangible consequence will follow any action you take. If you eat, you won’t be hungry anymore. If you put your hand in a fire, you will get burned. If someone stabs you, you’re going to start bleeding. Simple.

Of course it’s not simple. Because life will eternally present us with difficult and unexpected challenges, making us question what we’ve done to deserve them. It’s human nature to wonder what’s making us hurt, I suppose. An example: I have managed to pick up some kind of virus or cold roughly every three weeks for the last five months. My instinct is to shake my fist at the sky and wonder what I did to bring this upon myself. Did the gods decide I needed to learn something by being sick? Did I piss off a doctor in a past life? Did I give some poor old lady the flu by not getting my flu shot? Is this a message that I’m doing something wrong?

First: the gods don’t want to hurt us. I’m using a fairly innocuous example here, so maaaybe the gods are trying to teach me something by guiding me into situations where I’m likely to pick up some kind of fairly benign bug — but this vein of thinking gets dangerous when we start to wonder about deaths, or serious injuries, or chronic illnesses. The gods really don’t want you to go through the world-rending pain that major trauma invokes. Do the gods want you to learn from your experiences and grow? Yes. Did they send an eighteen-wheeler to cut you off so you’d spin out on the highway, break your leg and wind up unable to work for several months? The likelihood is so low it might as well be impossible.

Second: ma’at exists in the present. There’s very little evidence in antiquity for the concept of accountable reincarnation. There is some evidence for reincarnation, I hear (I don’t exactly know the details so don’t quote me) but the general attitude is always that you are held accountable for your accumulated goodness or badness at the time of death. This makes a lot of sense if you consider the complex structure of the soul and its multiple parts; different pieces of the soul do different things after death, so if only part of you is going to reincarnate, how can that piece be held accountable for something that happened while it was just working as a piece of a whole? That’s like punishing someone’s lung for giving them kidney stones.

Third: ma’at is generally direct and straightforward. If you eat, you won’t be hungry. If you drop a vase, it will break. If you curse someone out, they won’t want to spend time with you again and your relationship will deteriorate. If you offer to the gods, they’ll be more present in your life. Ma’at rarely operates in enigmatic ways.

So then why did I get sick so many times? Well, I work with children. I was stressed about planning a wedding, and finishing the winter semester for both work and grad school. I was spending more time with people in general to get ready for my own wedding and to celebrate other weddings. It was also the beginning of cold weather. All those things add up to heightened probability of illness. That’s where ma’at is in all of this; not pulling some invisible strings that I could never hope to understand, but woven through the circumstances that lead to very sniffly results. Is there a lesson to be learned from all my minor illnesses? Maybe, but it probably doesn’t have much to do with the gods.

Sometimes, things just happen. Just because we live in a world that is touched by gods and spirits doesn’t mean we don’t also follow natural laws and processes; it also doesn’t mean that those gods and spirits touch every single thing in the world. When life gets you down and you’re cursing the gods for putting you in a bad position, just remember — ma’at doesn’t punish, it reacts. Take steps to bring goodness into your life, even if it is small, and goodness will come into your life, to be multiplied and cherished.

(NB: ma’at can also be conceived of as the natural order of things (sunrises, seasonal changes, the annual flood, etc). In this case, following the natural order of things, or doing what is right, is also ma’at. The concept of ma’at as right action is interconnected with ma’at as reaction. When you do things “in ma’at” the reaction is a magnification of natural and moral order. And since it is natural for there to be a reaction for every action… ma’at magnifies itself. I could write any number of blog posts on the subject and probably not come close to explaining ma’at in its entirety, but that’s the simplest thorough explanation I can give.)

Eight.

So it has been eight years since my RPD. I remember back when I became Kemetic Orthodox, and I wondered what it would feel like to have been a part of something for eight years. I submitted my application for the Beginners’ course just before I turned eighteen; at that point, the only thing I’d been doing for eight years was having two digits in my age.

I always find myself reflecting on the changes in my life more at this time of year than any other — even my birthday. I don’t know why, but thinking about my RPD makes me recognize that I’ve become such a drastically different person in the short amount of time between 2007 and today.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from my personal journal, written right after my divination. It makes me cringe a little bit to read it (whose journal doesn’t?) but it is also somewhat incredible to me, reading my impressions of my Parents immediately after divination.

My Father was no surprise, to me, or apparently the entire room watching me be divined. The dancing in my seat evidently gave it away. Papa Jackal is great. He is kind, He is loving, He is understanding, and He loves booze, dicing, and wimmin. My kind of God. Mama Sekhmet-Mut is a little different. I half expected Sekhmet, but was having a hard time connecting with Hethert. The Mut part of Mama makes sense. She is motherly, but fierce and watchful. Hemet described Her as being the Sekhmet who does not fly into a rage OR return to Hethert — She sits on Her throne and watches, quietly taking in Her surroundings and quietly judging, waiting to catch someone red handed. She is regal and fiercely protective. She is mother and queen, but she is the claws of the queen and the rage of the mother against someone who would hurt her children. She is beautiful, in short. Mama is beautiful.

My beloveds were a little surprising to me. EVERYONE around me expected Bast, my boyfriend and mother included. She makes sense, because I am an extremely sensual person, with a temper. I think I have the more creative side of Her though. She is not fluffy for me, and not terribly clawed… She is dancing and singing, and rejoicing. That might just be because I’m finally trying to get to know Her, though. I am very happy to have Her as one of my ka-Moms*. I had sort of expected Nit as a beloved, but got Nut instead — which is not unusual. It’s hard to tell Nit and Nut apart. Nut is absolutely awesome. Nut is an ubermom. She is warm, very warm, and gives THE best hugs. I adore Her and am SO glad to have her as my second ka-Mom. She makes more sense than Nit. I don’t have the bluntness to be a Nit kid.

How things have changed since then. :) It’s been an unbelievable journey, to dive briefly into cliche… and it continues to be even more amazing than I ever could have dreamed. Here’s to the next eight years.

* – at the time of my RPD, the concept of Beloveds as creators of one’s ka was still really popular, and even though I knew it had come from a ritual saq session with Nit I didn’t care, I liked it anyway.

Also, some of you may know that I am also a beloved of Khonsu; He was a later addition, so I had no opinion about Him at the time (other than that He is awesome).

A reminder.

Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. A few years ago, I wrote a long post about my own experiences, which I won’t rehash; you can read that post here. Instead, let me offer a brief meditation on the subject.

The gods don’t want us to be hurting. Sometimes we will feel sore, or pained, as we learn lessons and grow from them; but the depth of pain that comes from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is not productive. We may be able to learn something from it, but that is our own doing. The gods do not hand these things to us as challenges, nor do They require us to be completely free from pain to serve Them. The difficulties we face are just that: difficulties. And the gods will stand by us as we meet them head on.

Self-care can be a form of purification; releasing anxiety, fear, grief, guilt, and shame lighten our hearts and allow us to connect better with the gods. Sometimes, the process of letting go is terrifying. Sometimes it is lengthy. Sometimes, we cannot do it on our own. We lean on the gods, our loved ones, or on the help of professionals — and that in no way lessens the worth of the work we do.

Self-care is the antithesis of self-harm. Self-harm devalues the body and the self; the body becomes a tool for offering relief, rather than a part of oneself to be valued. Self-care includes self-soothing and relaxation, but also taking action to better ourselves and our lives. Self-harm allows us to sink deeper into the grief and shame that we feel; self-care helps us rise above it and become stronger.

Take good care of yourself. Know that it does not make you any less to seek help from a friend, loved one, or professional. If you are struggling with self-harm, there are resources out there to help. Above all else — be well.