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.
AKA “Yes, Netjer wants you to wear deodorant.”
When I first became Kemetic, I was obsessed with ritual purity. I was dedicated to being as ritually pure in all things as possible. I was more than a little misguided. I read somewhere that the processed chemicals present in my body washes and shampoos were technically ritually impure. I ditched my cheap grocery store products and sprung for goat’s milk soap and all-natural shampoos and conditioners. I entirely changed my daily bathing routine and offered it to the gods. I felt wonderful; I felt as though I carried some kind of purity with me wherever I went. And in the event that I had to put something on my body that included something deemed ritually impure (read: synthetic or derived from a waste product), I waited until after all rituals were finished.
This unfortunately included deodorant.
Thanks to the magic of air conditioning and cold winter climate, I never had a problem going without deodorant in shrine. Senut isn’t a particularly lengthy ritual, and my shrine never got particularly hot. I found myself feeling not-so-fresh during a few online ritual simulcasts, but since those were attended at a distance, I didn’t mind. Then I went to the House of Netjer’s annual Wep Ronpet Retreat for the first time. In August. Where many rituals took place without air conditioning.
Let me just apologize now to anyone who sat next to me during those rituals.
Eventually I took up the priesthood as a full-time w’ab priest, which meant I spent more time in shrine, more frequently. I started working full time, and also enrolled in graduate school. The time I had to spend washing up for shrine, doing the rites, and then attending to my own physical self-care, became limited. I started to skip moisturizing because I couldn’t fit it into my routine. I ignored my skincare routines. Effectively, I was avoiding anything that I would have to postpone until after shrine, because my time and energy were more limited.
I started feeling stressed out and neglected, and I wondered whether the gods really cared if I put body lotion on in between finishing my purification in the shower, and starting Their rituals. It would keep my legs from itching, and being distracted by constant dry skin sounded like a detriment to purity to me. I tried it out. When the gods didn’t come screaming from Their shrines, I wondered out loud at Them whether They would mind if I fit my missing self-care in between purification and ritual. Their answer surprised me.
To summarize what They said: attending to oneself is a kind of purification too. It doesn’t do the gods any good if you walk around feeling crappy because you spent so much time in shrine that you didn’t get to pluck your eyebrows, or if your skin dries out and you spend so much time scratching your shins furiously that you start bleeding. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary. Sometimes, giving something up or making serious changes to our routine can bring us closer to the gods. And sometimes, it’s just a roadblock to doing real, important work. Or it makes us smelly and our neighbors uncomfortable.
The moral of the story is that the point of ritual purity is to avoid carrying unnecessary dirt and ickiness into the presence of the gods, both physically and metaphysically. Obsessing over ritual purity to the point where you start directly bringing these things into the presence of the gods is entirely counterproductive. Wash up before shrine, but don’t let it get in the way of living or being presentable for the ritual. Learn from my mistakes.
When your practice leaves the beaten path: what happens when the gods throw you for a loop? What do you do when the gods present you with a situation that doesn’t seem “normal” for a Kemetic? How do you handle things when your practice wanders off the map?
I feel like “off the beaten path” is where I live my religious life. So what if I’m a priest in an organized group of Kemetics — my gods spend an awful lot of time insisting that interacting with Them is more important than reading about Them, which means I get most of my information from personal experiences. If you have faith in the system and believe that the rituals I’ve been taught safeguard against the presence of other spirits hijacking the spotlight (which I do believe), then the only thing to be careful of when interpreting what the gods have to say is my own subconscious influence — which is admittedly tough. When in doubt I Think, Divine, and Talk about it.
Think about it: Question what’s being said. Does it sound like wish-fulfillment? Are there any red flags?
Wish-fulfillment would be something that meets our exact wants and needs; it may therefore be coming from our subconscious, rather than from the gods Themselves.
Red flags would be suspicious requests — ones that ask us to harm ourselves or others. Sekhmet does not want you to offer alcohol if it is a trigger for you; if you feel She is asking you to give Her beer and you have a history with alcoholism, it may not really be Her asking.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference; the gods can ask us to inconvenience ourselves, or to take actions that may feel like they will hurt us but will lead to growth in the end. If you’ve thought it over and you still feel uncertain — that’s okay! There are other ways to confirm or validate experiences.
Divine about it: Use Tarot cards. Use fedw. Use some mode of non-verbal, deity-to-person communication to see what the bigger picture is. Be direct and specific when you divine. Ask, “Am I right in hearing You say you want me to offer You pumpkin pie?” Using a binary form of divination is really helpful here. Tarot can be really broad, and sometimes you just want a yes or a no. (Disclaimer: many binary forms of divination are more complicated than they appear at first glance — you may not actually get a clear answer here. It can help, however, and if you feel too conflicted about trusting your own instincts, it is worth a try.)
Talk about it: Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. Talk to someone else who honors the same gods, or who is trying the same things as you. They may be going through a similar situation. They may be able to tell you whether it sounds like you’re doing something dangerous or inappropriate. Even if they can’t confirm whether your experience holds any legitimacy, they can at very least let you know whether you are about to hurt yourself or someone else. And sometimes, just voicing concerns can help sort them out.
When all else fails: If you think about it, divine about it, and talk about it, and you’re just not sure what to do — go with your gut, but proceed with caution.
In most things we do, it isn’t going to matter whether what we are doing is 100% historically informed. I don’t believe the gods are going to be violently offended if we create beautiful rites to honor Them that deviate from antiquity. I don’t believe there’s much we can do to screw up the balance of ma’at, if our heka is a little bit funky; it might not be as effective, is all.
I do, however, believe that the power of our religion comes from our connection with the gods.
If offering red jellybeans to Sekhmet connects you both — do it. The gods have many forms and many manifestations. They have more kau and bau than we can imagine. Perhaps the form of Sekhmet Who manifests to you prefers red jellybeans; perhaps She will use them later on to help you learn or figure something out. But if we spend all our time trying to decide whether that’s what She really wants, we are missing out on the chance to build a connection with Her. Even if that connection begins with offering red jellybeans and finding out that She really hates them.
Once upon a time, when I was a wee baby Kemetic making my first offerings, Tumblr was a gleam in someone’s eye and LiveJournal reigned supreme. I offered Sekhmet orange juice, based on my own gut feelings. It seemed to make sense – She’s a solar goddess, oranges and citrus fruit are associated with the sun, so obviously She would want orange juice. I went with my gut. She hated it. I could feel the Divine side-eye bearing down on me from my dorm room altar. Next time, make it something stronger, She mused loudly in my head. Did I die? Did She smite me? Nope. She helped me. And after that, I did not offer Her orange juice.
Obviously that wasn’t very far off the beaten path — in fact, since I wasn’t even really on a path at the time, I don’t think it really counts as off the path at all. The point I want to make is that it isn’t deadly to make mistakes. Going off of our own instinct can lead to some really beautiful experiences. Some of the best religious experiences I have ever had have come from nothing else besides trust in the messages from the gods. We are, after all, only human. Being wrong once in a while won’t kill us, but missing out on something great because we are afraid to be wrong can make us miserable.
As a fellow Shemsu pointed out: this week on February 12th, the Kemetic Orthodox calendar indicates the festival of Making Health and Long Life.
Part of my goal for this secular year — and I suppose for the rest of the Kemetic year — is to be more proactive and intentional about caring for my physical and mental health. I’m not an unhealthy person in general, but I also usually don’t consider self-care until I’m at a crisis point; in fact, I generally ignore my body and what it is telling me. Lately I have been particularly bad about ignoring things I have been advised to do for the care of my own health.
I have already committed to several health-related goals, but this week I will pay special attention to them. Here, for the sake of accountability, are my goals:
- Drink water consistently throughout the day. Remain hydrated. I am notoriously bad about this goal, because as an educator I don’t really get to run to the bathroom whenever I have to go. I have to wait for the most opportune moment, and then I might be able to squeeze a break in. Because I work in a non-traditional classroom setting, my bathroom breaks are even more limited. That isn’t an excuse to sacrifice my needs for hydration, though; and after a week of consistent hydration, I’m finding I haven’t increased my need for restroom breaks at all.
- Follow a more nutritious diet plan; increase deficient vitamins and nutrients. I have chronically low potassium. Years ago I was advised to eat a banana a day. I started out fine, and then quickly got tired of bananas and stopped. Now I am armed with a list of foods — not only bananas! — that are rich in potassium, so I can balance out my natural deficiency.
- Dedicate regular time to cosmetic self-care. This one sounds silly, but it makes a difference. By intentionally setting aside time to care for my appearance, I make myself feel valuable. I take the time to set out my clothes for the following day at night. I make time in the evening for a skincare routine. I file my nails regularly instead of filing them down when they split or catch on something. This is troublesome, because I already feel like I’m struggling to manage my time. But it feels so much better, physically and psychologically, to know I am putting effort into what I look like.
- Talk about health and self-care. This is the biggest piece of the puzzle for me. I grew up with the notion that one’s health should be completely private. What happened inside one’s body stayed inside one’s body, until it became a nuisance — or most often, a crisis — and then it was shared, reluctantly and fearfully, with a medical professional. I first began to understand the importance of self-care when I enrolled in a graduate program to study mental health counseling… but my gut still tells me that I don’t need it, that self-care is being lazy and unwilling to work.
- Address health and self-care needs. This is pursuant to the previous goal. Once health and self-care are acknowledged, the next step is to take action. That is not to say that I feel I am particularly unhealthy, but there are regular maintenance visits that ought to be made to medical professionals that I just… don’t do, for the reasons cited above. Even though they might be little things, they still need doing.
I share this, because it will help keep me accountable, but also to encourage others who might be struggling with the same issues to take these steps too. Managing physical well-being can be tiring and scary and expensive, but we serve the gods through the bodies we possess. We might as well take care of them to the best of our ability.
The Twisted Rope has an excellent piece on self-care, in addition to a fairly sizable collection of posts on the subject. Check it out!
Once upon a time, the purpose of this blog was to write about my personal experiences with the gods. After a while, I sort of veered away from that and tried to write about these vast, sweeping concepts that would possibly be useful — in my mind — to other people who might be curious about the gods and want to know what to do with Them. That shift coincided with the time when I became a priest, and I know why — it had to do with feeling pressured to write something intellectual, by virtue of my new title. (As a newly minted wife, I can write a lot about the pressure that titles can cause. Hoo boy.)
Except — the charge They give me, periodically, is to “carry Their light”. (Hence the new title of this blog.) But what’s the most effective way to carry the light of the gods? Is it scrambling to write about broad concepts of ethics and theology? Is it finding a voice of authority and preaching about Ma’at and purity? Or is it talking about the gods and Their voices, Their words — Their light?
It’s always about Them. Anything I write, anything I do — if I want to share Them with the world, it has to be about Them. Even in the fallow times, even in the times of doubt.
I don’t always have a great relationship with my gods, which makes it even harder to keep writing about Them. Leading up to the wedding, They were mostly a guilty afterthought while I sifted through different choices and rushed to fittings and tastings and meetings with this or that vendor. When work or my graduate studies heat up, I often have to set Them aside and concentrate on the work at hand. But I still feel the pressure to write, so I try to write something impersonal and cerebral, which is not in my nature — and I get stuck because it’s not. So I don’t post. And then we’re in the cycle of not posting, feeling guilty, having to write an apology for not posting, and then not posting again for weeks.
This is all just a prelude, though, to share what Sekhmet said this morning.
“Tell someone you love them. Someone who will not expect it. Don’t lie and say it to someone you don’t love, but share that love with someone who has not heard it from you yet, or has not heard it often enough. Share your love.”
I get a super love-y Sekhmet. Probably this has to do with the fact that it’s Sekhmet-Mut, not original flavor Sekhmet, but that’s conjecture. Either way, She says to share the love.
That wasn’t so hard — I’ll try to be less cerebral in the future, and work on sharing Their love. ;)
Orion by Rogue Valley.