Zanne’s Wep Ronpet Holiday Special

Zanne’s Wep Ronpet Holiday Special

Yesterday, according to my calendar, was Wep Ronpet – the Kemetic New Year, one of the biggest (or at least most widely-celebrated) holidays on the Kemetic calendar – and for the first time since I resumed my practice, I wasn’t enthusiastic about celebrating it.

I still tried to do the usual Wep Ronpet things, of course. I cleaned my altar, did a ritual, gave offerings, all that jazz. But none of it felt like a celebration; it felt like I was just going through the motions.

The whole day I felt listless, isolated, and out-of-touch with my practice, even when I did ritual. In a way, I felt like the protagonist at the beginning of some holiday special: burned out and uncertain of the true meaning of the holiday.

What is Wep Ronpet really all about?

However, unlike the protagonist in a holiday special, I couldn’t rely on supernatural intervention or a friend’s monologue to teach me the true meaning of Wep Ronpet. I didn’t even have my usual Kemetic contacts to turn to for general advice; I recently left my longtime Kemetic group for various reasons (to be honest I hadn’t participated much while I was in it), and I didn’t want to ask my other Kemetic friends directly as they were members of the group and I felt it would be awkward to draw attention to the fact that I’d left. Turns out that being independent can have its drawbacks.

So I did what I usually do: checked what the Kemetic bloggers had to say. I poked around the blogs I usually read, but while I saw a lot of hows and whens, I didn’t find many whys – except for the occasional brief reference to renewal and Zep Tepi. “Maybe this is something I should just know,” I thought. “Maybe this is proof that I really am the Worst Kemetic Ever™.”

But as I thought about it more, I kept coming back to the fact that this is a reconstructed religion, something every Kemetic is basically trying to reassemble from whatever bits and pieces happened to survive the past couple millennia. Combining that with the fact that I’d basically chosen a path without any religious leaders means that when you get right down to it, nobody else could tell me the true meaning of Wep Ronpet; it was something I’d have to figure out for myself. Well, damn.

Zep Tepi

The concept I see referenced most often when it comes to Wep Ronpet is Zep Tepi, the “first time.” It refers to the first sunrise on the first day, the literal dawn of creation, the beginning of everything. It’s also thought to be a moment of renewal that reoccurs at the start of every repeating cycle, whether it’s a new day or a new year. It shows that it’s possible to begin again and restore order, no matter how much things seem to have fallen apart.

I guess that could mean Zep Tepi (and by extension, Wep Ronpet) is about hope – the hope that you can break out of a bad situation or a destructive pattern, no matter how deep you seem to be in it, and try again. And it’s also the hope that if everything comes undone and order is completely overtaken by chaos, eventually order will be restored and things will start over. One could even argue that the efforts to try and reconstruct this religion – even if it’s in a different form, with its followers scattered all over the world – is an example of this type of renewal.

Sunrise_at_CreationSun rising over the benben mound at the beginning of time

So what does all that mean for me and my practice? Well, maybe it means that I can let go of my guilt and fears about being the Worst Kemetic Ever™ – about forgetting holidays and skipping daily rituals and feeling isolated and not knowing what I’m doing. I can try to start over, the way I started my whole practice over a few years ago after a crisis of faith and years of inactivity. I can recognize that doing ritual today has nothing to do with whether or not I skipped ritual yesterday. I can learn more, and try harder, and know that every day gives me a new chance to do things right.

With that all in mind, I’m going to try to do-over my celebration of Wep Ronpet in a few days – but this time, with the meaning behind it in mind. After all, if it’s about second chances, then I should get a second chance to celebrate it.

The writer with the Krazy Kat tattoo

The writer with the Krazy Kat tattoo

I’m sorry to say that I won’t be writing about TRON today – sorry because apparently it’s the original film’s 35th anniversary today, and if I’d thought about that and planned for it I could have made a killer TRON post. But what brings me here sort of came up because of TRON, so maybe it’ll still be appropriate.

See, a couple weeks ago I got this idea for an awesomely ridiculous tattoo, featuring a picture of Bit from TRON surrounded by the text “FUCK THE BINARY” – written in binary. In this case I meant “fuck the gender binary” (because honestly, fuck the gender binary) and I chose Bit because in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to only have two states – yes (1) and no (0) – it most frequently appears in a neutral state. The only problem with the tattoo was that the binary numbers would have to be so small that they wouldn’t even be writable.

Bit_34Yes, clearly that’s the only problem presented by an obscure TRON reference tattoo.

But when I first explained the tattoo to a friend of mine, he excitedly suggested we get (different) tattoos together for friendship funtimes. At first I put the idea off because of the challenges presented by the Bit tattoo, but then I remembered a tattoo idea with a similar meaning that I’d had on the back burner for years.

Krazy Kat

I’m not a huge comics person (though I’ve collected a few binders full of Mega Man and Marvel’s Land of Oz comic books), but my favorite comic strip of all time is George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry – most people haven’t, and that’s okay.

The important thing to know for this post is that Krazy Kat canonically has an ever-shifting gender, referred to by other characters as “he” and “she,” sometimes both in the same strip or even the same sentence. Herriman himself refused to answer readers’ questions about Krazy’s “real” gender, once saying that Krazy was like a spirit or pixie, free to be anything. While I seriously doubt Krazy’s inconsistent pronouns were intended by Herriman to be any kind of radical statement about gender, it was still a pretty interesting thing to do – especially in a strip that first ran between the 1910s and the 1940s.

So why am I yammering about a comic strip kat that almost nobody’s heard of? Because reading about Krazy’s pronouns was a click-moment for me. I just thought: “Oh, that’s me.” That’s when I realized I was genderfluid. Almost ever since, I’ve wanted to get a tattoo of Krazy Kat, as both a tribute to the brilliant strip itself and as a subtle affirmation of who I am.

And that’s when the self-doubt creeps in…

All this made me start thinking about my gender, how I’ve been expressing it, et cetera. I’ve written before about how I bought a psychedelic suit to help express my more masculine side, but other than that I haven’t mentioned gender much on the blog. Part of this is because I’m afraid it’ll devolve into self-absorbed ramblings that will only confirm others’ stereotypes of gender non-conforming millennials. And part of this is a sort of guilt I have about how little I’ve suffered for my gender identity.

Real talk: I’ve been lucky so far when it comes to my gender identity and how I express it. So lucky, in fact, that I feel sick with guilt when I think of how difficult it’s been for other people – like my late fiancé, who was rejected by friends and family for being trans and went through all kinds of shit for it, shit that I feel ultimately led to his death. For years after losing him I felt guilty thinking of myself as anything other than a ciswoman because I hadn’t suffered the way he had for not being cis, even though I knew how fucked up that guilt was and that my fiancé would have wanted me to be true to myself, whatever that self might be.

So now to be at a place where I understand and accept who I am – to the point that I want the catalyst for that realization to be permanently pictured on my body – is almost surreal. Plus, on a less serious note, it’s got me rethinking more easily changeable things like hairstyles (since I never could get the bangs right for the classic Louise Brooks look).

1920s-Hairstyles-New-Bobbed-Cuts-for-1925-Leatrice-JoyI think next I’ll go for the Leatrice Joy IDGAF Androgynous look.

I can’t pretend these doubts don’t still creep in from time to time, but every day I feel a little more secure in my identity.

And getting back to what my friend asked: yes, I’d be honored to get a ridiculous tattoo with you. If nothing else, it’ll be a fun story to tell fifty years from now.

Decluttering Quest: cataloging a personal library

Decluttering Quest: cataloging a personal library

I’ve started and stopped writing several new posts in the past couple weeks, about style and color and my recent doubts about the decluttering quest – mainly doubts about whether it would ever get done and if I should have even started it to begin with. I suspect such doubts would appear in any undertaking that goes on for six months, especially when it requires sorting through your entire life in such a tangible way.

But I’m going to put those subjects on hold for today, because my newest obsession has been something else entirely: cataloging and organizing my books and movies.

A personal library

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working in a public library setting for a few months now. This is part of what slowed my decluttering process down for a while – I was using up all my energy at work, and even on my days off I felt too unmotivated to do anything, too blah to even play video games. But then I finally started getting the medication I needed to treat a problem I’ve struggled with my whole life, which frankly deserves its own blog post.

Long story short, after that everything became doable again and my new work environment (plus a number of librarian friends) began to influence my resumed decluttering process. One friend in particular shared an interesting post about cataloging personal book collections, which intrigued me.

While many of my books had been loosely organized by subject (thanks to my mother’s help) before the purge, a not-insignificant portion had escaped organization. And, as the purge indicated, for the most part I’d lost track of what I had and ended up buying duplicates of a few titles. There had to be a better way, but until I read that post I had no idea where to even start taking stock of my books.

To the internet!

Enter LibraryThing, a website that lets you easily catalog your media – not only books, but also DVDs/Blu-rays and (I think) more. I have no connection to the site whatsoever, and I’m not shilling for it or anything, but I’ve found it to be a pretty nifty little website so far.

I decided to try it out by using the site to catalog my DVD/Blu-ray collection, which up until that point had been residing in multiple floor-stacks scattered around my home. As you can imagine, this made it nearly impossible to know what I had, and every annual Criterion Collection sale at Barnes & Noble put me at risk of buying a second copy of Modern Times. So I gathered up all my discs, pulled the website up and plugged in my CueCat (The Little Cat-Shaped Barcode Scanner That Couldn’t), which I had obtained through LibraryThing’s store, and scanned each item.

At this point I shouldn’t be surprised when the results of a decluttering mini-process are staggering (you could practically make a drinking game out of every time I’ve been shocked in this series), but I still was. Since my obsession with movies began nine years ago, I’d bought more than a hundred DVDs and Blu-rays of everything from pretentious films in the Criterion Collection to wonderfully trashy John Waters films (plus that one John Waters film that ended up in the Criterion Collection).

20170704_165013Does having this make me pretentious trash?

 

Afterwards I gave them all a new home on some shelves I’d recently cleared off, neatly arranging them first by media type, then alphabetically by title. It was good to know I could easily look up what I had, either in person or online. And seeing them all together in one place where I could easily find them helped motivate me to start something that I knew would be much harder: cataloging and reorganizing my books.

Too Many Books, Part 2

I’m not gonna lie to you: cataloging my books took a few days. It was more physically taxing than I’d anticipated, too – I had to lift and move massive stacks of books from the shelves to my bed (the main work-area for all the sorting I’ve done for the past several months), then to the floor of an adjacent room where I’d roughly divided them into fiction and nonfiction, then back to the shelves after they’d been reorganized.

Back during the book purge that kicked off this decluttering process, I estimated that I’d “probably eliminated at least a third of my books;” by the final count, it was much closer to a quarter. As of now I have over 600 books, including a dozen zines and chapbooks. I won’t bore you with all the little stats, but I will say that the entire top shelf of my largest bookcase is filled with manga, comics, and graphic novels, and the entire bottom shelf is just books on the American Revolution – which is what I’d initially gone to college to study, not literature. One and a half of the remaining bookshelves are filled with fiction, including a lot of Bradbury, Bulgakov, Kesey, and Snicket.

Clearly this means my next project should be a comic about the American Revolution that’s full of bizarre/fantastical occurrences, unreliable narration, and dark humor. (…Actually, let me jot that idea down.)

Catalog all the things

All that said, would I recommend this process? Yes – at least, to someone who hasn’t already organized their media (and kept it organized). Having a better idea of where a certain book or movie might be – outside of a vague notion of “it should be in this room somewhere” – is reassuring. It means you won’t waste time looking through your shelves for The Crying of Lot 49 only to discover that you don’t have it anymore, and you won’t waste money re-buying expensive Blu-rays of films you already have.

Also, I feel more content now, at least to some degree. I’m sure I’ll never stop buying books and movies completely, but knowing that I still have plenty to experience and re-experience makes me feel less like going out and getting a whole bunch more for no reason.

Moving is going to be hell, though.

 

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death

Decluttering Quest: a matter of life, not death

Decluttering Quest: a matter of life, not death

Recently I checked out a popular decluttering book that all the decluttering bloggers couldn’t seem to shut up about: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Admittedly, I was a little annoyed and hostile about the book going in. Everyone seemed to talk about it like it was the only valid decluttering method around, and that Marie Kondo was completely infallible. Also, her method sounded a little suspect to me; yes, ideally we should only be surrounded by things that make us happy (or in her words, “spark joy”), but what about the less-inspiring but necessary things that everyone needs to survive: bathroom items, cooking equipment, household tools? Okay, admittedly I do have an interchangeable-head screwdriver made to look like a sonic screwdriver which does indeed make me happy, but one cannot live on Doctor Who novelty items alone.

But I read the book anyway, out of a combination of curiosity and the hope that I could maybe get some good ideas from it – or, if not, that I would get some ideas for what not to do.

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it

To my surprise, I actually liked the book – so much so that I also read Kondo’s follow-up book Spark Joy, which goes more in-depth into sorting and organizing. I think one reason was that I liked the respect Kondo showed for people’s possessions, an aspect which seems to be lacking in the “THROW EVERYTHING OUT YOU DON’T NEED IT” school of thought that I’ve seen in a lot of other decluttering writing. Yes, Kondo does recommend getting rid of a lot of stuff, but her goal isn’t to live with as little as possible; it’s to live with the things that bring us happiness. She also treats these things as if they have a spirit or life of their own, and I’ve always loved that idea even if I don’t fully believe it.

Perhaps the most important effect the book had on me (aside from giving me some great storage ideas) was that it made me reconsider my motivations in this whole Decluttering Quest. Up until I read these books, I’d been thinking of this process largely in terms of death rather than life. If that was the case, was I really decluttering for myself or just for my family? Shouldn’t I be focused on doing this in a way that makes me happy, rather than getting rid of stuff just for its own sake?

With those thoughts in mind, I decided to sort through and organize the clothing in my dresser using Kondo’s criteria and see how the results made me feel. And in the end, I felt good. I liked the new layout of my clothes drawers and felt confident that their contents really were important to me. And, surprisingly, I found that the items I loved most were my socks, especially all my Halloween socks.

20170620_160258Do fifty-some pairs of socks really make me happy? Yes. Yes they do.

The thing that was most different about my new approach to decluttering is how much consideration I’m giving now to proper storage and display – treating my things with the respect they deserve. I know the general rule (and certainly Kondo’s rule) is to save organization for after you’ve sorted through absolutely everything, but instead I’ve been approaching it group by group, organizing an area once I’m done sorting through and cleaning it.

Up until now I’ve been strictly focused on sorting, and frankly it was making me kind of miserable. Everything just ended up in stacks and piles elsewhere and it began to feel like I hadn’t accomplished anything at all – if anything, it made me feel like I’d just made things worse. Waiting to store and arrange things once you’re completely done is a good idea, but I think for people like me it’s better to see more immediate results. It makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something, like I really am putting things in order. That’s a good feeling.

Intellivision-induced reorganization

As part of this new focus on organization, I’ve been starting to look carefully at how I treat the things I claim to love most. This started in a corner of the basement where I had a small bookshelf dedicated to my entire video game collection – consoles, games, and collectables. This collection had gotten so large and chaotic that it was all jumbled – figures all crammed together, consoles stacked on top of consoles, wires everywhere.

It wasn’t until I got another old console that I realized how out-of-control it had gotten. I was trying to cram an Intellivision on top of an Xbox 360, thinking that I wouldn’t have a place for my Gamecube now, when it occurred to me that I could clear all the games and figures off the top shelf and put them somewhere else where I could actually spread them all out.

So I bought a cheap but attractive shelf and carefully planned out how to display it all – with the help of a clear acrylic display riser my mom gave me. Now everything looks nice and is easily accessible; I also found a couple boxes to give some added protection to my cartridge games. The new setup looked so nice that I decided to put up some of my video game posters on the wall behind it, and now instead of a single cluttered shelf I have a nice little video game corner.

20170615_165125A small but colorful section of my video game corner

The posters were an especially nice addition, as I have a whole cache of them that I’ve been meaning to display ever since I moved home but haven’t found a place for. There’s a Majora’s Mask poster, for instance, which hung in my room from when I was ten until I was sixteen. Then it was replaced by an album and photo signed by Benny Andersson from ABBA, which I recently took down and stored elsewhere as I noticed the signatures were beginning to fade. Taking them down was sad, but it gave me the chance to start rethinking everything that had accumulated on my walls over the years.

The walls are made of nostalgia

I keep failing to take before-pictures of everything I’ve been doing, but my room’s decorations had basically stayed the same since I was seventeen. Posters and drawings covered the walls, with framed awards hanging over the desk as well. The only additions in the years since were a framed poster signed by John Waters and a photo of me from my time in the Revolutionary War reenactment group in college. (An odd combination which show that I’m not just trash, I’m nerdy trash.)

In the past few days, a lot has changed. Much of what was on the walls has been replaced by artwork that I’d had for months or years but couldn’t find a place for. The change has been dramatic; I’d expected the removal of so much stuff to make the room look bare, but instead it looks much more lively and colorful. It’s given me a much better idea of what I actually want in a home.

And that should have been my decluttering goal all along: to make a living space focused on the present, not on the past. There’s nothing wrong with remembering and respecting the past, but my bedroom was more like a time capsule than a place to live in. It feels like I’ve given it the first chance it’s had in ten years to breathe and change. Maybe that will help give me the space I need to do the same.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library

Decluttering Quest: breaking the rules

Decluttering Quest: breaking the rules

Today I committed one of decluttering’s cardinal sins: I packed away an entire collection without sorting through it first to see what was worth keeping.

See, in one corner of my bedroom, right between the door and the desk, there’s a stack of three pink plastic milk crates. They’ve occupied that spot ever since I was fourteen, when I bought them to accommodate my growing ABBA collection. At the time, my love of ABBA was an all-consuming obsession. Honestly, “obsession” isn’t a strong enough word to convey my love of ABBA when I was a teenager, and hearing it used to describe my intense interest in anything since then is laughable. If you didn’t know me when I was in high school, you have not seen me truly obsessed.

As you can imagine, I expressed this obsession the way many people do: I bought a lot of stuff. Soon those three crates were packed with records, CDs, DVDs, pins, necklaces, paper ephemera, and all kinds of merchandise – including a complete set of the rare ABBA dolls. But my obsession abruptly came to an end following my fiancé’s death when I was nineteen; ABBA was what first brought us together, and soon the memories I’d associated with the band became so painful that I couldn’t even listen to their music anymore.

Condensing chaos

But the collection remained where it had always been, greeting me from under and increasingly thick layer of dust every time I entered my bedroom. I felt a small twinge of pain every time I saw it all, but I couldn’t just get rid of it. So everything sat there completely untouched for eight years.

I wish I could say deciding to finally pack the collection away was some grand gesture signaling that I’d finally moved on, but it was motivated by simple practicality. While reading a popular decluttering book today it occurred to me that the main reason that stuff accumulated on my bedroom floor was simply because I didn’t have a place to put my purse when I came home. I always set it on the floor leaning against the crates. Soon stuff began to accumulate in front of the purse, then beside it, then spread until it had taken over the whole floor.

I needed to keep my purse and work bag close to the door, but leaving them on the floor was causing all kinds of chaos and putting them on the desk would only move the chaos up there. But if I emptied the crates, I could move my purse, work bag, and other little I’ll-need-it-soon items in there, leaving the floor clear. If there wasn’t anything there to encourage leaving more things there, maybe my floor could be a floor again.

Dusting off the past

I’ve written in this series before about my method for sorting through collections but what I said wasn’t applicable to this particular collection, which is so emotionally charged that it’s much more like a set of mementos. I also wrote before about what happened when I hit my first emotional roadblock while going through my boxes of keepsakes, but the lesson I’d learned then wasn’t practical; letting myself “feel the feels” about this particular part of my life always leads to a small-scale breakdown which renders me useless for at least a couple days. But I needed to do something with the stuff.

I decided that I couldn’t sort through the collection right now – I don’t have either the time or the strength to do it properly. So, going against both my own experience and the advice of every other declutterer, I just thoroughly dusted everything off and put it straight into a plastic storage bin. Even this simple process brought up difficult emotions; I almost burst into tears when I found a set of small photographs, long assumed lost, which my late fiancé had carried in his wallet. But finally everything was packed up, the crates were dusted off, and I had a new place to put my purse and work bag.

Someday when I’m stronger I’ll sort through that bin, if only to figure out which things I should sell or give to other ABBA fans. But for now, I feel better knowing that everything’s still there, even if I can’t see it. (Frankly, not seeing it might be the best thing for me right now.) I’m being ruthless with everything else; I think this is one thing I can afford to put off for a little while.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library

The years start coming

The years start coming

Well apparently it’s been a whole year since my first post on this blog, which has prompted me to take a look back and think about what I intended to do vs. what I’ve actually done.

One thing that’s definitely changed is how personal the posts have gotten. At first I wanted to keep some imaginary “safe distance” between myself and all you lovely readers, but that fell apart a month later when the Pulse nightclub shooting prompted me to ask what I was willing to put up with today (the answer will SHOCK you!). Though I continued with my posts about writing and media (mostly TRON stuff – and yes, I promise I’ll get back to the TRON Tuesday posts once I can finish TRON 2.0), I found that my personal posts got way more views than anything else. And, frankly, they were easier to write. So in recent months I’ve been focusing on personal posts more and will probably continue to do so.

In the past year I’ve also attempted to do a few post series; in addition to the previously mentioned TRON Tuesdays, there were the “Hallowmonth” posts and the time I tried to make all my Friday posts writing-related. The only one I’ve managed to keep up with consistently is the Decluttering Quest series, primarily because it directly tied into my real-world activities. And I’m not finished with that series, not by a longshot. Expect more of that in the future.

The brand goes out the window

Really, I guess you could say this blog has gotten more casual in general. And that’s a good thing. I’m less concerned now with my “author brand” and more concerned with being myself; that’s the only person I know how to be. Maybe this has something to do with how I’ve been increasingly accepting myself as I am over the past year or whatever, but I don’t want to waste your time by unpacking all that.

There’s probably more I could pick apart about how this blog’s gone so far, but honestly I don’t want to dwell on what I could have done better. It’s time to look forward to all the posts I’m going to write in the future. I say we must move forward, not backward, upward, not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

Decluttering Quest: sacred spaces

Decluttering Quest: sacred spaces

It’s been a long time since I last talked bout my “Decluttering Quest,” or my attempt to sort out the massive amount of stuff that’s accumulated in my life over the years. In the time since my last post about it, I finally finished going through all the keepsake boxes in the basement (which I’ll try to revisit in a future post) and moved on to the final stage: cleaning out my bedroom.

I had a plan for how I was going to go about it. First I’d tackle the piles of stuff taking over the floor, then I’d dust everything off (which I haven’t done since the last time I tried to clean my room, and if the stuff on the floor is any indication, that was two MAGFests ago), then I’d rearrange the books and reconsider everything else on the shelves and side table.

But then I got stuck. Every time I tried to clean the floor, more stuff would accumulate there. Even worse, stuff started spilling over into the space I’d been specifically trying to keep clear so I could access my main altar and akhu shrine. “I’ll start doing ritual again once I clean the stuff off the floor,” I kept saying, but the weeks dragged on and suddenly it was time for a holiday I wanted to celebrate: the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. I wrote about my preparations for this holiday in my last blog post, but when the day actually came I still couldn’t access my akhu shrine.

Let’s clean everything

Even though I managed to reach the offering plate to place the little vase full of roses I’d gotten for the occasion, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more. So I took all the dirty clothing that had accumulated in the cleared floor space by the shrine and threw it in the hamper, then washed my hands and grabbed the feather duster.

For the first time since setting it up the previous year I cleaned the akhu shrine from top to bottom, carefully dusting each item and setting it aside, then shook out the altar cloth and dusted the whole area underneath. After putting everything back I lit all the candles (both battery-powered and real) and set down the vase of flowers again.

What surprised me afterwards was how good that simple action made me feel. It felt like I’d finally made an effort to show respect for that long-neglected aspect of my practice, instead of just letting the guilt over doing nothing consume me. Although I still felt nervous about whether I was doing the holiday “right” or not, it finally hit me that in this case, doing it wrong was still better than not doing it at all.

Spiritual decluttering

So when I woke up today, I decided to finally do something about my altar. I wrote before about my altar in my post on “shrine envy,” which for the most part was set up by Seventeen-Year-Old Me while she was “basically stumbling along in a New Age haze trying to figure out what the hell she should be doing, basing most of her answers on what people on Neopagan forums had to say.” As a result, my altar – and my spirituality – didn’t turn out so well:

To put it bluntly, this altar is a mess. So much so that I’m too embarrassed to even post a photo of it. It’s like a visual representation of everything that was wrong with me and my practice at the time: it’s completely unplanned, it mixes things from various areas/traditions that have fuck-all to do with each other, and it puts way too much emphasis on stuff instead of the gods I was supposed to be worshiping.

Because my religious practice slipped off its shaky and materialistic foundation a couple years later, I never really made an effort to fix the mess I’d made. When I finally picked my practice back up a few years ago I was living away from home, so I was able to start from scratch with a nice little shrine box instead. When I moved back home I assumed the stay would only be temporary, but as months turned into years I realized that I couldn’t keep counting on moving away to fix my sacred space.

And as I went about dusting my altar and everything on it today – which was way overdue – I started to think about each piece in terms of decluttering. Only this time, I wasn’t just decluttering my room; I was decluttering my beliefs. Did I still need all these random natural offerings? Would putting them somewhere else really change my relationship to the gods that much? And what about all the little Buddhist items I’d tried to incorporate into my altar all those years ago? Did those have any place in my practice now? Again and again, I answered “no.”

After all the unnecessary stuff was gone, I reorganized everything. Keeping the lotus tealight holders was an obvious “yes” for me (because the lotus is an important symbol in the Kemetic tradition and because they looked prettier than bare electric candles), but the way they’d been arranged on the front of the altar made it almost impossible to place any offerings there. I moved a lot of the smaller natural items and ritual objects into a cedar box and placed my plastic sistrum on top so it was easily accessible, and other items and permanent offerings were arranged in the remaining spaces on the sides of the altar. The icons of the gods were all arranged on the antique butterfly tray so they were the new visual focal point.

Results

My new altar looks a lot more “bare” than the old one, with a lot of open space in the front center than before. But that’s exactly the way I want it: now there’s plenty of room to set down temporary offerings, which are a more important part of the way I practice now.

Maybe it’s not as pretty or coordinated as other people’s altars or shrines. Maybe the icons are smaller and don’t look as cool. Maybe it looks like I couldn’t afford all the fancier ritual items other people can. But it works for me, and that’s the most important part. Although the altar isn’t enough in itself – it’s what you do with it that matters – I feel like the new layout will help my practice a lot. If nothing else, now I can focus on the deities I’m supposed to be connecting with, instead of all the other stuff.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library