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.

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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

The Beautiful Anxiety of the Festival

The Beautiful Anxiety of the Festival

“Would roses be too much?” I wondered, staring at a display of already-decaying white rose bouquets in the supermarket. They were only a few dollars, but I wondered if putting white roses on my bookshelf might draw too much of my parents’ attention to my akhu shrine. “On the other hand, I did used to buy roses when I visited my fiancé’s grave, so…”

I’ve written before about my still-uneasy relationship to death, and how I set up an akhu shrine (or a shrine for the blessed dead) in spite of a whole mess of doubts about the afterlife and concerns over whether the people I’m honoring would be cool with the whole thing. What I failed to mention before was the associated mess of fears I have that I’m not doing this whole akhu thing “right” and that it’s contributing to my status as the Worst Kemetic Ever™. And the whole massive ball of doubts/concerns/fears was recently dragged up by an impending Kemetic holiday.

Beautiful Festival of the Valley

According to the calendar I generally use, this upcoming Friday is the Beautiful Festival of the Valley (or “Beautiful Feast of the Valley,” as some others translate it). Basically, in antiquity it was a “celebration of the dead,” a time to visit the graves of dead loved ones to pay your respects and leave them flowers blessed by Amun. It was one of a couple of festivals honoring the dead that modern Kemetic practitioners still try to celebrate.

The tendency for families nowadays to scatter all over the place (and be buried accordingly) has made visiting all your loved ones’ graves in a single day nigh-impossible for some (including me). This, I think, is a major reason why many Kemetics have created shrines for their blessed dead: it gives them one central place to pay their respects, leave offerings, and do rituals if they choose.

Akhu shrines comes in all shapes, sizes, and configurations (as a quick Google image search will prove) to suit the needs and desires of each practitioner. Many include pictures of the dead loved ones being honored. Mine doesn’t. Part of this is an issue of space for me, and part of it is a desire to keep what I’m doing relatively private. (…Says the person writing a blog post about her practice.) For both of those reasons – as well as a desire to avoid an item acquisition frenzy – both of my shrines err on the side of minimalism.

20170201_124710

My akhu shrine

As the picture above shows, my akhu shrine only consists of a white cloth, a small box decorated with stars (mimicking some tomb paintings I’ve seen), four candles, and a small skull carved out of lapis lazuli. The skull represents everyone I’m honoring. I picked a lapis one because of associations between the stone and the starry night sky; “akh” (plural akhu) is sometimes translated as “shining one,” and in one of the envisioned versions of the afterlife the akhu join the stars in the sky. My shrine my be simple, but I definitely thought that shit out.

But what about those fears I mentioned earlier? Well, in spite of all the thought I put into constructing my akhu shrine, I kind of stalled out when trying to plan how to actually use it. Again, I didn’t know what most of my dead loved ones would feel about honoring them in a Kemetic context (to say nothing of what my parents might think), but my culture also doesn’t really have its own tradition to draw from when it comes to honoring the dead – outside of just visiting a graveyard, that is. And I don’t want to steal another culture’s way of doing it just because it seems convenient or “cool.” So no, you won’t be seeing any sugar skulls in my akhu shrine anytime soon.

So basically this leaves me trying to feel this whole thing out as I go along, combining research with what “feels right” for what I’m trying to do. This most often takes the form of me anxiously asking myself “Am I doing this right?” and myself responding “I DON’T KNOW.”

Would roses be too much?

Which brings me back to the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. Since I’ve missed basically every other holiday since Wep Ronpet (the beginning of the Kemetic year, mid-July), I told myself I wasn’t going to miss this one – especially since my work schedule happened to give me that day off. “Maybe this will give me a chance to make up for not knowing what to do for my akhu on a regular basis,” I told myself. So I read up on it a bit, trying to plan out what I could do myself. Flowers? Offerings? Maybe even ritual drunkenness? Yes, I could do all of those.

Cut to me back in the supermarket. It’s the only place left in town where I could get real flowers, since the local florists had all gone out of business. Standing there, I debated getting fake flowers from the craft store instead, but decided against it since I’ve cut corners far too often with “fake” offerings (in Kemetic thought the image of a thing can have the same magical properties of the thing itself, hence all those elaborate tomb and temple paintings depicting piles of offerings). There’s only a couple holidays honoring the dead a year, dammit; I could afford to get real flowers for them.

“But would roses be too much?”

Maybe not. Roses would be nice, and they’d show I hadn’t completely half-assed this. Besides, roses are one of the only flowers whose smell I can stand; ironically enough they’re the only floral smell that I don’t associate with funerals. I don’t want to be reminded of losing these people in the first place. I want this to be a happy celebration, a way of recognizing that my dead loved ones are still part of my life, in one way or another. So yes, I think I’ll get the roses.

Now to figure out the ritual drunkenness part…

Rounded with a sleep

Rounded with a sleep

For a long while now I’ve been trying to come to terms with mortality – both my own and others’. This process probably started with my fiance’s sudden death back in 2009, but it was something I was still in denial about until friends and friends-of-friends (most of whom were my age or younger) began dying as well. No, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, but I can’t keep pretending like I never will.

Unsurprisingly, confronting death brings up a lot different issues, and trying to come to terms with it has fundamentally changed the way I’ve been thinking about these things. To spare you from a meandering, navel-gazing post, I’ll try to untangle a few of these issues and address each one individually.

Afterlife?

Ah yes, the big one. Every religion known to humanity has tried to address this issue in one way or another. The one I personally subscribe to (Kemetism, which tries to reconstruct the religion of ancient Egypt) has not one answer but several. This is unsurprising since – to my understanding – the original religion was kind of cobbled together from several different local traditions and, when faced with two conflicting versions of the same thing (like the creation myth), basically took a “FUCK IT LET’S DO BOTH” approach. That, combined with the fact that the original religion was around for thousands of years and experienced some changes along the way, means that there really isn’t one definitive answer for what happens after you die.

I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to go into all those changes in thought and funerary traditions, or even summarize them adequately. I hate to leave you all with the vague impressions you probably have of mummies and elaborate tombs and “maybe something about weighing your heart against a feather,” but I really don’t trust myself enough to handle this right and instead advise you to look it up yourself if you’re curious. It’s interesting, I promise.

800px-bd_huneferIs it wrong to wonder if Thoth uses an iPad now?

In spite of my religion’s firm assertion that you definitely go somewhere after you die, I’m really just not sure about it myself. If there is something good after life, that’s great. I guess if it turns out there’s nothing, then I won’t know anyway. Worst case scenario would be that it turns out that I picked the “wrong” faith and, instead of encountering Anubis, I’ll be greeted by another religion’s deity shouting: “OHHHHH! NOW YOU FUCKED UP!” (Or, fourth option, my heart is heavier than the feather of Ma’at so Osiris is the one shouting that I fucked up.)

But in spite of my severe doubts, I did set up a shrine to the blessed dead a few months ago. I’d been resisting it for a long time, mainly because of my uncertainties about what my (mostly Christian) lost loved ones would think of the whole thing, but watching many of my friends struggling with grief over losing one of their friends several months back finally pushed me to do it. I guess doing so was one of my ways of dealing with the whole death question in general; it felt right to set aside a physical space in my life to acknowledge that sometimes the people you love just die, and there’s nothing you can do about it but remember them.

What we leave behind

Coming to terms with my mortality was also one of the big reasons why I began my decluttering quest a month ago. If I accepted the fact that I’m going to die someday, then I also had to accept the fact that I’ll be leaving all my physical possessions behind for someone else – most likely my family – to deal with.

I thought back to my childhood, when all of grandparents died within a few years of each other and I watched my parents struggle through house clean-out after house clean-out. Anyone who’s never done or witnessed one of these firsthand will have to trust me when I say it’s a physically and emotionally draining process, especially when you’re already struggling through grief. And the more stuff you have to sort through, the more draining it is. All of my grandparents grew up during the Great Depression, so they saved anything and everything that might ever be useful out of the fear that someday they’d need something like it and wouldn’t have the means to replace it. You can probably imagine what their basements and attics looked like.

The thought of putting my parents through that again if I died before them – forcing them to sort through twenty-some years’ worth of hoarded keepsakes, papers, journals, plushies, books, and unfinished writing projects – made me sick to my stomach. It’s a major reason why I’ve kept this decluttering quest going, even when it’s gotten tedious or emotionally exhausting; I’d rather take on that burden myself than leave it to someone else.

Seeing death

I guess what really prompted me to write this post in the first place was the fact that my family had to euthanize our beloved cat of 13 years earlier today. I won’t go into all the details about him and his battle with cancer here, because I can’t even begin to unpack all my thoughts about him right now.

One thing I will talk about right now is this: I’m glad I stayed for the whole procedure. See, when a pet is euthanized, you have the choice to leave at any time if it becomes too overwhelming; you can also stay if you want.

As I’d thought everything over after my mom and I first discussed the real possibility of putting our cat to sleep, it occurred to me that I’d been cut out of the actual deaths of all my lost loved ones. Sometimes it was deliberate, like when I was a child and nobody wanted me to be traumatized by watching a pet or relative die. Other times it was accidental, like when I was away at school when our other cat was euthanized two years ago.

I began to wonder how much of my lingering fear of death came from never seeing it. After all, isn’t it always the things we don’t see that we fear the most, like the invisible monsters under our childhood beds? So for that reason – and because I wanted to be at our cat’s side until the very end – I decided to stay in the room through the whole procedure.

For the first time in my life, I saw what dying looked like. (Of course all deaths are different, but I saw what at least one kind of dying looked like.) And it wasn’t scary. It was peaceful. One moment our cat was breathing, and then he wasn’t. It seemed natural.

Death as a part of life

And that’s what death is: natural. All living things eventually die. I think that’s what gives our lives beauty and meaning – the fact that they end. Because we die, we all have to make the most of life, both our own and others’.

If you have just one takeaway from this post, I want it to be this: try to accept death. Learning to see death as natural isn’t morbid; it helps you embrace life. (If you haven’t heard of it yet, check out The Order of the Good Death – it’s a group dedicated to helping people face their fears about death so they can learn to accept it.) I don’t know if I’ve fully accepted it myself, but at least thinking about it has helped eliminate some of my fears about death.

If you aren’t ready to confront death, that’s okay too. No judgements here. But I do hope you will be able to try it someday – it’s a hell of a lot better than living in fear.

On “shrine envy”

On “shrine envy”

I don’t really talk about my religion much, for a lot of reasons. Probably the biggest one is that I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I’m any kind of authority on my faith or that I have it all figured out. You know who thought she had her whole faith figured out? Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me. And then life knocked her down several pegs and she deserved it, because she was a dumbass. So, I don’t want to be Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me again.

That said, there’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so it would probably be better to write a blog post instead of continually ranting to friends who have no reason to give a shit about it. So today we’re going to talk about “shrine envy.”

But first, a little background

I’m an independent Kemetic, so I do my religious practices in my home in a small space dedicated for that specific purpose, which (depending on the setup and whether it’s open or enclosed) people usually refer to as an “altar” or “shrine.” Unfortunately, for various reasons I can’t use my preferred, more recently constructed shrine cabinet setup and have had to revert to using the dresser-top altar that Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me made almost ten years ago.

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.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a little too hard on Dumbass Seveteen-Year-Old Me. In her defense, she didn’t have access to nearly as many resources on Kemetism as I do now, so 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. And the message she inferred was “BUY MORE SHIT OR THE GODS WON’T LOVE YOU.”

So what the hell is “shrine envy,” anyway?

“Shrine envy” is a term used by many of the pagan or Kemetic bloggers I read, which rather loosely translates to the feeling one gets when they look at pictures of another person’s shrine or altar and think “Oh damn, my shrine/altar is crap compared to this, I need to get more/better/shinier/more expensive stuff.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your shrine or altar to look nice, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get shiny or pricey stuff. But it can easily lead into the trap of buying stuff instead of doing stuff.

Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me fell into that trap big time. I think part of it was an attempt to cover up the fact that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, because I hadn’t done my research and had no clue where or how to even begin. So, like an insecure partner in a romantic relationship, I made myself believe that I would make the gods happy if I just bought them a bunch of nice stuff instead of, y’know, talking to them or something. (WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?)

THE GREAT GATSBY
Hint: I wasn’t Daisy in this equation.

Needless to say, my relationship to the gods/my faith in general was on pretty shaky ground. So it’s probably unsurprising that it all sort of fell apart the moment I hit a major life obstacle and began questioning my faith, which had become all show and no substance. I lost my grip because I didn’t have anything to hold onto except a bunch of stuff sitting on my dresser. It took years just to get back to a point where I could start over.

Your point being…?

It’s hard, but if you have a shrine or altar space, try to resist “shrine envy.” Again, it’s perfectly fine to want nice things, but the gods probably aren’t going to care what your shrine looks like, as long as you’re using it. And I mean, would you really want to follow gods who are keeping an itemized list of everything you bought for them and how much you spent on it? I’d sure hope the gods cared more about my actions than the fact that I got my shrine cabinet and lotus offering bowls in a thrift store.

I can’t speak for other traditions but from what I understand, the point of Kemetism is to live a good life, to do your part to uphold ma’at in the universe. That’s what your life is measured against, not whether you had the best-looking statues and offering bowls.