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Book Review: The Balance of the Two Lands

The Balance of the Two Lands, by H. Jeremiah Lewis

At a whopping 372 pages, this book was packed with information. I was hard-pressed to put it down once I got it into my hands. I think one of many things I so enjoyed about this book is that it is, like it’s title says, a good balance of things. If you are looking for history, you’ll get that. If you’re looking for polytheism and pagan practice, you’ll get that, too. An even dose of both. It presents the history, mythology and mechanics of ancient Greco-Egyptian spiritual practice without being dry. It also presents very well how one can apply these ancient spiritual practices in the modern era. As modern practicing pagans and polytheists, we won’t be able to recreate everything the ancients did (nor should we, really), but it can provide the seeker and even the long-practicing polytheist with new techniques and perspectives on the application of Greco-Egyptian polytheist practice today.

This book is also excellent for the avid researcher. Packed full of references, resources and quotes, it is quite easy for one to put the book down and go off on their own personal search. Overall this book serves as a great resource for the newcomer as well as for one who has been practicing for awhile and seeks a different perspective or other techniques on how to connect on a more meaningful level with their deities, as well as the history and mythology surrounding them. I would easily recommend this book to anyone who is seeking further information, or just starting out on the syncretic path.

Five slobbering, enthusiastic chew marks out of five.

Categories: Books Tags: ,

I.P.V.B.M.: Fluff, Balance, and Perception

My second installment in a series of posts for International Pagan Values Blogging Month.

As a Kemetic polytheist, I have many reasons why I will not choose to join a temple or related group. Petty politicking, cults of personality, differences in Egyptological interpretation or approaches in practice. In addition, I am a being that walks always on the edge and the outskirts of things. It is part of my path. I find holiness in the taboo, in the borderlines. Like my Patron, I seek ever to be the Edgewalker, between worlds, bridging gaps, passing between boundaries, pushing limits, encouraging others to do the same.

At the same time, I can also be an opinionated person, with passions and a temper that could only be described as Setian in nature. Trying to balance this is a constant feat of self-control, a balance in it’s own right. To find balance between striking down the falsehoods, and respecting differences of opinion, is not always a clear-cut task for me.

Through the course of my travels I have encountered people who claim to interact with the same deities I claim. Sometimes I find this indeed a hard thing to wrap my mind around–their descriptions of them, and interactions thereof, seem to fly in the face of my understandings of them, and even mythological and archeological records of them. I begin to wonder if we are both speaking to the same deity. How does one draw the line between striking down falsehood, and promoting peace and unity, if such a thing can honestly be attained? For the most part, I’ve never engaged in some of the serious, but yet petty, arguments and discussions relating to paganism and polytheism on the internet. Part of this is my avoidance of group settings, another is that I am a private person, I am for the most part, as my name states “solo” in much of my habits and actions. A hermit, in every mythological sense of the word.

That won’t, however, stop me from witnessing certain arguments, or holding a strong disagreement against a certain thing. And you know, when I hear mention of occult-type gatherings where “cuddle piles” are occurring, or some perky and bubbly Kemetic proclaiming “Squee! Seth is my daddy, I’m so much like him, and he loves me soooo much!” it’s going to be very hard to relate to them, or to take them very seriously. This goes beyond the simple fact that I am a very hands-off person when it comes to physical contact or affection, and am not one prone to bubbly, fannish behavior. Then again, I never was one to treat my spirituality as a fandom, but as a way of being, incorporated in all areas of my life.

That would be where I’d define “fluffy”. On the other hand, there are many areas occultists and other pagans would think me a bit fluffy: I identify as an otherkin/therianthrope, I believe in reincarnation, just to name a couple examples. To use the term to strike down a belief structure is, I feel, limiting and closeminded. On the other hand, one should not be so openminded that their head falls completely out of their skull, that commonsense is chucked out the window. No one questions, no one encourages further learning. People take what they are given by self-proclaimed gurus handing them out on silver spoons, or try to warp the deity to fit their own paradigms, until it reaches a point to where they no longer resemble the deity of myth, or the deity of my understanding.

This kind of reminds me of earlier discussions on UPG. My view on this is that it very much has a place in one’s spiritual practice–to strike down UPG as “fluffy” is to deny the creative and individual experience of the sacred. If one adheres slavishly only to what is written in mythology and archeology texts, it grows stale, soulless. Spirituality is an organic experience, and even back in the old days, it grew and evolved and transmuted itself, even on the individual level. Again, as a borderline person, I strongly recommend a balance be struck: the UPG and the VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis), or the CPG (Confirmed Personal Gnosis). Walking this middle line isn’t being wishy-washy, to me it’s only personal balance.

I don’t think that the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, or the otherwise “fluffy” should be suffered. But one has to wonder what is there to be gained by needlessly waging war with such people. While one is out “fluffy buny hunting” as I’ve heard the term used, couldn’t that time be spent in other areas, maybe educating yourself, or otherwise developing important metaphysical skills, occult knowledge, spiritual union with the divine? How much of it are you spending in actually learning? Although I’m not what one would call a pacifist, I’ve lately taken the approach of combating the cotton candy through example, through writings, through research. I can’t be bothered to engage in long debate, or to constantly correct people, no matter how much I think they’re right and they wrong, or what the books tell me otherwise. It’s not to say that I won’t do it, but what I suppose I’m trying to say is that I’m beginning to pick my battles more and more, especially since there are things in my life that carry greater weight than what some person who I feel is a fool is spouting off about on the internet.

On top of all that, maybe I just don’t know enough about a person, especially on the internet, to tell if they’re going through a moment in their life–did they involve themselves with the wrong person or group of people disseminating the wrong information, are they just starting out, or other factors? I had experiences walking out of an abusive, cult-like situation. I also had my early start like everyone else, and said and did some dumbfuck things in the past. I still do. Shit happens.

My point, I guess to boil it all down is: are people willing to learn from their mistakes, or not? I’m not anyone’s daddy, I’m not going to wipe anyone’s asses. I’m still going to write, and share my experiences, or those I am able to share. The rest is up to whatever persons in question, or whatever gods or spirits out there watching over them.

Naukrateia ’09

June 8, 2009 1 comment

Naukrateia

To avoid going into a detailed description of what the Naukrateia is, read this post.

This year I entered an essay for this year’s artisic agon for Neos Alexandria…and I apparently took second place! Yowza. Anyway, below I’ll post my essay for everyone to read. It sums up what the concepts “homesickness” and “homecoming” are to me. Both of which are always a very real part of my life at all times, as I tend to live in an in-between zone, until such a time as a legal marriage or domestic partnership can occur.

I have more to say on the topic of the Naukrateia and the concepts of “homesickness” and “homecoming”, especially as it applies to recent events in my totemic work, but right now here’s my essay.

———————————
Heimweh

When I first laid eyes on him in L.A., I knew he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen or would ever see, and I would spend the rest of my life with him. It didn’t matter to me that we were both of the same gender, or that he was a German national and I was a citizen of the United States. We would make this work, or die trying.

I learned something about homesickness from my grandfather. He spoke often of Germany, the country of his grandparents, a place he only visited once as a soldier during the war, but dreamed about often. He told the family about Wolfhagen, a tiny village nestled in the rolling meadows of Hessia, the place of our ancestors. Much in the way of ancestral storytelling, his dreams became my dreams. When he passed away, those dreams were all I was left with, along with the image of his beautiful smile, and the rampant black wolf of Wolfhagen.

Two tearful goodbyes too many since we met in L.A. My country of birth tells me that our relationship isn’t real, that there is no legal recourse for people like us, and that my partner is not welcome here. But as I stand on the airport concourse, I try to push all of this in the back of my mind. Tonight I’m flying to Germany, and soon I will see what will become my new home, and the partner I haven’t seen in almost six months. I fall into a daze as the plane takes off and heads east over the Atlantic. I have a strange dream. I am sitting in a shining golden barge, cruising down a long and vast river in the sky. I look ahead of me and see a man crouched in the bow of the boat. He has the head of a falcon and two blazing suns for eyes. He bobs his head at me in the quizzical fashion of curious birds. I look next to me and I see my grandfather. His smile is just as beautiful as I remember it.

Germany is a place that reeks of familiarity for reasons I can’t readily explain. The most familiar thing however are the arms of my lover, the only place I would ever truly feel at home. The month begins to pass all too quickly. I learn the local dialects of animals and people. I tour old towns, gaze at at the vaulted ceilings of grand old cathedrals. I contemplate the works of Goethe while dwelling along the same street he walked. I follow in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm, old wolf tracks and grand forests steeped in witchcraft lore. My partner and I make love all night long and into the day. We hold each other every day and night as if we may never get the chance again. For people like us, the possibility always lingers.

It is mere days before I am to leave the country. Right now I try to do my best to banish that thought from my mind as the train to Wolfhagen rolls along. We have to catch a connecting train in Kassel, an epicenter of crop circles and Rosicrucian lore. I doze off against my partner’s shoulder, and I dream of a vast oak forest. A flash of sable through emerald leaves as the wolf dashes away from me. He looks back once, flashes his teeth at me, like white lightning against angry storm clouds. I woke up at our destination and once again was reminded of Wolfhagen’s coat of arms–a rampant black wolf posed among oak trees, as if running. I could feel my grandfather’s presence strongly throughout the trip. The visit to Wolfhagen was deeply emotional, and strangely haunting. Even painful. But necessary. I left something of myself there, and I’m glad I did it.

It’s time to go back to my home country. I can’t really call it “home” anymore. If that mushy old adage is true, if home really is where you’re heart is, then it only lends more validity to that feeling of my heart being torn out as I left his arms at the security gate. The concept of “home” is more than just “where you hang your hat”, a place of shelter. Home can be many things to many people. A place where you are accepted for who and what you are. The place of your ancestors, or your gods. The passionate embrace of your lover.

A man from the Ramesside period once wrote on homesickness:

I am awake, but my heart sleeps.
My heart is not in my body.
All my limbs are seized by evil:
my eye is weary from seeing,
my ear hears not.
My voice is husky,
all my words are garbled.
Be gracious to me! Grant that I may revive.

My heart is not in my body. It lies somewhere over the sea, waiting. Wepwawet, my Father, grant me the Way, that I may come home once again.

This essay is dedicated to all binational GLBT couples who fight every day for the right to live together. Never lose hope.

Quote source:
The Search For God In Ancient Egypt, by Jan Assmann

* Heimweh means “Homesickness” or literally “home ache” in German.

Categories: paganism, Writing Tags: ,

I.P.V.B.M.: First In A Series

June 6, 2009 2 comments

This month is International Pagan Values Blogging Month. A nifty idea, and one I plan on weighing in on as the month goes on.

My values are deeply defined by my own personal life experiences. This is deeply important to me. As a Kemetic polytheist, I seek to uphold Ma’at, which is truth, and rightness. It should be something to note that Ma’at is both a concept as well as a deity, whereas the polar opposite, isfet, is simply an insidious and faceless force, though sometimes represented by the serpent Apophis. Perhaps, to put a face on something is to give it more power. Perhaps that is why I’ve been known to shut down my emotions when it comes to dealing with certain things. Emotions seek to put faces to things, and when something is trying to drag you down or hurt you, sometimes it is better to not give it a face, or look it in it’s face. Better to look straight through it, straight to your goals.

But, I digress a bit, I think.

During the month of June I’ll be addressing the 42 Negative Confessions. These are deeply important to the Egyptian pagan/polytheist. Or they should be. Despite the cryptic verse and the sheer age of these words, the concepts therein are timeless and can easily be applied to postmodern living. I may not be able to address them all, but I will try to hit on some key ones, and discuss those, at least how they mean to me.

Earlier I had this discussion with my fiancee about religion. For those of you who read me or keep tabs on things, my fiancee is a Christian (Lutheran). I’m sure there are some out there who genuinely wonder how a conservative German Lutheran and an American Pagan could possibly hit it off. Sometimes it saddens me when people talk like this. My question would be, why not? Our religions may be different, but our values are fundamentally the same, if not similar. Anyone who tries to boil down my own personal values as being throwbacks to, or just influences of, my former Catholic upbringing, would be to insult me. I am not a drone, nor would I dare to insult myself and my gods gods by assuming that we would have no moral standard by which we should all be accounted for. Sannion hit on some very great points in this area in his post Unity Through Diversity.

In any case, in our discussion, one of many, on the topic of religion and related, he explained to me that he is glad that we share the same values, and happy still that because of my strongly-held beliefs, I would not convert to his or any other religion. This shows that I am strong in my beliefs, that I, as he puts it, have a strong backbone. This is important, deeply important. You would think sticking by one’s beliefs and values to be easy, but it is so much harder when put to the test. One of our greatest tests was to stand before each other, exposed in our spiritual nakedness, and yet to still love each other deeply despite our differences in religion and choice of god or gods. His god and my gods dwell under one roof, if only metaphorically at the moment. This requires a mutual respect and honor. I am not, nor will I ever be, a Christian. But I will respect the god that watches over my lover, because he means more than the world to me. Even the ancient Egyptians acknowledged the gods of other peoples, even if they did not take their gods as their own (though obviously, in the Ptolemaic eras, that’s clearly what they did, and vice versa!).

Separatism can never exist for a healthy relationship. And the more we discuss these values together, the stronger we grow, both within, and with each other. This is deeply important. The willingness to be strong, to hold fast and to not, as one of the 42 state, to transgress. From our beliefs, from our values, or one another. If only I could see this more amongst other pagans. We speak of equality and fairness, but we have to be willing to give it to others, too.

More on this, and related as time rolls on.