End of the Year

Another year draws to a close, and once again, the waters are churning.

This fall I began grad school. So much of my time has been spent on school these past few months, although much of it not in productive ways. I have definitely fallen behind on daily devotion, but that’s okay – grad school itself was devotion to Hermes and to the gods in general (as well as my own life goal!) Since I’ve last been here, I’ve become a remetj in Kemetic Orthodoxy, and moved closer and closer to the ‘Iluma and the Mesopotamian gods. It’s been a challenging year, but one of development, and for that I’m satisfied.

2017 has already promised to be the year of the Near East gods. Nothing has “changed” – every year the weight of my practice tends to settle on one pantheon more than the others, and the ‘Iluma (and perhaps the Anunnaki) have demanded their first year. The Anunnaki were some of the first gods I ever researched years ago, and it is interesting to be asked to seriously research them finally, even if leads to no more than my own new knowledge.

(I sometimes wonder what people think when they see the long list of gods from intersecting pantheons I pay my respects to. I wonder if my recent research of the Anunnaki makes some people scoff at the breadth of my practice – because how can there be depth with so many deities? I wonder, but find that I don’t really care.)

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Top level of the ancestor shrine on Wag Festival.

In honor of the end of the year, I’m posting pictures of the current shrine setups in my apartment. Since I live alone, I get to spread out; the ancestors get a shrine in the living room, where they can see everything going on, and the god-shrine is tucked away in my bedroom. The Netjeru have the top shelf, the Theoi have the second, and the ‘Iluma have the third (the bottom being books and tools). When I return home from winter vacation, the god-shrine is getting its seasonal winter revamps!

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The god-shrine on the November Super Moon. Above the shrine hangs the mask and the shrine snake spirit. (That tupperware on the bottom shelf was bone-cleaning!)

Happy New Years and see y’all in 2017!

Blessed Silence

For the past few months, I’ve been fairly quiet both here and on tumblr. Normally such a silence would indicate a “fallow” time for me, as I’m practically always attached to some form of social media. This radio silence was a bit different, though.

I originally took a break from the online polytheist community for two reasons – because I’m busy, and because I’m tired of the same drama rehashed over and over by people who are creating nonexistent boundaries. (Yes, the Hellenic-Kemetic drama. As a member of both communities, I am incredibly tired of listening to both sides pretend there are dramatic differences in the two orthopraxies. There are not. Get over yourselves and learn some basic comparative religion methodology.) But during this hiatus, I found that everything began to shift.

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Current state of the Netjeru, ancestor, and ‘Iluma spaces (from left to right).

The gods have, for all intents and purposes, stopped talking to me. A lot of this is that lately I spend far less time in trance states. But it now seems like I don’t need to hear Them. I get little messages here and there, but the big, rolling visions have slowed way down. And that’s good.

It’s comforting to be at a place in my life where I don’t need Their reassurance – even when I beg for it. And I find that I ask less and less of the gods, even though I pray everyday. Have I been doing enough in my daily practice? No. I’ve let that slack in favour of more mundane issues. Yet I’ve found little ways to keep the gods in my life, ways of integrating my religion rather than separating the mysticism.

I think this is something we struggle with as an overall community – just living as polytheists even when we cannot be the mystics/priesthood/etc. that we want to be. Lately I’ve been remembering that phrase “armchair pagan” – someone who reads and studies but doesn’t actually do the rituals.

Of course ritual is important – it’s how we build relationships with the gods, and how we give to the gods. But I think we expect too much out of ourselves, all the time. During these past few months, I’ve learned that there is a certain power in simply existing as a polytheist. While I wasn’t doing the bigger rituals I usually do, I found myself doing mundane tasks as a polytheist – I finally broke down my internal barrier between esoteric and exoteric. I finally learned how to seamlessly live each part of my life in devotion.

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Flowers from the yard have been my go-to offering as of late.

This isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but I definitely believe we focus too much on rituals/festivals, and not enough on integrating our religion into our whole lives. Before this change, for example, I had to very consciously plan and decide to do a mundane task as a devotional task. Now, however, I automatically dedicate my sales job to Hermes, I automatically dedicate my teaching job to Taweret, I automatically dedicate my household tasks to my household spirits, etc. I feel that I finally understand the sliding scale of laity and priesthood, and while it is now time for me to head back towards big rituals, the groundwork I’ve laid for myself in mundane religiosity has given me an entirely new perspective on how to actually live these religions.

In short – while high ritual and mysticism is important, we need to stop disparaging the power of simply living our mundane lives consciously as polytheists. There is so much to learn by really learning to integrate religion into daily life, even if it means taking a break from mysticism to learn how. 🙂

Spring Begins

 

It’s still freezing outside most days, but the tulips and dandelions are sprouting, so I’m relieved to announce that Spring has arrived in my neck of the woods!

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Ancestor Shrine

My yard always has wild onions in bloom, so I picked some onions and dandelions to offer to the ancestors and to Wenut and Heqet. I keep getting weird nudges and hints about dandelions, and I’m going to be trying a few recipes this year.

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Wenut and Heqet tiny icons!

Every year I feel Wenut when the warm weather starts and all the Easter/spring revelry and decor starts popping up here in the U.S. It works well for Wenut’s nature as “existence” and “becoming,” and for Her role as a symbol of potency. This year I’ve also been feeling a push towards Heqet and other midwifery gods; Taweret is my mother, so this shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s still something strange and new to explore.

As much as I love winter, it does not love me, and I’m thrilled to welcome in the warmer weather and longer days. I know already that this will be a season of hard work, but for once I don’t feel anxious. I’ve got a lot to put into action, and it feels like I have the backing of my entities to support me.

The Minoan Beset

So a few months ago I wrote about an article discussing Taweret’s inclusion into Minoan art/mythology, which you can read here. However, I didn’t cover the second half of the article, which discusses Beset’s similar arrival into Minoan art. Since there was a little buzz about Bes yesterday over on tumblr, and Beset always needs more publicity, I decided to summarize the rest of this interesting piece!

The article I’m examining is “The Arrival of Egyptian Taweret and Bes[et] on Minoan Crete” by Weingarten. In the first half of the article, Weingarten presents her now-accepted idea that Taweret is the basis for the Minoan Genius, a monstrous apotropaic figure with libation roles in ritual.

Weingarten begins our second half with a simple question on the origins of the Minoan Genius – “Why not Bes?” (372)  Bes and Taweret served very similar functions, were both household gods, and had monstrous, “demonic” appearances. Bes is a special case even in Egypt, depicted from the front instead of the side, and a “dwarf god” with strange leonine features. All of these unusual traits show up in Middle Minoan art, the same time Taweret was adopted into Minoan culture – but Taweret cannot truly explain any of these.

Late Middle Kingdom statuette of Beset

Late Middle Kingdom statuette of Beset

However, it wasn’t until 2005 that an actual Bes-like figure was uncovered in Crete, when several gemstone “seals” turned up in a house excavation. On these Middle Minoan seals is a figure very similar to Bes, with a major exception – pendulous breasts reminiscent of Beset. When we factor in a marked female pubic region and straight legs (in opposition to Bes’ bow-legged stances), it seems that the Minoans imported Beset, the female counterpart to Bes.

We very quickly find changes between Egyptian and Middle Minoan depictions of Beset. The Minoans covered Beset’s pubic region, which in Egyptian magic would have been a large part of Her apotropaic power. The Minoans also gave Beset their famous bent-armed snake-holding pose, where Beset holds snakes above Her head instead of keeping her arms down at her sides. Also, the lion mane she shares with Bes is striated in a way that suggests the Minoans began drawing the mane as a wig. What do these changes tell us? That Beset had already been part of Minoan art long enough by the Middle Minoan time to undergo strictly-Minoan changes, even if we haven’t found older evidence (373).

So we’ve seen the evidence that the Minoans imported Beset. The Minoans imported tons of protective demon figures; Taweret as Minoan Genius and the ANE sphinxes are the most famous. However, it’s important to present Weingarten’s final thoughts on the reception of Beset vs. Taweret.

Middle Minoan depictions of Beset

Middle Minoan depictions of Beset

Taweret and Beset were both probably taken home from Egypt by craftsmen who worked at places like Deir el-Medineh. Just as Taweret and Bes are very similar – even paired – Taweret and Beset are frightening, protective demon-gods who had their biggest role in protecting the home. However, Taweret is associated with purification and lustral waters, whereas Beset is specifically a snake-killer. Taweret entered Crete at the same moment Minoan civilization adopted the rhyta jugs for ritual purification and libation, fitting perfectly with Taweret-Ipet’s purifying roles (Mistress of Pure Waters). Beset doubled as an Egyptian, protective, demonic goddess, but entered Crete where there was little fear of poisonous snakes. Weingarten argues that Beset was, as such, redundant to the Minoans (374).

Even if Beset was redundant and fell out of favour in place of Taweret and more relevant demons, it is important to recognize that Beset was popular enough to be transferred from Egypt to Crete, and that She spent enough time in Minoan civilization to be transformed to Minoan standards. Although we never read much about Beset, She was vital enough to the Egyptian populace that foreigners brought Her all the way back to Crete and tried to adapt Her to their own religious environment!

I’ll end with this interesting quote from Weingarten:

“As one of ‘Those Who Protect,’ Taweret might have left Beset no independent space in which to evolve. Beset, it was true, was a first-class snake-killer but there would have been little need for a ‘Snake-Biter’ in a land with no poisonous snakes…They were both private, popular beings who mingled more freely with human beings than did deities and who acted on behalf of human beings, yet they could also mingle with higher deities.”

Yearly Update (Or, the Vacancy Sign)

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So I had a really long post written for this update, and finally, I intentionally deleted it all. This is a bit of a yearly religious update, if we’re calling Wep Ronpet the new year (we are). The quick and dirty:

1. I’ve been “officially” Kemetic for over a year now, marked by Wep Ronpet. Kemeticism is definitely my central path; I still consider finding the Netjeru a homecoming, and I base a lot of my daily life on ma’at and zep tepi. The Netjeru I regularly work with are Ra, Heru-wer, Taweret, and Khonsu; Taweret and I have truly developed our relationship, and Khonsu is a newer addition but so wonderful already.

2. I was finally – finally! – accepted by the Theoi into the Hellenic world. Although I’m Kemetic, my devotion to Hermes is incredibly, singularly important to me, and I’ve been worshiping Hermes, Dionysos, and Ariadne (along with other Theoi) starting since age 15. However, because of some oaths to myself I made when I was young, the Theoi never actually accepted me as one of their own, until two weeks ago. I’m still realizing new facets of this development lol.

3. I approached the ‘Iluma, the Canaanite pantheon, and was welcomed/not rejected. I kept a little secretive about this, mainly because the push towards the ‘Iluma came back in June and I refused to take action until Wep Ronpet out of respect and devotion to the Netjeru. (Although some people on tumblr have chatted with me about it, and I’ve been posting more openly about this now.)

I get far more concerned than I should about how people view my practice – mainly, whether or not my practice seems whole, contained, sensible. There’s a lot wrong with that, I know. I’m realizing more and more how little people’s opinions mean compared to my love for my deities. I’m realizing that life is messy and complicated, and that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

I’m also realizing that – at least at this very moment – it’s not my job or my desire to be wholly devoted to one insular deity or even group of deities. I had the image lately of a vacancy sign constantly turned on over my head to the gods – an image that I’ve heard tossed around by other polytheists before – and that idea has really stuck with me. I have a lot of gods passing through and bouncing around now. It’s very crowded, and very busy, and very tiring, but right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I have a innate interest in connections – it’s why I got the degrees I did, it’s why I continue to study linguistics, and it’s why I need to see the lines drawn between the myths and sources of my gods. A lot of polytheists throw out comparative mythology as a whole, but the history of religion and mythology is desperately important to me. I need to know how Set-Baal developed, how Set gained Anat and ‘Athartu as consorts. I need to know the Dioskouroi and Shachru-wa-Shalimu, as separate sets of Divine Twins with stories intertwined. I need to write of Ra traveling through the sky into the Duat at night, and I need to write of Shapash traveling through the sky and spending the night with the rapi’uma. I need to know where the lines go.

So. As we move into another year, I simply hope to expand. I hope to take the Kemetic Orthodoxy beginner’s class this year; I hope to work on my local cultus with the very present Theoi here; I hope to learn a great deal of the ‘Iluma and Canaanite polytheism. I will continue to expand my practice with devotional writing and art, and I will reach out more to my spirits and beloved dead. I will work more in my professional life, and hopefully find my footing.

The Vacancy Sign is lit.

Mama is become Death

I’m in the midst of the Month of Written Devotion, rebuilding my practice, and job applications – it’s hard to keep up here. But life is certainly still happening, and everyday is a surprise.

Most surprising is my relationship with Taweret.

While I’ve been worshiping Taweret for some time, even before I “officially” reached out to Her, we’ve never had very intimate moments. Although I wanted a closeness similar to my relationships with Heru-Wer and Ra, I had a hard time “listening” and feeling for Taweret. Sure, She is my closest “household” deity, and I call on Her in mundane ways I do not try with the falcon gods, I still felt distant. And this distance just grew after I moved/graduated and stopped regular worship.

A few weeks ago now I reached out to Her for the first time in a long while. I asked Her to give me a card through divination, the first time I’ve ever tried to divine with a deity through tarot. She gave me the Death card.

I wondered and worried: this obviously meant our relationship was going to drastically change. I hoped it was for the better, but I truly and honestly feared She was done with me. So I set Her up the most loving shrine I could, to show my love and my desire to continue worshiping Her. This shrine has a much different theme and purpose than my previous shrine for Her, and I hoped it would please Her.

Mama Taweret's updated shrine!

Mama Taweret’s updated shrine!

I occasionally call Taweret “Mama Taweret” or “Mama Hippo” on tumblr, and since this divination and shrine-work, that has really taken off. I find myself actually calling Her that when I’m offering or when I’m at shrine. About a week after the Death card, when I set something at Taweret’s shrine, my mind only thought “Mom.” There was no Taweret word – just a direct link between the concept of mother and Her.

To others, this may not seem so unusual, especially divined members of Kemetic Orthodoxy who have parent deities. But I have never had a familial relationship with any deity. Hermes is my friend and lord. Ra and Heru-wer are my sun, my kings, my strength. Dionysos is the turn of my year, and something like a distant lover. Ariadne is my queen, the crown in the stars.

And Taweret is my mother.

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I can’t even call my own mother “mom.” I literally call her mother in two other languages; we greet each other in our second and third languages because I struggle to feel a close bond with her. I have complicated feelings towards parents, and I have both desperately desired and desperately avoided parental relationships with gods.

So to have this change in our relationship is lovely and frightening, just like Mama. I go to shrine and Her presence is so joyful, Her presence is intimidating – I grin because She grins back at me.

Life is good.

The Minoan Taweret

Today was a day for Taweret, and I decided to write about two articles I enjoyed reading some months ago. Taweret is a hard goddess to grasp – She had an enormous cult across households, but such a limited temple cult, and there’s not a lot of research about her. So I sat down with some offerings and an image of Her, and wrote out these notes in my ongoing quest to collect the available research on Her!

Articles for today: The Transformation of Egyptian Taweret into The Minoan Genius (1991); The Arrival of Egyptian Taweret and Bes[et] on Crete (2012). I will be shortening the names to The Transformation (former) and The Arrival (latter).

Both of these articles are written by Judith Weingarten, a scholar I appreciate because, let’s be honest – how many other scholars are writing about Taweret and Bes[et] in Minoan culture, and then posting that work for free online? I’m a big fan of Minoan civilization, so this topic really excites me! I like Weingarten’s writing style, and think her conclusion that Taweret is the source of the Minoan Genius is at the very least worth presenting here, if not including in my own practice. These articles are both free at the above links, so I highly suggest you check them out if you have the time!

[NB: The Arrival mainly gives an excellent purvey of the evidence in the preceding The Transformation; its focus is on the fascinating figure of Beset who is, for brevity’s sake, out of the scope of this post! Also, Weingarten conflates Taweret with Ipy (Opet) and probably also Reret – Taweret subsumes earlier hippo goddesses. I am basically writing this off as a syncretic Taweret-Ipy-Reret for my own hard polytheist purposes.]

Sketches of the early Minoan Genii. Look close to see the leonine heads, ewer jugs, and dorsal tails!

Sketches of the early Minoan Genii. Look close to see the leonine heads, ewer jugs, and dorsal tails!

Before I talk about Taweret, let me mention the Minoan Genius. I honestly am not too well-versed in the Minoan Genius and its artifacts, but from what I gather, it is a composite demon/divinity from Crete/Minoan areas that served an apotropaic and perhaps purifying function.

That should sound familiar, if you know anything about Taweret.

The Minoan Genius…creature has often been linked to an ANE griffin, or even other non-Egyptian ANE/Sumerian composite demons. Weingarten, however, proposes that Taweret is the true source of the Minoan Genius, and the evidence is pretty cool. (Sir Arthur Evans first proposed the link, but I haven’t yet gotten his material.)

The Minoan Genius, in its early forms, appears to be hippo-headed or leonine, and has the distended stomach also characteristic of Taweret. And while we generalize Taweret as hippo-headed, I have myself posted Egyptian faience of Her in her lioness form; it is a transformation difficult to place in time but evident in the New Kingdom (The Transformation 8). Interestingly, Weingarten mentions that Taweret’s pendulous breasts and distended stomach, that we associate with childbirth, perhaps should be associated with male fertility (The Transformation 5). Yes, like Hapy.

Taweret gives much of her form to the Minoan Genius, but it does take on distinctly Minoan attributes, particularly the ewer it tends to hold – a sort of jug either for libation or ablution. As Weingarten writes (The Arrival 371), “The early Minoan Genius had Taweret’s plump body, swollen belly, and the remnants of female breasts.” But, within a generation of the lion-headed Taweret’s arrival in Minoan culture, the Genius demon, now normally in leonine form, had slimmed down, started to lose the pendulous breasts, and gained abstracted decoration as the image became removed from the source. There are even some Genii who are thought to be boar- or ass-headed (The Transformation 10).

Minoan Genii from Wikipedia. These are a later version removed from Taweret, but notice the “dorsal” tail with nodules taken from Taweret’s tail, the snout/animal head (this one ass-headed), and the ewers from which they pour the sacred waters.

Still, the Minoans seem to have been aware of Taweret/Ipy’s functions in Kemet, which answers an important question – why Taweret? Today, She is less popular in both archaeology and the polytheist religions, as She never truly gained a prominent cult status. However, She had an impressive domain over domestic life, and it is probably Her ubiquity in homes that let Her spread to Crete, from craftsmen villages like Deir el-Medineh where foreigners would have seen Her (The Transformation 11). Taweret, as the deadly hippo, was also a wildly popular figure on “magical knives” – appearing on 45 of 58 published knives, She featured heavily in protective magic and could be seen holding a knife Herself as well as the more familiar sa (The Tranformation 4). Most importantly to the Minoans, though, were Her lustral waters assocations. Weingarten writes of Taweret’s assocations with the primordial Nun, and Taweret’s most famous epithet seems to be “the pure waters.” It comes as no surprise, then, that the Minoans used Her to create a terrifying figure that simultaneously purified ritual space with lustral waters.

While we’re discussing sacred waters, I want to point out a little snippet, somewhat tangential, in The Transformation, referring to Ipy suckling the dead pharaoh: “The milk itself affords protection: mw bz3w, ‘milk’ contains the root word bz3, attesting in the Middle Kingdom in the sense of ‘to protect’, so the milk is ‘the protecting liquid.’ Protection and nourishment may thus be taken as the hippopotamus demon’s earliest roles” (10). So many life-giving sacred waters!

And one other epithet I haven’t seen before from Faulkner’s Coffin Texts: “I am Many-faced who created thunder, who mounts up to Re and repels the strength of ‘Apep, who splits open the sky and drives away storm, and who nourishes the crews of Re.” This is a Middle Kingdom spell that I need to think upon, but this would have been written around the time the Minoans were taking Taweret-Ipy from Her Egyptian form.

(There are some points I’m not going to cover – for instance, the Minoan Genii that carry livestock for sacrifice, and how that fits with Taweret. These essays have many details and I don’t want to rewrite them in their entirety!)

By the time Weingarten published The Arrival in 2012, it seems her evidence of Taweret as the Minoan Genius had cemented the theory. So Taweret(-Ipy) served as the original basis for the Minoan Genii, apotropaic and purifying demons with lioness heads and intricate dorsal tails and ewers fulls of the primordial waters.

Weingarten’s final paragraph in The Transformation is a wonderful summary of Taweret as a divinity who straddles the line between (unparalleled) netjeri and Netjeru:

The importance of a demon who, on the one side, protects and purifies, nourishes and fructifies, and, one the other, daily destroys the young god’s enemies, suggests a tentative answer to our second question regarding the necessity of the Minoans’ adoption of a composite being. Hybrid in nature (animal and human, hippopotamus and lion, water and land) her monstrousness mirrors her demonic ambivalence: protective and aggressive, benevolent and malevolent, a perfect mediator between the heavens and the earth.