Kemetic Animism: Some Perspectives of a PostModern Kemetic Pagan

Shin “Solo” Cynikos

Drifting through the shadows of the museum downtown, I gaze at faces etched in stone, thousands of years old. Eventually I find what — more like who — I am looking for. Etched into the stela he stands in profile, canine head on a human body, one hand raised to the god of the earth, Geb. I pause, breathless, peering through the glass at that familiar image, lost in my own thought processes. To me, Wepwawet has always represented a very complex set of ideas, beliefs and thoughts. To say that this is the result of one pagan’s relationship with his patron deity would only be telling part of the story, because I am more than just a pagan, and Wepwawet is more than just my patron deity. If I could pick one word, just one, to describe this complex set of ideas, this one word would be Canine. But in order for you to understand just why I picked “Canine” over other words I could have used, I should take some time to explain just who and what Canine is. This concept can be many things, depending on just what facet of my life I happen to be explaining. Breaking something that complex down into the explainable isn’t an easy task, and in the end it can never be fully covered in the scope of a single essay. My hope is to perhaps convey the idea that just as the world around us changes, so too does our spirit world, and even our understandings of spirit and our interactions with it. As I stare through the glass at the image of my patron, something else is taking place here, something more than one pagan’s spiritual reverence for the divine. What one is seeing here is a bridging of the gap, a meeting between the old and the new, a diamonic hiccup in reality where two representations of one vast whole converge. One honors the other, the past feeds into the present, and the transformative flow continues. Here in this essay, I hope to detail briefly my experiences with this rhythm, how it has affected me, and how similar flows can effect others in their relationships with the spiritual and the animistic.

Ever since I was real small I was always fascinated with ancient Egypt and its gods, so it seemed rather inevitable that I would become a Kemet-flavored pagan later on, especially after finding out that they always had an influence in my life. This was an influence I would later grow to honor and become an active participant in, and I haven’t looked back since. Even prior to that though, I held an animistic viewpoint of the world, and this viewpoint fit rather seemlessly in with my Kemetic practices. I saw the neteru themselves not only as gods in their own right, but also the totemic entities of what they represented. As it turns out, this sort of thing was stated very clearly in ancient writings. For example, the 8th Century CE Shabaka Stele has this to say:

“And so the neteru (gods) entered into their bodies, in the form of every sort of wood, of every sort of mineral, as every sort of clay, as everything which grows upon him (meaning earth), in which they had to come into being and assumed forms.”

This quote is only one of many such examples of animism in ancient Egyptian religion, but it is how these examples manifested in my life which brought on the deepest impacts. Wepwawet was a steady presence throughout my life, always watching from the very corners of life itself, or so it seemed to me. However, I always noted that his presence was always the strongest, always the most impactful during areas of initiation and change. Jeremy Naydler, in his book ‘The Shamanic Wisdom of the Pyramid Texts’, says:

The jackal god, in his form as either Wepwawet or Anubis, has been described as “the Egyptian shamanic deity par excellence,” for it is he who not only presides over the initiatory rituals of death, dismemberment, and renewal but also provides the “celestial sledge” (shed-shed) on which the king travels to the sky.”

Those three themes, death, dismemberment and renewal have been ever present in my life since the very beginning, between a rough childhood, pulling myself out of abusive relationships, and dealing with chronic illness. And now, being involved in a long-distance binational relationship for almost two years as of this writing, I am constantly praying that the “celestial sledge” of the modern age will always be available, and running safely, to allow my partner and I to see each other until our relationship can be made legal (which, unfortunately it is not in the US, as we are both transgendered and of the same sex). Travel and safe passage are deeply important, and I always look to Wepwawet to “open the way”, or help show me how I may open it for myself. Right now my current goal is to work and save, so that I may have a nice savings to ensure a smooth, permanent safe passage to my partner’s home country of Germany, and that we may be able to live comfortably once we are married. In an interesting twist of irony, I should note that my immediate family, most of which are world travelers, have prayed to Saint Christopher, which historians point to as a Christianized version of Wepwawet. (Thurston 1996, White 1991).

Wepwawet is Canine. A dog is a threshold creature, whether at the threshold of one’s home, or at the threshold of life itself. Many cultures the world over, even those who never had contact with each other, speak of dogs and other canines as psychopomps, or psychopomps associated with dogs. Wepwawet is an agent of change. So is the Canine-archetype. All I need to do is take a look at all the myriad breeds and species of canine existing in this world today, let alone the wild and the feral breeds and subspecies, and it becomes real to me if nothing more than on a genetic level. Canine is Change. Canine is initiation. Wepwawet is Canine.

Waves of nausea assault me. I feel like a cold vice is crushing my skull, a pain that has been steadily building for some hours now. My vision ripples in front of me, an effect similar to a heat shimmer rising off of a desert road. The world begins to rotate in strange ways around me, and I fight down panic. I cannot panic. If I do, it will get worse and I will lose control. The window of opportunity will shut, and I will be left sobbing into a pillow in agony. I muster just enough coordination to turn the switch on the fan before collapsing into bed, drenched in sweat and shaking from the effort of just getting myself there. I roll over onto my back and begin the Fourfold Breath, forcing my body to calm down, training my lungs out of the habit of snatching shallow breaths from the pain.

I’m very used to these situations. Chronic migraines have become a very intimate part of my existence since being diagnosed with Lyme Disease back in 2005. They came as part of the package deal, and later I became to associate it as a “shaman’s sickness” of sorts. Chronic migraines would not control my life–at least, so long as I learned to control them. The ordeal path was not one I expected to take, but it seems like the unexpected is part and parcel of many shamanic initiations. I’ve learned over the years that I had no choice but to control them. The isolation, pain and depression that resulted if I didn’t was worse, in the end, than facing the pain if I did.

Gradually, my body begins to calm itself. The cool darkness of my room is soothing, and the aura in front of my eyes produces many interesting effects in the darkness. I pay very close attention to it; it tells me things, it’s all part of the process. Eventually I feel my muscles begin to relax, the throbbing in my skull begins to set its own rhythm. The migraine itself has its own life, its own energy. It can be a curse or a gift. I whisper softly their names, and I begin to feel myself drift. It’s a different sensation than the dizzyness, a soothing sensation, like drifting down a lazy stream on a raft. My breathing slows, deepens. As my eyelids droop, the rippling of the aura begins to take shape. It almost seems to resemble the ripples on the surface of a river. Then I realize, that’s exactly what it is.

I’m sitting along the banks of the Nile–I’ve been through this enough times to know by now. Obviously, I’ve been called to the proverbial teacher’s office. I shake off the last remnants of pain from the body I’ve left behind, still laying on my bed. Peering through the brush I see him. He strides along the riverbanks on long, slender legs, his feathers like moonlight, blowing softly in the breeze. I sit there and watch the ibis for quite some time. I know better than to interrupt him, I know he’s called me here for a reason, and he knows that since I was successful enough to answer that call, I can wait but a few moments more. His elegant curved bill browses through the papyrus reeds–I am reminded of a scribe’s steady hand, poised over papyrus sheet, stylus at the ready. There is very little difference between the browsing ibis and the contemplative scribe, and at this very moment both converge before me. Suddenly, he lifts his head in one graceful movement and turns towards me. I feel a pull, a tightening in my chest, and with joy I go to him.

Slowly, gradually my body awakens on the bed in my room. I stretch slowly and very gingerly move my head. The pain, miraculously, has passed. I turn to the digital clock on my nighttable and note that a couple hours have passed. It didn’t seem like that long, but sometimes it seems longer than it really is. It all depends on the journey, in the end. I sit up, and note that the joyful tugging in my chest is still there. I take a deep breath, reach around the side of my bed, and grab the small red Moleskine notebook and pen lying on the floor. I flip it open and, feverishly, I begin to write. The words stream out of me like a torrent, and I find it a couple more hours before I am able to lay down the book again.

Lewis Spence wrote:

Myth is closely related to language, ritual, and symbol. The ancient Egyptians believed that their language and system of hieroglyphic writing were given to them by their Gods, primarily Thoth, who was depicted as an ibis-headed man with pen in hand. Thus, reading, writing, and speaking the Egyptian language were understood to be sacred activities, and in some cases were actually understood to be rituals. The symbolic nature of the scribes’ hieroglyphs–born out of symbols and pictographs–was seen as the ideal medium for the transmission of the sacred stories.

Sacred stories are still being told. They may not be written in hieroglyphs on papyrus, but they still endure. They endure because the gods endure, and because there are people out there who still look and listen to the whole world as it speaks. It’s one of the most important lessons that Djehuty/Thoth has taught me — is still teaching me. Not many people listen to the world around them anymore. Not all language and not all writing is the same, but all of it is important. The old sacred stories need to survive, and new ones are always quivering on the very edge of possibility, just waiting to be born. Djehuty is Word. He is Inspiration. He is Communication. He teaches me how to translate the languages of the natural world.

Later, after I am done writing, I decide to take a walk. Writing for long periods always leaves me with a giddy, high sort of feeling, a feeling I usually need to seek some sort of grounding. I walk out into the backyard for a little while, take a few deep breaths of the cool evening air. I walk over to my favorite oak tree, the one I used to sit under and talk to as a small child. I feel my heartbeat steadying as I lay my hand on the cool bark. I imagine its roots going deep, deep into the ground, into the realm of Wesir/Osiris, lord of the dead and lord of all things growing. I feel a deep connection, a sense of comraderie. My excess energy filters down the tree, back into the earth, life goes back into the ground to rise again. The cycle continues onward. I feel the presences of my Patron, and my Teacher close within my mind, I feel everything around me hum and murmur and whisper with life. Free once more from excruciating pain, words and thoughts and feelings liberated from my mind, I feel as one reborn once more. It’s all a part of the process, and despite everything, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sources:

Naydler, Jeremy. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts. Inner Traditions, 2005.
Spence, Lewis. Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends. Barnes and Noble Edition 2005.
Thurston, Mary Elizabeth. The Lost History of the Canine Race. Andrews and McMeel, 1996.
White, David Gordon. Myths of the Dog-Man. University of Chicago Press, 1991
http://www.egypt-tehuti.org/articles/animated-universe.html

 

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