Why I Chew Onions

"Onions," by Sleepy Neko on flickr.

“Onion Harvest” by sleepyneko on Flickr.

Onions are kind of a shitty food.

They’re hard to peel, with all the paper you have to tear away.
When you cut them open, they release a chemical that burns your eyes.
And when you eat them, they burn at your throat!

The most famous holiday of Bast falls on March 4th this year. We know little about it; we don’t even know why they celebrated it. The name of the festival makes our instructions very clear: it is a day of Chewing Onions for Bast.

Given a childhood of picky eating, it may not surprise you to learn that when I first heard of this festival some five years ago, my response was something along the lines of “no, fuck you.” As it stands now, I’m still not very partial to onions, but I am a sucker for anything fried. Throw a stack of onion rings my way, and we’re all set. I don’t mind them caramelized on a burger, either.

But you know, there’s something more important than whether or not I enjoy this onion chewing. It’s all about why I chew them.

As I said, onion cooking is not a pleasant process. It smells, it stings, it gets frustrating. I find myself crying and, more often than not, cursing myself for having wanted to make something with onion in the first place. But when the onions are diced and simmering in a pan, things start to change. The harsh aroma lightens and becomes something sweet. The pale onions become darker and richer in colour. Before long, they are combined with other ingredients to make something filling and delightful.

"Walla Walla Sweet Onions," by ady_Fox on Twitter.

“Walla Walla Sweet Onions,” by Lady_Fox on Flickr.

Onions are thrust whole into the dark, smothered by earth, yet they reach out toward the light and water. They spring up from the ground and bring forth even more onions than before, rejuvenated by the light of the sun. Earlier in the Kemetic year, a festival of planting onions for Sokar celebrates the process of rejuvenation the dead through this process – chewing those same onions for Bast in merely a continuation of it.

For me, the onions become symbols of transformation toward joy. Thrust in the dark, bringing about tears and pain, they grow toward something better, filled with sweetness that only multiplies. The onions I chew are an affirmation of the growth process Bast has put me through, a reminder that in pain, there is a sweetness to find and produce. My growing process has not been easy. I too have been thrown in the darkness, filled with burning feelings, wondered about the point of it all. Onions can be an excretion of that pain.

That’s why I chew onions for Bast.

The Feast of Tawy (the Two Lands)

II Peret 21 marked the beginning of a ten-day feast to Ptah and Amun; the 11th Day, III Peret 1, marked the Feast of Tawy (the Two Lands). The Kemetic Orthodox calendar noted this as a date celebrating the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, and remarked that it would be a good time to focus on reunification of opposites within our own lives. With the encouragement of some fellow Kemetics, I reached out on tumblr to ask others to join me in celebrating Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertem while working to make whole the opposite things in their lives.

You have no idea how we struggled with the casserole.

Offering spread: blue hydrangeas, raspberries, green bean casserole, apple pie, steak, “Glitter & Gold” by DAVIDsTEA, the heka, and burned down amber incense.

I set out to bring the Memphite triad a feast and (having pacified Them with food offerings) ask for Their aid. Ptah and Sekhmet have played active roles in my self-improvement process, and I hoped that asking for Their continued blessing, and thanking Them for the work They’ve done so far, would go over well. Ptah in particular has focused on the merits of imperfection, and of patience (two things a perfectionist busybody like myself is lacking in, two things that bring me a lot of agony!). While browsing tumblr, I discovered kintsugi - a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, making it more beautiful and valuable than before. Over and over, kintsugi showed up in my life. It was on my tumblr dash, it was on the MFA advert on my bus route, people mentioned it in conversations… and slowly, it became my inspiration for the Feast of the Two Lands.

I would seal the cracks within myself, and paint over them with gold.

Across the ten days  of Ptah’s festival, I meditated on the gods of the Triad, and found myself fixated on beauty. Not necessarily outer beauty, but the beauty of the compassion one shows to others, or the beauty of someone who has a quick wit. What made me beautiful? For a long time, I’ve denied any such thing within me, going so far as to try to convince myself and others of the opposite! And the heka of saying I was a bad person worked, actively taking apart the good within me as I focused on my negative personality traits.

The  drawing isn't good, but considering imperfection is my lesson, that's quite alright.

I own my imperfections, I overcome them. I grow my strengths into beauty.

What makes me beautiful? I asked again and again, and slowly I found answers. What should I improve about myself? I asked, and I found within many wonderful traits beginning to bud? What toxins should I  remove from myself? I asked, and viciously I tore at the developments I wanted gone.

Inspired by SatSekhem, I also laid a metaphorical feast before my gods. My toxins, that they would be torn from limb to limb, as the enemies of the King are destroyed. My seedlings, that they would blossom into a better self to serve the gods. My beauty, that it may bring honor to the Netjeru of Kemet. I laid a votive offering of myself beneath the glasses full of my attributes, a reminder that I belong to Them.

Festivities completed, I walked away from the offerings, exhausted and humbled. A week later, still working on finishing off the offered pie, having lived through an emotionally intense weekend, I feel closer to whole. I hope the same can be said of Sat, who also participated in the Feast of the Two Lands by focusing on her own shadow work. I think that our goal is a good one – there is no true nation of Kemet these days, only the practitioners. It feels fitting to pay attention to ourselves, now that we are Kemet, during celebrations of the nation that lives in our hearts.

I daresay I consider this first attempt at a modern rendition of Ptah’s festivals a success; I can’t wait to come to it again next year, with hopefully more to offer.

Everywhere, Everywhen.

In catching up with a blogroll that I have neglected since April, I came across this post by Kaye. She discusses being overwhelmed by the juggling of gods and spirits, trying to sort Them into a schedule that allows her the time to give Them all honor. It’s familiar to me: it seems like every time I build some grandiose schedule of plans, everything falls apart.

My recent major fallow time came with my brief relationship with Persephone and the way it managed to quickly crumble under my feet. When I moved back to Boston at Wep Ronpet, I finally began to pick up the pieces. As I am currently couch surfing and subletting in my attempt to find a long-term place to stay, I move frequently. In my second location, I had a private room, where I made the large windowsill into a shrine. For a few weeks I did a daily rite (Senut), and it felt grand. Then I moved into another location. Here, I am on a couch in a living room with no privacy. My shrine goods are packed away, to be unused until I can find some safe space for them again.

It hasn’t taken long for me to feel empty again. I reached out to the community on Tumblr and received a lot of great suggestions, but have yet to really act on them. It’s taken me a while, but I think it’s time to have Zep-Tepi in my life again.

So, I can’t do Senut – not by traditional means, at least. Not even a travel shrine is happening where I am. I can, however, return to crafting, learning, and writing. These are all things I have done in the past, why stop because I can’t put together a shrine? I can start to figure out how to do pocket magix – little pieces of heka drawn onto folded up papers from my pocket book. I can knit my hippos, I can write my modern myths. I can read Pinch’s Magic in Ancient Egypt, which I picked up at the Harvard Coop, and with which I have been very pleased. I can continue to reach out to the rest of the Kemetic and pagan communities via forums and Tumblr and Facebook.

I am a deity-focused polytheist. The devotee-Divine relationship is something I have hungered for since childhood. Being as head-blind as I am, it’s hard to remember that Netjer is with me regardless of what rituals I may – or may not – be performing. They are manifest everywhere! They live in the people of Kemet, those bloggers and friends that I keep in touch with; They live in the joy of creative work; They are in the reading of fiction and non-fiction that I have begun; They are in this city that I adore.

I only need to begin to look.

PBP9: Expectations (You Can’t Always Get What You Want)

There are members of my religious community whose lack of involvement makes me frown. When it comes to Kemetic Orthodoxy, I expect involvement in the community. To me, it doesn’t make much sense to join the faith if you do not intend to participate in the religious rites – be it personal rites like Senut, or community gatherings for heka or praise of the gods and ancestors.

This is the story of how my gods completely and utterly humbled my high expectations.

 

(Trigger warning: depression and menstruation feature here, though I do not cover them heavily.)

After a week in Arizona, I came back refreshed and eager to get back to my religious practices. I had some success in divination with non-traditional tools, I had felt at home in a climate like the one my gods called home, and I had on one day performed the Senut rite (in spite of my travels) with relative success. I wrote up a big post on this blog, lining out all the things I intended to do in the month of April.

I promptly proceeded to fall apart, and not do a single one of those things.

 

I began menstruating on April first, and as of this writing, I have not stopped. It’s a light flow and it’s not a sign of medical danger (it’s a side effect of my new medication, and SHOULD balance out in time). However, all bleeding in Kemetic Orthodoxy is ritual impurity, and so I did not attend to the shrine rite.

In March, I had become aware of the creeping tendrils of depression, and began seeking medical help, but by the time that help arrived in April, I was already deep in the darkness. I found myself unable to do anything but vegetate in order to avoid my broken thoughts, and I did not attend the rituals, lectures, and fellowships that I had promised to attend.

My depression and time away from the shrine built up feelings of inadequacy. I did not attend to my devotional practices. I did not offer prayers, nor did I celebrate holidays. I did not offer water or tea or bread or anything – I did not so much as brew or cook or bake the things I had intended to make. I bid Persephone leave, told Her that I could not honor Her today – or perhaps any day. For a month, I barely even spoke to the gods.

The high expectations I had held were shattered. Though I had made these goals with the intent of being a better shemsu, my desire to better myself was poisoned with the desire to prove that I am better than others. For that, the gods have humbled me. They did not bring on my depression or my bleeding; in fact, They even offered advice through omen, divination, and coincidence. “Use this time to better yourself, use this time to focus on other things, use this time to finish your semester.” Time and time again, I ignored Their advice, spoke out in anger. I dare say my Fathers have grounded me for my petulance: my laptop has unexpectedly malfunctioned this week, though I do have my mother’s creaky machine for backup.

I’ve learned a few lessons here, but the most important is that my expectations do not matter. The world will do what it will. The gods will do what They will. And so will people.

 

For all the people who I have hurt with my high expectations of what shemsu should and should not be: I am sorry for my lack of compassion.

For all the gods and spirits who I have insulted, I am sorry for rejecting You and Your advice.

For my ka: I am sorry that I have not respected you or worked on caring for you.

Today, I will work on fixing these slights, and building very different expectations of shemsu, of Netjer, and myself

Image by Emky - unorthodoxcreativity.com/emky

PBP8: Doing, or Heka is Action

Our words are heka. Our deeds are heka. When our words and deeds back each other, our heka grows stronger.

I belong to a gaming community that uses the fun that gaming provides to raise money to be donated to charitable organizations that cause some sort of freedom (not necessarily literal freedom. Our biggest fundraiser to date was for charity: water, creating freedom from thirst). February marked the first anniversary of Fun for Freedom, and the beginning of monthly charity fundraisers, in addition to the twice-yearly Zeldathon.

April is Autism Awareness Month, leading FFF to the choice to support Autism Speaks. This organization, despite being highly visible, is not a good choice. The short story is that it is not fiscally responsible, it promotes othering and demeaning stereotypes of autism, it spends much of its money on researching scientifically discredited theories about the cause of autism, and spends very little of its budget on autistic families. You can learn more about Autism Speaks controversies here.

Within the Pagan community, I have seen my share of people who point fingers, say angry words, and carry on with no suggestion of how to fix things. But our heka is not just magical words, but actions. In the terms of the Witches’ Pyramid, we can’t just know and will, but must also dare. And so, rather than my initial outcry of “are you serious?” I found it important to send links documenting the problems Autism Speaks shows, and link to other potential recipients of the donations.

The community admin reached out to me later that day with an alternative, Autism Cares. While it wasn’t quite all that we both hoped for, it met the needs of the community’s crowdfunding platform and has a lot of transparency. So far, I have not seen othering, but support. While there is not much in the way of resources for adults who fall on the autistic spectrum, the community outreach for area families is lovely; and though there are no autistic people on the board of directors, their families are (and I bet their kids aren’t denied child care like those of the employees of Autism Speaks). If you would like to join us in raising money for this organization, Fun For Freedom’s fundraising campaign can be found here. Even if you don’t have a lot to give, it’s a little heka for a community of people showing that people do live with autism, not suffer because of it.

 Privilege check: I do not live within the autistic spectrum.

Image by Emky - unorthodoxcreativity.com/emky

April 2013: Goals

Daily:

  • I will perform the Senut rite each day, honoring my four great gods.
  • As I rise each morning, I will drink a cup of tea in honor of Bast and Hethert.
  • I will practice daily divination in honor of Wepwawet as the Opener of Ways, to better hone my skills.
  • I will work on blog drafts each day.

Weekly:

  • Each Sunday, I will honor my Akhu, and veil in their names.
  • Each Monday, I will work on my research and writing.
  • Each Tuesday, I will bake a loaf for the week’s offerings in Ptah’s name.
  • Each Wednesday, I will attend the weekly event put on by the House.
  • Each Thursday, I will perform a rite for Persephone, and veil in Her name.
  • Each Friday, I will harvest from the gardens.
  • Each Saturday, I will work some heka for Aset.

Holidays:

  • The First Day of the Month: 3/31 marks the beginning of the first month of Kemetic harvest season.
  • Procession Into the Dark for Sokar: 4/10 is the new moon. I will continue my work on lunar celebrations for Sokar.
  • Festival of Queens: the week of 4/21 to 4/27, the House of Netjer will celebrate the Queenly gods.
  • Procession Under Sokar’s Eye: 4/25 is the full moon. I have not celebrated this holiday for Sokar yet!
  • The End of the Month: 4/29 will mark the end of the Kemetic Orthodox month.