She Calls Me Priest.

This is the longest thing I have ever written for this blog, or any other blog. Kudos to you if you get through it.

I began preparing my body as I always do; with the slow, familiar scrape of a blade along my scalp. I cut off my connection to the outside world and renew the commitment I hold in my heart that marks me as something different from every other stranger that walks down the sidewalk. I remove from myself any outside influence that is held to me by my hair, a veritable sponge of energy and emotions and expectations. My empty hand follows along behind the razor and assures me that I have not missed a spot and have not left a thread hanging which will lead me spiritually astray. I know that when I neglect to shave my head on a regular basis, my signal clarity suffers greatly. I get depressed more easily. I feel more removed from my Gods.

This is not the true beginning of my preparations. They began in earnest early in the morning when I returned from my paycheck job. I anointed various locations on my body with oil and prayed that, if I was missing any piece of the instructions or if there was anything new I needed to learn in preparation for the upcoming ritual, it would be communicated to me via my dreams. I lay down to sleep impure in body and in setting, at least in the ways that mattered for later that day.

My sleep was dreamless, or at least there were no dreams that I could recall upon waking. I took this as a sign that I was prepared to carry out the ritual to the best of my ability. Waking has been hard lately, though, and that afternoon was no exception. I was bone-weary regardless of the seven hours I had just spent communing with my pillow, and my body rebelled against the idea of doing anything but laying in bed and reading. However, if anything has been made clear to me by my Gods in recent weeks, it is that my physical condition is not a reason for me not complete the tasks laid in front of me or to blow off the expectations that I am expected to measure myself against. In truth, those first few minutes of consciousness had me wanting to cancel the whole thing. I wanted more sleep. I wanted more time to prepare. I wanted to feel better. However, the show, as it were, had to go on.

I began by physically cleaning the space that the ritual would be held in, which also serves as my bedroom. My bedroom currently houses four altars with another one on the way and, though I would much prefer to have at least some of the altars located in other parts of my home, I live with people who are not spiritually inclined or aware and, though I trust them not to be cavalier in their treatment of my possessions, the altars are not my possessions. They hold my Gods and I would feel more than unhappy if some hard were to come to Their homes in my home.

I had done a fairly deep clean of my bedroom the week before, but it wasn’t clean enough. I swept the floor in front of the shrine at least five times and it still wasn’t acceptable. I wet a brush and scrubbed at the bare wood floor for a few minutes and that seemed to make things at least a little better. I covered the shelves that sat behind the shrine with a white cloth, as they hold a lot of my magical supplies and they were a distraction and quite out of place. I picked up things that had found homes on the floor and stashed them out of the way and out of sight of the shrine.

I began to clean the shrine itself, dusting it and making sure the few items in it looked their best, and She was suddenly there in all Her terrifying glory. I nearly dropped the shrine in shock and managed to tip over Her idol in the shrine in the process. I’m not ready yet, I say to the empty but thick and pulsing air.

Get ready.

I elevate Her shrine as indicated and, for multiple reasons, I veil it—because She has instructed that it is to be veiled until the ritual begins and because I hope in vain that if the shrine and Her idol are covered, She won’t be breathing down my neck quite so hard. It didn’t work.

After I finish shaving to the standards that are held for my head, I stare at the mirror for a long moment. She has made clear that She would like me to remove all of my body hair. All of it. Why? It is the standard historically held for purity for those who would serve as priests in the temple. I balk at this for multiple reasons. It’s not that I am particularly attached to my body hair—if I had my way, I would remove some of it permanently but I am not allowed to—but it is that I am the one that will have to deal with the itchy uncomfortable feeling that comes when hair regrows itself on my body and I would also like to get the ritual underway before too late in the evening [read: I do not have a hairless body].

She and I negotiate in my sea-foam green bathroom while I stand next to the claw-foot tub. We agree that this time I will remove the body hair that She finds most loathsome but that I will likely not get this gift again, especially for the more extensive rituals She has in mind.

I turn the water to as hot as I can stand. I can’t be clean in the way She wants me to right now and I’m not sure I’ll ever be as clean as She wants me, as She seems to find some things about me distasteful and occasionally seems to have the reaction of ‘Ugh, go do that over there somewhere’. But, I’ll give it my best shot.

I wash with the soap I normally use and then I reach for the salt scrub that I had been instructed to make. It contains large grained sea salt, olive oil, and a few other things that had been specified. I begin to scrub my body, starting from the top of my head and working my way down. Rubbing salt into freshly shaved skin stings, if you weren’t aware. But, I scrub anyways. I scrub away the things I’ve been carrying with me in the recent past, I scrub away the energetic muck that comes with the medical things that are currently ailing my body, and I reveal a new version of myself in the process.

I find myself considering the label that always pops up when I think of Her or when I’m doing work for Her while I balance precariously on one leg to scrub the bottom of my foot. Priest. She calls me priest. This came to a head about six months ago when She wouldn’t leave me alone. She was everywhere I turned, around every corner of my thoughts, and in every spiritual process. This was at a time when I was struggling quite hard with my relationship with the Mister and had been putting forth a lot of effort to focus everything on Him. One night when I was laying in bed during the daily meditation time I was giving Him, She poked me and I lost it. I sat upright and yelled at the bare wall across the room from me, telling Her that She needed to leave me alone and that I couldn’t do that right now, as Mr. Mister was my current priority and, if She really needed something done right that minute about me being Her priest, She could talk to Him.

Surprisingly, it worked. She went quiet for quite awhile after leaving me with a parting assignment—I was to build Her a shrine. I was perfectly happy to build Her a shrine if that meant She was going to leave me alone for awhile. I had already received divination that confirmed what She was saying—that there have been vows of priesthood made by another version of me at another and She was not about to let that go. For many years, we had a very antagonistic relationship due to a Job She threw me into. She picked up right where we had apparently left off as soon as I realized that the things I was hearing were coming from Gods. I stayed angry with Her over that Job for longer than I should have and, once the anger dissipated, I was certain that it had just been a temporary assignment because I was the closest body on the ground and, well, I belonged to Someone Else now, didn’t I?

Well, Mr. Mister is nothing if not slick. He’s a smooth talker and a fast dealer and can make a deal out of dust and stale cereal if He must. He found the loopholes in whatever agreements I have had previously with Sekhmet and yanked me through them to lay His claim. I’m sure She wasn’t terribly pleased about this, but They seem to have worked it out among Themselves despite keeping me in the dark. It is possible, it seems, to serve two Masters, as it were.

But, priest. I’m not unfamiliar with the term or what goes along with the title, as I come from a long line of folks who work in various clergy positions in various branches of Christianity, all of which could be labeled ‘priest’. However, me? A priest? The bald, gender-fucked-up kid who works nights so he doesn’t have to see too many people and who you have to convince and cajole to wear shoes and fancy clothes? Surely Someone is fucking mistaken. I mean, who am I to act as intercessor and an intermediary between an ancient Egyptian Goddess who is not always known for Her patience and compassion and those who seek Her attention and favor? How is it possible for me, a person who has never run a ritual and certainly never a ritual for a Goddess who has such a thing for protocol and doing it the ‘right’ way, to pull off everything that She has shown to me?

I don’t know. I don’t know at all.

I scrub and I consider and I turn a bit wrinkly. I don’t know what this means, I say out loud to the shower curtain.

Of course you do.

I was reminded at that very moment of several of my biggest character flaws. I undersell myself constantly and I lack confidence in my spiritual and magical practices. On some level, I know I can do the Work because I’m, you know, doing it. I worry too much about what those closest to me think and I am reminded fairly frequently that it doesn’t matter and I don’t need their approval. They are not in a position to hold any sway over me or my spiritual or magical work, but They are and, if I continue to undersell myself and don’t grow some damn confidence, not only am I not serving Them but I’m potentially damaging Their people.

I wash the salt flakes off me, but leave the oil on my skin as I am instructed. I am slippery and so is the tub. I gingerly maneuver out of it because it would be just my luck to slip and fall in my bathroom right before I am supposed to stage this big thing for Her.

Wrapped in a towel, I retreat to my bedroom and put on the closest thing I have to acceptable clothing for this endeavor—a brilliant orange and yellow sarong folded in half and tied around my hips and a white tank top. She isn’t pleased with my attire and makes noises about how I need appropriate priest garb—that is, linen clothing that will have to be custom made to fit my body. I tell Her grumpily that I would be happy to have those garments made if She provides the cash to do so. My spiritual life is all about the money right now—paying for readings, paying for materials, re-jiggering my budget to fit more stuff in, and taking as much overtime as my schedule and body can handle to cover it all—and I am not interested in taking on another unreimbursed expense. I don’t think She knows what to make of me being uppity in this manner, as She does not appreciate me being uppity at all, but She drops the subject.

Once I am dressed, I gather things from Mr. Mister’s altar and the space I have set aside for the Orisha who has taken up residence in my home and I bring it all into the kitchen. I have to prepare quite a bit of food for this rite and, as both Mr. Mister and the Orisha live in the same room as Sekhmet, it would be rude of me not to make an offering to Them as well.

I set the kamut [an ancient version of wheat that is native to Egypt] to cook since it will take the longest and then start pulling everything else out. The Mister and the Orisha are getting chicken hearts cooked in bacon, garlic, and a little balsamic vinegar and the Mister will be getting His whiskey while the Orisha will have strong coffee and a bowl of coconut milk with palm sugar. I set the bacon and hearts to cook and begin chopping endless vegetables and fruit. Cucumbers, radishes, leeks, cabbage, asparagus, nectarines, plums, apples, watermelon, grapes, and dates with honey. All of this is either traditional food in ancient Egypt, or it is food that She has specifically asked for.

When She asked for all of this food, I had a bit of a freak out. I don’t make a lot of money and my food budget is pretty tight. Having to buy a lot more than I usually would was going to be an immense hardship, so I proposed a deal that I wasn’t going to take no as an answer for. I would happily buy Her the food that She wanted and prepare it and lay it out for Her, but I was going to be consuming it after the ritual was over, as I could not afford to float the loss. She didn’t say no, so I took that as approval and heaved a big sigh of relief.

While the vegetables and fruit wait on my knife, I plate the hearts and bacon for the Mister and the Orisha. Delivering it to Their respective spaces, I light Their candles, welcome Them to the space, and take a moment to sit in reflection. Before I get too deep into my moment of meditation, I remember to cleanse the room. I light a square of camphor, add some herbs, and watch it burn. It burns longer and bigger than any camphor block I’ve used in the past has. It burns long enough that I am practically tapping my foot because I have a lot to do and She is waiting.

After it goes out, I return to the vegetables and fruit. They are plated and placed in front of the shrine. Fresh local bread is cut and laid out as well, followed by the homemade labneh that has been doing it’s thing for the last 24 hours. I add the yellow-orange roses that I always buy Her to a vase next to the shrine and then go to deal with the meat.

She asked for a beef heart, raw. This was unsurprising, as the heart is the prized piece of meat in the predator food chain and it goes to the alpha of the pack or pride as a sign of respect and recognizing their authority. I live in a decently sized city with several butchers and too many grocery stores, so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find. The large butcher in town would be happy to sell me a beef heart…as long as I bought all fifty pounds of the case it came in as well. I’m sure Sekhmet would enjoy fifty pounds of beef heart laid out for Her [it would have been a pile bigger than Her shrine], but my wallet sure wouldn’t. I called three more butchers and visited at least six grocery stores before I found any beef heart.

Tucked way in the back of the meat cooler at the local Hispanic grocery store was package of chopped beef hearts. She wanted whole, but it was either going to be chopped heart or no beef heart at all and She would get chicken hearts instead. So, on the day before the rite, I bought chopped beef heart and four pounds of chicken hearts.

I set Her meat [beef heart and a pound and a half of chicken hearts] on the counter to come up to room temperature while I cooked, as cold heart would not be suitable. By the time I had finished all the other preparations, the hearts were still cold so they went into hot water for about fifteen seconds and then were drained and plated and delivered to the shrine. I poured out Her drinks—fresh cold water and a traditional Egyptian beer mixed with pomegranate juice—and was in an absolute state trying to get everything else done, as She was practically sitting on my shoulder and telling me to hurry up and why hadn’t this been done earlier and why didn’t I have an assistant to do some of the work?

I got a little uppity again and told Her that I had to sleep some time and if She would like there to be someone else in service to the shrine, She could certainly send them to me and I would put them to work in the future. She also dropped the subject after that.

She wanted drumming, so I pulled up Youtube and found a vaguely acceptable but not really play list and cued it up while I gathered all the other stuff that I needed.

First, She had to have blood. So, I find the needles and get to work. It’s usually pretty easy for me to make myself bleed but not at the moment. After three tries, I finally get enough up to add to Her beer and rub on Her meat. Next, I have to light the incense. However, the charcoal refuses to light. I curse at it for a solid ten minutes and it finally gets the hint and sparks, but only after toasting my nice long-necked lighter. I burn the homemade kyphi that She likes and it is almost time. I dig out the notebook that I have prepped with all the names and requests of those who have asked for prayers to be said on their behalf and those who have questions for Her to be answered via divination. I go to the other altars and snuff the candles as, while Mr. Mister and the Orisha are welcome to stay and observe, this is Her ritual and Her time. I pour pomegranate juice and beer into my glass, hit the soundtrack, and close my eyes.

She’s there and I can see Her in mind. She is regal and resplendent and nothing at all like what many of the statues and images of Her communicate. She is tall and athletically built, with square shoulders, a broad chest, and powerful legs, and wears a simple plain linen gown that shifts between red and white. I don’t see all of Her head dress, but the solar disk glows behind my eyes. She has the head of a lioness, but no hair beyond what a lioness would have in nature. Her body isn’t totally like that of a mortal body, as She is often pictured, but more like a morph between the body of a mortal and the body of a lioness. She is covered in fine golden fur, at least on Her arms and shoulders, and She looks at me as She seats Herself. I welcome Her to Her shrine and, by extension, to my home. I unveil Her shrine and it feels pathetically unsuitable to contain Her vastness.

I welcome Her by reciting Her one hundred names and epithets. It is clear which ones She enjoys and which ones I will not recite to Her again in the future. She both watches me and ignores me, but, for a reason I cannot identify, I am not nervous.

I lay my notebook on the floor in front of me and begin to offer prayers on behalf of those who have written to me. I pray for the blessing of a new child, guidance in searching for new jobs and a new home, and a plea for a deeper relationship with Her. I offer prayers of thanks for bringing a devotee to her new partner and for blessing their relationship. I pray for people who are important to me, for their health and well-being, for their path in life to be as smooth as is possible, for the best possible outcome for a variety of situations. I pray for myself. For guidance, for courage, for faith, for clarity, for blessings of prosperity on my new business venture, and for things best left unsaid.

Words pour out of me from places I didn’t know exist. I call Her by names and epithets that I can’t find any documentation for and I didn’t know that I knew prior to sitting down before Her shrine. It feels familiar and foreign all at once, but I move in the direction I know I am supposed to. It is very strange.

I apologize for my body when it insists that I shift positions. I offer apologies for past poor behavior and acknowledge the continual business between the two of us. I ask Her to show me how best to serve Her, because I don’t know at all what I am doing or what I am to do. I drink with Her and for Her and I am blessed with permission to consume some bits of food before I begin the divination, as it is close to 10PM and I have been fasting except for water and some alcohol since roughly 3AM the night before.

I move off the floor and I pick up my cards. I can almost feel Her hand touching them as I begin to shuffle and consider the first query. I ask Her the question out loud and name the querent so that She may know who comes before Her seeking insight. I lay out the cards and note what they say. Before I finish with the querent, I ask Her if there is anything else they need to know and then note that as well.

When I finish with the outside inquiries, I divine for myself, which is not something I usually do, and ask Her what I need to know and do now as Her priest and note what She says.

I don’t know how long has passed, but I have run out of things that I know I was to do. I ask Her if there is anything else that I may do for Her at this time and I am met with silence. I know there are things that She wants, but I don’t know exactly what they are. I know I have likely made mistakes and can even name a few right off the bat like forgetting to remove my toenail polish.

With nothing left, I thank Her for Her time and presence, offer one more drink, and then veil the shrine once again. Within a few minutes, Her presence fades and I am left alone in my bedroom surrounded by cards and food and the thump of my own slightly intoxicated head. I am exhausted, but it’s not over yet.

I sit for a solid half hour and stare at all the food and other remnants of the ritual that need to be cleaned up and stored. I have never wished so hard for an assistant before in my entire life. My body hurts, I am drunk, and I just want to either go to bed or stare mindlessly at my computer.

Instead, I change into regular clothes and gather some of the perishable items and bring them outside. I pour out Her beer and Her water and leave the raw meat out for the neighborhood stray cats. I return and wrap up all the fruit, vegetables, and grains that I will eat for the next week. I give up cleaning after that and take the rest of the remaining pint and a half bottle of beer and go sit at my desk to stare at things. I am not supposed to pour out all the beer, but I am to drink it in Her honor. So, I drink beer and eat ice cream and all kinds of other barely-on-the-divine-diet food and zone out until I can no longer stand the taste of Her beer. I return it to Her shrine and will pour it out the next day.

Out of all the Gods and Powers I am currently engaged with [and the number keeps growing, much to my chagrin], She is the one I have the most difficulty understanding. To me, She has the least humanity. She doesn’t speak to me the way the Others do. She is short and to the point and distant without a whole lot of interest in anything personal about me. She is a Task Master and, in some ways, I’m glad of that. I have trouble meshing with the divine feminine and She walks the line of making me uncomfortable in that way.

And, I know I make Her uncomfortable in some ways. I know She either doesn’t understand or find acceptable the relationship I have with the Mister, though She and the Orisha have some similar temperamental similarities, which is one hundred percent not surprising to me in the least. As for some of the other Gods making Their presence known in my life, well.. The less that is said is better. In some ways, She is very set in Her ways and I push those buttons as much as a mortal can, I suppose. I think if I wasn’t beholden to Her in some ways, She’d have nothing to do with me. It’s very much an Employer/employee relationship. I clock in, clock out, and talk about nothing but business the whole time I’m at the office.

I get to go home after that, though, and home is at the altar that lives by the side of my bed. It is the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning and the last thing I see before I close them at night. He doesn’t always talk to me and He’s not always there, but I know He looks in regularly. I know that I will never have a relationship with another Power that looks like the relationship I have with Him, and that makes me happy.

I don’t know, though, what this priest thing is going to bring entirely. I know that She wants me to establish the shrine as a permanent fixture in the larger community and, as such, I will be holding a monthly open house kind of thing where I will offer intercessory prayers and do divination under Her supervision. I know that I will have to stage a very large and elaborate ritual that She gave me in a dream. I know that I have writing to do and strings to tie together and I know some of it relates to my day job, too—part of how She comes to me is as the Protector of those who cannot protect themselves.

What I do know is that I am equipped to do this and I have many of the answers to the questions I have. I know that, were I not ready to do this, She would not have bothered to pick me up at this time. She would have waited until I was a more suitable individual to do what She wanted. However, the process has been put in motion and the first step, which is always the hardest, has been made and I am grateful for that. Even in Her sternness and distance, I can Her blessings in my life despite my uppityness and obstinance. I am the luckiest boy I know and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember that.

~ by Alex on August 28, 2013.

One Response to “She Calls Me Priest.”

  1. Alex, I don’t know if this helps you or not, but traditionally in ancient Egyptian temples, everything that was offered to the gods before their statues was then distributed to be eaten by the temple community and nothing went to waste (which makes sense, for a religious tradition that started surrounded by the desert; you can’t take for granted food and drink). In a lot of other traditions, it is normal for the offerings to alone belong to the gods, or to be left outdoors for the wildlife to have access to (but not you yourself); I just wondered if this would help because I saw how you went to such great lengths to do things that are pretty traditional for Kemetic priests, but also had apprehension with wasting the food.

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