Consistent spiritual practice will change you. Whether you prefer meditation and contemplation, worship and ritual, singing and dancing, the study of sacred texts, or some other practice, if you spend consistent time doing it you will experience an impact. This is why every religion known to humanity emphasizes regular spiritual practice (they just disagree on what their practices should look like).
In preparation for Denton CUUPS’ Egyptian Summer Solstice ritual coming up this Saturday, I’ve been practicing with the Neteru – the Gods of ancient Egypt. In addition to our usual preparations, we also presented a Sunday service that included some explanation (my part is here) and an abbreviated form of the Daily Temple Ritual. It’s had an impact on me, as it does every year.
There is much that is powerful in this work, but what stands out to me is the millennia-long emphasis on Ma’at – the Goddess of truth, order, and doing things the right way. Order is not necessary for humans to survive, but it is necessary for us to thrive. Order makes things predictable. It lets us plan days, years, and even decades ahead. You can’t build a house without a stable foundation, sturdy materials, and skilled workers… and you can’t build it in a timely manner without an orderly plan.
Egypt exists only because of the Nile. There is a stark contrast between the black land and the red land – in some places the transition zone is only a few feet. This draws an equally stark contrast between order and chaos. There is a saying “the desert is always waiting and Set is never sated.”
The rituals performed daily in Egyptian temples for almost 4000 years were intended to honor the Gods and ancestors, but they also had a very practical purpose: to maintain Ma’at – the proper order of things. This concept has been resurrected in the modern Pagan idea that our celebrations don’t just mark the turning of the seasons, they help turn the Wheel of the Year. While Nature doesn’t need our help turning the seasons, our human societies need all the help they can get.
Order creates stable conditions that allow us to plan and build with confidence, and it brings stability to our lives. But order also codifies inequities. Over time those who benefit from those inequities start to think that’s just the way things are supposed to be. And since those benefits tend to make them richer and more powerful, they’re able to reinforce the existing order and make it harder and harder for those on the short end to change it.
But all people want a fair share of society’s wealth, and they want sovereignty – the right to rule their own lives, and the responsibility to rule them well. Orders that are inequitable and abusive are ultimately unsustainable.
Tearing down an existing order is (relatively) easy – building a new order is much much harder. The United States overran Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power in three weeks. 12 years later a new order has yet to emerge and an even greater evil has arisen in the vacuum we created.
Many Pagans and polytheists are dissatisfied with the current order. It doesn’t respect the land or the creatures who live on it. It doesn’t respect people except for how it can use them for profit. It has benefitted many, especially in the West, but it is not sustainable and it has no desire to restrain itself in order to leave a better world for future generations. Even if we do not overthrow it, it will eventually crumble like every other empire that preceded it.
Something will replace it. What do you want that to be? What kind of new order do you want to build?
We need activists and radicals, but not all of us are suited to such work. You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to invent a new order yourself. You don’t have to implement it, not by persuasion and certainly not by force. You just have to begin and continue the process of making it real in this world. Consistent spiritual practice will change you – and through you it will change the world.
If you’re looking for ideas, I suggest we start with a reverence for Nature, a preference for Community, and a veneration of ancestors. You may have other ideas – do what inspires you.
Doing nothing will accomplish nothing and will leave the creation of the new order to others who may not share your values. Decisions are made by those who show up.
The Egyptians had their daily temple rituals to maintain their order. What spiritual practices will make the new order real in your life? What rituals can you perform to create, nurture, and support it as it spreads throughout the wider society? What Gods call to you? What values and virtues do we need to manifest in this world?
This is the Summer Solstice – the Sun is at its most powerful and the days are at their longest. How will you use this great opportunity?
Have a blessed Solstice!