Philadelphia and What I Found There

Earlier this month I spent a week in Philadelphia with a dear friend of mine for her birthday. I haven’t been to Philly in years and found myself quickly falling in love with the city all over again. I’ve lived in Virginia my entire life and have spent the past ten years calling a very, very small mountain town my home. To say that city life is wonderfully exotic and exciting to me is an understatement.

The city is alive and vibrant in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’ve been to large cities before – DC, Chicago, Las Vegas, Montreal, Dublin, London, New Delhi, Hyderabad – but this is my first trip going on my own with the opportunity of wandering around by myself, learning to navigate and not get hit by traffic (spoiler alert: I was successful!). Also, staying with my friend kept me out of the touristy part of town; though I’m sure I still stuck out like a sore thumb at times, I really began to appreciate the rhythm of the city and the life I found there. I had no tour group to travel with, no conference to attend, no study abroad program to keep pace with. I went because I wanted to go, I explored because I was curious, and I had Thai food for the first time in my life. (Spoiler alert: I loved it!)

While in Philly I met up with my good friend Veggie, who I’ve known for several years through the Pagan forum The Cauldron. Veggie writes over at Fluid Morality and already has a pretty nice write-up about our shared experience. We went to the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which I absolutely adored. I went through a not-so-brief period of wanting to be both an anthropologist (physical) and archaeologist (classical) before settling on my BA in Religion and both disciplines have stayed close to my heart. Being able to look at a Neanderthal skull’s occipital bun and chatter about the robust vs. gracile brow ridges of various hominid species brought back memories. Getting to see preservationists working in their labs as they restored old mummies was pretty nifty too. But if I had to talk about what really made me happy about this visit with my friend, it was finding a few hours of shared fellowship as we wandered the various Egyptian exhibits, wondering about Armana-era political strife and about the significance of the lotus-style architecture of the important hypostyle hall.

I’ve been dipping my toe in and out of Kemeticism for a few years now. Primarily my “official” exposure has been with Kemetic Orthodoxy, though given my lapse in participation I don’t feel I can rightly call myself a Remetj (friend) of the House anymore. While I don’t mesh with KO forum culture too well – which is a problem when a religion is long distance and places great importance on fellowship – I appreciate what I learned in my Beginner’s Class and respect Tamara’s work and dedication to her religion. For awhile I considered becoming a Divined Remetj – that is, someone who’s undergone the Rite of Parent Divination to discover which Netjer are their spiritual Parent(s) – because again, I value Tamara’s system and I’m deathly curious as to the results. However, I feel like curiosity is not reason enough to undertake this rite and, for now, Kemetic Orthodoxy is not where my heart lies.

What I kept from KO was my Akhu (ancestor) altar, complete with a statue of Anubis overlooking framed photographs of three deceased grandparents, and and appreciation for ma’at‘s propagation in the world. In fact, even when my interest in Kemeticism was on the wane I’ve always maintained an interest in understanding what ma’at is and how to manifest it in my life. A sticking point for me in the past has been how to build deity relationships in whatever new religious tradition I was sniffing out. (It’s a holdover from my Baptist days; even though I know I don’t need a personal, divine relationship to validate my religious experience, it’s difficult not to feel adrift without one sometimes.) But ma’at has felt like the very core essence of what Kemeticism is and can be for me. I don’t always grok ma’at but I can see it, understand it at a gut level even if my brain is trying to keep up. Ma’at exists whether I “believe” in it or not, and it gels pretty well with my own orientation toward social justice in the world. It also complements the work I do as a Unitarian Universalist and as a member of Clann Bhride – the latter so much that I’ve more than once jokingly referred to myself as a Brigidine Kemetic.

(The fact that I see Brighid’s Work in the world and ma’at as one and the same may need to be the subject of another post.)

Having genuine fellowship with Veggie meant nurturing our relationship as we shared spiritual stuff with each other. Some of this spiritual stuff was more traditional: looking at religious icons, sharing our personal experiences with Deity, even getting to experience what being in the presence of an open statue was like. (I’ll write more about this in my next post. Still trying to process the experience of feeling Sekhmet stare at me as I stared back!) However, not all of our time together may have looked like fellowship from the outside, though it certainly felt that way to me. We debated and discussed everything from history to ethics to the inherent divinity of our left shoes. There was frank discussion about the “mundane” aspects of our lives too – though of course, trying to separate the sacred from the profane is like trying to yank apart the hydrogen and oxygen atoms from a molecule of water. I mean I suppose you can do it with science, but you end up with something radically different from water with none of water’s nourishing, hydrating qualities that make it so important.

I’m not even positive that metaphor worked, but whatever. 🙂 Stay tuned for my next post on open statues and Sekhmet being amazing.

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