Month of the Akhu

November is a whirlwind of a month. The academic year is ramping up, which affects both my own coursework and my responsibilities at the college library that employs me. One volunteer position ended for the year while another looks like it’s just beginning. I’m recovered (mostly) from a nasty double infection that put me in bed for ten days, but now I’m experiencing recurring back pain and a general malaise.

Beyond my own problems — which always seem so small to me, until I remember they most certainly affect my spiritual life — November is undoubtably the Month of the Akhu. We come into the month on the tails of Halloween and then Samhain, which I think will always hold a special place in my heart no matter what tradition I follow. Día de los Angelitos and Día de los Muertos follow, this year coinciding with the Procession of Nebt-het. Not long after we see Veterans Day, Armistice Day, and Remembrance Day. In a few short weeks, Kemetic polytheists will observe the Wesir Mysteries. All of these festivals and observances, whether solemn or celebratory or a mix of the two, honor our ancestors and serve as a gentle yet implacable memento mori for the living. We are alive because our Ancestors once were and we continue to receive their blessings and guidance because they have gone west and become part of the canopy of stars above us.

Remembrance Day

I think there’s something beautiful about the symbols we use to honor our dead: blooming flowers, everlasting stars, flickering candlelight. Our Ancestors may be dead, but that doesn’t mean they’re inert. Whatever we believe comes after our physical death, those who have crossed that threshold before us still impact our lives on a daily basis. Their memory, words, actions, and deed — good, bad, and indifferent — continue echoing through their descendants, through the lives of the people they touched, through communities who will not be able to fill the them-shaped hole they left behind.

In Kemetic iconography the Akhu are shown as stars within Nut’s body, always watching over the living from the nighttime sky. Not only are the Akhu part of Nut’s celestial form, but She and they surround and protect the living.

Nut, the Akhu, and the Living

There is comfort here, a promise that death does not remove us from the protective arms of Netjer. That what is loved, what is named, what is remembered persists — even beyond the realm of death. It may be residual thinking from ADF theology, but I see this as a promise of and gentle admonition for future giving. Our Akhu gave us life, language, culture, handing the earth over to us to cultivate on our own terms. We in turn remember them through prayers, offerings, and libations, returning a flow of gifts. They in turn continue to bestow upon us blessings, guidance, and love, so that we might give in return… and so our relationship is reciprocal and cyclical, like most best things are. We take care of our Akhu the way we take care of our loved ones still physically present on earth, and we hope that one day we, too, are remembered beyond the grave.

Egyptian Hieroglyphic clipart symbol for star or night, Click here to get more Free Clipart at ClipartPal.com

Our Queer Ancestors

I’ve been thinking more about my last post and my burgeoning desire to bring the Mighty Dead more fully into my life. I’ll come clean and honestly admit that I don’t much honor my genetic Ancestors. I give them due respect of course, but thus far I haven’t found any connection with them. I’m grateful for the blood the courses in my veins, but when I think of what my immediate Christian ancestors would have thought about me, a Pagan, genderqueer lesbian who’s voting for Obama twice… well, let’s just say that family reunion is likely to be an awkward one.

So instead I turn to ancestors of mind and hearth, those who once worshipped as I did or who experienced life in a similar way to mine. And you know what? There were a lot of people who were like me. Who fell in love with people sharing their genitalia. Who experienced life both as a man and a woman, and some days didn’t know which was which. Who were the victims of oppression, homo- and trans*phobia, and religiously-motivated persecution. Who had to live their lives in the closet or face dire, often life-threatening, consequences.

The experience of us LGBT folks has been erased, invalidated, and denied throughout history. Quite literally, there is not a place for us right now in history books. Queer people just don’t exist. We’re a modern fabrication by an immoral, godless political left, confused, sick, and doomed to rot in Hell. (How we manage to be both nonexistent and a threat to modern society, godless and caught up in another faith’s eschatology, is beyond me. I guess we’re just that good.)

I think it’s high time I started helping to reclaim our history.

 

The purple handprint has been a symbol of gay liberation since Halloween 1969.

I started by looking through this month’s LGBT birthdays listed on Wikipedia.  There’s a skew toward cis white males – when isn’t there? – but I started combing through this list for those who have passed away and become our community’s collective Ancestors. Some of the names won’t seem surprising at all. (For example, the fact that Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991) of Queen was bisexual probably isn’t news to anyone but me.) These individuals were writers, poets, politicians, scientists; sons, daughters, lovers, and oftentimes parents. Queer people existed all over the world, at all points in history, in all strata of society, from Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (September 21, 1640 – June 9, 1701) to silent film star Greta Garbo (September 18, 1905 – April 15, 1990).

Some of these stories end in tragedy, whether through the murder of Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) and Matthew Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998),  or the suicide of Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) and Tyler Clementi (December 19, 1991 – September 22, 2010). Our queer Ancestors faced shame, humiliation, violence, and oftentimes death just for who they were – because the world wasn’t ready to trade in hate for compassion.

How can we best remember our Ancestors?

We can not forget them. We can remember their names, their stories, their faces. We can make them part of our own history, even if they don’t show up in the history books. We queer folks, we can come out of the closet and be our own advocates, when we aren’t faced with violence or threats to our person. You straight folks, you can be allies and help us fight homo- and trans*phobia wherever it breeds and help us build safe spaces for people of all orientations and identities. We can best honor our Ancestors by finishing the work they started and trying to fix a world that gave them so much hatred and violence.

Ancestors, the Mighty Dead

In ADF Druidry, we strive to live in right relationship with each of the Three Kindreds: our gods and goddesses, the Shining Ones; the nature spirits, the Noble Ones; and our Ancestors, the Mighty Ones. Out of these three equally important groups, I have the hardest time connecting to my Ancestors, whether they be my two late grandfathers on either side of the family, or the first trueborn member of the species H. sapiens. Perhaps some of it is a holdover from my Baptist days which taught me to balk at the idea of ever elevating a human to the status of God. There was a clear dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, the divine and the human, and the only one who was really allowed to bridge that gap was Jesus. (Really though, Jesus’ humanity always seemed a technicality more than a reality in the church I grew up in – but I digress.) I just got the hang of believing in and worshiping gods again, and now I have to talk to a bunch of dead guys in ritual?

I believe the Three Kindreds operate as equals and peers, each of them necessary to the maintenance of a healthy spiritual ecosystem. There’s no hierarchy of groups, no demand to sacrifice more of one’s time or energies to one Kindred than the other. Ultimately, one would hope, you’re spending your time equally with all Three. I also believe that if we imagine the Kindreds forming a triplicate Venn Diagram of sorts – which hey, ends up forming a triquetra in the middle, isn’t that cool! – humans are planted squarely in the middle. We are animals and of the earth, and therefore we are among the nature spirits; we all return to the earth one day, and therefore will be among our Ancestors; and I don’t actually have anything for how we’re like the Shining Ones yet, except possibly being made in Their image, but give it time.

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