Pagan Paths

Alchemical and spiritual journey together with Thoth-Djehuty – exploring Kemeticism, Hermeticism, spiritual alchemy, and following the path of devotion.

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Latria: They want your soul [pt.I]

Religion is always a choice. There are people raised in particular religions (or lack of them) since childhood, and it’s very natural for them to accept the beliefs of their parents/family as part of their cultural identity- something that isn’t questioned. But as the kid becomes a teen and then an adult – there are points of maturation – there are moments when religion then becomes a choice, when one reaches a point where you can accept a religion whole-heartedly (either self-chosen, or in keeping with one’s cultural surroundings and expectations).
And this is always a personal mystery and a turning point for a believer.

I was not raised in a religious family. During my childhood in the Soviet Union, religion mostly existed as a relic of the past. Everyone was expected to be a secular, scientifically-based atheist, maybe with some legit bit of agnosticism. Studying religions (ancient and “living”) was not forbidden. Actively practicing a religion was looked down upon, but also not forbidden; just not welcomed. Part of my family used to be religious; my great-grandmother’s sister spent 40 years of her life being lead-singer in one of the Orthodox Cathedrals. Her husband was the choirmaster. But on family meetings with this “part of family”, by some unspoken agreement, we never talked about anything religion-related. We talked about everything – culture, politics, music, news – and spent lots of fun evenings with entertaining tabletop games (which I enjoyed).

When I was 12 years old, my favorite magazine became “Science and Religion” (and I have learned a lot about religions of the world from it). This magazine gave me access to many wonderful ancient texts, such as Amduat or Bardo Thodol. This is the point of my life I started actively seeking spirituality. At the time I did not consider polytheism as something “working and alive”, because from all my books and magazines I had learned about the “evolution” of religion and how monotheism was one of top, advanced forms of religion. For me as a 12-year-old teen raised in the manner I was, the important step here was just to admit that the higher, unknown Forces of the Universe existed at all; that certain Ideas are immortal and that the immortality of the soul as well as the possibility of afterlife or reincarnation were tangible.

The ancient Gods were still “mythological” figures. They were very much alive, but somewhere on the same level as fairytale characters, folkloric heroes and legends. They were alive “in my head” certainly. I loved to read the stories of Loki and Dionysus. After reading “The Odyssey” I made a drawing of Hermes bringing a message to some lovely Greek girl. The Gods of Greece and other Pantheons were alive enough to brighten (and enlighten) my childhood with their stories, myths, and wonderful art dedicated to them (I really loved going to Hermitage and other museums and studying the stories of mythology and how they influenced the world of Art).

It’s interesting that our history classes didn’t really tell us how the ancient Greeks worshipped their Gods: there were temples, there were festivals, there were some sorts of cults with offerings and ceremonies, but Gods were pervasive in the mythology and the universe. They lived on Olympus and came down the mountain sometimes but returned back. They also did not care about decent afterlives for most humans unless these humans were heroes or initiates of mystic cults. (The prevailing description of their “regular” afterworld was that it was very dull.)

The Netjeru were always different-- from the very beginning. The Netjeru looked instead through the hearts – judging humans, weighing their hearts, and so on – of mankind and made their decisions based on that. The fields of Aaru were magnificent and a desirable place where people really wanted to dwell together with the Gods whom they loved, “in perfect and perpetual adoration”.

There weren’t many books about Egyptian mythology available for kids in the Soviet era; I picked up small bits of information from encyclopedias and books about art collections in the Hermitage. The Egyptian Hall in the Hermitage was always dimly lit and had an eerie feeling of…an Unknown, Frightening, and Sacred Presence. Entering the Egyptian Hall was like entering the first precinct of the Underworld. And the Gods were not so aesthetically pleasing (or human) as their Greek and Roman counterparts. They had animal and bird heads. They were surrounded by hieroglyphic inscriptions that only added to the feeling of “sacredness” in their space. They were incredibly calm in pose, sometimes generous, sometimes intimidating. They weren’t there to just have fun times with humans. They were able to care about really Big Things as their first priority; like keeping the Universe in motion and resisting World Entropy as well as moving the Sun Barque through the Amduat during the dangerous journey every night. And they could do this as well as being worshipped. The Netjeru did not just exist “somewhere” (on the mountain Olympus, in the Duat, on another astral plane), but paths taken by their ba and ka souls actively presented themselves in the world.

I was also fascinated learning about the Egyptian temples, about their plan and structure, about zones of public and “pharaoh and priests-only” access. I looked at the photos, the plans, and read the stories of priests entering the shrine for daily rituals; the act of opening the doors of the naos “to see the face of God” called me more than magnificent cult structures of Greece and Rome. I was still in my teen years, remember, but I always felt drawn to the Netjeru in a different way than I was drawn to deities of other pantheons. I’ve learned and continue to learn about many world religions, but the religion of Ancient Egypt was always a focus even when I wasn’t consciously aware of it. I loved to imagine sun-lit Greece and listen to the stories of heroism, betrayals and rewards. I loved to read about the amusing tricks of Loki. I loved reading brick-sized scholarly books of folklore belonging to different African tribes and their obscure cosmogonies and descriptions of journeys “to the world of forest spirits and back”. --But the more I think about my childhood and my understanding of the world at that time, the more I realize that only the Gods of Egypt always inspired me to certain level to awe that sprouted and blossomed into accepting, admiration, adoration, and finally worship; unfolding as O’Brien in 1984 said about three stages of learning, understanding and accepting.

I’ve been on an ongoing journey to understand why the people of ancient Egypt did what they did in daily life, in worship; the myths and reality, the purposes of ritual, the concept of ma’at as cosmic order that needs to be maintained by every being in existence, by humans and gods together. This appealed to me (and still does). This was always a religion I wanted to be part of, but I knew it only as “long-dead”. I dreamed about being one who had the right to enter the holy of holies, to pull back the bolt and open the naos doors to “see the face of the God”-- but we only had mythology and the artifacts of their ancient culture left; hymns and funerary texts and the ruins of magnificent temples gave very few clues that these Gods are real and still accepting worship. I did not know that it might be possible. But-- in my quest for spirituality, I eventually reached a point of no return where I realized that “I can’t live as I lived before; I want this connection to the world of Divine. I accept the existence of it and refuse vulgar materialism as the sole reason for existence” – I obtained faith that God as Creator and all-powerful being exists and that life does not end with death.

I was 15 years-old when our city was invaded by evangelizing preachers with their message about Jesus-the-personal-Savior. I listened to their sermons, watched some biblical movies and read through selected parts of New Testament—then did some very rational thinking. I wanted to believe their message about Jesus but the foreign evangelists had not gained my trust. I didn’t really want to be jumping from practice to practice, from one spirituality to another; I thought carefully and I decided that I should become a member of the Church where I was baptized as a small kid, and it seemed right. So I turned to the “default” church of Russia, the faith of my ancestors, and decided that if I was going to try out real religion, then it definitely should be something “tested by time”.

I started the path there: the three stages; learning, understanding, acceptance. I did not reach the third stage fully with Christianity.

I’d been studying history of the church, theology and basics of the liturgy and other church services (why the things are done that way). I found inspirations in the lives of Saints. I observed fasts and festivals. I tried to read the daily prayers (finding unfortunately that the prescribed prayers were dull, dusty and boring, and only a few were really speaking to my heart somehow). Christianity promised good things in the afterlife and eternal punishment if you disobey; so… I felt sort of obliged to desire this “eternal life” and the fear of hell to be ingrained into my mind, as it’s done to millions of followers of the Christian faiths. But still, there was no full acceptance. This essential third stage did not come despite the fact that I’d prayed to Saints and felt their responses and presence and I was determined to join the monastery, because somewhere deep in me, there was living the one burning desire: to live a life of perfection and to serve God.

Modern Orthodox monastery life did not inspire me; later, after careful studying of theology and history of the Church and dogma, I made a weighted decision to change the denomination and come into communion with the Catholic Church. But it was “already too late”, because the seeds thrown in my soul in childhood started sprouting. I only had to “accept” at one moment that “Life is too short to spend it in a religion that doesn’t work for you well” and that I can find peace and harmony in following my heart.

The Netjeru were still waiting – and quietly watching. I think that when I asked myself the question “how many hieroglyphs should I learn to apply successfully for the job in the temple of Thoth”, he smiled in amusement.

Some adamant Christian preachers who believed the ancient Gods are demons in disguise, would probably say “Oh, yes. The demons want to lure you from the Church and want your soul!” The preachers are not right about the evil and demonic nature of the Netjeru—they are precisely wrong. The fruits of my interaction with them are always harmony, peace, balance, love and active working to make the world a better place even by very small steps. But they are exactly right about the Gods “wanting your soul”.

They wanted my soul; this soul who wanted to honor Them and worship Them all along, even when it was forbidden in the framework of Christianity. I love thinking that Thoth has always cared about me and needs me for something. He never rushed in (as Set sometimes does) to "claim" me and turn the life upside down with sparkling chaos, but he indeed "wanted my soul". :) I think I’m quite lucky because I never had this feeling of complete belonging to the Christian God...

[continued in pt.II]

(*On the image: Stele of Ipy, Scribe to the Pharaoh, end of Eighteenth Dynasty (Tutankhamun) Memphis, limestone, 95x71 cm. In State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg)

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Born in USSR and living in St. Petersburg, Russia; my spiritual journey started when I was a young teen. After more than 20 years of being practicing Russian Orthodox and later, Roman Catholic, I followed my heart always calling me to honor the Gods of Ancient Egypt. My devotion belongs to Thoth-Hermes-Djehuty, Thrice Greatest, Lord of Khemenu (Hermopolis), and I try to serve him as a priestess (hmt-Ntr). My path is independent, solitary and not hardcore reconstructionist, and I don’t belong to organized Kemetic temples.I studied biology in University, but after graduation, for many years have been working in telecommunications and computer networking. Now I work in international trade; but this is what I do “for a living”, as I’m poet and writer before all. I write poetry and prose since early childhood (of course, my writings are mostly in Russian) and I have some published books, science-fiction novels and poetry. I follow hermetic philosophy and viewpoints, and my interests, besides Ancient Egypt, include medieval history and art, Spiritual Alchemy, traveling around the world, translating books from English and studying more foreign languages (including Egyptian hieroglyphics). I am also president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the International Alchemy Guild.  


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