“Apart from its beliefs about forms of disorder outside the cosmos, traditional polytheism almost requires tension and disorder within the pantheon and in the cosmos. Polytheism thus accepts two possible locations of evil, so that the existence of evil is not deeply problematic because nothing is truly perfect. All these points are well known from the religion of classical Greece, and they apply to mainstream Egyptian polytheism.” (John Baines, “Society, Morality, and Religious Practice.” In: Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, ed. Byron E. Shafer. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.)
Let us pray:
“O Set, Son of Nut, great of strength,
‘Hope of All Hearts’ is Thy Name!
Protection is at the hands of Thy holiness.
I am Thy soul daughter.
The name of this day is Nakht-Ab—’Powerful of Heart.’
I will rise in Might to be like Thee! Dua Suti!”
I interrupted my fiancé’s compliment with, “You know, that’s interesting that you say that. In the Late Period, Set’s detractors–Egyptian and Roman–compared Him to Jesus, and that’s when much of the iconography swapped out the zoologically unclassifiable Set-animal head with a donkey head. There are even spells in the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri showing a donkey-headed Set being crucified,” I added, while fishing around the ice-laden bottom of our Coleman® cooler for three bottles of hard cider.
Set of the Two-Fold Strength.
It rained off and on throughout the day on Sunday. After he’d woken from his nap, Daniel was eager to see the lay of the land and I gave him my unofficial tour of the PSG village. Rain had begun, gently at first but then steadily and heavily, upon our return to our tent and we excitedly zipped ourselves inside and listened to the rain cascading on the dome overhead as we lay on our air mattress. It was a dreamy experience. The rain let up just as our stomachs insisted on procuring some dinner so we went on the hunt for food at an on-site vegetarian café that I recommended. I ran into old friends on the way and was happy to start introducing Daniel to the tribe members who’d become like cherished family members to me over the past five years. Especially since one of our goals as a couple was to determine if we’d want to have our legal handfasting conducted here next year, it was important for me to have Daniel feel at ease with the land and the smiling faces I’d come to know and love.
Before we knew it, 7 p.m. rolled around and it was time for the official PSG welcome Selena likes to host by the pond and the adjacent pavilion. Several hundred people dotted the ridge above the pond, Daniel and I among them and me in my Kemetic ritual regalia to boot. Since this PSG was the 35th anniversary of the festival, special photos were being taken of different generations of attendees. I was excited and joined the assembly of people in a group shot for whom this campsite alone served as their “land anchor” to the annual Solstice Magic of PSG. I’d never known any other festival location but this one. I was giddy and definitely smiled as such for the camera; Daniel waved and applauded his support from the stands.
And then a thunderstorm rolled in, cutting off Selena on the PA system. People scrambled for cover as heavy drops cascaded and the winds picked up. As Daniel and I dashed back to our tent, I made sure the winds hadn’t knocked anything over on any of the shrines. I decided to move the candles and other sensitive goods back into their storage totes; as for the statues, I wasn’t adverse to getting them wet. In fact, Sekhmet and Bast were quite used to it, as the entire ritual I dedicated to them last year took place in a savage downpour, which you can read about here.
Mercifully, the storm ended before 9 o’clock, which was when the Opening Ritual was scheduled at the main ritual site in the forest. The beautiful, to me, thing about this ritual is the tradition of participants joining in with candlelit lanterns, the effect of which is lovely and spiritually moving beyond words. We stood in solidarity and invoked the Powers, the wards, the alliances with spirits near and far for a safe and soulful week of growth and connection. For a brief, sparkling moment, we literally shone.
Who knows how long Between the Worlds we were when another volley of storms rolled in, one which would last through the night and pound with fierce intensity. We scattered once again and sloshed our way through mud to get back to our campsites. This would be the start of constantly soaking, mud-drenched feet for Daniel and me, feet that would never dry off. I slept uneasily, awakened by the intensity of another storm system in the wee hours of the morning. Parts of the tent were leaking, getting some of our clothing and other supplies wet. I groaned. The storms lessened into steady rainfall; it didn’t let up until 8 or so on Monday morning.
A new day meant a new beginning. Surrounded by water, I truly began to appreciate the ancient Egyptians’ Creation stories of the Primeval Waters of Nun, the Chaos that prevailed before Creation. And Creation wasn’t a one-time event: it was an ongoing occurrence, one in which the priests of the civic temples participated with their ritual enactments of Zep Tepi, the First Moment, when the Waters of Chaos parted for the Great Mound, on which stood either Atum or Ra or Neith or Khnum or Ptah–take your pick–ready to bring the world of manifest existence into Being. Unzipping my tent and staring at the squishy ground surrounding the tent and the murky waters of the pond before me, I understood why the heart rejoices with each new day.
And it was going to be a great day, a day of learning, of the first full day of PSG and attending peoples’ workshops. My Kemetic Reconstructionism one was slated for 3-4:30 p.m., but I was itching to do it sooner, as I explained to Daniel. His phurpa-related workshop wasn’t slated until Saturday, the very end of the week, so he had a lot of time to get acclimated to the festival before presenting his own material.
“Mighty Sutekh, stay Your hand and let my talk take place under an unperturbed sky,” I prayed in a half-whisper before the god’s statue.
Relentless, piercing gold-lined gaze. Quiet. Strength.
June 15, 2015
So Tamilia, Daniel, and I were still sitting and talking while enjoying our hard ciders when the following surprise announcement was made quietly by a red-bearded stranger (Set? Thor?) who accosted us from behind.
“Excuse me,” he said. We whirled around and knew from his clothing that he was a member of the safety crew. “We’ve just received word that this entire area is going to be uninhabitable due to flooding. You literally have about twenty minutes to pack your essentials and head to higher ground up by the pavilion. If your vehicle is parked in the main field, you have permission to bring it onto the lane into the Quieter Camp to load up your gear but do not attempt to drive your vehicle into the grass. The water is already ankle-deep towards the creek behind you and it is rising steadily, along with the creek itself. Please go about your packing and evacuation calmly.”
And off he went to spread the word without raising peoples’ panic levels.
Tamilia asked if we needed help packing the shrine materials but Daniel and I said while we were grateful for her offer, we would handle it. She needed to get back to her own campsite. Soon, the winds picked up to gale-force levels and the rain really began to pound with blinding, horizontal ferocity. Daniel said he was going to go try and bring the SUV onto the little lane so we could more easily tote our gear. It was a dicey proposition considering that we had, as you’ll recall, gotten stuck in that very field on our way in the previous day, and it had rained several more inches since then. We both feared him getting stuck again but it was the risk we had to take. I said I would take care of the gear and stay put until he arrived. We parted with a nervous kiss and an exchange of “I love you” and my heart truly sank as I watched him run across the flooding meadow. But I had my work cut out for me and I couldn’t afford to indulge in my rising sense of separation anxiety.
“Do you need help?” First one volunteer, then a second, came by to help me pack up my sensitive ritual objects in bubble wrap and pack them gently in their storage totes. The first volunteer, a nice young lady named Beth, also helped me lower the legs on my easy-up canopy so it would be less likely to blow away in the strong winds. “You need to leave right now. What can I help you carry? Where’s your purse? Do you have prescription medications or food you need at your side? Just grab your essentials and go,” she said. “Head up the lane back to the pavilion; that’s the highest ground here.”
I squinted as the rain was pelting my eyes, but I could tell there already were a couple of hundred people standing under the awning of the pavilion, motioning for me and the few people stationed in the Quieter Camp to come over to them. A horde of colored ponchos as far as I could see.
Panic started to grip me full-throttle at that point. I unzipped the tent and saw that the mattress, the batteries, our luggage full of clothing, our bags of food and other supplies–all were already under several inches of water. The mattress began to float about as if pushed by unseen hands. I doubled over in shock; how did so much water get here so quickly?
Another woman came and yelled at me to grab my purse and leave without concern for anything else. “It’s just STUFF!” she shrieked into the wind. “You need to get out of here NOW!”
I felt indignant. Stuff? I looked over at the shade canopy on its stubby metal legs, under which lay stacked my plastic storage totes with the implements of my Gods, of my craft, of my priestesshood. Stuff? No, lady, this isn’t “stuff” to me, and damn you to Helsinki for not knowing what it means to pledge lifelong service to Powers, you shitty excuse for a Pagan!!!
“NO!” I yelled back. “I’m not going ANYWHERE! My fiancé went to go get our car and I’m not leaving until he gets back! He would have no idea where to look for me if I left for the pavilion! I’m NOT GOING!” I stomped in the water, which was about eight inches deep where I stood.
“You could text him and he’ll know!” she shouted back at me. “You can’t linger here!”
“No, my phone is dead! And I’m not leaving–not this site, not my ‘STUFF’! I’M STAYING PUT!”
And I went into the tent, which had acquired several more inches of water during my heated exchange with this fool, and scooped up Dan’s soggy suitcase of clothes, the soaked air mattress pump, and our pathetic backpack of dried foods. I started slogging things into the Red Flyer wagon parked to the side of the tent, where the cooler was lodged in rising waters. I covered the items with tarp and then went to hunker down under the shade canopy where my Sacred Objects lie.
Alone with none but Thee, my Gods. Alone with none but Thee, my Gods.
Over and over, that’s the thought I kept repeating until I actually started to say it aloud like a mantra. Then the words of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” came to mind:
“Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
Alone with none but Thee, Son of Nut. Bull of Ombos. Roarer. Divine in Your Rage. Here at the Dissolution of All Things.
Would Nun reclaim the land? Undo Creation itself? In that harrowing time, it felt like it. Where was Daniel? I peeked out from under the flap while squatting, scanning the crest of the hill in vain. He wasn’t visible. Nor was Beowulf. I nervously began to chew on my fingernails.
And in that moment I knew the freedom that dissolution brings, the freedom from being attached to the outcome of “life.” Of no longer caring, just accepting what was before me in all its shocking horror, my own mortality included. I was not above the limitations that Nature had placed on me, neither was anyone else. Perhaps I had fulfilled my purpose in this life and I could become one with the flood, get washed back into Non-Being, nondifferentiation. What if death really was this easy after all–that this cultural expectation that there has to be struggle involved, that there has to be resistance to its gaping maw, is just so much HORSESHIT? I would be honored to be known for having “gone down with the ship,” as it were, staunchly refusing to part with my Numinous-tinged accoutrements of my calling.
Alone with none but Thee.
“Are you okay in there?” A man with a blonde mustache poked his face in. He wasn’t dressed in the safety council’s colors, so he was a regular volunteer. I would never find out his name.
“I don’t know,” I said hollowly.
“Well, why don’t you head for higher ground?”
“I’m not leaving this spot. My fiancé is coming back for me; he went to get our SUV.”
“A lot of vehicles are stuck in the mud right now, doll. What’s your fiancé’s name? What does he look like? What kind of SUV?”
I furnished the stranger with the information he needed and he suggested I may as well make the best of my surroundings while I’m here: “Sit back, pull your camp chair back out; put your feet up. Everything’s going to be okay. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”
Just another surreal interlude to add to the surreality of this evening poised between the gates of Death and Life, I blankly mused.
How long had I crouched there in stillness/madness? I don’t know. The friendly mustache reappeared: “I found your man. He got stuck something awful, I couldn’t believe it–that huge SUV. Stuck like the small cars next to it. But he’s on his way; there’s a long line of cars. You see people are exiting on the same road as folks wanting to pack here are trying to come in. There’s a lot of, uh, negotiating of right-of-way right now. But it’s good, it’s good. Daniel is coming. Sit tight. You’ve got a cooler back there,” he observed. “What’s in it?”
“You want a hard cider?” I asked. Natural disaster be damned, I wasn’t going to give up my Serbian upbringing of showing hospitality to strangers. “I should have one or two left.”
“Oh yum! I love cider!” he exclaimed. I got up and walked behind the wholly flooded tent to extract an Angry Orchard Green Apple cider from the cooler.
The man thanked me and pocketed the bottle in his windbreaker’s pocket. “Thank you! You have no idea how I’m going to savor this more than any other beer I’ve ever had,” he said.
“I need to be thanking you,” I said. “I’m truly grateful for your cheerfulness and kindness now.”
“Hey, we’re Tribe, right? How else would we be treating each other?” And he winked at me and disappeared. I waited for what seemed like five more minutes before I poked my head out from under the canopy and saw the divine sight of my Daniel slogging through the flooded little lane towards me.
“DANIEL!” I screamed and ran towards him. It really was like something from a movie; I started sobbing freely. He grabbed my face in his hands and kissed me feverishly. “I was so worried about you!” he yelled. “It killed me to know you were being left behind in this mess. Guess what: I got stuck, but a lot of awesome folks pushed me out, and one man came up to me and just asked out of the blue, ‘Are you Daniel? Your fiancée wanted me to tell you she’s still at the site and won’t leave until you return. Let’s get you back to her.'” Daniel wiped his forehead with his soaked jacket sleeve. “And here you are, thank Hekate!”
Our mysterious benefactor appeared again and pointed out since the SUV had to be left at the top of the hill adjacent to the pavilion, we would have to make several trips to convey our gear. I’d already loaded the wagon with as much as it could carry, and Daniel began the slog back through the muck and uphill while I began to stack the remainder of our supplies under the shade canopy. It was clear to me that the tent itself we’d used as our shelter was too damaged by the series of storms to salvage; I had made the decision to toss it. It was a sad decision as that tent was my companion through the past five years of PSG experiences. Well, Daniel and I would get a bigger, better tent to see us through other adventures.
The last of our items had been packed after what seemed like an exhausting game of Tetris, SUV Edition. Daniel announced that his preference was just to drive back home; after all, we had lost our shelter. I nodded in sad agreement. We were given clearance to take the road as an exit back toward the main gates, and along our slow and somber drive I periodically rolled the window down to yell goodbyes to friends I would no longer see until next year. Some came up to me and kissed me goodbye; everyone wished the both of us safe travels. I never did get the name of that kind stranger with the mustache who proved to be so helpful but I did hug him goodbye to show my thanks before I climbed into the SUV’s front passenger seat, which was piled with soggy gear.
Once we’d gotten onto the country roads that would eventually lead us back to the small town of Shabbona, Illinois, I really began to inwardly grieve. What a loss. And all around me, in the flooded fields of crops that would invariably spoil and the herds of frightened cattle standing in water above their knees, more loss. It seemed as if the Cosmos itself was weeping. I prayed to my Patron Goddess, Nebet-Het: Kite of Mourning, be with me in my hour of grief.
The drive back to Chicago was made difficult by flooding on the expressway in certain pockets and when Dan and I exited thinking major streets would make for effective thoroughfares, we were greeted by horribly flooded streets (Mannheim Road, North Avenue) with ridiculously backed-up traffic. It took us over four hours to get home; I was hungry, sad, irritable, and knew that the onset of depression as part of PTSD was inevitable.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Perversely, the day was perfectly sunny. I couldn’t function. Once out of bed, I could only trudge onto the sofa, where depression clamped down on me like a vise grip. As I would later come to learn on Facebook, the epic struggle at PSG by the brave volunteers to get everyone’s vehicles out of the mud and safely evacuated became known as “The Battle of Lake Keys,” for thus the flooded parking lot/field had been christened. Warrior energy was still felt on the campsite by the folks who stayed behind to ensure that everyone else left safely. Here are some shots to convey the sense of both the damage and the sweet victory:
Daniel was sad more for me than for his own sake. Even though he was a “PSG virgin” and had much to look forward to, he was relieved to be back home and said he really didn’t care for the festival experience. He’s too much of an introvert. And those people, they’re my friends, not his. Furthermore, it turned out he was completely unprepared for his talk: he’d left both his outline as well as copies of his bibliography here at home, and it wasn’t until Monday afternoon that he’d realized that. So perhaps Something was sparing him from giving his talk because It knew that he wouldn’t be there after all.
I was devastated and felt worse than pond scum for being back home when I should have been back on the land. My Set ritual was scheduled for Wednesday, and I was heartbroken that I wasn’t going to be giving it.
“I wonder how many people are going to put two and two together,” Daniel mused. “You brought Set with you. Set, the God of Storms. And we got flooded out of PSG.”
He said that before either of us had learned that the festival was officially canceled. For the first time in its 35-year history, PSG had to be canceled due to severe weather and the site’s inability to cope. I read the Wild Hunt blog post friends on Facebook were sharing; I had mixed feelings, as on the one hand I didn’t feel so morally reprehensible for making the choice to return home when the site itself was deemed unsafe. On the other hand, I felt the communal outpouring of loss, of connections severed, of my intent to have my spiritual batteries recharged cut short. Tuesday was a day of keening, deep and protracted wailing. I felt that I would be needing a soul-retrieval ceremony from a shamanic practitioner friend of mine in the very near future. I knew I was feeling acute soul loss, individually and at the collective level.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Daniel suggested we go to Six Flags Great America to make the most of our time off work, and inject a note of fun into our lives that the two of us badly needed. I’d had spiritual epiphanies on roller-coasters before, especially related to the Kemetic Gods, so I went to the theme park with the conscious intent of worshiping Set, especially since the ritual I was supposed to have done for Him at PSG was supposed to have taken place that day. So instead of talking to people about Set’s various epithets, like the Bull of Ombos, and the notable highs and lows His cult underwent in Egypt’s remarkably uniform 3,000-year history, I got to pray to Set as the Bull of Ombos while riding my favorite coaster, Raging Bull:
I appreciated Daniel’s intent, and was glad to have had some fun in what turned out to be a difficult, emotionally draining week.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Set, Son of Nut, God of the Twofold Strength, be with me. Make me strong and bless me with clarity for I know not where to turn, here at the Dissolution of All Things. With your iron lance, unfetter me from all foes, visible and invisible, physical and spiritual. Bless me with sekhem, bless me with heka to speak the words of power needed to make manifest my new creation, a life culled from the void of the death of dreams, of shattered expectations.
May I rise in strength to meet You.
So be it.