With the exception of the Bears’ loss to the much-hated Packers in Soldier Field during the season opener, yesterday was a perfect day. The 2015 Chicago Pagan Pride event held at the historic Pleasant Home in Oak Park, Illinois, drew a record 500 attendees. And roughly 20 of those folks joined me at my 1 p.m. workshop and devotional ritual to honor the Great God Set.
Unlike my abbreviated experience at this year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), which was also held in Illinois, Chicago Pagan Pride was blessed with perfect weather–no rain, no storms, gloriously sunny and breezy with the temps hovering at 70 degrees F. I was informed by the event organizers that my “For the Love of Set” ritual event would take place at an outdoor site as opposed to being within Pleasant Home’s stately (and haunted, I might add) rooms. That turned out to be a choice location as the ritual participants and I wound up getting down and dirty with an excoriation ritual that involved the literal smashing of obstacles in the form of clay plates thwocked with a hammer I brought along with my ritual supplies. A lovely, eldritch beech tree served as the backdrop to my altar, which I decided to position in the east to honor the new beginnings promised by the Solar Eclipse and New Moon in Virgo; sunset would mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, as well. You couldn’t ask for more auspicious energy to commence a ritual working!
As with PSG this past June, I am grateful to my fabulous fiance/bodacious beau Daniel for assisting me with the meticulous and muscle-straining work of packing, loading, unloading, unpacking, and assembling all my traveling shrine’s precious contents. He also chose to participate in the ritual (my event was competing against no less than four others in the same time slot) and personally benefited from the ritualistic destruction of his perceived impediments to his spiritual growth. (As an aside, he’s newly begun a devotional relationship with Anubis; he says he’s going to have to “graduate” to working with Set when the time is right/the Son of Nut calls him!)
Strangely, I wound up missing both the opening and main rituals of the day, which is very uncharacteristic as I always love to show my support for the day’s major ritualists, whatever their Pagan tradition or group affiliation. It was two years ago that I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the main ritual of the event with my friend Johnny Rapture, so I know the level of hard work that goes into planning, rehearsing, and executing a ritual that caters to 500 people.
I missed the opening ritual as I was busy setting up my own ritual space, and I wound up missing the main ritual despite my and Daniel’s best efforts to get there punctually. I kept getting accosted by people I haven’t seen in either a year or in three months (since PSG, basically): friends and acquaintances shouted after me, dragged me off the main thoroughfare for exuberant hugs and small talk, and by the time I extricated myself and dashed off with Dan to the outdoor site of the main ritual space, I discovered, to my my shock, that the ritual that began at 4:00 p.m. was completely OVER by 4:17 p.m.!
Dan and I scratched our heads, bewildered. Well, that left us with more time to visit the vendors’ booths and support the local Pagan economy! My favorite purchase for myself came courtesy of the Crafty (see what I did there?) gals who own and operate Witchy Wearables, a metaphysical emporium in the south Chicago suburb of Midlothian. I’ve seen beautifully crafted ritual necklaces meant to honor certain Powers before, but none dedicated to the genius of Edgar Allan Poe! As someone who hosts an annual Poe Party that celebrates his living literary legacy, I HAD to have it! And yes, I wore it to work today.
Dan said aloud what I had been thinking: my ritual to Set was the apogee of ritual experience and communion with Deity for the day. It was certainly the only event that day that even bore the slightest imprint of devotional piety–the other workshops, you might say, were all types of Jnana Yoga–paths of knowledge. How to improve your ability to chant. Techniques to bolster your magical self-defense/psychic hygiene regimen. The history of the pentacle. A discussion on the future of Paganism. My Set ritual was the only one that was a form of Bhakti Yoga, devotional piety born of the heart, not the mind. To be sure, there was a lot of information I imparted in my ambitious Sethian agenda that preceded the ritual proper–a brief historical overview of His name(s) and their etymologies, the impossibility of zoologically classifying His animal head, a survey of His major cult centers and historical periods of worship in ancient Egypt, why His cult fell out of favor in the 19th Dynasty, and many other things. I also shared suggestions on modern correspondences–from altar set-up to ritual foods–in honoring Him.
But then it was time to get to work. As folks started trickling in to my workshop site and taking their seats, Daniel and I handed out individual four-inch diameter clay plates–the kind one would use as a saucer underneath a flower pot. We also handed out markers, instructing each participant to write words or phrases of whatever obstacles s/he wanted Set to help her or him literally smash out of existence. Upon writing the phrase, the plates were turned face-down on a separate altar cloth on the ground. I asked participants to note where they’d placed their plates for retrieval at the climax of the ritual, which was when, after building up energy by reciting, four times total, my Hymn to Set, we all wound up having a smashing good time! I handed out plastic bags to each participant; each one, in turn, bagged his or her plate. And then I raised high my hammer. “I’m going to pass this around counter-clockwise,” I said, “and to bolster our efforts, I want us all to yell in unison after the person is done smashing his or her plate, DUA SUTEKH! Hail, Set!”
You should have heard us, our chorus of Sethian voices screaming amongst the placid tranquility and the rolling green lawns of Pagan Pride’s landscape! We were something! A vocal tsunami! Set was there. He loved it all! Our roaring voices, the words of praise, the flowing chili pepper-flavored mead I’d brought to serve as a libation!
“Dua Sutekh!” came the shout in unison, mens’ and womens’ voices melding together in a furious uproar. Oh, the intensity of the release! People were very enthusiastic about ritually smiting their obstacles!
I’m a firm believer in handing out ritual swag afterwards, so after we’d finished passing around the mead and concluding our prayers of praise to the Bull of Ombos, I passed around my basket of papyri talismans, upon which I’d written one of three spells in hieroglyphics: Set’s power of the storm (it gives the recipient mastery over the element of Water); Set’s ability to roar/speak True of Voice (in essence, a throat chakra-clearing spell); or a stupendously long spell from the Pyramid Texts that grants the recipient Set’s aid in literally cutting baleful influences in perpetuity. Folks were deeply moved and happy to have received whatever spell they drew.
“You did a great job today, love,” Daniel told me afterwards as we toted my formidable array of heavy ritual equipment back to our humble hatchback of a car. “And you know I’m not just saying that because I love you. I love watching how you teach and preach. And Set was definitely with us. Everyone was really happy with how this turned out.”
I kissed him, thanking him for his kind words. I kept silent, thinking to myself how if people liked the ritual, that’s great–but that’s an ancillary result of why I do what I do. Was Set pleased? Did I help expand His presence in the world? Did I serve as a fitting vessel of His energies of power, pleasure, and protection–especially spiritual protection–on this day? That’s what I care about.
In all, it was a very memorable, glorious day. Hail, Set! Glory to You, Nubti, the Golden One! You shine resplendently in my heart, even like the Disk on the Crown of Ra.
It is so. Senebti!