“Fallow Time” – the dreaded phrase. A time period – the length of which we are almost never sure of in advance – when we feel spiritually “dry,” so to speak: our Gods are quiet (eerily so), our motivation to do ritual or do magic or do whatever it is that we usually do has disappeared, and we feel lost, confused, upset, distracted and/or a combination of all of these emotions.
Being still fairly new to Kemeticism (I’m just two years or so into my practice now, about, and not all of that time was spent strictly learning Kemeticism), I can’t say I’ve ever experienced fallow time to quite the same intensity/degree that others writing for this project might have. For one, I’ve simply not been Kemetic long enough for a significant amount of fallow time to “make a difference” in my practice. I will say this, however – there have certainly been times when I’ve doubted my connection to the Gods, doubted my abilities to perform heka, doubted whether or not Kemeticism was really right for me, etc. For me, “Fallow Time” is synonymous with “Period of Doubt.” So far during my time as a Kemetic, such times have been less about the Gods “leaving me” and more about “me leaving the Gods.”
My longest “Period of Doubt” so far was actually last year, 2012 – from June to August. Not only was I “doubting” myself and my connection to the Kemetic Gods at the time, but I had made a huge life-change in moving all the way across the world to live in Tokyo, Japan for the year…to be honest, it just wasn’t a good time for religion for me, too much was already changing, and too many secular things needed my full attention. I attended school and worked in Japan, and for the first month or so especially, I was beyond busy. A very tiny bit of background on me: I studied Japanese in college, and had lived in Japan twice before going last year, so it wasn’t so much the language barrier (which didn’t exist, since I could communicate) or the culture that made life harder for me, it was simply the huge decision to go there for so long, and build basically a whole new life there for the rest of 2012. I had decided to go last year so that I could study for and pass JLPT N2, an exam that would help me on my way to becoming a more qualified translator (funny story, though, I ended up teaching while in Japan and loved it so much that I’m actually considering getting my full teaching certification now that I’m back in America!). Anyway, while I love to travel and have done so often throughout my life, it was still a big deal – I had to essentially get used to, not a university-run study abroad program that’s catered to making one feel at home, but an independent lifestyle in which it was 100% up to me to make myself feel at home. There were amazing times, and there were challenging times, as might be expected.
It was during that time, though, that I “lost” my connection to the Gods – I suspect now it was mostly because I wasn’t listening, not in the least. I’d “turned off” spirituality in favor of becoming adjusted to Japanese life and improving myself while living there. Why the two couldn’t exist hand-in-hand, I didn’t really think about at the time. And perhaps it was all for the better, as you will see!
So, I didn’t practice anything Kemetic, or spiritual, for basically all of June and July 2012. I had thought, before coming to Japan, that I had a pretty good relationship building with the God Djehuty, but in Japan, I didn’t even think of Him, let alone hear from Him at all, at first. I’d brought His statue with me, but that means little when you don’t offer to the God or even make the space for a real, working shrine. Sure, my room was small (tiny, actually), but that’s not really a good excuse. The real reason I didn’t do anything was because I wasn’t feeling it – I was distracted. I’d let go. Luckily, though, the Gods are usually patient. When we leave Them, and when They leave us, for whatever reasons.
Then, in August of 2012, I made the big decision to climb Mt. Fuji.
Something you need to understand about Japan: despite my “spiritually distracted state,” Japan is a highly, highly spiritual place to live. The religions of Buddhism and Shinto are so fluidly integrated into everyday Japanese life, that most Japanese don’t even realize what they’re doing might be considered “religious.” They simply make offerings, speak to spirits, talk to inanimate objects, do little cultural traditions, visit shrines and temples, honor ancestors, eat certain foods at certain times, etc. all because it’s what they perceive to be “just what we do as Japanese people,” when really, from an outsider’s point of view, it’s what we might know to be the influences of Buddhist and Shinto traditions and history ingrained in their culture. That’s why, when you decide to climb Mt. Fuji, the Japanese will not only be very impressed with you, they will warn you to watch out for Fuji-san’s dangers. No, not the mountain’s dangers. The God – or Kami – who is the mountain’s dangers. “Fuji-san is a tricky old man,” they will say. “He is powerful beyond ages. A wise man climbs Him once; a fool, twice.”
I went into the climb not really realizing what an impact it would make on me, not only physically, but spiritually as well. The traditional and recommended way to climb Mt. Fuji is the begin at 7 pm or 8 pm and climb all through the night, reaching the summit somewhere around 3 am, where you then wait to watch the sunrise come up around 4 am. This sounds like it might be miserable and highly challenging. It is. But it is infinitely worth it in every sense of the phrase – because the difficult process of climbing Mt. Fuji is, quite literally, a spiritual trial, as much as a physical one, if you are open to it. Flashlights can only do so good at certain points. At a certain memorable point near the end, you literally have to hold onto the rock with both hands, your body hanging vertically, and rock-climb your way up, up, up, up into what the Japanese call “the Cloud Ceiling.” You simply have to trust yourself, and trust the mountain around you, and trust the other climbers making their way up as you do. We had oxygen tanks with us, as well, because the atmosphere truly does change, and it gets hard to breath. We had water, snacks, and medicine – but it made no difference. We were still exhausted and drained by the end. I think nobody goes into that climb ready for the mental drain it takes, even if they are prepared for the physical drain.
Mt. Fuji is about 3,000 meters / 12,300 feet high. It is a dormant volcano – meaning it’s not dead, no. It’s just sleeping. There is a power, an energy, that resonates around that mountain…that everybody climbing can feel. I remember a distinct memory of one of the Japanese tour guides leading a group near us point out into the gloomy darkness and say, “Do you see those lights, those tiny flashes far away? That’s Tokyo.” Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world, pinpricks of light. We were higher than I had even imagined, because time stands still when you climb that mountain. You become lost in the darkness, in the gloom, in the clouds, in the ethereal energy that pervades every rock, tree, and plant. You climb on because there’s no going back. There are no ski-lifts open during the climbing season of Mt. Fuji. On some parts of the mountain there are lodges you can stay at, for very expensive prices (they also have toilets and food). And there are a few well-placed medical stations, if needed. But as the Japanese are fond of saying: if you begin the climb, you finish it.
And then you see it. Suddenly, out of the gloom, out of the rain/snow/sleet, out of the Cloud Ceiling, one emerges and is greeted by a single-standing red torii gate. Red torii gates mark the entrances to Shinto shrines all throughout Japan, and you must pass through them before entering the shrine area. They are symbols literally reminding you that you are passing from the mundane into the spiritual. They say that on the other side of every torii gate is an entrance to the Unseen World, the world of spirits, and of the Kami.
At the very summit of Mt. Fuji stands a single torri gate. There are no shrines on the top of Mt. Fuji, but there is that gate. This is because the entirety of Mt. Fuji’s summit is a shrine. The entirety of Mt. Fuji is a God. When you enter the summit of Mt. Fuji, you enter the domain of Japan’s greatest Kami.
It is, without a doubt, the most spiritual place I have ever stood in my entire life, under that gate. As the sun began to rise, the gate’s red color began to shine, and the entire universe began to brighten. I have never felt so sure of what Creation must have looked like as I did while watching the sun rise from the top of Mt. Fuji. I can’t even begin to describe in words the energy of that place. You could look into the crater of the volcano, stare into the depth of Fuji, and believe me, when I looked, I felt Him looking back.
And, at the risk of sounding corny, at that moment I “woke up again,” so to speak. I realized that just because I was busy, just because I had a new home for the rest of the year, didn’t mean I should put off being spiritual. At that moment, there was no doubt in my mind that spirits were real, magic was real, and the Gods were real, and I wanted them back in my life again.
It was after climbing Mt. Fuji that I made a shrine on my desk in Japan, finally taking out Djehuty’s statue. It was after climbing Mt. Fuji that I began visiting more Shinto shrines and Buddhist Temples around Tokyo and using their amazing energy and power to help me deal with the lack of my normal spiritual community (being away from my Kemetic friend, and others in the Pagan/polytheist community, as well as my Jewish family/community). I became inspired to find the only Jewish synagogue in Tokyo and visit once or twice, when time allowed. I made offerings of Japanese mikan – a citrus fruit – to Djehuty, and prayed to Him often. Through that, He helped me come to terms with my life in Japan, and my academic and career goals. I also learned Tarot, and Bibliomancy, and I studied Kabbalah and Earth-based Judaism under Ketzirah of Peeling a Pomegranate. And when I returned home, to America, the Ladies came to me. They pushed me to sign up for the Kemetic Orthodoxy beginner’s course, and explore my spirituality as a Kemetic even more in depth. I felt renewed; inspired on a whole new level. Ready to learn more about myself, and ready to continue growing spiritually.
So, what kinds of advice can I provide for those who may find themselves in fallow time? In short, I can’t promise that every fallow time will be similar for every person in any particular spiritual path, but I can promise, however, that there are ways to deal with it. The way I dealt with mine will not always be the way that works best for someone else; but there is one thing that I’ve personally found, especially through my experience last year, that might be able to help others…and that is: sometimes, what you really need in order to “find” your spirituality again after a period of fallow time, is not to sit idly by and wait for things to “get better again.” Take action, have an open mind. Go out there and experience the world, and see what happens! You may not have as powerful an experience as I did on Mt. Fuji, but you never know! Sometimes all we need is a little reminder that there are amazing, intense, interesting, and beautiful energies around us – outside of our personal Gods and our personal paths – that can perhaps serve as vehicles of centering, as ways to bring us back to where we started before entering fallow time (whether we entered on our own accord or because the Gods left us that way, etc.).
And, you know, sometimes we need a break. And the Gods know that, They do. Sometimes distractions are ok. Sometimes getting wrapped up in secular life can be a breath of fresh air we never even knew we needed. So don’t panic if you fall into a fallow period, either because you pushed yourself there or you were pushed there – try to fill that time with activity and progress, even if that progress comes from other areas of your life. There’s nothing wrong with it, and you’ll be pulled back when ready.
So get out there, climb your own mountain!