For a long time, I felt a bit down (and it’s not the fault of anyone specific) because the astral/journey-work tends to come up a lot in my daily dealings with the Pagan/Polytheist/Recon community (as a whole). First and foremost: there’s nothing wrong with astral travel or journey work, and I don’t dislike you if you’re someone who partakes in it (and trust me, no one person alone caused me to feel this way from the start). The reason I felt this way was because I seem to be, based on the larger P/P/R Internet community, one of the few who strays away from or nearly never visits the astral or does journey work at all.
“Well, why let others affect who and what you are?” one might ask. Let me ask in return: have you ever been afraid of or not interested in doing something that a lot of your friends or people you might know like to do or feel like they need to do – but you wish you could, because THEY do and you love them? Or, even more simply, have you ever been affected by peer pressure? Have you ever doubted your own decisions – have you ever thought, “everyone else does ____, why don’t I? Is there something wrong with me? Will I fit in better if I start doing ___?” You could equate it to anything else in the mundane world really – smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using other drugs, drinking coffee, drinking soda, eating certain foods, staying up late at night regularly, casual sex, working out, playing certain video games – literally, anything that a group of people around you might really enjoy, but you’re not sure about or don’t think could work well with your particular lifestyle. You might call me cowardly, or easily influenced, but I honestly think every human on this earth is affected in one small way or another by peer pressure, by society, by the other humans around them. I think it is rare to find a person out there who does not look to others for some form of approval, or companionship, or acceptance. It’s in our nature to want those things, we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
But, we should know our own limits. We should know when to cross the line for others (be it to help another person, to get to know another person, to be accepted into a group of people, etc.) and when to do what’s safe and healthy for our own individual selves. Existing in the mainstream, secular, mundane community called “the human race” takes as much balance and understanding of the self as existing in a more specified/defined spiritual community, such as the P/P/R one (or, even more specifically, the Kemetic one).
It’s hard, though. It’s not meant to be easy.
How do we find our place within the various human communities we belong to? How do we find our place within religion? In secular society, “finding one’s place” is as difficult, if not more difficult, than how we might find ourselves within religion. What career will you have, what person will you marry, what purpose do you serve – these are all the questions we have to deal with on a daily basis. Some of us have found our dream careers, some of us have found tolerable careers that serve us well until we DO find our “dream work,” and some of us are stuck in nightmares of jobs for various temporary or more-permanent reasons. Some of us may never know what our “dream careers” are, but have found other ways to be happy. Some of us have gone to school, have become scholars; some of us have worked from day one at some hands-on job or another. Some of us form families, have children, create households with one or multiple partners (romantic, sexual, and/or platonic – there is a myriad of relationship options out there). Some of us are single and loners for life, and are none the worse for it. Some of us travel, some of us settle down.
The fact of the matter is: there are many, many, many roles – all equally valid and helpful for society – to be filled by all of us in the world. The world needs artists and musicians as much as it needs doctors and lawyers. The world needs writers and educators as much as it needs mechanics and IT specialists. The world needs mothers and fathers as much as it needs solitary community builders. The world needs followers as much as it needs leaders.
And you know what? On a much smaller scale, religion works the same way.
Some of us are meant to travel, to do journey-work, to explore the other realms and the astral plane. Some of us are driven there by Gods, by spirits, by our own desires and dreams and curiosity. Some of us are inspired from the start to be mystics or shamans, to delve deeply into the unseen worlds of magic and chaos and unknown energies. Some of us don’t start out that way, but find that we are called to it later in life or when the time is right to deal with a particular aspect from our pasts or presents that needs dealing with in that manner.
And some of us are never meant to go there at all.
I am one of those people. I’m never going to be a mystic or a shaman, nor will I likely ever journey regularly or visit the unseen worlds. I do not feel called to it and never have. Journey work can border on both benevolent and terrifying: and I have no desire for either, and in addition, none of my Gods has ever asked me to go there anyway. I am a person of the waking world, I am a person of the seen realm. I am a woman of the four elements, as they manifest physically, not metaphysically. My heka – my magic – is written, spoken, crafted, tangible. It’s not better than the journey work of others, of course not. It is simply unique to me. I think my Gods know this, and know that I would not do well or I am not mentally capable of handling the astral or journey work as a primary means of devoting to Them or as a way to work through my own personal issues, etc.
I used to feel ashamed of the above facts, upset at myself for “not fitting in,” for wanting to be more like those who journey…I would read the beautiful and scary and deeply resonate experiences of friends and others online of their own journey work and revelations while journeying and I would think, “how is my work, how is what I do, my daily, tangible life, as important or magical or healing or revelatory as the work these people are doing, for both themselves and others?”
Then, today, I read an article that really helped me come to terms with myself, and my “role” within my religion, and my larger religious community. It was posted on a small community Facebook forum I belong to with a few other Internet Kemetics. After many of us read it, we had a discussion about “roles” in Kemeticism, and how there’s a general feeling (within the Kemetic community, but also within the greater P/P/R community) of, as a friend put it, “too many Chieftains, not enough tribespeople.” Too many people, it seems, feel like they need to know everything there is to know about their religion, and that it’s most important to exist within the P/P/R community as some sort of deeply devoted, be-all-end-all mystic/shaman-esque spiritual leader, otherwise, you mean very little to the Gods or the others in the community. It seems to be a constant comparison fest – which I admit that I too have fallen victim to! – of “whether or not I’m living up to the expectations set by this community.” Wanting a “God-phone”, wanting a solid magical practice, wanting a “name” within the community, wanting to appear learned about everything, wanting to do journey work, all of these things seem to stem from the overall expectation that you must do all you can to make yourself worthy before the Gods, or at least worthy in the eyes of the others who already HAVE made themselves worthy before the Gods.
And we forget.
We forget that in antiquity – and hell, even now, in the more major religions (such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) – there are priests and spiritual leaders for a reason. And that reason is that everyone isn’t meant to carry the weight of an entire religion on his or her shoulders. Just like my example above with varying career paths in secular life – not everyone is meant to be President of the United States (or leaders of other countries)…in fact, not everyone is meant to be in positions of power or leadership of varying degrees. Doctors need nurses to aid them; politicians needs volunteer factions and political parties to keep them going; and schools need principals, but they also needs teachers, and they also need parents, and they also need bus drivers and janitors to support them. It’s the same in religion. Religions need followers, “laypersons”, as much as they need mystics, shamans, leaders, priests, etc. As the Kemetic Orthodoxy likes to state it, “The Remetj – “the people of the faith” – are the foundation of Kemetic Orthodoxy, not the priests.”
And priest-status or layperson-status aside, there are so many other roles to be filled within a religious community. All religions need lorekeepers – scholars and writers to study and keep the existing mythologies alive and to document new stories as they form and come about. Religions, especially the P/P/R ones, need healers, shamans, diviners, and mystics of many different types and levels – and such people can work on a deeply intimate “priestly-level” or on a more casual “layperson” level, depending on individual choice and calling. But religions, including the P/P/R ones, also need basic support – the mothers and fathers who educate their children about the religions; the women and men who do work in communities for their God or Gods (volunteers, people who dedicate what they do to Divine Service); and those of us who simply give our support, our love, our trust, and our help (in whatever ways we can) to those who HAVE chosen to take on “more serious roles” (such as priestly service or deeper shamanistic/journey workings).
As I wrote on the Facebook group this afternoon, after finally coming to terms with what I know will always be my role within the Kemetic community (as it grows and develops), as well as within the larger P/P/R community:
“I wanna be the lady who bakes the bread and brews the tea for the priests/shamans when they come home from their crazy journey work and need some rest and a hot drink. I want to be the support, the foundation, the love, and the help that’s needed to support not just the Gods, but the people who sacrifice and CAN sacrifice enough to do “more” than a layperson could do. That’s how I see myself progressing, if needed within a larger community faith.”
And you know? That’s ok. And if you’re someone like me – someone who does not journey, who does not do more complex magic (a sigil here and there), who does divination mostly for yourself (and to communicate with your Gods), who puts more stake in baking bread or brewing tea than you might in dreams and trances and meditations, who talks to your Gods while in the shower or in the kitchen (and not necessarily ever in another plane of existence), who loves with all your heart the others in your faith and would do all you could to help your faith grow in the seen world (do service work, create music or art, help educate, support the leadership that may already exist, etc.), who is content in going no farther than calling yourself a layperson…it’s ok. You matter too. We all matter.
I know where I stand when it comes to religion. When I do daily Tarot, there’s a card that always comes up whenever I ask the question, “What is my personal ‘status-quo’, my natural state of being?” That card is the Queen of Pentacles. The Queen of Pentacles is traditionally symbolic of, not spiritual development or leadership or otherworldly powers or even magic. She is deeply maternal and material, and she exists very firmly on the earth-plane. But she is kindness, she is support, she is a caregiver, and she is love. She is the foundation of the home, of the community.
That’s me. That’s my role. That’s where I stand.
And I could not be more proud of knowing that.