Amulets, Ancient Egypt, Anubis, Candle Magick, Detox, Devo, Egyptian Gods, Essential Oil, Feng Shui, Heka, Honey, Incense, Isfet, Kemetic, Ma'at, Prayer, Purification ritual, Ritual, Ritual Bath, Senut, Set, Seth, shrine, Sobek, Spiritual, Sutekh, The Twisted Rope, Yinepu
I recently engaged in another “PURIFY ALL OF THE THINGS” binge, and decided to document my process this time around. My process is by no means the only legitimate process, and in this exposition, I will provide a series of different methods, all of which, while presented from a Kemetic perspective, are easy to implement and adapt to suit one’s own practice and purposes.
For additional methods and insight on practical magic, feel free to peruse Devo’s series. Most of the methods I will explain in the following paragraphs are listed in her series, though she lists additional methods the reader might find more in tune with hir personal practice than those I provide in my presentation.
WHY IS PURIFICATION IMPORTANT?
Just as we can accumulate dirt and unwanted “bad” bacteria on our skin from coming into contact with contaminated creatures, objects, and atmospheres, so too can our individual spirits and energies accumulate “bad” elements by way of negative emotions, traumas, and other forms of intangible contamination. And, just as “bad” bacteria can cause infection if it is not washed away, so too can negative energy cause a sense of spiritual confinement, stagnation, extreme personal difficulty, and pain, if it is allowed to linger and fester. It can cloud the lines of communication between you and your ancestors, Gods, and various (beneficent) Spirits. If you have too much negative energy hanging around you, it is quite possible for you to attract unwanted elements, including malign Spirits.
For inanimate objects and the physical spaces we occupy, a similar principle is at work. Objects and spaces are just as likely, if not more so, to soak up the negative energies we and others track into our lives and everyday experiences. When our tools and work stations are dirty and untidy, we clean them. Or at least, we’re supposed to.
Purification rites and rituals serve the essential purpose of removing the ick and grime of negative energies from our objects, spaces, and ultimately, selves. There are any number of methods one may use to achieve spiritual cleanliness, as one’s respective religious discipline(s) demand. The Ancient Egyptians were renown for their high standard of personal and spiritual hygiene. While to many of us it may seem a bit much, I am personally a firm believer in “no precaution taken is a regretted precaution,” and prefer to stick to many of the Ancient standards of purity, within reason and Modern feasibility.
HOW DO I PURIFY MYSELF?
Self or personal purification can be achieved any number of ways. The most basic is what I call “surface cleansing,” or taking ritual baths. Using non-iodized salt (natron), quality organic herbs, and/or quality, diluted organic essential oils (it is imperative you click that link, as it contains vital information about the nature and safe use of essential oils that are not nearly discussed enough), one can purify one’s external form, and create a healthy, albeit temporary, barrier. If baths are not expedient or possible, using ritually pure salt scrubs or mixing a bit of natron into one’s shampoo, liquid soaps, et cetera, for use during showers is equally effective. Using pharmaceutical grade non-iodized salt is the safest option when it comes to avoiding potential allergic reactions and the like. Be very careful with what you choose to put on your skin, near your eyes and other sensitive tissues, and be very careful not to ingest anything that could be potentially dangerous.
More intensive and rigorous are “deep cleanses,” which many people find very hard to commit to. They could take months, or even years, but are essential to total wellness. A “deep cleanse,” as per my own definition and employment, includes a detox regimen (approved by a competent certified nutritionist, of course), that consists of appropriate dietary overhauls complete with a consonant exercise regimen. It also incorporates the unpacking of psycho-emotional baggage, which is commonly the biggest hindrance most people have in terms of making any significant personal/spiritual progress. Seeing a competent licensed clinical social worker to address one’s stagnating schemata and other mental blocks is often a great commitment to make, if one is willing to do the cognitive legwork. Most people really cannot safely or effectively address psycho-emotional problems on their own, not being able to see the forest for the trees, any more than they can perform surgery on themselves. Too often I see people retreating into religion and spirituality as a means of escaping various traumas or psychological disorders that need to be faced in a pragmatic, professional setting. The maintenance of physical and psycho-emotional health, I find, is indisputably vital to a healthy, productive spiritual life. The fewer toxins that are in one’s system, the better nourished one’s body and mind are, the better-maintained one’s “operating system” is, the more constructively one can interact with the world and entities around them, and be spiritually nourished thereby.
However, “perfection” is neither humanly possible nor necessary. The sooner one removes that word from one’s vocabulary, the better off one will undoubtedly be in life. We’re all works in progress. The idea is to make one’s body as squeaky clean as possible, and to remove as many mental-emotional and physical distractions as possible, before inserting oneself into any ritual setting that requires focus and intent. If one is feeling doubtful, if one lacks confidence, if one has no concept of self-worth, if one tracks mud of everyday woes into the ritual chamber, one will likely experience some level of difficulty in trying to articulate heka or engender magic with any staying power.
Notes on Personal Purity in Egyptian Religion: sexual intercourse was not and is not considered inherently “sinful” within most Polytheist traditions. To the Ancient Egyptians, it was considered a physically “dirty” act and was to be abstained from on certain holy days, to the same extent that menstruation was considered a physically “unclean” process, but neither were considered to be taboo for “moral” reasons. They were only concerns under most circumstances for hygienic reasons. Physical hygiene was expected to be routinely maintained in order to aid in the preservation of one’s state of spiritual cleanliness. This included everything from shaving one’s body hair entirely (as a means of avoiding louse infestations) to keeping one’s nails trimmed. Some priests were also required to avoid wearing wool and abstain from the consumption of certain species of fish in order to maintain ritual purity. Most Modern Kemetics do not abide by most of these historical restrictions, while others (specifically ordained clergy of the Kemetic Orthodox tradition) do adhere to some, such as abstinence from the consumption of (certain) fish. Bathing before participating in any rite or ritual is, it is safe to say, near-universal protocol. In its most basic application in Antiquity, this consists of rinsing out the mouth with non-iodized salt (natron) and water, and scrubbing the body similarly.
HOW DO I PURIFY A SPACE?
It is important to make sure the space is physically clean and ordered before one ritually purifies that space. Is there a lot of waste and junk cluttering up the space — especially lingering articles from past relationships or belongings from deceased relatives that you never even liked nor have a practical use for anyway? Get rid of it. Don’t ask questions or hesitate, just do it. Is there a place for everything, and everything in its place? Organize it. Has a lot of neglected dust and grime accumulated in the space? Dust it, sweep it, vacuum it, wash it down. Two very handy resources to consult throughout this arduous process are Karen Kingston’s Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui and Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. This could take some time and a lot of self-reconciliation, but the peace of mind and “uninhibited flow of energy” one acquires through it are more than worth it. Once one learns how to effectively rid oneself of clutter, one finds that, with diligence and self-discipline, they are able to keep it from accumulating again.
Once this purgative process has been satisfactorily completed, and the space in question has achieved some semblance of order, the reader is ready to begin in earnest, ritually. Any combination of authoritative speech (“Words of Power”), sound, flame, salt/earth, and liquid (i.e., floor washes, which are commonly used in Vodou practice) can be effectively employed to establish the purity of a space, and banish negative elements from it. I will address these methods in detail in the MY PROCESS section.
Be sure, however, not to use any substances that would be damaging to various surfaces in your home or office, or harmful for your pets! Many a rug has been irreparably petrified by poorly-diluted natron.
HOW DO I PURIFY OBJECTS?
The purification of objects is practically identical to the purification of spaces, though objects typically have a dedicated purpose, as per the desires and needs of the individual. Using authoritative speech, liquids, incense, candles, salt or earth, and sound can invest specific, desired qualities into an object, though these are only a few of many possibilities one may employ. Again, one must be sure not to use any substances that would be harmful to the object in question. For instance, it would be neither wise nor effective to place any metal object in salt, as salt corrodes metal.
Amulets are a prime example. Amulets can be ambiguous items of power that hold a meaning only the possessor understands, or they can be God-specific. The overwhelming majority of mine — sucker for the shinies like the Set Kid I am — fall into the latter category.
Placing an amulet or other item on or near to a God’s icon and asking the God to bless it in exchange for offerings and words of praise is another method of purifying (as well as charging) an object.
Since I did not have an Amun statue of my own, I fashioned a (rather crude) travel shrine-sized votive of the God out of polymer clay. I wrapped my Amun amulet around the votive in order to allow the God’s “blessing” to soak in. An added benefit: having made the statue with my own creativity and my own hands, it possesses some measure of my own energy.
To the left, a silver Udjat amulet is wrapped around a 7-day palm wax jar candle (palm wax burns evenly, slowly, and does not give off toxic emissions, unlike paraffin wax; like many, I prefer to use as many natural materials in my practice as possible. Beeswax is another natural, effective, and safe alternative to paraffin). White in Egyptian as well as other religions is a color that symbolizes purity, order, and balance. By attaching the amulet to, and lighting, the candle, the symbolic properties and energy of the candle are infused within the amulet.
Another method of cleansing and investing energy into an object that is fairly popular involves the use of ritual or altar boxes. I have a small, garish Anubiform box with all kinds of nonsense hieroglyphs all over it that I use primarily for Duamutef, but moonlights as a container representative of Yinepu, as needs dictate.
Inside this box, I placed a Jackal God amulet, along with amethyst (purple quartz) chips. Some practitioners maintain that, by storing amulets or other objects with certain minerals, the object takes on the properties of those minerals. Some minerals are thought to have purifying effects, which is why I have included this method in my presentation.
The ritual or altar box acts as a storehouse for energy, and keeps negative influences out. This quality is enhanced by encircling the box and sprinkling its lid with natron. After a few days, once the objects have been given adequate time in-shrine to be cleansed, the natron will be swept away.
The number of days an object is left in-shrine varies from practitioner to practitioner. Three, four, seven, and nine are common numbers employed by Polytheists and Pagans of various stripes, as they all carry various magical and religious significances. Four is cross-culturally considered to be a number of completion, so quite a few practitioners opt for four days. Others find that odd days are far more auspicious, and avoid even-numbered anything if they can help it.
Once that time has elapsed, the item is then ritually withdrawn from the shrine, and is ready for personal use. Objects lose their “charge,” however, and will periodically need to be replenished.
The following images may seem a bit cluttered, ironically. I have set up this purification in such a way as to illustrate various examples the reader can potentially use.
Normally, my shrine looks like this:
My shrine is situated atop a dresser; one of the drawers I reserve for storing ritual items — such as incense, bells, extra tealight candles for my oil diffuser, votives, and amulets — which I place on my shrine only when they are in use.
For the purification rituals I most recently performed, replete with offerings to the Gods, this is (a cropped photograph of) how my shrine looked:
— Amulets are draped around candles and icons to various deities. Heru-Wer holds a small Mourning Dove feather (in lieu of the traditional ostrich feather) to represent the establishment of ma’at. A silver bull amulet is fastened between Set and Heru-Wer’s icons, as both Gods are represented by bulls, and to represent Their coming together as the God Bawy, Who is a great purifying force.
On the right-hand side of the shrine is a glass of iced vanilla chai for Yinepu. At center, a salad for Set (celery, carrots, cucumbers, and leafy green vegetables like romaine lettuce are known for their intestinal and liver system detoxifying/cleansing properties — and in their virgin state, most of them look pretty phallic, Set being an ithyphallic God). To the left is a tincture of raw honey, natron, and filtered water, which I would use as a wash for purifying my space. In Ancient Egyptian belief, according to Oakes and Gahlin, honey wards off malevolent demons. Malevolent demons live a life inverted to that of humans, and find all things good and sweet (to us) entirely revolting and unbearable to be around. Honey is also one of the strongest naturally-occurring antiseptics. Off-camera are other offerings for Heru-Wer and Sobek, including gluten-free ginger beer and sliced green apples. Libations of cool water and vegetable rice crackers would later be added (I’m a Celiac and can’t do most breads or most alcohols, so I have to be a bit more creative with my offerings).
Before I began the purification ritual, I tidied up the shrine room and took care to set up everything I needed for the rituals I was about to perform, making sure that my hygiene was everything it should be. Though I don’t wear overly-special ritual attire of white linen, which is the ideal, I made sure to wear freshly washed and pressed clothes.
Next, I lit the candles and the oil diffuser between the icons of Set and Heru-Wer, speaking Words of Power as I did so, as per the Kemetic Orthodox rite of senut, opening the shrine. Then, I ignited incense in an iron and brass censer, carrying it about the perimeter of the room in one hand, and bore a bronze bell in the other. Beginning with the right-hand side of the shrine, I traced the edges of the walls, the outlines of the door to the room, the bookcase, other furniture and objects, and the windows, until I reached the left-hand end of the shrine. Then I proceeded to gently wave the plumes of incense over the objects on the shrine, cloaking the icons of the Gods, suffusing the items I wished to purify.
As I did all of this, I spoke these Words of Power, to establish ma’at in the space:
Iu ma’at er iyet er setes, isfest djarty er ruty / Ma’at is return to Her throne, for isfet has been driven away.
After each utterance, I rang the bell several times. The number of rings matters to some practitioners more than others. Personally I find the number of rings inconsequential. As a general rule, however, I find that tinkling, tinny bells don’t serve ritual purposes well. Loud and authoritative is the name of the game.
Next, I used the honey water and natron tincture I discussed earlier to further cleanse the space. I followed the same path around the room, carefully sprinkling the liquid onto the floor using my fingertips, repeating the same Words of Power, and then sprinkling the shrine and its contents with the mixture (if the reader decides to use this tincture, be sure to avoid using it with any sensitive fabrics or other surfaces that are susceptible to stains).
Once that step was concluded, I performed the henu gesture before the shrine, and offered words of praise and prayer to the Gods. I peppered into my praise and prayers the percussive music of a tambourine with steel clappers, in lieu of the sistrum that would have been used in Antiquity. Music is said to call the attention of the Gods. Menat necklaces were used in similar fashion to sistrums and other percussion instruments, and are rather simple for the reader to make, if a sistrum or tambourine is not at hand and the reader is so inclined. Musical instruments are important and often overlooked tools used during purification rituals — or any ritual, really. Like bells, they clear the air, set the mood, help the practitioner maintain focus, and make for excellent “punctuation marks” in ritual.
Finally, I thanked the Gods for Their presence, and ritually removed myself from the shrine. I allowed the candles to continue burning, to purify the amulets I had fastened to them. The candles will burn for a set number of days and nights, until they are exhausted. A concluding ritual will be performed, the natron swept from the shrine, the amulets and empty candle jars removed, and a fresh pair of palm wax candles will be installed.
Like amulets and other objects, the shrine or altar must be periodically cleansed as well, in order to reestablish order and maintain the cleanliness of the shrine or altar. This likewise encourages and sustains the relationship between God(s) and practitioner. There are many ways to go about this, not just the methods I explained, nor the process I went by. Nor is it a requisite to work with Gods in the first place! Paganism and Polytheism are beautifully open-ended that way. There are few wrong answers.
For my readers who were, or are, having trouble finding a place to start when it comes to matters of purification and simple, practical applications of heka/magic, I hope you were able to find something useful that you can apply to your own life and practice.
As always, if any of my readers have questions, comments, or requests, feel free to submit them.