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How I left my Kemetic temple

June 8, 2007

After I left ADF the first time (different story), I became part of another religious group for a few years, a Kemetic organization working to create a modern tradition honoring the gods of the ancient Egyptians.

I’m trying to convince myself that I spent time doing that. That I didn’t waste time, or throw it away. That I exchanged the time for something of value, even if I don’t know all of what it bought yet.

Some days are better than others.

I’m going to talk first about what’s left the strongest impression on me. This is the story of my leaving – so much as I’ve done – and what remains yet to do.

As it existed, the temple was mostly online. Members were scattered all over the country. There were forums, and classes held in chatrooms, and phone calls; the temple had a presence at one of the big annual Pagan gatherings, and people in the priest training track had retreats together a few times a year.

I looked up someone “in my area” (e.g. less than an hour’s drive away) from the forums in real life, and we struck up a friendship.

This friend of mine joined the priest in training program about six months before I did. He was unique in that he’d started training pretty much at the insistence of the heads of the temple, rather than expressing an interest and eventually being invited. He’d had some spontaneous trance experiences at events the temple held at a Pagan gathering, and the priests were quite concerned about the potential dangers he could be in if it kept happening and he wasn’t trained how to handle it properly.

He’d gone to the convention mostly to meet folks in the temple (other than me) and see if he liked them, if it felt right, if he wanted to get more involved. The trance experiences knocked him for a loop, as did essentially being drafted as a priest candidate. That wasn’t something that had even really been on his long-term radar.

We had our first retreat together both as candidates the following spring. It had not been an easy year for my friend. He dealt with unemployment, divorce, selling his house, having his new apartment flood and damage his rare books. . . spiritual pursuits weren’t at the top of his priority list. The priests said they understood, but they put pressure on him to take his training more seriously.

Near the end of the retreat there was a ritual reaffirming the candidates’ dedication to the temple and their training, and my friend was extremely moved by the experience. He seemed to go home with a new level of purpose and determination. For the first time he seemed like he was genuinely happy to be in the program.

That lasted maybe a month.

Each candidate collaborated with the priests to design their study program for the year. We’d bounced ideas around at the retreat but didn’t seriously get into the process until after we got home. My friend and the priests were at odds about what the focus should be for his work.

The priests felt that he didn’t have much of an online presence, and that as a representative of the temple he needed to make an effort to get to know his “congregation” before they’d be open to his leadership. He should comment on forum threads more, attend chats, be available for instant messenger consultations – basically be more visible and involved.

My friend wanted to focus his attentions on a translation of one of the traditional wisdom texts that he’d started before joining the temple. The priests were very against this. This was partially because it was a solitary activity, the opposite of what they wanted to see him do. They also had arguments on academic grounds – they said his project was too derivative to be scholarly because he was analyzing different translations of the text and setting it into his own poetic phrasing, which dangerously bordered on plagiarism. They suggested he shelve it for a while, until he had gotten some training in reading the original source material for himself.

This is where my first-hand knowledge gets patchy.

I can tell you I got home late one night to a very distressed message on my answering machine from my friend, imploring me to call him. I did. I don’t remember the substance of the conversation, just that he was feeling conflicted and ripped in two and didn’t really know which way was up or what to do, but he had to make a decision, and he sounded terrified of the potential negative consequences. The situation or the terms of the choice weren’t made explicit to me.

I told him what I could say with so little context: he was a good person and I believed in him, he had to make the choice his heart felt was right, only he could make that choice, that things would work out in the end somehow, and I’d still be his friend whatever he did.

He apologized for calling me and sticking me in the middle of the situation, that it was thoughtless and selfish of him, he just didn’t know what else to do.

I said something like: “No, it’s okay, I’m glad you did; what are friends for?”

It did not turn out so okay.

I came under fire for returning his call instead of telling the priests about it and letting them take it from there.

I honestly replied that it had never even occurred to me to call them first. That I did what seemed the natural thing to do under the circumstances.

I was told that when one is serving the temple as a priest candidate, personal inclination always comes after representing the interests of the temple. I was a priest candidate first and a friend second. I was not being a true friend when I forgot that, especially when dealing with another priest candidate. My reaction showed that I might not be ready to take on the level of responsibility that the position entailed. I had put my own status in the organization in jeopardy because of my action, and that if I wanted to salvage anything I had to write an e-mail to ALL of the priests and priest candidates telling them of my action, why I did it, and why it was wrong to do it.

I did.

It was done in terror, not repentance.

Knowing that doesn’t make me less ashamed of that action.

My friend did a reply-all apologizing for having put me in the middle.

All the priest candidates were told to not contact him or reply to contacts for a little while until things were sorted out.

Especially me, of course.

Things get fuzzier in my memory here.

Second-hand, I’ve heard that the priests ordered him to destroy his manuscript. That he did so, and then was consumed with horror and regret and grief.

Filling in the gaps, I’m thinking that was most likely followed up by a phone call to the priests expressing his very negative reactions to the event.

Whatever was said and however it was said, it was announced he wasn’t a priest candidate anymore. He was banned from the forums and all other electronic communication of the temple. It happened so fast, he’s told me, that he never got to say goodbye to anyone, or to collect the contact info to return his custom statues to the artist who made them.

Yes, he’s still my friend.

It took a while, though. There was a while where I was still operating under the communications ban. There was awkwardness when we got in touch again. There still is, sometimes.

In the wake of the fallout, I had to take a step back from the temple stuff. The priests gave me space.

That step back has basically stretched into my having no significant involvement in the temple since my friend left.

I requested formal release from my vows a while after the dust settled. The priests were very polite and civil, said that while they didn’t want me to go, no-one who had left the program previously had just left without any effort to tie up loose ends, and they appreciated the respect that showed on my part.

They then utterly failed to follow up with any procedure to actually do a formal release ritual of any kind.

How much is one reasonably expected to push to get it done?

The priests stayed vaguely in touch. They sometimes ask another close friend of mine in the priest candidate program that I talk with fairly regularly how I’m doing. They called me once, when he’d expressed concern. Talked about how nothing had to be finalized, that the work I was doing to improve my life at that time (night classes for a certification) could count as my priest work, and that would be fine. . . I probably said something like “I’ll think about it,” while thinking “No”.

I really hestiate to burn my bridges. The contact who is still involved is a very dear friend of mine from college who came to the temple after I suggested he look into it. I don’t want to unbalance the situation to the point where he is ordered to no longer talk to me.

I’d like to think it’s partially out of concern for him (I am very worried), but my cynical side is inclined to think it’s more out of the self-centered desire to avoid the pain of formal banishment.

If I log in at the forums, I’m still listed as a Priest Candidate, and I still have all my old access permissions still in place.

They don’t want me to go. They hope someday I’ll come back and get involved again.

I find this very puzzling, but I don’t want to talk to them long enough to find out why. I’m irrationally scared that they’ll talk me into returning, and that I’ll lose my ability to discern right from wrong, to exercise a will of my own.

What happened to my friend was not a standalone incident. There were hints, and things that didn’t seem quite right but you couldn’t exactly explain why, and situations that really made sense when they were explained to you properly. . . .

There were some people I was rather glad of the excuse to not talk to anymore.

I’m ashamed of the fact that these things didn’t bother me as much as they should have until someone I cared about suffered from them. I was willfully blind, because even when they were pointed out as bad signs by people whose opinion I trust, my emotional investment in the temple was such that I acted as an apologist, and believed it, too.

I thought I was smarter than to find myself snared in this kind of situation. Denying that it IS this kind of situation lets you avoid confronting your failure of discernment, avoid taking the responsibility to change the situation, or at the very least exit it yourself.

It’s rather like the idea that frogs don’t mind being cooked alive if you heat the water with them in it, rather than dumping them in when it’s at full boil.

I really could have lived a full and happy life without ever knowing from concrete examples that there were circumstances under which I would, and did, compromise my integrity.

It’s especially painful because of how much I sacrificed to stand against ostracism in the past. I took some pride in that, mixed with the pain, but the fact that I couldn’t maintain that level of integrity when faced with a similar situation later in life undermines whatever self-regard I carried out of the first situation.

You know, it’s sad that it’s been more than three years, and only today did I suddenly realize part of why what happened to my friend was so terrible: because of how the priests interpreted his experience, he got drafted into priest training, pressured about not doing a good enough job, and then kicked out for – what? Being willing to stand up for something important to him?

He got dragged into it and shoved out, severely traumatized on both sides of the coin. Why? Because the priests thought they knew what was going on and asserted themselves without reservation, and enforced a hierarchy that stifles any public expression of dissent.

Because this is a prime example of what can happen when you are in an organization that does not embrace a version of the Doctrine of Archdruidic Fallibility.

Whatever apologetics I had still lingering in corners of my brain just evaporated. Whatever wishes I might have had that they could be what I once thought they were are shattered.

If how they treat people is any indicator of their relations with the Divine, they are not a temple worth serving.

There is nothing that would convince me to go back now.

I’m deeply shocked that it took me so long to see things clearly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2007 4:08 AM

    I’m so sorry that you had such a rough time of it, and your friends too. At least now you can see their controlling behaviour in a clearer light. Unfortunately this is not anomalous in religious groups. It’s good that you kept your friend, though.

    • June 15, 2007 4:00 AM

      Thanks for reading through that, and for the emotional support. :)
      Things could have been a lot worse than they were. The saddest thing is not what happened to us, but that this is not a rare story in the greater Pagan community.

  2. December 3, 2007 8:28 AM

    You know, they never even asked to read it.
    You and I must sit upon the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings… preferably with whiskey.

    • December 24, 2007 6:43 AM

      No response on this for a long time, because I really can’t devise a verbal or typographical depiction of my reaction.
      Oh, I could go with “WTF?”, “. . .” or “?!?”, but there’s just a depth of incredulity I think can’t be conveyed online.
      Yeah, we should talk, with whisky (and possibly armchairs?). Prolly not next month, tho. I seem to recall you’re busy. ;)

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