If there is a problem that has plagued my ritual work for years, it’s my disordered eating. And while I know that there is no absolute way to determine whether ancient Egypt had disordered eating present or not, I feel pretty confident in my guess that it wasn’t a prolific problem, if it existed at all. For those of you who are unaware, disordered eating is technically a sort of eating disorder, its just that there isn’t a particular name for the way that your eating is not healthy or “normal.” Many people have disordered eating and don’t realize it — potentially as many as 3 out of every 4 Americans have it, and for many of us, its a byproduct of our mental health and the unhealthy culture that we’re forced to live in.
For me specifically, my disordered eating is often a byproduct of my depression and stress levels. When my depression skyrockets in a particular way, I often don’t feel like eating — even if I’m hungry. Most things sound completely unappetizing, and when I force myself to eat I often end up with stomach aches or meltdowns as a result. This, of course, is a problem if you’re doing ritual work because our ritual structure mandates that you offer something to eat to the NTRW. I have yet to see a single Kemetic ritual that doesn’t include food offerings as a staple chapter.
And I mean, why not? Food is great (I guess?), it’s what keeps us alive, and supposedly the NTRW help us to grow is so that we can sustain ourselves with it. But it’s a huge problem if you can’t bring yourself to eat.
Years ago, I sought to bypass the disordered eating by using votive offerings instead. I bought a bunch of ReMent and used that to fill my offering plates for many many years. Even if I couldn’t bring myself to eat, I could bring myself to give the NTRW replicas of what I was supposed to be eating. I could offer them more in terms of number and quantity than I could ever do with actual food. It allowed me to let go of the stress around food and just focus on being present.
Of course, people did not like the idea. I’ve read everything from “that’s half-assing it” to “if you give the NTRW ‘fake’ offerings, they’ll give you fake blessings in return.” And so I’ve always ended up having a mixed relationship with my votive offerings because years and years of being told that they aren’t good enough will eventually leave you feeling like they aren’t good enough.
And so when I finally could eat again, because my health issues had reached a certain level of improvement, I told myself that I should try to use real food and not votive offerings. I created a sort of “rule” in my head that votive offerings are only for people who can’t offer “real” food (not that I’d ever place that rule on someone else. It was only ever directed at me.) And so I packed them away and tried not to use them. Fast forward a few years to my Year of Rites project where I told myself I would use real food for the entire thing because I knew I should eat, could eat, and needed to eat. And therefore, should try to use my ritual work to motivate myself to eat better and regularly.
And I guess it’s worked so far. If you read through what few updates I’ve given, or parse through the images that I used to take, you’ll see that offerings were still a problem for me. I can’t tell you how many rituals get put off until the end of the day because I couldn’t force myself to cook or eat early enough to do things at a reasonable time, or how many times I just grabbed a piece of convenience snacking material to offer instead. But the more important point is that I was managing up until August.
I want to preface this with a certain level of “I knew this would happen.”
As my grandfather lay on his death bed, I could overhear my mother telling the handful of people that were there with us that she really wanted to make sure that people checked up on me for the next few weeks. She was worried that I would fall apart after he died, and seemingly was trying to be proactive or something. I remember trying to meet these people halfway, letting them know that my depression would likely stave itself for a month or two, and that if people were really concerned, they’d make sure that they came around in a month or two, because that’s when I’d likely actually need the help. My emotions take time to process. My disassociation takes time to wear off so that I can feel what I’m actually feeling.
It took a while to kick in, but I noticed that by the end of August, my eating was beginning to slip. I blamed it on a new medical protocol I was trying, and hoped that my appetite would return.
But it hasn’t. And I’m not really surprised about it. Just as I had told those people — it takes time for my grief to process, and so the depression took a bit to really settle in.
Each day that there is a ritual scheduled, I feel this sort of dread or aversion in my stomach. To know that not only do I need to come up with something to offer the gods, I need to actually eat it, and I need to prepare it at such a time that I will have the time to perform the ritual, but also won’t lose my desire to eat whatever it is by the time my ritual work is done (for example, if I take a break while eating, I often lose all desire to finish my meals. I eat to reduce my stomach pain, and once that’s even mildly resolved, I often quit eating.)
When you combine this with how much I absolutely can’t stand this last batch of rubrics I made, you’ve got a recipe for not doing many rituals. So far I’ve only missed three rites this year (they were all execrations. Execrations feel like the world’s biggest waste of time and involve finding a place to start a fire and smelling like smoke and I’d just rather not most days,) but I can tell that this last quarter will be the hardest because I hate the words and I hate the food. There are other factors at play as well, but I still feel that these are the largest components to why I’m avoidant of doing ritual work right now.
So this begs to ask — what does one do about this? After this year’s worth of work, I honestly have a lot of criticism of people’s assumptions about how rituals should be set up, how often one should be able to do them, what they should consist of, how much we should be maintaining ancient practices, etc. But even if we don’t get into analyzing traditional ideas of what Kemetic rituals entail, it still really needs to be asked: what do we do about disordered eating? It’s quite clear that the ancient Egyptians didn’t have this particular hurdle to overcome, and so it’s something that we modern practitioners need to answer for ourselves, and possibly for our community.
Votive offerings seemed to be a solid alternative, but at the same time, there is a lot of moral baggage that comes with using them. You risk being ostracized or criticized by your fellows, and that just leads to more dysfunction for a person. The other alternative is to not offer food at all, or perhaps give only a voice offering — but both of these are also rife with chastisement and belittling within our community (have I mentioned recently how much I hate our community? I hope this post gives a little peek as to some of the reasons why) and I know that I often feel like voice offerings are not “enough.” It would feel weird to sit at my shrine and just say words and not perform any ritual actions that mirror the words. So, from what I can tell, no clear alternative exists that won’t evoke feelings of shame because it results in at least a portion of our community putting someone down for using it or doing it.
So I ask you all, how do we get around this? What is the best solution? How do we modify ritual structures for modern problems such as this? Is there even an alternative that anyone can take that doesn’t result in being shat on? Because so far, the answer feels a lot like a no.