Friday, August 17, 2012

The Deities Don’t Like Your Manky Underwear: Temple Etiquette in Natib Qadish

Mosaic from Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina in Sicily.
Day 0 (Chudthu/New Moon) of month [Shalamu], Shanatu 84 (year).

If you are fortunate enough to visit a Natib Qadish (Canaanite polytheistic religion) temple, there are a few things you should know. First off, few people visit these temples. In the old days, it was likely that the temples were closed to visitors most of the time while the courtyards are where devotees assembled for major religious events. This differs greatly from the modern concept of a "church" as a public meeting place.

Leave your cell phone turned off or in another room, unless you are a doctor and the matter is truly life or death. Really, there better be hemorrhaging involved.

Do not take photographs. Temple is a sacred place and not open to the public, and certainly not the online public. Any photos I’ve taken of temple now have been photos before the area is consecrated. No, the deities won’t melt your phone or camera like the Ark of the Covenant melted off Nazi faces in Indiana Jones, but it is of highest rudeness to open an inner sanctuary to foot (and eye) traffic.

People are people, and sometimes biology has different ideas on what you should and shouldn’t do regardless of the social situation. If you need to fart, blow or pick your nose, use the bathroom, or belch loudly, you should politely bow to the deities, leave the temple and do what you need to do. Wash up before returning, cleanse again, and bow again before re-entering. If you have biological needs which require attending, make sure you have what you need with you and make sure that you freshen up fully before entering temple.

Watch your language. There’s a time and place bad words, like cutting open your hand with one of those pull-tab aluminum cans, or accidentally running into a particularly disliked “ex” when you have stubble that could be used as sandpaper and you’re wearing three-day old stiff socks. Or forgetting a significant other’s birthday. However, even if you catch yourself on fire from the oil lamp and make yourself a burnt offering, temple is not the time or place for foul language.

Find a sitter for the kids. There are places and services to meet the needs of children. The temple typically isn’t one of these. There is one ancient text from the city of Ugarit, circa 1200 BCE (3200 years ago) which describes a king’s children in a procession in the royal sanctuary. This rite took place once a year. If you have your own sanctuary at home and you wish to involve your children then by all means, go ahead. However, if you are attending temple elsewhere and it is not a special service which plans to involve children, let them stay at home, unless the presiding priest says otherwise and your kids are truly impeccably behaved and will understand, remember, and act upon what is appropriate in temple. (Most people believe their kids are impeccably behaved--most people are wrong.) And do not even think of bringing your pets.

Wear your good clothes and make sure your body is clean. You don’t have to go Gandalf and wear robes like a Ren Faire wannabe (indeed, that would be inappropriate), but make sure the clothes you’re wearing are clean with no stains and no holes. A priest sometimes will wear clothing indicative of the ancient Near East, but it certainly is neither required nor expected from participants. Wear something modest. If clothes smell bad, change them. The deities don’t like your manky underwear: if your undies aren’t in decent order, it doesn’t matter how good your outer clothing is. And do not show up naked: going naked in Canaanite religion symbolizes a pitiful and lamentable state--it means you are begging the deities for help, and it means that you have nothing better or that you are deep in mourning. Attending a ritual in scant or no clothing only happens once in Canaanite lore, and it occurs outside a temple setting with a man who is begging for aid. In ancient times and now in modern, if you plan to go naked you will not be allowed in.

Make sure cuts and sores are healed, scabbed, or covered. Although Canaanite record is silent on blood taboos, most of the cultures in the ancient Near East had some sort of taboo against blood and bleeding at certain times and places. Ancient Near Eastern cultures often believed that blood has a certain amount of life-sustaining qualities in it and it therefore attracts hungry bad spirits. Attracting bad spirits in a temple is, well, bad: they are profane and attracting profanity into a sacred area offends the deities and makes the area no longer sacred.

Menstrual Blood: Cultures all around the ancient Near East had certain taboos in regards to menstrual blood. If you are menstruating, wait to visit the temple or schedule accordingly. Courtyard rituals are different, and it is ok to attend courtyard rites during menstruation, but not temple rites. 

If you are ill, do not attend a service in the temple, unless instructed otherwise by the temple’s priest. Instead, have a blessed item brought to you.

Do not enter the temple if you are high on pharmaceuticals, legal or otherwise. Also do not enter if you are completely inebriated--if it would be illegal for you to drive in that condition, don’t come to temple. Getting inebriated is more for marzichu meetings, and not for temple services.

Wear a hat or a scarf. It is common courtesy. If a woman was married or no longer a teen, she typically wore a scarf in the ancient Canaanite world. Likewise, a man typically wore a hat, especially if he had status. Proper headcoverings demonstrate a cultural respect and a respect to the deities.

Wash your hands prior to entering temple, and allow the priest to anoint you. Usually there’s a bowl of water there for your convenience, however, scrub up in a sink with soap and water before using the temple’s bowl.

Bring an offering to the temple, but check with the presiding priest to make sure the offering is ok: call ahead if you can. Offerings can include high-quality incense, perfumed olive oil, whole wheat flour, plain olive oil, meat (not pork), wine, or fruit. Sometimes a temple will have incense for you at the door--at least I do--and you can make a contribution to the temple upkeep or to the wellbeing of the person who maintains the temple in exchange for offering the incense. There are many cheap incenses that include the use of dung--offering dung is as disgusting as it is disrespectful and constitutes a ritual misdeed. If you bring incense, bring the package, too, so that the priest can do her/his best to ensure the incense is good quality.

Take your shoes off before entering the temple. If your socks have holes, take them off too. If your feet are smelly, go wash them before entering temple.

Bow. When in doubt bow. To bow, bob your knees then bow from the waist deeply. If you’d rather go “old school” and prostrate yourself before the deities, that’s fine, too. Bow to the presiding priest, bow when you enter the temple, and above all bow towards the inner sanctuary whether or not the deity images are visible. When possible, enter the temple on the right foot.

Do not venture into the inner sanctuary area unless expressly invited. Permanent Canaanite temples often have two areas, an outer sanctuary and an inner sanctuary. The inner sanctuary houses the deity statues and is the realm of the presiding priest. This is a highly sacred area and there are rules governing it. Do not go into it unless your priest says it’s ok. The outer sanctuary is a vestibule or an area just before the inner sanctuary.

Sleeping in the Temple: There is some indication in ancient lore that people could go into a temple and sleep so that they can obtain prophetic dreams. I will wager that there were special rooms that were in the temple complex and not necessarily in the temple proper that allowed visitors overnight for this reason. However, if you plan to sleep in a temple, stay in the outer sanctuary or stay just outside the temple itself. If you must leave in the night to visit the bathroom, remember to bow as you leave the sanctuary, wash your hands before returning, and bow again when you enter the sanctuary. Also make sure that you have not only an offering for the deities, but an offering of gratitude for the temple keeper/priest who has allowed you this service and hospitality.

Ritual Misdeed: If you mess up in temple, you accrue something called khats’a--“misdeed”--and it is similar to Greek miasma. The problem is if you commit a khats’a in a temple, all present can find themselves tainted by your misdeed. The presiding priest also runs the risk of contracting your khats’a because she/he was on duty at the time and the upkeep and wellbeing of deities and temple are her/his responsibility. There are steps you can take to alleviate khats’a, but it’s better to avoid it in the first place.

Treat the priest with respect for she/he outranks you. This is their realm and it is their duty to guide you through the temple and Canaanite lore. It is his/her duty to make sure all parties are respected in temple. If you mess up, they may pay personally before the deities for your discourtesy. This is the same reason that some priests (such as myself) avoid attending others’ rituals unless they know who is leading and who is attending, and exactly what is planned. The priests must take special care to cleanse themselves of khats’a and lead a goodly life so that they can do what they do for the deities and for you.

Photo Credits: Photo by Andreas Wahra. Found on Public Domain. 

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