I’ve been going around and around again on whether or not I can call myself a “reconstructionist”. Whether my standards of truth allow for the sort of truthiness that is required to use that concept at all.
The illusion of reconstruction is that the process results in something that is “what the ancients/the ancestors practiced”. That’s the inner mythology. And that’s the lie. The big one. The imaginary comfortable place that lets people believe that they’re digging in to finding something secretly More True than what they had before.
It’s comforting. It’s comfortable. It’s complacent.
And it’s wrong.
I started out early on sort of acknowledging this, the fact that all I’ve got is my own research, my own interpretation, and what I pick up from other people.
And I write about the problems. I’ve written about knowing the mortar that is used to line the broken blocks that are used to build new traditions (and I am not going to say rebuild traditions because we are not doing that and we need to stop lying to ourselves and each other); one of my side projects with a friend is compiling something that we refer to as The List, which is a giant heap of things we’ve noticed people carrying over unconsciously into pagan religions which owe more to a largely-Christianised enculturation than where they may want to be going. I’ve written about the question of the unrecoverability of ancient Mystery religion. I wrote, a bit whimsically, on the difference between ‘reconstructed’ worldviews and the actual organic evolutions of those worldviews. I’ve written about applying information from scattered times and places without really addressing the fact that the most widely scattered time and place in play is here, now. I’ve written about the intrinsic social context of religious practice. I’ve written about making a fucking decision about ambiguous material and acknowledging the odds that it is probably just plain “wrong”, but who cares if it works. I’ve written about the unrecoverability of the past. I’ve written about other things too.
I’ve written about all these things, and I’m wondering, not for the first time, if the collection of all these things means that the thing called “reconstruction” is a will o’wisp, something that leads people into bogs and has them sink and die.
It’s construction. It has to be. There is no option otherwise, and perhaps the idea there might be is poisonous. It creates the idea that there is a true cultus, a true way of worship, that one group’s interpretation of the facts that have been recovered is the true way, that others are failures; at its worst, it unthinkingly copies the Christian notion of the fall from Eden: our ancestors had paradise (a “true” relationship with the gods) and fucked it up by changing traditions, whether by choice or force, and we must live with the terrible consequences of their sinful choice.
I am not any form of Christian; I have no interest in reconciling with a Fallen creation. I believe that a Fallen creation is actively antithetical to core principles of Kemetic theology, in fact, with its ethos centreing rebirth, renewal, and restoration.
But the healed Eye is not the uninjured one. If it were the same thing, it would not have the value it gains by the process. The myth would be null and meaningless.
I cannot reconstruct. I do not have the pieces of ancient religion like a Lego set, complete with instructions of which bit to click in where. If what I have is a Lego set, it is maybe an almost entirety of a set that isn’t large enough to do anything useful with with the instructions lost, supplemented with a third of that set, a fifth of that set, a fraction of the other set, six blocks I know came from that set there but I don’t know where any of the rest are, a double handful of other blocks which may or may not be from related sets, a bucket of Duplos from my childhood, and a plush snake toy that the kids insist on keeping with it all.
I have to decide what to build with that. I have to figure out what makes sense to build with that.
And even if I decide to set aside the plush snake, and declare that the Duplo blocks, while compatible with the Legos, aren’t the same thing, and separate the Lego Star Wars from the Lego Elves and the Lego Minecraft and the Lego Whatever Else Is In There and just do one thing, and even if I have enough blocks after I do that to do the one thing, and even if I somehow were to manage to do the One True Thing that the blocks were intended for (and thereby buy into the villain motif from The Lego Movie, which I just re-watched with the kids recently and is probably to blame for some of my metaphor here)…
… well, the metaphor falls apart there, because the inescapable fact is that I don’t live in the same world that the people who originally had those blocks did.
And this isn’t a statement about Oh We Know More Science or Oh I Live In A Different Country or Oh Cultural Exchange Looks Different Now or Oh Politics Looks Different Now. Or not just a statement about these things.
It’s a statement that if it were rebuilt exactly the way it was, it would fail. If “reconstruction” were a perfect success, the results would die, leaving the relationships it claimed to be resurrecting unhonored, because they do not have meaningful connection with the real world in which people live.
I have a theology that has many things to say about power. And that theology grew up in a world that had no banks, let alone corporations. I have a theology that has many things to say about abundance. And that theology grew up in a world in which much of the infrastructure was fundamentally focused on food access and preventing starvation in hard times, while I live in a world where people devote infrastructure to making sure that people suffering hard times are having a time hard enough to be fed from the plenty that exists. I have a theology that has many things to say about the moral rightness of the state, and a state that fails on most of those points, and where many people attempt to paint those failures as virtues.
The ways of the people who originally had those building blocks are not our ways, and never can be. The thing we build has to be responsive to the world as it is, not an age in which kings could be believed to be devoted to upholding ma’at and the storehouses of the temples were stocked in case the Flood failed to come. The traditions that assume those to be the case will fail us, betray us, and betray the gods; the world in which they were functional is long gone.
How can I call myself a reconstructionist? I don’t know. Today, I don’t think I can.
I don’t have any better words, though. I do the research. I find the things, I try to put them together into coherent wholes, this is a thing that is called reconstruction.
But the whole “reconstruction” thing, the illusion that I am returning to the old ways in some fashion, is too big a lie for me these days. The old ways are gone for reasons, and many of those reasons have nothing to do with compulsion.
Maybe I’m reconstructing Ipuwer. Whether or not it’s true, the thought makes me chuckle, which is… probably for the best, right now. I’m very tired.
Maybe I don’t want to say reconstruction.
Maybe I want to say recommitment.
Recommit, and construct from there.