I really need to finish reading Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, because the sections I’ve been working through have been talking about how ordinary people may have wrestled with adversity.
One of the problems with the surviving stuff that’s most obvious to archaeological study is what Baines was referring to, if I’m remembering right (I don’t have the book right by me at the moment), as the propriety of iconography. We know a lot about this – that what we see painted, engraved, written in stone and on scrolls, is victory, is the cosmic circuit upheld, is recovery, is regeneration. We do not see the death of Wesir; we see Him restored, we see Him as king. We do not even speak of it directly, lest the permanency of writing lend permanency to adversity.
It would be improper to speak of such things in formal edifices, to enshrine them in formal ritual.
But religion is not just about the celebratory and the achieved.
Last night, when I groped for spiritual practice to soothe a wounded heart, I did not grasp anything from the ancients. I have no prayers that bring me comfort, for all that my response to basic formal Egyptian ritual is “that was the best damn ground-and-center I’ve ever encountered”. I have no setpiece recitations such as a Christian finds in Matthew 6, though I think I will prioritise finding things that might be usable as such.
First, I reached for things that I have been taught in the Craft, to pour out the cool waters upon my heart. Because I know these things forwards and backwards, these prayers, this magic, this heka. It is not that they are not parallel with ancient things – one of the reasons they work so well for me is that the essence of the practice is quite commensurable – but that I know no ancient things that do the same thing. I know little of despair in ancient Egypt, because to write of despair would not suit propriety.
But people … still feel despair.
And religion … is still one of the tools that people have for this. In theory.
In practice, I crack out my witchcraft. In practice, I bring out my personal devotionals to my Mother, which are, truly, very modern. In practice, I put on “Dark Time” by October Project and my prayer is song, allelu–. The fear has no heart. The fear has no name. In practice, I have answers, that serve for me.
But those answers are not the dusty-books answers of reconstruction. And perhaps there are dusty-books answers that can be brushed off and polished until they gleam, that pour out cool water upon the inflamed. I have not found them yet.
I need them.
We need them.