(Thanks to the person who sparked the thoughts that got to this post. You know who you are, but I don’t know how you’d like to be identified/which blog you’d like linked. This is something of a continuation of yesterday’s “The Wrong Kind of God-Fearing“, so read that first.)
Back in the dawn of time, there was a deal struck between the inhabitants of the seen and unseen worlds.
We don’t know precisely what that deal was, but we know that out of that deal grew rituals and practices which were part of the obligation on both sides.
We also know that, in many places, the deal broke down: someone was conquered and the traditions were destroyed. Someone was evangelised and converted. Someone broke the deal. (And at the same time, in secret places, some people tried to preserve the old ways, perhaps through generations, until they ran out of people who were willing to come and learn how it used to be done.)
Some would probably say that the denizens of the unseen broke it first: that if they had been there, had been more present, been stronger than the invaders, then the deal would have been kept. Some would probably say that the fickleness and mortality of humans was to blame, the tendency to drop one thing and go for something that seems, in that moment, shinier. Perhaps both sides failed the arrangement, or perhaps there was some sort of communication failure that made it all break down.
We went our separate ways, maybe making new deals across the boundaries between worlds, or maybe not. It’s a complex cosmos, it is.
One of the basic ideas underlying reconstruction is that the old deals are still good, if we can only figure out how to hold up our end.
But there is an undeniable truth: faith was broken. Maybe neither of us really trusts the other fully anymore, not like we did back in the old days.
Going back to the old texts, trying to reach to old rituals, or, when building new ones, doing so in ways that are in conversation with those old ways, is an attempt to meet partway. To split the difference between then and now, and to make a good-faith effort to say we want to try again.
It won’t be the same as it was. Humanity and the Powers are both older now, and we’ve changed. And we have to earn each other’s trust, bit by bit, through various of these good-faith efforts.
And this is where the way a community treats its relationship with the Powers starts to become a problem.
Way Back When, after all, even if each individual person did not approach the divine with reverential awe every day and perform the secret rites, they were living in a context in which that was known and necessary and part of maintaining the underlying order of the world.
And yes, the temples fell, and the sun still rose. Perhaps there is a sense of betrayal in that, somewhere.
But the rituals are not about making the sun rise – remind me to refer to this post if I ever do a book review of Hogfather – as much as they are about establishing relationship between the people and the Powers, of putting things in a context in which there is good and proper understanding of the functions each performs in the universe. Without the rituals, the world did not end – only it did.
The world in which humanity and the netjeru were co-creators, each in their sphere of influence, using the power of heka and establishing ma’at, generating and regenerating the world every day – that ended. The rituals died, and the world ended when they did.
If it did not end, there would be no need to learn about how to think Kemetically, how to adopt the worldview, how to understand the Powers, because we would be living in that world. (Or at least some of us would be, who knows what rapid transit and communication would have done, those things that made the world both so much larger and so very much smaller?)
We are living post-Apocalyptically. Our attempts to rebuild the world are the work of science fiction and horror fantasists to the ancients. We are the nightmare-fuel penny dreadfuls. And after a thousand years and more, what reason do the gods have to trust that we are going back and actually taking Them seriously?
Because – considered as a whole – we don’t.
We talk about what sides various Powers would take in the Cola Wars and ask about Their favourite colours. We talk about which ones we might use for our love charms and how much importance They grant to our petty, trivial obsessions. We agonise over what chocolate to offer instead of figuring out how to live our lives in a devout manner. In short, as a collective mass, pagans come across as treating the Powers more like a Saturday morning cartoon superhero show with merchandising than as Powers. As an excuse to have a social get-together, maybe (which is one genuine interpretation of what religion means in the modern West, to be fair to us as a mass).
But it means that – until we put in the work to demonstrate that we are devout, that we are in earnest, that we do want genuine and deep religion – we are every one of us on probation.
I do believe we can rebuild those bridges. I believe that the columns we can find in ancient texts are still mighty enough to support an architrave, even though we will have to paint new designs to replace decoration worn away by time. I believe that drawing on those resources and that knowledge is a way of demonstrating our sincerity, and that our intuitions will guide us to ways that can mend those gaps or provide a temple ground that can stand in a greatly changed world.
I do believe it is possible to rekindle a serious connection, re-make the pact, and create something new.
But I have to be careful that even my irreverence – which is, notably, immense – remains in service.