The Seductive Illusion of Sure Knowledge

It is perhaps not terribly apparent from what I write, but I have a circle of friends that I sometimes think of and refer to as my debugging team. They’re the people I bring stuff to in order to say, “Please, tell me: am I full of shit, here?” It’s important, when building things that need to be stable, to check your work.

None of my debuggers are Kemetic. While several have relationships at some level with Egyptian Powers, none are operating in a system that is of Egypt. It doesn’t matter; the skillset for determining whether a system is well-constructed doesn’t depend on which Powers provided the training or the impetus for gathering knowledge or the symbolic set one is using. (And diversity is of itself creative; zero (Nun) became two (Creator and not-Creator); two became three (Atum and children, say); three became millions. To pursue monoculture is to pursue the void – there is no “one” here, because the myths begin with “before there were two things”. Diversity prevents ossification, another not-so-secret lesson from the Lord of the Red Land. Celebrate your differences, they make what you build together strong! … this is a tangent.)

Anyway. I was talking with one of these folks a while back – one who is very British Isles in focus, in particular – about the whole process of making things up, and grounding it in what is known of historical practice, and so on.

And one of the things that came up is that, well, folks who are doing work focusing on the folklore and Powers of the British Isles, well, for the most part they have crap to deal with. In the mishmash of cultures that often considered writing too static to contain holy truths, which built in wood and earth more than stone, went through waves of various invasions, and were overall stuck in the sort of damp that makes rot a regular concern, the sort of information that Kemetics can kind of take for granted doesn’t exist. There are scraps, sure, just as archaeology and bits of recorded and surviving folklore can point everywhere to hints of things, but how to put that together, and what to use to fill in the vast interstices, is not clear.

People still do it, that’s the thing: pursue dreamwork, make arrangements with spirits, chase intuition, discover what actions work and which ones don’t. “Spirit-taught”, Raven Kaldera calls some of this – I’m reading one of his books now, as it happens – is sometimes the only way to go, because that’s the only way of building up from the beginning something that might be in tune with those spirits. The knowledge is just plain gone.

But Kemetics, well, we have nearly full rituals carved on walls, with illustrations of procedures and sacred texts. We have recipes for incense, likewise carved on those walls, as well as preserved by Greek pharmacists in mild variations that enable us to make guesses about the more obscure ingredients. We have heaps of papyrus that survived in the aridity of the desert, unconsumed by the dissolving moisture of an English rain. We know so much, right? It is easy to construct something functional and real and satisfying, because there is so much there.

But.

Consider this:

There is a structure in the first room of some ancient Egyptian houses, a sort of raised, partially enclosed platform built into or against the wall. These were reasonably common; I’ve seen them described every time I read about the archaeology of Egyptian villages. The term for it is the perhaps misleading “lit clos”.

Nobody knows what they were for. I’ve seen people suggest that they might be beds for the homeowners. That they might be a sort of raised crib or playpen for young children to keep them in view and out of trouble. That they might have to do with women’s mysteries, birth, and similar matters. Perhaps they had some religious function, some say, since the areas were decorated with images of Bes or potentially used as a shrine, leading one researcher to summarise this with:

Overall the proposals for the usage of the elevated beds consist of a sleeping area, a bed linked to female sexuality, birth, nursing and purification, an altar, a chapel or a seating area. As most of the theories have not been strongly supported by evidence as a whole, these proposals are inconclusive.

before arguing that the front room of the houses, in which the lit clos structures were always built, were private gardens, decorated with rejuvenation/resurrection iconography, and that the raised structures were ancestor shrines, perhaps with additional ties to related and relevant gods such as Hetharu.

It’s easy to pretend we have a full picture, if we don’t pay attention to the things we don’t know. Which might even be important. It’s easy to be diverted by the big flashy rituals carved in stone that hardly anyone ever witnessed, and feel that that’s a complete view of a religion. After all, we have more substantial knowledge than those folks trying to do things with the native spirits of the British Isles, right?

But in and among that we can live in ignorance of what we don’t know. We can pretend that information is the same as structure, that what we have is comprehensive because hell, there’s a lot of it, that has to be good for something, right? We know so much, what we don’t know doesn’t matter, so we can gloss it over.

I think about the lit clos a lot. And am really glad I stumbled across the PDF I linked above, and will have to read it more thoroughly later, because it has meat to chew on. When I make something up after thinking about the lit clos, it’ll be good to have that reference available to me. It’s a know your mortar thing, to be able to see the actual gaps.

It is important not to be blinded by data when seeking knowledge. As Kemetics, we can in theory accumulate so much data that we forget what we don’t know.

Remember the lit clos.

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2 thoughts on “The Seductive Illusion of Sure Knowledge

  1. “lit clos” makes me think “little closet”, which I have the idea is an archaic euphemism for the loo…or maybe that was “little room”?

    Anyway…yes. Data =/= knowledge. Data has to be interpreted and analyzed so it can be understood.

    • kiya_nicoll says:

      It’s French for “closed bed”, which was a kind of daybed common in French culture at the time the original documentations of the ruins were done.

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