I just finished reading Bleeker’s Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal, a book I have been wanting for several years. I have a few thinky thoughts (I suspect most relevant to the Nut Cycle posts which, yes, I know I am totally dropping the ball on lately).
It gave me thoughts to chew on, which wound up bouncing off someone’s poll on the subject of feelings about public religiosity, in which several people basically took the position that religion is essentially a private affair of interest to nobody else, and thus nobody else should ever encounter other people’s religious action.
But there are different realms of what it is to be religious. And in Egyptiana – possibly in many cultural-derived paganisms – large portions of religious stuff were mediated entirely publically. Not just in the sense of the large public festivals at which everyone was a participant, but that the entire fabric of being was constructed in a religious manner. Behaviour, how people invested their resources, art, the whole lot of it, religious.
We don’t have that anymore, not at the societal level. And that’s not a comment about “the societal fabric is made of Christianity”, either, because while that’s in many ways the closest there is, it’s not so much the case. The culture in which I’m embedded does not have an ethos of the sacred, a manner of living that encompasses the reality of lived religion. Too much is a distraction. (Including, it seems to me, a lot of stuff that gets put forward as how-to-be-religious. But back to that saying attributed to St. Francis of Asisi: Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words. What do we preach with our lives?)
There’s a reason that I put forward charitable action as a means of celebrating Opet. There’s a reason that I have posts plotted about food and the ka and health, assuming I can ever get them more coherent than “Go read the Fat Nutritionist already!” There’s a reason that I write about praying for the dead. These are outward-actions, community-actions, living-in-the-world-actions, the things that at least give a space for personal ethos.
We don’t have a lot recorded about private piety in ancient times. Enough to have evidence that it existed, but it did not leave a huge mark on the archaeological record. I wonder sometimes if the ancients feel like I do: that my relationship with the gods is a matter of supreme importance … to me, but what is worth putting on the record is my relationship to the world.