Religious Revival and Modern Compatibility
This was an interesting question to me: Is reviving the religion of the ancients compatible with modern life?
At one point, I was very interested in Kemetic Reconstruction. It clearly wasn’t my path, because I could never quite get past the ‘research’ phase and into the ‘practice’ phase. Though the practice wasn’t for me, I found the reading and research fascinating and spent quite a bit of time amassing information on it.
The entire idea that people actually went to some length and great effort to bring that religion and practice – not an imitation or re-imagining of it, but the actual religion and practice (as much as possible), back to life is nothing less than phenomenal. I am sure others have done similar feats with other ancient religions, and their efforts are probably likewise striking – even though I don’t subscribe to those particular beliefs, it’s still pretty amazing.
However, the question remains – are those practices compatible with modern life?
In their ancient form, and for their ancient reasons, I would say no; they’re not – and here’s why.
In part, I think that religion was used as a way to explain the unexplainable. Things that you and I have adequate explanations for were incomprehensible to the ancient practitioner. Gods and Goddesses were called upon for everything, from illness to rain for crops, to staving off illness or plague. Whereas you and I both know that falling stars and eclipses happen on a regular basis, and we understand the ‘why’ of it from a scientific viewpoint (regardless of whatever spiritual significance we may individually attach to such happenings), they didn’t, and so appeals to the gods for protection from, or blessings in the wake of such incomprehensible events were commonplace. While many Pagans are moved to worship, or Observe in Ritual, on these occasions, we’re not plagued by ignorance or worried that their appearance signifies the wrath of deity and their impending doom.
Another aspect of religion was (and remains) control. Often, leaders of the day were viewed as ‘gods’; their word was Law and the people were bound to obey. We still see this in some religious and political contexts, but many people (especially in the US and other democratic nations) are no longer familiar with the concepts of fealty and duty to the ruler. Americans openly mock the President and those in power, without fear of repercussion. Jokes are even made at the expense of various reigning monarchs, also without serious repercussion. Ancient people weren’t granted that same freedom, and ‘religious’ rituals as a matter of state kept them in line.
Granted, there is no ‘ruling class’ of Pagans; we’re a rather motley crew, content to do our own thing as we are motivated. Even in a reconstructionist Pagan path, I wonder how long people stay in it if the ‘rules’ for practice are strict and binding. Most Pagans I know find that restrictions and rules chafe after a bit, and break off to go their own way. Many Pagans I know come from religious backgrounds (usually Christianity), and are just tired of being told what to do; they prefer to feel it out for themselves and move where they are called.
It makes me wonder, too, why anyone would go to the lengths that would be necessary to become a leader in a reconstructionist path – and how they’d even get there. Without a practitioner to guide them, even reconstructionist religions are likely a ‘best guess’ rather than a true revival of ancient ways. Religion was often limited to inner circles – priests and priestesses and whatnot, and as the new religious/political faction took over, previous religions were banned, with all materials destroyed. Few ancient religions have text books or ‘So you wanna be a Priest of Anubis’ handbooks lying around. Even among more ‘mainstream’ Pagan paths, they’re ‘best-guess’ or purely made up as the individual practitioner follows his or her path. I am not deity-centered, so it doesn’t make sense to me why following my path and doing what I am inspired to do is any less valid than what someone else may feel inspired to do (not that I feel inferior or have even been made to feel so; just speculation).
On the other hand, religion and spirituality are an internal things for many; it is for me. Though I blog, and have outward evidence of my practice, it’s not something I flaunt or that you’d necessarily even know if you came into my house. My practice and spiritual path are for me; not the public. I do choose to practice with a group when that’s available to me, but even that has more to do with what I choose than what I’m told I ‘should’ do. I feel like reconstructionist paths are extremely interesting, and if they’re your cup of tea, then they’re absolutely valid as a spiritual path. I do think that much of the ‘why’ would be altered for a modern audience, but the ‘how’ may very well be adapted for modern life.
What are your thoughts?