So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

01 March, 2007

Learning from History; Repeating History

So it's popular in certain circles of my extended religious community to suggest to people that if they want good religious references, they should go read the history section.

And this is one of my big beefs with the reconstructionist end of the pagan community: that's not good enough.

It's all very well and good to say "This is a religion with homework" and come up with a booklist full of academic tomes for the would-be religious seeker to read through, but none of this will come up with a real religion.

Your academic tomes will tell you something about festival calendars in ancient days. They won't tell you what days those are in the calendar you're using. They may talk about the processions and events that ran down from the temples, the way the population responded to them, the oracles, the sacrifices, and none of this will say what you can do in your apartment overlooking the back alley, in your dorm room, or with your handful of co-religionists who have space to gather in someone's back yard.

It probably won't say what to do, what actions to take, not without a lot of work: not without digging down through what's there and finding specific rituals, specific ideas, specific celebrations, that are specifically laid out with enough clarity that someone can actually do them. And even then, someone has to decide which one to use: this ritual, that ritual, the other ritual, the one that we know was done but which we only have a fraction of, the near-complete one that was only used on certain days, and in any case, it needs a little patchwork.

I see a friend dealing with a thread in her community that insists that all true members of the faith need to raise, keep, and slaughter their own animals. Because that's the way the ancients lived, of course, and as good reconstructionists we must duplicate everything the way it was in a world prior to the invention of the motor. The ancients wouldn't have adapted their ways to incorporate industrialisation, specialisation, antibiotics, the internet ... or something. Maybe they don't assume that the ancients were too stupid to adapt their practices to what works, but are either unable to grasp the ways they can do that same adaption or consider it somehow hubristic to move beyond the history books.

What are the values of the ancients that their religions supported? You can get that in history books, if you dig a bit and think about it. What were their practices? Depending on which culture, you can get some of that. What did they celebrate, why, how? You can get that, sometimes. You can't always get what it means, and religion is a process of meaning.

You can't have a living religion if it's all about referring to the books. It can't be a resurrected zombie religion that mimics the ancient world where it can and rails hopelessly at the existence of the telephone the rest of the time if it's supposed to live. Living religion takes actually doing it, learning how it fits into the world and the way the world fits back, learning the particular rhythms of the dance between the human and the divine. Somewhere, someone has to put the books down and actually do it.

And when you're actually living it, pointing at the history books won't show anyone how to live now.

1 comment:

Cereus said...

"The ancients wouldn't have adapted their ways to incorporate industrialisation, specialisation, antibiotics, the internet ... or something."

Speaking of antibiotics - you might be interested in this recent peice of news, then:

"The Ancients" were in touch with their world in a lot of ways that are similar o scientists today. We didn't just suddenly "get smarter" or anything.