Excavating Our Souls from the Ruins

Every spiritual path or religion has the need for sacred sites for the people of that faith to tap in and feel connected with the ancestors and worshipers of days long gone. Jason Pitzl-Waters has put together a wonderful article, ‘What’s the Best Way to Protect Our Pagan Past?’

My response is that one of the greatest problems that we face in preserving historical Pagan sites is the fact that Pagans themselves have been known to be “bad guests”. By that I mean swiping souvenirs from sites, like a piece of the Great Pyramid, or feel the need to fondle fragile artifacts because they just don’t have the common sense that part of preserving these antiquities and sites is to at least educate themselves about what to do and not to do. Coming from a background of scholarship and having an egyptologist in the family, I can tell you those things are extremely important. Few within Paganism’s ranks, however, avail themselves of them.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the hostility that the archaeological and scholarly community has toward Pagans in general is because of the ignorance on preservation, or matters of grave reparations, etc. Another reason is of course because of the (quite frankly) sloppy scholarship and the use of out of date, public domain materials in lieu of serious, more current information in the books that the Pagan community sees fit to publish. How many care enough about this archaeological heritage to get the degree, or to really write the professors and researchers that have done or are doing current research? How many are willing to shell out in some cases several hundred dollars for one book on an area of interest that they are researching? How many know how to actually read the ancient languages and regularly study them so that they can rely on their OWN translations, rather than relying on those of others? The numbers of those Pagans who are that dedicated to their faith are precious few – and those that are professionals or scholars and also Pagan, keep very quiet about it. They do so mainly to avoid being ridiculed by their professional peers and/or have their funding cut, or passed over for projects, etc. It’s sad but it’s true. There are those Pagans who are conscious and who are not scholars but know in their gut the rightness and the wrongness as it relates to our ancestral past. Those who don’t listen to the voices of one’s ancestors are in fact ignoring the better part of themselves as well. That to me, is sad.

Pagans and Pagan sites will be taken seriously when we no longer have to worry about Pagan worshipers taking it seriously themselves. There are the very few that make it rough on the rest of us for their blatant ignorance. Those are the idiots that make the news and by default, make professional historians more than a little nervous. Being able to interact on that level, in a manner which the areas of science and scholarship demand – and speaking in that language are key to making this happen. Some within the Pagan community have been taken aback by my saying such things. Some adamantly deny that scholarship is hostile in any way shape or form toward Paganism.

I personally think that is a very niave belief on their part.

I have seen the hostility and scholarly circles, and it can be quite ruthless. I am speaking from personal experience of having observed the behaviour for over 15 years within the Kemetic / egyptological arena. I know for a fact that there are several scholars and/or professors who keep their own personal spiritual practices very private and sometimes will even deny it. Not to do so is viewed as having an unprofessional interest and bias.The attitude is, ‘of course we have evolved so much since antiquity!’ To cite an example; a luncheon was held with scholars and a noted author and a Priestess of my acquaintance. Someone made the rather flippant remark: “…and would you believe it, some people actually BELIEVE IN all of these silly things that the ancients did and try to do them, too!” To which the response around the table was a resounding, “Eww!” (Yes. Real professional, I know. But you get the gist) These practicing scholars, professors and authors are very legitimately in some cases, afraid of losing tenure, of losing funding and not being taken seriously on their projects or books. To cite another example, in spite of the very good reception of Dr. Alison Roberts’ wonderful work, “Hathor Rising” (Inner Traditions) which was but a small portion from her doctoral papers, “Cult Objects of Hathor”: Vol I & II); her work gets more than a few sneers from scholars because Roberts has what is described in egyptological circles as: an “Hermetic bent”. Unfortunately, in the realm of “serious” scholarship, that is not at all seen as a positive thing. It is viewed as a detriment and in fact Erik Hornung spends a great deal of time and 228 pages disassembling one modern Pagan belief after another in one of his more recent books.

Bigotry is alive and well in scholarship to be sure. No one is denying that. We can also take the necessity of scholarly study too far and it can completely disconnect a person from the intensity of spiritual experience to the point where it all is hollow. My favourite quote, by symbolist and mathemetician R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who has to date THE most intensive and accurate documentation and inventory of the Luxor Temple of Amun in or outside of Egyptology:

“Tradition is a surrender, a betrayal. What is handed down in a traditional way is a betrayal of the recipient, not of the content of transmission. The tradition is presented as truth, and therefore is psychologically disabling to the inquiring mind. A collection of hand-me-down beliefs against the search for a metaphysical truth that proves its justice in practice.” (“Al-khemi: a Memoir” by Andre VandenBroeck)

It’s a very fine line to walk – whether that person is a layman, a scholar, a Priest/ess or someone who cares deeply enough about connecting with our collective human akhu (ancestors) via sacred sites and what went on before. However, there will always be some among us for whom preserving those sites, traditions and doing so in a thorough manner is important.

The term ‘Pagan Scholar’ should not be an oxymoron. Certainly, afrocentrist scholars have learned that they need to play by the rules of professional scholarship in order to be taken seriously. In Maulana Karenga’s book, “Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt,” ( University of Sankore Press, 2006) the author rose to the occasion, cited his sources, all of them scholarly in a work which was hailed even in egyptological circles as being ‘excellent’. There is absolutely no reason why more Pagan authors cannot be equally as focused and professional in their works. They have just as much passion and a desire for legitimacy as do scholars of African studies. Ronald Hutton’s book, “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft” (Oxford University Press, 1999) and Celtic scholars, John and Caitlin Matthews have met the task repeatedly in their numerous books. We need to continue to demand those types of standards in books written by Pagan authors as well. UPG and ‘drawwing down the God/dess’ or (worse) ‘channeling it’ is usually met with a well deserved doses of skepticism and / or eye-rolling. Honestly, how many times have we read the long-perpetuated, extremely inaccurate information with regard to “The Burning Times” with it’s claim of nine-million Witches being killed for Witchcraft and the claim that “Wicca” is an ancient religion? Unfortunately, we all know such claims have been made and repeated far too many times, so that the hype and victim mentality is perpetuated through the community and in turn makes Pagans look absurd.

It will be only when Pagans can become more professional, adhere closer to scholarly standards as well as to the callings of their souls and spiritual aspirations that they will more freely gain entrance into the dialogue with non-Pagan researchers and help make decisions about how to best preserve these sites that are sacred to human cultural and spiritual history.

© Ma’at Publishing, 2011

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