When I originally listed this topic for my second H post for the Pagan Blog Project, I had a set idea of what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about how to find historical sources and work with them in your personal practice and how I did that in my own practice. And I still intend to write about that here, though not in this particular entry. But, as always, I think too much and end up having more thoughts I want to write down than I have time and space for, at least here on this blog.
I mention in my About the Author page that I minored in history at university. And that’s technically true. What I don’t mention there is that, actually, I had all the work but for two classes done for my degree in history, not simply a minor. Barring the senior thesis and one other class, I had everything done (and some extra, considering the requirements necessary).
So why didn’t I go for the degree? Why not take the class and write my senior thesis and be done with it? Well, the thing is, I really love history. All sorts of history and finding connections between cultures and reading about different ancient societies and learning factoids about World War I and just all of it. So when it came to writing the thesis…I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t narrow down my focus to one specific topic as the thesis required.
Today, I’m still the same. I cannot narrow down my focus because I find the connections between things and I want to see how they relate to one another, how they work together like the gears in a clock, each having their own function but each adding to the greater whole. In Paganism, at least how I practice it, that’s a lot of the same problem.
When people think about history, they often seem to think, at least the common individual, that history exists in this sort of weird vacuum. That since it already happened, there’s only one truth to it and that there’s no point to learning about it. But that’s not exactly true: history does not exist in a vacuum and we are always learning new things about the events of the past.
Lately, I’ve been reading about Ancient Egypt as a part of my research into Kemeticism. My first foray into this new research is Red Land, Black Land. As I began reading it last week, I came across this quote
History is not a series of facts; it is a series of opinions and theories, some solidly based, some sheer nonsense, most more or less probable. Unless a historian who is writing a book confines himself to a particular problem within a limited era of history, he cannot possibly explain all the evidence, pro and con, or give all the variant theories for every debatable problem. There are too many debatable problems! Yet it is important to remember how flimsy some of our historical reconstructions actually are, and it is interesting to see how some of them have developed.
Red Land, Black Land
It really hit home with me. History is not a series of facts, nor a cause-effect chain of interlocking pieces that form a linear line of events that have already happened. We are still learning about the events of the past, still putting together the pieces of a multi-dimensional puzzle that has no picture on the box and more than half the pieces are missing, too waterlogged to fit or burnt to ash.
And yet, people still seem to think this idea of history as linear events is accurate. They make claims about history that have no basis in what we know or only apply to a very small geographical area for a very brief period of time. People who make claims about historical belief, thought, and religion as if it existed in a static state, unchanging forever.
But the thing is, that’s not how things work. History is always changing, even today as we learn more about well-researched sources, find new books, and learn more through archaeological evidence. And those are just three examples of how we learn more. New thought and opinions on how things are viewed and regarded, whether it is a manuscript discovered in the back of an old library or a clay pot that’s survived hundreds of years.
My main point here is that history is not a static, unchanging study. It is, in fact, the exact opposite, a dynamic, complicated, convoluted intellectualized experience of past events.