History is a subject that I devour like small candy pieces. Reading an individual’s interpretation as to how a group of people did or did not live in a time frame long lost to the empty reaches of time can sometimes be amusing or very eye-opening. And the manner in which a historian presents their perspective with the passion usually reserved for a special Lover can literally sell the reader’s belief in the right or wrong of what is being presented. How much of what is presented is reality, and how much conjecture?
That particular point has been one I have faced with some degree of amusement. I am sure there is a side of humanity, one hundred years in the future, that will look upon the presidency of the Sunkist Orange with a layer of amusement combined with a layer of awestruck horror. But that is not what I am referring to. Rather, I have wondered what the future may hold for the modern Pagan and Polytheist movements. How will the future archeologists of the future view someone living a dedicated Pagan, Polytheistic lifestyle? How would the small stone circle in my backyard be viewed through the backward facing lens of the future?
Of course, there is a lot more documentation of the meaning of such things through our blog posts, our own writings – which honestly are far more voluminous today than just a few decades in our own recent past. We have blog posts that spread throughout the world via the internet. There are podcast episodes that do the same thing, except via sound. There are YouTube channels of many Pagans talking about their beliefs, their practices, and even demonstrating some of their ritual techniques. And the books. The music. The storytelling. All a part of our legacy to the future – whether we intend it to be or not.
And will our intentions with all of that recorded history and thought be understood with the same intention it was made with? After all, the future history could be colored with a jaundiced eye that receives its primary instruction of belief from a society that is even more Christian-oriented than it is today. Or perhaps one where a spiritual belief of any kind has been abandoned for one reason or another. Perhaps, our digital media recordings have been wiped from recorded history because of some digital disaster. And the written, paper media has been dissipated and dissolved from the inevitable decay of time. That would mean that all that was left were the storytellers – left to repeat and reiterate the understanding of our history from generation to generation around the nighttime fires.
Yes, the storyteller has the chance to reign supreme if a complete failure of human society occurs. If the world suddenly becomes the nightmares depicted within the Mad Max movies, the storytellers will continue. And knowing the manner in which stories are misremembered within oral-only tellings, how much can our history become distorted? How much bias can be injected into the remembering of Pagans and Polytheists by the Storyteller themselves? Yes, there is power in the Spoken word; particularly if the written word is not there to provide a secondary reference.
Now I am painting a particularly gloomy future. But the same distortion can be found if a utopian, technology-driven society is in place. After all, a Pagan, Polytheist society can be wiped out by a societal group with sufficient numbers. What would these archeologists make of all of us? Would we be a backward society? Would we be a small, superstitious cult?
On the other hand, a society that grows into something our wildest dreams could not even contain may look at our current Pagan and Polytheist communities as individuals who had to fight for equality and proper recognition. And sometimes lost those battles. Perhaps an archeological dig would turn up our various ritual tools, and Pagan-eseque items. We could be scoffed at for our consumerist tendencies. Or our future generations may wonder how we could manage our rituals and home worship without this particular item or another.
All of this makes me wonder even more about how I might be perceived were my home be the site of an archeological dig. Would it be possible to tell the difference between my Pagan home versus those of my nearby neighbors, most of whom are Catholic? Should they be able to tell the difference, aside from my backyard stone circle? When it comes to our history, the cultural effects that we might leave behind as Pagans and Polytheists, could the future properly decipher who we were, what we believed, and how we lived? And if we are to create something that would provide these clues in an appropriate manner, how should our lives look?
And honestly, while these are great questions to marvel over – to tease some odd angles out of our thinking – much of this smacks of the old “Pagan Enough” movement of a few years back, for which I have a good deal of disdain for. A Pagan is a Pagan. It is not what they own, what they wear, who they have sex with, what books are on their shelves, or how large their compost pile is that makes them who they are. Its what is in their heart, and how they approach their concept of what is divine. It is about how they connect to their environment around them. And not one bit of that can be discerned by their photos, the clothes in their closet, who they read or what car they drive. No, it is what is in their hearts and who they are – and the truth they have for themselves. And when we finally have the ability to leave that behind in something other than our writings and recordings – then we might be able to convey that to the future. But until that becomes possible, the clues we leave behind have just as much of a chance to confusing us as the clues left behind by our ancestors from prehistoric ages. Much like we are doing to our previous generations, our future generations will have to make the best-educated guesses that they can – and run the intermediate risks of being wrong.