Pagan Paths

Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.

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National Myths of Disaster

b2ap3_thumbnail_warfare.jpgFamine, cannibalism, disease, crime – it was widely rumored in ancient Egypt that during a terrible time in its past the forces of isfet (chaos) completely upended the orderly society of which Egyptians were inordinately fond.  The first “intermediate period” between kings became the subject of several Middle Kingdom teaching or wisdom texts, such as The Prophecy of Neferti and The Admonitions of Ipuwer. These writings essentially bemoan the terrible things that are supposed to have happened, and warn readers to maintain maat (balance, justice) in order to avoid a recurrence.

Here’s the thing – there is no real evidence that the catastrophic events actually happened.  Modern scholars lean towards the idea that they were written primarily as propaganda, reinforcing the importance of unifying under the king, keeping religious observances of the neteru (gods), and keeping things on an even keel.

Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  Here are some more recent examples of national myths of destruction from my own country: 

  • Communists are infiltrating the entertainment industry and will infect our children’s minds.
  • America is a Christian nation, Christians were given dominion over this continent, and the rise of godlessness is leading us to the apocalypse.
  • Same-sex marriage is causing families to fall apart and society to lose its moral bearings.
  • Government is evil and must be resisted.
  • Islam is dangerous and must be resisted.

And so forth . . .                                                                           

I am struck by a significant difference, however, between modern America and ancient Egypt.  The Egyptians had a horror of a return to chaos, but they did not seem to see it as impending, choosing rather to instruct their descendents in the ways of living which would assure peace and prosperity.  Many Americans, on the other hand, can’t tear their eyes away from the mangled animal ahead on the highway, hoping to find they are mistaken while simultaneously expecting to view the unthinkable exposed for all to see, if only from the safe distance of our moving car.

We know that a tiny minority of people are drawn to doomsday cults, justifying with religion their planned exit from a world they find increasingly untenable and intolerable.  Some of those even dreamed up the idea that the sooner the apocalypse comes, the sooner we can pass on into a post-apocalyptic paradies.  Those are the extreme cases, but I wonder about the many shades of gray that lead up to that black outlook.  If apocalyptic ideology is ultimately destructive, what part does pessimism play in our journey to tragedy? 

Navy Chaplain Padre Steve says in a recent column, “Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history, including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.” (Steven Dudas)

I write today as I sit on the back deck, warmed by the end-of-May sun and cooled by a breeze sweetened with the scent of burgeoning green.  Year after year the azaleas bloom, the bluebirds and falcons return to nest, the neighbor’s old eucalyptus stands stalwart, and I am sheltered by towering woods just beyond.  What would I do if they all heard that South Carolina summers are getting hotter and drier each year and they decided to give up?  What if their timeless cycles of time (neheh) became linear, pointed squarely at an unfortunate inevitability?

b2ap3_thumbnail_ducksgarden.jpgWe who look to the earth for inspiration know better than some others that life and death coexist, that we always live in both the best and the worst of times.  But I also know that I create that of which I dream. My nightmares can haunt me into nationalism and “othering.”  My hopeful visions can lead me to remake my world in their image.  Will you join me in dreaming, then, of the best, most just, most beautiful unwinding of existence out into infinity, one which needs no warning against, no national myth of disaster.

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Holli Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the premiere educational resource for Pagan and other nature-based religions (, founder of Osireion (, editor/writer for Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at, and serves on the board of directors for Interfaith Partners of S.C. (  She is co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table,, and author of "Pool of Lotus," available in print, or for Kindle or Nook, at


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