Learning about ancient cultures

As a pagan, you can get much information from books and the internet, but for some things, especially ancient cultures and their practices, you want to see how the people lived. Though I’d love to visit all kinds of places to gain some understanding of what life was like, and I’m certain you’d love that as well, truth is I don’t have the means to do that. I’ve been to Rome during grammar school, but that’s the only time I went somewhere with so much ancient history contained in the city. Athens is on my bucket list, I’d love to visit Scandinavia, and Egypt is a country I just have to visit one day, but as I said: traveling is expensive, and I have other priorities.

Luckily, you can learn much from the artifacts people used and their art and writing. And examples are scattered through various musea all over the world. Pictures can only do so much, but in a museum, you can see genuine objects, sometimes even touch them, as a sort of substitute for ‘the real thing’ when you travel.

Yesterday, my cousin and I went to the museum of antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands. Our main goal was to see the coffins of Amun priests and the large Egypt exhibition, because my cousin has always loved ancient Egyptian culture. She even journeyed through Egypt for several weeks, and is longing to go again, though right now that isn’t a good idea. She used to have many books about Egypt and small statues and scarabs scattered throughout her room. She’s a good 8 years older, and my brother and I used to play with those statues. She never minded.

Hieroglyphs, papyrus scrolls, an actual mummy of a small child with the artifacts buried with him during the burial rites and paintings of the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Everything you imagine when you think of Egyptian culture (except for pyramids… almost everything then) had a place in the museum. It occurred to me, seeing all the artifacts and the reconstructed burial sites, that religion was a part of everyday life, something I would like, but am not familiar with. Many major religions have specific days on which to celebrate, and many people practice their religion only then. For Egyptians, and the same holds true for Romans and Greeks (they also had an exhibition hall, though much smaller), there were moments every day to thank one or more gods, to honour them or to ask for favours. I’d like that.

Another find in the museum was the goddess Nehalennia, to whom travelers offered before crossing the canal to Britannia from modern day Holland. She appears to have been an indigenous goddess in Gallica, adopted by the Romans that conquered Europe up to the river Rhine, which crosses the Netherlands. She maintained her own status and wasn’t equated with any previously honoured goddesses, as probably happened with many indigenous gods and goddesses. From the altars dedicated to her, which were all extremely similar, I only learned she was associated with dogs and with apples, but not much more. She has a very homely feel to her, and I can imagine people offering to her and asking for a safe return to home. I do want to learn more about her, so I will use the media I employ most: books and the internet! This trip to the museum has given me much that I can work with 🙂

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7 Responses to “Learning about ancient cultures”

  1. Ornaments for your altar | Journey of a Dutch Witch Says:

    […] liked them. My creations included a curled up snake similar to the Egyptian board game I saw at the museum (but quite a bit smaller), the three faces of the moon and a candle holder. Most of my dough was […]

  2. Silverleaf Says:

    This is fascinating and a great way to spend the day. I also am very interested in the local goddess.

    • 91juditho Says:

      It is! I love musea, especially the big ones or the ones where you can experience things yourself. Who is your local goddess, if I may ask?

      • Silverleaf Says:

        You know, I have always been so focused on the gods and goddesses of my Irish ancestors, that I don’t know. Interesting that. I shall have to find out. As far as the Celts go, I was always partial to Tailtiu and Brigid, and then the Dagda.

      • 91juditho Says:

        Brigid is a goddess many people feel partial to, she seems very approachable and likeable. And as a christian saint, for those just starting on the pagan path, it is an easy jump 🙂 Good luck on finding out something about your local deities!

      • Silverleaf Says:

        Yes, that’s very true, though I studied Celtic Studies at university, so I first met her as her Pagan self and only sort of paid attention to her Christian aspect, mostly when I was in Ireland.

  3. Goddesses of the low countries | Journey of a Dutch Witch Says:

    […] year, when my cousin and I went to the museum of Antiquities in Leiden, we saw the tributes to Nehalennia. This goddess had temples in Zeeland (the southwestern […]


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