Time Travel and the Mysteries of Civilization

If you could travel through time, where would you go?

It was a question I heard on the wind. A question so clear, I turned to see if there was someone walking on the path behind me, whispering, breathing down my neck.

I heard it on the wind, I saw it in print, I felt it in my dreams. It surrounded me for weeks.

The moment I answered, the moment I thought, “I would travel back to the beginning if I could,” I imagined being whisked away as though on fairy wings.

The feeling, akin to falling asleep, was soft and passed quickly. Before I had a chance to blink, I had  touched down softly in the night, on a scrubby, deserted plain. The stars spilled across the sky overhead in the ancient brilliance of a pre-lit world.

My quest had begun.

I would wander Sumer, Ur, Nippur, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Athens, Phoenicia, Rome, the shores of France, and up into the land of the Angles and the Saxons, the land of Picts, and across the Celtic islands.

And at the end of my wanderings, would the mysteries of civilization, of religion, of humanity be any closer to being solved?

I’ll let you know when, one day, I return, with my head full of all I have seen.

If you could travel through time, where would you go?

I would go back in time, not forward. Back to the beginning.

I would choose to see first hand the founding of civilizations. I would go back to when pre-history became history.

I have dreamed of walking though the ancient civilizations I learned about in school. I have cherished my daydreams from fifth grade, tenth grade, from university, daydreams about what it would be like to have been there, to have seen the ancient world, to have breathed the air, to have seen how it all began.

In the absence of any possibility of walking through history, I have instead devoured history books, books about myths, belief systems, religions. I took courses dealing with these subjects while at university, though they were not really related to my major.

I have maintained this interest, too, though the subsequent years. I have continued to read both fiction and non-fiction, myths and legends and academic studies. And we have a few antiquities in our home, items my husband has carefully selected and gifted to me, knowing how much I revere them, their origins, the way they allow me to reach out and touch a small, distant piece of history. I imagine an ancient Egyptian holding the alabaster vase, an ancient Roman drinking from the wine cup, a Mesopotamian transcribing the list of a merchant’s wares onto the clay tablet.

What is it about ancient history that piques my curiosity and fires my imagination?

It is the unknown, the unsolvable, the perfect, never-ending mystery.

I seek to know and understand the mysteries of civilizations which can never fully be known or understood, which are lost in time. To see language and writing develop. To know and understand the how and why, the ageless mysteries behind the mystical beliefs the ancients held, to witness the formation of religions, to watch as belief systems developed, as early people struggled to explain the inexplicable.

To have a heightened anthropological understanding of humanity.

I have written before that this may be my religion. For many atheists, science is what they hold onto. And I do certainly explain the mysteries of the universe through science. But I think for me, more than science, my religion is history.

I continue to search for greater insight into the primeval aspects of humanity’s deepest need to believe. Watching it happen is the only way one could ever fully fathom how humans have survived and evolved, how they think and construct beliefs. We can study and guess and try to piece the mystery together, but without being there, we can never see into the deepest aspect of who we are, though we may try.

I think that many religions seek to answer this very question-who we are and why we are here-though many would rely on faith in place of a concrete answer. But for me, faithless, being there is the only way to know for sure.

I am currently reading Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux, slowly absorbing the story of Mesopotamia, one of my favourite places and eras in history. I specifically enjoy reading about the pantheon of early gods and comparing them to those from other cultures and religions. Belonging to no particular religion makes it easier, possibly, to see the similarities between many religions. It is partially why, once upon a time, I read quite a bit about Madame Blavatsky‘s Theosophy, something that also spoke to the great minds of W.B. Yeats, Emily Carr, and countless others.

Interestingly, Roux explains that to live for as long as possible, happily and comfortably and healthily, was the greatest hope for an ancient Mesopotamian. This is what they appealed to their gods for. The here and now. They strived to live life to its fullest for they recognized that it is not long. They sought to make the most of it.

This is quite different from the many religions with which we are familiar today. Those that promise an afterlife of varying descriptions, depending on how one lives their short time on Earth. The reward, then, was life. The reward now is eternity in Heaven, or some equivalent.

If I could, I would travel back in time to observe. I would listen to the voices of ancient Egypt or prehistoric Ireland. I would watch Abraham and Isaac, or Muhammed, I would wander in the desert, stand in a temple of Athena or Isis, watch how the earlier beliefs metamorphosed into what they have become. I would watch that Sumerian press the tip of a reed into the wet clay and see that first writing being written.

I would watch as everything began, everything modern people work so hard to try to unravel today.

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