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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Living reconstruction

I've been talking lately with a couple friends about recon. and, in the course of the conversation, we end up sharing stories of past experiences. Somehow the conversation had turned to the way that people often misunderstand what recon. is and the funny and frustrating discussions that result and that got me thinking about how many people really don't understand what recon. is all about. So the following is my attempt to clarify a couple things and my own impression of what reconstructionist religions are.
   First off many people seem to think that being a recon. means trying to live like or have the spirituality of an ancient culture - sorry, no. Reconstruction is about learning as much as we can about what the anceint culture was like and what the religion was like in order to bring the core of it forward in a workable modern way. We are not trying to bring ourselves back or create a backwards looking religion, rather we want to envision what that anceint paganism would have grown into had it not been interupted. By researching and using archaeology, anthropology, history, mythology, and linguistics we can gain a better understanding of the beliefs and practices that existed thousands of years ago and find the best ways to bring that forward in a viable modern way.
  Secondly reconstructionism is not a static faith; it is not only about picking out bits and pieces of old pagan practices to use. Achieving a thorough grounding in the ancient culture and the principles of modern recon. allows people to then create new material in the spirit of the old material; songs, poems, invocations, rituals, and all the other essentials. No religion can survive long if it is not living and growing and that is equally true of recon. Now it is true that new material has to be in line with the old, because part of recon is not introducing foreign elements, but the world we live in today is very different from the world thousands of years ago - if we can't create a religion that is modern and that is adapted for the modern world, then really, what's the point?
   So to me recon is a viable modern faith that is rooted in an ancient pagan faith, brought forward as we envision it if it had never stopped being practiced. Each individual and every group will have their own ideas on what that would look like depending on their own views and interpretations of the available material, creating a very similar situation to what it was like back then when each tribe had it's own particular ways within the larger culture. Nonetheless we all share a common goal and a common vision that should hold us together as a community. We keep the core cultural values, the main religious practices and beliefs, and we use critical thinking and inspiration, along with a deep understanding of the historical culture, to adapt the surviving material and to create new material in the spirit of the old. Because recon. is not just about the book-knowledge or the research - it's about actively living the spirituality we find there.


  1. I think a lot of the misconceptions come from the fact that people see the 'Celtic Reconstructionist' and forget the 'Paganism' on the end of the label - largely because shortening it makes it less of a mouthful, but then people get the impression that it's a wholesale reconstruction of a culture. I've seen the misconception put some noses seriously out of joint, especially some Irish folk who think it means that we don't see modern Irish culture as having anything to do with their pre-Christian heritage, or having any inherent value, or whatever. That's not the case (IMHO), but the misconceptions persist, it seems.

    I think one of the biggest challenges for CR is to show that the various 'isms' under the CR umbrella are viable, liveable and *living* religions.

  2. What Seren says is EXACTLY why I always insisted on it being Celtic Reconstructionist PAGANISM! Because that's what I meant to reconstruct, the cultures exist after all! Changed, as cultures do. And continue to do.

    I do think that some folk see that some of us, and it's probably no more than any other religious group really but add it on to the other reasons, are homesteading and think that's about playing at going back in time. Honestly, homesteading doesn't mean giving up modern conveniences, it's just about redefining what modern conveniences we might want (some of the ones we want are newer than the mainstream, after all). But the homesteading thing is about living too, anyway, it's not reenactment any more than it's more "Celtic" than it is any other path. But I do think that confuses some...including some who want to confuse it for their own Celtic fantasies and want to start their little kingdoms.

    Oh, mind you, I like having animals which have some affiliation to the culture...but all are actually fairly recent. And, well, most are too costly to own (ANY cow is, let alone any of the Gaelic breeds).

  3. Great point, both of you. I should have put more emphasis on that actually because it should be obvious that there is no need to re-create the Celtic cultures since they still exist but there certainly are people who fail to realize - through ignorance or intention - that that is so. It is only the aspect of pagan spirituality that needs to be "caught" up so to speak. Maybe because it seems so patently obvious to me I assume that it's obvious to everyone, but I should know better having run into people who act like all the Celts died out thousands of years ago. I just can't imagine anyone engaing in any reconstruction of a *spirituality* without already being immersed in the culture - certainly for myself I had a strong connection to Irish diasporic culture long before I became interested in the pagan side of it. I shall have to make a point in the future to always add the paganism on the end of CR.
    Seren, I could not agree more about the biggest challenge facing CR Paganism - I have seen more people recently calling it a "scholar's thing" or saying it's all about facts and history and while it is important to base any reconstruction in as much fact as possible it worries me that people are missing the larger point. All the book-knowledge in the world is meaningless if we aren't living our spirituality...
    Saigh - I agree that people see homesteading and misunderstand, again either through ignorance or willful misunderstanding. It shouldn't be hard for people to understand that a lifestyle choice and a person's spirituality may be complimentary without being identical, and yet people can't seem to seperate out the two...on a side note I envy you your life style. I would love to have a little homestead to raise the children on, with chickens and goats, and yes even the expensive cow...
    I think, and have long thought, that Celtic paths in general suffer more from romanticism than other culture specific paths. People use "Celtic" like a blank screen to project their own fanatsies and desires onto, without any regard to the existing culture or the reality of the past culture...