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Friday, September 28, 2012

why Reconstructionism?

self-portrait, circa 1995, oil on canvas

     The question was asked on a Facebook group I belong to, why do the group's reconstructionists follow that approach? While I no longer think of myself as a Celtic recon, per se, I do feel that reconstruction is a big part of my own practice and I enjoyed thinking about the question. I decided that I suffer from insatiable curiosity and a desire for authenticity, and that in the end is what will always make me look to reconstruction as the main methodology I use in practicing my spirituality. Needless to say this causes me endless grief and often shapes my own self-image as well as how I relate to groups and labels.
     I began in neo-paganism but even at a young age was drawn to Irish material. Back in the early 90's the only way to follow that up available to me was to delve into historic and mythic literature which gave me at least a basic understanding of what was known about the actual beliefs and practices of the pagan Irish. Why I was drawn to the Irish is a bit of a separate topic, but suffice to say it was a long standing interest nurtured by family heritage and stories. I could never be satisfied following made up or imagined Irish paganism later when I began to find books by popular pagan authors that claimed to be genuine or traditionally Irish or Celtic. I think that quest for Truth is what led me into Druidism and I was lucky enough in the late 90's to find a reconstructionist Druid discussion group (which later became an Order) and that gave me the concept of practicing modern paganism based on reconstructionist principles as a viable "thing". I say lucky because this was still a time when the majority of Druidic groups where solidly Revivialist or neo-pagan; neither of which is bad, necessarily, but both of which include the very romanticism or outside influences I was trying to avoid. Finding White Oak showed me not only that I wasn't alone in seeking to learn about the actual pagan practices but also that it was possible to shape those historic practices into something modern and fulfilling. In my own way I had been practicing reconstructionism without knowing what it was for several years but finding other people was inspirational.
    In the same way though I have an inherent need for mysticism and magic that pulled me beyond simply studying the material or keeping to the surface of practicing it. I was drawn to seek the practical applications of the most esoteric aspects of Irish paganism and to learn the magics talked about in the myths and stories that I read. In the end I think what drew me into Druidism was the desire to embody that same pagan magic I was reading about; at 14 I didn't want to be like Fedelm, I wanted to be Fedelm. Of course I was also driven from early on to serve my community as what can only be described as clergy. There is a certain inevitability in a person who is so driven by Irish culture, myth and magic, and a call to serve ending up being drawn to Druidism. Nonetheless I was never satisfied with the modern Druid groups who all either lacked something I was looking for or included something I was trying not to include myself. Only in finding a reconstructionist Druid Order did I find something that seemed to be exactly what I needed.
      And of course years later when I came to heathenry (one explanation for that = Odin) I did so with a reconstructionist approach as well. Even when I study or teach more modern topics its always done with that reconstructionist approach that says to start at the beginning and work my way forward.
      Being a reconstructionist satisfies my need for a solid historical basis while being a Druid satisfies my need for mysticism and magic. It probably seems like utter cognitive dissonance to some, but in it is the only thing that really works for me, and that is why I am a recon and that is why I am a Druid as well.


  1. I always enjoy reading your thoughts on this. To me, there is a fine line between religious reconstructionism vs historical reenactment. I am not sure if some of the folks who follow Celtic/Germanic/Hellenic recon truly understand the difference, and thus devolve into a mere academic study of their own faith without ever exploring their spirituality at a more deeper, personal level.

    1. I think it is easy to get sidetracked by either the pure academia or the idea that recon means re-enactment...I know many people who are great recons with genuine spirituality and practices; they keep that balance between doing and studying. And they are the ones who are the most satisfied with their religion...
      For me pure recon, if you will, tended to feel too restrictive as the community is not necessarily accepting of extreme esoterica. On the other hand Druidism can be almost too accepting of it, as well as sometimes rejecting academia that is uncomfortable or not in line with preconcieved here I sit in the no-man's land in between : )