How do you Reconstruct?

Discussion in 'Pagan' started by sword and silver, Sep 13, 2004.

  1. sword and silver

    sword and silver Courage, Wisdom, Love

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    Greetings and Salutations to all, I'm new here and have some questions about the Pagan world. Maybe someone here can point me in the right direction.

    My general question is how do you reconstruct a dead religion? I've studied history for years, particularly ancient history (Greece, Rome, and the Celts), and have followed the rise and fall of their different socieities. First I should note that none of these great societies have truly fallen, Rome is still a great city, the Greeks just held the Olympic games, and the Celts continue to exist in many different countries in western Europe. Yet, their different religions are, as near as I can tell, gone. What we have left are writings from hundreds of years ago, in some cases re-written many times leaving doubts to the authenticity of these writings (the Bible has this problem too now that I think about it). What is problematic about this is the continuity of teacher student which has been broken over the millenia, somewhere along the centuries the knowledge and practices of these traditions was no longer passed on from a teacher to a new student. So for all those who are "reconstructionalists" I would like to understand how you are doing it.

    Please understand, I'm not attacking your beliefs when I ask this question. I sincerely wish to know how people have gone about this task. I have found the Christian path which I grew up with to be less than rewarding on my own spirtual walk and have noticed I agree with alot of the spiritual aspects I've seen in the modern day Pagan world. So I'd really like to understand this spiritual path a little better.

    Thanks for any insight you may provide.
     
  2. MatTheCat

    MatTheCat Member

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    Hello Sword and Silver,
    One thing I have noticed about this forum is the high levels of diplomacy displayed by its contributers. I suspect that you may well be attacking such 'reconstructionism'. If this is the case, then I would like to say that I wholeheartedly agree with you on the nonsense of the recronstructionism that constitutes a great part of modern day neo-pagan practice. The view that I would take on much of the pagan reconstructionism is that it constitutes nothing more than a form of alternative 'book idoltry' similar in nature to that of Christianity and Islam. Perhaps this is why many of the people who profess to being Pagan are by and large mainstream relgious rebels. i.e. people who have learned to equate 'spirituality' with doctrine but have rebelled against the particular doctrine off their upbringing. They have merely replaced the Bible with a collection of books by New Age authors etc.. (How anyone can take things like Wicca seriously I do not know)

    The original pagan belief systems were a spiritual phenomena that sprang up and evolved organically over 1000's of years. Any given ancient pagan belief system would be a collective and inherited understanding of that particular peoples relationship with the forces of the natural world, the cosmos, and the highly specific archetypal images or the tribal 'gods and godesses'. To really be part of such a spiritual reality, an individual would have to be an actual product of it! Hence, true paganism would have been both a genetically inherited racial thing as well as a cultural thing that one learned and emulated from their elders. Books were not necessary.

    However, I would like to emphasise the racial factor. Putting aside those modern day neo-pagans that hand pick various deities to worship from books or things they have read on the internet, I believe pagans who have actually had profound 'pagan' experiences (perhaps deity experiences or past life visions), are tapping into the 'collective unconscious' or the 'archetypal images' of their ancestors. In otherwords, I believe that spirituality is inherited just as every other human characteristic and attribute is inherited. So in cases where neo-pagans claim to practice the traditions of the ancient Egyptians. unless they are direct descendents of high caste Egyptians (the Egyptian gods that are most well documented are those that were worshipped exclusively by the elite of Egytian society), I would consider it most unlikely that their practice amounts to anything more than a form of book idoltry or academic intellectual veneration.

    Myself, I tend not to look to books for spiritual insight. Spiritual development has got to come from within oneself and be true to that individuals own needs, as opposed to adhering to some religious doctrine. I also consider myself relatively advanced in certain areas that one would consider to be of a pagan nature. However, I am quite aware that I am really only scratching away at the surface of a forgotten and dormant 'spiritual capability'.

    I will have to end this post by stating that I find that hallucinogenic mushrooms are a very helpful tool regarding rediscovering inner worlds and rendering the mind more sensitve to influences around it. But as for books, all you can do with a book is develop ideas, by no means can a book actually provide an 'original' experience.
     
  3. sword and silver

    sword and silver Courage, Wisdom, Love

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    Just for the sake of clarity, I'd like to emphasize that I'm not attacking anyone's beliefs, nor am I disagreeing with the validity of any chosen path. My questions are asked purely out of a sense of curiosity and the opportunity to explore alternative religious practices.

    My apologies for any confusion.
     
  4. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    We have a couple of reconstructionists here - hopefully they can provide their own experiences and perspectives in answer to the various issues raised. :)

    And no worries, Sword and Silver - nothing wrong with asking questions. In fact, some people claim it's when we fail to ask that we suffer most. :)
     
  5. Erynn

    Erynn Professional Madwoman

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    Before I talk about Reconstruction per se, I want to address the issue of "genetic" or "racial" memory and the concept that only someone who is a descendant of a particular culture should study or practice a particular early religion.

    What that contention, however well intended, boils down to is racism. The concept of race and racial purity is a social construct that was used to prop up the inferiority of people of "other races." Its most malignant forms have been found in the National Socialist movement in Germany, and in the various "ethnic cleansings" of more recent years throughout the world. We do consider the issues of cultural appropriations, but most Recontructionists try to learn the languages of the cultural path they follow, and to respect the cultures and peoples whose past traditions they are adopting and adapting.

    It is well accepted in the scientific community that humanity sprang from a very few individuals in Africa -- and if we are going by strict genetics, then we humans are all African in origin. This said, there is no real racial "purity" either, because migrations, wars, and cultural movements have all led to the passing of genes and genotypes through marriage, casual sexual contacts, and far less pleasantly, through the rape of the survivors of war.

    If spirit and deities are real, then why should they be restricted to calling only individuals from some fictitious genetically pure strain of their original worshippers? Who are we to say that someone is not called by the Gods they follow?

    I would point out that "most Paganism" is not reconstructed in the least. A majority of the Pagan "mainstream" these days creates form and ritual without regard to hisotry, but considering instead what feels good and what seems to work. There is nothing wrong with this, but for some of us, it's unsatisfying.

    Moving on to the issue of Reconstruction itself, it's a complex issue and differs from group to group. The Hellenismos have the advantage of actual hymns and rituals recorded by those who practiced them, as do those following Nova Roma and a few other paths. They have rules recorded for the clergy, they have excellent examples of temple ruins showing dimensions, and giving ideas of what was offered or sacrificed to the Gods, as well as a copious amount of documentation in those cultures' daily lives.

    For the Celtic Reconstructionists, and others who are attempting to reconstruct religions and spiritual paths from non-literary cultures, the task is harder. We do look at what sources there are. We look at the archaeology of the culture. We look at linguistic histories. We look at laws and tales and lore recorded by those who came later, who may have had some contact with or memory of the cultures and practices. We examine the folkloric practices and the stories still told.

    As we do this, we filter things as carefully as we may, trying to decide what looks authentic, and what looks too deeply Christian to have been native. We compare to other cultures nearby -- for the Celtic cultures that will often be the Germanic, the Saami and Finnish, and some of the Classical materials. Some Celtic Reconstructionists look to the Romano-Celtic areas and period, for which there is more written, and more evidence. With the comparisons available to us, and mythographic models such as that of Dumezil or Levi-Strauss, we examine patterns and see what makes sense to fill in holes in our chain of evidence, and try to take some of those ideas while looking at them through the lens of Celtic cultures to adjust them and experiment with them to see if they will suit our path.

    We also sort through ancient practice and lore with an eye toward what should be discarded -- human sacrifice, for instance, or trial by combat. We examine early ethical principles and see what can best be incorporated into modern society. Reconstructionists don't follow the Wiccan Rede or cast circles like most NeoPagans. Most of us do not claim to be shamans. We try our best to honor the finest aspects of the cultures and beliefs of our spiritual ancestors.

    Once we have exhausted the scientific and academic evidence, we go to the Gods and Goddesses and ask their aid. We seek for and rely as well upon our own imbas -- our own powers of vision and inspiration. Taking those things, we talk to others on the path and compare notes. Often, people who have studied the same materials deeply will get the same types of insights. We try to sort what seems good and useful from the inevitable static that comes with this method.

    When people start agreeing on new ideas based on inspiration, we try to get together and experiment with them as groups, or to work with them collectively on our own, in our distant places. We compare notes on results, discarding what doesn't work and refining that which does.

    We know that what we do will never be exactly what our spiritual ancestors did, but it is our hope that they would recognize at least some of the form and spirit as being in accord with their own.

    Most Reconstructionists don't mix and match deities, preferring to work within a particular group or family of deities. When other deities are acknowledged or worshipped, it will be separately, with rites appropriate to their culture of origin. In addition to Irish/Scottish deities, I also honor Sarasvati, but I do so with something closer to Hindu Puja than the rites with which I honor the Celtic deities. You won't find Reconstructionists calling a mishmash of multicultural deities who may or may not get along with each other into their temples, hearths and rituals. In fact, you generally won't find Reconstructionists calling on deities from the same cultures and families who don't get along. We consider it not just counterproductive, but potentially very dangerous.

    I'll probably have more to say on these subjects, but I have a class to go to.
     
  6. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    Thanks for taking the time to make good answer, Erynn. :)

    And if I may add a particular point - variation in Reconstructionist perceptions doesn't necessarily entail that any particular Reconstructionist path is necessarily wrong - it's all merely a reflection of modern diversity reflecting the ancient diversity.

    Sometimes it's too easy to imagine that there was a single religious belief held by any ancient religion. This would be a terrible error. There was always a great variation, often especially focussed at the local level - whether it's Ancient Greeks fixating on the deity protecting their city state, or grove spirits for a specific location - ancient religions were essentially diverse. This can be perhaps seen by analogy by looking at Hinduism today - a body of belief that often shares similarities in terms of names and lore, but with wide variation - even disagreement - according to locale. I imagine ancient Celts were in a very similar position - Rome embraced the diversity - and Ancient Egypt effectively proscribed it at the city level, as did Ancient Greece.

    Just a quick 2 cents - feel free to disagree if I'm over-stating, though. :)
     
  7. MatTheCat

    MatTheCat Member

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    Erynn:
    "Before I talk about Reconstruction per se, I want to address the issue of "genetic" or "racial" memory and the concept that only someone who is a descendant of a particular culture should study or practice a particular early religion.

    What that contention, however well intended, boils down to is racism. The concept of race and racial purity is a social construct that was used to prop up the inferiority of people of "other races." Its most malignant forms have been found in the National Socialist movement in Germany
    ",

    It is not racism Erynn, it is realism. I really detest the fact that political correctness has resulted in the prohibition of certain schools of thought such as any suggestion that the differences between the races go further than the colour of their skin. If we were discussing horses or dog pedigree's then no-one would raise any objection to contentions made about certain breeds of horse or dog possessing differing attributes. i.e. some breeds of horse are better suited to racing and other breeds of horses are better suited to pulling heavy mine carts. Could the reasons for one horse being a great race horse and another being a great workhorse be due to the fact that one has read all the books on racing whilst the other has read all the books on pulling mine carts? Or are the fundamental variations in ability more due to the horses respective inherited genetic capabilities? Humans are no different. Just look at the international athletics field. Have you not noticed how well East African nations tend to do at long-distance running events whilst humans of West-African origin/descent pretty much dominate in the short 100m sprint events. Or look in the swimming events and there will not be an African to be seen because they are not genetically naturally great swimmers! I know I am refering to obvious physical characteristics here, but I believe that mental and spiritual capabilities follow the same basic principles. Of course, anyone can pick up a book on Voodoo or witchcraft and start 'reconstructing' the belief system regardless of whether they are West African or West European in racial origin. However, for a person to really experience an awakening of a voodoo belief system, voodooism would have to lie buried inside that person. I would consider this to be unlikely if that person was of exculsively West European origin.

    Hence my argument against reconstructionism. I know from my own experiences that my 'pagan' experieinces are closely bound with my own inherited capabilities and the inherited mould of my own spiritual outlook. If I wanted to pick up books and start reconstructing ancient deities from historical records, I would be practising intellectualism more so than developing spirituality, hence book idolism.
     
  8. sword and silver

    sword and silver Courage, Wisdom, Love

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    When I started this thread I had no intention on getting into matters of race, ethnicity, and other politically explisove issues. However, MatTheCat has brought up some interesting issues, though in doing so he skates the line of being racist. Since I have a bachelor's in biochemistry and have studied genetics to a considerable degree I feel I have some limited authority to comment on some of the issues raised here.

    First let me state that this is a very sensative issue and I'm going to try my best not to offend anyone. However, despite being sensative, it's an important issue and if we always hide from it we'll never fully understand it, so I'm going to discuss race in a genetic way as it's scietifically understood today (since this is a scientific interpretation, it is subject to change as our knowledge of genetics, heredity, and physiology changes over time).

    Race and ethnicity are created by minor differences both genetically and physiologically between groups of people. In the past, when our ancestors all settled in different parts of the world, because transportation was not easy, populations became isolated and over time different genes in different populations became more prominent than others. These differences led to different appearances as well as slightly different physical capabilities. Studies show that people of West African origin do better at short sprints while people from East Africa are better long distance runners. White Europeans tend to have slightly better upper body strength, and Eastern Asians tend to have slightly better flexibility. These slight differences in physical characteristics come from specific genes that are more common in one population than another. Also, the differences are rather small and simply mean people of one background are more often found with a specific physical characteristic than others. Not every black guy is an amazing runner and not every white guy is a muscular powerhouse, the better runners are just more often found in Africa and the heavier lifters are more often found in Europe.

    You should note that these physical differences are very small and probably created by the affects of environmental preassures that existed on individual populations over time. Different environmental problems created variations in physical characteristics.

    Having noted the differences, I should now call attention to the similarities. First, and perhaps most important, there is no modern research that points to a difference in mental capacity based on race. Unfortunately atheletic skill is stereotypically connected with low intelligence, and the moment when someone talks about how West African people are better sprinters on avereage, there is the emediate assumption you're saying they have a lower IQ. This, however, is an idiotic stereotype since there is no known connection between athletic prowess and mental capability. Tests actually show that mental skills are due to the development of a child in the early stages of their growth, and are attributable to environmental factors not racial factors.

    All humans share 99.9% gene similarity, that means your genes and the genes of anyone else are almost identical, and that 99.9% similarity exists between white and black people, this similarity is not affected by race (i.e. you're not genetically more similar to a person of your own race than a person of another race).

    In our very essence, all humans are almost identical, and we have more similarity than difference. While racial heritage may be an area to draw conclusions on small physiological differences (sprinting power, upper body strength, flexibility), these differences are actually rather small and are only traits more common in certain groups than others. Race, however, does not appear to have anything to do with mental ability or spiritual ability.

    Having said all that, I think I'm going to need a whole new post to address whether or not race and ethnicity can lead to certain spiritual pathways and the entire idea of a "racial memory". For now, I must get going.
     
  9. WHKeith

    WHKeith Well-Known Member

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    Greetings all. Wonderful thread. Thanks for starting it, Sword and Silver.

    I see several ways to address your questions. First and foremost, of course, you are absolutely right that the religions in question are dead. I would add that the societies that produced them are dead as well. Rome still exists, but the Roman cultures [plural] of Cicero and Aurelius and Julian are long gone. We still hold Olympic games, but those are themselves a form of reconstruction, recreated in the 1890s and updated for modern sensibilities. We honor Greece as the founder of the games, but thanks to successive barbarian invasions all the way up to the Ottoman Turks, modern Greeks are not the same genetically as their ancestors. There is no such thing today as a pure-blood strain of any ancient people.

    This, of course, is one [of many] reasons that racism in any guise is crap.

    In my opinion, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to adopt religious traditions of other peoples. In fact, take a look at some of the ancient religions themselves, just to put things in perspective.

    The Romans had absolutely no qualms about borrowing from other traditions. The Roman pantheon was wholeheartedly kidnapped from the Greeks, while Mithraism and the Syrian sun-cult imported by Heliogabulus and his mother were extremely popular, as was worship of the Egyptian Isis. The horned god so popular with Wiccans today, Cernunnos, was, so far as we can make out today, a hybrid deity created by the Romans from their contact with the Celts, a kind of wild god of the forest updated to accommodate a more pastoral society. In the first century C.E. or so, Egyptian and Greek mystical thought mingled—with a touch of Jewish mysticism—to create the Hermetic tradition, which identified the Egyptian Thoth with the Greek Hermes.

    In fact, what we think of today as “classical” religions are themselves layer upon layer of quite separate religious beliefs. We think of Hecate, Apollo, Helios, Aphrodite, Pan, Ares, and Athena all as Greek deities, and from the same pantheon. In fact, they each represent different traditions absorbed and reworked by other traditions, sometimes through trading contacts, often through invasion and conquest. That’s why both Apollo and Helios, for an easy example, are considered to be sun gods. Apollo was a newbie imported from Syria during classical times; Helios was much older.

    There WERE some religions which were so strongly nationalistic that you pretty much had to be a member of a particular tribe or group to belong, but that was more a reflection of the human tendency to see everything in terms of “us” and “them,” and if you’re not an “us,” keep the hell away. A good example would be the Aztec pantheon—an example of a religion used to hold conquered people in their “proper” place, at the feet of the conquerors and on the altars of their gods. [And even here, it’s possible to identify common themes and figures scattered among many distinct peoples—Quetzalcoatl = Kukulcan = Viracocha, for example.]

    But religions are organic and dynamic entities. They change. They adapt. They evolve. New ones arise to replace the ones grown brittle or senescent. Talking about a pure or monolithic religion is as nonsensical as talking about a pure race. If you have any doubts about that, consider our own culture’s Judeo-Christian belief, which shares sacred bits with dozens of ancient religions—including virgin birth, three magi, a slaughter of innocents, baptism, the death of a god or of god’s son, the title “Son of Man,” resurrection and rebirth, salvation through blood sacrifice, eating the god’s flesh to join with him in mystical union, a second coming, knowledge of God through the divine logos . . . and all of that is just in the New Testament. Don’t get me started on the Old.

    So if the ancient peoples themselves borrowed from one another, why shouldn’t we?

    I know from experience that this post is getting WAY too long, so I'll send it in two parts. Thus endeth Part 1.
     
  10. WHKeith

    WHKeith Well-Known Member

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    And here begins Part 2.

    The way to reconstruct a dead religion, of course, is research. Lots of it. That and a willingness to pick through the hundreds of popular occult do-it-yourself books that just plain get it wrong looking for the occasional verifiable gem.

    For example, there WAS no single Celtic religion, so far as we can tell today. The Celts were a diverse and widespread people who settled from the Danube Valley to the British Isles to Asia Minor to the Iberian Penninsula and who—just maybe—even planted colonies in North America. They possessed whole pantheons of pantheons, and talking about a single Celtic belief system today is like talking about a single Native American religion. There just ain’t no such animal.

    But it IS possible to pick and choose, to find what works for you.

    I had two dear friends back in Maine who were Celto-Roman reconstructionists. They did careful research [Jane wrote a scholarly book on Celtic beliefs], got married in an authentic Roman ceremony, and hosted rituals at each full moon in honor of various Celtic and Roman deities, including Rosemerta, Epona, and even a newly-rediscovered Roman goddess whose name escapes me at the moment. Their rituals included modern elements—they weren’t recited in Latin, for instance, and there was a Wiccan/Golden Dawn flavor to the calling of the quarters—but the rituals were powerful and moving.

    And that, of course, is what religion is all about: how does it affect you, on a deep and spiritual level?

    I guess what is important to remember first is that reconstructions are reconstructions. Raymond Buckland, after the political implosion of his branch of Gardnerian Wicca, went on to create Seax-wica, which was presented as a mode for how the ancient Saxons might have worshipped. He took care to remind the reader that there was a lot of supposition involved, and did not try to pass it off as the genuine article . . . though that can’t be said of some of his spiritual offshoots. Practitioners of modern Wicca—as MatTheCat intimates—are often less than rigorous in their historical research, and pass on both unfounded assumptions and outright fictions as fact. Nine million slaughtered in the Burning Times, a universal matriarchy before the coming of the patriarchal warriors, and modern Wicca as a lineal descendent of “the Old Religion” are three examples.

    As a recreation of ancient religions, in fact, modern Wicca sucks. [Especially the eclectic varieties that hijack deities from every pantheon they can get their hands on, and I can say that without malice, since I consider myself an eclectic Wiccan.]

    And yet none of this in any way, in my view, negates the very real personal value, comfort, spiritual insight, and personal growth inherent in these religions, benefits which are the goals of most traditional belief systems. For the modern practitioner, the historical accuracy of his understanding of Isis, say, is less important than how he relates to her on a personal level. Knowing as much as can be known today about her worship, her cult centers, her attributes, her mythology will help the modern worshipper pick and choose those attributes important to him, but it’s on the inner level, where he meets her, that personal transformation and revelation and growth and understanding occur.

    So learn all you can about the pantheon that calls to you, but don’t be overly concerned about getting all of the details right.

    All of that said, a couple of warnings.

    Be careful about appropriating the living spiritual practices of others. Nowhere is this more obvious and just plain wrong than in the New Age appropriation [and complete misunderstanding] of Native American spirituality. A horror story: certain medicine wheel sites in the West have been closed to the public because New Agers and neopagans were coming there, “feeling the vibes,” taking some of the stones, and replacing them with quartz crystals in a misguided attempt at free exchange. Incredible arrogance. These sites are the focus of active religious practices today, and such crack-brained self-centeredness only perpetuates the white-eyes’ thieving legacy toward the People.

    And the better your historical research, the better the results if you’re looking to create outward manifestations of the gods’ presence—in successful spellworking, say. Some believe the gods are distinct from humankind, pre-existing and transcendent; others say the gods are created by us and empowered by our belief and worship, immanent and dependent upon us for existence. No matter which theory you adhere to, the energies we think of as gods and goddesses do by now have an existence and characters distinct from human activity and mind. Whether that character was imparted by human belief over millennia, or was there long before humanity appeared on the scene is unimportant. If you call upon Mars to help work a love spell, you may be in for some trouble. By the same token, you probably wouldn’t want to cast a circle and invite both Areas and Hephaestus, say . . . or Osiris and Set, or Loki and Thor. Nor is it a good idea, in my opinion, to mix pantheons as so many eclectics do—calling in Pele and Hecate and Kali and the Callieach all for the same working. [shudder]

    Finally, in my experience there IS a genetic factor in some cases. It’s well known that modern folks of Celtic heritage often seem to have a bit of the “fey” about them, and connect more readily with the mythos of Scotland or Eire. Same for Native Americans. [I’m afraid I got a double dose, there . . . three quarters’ Scots Gaelic and one quarter Choctaw!] That emphatically does NOT mean that a white cannot embrace a worship of the African orishas, or of the Hindu Kali, or of the Great Spirit. I know whites who do so, and who seem to do so successfully. But there does seem to be something “in the blood” that tugs a person back to the roots of their genetic forebears. It may have nothing more to do with the issue than initial interest through family stories. Or it may relate to the Jungian collective unconscious. But it seems like something more.

    So, to get back to your original question—you’re right. The direct student-teacher lineage no longer exists for any religion. [For that matter, even for the Catholics who claim Peter was the first pope, or for similar apostolic traditions, can it truly be said that what Catholics believe and teach today has that much in common with 1st century religious practice? I don’t think so.] The only way to bridge the gap is to study the subject, and learn all you can about it. Seek out people who practice the tradition you’re interested in, see what they say and what sources they use. Beware of the quick, slick, pop-psych approach of so many Llewellyn books; where possible, go to sources closer to the original. Don’t just learn about the religion; to understand an ancient religion, you need to understand the culture, the society, the people. With your interest in history, it sounds like you’re already on that path. By the same token, though, true worship comes from within, not from any book.

    And if you don’t believe in reconstructionism and are just wondering why it’s done, that’s okay too. I believe the answer there is that people who embrace a deliberately reconstructed religion do so looking for what I think of as “handles” to help them grab hold of and manipulate their own deep unconscious, the seat of magic, of our perception of reality, and of our understanding of who and what we are. My Celto-Roman friends know they are not exactly recreating genuine 1st-century practice, but it gives them a useful gateway into the depths of their own souls.

    Well, THAT was a long blather. Thanks for indulging me, folks!

    --Bill
     
  11. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    Glad to see you indulge - interesting reading, as ever. :)
     
  12. Erynn

    Erynn Professional Madwoman

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    I absolutely agree that there was no one Celtic religion just as there is no one Native American religion. This is part of why study and language and culture are so important. Each language carries with it a worldview.

    And again, agreed that there is no remaining direct link to early Celtic religions. But this doesn't mean that we can't take the tattered remnants and try to reweave with new cloth, incorporating the best parts of what is left.

    For me, I think where other people tend to see something in the blood that draws them, I would more see a fascination with family history and an attempt (especially by Americans) to connect with what is felt to be a more authentic cultural expression. Modern US culture can hardly be called such. There's no real time-depth, and there is no spiritual depth in it. A need for spiritual depth seems inherent in humanity as a whole. For many, connecting with a family/cultural tradition seems easiest and most logical.

    Generally speaking, genetically I'm more Slavic than Celtic, but it's the Scottish and Irish material that calls to me. As far as I know, there's no Irish in my family at all. The Scots in my family are Clan Gordon, who originated as Normans (Norse who went a-viking in France). Looked at that way, if one accepted that it is blood that calls a person, shouldn't I be a Polish Reconstructionist, or into Asatru?

    Part of what called me to the Celtic Reconstruction path was personal visionary experiences with Irish deities. The rest of it was a fascination with a largely hidden and denied part of my family's history. My dad's Scottish father abandoned the family when dad was very young. I was conscious of the fact that I had three grandfathers, but only spoke to my biological grandfather once in my life, during the mid-1960s.

    I would say then, that part of what calls me about the Celtic Reconstruction stuff is that it helps satisfy a connection with part of the family that I simply never knew, or knew anything about.

    At the same time, I honor Sarasvati, and have an interest in Hinduism. This interest, particularly in Sarasvati, is because she bears such a strong resemblance to Brighid in many ways, and Brighid is a Goddess to whom I am particularly devoted. Both are deities concerned with poetry, knowledge, wisdom, and learning. The sacred role of poets devoted to each are very similar. Yet I would not dream of worshipping them together, or in the same exact ways. Both are different Goddesses, and both are situated in very different cultures and respond to different types of rituals. I generally approach Sarasvati with something as close to Hindu puja as I'm able to do on my own in my home. I approach Brighid with methods that are derived far more from Scottish and Irish folk practices.

    I honor spirits of the land I live on, and try to approach them with offerings appropriate to the Pacific Northwest. I don't appropriate Native songs or dances, but I do honor those things. I have occasionally participated in open ceremonies locally that are led by Native people, but don't consider it my path. It is instead a part of my animism, in that I feel a need for the aid and blessing of the spirits whose land I live on, and I wish to respect them as far as possible.

    I am not a shaman, but have studied shamanism, specifically that of the southern Siberian Ulchi tribe (formerly considered a part of the Nanai or Goldi people, depending on the sources you read). I did this in large part because of so many claims that Celtic spirituality is shamanism. I found I could not agree with that contention, though I do find some aspects of some types of Celtic spirituality to be shamanistic, and yes, there's a difference.

    Thank you, Sword and Silver, for your most astute post on genetics and "race." I very much appreciate the sensible way you explained things. I know so many people of "mixed race" who are extremely sensitive to these issues. One former roommate of mine was rejected by many NeoPagans, who felt she should be pursuing something like Voudon, while people at the botanica said she wasn't Black enough, and had sold out to those white Pagans and was trying to pass -- she was literally and any number of times accused of being a race traitor.

    She is Black and Cherokee and Scots-Irish, among any number of other things. I know another woman who is Commanche and Irish and Jewish, and whose husband is Black and Norse. Yet a third woman I know is Black and Hmong, but raised in a very German family. It can be an extremely uncomfortable space for people to be in when dealing with mainstream culture.

    People who insist that genetic identity should determine one's spiritual path rarely take metis/mixed people into account. It's not a matter of political correctness when I assert these things. It's a matter caring very much about my friends, and putting spiritual calling above skin color and apparent origins.

    The other thing that people discussing "race" rarely take into account is the idea that until about the time of the American Civil War, there was no concept of a white race. Irish were considered a separate race from the English and Germans -- signs stating things like "no dogs or Irish allowed" were not at all uncommon. The Poles were considered a separate race. Celts and Anglo-Saxons and Baltics and Slavs were all considered separate and unequal until it became politically expedient to unite them against the darker-skinned people. When you get right down to it, I'm "mixed race" too, though all of my ancestors that I'm aware of have light skin.

    I don't find it at all surprising that people are and can be called to the deities and spirits of any number of different cultures. Exposure has a lot to do with it. When people live in times and places where information about other cultures is easily available, they often find that those other cultures resonate, and that the Gods and spirits of those cultures call to them.

    I think that's a wonderful thing.
     
  13. Erynn

    Erynn Professional Madwoman

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    You're absolutely correct. "Celtic Reconstruction" (CR) is currently made up of dozens or hundreds of groups and individuals, all of whom are dedicated to different deities, interested in different Celtic cultures, and working toward reconstruction in their own unique ways. Each has something to offer the overall movement.

    In several CR spaces on the net, we're actually debating things like why many branches of CR seem far more suited to individual mystical practice rather than group work, the place and functions of those not drawn toward clergy roles, and the ways in which warriors and their path can be embraced and accepted in a modern world where most of the military and civil defense (like the police) don't function as ancient warriors once did.

    Because it is a developing path, there are many ways to approach and practice. I know warriors who are martial arts practitioners, or military members. I know homesteaders who are following the path of householder. I know artisans and craftspeople who are incorporating their spirituality into their work. I know poets and ritualists and philosophers who help define the larger questions that the community as a whole struggle with.

    Last year, I got together with about half a dozen or so other people involved in CR, and five of us co-authored a document that addresses CR as a tradition. It is most definitely a compromise document, but it reflects many elements that are considered the main parts of most CR practices. None of it is written in stone, and we are careful to point out that these are only some of the common elements of CR, but that not every CR practitioner uses all of them, or considers them equally important. Because of our format restrictions for the website in question, we were only allowed 4,000 words in which to build our description -- including our resource and further reading sections.

    There were a lot of people who figured we could never get a group of CR's to agree on anything. We did, however, manage to get through about half a dozen drafts and several more edits on the way to our finished product without having shouting matches or theological wars with each other. I found this incredibly encouraging, as I was the main editor for the project. It is still our hope that this document, over on Witchvox, will encourage others to describe their own ways of practice and belief, both within CR and within other Reconstructionist traditions.

    If anyone is interested, I can post that document here.
     
  14. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    Sounds interesting - feel free to do so. If you'd still like a writing column, it might be something you can comment on properly in your own space there?
     
  15. sword and silver

    sword and silver Courage, Wisdom, Love

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    Thank you Erynn and WHKeith for the information you've provided for me on the pagan movement in general and on reconstruction more specifically. I'd like to comment on a couple of matters they've brought up.

    First, thank you Erynn for bringing up "mixed races" in your post, this is a matter I didn't get to explore fully in my last post. We often think of "race" as something that's static, there's black people over here and they've always been black, there's white people over here and they've always been white, and oriental people have always been oriental, et cetera. The truth is "race" is not static and the gene pool of any population is constantly in flux. This is because there is no such thing as a truly isolated population, people are constantly coming from different ethnic backgrounds and "sharing their genetics". What this amounts to is that there is no "pure race" and anyone who studies history for a little while will quickly discover this.

    Take "white" people as an example, originally they came out of the Caucas mountains and settled in modern day Iran and India, mixing their blood with the "asian" peoples who already lived in those areas. As they moved on into Europe they met with people who already lived there and were descendents of "African" peoples, modern genetics shows difinitively that these two groups did plenty of gene sharing. This then led to the modern day "white" person, who has also been affected by the influx of Huns from asia since then, and the introduction of African populations through slavery.

    For all those who are looking for their "pure racial origin", you're not going to find it because it doesn't exist. I find it unfortunate that some groups would consider something as malleable and variable as race to play a factor in an individual's spiritual growth and evolution.

    WHKeith made an excellent point when he said the "Romans had absolutely no qualms about borrowing from other traditions. The Roman pantheon was wholeheartedly kidnapped from the Greeks, while Mithraism and the Syrian sun-cult imported by Heliogabulus and his mother were extremely popular, as was worship of the Egyptian Isis." Not only do populations like to share genetics, they like to share cultural ideas too. Joseph Campbell has written about the constant shift of ideas between the Eastern world and the Western world with regards to religious material (read his Masks of God series).

    I think if anyone is looking to find exactly which pagan tradition they "belong to" because of ethnic or racial identity they're mis-understanding what "race" amounts to. I can, however, understand a person's desire to connect with a person's family cultural identity (though it must be understood this is a hazy subject too), especially, as Erynn noted, here in America where culture often has little personal or spiritual connection. However, in looking to family history for cultural identity, it must be understood an individual is only selecting an aspect of their complete cultural identity since the sum total of that identity, historically, would be so vast. As an example of this, I like to recall something my Latin professor told me in class one day when describing how multi-cultural Rome was. She said there are records of a German man in the Roman army living on Celtic-British lands who was worshipping an Egyptian deity. Our ancestors didn't fit in neat little cultural packages, and I don't think anyone today should be expected to either.

    I was interested to hear Erynn make mention of the diversity in Celtic Reconstructionism since I had questions about this. I had assumed different people doing independent historical research coming from various backgrounds would come to different conclusions. I see I was right in that assumption. I'm curious how the Pagan Reconstructionist world handles these issues (I know the Christian world handles these issues poorly). I'd also be interested in reading the document on Celtic Reconstructionism.

    Thank you all again in answering my questions.
     
  16. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste all,


    as an aside...

    i was reading an anthropology news feed last week sometime and they were discussing the application of the term "race".

    they went through a rather dry and lengthy set of proofs, in the end, they concluded that the divison of humans into races was completly arbitrary.

    they are urging the use of the term "ethinicity" rather than "race" when describing one's... ethinicity :)
     
  17. Erynn

    Erynn Professional Madwoman

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    Yes, I'd still very much like to do a column. I'm wanting to get at least three in the can before I offer you something, and I need to find a title for the column. Part of what is delaying me is that I've been catching up on things I've been neglecting since April, when the turmoil at home that led to me moving (twice) since the end of May. Things are finally starting to settle out, thank all the Gods.

    I've got some ideas I'm starting to outline here, based on some conversations on various topics on the board. Also, I have a talk I gave as a sermon at an Interfaith church early this year that seems like it would be appropriate -- it is about CR, but it's more about the ethics and underlying ideas than about technical details of practice. The piece was intended as an introduction, and by no means an attempt to convert anyone.

    Hmm. Maybe the CR Tradition Description for Witchvox could be the second column, then a commentary on my own personal take could be a third. I could easily work from there on other aspects and approaches, and branch out more to other aspects of the Pagan experience in general.
     
  18. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    Well, whenever you're ready, tell me what you'd like and I'll set up the board for your writing pieces.

    Unless, of course we use Blogs instead and therefore provide wider exposure over the entire site as part of the general site navigation? Hm...(taps lips in thought).
     
  19. MatTheCat

    MatTheCat Member

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    Hmm, I wonder who you could possibly be refering to here? I know that you are from a culture that prohibits people from asking for either a BLACK or a WHITE coffee because you guys seem to think asking for a BLACK coffee is racist and politically incorrect. (The correct way of ordering your cofee is a "coffee WITH" or a "cofee WITHOUT cream" is it not). Your response 'Sword and Silver' implying that I may be some sort of Neo-Nazi preaching racial purity is exactly the sort of overzealous political correct lip-service that drives me totally wild. Political Correctness is a social engineering device which as you have demonstrated strives towards repressing any school of thought which could be loosely misinterperated as fascist, sexist, or racist. Hence, PC is a form of thought policing which I strongly object to. I am bloody annoyed, where in any of my posts did you find reference to me looking for my 'pure racial origin'.

    I will state once again the main point that I was trying to make. But this time, I will state it using BIG LETTERS:

    I believe that 'who we are', greatly depends on who our ancestors were. Not only does this encapsulate physiological factors such as the ability to win olympic marathons but also mental and spiritual factors.

    Aside from purposes of paying further lip-service to our increasingly wonky politically correct ideals, I really dont see how anyone can argue against this statement. By claiming that a persons ancestral lineage has no impact on the character or personality of that person and hence, no impact on the spiritual nuances between genetically varying people, I can only assume that you lack any 'real' in depth understanding of what spiritual development/evolution actually is and the mechanics by which in functions.

    (just for clarity, I will state once again that I believe that like everything else that we are born with, we inherit our spiritual posturing from our ancestors)
     
  20. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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    Correct me if I'm wrong - but you are essentially postulating a "strong" Jungian view of inheritance?

    Would that help get the racial aspect of the thread back into perspective for all? :)
     

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