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A ceremony at the annual Prometheia festival of the Greek polytheistic group Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, June 2006.

Polytheistic reconstructionism (Reconstructionism) is an approach to Neopaganism first emerging in the late 1960s to early 1970s, and gathering momentum in the 1990s to 2000s. Reconstructionism attempts to re-establish historical polytheistic "Pagan" or "Heathen" religions in the modern world, in contrast with syncretic movements like Wicca, and "channeled" movements like Germanic mysticism or Theosophy.

Many practitioners of folk religions live outside of the original cultures and territories from which those historical religions arose, and reconstructonists consequently face the problem of understanding, and then implementing, the worldview of pre-modern rural societies in a modern, possibly urban environment.[1]

Contents

History

The term "Reconstructionist Paganism" is thought to have been coined by Isaac Bonewits in the late 1970s. Bonewits has said that he is not sure whether he "got this use of the term from one or more of the other culturally focused Neopagan movements of the time, or if [he] just applied it in a novel fashion."[2] Margot Adler later used the term "Pagan Reconstructionists" in the 1979 edition of Drawing Down the Moon to refer to those who claimed to adhere to some sort of historical religion. This emphasis on reconstruction is in ostensible contrast to more fanciful approaches to "paganism" in Romanticism, as seen for example in Germanic mysticism.

Reconstructionist Paganism has evolved into Polytheistic Reconstructionism, and is a distinct movement from the syncreticism and eclecticism of popular Neopagan culture, and the Wiccan ritual format that has been widely adopted by many Neopagan groups. Reconstructionist religions are based on the surviving historical record, and on surviving folk practices of the culture in question.

According to Linzie (2004), the reconstructionist movement originates around 1970 with early attempts to reconstruct pre-Christian religions, with Germanic neopaganism (Asatru) in the USA, the UK and Iceland focussing on Norse religion of the Viking Age, and reconstruction of Hellenic polytheism in Greece, and of Baltic polytheism with Romuva.

In a second phase beginning in the 1990s, these movements have been joined by serious attempts at reconstructing Roman polytheism and Celtic polytheism (see Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism). Many of these groups focus on the 1st millennium AD (with the exception of Greek and Roman polytheism which is already well-attested in sources of the mid to late 1st millennium BC), up to the period of Christianization of the respective populations. Most also include folkloric practices that have survived into recent history or, in some cases, the present day.

Syncretism

Indigenous religions and folkways did not just blink out of existence when they were subsumed by modern religions. There were periods of time in almost every pagan culture where the populace attempted to reconcile their native beliefs with the new ones being presented (or instituted by force). This often led to a type of syncretism which, in some cases, gradually evolved into monotheism -- eclipsing the old folk religions. As a result of this phenomenon, a few adherents of reconstructionist religions practice monolatry, henotheism and pantheism.

Most reconstructionists see recent hybridizations as culturally inauthentic corruptions of the traditional religions. The World Congress of Ethnic Religions has specifically spoken against this practice and has instituted a policy to not "support, accept as member or have relations with newly invented hybrid, non-traditional religious groups...Our purpose is NOT to mix different religions, but to find our common interests and defend them."[3]

However, many reconstructionists also note that the operative concept there is "recent." Some historical syncretisms, such as those that occurred when ancient polytheistic cultures interacted over a long period of time, and created a hybrid culture, have become what some consider a legitimate part of the living traditions. An example of this would be the presence of some customs and deities of Nordic origins found among the Scottish traditions, Imperial Roman policy, and other examples of the ways these cultures historically intermingled and influenced one another. These sorts of ancient, polytheistic syncretisms are seen as different from the syncretisms of oppression, which were instituted with the aim of co-opting and eventually eclipsing the native religions.

Reconstructionism and Neo-Paganism

Also see: Neopaganism

Linzie (2004) enumerates the difference between reconstructionist Neopaganism and "classical" Neogapanism as found in 18th to mid 20th century movements (including Germanic mysticism, early Neodruidism and Wicca) as follows:

  1. There is no attempt to recreate a combined pan-European paganism.
  2. Researchers attempt to stay within research guidelines developed over the course of the past century for handling documentation generated in the time periods that they are studying.
  3. A multi-disciplinary approach is utilized capitalizing on results from various fields as historical literary research, anthropology, religious history, political history, archeology, forensic anthropology, historical sociology, etc. with an overt attempt to avoid pseudo-sciences.
  4. There are serious attempts to recreate culture, politics, science and art of the period in order to better understand the environment within which the religious beliefs were practiced.[4]

The use of the terms "Pagan" and "Neopagan" to apply to polytheistic reconstructionists is controversial. Some reconstructionist, ethnic and indigenous religious groups take great issue with being referred to as "Pagan" or "Neopagan," viewing "Pagan" as a pejorative term used in the past by institutions attempting to destroy their cultures and religions.[5] In addition, reconstructionists may choose to reject the terms "Pagan" and "Neopagan" in order to distance themselves from aspects of popular Neopaganism, such as eclecticism, cultural appropriation, the practice of magic, and a tendency to conduct rituals within a Wiccan-derived format, that they find irrelevant or even inimical to their religious practice.[6][7]

Other reconstructionist groups actively self-identify as "Pagan Reconstructionists" and may participate in pan-Pagan organizations or gatherings such as Pagan Pride Day.[8] However, even among those who see themselves as part of the broader, Pagan or Neopagan spectrum, or who simply see some members of the Pagan community as allies, there is still a refusal to accept or identify with the more problematic aspects of that community, such as the above-noted eclecticism, cultural appropriation or Wiccan-inspired ritual structures. Many Polytheistic Reconstructionists see Reconstructionism as the older current in the Pagan community, and are unwilling to give up this part of their history simply because eclectic movements are currently more fashionable.[9]

Neopaganism and ethnic nationalism

Historically folk religion was often suppressed by religious institutions or totalitarian regimes[10]. When these regimes weaken or dissolve, often the populace will reinstitute their folk traditions, customs and languages as a form of cultural pride or nationalism. For example, in the countries formerly occupied by the Soviet Union, there has been a huge resurgence in folk traditions and religions. In some places where the dominant religion has had a legally enforced monopoly for centuries, the influx of folk religions is viewed as competition. This is most clearly illustrated by the ongoing discrimination against Greeks who practice their indigenous religion.[11][12] Some right-wing European intellectuals, such as Alain de Benoist in France, have called for a restoration of polytheism in opposition to Christianity, which they see as internationally-minded, inclusive, and decadent.[13]

References

  1. ^ Linzie (2004): "most reconstructionists have been borne into and raised within an urban environment"; see also Neopaganism in the United States; see also Adler (2006) pp.243-299
  2. ^ Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York: Kensington/Citadel. p. 131. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.  
  3. ^ Denis Dornoy (1999). "The 1999 WCER Congress" (in English). World Congress of Etnic Religions. http://www.wcer.org/congress/1999cong.htm. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  4. ^ Linzie (2004), 5f.
  5. ^ Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. "Pagans" (in English). Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. http://www.ysee.gr/index-eng.php?type=english&f=faq#24. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  6. ^ Arlea Anschütz, Stormerne Hunt (1997). "Call us Heathens!" (in English). Journal of the Pagan Federation. http://www.wyrdwords.vispa.com/heathenry/callusheathen.html. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  7. ^ The Gaelic Tribal Confederation, Inc.. "An Cónaidhm na dTuath Gaelach, Teo." (in English). The Gaelic Tribal Confederation, Inc.. http://actg.ciarraide.org. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  8. ^ The Witches' Voice Inc (2004). "Mississippi Pagan Pride Day - A Success!" (in English). The Witches' Voice Inc. http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usms&c=festivals&id=8738. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  9. ^ Adler, Margot (1997). Drawing down the Moon, "Perhaps the main difference in the Pagan movement today, as a whole, compared to the movement that existed in the middle and late 1970s is that, at that time, the organizations described in this chapter [Pagan Reconstructionists]...were the main influences in creating a Neo-Pagan consciousness. ... It's important to remember, however, that the reason the Pagan movement in the United States is so rich and varied and presents such a unique perspective to the world is primarily because of the non-Wiccan influences that were so dominant in earlier years." page 282. New York: Penguin/Arkana. p. 262. ISBN 014019536X.  
  10. ^ Wiench, Piotr (1995). "Neopaganism in Central-Eastern Europe". New Religious Phenomena in Central and Eastern Europe after the Fall of Communism. Cracow.  
  11. ^ U. S. Department of State (2004). "International Religious Freedom Report 2004" (in English). U. S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35458.htm. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  12. ^ U. S. Department of State (2005). "International Religious Freedom Report 2005" (in English). U. S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51555.htm. Retrieved September 7 2007.  
  13. ^ De Benoist, Alan (2005). On Being a Pagan. Ultra. ISBN 0-9720292-2-2.  

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