On the Post-Reconstructionism Bandwagon

Marc of Axe and Plough started the discussion, and I saw someone link to a response from a blog called The Starry Way on Twitter about it. I’m really happy that someone’s pointing this phenomenon out and helping to build the foundation of a lived polytheism that’s more than just a phase or intellectual pursuit, but rather something sustainable. And I’m glad that someone else thought up a word for something that, in years past, I wished there was a word for. We can think about and research the historical facts and figures of our traditions, but it don’t mean much if we never sit down and pray. Never leave offerings or celebrate holy days. Never use our bodies, rather than just our brains, to get to know the gods.

And I say this as someone who’s at the beginning of diving off the deep end of research into the traditions of the Mexica (as part of my ancestor work project, but more on that later), after a long period of putting the books down and living my religion. You know, just a little light reading:

Remember the old “my religion has homework” joke?

Unfortunately, just “living” religiously doesn’t make for great blogging or social media-ing. We tend to be drawn to the peculiar and novel, and let’s face it, how many of us get excited about new archaeological discoveries? Someone’s new gnosis about one of our gods? The prospect of new theological gristle to chew on for the first few years of practicing a religion is usually enough to sustain, but the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the little daily discoveries of either the historical or spiritual variety slow down to a trickle, and all you’ve got left is ritual to get you through to the next revelation, which may be years away. In online communities, sharing your humdrum religious existence isn’t that great. In trans communities, there’s a reason that you rarely ever hear from post-transition folks just existing. The excitement is usually found among those who are pre- and mid-transition. So another question would be, how do we protect ourselves from that kind of polytheist FOMO? How do we convey that most of us live in that place, rather staid and boring, most of the time? Most of us aren’t having conversations with gods every day. Or conducting high ritual. Or having prophetic dreams. Most of us get up, pray for a few minutes or light a stick of incense, and then oops gotta get to work!

All in all, it’s not a bad place to be once you learn to put the books down and start trusting your gut. It’s exciting in its own way.

If I may be overly semantic for a moment, I’d like to add my real 2c here, in that, unless we’re defining “reconstructionism” as, essentially, LARPing in accordance with the strictures of antiquity (usually also the strictures of religious specialists, of which most of us are not, or not the right type!), that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I tend to go through phases where I will spend several months or years in intense study, then several months or years where I dedicate myself to applying the knowledge and approaches I’ve learned, bit by bit. Sometimes I’ll try something new and unusual altogether – like incorporating a bullroarer into my ritual toolkit, an instrument that was not used in the Maya or Mexica regions – because without exploring with respect to cosmology and for the numinous, then that’s how we stagnate and lose interest. So long as these things serve as the bedrock of our practice, we ought to strive to take ownership of our religions and make them our own. No two households or groups will do things the same way, and that’s fantastic. This is how we localize our practice, incorporating the bioregion and genus loci we actually deal with on the day to day, instead of doing silly things like celebrating rites of spring when the ground hasn’t even thawed yet.

I suggest that we consider reconstruction a modality of engagement. A tool in the toolkit. It’s easy to lean too heavily on it, but I think that re-acquainting ourselves with the literature every once in a while keeps us sharp.

Now with that, I have a shit ton of books to get through…

4 thoughts on “On the Post-Reconstructionism Bandwagon

  1. I teach/have taught a course on this, and have a book coming out (hopefully later this year!) based on that work, which is called Polytheist Reconstructionism as Methodology. When understood in that fashion, it’s fine; but, too many people have “____[XYZ culture name]____ Recon” as their identification, and that’s not the best way to approach this and never has been. I’m trying to come up with an analogy, but none of them really work to show how ridiculous and pointless and somewhat tautological it is to have such an idea, least of all one with a religion.

    It’s like someone identifying as a “non-practicing Catholic” or something, to which someone rightly responded, “a religion not practiced is not a religion!” Identifying as a recon in any way other than methodologically is tantamount to saying “I’m too afraid to experiment and I don’t think the Deities care or would speak with me if I did anything else…but as They aren’t directing me or speaking with me anyway, at least I can justify my bibliophilia by saying it is for religious reasons!” And that, indeed, may be the rub.

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  2. I agree, I think it’s great that this is being discussed widely, since it’s something I’ve struggled with frequently. My greatest fear when becoming a polytheist was that I was treating it more like an intellectual pursuit rather than a deep relationship-based religion; when I compared the hours I spent researching to the hours I spent in shrine, it was sobering. I don’t have any answers or great insight here, but I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

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  3. Thank you for the shout out and for taking the time to read my blog post! I think you are absolutely right – reconstruction should be a modality of engagement. It’s a very useful and important tool, especially when a new polytheist is first getting started trying to figure out what to do, but it’s not the be-all-end-all of modern polytheistic life. I like your view of it as cyclical – phases of study, followed up by hands-on experimentation, followed up by daily routine (maybe not the most exciting phase, but it’s certainly the goal – to integrate our religions into our every day lives in a seamless manner, just like the ancient peoples did), until we are ready to study something new / refresh our knowledge / etc agin. Then the cycle repeats. I think the struggle for some is that jump from the study phase to the experimentation phase. I hope these conversations help encourage anyone currently stuck in that study phase to eventually put some of the books down and give ritual / prayer / devotional activities / festival celebrations a try.

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