Strict Eclecticism

Jun 14, 2006
[It looks like the first few posts here are going to be a running commentary of me and what I believe; it might be a little self-indulgent, but I can't think of a better way to start out a Pagan blog, given that there's no shorthand for things like this that I know of. I'm still sorting out what else I want to put in here, so expect more of the same for a couple of weeks, I suppose.]

I've only ever flirted with specific, defined traditions briefly, and never seriously. The closest I ever got was reading quite a bit about Celtic Reconstructionism in my first couple of years of Paganism, but I quickly decided it wasn't for me. I attribute it to my lack of focus -- I can't pick just one hobby, or one academic interest, so why should I expect myself to stick to one religious tradition? There's more to it than that, of course; the academic part of my brain quickly diverts to terms like "nativistic movement" and "authentic culture," and academic anthropology, as I've learned the hard way, doesn't have much to do with living your faith.

From a practical standpoint, I just can't do it. I find strict reconstructionism ridiculous; we do not live in the same world for which that religion was designed. But our world is different not only because of our level of removal from the actual day-to-day process of living; it is also different because of what we know about our world. The gods of any particular pantheon are not the only ones we have ever heard of. Granted, we may not be particularly familiar with Kali, or Odin, or Haephestus, or Brigid, but we have heard the names before, and it isn't too difficult to look them up. Once I know that Rhiannon and Diana are so similar as to be different names for the same thing, I can never un-know it. Once the knowledge exists it will never go away, and to ignore the opportunities that gives me is downright neglectful. (What to do with that knowledge, I'm still struggling with.)

That doesn't mean I don't understand a traditionalist viewpoint; I remember explaining the ethnic affiliations of Asatru to one of my anthro classes last year and feeling a strong resonance with the idea that who your grandparents were has some bearing on who you are. I deal predominantly with Celtic deities because the parts of my family I most strongly identify with are Irish. But at the same time, everything we know about the Celtic deities has been filtered through Romans and Christians (at the very least) and the Celts were hardly a unified group of people, themselves. "Celtic" isn't a single tradition, it's a mix of many things, just like everything else.

I also understand the indignation of people whose traditions have been pillaged, however. Kabbala is a strong example: in the Jewish tradition it hails from, there are strict restrictions on who can study Kabbala and what they can say about it or do with it. Over the years it's been borrowed by everyone from Alestair Crowley to Madonna, and I can understand people who get offended at that. It's key, I think, in order for eclecticism to be something really generative and worthwhile and as respectful as possible, not to borrow from other traditions as much as be inspired by them. It's a bit like plagiarism, I suppose: to inspire someone is flattering, but to be plagiarized is annoying at best, and deeply insulting at worst.

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