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Recon/Revival paganism – a growing trend?

Posted by Erik on February 13, 2009

It seems that lately more and more people are turning to a more reconstructionist or revivalist form of pagan worship. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but I suspect that at bottom (at least in some cases) it’s simply a matter of people either turning to their own cultural (as in my case) or ethnic heritage, or being called by a particular deity or deities or a particular culture, who otherwise have little in common with the broader neopagan culture as it has evolved.

I started thinking about this recently when I stumbled across the blog of a self-described Aztec recon. Hellenic, Roman, Heathen and Celtic reconstructionists are becoming a part of the general pagan landscape these days, and even Kemetics are no longer uncommon, which I think is wonderful (not to mention Greco-Egyptian syncretists!) – but what I’m finding even more intriguing at the moment is the breadth of other ancient polytheistic traditions that are apparently being explored. I increasingly feel that this is a genuine sign of the deep revival of mankind’s original religious orientation.

The following is a short list of the more “unusual” revivals that I’ve come across:

  • Aztec (Nahua) – Aztec Gateway
  • Babylonian/Sumerian – I don’t know of any groups at this time, but Google searches have turned up at least a few people who are trying to walk that road (there are a couple of links here)
  • Canaanite/Levantine – Natib Qadish and Qadash Kinahnu
  • Lithuanian – Romuva (Note that as far as I can tell, this is almost entirely an indigenous revival within Lithuania. This seems to hold true for other Baltic and Slavic revivals as well, from what I can see.)

If you know of other revivals, or are part of one of these less-well-known revivals yourself, I’d love to hear about it!

On a side note, as I was researching this post I came across a fascinating article from the New York Times, dated September 22, 1912 – PAGANISM OLD AND NEW; The Attempted Revival of the Pagan Spirit, with Its Tremendous Power of a Past, Though a Dead Past. (A free site membership is required to read the whole article.) The article is a polemic against the Romantic “pagan” literary revival, but I found it interesting and instructive to note how similar the tone is to some of the arguments still leveled against neo-paganism (now clearly religious in the ways that the author asserts to be impossible :) ) almost a hundred years later.

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16 Responses to “Recon/Revival paganism – a growing trend?”

  1. Mam Adar said

    I suspect I’ll get my butt kicked for saying this, but I think a lot of what sends people to reconstructionist practice is the historical claims of Christianity. Since Eusebius first spin-doctored church history for Constantine’s benefit, Christianity has declared, “Our religion is true because it’s a fact! Things really happened Just That Way!” Paganism never claimed or felt it needed to claim that myths were statements of historical fact, but I think a lot of contemporary Recons want to validate their religious practice through its authenticity: “Our ancestors did things Just That Way!”

  2. Feral Boy said

    Well, the Aztec reconstruction doesn’t sound too bad for the first 19 days — but the 20th is a b____!

    — Feral Boy

  3. executivepagan said

    get my butt kicked

    Not by me… There may be some truth to that, although for me personally the link to ancient practice (noting that I am not truly a recon, more of a revivalist) is valuable as a touchstone. After all, they were the last ones to live with the Gods that intimately, and to have the benefit of that living relationship on a cultural level. That said, however, my relationship with Them is a living one as well, and there are things I do that are more modern that They seem to like just fine.

  4. Feral Boy said

    There are many levels of practice. For a lot of people, “that’s just the way things are done” is enough. Some of them require the guidence of outside authority.

    Followers of some other faiths put more emphasis on guidence from within — as Quakers listen for that “small voice”.

    Most of our organized religions have their origins in Europe and the Middle East. Consequently, in this country we have much less a sense of place, of being part of the land around us. That is part of the attraction of the native relgious paths, although we are still ultimately outsiders to the indigenous people.

    Ultimately, our choices depend on what elements of our chosen path (or paths!) resonate with us, and what provides us with meaning and guidence for our lives. I am more drawn to the nature-oriented
    ways, which are solitary for the most part. Historic practioners in the British isles valued secrecy to the point that there is very little to build on for any who choose to follow in their footsteps.

    Even if more knowledge was available, our culture differs enough from theirs that our practice would necessarily be different — the primary difference being between an oral and literate culture. How much of the hundreds or thousands of legends, rituals, history and laws would any of us be able to keep in our memories?

  5. Annyikha said

    I think that Mr. Thompson just articulated all the reasons why I love the second-generation Romantic poets. However, I have to disagree with his argument. Did that man, like, ever read Sappho’s more intact poetic fragments?

    I suspect I’ll get my butt kicked for saying this, but I think a lot of what sends people to reconstructionist practice is the historical claims of Christianity.

    In some ways you’re right, but there’s something subtler going on here. Historical claims of Christianity had almost nothing to do with my conversion to Hellenic Polytheism. It was actually the Hellenic Gods, and how I felt increasingly that the Neopagan framework was not the best way to worship them (at least for me). I like the ritual structure a lot better, too.

  6. […] to find any current religious practitioners I have come across a blog that links to the actual modern groups that are attempting to revive such practices. I am extremely […]

  7. R.D. Hammond said

    Seconding Annyikha’s sentiments. I ended up at Hellenismos simply as an endpoint of love of the Gods. After about a decade hanging around their porch, I figured it was time to learn the lingo and come inside. :)

    I don’t necessarily disagree with Mam Adar, as I’ve known Wiccans who like to push that button particularly hard. But, as for myself, I’ve honestly never framed my decision in the context of Christianity—outside of weighing the two religions against each other and deciding which one appealed to me.

  8. executivepagan said

    For myself, I had left Christianity so long before I discovered Hellenismos, and had been through so many other doors, that the question just never came up.

  9. Carl said

    There’s some truth in what is said about the recon. For me, being a new hellenic believer, I has always been deeply attracted to Lady Athena and to her father Lord Zeus. I already left Christianity ten years ago so I don’t have much of a conflict. I’m not a greek but I was deeply in love with the classical civilization and its myths since I was about eight. So love is the reason for me to take the next step and to worship them. Having said that, I do have some reservation about some of the implications of the recon. Hellenism was for a long time a civil religion that focused on the polis rather than on the individual or family and there there is a great cultural changes between the start of the long winter and today’s new spring. For one thing slavery is past and women now have equal civil rights. The way I see it is that the recons are doing a useful work by helping us to recover the meanings and useful rituals, but at same time, we should consider today’s Hellenism to be a new plant growing out of seed of the past. It have its parent’s DNA but is new and growing in a different enviroment. We need to recover our tradition, yes, for it is our DNA, but we also need to adapt it to today’s needs. We also need to learn from the success of our rivals in order to ensure our faith’s survival and to see it thrive. Hellenism need to be both traditional and modern at same time!

  10. executivepagan said

    Hellenism need to be both traditional and modern at same time

    That’s the balance I’m trying to maintain as well. That said, though, it’s worth pointing out that Reconstruction is just a methodology, and that as in most things, there is a continuum. And not even the hardest-core Recons that I’ve talked to want to resurrect the ancient cultures in toto; it’s more a matter of where they choose to draw the line with regard to their own religious observances and where they stand on questions like the validity of new festivals.

    An example – Heliogenna, which is a completely modern Hellenic festival that is growing in popularity. It was developed in the last few years by one of us (Hector Lugo), completely based on his own practice and experience of our faith and of the Theoi. It has no documentable ancient roots, but it seems to fit a spiritual need for quite a few people. Is it a “legitimate” festival? I think that even the strictest Recons would probably acknowledge its legitimacy as a product of the modern Hellenic religious community, but they might not choose to observe it themselves because of its modernity.

    For the record, I’m all in favor of it – and I look forward to more such developments in the coming decades. If Hellenismos is truly going to grow on a larger scale, then observances that flow from and fit into our modern culture(s) are going to become ever more important. I believe there will always be a place for the traditional festivals – particularly in regions like southern California where the climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean, and it makes more sense to celebrate agricultural festivals in tune with the ancient Greek calendars – but that sort of thing, in and of itself, won’t necessarily appeal to those without a scholarly leaning who just want to love and honor the Gods.

  11. Kullervo said

    Good discussion. It seems to me like too many of the “Hellenic” voices out there are either New Agey or hard-core Recon, and both of those are a complete turnoff for someone like me who is sort of just starting out with not much more than a gut feeling that the gods are the right way to go. I find more emaning in Battlestar Galactica than archeology, to be perfectly honest.

  12. Karen said

    Most of the religions with which I am familiar have used claims of historicity to give themselves authority and credibility. Wicca certainly did/does and even the Greeks had their claims of cities being founded by heroes of the Golden Age in order to give themselves a religiously important lineage. It seems to be a trait of human nature to value things more the longer they have (purportedly) been around, at least in theory (in practice, that’s sometimes a bit different). I don’t really see Christianity overall being unique in this respect.

    Now if you mean the modern literal interpretations of the Christian Scriptures used by some fundamentalist, usually Evangelical, Protestant groups who insist that the mythos of Genesis, for instance, is historical fact in the same way that “I went to the grocery store yesterday” is historical fact, I can agree. However, this is not really representative of all or even the majority of Christianity.

  13. Mam Adar said

    No, Karen, Christianity is far from unique in beefing up its own history; it’s just that it happens to be the prevailing religion of our culture, the default setting that Wiccans, Pagans, Buddhists, or whatever are opting out of. I don’t see individuals making a choice between the Church as they know it and a new religion, necessarily, but rather as just stepping away from that default yet perhaps carrying some of its assumptions with them, such as the importance of historicity.

  14. Kullervo said

    Is it really a growing trend? I mean, do we have numbers? Data?

    I think being lumped in with neopaganism and Wicca is actually a serious hindrance to the growth of recon polytheism. Frankly, the people that might find a home in recon polytheism probably are not the same people that are interested in neopaganism. But as long as recon poly is viewed as (and views itself as) a subgroup of neopaganism, people just aren;t going to seriously consider it as a viable option.

    I the end, I think that’s the biggest problem: polytheism has been ridiculed by the monotheistic religions for millennia, and so whether or not they intend to, most people think about polytheism in terms of monotheism, which makes polytheism sound stupid.

    Polytheism needs to have its own voice, frankly. People need to be shown that it is legitimate, not flaky, and most importantly, that it is every bit as plausible as monotheism, if not more so.

  15. executivepagan said

    Is it really a growing trend? I mean, do we have numbers? Data?

    Not at all – hence the question mark… ;) Sadly, we’re only now starting to get semi-reliable numbers on paganism as a whole, much less the various religions *under* the umbrella.

    I think being lumped in with neopaganism and Wicca is actually a serious hindrance to the growth of recon polytheism.

    Many Recons agree with you – I do myself, to an extent. Politically, though, it does have certain advantages.

    …the people that might find a home in recon polytheism probably are not the same people that are interested in neopaganism.

    Which is why I raised the question of how many of the people I discussed are not coming in through the “Paganism” door at all… because I do think that’s an important point, and one that needs to be more fully explored. It’s one of the things I’m trying to do here. In many important ways, as others have said before me, Recons (and other hard polytheists) often have more in common with the dominant monotheisms than with much of mainline Paganism.

    Polytheism needs to have its own voice, frankly. People need to be shown that it is legitimate, not flaky, and most importantly, that it is every bit as plausible as monotheism, if not more so.

    “Executive pagan … f’ing weirdo pagan.” :P

    Our numbers are growing – my blogroll includes several strong polytheist writers, and more keep coming. You should definitely take a look at Mos Maiorum, if you haven’t already done so (there a link on my Pagan and Classical Links page).

  16. […] to find any current religious practitioners I have come across a blog that links to the actual modern groups that are attempting to revive such practices. I am extremely […]

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