Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reconstructionism, again...

This has been going on for a little while now, but once again it is sort of at the fore of some discussions on the methodology behind Reconstructionism; specifically how it relates to UPG. For myself it was sparked by a discussion on one of the forums I frequent, and linked to a blog by another Reconstructionist. I'll not hash out the whole thing here, but the crux was that some of the recons who frequented this forum disagreed with the use of Reconstructionist as it was defined by the blog. There was an interesting discussion which resulted, and in the end, I guess we agreed to disagree.

Recently, however, this issue, the role of UPG in Recon, has come up again. My only issue at this point is the way that the discussion is being couched, and the canard which is being bandied about, namely "lore is law". I can only speak from my own experiences with the Recons I know, but I've yet to meet any that would agree that the lore is all one goes by, and UPG or mystic experiences have no place in Reconstructionism. The issue that I have then, is that there is a vast difference between scholarly diligence and placing what is known (or probable based on inference) ahead of personal gnosis, than simply quoting the lore as some infallible text, as is wont in monotheistic circles. The problem is that the later is precisely how those who favour scholarship over UPG are being represented, as if they were some sort of mythic literalist's. I'd like to believe that people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and that any Reconstructionist worth their salt would be aware of the limitations of the mythic texts, doubly so for those which are known to have been recorded/written by Christian scribes. But this isn't happening, no apparently there is a vociferous contingent of Recons who think that, for example, the LGE is holy writ and wholly pre-Christian (despite it starting with a short summary of the events of Genesis) and that any who diverge from the myths as laid down are heretical and need be cast out! That isn't even the real issue here, what is the issue is the, I believe deliberate, attempt to equate a reliance on scholarship with a literalistic approach to the lore. The lore is but one, ONE, part of a much larger whole comprising a body of knowledge pertaining to a cultural group, upon which one builds the foundation for reconstruction. My experience is limited, and certainly I've not met anyone who would use the Recon label, but I've never come across any of these literalists, because frankly we know better.

I've come to expect this sort of argument, that Recons are all stodgy academics who study their religion, rather than live it, from some Pagan circles, but from within the Recon community itself? I'll repeat it here for the umpteenth time, UPG matters. UPG is crucial. UPG is an intrinsic component of Reconstructionism. UPG has a role, as does study. I believe that UPG is informed by, and understood through the study of whatever culture it is one is reconstructing from. UPG can be used to fill in gaps where we have no information, or through inference and probability where we do have some idea. If you've gotten the notion that Ogma receives offerings of oatmeal cookies favourably, I've got no issue with that. Despite there not being any references to oatmeal cookies in the lore (or other texts) it seems like the offering of baked goods was probable, so go for it. If you've had a powerful dream where an amorphous goddess tells you all deities are one, well that's not reflected at all in any of the info we've got, and if you choose to base your perspective from that point, you've stopped reconstructing. I realize these are two fairly cut and dried examples, but I'm firmly in the camp that mystic experiences need be understood through whatever cultural framework one is working from, and that this is the basis of Reconstructionism as a methodology. If it comes down to a personal experience vs scholarship, I favour scholarship. Would a conflict between UPG and scholarship necessarily manifest in such a dichotomous manner, not likely. Was there any indication of the dismissal of the importance of mystic experiences in that? Hmm.... nope.

It can be pointed out that scholarship itself has room for improvement: it is by no means monolithic, nor static and there are many perspectives and approaches to the material to consider. There is definitely a great deal of "wiggle room" when it comes to trying to understand an ancient culture, its mythic framework, and then adapting it to be something which is still relevant in a modern context. This is especially true when the sources we have are fragmentary and glossed over with a differing religious perspective, and approaching them with a critical eye is simply a necessity, because in those cases we just haven't got fully preserved pre-Christian myths. This is one of the reasons I balk at the idea that anyone who would call themselves a Recon would not be cognizant of the limitations of the mythic texts (at least in the CR camp), and why the suggestion of mythic literalism as an active force in Reconstructionism seems very unlikely. Though I could see how in the cases where more complete myths exist it being a possibility, I also think that the contemporary texts which explore the relationships between the myths and the deities they represent would be crucial reading for Recons.




  1. You know, I saw a few postings on this from the "we are mystics!!" side and felt that most seemed to just be defensive about mixing non-Celtic, and non-historically-syncretic stuff (as there were influences in the native traditions, but as we're not practicing an ongoing native tradition it's not our place, IMNSHO to start mixing now and claim it's cultural), stuff in and calling it CR. Which is NOT the same as UPG. And then claiming that those who say that this mixing in isn't CR are anti-mystical. Um, I can fall into a trance at the drop of an offering, thank you very much. But I'm not going to say that anything I get from that is truth for everyone. And I'm not going to use foreign techniques to do it.

    I think that people just love the extremes, which has always been an issue for me on several things (like the argument about Celtic women warriors). I think that what you point out here about it needing to go through a cultural lens is right on.

    Taking your comment in the forum about Morrígan as MMC is not a reconstructionist concept, I'd see that a reconstructionist might, however, need to UPG to decide whether s/he believed that She is Badb, Macha AND Anann or if Badb and Macha are Her sisters and She's only Anann or if maybe They all were Queens of Their own territories and not related just similar and were therefore combined by the clerics to make some sort of sense to them in the Christian context. That is through the lens of what we know, from both the LGE and cultural concepts in Ireland. (and, well, now you know Who I'm doing an article on, eh? LOL)

    Um, but you know that already so...what I mean to say is "yeah." I don't think there are any, or at least not many, out here who actually are suggesting we "stick to the straight text" unless they're REALLY new to it and haven't really read any of it yet. Mostly it's a fantasy of those who want to claim that their own supposedly more mystic practice is better than what someone else studied. I also think it likely, as I've had this accusation thrown at me, that many who are being put in this role are actually doing a lot of serious mystical work, but we're not prone to talk about it so...if the other side isn't seeing it, we must not do any. This has always been an issue for me, as I have always felt more comfortable discussing the literature and cultural studies more than my own practice or UPG. This is an ongoing battle for me right now, as I am trying to work on sharing the latter more (and, hey, look, I sort of just did above, although which UPG is mine and what I speculate others' might be I don't think I said LOL). I do think that really being clear on what is what is very important. So, just because someone doesn't discuss it real openly doesn't mean we're not practicing it and I think that's a point that is missed by those who are calling others too literal.

  2. I'm looking forward to that article ;D