A Living Syncretic Revivalism

My recent post “Toward A New Paganism” has caused quite the stir! I’m truly excited to see so many people interested in my writing, and, more importantly, in the theological discourse I had hoped to drum up. Now, as promised, I’d like to try and respond to a few of the questions from the comments. I’d like to begin that process by first looking at the subject of diversity, which was brought up by Hrafnkell:

He said,

I do not like the idea, suggested by you, of a “a living syncretic revivalism”. I believe that diversity is a strength, and not a weakness.

I suppose I didn’t quite take the time to explain exactly what I meant by a “syncretic revivalism,” and so I will do that now. That will, I hope, show that I am in no way advocating for a decrease in diversity – in fact, I’m arguing for greater diversity than already exists.

Imagine an apartment building. The residents of this apartment building all live in their own apartments and do their own thing. Sure, they may see each other in the hallways and hold the door for each other occasionally, but they don’t know each other. They aren’t friends. They aren’t a community, even though they all live near each other.

To me, this image illustrates the nature of Pagan Reconstructionism today. Each group of Recons does their own thing: they don’t mingle, and they don’t really know each other. They are essentially independent of each other, even though they fall within the same general part of the religious landscape.

This apartment analogy also illustrates the nature of a pre-existing lack of diversity among Pagans, since ‘diversity’ would imply a sort of internal integration that does not currently exist. We must come together and, then, continue to interact with each other before any true diversity can develop.

I believe that this interaction among the various divisions of Paganism would more accurately reflect the nature of the Afro-Eurasian* continuum that existed for thousands of years – that is, this “revivalism” of a dynamic, living interaction between religious traditions would more truly “reconstruct” the nature of pre-Christian practice than what is currently done by Recons, which is, I think, too disconnected.

It seems to me that modern Reconstructionism has fallen prey to an academic pidgeon-holing. Everyone knows that Recons (and I include myself in this) are, for the most part, a group of stodgy intellectuals who like to read old books and peruse the latest research. Meanwhile, the set-up of modern academia separates and bounds knowledge into distinct subjects such as Celtic Studies, Germanic Studies, Egyptology,  and Classics. These two factors have the effect of separating Recons into groups that overlap with those academic disciplines and that, therefore, do not overlap amongst themselves.

But the real nature of the Ancient world was so much more muddled than this. Groups of people overlapped. Cultural boarders shifted and became porous. This mixing together (into a colorful and living pattern, not into a grey, undifferentiated mass) is what I have called “syncretism”. So, by “syncretic revivalism,” I mean a state in which Reconstructionists are aware of the beliefs and practices of other Recons and, from that point, are able to engage in a dynamic, modern return to the diversity and interplay of the ancient world.

THEN, imagine what effect such a dynamicism would lend to Paganism in the modern age, especially in America, when we would be encountering Abrahamic faiths (as multifasceted and diverse as can be imagined – cf. Santisima Muerte, Hoodoo, etc) and other, modern faiths. This is, in effect, what has actually happened to ancient beliefs that have successfully survived into the present. Again, see Santisima Muerte – or Mary, for that example.

I believe that reviving this dynamic interaction we will be able to make our ancient faiths new again. Many Recons will disagree with me, but I think that it is impossible for us to really live out the practices of our ancestors without acknowledging that they lived in the “modern” world of their era and that, because of this, we must live in our own modern world. We have to break down the barriers that separate us and allow for a re-activating, not just a dead re-construction, of the Old Ways. This would not be the creation of a Pagan “monoculture,” but a resuscitation of historical realities that would lend modern Paganism a new life.
*I’ll not comment at present on Indo-American Reconstruction, as that is a whole OTHER box of spiders that I’ll deal with eventually.


About John Harness
John Harness is an artist and educator in Chicago. He is a member of Socialist Alternative and the Klingon Language Institute. He writes about political activism and roleplaying games.

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