What Is Reconstructionism?

Reconstructionism is a particular approach to constructing pagan religions. A pithy way of putting it is that it values scholarship over the latest trendy paperback, but some people squirm a little with this phrasing. This page is an attempt to clarify Reconstructionism briefly but in a reasonable way.

Ancient Forms, Modern Life

A Reconstructionist attempts to gather the highest quality information reasonably available about the subject at hand. This is contrasted with a tendency among some modern writers on paganism known to pass off patently false information or dubious research as established fact. Recons frown on such practices, because intentional (or even innocent) misinformation does not serve a useful function, but diminishes the reputation of pagans in contemporary society.

Innovation is encouraged, but the Reconstructionist tries to use common sense and available research to know when it is most appropriate. For instance, attempts to reconstruct Minoan religion will require considerable innovation and educated guesswork due to lack of reliable information about the lives and religion of the Minoan people. Reconstruction of the religion of Classical Athens, however, is a situation in which one has access to a luxurious amount of information from people who were actually there and wrote from experience. Less innovation is needed in the abundance of reliable information.

Reconstructing value systems is a special area for modern people. You and I were not raised in the same culture as the ancients who practiced various old pagan traditions. We hold values somewhat different from them, as well as from one another. A sane Recon thing to do is to make a serious attempt to understand the values of the ancients, resisting the temptation to gloss over the parts we dislike or dismiss them as savage notions. A good Recon takes the time to try and understand something of the whole story and how their values worked out in their lives. Humans share basic hopes, fears, joys and anguish, and we should be respectful of this as we explore their values. Wisdom dictates that we will have to disagree with a given ancient writer on some points and learn from him on others.

Eclecticism is a sticky point for some people. Some eclectics feel that Recons allow no room for them to be eclectic. Some Recons feel that eclecticism compromises reconstructed paganism. They are both right, just as they are both wrong. My own feeling is that people should rely more on common sense than on dogmatism here. The truth of history is that at any given point in time, some people out there are practicing from more than one religious perspective. At the same time, it can be problematic to mix and match from multiple traditions in a way that causes either or both to be compromised. It is sometimes possible for a partial reconstruction and an eclectic methodology to compliment one another, but we should still be honest and sensible about what we are doing.

If you look at the way communities would make a circle around an altar in ancient Hellas and see that there is some flexibility in how this is done, you might think this is a great place to be eclectic. After all, you got used to doing this particular Kabbalistic circle with another pagan group last year, and you figure a circle is a circle so you decide to do it this way. Well, okay, it seems unlikely that Zeus will be personally offended by this. However, you should definitely not pretend that they did this in Athens. Admit to yourself and others in a clear way that you reconstructed ABC parts of a Hellenic festival and filled in XYZ parts of it with pieces from these other sources.

Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what the ancients would do in your situation. Then ask yourself what you would do in your situation. Compare the two and make your decision. Just be honest and clear to the best of your ability. And be critical in a humane way when people attempt to feed you information. It is okay to admit that truth matters.

If you have made it this far down in the page, you may want to check out Hellenion. Quoting from the official blurb, it is

"a US-based religious organization dedicated to the revival and practice of Hellenic polytheism. We approach Hellenic religion from the reconstructionist perspective, which includes both an emphasis on historical precedent and respect for personal spiritual inspiration. We offer local congregations, study opportunities, and fellowship for those who worship the Olympians and the other deities of ancient Greece in a traditional way."
The author of this page is a member of Hellenion. However, the information in these pages is not Hellenion-specific, but intended to show how someone in the modern world can approach the deities and spirits of ancient Greece in a traditional way.
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