E is for Eclecticism, Research, and Reconstructionism

I’ve often thought it an odd combination, to be an eclectic reconstructionist, which is why I don’t tend to call myself a reconstructionist. It doesn’t fit in with my path, and the two are more at odds than I’d like. Still, I haven’t really done a cohesive post on the topic of eclecticism, research, and reconstructionism before, so I thought now might not be a bad time to do it. That, and I lacked other ideas for this week, so. This is what you’re getting.

I find myself wanting to distinguish between living faiths and dead faiths, to begin with. The way I approach ancient Egyptian and Roman religions is very different to how I would approach Shinto, as it should be. But this has never meant for me that ancient dead religions are a box of things I can steal from at will, to make up whatever path I like. For me, research is important in figuring out how a religious system works and what’s important. It’s about rebuilding a sense of that religion’s culture as best I can to better understand how those religious practices fit in. I don’t know why you wouldn’t do this, to be honest.

This is also why I only admire Hinduism and Shinto from a distance; I haven’t got enough cultural understanding to practice their faiths properly, nor the time to immerse myself into their religious culture to learn how those faiths work. As a white Westerner who is aware of how often Westerners get Eastern religion wrong, I’m not willing to go in there uninvited. It’s a respect thing. Plus, I don’t think there are any Shinto temples in my state anyway, so it’s inaccessible for me right now.

Communities for dead religions need to be built from scratch, built by whoever happens to be there. We’re not one ‘state’, but many, and with reconstruction comes different ideas about how to do that reconstruction and how to practice it today. Kiya Nicholl makes an excellent point about this diaspora with regards to Kemetic communitiesmuch better than I could articulate.

But I don’t see this as a fault of Kemetic reconstruction. Kemetic religion has room for these variations in a way that perhaps Greek and Roman religions don’t. It suits me, in that regard, because it means that, as a solitary eclectic, I can find my own niche.

My research focus is more on the Gods themselves, more than on how to practice. I have my own modern take on rituals and prefer to do those rather than recreate ancient ritual structures. I’m the sort of person who much prefers simple ritual practice as opposed to complicated rituals, so I’d rather write my own than use someone else’s. I find it easier to remember them and to find a rite that works for me in all my myriad weirdness.

So right now, my research focus now is on the Late Period, where the Greek and Roman influences on Kemetic religion came into view. I hadn’t anticipated this, but it seems to be resulting in some semblance of historical basis for my Sobek/Heru-sa UPG, if not the actual Gemini/stellar connections. I’m chasing down Harpocrates now, because I’ve found an image of Him with a crocodile tale, and of Harpocrates standing on two crocodiles. (I’ve seen an image of Serapis like this too, which is intriguing.) I am still puzzled by the falcon-headed crocodile thing and Who, exactly, it might be. I have never found a name for it, and the only suggestions are Harpocrates!Heru as Sobek, or Sobek as Heru-Wer/-sa-Aset, or Ra.

Research, for me, is important in figuring out how Gods were worshipped and perceived back then, and what I might offer Them. It’s a good starting point in getting to know any God while I develop my own UPG about Them. This is why I’m not averse to researching Gods like this, because it’s a starting point. Sure, it’s not absolute, and the Gods have adapted to our world now as modern people (how I hate that terminology; is there a better phrase than ‘modern people’? I have no idea). With that in mind, I would rather deal with Gods as They present Themselves to me, if it happens to be different to how They used to be. Historical research can only go so far when being a reconstructionist. Eventually, you have to get your head out of books and actually do something.

But at the same time, I am still eclectic. I’m not trying to reconstruct a concrete form of ancient Egyptian worship, even more so now that my research is taking me into areas where Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences are coming together into a sort of fusion. It’s historical, it can be researched, but it is itself a form of eclecticism in its own way. It isn’t really Egyptian or Roman or Greek. It’s all three at the same time and something else entirely. (Though, tbh, I find this very much distinctly Egyptian in spirit; but others may disagree.)

I’m not sure how you bulld a practice out of Gods from that time period. I have a feeling that writing my own rituals will be of more use to me than trying to recreate old ones, assuming any old rituals still exist in any coherent form. I’ve got to be more flexible, while still making sure I’m on good historical grounds. At the moment, I’m considering how to fuse Roman and Egyptian ritual styles to make something that works for me. Because, look, I’ll be honest, I really like a lot about the Roman household worship structure. I really do. I love the idea of Household Gods and Lares and having shrines to them and such. I dig that shit so much. But I really love the flow of Egyptian ritual too. I love the way Egyptian hymns are structured. I love all that too just as much as I love the Roman practices. Even when it comes to taking a Roman name, at Isis’ insistence, She insisted I make it clear I belonged to the Egyptian Isis. There’s a fusion going on here in my life and my practices and it is, in its own way, eclectic. What I come up with will work for me, but I’d never presume to say it would work for anyone else.

I think it would be harder to make this work if I was trying to use, say, Celtic, Japanese, and IDK Aztec cultures that don’t really have this same level of intermingling. There are probably purists out there who would rather work within a purely Kemetic/Roman/Greek framework, and in some ways, that’d be easier for me too, but I’ve got Gods coming at me from all three places saying ‘OH HAI’ and it’s getting harder to keep all these things separate because They keep wanting me to fuse things.

I have a sneaking suspicion this is where my interest in alchemy may come to the fore. I’ve always been fascinated with spiritual alchemy ever since I first discovered it, and if anything is more revelant right now I’ll eat my hat. 😛 (But not my good one. I like that one.) I’ve got the impression from Hekate that this is what’s needed. That the time of wandering has to come to a stop for a moment so I can fuse all these things together into something I can actually practice. (I’m honestly glad that’s all She has in mind for me atm, given what other Hekate devotees have gone through.) That’s my challenge for the next year or so, to work on fusing this into something coherent enough to practice on a daily basis and still have it make sense to me at the very least.

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2 comments on “E is for Eclecticism, Research, and Reconstructionism

  1. Rowan Hale says:

    Wow – I am so glad I came across your post! I found you through the Pagan Blog Project’s letter ‘E’. I follow an eclectic path, and that’s the topic that I wrote about as well. I like what you said about not trying to reconstruct ancient ways, but learning about the Gods of that time and how they were worshiped and what you can bring to Them. That’s similar to how I feel. I have always been drawn to Egyptian religion, but don’t follow a KO or Tameran Wicca path – it’s an interesting journey!I look forward to reading more!

  2. Alex Vanguard says:

    @Rowan, thanks for the comment. 🙂 It’s nice to meet another Kemetic-flavoured eclectic. I think there are actually a lot of solitary Kemetics (and other reconstructionists of other flavours) out there that aren’t or don’t want to belong to a Temple and do their own thing. Sometimes there is no temple nearby, or you prefer solitary worship. Or you’re eclectic, like us, and prefer to find something that works more than you need a proper religion.I think it’s really hard to completely recreate the ancient ways anyway. We can’t recreate their culture, we’re too much of a diaspora to create one single unified community, and things such as animal sacrifice and other kinds of rituals are frowned upon in modern society, so it’s never going to be complete. We’re different people, and if the Gods can adapt to us, then I don’t see the issue in making ancient religions work for us either. Besides, when I’m being drawn to a fusion time period with lots of Graeco-Roman/Egyptian gods (Serapis, Harpocrates, Isis, etc), it’s really hard to keep things Pure anyway, so my instincts is to go with what works, rather than what’s always authentic. I think ultimately if you’ve got a path that works for you, and it’s meaningful to you and your Gods, then I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

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