Saturday, September 13, 2008
I discovered Pagan Reconstructionism around 2000. Before that I'd been heavily involved in Neo-Paganism. What is the difference you may ask? Well, Neo-Paganism derives from 20th century Wiccan Witchcraft in that it uses a 'magical circle and four elements' format, believing this to be the "authentic" structure of "Paganism" - as if there is only one "Paganism". Neo-Paganism also tends to act as if it is some sort of "outer court" of Wicca, a first step to Wicca, like the way a congregation is in relation to a priesthood. It makes sense that Wicca uses a magical circle format because Wicca is essentially magical, but "Paganism" is not. Pagan Reconstructionsim generally consists of people either fleeing from Neo-Paganism or coming from a historical re-enactment background. It tries to re-create ancient religion(s) from available primary sources such as texts and archaeology and is not usually focussed upon "magic". While intellectually I prefer Pagan Reconstructionism to Neo-Paganism (although I do agree that the latter has many good points), since going back to University specifically in order to study ancient religions I have actually become less inclined to religious practice or belief at all. In fact I'm rather fond of atheism. That does not mean that I don't still tremble in vertiginous awe at the universe and I'm still incredibly interested in religion(s) from many angles: aesthetic, structural, functional, but I can't say that I'm actually a full-on *believer* in supernatural beings - at least not to the point that I'm going to participate honestly in their cult (not that the Pagan Reconstructionist scene is very big in Australia anyway). I've been thinking that religious experience might very well be *aesthetic* experience for a few years now. I agree that there are many pleasurable sensory aspects about ancient religion and from the point of view of the 'Goddess Movement' certainly the discovery of ancient images of female deities is very empowering for women. It might surprise some people to realise just how huge the Pagan Reconstructionist scene actually is, consisting of types such as Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Canaanite and Norse Reconstructionism. There are also several umbrella organisations. A lot of this exists on the internet where Yahoo Groups facilitate communication between enthusiasts, and there is also the phenomenon of 'virtual shrines'. Pagan Reconstructionism is also popular in Lithuania, Greece and probably lots of other places too. I have heard that Classicist, Sarah Iles Johnston, is going to write a book on Greek Reconstructionists, who, if you recall newspaper articles about them coming out of Greece in the last few years, are very vocal about having Greek Paganism legalised. This really is quite a fascinating topic that I'm particularly interested in, these days, from the perspective of the uses of "The Past" by contemporary Pagans. One of the useful books that is not exactly on Pagan Reconstructionism but is on the interaction between modern Pagans and Archaeologists and Heritage sites in the UK is Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis "Sacred Sites Contested Rites/Rights". The authors are both academics and Heathens - and this is not an unusual mix if you are aware of Pagan Studies - the academic study of Contemporary Paganism. From another angle, British Archaeologist, Francis Pryor, talks about the problems Archaeologists in the field can have with Pagans who claim "ancestral rights" to a particular ancient site. Then there is Catalhoyuk at which Ian Hodder has actively tried to address the interests of the Goddess Worshippers who frequent the site as part of his Post-Processualist approach. I could write about this all day, citing interesting example after example, but alas - no, actually hooray - I must attend to an essay on the reception of the cult of Isis in Rome.