What is Reconstructionism?

by Callisto

What is it? Commonly referred to as Reconstructionism or Recon, it is a religious movement in which modern day persons seek to reestablish and/or reconstruct pre-Christian folk religions. I.e., to venerate their god(s) in a manner that is in keeping with ancient religions.

Why do it? The core intent is to reestablish the well honed pathways to the gods the ancients developed and which for centuries were known to work. There are various Recon religions: Celtic, Germanic (Heathenry), Greek (Hellenismos), Roman (Religio Romana), Egyptian (Kemetism), Finnish (Suomenusko), Slavic (Rodnovery), Middle Eastern (Semitic) and Baltic (Romuva).

What do you do? The short answer is you learn the ways in which the everyday person built a relationship with the gods and worshiped them, then establish those practices in your own life. That requires more than compiling a simple checklist of steps to do, it requires developing an understanding of not only what was done, but why it was done. Everything has meaning and purpose and relates to your relationship with the gods.

Reconstructionism requires reconciling ancient beliefs with the fact that modern persons are a different people of a different society and time. What may have been true of living day to day then does not necessarily hold true today, and vice-versa. Also, ancient religions were an integral part of everyday life, it was simply part of what your day consisted of, like waking every morning, eating and going to work. The gods were always there, intrinsic to the fabric of living one's life and their presence ensured the well-being of society as a whole. Homes commonly had shrines and altars, there were public ones too, offerings and thanks regularly made whether while home or away. It wasn't just about noting specific holy days (holidays) in order to "stay in good with the gods", those were in addition to what was done regularly. Modern people are more used to a compartmentalized existence where religion is separate, not really inherent or integral to daily life, and largely relegated to being practiced at a few key times (e.g., maybe once a week if active in an established faith, or only observing major holidays). Many of the things that modern persons associate with being done by clergy were often done by the average person in the ancient home, among family and officiated by the head of household. A Recon path is a devout one, but void of the modern negative traits often associated with being "devout" (e.g. not fanatical, or "holier than thou").

Aspects of ancient religions were spiritual but also reflected the societal views and needs of the times. Some of those factors might not exist today, they've changed or do not relate to modern sensibilities. So a major part to being a Recon is understanding the reasons why something was done, on both a spiritual and mundane level, and how (and whether) it reconciles with life today. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it will or can but with some modifications. (This might sound cryptic and confusing but will become clearer as you progress.)

Why Reconstructionism? In short, because these religions are the ways which were known to have been an effective means to develop one's spirituality and establish a relationship between the person and their god(s). They are well worn paths, traversed for centuries, that can be accessed. Information wise, unlike much of what's published under New Age and Neopaganism, which can frequently be poorly researched, the majority of research material used by Recons is more reliable and can carry the individual from novice to advanced. And especially noteworthy for the lone seeker: ancient pagan religions are inherently suited for practice at home, whether by an individual or family. So there is far less guess work, trial n' error and hit or miss than there is with modern and eclectic paganism in which there is often conflicting information. Often when people begin exploring Neopaganism they are led to believe it's necessary to borrow from various sources and to fill in the blanks by making things up as they go along. The result is a surplus of "101" books, each saying something a little bit different and generally making it difficult for Seekers to separate fact from fiction, and where to look for more help beyond "101" type books.

(NOTE: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Eclecticism and it works quite well for many people. The purpose here is to introduce another option that is equally available for the solitary. One does not necessarily need to be Eclectic simply because he is solitary. Reconstructionism is simply another option that newcomers might not be aware is available to them.)

Anyone can learn and practice a Recon path as a solitary practitioner. The ancient religions were the religions of the home, learned from infancy and engaged in throughout one's life. There is a great deal of available resources to help one learn, with a wealth of information left behind by our polytheistic ancestors (referred to as "primary sources"), such as artifacts and ancient texts. There is also far more available in the way of reliable and scholarly information, exploring these religions from the perspective of various fields of study (referred to as "secondary sources"): Classic Literature (mythologies), history, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and so on. Books, academic journals and dissertations are peer reviewed, so the quality of the information is far more reliable than is usually the case with books in the New Age/Neopagan section.

As these religions were primarily practiced in the home, they're also well suited for the pagan family and it's feasible to cultivate a modern family practice. For many of these ancient religions, there are plenty of books for every school age about the gods, their mythologies and ancient worship.

I'm no scholar, can I still be a Recon? Absolutely! You do not need to be a genius or a book nerd. You just need a desire to build a relationship with your god(s), and want to honor them in the ways that are specific to them. So while you do have to learn what those ways are, you do NOT have to be a genius or a PhD candidate.

We're at a disadvantage compared to the ancient average joe: namely, we've not grown up in these religions and we start out with limited knowledge, so we have to study and learn what an ancient counterpart acquired naturally. E.g., If you grew up speaking just English and want to be able to speak Spanish, you have to commit to study and practice so that you can, whereas someone who grew up bilingually doesn't have to, he "simply knows" because he's been immersed in both languages growing up. It's a similar kind of thing. You get back what you're willing to put in, and then some.

Polytheist, Pagan or Neopagan? Reconstructionism is generally seen as a subset of Neopaganism, but there are some key distinctions. One notable difference is that while many Recons are solitary, it is not like Solitary/Eclecticism. There is primarily an orthopraxic nature to these paths - i.e., proper ways to approach the gods (per what's known of the original religions), to make offerings, to make holy observances, and so on.

Emphasis is different as well: Recon paths rely foremost on primary (ancient) and secondary (scholarly) sources to establish religious practices, which then frees the individual to experience personal gnosis (i.e., find his personal truths). Whereas in Neopaganism, usually personal gnosis (personal experiences: dreams, feelings, etc.) is primary and often mistakenly stated as "fact" (which it is not, because it's unique to each person, one person's truth can differ from another's), and the extent and quality of research about the given path or deity is secondary.

Another distinction is that while Reconstructionism is often included under Neopaganism, many Recons do not to self-identify as "pagan". The word was not used by ancient people to identify themselves or their religions. Often the word "polytheists" is preferred and used. Some Recons are ok with the use of "pagan" as a vernacular term to the extent of acknowledging that they are modern ("neo") polytheists.

How do I start? If you're drawn to a particular deity or deities, start with reading the mythologies associated with them, along with books and articles regarding the associated ancient religious practices. You can connect with forums and websites pertaining to the given Recon path by doing internet searches using the name of the Recon path or the given culture plus the word reconstructionism. E.g., Look up Heathenry or Germanic Reconstructionism or Germanic Recon etc.

And of course, there are some Recons in this group, so feel free to post a topic or reach out to any of us directly.

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