Thoughts on reconstructionism

Ever since I came to perceive myself as essentially pagan, a couple of years ago, and started reading widely in the online pagan/heathen subculture, I have been intrigued by reconstructionism.
Almost all of the European pagan traditions have been severed, but some more so than others. In parts of Scandinavia and especially the Baltic region, Christianity arrived late. The veil that covers the way of the ancestors is thinner than it is in other places. Yet even they have little to go on. The Prose Edda for instance is beautifully written and a rich legacy to all northerners, but one should never forget it was written by a Christian in one specific corner of the Northern world. We may assume the other Germanic tribes worshipped at least similar Gods. In the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow, used in my country, three Germanic Gods are mentioned: Thunear (Thor), Wōden (Odin) and Saxnōt (or Seaxnēat). Still, there is no way of knowing how similar their worship was to what we know from Scandinavian sources. The larger part of what is now known as the Netherlands was inhabited by Germanic tribes. Especially the Frisians in the north stayed true to their own religion for a long time. Their language, which is still very much alive today, shares features with English as well as Dutch. They were without a doubt a Germanic people. But the region my family hails from however, was most likely Gaulish or at least a mixture, and had lived under Roman rule too. I can’t imagine the people of the south-west strictly thinking of themselves as either Germanic or Celtic. We know they had their own local Goddesses, who were perhaps even pre-Germanic or pre-Celtic, and later Romanised.

A chapel in the woods
A chapel in the woods

In one way, I understand why many people try to reclaim what was lost so long ago. But what if, like in my case and many others, there is precious little to find? We cannot pretend we stand in some unbroken line of tradition. Let us for a moment assume that Christianity had never come to the north. Would our cultures still worship in ways comparable to what we know of our ancestors? Maybe some parts of the worship would essentially be the same, but without a doubt it would have evolved almost beyond recognition in 1500 years. But as it is, Christianity cannot be taken out of the equation. Some people have very adverse feelings towards Christianity, which I understand, if you have had very negative experiences. But it is folly to pretend you have not been touched and shaped by it at all, when you have grown up in a Christian or post-Christian society. There is bound to be some syncretism in your worship or worldview, even if you try to stay true to whatever we know of our ancestors. They themselves were flexible in their worship. After the arrival of Christianity, many of their religious practices remained more or less the same. The Lady of the Woods and Water still appeared at wells and trees, only by another name. They still gave Her thanks for a good harvest in August.
Reconstructionism can be a tool to shape a spirituality and practice that feels true to you. But by itself, it seems too little to go on. If the Gods of the land are indeed around, they must still be able to speak to us as they did to my ancestors. We will have to use our creativity and our own recent history to allow the Divine to touch us in new ways for a new age.


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