• This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. Kurt Vonnegut
    Mother Night

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Other Blogs

  • Just a quick note
    I’ve updated my bio page with a link to Les Cabinets Des Polytheistes, where my story “Spine of the World” is published (and in which people can play Spot The Netjer if they are so inclined), and my less-specific webspace Suns in Her Branches, which is broader than this space (which is specifically for reconstructionist-derived […]
  • Opet article is up
    And can be read here.Filed under: Patheos Links
  • Opet is coming ’round again
    And the Emboatening Crew is once more celebrating by making Kiva loans. You’re all welcome to join us. (My monthly column in Patheos Pagan is about Opet and charitable works, and will be going up tomorrow assuming nothing goes wrong.)Filed under: Festivals, Uncategorized
  • The Art of Being A God
    It’s interesting having one foot in reconstructionist religion and one foot in religious witchcraft, for a lot of reasons. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is the shape of how the gods appear within the context […]
  • Mythopoeia
    Continuing with rambling on the topic of my exploration of pagan movement history, another critical concept: mythopoeia. The word means, literally, “myth-making”, and it is one of the near inescapable traits of at least the origin points of pagan religions. […]
  • Hills of the Horizon: The Past is Another Country
    The problem with extrapolation from history is that nothing is testable. The evolution of a religion over time is not a predictable and easily comprehensible thing, where we can look at a point in time and say, "It was like this then, so it would be like that now." The process of deciding what needs […]

Reconstruction As Scaffolding

Reconstruction is not doing religion. This is the first and most important thing to remember about it.

Reconstruction is a process by which one can assemble the parts of a religion. Like a construction scaffolding built around a public works project, it is a temporary thing, one which will ideally vanish once the building is complete.

The second most important thing to remember about reconstruction is that we are wrong.

Our errors are inescapable. We do not know what the ancients of whatever people did completely, even if we are (as I am) dealing with a culture in which there was a literate population that did things like write ritual descriptions down. We don’t know a whole lot about the private practices of the majority of people. We don’t know how people thought about things, what stories they told by the fire and over dinner, any of these things, because that information does not leave material remnants.

We are going to get it wrong. Which means that if “reconstruction” means “doing it like the ancients did it”, “reconstruction” will fail.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to pursue things that can’t possibly work.

Reconstruction is finding pieces that work, and assembling them into something that works, and when there is a functional system, shifting over into actually doing the thing. Because the whole idea of the process is that there is a thing actually produced on the far side.

(The third most important thing to remember about reconstruction is that doing research is not actually the point.)

The thing that is produced in the far side will be wrong. Academic knowledge will render it obsolete, likely within ten years. Academic knowledge is not in fact the governor of validity of a religious practice, however; what matters is does the thing work.

Build something that works, starting with the bones of the ancients certainly, but garb it in flesh as well, give it breath, and when it lives, celebrate its life.

It doesn’t matter if in five years someone publishes a paper disproving some theory that’s in the underpinnings of how it was built, because that in the underpinnings just happens, what matters is whether the building is sound. Does it work. Are the powers and spirits it honors pleased; are the relationships it encourages healthy; does it feed and nurture its community.

The products of academia – while also constructed as a number of texts from often-disagreeing authors arguing over various perspectives and points – are not any sort of scripture. It is not a good idea to treat them as such. Especially if one ever has intention to take up the responsibility of celebration.