On Reconstructionism and Modernity

Χαίρετε!

Today’s post was prompted by a recent discussion I had in a Facebook group I recently joined, which was about a group to discuss Germanic polytheism, though open to other polytheists as well. The discussion concerned homosexuality, and it was pretty much a show of why Germanic polytheism can have a bad name, and why reconstructionism as a method to rebuild our ancient traditions is so often unjustly derided as being static, and basically being re-enactment. Let me explain.

The discussion started with an article on the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, and their work to build a modern temple. During the discussion, the fact that they have performed marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, and will do so at their temple once it has been completed, was brought up and used as another example of what was wrong with this group. While there were points I agreed with during the discussion, this very much wasn’t one of them, which I said. The discussion then moved on about homosexuality, with one member of the FB group particularly.He gave several examples by which he wished to prove that homosexuality was abhorred by the pre-Christian Germanic peoples and perpetrators were even suffocated with mud as punishment. I argued against this, and provided arguments concerning that we live in modern times, not antiquity or the middle

He gave several examples by which he wished to prove that homosexuality was abhorred by the pre-Christian Germanic peoples and perpetrators were even suffocated with mud as punishment. He claimed homosexuality is an “aberration of nature”. I argued against this and provided arguments concerning that we live in modern times, not Antiquity or the Middle Ages, and that we have knowledge and understanding of human sexuality and gender identities that the ancients didn’t. That, in short, we know better now, concerning this particular topic. I also argued that trying to bring back those attitudes, or rather try and use Germanic polytheism to justify one’s own bigotry, would be like bringing slavery back. And that’s when things went really downhill.

This person argued that yes, we should bring back the old class system with aristocracy and slaves and everything in between. Needless to say, he also espoused the belief that traditions were bound by blood and no-one of non-Germanic ancestry could actually worship the Germanic Gods. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Things went on for a little longer, I tagged an admin to ask the position of the group on the issue, and the admin said that this person was entitled to their opinion. At this point I chose to leave the group altogether, as it would be pointless and fruitless to continue wasting effort on this discussion.

This is why reconstructionism gets such a bad name; because people think reconstructionists just want to bring back entire ancient societies and their attitudes, opinions, etc. This is patently untrue. Reconstructionism as a method is used to bring back ancient traditions, while carefully considering what parts are part of the actual religion, and what parts are cultural or societal attitudes based on a now outdated understanding of certain things (e.g.: human sexuality). It is a method to ensure there is no wanton ditching of important parts of the tradition and just mashing things together from different sources and traditions without proper thought, while keeping in mind we live in our own time, geography (for those living outside the area’s where a tradition was anciently practiced), history, culture, language, technology, etc. We live in a very different world than the ancients did, regardless of which culture’s tradition we seek to reconstruct and revive.

Some things I would have liked to have said, now having been away from that discussion for a while, are the following.

  • There is a group out there who’s trying to rebuild a medieval society. They’re called Dāʿeš. You may have heard of them; they’re kind of making a horrid mess over in Syria and Iraq. Then again the people there aren’t your “kin”, so why should you care, right?
  • Perhaps, if you’re so intent on re-introducing an entire ancient societal model, that you’ll also be ditching the computer you are using to post this drivel? And cut off your electricity lines? Smash your TV? Selling your car? If you want to bring back an ancient society, why stop there, just go right ahead and ditch all other advances that have been made. Let your children go unvaccinated and die of polio and measles, let your wife die in childbirth, and stick to herbal remedies the ancients would have known and relied on for lack of something that might be better.
  • Go right ahead and affirm Germanic polytheism’s bad reputation as a hotbed for neo-nazism and bigotry for decent human beings who might otherwise have started practicing and helped rebuild it and strengthen it, but are turned away by the vile hatred espoused by ones such as you.

I am reminded as I write this of the discussion between Helio and Galina on their blogs, Golden Trail and Gangleri’s Grove respectively, concerning modernity and polytheism, and the differences between polytheists in Europe and in the USA (and perhaps by extension to all nations formed by former European colonies. Galina argued here and here that modernity is nothing but a bad influence that is blocking us from truly reviving our traditions because of its discouragement of reverence and piety as “superstition”[1]. Helio argued here and here for modernity because it has allowed our traditions to be rebuilt in the first place, by over time eroding the influence and sway the Christian Church(es) has historically had over politics everywhere, while also recognizing modernity’s problems.

Here are my thoughts: I mostly agree with Helio. Modernity is important because not only does it allow our traditions to be rebuilt and revived in the first place, without the Church trying to stamp it out again, it also allows me to live openly and freely as a homosexual man, allow me to marry a man of my choosing (consensually of course) and adopt children (at least here in Belgium, you’re experience may vary in other countries). That said, I also agree with Galina in that modernity can be toxic to us polytheists as it often derides actual reverence and piety towards one’s God(s) as superstition and foolishness. Like Helio I accept that modernity isn’t something completely without flaws, but we do need it to help us rebuild our traditions in a way that is relevant to our times and our current context while at the same time guard against it weakening and lessening us from the inside by discouraging piety and reverence towards the Gods. This is how modernity is important to reconstructionism, and without it, reconstructionism is mere re-enactment, and that is not what our traditions are about. In the end, it is something we need to deal with appropriately so that our traditions may once again flourish, with vibrant communities to uphold them.

I think I will leave it at this.

Ἔρρωσο.

[1] I feel I must make it absolutely and abundantly clear here that I am not in any way, shape, or form saying that Galina was expressing similar views as the person I wrote about earlier in this post! And that she has done nothing but argue against such views whenever I found her discussing those topics. I consider her a good friend, who has herself dealt – even more so than I – with these kinds of folkish heathens and denounced them, and who does a lot of good and hard work for polytheism.

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