A few days ago, a university student in Australia copied me on an email to an American Heathen reconstructionist:
Hail! I sent the following to [name] seeking advice; perhaps you could offer some advice as well?
It was about wishing to set up an Australian branch of the group, but the writer had some reservations:
I am indelibly Australian, and there are qualitative differences between the psycho-spiritual make-up of Australian people – not to mention distinct political and social predispositions – and that of other folk from far away. Perhaps to a singular degree in the Australian case, these different requirements and tendencies are an outgrowth of not only our historical experience, similar in some senses to America, but our unique climate and geography as well
All interesting questions. There seems to be some tension in reconstructionist groups between adapting to the present and Doing It Like The Ancestors Did, not to mention Dressing Like The Ancestors.
True, sometimes we go backwards in order to go forwards. (Ernst Kris, a Freudian psychologist, wrote of “regression in service of the ego”—a non-rational dip into the unconscious in the service of creativity.) The weakness of the reconstructionist impulse is the need to find an ancient warrant or precedent for everything.
That way lies stagnation.
I was more impressed by a comment someone once made on the Julian Society listserv, which can be paraphrased as follows: How would the old Pagan religion(s) look if it/they never had been interrupted by Christianity?
Now there is a thought experiment!
If you look at ancient Rome, there was no one Pagan religion—and there were non-theistic philosophical schools, like the Epicureans, as well. But you had everything from the simplest household cults to the most abstractly intellectual Platonic teaching. What would have prevailed?
My thought is that there would not be the distinctions we make between “religion,” “art,” “science,” and so forth, with people declaring allegiance to one but not the other, but rather much more interpenetration of all these realms.
I suggested that thought experiment to the Australian. He wrote back:
I do appreciate your response; however, I mixed your email with someone else’s during the sending process.
So much for being an international expert. Instead, you get this blog post.